This is a long monologue of my story, but I believe many would be able to relate to it and enjoy the essence it carries. This is not just my story but of all those who have forever dreamt to be a part of one of the best and most ethical armed forces in the world. I had always wanted to join the forces since my childhood, inspired by my maternal uncle who is serving as an officer in the Border Security Force.
I gave NDA exam twice in my 10+2 but couldn’t clear it. Never minding the setback, I knew what I wanted to make of myself and never quit grooming on the mental level. Fast forwarding to 3rd year in the college, Indian Army visited the campus for UES entry. I applied and cleared the GD and Personal interview. That was the first time I experienced the persona of Indian Armed forces. I faced 3 Indian Army officers in the interview; one was a Colonel, and two were Majors. One of the Major was from AMC, probably a psychologist (my best guess) because he asked me some psych questions. Few questions that they asked were: 1) What is your favorite animal and why? 2) You see this pencil, what all can you do with it apart from writing? 3) Why your marks have consistently dropped from your tenth standard to you graduation? I laughed it off saying even I am trying to figure that out. After my PI, I cursed myself for this answer because I felt I behaved too cocky in front of the colonel.
Fast forwarding 3-4 months, 47 candidates were selected and gradually called up for SSB from our college. I was one of them. My Indian Army SSB was in Feb, 2015 at Allahabad. My Indian Navy UES SSB fell a month earlier, in January and I had to travel to Vizag. Before I move ahead, I must say that I had never had any SSB training or coaching. I had not even heard of SSBCrack at that time. I had bought two SSB books from a local store and used them for mock tests and PPDT.
At the Navy SSB, as luck would have it, I was screened out on the first day. I was not able to perform well in the discussion which followed the PPDT. I was disheartened but knew where I required improvement. I went to Allahabad the following month, accompanied by two other students from my college for Indian Army-UES SSB. Again, I was screened out. Following that, I would regularly have conversation with my uncle and take tips on how to perform at the SSB and what all qualities are gauged on the first day. The key here was to understand how an officer would think and spontaneously respond to situations (pleasant or unpleasant). All these days when I was preparing myself for the SSB, I noticed changes in how I had started to think differently and my attitude changed towards everything. Small things that make you realize that you are improving as a person, increase in positivity, I would never shy away from work even if I would be tired after the college, help mom in the kitchen, spend more time with family, talk to friends and motivate them, etc.
In the meanwhile, I was applying for technical entries in the Indian Navy and the Indian Army. I never applied for AFCAT though. I got an SSB call up for SSC Tech 45 entry and my reporting date was in the month of May. And the date clashed with one of my Semester practical exams. I knew I was screwed because I had heard that generally Boards did not entertain date change requests. However, I emailed the Allahabad Board on their id and also dropped a letter and a fax. I had lost all hope for getting a callup but I received my new dates over email somewhat around the first week of June which read, “YOUR NEW REPORTING DATE FOR THE ENTRY STL-45 IS ON 19TH JUNE, 2015. REPORTING TIME WILL BE SAME. YOU HAVE TO BRING THE HARD COPY OF THIS MAIL AT THE TIME OF REPORTING. YOU MUST HAVE TO BRING THE ONLINE APPLICATION FORM HARD COPY PASTED THEREON PHOTO AND PHOTO GET ATTESTED BY GAZETTED OFFICER.” I was on cloud nine. I knew I had to hit it big this time.
I reached the Allahabad station on the designated date and the candidates were escorted to the SSB centre. I still remember entering the Cariappa Dwar that morning with a feeling that I had to achieve my target come what may. We were at the 34 SSB Board this time. Soon after finishing up with the document checking we were escorted to the hall for the tests. OIR were never a problem for me. My PPDT went good, of which I was a bit nervous. But I knew I had written a good story as it came spontaneously to my mind. I was confident in the narration but like we all have experienced, the discussion was a fish marked. The officer had to intervene twice or thrice as the group was shouting like anything. I gave just a few points at the start of the discussion and kept quiet for the most of it.
