The youngest of the three officers, Lieutenant Gandharv Thakur of 5 Armoured Regiment, patiently listens to his seniors Major Anurag Aiery who's from the Infantry branch and Major Pooja Gupta from Ordnance. And then he finally speaks, "Well, it's the only organisation that looks after you round the clock!"
Lt Thakur joined the Army through the NDA. He is on Permanent Commission (PC); Major Aiery and Major Gupta are Short Service Commission officers. "But I will go for PC, there's no doubt about that!" says Major Aiery who started his career as trainee chef with Oberoi, Bangalore. "Joining the army was the goal of my life."
It is seven-and-a-half years since Major Aiery joined the services, but he doesn't miss his chef days one bit. "There was little respect in that job; in any case, my wife's a better cook!" But chefs these days are celebrities, anchoring TV shows, opening restaurants. "I am no less a celebrity commanding a unit of 120 people!" pat he replies. "And not everyone gets to test, bang and crash T-90!" says Lt Thakur referring to the Russian battle tank he operates.
Major Gupta, who like Major Aiery had trained at the OTA, was an event management executive before she joined the Army. "I would interact with an eclectic mix of people, from IAS officers to upcoming models." But being the daughter of an Army officer, she couldn'tresist the Forces. 'There's an aura to the Forces, and just wearing the uniform lifts my spirits, no matter how stressed I might be."
When she had gone for her 5-day SSB interview she wasn't nervous at all. "But I was," says Major Aiery. It was his only chance as he was close to the age limit barrier. "But the officers make you so comfortable that you don't realise you are being judged at all," points out Major Gupta. Lt Thakur's suggestion for the SSB is that candidates should familiarise themselves with SBB structure but should not 'rehearse the answers'.
"But the kind of bonding that develops in just five days is enough to shake the world," says Lt Thakur who had expected the training at the NDA to be quite rigorous. "But it was a lot of fun!" "Life is tough in the armed forces and the training toughens you and improves your mental stamina," says Major Aiery.
Major Gupta had a stress fracture in the first week of her training at the OTA, "but the support from the group helps you move on," she says. She even broke her back while learning skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir. She's part of the first women officers skiing team. Major Aiery recommends the Ghatak/commando training he underwent to everyone. "You will be surprised your mind is capable of so much."
But getting those stars at the passing out parade (PoP) is an indescribable feeling. "I cried!" says Major Aiery. Major Gupta's parents failed to spot their daughter. "The uniform is a great leveller, everyone looks the same," says Lt Thakur. Surely the Sixth Pay Commission has brought them cheer. "I joined before the Commission, and my commitment to the Army is just the same," says Lt Thakur. "We are not working here for the money," says Major Gupta, "but for the satisfaction of it!" adds Major Aiery.