“Bande ki mehnat ko kismat kaise kare parinaam o pyare, Dangal! Dangal!” Zindagi ek Dangal hoti hai aur is dangal me jeetne ke liye chahiye josh aur dum! Aisi josh jo kabhi harkar bhi haar na mane! Aisa dum, jo tab tak rahe, jab tak jeet hasil na ho jaye!
My name is T R Chetan Kumar, hailing from Bangalore, a city where every other person wants to either be an IT leader, entrepreneur or a doctor, I, wanted to be an officer. An officer in the Indian armed forces! Not because it offered me a fancy pay check or a lavish life like a lot of people think, but because this is the only place where the true meaning of secularism and camaraderie can be seen. This is that only organisation where service comes before self and people selflessly lay down their todays for our tomorrows. I feel the smallest way that I can give back to all those selfless souls is by taking their irreplaceable position to protect the ones they loved the most! Us their countrymen!
Being the son of a civilian working with the DRDO, I had very limited exposure to the armed forces or the way the organisation works. It was only after my class 12th when a lot of my tuition friends started filling up the applications for the NDA, I got my first glimpse the armed forces. I didn’t know much about the exam or the SSB as such and didn’t bother to. My application was rejected due to some error online and I was no longer eligible to apply for subsequent courses due to age issues. I then joined for a B.E course in Aeronautical stream in a private college in Bangalore. I always had a craze for aircrafts since my childhood as my father was also involved with UAV’s made by the DRDO. In my engineering, I had an air commodore who was my department head and he used to give us a lot of exposure to a career in armed forces. He told us about the high moral values and sense of respect the job in the armed forces offered and this motivated me a lot to join the armed forces. Started my preparation for armed forces and the first thing I heard was that it required no preparation. The SSB was a test of your personality and it cannot be trained for changed by any amount of coaching or training. So, I dropped the idea of even trying to learn about the tests conducted in an SSB and went in without any preparation.
The first SSB I gave was at 33 SSB Bhopal in Aug 2015. Like I mentioned I was un prepared and was screened in. This gave me extra confidence that my methods were correct during the screening. And I made the biggest blunder of my SSB journey the next day when I wrote what was happening in the image instead of a story in my TAT test of the psychological battery of tests. I was so overconfident about being correct that I bluntly told a friend that, I knew to write better TAT than many others in the batch. And obviously I was terrified by the fact that I was conferenced out after presuming that I did well in the SSB. This was when reality struck and I understood that something was wrong in my method and I had to change. I went on the internet and started reading a lot of articles and learnt a lot from the very few videos that were available on the internet back then. I was again careless to not apply for the next batch of direct entries and had to wait 10 months before I got my next SSB call up and this time I was a lot more confident about the selection.
The SSB was during May-June 2016 at NSB Coimbatore where I was screened in again. And now the confidence in me had increased significantly. The group was gelling well with me and I was liked by everyone, this made me even more exited and it could be literally seen in me when we were running between tasks. We were given a break between tasks (it is always given after your GOR/Snake race) and I was running back to the candidate barrack to pick my towel and wash my face. I was so much in excitement that I slipped and fell on my palm and suffered an internal bleeding which me wear a bandage on my arm for the rest of my stay. I messed up the lecturette, the CT as well as the individual obstacles. And the worst part was I had lost it and given up even though I tried not giving up on the outside and all this well before the results were out. As expected I was conferenced out. But this experience had given me enough confidence to get screened in easily given my communication skills and confidence.
The next attempt was a month later at 12 SSB Bangalore for Navy Pilot entry and I was confident about screening and didn’t worry much. My carelessness had its own plans for me, and I was taken back when I could do just about 30-35 questions in the OIR. Later when I went in to the GD I had the biggest nightmare with the worst possible group (I was also a key element in this group). Turned out that all of us from the group were screened out and not even one screened in. That’s when I experienced the pain of being screened out and trust me that’s the worst feeling to have after having been conferenced out twice. I got a little more serious after this and wanted to improve on my mistake from the past and hence ensured at most care during my OIR.
