Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Ride for a Lifetime

‘Where are you?’ was the message that I sent out to my wife, on Whatsapp.

I had been waiting at the arrival gate in Bangkok, after the Jet Airways flight that she was travelling on had landed, and most passengers including the stragglers had come out. I had checked that her flight landed at 06:49 am. I had expected her to finish immigration and customs formalities in about an hours time and be out with her baggage by 07:45 am at the latest. I had thus strategically positioned myself at arrival gate B, by 07:30 am. I had seen the early birds with only the hand baggage come out first, followed by the ones with the heavily laden checked baggages.

I was now getting a little concerned as she was nowhere on the horizon. My wi-fi was not connecting and there was no way to contact her through the opaque glass screen separating me from the baggage claim conveyor belt area. 

I finally got connected to the wi-fi and sent her this 'where are you?' message.

‘I am on the third floor in front of S&P’ came the prompt response.

I had sent her detailed step by step instructions on how to navigate through the immigration queues on arrival, in Bangkok. Evidently she had followed them very efficiently and had thus reached the designated rendezvous spot before me, while I was trying to give her a surprise welcome at the arrival gate.

I was happy that she had been able to manage on her own, especially after her last message from Chandigarh that said, ‘U do know that ... I get blank, without you around’. The detailed instructions from me were in response to this rather under-confident message from her.

Going towards the elevator that would take me to the 3rd floor, my thoughts went to the time when we had decided to enter the roller coaster ride of marriage, during our journey of life. She was 18 and I was 25. She was very soft on the outside as I saw her, but very tough on the inside, as I got to discover during our journey together. I on the other hand had a very tough exterior, but a not so hard interior. 

The roller coaster ride that started on 22 Jun 78 is still continuing with each of us learning more about life and living, besides each other, with each passing day. Our journey together took us through many important bends in life, each one better than the previous one. At every new bend, the ride would pause for a moment and then continue gathering speed for the next adrenaline rush best exemplified by science in the medieval man’s ‘fight or flight’ syndrome.

We were each an individual in our own right and had little in common, except being human - the most wondrous creation of God. Our journey blessed us with two beautiful children who gave us great joy just by being a part of our journey. Like birds they have flown away to build their own nests in faraway lands. Physically we are now distant but they are very close in our thoughts. We were blessed with our first grandchild who helped us relive our childhood, and taught us many valuable lessons in life – curiosity, wonder, joy, happiness, spontaneity, all the good things of life that we had long given up in the process that we humans mistakenly call as, ‘growing up’.

A whatsapp message I had received said that a child when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, recounted our ability to see, to think, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, and to communicate as the greatest wonders of this world. Only a child could be so insightful; we adults are too knowledgeable for such mundane stuff.

I came out of the elevator on the 3rd floor and there she was with a beaming smile on her face clicking my picture with her cellphone. She promptly sent it on the family group with the caption, ‘And I welcomed my handsome'; I had planned it the other way around though. Happy to be together, we have both grown over the years – she has become tough on the outside too now, and I have become relatively soft on the outside.

Without our knowledge, we have rubbed off a lot on each other in the 38 years that we have been on this life's greatest adventure together. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016


2016, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. I open my eyes and look in to the mirror. The barber had done exactly what I had not wanted done. Before sitting on the chair, I had explained to him with sign language that only the hair around the ears were to be trimmed, leaving the rest as is; he did not understand English, and I do not speak Thai. Fait accompli. I gave him a smile, paid him his dues, and walked out of the shop, not particularly happy. On the way to the hotel I rationalized that I had to look at my face only while combing my hair, whereas the others looked at it throughout the day. So, it was now their problem, and not mine or the barber’s. I generally have a haircut once in every 3 – 4 weeks; a habit from my Air Force days.

Most of my service life while serving across India, I had no problems, as every barber knew the standard haircut, as per regulations; the hair around the ears should not curl up around the peak cap, and the side lock not longer than 1/3rd from the top of the ear. It was only before, and after, my service career that I started to have an issue every time I moved to a new place, and until the barber got used to my style of haircut, which seemed outdated to most professionals of the ‘hair styling’ trade.

1969. I remember the day I landed up at the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA). I remember paying off my cab, offloading my trunk, and thereafter being dispatched straight to the barber shop for a haircut. The barber knew exactly what had to be done; he did not ask me; there was no need to. As I got into senior terms the barber deferred a bit to my wishes but ensured that the haircut was within the regulations. In our final term most of us managed a decent but ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut. This would not last.
Haircut NDA style.
Image: Courtesy: Google images

1972. The Chief Ground Instructor at Bidar greeted us on our first day with a barber in tow, and promptly cut us down to size by making sure that we forgot the ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut in a hurry.

1989. After 3 weeks during my staff course in the US, I entered the barber shop for my haricut and found one vacant chair and a pretty female barber to attend to me. The chair was turned away from the mirror. While sitting down when I tried to move the chair to face the mirror my barber stopped me saying that it is she who needs to look out for my haircut, and not me. So, two firsts for me - haircut by a female barber, and that too while looking away from the mirror, signifying that she had full control. I now realized that once you sit on the barber’s chair, you lose control. I believe, barbers are ordained by God to cut any one’s ego down to size in a jiffy.

2012. Retirement, and I decide to now stop colouring my hair. When and how? Everyone in India had seen me with black hair and I did not suddenly want to shock them with a grey outcrop. Our extended vacation to Toronto seemed the ideal place for this mission. Mission was accomplished as planned, on reaching there. Three days later I decided to visit my brother in New York. The officer at the border looked at my passport, looked up at me and continued the to and fro between me and my photograph in the passport. He finally says, ‘you do not look like this’. I replied, I just shaved off my head three days ago. He still looked quizzical and in two minds about letting me go across the border. Finally he said, ‘it’s all black in the photograph, and you are all grey’. I smiled and countered that ‘I used to colour them earlier, and now these are naturally coloured at 60 years of age’. I was lucky that day; he let me through. Hair I realized happen to be a part of our identity, and ego. No wonder the greatest offering that one can make at Tirupati is the human hair, or the alter ego.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


An inspirational quote from a book by Norman Vincent Peale.

"In Tokyo I once met an inspiring man, from Pennsylvania.

Crippled from some form of paralysis, he was on an around-the-world journey in a wheelchair, getting a huge kick out of all his experiences. I commented that nothing seemed to get him down.

His reply was classic: 'It's only my legs that are paralysed. The paralysis never got into my mind."

Think about it; it is so true!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Religion, Faith, Belief, and the Creator

The world is passing through a phase of moral turpitude where in violence and even killing is being justified in the name of religion, and this phase has accelerated in the last couple of years leading to nearly daily news reports of violence/ killings all across the globe. I have been trying to jostle with this issue for a long time, since I have always believed that the only purpose of religion is to uplift ordinary humans to extra-ordinary levels.My thoughts were suddenly channelised into four sentences while commenting on an interesting post on facebook. My comment is reproduced below.
  • Interesting post. My take: many paths, same destination; each chooses his own. Belief just happens to be the starting point, based on birth. Belief is strengthened through rituals and mythology, so that one can undertake the final journey alone by turning inwards, where the communication is between you and your Creator only, without need for any ritual, mythology, or external help.
I now wish to elaborate further on these comments so that I can share my views with other humans across the globe with an aim of finding an answer to the wanton violence killings. I need to start with defining terms as I go along. First religion.

  • Religion implies, "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods".
Next belief.
  • Belief is "an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof".

Next faith.
  • Faith is a "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof".
As I look back at my life I find that I was born in a Hindu household and thus was exposed to the Hindu beliefs and faith from birth. In case I had been born in a Muslim household, I would have been exposed to Islamic beliefs and faiths. I had no say in the matter of my birth, and thus of my belief and faith. It was, I believe, pre-ordained. By whom? By my Creator, who also happens to be the Creator of every one and every thing else on this, and other planets. How else could we all humans have been designed in the same mould with very minor variations, of course. The evolutionary process put us in the top of the heap, or so we think; we have a powerful brain, which unlike our physical characteristics can be quite different in two humans, and this is where faith and beliefs reside.

My parents and other relatives taught me some rituals and gave me a dose of mythology, which became my belief, as I trusted them; they cared for me and looked after my every need; there was no reason to distrust them or even distrust their beliefs; they always had my best interest in mind - they had proven that by ensuring my survival and growth against all odds. My parents also told me that there is only one God, and He is known by different names, based on the attributes. It is much like I am one, but am known differently by different people - a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, etc. I display different attributes in different relationships depending on who I am interacting with. 

My parents also told me that God was Omnipresent. When I was about 8 years old I asked my father if it was necessary to go to the temple, if God was omnipresent. My father had given me the confidence to question the beliefs that he had passed on to me. He said No, it is not necessary. Looking at the beauty of the world and the scientific principles that sustain it, I was convinced and had faith that God existed. Every belief though was open to question. Being born in a Brahmin family, I was expected to put on the holy thread around my neck. I was not convinced of this, and thus never adorned it, except during my wedding rituals to respect the belief of my parents. I never believed in untouchability, which my grand mother believed in and practiced.

I never ate non vegetarian food, as part of my belief system in childhood. When I grew up, I questioned my father about this. He gave me a logical explanation, which stated that "to survive we need to eat; eating the least evolved food does minimum damage to the Creation, and is thus desirable". Plants are the lowest form in the evolutionary chain. Every animal is higher up, with mammals being the highest in the evolutionary process. A ban on eating beef is probably part of this, as also that cow milk is closest to mother's milk, and has sustained human offsprings for generations now. This probably is the reason for cow to be considered sacred in Hinduism.

The world has seen many great people being born, and giving their own interpretation of this Creation. Each of those interpretations have been codified in to texts and has spawned a new religion. I believe, it is not the texts that are at fault, but, it is the interpretation of those texts that needs to evolve. Great and wise people never ordained violence or killing in the name of God. Gita is a sacred text for the Hindus, and is basically philosophy which is common to all mankind. Its origin can only be conjectured as it happened much before we came in to existence, in this birth. Only faith and reason can help one understand, and maybe interpret what is written in the text of the Gita. I have read many an interpretation by knowledgeable people. When I read it, my mind interprets it in its own way, based primarily on my experiences of life. An objective book like the Gita becomes subjective with each human, as each one of us evolves differently based on our unique circumstances and experiences. 'One size fits all' is not true for religion and beliefs. Rituals may be common, mythology may be shared between co-religionists, but the essence of religion and its texts cannot; the objective texts do become subjective based on who is trying to read and interpret them; the interpretation is space and time sensitive, as the mind cannot interpret any thing that it has not experienced. I cannot read any text written in Tamil or Sanskrit, as my mind has never been exposed to them. The meaning of every thing changes with interpretation/ translation by someone else. What is true of Hinduism is also true for other religions.

Like Hinduism, every religion has its own belief systems,. The rituals and mythology which are part of every religion are only to develop faith in the individual. There is however no proof provided. Every individual has been given a powerful brain to question what does not make sense, or goes against the basics of Creation. In case we are all the Creation of one God, then we should all be living in harmony. However, our brain loaded with divergent belief systems and faiths create a divide. This divide is strengthened by people who benefit from the profession of teaching/ imparting of different faiths - be it the Pandit, the Moulvi, the Priest, the Granthi, etc. They cannot trudge your path for you. They can only teach you the rituals and give you the mythology. Their interpretation of the written text maybe at total variance to what was intended, as their brains may not have evolved to the level that is required to interpret those texts.

Once an individual has developed faith that a God exists, then it an inward journey, as all questions and answers are within your own consciousness. No external help is possible, as no one can trudge the path for you. You have to develop your own link with your Creator, in whichever form that you wish to. There are no intermediaries is my firm belief. Once you develop faith, I do believe that you would then respect all of God's Creation, and would be very averse to violence/ killings, as no faith can profess destruction of the Creation of one God.

Life has taught me.........

It is quite a paradox but life has taught me that.....

Your biggest strength,
also happens to be your greatest weakness.

Do you agree. What are your views? Would be delighted to hear them.

