There are jobs, there are careers, and then there is the Armed Forces, which is a way of life ! Having been an AirForce kid myself, this interview is special to me !

Lt Cdr Bidisha Pandey, our next pathbreaker, Short Service Commissioned officer in the Indian Navy, completed her service as Lieutenant Commander and is all set to pursue a career in the field of social entrepreneurship with a commonwealth scholarship.

Bidisha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the pride and honour of donning the Navy Uniform, marching on Rajpath leading the Naval Marching Contingent, and representing the Navy in the Trans-Atlantic Cape to Rio Ocean sailing expedition 2017 during her 10 year service in the Indian Navy.

For students, the Armed forces is not just about patriotism. If you think you have it in you to learn something new every day through umpteen leadership challenges, then go ahead and join the Indian Armed Forces!

Bidisha, can you take us through your background?

I have had a ‘military-style’ upbringing. My father was an officer in the Indian Army, and changing schools every two years was normal. We moved places frequently and I adjusted to the new place, made friends with new people, pretty quick! I have studied in eight different schools including convents, public schools and military schools. I loved the Army uniform right from the beginning but to be honest, I never thought of the military as a career when I was a child. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my engineering from Amity University, Noida in Electronics and Telecommunication. I was awarded a full scholarship for engineering on the basis of my 12th standard score, which was 93.8% in the year 2007. I didn’t have to pay a single penny for my graduation. The tuition fee was waived off for all four years. I passed out as a Gold Medalist with a CGPA of 9.5 in 2011.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

In my final year of engineering, I had the option to pursue a career with Headstrong or Ericsson, but life had other plans! A team from the Indian Navy came to our campus for recruitment under the University Entry Scheme. We were interviewed and group discussions were conducted on campus. Later, a list of candidates shortlisted for Service Selection Board was promulgated. I reported to 33 Service Selection Board, Bhopal. I did not take any professional coaching for SSB. I was just honest, positive, helpful and did the tasks assigned to me the best way possible, and I ended up getting recommended in the first attempt. My love for ranks and uniforms made me choose a career in the Armed Forces.

Tell us about your career path in the Indian Navy

I joined the Logistics Cadre of the Indian Navy, this cadre comes under the Executive Branch, and the primary duty of a logistician is to look after procurement and supply chain with respect to machinery and spare parts for ships, submarines and aircrafts, food supplies and ration for officers and sailors, issue of clothing items, pay and allowances and budget management. In my first appointment, I assisted the Logistics Head in planning, forecasting and utilization of funds at Asia’s only naval operated Gas Turbine Overhaul Establishment, INS Eksila at Visakhapatnam. My next appointment was at INS Circars where I was in charge of the Command Clothing Centre which catered to clothing requirements of naval personnel posted in Visakhapatnam. Later, I was independently handling the administration of Naval Residential Area Nausena Baugh where 1800 naval families resided. This was not a regular logistics appointment, it was far more challenging and a huge responsibility! Learnt a lot during that one year. During the last three years of my service, I was transferred to Mumbai, and was Logistics Head at Sagar Prahari Bal, an establishment formed in response to the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. The organisation has various Fast Interceptor Crafts under it which do round the clock patrolling of the Mumbai Harbour, and my job as the Logistics Head was to ensure seamless supply of machinery and equipment so that maximum crafts remain available for operational requirement.

How did you get your first break? 

As I had mentioned earlier, I joined the Navy immediately after completing my graduation. No internships or any other jobs.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

In the Navy, the first challenge was to complete the preliminary training at the Indian Naval Academy. I was never oriented towards sports, I was rather more inclined towards dance, poetry and writing, when I joined the Navy. At the Academy, we ran a half marathon every Sunday, did hundreds of sit-ups a day, jumped from 5-7mtrs height, learnt to eat our meals in five minutes, and on top of that, study! We were pushed to our limits and we surprised ourselves when we discovered what we were capable of! You feel like a superhero when you pass out from the Academy and get commissioned as an Officer. Later, the challenges were more oriented towards leadership and management. As officers, you are supposed to lead right from the beginning, and lead by example! I had huge teams under me, tremendous responsibility, crores of budget to handle but in the end, it is extremely satisfying and all of it grills you to be a better leader.

What were some of the highlights of your career in the Navy?

What I love about the Navy the most is the uniform! Wearing the uniform itself is a matter of great pride and honour. Apart from that, the Navy gave me the opportunity to live my dream of marching on Rajpath and leading the Naval Marching Contingent, not once, but twice. When you march on Rajpath, and there are thousands of people watching you, both in person and on television, you actually feel that you have achieved something big in life! Also, I represented the Navy in the Trans-Atlantic Cape to Rio Ocean sailing expedition 2017 where I sailed 5000 Nautical Miles from Cape Town to Goa as a part of the return leg crew. We sailed for 33 days nonstop onboard a 17 meter boat, INSV Mhadei. Another unforgettable experience! I don’t think I would have been able to do so much had I not been in the Navy.

What is your suggestion to students or aspirants regarding a career in the armed forces?

I would say, if you get the opportunity to serve as an officer in the Indian Armed Forces, it’s the best opportunity to serve your nation. Nothing will ever match the pride and honour you will feel when you don the uniform.

A career in the Armed Forces is a very demanding one. You are away from the family most of the time. It’s not a job, it’s service to the nation, and one has to be on his/her toes 24X7, and prepared to do any kind of task! There’s something new that you would learn every day and you would also face umpteen leadership challenges where you will have to motivate your team and work with them day and night to achieve results. If you think you have it in you to do all of this, then go ahead and apply! Join the Indian Armed Forces! And life will never be the same again for you.

Can you tell us about your new journey?

I joined as a Short Service Commissioned officer and therefore, my service tenure was 10 years, extendable up to 14. I completed my service this year on 03rd July as Lieutenant Commander. After a memorable decade in the Navy, I am all set to pursue a career in the field of social entrepreneurship, again a field very close to my heart! I have been awarded the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship by the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and I will be pursuing Masters in Prosperity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at University College London, one of the top 10 universities in the world. The scholarship covers my tuition fee, living expenses, airfare and all other expenses, and is jointly funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and University College London. 

Future plans?

Post completion of this degree, I plan to return to India and work on social entrepreneurship models which help in making widows and dependents of war martyrs and deceased soldiers financially independent.