A story of grit, perseverance and gratitude

Comfort Zone – A Dangerous Place to Live In
April 10, 2022

A story of grit, perseverance and gratitude

Here is the story of Narendra, a boy from a remote village in Uttarakhand’s  Pithoragarh district. A small village that had no roads and no electricity.  Uttakhand has small villages when compared with other places. He lived with his family of 8, parents and 6 siblings. He was the eldest brother so felt a sense of responsibility towards his siblings and the family.

Till primary, school was not very far but after that he had to walk up an entire mountain to reach his school. There was also a river to cross. He was quick so managed to reach in about 45 minutes as he reached matriculation he could manage this distance in about 30 minutes. A city bred lad would easily take over 2 hours to cover the same distance. Narendra was good in studies and had a deep interest in the school activities. He tried his best to be among the top few; not to forget with his limited resources. Life was all about travelling to and fro home and school; attending to the cattle in the evenings and whatever time he could manage, he would study under the light from a kerosene lamp. Did well in 10th and then it was time for him to move to inter college as it was called in those days. Completed his 11th and 12th standard education from there and passed his exams in what was ‘flying colours’ in those days. He had taken English as one of the subjects as he always knew he would go out of that place and work in something much bigger; whatever that meant to a village lad with dreamy eyes!

Got his 12th result and he did well in that exam too. Like others from that region he also opted for the only two options that were available to them – joining the Army or working as a teacher. He filled in the application form for BTC (Basic Training Certificate for teachers).

In those days people got married really young and he being the eldest his mother started pestering him to. Basically parents would search for the right match and children only followed their parent’s advice and decision. He married an equally young girl who had just done her schooling. With marriage came in additional responsibility he started doing some small time jobs till he got a bigger opportunity. He moved to a small town what was connected to the next big city with roads and it had electricity. He found a job at the construction site as a supervisor. While doing there he waited for his BTC result and was also on the lookout for recruitment for the Army.

A few months later the Army recruitment centre conducted a drive to recruit personnel for the Kumaon Regiment. He filled in the form and appeared for the physical and medical examination. Hundreds of young men were there that day. They were told that the results would be out in about two week’s time. He went to check the results on the appointed day and there were a few of them selected and his name was there on that list. The brigadier (J and K Regiment) met them and gave them the letter. While speaking to Narendra he checked his qualification and also the scores of his physical test. The brigadier told him that he was over qualified as for that position they needed men who were non metric that is 8th standard pass candidates. With his academics and also having learnt English he asked if Narendra wanted to try for the Indian Navy. He said that there would be a recruitment drive for the Indian Navy soon. Holding his letter in his hand, Narendra didn’t even think much and gave it back to the brigadier.

His thoughts were- he just had a job opportunity that’d have taken care of him right from that moment. He would have got a warrant on which he could board the state run bus and reach the training centre at Ranikhet. But not accepting it meant waiting for a chance of being selected for the Navy; chance is just that a slim possibility. Anyway he moved out of the camp to come back the following week to appear for the Indian Navy selection. He promptly reached and gave the written and physical tests with hundreds of others. They were told that the results would be announced in 2 to 3 weeks as it would come from the Naval headquarters. That meant he had to wait and didn’t have enough money to pull him through that time. His village was far there was no point going there. He was in deep thoughts thinking of the next move heading towards the bus stop nearby. A man holding two bags approached him asking Narendra what put him in such deep thoughts. He narrated the whole incident to the man who turned out to be a salesman selling OTC medicines for fever, headache, stomach ache etc. He earned commission on sale from the company. He asked Narendra to join him selling those medicines and that could take care of the waiting time for his results. Without thinking much Narendra agreed and the salesman gave him one bag to carry. Both of them started moving from one village to the other within a week they had sold their entire stock. They stayed at a lodge and carried on with their sales job during the day.

One day when they were returning from their field job and as they crossed the bus stop near the army recruitment centre some boys came running to Narendra and hugged him saying that he had cleared the exam and was selected for the Indian Navy. He dropped his bag and ran to see the list. Seeing his name there, he had tears in his eye as this was not just a job but his passport to the world and to the world of opportunities. The salesman was equally happy they had a good dinner that night. Next morning he met the officer along with 3 others who were also selected. They had to travel to Kochi (Cochin at that time) in Kerala where they would undergo their training. It was a long journey and for Narendra it was also the first train journey, in fact he hadn’t seen one till then.

All this while; he had no communication with his family or his wife except for sending news of his well being through anyone from his village he met in the town. Family believed that he was working as a supervisor in a construction company involved in road construction. A lot had happened in the few months that he was away from home. His belongings; a few clothes and his wedding pictures- a couple of black and white photos; in fact only pictures of is wedding were stolen so he literally began his life in the small town from scratch.

