SSB Interview by Dheeraj Sanghi

SSB Interview by Dheeraj Sanghi

Name : Dheeraj Sanghi

Exam : SSB

Two things have happened that encouraged me to write this story. One, I was telling this story to my friends a couple of days ago, and they encouraged me to write it. Two, I read the blog post by Dr. Kaneenika Sinha where she mentions a few goof ups during interviews. My story includes a series of "deliberate" goof ups (if there exist a phrase like that). Statutory warning: Very long.

A few decades ago, when I was in 11th class, I decided to fill in the form for admission test for National Defense Academy. The reason at the time of filling up the form was certainly less than honorable one. It was to get practice of giving competitive exams, and to travel to a place far away from Delhi for the SSB interview. I was sure that I could go to the exam without a single day of preparation and do well enough to be shortlisted for the interview. So I was looking forward to a free vacation, and UPSC did not disappoint me. I received this call to reach Bangalore on a specified day in May.

The farthest that I had ever gone from Delhi till then was Jaipur, and my dream of traveling to a far away world was coming true. The KK Express, with the two Ks standing for Kerala and Karnataka, was the only train to Bangalore at that time (half the train went to Bangalore, while the other half went to Trivandrum) and plied only 2 days a week. So I had to take GT Express to Chennai and a summer special from Chennai to Bangalore. The journey was so eventful that I would rather keep that a secret for now in order that I may sell its movie rights to someone later on. So let me focus only on the SSB interview.

To refresh the memory, my purpose behind all this was to travel far away from Delhi, all alone, and enjoy. My father wasn't particularly happy with this plan, since he felt that it was cheating, and the JEE was only 12 months away, and I had not even looked at the first guide book of JEE questions. And since I did intend to start preparing for JEE soon, I was hoping, well, actually trying, to fail in SSB, and I did a lot of things to succeed in my mission to fail.

The most interesting part of the interview was where a group of us were given a particular situation and asked to prepare a plan. I still remember the situation. I am the leader of this small group of 4-5 persons, and we have to nab a couple of criminals who are in the jungle. We are sitting on the side of a small rivulet at the edge of the forest, planning our moves. While we are planning, we notice a hut a short distance away, on the other side of the rivulet on fire. There is no one inside the hut. What will be our plan to nab the criminals.

Each one of us was to write down our plan, and then read it out one by one. Everyone had ignored the fire in the hut and justified that by saying that there was no one in the hut anyway. I also thought on exactly the same lines, but remember my goal was different than others' goal. I had to fail. So I wrote that I will split my group into two, ask one group to go to the hut and help in putting out the fire, and then come back and join us in the forest and provide support in nabbing the criminals. And I argued that saving innocent lives had to be more important than nabbing the criminals. This party which went to the hut would quickly realize that there is no one inside the hut, and would immediately come back and join. But sitting at the place so far away from the hut, we would not be able to notice that the hut is empty. And the bombshell hit me when the officer told me that that was exactly the intention of giving the information that the hut has no one inside. I wanted to ask, can I change my plan and make it same as everyone else. But it was too late.

Another component of the interview was that we would be given a topic to speak 3-4 minutes on with just about 30 seconds of thinking of the topic. Real extempore stuff. My topic was, "Is Democracy better than Dictatorship." Now, my father is an MA in Political Science, and I would have read pretty much every book that he had on political science. I could have given, if I wanted, a very philosophical talk quoting every great thinker in this domain, and I could have really impressed people. But, I had no interest in impressing people. So I thought of a strategy to fail. I just stood up, gave a list of 20 countries where some elections had taken place in the last couple of years, and a list of 20 countries where the leader was a dictator. And I said that considering these 40 countries, it should be obvious to anyone that democratic countries are dong better in every respect, and hence democracy must be better. Took just about a minute to speak, and then just told the officer who was listening to all these that I had nothing else to say. Everyone else was trying to finish just a few seconds less than the maximum duration. Many of them were from Sainik Schools and had apparently been coached in all this. I was very happy with myself till the officer told me that I had amazing general knowledge, and he was suitably impressed.

In yet another part, we were supposed to do a series of 10 things, and one could repeat those things after completing all 10. My group folks, who as I said were mostly from Sainik Schools could do all 10, and repeat another 5-6. I could do only 9 and could not climb the rope. So I could not repeat any of those 9 either. This was very satisfying, though after the interviews were over, on the last day, one of the officers told me that they do look at the background of the person, and someone not from military background doing 9 was considered very creditable. May be I should have done 8.

