Cadet No. 1 And Other Amazing Women In The Armed Forces
by Maya Chandrasekaran
Publisher: Harper Children’s
Cadet No. 1 and other amazing women in the armed forces is a collection of three stories : Officer 4971—W.G. CDR. Dr V Ramanam (VSM), Cadet 001—Priya Jhingan, 6 Women A Boat Called Tarini and an Epic Journey.
Officer 4971 is the story of Wing Commander Dr Vijayalakshmi, the first woman to serve in the Indian Air Force. Born in 1924 into a family of traditional Carnatic musicians, Vijaya aspired to be a singer or Bharatnatyam dancer; for her love of Maths and Science, she was called by the Nickname Brainiac.
Her early career and study choices included performing at the All India Radio(AIR), studying surgery at the Madras Medical College and winning the first prize for general surgery, and later specializing in Obstetrics and gynaecology. She later went on to run her own clinic to attend to patients personally, but her life took a major turn when she applied for the Services.
Vijaya was appointed as a Short Service Commissioned Officer in August 1955 and soon made history when she became the first commissioned woman officer to the Indian Air Force. From Major to Wing Commander, Vijaya grew in cadre serving in the Air Force Command Hospital. After her retirement in 1979, Vijaya continued to practice medicine till the age of 80 in 2004. She continued with her music classes and concerts till her last breath.
Cadet 001 is about Priya Jhingan, a naughty girl from Shimla whose interest for the Services began in the ninth standard—Priya declared she wanted to become an Army officer when she grew up. When she was in final year of college, she came across an ad from Indian Army but only for men; she posted a letter addressing the Chief of Army asking them to consider recruiting young woman as well for the services. The Army did consider her request and subsequently called for 25 women cadets from across India. Priya went on to become Cadet 001 after clearing the required selection criteria and passed with a silver medal, creating history for being part of the first set of women cadets post-Independence.
Priya studied Military Law and conducted court martials while in service; the decision to grant permanent service to women cadets was delayed and hence her journey in the Armed forces came to an end after ten fruitful years. But her life of adventures has continued—she briefly worked as a teacher, then participated in Khatron Ke Khiladi and now is part of Outdoor Adventure Sports along with her husband Lt. Col. Malhotra.
A Boat Called Tarini and an epic journey of 6 women —in 2017 the six-woman crew captained by Lieutenant Commander Varthika Joshi attempted circumnavigation of the world, at a point when Indian Navy was not inducting women sailors. After 254 days of journey, they returned successfully, marking a historic moment for Indian Navy. The crew with six women from diverse backgrounds encouraged by strong mentors, set out on this impossible adventure. The circumnavigation happened in five legs—Goa to Fremantle, Australia, Fremantle to Lyttleton, New Zealand, Lyttleton to Falkland Islands, Falklands to Cape Town and Cape Town to Goa.
The entire journey is marked by excitement, adventure, life threatening situations, extreme weather conditions, homesickness, and unpredictability at every corner, as they navigated the mighty seas.
My take on the book:
There are three stories in the book and all three are about pioneers in their own fields, who have achieved great heights thus paving way for the success of many other women. Dr Vijaya’s story begins in pre-independence times stretching till 2020, highlighting how she was well ahead of her times and achieved accolades and success throughout her journey. She had many firsts to her credit however what stood out for me personally is an excerpt from her diary from 2018—where Dr Vijaya mentions that everything she did in life made her happy and feel useful and not as a sacrifice.
Similarly, Priya’s story is about her confidence—her request to consider for services or her strong will during the training period. Her journey also traces the multiple hats she wore, always looking for new challenges.
The journey of the six women aboard Tarini is about accomplishing the impossible, braving real storms and emerging victorious, especially when your opponent is the mighty Nature. The bravery of the crew gives goosebumps and inspires the reader at the same time.
All the stories have excellent illustrations, diary excerpts, and tiny tales of women who inspired the women in these three stories. Be it about Sarojini Naidu or Captain Lakshmi Sehgal or Kalpana Chawla, these snippets add depth to the narration.
These are important stories that need to be read by everyone, especially by young girls to understand how grit, determination and hard work can help one to reach great heights in life and achieve success.