We came out and had pakodas and cold coffee as refreshments were served.
Then we assembled in the hall for the results. After waiting for about 1 and a half hours, the results were announced – Rishabh Srivastava chest number so and so! We were supposed to repeat our name, chest number and DOB for verification. I did and moved ahead and took the allotted chest number – 9. Everyone in my group was a fresher. We were divided into 4 groups. Mine was the first group. The remaining 4 days went smoothly. I was quite casual during the tests as I was enjoying the most of it. The evening strolls around the candidates’ lines, playing basketball and volleyball, getting involved in discussion with other candidates, about their SSB experiences and what to do and what not during the different battery of tests. I wasn’t able to provide much input as I was a fresher.
I clearly remember few incidences during the tests –
1) During the Individual Obstacle, I could attempt only 5 or 6 of them. I started in descending order of points, Confidence Walk, Tiger Leap, Double Jump, a couple of easy obstacles on my way when maneuvering from one high point obstacle to another. The last obstacle I attempted was Burma Bridge. I don’t know about other SSB centers but at Allahabad, there are two approaches to Burma Bridge, one is through a ladder and the other one is by climbing a rope. I chose the latter. I was already exhausted and panting heavily. It took me a while climbing the rope and as I was pulling myself to stand on the horizontal rope, my foot slipped and I fell on the ground. I tried breaking the fall by holding the rope but in turn was left with a bruised finger. I tried to climb the rope again but couldn’t as I was not left with any energy, so I used the ladder to climb up and while climbing down from the other side, my time was up.
Probably, the qualities which the GTO saw in me were the ability to not avoid a difficult approach and not giving up even after failing.
2) During the command task when the GTO takes you off for a nice stroll talking to you, discussing random things and then describing what you have to do in the task. My GTO talked about my stream of engineering, what city I belonged to, where my college was and what was my father’s profession. Then he says, “Okay. Chest #9, tell me why haven’t you shaved today. You have stubble. Are you so busy that you didn’t get time to shave?” I was taken aback with such a sudden question. I responded by saying that there was a problem with the water availability at candidate lines in the morning. Well, this actually was the case! But I knew I had seriously decimated my chances with the GTO. Well, I was shown my obstacle and I had planned everything in my head how I would guide my team across the three obstacles. The GTO asked me two chest numbers I wanted to have for the command task. The chest numbers were called. I stayed out and gave instructions one after the other. We finished the three obstacles much before time. The GTO then took away a plank and gave me another rope and asked me how the team should change the strategy to clear the obstacle. We were able to complete that one too. After completion, the GTO excused us and we came back jogging to the sitting area.
I believe that the GTO was able to observe clarity of thought and execution in my command task.
3) My Personal Interview was on the fourth day so I was lucky enough to mentally prepare myself and also to take tips from other candidates on the questions that were being asked. The board president took my PI. He had a subtle smile on his face when I greeted him and he asked me to sit. It was followed by questions on my family, education, why my grades have decremented over the years, friends and who is my best friend and why, etc. etc. Then the IO asked me in what tests have I performed best and the worst. I replied, my best performance was in command task and I could improve in the psychological tests and that WAT and SRT could have been better. He also asked me what were the aircraft carriers that India possessed. After I replied with the answer, he followed it with a question on and how do planes land on them, which again I was able to answer. I believe he asked me the questions about the aircraft carrier because I had appeared in the Navy SSB before. Rest were questions about the different geographical commands of the army, the gallantry and service medals that are awarded and other GK questions. I kept my cool during the interview and gave clear and precise answers, which I believed would go in favor of me.