NDA - A Memory

While cycling to Sudan block, my friend Amrit confided to me that he had not done his home work and thus would not like to study any new topic today. He said that he would do something to ensure that the teacher does not start any new chapter. I too secretly wished that he was successful, as it had been a tiring day thus far; double outdoor days were always tiring. We had just finished the physical training (PT) class, after a drill class, and were heading towards Sudan block of NDA for a Mathematics class. This was the third, and the last class, before the sumptuous breakfast that all of us cadets looked forward to, especially after the outdoor days.

Drill at the Drill Square
Image: Courtesy Google Images

Our day started with a fall-in (roster call) every morning at 5:45 am in the squadron, and the first class at 6 am, either an outdoor one, like PT, drill, or equitation, or an academic class in either the Science or Sudan block. The siren at Science block sounded on the hour, every hour, to indicate the commencement of every class. Double outdoors and maths was a bad combination, but we had learnt to just follow the schedule, physically at least. The classes itself were of 45 minutes duration with a 15 minutes break in between. In these 15 minutes one is expected to leave the present location; pick up the cycle; wait to form a squad of 4 to 6 cadets, in twos, and then cycle down in an orderly manner to the new location; park your cycles in the designated spot, and march up to your class room. 
Sudan Block at NDA
Image: Courtesy Google Images

Our maths teacher with the initials D.D. (affectionately called Daddy by the cadets) was a professional teacher: a teacher, who besides being good at his subject, also had two eyes in the back and could thus sense any untoward movement behind him, while still facing the blackboard. Those were the chalk and blackboard days. Daddy had this unique knack of being able to write with both hands. Also, he could break a piece of the chalk with one hand, and send it shooting like a missile towards any inattentive cadet. To his credit, he always hit the bulls eye.  

He would start writing with his right hand and had the ability to turn the upper part of his body while still continuing to write on the board. His upper body would be twisted away from the board through about 180 degrees, so as to enable him to face the left half of the class. Half way through the equation that he was writing, he could switch the chalk to his left hand, continue with writing on the board while facing the class once again, now covering the right half of the class. In this way he could cover the entire class with an overlap in the centre, where he would make the most troublesome students of the class sit. I believe many a cadet who had passed through his hands before us had helped him perfect this technique to ensure that he could do his job, despite the troublesome and unwilling students.

Each one of his classes started with the standard questions. Have you all done your home work? The answer was always a full throat-ed yes from all of us. This was followed up with, ‘does anyone have any doubts on the chapter covered in the last class? The answer invariably was a, 'no sir'. Like every other day, we went through the same ritual today also, except that after a loud yes to the first question, when the rest of us were singing ‘no sir’ to the second question, my friend had raised his right hand high up in the air. 

Daddy asked him about his doubt, and my friend said, ‘sir, I am not too sure how to do the 10th question, could you please show me how to do it’. Daddy was a seasoned teacher in NDA and had seen many students like Amrit. Daddy counter questioned him with, ‘have you done sum number 1?’ The answer was ‘No’. Have you done sum number 2? And so on it went until, number 9. It was now quite evident that Amrit had not even attempted to do the home work. Every 'no' was met with a missile thrown at my friend by Daddy. At the 9th no, even Daddy got very upset and now wanted to shake up my friend for firstly not doing the home work and secondly for disturbing the set routine of the class. He walked towards Amrit; Amrit got up from his desk and moved towards the rear of the class, with Daddy following him. Amrit got to the rear wall, climbed on top of the last row of chairs and crossed over to the other aisle in the class hoping that he would be safe now, but Daddy followed him around by climbing the chairs too, and with the chalk missiles being launched at regular intervals, until the chalk finished. The entire class was witness to the chase scene that had turned really hilarious. Every one was having a great time. It continued for some time and ended with an apology from Amrit. No fresh topic could be covered in that class; Amrit had achieved his aim. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Life is Actually Simple!

In January 2000, I decided to do a 5 month long e-business course in Delhi. I reached the course venue on the commencement date, and met with my fellow students. They were all in their 20s. The lone foreigner doing the course was Vince, an American. Vince generally kept aloof, and I too never asked him anything personal, as I had learnt that it is taboo to ask an American about his personal life, unless of course he knows you well enough and is willing to share stuff with you.

However, over a period of time he developed a rapport with me and started sharing his ideas, thoughts and views with me. One day, Vince confided to me about his dream of starting a software company with an aim of earning money. He further said that he wanted to earn a million dollars so that he could buy a cottage on the beach in Virginia, his home town. Dreamily he continued that the cottage would have a private beach in which he would sit in his easy chair and relax, doing nothing. Over a period of time, he was willing to share more with me, without my asking.

I noticed that Vince would vanish on Friday evening's and would appear back in class on Monday. This happened on almost every weekend. After about three months into the course, we were friendly enough for me to invite Vince to my place for a meal over the weekend. He declined the invitation saying that all his weekends were booked in Rishikesh. He had rented a room at Rs 300 per day for all his remaining weekends in India. The room was located on the banks of the Ganges, as it emerged from the hills. He told me that the view was very beautiful, and that he really enjoyed the serenity and peace during his stay at Rishikesh.

On return after one weekend, he was all excited and showed me some photographs of himself along with a sadhu who had long matted hair and was wearing only a loin cloth, and ash. This sadhu had built a small hut for himself on the banks of river, and was living in that. Vince told me that the sadhu could speak fluent English and had been a professor in a college who had retired to Rishikesh to go through his 'vanprasth' (going to the jungle) ashram. He had renounced everything worldly, and had finally settled for good on the banks of the sacred river. Vince confided that he had had many conversations with this sadhu, and also with many others like him, during his numerous visits to Rishikesh during the four months that we were together until then. Of course like a true American, he had taken a number of photographs of monkeys, elephants, snakes and the likes, all in close human contact. He also had some photographs with a python around his own neck.  He even had one with the python wrapped all around him.
A Representative image of a Sadhu: Courtesy Google Images.

