'It's not about me -- but about my jawans, my country,' says Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi.
Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi will be the first-every lady officer to lead an all male contingent in the Republic Day parade on January 26 in New Delhi.
144 jawans will march under her command on Rajpath in front of the entire nation.
"When I give the command in front of the supreme commander of the armed forces and he takes my salute, that is the moment I have been dreaming of," says the young officer from Hyderabad who joined the Indian Army two-and-a-half years ago.
"I am excited about the crowds that come to watch the parade. A lot of girls will be very happy to see me," she tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
"No award can match this feeling and the responsibility bestowed upon me. This is the best prize I can ever get."
It is the second time that the officer will be marching down Rajpath. Nine years ago she was part of the National Cadet Corps marching contingent.
"I remember the entire Cabinet was standing up and clapping," she says over the telephone from New Delhi where the contingent has been practising from 5.30 am in the bitter January winter.
How she was selected:
Lieutenant Bhavana was selected from a pool of officers that had reported for screening and selection at the regimental headquarter in Bengaluru last June.
Four officers were shortlisted, out of which two were picked. She came to know that she would lead the contingent in the first week of January.
The other male officer who was selected led the Army Service Corps contingent at the Army Day parade on January 15.
"We practiced for 6 months to reach here while my contingent has been practicing for a year," says Lieutenant Bhavana, an officer from the Army Service Corps that provides operational logistical support to the Indian Army.
Amongst the oldest regiments in the Indian Army, the Army Service Corps is 257 years old and was raised by the British.
'Bhavana sahib' to the jawans:
The Army Service Corps has always had a male officer commanding the parade.
"The men are proud of me. They call me Bhavana sahib. They are also my greatest critics. Looking at their josh even I get motivated," says Lieutenant Bhavana who has served in Jammu and Kashmir and has a degree in microbiology from Osmania University.
"The Indian Army is about officer-men relationships. I have developed a fantastic bond in the past six months and thank every individual in the contingent that has made me this today."
After the parade practice and drill, as contingent commander she also has to look at the administration -- whether the men are eating well and have no problems etc.
"It is not about me -- it is about my jawans, their families, the country," she says.
The first person in the family to join the army:
No one in her near or distant family has ever been a part of the armed forces. Lieutenant Bhavana's mother Shashi Rekha, a stenographer in the labour court, says her daughter was drawn to the armed forces while in the NCC.
The NCC gave her a lot of exposure where she met many army officers who came on regular deputation which motivated her to join the army.
Six family members, including Lieutenant Bhavana's in laws, will travel from Hyderabad to watch the parade. Her husband is a doctor in the army.
"My family is so proud of me. They have seen my transformation in the army," says the young lieutenant who feels a sense of discipline is the greatest change in herself from civilian life.
What draws young women to the armed forces:
The most common questions school and college girls ask Lieutenant Bhavana is 'Oh, you are an army officer? So you wear uniform? How did you get into the army?'
She guides them and asks them to chase their dreams, whether it is in the army or whatever career they want to pursue.
"Every day, every moment is different in the army. The uniform brings you great respect and has to be worn with great responsibility. From jawans to everyone -- all are looking up to you," she says, explaining why the armed forces is attractive for young women.
"We have no other life. The army is about service before self and the work exposes you to such fantastic things that I am running out of words. It is something you are going to cherish always."