Do I intend taking you readers on a walk-through of the Indian Military Academy? No. There won’t be any OG-clad soldiers sprinting along with the words in this post. There won’t be any shorts-clad RSS sevaks too waiting to guide you into some disciplinary mumbo jumbo unique to them. I just want to take you into the heart of discipline. We’re going to talk of discipline that involves no marching on any drill square… but something that will give your home and your office the sort of look that makes life so much easier.
In the kitchen of my home we have every sort of masala and other ingredients that are used there and each one that has a label is always looking straight into your eyes. The cosmetics kept on the dresser follow this discipline and so does the stuff kept in the small almirah shelf that acts like a store for our toiletries. The books in the Study, the clothes on our hangers, the hangers themselves, the clothes out on the balcony and drying… wherever you look you’ll find them all silently following my command of ‘Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up’.
Try this command on yourself for a start. Say Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up and you’ll soon be looking at a new you. You’re looking straight ahead and right into the eyes of anyone who is standing before you. You’ll like it. You’ll love it.
Twenty-eight years back when I got married, this was among the first things I told my wife. Specky nodded, smiled, and said, ‘No wonder we’re together. I’m so like you.’
‘I said, ‘I learnt this while at the Indian Military Academy. My instructor told us this is something we have to remember all our lives. He also said that this is something that every object around us must follow.’
‘Well,’ said Specky, ‘I was never in the army but even I like to walk straight… and live straight.’ We smiled and knew we were indeed made for each other.
Let me tell you here that before I cleared my CDSE and joined the IMA, I was a real slob. I took pride in calling my room ‘the universe of chaos’ and my mother was quite fed up of cleaning my room. I don’t remember how other objects were kept in our home but all that I remember is that I really had to sweat it out every time I went searching for something in my room. Even books were kept with a lot of them having their spine facing away from me. I do remember that even when I had to search for something in the kitchen, I always had to shout to my mother, ‘Mummy, which container has sugar?’
And then my mother shouted back, ‘The first shelf has all of the ingredients you need to make you tea.’ So I had to open the containers and find out the ones that had tea leaves and sugar. There was no discipline in our kitchen then. Every bottle, every container ‘slouched’ and went on with their lives in a rather dis-organised way!
But all this changed in the first week at the Academy.
We were taught that every label needs to face the user and that everything had a specific place on the table in the room. This was all new to me.
I mumbled, ‘This is ridiculous. Why must the toothpaste be kept first and then the shaving cream tube? Why must they always be on the left side of the dresser top? Why must they be kept so as I am able to read what is written on them?’
One of my seniors there gently told me that this is because even if I got up in the dead of night and there was no electricity, I’d pick up my toothbrush without disturbing anything else and I’d even put toothpaste on it even with my eyes closed! Believe it or not, I actually did all this after spending barely a fortnight there. I was asked to enter each cabin there in the platoon quarters and see for myself how things were laid out. I saw and I learnt.
‘But why do we call this a Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up sequence here sir?’
‘Because this is what you are going to learn to do in life. And if you do it and become a good man, every object, even the inanimate ones need to do it so as not to disturb the fabric of discipline anywhere.’
I know this will sound strange to a lot of readers… but let me just show you a few comparative pictures of things kept in my home. You’ll understand what I am trying to say.
So as I was saying, Specky and I discovered that we loved the house to reflect a sort of discipline that would remove every possibility of chaos from it. So now in our kitchen we know that the sugar container is the second from the left and the one next to it is has the tea-leaves. We know where the salt container is… and never do any of us tend to pick the wrong one even if we are groping in the dark.
The dressing table has every cosmetic facing us and happily in the Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up position! So I never have to lift bottles, turn them around, and read what they contain… I can read their label even from a distance. The hangers always face away from us and the open side of the shirts always face the same direction. The trousers are on the hangers with the bottoms facing out.
If you think this discipline is repressive, think again. Look at the man hours you’ll be wasting in just searching things or simply changing your posture according to the waywardness of the way things are kept. This is one habit that tends to follow you out into your office and even when you are in a public place. You’ll just keep creating laws and rules of conduct for yourself… you’ll stop spitting anywhere… you’ll refrain from throwing an empty packet of a snack on the road… and you’ll probably write about it all in some blog post somewhere some time!
Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up isn’t a repressive command… it is a mantra that I learnt at the Academy and it has helped me be a better man. It taught me to look ahead with all the confidence that I can muster… and obviously I want even inanimate objects to smile with that same positivity in my home , my office, and wherever I happen to be.
The pictures that I have added are because I want the readers to ‘see’ the difference between a life that is chaotic and the poetry of a life where discipline has managed to reach!
The story doesn’t end here. My son Pushkin, who is in London, has been seeing us do this day in and day out… and when we went there in 2010, we found that every little nook where he was staying smartly saluted and shouted, ‘Chest out – Shoulders back – Chin up, sir!’
23 July 2013
Note: This post is a winner in the contest: