I am an ex-army officer from the Indian Army and currently a student in 2nd year of PGP at IIM Ahmedabad. Life has played a sine curve on my storyline with both the positive and negative peaks at extreme ends. There have been critical moments in which I’ve asked myself “Why Me?” and times when I’ve exclaimed, “Lucky me”. After my accident I went about rebinding the torn pages of my life and decided that it’s not just the destination, but also the journey that is important. Life is iffy, so not only will I strive to achieve what I aim for, I’ll ‘live’ life while doing it. The following autobiography is an attempt to look into the pages of my life till now and delve upon thoughts for the future.
I was born in Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), on 18 October 1980. I belong to an Army background and hence we kept travelling every 2-3 years. My father was posted in a field station that time and being the only kid, I somehow remember enjoying a lot of attention from other officers’ families posted there (so, the black & white pictures say). After my younger sister was born four years hence, as expected I didn’t like the sudden change in the share of attention. That however changed over time and I was always the big brother to her. There was never a pressure on either of us from parents’ side to excel in academics but we did considerably well on our own. Mom held the figure of constant nudging, to ensure that we do well while dad was the silent teacher as far as academics was concerned. I fondly remember the warnings mom used to give whenever I was caught napping on my study table; that at this rate I’ll end up owning a bakery shop, and that way we’ll at least get free bread. Mom was a very good singer and I inherited the basic music sense from her. Tried my hands at various instruments as a child- Tabla, Banjo, Synthesizer, etc. and I have now moved into singing. In class 5th, felt the pressure of performance for the first time in a very trivial way. In a party organised at our home, dad asked me to play some song on the banjo. There was a feeling of ‘what if it goes wrong’, though at that time I could play it even in darkness. Luckily things went off well and I could feel the sense of pride in dad’s eyes. On summer holidays we used to go to our hometown once a year, where all my cousins were living. It used to be a good family get-together with 5 families staying under one roof (multi-storied one though). My close cousins were one of my closest friends since every 2-3 yrs, we kept on changing places and every time there were new faces and new friends to be made. Dad was in a service corps and did a couple of good Army courses. Thus we stayed in good cities without much of separation from him. He was commissioned into the Army as a short service commission officer from the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai and then got his permanent commission later on. As I grew up, I noticed at many times that he always praised officers from the National Defence Academy (NDA). They were supposed to be the ‘best of the best of the best’, as they say. I could feel that at times he was jealous of them, and would have probably loved it if I was to join the Army through the same route. Every time we went somewhere with dad and sentries standing at the gates would salute as the vehicle passed, I would think to myself- this is the life I want too. Wearing the olive green with medals hanging from the chest was in my mind from then on. Every war movie we saw made that resolve even stronger.
FIRST TURNING POINT
In my class 10th while dad was posted at Chandimandir (Chandigarh cantonment), he was diagnosed with Leukaemia (Blood Cancer). It happened all of a sudden, there was no established cause of the disease; it just happened. That’s what life is. Although my mother took it very boldly from outside, from deep within it was as if her entire world was crumbling down slowly. Mom started taking some courses to plan ahead and dad started going to hospitals on a regular basis. Both dad and mom carried on life as if nothing had happened. Within weeks of this happening, there was an Army party and mom was requested to sing. In that particular situation she was not mentally in a condition to sing in the same way. However, after some convincing by dad and the realisation of truth, she went ahead and gave another fabulous performance. Me and my sister had some idea that he’s not well, but didn’t know the extent to which things were bad. One day while checking the freezer, I saw that the medicine inside was for Leukaemia patients. These were some Rs 7000/- injections which he had to take every week. I didn’t discuss this with anyone, fearing the truth. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. When I look back at those initial days, I admire the man who knew that his end is coming nearer; still decided to give it all that it takes to remain calm, optimistic and be a true fighter. I admire even more the lady who had never thought of life without her husband and who now had to take care of her two kids, the house and herself.
The last posting in the Army is given as per one’s choice and thus, we moved to Jabalpur. From my side, everything was going smoothly- we were at our hometown, dad’s treatment was continuing, classes were on, cousins were close by, etc. One of those days Dad casually asked if I’m planning to give the NDA entrance exam. He had never once asked me if I wanted to join the Army or the fact that he would be very happy if I join through NDA. I read the unsaid words and replied in the affirmative. There was no further conversation on this topic again. One day he had to go for his regular check-up to Delhi. All the relatives went off to see him and mom off to the railway station. For a minute the medical attendants carrying him on the stretcher kept him on the ground as they were checking something. That moment a sudden realisation came in, that he was in such a bad state and I felt like running to him and lifting him up from the floor. However, we all just waited by him. Just before leaving the coach I got one chance to bid him goodbye just like any other day. No special hug or wishes, just a ‘bye dad’ and he was off. Two days after that when I entered my grandfather’s house, the mood was sad and after a few minutes my uncle broke the news that he was no more. It was a not a news that was easy to digest, the realisation wasn’t happening and in that state of shock I did what the others were doing. I cried. I went to my sister and we cried together, with me ending by consoling her that everything will be okay. On reaching Delhi and meeting mom, there was a bit of relief as we were the only strength for each other at that moment. The moment of realisation took place when I first saw him lying down in the morgue for the first time and second was when I had to light fire to his body. It was a very high tension environment with no one talking much but waiting as time passed, not knowing what to do. I wanted to touch him and say to him- “Dad, talk to me please, I’m here”. But I just stood there, no emotions on the face; everything was going on in auto-mode. On the cremation day as I climbed into the vehicle taking dad’s body, I saw mom standing in a distance and crying next to my maternal uncle (the youngest one). For that moment I wasn’t feeling inadequate because I knew that he would take care of her. The cremation ceremony changed the atmosphere a bit as I watched things happening. The band marched in with the body coming in a slow march, with full military decorum. My mind was switched off as the wreath laying ceremony was going on. This was followed by removal of the national flag from top, and then the Gun-salute. Deep inside there was a fire that was lighting up in me that said- “Yes, this is what I want- a life of respect, honour and courage; and this is how I want to be cremated when my time comes- with full honours”. After the ceremony as officers came to give their respect and say a few words, one old friend of dad came and said just one line to me- “Rajat, join NDA”. I didn’t know whether I’ll make it to the NDA or not, but at that time I knew that I’ll be an Army officer, one way or the other.
FIRST BIG ACHIEVEMENT
Within few months we moved out of the government accommodation to our own house near our relatives. Dad had promised mom that financially, he had put checks and money will never be an issue. Mom had decided to take things in the right stride and started her B.Ed. studies; thereafter she took up a job in the Army School. She never cribbed to us or anyone even once about what had happened to her and always wore the ‘smile’. Our mental strength was built up by her will power and the desire to give her children all the love and care that she could. She was our motivation to do well in life and stay cheerful in spite of all the odds. After clearing the written exam, I prepared aggressively for the SSB interview which consisted of various tests, and made sure that I made it through. Thereafter another hurdle of medical tests was cleared after some time and we awaited the final merit list. The day the courier came with the NDA offer letter, mom was filled with mixed emotions. On one side it was a dream-come-true for us and, the very fact that my future will be secured was a nice thought. On the other hand, she was sending her son away into a near-fortress like place for strenuous training. For me, it was a proud moment to read the letter which had the answer to the question in all the previous letters- “Do you have it in you? Yes, you do”. For my sister, things had only become worse with this. First loosing her father at the age of 13, then coming from an army environment to life in the civil (which was a big cultural shock), and now another member of the family leaving home for a long time. However, we again banked upon each other for the mutual strength.
Life in the National Defence Academy, for the lack of a better word was toilsome. In three days we lost the sense of time, in one week we lost our waistline and soon we were ‘nothing’- the smallest form of life on the campus of NDA. No matter what the hardships were, the phrase that kept us going was- ‘This too shall pass…”. The concept of gaining respect- both by virtue of your action, and by the position you hold, was visible as we became senior. As a 2nd term cadet (there are 6 terms in all of 5 months each) I was the second lowliest form of life, but had the 1st term cadets under me and thus felt a sense of superiority. There was a sharp difference in seniority between every term, and those 5 months (between courses) made all the difference in the end. The working strategy of the academy was: Break the ego Melt and purge the mind Mould the cadet into a leader with officer like qualities (OLQs). Principles of camaraderie, bonding, honesty, perseverance, valour etc. were never taught, but inculcated in different ways. Every event added on to the personality building, be it the physical training, games, un-official and official punishments, course punishments, breakfast/lunch/ dinner, academics or even the official study period for that matter. There was no dearth of extra-curricular activities- equitation (horse riding), polo, swimming, rock climbing, water skiing, golf, photography, field games, firing etc. I was trained to take tough decisions in a small way right from then, and also to stand by them if things went wrong. I learnt the concept of ‘sunk cost’ in my short stint at ISB Hyderabad, but the principle was imbibed at the academy itself. Every day was a new day with new challenges to be faced and there was a need of new ways to survive the day. There were days in the first term when I thought that life here is worse than it could be in hell, but like some of the cadets who left in the first one week, never once had the idea of giving up. That was totally out of question, and moreover the very fact that people had gone through this, meant that it was possible. Terms up to third were considered junior terms wherein punishments were all physical (like rolling on the ground, push-ups, etc.) and thinking was not one’s privilege (you did what you were asked to with a ‘No Questions Asked’ policy-NQA). In fourth term we were seniors and we had earned the senior-like privileges. The punishments got upgraded this way and were worse than junior punishments because it ate into our free time. As we were growing up in the academy term by term, the accountability increased and all of a sudden in fourth term we realised that now we were not authorised to (could not afford to) make mistakes. As an appointment in fourth term, not only was I responsible for myself, but also for the mistakes of juniors in my division. It gave a taste of responsibility that we were to take on, later in life.
