Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Born in a small town in Punjab called Barnala into family of business owners, my life story could have been the typical Indian Girl story. Study, get married, start a family and be a good wife to a businessman husband. But, I was different. Somehow I could never conform to the societal and family expectations of being a typical small town girl. Though things were not to my liking I must thank my parents that they never stopped me from studying. I started in a Hindi medium school and then at a later stage joined an English medium school which literally turned my world upside down. I was topper in the old school but in the new school I could barely survive the first year. This is where I got my first lesson in fighting the odds that life has in store for you. I worked hard, studied hard and was able to get my scores up. I continued doing well and after my high school I was able to qualify and join an engineering college where I pursued my Bachelors in Technology.
As I was nearing the completion of my bachelors, I still had this urge to do more, but what. I came across this advertisement for the Indian Air Force. I had never dreamt about joining the defence services nor did I have any family members or acquaintances who had ever served in defence forces. But the urge was still there and to everyone’s surprise, I applied for it and cleared my interview in the first attempt. And just like that from Sumedha, soon I was Under Trainee Flying Officer Sumedha Chopra in the Indian Air Force. I was the first woman from my town to become an officer in the Indian Armed Forces.
In 2009 I started my journey as a young Flying Officer. Full of passion and dreams and loving every moment of this new life. All was well or so I thought. However, I started developing problems with my knees in 2013. What followed was multiple visits to the hospital and batteries of tests. Life suddenly had taken a turn for the worst. Here I was in the prime of my life and I was being held back by something. I loved the outdoors, whether it was riding my bike or taking to the air as I paraglided between the hills. Finally in 2017 the doctors told me that I suffered from an auto immune disease. I thought to myself, here we go again. The disease restricted my movement but I made sure that I never turned it into an excuse. I was always on the ground with my men working slogging it out. My seniors appreciated it and I was given an independent command as a Flight Lieutenant. Suddenly I was rubbing shoulders with the top brass and yes it was little intimidating at times. Usually you get such commands when you become a Squadron Leader, but there I was. The job was tough but it taught me a lot. It shaped who I am today. I learned what it means to be a leader. Though I was young in service, I had to own up to my appointment and be responsible for the orders I passed. As I grew in service so did my responsibilities and profile. I commanded another unit for almost 3 years. And as I neared the end of my service with the Indian Air Force and we didn’t not have the option of continuing as Permanent Commission officer, it got me thinking again- What next?
The Indian Air Force had various resettlement options for us. One of them was undergoing a six month residential course at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad the premier Indian B-school. But getting in would not be easy, there was an exam that IIM-A conducted and there were only 60 vacancies available. The competition was between all retiring officers of the three services i.e. the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and everybody wanted in. So I pulled up my socks again, hit the books and qualified the exam. The six months at IIM-A were an eye opener. We studied, we learnt, we adapted and got ready for our second innings. I was fortunate enough to receive multiple offers during the campus placement at IIM-A. I decided to join UBS as an Associate Director and it was the best choice I could have made. In the last one year I have grown as a human being and a techno manager. I also decided to keep my pursuit of knowledge alive and joined an Executive course: Senior Management Program at IIM-A. Did life throw me the odd curve ball during this period that I am so used to, yes it did. That aspect I am still dealing with and when it’s over I will be able to say that I am a brand new woman. So ‘Soldier On’ is what I want to say to all you strong and beautiful ladies out there and enjoy this journey called life.