Becoming an officer of the armed forces still remains the dream of many young people despite the tough competition and to accomplish that goal in their life a candidate would be required to clear the SSB(Services Selection Board) interview. We see over a hundreds and thousands of candidates floking to the SSB centres every year with the hope of making it to one of the prestigious defense institutions or academies. But there are only few who actually make it. There are people who clear it in their maiden attempt, there are few others who clear it in their second, third, fourth and subsequent attempts. The Shershah of Kargil, Capt. Vikram Batra, the legendary hero and the PVC awardee, cleared his interview in his eleventh attempt. Failure at SSB can never break the nerves of a candidate who has the will to make a difference and that is the reason we find many candidates at the SSB centres coming year after year.
To begin with, this is Raju swain from the city of pearls, Hyderabad. A Mechanical Engineer by qualification, a software engineer by profession, a writer, a blogger and a person with the burning desire to become an IAS officer. Like most of the defence aspirants, I too gave my SSB interview and I would like to share my story with you. Although it has been more than three and a half years, I feel that SSB stories are something that keeps the aspirants motivated at all times. So here is my story.
It was in the latter half of the year 2009 that I received my SSB call letter for NDA-124 course of the Indian Army. I was happy to have cleared the NDA/NA exam. The interview was scheduled in the month of Jan 2010 at Selection Centre Central, Sultan Infantry Lines, Bhopal. I didn’t have any know-how about the SSB interview then. I thought that clearing the exam will take me directly to the National defence academy, Pune. I was so deeply immersed in the joy of having cleared the exam that I didn’t go through the SSB procedure that was printed on the call letter. I just read the items to be carried with oneself to the centre. I did the shopping for white shorts and T-shirts, PT shoes, and others. The ticket was booked by my father. That was for the first time that I was made to travel alone and it was a different experience all together. I was just seventeen and a half years old then. Parents were worried about my safety. But I made it to the centre safely.
If I recollect rightly, we were a batch of 80 plus candidates waiting near the MCO office for the army bus that we knew would take us to the place where our dreams would turn into reality. Upon arrival at the centre, we were told to stand in a sequence of our roll number. Then we were segregated into fresher’s, screened outs and repeaters. These three terms were new to me and I was quite apprehensive about what was happening at that time. The documentation started at 1530 hours and ended up in two hours. I was allotted the chest number 20. After the documentation, a young officer who was probably in his early thirties. He briefed us about the procedure that we would be going though in the next four days of our stay at the SSB. After the briefing, we were allotted cabins to live. There were six candidates in a room. It was followed by the dinner. We were told to report at 0600 hours for the screening test.
I woke up at 0400 hours and went to the bathroom directly to take a shower. It was winter and the cold water had a negative impact on my motivation. I came back to the room and slept over again. I woke up to the disturbance in the room and realised that it was well beyond 0545 hours and that I was late. I rushed to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
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I was very excited about taking the test. The candidates were made to sit in an auditorium where the test was about to begin. The initial two OIR (Officers intelligence rating) tests were easy and I answered 98 percent of the questions. After that there was a tea break for 20 minutes and then we were made to sit in the same auditorium where the Part-II of the screening was about to begin. This part of the screening is called PPDT (Picture Perception and Discussion test). I wrote an interesting story, positive story to be specific. The discussion part of the test started in no time with people being made into several groups. Every group comprised of twenty candidates. Prior to the discussion, a panellist briefed us about the process that we should follow during the discussion. We positioned ourselves in a U shaped arrangement from left to right. The due process was followed by every candidate. Things were very well during the individual narration of the story. As soon as the last person ended his narration, the room beame a war zone. The sound decibel increased beyond the permissible limit. It is supposed to be a GD and not debate, I thought. Each time I tried putting my view points, my voice by dodged by someone else. By the time the energy levels of the other reduced, I found an opportunity to speak. When I had just started, one of the members of the panel got off his chair and said, “Thank You gentlemen…that’s all for the day”.
I was unhappy with my performance in the GD, but couldn’t do anything about it. It was all over. We all had the lunch and it was time for the results. The officer announced the results post lunch and out of 80 plus candidates, only 24 made it to the stage two of the selection process.
