By Harshikaa Udasi | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 01, 2016
Commander Ninad Pawar and Sqn Ldr NS Pawar, fighter pilots both, are as different as chalk and cheese. But take their grit and determination for serving the country (and the shared love for the movie Top Gun) and it’s difficult to tell one from the other. In a freewheeling chat with Opening Doorz, the dynamic brothers tell us about their life in the Indian defence services.
How young were you two when the thought of joining the armed forces occurred?
Commander Ninad Pawar: I was about 17 and studying to become a doctor.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: During my 10th class in the year 1997 when I was 14.
What got you interested in this profession?
Commander Ninad Pawar: I have always wanted to fly fighters since my childhood. I was very academically inclined, moderately obese and not very adventurous. During my academic years, like most others, I got programmed to pursue engineering or medicine, the two most popular vocations at the time. The dream of doing barrel rolls and loops in the sky was all but banished from my mind. It was only during a chance visit to the NDA that I realized that this was my chance to get out of the rat race and pursue my dream.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: I just missed Ninad a lot because he was away in Services Preparatory Institute (11th and 12th class in Aurangabad) which is an institute that trains boys from Maharashtra to join the armed forces through the UPSC exam and SSB interview for National Defence Academy. I was in Bhavnagar at that time and had never been away from my brother. Interestingly, the reason I selected Air Force and not the Navy (Ninad’s service) is a completely different story.
It must’ve been a difficult decision within the family to send both of you boys into the armed forces?
Commander Ninad Pawar: My mother is a very strong woman. Since childhood she had instilled in us a strong sense of discipline and ethics. She encouraged us to choose our own path and facilitated us the best she could. She did not bat an eyelid when I told her I would be joining the Indian Armed Forces and later, when my brother told her the same thing. Family support mattered a lot.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: My dad had been associated with the Navy when he was posted in Goa with the erstwhile Indian Airlines. He was mighty impressed by the Navy way of life. He also had many friends in the Navy, so he was the driving force for us to be exposed to this career choice. Mom had also interacted with the Navy and was also cool with it. Nevertheless, the fact that both boys were out of the house permanently was definitely difficult on mom as she was not used to being away from both of us.
How do you remember your early days of training? Was it a smooth ride? Did you feel like turning back?
Commander Ninad Pawar: I knew that I would be able to pass the NDA entrance exams but nothing had prepared me for the rigorous physical training to follow. It was a shock that lasted three years. So no, it wasn’t a smooth ride at all. We were pushed to our limits and beyond. We came out stronger. Even now, when I am faced with a difficult situation or decision, I look back on my training days and know that I can handle anything that comes my way.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: The early days of training were quite challenging as the training is quite tough in the NDA. However, the fact that my elder brother was able to go through the grueling training more than motivated me to take every challenge head-on with confidence. I can’t think of anything that I would want to eliminate. The training is tough but essential to the grooming of armed forces officers and aviators in the IAF.
What was the toughest part of the training?
Commander Ninad Pawar: It would definitely be how much we were made to run. In the academy we were always running—running cross countries, running during morning PT, during drill, during classes, between classes. Running towards food, running away from seniors, running in our sleep, sleeping while we ran (yes, you read it right). I ran for three straight years. When I came home during term breaks, I would subconsciously plan routes for my morning runs. And before I could realize it, I would find myself running at four in the morning, during my holidays, when I should have been recuperating for my next semester!
Choosing your area of specialization, what helped you make the choice?
Commander Ninad Pawar: Three things come to mind. The first was watching animation on the erstwhile Star TV. Transforming flying robots and futuristic fighters fired my imagination as a kid. My favourite used to be an old animated series Swat Kats. Video games were the next factor that nurtured the idea of flying. The last and the most defining factor was Top Gun.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: Coming to the ‘other’ story as promised, I selected the IAF because Ninad chose the Navy. When I was filling out the form in my 12th class in Mumbai in 1999, Bollywood had a greater than normal influence on me. I did not want my wife to fight with me when she compared herself with Ninad’s wife who is enjoying the perks of service because of Ninad’s awesome performance (Ninad had always been studious and good performer in school). The Gujarati influence of 14 years in Bhavnagar made me divert away from the Army as I thought it was a lot of effort. The recent fad of flight simulators and the movie Top Gun made me nail the choice for the Air Force and the Fighter stream into which I was commissioned in 2003.
How many years has it been now? How has the journey been?
Commander Ninad Pawar: It has been more than decade. And I can say with confidence that even if I could, there isn’t a single thing I would change in my life so far….ummm, other than the running! Each and every event in my life has been a learning experience for me and I thank the Almighty for that.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: I joined the NDA in June 2000 and got commissioned in the IAF as a Flying Officer in July 2004. It has been 16 years since start of training, twelve-and-a-half years after commissioning.
Anything that had challenged you greatly and you’ve come out on top and would like to speak about it?
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: My tryst with Leukemia and the fact that I have returned to flying after a successful treatment is definitely one challenge conquered in life.
Has being in the armed forces affected your relationship as siblings? Is there a better bond between you brothers since you’re both in the same space and yet in separate verticals?
Commander Ninad Pawar: Being pilots, I can safely say we have been in the same verticals too. We respect each other for what we do and empathize with each other.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: The bond between us continues to remain the same as before. Interaction at times, however, is very less so we make the best of the time spent together, even if it may be only once in a year or two years.
Do you sense that people look at you with pride, with the feeling that you are doing what they haven’t opted to do for the country? Can you narrate any incident?
Commander Ninad Pawar: It’s my feeling that people are proud of what I represent. And it is this pride that I see in my fellow countryman that drives me to perform better professionally and be a better citizen of the country.
Sqn Ldr NS Pawar: I had a Sharekhan demat account and I got a scolding from one of the relationship managers because I did not use it for over a year. Later, she was quite apologetic when she found out that I was in the IAF.
Shyam Pawar (father)
ex-DGM (Western Region), Indian Airlines
Meera and I grew up as orphans and we have seen a lot of struggles. We used to wonder sometimes that if anything happened to either of us, what would happen to our children. So all we wanted was a happy and secured life for them.
Meera had seen a very hard life. My uncles were in the defence, so the defence services were a good career choice. They don’t earn as much as their friends are doing in corporate jobs, but this is a clean, noble and respectable job, something that people look up to.
My sons saw the inside of a cockpit many times as kids; enough to create that initial excitement in them. Meera ensured that the kids kept away from the television which kept their eyesight good while I kept their minds ignited with lots of educational books, especially on war ships and aircraft.
But I was away from both my sons throughout their childhood. So when it was time for me to leave Ninad at the NDA, I was returning by train and sobbing as onlookers wondered why I was all emotional. I couldn’t believe that I had just left my son alone away from all of us. I didn’t want to show Meera my tears. I am sure she must have had her own weak moment. When it was time for Nishant, it was much better because I knew Ninad was there for him.
Yes, lots of people wonder about sending both our children to the defence forces but I feel this career has helped them as individuals. They have shone in their respective fields. As parents, we couldn’t have let our emotions come in the way of our children’s future.
(Harshikaa Udasi has worked with top publications across the country for the last 15 years. When not busy with her journalistic pursuits, she runs a book reading club for children called Book Trotters Club. Besides these full-time pursuits, she enjoys observing the two main circuses of our country—Bollywood and politics.)
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