There were no mobile phones in those days and my calls at home used to be only on weekends. Even for that there were 2 STD booths on campus and the system was not FCFS as we say (first come-first serve) but by seniority. If you’re a first termer and got your chance after say 2 hours in waiting but suddenly a second termer enters, than you dare not get up before he does. Of course there were ways and means to counter that, for example coming along with a sixth termer, essentially taking lift (if he was your friend). To make the training more bearable there was a system of ‘X’-type pals, where ‘X’ was some reason a junior could approach a senior to become pals. In effect that would mean that he could take that senior’s help wherever possible and hide in his room if and when required. So there were ‘name type’, ‘place type’, ‘birthday type’, ‘school type’ and such kinds of pals (even ‘face type’). This was very important to the modus operandi of the academy because without such a support system many more would have broken down before even completing the first term. The most organised statistics measure was the countdown of ‘DLTGH- Days Left To Go Home’ which was maintained starting DLTGH- 45 by seniors-juniors alike. At times we shared with each other how our school time classmates must be enjoying cultural fests in their colleges while we were breaking sweat in the academy. There was one midnight map reading exercise in which we took a small break at around 0200hrs, as soon as we saw that we were about to reach the academy gates. The view from that hill top was spell-bounding. We could see the entire Pune city with sparkling lights all over and thought to ourselves, somewhere there people must be having a great party and enjoying life. But there was never any regret, since we knew that we would have given up anything to be here. All such feelings were only for a minute or so, and then the focus changed back to the mission. Also, this is the place where the singer in me first went on stage to perform. Till the time I was at home, I was always in awe of mom’s voice and talent. It was the end of 1st term when there was a farewell function organised for the sixth term cadets of the squadron. Now we as piddling first termers were supposed to do a lot of arrangements and one part was preparing for the entertainment evening. There was shortage of singers in my batch in the squadron and we needed programs to fill the space. So I chipped in since there was nothing to loose and I was confident that I could pull it off. After that I performed in almost every camp fire, farewell (except my own), etc. It was a shame that I didn’t join the music club because of the public image of the club members generally shamming it out (because they used to get excused from games at times and for other such reasons). In fact in almost all the campfires I either sang ‘Woh Pehli Bar or Tanha Dil- by Shaan’. This was the popular choice there; maybe that was because sitting far away from civilisation, this song reminded them of their girlfriend/ desires to have one.
Such is the feeling of belonging to that prestigious academy that one would never hear in an introduction that ‘this’ officer is an NDA alumnus, but instead it would be said that he is an ‘Ex-NDA’. This is because the use of the word ‘alumnus’ or ‘college’ equates it with other zillions of institutions. I was good in my physicals, but not usuriously good like some of my batch-mates were. However, I was one of the good ones in drill (parade). I was one of the two flag protectors (nishan rakshak) out of the three member flag bearer team (two such teams for contingency planning) for the final passing out parade (POP). On the final day the other team carried the flag I the parade and I was the right marker appointment of another squadron. It gave a feeling of self-satisfaction in having excelled at this important part of being an Ex-NDA. As we passed out from the academy in slow-march to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, stepping on the ‘Antim path- The last step’, we came out as cadets with all the OLQs the academy had set out to inculcate, and with a lot of self-pride with humility. There was a desire in each and everyone to live up to the expectations of the academy from us and also uphold the name of the academy in whatever we do. In the end all of us were going to pass out so the destination was never that important; what mattered was the journey in those three years. The course spirit, the squadron spirit, the spirit of belonging to one cause was built up right by the end of the first term. We had learnt how to put the group interest above our own and the meaning of the line- “All for one and one for all”. It was this bonding in times of joy, times of pain, times of failure and times of success that binds Ex-NDA officers together. So much so, that even when a retired officer meets another Ex NDA youngster, the first question is- “Which squadron, Which Course?”
LIFE IN THE ARMY
For NDA cadets, Indian Military Academy Dehradun wasn’t a big deal since we were already in our prime of physical capabilities when we joined there. Again, I got to experience the privileges of being an appointment (Corporal) and that of being good in drill (table orderly). It’s not that I was a very disciplined cadet who never did wrong things or never tried to cut loose. I’ve had had my share of that too. The golden mantra of surviving through NDA was- “Do whatever you want, don’t get caught”. And if and when I got caught I did do punishments, or pulled up a few strings (being good in drill, one could take lift from drill instructors) if the offence was trivial. Throughout the two academies, punishments were another way of building us up both- physically and mentally. After spending a year at IMA, I was commissioned into the Army as a Lieutenant (Lt). There were 2 moments that became the most memorable moment of that time. The first was when we threw our headgears into the sky after taking the oath to serve the country in all times and follow the honour code to the letter. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for, for the past 4 years (there was a similar cap throwing ceremony in NDA POP too). More importantly, the second moment was when my mom performed the pipping ceremony (unravelling of the shoulder epaulettes to show the 2 stars on both the shoulders). The IMA credo was in one way inscribed into our hearts and minds- “The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command, comes next. You own ease, comfort and safety comes last, always and every time”.
I got commissioned into the corps of EME (Electronics and Mechanical Engineers) which also happened to be my father’s regiment and was attached to an infantry battalion for the first one year. I joined my first unit soon in a modified field location thereafter. The initial few days as an officer were pretty much like my 1st term at NDA, when I often questioned myself- why I am, where I am. However it turned out that it was all a part of the traditional welcome to a youngster. My immediate senior, another Ex-NDA senior to me by one term was my closest friend, yet a senior. In my dining-in party (formal acceptance into the folds of the battalion), I had to follow an interesting tradition which I’m sure I’ll never have the guts to do again. I had never had hard drinks before but knew that it would be in everybody’s interest to be a social-drinker. On that day, my immediate senior told me to have a lot of butter in the evening (in anticipation of the forthcoming events). The night came and I was asked to get on with what needed to be done. The tradition was this- After every glass (mug) of cocktail of various drinks, one had to shout the war cry of the battalion (which was in Tamil) and then eat a gigantic green chili. This routine had to be followed 17 times, since that was the battalion number. The task was Herculean but there was no hurry, so I was told (how considerate). But then, “you got to do, what you got to do” as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in the movie ‘Terminator’. What amazed some officers was that after all that, I was in enough senses to introduce myself to the ladies, sing a small song and then talk to my mom on phone. One of those days we had to go to the Bhutan border as part of OP Rhino when Indian Army worked in coalition with the Royal Bhutanese Army to capture/ eliminate militants on their soil. This was where I had a company under my command and I got to use whatever I had learnt in the two academies. It was the feeling we had been waiting for, to lead men one-to-one and have people under our command. Having no other officer to talk to, it was a different experience and I got to know my men more closely. Somehow in all of us youngsters, the fear of death was never there. What had to be done, had to be done- No questions asked. This was true for everyone from those posted in J&K to those in any other place in the country.
