In mourning due to the demise of its native singer-rapper Sidhu Moosewala for nearly a month, the Mansa district of Punjab has now got a big reason to cheer.
Touching the skies of glory, Manmeet Singh, the 24-year-old lad hailing from the Budhlada town of Mansa, considered the most backward district in Punjab when it comes to education and other facilities, was commissioned as a Flying Officer into the Indian Air Force (IAF), during the combined graduation parade of the Indian Air Force Academy, Dundigal, near Hyderabad of Telangana on June 18.
Probably the first from Mansa to be inducted into IAF as a flying officer, what makes Manmeet’s achievement even more special is the fact that his parents are government school teachers under Punjab education department and he himself studied at a village government school till class 5, before joining Punjab Public School, Nabha (formerly known as Sainik Singh, with many veterans of Indian armed forces as its alumni).
“I come from Mansa which has always been known as a backward district due to lack of educational and other facilities. Here students literally get no motivation to think differently and aim bigger in life. Most youths from Mansa aim to become constables in Punjab Police so as to secure a source of livelihood or others are doing IELTS and moving abroad. I would suggest to them to think bigger and not to stop even after failures. I myself failed in three interviews before being selected finally. Instead of moving abroad, think of living in your own country and working hard here,” said Manmeet.
Manmeet studied at government primary school at Mohar Singh village of Mansa till class 5, and then at PPS Nabha from class 6 to 10. He then cleared the entrance exam and got admission in Maharaja Ranjit Singh Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (MRSAFPI), Mohali, from where he cleared 11th and 12th.
However, even after clearing the NDA written exam in 2016, he could not clear the interview, following which he got admission in BSc (non-medical) at Guru Nanak College, Budhlada, to complete his graduation. “After graduation I had even started pursuing BEd, but kept preparing for IAF too. It was during BEd that I cleared my Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) and got the interview call,” said Manmeet, who has now become a qualified pilot in the transport wing of the IAF.
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But the seeds of passion and determination to become an Air Force pilot were sown during schooling at PPS Nabha, he said.
“It was in PPS Nabha when the former chief of Army staff General Bikram Singh had come to our school and I got a chance to interact with him. He was an alumnus of our school. Talking to him gave me immense motivation and I decided to join IAF. Then we were also taken to an educational trip to Jammu & Kashmir with the Indian Army and it was also a major motivation. Apart from my father and General Bikram Singh, my other role model has been Major General (Retd) Baljit Singh Grewal who was the director at MRSAFPI,” said Manmeet.
Manmeet’s father Dr Karnail Vairagi is a political science lecturer at Government Senior Secondary School, Hodla Kalan village of Mansa while his mother Geeta Bala is a teacher at Government Primary School, Jeetgarh Biroke Khurd village of Mansa.
“It was a golden moment for us to visit Hyderabad for the graduation ceremony of our son. We never stopped him from pursuing what he wanted to,” said Vairagi. “This proves that students who pass out from government schools are no less, all they need is motivation. We need more academies like MRSAFPI at district level to prepare students from backward districts for armed forces,” he said.
“It is only because of the environment that I got at home which always motivated me to study. My parents used to study along with me when I prepared for entrance exams. My father never stops studying and recently completed his PhD too,” said Manmeet.
“People would ask them why are you sending your only son in the armed forces but they never stopped me,” he added.
But there was just one stumbling block that Manmeet says he faced after clearing class 5 from a government school. “During initial years at PPS Nabha where I joined in class 6, I faced difficulty in speaking English because there was no exposure to the language in government school. I learnt slowly seeing my peers and teachers but it was difficult as I came from a Punjabi-speaking background. That’s where government schools can focus more,” said Manmeet, who would now be moving to Yelahanka IAF station in Karnataka for specialised training.