4) The last day was the conference. I was called in. I believe I was a borderline case as my conference went for more than 10-12 minutes. The same question was asked by the board president, that what were my best performance and where was I unable to perform well. I gave the same answer as what I gave during the interview. Then the board president signaled towards a glass on the table and asked me 5 things I could do with it except for using it to drink water. I gave 5 uses for the glass. Then the president said, “Okay chest #9, tell me one more use for the glass.” This was when I went into thinking because even thinking up 5 uses was so difficult and he had asked me a 6th one! I took over a minute to think over it with the whole board gazing at me. Then I replied, “Sir, we can use broken pieces of glass to sharpen the manjha (string) of the kite. We apply wax on the string and run the manjha between two pieces of glass.” I knew it was correct as I had heard it somewhere before, but was not sure. But I saw an officer, who was sitting on the extreme left nodding with affirmation towards the president. Then there were the general questions about the stay and any suggestions that I would like to give. I gave a reply and was excused from the conference hall.
Then was the time for the results. The board president visited us and told us about Kalam sir and other personalities who had tried for the defense but couldn’t make it through but still made it big in other fields. But we were eagerly waiting for the results and I was getting anxious. Our technical officer was a lady Major, who was supposed to announce the conference results. Then they called up the first chest number, then the second chest number followed my chest number – number 9. I almost went numb and it took time for it to sink in that I was recommended to join the Indian Army, truly a dream coming true.
Total of 6 candidates were recommended from our batch – which was a record of sorts as Allahabad is believed to be one of the toughest of the SSB Centres. We were buried in documentations that we would continue to fill up during the time our medicals were in progress.
On the day of the ortho and physical checkup, I was declared unfit due to Cubitus Valgus, which I didn’t even know what it was until that day. It meant I had a carrying angle in the arms, (19 degrees each side). I felt lost and beaten up. And, I didn’t know how to respond to such a situation.
I applied for AMB (Appeal Medical Board) at R&R, New Delhi. The window for appearing in AMB is 45 days.
After medical conference, I came back to Lucknow and started searching for cures for Cubitu Valgus. As it would turn out, the two options that were available to me were – 1) Get a surgery, which would in turn render me unfit to join the force; or 2) Physiotherapy. I started with physiotherapy the next day after reaching Lucknow. At that time I had less body mass so the condition looked more accentuated in me. I was getting anxious seeing no visible improvement. I moved to New Delhi to get a second opinion at SIC (Sports Injury Center), Safdarjung Hospital. I got a digital x-ray done. It was clearly visible that I had carrying angle of 20 degrees in my right arm and 19 degrees in the left one. However, the doctor told me that since it is not a result of any injury or trauma and does not hamper with functioning, it is not going to be an issue in aiming weapons and/or physical training. At SIC, I saw some ray of hope.
Just to get another opinion, I also visited the BSF hospital with my uncle. There too, I was told the same thing but was also informed that the medical standards are enforced strictly in the forces.
I appeared for the AMB at R&R and was given rejection again. I applied for Review Medical Board but my request was not accepted. It is usually not a norm to accept RMB requests, and I have never heard a medical case reaching the RMB.
I came back home with lost hope. I felt dejected and it affected my health to some extent. I would wake up in the night with cold sweats. So in a nutshell, I knew it was over and I would never be able to fulfill my childhood dream of joining the Indian Army.
But, chasing my dream gave me a lifelong experience. I have become a better person, I am mature, I am intuitive, I am alert, I have developed a never-say-no-more attitude, and, I have made lifelong friends from the SSB. One of the recommended guys I met at the SMB, Allahabad, was awarded by the then President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee at last year’s OTA POP. Another mate who got recommended with me led the Bisons at the OTA POP, and there are numerous stories that I could tell about them. It fills me with a sense of pride for the ones who are ready to sacrifice their present for India’s future!!!
What I want to say in this very long post is that never get disheartened if you were like me and not able to achieve your dream of joining the forces. The enthusiasm that you put into preparing for SSBs and the OLQs that you have developed, use them to serve the country, because there is always a way. I now have moved to Mumbai working in an MNC. I am a frequent marathoner and actively participate in CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities.
Rishabh Srivastava( SSC-T 45 entry 34 SSB – Allahabad Chest #9 : SSB & Medical )