Chennai: The widows of two army officers, a former cabbie with Ola and a mountaineering instructor are among the 257 cadets who will pass out from the Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) on March 10.
Sushmita Pandey's husband Major Neeraj Pandey died fighting insurgents in Manipur two years ago. Now, the post-graduate mother of a five-year-old son says she's ready for the challenge.
"I look ahead to take forward my husband's journey. I learnt one thing here -- everything is possible if we are determined," she told NDTV. The year-long training at the academy - fitness tests like a 45 kilometre run and 30 kilometre march -- were tough, she admitted.
Neeta Deswal too was inspired to join the army after her husband Major Amit Deswal died in an operation in the Northeast two years ago. She too has a five-year-old son. "The army has trained me so well that if I had stayed home that would have been the most difficult part," she said.
Among other women cadets is Rakhi Pandey, a mountaineering instructor from Bihar. The opportunity to serve as an officer in the army, she says, fulfills two of her dreams, "passion and uniform". "Army is all about adventure, be it jungle, mountains or even Siachen," she added.
Her colleague Bharat Jadhav, who gave up his job as a techie at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), earns less now but is not complaining. "It's fine. If you get something much more than money, it's fine," he said.
Om Paithane used to be an Ola driver in Pune. But tips on cracking the Combined Defence Services (CDS) examination given by a retired colonel who had hired his cab enabled him to take wings as an officer. "There's a total change in my personality. The way people look at you, the way I look at myself when I wear my uniform -- I cannot explain," he says with a smile.
OTA Chennai is the only centre that trains women to become officers in the short service commission. For women spouses of army men killed in the line of duty, there is no cut-off age to take the exam. But there's no relaxation in other selection criteria.
Major General V D Chowgule, the academy's deputy commandant and chief instructor, says "I am happy to state that despite their higher age they have performed commendably well".