I was introspecting myself sitting at the station on one of those iron bentches on platform no-01 and suddenly I heard the announcement of Hazrath Nizamuddin-Hyderabad-Yeswanthpur express. I boarded the train back home.
I didn’t give any other NDA/NA exam thereafter. After the declaration of my grade twelve examination results, I took admission to an engineering college here in Hyderabad. The engineering days went off well. I could only afford the luxury of having just two backlogs in my entire engineering course. It was during October 2013 that I received an email for the UES(UNIVERSITY ENTRY SCHEME)-Indian Navy campus interview at Anurag Engineering College, Hyderabad. Life is tough for the engineering students during internal exams, at least, I would like to think so. We too had our internal lab examination. It was a do or die situation for me. I had my Navy interiew the next day and Internal exam a day after. I was in a dilemma. However, life went on and I decided to take the risk of attending the campus interview of Indian Navy. The next day it started with an opening address by Commander Abdul Rehman post the registration process. A GD and individual narration by the candidates on a particular topic formed the part of the selection process. Everything went well. By the time I was back home, it was too late. I had my dinner and slept. On the day of the exam, I was worried as to how the examiner would behave if I told him that I don’t know to every question that he asked. But to my surprise, there was a bandh call given by the TRS party. The exam was postponed by a week and it came as a big relief for me.
A couple of months later, I received an email from the Selection Centre Central, Bengaluru for the SSB interview of UES entry of the Indian Navy and that meant I made it though the campus selection. I took a week off my college project that I was doing at Research Centre Imarat, DRDO, Hyderabad. It was again a tough decision, but I had to take the risk. Mr Arindam Das, my mentor at the missile test facility, DRDO was unhappy upon learning about the prospect. But I convinced him of the timely completion of the project and he obliged.
Reporting at Bengaluru City Junction Railway Station:
If I were to go by the numbers, there were close to 360 candidates reporting for the SSB. We were ferried to the SCS(Selection Centre South) in a bus that was overloaded with the candidates and being a mechanical engineering student, I could sense the disturbance caused by the engine due to the overloading.
After reaching the centre, the document verification, allotment of chest numbers, room allotment and the dinner followed.
Screening Day-12 SSB
As I was familiar with the screening process, I was cautious this time. The OIR test went well as usual. The PPDT went well too. I took the opportunity to speak in the discussion and it went well. I was happy with my performance.
The technical officer of the board showed up with the results. He called out for the names of the candidates. Chest No-01, 80, 17,67,…….., 47(My Chect No)…and so on. The number of candidates who cleared their screening stood at 80. I was happy to have cleared the screening test.
Day 2-Pyschological Test
I think I would not write much about this test fo most of us are aware of it. I attempted all the TAT, 47 SRTs, 50 WATs and the Self-description. The test ended around 1130 hours.
The candidates whose interviews were scheduled for the same day were informed and I was not one of them. I slept for an hour post lunch and went to Bengalore central for the outing at 1600 hours.
It was decided by the officers that chest numbers 01 to 40 will have their GTO on Day 3 and the rest will have interviews and vice-versa. My interview was with the president of the board. I repoted exactly at 1100 hours at the waiting room. Aftera couple of minutes, the chect number 47 flashed in red on the screena and that meant it was time for me to enter the room. I walked down towards the President’s office. I politely entered his office and greeted him. The interview went something like this.
Me: Good Morning, Sir!!!
IO-Good Morning, Raju!!! How are you?
Me-I’m doing well. Thank you.
IO-Please take your seat.
I made myself comfortable on the chair and thanked the IO for his gesture.
IO-So….Raju Swain…(He took a long pause…I guess he was going through my PIQ……)
Tell me something about yourself???
Me: Well, you have my PIQ with you. I expect you to have gone through it. So I won’t tell you much that’s already there.
