52 years ago, I joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) when I was just 15 years young. Being from a Sainik School, I was well aware of the type of physical and mental life that awaited me. Yet, the reality surpassed my imagination. Life was much tougher, and we had very little rest or sleep.
As I was woken up by my orderly one day, I looked at my watch and it made me furious.
Do you know you have ruined 3 minutes of my precious sleep?”
“Its only 5.20 am. Didn’t I clearly tell you to wake me up at 5.23 am?
This was probably the first time, I understood the real value of time. For me, at that time, every second was worth a million dollars. Be it
a second between success and failure,
a second between defeat and victory,
or a second between life and death.
Everything in the NDA worked around time. From waking up at 5 am to lights out at 10 pm, it was clockwork precision. You had to be dot ON TIME everywhere, come what may. Being late was a SIN. So, I had no option but to groom myself in this strict, controlled, regimented environment, having deliberately chosen to sacrifice a cool college life, which sometimes I miss even today!
At the age of 19, I was commissioned as an officer in the Indian Army. Life continued to teach me valuable lessons of TIME all along. Now, in addition to my own time, I also had the responsibility of optimising and respecting the time of my troops.
An important time lesson from the Army that has impacted me the most is PRECISION.
Have you seen the Republic Day parade? Do you know that it lasts exactly 90 minutes. The most fascinating part of the event is “flypast” by the Indian Air Force. About 40 Aircrafts take-off from different airfields and fly in at Rajpath at the same pre-designated time. In the Airforce parlance its called TIME on TARGET (TOT.) That is precision.
“But why precision?” one may ask.
Because in war, anything less can lead to disaster.
It may result not only in a loss of battle or a war but even could be the fall of a nation.
When a military operation is launched everything is planned around the H Hour. This is the specific clock hour when the attack on an objective commences. To allow the attacking troops free and safe movement towards the objective, the enemy heads are pinned down to deny them observation and prevent aimed fire on the attacking troops. This is done by punishing the objective or target area with concentrated heavy fire power which includes air power, artillery guns, tanks and mortars etc. This ensures that the attacking troops are not vulnerable to aimed enemy fire and allows them free and safe approach to the objective. As the attackers come closer to the objective area, the fire power must stop pounding the objective at the right time. If its lifted too early the defender may get a chance to recover from the shock it was subjected to and shoot effectively. On the other hand, if it is lifted late, our forces are likely to be endangered by own fire. This calls for meticulous planning followed by accurate, seamless, time bound execution. That is why ZERO ERROR is Army’s dharma.
Every second is worth a million dollars.
Detailed planning and meticulous, time bound execution of an operation is within our capabilities. However, this lasts only till the first contact with the enemy is made. That is when all the chaos begins. How we are trained to handle the chaos is another story.
After the capture of an objective the infantry mops it up, physically eliminating those who may have survived the heavy bombardment.
Let me share a story a dynamic young officer told me about his experience in the Kargil war. He said, “When we were on top of Tiger Hill, I was moving around stealthily, looking out for survivors. All of a sudden, from nowhere, someone pounced in front of me. Lo and behold, it was a tall burly enemy officer. We faced each other at a distance of less than a meter. Both of us had our weapons facing each other. I realized that now only one of us can survive and that one will the one who pulls the trigger first. There was no time to think, deliberate, or seek advice. It called for ACTION. It was a split-second decision. I pulled the trigger and he fell on my feet and cried out loud, ‘Maaaaaa (mother.)’ The deadly thought that flashed through my mind was, “what IF he had pulled the trigger a fraction of a second earlier? Then I would have been remembering my mom, and she would have been crying just like his mom will cry now.” Imagine, lying on the ground, breathing his last few breaths what must he be saying, “how I wish I pressed the trigger a second earlier.”
It is not only in war. It is not only in the Army. It is everywhere. As a nation, we have no option but to be time conscious. And the most interesting part is, we are all equally rich when it comes to time. Whether Donald Trump or an auto rickshaw driver, everyone has 86400 secs a day. No more, no less.
Wasn’t this one second worth much more than a million dollars?
If one wants to succeed, one has no choice but to develop a conscious relationship with the value, importance, and relevance of time. Certificates and degrees may not be a distinctive factor in life any more but adherence to time will certainly give one that distinction.
While you are aware of your assets like property, money or even talent don’t forget this most valuable and highly perishable resource you possess called TIME. Embrace it. Take good care of it. Nurture it. Respect it. It will give you rich dividends.
A nurse in a hospice saw thousands of patients die. She said “On the death bed I have never heard of even a single person ever say I wish I had more money, but almost everyone said, I wish I had more time.”
I am sure now you will all do it differently. You will say, I lived every single second !
Lookout for more in my forthcoming book Million $ Second