His weekend visits continued, and he had many things to share. After one such weekend visit, he told me that his Indian sojourn had given rise to a dilemma in his mind. He went on to mention his ‘dream’ once again. With a dreamy look thereafter, he philosophically observed that, I want to earn one million dollars so as to relax on the beach, doing nothing, and here is this sadhu who has nothing except a loin cloth and a few other belongings doing exactly what I want to do after all this struggle. He ran out of words thereafter, and I too was totally dumb struck. We both looked at each other in silence. We were too busy trying to comprehend the enormity of this realisation. I still wonder at times about this incident. Is life actually that simple? I know it is, but my senses force me to think otherwise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cultural Orphans: Indians ashamed of their own heritage

I received this as a forward and felt that it is material that is worth sharing. 

The following piece has been written by Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

For an Indian, a visit to Indonesia can be an eye-opener. It is fervently proud of its heritage. Although it is the largest Muslim country in the world, it has inscribed the picture of Lord Ganesh on its 20,000 rupiah currency notes. Even the most prestigiousinstitute of technology has Lord Ganesh in its logo. Indonesia’s official airline is called Garuda (Lord Vishnu’s mount) and the official bank is named after Kubera (the Hindu god of wealth).

Indonesian government patronises and supports dance dramas and puppet shows that depict stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has also issued many stamps on the two epics. Jakarta has a huge sculpture of Lord Krishna revealing Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. In Bali, statues of Hindu deities adorn most public places. Several cross-roads have massive sculptures portraying scenes from Hindu scriptures, like the sun-god riding his chariot, yoked byseven horses.

For an Indian, it is a puzzling experience: a Muslim country honouring Hindu gods. Unable to control his curiosity, a tourist quizzed our guide Mustafa. After looking at the perplexed faces of the group, Mustafa responded, “Earlier all of us were Hindus and worshipped these gods. Whatever be the reasons, we converted to Islam. I do not pray to these gods but respect them because I know that my parents, grand-parents and ancestors worshipped them? They are a part of my heritage and ancestry. Should change of faith make me disown my heritage? That would amount to my disowning my own lineage and ancestors.” The silence was deafening.

In a few sentences, Mustafa had taught us what we Indians have not learnt for centuries. No educated Indian ever boasts of India’s rich heritage. Our education system has ingrained in us an acute sense of inferiority. We eulogise everything that is Western and run down our own glorious past. Everything concerning ancient India’s intellectual prowess, cultural richness, multiple philosophies and liberal thoughts is painted as narrow-mindedness.

India is perhaps the only country in the world that is ashamed of its heritage. Yes, the word ashamed is an apt description. Expressions like Vedas, Hindus, Hindutva, Saffron and Bharat Mata have come to convey a sense of inadequacy. The whole world applauds India for its Vedic knowledge, philosophical expositions, ayurveda, yoga and a host of other gifts to humanity. However, our Westernised stooges carry on deriding our heritage. Using Mustafa’s taxonomy, they take pride in masquerading as ‘cultural orphans’. Let me cite two events of the recent past to prove my assertion.

The World Yoga Day

On 27 September 2014, Prime Minister Modi exhorted the UN General Assembly, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being.” He suggested that 21 June be adopted as the World Yoga Day. In less than 90 days, the UN General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously, accepting the fact that yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago and is an immensely beneficial mental, physical and spiritual practice.

It was recognition of India’s heritage and a matter of great pride for India. While the intelligentsia ignored the feat, no channel ran prime-time programme to highlight the achievement. For them, anything belonging to ancient India cannot be acclaim-worthy.

At the first official observation of the World Yoga Day on 21 June 2015, a total of 35,985 participants from 84 nationalities performed asanas. Modi’s words, on the said occasion, were truly sagacious, “India’s priceless legacy is today world’s legacy.” 

As is the wont of our India-deprecating critics, no one had a good word to say about the event. They faulted Modi for not doing asanas in the proper manner. Some even doubted his claims of doing yoga regularly. A significant segment appeared to be more obsessed with the spreading of yoga mats rather than the import of the occasion. Deviously, a campaign was started that the soldiers were demeaned as they were forced to lay mats whereas the fact is that the mats were laid by civilian workers and the army had provided a few Havildars to oversee layout and alignment.

An occasion of national pride was deliberately portrayed as a fundamentalist and anti-secular agenda of the ruling party. Baba Ramdev’s laudable offer of training yoga teachers for the army has also been termed as a step towards communalisation of the army. One wonders as to how Indians can revel in degrading India.

The Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival

Last month, nearly four lakh people from 155 countries attended anniversary celebrations of The Art of Living (AoL) at Delhi. It was described as ‘an impeccable choreography of spiritual exuberance’. Over 37,000 artists from around the world performed. The programme was beamed live to millions across the globe. The whole world admired it but not the self-proclaimed conscience-keepers of India.

They faulted the function for likely adverse ecological effect on the flood plains of River Yamuna. It was a laughable objection. Even a casual visitor can notice the appalling state of the flood plains due to rampant encroachments, regular dumping of garbage/debris and total neglect by the authorities. No environmentalist or social activist ever raised hue and cry to force the government to act.

On learning of AoL function, they suddenly rediscovered their long-forgotten concern for the flood plains and launched a sadistic campaign against the organisers. As was to be expected, media found a convenient issue to embarrass the government and dent India’s image. It was unfortunate that our President was advised to skip the function.

Despite repeated assurances and guarantees by the organisers that they would neither do any digging nor use any concrete, every effort was made to scuttle the initiative. As was to be expected, no channel has reported the fact that AoL has left the flood plains in much better condition than they were earlier.

The second objection was regarding the alleged use of military bridging equipment for a private function. It was conveniently forgotten that law and order and traffic management always remain a state responsibility, more so as a large number of foreign dignitaries were attending the programme. Aid to the civil authority in preventing likely stampede cannot be faulted. Every Kumbh Mela sees such bridges.

As regards the bridging equipment; launching and de-launching of equipment bridges is regularly practised by the Engineers. Hence, the opportunity was used to train as well. Interestingly, the army had built a similar pontoon bridge at Agra for a musical concert by Yani in 2006. No questions were raised then. Apparently, army bridges are fine for foreign performers but not for displaying Indian heritage. 

