When US President Barack Obama witnesses the Republic Day Parade on Rajpath on Monday, he might not be aware of the story of a young lady naval officer, who will be part of one of the marching contingents.
It will be day filled with mixed emotions, pride and great sense of satisfaction for Sub Lt Chippy K Devasia, who will be among the 148 strong Naval Marching Women Contingent, during the R-Day Parade.
Chippy and her colleagues will also march into the history books for being the first all-women naval marching contingent ever during the R-Day Parade.
Similar to the Navy, the Army, and the Indian Air Force are also fielding all-women contingents this year, drawing inspiration from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision to exhibit ‘Nari Shakti' on January 26.
Her's is a story of determination
Hailing from Kottayam district in Kerala, Chippy got married to Lt Cdr Jose Mathews in 2012, a Chetak pilot in the Navy. While participating in a mandatory sailing mission in Mauritius, Jose died following drowning on October 8, 2013.
"We were having plans to build our life. I was working in a bank. We were to move into a flat together after his return. But I was destined to deal with a new set of rules in life," says Chippy, during a cleared interaction with OneIndia on the eve of R-Day.
Chippy had to wait for five days before her husband's body arrived in Kerala.
"I garnered strength and used the five days to think about my road ahead. To think about a life without Jose was difficult, but then I knew I had no option left. Death comes to us without any warning. In knew we cannot plan our death, but we could plan our life," said Chippy, with a rare sense of confidence written all over her face.
"I must admit that for some time the question haunted: Why me? Why me? As a small girl, I always wanted to become a Chartered Accountant and have a peaceful life," she said.
Life took a different turn at INA Ezhimala
Chippy saw a ray of light when the Indian Navy informed her to exercise an option to join the Service, if she could clear the SSB.
"I took it as a challenge. I knew that God has given me a difficult syllabus in life, but I wanted to see if I could clear it. I knew my husband came to my life with a purpose. May be, his purpose was to change my career from a banker to a naval officer. May be his mission was to show me a new direction," she said.
After clearing the SSB, Chippy underwent a rigorous six months training at the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Ezhimala in July 2014.
"The time I spent at INA Ezhimala gave me some rare insights into life. I started to do things, I never thought that I need to do in my life. There were days I thought I would give up and return home. INA was tough but INA changed me," says Chippy, who completed her LLB after graduation, and before joining the Navy.
Recalling her initial days at the INA, Chippy says she wasn't sure about herself. "I was directionless. I wasn't sure whether I would go the distance. To compete with youngsters, who were probably eight years younger to me was not an easy task. But the training eventually made me strong and taught me to push my limits," says Chippy, who passed out in November 2014.
Her father's Bhagavd Gita lessons gave her strength
Chippy says the lessons in life are mainly due to the books she read and the upbringing she had. "I am not a very religious person, yet visited the church with my family whenever I could. My father (a retired police officer) always mixed his thoughts with philosophy. He always quoted from the Bhagavd Gita and shared examples to me and my brother (a pilot with a private airline)," said Chippy.
In addition to the Gita lessons from her father, Chippy was inspired by Norman Vincent Peale's bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking.
"I read this book during my vacation after Class 10 Board exams. While pursuing my LLB years later in 2005, I read Wings of Fire written by Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. These two books have stood by me during my tough times," she said, adding: "My dream is to meet Dr Kalam one day and thank him for gifting me meaningful lessons in life."
Chippy's philosophical bend of mind was evident all through the conversation as she would often offer unexpected answers to the queries. When asked about her biggest strength that helped her tide over tougher times, she said: "The right attitude is the biggest gift we can get. We should not chase material benefits which won't stay with us forever. But our attitude and will power can take us to places. No one can steal them either."
She said she had two choices in front of her after her husband's death. "There are certain obstacles in our path and one must know how to overcome it. When I lost my husband, my choices were either to sit and cry over it or move on and lead a life of purpose. I chose the second one. The worst has happened to me -- that to lose my life partner at such a young age. Nothing worse can happen to me," she said.
Bonding at its best during R-Day Parade
It's her first visit to Delhi and Chippy has already fallen in love with the city. She says that a great deal of bonding has set in among her colleagues who are part of the Navy's contingent in Delhi.
"We are here to make history. I am lucky to be part of the naval contingent. It's one occasion to meet so many officers. Everyone has some experience to share," she said.
Speaking to OneIndia, Capt D K Sharma, Official Spokesperson, Indian Navy, said that the All-Women Marching Contingent is a testimony to women empowerment in the Navy.
"Chippy's story is inspiring, but not an isolated one. There are many others who have lost their husbands and later joined the Navy. We have an unflinching support system for rehabilitation of spouses in case of unfortunate accidents, when your near and most loved ones are lost," says Capt. D K Sharma.
He said equal amount of credit should also be given to the parents of officers for educating their daughters and giving them the freedom to choose a career of their choice so that they live their dreams. "The Navy is really proud of these women officers," he added.
Pride of Tricolour matters the most
Chippy said in the last one month, the schedule in Delhi has been tough, but refreshing. She admits that the Delhi sojourn has further made her into a strong woman with an unforgiving winter, wake-up calls at 2.30 am and a parade that demands precision all the time.
Admitting that that perfection is vital to each and every member of the marching contingent, Chippy says every movement of the body has to be in rhythm while marching.
"As an Indian only one thing matters to me - the pride of the Tricolour. It gives me courage. It gives me hope. Every moment... every day...," she concluded.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)