In 1994, twenty-year-old Gunjan Saxena appeared for the selection process of the fourth Short Service Commission (for women) pilot course. Seventy-four weeks of back-breaking training later, she passed out of the Air Force Academy in Dundigal as Pilot Officer Gunjan Saxena.
In 1999, The Indian Air Force launched Operation Safed Sagar, when local shepherds reported a Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. While female pilots were yet to be employed in a war zone, they were called in for medical evacuation, dropping off supplies and reconnaissance.
It was then that Gunjan Saxena proved her mettle. From airdropping vital supplies to Indian troops in the Dras and Batalik regions and casualty evacuation from the midst of the ongoing battle, to meticulously informing her seniors of enemy positions and even narrowly escaping a Pakistani rocket missile during one of her sorties, Saxena fearlessly discharges her duties, earning herself the moniker ‘The Kargil Girl’.
This book is her inspiring story and it’s co-authored by Kiran Nirvan, the pseudonym used by authors Kirandeep Singh and Nirvan Singh. Kirandeep Singh is the former head of the department of management studies, Global Institutes, Amritsar, and is currently pursuing his doctorate in the discipline. Nirvan Singh is a serving officer in the Indian Army, while also being an avid artist, writer and adventurer.
We interviewed Kiran Nirvan about the motivation behind writing The Kargil Girl, the first readers of their finished draft, and more. Read on to find out what they had to say.
Question: What propelled you to co-write The Kargil Girl?
Answer: It has always been our endeavour to write stories of grit and determination, wisdom and valour, of men and women from the Indian Armed Forces and other exemplary men and women of this nation and Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena (Retd) is a pathbreaker who broke stereotypes to achieve her dreams, paving way for future generations of women to do wonders. This book had to be written to celebrate Gunjan Saxena’s achievements, with an aim to inspire others.
Question: Were there any parts in the book that you found more difficult to write about as compared to the others?
Answer: Writing the entire book was challenging. We wanted the narrative to not be jingoistic but measured, sticking to the facts and wanted to educate and entertain the reader at the same time. So, the difficult part was writing about Gunjan ma’am’s SSB process where we had to relate each test to one of the memories from her childhood which ingrained in her the qualities for becoming an airforce officer.
Question: Which is your favourite section in the book and why?
Answer: Our personal favourite part in the book is where we have written about Gunjan ma’am’s training days in the academy. It was simply amazing to learn about the challenges she faced, from following a strict training schedule to getting regular punishments by senior cadets, from being nominated for test sortie with lesser training than others and still being able to clear it to emerging as the best performing flying cadet among her peers at the end of the training, it only shows us what it takes to become a winner. Gunjan Saxena is not the best for no reason.
Question: Who were the first readers of the finished draft of your book?
Answer: A couple of chapters were read by Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, 25th Chief of Air Staff of The Indian Air Force. The finished draft was read by Pragya Narain, daughter of Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena (Retd), Arushi (Nirvan’s fiancée at the time), management students of Kirandeep, Suhail Mathur, our literary agent and of course, our most talented commissioning editor Gurveen Chadha.
Question: If you could give one message to the youth of the country, what would it be?
Answer: Our message to the youth of the country- discipline, determination and perseverance help achieve all dreams, but you must work harder than the previous day.