Me- To begin with, I’m a cheerful person as always, a writer, a blogger and a person with a burning desire to pursue my dreams. Besides that, Coffee is something that makes up my mood. If you ever find it difficult to win over my heart, just offer me a delicious cup of coffee. Further, I like listening to the songs by legendary singers like Lata mangeshkar, Udit Narayan, Alka Yagini, Shaan and to name a few others. Although I don’t have a dslr camera with me, I like capturing daily moments on my phone. I see a budding photographer in me. That’s all about myself.
IO-That perfectly alright, Raju!!! I see that you are coming from Hyderabad. Who do you think are the most intelligent people between Andhrites and Tamilians???
Me-Sir, I think it is the people of Andhra pradesh that I feel are much more intelligent than the Tamilians.
IO- Can you justify what you just said?
Me-Sure sir…If you closely analyse the ranks secured by students from both of these states in IIT-JEE which is considered to be one of the toughest examinations, you would find that the top rankers are from Andhra. Infact, the percentage of students in the top 10, top 100 and top 1000 for that matter is always the higher for Andhra state. So I think it is the Andhra people who have an edge over the Tamilians.
IO-How can you say this based on your one particular observation?
Me-Sir, there can be different parameters on which we can arrive at a conclusion. Since you asked me to justify my point, I felt this to be the most relevant and the perfect example.
IO-That’s alright. Now, tell me something about your education beginning from School to graduation.
Me- Sir, I did my schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya Air Force Station, Begumpet, Hyderabad wherein the teachers were very supportive be it academics, sports or extra cerricular activities. I passed out from the school in the year 2008 by securing 74 percentage. Then, I moved to the state board. It was a different board all together. Initially, I found it difficult to continue, but I conditioned myself to be in such an environment.
IO-You just said that it was a different board…what do you mean by that??? Explain me in detail.
Me- Sir, I switched from CBSE to State board and there was dramatic shift in the way the two boards functioned. There were questions in the examination directly taken from the text book. But in CBSE the questions were concept oriented wherein we need to apply our minds to get the answer. Besides that, the students mug up answers in english and produce the same answers on papers. You find find 85 percent of the papers with the same answers.
Me-Coming back to where I left, I appeared for various entrance examinations and couldn’t manage to secure a seat at the national level. But I got a decent rank in EAMCET, fair enough to fetch me a seat in one of the top colleges in Hyderabad.
IO- Did you apply for IIT-JEE and AIEEE??? What was your rank???
Me-Sir, I couldn’t qualify for JEE and my rank in AIEEE was in six digits(400000)
IO-He laughs at my answer…
Me-Sir, I joined engineering in 2010 and the initial days of the engineering was fun. I’m into my final year of engineering and I’m doing very well.
IO-That’s okay…I can see that you secured 72 percentage in first year and in the second year you could manage to get just 66 percent. I also see that you had a backlog that you have cleared. How can you say that you are doig well???
Me-Sir, I compared the difficulty level of the paper during that semester and I think my performance was satisfactory.
IO-Could you please tell me about the continents of the world?
Me-Sir, the continents are North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Antarctica, Australia…
IO-What do you think in which continent India lies?
Me-It is in Asia.
IO-You missed Asia in your response.
Me-Yes sir, thank you for pointing out that.
IO-That’s all right…
The discussion went for about one hour and we discussed about my family, the things that I admire about my parents, my friends, the things that I do with them and all.
The IO asked me some questions related to defense and I answered them all. I would say that it was a great interview experience. The IO derived questions from my responses.
The interview ended positively.
Day 4: GTO
We assembled near the tea point for the GTO and it was a different picture all together. We all were in white T-shirt and shorts. I felt as if we were back in school. Anyway, the GTO started with a GD, then another GD, GPE, PGT,HGT, Lecturatte, Individual Obstacles, Command task, FGT. I participated actively. I was abused by the GTO a couple of times but that’s was okay. I kept my cool and gave my best.
At the end of the day, the GTO briefed us about the conference> we were told by the GTO that our performance was phenomenal and that he would recommend us to the board. Then we left for our rooms.
We knew that the stay at SSB will come to an end tomorrow and my batch mates decided to visit Café Coffee day near Brigade road. We had a great time.
