Deepshikha Gupta – Ex-Major – Indian Army
This is an older image of Deepshikha’s but I want to use this one as it just makes my heart swell with pride. Even as we were growing up (She is my childhood friend), we always thought Deepshikha would grow up to be a Doctor. The softest and one of the prettiest girls I knew, to think that she would lead a contingent in the army was a far cry. And then when I met her, after many years, she was a Major. Not just that, she was also First Lady to be commissioned to unit serving at Kargil. Her life after she left the Army was as interesting as anyone could imagine. Read on to know how patriotism moved her from serving in the army to helping the artistes of our Motherland.
- Dear Deepshikha, tell everyone your story. I am so excited to hear you or rather say it yourself.
I come from a family of academicians . I for one, always wanted to be a doctor, during all of my school life ever since I can remember . I worked hard for it but over confidence pulled me down . Destiny had other plans for me and I ended up studying to become an Electronics Engineer . Even after graduating I knew I didn’t want to do a regular 9 to 5 job. Those days when people asked me what I wanted to do, I would reply saying,” I don’t know what I want to do , but I do know ,what I don’t want to do. And for me that is good enough !! “
My parents raised us girls very unconventionally. We were always taught to be independent thinkers and have our own free will to do whatever we wanted to pursue in life.
Though professionally I’m an Electronics Engineer but I’m a soldier in my heart and mind !! After my engineering,I was looking to do my MBA when one day I suddenly saw an advertisement in Times Of India asking young Engineering graduates to join the Indian Army . Till then I wasn’t even aware that women could join in the armed forces . My youngest maternal uncle was a “ Colonel “ back then and I asked him for advice . The only advice he offered me was that, “if you are meant to be in the army , if they find you to be the material fit for an officer, they will take you … else you come back home!” I went for my SSB interview completely unprepared and there were girls who had joined training academies before coming for their 5 day interviews. From a batch of 55 applicants only 5 were selected in the final selection and I was so proud to be one of them. I actually couldn’t believe it that I was on the way of donning the olive Green uniform soon.
Six months of strenous training at OTA ( Officers Training Academy ) ended up in me being pushed to the limits of my mental and physical fitness. I never knew that I possessed the immense physical and mental strength that was required to successfully complete the training period. We would wake up at 4 pm everyday and spend close to 6 hours on the field doing physical training while the other 8 hours were spent in academics.The most important lesson I learnt there was that “THERE ARE NO EXCUSES In LIFE”.
This just helped develop a lot of mental strength and resilience. We all developed a very practical side and a never give up attitude towards life. In fact , my sister says that due to this practical side, I never get affected psychologically by any untoward incident or happening and rather move ahead with the next steps to follow. This may many times be intercepted as my being insensitive or cold but that’s just how my brain works now.
At the end of six months, I was commissioned into the Corps of Engineering in 2003 and I served as a Short Service Commission Officer for five years. I was the first lady to be commissioned to unit that served at Kargil. I also trained almost 800 jawans under me. I retired as a “Major” and all my major learnings in life have been only through my life lessons that Fauj taught me. I think every young, abled bodied person, both amongst boys and girls should be made to undergo at least the training part and a mandatory military service. The discipline and learnings remain with you for life. You can never go back to what you were. As they say “You can take the Officer out from the Army, but you cant take the Army out of the Officer”. I’m proud that I got a chance to serve my nation and I wear this badge with honour and pride.
2. So is your husband also from the Army?
No. I met my future husband while I was still serving in the army . He was a civilian ( a Venture Capitalist guy) with no connections to the army even remotely. I think we were very different in our temperaments and professions but that’s what clicked for us. I followed every rule in the book. He, on the other hand loved to break every rule . But our principles in life and family value systems were uncannily similar. When we decided to get married, I had no plans to leave the army and we thought we’ll sail with the tide. He was at Mumbai and I would change locations depending upon my place of posting. But soon we realised that given the nature of my job, long distance marriage was tough work with tougher challenges.
