When Officer Trainee Tajinder Kumar becomes a commissioned officer of the Royal Australian Air Force in some four months’ time, it will be a long-cherished dream come true.
AT A GLANCE:
- Tajinder Kumar comes from a disadvantaged background in Ludhiana, India
- He finished school and learnt a trade, but couldn’t get a job
- He arrived in Australia and took a job as a cleaner
- Applying to the RAAF changed his life – he started off as an avionics technician, then won a bursary to study engineering at UNSW.
- He will soon be inducted into the RAAF as an officer
His is an amazing story of grit and determination – which began at a government school in Punjab India, where he sat, like the other students, on the floor to learn.
“A few years after my arrival in Australia, I knew I wanted to wear the Air Force uniform,” the 38-year-old told Indian Link. “To do this, I told myself, I must figure out what the requirements are. Then I worked towards ticking off each one, one at a time.”
Tajinder came to Australia in 2009 as a skilled migrant – he was a mechanical fitter, a trade he learnt at ITI (Industrial Training Institute) after finishing high school.
“Early life here in Australia was a struggle,” Tajinder recounted. “There was a huge language barrier, as I was only introduced to English in Year 6. I couldn’t communicate effectively, let alone create a convincing resume. I couldn’t get a job in my trade, as there was a huge culture gap.”
He ended up cleaning toilets at a shopping centre to make ends meet.
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Tajinder Kumar’s start at the RAAF
Ten months in, he saw an advertisement to join the RAAF, and applied.
It was a decision that changed his life.
“Shortly thereafter, in March 2010, I walked through the front gates of RAAF Base Wagga as a new Air Force recruit.”
Here, he gained a Certificate IV in Aviation Maintenance and moved to the RAAF Base Richmond as an avionics technician on the C-130J Hercules transport aircraft.
From there, the path became clearer for this electronics geek – he wanted an engineering degree, that ultimate dream for aspirational Indian men of his generation. It was a luxury he finally allowed himself.
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A winning scholarship
Tajinder Kumar won the Lipshut Family Bursary in 2016, which is awarded each year to an enlisted member of the Air Force up to the rank of Corporal, and provides financial sponsorship for a full-time undergraduate degree.
He finished his Bachelor of Engineering at the UNSW this year.
The scholarship gave him an opportunity that was outside his reach since his childhood in India.
“I was born in a family where my brother and I had to share a pair of thongs for school, so having a second pair of shoes was a dream,” Tajinder revealed. “My parents are not educated; my sister’s marriage broke up because her husband’s family considered her dowry inadequate, and my brother left school in Year 8 to support the family.”
As a young adult, he himself applied for a job with the police: it went nowhere after he was asked at the interview whether he was willing to offer a bribe.
“I had nothing to lose when I decided to try my luck outside the country,” Tajinder said in his characteristic gentle manner. “When I applied for a passport, I had to borrow a collared shirt to get my photograph taken.”
And yet, at UNSW, he claims he was “the richest student on campus”.
“I was a student full-time, with my finances all taken care of by the RAAF, so that I could concentrate on uni work.”
Uni work wasn’t exactly easy at the start, he laughed, given he was returning to school after nearly twenty years. But he soon caught up, and finished more than satisfactorily.
Tajinder Kumar’s loyalty to the RAAF
Throughout, job offers came by from private aviation companies, but Tajinder turned them down.
“The RAAF has nurtured me and made my career,” he said with gratitude. “I will not consider going elsewhere.”
Currently, at Officer Training School in Melbourne where he is undergoing military as well as management and leadership training, Tajinder is one of many diverse trainees.
“We are all accepted as Australians,” he divulged, adding that this was not necessarily the case with other employers he has worked for.
“If there had been any discrimination, I would not have reached where I am today. The RAAF has given me a platform to shine and I feel I can realise my full potential – I can’t say the same for my peers at ITI, though.”
An attitude of gratitude
Tajinder is nonchalant when congratulated on his success.
“I just had a dream, and worked towards it! There are many others like me who are working hard at their own goals. Mehnat zaroor rang laati hai (hard work always pays off). I’ve also always been surrounded by great people who uplift me and inspire me – among these are my parents and family, and my wife Manpreet.”
As a devout Nirankari, Tajinder Kumar attributes his success also to his faith.
“The Sant Nirankari Mission’s message of Universal Brotherhood has always guided me. People say success comes after hard work, but I do believe this is only part of it. I believe in blessings; my spiritual beliefs pushed me to reach this position. All I can say is, I am certainly looking forward to the next 20-30 years,” he told Indian Link.