One day while I was with my company, I got a shocking news that my immediate senior officer and 20 other men died in an accident. They were going to a high altitude area for a mine laying competition and the vehicle somehow skidded, taking the men and the tools with it. That was my first experience of how uncertain life could be. That officer was just 23, high profile, Ex NDA and would have definitely done very well. But then that’s life- it’s iffy! It was a big loss to the battalion and more so for all the families. Two months after the incident I bid farewell to the unit as I got posted out. An infantry battalion has great traditions and as I was leaving the battalion forever (unlike regular infantry officers who join back), I was given a royal farewell with garlands, battalion band playing the traditional tune and the jeep pulling by officers and men. The time spent there gave rise to another strong bonding with each and every man of the unit. My new unit was in high altitude in Arunachal Pradesh, totally cut off from the civilisation. High altitude areas have the charm of giving a scenic beauty every morning when you wake up and a lot of peace and quiet- an ideal place to be with your wife maybe. The trouble with that is that if you are a youngster and are posted there, that’s not exactly what you’d prefer (especially if there’s no action happening). Sooner or later you get bored of the scenic beauty and long for going back to plains, in the midst of chaos or get busy with some operation. On top of that, mobiles had just been introduced commercially and thus in high altitude, network connectivity was a major issue. One of those days, I played a major prank in which the creative part of mine came into play. There is this tradition in the Army that when a newly wed lady enters into the folds of the unit, she is given a surprise (read ‘shocking’) welcome. Being the most efficient youngster I was entrusted with the task in the morning and was told to prepare something by afternoon; since the officer was expected to arrive with ma’am by lunch time. I thought of a creative set-up for the welcome. My actors were- self and a lady officer (junior). The theme was- proving to ma’am that sir had had a couple of affairs in this location before the marriage. I enacted the part of a ‘sahayak’ (helper- a soldier who assists an officer for misc. activities) while the lady officer played the part of a washer-woman. As soon as sir arrived, he was separated from ma’am, saying that he had an interview with the commanding officer. The lady was brought to her guest room in the officers’ mess where I was waiting with my next plan in mind. I cleared out some space for the luggage and inadvertently (so, it seemed) looked at a letter and kept it in my pocket. Curiosity got the better of her and she asked me to show the letter. Lo and behold! It was a letter from one of Sir’s girlfriends who very fondly remembered the last time they’d met. That letter was a masterpiece that I had prepared after a lot of consulting with people. She asked if he ever had lady visitors, and I replied sheepishly there were some whom I’d seen often. Ma’am was in for more shocks as the washer-woman brought in clothes amongst which there was a skirt. One after the other she was becoming more silent, confused, dazed and words to that effect. These things went on till late evening in which everything was disclosed in the party and she had a huge sigh of relief. She then was pleasantly surprised seeing us in formal dress and hearing a totally sophisticated tone of voice. This was one part of me that I had never explored before. I was an entertainer in parties with my songs etc. but had never acted in life and this one had been- script writing, direction, and also acting.
SECOND TURNING POINT
From that unit I was sent for the ‘young-officers course’ to EME School Baroda. There was another Ex NDA batch mate with me in the course who went on to become my closest buddy. We lived up to our image of having a natural instinct for games, first class physical standards and were very good in studies (in spite of supposedly being sleepy in the class). There was an un-written rule that had to be followed. Though we never really tried to be different, we had to be amongst the best, and we were. Somewhere at the back of our minds and deep within there was a voice that said that we have to uphold the name of the NDA. I was never one of those guys who were very open to girls in spite of being from an Army background. This had more to do with my cultural root where people were still not that open, and offcourse my inherent shyness towards the opposite sex. During NDA days again there had been no such interaction, but by the time we passed out, we knew our worth. Even those who had never spoken to a girl had ample amount of confidence to face anyone. This course was where I fell in love for the first time (with a lady officer in the batch), or so I thought.
