Growing up in a family where you are surrounded by relatives serving in the defense forces of the country, one is bound to be attracted to the uniform and the feel of being a “Fauji”. I was true forces admirer since forever. 26th January every year was probably the only day since childhood when I voluntarily got up early, just so that I don’t miss my favorite Republic day parade. I still can’t recall a single time in 25 years of my life when I have missed watching the parade no matter where I am. Lakshya and Chak De India used to be my all time favorite movies and every time I watched them, I felt empowered from within. AR Rehman’s “Maa Tujhe Salam” never failed to give me goosebumps. The first time I had to leave the country to stay with my family for three years abroad, the schoolgirl in me kept crying all throughout the way, not because I was going to leave my friends behind, but because I was leaving India behind, literally with “Ye jo des hai tera” playing in my head. As melodramatic as all this may sound, but, as a kid, I never allowed anyone to talk against India being a country with drawbacks, and always defended by saying “It’s the people, not India’s fault! Stop blaming this country!” . I was a patriotic kid in every sense one can imagine. The defense dream kept coming back to me time and again in school and college days in the form of aspirations of becoming a fighter pilot, to becoming a doctor in the Indian Army and finally choosing the path to find my way to join as an officer in any of the three major defense forces.
The realization of this career choice came to me while I was working as a developer in an IT company, after completing my B.Tech. I was sure that coding was not what I saw myself doing and being happy with, because I was a managing and communications kind of person at heart. Six months into my fmyself doingJanuary 2016, I decided to bid farewell to the job and seriously pursue joining the defense forces. Little did I know, the shock of my life was waiting to knock the doors I was going to open.
I started my preparation at 23 yrs of age, very late for a defense aspirant, due its 25 yrs age limit restriction. Nevertheless, I strongly believed that, even with such limited number of attempts, it wasn’t going to be so difficult because I believed,” I had it in me! “. After first two failed (and missed by a few marks) written attempts of AFCAT 2016, I cleared CDS 2 2016 and simply had happy tears as I was filled with excitement for attending the SSB interview. Meanwhile, with an amazing score I also cleared AFCAT 1 2017, followed by my second and also last attempt for CDSE 1 2017.
My first S.S.B interview experience was for Indian Army at 14 SSB Allahabad in May 2017.My happiness had no bounds not only because it was my first attempt at SSB after clearing a written , but also because Allahabad was the city of memories and graduation for me. All through the journey I kept telling myself ,”Allahabad has already given you so much, it will not disappoint you this time for sure”. Guess what? I was wrong! After reporting and document check on day one, 250 candidates who reported at the center were asked to attend the screening the next morning. The next day came like a tight slap on my face and I got screened out hence, was sent back home. For those who are not aware, S.S.B also known as the services selection board conducts a 5 day testing for candidates who have cleared their written exam. The testing is a two stage procedure with a screening test in stage one and those who are retained(less than 40% of reporting candidates) are subjected to stage two testing over next 4-5 days. Stage two testing comprises of:
- Psychology testing
- Group testing
- Personal Interview
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After the 5 day process of testing the SSB selection concludes with a board conference, followed by results. This is where candidates are informed if the selection board has recommended them to join the particular defense branch. The recommended ones are then subjected to medical testing and finally the all India merit list is released based on the vacancies. Well, out of the lakhs of students writing the exam only 10-15 thousand clear the written and generally only 2-3 are recommended from each of the various boards with just about 11 vacancies for the girls in every batch for a non-technical entry.
I was completely in shock for days after returning back home on the very first day after my first SSB experience. Then came the month of July and also another SSB, this time for Indian Air Force. I reported at 1 AFSB Dehradun, and out of the 60 retained from 250 who reported, I was retained after stage one testing. I was absolutely glad that at least this time, I got to experience the entire SSB procedure, but the results came out and I was not recommended. After days of introspection , I figured out what went wrong and got myself ready for the next and last SSB(for Indian Army) at Allahabad again. September 2017, brought with it the best set of memories and Yes! Allahabad gave me my first and only recommendation. I got recommended for Indian Army from 19 SSB Allahabad. It took some time to set in. After failing at the SSB twice before, all I was greedy about was getting a white chest number from the blue one, I was wearing.(White chest number indicates students recommended and retained for medical testing).That sense of pride and walking around in a white chest number was as good as wearing the uniform itself. A feeling only a defense aspirant can define.
