Indian Officers Training Academy, also known as IOTA, was gearing up for a new batch of cadets. In the wee hours of the morning, an array of young graduates from all over the country were present at the campus for the interview that would decide their future.
Everything was dependent on this interview. The success of the hard work which went into the written and physical exams, depended on the outcome of the aforesaid interview. Candidates from all walks of life were dreading the day. Some were confident, while some arrogant, and some were praying to God for a positive result.
Among the interviewees, there was a girl with determination in her eyes and fire in her bones, a rage to make a name, and a resolve to get into the academy.
She had long, midnight locks going all the way to her back. She also had wide, hazel eyes. She looked at the building in awe, mixed with a bit of jealousy. Awe, because she had finally made it this far, and jealousy, stemming from previous experiences.
She took a deep breath and reminded herself to be strong. Holding her head high, she went in. All along, she remembered her mother's countless stories for preparing for the interview. It was Sakshi Vyas's dream to join the Indian army, one that she could never accomplish.
The girl was going to live that dream now. She was going to make her mother proud. A daughter was going to make her mother known to the world. Closing her eyes, she reminisced about her mother.
She heard a slight voice and looked around, snapping her eyes open. An orderly was working while standing atop a ladder, maybe fixing the wiring? He had no idea that the ladder was about to fall, taking him along with it. However, before it could fall, she stopped it by holding the ladder with all her might and pushing it to the correct position, with the orderly still on it.
Unbeknownst to her, another person coming from the other side had also witnessed the orderly's about-to-happen mishap, but before he could reach the ladder, she had. Captain Aniket Rai Chauhan was surprised to see the girl help the orderly. He knew her; he was actually on his way to his office to interview her. Even though she had barely passed the physical exam, her application had potential. He went ahead to his office, already intrigued by the girl.
On the other hand, she was hoping that her written exam and interview would be more than enough to get her through. She knew that her physical exam had not gone all too well. She had reached right after her shift on the set had ended. She was exhausted. So, with a deep breath, she went towards the officer who would decide her fate. She knew that it was next to impossible to get admitted with her marks in the physical test, but she had to try.
She took out a file from her bag and saw the name of the officer and the room number she was supposed to go to. Looking around, she found the room. She knocked at the door and a strong voice called out.
She went in and was startled but did not let it show. The man in front of her looked handsome, to say the least. He had an aura of confidence and a face that would make the Greek Gods look like fools, but the thing that was the best feature according to her, were his eyes, brown and kind.
She asked for permission to sit and he gave it. He spoke in a very firm but gentle tone.
"Miss Shambhavi Sakshi Vyas, how was your journey?" he asked.
She had been expecting questions about the army, about her physical exam, about the reason behind her interest in joining the army, but she was most certainly not expecting the question he had posed. She was completely taken aback for a second but composed herself soon and answered as confidently as she could. "It was well, Sir."
He knew he had surprised her with his question, but he continued. "So, a physical exam that you did not do well in, but you excelled in the written exam. Why so, Miss Vyas?"
Now she was in her comfort zone, answering the questions she had prepared for. "There are no excuses, Sir, but If I have to give a reason it would be lack of strength or excessive exhaustion."
"Excessive exhaustion!" he exclaimed with a hint of amusement in his voice, "What did you do, Miss Vyas? Lift a person along with a ladder?" he continued a bit teasingly.
She was again thrown off track thinking he witnessed that incident. "No, Sir. I had just completed my shift as a stuntwoman on the set," she replied.
He raised an eyebrow, seemingly impressed. "Well, Miss Vyas, if it were solely up to me, you would have been selected by now but that is not the case with you. I can, however, suggest that you go to Major Ramsha Khan. If anyone can help you with this, it's her," he said while writing something in her file.
He handed her the file and told her where to find Major Khan. Shambhavi was surprised to see that he had not questioned her ability, nor mocked her for her poor performance. Instead, he was helping her to get in. That was not what she had expected from an officer. Her prior experience with Indian Army officers had made her to expect an arrogant man who would belittle women. Indeed, not a man who would help her. She was grateful.
She thanked him sincerely and went to Major Khan's Office. She knocked and a feminine but strong voice graced her ears. Inside was a woman in her late forties to mid-fifties who looked as if she was not aging. Shambhavi wanted to be like her in the future. The Major was beautiful, and the uniform only increased her beauty and grace, meanwhile adding an aura of extra power around her.
Major Khan looked over her file and asked her a few questions. Finally, she asked, "Give me an honest answer, Miss Vyas. Why is it so important for you to join IOTA?"
Shambhavi let her guard down for a moment and said what she wanted to, in all her vulnerability, "I have to prove it to someone ma'am, that girls are not in any way inferior to boys. That girls can join the army and excel in it, that a girl can be whatever she chooses to be, and that she does not need a man to complete her."
Major Khan looked at her with a small smile and wrote something in her file. She kept the file at her desk and said, "The final results will be out in a month, Miss Vyas."
That meant her interview was over and Major Khan's face gave nothing away. Shambhavi took her leave. On her way out of the academy, she looked around and prayed for a miracle. Glancing back at the academy one last time, she exited and went ahead to catch a train back to Mumbai.