One unfortunate day, the day that I will never forget in my life, things took a nasty turn and my world shook from its roots. On 22 Dec 2004 at around 2300hrs, while returning from an official party I met with an accident. It was just as the definition of an ‘accident’ goes. We took off from the party and I was driving at a moderate speed since the air was chilly, and had that lady officer as my pillion rider. Next thing I remember is waking up in a civil hospital after 5 days surrounded by a doctor, my coursemates and my family. The doctor came to me and asked, “Rajat, Where are you”. I reacted casually since I had no idea of what had happened and said, “I must be having a fever and that’s why am in a hospital”. As I said that, I could feel that my mouth had been wired shut and a few teeth were missing. The doctor said, “Rajat, you had a severe accident on the night of 22 Dec and to save your life we had to amputate your entire right hand”. My immediate reaction was to do a visual check of myself as I lay there. My legs were in a plaster, but they were there; eyes were okay, everything seemed fine- ‘on parade’ as we say in the Army. I said, “Can I have some chocolate shake please”. I said that casually because I was thirsty and my coursemates reminded me of the possibility of having a chocolate shake. However, now that I look back, the moment after the doctor announced the news to me was very crucial with everyone waiting to see my reaction. After I said, what I did, there was a considerable relief in the environment. I don’t know whether I got the shake or not, but the statement certainly put many minds to rest that everything will be okay. I had slept right through the disastrous Tsunami which took several lives down South of India and came to know only later on. The accident had been a grungy one. According to an eyewitness a motorcycle overtook me from the wrong side and moved ahead. At the same time a tractor trailer took a turn and in trying to manoeuvre around that rider, the ‘trailer’ part hit straight into me. The trailer part didn’t have any lights (as it is supposed to have, officially) but I never really understood how I let that happen. But then an accident happens by accident. After that things fell in place. The lady officer was in senses and called up people. My coursemates arrived just in time, a God-send empty car came by in which I was evacuated. On the way there was a lot of blood-loss due to the gaping hole on the impact side (right side). By the time I reached the operating room my heart beat had stopped and I was dead briefly. I was brought back of course, that’s how I’m writing now. The entire Army establishment had been activated by then with volunteer soldiers turning up for blood donation in wee hours of the morning. When I had woken up that day, I had a fractured right leg, plastered left leg, broken jaw, broken teeth, sprained neck, missing arm and few other trivial injuries. But I was there, I was alive and smiling; this was more important.
When things go wrong, it is your near and dear ones who suffer the most. My mother was given the news of the accident without specific details, early morning of 23rd. The same day she left for Baroda with my sister and my maternal uncle. While they were in the train, the life saving operation had nearly been performed and the rest was still going on. Fortunately I had no severe head injury (thanks to the helmet), and at that moment the priority one was saving my life at any cost. I can only imagine what would have been going through the heart of my mother in that situation. Even now as I reminisce the past, I can’t help but feel sorry for my sister who had to go through so much of sorrow, at such a tender age. But then they were brave and this accident made each of us closer to each other, and to the reality of life. I attribute this second life to my coursemates and other officers who were there throughout, to the anonymous car driver, to my family and relatives for being there, to the men who donated several bottles of blood, to every member of the EME fraternity present there and to the thousands of well wishers who heard about the accident from others. After gaining consciousness I had decided that I will not hold on to the relationship since it wouldn’t be fair on my part to expect anything. But that time, that lady stood by me and I felt that this is what true love was (or so it seemed). She had also been injured with a small injury on the forehead and a knee fracture. I was then shifted to Command hospital Pune for further treatment. From then onwards, gradually things started improving and within months I was able to move around on a wheel chair. One fine day (after 4-5 months), I remembered that I had not done my face-to-face with reality; hadn’t even thought once about the loss that I would have to bear with. So one evening I went to a corner of the hospital on the wheel chair to touch on my emotional side. And that day, I cried my heart out for all that had happened till now; everything that I wouldn’t be able to do now however trivial it might be- swim freely, ride a bike, maintaining my physique, etc. But then I felt good after that, it was as if till now I was feeling guilty conscious of not giving due importance to the loss. After this episode I came back to my usual self and thought about how worse it could have been, and what I could still do with whatever I had. It is good I believe, to touch on one’s human side from time to time. In the same hospital I also met another officer who had just been evacuated from Siachen glacier. The officer had lost his entire right leg, half of the left leg and half his left hand due to delay in evacuation (because of weather conditions). When I went to meet the officer, I was pleasantly surprised by the cheerful smile on his face. It was this element that Army officers were built with, the never ending ‘never-say-die’ spirit.
A NEW GRAPH OF LIFE
Within three months of gaining consciousness I had started writing with left hand legibly and was then working on my speed. I had even thought of how easily I can drive a car with one hand (since the gear was closer to left hand and people at times drive with one hand holding the phone; technically not very difficult). I did that after a few months; drove our car from station to home and gave mom a pleasant surprise. I never wanted to leave the Army in spite of my condition. I had left studies centuries back (at least it felt so), way back in class 12th. In fact Ex NDA officers used to be jokingly called as 10 plus 2 minus 3 because in those three years the mind was moulded for something else. I was guided during this time by a very helpful Lt General at Army Headquarters. The situation was put forward to me in this way that if I wanted I could have continued to serve in the forces. However, that would have meant no advance course, no command at a senior stage, etc. and basically a very mundane life. On the other hand, maybe if I went out right now, age was still on my side and I could start a new career. I would have all the privileges of the army and was entitled to hold the rank (unlike officers who leave the Army before 10 years of service). I then decided to let go of the ‘olive green’, which was a very emotional decision per se. The next decision was of ‘What Next?’ and I explored my options. The officer was ready with a few offers from a few companies; Rs 25,000 to Rs 35,000 p.m. - low profile- easy life types. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew for sure that this is not where I would be going. Here is when my sister and few old school-time classmates helped me in deciding. After a lot of counselling and extra efforts on the part of my sister to sit for competitive exams, I decided that I’ll take the plunge. It was a Herculean task because that meant going down to refreshing my basics in mathematics and other subjects, which I had left far behind. There was a lot of uncertainty in my mind in the initial days whether it was a good decision or not. At that point of time, there was no message that I wanted to give to people. I was standing in the middle of nowhere and wanted to do something difficult and prove a point. Academics weren’t exactly my area of specialisation or even my area of comfort for that matter. I decided that whatever the outcome maybe, I’ll give in my 102% into it. I requested some senior officers at Pune if I could get an accommodation while I prepared my battle with books and got a very good response both from my academy (NDA) and the Pune area officers mess. Thereon, I joined a coaching centre and an MBA site (Pagalguy.com), and got hold of my basics. For all those months I had the support of my family and coursemates in every way. This was also a period when the opposition from that lady’s parents started increasing and the relationship started waning away. However, the love was there and that was a strong mental support. In the course of preparation as I started gaining confidence, I felt that I had to uphold my image of being an Ex-NDA. I decided that I’ll aim for the two colleges that were best in India- IIM Ahmedabad for a 2 yr course and ISB Hyderabad for a 1yr course. And thus I was going to take no other exam, only the CAT and the GMAT. The war was on in full throttle and in three months I was ready for the first exam, the GMAT. By now I had built up a strong relation with members of the MBA site and with best wishes from all my near ones I left for the exam. On the exam day, I went wearing my bullet proof jacket and fully loaded with weapons and ammunition (figuratively speaking). After taking the exam, there’s a gap of 30 seconds to 1 minute before the score appears on the screen. Those few seconds were the longest seconds that I’d seen, with number of ‘What if’ scenarios coming in the mind. Suddenly the score appeared and I got up with a calm and composed look, and signed out of the centre. From deep inside I could feel kangaroos jumping as high as the Eiffel tower, with happiness. It was a feeling of infinite joy, as if there was a point to prove and I had proved it. The battle had been half won and I knew that I’m going to get into one of the best (if not the best) colleges. After flying a lot in the sky, I brought myself to the ground. First things first I prepared an excellent set of notes (on English grammar) to share with everyone and made them public. They became so famous that now if one googles for ‘rajat_nda sc notes’ they’re available on a number of sites to download from.
One fine day I mulled over the past events, I had suddenly found a meaning of my second life. Whatever I was doing was to prove a point. Firstly, I wanted the entire world to know that nothing is impossible if one is determined enough and secondly, I wanted to help out each and everyone in any way that I could. There was an inherent feeling of giving back to humanity, for this second life. The remaining days before the CAT exam, I devoted to helping people out on the MBA site in the English section. Later on in my interview with ISB, there was something inside me that said that there was no reason why they wouldn’t take me with my profile and score. With Gods grace and the blessings of everybody around, I converted my interview. Later on, when I was called for the interview to the IIMs, I went only for IIM Ahmedabad because that was the only college that could put me into a state of confusion. With spare time in hand, I started writing a blog just like a diary, to document my life till now. I had a strong belief in the two words said by Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump- ‘Shit Happens’. It was actually the mantra of my life and this was the theme of my life from now on, “Shit happens, life goes on”. What mattered than was whether one wipes off his feet (figuratively speaking) or curse life for it? After the first two posts, I suddenly got a huge traffic pouring on to the blog. As a reader, it was a very interesting and inspiring story and I could see what was happening. The blog link spread like fire. However, now I knew that whatever I would write, people would read, so I took the blog as another medium to pass on my message to the world. Every time a person sent a mail or left a comment about how he/she got inspired, I felt that I have made some difference. At times I myself got inspired reading my posts and knew that I was on the right path.
After my IIM A interview (in which I was sure I did very well), I got a disastrous surprise about which I had only read in novels and seen in movies- a tryst with infidelity. All this while, I had known that the lady’s family won’t agree, but till now we had been going strong. One fateful day I came to know that this lady had been two timing me for the past few months with another officer of the same caste. I had once told her about the principle we followed at NDA- ‘Do whatever you want, don’t get caught’. It so happened, that she forgot the latter part. For quite some time I could not forgive myself for not being able to judge the character before jumping into the relationship. However, by the time I wrote about this sudden-end on my blog, I was very much in control and told everyone that I’ve moved on. Such was the effect of my blog on some people that two days after the incident, I was consoling a guy sitting in Australia about leaving the past (broken relationship) and moving on. Hidden from everybody, the injury was so severe that I was afraid of trusting any girl, ever again. I thought to myself, ‘one doesn’t feel any pain if he is numb’ and my thoughts were put into words in an old famous song- ‘No girl, no pain’. One can’t get up, if he doesn’t fall. I was ready to start a new life from ground zero. For the next few months before joining, I was in a dilemma that people would have given anything to be in. I had calls from both IIM A (almost confirmed) and ISB and had to make the choice. I was probably the first Army officer to have such a choice. Everybody around had 2 cents to spare, but the final call was taken by fate when the result of IIM A were delayed due to political reasons. I joined the ISB and had an entirely different experience. In fact, that is where I had my first experience of singing on a huge stage in front of an enthusiastic audience (Kishore Kumar’s ‘Kehna Hai’) outside the Army. Two weeks down the line when the results came, I had second thoughts about ISB. After a lot of mulling over and discussion with the ISB faculty, alumni, officers, etc., I decided to shift base. Amongst so many, the most important reason was that I was still new to this arena and two years would make a stronger foundation for life ahead. Also as a precautionary measure I wrote a blog post about the ‘why and how’ of my decision and then forwarded the link to whomsoever asked the question.