Of Cultural Icons
While one may not agree with all the statements made by Baba Ramdev, it cannot be denied that he and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have done India proud by showcasing richness of India’s ancient civilization on the world stage. They are India’s cultural ambassadors and national icons, far greater than many Bharat Ratnas of dubious distinction.

Baba Ramdev has taken yoga to the masses and made the world aware of its mental, physical and intellectual benefits for overall well-being. It is practised by the people of more than 170 countries now. Even the UN has been forced to accept that the benefits of yoga are ‘amazing’ and ‘holistic’. It is a monumental achievement.

Sri Sri has made AoL a household initiative in most countries of the world. More than 370 million people swear by it and practice regularly. One cannot think of another Indian who has spread the message of ancient India’s vedic knowledge as worldwide. Even the UN and the World Health Organisation have recognised that AoL enriches life and promotes wellness through spiritual growth and self-development. 
However, as is the wont of many opponents of India’s ancient heritage, they abhor anyone taking pride in it. To deride own culture has been the hallmark of India’s intelligentsia. Modi was right in questioning the opponents, “If we keep criticising ourselves, why would the world look at us?”

And, the parting shot
Reverting to Mustafa, while taking leave of us at the end of the visit, his parting shot was, “India has such a rich heritage. Which country can boast of ancient civilization, and 10,000 years of recorded history? Which country can claim to be the birth place of so many major religions and philosophies?”
“Your heritage consists of Vedic scriptures, Jainism’s Namokar Mantra, Lord Buddha’s teachings and Guru Nanak’s divinity. It is common to all Indians. No one can claim exclusive right over it and no one can disown it either. Can ancestry be disputed or renounced? The people who disown their heritage become culturally bankrupt,” he added.

We were dumbstruck. Mustafa had shamed us with his simple reasoning. By the time we regained our composure, he had boarded a bus to head for his next engagement, perhaps to enlighten another set of ignorant Indian tourists!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reliving One's Childhood, Once again

I woke up when the wheels of our B767 touched the ground. Excitement was building up as the aircraft taxied in to the gate. Every one stood up once the seat belt signs were switched off, and started opening the overhead bins to remove their hand baggage. I too joined them. Normally I continue to sit until the early birds are out of the way, but today was a special day, and a special meeting awaited us. I had been dreaming of this meeting on this flight from Zurich to Toronto, but there were other more urgent things to be done now.

The aerobridge was connected and the line had started moving. Both of us, my wife and I, joined the slow crawl of passengers towards the exit door, carrying our hand baggage and our belongings with us. Out of the aircraft; a long trudge from the gate to the immigration counter. We were both excited, but were too busy to show it. Passports and filled immigration forms in hand, we both breezed through immigration and walked in to the baggage section. I pull out 2 two dollar coins that were kept in safe custody from last year’s trip, drop them in the slot and pull out two baggage trolleys. We move to the conveyor belt, and see our luggage coming around. Luggage picked up; placed on trolleys, and ready to go. With ‘nothing to declare’ custom slips we walk through the green channel and the last of the official checks at Toronto airport. A turn to the left and the door leading up to the arrival lounge is now visible. My heart starts to beat faster in anticipation of the meeting; all those thoughts of the flight come flooding back in the few seconds that it took us to traverse the long corridor to the exit door from the Customs area.

We had booked our flight and had forwarded our itinerary to our daughter and bachelor son in Toronto. Our daughter called up and mentioned that she would come to pick us up. She also told us that our grand daughter would be at school and would not be able to make it to the airport. Our Canadian born grand daughter was now 5 years old and had mentioned that ‘she was now a grown up girl’. How we grandparents secretly wish that our grand kids never grow up. Growing up means that their time is at a premium, and we lose our chance to be children once again, with them. In my case, I had really enjoyed my granddaughter’s growing up, much more than I had my own kids, primarily due to career demands when our kids were growing up.

During our visit the previous year we had taken her on a bird trail and had enjoyed watching her feeding the birds and squirrels from her tiny hands. She was my little acrobat who would enjoy being thrown up in the air, while being twisted and turned around in the air. She never tired of it, and would plead, ‘Nana, once more, pleeaase, please, pliz’ whenever I stopped doing it. We would endlessly look for lady bugs on the shrubs in the backyard; she would take them in her tiny palms and exult to see them fly away. I once got her a soap bubble kit from the dollar store. She would make me blow the bubbles so that she could jump around and catch them in the air.

One day when I was tending to the back lawn, she came and sat down with me, and asked me if there were any earth worms in the soil. On hearing an affirmative answer, she asked me to give one in her palm. I looked at her and asked, ‘do you like earthworms’. No, she says. Then why are you asking for one, I asked while putting an earthworm on her palm. She gently patted the worm, and told me to put it back in the soil, while telling me that her teacher had asked her to catch an earthworm, be gentle with it, see it, love it, but return it to the same place afterwards. She stumped me with her next sentence when she confessed that she did not like earthworms but she had a job to do, and she must do it, whether she liked it or not. All these thoughts were crowding my mind and I was wondering if this trip would be as exciting as the last few had been.

We had just swung the exit door open with our carts, and were looking for our daughter in the visitors lounge. Suddenly there was a loud call of 'Naanaa' and we saw our little granddaughter charging towards us at full gallop. I just had enough time to stop my cart, run forward and lift her up in my arms. 

All my misgivings about her having ‘grown up’ vanished and I knew that we were going to have fun, as children, once again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

All in a Day's Whatsapp

“Where are you? I sent you a message at 08:19, and then called you at 08:22”. My better half sounded agitated. “Why? I am at home”, I responded. “Then why did you not check my message and missed call”, she persevered. “The internet connection has been down since last night”. Noticing her state, I inquired, “Why? What happened; anything urgent?” “No, just wondering why you had not checked my message”. Without a pause, she remonstrated,  “You are constantly on whatsapp when I am at home. Now, when I am away you have not bothered to check your whatsapp”. This was the first conversation we had as soon as the internet connection was restored at noon.

Her call at noon was a result of her remotely monitoring that I had read her message at 12:03 pm. My wife had acquired her Smartphone nearly two years before me, giving her a lead over me on the ‘smart’ usage of this ‘mother of all social networking apps’ that had revolutionised communications, worldwide. On completion of our communications, I noticed that there were over 80 messages from two of my active groups waiting for me.

