When Major Devashish Chakravorty, Lt Cdr T Balaji and Flt Lt Nilesh Gupta move around the sprawling campus of Indian Institute of Management (IIM A), it's no secret mission they are carrying out, reports TOI.
All three are ex-defence services officers now studying for their management degrees. A sad but interesting statistic which clearly highlights the growing unattractiveness of 'careers for life' in general and careers in the defence forces in particular.
Says the army guy: "I joined the Army for a life of adventure and valour. That was a stage when I wanted physical challenges in life. Now I seek mental challenges". Which, he specifies are: a career in investment banking or consulting.
It will be interesting to see what kind of placement he gets. 13 years of experience - that too in the army - is an unusual kind of profile. Even for a lateral recruit.
Of course, a lot depends on how well he performs academically. I would think he should not find the 'pressure' too much, having been through much worse at NDA. And he must be pretty motivated, that's for sure!
The navy chap is an electronic engineer who joined the forces out of fascination for the uniform, the sea and the thrill of life in the forces. But he was on a short service commission.
The air force fellow is the most candid: "It was a feeling of accomplishment to be in the IAF. But gradually I began feeling the monotony and wanted a change".
Monotony? Well, if you look at the issue dispassionately, clearly we haven't had a real 'war' since 1971. Kargil was an undeclared war, but one where the Air Force wasn't allowed to cross the LOC and bomb out the enemy camps.
So all they do really is keep training, staying fully prepared and alert for a war that never happens. Now this is necessary in the national interest - but not an exciting thing for the talented individuals serving in the forces.
No, thank you
When I was in school, several of my classmates had an army-navy background. A fair number of the boys were quite gung-ho on joining the NDA/ IMA and I know for sure at least 3 did so.
Today, it's rare to find such enthusiasm among officer's children. One such offspring declared to me," Only the duffers among us try for defence service ..."
Slight exaggeration perhaps but yes, the smarter ones aren't waiting 13 years to realise they want "mental challenges". They're trying for MBAs or studying abroad from the start.
As Vice Admiral S C S Bangara, former commandant of the NDA candidly admitted to rediff.com in an interview
It is a fact none of the crème of our youth opts for the military... We have middle class and below, and more so in the lower middle class families coming into the NDA. But is it unique to India? No, my answer is it is not unique to India. This is the global trend.
At a recent Passing Out Parade at NDA it was observed that a significant % of the graduating class were children of jawans and JCOs. For them, becoming an officer is the ultimate in 'upward mobility'.
As they say, one man's punishment posting is another's dream job. So even as the dream sours for some, it glows brightly in the hearts of some others...
The decline in interest among 'elite youth' is often attributed to the fact that other professions pay more. But that's too simplistic. Those who've experienced the privileges of an army/ navy lifestyle know the 'quality of life' is great. In fact it's the kind of quality money cannot buy. Says the Vice Admiral:
I have a son in the corporate world who at a young age has reached a fairly senior position. He does not have the same quality of life despite his income being higher than that of a young officer in the armed forces.
But the general feeling is you aren't 'going somewhere'. Most do join the forces with a great deal of josh but it quickly wears off.
There is frustration with the hierarchy, the lack of modernisation, the politics. The constant relocations to small and boring cantonment towns. And an additional, often overlooked problem: the fact that your spouse will never be able to have a proper career.
If it were easier to leave the forces, I suspect many more would actually do so. Meanwhile, the army/ navy/ air force need to figure out how to deal with a whole new mindset. One that aspires for 'more' than previous generations.
A challenge as grave as the actual threat posed by our thorny neighbour...