There are scores of Indian women with their remarkable and selfless work to the society who are becoming role models. Be it an autorickshaw driver, bus driver or women heading NGOs, driving metro trains, joining the armed forces, they are conquering new frontiers. One such woman Dr. Seema Rao was amidst us last month on an invitation by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-Young Indians (Yi) and Namma Mysuru Foundation for a Leadership Session. She had come along with her husband Major Deepak Rao. Popularly called the Combat Couple, Dr. Seema Rao from Mumbai, is also called the ‘Wonder Woman.’ Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam caught up with this multi-faceted personality at Hotel Radisson Blu, after her lecture, where she spoke about her passion, why they train the Commandos without compensation, participating in the Mrs. India World beauty pageant, the highs and lows in her life and her mantra for success. Excerpts. —Ed
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): Just seeing what you have achieved, it is no wonder that you are called India’s Wonder Woman. Can you please share with us how this title came about?
Dr. Seema Rao: I have absolutely no idea how this title came to me. The press has christened me as the first and only woman commander-trainer which is, of course, true. But as far as the ‘wonder woman’ thing is concerned, I guess it is because I have always been training the Commandos, which is unusual for a woman, at least in India. It may also be because of the other things that I have done.
SOM: Apart from being a Doctor in conventional medicine, you have an MBA in Crisis Management. How much of this you use in your training?
Dr. Seema Rao: Actually what I have learnt is used for the training courses. There are different aspects. If you take medicine it is also about understanding which are the areas of the human body that can be handicapped, where you can maim very badly or where you can hurt or even kill. It is the knowledge of medicine and human body that has helped me in understanding vital areas in the body, where one can strike to achieve the desired effect. So, crisis management is also about dealing with survival instinct. Everything that I have studied and learnt I have tried to apply and put into my professional commando training.
SOM: You have patented Rao System of Reflex Fire — an innovative method of shooting at close quarters. Why was the Army not able to innovate this?
Dr. Seema Rao: I have a patent pending on my method. This method was developed by Major Rao and me, while training 15,000 soldiers from various forces, at different locations. All our life’s work was with the Indian forces only. Hence, the credit goes to the Forces itself, without which nothing would have been possible.
SOM: The then Home Minister Chidambaram has approved you and your husband to train all State Police in CQB (Close Quarters Battle) without compensation. Why would you do such hard training without compensation?
Dr. Seema Rao: The Home Ministry had outsourced trainers. I would like to answer from a philosophical point of view; my father was a freedom fighter, so, I grew up listening to stories and his experience during those days and it would be laced with emotions. He wanted to do so much for the country and I too wanted to do something for the country in whatever way I could. Besides this, there is another aspect — honour and duty, the two attributes which I hold above materialistic gains. I do not deny that money is required for a decent living but the two attributes come above monetary gains. My dad’s experience must have prodded me not to charge for the training. It has been almost twenty years since I have been training the State Police in CQB.
SOM: You are not only a Commando Trainer but also a Martial Combat exponent. You trace this lineage to legendary Bruce Lee art of ‘Jeet Kune Do.’ These are names most of us have not heard of except, of course, Bruce Lee?
Dr. Seema Rao: ‘Jeet Kune Do’ is holistic, an art and philosophy of Bruce Lee. It deals with fighting and the philosophical aspect is about how to use it in the time of combat and attain liberation. It is about mind, body and spirit. It is an art that helps to delve into your mind, introspect and unearth all those insecurities, which one has never sat, faced and settled. So it is deeply spiritual and philosophical art apart from being a physical and martial one.
SOM: During your growing up years, you were scrawny but you went on to be Mrs. India World beauty pageant finalist. There is a lesson for all here?
Dr. Seema Rao: Yes, I was scrawny and had a very weak constitution when I was young. As I grew up, I learnt to work on my body and made myself strong when I learnt combat fighting. Then slowly the scrawny body turned into a strong, muscular and capable body. Mrs. India was a new pageant to encourage achievers, home-makers and career women. I participated because I wanted to taste the flavour of life. Life is short, if you can excel in the work you do and also try doing different things, you can experience so many more colours, instead of experiencing just one colour. I believe that life is short, the more you live it the richer is your experience.
SOM: You missed the Rank, which the President of India conferred on your husband Major Deepak Rao, because there was no provision for it for a woman. Now that we have a lady Defence Minister can this be set right?
