Armed Forces: My Tryst with Destiny...
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Our life is always speaking to us in many ways. The most important question is, Are we listening?
Destiny and karma are always more believable in hindsight. Of my 77 years of existence, one thing that I have learnt is this: thought by thought, choice by choice, we are constantly creating our lives based on the energy of our intentions.
Let me today tell you story of a young 19 year old boy, who shaped his life based on the above philosophy.
Indian Army is a dream that many young men aspire to be a part of. Though I was no different, I knew that this dream could never be realised for me. I was lean and lanky with poor eyesight and wore heavy spectacles, which I knew I did not have the luxury to break even by mistake because buying a new pair would be almost impossible. Therefore, in my mind, the honour of joining the army was a blurred reality.
I was the youngest of the four brothers and came from a home full of love yet struggling to meet day to day ends with ten children and a widowed mother.
My thin physique, however, was compensated with immense stamina from years of playing sports and will power developed by living in limited means.
Since I studied in a college situated in the Ambala Cantonment area, I often looked at the smartly dressed, well-built defence officers with awe and envy. I decided to choose the next best career option for me, the civil services.
You must have often heard the saying, आदमी लाख चाहे तो भी क्या होता है, वही होता है, जो मंजूर - ए - खुदा होता हैI
It is true that our loved ones, even if they leave us, are always around us. Although I lost my Bauji at a very young age, I have often felt his hand on my head through my life. It is still a mystery how life unfolded for me, like a pre-written destined script.
All I had to do was bow my head and ask respectfully, with faith.
The path almost always showed itself.
And therefore, as if the higher power could read my mind and heart, I ended up not only joining the army but being a part of the 1965 war with Pakistan that we won for our country. I know I will die a happy man, for I got a chance to serve my motherland.
There is no bigger honour for a man than to inherit the glorious heritage, timeless traditions and values of armed forces. I with always be indebted to the army for training me not only to be an officer but also a Gentleman for life.
My joining the army was more by accident than design or planning. A perfect example of destiny playing a part in my life that I was going to build for myself and my family.
Know this: If you want to join the Army, you have to show physical and mental toughness. It is not for the weak hearted.
As I look back today, it seems like divine intervention that I had to shift base from SA Jain College, Ambala City to Gandhi Memorial National College, Ambala Cantonment in my second year of graduation. My previous college had withdrawn my full fee concession and my new college offered me the same with an additional opportunity to be a part of the college cricket team.
It is no secret that I could not afford to pay for my education and made up for it by being good in sports therefore availing the college sports quota to study.
It was the September of 63. I was preparing for my final year examinations.
During this time, after having lost the war to China, Indian army was making preliminary campus selections to appoint emergency commissioned officers. Their visit caused nothing short of an excited commotion.
Read on to know what happens next.
My group of friends decided that all of us will apply for the army test. The condition was that whoever was selected, would be given a grand party by the others in the college canteen.
Full of curiosity and interest, we reached the venue of selection, registered our names and waited outside the interview room. I still remember my heart thumping in my chest full of anxiousness and excitement while I waited.
Little did I know that my destiny awaited me, against all odds.
As my name was announced, I took a deep breath, prayed to the almighty and entered the room. Five well-built army men, with the brigadier as chairman, were solemnly looking at me, gauging me with their experienced eyes.
I knew that if I got through armed forces, I would be able to make a mark in life and most importantly financially support my family.
Moving on with the interview, I was asked to sit down.
Question 1: You're so lean. Army life is very tough. How will you survive?
My answer: Sir, I have been a sportsman all my life. At present, I am the captain of the college cricket and badminton team. Since my childhood, I have been playing tough and rustic games like cycle polo and Kai danda, which require constant running, climbing and dodging attacks.
The word 'Kai Danda' piqued the interest of one of the board member. He asked, What is Kai danda, I have never heard of it. I smiled and said, Sir, it is a very interesting but rough game, popular in villages.
Then I went on to explain the concept of the game 'Kai Danda' rather confidently, like reciting the plan for a scientific project.
Kai Danda: All you need for this game is danda (a stick) and a big tree. All the boys climb various branches of a tree. One boy on the ground draws a circle a little away from the tree and keeps the stick inside it. Then he shouts, Kai Danda. His task is to touch one of us. Our task is to jump down from the tree, grab the stick lying inside the circle and shout Kai danda. The game goes on like this.
I could see the officer smiling.
Question 2: The next question was, besides sports, you have any other hobby?
My answer: Sir, I love books, I said. I am passionate about music and in my spare time, I love to sing. The board chairman looked up suddenly and said, okay then, let us hear you sing. My heart skipped a beat for a moment.
Then I composed myself rather quickly, closed my eyes and started singing the famous Lata Mangeshkar song,
ऐ मेरे वतन के लोगों ज़रा आँख में भर लो पानी
जो शहीद हुए हैं उनकी ज़रा याद करो क़ुरबानी
Ae mere watan ke logo, jara aankh mein bhar lo pani. Jo shaheed hue hain, unki zara yaad Karo kurbani.
It is worth mentioning that Lataji sang this song in the National Stadium, Delhi in the presence of then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru in a programme organised after the Indo-chinese war of 1962. Nehru was in tears as Lataji finished this song.
Back to my singing debut in front of the army officers: As I was in the middle of my song, I heard the brigadier Sir asking me to stop. But I was too engrossed in singing, so I kept my eyes shut tightly and continued to sing.
As I reached last line of the song, I stood up in attention and sang passionately,
जय हिन्द जय हिन्द जय हिन्द की सेना जय हिन्द जय हिन्द जय हिन्द की सेना
Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind Ki Sena, Jai hind ,Jai hind.
The five member army team had no choice but to stand up in attention and sing, जय हिन्द with me.