This SSB was at 19 SSB Allahabad and was comfortably screened in as I ensured I wasn’t overconfident. But the group I had got after screening was the most competitive one I have ever witnessed in my SSB experience till date. Everyone was good and wanted to prove themselves, unfortunately few of them ended up being over dominant and hence I got very little chance to showcase myself during the GTO. But I made the best use of every opportunity I got and ensured we played as a team and won as a team. The conference in this SSB was an interesting one as I was called in within 5 mins of the previous candidate leaving, but I was thrown a rapid fire at me. I was asked to talk about the close friends I made during my stay, why they are so close, what is good and bad in them and so on. I answered all the questions swiftly and realised that there was one quality that the assessors weren’t satisfied with. I was confident that if I failed here, I would make it the next time. And as fate had it decided I was conferenced out but had all the enthusiasm for my next SSB. I was awaiting a call from Indian Navy, but never got it. This was when I realised that I had missed a lot of golden opportunities in the past.
After I came home, my mother wanted me to stop pursuing this dream of mine and told I won’t make it. My brother started mocking me by talking about and my father told me to not waste my time as he believed it was only for the kids of highly educated people. My friends from college, kept telling that I could never adapt with people and I was fortunate that the adapted with me. They told without people liking me I couldn’t make it. The more they said I couldn’t the stronger was the desire in me to prove them all wrong. I went back to the study table, looked up on the internet to find answers to why I was asked those questions and ensure I didn’t do anything that showed such negative traits. This was when I found small ads about a video tutorial by Cdr. Natarajan. It surely seemed expensive compared to a lot of books that were available then. I was very sceptic about the video and first bought a book authored by Cdr Natarajan. After reading the book I felt it was informative and expected the video to teach me more, so placed an order for it. After receiving the video series, I was also offered a free mock interview which was a part of the video series that I bought then. This interview was conducted a week before my next SSB at Bhopal and Cdr Natarajan had told me that my awareness and knowledge is very limited and had to work upon it. Since I had very little time and my limited knowledge about the army didn’t show much about my personality, I ignored and went on to attend my SSB.
This was at 21 SSB Bhopal, and I was confident about screening again as I had not let go of my lessons from the past and got through comfortably. The group I had got after the screening was a good one and 4 out my 6 roommates from the dorms at railway station were screened in. During my interview, I had tried to show off my knowledge about the SSB and things only got better after I let my hair down and opened in front of the interviewer. He was pretty much impressed with me and the genuine way I was answering his questions. But every time a question regarding army was thrown at me I ducked. During the conference, I was asked these questions again and somehow, I couldn’t answer despite having read the answer previous day. I was expecting to be recommended but failed to make the cut.
After this experience, I was almost set to quit and stop my quest for a job in the armed forces. I was declared unfit to join the armed forces by 15 different assessors so far and I didn’t find it right to give another shot at the SSB. This was when my friend Vicky from the Bhopal SSB asked me not to quit. He asked me for one more last shot before I gave up and his words changed my thinking immediately. He told that I had been screened in 4/5 times which meant I had something that the officers saw in me but somehow, I failed in one odd aspect and couldn’t be recommended. After coming home, I had to hear the same old talks about asking me to quit. My parents who had heard my confidence after my Allahabad experience were now almost sure that a job as an officer in the Indian Armed forces was only to those kids who were privileged to have highly educated parents. I wanted to prove them wrong, I wanted to prove them that they had brought me up the right way. I was hell bent on making my next attempt count. and like I said at the beginning of my story “bande ki mehnat ko kismat kaisa kare parinam oh pyare, Dangal! Dangal!” mujhe mera manzil pana tha aur use pane ke liye mai kisi bhi kismat ya aukat se dangal ke liye tayyar tha. And when a soldier is hell bent to achieve his target even the Satan bows down in front of him, that’s what happened next.
Now I needed a platform to understand where I stand and what I know. This was when Aniket came in like a superhero and helped me with his WhatsApp group for SSB aspirants (if you are wondering who Aniket is, he was the mastermind who created the video series by Cdr Nataraja that I earlier mentioned about). The platform had a daily practice of the psych test and Cdr Natarajan’s feedback and answers to any queries regarding the SSB. Now my learning here wasn’t with the practice that was happening but with the responsibility I was given. I was supposed to post 5 words daily for the practice of WAT for all the candidates otherwise everyone would start posting and would create a confusion in the group. The responsibility, showed me how adaptive a person I was, it brought in front of me the diplomacy skills I never had noticed, most importantly it showed me how much people around me liked and respected my views. All these were contradictory to what my college friends always told me. And when I realised this, I was confident about getting through but didn’t want to get carried away. I kept my efforts consistent and persistent all thanks to Pooja and Vibhor. These were two amazing friends I made on the group created by Aniket. The two were more worried about my SSB than I was myself worried.
