Last month, the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala in Kerala, celebrated one more course passing-out-parade with the usual pomp, precision and show. There were several stirring stories as young boys and girls, officer cadets, were commissioned as officers and began their naval journey.
Amidst those stirring stories was of a family - a father and daughter. It is not an extraordinary, trailblazing or newsmaking tale, yet it is heartwarming and life-affirming.
Master Chief Petty Officer First Class (MCPO 1) Umesh Chandra Dhaundiyal is the Seniormost Sailor in my unit and the incharge of maintenance, administration and other matters. He has risen to this position by the dint of his hard work, perseverance and dedicated service of more than 30 years in the Navy, mostly at sea. In short, a gem of a person and a professional.
The Dhaundiyals are like any conventional middle-class Indian family. Thrifty, resourceful, hardworking, a tad conservative and traditional. Growing up in a small village in Pauri Garhwal, 120 km from Dehradun, he lost both parents while in high school and came up the hard way.
Kamini Dhaundiyal did her schooling from Navy Children Schools in Mumbai and Vizag. A topper in school, she graduated in electrical and electronic engineering with 94 per cent marks from Gitam University, Vizag in 2016. She landed a job in campus selection for the prestigious IT major Accenture, where she worked for 7 months.
Motivated by a strong urge to join the Navy, she appeared for the first ever Services Selection Board (SSB) conducted for women entry to INA and was among the 5 out of 167 selected. She was selected for Naval Armament cadre. She was in a dilemma: she preferred logistics to handling ordnance. A month later, she appeared for her second SSB at a different centre and was selected again.
As her father says, "She worked very hard at her job while also preparing for SSB". At the Naval Academy, she was awarded the prize for best performance in seamanship and stood 3rd overall in order of academics merit. From all accounts, she is a good sportsperson too.
The story goes a little further. His son Abhishek Dhaundiyal, younger to Kamini, too joined Naval Academy in January 2017, training to become an Executive Officer. Good at academics, he is also very good in football and table tennis and participated in South Zone State-level Junior Table Tennis Championship. He went through two SSBs, one for NDA and other for Naval Academy and having cleared both, opted for the latter. He will be commissioned as an officer three years down the line.
In short, when the Dhaundiyals landed in the Naval Academy a fortnight ago, they were a family in which the father had reached the highest sailors' rank and the daughter was being commissioned as an officer in the navy and the son awaiting his turn in the line three years hence.
Gateway to success
For me, this little story offers several fascinating nuggets. For one, it is a story of aspiration and ambition. It is also about realising it in the best possible way, that is through hard work, grit, determination, and perseverance - qualities that we see often in our sailors. But it is also more than that.
It is about social mobility in a time of social transition and how navy enables that access. It is about the success of Navy schools which in a span of just about two decades are amongst the best you can get.
These schools are the handiwork, almost entirely, of the Naval community. It is about the mothers who are often not given due credit, including here. They look after home and hearth with men away sailing or on duty more than half the time. Mostly from the hinterland, many of our sailors' wives begin life in a big city having to adjust and adapt at several levels. They do so magnificently.
It is about daughters expressing themselves. And fathers, overcoming entrenched patriarchies of tradition, encouraging them to do so. It is about chipping away at the glass ceilings; it is about creative disruption in small doses in the country's social fabric, a vindication of the beti padhao campaign.
And it is indeed about the fine Naval ecosystem that makes this generational transformation possible. As Master Sahab (seniormost among sailors) says gratefully, "My wife and I are very happy that we can be in touch with the Navy long after my retirement."
This accompanying photo conveys so much emotion - happiness, pride, resolve, expectation, excitement. From now on when Master Chief Dhaundiyal salutes his daughter Sub Lieutenant Kamini it will be with heartswelling pride. And when she returns his salute, it will be with the same pride and gratitude.
The Dhaundiyal duo is the perfect poster people of a nation and Navy that tells several good stories.