**While I was singing, I could see my friends looking inside the window shocked, not able to understand why I was singing in an army interview. They thought I had lost my mind.
As I finished my passionate singing debut, the board chairman said, young man, you have a horrible voice. I replied smartly, thank you for the compliment Sir, but my sentiments for our brave jawans and our motherland are genuine and very real.
Every member of army board nodded their approval at my response. I came out of the interview room smiling, having enjoyed my singing session.
After the interview of the last candidate was over, the chairman brigadier came out to announce the results. I still remember my heart was in my mouth by now.
He held out a paper in front of him and said, three boys have been selected. The first two names were not mine and just as I was going to give up, he said the three golden words: and Harish Segon.
I sat down on the ground trembling. Tears stung my eyes. I was all of 19 years, and was selected to appear in final interview for commission in the army.
My friends shouted hip hip hurray innumerable times and carried me to the college canteen over their shoulders.
It is one of the happiest memory I have.
Onwards to Army Selection:
Within a fortnight, I got a call for the final interview at Meerut cantonment.
No one in my house knew that I was appearing for the army selection. They thought I was giving my final year exams.
On reaching the Meerut Cantonment railway station, I was taken to the Service Selection Board Barracks in an army jeep along with other selected candidates. We were to be grilled here for the next five days.
The selection process was very elaborate. First we were given chest numbers.
I was Chest Number 1, the youngest in the group of 80.
I must mention here that my competition was stiff, with men as old as 35 appearing for these selections.
There were detailed tests on IQ, psychometric analysis, ability to respond quickly, mathematical problems, leadership qualities and physical aptitude.
All the tests continued for four days. The rains did not stop the entire time.
On the fifth and final day, we were taken to an obstacle course that required us to clear ten tough obstacles as part of the endurance test.
I stood there looking at the ground: the entire obstacle course was waterlogged, full of brown slush and wet mud. The ground was dangerously slippery but then that was the point of this exercise I remember thinking.
One has to be prepared to meet all challenges, natural and man made, during a war.
“Doing your best in the existing moment always puts you in the best place for the next moment”
I started gingerly, with an eye on the final result. I cleared the first nine obstacles and as I reached the tenth, my instructor seemed impressed and cheered me on. I put in my best and cleared the last obstacle just in time as he blew the final whistle.
Smeared in mud from head to toe, I was quickly taken for my final interview. There was a mirror hanging outside the interview room. As I glanced in the mirror, I almost looked like a war hero or so I thought.
As I got into the room, the chairman said, Young man, looks like you are coming from the battlefield.
I smiled and replied, Sir the obstacle course was nothing short of the battlefield but I am glad to inform you that I scored a perfect ten.
I was able to answer most of the questions in my interview. When asked questions on politics, I remember saying to the interview board, Sir I think as a student, I should concentrate on studies and stay away from politics.
I think my ability to put my thoughts clearly across worked in my favour.
Towards end of the interview, the chairman asked me the final question: suppose you are not selected? I replied almost instantly, Sir, army will lose a good officer.
Quite epic, don't you think?
He said with a smile, I'm sure, army will not like to lose a good officer.
I knew I had made it!
All 80 of us, were finally asked to assemble in a big room. The army officer announcing the results said: Chest Number 1, 32 and 70 should stay back.
The rest of the boys were asked to leave.
I stood there, dazed and shocked, unable to react. When everyone started congratulating me, I realised I was CHEST NUMBER 1, the youngest boy in the group of 80.
I had been selected to become an emergency commissioned officer in the Indian army at the age of 19.
But it was not over yet. The three selected candidates were next asked to proceed for medical test.
I knew this test could go against me because even though my eyesight with spectacles was six by six and my right eye was healthy, my left eye was really weak without spectacles.
All eye tests went well till it was turn to check the left eye. The doctor asked me to remove my spectacles, blocked my right eye and asked me to read with my left eye. Everything was dark and blank.
The doctor said patiently, OK, take a step forward. I did, but everything was still dark and hazy.
The doctor asked me to take another step forward and I said, Sir, the words look hazy and could be either E or F.
The doctor now literally shouted in my ears, you idiot, it is last step between you and the commission. Take one more step forward and read again.
I was trembling with fear by now. I prayed, took one step forward and said, Sir, it is E.
And he said, you idiot, it is E. Run out of room before I change my mind.
With tears in my eyes, I thanked him and his parting words to me were, remember, a soldier never cries.
Over a thousand times I have blessed and thanked him for he helped give a final go-ahead to my destiny, helping me realise it.
I learnt two things about life that day:
There are always angels and God around us. We have to believe and ask with faith.
No matter what, A soldier NEVER cries. I have carried that philosophy with me through my life.
I was shaking all over as I came out of the medical room. I had made it!
I thought of all the family debts I would be able to pay, and most importantly help my mother marry off my five sisters.
This special feeling was priceless.
For the first time in my life, I boarded the train back home to Delhi, booked by the army, in first class.
Gods had started to smile on me.
The most memorable part of my journey back home was meeting this auto driver, a sardarji, who took me home to Netaji Nagar from the railway station. He was very happy to know that I had made it to the Indian army.
He carried my small steel trunk voluntarily up to our house on the first floor as a mark of respect to the soldiers.
That was the first time I felt a surge of pride that every Indian soldier feels.
My mother was elated when she heard the news. She blessed and hugged me. She asked the Sardar ji to wait and said, You have brought such good news for us but there is nothing in the house I can offer. Here is some sugar, kindly accept it. It was a five kg tin and Sardar ji gladly accepted it.
The story is not complete yet and continues in the next post but I would like to leave you with this thought:
"Challenges are gifts. Don't run from them. Explore them. Search the good in them. Find a new center of gravity.
The Universe will always conspire to help you."
Try it, it is worth it. All my blessings.