FAME AND A NEW LIFE
Some of us had joined IIM A before the course had started. During this time, one fine day I got a call from a person asking if I could meet him. I thought that he must be another one of the students aiming for CAT/ GMAT, but he turned out to be a reporter. In the Army, we had never spoken to reporters for obvious reasons, so I decided to talk to him. Next day my mother and sister were arriving to stay on campus for two days. In the morning I went to the station to receive them with the front page of ‘The Times of India’ in front of my face. The joy in their eyes gave me utmost satisfaction. Three days after that, out of the blue, NDTV and CNN IBN took my interview and it went on air at prime time on the same day. Somehow God kept on giving me a medium to pass on the message of – never giving up. It was a good experience, those two minutes of fame. Looking back in life, I would never have dreamt of reaching such a place or coming on news like that, but then the cost I paid for this was very high. I had been trained for something else; I’d burnt sweat with another life in mind. However, as we learnt in accounting, my previous life was a ‘sunk cost’ and it was something about which I couldn’t do anything about (literally, it means a cost that you can not recover). After a few months, in a conversation with the chairperson of the program I confided in him that this had been a 360º rotation. I had come from a non-academic focus life to a b-school which was the most academics oriented school in the entire country. I had never dreamt that I’ll be doing something as mundane as studying at 0400hrs in the morning, when I was climbing mountains at those hours just a few years back. But then I had never imagined hearing this sentence either, “Oh my God, you are ‘rajat_nda’ i.e. Rajat Mishra, awesome!” so many times. It definitely gave a ‘self-regulated’ pride of having done something in life. The first time I heard that, I spent quite an effort in clarifying that it wasn’t that big a deal. I had just done what I had to. I didn’t take up a job or any other exam save those two, and there was no other option but to succeed. But eventually stopped doing that and graciously accepted whatever was said. After a point even excessive modesty amounts to being immodest.
The first two terms were where we burnt the midnight oil, (and continuing on the phrase) the mid afternoon oven, and the evening bon-fire, etc. Life took an interesting turn in the fag end of the first year. This was the time when the preparation for our cultural festival was in full flow. All this while, I had a firm belief that I’ll never let emotions play over me again. However, one fine day in came an angel in my life as just a good friend (at least initially). During those initial days I realised that it was futile trying to cut myself out from normal life because of someone else’s folly. ‘She’ was far away in some other city and I was somewhere else; no sparks could have possibly flown through those distances. But, the sparks flew and life became beautiful again. I had a thick wall around me which no one had been able to penetrate till then. This ‘charming angel’ had flown effortlessly right through it, into my life. I could see bright light at the end of the tunnel and it was definitely not a train, but broad daylight. To put it in the words of the blog entry of the day the three words were sent through, ‘the river had met the ocean and the night had met the day’. It’s a very spiffing feeling to love, be loved and to know that there’s someone who always has you in the back of her/his mind.
LIFE: IT’S IFFY
Life has shown me its varied colours at different points of time. Sometimes it does create some confusion in my mind when I say in delight, “Look, where I was and where I am” and then again in a blue tone, “Look where I was and where I am”. Before the accident, I was a happy-go-lucky youngster doing well in the Army, doing well even otherwise. After my tryst with death the mentality has changed for good. At the cost of sounding immodest, I’d say now there is a higher level of maturity in me as compared to others of my age group. In fact, I feel sometimes I am more practical about life than many elders. Sometime back, I got motivated to pen down a few lines and I’ll put it down here. It’s dedicated to the embodiment of ‘life’-
You took me up, you brought me down,
when the ship broke up, you said- “Don’t drown”.
I carried on; I swam along,
showed tenacity, made up an imbuing song.
I won’t give up ‘Life’, I won’t let go,
you taught me so, and for that I do bow.
You may again raze my ship ‘Life’, or becloud every dawn,
all I would say is- “Shit happens and Life goes on”.
Now that I look back, I would give anything to give my dad that one long hug, and tell him that I’d always loved him. One might not have everything he wants, but he should learn to treasure what he has in hand. The song ‘If tomorrow never comes, would she know how much I love her...’ by Ronan Keating very subtly talks about how we take our relationships for granted, be it with parents, siblings or a loved one. On a different note, I feel very strongly about the word ‘expectations’ as far as relationship amongst people is concerned. It is the root cause for building strong relationships and also the root cause for breaking them. I believe if we don’t have expectations from others, then when something doesn’t happen, you don’t feel bad. In this way you can avoid unnecessary pain to yourself. For example, when you help out a stranger in a difficult situation and when you need help from another stranger in another situation and no one comes forward, you feel bad. Or, say when you have succeeded in something and expect congratulations from that one person, and it gets delayed due to whatever reasons, you feel bad. The point of concern here is that you are the ‘only’ one getting hurt this way. The other person has no clue as to what you are thinking. For all you know, that stranger might have been in a hurry to a hospital and that friend might have been dead busy. However, from another angle, to develop relationships expectations are essential because they are the base foundation. There are things you expect from your parents, your spouse, your children, etc. However, in my mind the best approach in such cases is to reason-out why things didn’t happen the ideal way. After all it’s not an ideal world. This way, one can at least put the mind to rest and not let negative vibes surround you. Otherwise as some wise folk tale said- ‘Neki kar, kue mei dal’ essentially meaning, do good and forget about it.
