Navy Officer Sandhya Suri: who learnt to sail smooth amid tough waters to script a success story

Meet the woman of substance Lt Sandhya Suri, one amongst the few women officers to serve on a warship in the Indian Navy, who is busy scripting success stories by donning multiples hats being an author, poet, speaker, Ted-X speaker, entrepreneur, photographer and what not!

Sailing smooth amid tough waters, she strongly believes that ‘You live life once and hence should paint it with different strokes of colours to make a beautiful picture’. This woman has learnt the art of converting her struggles into newer opportunities and hence has been leading from the front by setting examples for other women.

Her Transition Phase

As a single mother of a minor, Sandhya moved to Nigeria to start afresh in the corporate world after rendering her duties successfully as a Navy Officer.

She did request for a long-course specialisation during her tenure as a Naval Officer which was not accepted as it was not permitted in those times.

She alternatively wanted to be an instructor or a certified diver and had also requested for a transfer to SSB Board or Naval Intel.  While these requests were not approved, she was asked if she wanted an extension, which was finally shot down by her, as she saw no point in staying back with nothing challenging in hand. “I did not want to push files all the time. I wanted to do more than just that”, she said.

A Go-Getter

After deciding to hang my uniform, I decided to take up my first corporate assignment in Nigeria. I started with sales and marketing and later moved on to administration and human resources. All of these were fresh starts for me though I do believe my tenure in the Navy prepared me in more ways than one to be up for any challenge. I did well in all these segments and my focus was to make a difference no matter where I was. After staying in Nigeria for 10 years, I later moved back to India for family commitments, she says.

Their Only Worry—The Management Degree

When I returned, I was constantly asked to complete my MBA which I thought was quite pointless as I carried with me years of experience,” she laughs. “Also, I was already doing guest lectures for MBA students and conducting vivas for the MBA HR students. It did not make sense to me.

Why is a Master’s Degree so sacrosanct in India and no weightage is given to experience? It never fails to surprise me!”

Her Evolving Stage

Sandhya, while delving into newer projects, was simultaneously evolving herself and hence we can see what she is today—an author, poet, change enabler and a mentor who is working for career transition enabling leadership, diversity and gender inclusivity in workspaces and much more.

She has authored books including Tryst with Destiny – Abhikrama (political fiction) in 2020, the book Boundless 2020 has three of her poems published in special edition USA. The anthology Kai Ankahi has 11 of her poems published in special GLFN 2019 Women’s Special Edition. Her guiding life philosophy now is Ikigai (reason for being), Meraki (putting your soul in what you do) and Kintsugi (becoming stronger and more valuable after being broken)

Love For Uniform Blossomed Quite Early

Although she misses her uniform at times, but she is equally grateful for the opportunities she received later.

 “It was a tough call to decide to leave, but I don’t regret things, as there was no time for regret here,” she adds.

Since childhood, Suri had many dreams, one among which was to serve the Armed Forces even before the induction of women. Uniform was something which inspired her.

Initially, she started preparing for IPS exams while pursuing her Masters in English.

While preparing, she received calls for SSB interviews from the Navy and Air Force. “I had completed my Navy SSB and while I was in the middle of my Air Force SSB, I received my call to join the Indian Navy. I did not even go home. I arrived at Jammu station from Dehradun, disembarked and took the next train out to report the Naval Academy in Mandovi, Goa,” she reflects. She was commissioned on August 18, 1994.

26 years ago, life changed and how! It’s a year over a quarter century of being commissioned and donning the uniform, working side by side with teams that didn’t let me down,” she says adding. “18 August 1994 is a long way to come from. It seems just like yesterday and it feels like a lifetime. I have no religion, no colour, no caste, or creed really beyond that. I am an imperfect human being who lives and breathes this freedom every day with utter gratitude to those who have helped me become the person I am today. I miss the whites and blues, the stripes. Yes. I also know, it doesn’t matter where I will be today or tomorrow. Where I stand will still be India” says Sandhya.

Challenges of Being A Lady Officer:

“The biggest challenge was to insist I was an “Officer” and not a “Lady Officer” as this was how we were referred to.”


Being on A Warship:

I was among the fortunate few who had the privilege of serving on board a warship. I was awarded as the Woman of Worth 2019 Award by Pinkishe Foundation for my ‘outstanding achievements and being an exemplary icon for fellow women. Early this year, I was also awarded ‘The Most Inspiring Women of the Year 2020’ by ASSOCHAM.

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