Saturday, December 20, 2008

TAGGED - MY PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE - SOME EXCERPTS

Renu has tagged me, because she did not find it appropriate to tag 20 somethings. I am not very good at all this but would definitely do my best, as Renu has put so much faith in AGE - and I cannot let her down. So, here is my take, without any further ado.

My Oldest Memory: The oldest memory that I can remember is when i was about 4 - 6 years old. We lived in an Air Force camp, which had a movie hall that used to get various kinds of movies, including 'Tarzan' and 'Zimbo' movies. I was very fond of these movies, and remember going to watch them initially with my father, followed by him picking me up from the hall after the movie and finally all by myself. The movie hall at that age appeared very far from our house. (However later when I was posted at Pune as an adult, I realised that the movie hall was just about 1.5 - 2 kms from our house). The shows would start during daylight hours but end up when it would just be dark. I remember enjoying the movie, coming out of the hall, waiting for someone going towards our house and then slowly follow him home. In case the person turned away in some other direction, I would wait under a street light for another person and then follow him in the direction of our house. Once i found no one going in the direction of our house. I waited under a street light for some time and then remembered my parents exhortation to be brave and not fear - 'any time you are afraid just recite the Gayatri Mantra and nothing will happen to you'. I remember reciting the Gayatri Mantra on that occasion and reaching home without any problem.

Ten Years ago: December 1998. I was re-employed with the Indian Air Force and living in our own flat in Noida. I had not applied for extension of my re-employment and was thus waiting for 31 Dec 98, to be out of the uniform. A neighbour of my in-laws, who is an astrologer had forecasted that I would continue in a government or government related job, as the Sun was sitting in my house of career until Sep 1999. I remember arguing with her that this was not possible and that I had not applied for extension and my term expired on 31 Dec 1998. She said that she did not know about all this and was just telling me what the planetary positions on my charts were indicating. It so happened that the 5th Pay Commission was on and they could not reach any decision on the re-employed officers and we were granted automatic extension for one month initially, followed by two more one monthly extensions, without applying. Later I did apply for extension in March for personal reasons and served until 31 Dec 1999.

I was dumb founded by this incident, and similar incidents before and after this one. Where do I fit in? in the scheme of things? if everything is pre-destined as per my planetary positioning. What do I control??

My first thought this morning: Yet another day! Actually I am down with some sort of a flu and have been having fever, running nose, sore throat, and bodyache for the past couple of days. Did not feel like getting out of bed this morning, as the back was also hurting today. They say this flu gets okay in 3 -4 days and i am on my third day - in any case, i donot give too much importance to all these illnesses - they come on their own and leave of their own accord. Poonam is not there to force me to have medicine. 'Bund naak, badan dard, Kuch lete kyun nahin'? I can do my own - gargles and rest. I hate medicines.

If you built a time capsule, what would it contain: It would contain magnificient nature - the hills of Kulu Manali where I trekked with the Youth hostel in 1994 and 1995 - those mountains dwarfed me and made me feel like a small insignificant speck of dust - these hills helped me meet simple folks who were willing to share what little they had, kids with running noses running behind us for one sweet, crying 'tata tata bye bye'; it would contain the mighty oceans over which i have flown at very low level and seen the massive tankers being tossed around like match sticks; it would contain war, philosophy and spiritual books - i was always a man of war and enjoyed serving with the Indian Air Force - however, i now realise the value of peace which only a military man can; i love war books though, because they bring out how spirit can overcome the body and also the selfless pursuit of an aim; philosophy to help answer the numerous questions that keep arising, and spiritual books to keep me grounded to reality; to help me overcome my massive "I"; and finally would love to have my dear wife who is the only one who could tame me, and the only one who helps me with the supply of my favourite music - some of it gets garbled though when she gets into one of her 'not so beautiful' moods.

This year: This year has been a mixed bag - some good and some not so good, but is finally dedicated to the little angel who adorns my desktop (photograph is reproduced below), my grand daughter 'Meher' who was born on 29 Sep 08. She gave us some very tense moments initially, but has given us much more happiness in return during the past 3 months approx, and would continue to do so in the years to come.
Unadulterated display of happiness.... when does one start loosing this ability??

I started the year recouping from my bypass surgery performed on 28 Nov 07. Got on my feet and fit i felt, only to be declared permanently unfit for flying and thus came to end an eventful chapter in my life - a chapter that gave me immense pleasure, helped me defy gravity and explore the third dimension where i had occasions to see the sun rising before lesser mortals could, where i could race with the setting sun by flying westwards - the sun always won though.

