Once a soldier, always a soldier goes a famous proverb. And for a soldier, the nation always comes first, followed by family and then friends. One man who exemplifies this adage is Mohammad Rafi from Hoovina Hadagali taluk in Bellary district. It was in 2002 that Rafi joined the Indian Army and worked as a Havildar in The Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) Department of the Military. After doing his bit to keep the country safe for over 16 years, this man returned to his native, not to rest, but to train youngsters who wanted to join the Indian army and serve the nation.
What motivated Rafi to join the military was history lessons that his teachers taught him. He says, "When I was in school, our teachers used to narrate stories of brave soldiers who were martyred in the war. This motivated me to join the military. In my 16 years of service, I have served in critical border regions of India including in Jammu and Kashmir for over six years, three years in Punjab, three years in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. Every time I came back home, only to go back for duty, my family used to worry and wonder if I would return. But I would bid them farewell with happiness as I was on the path to serving my motherland."
While many army men either join a private company or scout for government jobs after retirement, Rafi chose to continue serving the nation by motivating and training over 20 aspirants from his native and surrounding villages. When we asked him about why he chose to train youngsters, he says, "When I wanted to join the army, no one was there to guide me about the eligibility or the criteria one needs to meet to be part of the army. I joined Karate classes and used to run several kilometres for practice. I had to put in a lot of hard work as I did not even know the selection procedure. Same is the case with these youngsters. Hence, I chose to train them in physical exercises so that they have a chance at being selected for the Indian Army, Airforce or Navy."
Rafi's training classes start from 5.30 am and conclude at 7.00 am. In the morning hours, these youngsters are trained to run long distances in a short time and the focus is on other physical exercises like bending and stretching. Meanwhile, the evening is dedicated to sports like football, volleyball and so on. They are even informed about current affairs, geographical features of the world and India and are exposed to some motivated speeches too.
One would be surprised to know that the retired army man provides all the training for free whereas academies in different parts of India charge anything between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 for it. "I don't charge students for the training I provide as I'm rendering a service to the nation. The youngsters also come from poor families in villages and none of them are being forced to join the military, they have come by choice. The students that I train are between 15-23 years. Some of them have already given the exam once or twice, but have failed when it comes to the physical fitness exams. Hence, they have joined my group and now, have hopes to pass their physical fitness exam this year. Some students want to join the police force as well. In the present scenario, these youngsters have many options and they should explore everything," says Rafi.
As the word about Rafi's training has spread across Karnataka, he has been getting frequent calls from different parts of the state requesting him to train other aspirants as well. "In the next week, a group of students are coming from Mandya and Mysuru for training. For now, there is no hostel or food facility for them. But recognising my work, the villagers here are ready to accommodate these youngsters in their homes and offer them food as well," Rafi says happily.