Run-up to military litfest: In the army for just five years, but a fauji for life
Born in Madhya Pradesh and raised in Uttar Pradesh, Shikha was among the women pioneers who stormed the macho army in the 1990spunjab Updated: Nov 29, 2017 11:33 IST
“Everyone must join the Army. It provides you a rare opportunity to discover yourself and your strengths. Nothing can beat it.” Capt Shikha Saxena (retd) makes no bones about her passion for the army. Saxena, who is settled in Chandigarh now, says her five-year stint in the army taught her much more than her 18 years in the corporate sector.
Born in Madhya Pradesh and raised in Uttar Pradesh, Shikha was among the women pioneers who stormed the macho army in the 1990s. “It was 1995 and my IC No, then called WS No, was 104,” recounts Shikha, who was among the veterans who took part in the military parleys held at the Art Museum auditorium here on Tuesday.
The uniform, she says, is so empowering that she found herself a changed person after nine months of training.
It was early days and the army had not prepared a gender-neutral code of conduct. Shikha remembers being posted at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), where the rulebook had it that officers should sport an IMA tie when frequenting places visited by the cadets. “Whenever I wore a saree or suit while going to the auditorium in the evening, I was hauled up for my ‘improper turnout’. But how was I supposed to wear a tie with a saree,” she laughs.
A postgraduate in economics, Shikha was surprised when she was assigned to the Corps of Engineers, where she was surrounded by faujis grounded in technology. “That was part of the fun, every day I learnt something new.” But unknown to her, the commanding officer saddled with a lone woman officer amidst 1,000 men had challenges of his own. “I was asked to report back to my quarters by 10.30pm when I wanted to sneak out at 11, so that I could call my parents at slashed STD rates in the pre-mobile age. I used to ask, ‘But I am an officer, why this curfew for me?’,” recalls Shikha, telling you how it was only later she learnt to appreciate his concern.
The uniform, she says, is so empowering that she found herself a changed person after nine months of training. “I remember boarding a train from a deserted Nagpur railway station at 2 in the morning with my hold-all and box. Nothing had changed, it’s just that I was in the army,” she laughs. “The uniform made me believe I could do anything.”
An action-packed stint
Shikha had an action-packed five years in the army with mountaineering expeditions, skiing, kayaking adventures and whatnot. “I scaled a peak above Amarnath in 1996. A glacier burst and we were cut-off for a couple of days but I wasn’t scared,” says Shikha. The high point of her career, she says, was her acceptance as an officer by the troops. “Army works on sheer trust. You go to war because you trust your comrades,” she explains, underlining the need for sensitising the soldiers before inducting women into combat roles.
Now, a mother of two girls, this feisty woman hopes they will also don the olive green one day. Meanwhile, when in a fix in her corporate avatar, she just mentally gets back into the uniform and finds a solution.