For the first time before going to an SSB I had a two-way ticket made and the return was booked for 11 days after my SSB commencing date. As usual I was screened in and it was 11 SSB Allahabad, like many of you know, Allahabad is the only selection centre which allows the use of mobile phones in candidate lines. Vibhor and Pooja used to call me every evening to have an update about my day’s proceedings. The night I was screened in, I was talking to the two and they made me answer a set of interview questions. They asked me to correct a lot of things they felt was wrong in my answers and pointed out few things I didn’t know. I was supposed to look up answers for those questions before the interview but as usual I paid no heed. When the interview begun I was up for some shock because the interviewer asked me the exact same questions Vibhor and Pooja had asked me the previous night and I answered exactly the way I answered them, and I was cross questioned exactly like the previous night. Fortunately, the interviewing officer was convinced with my answer unlike my dear friends. When I told them about incident, they shouted at me and were worried for me while I was confident of having given a very good interview. The GTO tests were good as usual because again it was a team game and played like a team and we all lost as a team. The conference was where I had a shock awaiting me. It was eight minutes before I was called in to the conference hall and I was expecting a big pool of questions coming my way. I was confident and calm to answer all those questions. The conversation was something like below:
IO: So, Chetan how was this SSB compared to your previous SSB?
Me: Sir, it has been better than the past. But I feel I lacked a little in the CT of the GTO as I couldn’t give a solution immediately and the GTO had to help me. This is very unlike me.
IO: Okay! Do you have any inputs for the board?
Me: Nothing sir. It has been a wonderful stay and an amazing experience. Thanks for all this.
IO: Thank you very much you may leave.
And this conversation gave me confidence that I am clearly recommended without any doubt in the assessor’s assessment. 45 mins later after the conference is almost done, I understand the same set of questions were asked to all repeaters and I get a slight doubt. The next seen I see as we waited to be seated in a hall to hear the results is, the president of the board takes his car and leaves. Now this act made me wonder who would sign our recommendation letter if anyone of us were recommended and I was almost mentally prepared to accept another mass rejection (I have seen 2 batch washouts one at 33 SSB Bhopal and another at 19 SSB Allahabad). As we waited to hear the dreadful results, the psychologist who walked in with the result sheet gave his brief and suddenly said two candidates were recommended out of the 17-screened in candidates. This statement gave me some space to breathe and I was expecting myself to be one of the two. When he told that he would call out the two candidates in random order we all were expecting it to be a bluff and the chest numbers to be called in sequence. The first number he called out was 11 and my dear friend Asuthosh was super excited and dumbstruck for a few seconds, then managed to tell his name and roll number after which he was called on to the stage. And I knew this was that moment I had waited for two long years ever since I started my journey of SSB’s. The next chest number he calls out was 2. Stood up as if it was nothing special and told my Name and Roll number, as though it was one other of those innumerable days where I had believed in myself and knew that I am one of those gentlemen they looked for (I am more excited as I am writing this situation than I was while it actually happened :P). Bid goodbye to friends and completed to formalities.
After this, had the medical testing for 5 days and was declared temporarily unfit due to overweight and osteolytic lesion in my rib (later learnt this was a sign of some type of bone/blood cancer). I was devastated to learn this but on further inspection it was found that the lesion was due to a bad film and not a problem in my rib (insha allah). The day I got my clearance for my rib was when tears rolled down my cheeks and I was madly happy. I have now been declared medically fit and will be joining the OTA in April after my merit list comes out in February.
With warm Regards,
T R CHETAN KUMAR
- I am submitting this story after at least 15-20 different drafts only because I want, you, the reader to learn from my mistakes and not do them anywhere
- Special thanks to Aniket, Pooja, Vibhor for convincing me to write this and making me famous as well 😛