Whatsapp logo. Image: Courtesy Google Images

The first group had a total of 50 messages, 30 from last night; all of these were part of an active ongoing discussion on the air ambulance crash at Delhi; all members of this group being professionals in aviation from the Indian Air Force (IAF). Messages included opinions about the Captain, the aircraft, the rules, the rule makers, the inquiry process, the civilian vs IAF professionals, the lateral entry of IAF personnel in to civil aviation and the likely cause of the accident. After some discussion, it seemed that ‘fuel starvation’ to the engines was the most likely cause of the accident.

The other 20 were sent in the morning with the first one sent at 6 am with an image of a beautiful flower and text wishing everyone a good morning and proclaiming, ‘start believing that you are happy and you will be happy forever’. So true! So simple! Yet happy faces elude us in our daily lives.
The other group had most members from Canada, who were waking up when I was getting ready to sleep. These 30 messages were celebrating Sarab’s wedding anniversary with champagne, cakes, dance, and good wishes. The celebrations were all in the digital format as no one had the time to visit and wish; so, there was digital cake/ champagne/ selfies of friends individually partaking of the two, to the accompaniment of ‘Cheers’. Whatsapp messages continued through the day thereafter.

In general, whatsapp messages overflow with philosophical gyan about life, and how to live it. The best part is that everyone has this gyan pre-recorded in the non retrievable part of the memory system. It is brought to the fore, only for a brief moment, when a recycled, round tripping message reaches you; taking refuge in the sub conscious mind once again thereafter. Keeping it in the conscious mind is taboo, because it would involve changing oneself. Changing oneself is a tough act; and also, very few of us actually dislike the way we are!

Some members specialise in jokes and images that span the ‘full’ spectrum of human activities. Also, not a day passes without at least one joke on the most sought after relationship for a man, as long he is single; the favourite one being something like, “I was happy, and then I got married”. Do we men actually mean any of it?

Usage of whatsapp has simplified worldwide communications, but with a price to pay; my better half can now track my movements, my messages, and what I am doing. Smart people suggest that the Smartphone should be locked with a password; the password of the bachelors can be a simple swipe but the password of a married man should be complex enough to be unfathomable to the inquisitive mind of the better half. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Izzat ka Sawaal

As a 16 year old in January 1969, I felt proud to join the National Defence Academy (NDA); an amazing institution that transforms boys into men, or rather into gentlemen. These gentlemen eventually go on to lead the three defence forces of India, as President’s commissioned officers. The course at NDA is completed in three years, comprising of six 6-monthly terms. The training is rigorous and action packed, wherein the cadets are exposed to every outdoor and indoor activity, in addition to pure academic studies.

In the second term, we were required to clear our swimming test, which comprised of completing 25 metres of breast stroke followed by 25 metres of any style swimming. This had to be followed up by a jump from the 7 metre board. A friend and I had gone to the swimming pool to practice this so as to be able to clear the swimming test in the first attempt itself. 

The NDA swimming pool with the 1, 3, 5, 7, and 10 metre boards
Image Courtesy: Sainik Samachar

We both managed the 50 metres of swimming. However, the seven metres board looked challenging. We thus decided that we would go up the diving boards in ascending order, starting with the 1 metre board. The first two, 1 and 3 metres, did not pose much of a problem. The five metre gave me a feeling of increased degree of difficulty. We hesitated for a bit, but both of us managed to jump. We then went up to the 7 metre board. Our hesitation was palpable but we managed to jump, after a few false starts. We thus decided to repeat the jump from the 7 metre board. This jump was better, but we did not consider it to be good enough, keeping our Physical Training Officer (PTO) in mind.

Our PTO was always present at the 7 metre board while the swimming tests were being conducted. The jump sequence had to be clean; climb up to the 7 metre board, walk to the edge, and jump. Any sign of hesitation always prompted our PTO to push the hesitant cadet in to the pool. Our hesitation was thus not acceptable. Also, we did not want to be humiliated by the PTO. To overcome this hesitation, I suggested that we jump from the 10 metre board; this would make the 7 metre jump look less challenging. 

We both agreed on this, and trooped up to the 10 metre board. On the way, we also entered in to a private bet that the one who does not jump will have to give a ‘treat’ to the other. The all around view from 10 metres (33 feet) was breathtaking, except when looking down; the Olympic size swimming pool looked like a small match box; it seemed that we would fall on the concrete, and not in the water. We were now very hesitant to jump. My friend was already in the process of descending the stairs when I asked him to wait. I once again moved forward to the edge of the board, looked down, felt the ball in my stomach grow in size, and fear taking hold of my mind, and body. 

I was just about to agree with him to go down the stairs, when some teenage girls entered the pool premises. They stood there watching our antics at the 10 metre board. Imagine our plight - we were scared of jumping from the 10 metre board, and these pretty girls were looking up at us (literally). An on the spot decision was taken that we would not go down the stairs, even if we had to ride back in an ambulance, because it was now an ‘izzat ka sawaal’ (matter of prestige), and that too in front of pretty girls. I jumped, followed by my friend; he did not want to lose the bet too. Lo and behold, we both fell right in the middle of the pool. We both passed our swimming test in our first attempt.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Served "HogFlying" for Breakfast!

I had just landed after a sortie with one of my pupils, and was sitting at one of the tables debriefing him on his performance. The time was 8:30 am on my watch; time the breakfast was laid out on the counter. The breakfast was collected from our homes every morning by a special transport. We could not carry it with us in the morning, as we left home well before sunrise to enable us to live upto the dictum of ‘sun up, wheels up’. I glanced to see if my breakfast tiffin had arrived; it had. I noticed TP opening my box, giving out an odd expression and quickly shutting it. I was a little baffled. Normally my wife sent delicious stuffed parathas, which I rarely got to eat as someone would partake of them well before I had a chance, thanks to our great tradition of sharing.

