(Wing Commander Pooja Thakur led the Guard of Honour today for President Barack Obama at Rashtrapati Bhawan. She spoke to NDTV's Vishnu Som in this interview for ndtv.com.)
NDTV: When did you first find out that you have been selected for this honour?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: It was just a few days ago that I was told that I was being considered for commanding the Guard of Honour. Of course, it depends a lot upon how you do your movements, how you have the word of command and everything else. Right in the end, about two days ago, I was told that my name was finalized for the command.
NDTV: So you didn't know till two days ago that this honour would fall upon you?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: That I am going to do it 100% and put in my 100%. I guess that's what we all do all the time. We are prepared at all times.
NDTV: When you finally were told that it was going to be you, how did you feel?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: I was excited that time. And then as we got closer to the day, I started getting a little nervous. You have to make sure you have to put up a great performance and set up great standards, to be able to give the right command, to be able to lead the men behind you, and to present the right kind of high-standard Guard of Honour to the visiting dignitary.
NDTV: In the Armed Forces, women have now served for many many years. There are no institutional barriers per se in how women are treated or how women are respected. What does it feel like a woman in today's context, commanding more than a hundred men?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: See, this is the Guard of Honour, and yes, it's one of the kind where it has happened for the first time that a lady officer will be commanding an inter-services guard of honour, but when you see people in the field and everywhere else, you will see that we are commanding hundreds and thousands of men all the time. All the officers who are posted, whether a lady officer or a male officer, all are given responsibilities in their own portfolios to look after the men and people who work with you, or under you. Its always been a part of it. It's just different roles which would be there.
NDTV: What was it like to see or meet the President today at such close range?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: It was like one of the memorable moments and you have to be consciously aware that you are not gonna suddenly start thinking "Oh, how is he looking" or you just keep looking at him and things like that, because you need to concentrate on whats your next move.
NDTV: How long have you been practicing for this day?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: Specifically if we say then for the since past few days we've been practicing for it. However, we start with our drill movements and ceremonials right from the first day of our training. And we are always prepared.
NDTV: You've spent 14 years in the Indian Air Force, there are lot of women in this country who would be inspired by you. What do you have to tell a young girl just out of school who is thinking of joining the Armed Forces?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: I think a lot of women nowadays are very forthcoming... not even nowadays, back when I had joined, a lot of women were forthcoming to join the defence forces. It's just that the numbers are increasing slowly. One basic thing which everybody should know which you do not experience is the way of life that we have. You might just see an officer on the road or travelling or something. But it's not just a job or something, it's a way of life, you become a part of, and it's an excellent life and you don't get it anywhere - the kind of quality you have. And the respect and dignity is something which you can't get anywhere else and it's a wonderful service to be part of.
NDTV: Last question, when you told your family that you are going to be the first woman in the Armed Forces to lead the tri-services Guard of Honour salute, what did they have to say? How did they react?
Wing Commander Pooja Thakur: They are very proud. After the Guard of Honour, I have hardly been able to speak to them for about 20 seconds, just asking whether they did see me. But they've been very proud, of course.