The whole medial testing was winded up in a week and I was declared medically unfit on the grounds of being overweight and anemic. “How?” Everyone I knew kept asking me, as to what made me overweight because I was not “fat looking girl”. After starving myself for about a month living on salads and fruits, exercising and what not , I lost nearly 6 kg and was finally declared fit by the medical appeal board. “Ab bass academy jana hai, Ota chennai jana hai”, I kept telling myself. Day dreaming about how life was going to be in the academy. Then in February 2018 came the biggest shock I have experienced in 25 years of my life. I was All India Rank 48 in the Upsc merit list with only 11 vacancies for girls in the OTA (Officers Training Academy-Indian Army), hence, merit out. My dream of serving in the Indian Army came crashing down in seconds.
Now, all I was left with was one last SSB for Indian Air force. History repeated itself and despite everyone around being sure of me being recommended looking at my performance , I was not recommended. The dream of joining the defense forces as an officer came to an end that very day. Two years of dedicated hard work, hope, failure, success, experiences and sacrifices all went in vain.
Despite this chapter of my life which came to a sad end and shook me from within for months together, I will still consider it as the best two years of my life. These two years made me into a completely new person with strength, which now knows no bounds. I had experiences I shall never be able to explain. During the SSBs, I met various kinds of people, ranging from those who had been recommended for over 8 times, yet, merit out every single time with their chances coming to an end, to those, who had invested 5-6 years of their life in trying for defense forces and not giving up with being so positive. I met people who never got screened in and even those who wanted this so bad but were never able to clear the written itself. It gave me strength to fight my own struggle, looking at all these people who were as deserving in every sense to become officers but, failed at it. I learnt a lot about myself during this entire experience and realized how strong I can be when it comes to facing failures and even fears. I bravely performed activities at scary heights like Burma Bridge, commando walk and even the tiring monkey crawl with the utmost ease. These are the activities that scared me to death just by merely looking at them during SSB.
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With this I come to the final purpose for sharing this experience and a message for all defense aspirants out there.
“We all have our set of problems and challenges. Some of us are childhood defense aspirants, while some of us realize it in later stages. While we are struggling to make it into the academies and wearing the uniform just once, we see many of the people we met in our previous SSB’s joining academy and passing out. For those who invest years into this, It’s an extremely painful time when this dream comes crashing down. Recommended or not recommended, my friend, you are as capable as anyone else, to become an officer. It is just a little bit of your own psychology and majorly destiny. The sooner you accept it, the better it is. Keep trying till your very last attempt and be extremely positive in every single time. But, if it does not happen, Do not, I repeat, Do not judge yourself. Move on! Because, life goes on! ” .
Also, another huge piece of advice for every defense aspirant, “Keep a backup for an alternative career option and do not just keep waiting for a miracle to happen suddenly. Take up a job in another field that interests you or study further for a career you would want to pursue, if not defense”.
I realized this after investing one year into preparation of written exams and SSB. But I am glad now that, I did pursue higher studies, because that is what I am finally going to build my career in. I might be two years behind my peers and college friends today, but I am thankful to have been blessed to experience this entire procedure of SSB and even be recommended. The tag of recommendation and the sense of pride that I still get by thinking that, Indian Army saw me as a potential officer out of thousands of aspirants is a great feeling in itself. It was every time a lifetime experience. Though looking at the passing out parade or photographs of people in uniform still hurts but, I learnt to fight the negativity that surrounded my mind to achieve something better in life.
With this, I would end on this note by saying, the worst is over and the best is going to come soon. I look forward to a successful future in a great career field, even if it’s the second best in my list.
All the best!
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