In the Air Force Academy, we had an unwritten law that anybody could eat the food of his choice from one of the 30 odd tiffin boxes that were brought in from the 30 different homes. To have a change of taste, we would go through the tiffins and generally eat the one that we did not get a chance to eat in the normal course. Thus to have a wider choice, it was best to make it to the cafeteria before the others and then take your pick of the available lot. I never bothered to hurry up as my parathas were always finished by the time I got to the breakfast counter. I would get an assortment of food, which included dosa, idli, poha, sandwiches, bread pakoras, upma and many other exotic dishes.

I again looked up to see Ramas open and shut my tiffin in a hurry. I was now intrigued and wondered what my dear wife had sent as breakfast for me. It must be something that nobody wanted to eat. I finished the debrief and went up to the breakfast counter. I quickly picked up my breakfast tiffin, and headed for the farthest table so as to avoid questions from my fellow instructors. I took a quick glance to see that all was clear and opened my tiffin box. Inside I found a slip of paper lying face down that had something written on it in my wife’s handwriting. I quickly put the slip of paper in my overall pocket, shut my tiffin box as if I had finished eating and headed out to a secure location to read the message.

This had never happened before and thus it set me thinking. I had in the last week volunteered to do additional flying with the other squadron to help them overcome their shortage of instructors. This had prevented me from accompanying my wife to the movies held at the open air theatre in the evenings. I also conveniently forgot to tell my better half about the volunteering part; instead giving her a story of ‘service exigencies’. She took it in her stride, and would sit through the movies all by herself. It irked her to sit all by herself, but then she had learnt not to question these two words spoken as one, ‘service exigencies’.

I had by now reached a safe location. I pulled out the hand written slip and read the words, “Hog flying”. It transpires that one of the other squadron ladies had sat through with her during the previous evening’s movie, and had blown my cover. “Hog flying” was my wife’s way of putting me in place, and extracting her sweet revenge for my convenient & false use of service exigenc

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

India and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum feels that the previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

The much discussed fourth industrial revolution at Davos is more relevant to developed countries, those that have already benefitted from the first three; the developing countries could be better helped by innovative uses of the first three industrial revolutions. India is a country with a pre-dominantly rural population. An acre of land can at best feed one single family; a factory on the same acre could help feed multiple families, besides generating wealth at a much faster pace for the country. Thus the government’s push on developing infrastructure for generating power; road, rail & port connectivity; and other initiatives like ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ make much more sense for us. All Indians should thus support and facilitate these in whichever way possible. The government on its part should create conditions that are conducive for implementing these grand designs for the betterment of all Indians, specially the poor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

India's National Interest in the Aftermath of Pathankot

The year 2016 started with an attack on one of our vital assets at Pathankot. The attackers were fully armed terrorists who owe their allegiance to JeM based in Pakistan, as per all available evidence to date. The government of Pakistan has acceded that the Pathankot attack was planned on Pakistani soil. Based on the actionable intelligence dossiers handed over by India, Pakistan has, for the first time, made a few arrests and has also sealed a few offices of the JeM today. This is the direct result of the goodwill generated between the two PMs. How did this come about?
The Beating Retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak, Wagah border post, close to Amritsar.

PM Modi had taken the initiative of inviting all the SAARC leaders, including Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif to his swearing in ceremony in May 2014. After a round of consultations, the Pakistani PM had made it to the swearing in ceremony in Delhi. These actions by the two PMs indicated that they were willing to risk their personal reputations to the cause of furthering the process of engagement between the two nations. Subsequently, in the later part of 2015, meetings took place between the PMs/ Representatives at Ufa, Paris, Bangkok, Islamabad, and finally the informal 'drop in for lunch' meeting in Lahore.
This informal Lahore meeting had no strategic significance in the purely strategic sense, but has been responsible for demonstrating the strong desire of the two PMs to go beyond what is considered 'appropriate' for heads of government. Going beyond, and bringing about a desired change is a leadership function. In that sense, these two leaders have taken the lead in making a paradigm shift in the thinking processes of people on both sides of the border. This small gesture of doing things spontaneously by the two leaders has opened new possibilities in the minds of most people, barring a few skeptics of course. It is said that every action is preceded by a thought, and a fresh thought has been sown.
Pakistan's change of heart may also have been the result of various factors that include: persistent international pressure; a precarious financial situation; a very unfortunate terrorism & law and order situation (although Pakistan is solely responsible for its own present state) in most parts of Pakistan; and of course many other such factors. The fact is that Pakistan has finally accepted and has given an assurance that it will act, and this is important. Pakistan's acceptance and appropriate action in this regard would provide the two nations with an opportunity to continue with their engagement and work towards bringing about peace in their troubled relationship. Peace is in our national interest, as it is in Pakistan's too.
Our national interest dictates that we focus on development and growth, so that we make a dent on poverty, and its associated problems. The problem of poverty happens to be our biggest enemy - what with a large part of our population not getting potable water, food, basic healthcare, employment, etc. The 2012 World bank report had brought out that "India accounted for the largest number of poor people in any country in 2012". Pulling these people out of poverty is only possible if we have peace within, and around our country. A stable and democratic Pakistan is thus in our national interest. The other scenario is not the desired one, specially if we keep in view our national interest.
Our thinking has to be to create a situation where we can help achieve a stable and democratic Pakistan. This can only come about by pushing/ coaxing/ cajoling/ encouraging/ driving Pakistan diplomatically at this juncture, and somehow making Pakistan realize, and accept, that the elimination of terrorism is in Pakistan's own interest. Majority of the people, and the democratically elected government of Pakistan have already come to this realisation. However, the government of Pakistan is under tremendous pressure from it's military, and the various terrorist organisations that have been nurtured over the past decades. These organisations stand to lose their clout if the relations move towards normalisation.  
It will be a difficult task for the government in Pakistan to put a stop to everything that it has willingly encouraged in the past. This should be none of our concern, as Pakistan has to reap what it had sown in the past, but that would not lead us any closer to the fulfillment of our national interest options. It is thus prudent that we must exercise patience and should not push so hard that it derails this desire of the democratic government of Pakistan. We have to create an atmosphere of Win - Win, so that our objective of defeating Pak sponsored terrorism are achieved without affecting our primary mission of growth, development and poverty alleviation. Public opinion on both sides will have to be managed so that the engagement process can move forward, despite 'spoilers' coming in the way. It must be acknowledged that 'spoilers' will be a part of the process, and the process is also not going to be easy.
To safeguard our own interests, we have to be certain that no state actors are actively supporting the engagement derailment process. In case state actors are involved then the process of engagement has to be stopped and immediate action has to be initiated to safeguard our interests through all means, including use of military.
In case these are non state actors acting on their own, we need to ensure that we plug the gap in our borders to prevent easy ingress to these elements; strengthen internal & external intelligence gathering network; strengthen our ability to make sense of our intelligence inputs received, through better systems; take legal action against the fifth columnists within us; and strengthen security around our strategic assets.
Watching the news channels gives one an idea that our electronic media is bent on making it a win - lose situation. I do hope that our public response does not get overly influenced by this media hype.
My interest in Pakistan only stems from the fact that our two nations are geographically and historically linked. Anything that happens in Pakistan will have an impact on India. I firmly believe that it is in India's interest to have a stable and democratic Pakistan and I also believe that it is upto the people of Pakistan to create, support and nurture systems and institutions that will help Pakistan move in that direction. The signs at present are very disturbing.
India needs to facilitate stability in Pakistan and also needs to learn valuable lessons on the role of strong and stable state institutions in governance and also the need of keeping religion definitely out of governance issues, and out of politics too. Religion practiced by individuals in their personal life can uplift the individual, and thus the society, and nation, but used in the affairs of a diverse, modern nation-state can have disastrous consequences. We are witness to the events unfolding in our close neighbourhoods. 

