Distinction in school. Double Major in Math & Physics. Dream of a flying career in the Air Force.
She had successfully done her solo in gliding (winch-operated glider). TheWing Commander (NCC Air Wing, 2 TN Batalion) knew she was good at it, encouraged her to become a fighter pilot and helped her with the preparations. Her senior who had succeeded, also gave her some tips. She had the NCC 'C' Certificate, which was an added advantage.
There were only 3 centres for the PABT (Pilot Aptitute Battery Tests) - Mysore, Varanasi and Dehradun. Though she had opted for Mysore because it was closer home, she was allocated Varanasi as her exam centre. Her family, relatives, friends, classmates, fans (yeah, she had a huge fan following at the University), lecturers to the Chancellor, fellow NCC cadets, Wing Commander, Squadron Leader and more or less the whole of the city geared up for the day when the lady fighter pilot would return with her badge, beaming. One of her friends was going to Mysore to attempt the PABT. They exchanged their good lucks and went their way. Her dad accompanied her, because Varanasi was not familiar territory. It was a long journey, from Coimbatore (in Tamil Nadu) to Varanasi (in Uttar Pradesh), by train.
The hippie culture in Varanasi still existed. There were rickshaw pullers and mule-carts. There was chaos and dirt. Dope and dreams. They found a decent place to stay for the night. The next morning, they headed for the exam centre. There were more than 185 aspiring pilots, from North, South, East and West. The accompanying family members / friends were asked to return to their place of stay. Completely organized and disciplined, the whole process. Candidates were split into groups of three and allotted rooms where they were allowed to settle down. A girl from Orissa (daughter of a high ranking Air Force Officer) and another girl from Haryana were her roommates. Breakfast was served at the Canteen. Then they were asked to assemble in the gallery for a briefing.
First there was to be a Written test (On basic Air Craft Instrument reading), and candidates selected in the Written test would have to go through the Machine test (To judge if the candidate can control simple joy stick and rudder controls). A candidate was allowed to take this test only once in his/her lifetime. Failure in PABT test permanently debars the candidate from appearing for flying branch. And, there would be Physical tests, Medical tests, Group discussions and Interview.
She was excited and looking forward to giving it her best shot. The written test results were announced. Only 20 out of 185 had made it. She was one of them. The other candidates were sent back home, dejected. The twenty 'proud' candidates proceded to take the Battery test.
It was pretty much like a video game parlour. Two different machines. One had a steering wheel which worked just like the ones in a car. There was a moving lead shot and grooves that were placed in a zig-zag lane. The task was to use the steering wheel to veer the lead shot into each of the grooves. Each groove fetched a point. There was a time limit. She was good behind the wheels and was confident on getting this one right.
The second one was quite like an inside of a cockpit with a screen that had a small square and an outer square, a joy stick, 2 rudder pedals under the feet and a lever on the arm of the chair. There was a moving spot of light. The task was to use the joystick and pedals to focus the light within the smaller square which fetched more points than the bigger square. There would be occasional beeps (deliberate distractions) which had to be silenced using the lever on the left arm of the chair. She had maneuvered a glider with ease and found it way too easy, made a mathematical calculation in the mind and came out smiling.
The candidates discussed among themselves their performance. A punjabi girl candidate (who also had a solo wing in gliding) was the one other candidate who was just as confident. All candidates were called to the Gallery. An Officer started 'We are disappointed with the results this year. Only 2 out of the 20 candidates have made it through the Machine test, who will stay with us for the rest of the selection tests...'. There was a lump in her throat, but she was still smiling. Roll number of one candidate was called out. It wasn't her, nor the Punjabi girl's. It was some guy's, who seemed surprised himself. He was son of so-and-so in the Army.
Her heart was now beating in her ear and she could hardly hear anything. The second roll number was called. Thud, she landed on the ground. It wasn't hers. It was the Orissa roomie's. The Orissa girl had said that she had barely scraped through the written test and had no hope of getting through the machine test, because she couldn't really figure out how it worked. She was daughter of so-and-so in the Air Force.
She (back to the protogonist of this 'real' story) was disappointed. She hadn't tasted failure. It tasted bitter. She didn't like it one bit. Her mind was racing at supersonic speed. What next, since there was no second shot! She got out of the hall to see her father waiting for her. No words between them. The emotions were running high. Dad tried to make small talk, console her. But she was lost in thought. The journey back was tough and seemed to take forever. She had to get back home with nothing, just a shattered ego and nothing more left of the dream. The aftermath was tough to handle. She wasn't ready for this. But nothing would jerk the tear out of her eyes.
There wasn't going to be a flying career, unless of course she wanted to consider getting a CPL (Commercial Pilot License). Her Wing Commander gave her a choice between CPL (50% sponsored by NCC) and Air Force SSC (Short Service Commission) Officer. But she was dejected. She wanted to be a fighter pilot and had failed. She suspected if there was some favouritism / bias, because it just didn't add up how she could have failed. She had made her decision. She shot down the option to get into the Air Force. She heard there were many pilots with CPL in their hands and no job, so she ruled out that option too.
She was at the crossroads. No more of Math or Physics she had decided. She didn't want to be an academician nor a scientist nor a researcher. She met her friend who had attempted PABT at Mysore. She didn't make it either. By sheer coincidence, they both chose advertising. They did their Post Graduation in Advertising & Communication Management. A soaring career in advertising took her to greater heights. The aftermath wasn't too bad afterall. God has His ways! She can now fly a jet plane with her feet on the ground :)