There are times when one starts cribbing about what’s happening, “Why Me? I have so many problems; others are so lucky and they have everything, etc”. Such incidences remind me of an old fable. There was once a kingdom with people from all walks of life. It so happened that each one of them was so troubled with their woes, cribbing that other people were so lucky & happy, that God decided to make them an offer. It went like this- “Each individual, from the poorest poor to the king, can write up each of his problems on small paper sheets, put them in a basket with his name and hang it in the kingdom’s biggest temple by midnight. Next day morning anyone can exchange their basket for anyone else’s basket and the problems will be exchanged by noon”. Almost everyone was happy because as far as they were concerned, no one could have had the problems that they face. The night came and everyone hung their baskets in the temple. In the morning when they went for the exchange, each one of them came back with their own basket. Each of the baskets turned out to be of the same size and no one wanted to have someone else’s troubles. The moral of the story is that everyone in this world has their own basket of problems. If we do not see it in other people’s eyes, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any. How often do we look at someone and think, he/she is so lucky, has everything I would have wanted. One might not want to believe, but it happens and it’s human to have that feeling. We choose to see only the fairer side of the coin for others and ignore/ refuse to see the other side; tip of the ice berg, as they say. Be it the person sitting on a sidewalk, the one sitting on a machine gun post on the border, or the one presiding the meeting of all CEOs. The balance of nature is always maintained; size of the basket remains the same, only the contents vary. This is one of the messages that I try to pass on to all and sundry. Instead of mulling over what we don’t have, we should be contended with what we do (have). For some people, even that would be a ‘wish-I-had-that’.
When the terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai, it was very saddening but what also came out was the “We are normal, such things don’t happen to us” syndrome, the concept of ‘others’. As they say, nothing could be further from the truth. These events are just one way of ‘Life’ reminding everyone of the uncertainties surrounding them. There was an insightful dialogue in the movie ‘Matrix’- “Every Life has a purpose”. Sadly, this is also what many of the terrorist groups teach their disciples in a distorted fashion. The way these people are brought up sets up the wheel in motion such that when the seeds grow into a tree (or even before) a ‘purpose of life’ is drilled into them. Unfortunately this ‘purpose’ is the root cause which is difficult to eliminate because ultimately the end of all such events will come only when the root is destroyed. The reason the panic button gets pressed is that 80% of the world believes that injuries because of bomb blasts, riots, vehicle accidents, etc. happen only to “Others”. For them it’s like another article in the newspaper about somebody else's woes. Every other day there is a write-up on some blast that took place in J&K where men in the olive green died and no one flashes an eye-lid. When such news (of blast in cities) flashes on the TV, people start thinking- “It could have been one of our dear ones”; within a couple of days they forget everything and life is back to normal. The standard belief being-“We are in our comfort zone; nothing can happen to us. We are normal people and these tragedies happen only to others”. In fact I’d say a decade-plus back, before my family had the first shock, even we were a so called “normal” family and apparently such kinds of misfortune fell only upon the ‘Others’. However so wasn’t the case and it was confirmed again by my accident that such incidents were a random case of probability with everyone having equal chances. It was so sudden, out of the blue; as if ‘Life’ decided to press the ‘pause’ button and instead of replaying the movie, changed the movie altogether. Now when I meet new people, some of them try to empathize, others look at me with pride, and most of them with ‘hope’. Nevertheless, it’s not easy for many of them to imagine that life was once ‘normal’ for me too. It’s rather unfortunate that some of the people who make important decisions in others’ lives (at times, decisions that matter these others’ future even after they die), subscribe to this school of thought and refuse to think rationally. The message I try to pass on is- ‘You & your loved ones might be standing in your comfort zone right now, but this zone is highly prone to the vagaries of Life. Please appreciate this and think big’. That’s the way we humans are though, and it will only be an ideal world where everyone will be rational and practical.
THE FUTURE: WHAT LIES AHEAD?
In two months time I will be out of IIM A and would have joined some company. I know one thing for sure, I did not come back to lead just a mundane corporate life even if I’ve chosen to take this path. Along with that I need to find ways to communicate to the world what I have to share. I don’t exactly know how I’ll do it, but sometime down the line I’ll definitely publish a book. If I can make a difference in someone’s life in even a small way, the aim would be achieved. As I learnt in one of the courses here (ERI), one needs to keep his ‘passion’ relevant as circumstances change. I have done that to some extent, and modified them to what I can still pursue passionately. As for leaving the baggage behind (figuratively speaking) of my Army life, it would not be easy and I won’t strip myself off it right now. I’ll never be able to forget the time in the Army but what I’m carrying along are the values, qualities, skills and the essence of being from the forces. In maybe an year or so, I’ll stop using my rank (as it is my coursemates will become ‘Majors’ this year, 2009) and shall be known only by my name- stand alone. At the cost of making it sound pretty lofty and as it stands, I’m still ‘Capt. (Ex.) Rajat Mishra’ – an Ex NDA, ex Army officer and soon to be an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus. In one of the self-experiential learning courses I was asked to write an obituary for myself. At first it seemed kind of odd, but it made me think of what I’d like to be remembered as. This is what I wrote, “He was someone who lived every moment of his life and always maintained that – ‘Never give up on life, and life will never give up on you’. Maybe this is a Herculean task and I need to rationalise and redefine my role, but as it stands this would be the theme of my life. There’s a lot to explore in the world out there. Whenever I look out of the window on a flight towards the sky, or look at the picture of something scenic like the Grand Canyon, it feels like the world is calling out to me. Till now I have had only one dish from my plate, there are still many more that I haven’t even tasted yet. There is so much more to explore, so many experiences to go through, so many lives to live. Life is big; Life is iffy.
I'm an Ex-Fauji (NDA-IMA)...left the army because of an accident(lost rt hand)...got hold of life...became a leftie...started drivin n writing with left,took CAT n GMAT(740)...Joined n left ISB...20 golden days....@"IIM Ahmedabad" for d next two years... Profile