Finally it was my decision to put in my papers upon the completion of my Short Service Commission Tenure and till date I maintain that never once did my husband ask me to leave the Army !! He always wanted me to be happy in doing whatever I loved and I always had his unconditional support, which I Do till date.
So after coming out of the army, I did my management course from IIM – Kolkata and joined an MNC as the HR Head of West Zone. I left my full-time corporate job when my older son was born in 2010.
And thus began a new Chapter in my life. Now that I think about it, I never really worked on a definite time-line as to where I saw myself in the future at any given point of my life. I think I sailed in the cosmic wind like a straw and made the most of my situations wherever I landed.
3. Interesting. Now how did textiles come in to the picture?
To tell you the truth, since childhood I was fascinated by needle-work, embroidery, knitting and other such skills.I would see a certain piece of needlework and get so moved that I would get goosebumps or so emotionally charged by certain woven fabrics. While I served in the army I was posted throughout India and got to go on duty to various sectors , one thing other than official duties that remained constant was my thirst to know about the local crafts and handlooms . More often than not, we would be around small non descriptive towns or villages and I would spend whatever little free time I got by learning from local artisans. There were language barriers but I would still just learn by observation.I learnt the basics of how the thread is woven out of the spindles in the home looms that the village craftsmen had. I saw fabrics being spun out like magic with designs that were barely visible at the onset. Thus began my love story with the weaves of our country.
I realised we have so much of real talent in the heart of villages which goes unnoticed by everyone else. These weavers live in financial difficulties while the middlemen end up making huge profits for themselves. Whenever I got some textiles home as gifts on my vacations , my friends and family would love them to bits. They would always demand more from where this lot came from.More often than not, I would keep the contact of these weavers and always ask for fabrics for personal use.
4. When did you realise you wanted to get more involved with this?
When my older son turned six months, we visited Pondicherry with him and went to Auroville. That was a turning point for me. I knew then that I will never be able to go back to the corporate world when my heart wanted to do something like what was being done at Auroville. I wanted to do something to genuinely help the weavers and various crafts of India to reach larger audiences and for them to get direct profits and not the middlemen. I brought a few “small steps” bags from Upasana which were made by Tsunami survivor ladies.
I came back and posted a post on my FB page, urging friends and family to buy these bags to help this cause. I was happy with the response I got. But my life revolved only after my little one . Since my son was still too young for me to constructively start anything I kept everything at bay. My younger son was born in the following year. For the next four years life was just being a full time mother and a primary caretaker to my sons and I enjoyed every second of it. But I still cherished my dream to do something for the weaver community. I didn’t know how or when but I knew that there will be a time for it.
5. Tell us about ‘Hastkaam’.
I used to buy Ajrakh fabrics from a weaver I knew since long. In the summer of 2016 he messaged me saying he had extra fabrics if some of my friends wanted. I messaged my friends and within an hour I had bookings for his entire lot. His fabrics were much appreciated for their quality and competitive price .This was the beginning …
Slowly in the next one year I started getting more and more and artists into my fold. My friends asked me to open a separate FB page for this and so ‘Hastkaam’ was born. Thanks to the positive feedback I got from initial members, within a month we grew into a 1200 plus family .
6. With all that you do, how does it impact your life and the life of the artisan.
It gives me immense joy when I get feedback from Hastkaam members saying how they love the fabrics and sarees which are woven by the genuine weavers and craftsman, who are not commercially successful yet or don’t have famous brands backing them and how these craftsmen are happy by the profits they are directly making… I know I can’t change the whole world, but even if I can change the world of a few of these artists , I’ll know I have done my bit.
As I said I’m game again for my cosmic wind to blow and lets see where I land up next.
7. You are now working with a NGO, I believe.
Ah… I’m teaching remedial English at an NGO called “ Swakshatra “ which rehabilitates sexually abused girls. Major Bhavana, one of the co-founders is my senior from the army. Nothing compares to the satisfaction I get when I see how education can empower these girls to come out of their horrible past and Start dreaming again.
8. What’s your life motto, Deepshikha?
“ There are only so many battles in life that you can fight . Choose your battles wisely. Give them your everything. The others are not worth fighting for !!! “