A Conscious Choice: Following the Heart (1/3) – In Quest of the Last Victory

Coming into Existence 23
A Conscious Choice: Following the Heart
It was a little over two months for the written entrance exams to the
National Defence Academy where young cadets do their graduate
course and undergo three years of extensive training to become
offi cers in the Indian Defence Forces. I collected the required books,
closed my room and started studying. The mathematics paper in this
entrance exam was considered the major deciding factor and the
real challenge. Out of a total of 120 questions to be completed in a
given time of two and a half hours, answering 50% of the questions
correctly and within time was considered a good bet to pass the
exam. I found a mathematics teacher who could clear all my doubts
that would come up during the course of my preparation for the
exam. I worked on basics and on increasing my speed of carrying out
The day of the exam came and I travelled to Delhi by bus to take
the exam. I was calm, composed, focused and confi dent. The rst
exam was that of mathematics. I completed over 98% of the ques-
tions correctly (two I did not know) with half an hour to spare. When
I got up to submit my answer sheet there were smiles from students
all around the examination hall. They probably thought that I might
have given up on the ‘tough’ exam. No one could imagine that I had
completed the exam with half an hour to spare. I knew I would clear
the exam.
It was a dark evening, some months later, with a slight drizzle
when I came to know that the result had come out in a particular
newspaper. I took out my bicycle and went in the drizzle to a
library to check the result. Yes, I had cleared the exam. I was ecstatic.
I wanted to tell everyone that I had cleared the exam but I didn’t. It
was too early to celebrate. I just enjoyed the feeling of success, getting
wet in the drizzle on the terrace of the house. The rain drops had
an even better feel on my face and body. After clearing the written
24 In Quest of the Last Victory
exam, I was to appear for a four-day extensive testing programme.
The four-day tests were considered a much tougher challenge than
the written exam. My elder brother, who was much more intelligent
than me, had failed that test twice If he had failed, how would I
clear it?
The four-day test meant over four days of grilling interviews,
group discussions, group tasks, extempore, physical tasks, obstacle
courses, psychology tests, aptitude tests and IQ tests. I closed my
room and started preparing for it. Being a sportsman I had learnt to
be disciplined and organized, and have a planned approach for any
kind of preparation. I would do everything that could even remotely
improve my chances of success. I collected any and every bit of lit-
erature that I could fi nd about this test. I approached everybody who
knew about the test. Besides collecting the information I had to be
careful to fi lter out false and unnecessary information and retain the
correct one should. One should always avoid taking discussions
based on hearsay. The test was not one which could be cleared by
cramming or by doing fast calculations. It had a lot to do with the
psychology of an individual.
The preparation for this assessment needed me to work on
myself. It made me learn a lot of important things. I came across
what, I feel, was to be one of the most important words that I would
ever learn in my life. This one single word is the key to success.
The word is meticulous. If you want to succeed, work meticulously
towards it. Your success will always depend on how meticulous you
have been in your preparations.
Being meticulous taught me to analyse myself, my conduct, my
behaviour and my thinking, like never before. I came across phrases
like positive thinking, rational thinking and disciplined efforts, and
understood the importance of these traits. These terms are used very
commonly in daily conversations but getting their real meaning and
Coming into Existence 25
imbibing these qualities in one’s life is a different ball game altogether.
A rational way of thinking is a gem of a realization to have. One
would need it at each and every juncture of one’s life in order to take
the right decision and to make the correct choice.
Rational thinking basically relates to seeing everything in its right
perspective and giving importance to things which need and deserve
to be given importance to, while ignoring things which deserve to be
ignored. Problems invariably arise when we end up giving import-
ance to things which do not deserve the kind of importance we are
giving them.
Some time in the April of 1991, I took the train to Bhopal to
appear for this test. In the train, I met a lot of candidates who were
going for the same test. On arrival, every candidate was allotted a serial
number which he had to keep pinned to his chest. The candidate was
thereafter addressed by his chest number. I was chest number nine.