The young recruits became good friends in the journey that was long enough for them to know each other fairly well. They reached their destination which was a completely wet city due to incessant monsoon rains. Once at their barracks and fairly settled into the routine. Narendra took the envelope and letterheads that they used to get from the Navy to write letters to their families. He wrote his first letter to his wife giving her the update. He also sent a couple of self addressed envelopes in the letter so that she could write back to him.

The letter reached his village and everyone who saw the envelope including the postman was curious to know more about Narendra as the address was of a far off place and a ship printed on the envelope. He was the first person from his village; for that matter from that region to have joined the Indian Navy. Family and all the villagers were proud of him, he in turn got a letter from his wife sharing all the updates of the family and relatives. He was undergoing his training and letters were regularly exchanged with his wife. After his training he got his posting to his unit and he started working there, not really enjoying the work just then a notice was put up on the notice board that was asking for applications through the unit head for divers. Narendra saw this and he wanted to give his name. His name was forwarded to the Diving School and he had to appear for a physical test. He was there along with many others. He cleared the test and had to wait for the final result that would come from the Naval Headquarters. The list of selected candidates was shared with all unit heads and his officer gave him the news of his selection for the diving course. He left for diving school the next day and then started his 6 months of rigorous training. From a batch of 100 who came into the course just 15 completed it successfully and became ship divers. So he didn’t get to go home till his course was over. Finally after over a year he got to go home.

When he reached home everyone; not just his family but all villagers were very happy. He was invited for lunch or dinners by his teachers, the village pradhan and who’s who from the nearby villages too. Village life has simplicity and love for all; they stand with each other and rejoice every little achievement.

One month of leave just flew by and he had to join back on duty. Then he gave his name for Clearance Diving course which meant he would be a professional deep sea diver. Again the selection process was tough but he made it and then completed his CD level III course. By now he was a father; his daughter was fast growing up but his wife was still at the village. They then had their son. His wife thought it was the right time for her to join her husband and move to the city as she wanted her children to receive good education. She took care of her family supported her in laws; all her brothers and sisters in law were married. She was done with her responsibilities on her home front it was time for her to be with her husband and raise her children. She joined him when he was posted on a naval ship that was a part of the Western Naval command. She came to Mumbai her first visit and stay in a city, within 6 months Narendra got posted to Diving School, Kochi. He had his up gradation course. He moved to Kochi with his family. He put his children in the central school there.

In the subsequent years he cleared his CD II and then the CD I courses. He became an instructor training naval divers and commandos. This is what he enjoyed and he felt that it was his true calling. Many batches passed out under his training. He gained a lot of respect from his seniors, colleagues, subordinates and trainees alike. On the personal front he had one more daughter with whom he developed a very special bond as she was the one whom he saw through birth and initial years of growing up. He had missed that with the other two.  He went up the hierarchy to higher ranks and set up some of the finest Command Diving Units of the Navy. Subsequently earning bachelor’s degree as well; with that the dream of being a graduate was achieved too. He was awarded the Nao Sena medal for exemplary service. He with his team changed the propeller of a ship while it was in water. Saving time, money and resources; it was something no one had attempted ever. He moved to many training bases and after putting in 32 years of service he retired from the Navy.

All through the years he gave back as much as he could to his village building things of common utility and extending help to whomever he could and whatever was in his capacity. He ensured that his children got the best of education and he supported them in whatever they wanted to do. He gave his children all that he didn’t have and couldn’t even dream of. He is settled in Navi Mumbai, his children are all doing well and are well settled as per the societal parlance. He and his wife are doting grandparents to 5 children and to the grand children he is the hero who fulfills all their wishes. Retirement didn’t mean hanging his boots he still does what he loves- teaching and training. He is associated with a Merchant Navy Training institute and takes lectures and practical training sessions. Narendra feels that God has been kind to him and is grateful to the brigadier who showed him the right direction when he was just beginning his life and embarking on his professional journey. That brigadier lives in his prayers and gets the salute of highest gratitude.

PS This couple celebrated their golden anniversary on 23rd May 2022 and they are my parents Mr. and Mrs. Tulasi and Narendra Kohli. This is with love to my parents from -a very proud daughter, me.

Laxmi Todiwan
Laxmi Todiwan
Founder Indian Women in Hospitality. She is a Professor, Corporate Trainer, Motivational Speaker and a Blogger. A hospitality professional with a career spanning over two decades; people engagement, training and development is close to her heart. She writes for hospitality journals, international websites and columns in the local newspapers. Married to a Master Mariner she loves to write on the maritime industry as well as the lives and relationships of the fraternity. She expresses her thoughts on her blog and website, www.theiwh.com

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