Dr. Seema Rao: (Smiles) I would not want to discuss about the resolutions and policies of the government. I am only too happy that my husband Major Deepak Rao got the award. He received it for the work we have done for twenty years. I was absolutely ecstatic, happy and triumphant. I never look at it as his and not mine, but as reward that both of us received. As far as the government is concerned, it is up to them and I don’t feel hurt. There is a saying in the Bhagavad Gita ‘Karm karo phal ki chinta mat karo.’ If you want recognition you should continue to do your work well. One day it was recognised and I felt good even though only my husband got it.
SOM: You have written more than eight books including Handbook of World Terrorism and Encyclopedia of Close Combat. But there is a curios title King Sperm. What is this about?
Dr. Seema Rao: The title of the book is ‘A King Sperm – Seize your Victory’ which is philosophical and the story of our lives. It is everything about how our journey started. What kind of person was Major Rao and I, how we conquered and overcame our obstacles we faced in our lives like bankruptcy. Things never went right for us and luck played no role in our lives. We had to fight every moment to achieve what we wanted and stand against all odds. But the best thing that happened was we bonded together. Often in the army it looks for an ‘ideal buddy pair’ to be in the battle field. A pair well-synchronised who can follow protocols and can handle any situation.
So I would say the book is all about how we single-handedly faced all odds. When one would feel low other would uplift each other’s spirits to fight, that is how we could survive to fight and win. How two simple individuals not wanting to accept what life dealt for us but make some changes. It is about fighting, the spirit of changing it from failure to victory. The changes we made instead of sitting back and accepting failure. It needs the right action and perspective to change failure and turn into victory.
The title of the book ‘A King Sperm – Seize your Victory’ means it is only one sperm that makes it to the ovum as not all of them are endowed to make it. So, the one who makes it despite all the odds is victorious. Every one of us can make a change and a difference.
SOM: Both of you have adopted a girl child who has now grown up. What made you take this decision?
Dr. Seema Rao: The physical demand of the job was such that we had to decide on planning for the family. It was at that time we decided against having a family of our own. Motherhood is a beautiful experience in a woman’s life, but it also takes a lot of time. At that point in time I felt it was not the right time to put work aside that I was doing for the country. That is when my husband and I took a decision not to have children of our own. Later on to complete the family we decided to adopt a child. I strongly believe in women empowerment that a woman is no less than a man. Our daughter is also a doctor.
SOM: To be referred to in glorious titles is all fine. But how long do you think you can carry on this hard, tough, nerve-wracking life, especially when you look back and see that there was a time when you had to sell your mangalsutra to survive and you suffered a head injury followed by amnesia?
Dr. Seema Rao: Yes I did have a head injury. I seriously gave it a thought and even then I wanted to be in the same profession and not change. During the time we faced bankruptcy we contemplated to sell our gold. It was not a hasty or impulsive decision that was to sell the mangalsutra. Having said that every profession has its own drawbacks, dangerous or risky aspects and one has to take it in one’s stride. Knowing fully well I decided to continue in the same profession.
There are two aspects: one is that age seeping into your system, so one has to train harder and has to keep a check on diet by eating the right kind of food. If you’re in a physical kind of job then you have to maintain yourself even better. Apart from that we have an Academy which deals with combat fitness which is open to civilians. We train them to get fit via combat programme; it is not in anyway linked to army combat. Many corporate and young students undergo this training.
We also have another training programme called DARE (Defence Against Rape and Eve- teasing). This course is specially designed for women after rape and murders that have happened in the metros. It is self-defense, taught to fight both physically and psychologically. Psychological aspect is to deal with molester, assailant or an eve-teaser; at every stage the victim can tackle them.
You know it all starts from a stare or look, it goes on to proximity, then may be whistle coming closer, then touching, then may be voice. So, at every stage it is psychological and people can put a stop to it so that it would not reach the last step. It is very popular among the corporates and it is a day-long programme.
SOM: Your marriage has sustained for quite a long time. How has the relationship worked?
Dr. Seema Rao: We are now married for thirty years. I believe when two people come together they either can half their resources or multiply it. I believe one plus one is not two but eleven. You combine forces and multiply. Then you become a formidable force and you can take on life. How can this be done? By allowing each other to realise their goals and dreams, so I push and encourage him to reach his goals and dreams and he in turn encourages me to realise mine. So, when you are in a relationship the world becomes a great place and you achieve your goals not only materialistically but philosophically also.
This is where many people fail in their relationship. People have their distinct positives in them, like my husband may have a positive which I don’t have and I may have a trait that he doesn’t have. If you know that, you can still use that trait to your advantage. He shoulders responsibility so that I can pursue what I want and then I shoulder responsibilities so that he can pursue what he wants. A message to all young couples — If you know how to channelise your relationship then you can make the best out of it.