The candidates were divided into groups of eight for the test. I was
the fi rst in my group of candidates from chest number nine to chest
number sixteen. It meant that for any activity I would be the fi rst one
to be called to perform. Everyone was hesitant to perform fi rst. It was
easier to perform after a few candidates had performed as it gave you
a better idea of the task to be done and made you comfortable with
the situation. The aggression which had made me, in cricket, pick
up the bat fi rst to open the innings had taken away from me the fear
to perform fi rst. It didn’t affect my confi dence that being the fi rst to
perform I would have lesser time to prepare.
The test was chaotic in more ways than one, as everyone was in
a desperate hurry to perform and be noticed. Everyone would be
speaking at the same time. I remember one particular group dis-
cussion in which to be for the motion seemed easier than being
against the motion. My group immediately decided to go for the
motion. Everybody put forth their points in favour of the motion.
26 In Quest of the Last Victory
I suddenly noticed that no one was discussing points against the
motion. I said, ‘Gentlemen, I do not agree’. This forced everyone
to pause as here was someone who had a different viewpoint and
therefore they had to listen to what I had to say. I brought out the
fact that although the topic appeared heavily one-sided, there were
points against the motion too and those points were also required
to be kept in mind while arriving at a conclusion. I mentioned the
points against the motion giving appropriate real-life examples in
each case. Everyone had to concede that I had a very valid point of
view. Debating experiences of my school days had come in handy
when I needed it most.
Opportunities are not what people and time give you.
Opportunities are something you need to create
and grab.
I developed some allergy in this new place where the test was
being conducted, which triggered my breathing problem. During
the individual obstacle course I nearly collapsed from exhaustion but
I put in every bit of my energy to fi nish it well. At the end of four
days of testing, I thought I had done reasonably well. But I realized
that there were a lot of things in me that I needed to work on. There
were so many areas I needed to be better in. There were so many
ways I could be better. I thought I wouldn’t clear the interview. In
fact I was convinced I wouldn’t. But I was okay with that feeling.
I thought I would go back, work on things, get better and then come
back and clear this test. All the tests were over by the fourth day and
at the end of it, all of us were seated in a hall waiting for the fi nal
results to be announced. Some candidates were walking up and down
nervously asking others how they had done. Some candidates were
joking and laughing trying to keep the nervousness away. I had put
my head down on the table and had gone to sleep.
Coming into Existence 27
The interviewing staff walked into the hall to a hushed silence.
Someone shook me awake. After reading out a few lines of instruc-
tions, the offi cer started calling out the ‘chest numbers’ of the can-
didates who had cleared the test. I was chest number nine. Number
seven was announced fi rst. Number seven had cleared the test.
Number eight was announced next. Everybody was clapping for the
selected candidates. Could three consecutive numbers clear the test?
No way. Even the probability was against me. I was clapping too.
‘Number nine’ said the offi cer. I did not react. I was looking down and
clapping for the numbers being announced. He repeated ‘Number
nine’ and I looked up. He announced a third time ‘Number nine’ and
I got up with a dazed look, asking ‘Me?’ The announcing offi cer had
a big smile on his face because of my funny look. I looked zapped.
There were butterfl ies in my stomach.
The feeling started sinking in. I had cleared the interview. That
was the happiest day of my life. It still is. Perhaps it has been the
single happiest day of my life till date. No other success would ever
match up to that day when my number was called out among the
selected candidates. Less than one year since that devastating result of
my fi nal year of school board exam, I had nearly topped the national-
level entrance exam. I had proved worthy to myself. I was not dumb.
I was very able and I was very proud of myself.
I had to go through a four-day detailed medical check-up
following the result. The doctor caught some wheezing sound in my
breathing because of my breathing problem and after further tests
he wrote my result as ‘permanently medically unfi t for service in the
defence Forces’. I knew I had been stupid enough to have not taken
care of my health at such a crucial time. How could I commit such a
blunder? My only chance now was that I could appeal for a medical
re-exam at the main army hospital in Delhi (where I was born).