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Challenging the Odds: Interview with Maj DP Singh

Coming from Roorkee, engineering would have been a natural choice. But what inspired you to join the Indian Army?

There are two reasons why the army became a natural career choice for me. I’ve spent most of my childhood in the regimental center of Bengal Engineer Group. From second to twelfth grade, I studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya, and on the way, passed through the army cantonment area every day. Also, my family was connected to the army in various ways. My grandfather and several uncles were in CDA (Controller of Defence Accounts). My father was in GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force).

Secondly, and more importantly, my religion. I’m a Sikh. It was in eighth grade that I was made familiar with the Gurudwaras, their rituals, and the teachings of Sikhism. Since I was living with my grandparents – they were two generations older and hence, quite religious – I started frequenting these Sikh temples more. Listening to the history of my religion here, I started to realise that the armed forces and Sikhism have a lot in common – martial law, service towards the weak and needy, and both are seen as the first mode of rescue in times of need and calamity.

Thus, my religion had already imbued qualities suitable for the army in me, even before I completed school. So, despite Roorkee being home to an IIT (the then Roorkee University), and a hub for engineering coaching, I opted for the army. I knew exactly what I wanted to pursue by ninth grade.

Still, it wasn’t easy sailing. I couldn’t clear my NDA exam. Due to certain complications in the family, we weren’t even financially well off, so I was on my own after twelfth grade. Going through the CDS (Combined Defence Services) Examination would be impossible without a graduate degree, so I wrote and cleared the Banking Service Recruitment exam, which basically provides clerical jobs in small firms. Therefore, while earning, I took a private graduation course alongside. It was tough juggling between studies and a job. What’s worse, after completing my degree, I didn’t even clear CDS in the first go. For that matter, I cleared SSB in my second attempt.

Which arms did you opt for? Why?

My aim was to basically join the fighting forces, not the supporting or technical ones. Naturally, I opted for Infantry, not only because Sikhism is more closely related to this core branch, but also because I lacked knowledge about the other fighting corps – the Armoured Regiments. I opted for Sikh, Punjab and Dogra battalions, and I was given the Dogra Regiment.

We’ve all heard and read a lot about the Kargil war. But I’m sure, as one of the men who lived through it, you would have a different perspective. What did this war mean to you?

Since my religion was deep-rooted in me- I was baptized in the Golden Temple at the age of eighteen- I understood the philosophy behind the war. Sikhism preaches that picking up the sword to destroy evil is acceptable, but only as a last resort. From that perspective, war is a necessity. That’s why we are called the defence– if negotiations don’t work, then the army comes into the picture as the last line of defence for the country. But nobody really wins in a war. Both countries lose their men and resources. It’s only after significant losses that the countries decide to negotiate their terms – something that could, and should, be done before the war itself. It’s a vicious cycle a country must undergo to maintain peace – all because the leaders of the countries are too egotistic to concede the fact that the other country may be right.

War is never the answer. The difficult, but the correct way of winning is through love and peace. Guru Nanak Singh defined a true Khalsa as a saint and a soldier, i.e. in times of dire need, to protect one’s religion and fight against injustice, one must be a soldier, while being a saint until then.

Immediately after the injury, people would have definitely treated you differently – for better or worse. Did that affect your mindset in any manner?

I’m thankful to all the people who were constantly conveying feelings of sympathy and demoralizing me. Had they not done so, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to prove them wrong. I had faith in myself, irrespective of what people said. I made my biggest loss my greatest strength.

In fact, now I run an organization of my own for all amputees across India since 2011, called The Challenging Ones, and I’ve noticed a drastic change in their personality and mindset. Initially, they wouldn’t even speak to each other. Circumstances may have caused them to lose a limb, but it was society that had crippled their mindset. Even if these people tried to do something for themselves, people around them would demoralize them and, as I always say, we are the chosen ones – but most of us don’t realise it. Somewhere, society even makes sure we don’t have such a realization; if we become capable of performing all our tasks as well or better, we will leave the others feeling inferior!

At what point after the injury did you pick yourself up and decide that you’ll run marathons?

It took me ten years to start running marathons. That wasn’t because I wasn’t fit enough. In fact, I think I needed those years to evolve and do something which was worthy of this boon.  Yes, I call it a boon, because God chose me, thinking I’d be fit to do everything a normal person does, even without a limb – which is absolutely true.

