A Thrill at Sea?
It was a bright Wednesday morning, and the day dawned crisp and clear. The sun poured through my window. Another day had dawned, bringing with it new hopes and aspirations. The light of dawn seeped into my room, and I rubbed my tired eyes and walked to the window. There was a pearly glow in the sky. The first rays of sunlight lit up my room. I realised that I had a class in the first hour. I quickly dressed up and headed to the class, skipping breakfast.
The officers from the Indian Navy were visiting the college to recruit potential candidates. Two tall officers dressed in white with polished shoes arrived at 11 am, and they started the interviews without losing time. At 4 pm, the selection list was ready and appeared on the college notice board. My joy knew no bounds when my name appeared on the list. I was in a state of euphoria, imagining myself in the naval uniform on INS Virat or INS Godavari. But I learnt very soon that I needed to appear for SSB (Services Selection Board) at Bangalore for final selection.
I received the rule list and the dress code in the call-up letter- white shorts and white T-shirts and one pair of Sports Shoes preferably in white, one pair of leather shoes, two pair of white socks and one pair of coloured socks. However, the default dress code during the stay was always shorts and a collared T-shirt.
My friends and I travelled to Bangalore(my favourite city) in the Second class. Travelling by the Second Class was a privilege. I wrote to my friends and relatives through snail mail about my interview, emphasising travel by the “Second class.” After reporting at the Movement Control Office at Bangalore City station with our interview letters, we arrived in an army truck at the SSB centre on Cubbon Road. It is an old British accommodation with a lot of greenery and several military barracks. The entire road had military offices painted in red and white.
Day one was fabulous. Ten students from the other universities also arrived during the day. After registration, we all retired to one barrack with a shared bathroom and toilet.
I also received a small square piece of cloth printed with the number 9. I needed to display this chest number 24/7 on my T-shirt, even during sleep, and I could not leave the premises for any reason till the completion of the interview process. I would be under constant observation for my social behaviour during the stay. I needed to smile and present a positive outlook at anyone who passed by without rhyme or reason. I needed to use the cutlery during breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did not know how to use the fork and dropped it several times to the annoyance of others.
Every morning I got an activity list that consisted of physical activity and classroom exercises. The first day was a group activity. I needed to take my team across a piece of land in fifteen minutes with a rope and a stick. Every one of my team members and the instructor was watching me closely to assess my leadership qualities. I was not aware of the tools of management, team building and communication. It was a flop show as my team did not move an inch and remained in the initial position after the stipulated time.
The second task was a snake race where my team had to carry a five-metre heavy snake-like object across five hurdles. Considering my size, my team suggested that I lead the team from the front with a heavy burden. They did not know that leading from the “front” is not my forte and would be a significant constraint. Eliyahu Goldratt’s constraint management principles were unknown to us, let alone the principles of line-balancing. This task was also a disaster.
I had ten individual tasks in the afternoon session, from crossing a simple bridge to walking on an overhanging thirty-meter long rope bridge. I had the freedom to choose the order. I attempted the hanging tyre task, which would give me five marks. It was easy to climb the hanging tyre. But I got stuck, and I could not come out. The instructor had to pull me out. I wanted to try the rope bridge as I was coming to the end of time, which would fetch me ten marks in one shot. I climbed up the rope ladder to the top of the bridge. I put my foot on the first step and looked down, and I became dizzy, and acrophobia engulfed me. I remembered the “ Humpty Dumpty” rhyme, and I imagined a great fall. It was better to have a longer life than falling off a stupid suspension bridge. I turned back and walked down the same ladder without crossing the bridge to join my friends watching me below.
The next day, I was in a large classroom with others for written tests. I had to undergo many quizzes, starting from basic arithmetic to complicated visualisation tests in addition to a few psychological tests. In the afternoon, I had to go through a story-writing test called Thematic Apperception Test. The examiner flashed a picture for 50 seconds on a screen, and I needed to write a story in five minutes. It was exhausting, and I am unsure how the examiners got the three-sixty degree view of my personality in the first four days. The instructors met together in the evening and prepared the final score of each candidate.
On the final day, I needed to appear for a personal interview where a senior military officer reviewed the total scores, followed by a private conversation. I was the fourth on the list and went in to face the officer. It was a huge office with a lot of natural lighting. The officer was sitting behind a large central table which was spotlessly clean and devoid of any papers. He was clean-shaven with short hair and sporting the military uniform. He had several polished brass stars on his shoulders.
I had a big smile on my face as I sat opposite him. “ Why do you want to join the Indian Navy?” came the first question after the initial pleasantries. I replied without batting an eyelid: “ To have a thrill at sea.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His face reddened. With a knot between his eyebrows, he quipped: “ What thrill? It is discipline and hard work.”
With a quizzical smile on my face, I brought his attention to the large hoarding outside the SSB centre: “ Join Indian Navy to have ‘thrill’ at Sea!”
He did not appreciate my response.
My interview ended.