Heads I win, Tails they lose: Me, My Father and the Indian Army
Today everyone wants to be part of the Indian Armed Forces. Everyone wants to fight the Chinese. Everyone is angry and wants to do their bit for India. Rather I should say that the josh is very high! I am reminded of my days in college when I too had a brief stint with the Army.
When we were young, my father always wanted us to excel in studies. We were rarely given pocket money to explore the world. However, money was always there for studies, exams and interviews.
One day a friend’s father told me that I should join the army. He told me that it was great to serve the nation at the forefront. Well, for that, I had to sit for an exam and then I would be called for an interview at SSB at Bangalore, Allahabad or Bhopal.
The journey and stay would be all sponsored by the army. Well, the second part was more exciting for me rather than the first as I could then travel all by myself at government expense. I started preparing for the written test. Competition Success Magazine came to my rescue for preparing me partially.
In 1996, I quietly filled up the UPSC form for fifty rupees and then one fine morning I told my father that I had filled up a form and the following Sunday I had to sit for an examination at TNSSS in Gangtok. He gave me a disappointing look.
I was the only son so he wanted me to be around when he would be old. He didn’t say that but I could read that in his expression. Mom just said okay but I could see that same expression on her face. They always thought going to paltan was losing a son.
I went to Gangtok and sat for the exam on Sunday and then returned home. I was sure I had done exceptionally well. The second option of going around free was too tempting for me. Three months later the results were declared and I had cleared for both the Army and Airforce. I again informed them about it. But this time I made sure to tell them that I would not join the army even if I am selected and that I just wanted to experience the whole exercise. I was unsure if they believed me then but was allowed.
Voila…the centre was 17-SSB at Bangalore just as I wanted. With all the requisite haircut, two white half pants, a white T-Shirt, Black shoes and White keds, Trousers and formal shirts (both which I didn’t possess as I wore mostly jeans and T-shirt) I boarded a train to Bangalore and reported at the centre.
Psychological test, Group discussion, Group Tasks and Personal interviews are what followed for the next four days. They wanted to test if I had officer-like qualities. The assessments would start early morning at 8 am and we would be free by noon after lunch. The next 8 hours would be ours. We spent that time to explore the city and would rush back to the unit before 8 pm. Bangalore was a fun city. I was having a roll.
Once I cleared the interview, I would then have to go through a preliminary Medical test before moving to Mysore for the PABT (Pilot Aptitude Battery Test). What happened during the Interview is another hilarious story. I will share it someday. I prayed hard. I wanted to clear the SSB so that I could go to Mysore, just to see the city of course.
Surprisingly I had cleared the SSB interview. I felt nice that I did possess the officer-like quality. But was rejected by the medical board. First a temporary rejection due to my weight (I was 8 kgs overweight) and then due to knock knees and flat foot, I could not go to Mysore. The reality was – I was rejected by the Army. Forever!
I called home and informed that I was boarding the train back. My father asked me if I had been selected because my voice did not sound disappointing enough. He did not know that my intentions of appearing for the SSB interview were different. When I told him that I failed, his voice suddenly changed. He couldn’t hide his excitement yet he wanted to console me. I could sense the excitement on his face through the telephone line. As a father, he thought I needed his assurances.
“Come back he said. There is nothing there for you. Don’t feel sad. The army does not deserve a bright kid like you”, he said. I simply said yes and kept the phone back.
Many years later I asked my mother about it. She smiled and said that my father was very happy that day. He celebrated my failure.
Well, he did not know that for me it was – heads, I win and tails, they lose. I never told him why I had sat for the test.
But in fifty rupees, I had done Bangalore Darshan!
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By Dr Satyadeep Chettri, a regular columnist and teacher at NBB Degree College, Tadong, Gangtok. He can be reached at email@example.com
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