“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves” – My life’s journey made me realize the depth (heights) of this saying and the power behind every thought and action.

I was eight years old and my dad moved me to a city from a small town for education. On the first day of school, the class teacher asked the question, “what do you want to be in life.” It was 1990, every kid in the class replied “Doctor” or “an Engineer”, except for one. That one kid was ‘yours truly’ and the reply was to become an officer in the Armed forces. I sought help from my dad to find an answer to this question. Like always, he never gave me a direct answer but made me think. All I wanted was a life filled with adventure and make my parents proud. The World War II medals of my grandfather, who served in British Indian Airforce and the 1971 Indo-Pak war medals of my dad who served in Indian Airforce couldn’t have been better inspiration and benchmark for me.

The journey to become an officer was strewn with challenges (I call it “avalanches” from the mountaineering language), each one of it was testing my grit and I did think about giving up too soon many a times.

My school had this practice of making everyone speak in English and anyone found to be talking in mother tongue, was given a card to carry that reads “I will speak in English”. Being the rebellious, reckless, and restless kid, I held the card most of the time. It actually made me feel like a saviour who gave the freedom to rest of my classmates to converse in their mother tongue.

I had to learn Math, again, since I chose a science major in college (in 2003/04, one must be a Science or engineering graduate to join Indian Navy). Further, clearing Maths paper was inevitable in many entrance exams for Defence services.

During College, I found that if one completes “C certificate” with A/ B grading in National Cadet Corps (NCC), there is a probability of getting a direct call for interview. I was one of the two to get “A” grading in NCC B certificate exam at district level, naturally missing lots of academics due to frequent NCC camps. I did pay the price in the form of a counselling from HOD of Physics, in my dad’s presence and the decision that followed was that I will not be allowed to continue third year NCC. It not just shattered my dreams but crippled my confidence too.

The burning desire helped me to clear my degree with a first class. Yes, I did have arrears from past semester and I had to write the current semester exam in the morning and the backlog paper the same day afternoon. In short, “do whatever it takes.”

SSB (Service Selection Board) selection rate was mostly in single digits and in my batch, the numbers were as follows:

75 candidates on day-1, 24 on day-2, 03 recommended for Medicals on day-5, and only I cleared the Medicals on day-10. Happy that I cleared SSB in the first attempt and got commissioned as a Naval officer in Jan 2006.

Life was interesting there on with the training (lots of academics, including Maths), sailing across Indian Ocean, meeting Naval officers from different countries, and getting married to the love of my life. It was “happily ever after” until the “triple whammy”.

I met with an accident. My dad succumbed to an untimely death due to cardiac arrest. Then my wife had a miscarriage too. I had to be strong for everyone around me whilst facing an imminent exit from Indian Navy (just 4 years into Navy). I was deemed medically unfit due to the accident.

Deep in my mind, I had this belief that this is not the end. I did what I do always – “Do whatever it takes” – to clear my medicals. I served for 14 years in Indian Navy, the maximum a Short Service Commissioned Officer is permitted to. Also, cleared a tough exam to get promoted to the rank of Commander before retirement. In 2017, I faced a near death situation whilst sky diving which put me in bedrest for 03 months, from wheel-chair to double crutches to single crutch and practicing gait like a toddler, I relearnt to walk. But this time “to do whatever it takes” was in my being. I said “bring it on” and bashed on regardless.

2018 – The opportune interactions with the President and Prime Minister of India helped me figure out the ikigai of my life. At Rashtrapathi Bhawan, the usual protocol is limited to salute and handshake. Universe destined that the President, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces stopped and enquired about my experience. He asked me to continue service to the Nation one way or other. Then came the interaction with the Prime Mininster, which was like a direct message. He insisted about setting a goal bigger than oneself. These interactions gave birth to my mission post Indian Navy which is “Nation building.”

Here I am, marching towards this goal humming the song “Ain't no mountain high enough”.