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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

UPSC CDS 2020: IIT-Mandi alumnus achieves AIR 2 in fifth attempt, aims to join aviation branch

The last test of her journey is yet to come her way as she has to perform well at the Officer’s Training Academy (OTA) to get into the aviation branch.  Neha is waiting for her call letter and is hoping to join the academy by December 2021.

Written by Sheetal Banchariya | New Delhi |
Updated: October 9, 2021 10:19:41 am
25-year old Neha Grewal has achieved AIR 2 in CDS 2020. (Graphic: Angshuman Maity)

Hailing from Pavera village in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district, 25-year old Neha Grewal has finally picked up the pace towards her dream of reaching the skies. After five attempts, she secured all India rank (AIR) 2 in the Combined Defence Services (CDS) 2020, whose results were declared this month. Neha recently resigned from “a comfortable well-paying corporate job” as her true calling was to join the armed forces.

Since childhood, she aspired to be a pilot but during the preparation for the joint entrance examination (JEE) in class 12, she weakened her eyesight and was not able to sit for the Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) as per the physical and medical standards. She then moved to the second-best choice she had in mind – engineering.

“When we were in school, my father used to teach me and my siblings. All three of us were naturally good at math. After my elder brother joined engineering, I was inclined to follow the same path. I enjoyed solving problems from topics related to the electrical section. Hence, I chose to pursue BTech in Electrical Engineering,” says Neha.

Her father, Ramchandra Grewal, retired a few years ago as a financial advisor and chief account officer from the Indian Railways. Her mother, Premlata Grewal has been a housewife all her life but she recently started her own dairy business. Neha’s family moved to Jaipur long ago and they have settled in the pink city.

Neha with her parents. (Photo: Neha Grewal)

After clearing JEE Advanced, Neha faced two choices – a good institute but an unwanted branch or desired branch at newer IITs. She went with the latter and joined IIT Mandi to pursue Electrical Engineering.

“When I was in the first year of engineering, one of our seniors had cracked AFCAT. It rejuvenated the spark in me and ignited my buried passion for being a pilot. But, I took the entrance exam to join the Air Force but was not able to get through. Then, I learnt about the aviation wing of the Indian Army and started preparing for CDS,” says Neha.

When she graduated in 2018, her father was about to retire, her elder brother was not placed and the younger one was too young to earn. She then decided to take up a job instead of dedicatedly preparing for the CDS exam. She joined II-VI incorporated (which was earlier knows as Finisar Technology India Pvt Ltd) as an engineer and kept preparing in the background.

“I could not take up regular coaching for many reasons. The family reasons were obvious but my full-time job did not allow me enough time to stick to a coaching centre. The process of CDS requires five days and hence, I used to plan my leaves accordingly. I did not follow any paid coaching (online/offline). Sometimes, I used to watch free preparatory videos on YouTube while cooking food,” she says.

The book – Pathfinder for CDS – became her bible and she followed the YouTube channel of Maj Gen Yash Mor (Retd) for keeping her preparation on track. She met him once in Delhi and also received guidance from him. “He has been a constant support,” Neha adds.

Grewal scored 214 marks in the UPSC CDS exam. While she managed her preparations along with a full-time, she credits it to the simplicity of the routine and clarity.

“I was never aiming to achieve cent per cent marks; I only aimed at the cut-off. I even identified topics in each subject that I had to learn thoroughly and also left many topics that did not have enough mark weightage. I was very clear about where I have to put my energy,” she says and advises aspirants to not try to attempt questions that they are not very confident about as it can backfire with negative marking.

The last test of her journey is yet to come her way as she has to perform well at the Officer’s Training Academy (OTA) to get into the aviation branch. Neha is waiting for her call letter and is hoping to join the academy by December 2021.

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