Day 5: Conference
The day was here and our chest numbers were replaced with the new ones. Prior to the conference, we were told about the procedure to be followed for the same. The conference started at 0930 hours. The candidates were going and coming one after the other. Finally, it was my turn. I entered the room and the president asked me to sit. I was asked about the stay at SSB, the food in the mess and any suggetions that I would like to offer. It ended in a minute or so. I came back and discussed it with my batch mates. There were rumors going around that if you conference gets extended than normal you are the one who may get recommended and all other bull shit. But I didn’t pay heed to any of that.
The technical officer, the one who announced our screening results was here again and this time he was in his uniform. He started calling out the names of the candidates. I was the last person in the list of the recommended candidates. There were 14 candidates who got recommended. We all were happy.
We were instructed to visit AFSB, Mysore for the PABT and all the candidates cleared the test.
Well, after getting selected I underwent a rigorous medical examination at IAM IAF, Bangalore and I was declared medically unfit for the same. I was quick enough to apply for the re-medicals and the medical board appeal was scheduled in the month of March at Base hospital, New Delhi. I was declared fit for the forces in the AMB (Appeal Medical Board).
Finally, I was done with my part of the selection process and was waiting for the merit list. But, the main hurdle was yet to be crossed. And, what was that??? Well, that was my final year project for the degree which I never cared about. But, I was forced to do it. As soon as I was back from Delhi, I went to Research Centre Imarat (DRDO), Hyderabad. The project that I initiated was the analysis of the exhaust system of the Agni Missile. I still wonder as to what my role was in the project. I will remain indebted to my father without whom the project would not have been a success. The commanding officer of my father’s last unit was the director there and so, I got the opportunity for the project. Lucky guy. Ain’t I??? Finally, the semester ended on a positive note and I was all free. The results for the same were declared within a month and I could manage to secure the first division with 72.46 percentage in aggregate.
Merit List: I made it to the merit list and the offer letter was received by me in the month of June. We were required to report to the academy in the last week of June. I started preparing for the departure.
Life in the academy:
I was very excited to join the academy and the initial days of the academy were really very fantastic. The Indian Naval Academy (INA) is the initial officer training establishment of the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, located in Ezhimala, near Payyanur, Kannur district, Kerala. Situated between Mount Dilli and the Kavvayi backwaters, INA has a 7 km beach front on the Arabian Sea. It conducts basic training for all officers inducted into the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard. It is the largest naval academy in Asia. I was proud to be a part of such institution. Luxurious cabins to live in, world-class dining options, sports and cultural events, dawn patrol, camps and the list is endless.
I lived every moment in the academy. The best moment was the cross country. I will never ever be able to forget all that.
Some people say that I leaving the academy was one of the stupidest decisions that I have ever made. But I don’t pay heed to all such things. It was my personal choice to leave the academy. We all should try to know what our taste and preferences are. I too did the same. I like the defence environment and everything that is associated with it. But does it give an indication that I should join the forces??? No, it is your life and you should decide as to what you want to make out of your life.
After coming back from the academy, I joined Tech Mahindra as a Software engineer and simultaneously started preparing for it. With each passing day, I’m inching closer to my dream of becoming an IAS. I don’t know if I will be able to make it, but I’m trying. I’m optimistic about myself.
Besides that, I believe that we all should keep learning. I’m an investor who has invested in the stocks and that is something that I like to do. I’ve friends who love to share their knowledge with me. Moreover, it is my desire to keep learning that helps me in my life.
Besides that, I help candidates in understanding SSB interviews and I’m glad that four of them who took guidance from me made it to the academies. It was all their effort; I just gave them the direction. This is something that I would like to do forever. I go through the website SSB Crack daily and keep myself updated.
This is Raju Swain, an ex-cadet of the Indian Naval Academy and this is my story.
Message to all the defence aspirants: If you think that you have it in you, just go there and make a difference. Don’t let the critics down your morale. Take criticism positively and use it as a tool for positive self-assessment. You will do better. Thank you to the team at SSB Crack for the wonderful work that you people are doing. Keep it up and it will inspire the young people aiming for the forces.
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