Watching the South Asian region one feels that India is the only island of stability in this volatile neighbourhood. Our founding fathers and our politicians must have surely done something right. What is it that we did right? and what is it that we need to safeguard with our lives, if required, to continue to develop and progress as a modern nation state while at the same time maintaining our biggest strength - our diversity?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

OROP: Creating a Win-Win Situation

The OROP agitation entered the 156th day on 17 Nov 2015. I believe that the agitation is a symptom of a much larger malaise, and that being the ‘neglect of the military’ by successive governments. The defence forces have been systematically downgraded in the hierarchy, and are functioning under dysfunctional ‘authority and responsibility’ structures. The Service Chiefs head the ‘attached offices’ under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Department of Defence. They do not have the requisite authority to undertake the responsibilities that they have been charged with. The authority rests with politico-bureaucratic structure of MoD, which does not have the optimum and requisite professional competence to take decisions on matters related to national security. It is very instructive to see the organisational chart of the MoD in this regard; there is no representation from the Services in this chart. The professional advice to the elected representatives is thus through a ministry structure that lacks professional soldiers. There is thus an urgent need for a full and meaningful integration of the Service HQs with the MoD so that the basic principles of management are not violated to the detriment of national security planning, procurement, and execution. The structures give an impression of the soldier being treated as a ‘paid mercenary’ rather than the only professional partner in ensuring national security, and as an important partner in upholding the Constitution of India.
The profession of arms in any democracy has three operative words, “Duty, Honour (Izzat), and Country. The profession demands a large number of sacrifices, going right up to the ultimate sacrifice that any mortal can bestow on his country. All that the soldier asks in return for this is love, izzat, and a feeling that the whole country is behind him and would look after him/ his dependants, in the best manner possible. The soldier does not enjoy all the fundamental rights enjoyed by the other citizens. This implies that the soldier relies on the government to take care of his legitimate dues. OROP was promised nearly 40 years ago, and the soldier waited for the government of the day to give him his due. The legitimate demand of OROP was not promulgated, even after it was passed by two parliaments; and favourably ruled by the Supreme Court of India. Due to service conditions, the serving personnel have limitations in putting forth their ‘just’ demands. However, there are no such limitations on veterans. The veterans thus decided to go on agitation to press the case for their just demands. The agitation started on 15th June but picked up steam only after the government agencies tried to dismantle the venue at Jantar Mantar, and manhandle the veterans, on 14th August. This partisan action on an agitation that was duly approved by the concerned authorities; was peaceful; was pro-country; was not derogatory/ denouncing any one, did not go down well with the veterans, as it reconfirmed their belief of a certain mindset of the politico-bureaucratic combine. This belief stems from the fact that our systems and structures are designed to keep the military out of the loop, even in matters concerning national security. The Service Headquarters are ‘Attached Offices’ of the Ministry of Defence with the Defence Secretary, a bureaucrat, responsible for matters related to defence. Everyone understands that in a democracy, civilian control of the military is paramount. Logically this implies that an elected representative of the people of India should control the military, and it definitely does not imply bureaucratic control. 
A Glimpse of the OROP agitation: Maj Gen Satbir Singh and Gp Capt V K Gandhi
Image Courtesy: Google Images

The government notification on OROP has not been found satisfactory as it has changed the accepted definition of OROP, and the agitation continues. This is not a healthy state of affairs, and needs to be resolved at the earliest. The only way forward is through dialogue. Mr Narendra Modi had made an election promise of OROP implementation as BJP’s PM designate candidate, and also after he assumed the office of PM. He has thereafter not found the time/ inclination to sit down and discuss issues with the agitating Veterans and this has led to hardening of positions. The accepted definition of OROP, as adopted and accepted by the Koshiyari Committee, is available. There is a need to stick with that definition. In case there are problems in executing what was promised, the same can be resolved through dialogue between the veteran leaders and the PM, the same person who promised OROP. Veterans are honest, disciplined and credible citizens and the citizen's representative should have no hesitation in speaking with them. Dialogue is the PM's call as there is a lack of trust on the part of the veterans, because the implied promises in the past have not been fulfilled.  

I personally believe that the agitation should be called off and the matter referred to the judicial commission, after the PM initiates a dialogue with the veterans assuring them that the commission would complete its task in a time bound manner, and that all recommendations of the Commission would be implemented in full thereafter. This will create a healthy, win-win situation and help break the impasse, which is needed to prevent further divisions in the rank and file of veterans, as also the serving personnel who could not have stayed unaffected by all that has happened in the past few months.