I converted my thoughts into action, using my disability to my benefit in order to reply to the people who thought that my life was ruined. In fact, disability isn’t related to losing a limb, disability resides in the mind. For any activity, if you think you can’t do it, then, in my eyes, you are disabled. So many able-bodied people are incapable of completing a 5k run. I think they are more disabled than I am! Think about it!

It’s easy to be an ordinary man in the making. Just coping with injury and being functional with prosthetics can be hard enough. Why go the extra mile? What made you think it was worth it?

Life. It’s the urge to live my life to the fullest that drives me. Do you watch cricket? Sometimes the batsman gets dropped in the very beginning of the match. This is a lifeline enough for him to proceed. maybe to even score a double century. I got this lifeline when I was quite young. What I’m living now is like a second life I was blessed with. This is the innings where I must score, a game I must play gracefully. I value my life and health.  I respect every opportunity that comes my way and make the best of every situation. If I compare both my lives, it is this one that I find more beautiful; I’m rather thankful that I got injured. That’s motivation enough for me to constantly keep achieving.

Remember, everything in life that you desire, isn’t what you deserve. Sometimes, what you deserve is much better. But you’re so busy sulking about something insignificant that you forget to see the bigger picture.

You’ve overcome a huge setback and achieved so much. Why do you think people aren’t able to reach their full potential?

Again, it’s all about your mindset. You yourself are your best friend, and your worst enemy. Everybody else around you is there only to guide and support you. It is your actions that will bear fruit. The blame game can only somewhat justify your failure, but it can never lead you to the path of success. It’s only you, and the power of your mind, that can create opportunities and manifest destiny.

Miracles are born in the light of extreme situations. How do you think your life would’ve been different had this mishap not happened with you?

I’d have probably been a timescale officer, sitting in my office cubicle sulking about my job. (Chuckles) On a serious note, I’ve always been a person who’s seen only the positive aspect of a situation. I’ve always scrutinized everything for its rights and wrongs, even my religion, so I’m sure I’d be progressing steadily on my professional and spiritual front in my alternate life. Honestly, I prefer this. This life has opened different and better doors for me.

How can the children be nurtured better, so that others like you are not treated the way they are now? Should the education system be altered?

I think the education system is fine as it is. But who’s teaching? It’s people with rigid opinions and set perceptions. Obviously, the child will learn what the teacher imparts, even the body language and mindset. For example, as a parent, if I have the habit of smoking, I can never tell my children that smoking is hazardous. Instead, I should have the will-power to quit, in order to convey my point.

It’s the moral obligation of the teachers and parents to make sure they teach without bias and not pass on their perceptions to the child, and that requires a lot of patience and self-control, from the teacher’s side. The question is, are they ready to put in that kind of effort? Instead of approaching it like a job, they need to understand that teaching is a responsibility- a moral obligation towards children and society.

Whatever the child becomes is a direct consequence of how their parents and teachers have nurtured them. In saying that, an adult can’t blame these people for the way he is completely, because, by the time he grows up, he also knows the difference between right and wrong.

Your story is profoundly inspiring. Do you have any words of motivation for our engineering students here at Manipal, especially in cases where students have been forced into pursuing this course by parents?

I went to Kota recently – a hub for engineering coaching. I usually give lectures wherever I’m invited to, but I took up Kota as my own initiative, reason being the increased number of suicides in the area. Interacting with the around 3000 students makes one thing clear: It’s not the child who is at fault. It’s the misinterpreted pressure on him. Pressure must always only be seen as a challenge. Tell me, why do we have exams? The common answer would be, “to check one’s grasp of a subject”. I strongly disagree. Exams teach you to cope with the pressure life has to offer by providing you with a conditioned environment. In a three hour exam, with the subject and syllabus known to you, you prepare for the pressure you will get from the time constraint and atmosphere around you.

The thing is, in life, there is no set syllabus. The “exam” can happen anytime. So, school exams prepare you to face challenging situations in life. The way you react to these pressures is what will mold you.

So you may have joined engineering of your own volition or someone else’s. That doesn’t really matter. Now that you are there, the circumstances will either help you become a great engineer, or you will realise where your true potential may lie. Win-win, unless you succumb to the pressure and quit trying. A student in some other course will never rise up to the responsibility handed to you and vice versa. Different pressures will mold you differently. Therefore, in order to be successful in life, take stressful situations as just another challenge to be overcome.


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