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Ankita Srivastava’s Olive Green to Beauty Queen is a one-of-a-kind memoir. It chronicles the author’s experience as a beauty pageant contestant after serving for fourteen years in the Indian Army. The book is a heartwarming, inspiring, and quirky account, on the lines of Ms. Congeniality.

When the author has to hang up her military boots, she misses the discipline, the routine, and the rigor of being an Army-person and wonders what next. She takes part in a Tanishq beauty contest and wins, much to her surprise.

She realizes she has imbibed a certain masculinity and toughness while leading daring operations and commanding others in the Army. In this process, she has lost touch with her feminine side and wishes to revive it again to integrate back into civilian society. In her words,

I was like a mermaid who was sent in the human world. I yearned to be a full woman and not just half -fish.

Inspired by her Tanishq win, she enters the Mrs. India contest. It introduces her to a whole new world, one in which she discovers what stilettoes and extensions mean. Imagine this scenario; a contest on the lines of ‘The Next Top Model’ is in progress and a bevy of beauties are scheming against each other and pulling all stops to win. In the midst of this pandemonium arrives Lt. Col Ankita Srivastava whose signature poses are vishram and savdhan; her idea of walking on the ramp is marching, military style.

You can take a girl out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the girl. The author deploys the strategies taught to her in the military to conquer the challenges that the pageant organizers throw at her. She dazzles everyone with her down-to-earth intelligent answers like stating how she would like to swap her life with Dr. Abdul Kalam’s or what motherhood means to her. She envisages the head honcho of the pageant as her GOC (General Officer Commanding), and her interactions become easier. She embraces ‘operation makeup’ with zeal and has a degree of bluntness and assertiveness that not only wins over other contestants, but also the reader.

When the pageant organizers as her why she is participating, she replies with aplomb,

I have been proving to the nation for fourteen years that I am not a woman and serving selflessly in the Army. Now I am here, so that you can teach me how to be a woman.

The book showcases the catfights, the competitiveness, and the behind-the-scenes action that happen in pageants. There are also genuine moments of sisterhood where other women accompany the author for shopping or go out of the way to help her. An Army acquaintance lends their wedding lehenga to her to wear for the pageant.

The author addresses important issues- she highlights the downside of beauty pageants and the blatant skin show. She isn’t afraid to stick to her principles even though it might diminish the chance of a win. For example, while the other contestants go overboard with their skin show, she wears knee-length capris and ignores all the drama around her.

I wished that the beauty pageant world learned that wearing a bikini doesn’t inculcate confidence. It’s the mind that needed to be trained to be bold and confident.

While some of the other Army contestants choose not to talk much about their military background, the author flaunts hers with pride. The book ends with a nail-biting unexpected twist on finale day. While the author doesn’t mention who the overall winner of the pageant is, for me as a reader, she was already the winner for her heroic act on that day.

I am in awe of the author. An Army officer, a wife, a mother, a beauty queen, an author; how many roles has Ankita aced with elan! What stands out in the writing is her sense of humor, her simplicity, and her honesty. Her book reminds you that there is nothing a woman can’t do, as long as she stays true to what she believes in and perseveres with conviction.

A must-read for those looking forward to refreshing, inspiring, women-centric content.

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