Nagaveni Rao is nervous thinking about the direction her life might take when she completes her ongoing business management course at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

At 35, after a 14-year short service commission with the Indian Army, Rao has hesitantly chosen the corporate world for a new career. “I am not sure what kind of placements I can look forward to," she says, apprehensive about the value that employers will attach to her 14 years of service. “It makes me glow with pride, but I am not sure it means anything in the corporate industry," says the ex-army officer who, along with 19 other women from the Armed Forces, petitioned that women officers be granted permanent commissions like their male counterparts. “If the court order is carried out, then I get back to my job as a major in the army, because that is the rank I last held. If not, I have to find a future out here," she says, pointing out that it is tough because she was away from civilian life for 14 years.

New skills: After being a major in the army, Rao is now a student at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

Joining the army was an easy decision for Rao. She was always good at sports and enrolled with the National Cadet Corps (NCC) when she was in college. Growing up with two brothers made her a bit of a tomboy and a father who was an officer in the air force only made her more confident of her choice.

She was selected for the short service commission and enrolled at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai in 1994 soon after graduating in arts from Bangalore’s MES College. “Although nobody in my class thought of the army as a career option, none of them were surprised when I opted for it," says Rao.

Having been at the top of her batch in the physicals, Rao says the real challenge began after she was posted. “There were two batches of women officers being inducted every year, and I joined in the third year," she says, adding that being the only woman in her first posting did make her uncomfortable initially. But the repeated need to prove herself in the years that followed made her a stronger person. She is pragmatic about the physical demands the armed forces make of women. “It is my personal opinion that women are at their physical best for a few years after they join. Their bodies and capabilities change with childbirth and age and cannot be compared to the physical fitness of men. But they can be very effective in the roles that include planning and managing," says Rao, who was posted mostly in departments that involved infrastructure support.

She has three months to go in her six-month management course. Rao says that staying away from her children, aged 3 and 11, became necessary because she was suddenly stranded without a job—her husband Bimal Kumar Sikdar, a Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) officer in Visakhapatnam, is taking care of them. “We signed up for a five-year commission when (we) started, then they added another five and then another four, making us believe all along that this would become a permanent commission," she says.