The financial capital of the country, beguiles with its glass towers and glitzy shopping malls. Mumbai is the place for those aspiring to make it big. From business barons to movie moguls a million aspirations are born and sometimes fulfilled in what writer Suketu Mehta has aptly called, Maximum City. Yet, every once in a while, you get a passionate, aspirational youngster who marches to the beat of a different drummer.
Like Thane boy, Pranav Gawaskar (21) who is all set to join the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun for 1.5 years of military training. Gawaskar stands on the brink of breaking into the armed forces after getting the 122nd rank in the All India Merit list announced by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) recently. He qualified in the Combined Defence Services (CDS) written exam held by UPSC in February 2011 and thereafter, the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview in August 2011.
This son of a single-parent (he lost his father when he was 8) stands only a little more than a year away from realising a long-cherished dream, to wear an Indian armed forces uniform, "and walk on the roads, bursting with pride," says Pranav. From a generation that dreams of climbing corporate ladders and earning so much that their wallets would become positively obese, Pranav says, "Many of my friends have opted for the corporate world. In fact, I am the only one who has chosen this path. When one chooses the armed forces, it is not salary or perks that should drive somebody but only one thing-- serving the nation. That is my motivating factor."
Gawaskar, a student of Vasant Vihar High School and Junior College, Thane (W), was graduated in Science from Matunga's Ruia College. College days were typical--academics mixed with hanging out with friends and spending time at Mumbai's South Indian hub, where the steam rising from freshly made idlis wafted around groups of collegians discussing the latest lecture or planning to play truant!
It was different from the atmosphere at Pune's Apex Careers where Pranav was trained under Lt. Col (retd) Pradeep Brahmankar along with Cdr (retd) P K Banerjee and Hrishikesh Apte. It would also be a world away for the demanding training that Pranav is set to undergo at Dehradun when he joins in the first week of January 2012. Pranav will join the Indian Military Academy, on successful completion of which he will be a commissioned officer in the Indian Army in the rank of 'Lieutenant' and will be allotted a regiment where he will report for duties.
Says Col Brahmankar, "Pranav is one of the very few youth in and around Mumbai who has made it to the Indian Army. There may be a few who opt for this career but they don't make it. Pranav has been focused right from his childhood." Brahmankar dispels the notion that youngsters who opt for a career in the army have run out of options and this is the last resort. He says, "An army career is a very attractive career. In addition to a good salary and perks it offers , challenging assignments, adventure, sports facilities, medical benefits for self and family throughout life, club facilities, mess facilities and many more." Brahmankar says the media could play a bigger role in promoting the forces as an appealing option.
Says Pranav, "Beginning from training to other assignments I know I am going to be away from home. That is the call of duty, so I have no complaints, it is something I want to do." Like millions of others, Pranav saw the 26/11 mayhem in Mumbai and the armed forces battling the terrorists. He says, "Firstly, I want to say that they (terrorists) would not have been able to come into the country if there was no corruption." Ask him if he thought he too, might be in a similar skirmish some day and he says, "Yes, I know that. When I think of serving my country, sacrificing my life is a small thing."
Pride is evident in Pranav's mother -- Ashwini Gawaskar's voice. She says, "From the beginning, I knew that Pranav was always inspired by the armed forces. He wanted to do something special and something different and I feel so proud as a mother that Pranav chose his country over any other career." It is not just Pranav who is on the cusp of realising a dream. His mother, who worked in a pharmaceutical company for 15 years, made the leap from employee to self-employed two years ago. Says Ashwini, "I always wanted to have my own business. I run a catering service called Mother's Tiffin in Airoli. I have counter staff at my shop too."
Ashwini adds, "I am not saddened at the prospect of Pranav leaving home and eventually being away for long periods of time. After all, that is the career path he has chosen, so, I cannot interfere." Ask his mother if she is apprehensive about her son's choice, about him being injured or even killed in the course of duty and she says, "Choosing a career in the army does not automatically mean something could go wrong. In fact, something might happen here too in civilian life. Don't we have accidents and death too?"
Pranav, like his much more famous namesake, the legendary S Gavaskar (this one spelt with a V though) has played cricket at various levels and is a pace bowler. Ready for the tough turn his life is going to take, Gawaskar is now eager to fauj (pun intended) ahead in a new direction.