Chandigarh: It is an academy with a difference. The sprawling 10-acre Minerva Academy campus near here has a singular focus - to train young men and women to be part of the military.
With a track record of contributing over 35,000 officers to the army, Indian Air Force (IAF) and the navy, the Minerva Academy, set up in 1955 by J. Deol and her husband Lt. Col. I.S. Deol continues to be the most successful nursery for youths aspiring to become officers in the defence forces.
With legendary Param Vir Chakra (PVC) awardees, Kargil War hero Captain Vikram Batra and Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, the first and only PVC awardee from the IAF, having been Minervans, the academy surely feels proud that some of the best known heroes of India have been trained here.
"Cadets from Minerva have achieved more (battle) honours than any regiment of the army," Ranjit Bajaj, the chief operating officer of the academy and a maternal grandson of founder Col. Deol, told IANS at its campus about 15 km from Chandigarh.
Former army chief and later Arunachal Pradesh Governor General J.J. Singh had also trained at Minerva. Minerva's roll of honour includes several other top-ranking officers in all three services.
Decorated Captain A.S. Cheema, who summitted Mt. Everest, has also been a student at Minerva.
"Our students have gone on to hold over 1,000 top positions in the Indian armed forces. Every fourth officer in the armed forces has been a student of Minerva. About 10 percent of our students are now girls who wish to join the armed forces," Bajaj told IANS.
The academy specialises in training youth for the Services Selection Board (SSB), the first step towards entry into the armed forces. The 10-day training, spread over 100 hours, includes group tasks, physical obstacles, group discussions, interviews, public speaking and more.
So stringent and effective is the training methodology that even toilets, bathroom curtains and hostel walls carry information about the armed forces -- so that students utilise every minute of their time at Minerva.
The faculty comprises former officers from defence forces who have been part of the SSBs and professionals. Among the popular faculty members over the years has been 'Mani Sir' (real name K. Vasudeva Panicker) who has been around for nearly 35 years. Another faculty member, Wing Commander S.P. Oberoi, 85, has been around for over three decades.
At a recent event to mark 60 years of the academy, Vishal Batra, younger twin of PVC awardee Captain Vikram Batra, fondly remembered how both brothers from the hill town of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh learnt their first lessons for a career in the army at Minerva in 1996.
"Vikram and I used to go to a neighbour's house in Palampur, as we did not have a TV, to watch the serial 'Param Vir Chakra'. I never imagined that one day my brother would win the PVC and become so famous," said Vishal Batra, who was rejected twice by the SSB and now has a corporate job.
The academy, named after the Roman Goddess of War and Wisdom, was originally founded by J. Deol in 1955 at Shimla. It was briefly shifted to Jalandhar before moving to Chandigarh and later to its present location near Chandigarh. Col. Deol, who was commissioned into the British Indian Army in mid-1940s, took premature retirement to be part of Minerva.