On the third day, a few cadets from NDA showed up on their bicycles. I went to talk to them. They must have been nuts to travel on bicycle from Khadakvasla to Bangalore, I told them my frank opinion, which they had not asked. But they still patiently explained that the life in NDA is so tough that bicycling from there to Bangalore was actually an act of leisure. Boy, this was scary. I had to fail. No choice was left for me.

I was getting increasingly scared that I might actually pass. I had to do something in the personal interview so that they don't select me. On the 4th day afternoon, I was told that my interview with Major A C Dutta would happen at 2:30 PM. I reached there well in time, but I was called in only at 2:35 PM. After greeting me and asking me to sit down and relax, he asked me, "I hope you did not mind waiting outside." Hell, I sure did. I had heard that officers of armed forces were very punctual, and I was disappointed. I am sure Major Dutta had never faced such an interviewee. He apologized profusely, and continued the interview. What do I do at school other than studies. I am the captain of the school hockey team, I told him. And then a series of questions on whether I would include someone in the team under pressure. What if a teacher asked me to do so. What if a local strongman had asked me to do so. In reality the team was always chosen by the Physical Training Instructor, and I had no role in it. But for a few minutes I had forgotten my goal. I was actually trying to impress. I would, of course, ignore all pressures, ignore all threats, and so on. Hockey was my passion in those days, and I could go on and on in any discussion on hockey. And then he changed the topic. What have I been doing in Bangalore. Of course, tourism. I had visited all he gardens and walked end to end of the MG Road, seen the Legislative Assembly building, the cricket stadium, everything was within walking distance from our barracks. What impressed me the most. That a "small" city like Bangalore has 104 (or was it 108) cinema halls, much more than the large Metro city of Delhi, was the most unusual and impressive fact about Bangalore. Had I seen any movie. Well, I had never seen any movie in any cinema hall in any city.

Major Dutta suggested that I see a particular English movie which was playing in a nearby theater. He further added that there were only two shows at 12:30 and 3:30. That immediately gave me an idea to fail. I told Major that I was sure they would fail me the next day morning, and I would be asked to leave the barracks immediately. So, if he thinks that this movie is really that great that I begin my movie watching career with this one then he must close the interview right away, and let me go and watch the movie. It had been less than 15 minutes since I had entered his room. I am sure he had many more questions to ask. But as I said above, Major A C Dutta would have never faced an interviewee like me, and he thought it fit to get rid of me.

I came back to barracks. I had no intention of watching an English movie when I had difficulty in speaking and understanding English myself. And once you are alone, the bad thoughts start controlling your brain. And I once again started thinking whether I had done enough to fail. Even this interview could have shown me in some positive light. After all, I answered all the questions about the selection of hockey team so well. I had to do something before the next day morning when the result of the interview will be announced.

Major was always going out in the evening and do some brisk walking on the Cubbon Road. And we had been told on day one that we were not to approach any officer at any time for any reason other than as part of the interview process or in an emergency situation. Any contact with any of them would cause failure in the interview. I collected the Railway pass to go back from Bangalore to Delhi, and waited to Major Dutta to start his walk. As soon as I saw him I went to him and told him that I had not gone to see the movie. Now, no one could possibly pass me. And I pushed off to the Railway Station.

I was determined to make use of this trip to do as much tourism as possible. I had seen Chennai on the way to Bangalore. On my return journey, I planned to spend a few days each in Pune and Bombay (now Mumbai). So I go to this counter where one got the "Extra Fare Tickets" and told the person behind the counter that I wanted to go by the longer route and wanted the EFT for that. He computed the extra distance and found the difference between the telescopic fares of the shortest distance and the actual distance, and it would cost me about thirty rupees more. He asked for Forty Five rupees, fifteen rupees were his bribe. I argued and argued that when I am agreeing to pay the proper fare, and am asking for no favors, why should there be a bribe. But he was adamant. He told me to come back some other time when there is someone else on duty. He could not make an EFT without a bribe. I had never paid a bribe in my life, and my father would be very upset if he came to know that his son has bribed someone. So I kept requesting him to do it without a bribe. He eventually reduced the price to ten rupees. He said that this is his business and in business, there are certain principles that cannot be violated. When I saw that I was talking to a very principled man, I suggested that he gives me at least a student discount on the bribe portion, and accept a token amount of five rupees so that his principles are not violated. I don't think anyone had ever haggled so much on a bribe with him and with utter contempt for me visible on his face, he made the EFT.

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Courtesy : Dheeraj Sanghi Blogspot