Sunrise at 37000 ft.... clicked as a passenger on 09 Dec 2008

I say good bye to flying, Chennai, and Blue Dart Aviation on 31 Dec 08. Our son settled into a job of his liking this year after completing his BA Hons from York University - he is enjoying himself with the Toronto Police. Our son-in-law and daughter bought their first house. My parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Many other events happened - it's been an eventful year.

14 years from now: God knows.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

INDIA - CHANGING MY PERCEPTIONS

I was lucky, and elated, to have been selected to undergo the Staff College course in the US in 1989. I was a 37 years young cocky fighter pilot who had his own perception of India, my country. This perception was built over time through schooling in English medium schools/ convents and having lived in urban surroundings most of the time (even when I was based in small villages, our camps had most facilities like a town). I reached Montgomery, Alabama and was pleasantly surprised to be a part of about 55o students doing this purely academic course (we do have academic courses in the military too), of which about 80 officers were from 55 different nationalities. I was the only Indian officer in this batch of 1990.

Our interactions were generally quite free and frank, considering the nature of the course. During the course of these interactions one theme always emerged and that was, 'India is a poor country'. I would get very hurt and would invariably put up a defence that India was not poor. I could speak English better than most others, I could think logically, I flew the Jaguar aircraft and could talk anyone out of fighter tactics etc. etc. I felt that I was their equal in every which way and yet they continued with their derogatory questions about poverty in India. I had never experienced poverty and was never really concerned about how poor India was. I got what I wanted in India, and was pretty comfortable with my perception of India.

One day when I could not take it any longer, I decided to start reading up on India with an aim of negating my tormentors. The more I read the more I realised how right they were and how wrong was my perception of India. These 10 months in the US staff college, with its very well equipped library, gave me an opportunity to try and understand my own country. The more I read, the more I realised that I was living in my own dream world; the more I read the more I became fascinated, and proud of India, even though I now realised that how backward we were economically. My perceptions of India started to change. I realised that urban areas in India were an aberration in the rural landscape of India. I started to read about our freedom struggle and how and why Gandhiji gave us the khadi dress - a dress used more as a fashion statement these days by our political class.

Why were we poor? I believe, the short answer is, we missed the Industrial revolution while under British rule. We continued to be an agrarian society plagued by disease, malnutrition and the rulers did not have any resources (that were of course ours in the first place) to waste on us. Gandhiji's Dandi march to make a pinch of salt was such a big issue with the British. Imagine we could not even make salt - a basic food item for the poor. We finally achieved independence. We chose socialism and non alignment as our core values following it up with nationalisation of assets. All this was based on our past experiences. We can complain about the political system but the system has not failed us. It has helped us to be self sufficient, grow, and also helped a diverse, plural nation like India stay as one nation-state, despite the pulls and pressures.

We are all very impatient with our progress and want India to reach its destined position in the comity of nations. Well, it is happening - 300 million strong middle class (approximately the size of our population at independence), and growing, will help us reach there. Once we have a majority middle class things would happen much faster, and more to the liking of the urban population. I have seen food shortages and the green revolution; I have seen milk shortages and the white revolution in my lifetime. I have seen India leap frogging from the agricultural era to the information era. We are now building our industrial base that will help provide employment to our rural brethren. Imagine we still have 72.2% of our population living in rural settings, as per the 2001 census. We have 34.3% (1990-2005) of our population surviving on less than $1.00 a day - this is an amount most of us donot even think about - I have paid many times this amount for one meal, at times. We have 28.6% living below the poverty line - defined by minimum calories and bare minimum medical aid for survival - not even roti, kapda aur makaan. Are we still poor?? Yes we are still poor (even though we are the 12th country in this world to cross a Trillion dollar economy mark) but are getting out of poverty much faster since 1991.

We have many challenges in the form of corruption, caste/ religion based politics, criminals in politics, poverty, etc. Who is corrupt. Not the poor. It is the haves who take, and give bribes. We want more - 'thoda hai thode aur ki zaroorat hai' attitude. We are willing to bribe our way to short circuit any system. We are responsible for the present impasse, and ONLY WE have the power to change this state of affairs by changing ourselves, individually and collectively.

As a start, let us be proud of who we are as a people. Let us start by getting to know our country. I have always felt enamoured by the material progress of the West but have been absolutely spellbound by the SOUL of India. Our nation is not perfect but WE have the power to make it one. Are we ready to do our part on this journey to achieve greatness where the pain of any fellow human being feels like one's own - specially the pain of people less fortunate than us. I never used to notice them earlier but with age I have realised that India can only truly prosper when no one is destined to lead a wretched life. How can we help change destinies? Once we reach there, we would be a participatory democracy in the true sense, as desired and thought of by our founding fathers.