Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ABOUT LIFE AND LIVING!

The last few months have been the happiest months in our lives, as we have been totally engrossed in the 'everyday something new' phenomenon being exhibited by our grand daughter - she is going to be 15 months old in a week - she learns something new every day, or should I say every minute, and teaches us a number of lessons in the bargain. We never had this kind of a leisure time to observe our children growing up - parents never do, I believe - and are thus enjoying this period even more so. Have been busy thus.........

All this is just to ask forgiveness for long absences from my favourite passion these days....blogging. I am posting this email forward to make up for my absence...it made a lot of sense to me and thought of sharing it here.

Quote....

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up; she was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.'

'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.

Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying. Unquote.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

MAKING EVERY INDIAN'S DREAMS COME TRUE

I received the following talk given by the famous author, from the relatively younger generation, 'Chetan Bhagat'. The talk gives his perspectives on how we can make every Indian's dreams come true; how we can make turn India into the India of our dreams. He has some very valid observations....I thought of sharing the talk in full, as it makes a lot of sense to me.

What do you think?

Can it happen?

How can we help in making this happen?

So, read on.........Chetan has a thinking head between his shoulders, for sure.

Becoming One With the World
Speech given at the HT Leadership Summit
Delhi, November 21, 2008
© Chetan Bhagat

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Quote. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at the leadership summit – the first of its kind for me.

I am no leader. At best, I am a dreamer with perseverance to make dreams come true. As I have made my own dreams come true already, I am tempted to think we can make my country’s dreams come true. And that is why I am here.

Before we become one with the world we have to become one with ourselves. If we get our own house in order we don’t have to make an effort to be one with the world. The world will want to be one with us. Everyone wants to be friends with happy, rich, thriving neighbors. Nobody wants a family festered with disputes.

A lot is wrong in my country. There are too many differences. The question is not who we blame for this. The question is how do we fix it? Because to do anything great, you have to become one first. Two generations ago, our forefathers came together to win us Independence. It isn’t like we didn’t have disputes then. Religion, caste, community have existed for centuries. But Gandhi brought them all together for a greater cause – to get the country free.

Today, we have another greater cause. To get India its rightful place in the world. To see India the way the younger generation wants to see it. To make India a prosperous, developed country, where not only the spirit of patriotism, but also the standard of living is high. Where anyone with the talent, drive and hard work alone has the ability to make it. Where people don’t ask where you come from, but where you are going. We all know that India, as we have all dreamt of that India.

There is a lot required to be done for this, and it doesn’t just start and end by blaming politicians. For in a democracy, we elect the politicians. If our thinking changes, our voting will change and the politicians will change. And since I have made a nation that didn’t read, read, do I believe people’s thinking can be changed.

To me there are 3 main areas where I think we need to change our thinking – leaders included. And I’m not just saying we need to do it because it is morally right/ ethically correct/ or because it sounds nice at a conference. We need to do it as it make sense from an incentives point of view. These three areas are changing the politics of differences to the politics of similarity, looking down on elitism and the role of English.

The first mindset change required is to change the politics of differences to the politics of similarity. I’ve been studying young people in India, not just in big cities but across India for the last five years.
They are the bulk of the population – the bulk of our voter bank. Yet, what they are looking for is not what politicians are pitching. It is not too different from the old school Bollywood where they think item numbers, big budgets and tested formulas work while the biggest hits of the year could be Rock On and Jaane Tu. Yes, times have changed.
Here is what the politicians are pitching – old fashioned patriotism, defending traditions, being the torchbearer of communities, caste and religion. Here is what the youth wants – better colleges, better jobs, better role models. Compared to the talent pool, the number of good college seats are very limited. Same for good jobs. These wants are the biggest similarity that we all share. We all want the same things – progress. I see a huge disconnect in the political strategies of existing politicians vs. what could work for the new voters.

I think broad based infrastructure and economic development will satisfy the young generation’s needs. It isn’t an easy goal to attain – but it is the great cause that can unite us. Today a dynamic politician who takes this cause can achieve a far greater success than any regional politician. And the slot is waiting to be taken.

Another aspect required to convert the politics of differences to the politics of similarities is a strong moderate voice. When someone tries to divide us, people from the same community as the divider have to stand up against him. If person A is saying Non-Marathis should be attacked, then some Marathis need to stand up and say person A is talking nonsense. If a Muslim commits terrorist attack, other Muslims should stand up and condemn it, as Hindus are going to condemn it anyway. This moderate voice is sorely missing but is critical in keeping the country together. And the youth want to keep it together, as we want to be remembered as the generation who took India forward, not the one that cut India into two dozen pieces.

I hate telling people what to do, but the media does have a role in this. I agree that media is a business and TRPs matter above anything else. However, there are ethics in every business. Doctors make money off sick people, but it doesn’t mean they keep people sick and not heal them. If you find a moderate voice, highlight it as soon as a divisive voice appears. And don’t take sides, argue or debate it. Don’t validate the ridiculous. Focus on the greater cause.

The second mindset we need to change is that of elitism. From my early childhood days, to college, to professional and business life, and now in the publishing and entertainment circles, I have noticed a peculiar Indian habit of elitism. Maybe it is hard to achieve anything in India. But the moment any person becomes even moderately successful, educated, rich, famous, talented or even develops a fine taste, they consider themselves different from the rest. They begin to move in circles where the common people and their tastes are looked down upon. This means a large chunk of our most qualified, experienced, connected and influential people prefer to live air-conditioned lives in their bubble of like minded people. Naive people who elect stupid politicians – that is the bottomline for all Indian problems, and they want nothing to do with it. But tell me, if the thinking of the common people has to be changed, who is going to change it? What is the point of discussing solutions to Indian problems if there is no buy-in from the common man? Just because it feels good to be around like-minded, intelligent people? What is the use of this intelligence?

If you switch on the TV, seventy percent of the time you will see Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The reason is the media is centered in these cities. However, ninety percent of India is not this. Unless we represent these people properly, how will these people ever come with us?

Again, I am not making these points as a moral appeal. I think understanding India and being inclusive makes massive business sense. And trust me, it doesn’t take any coolness or trendiness away from you if you do it right. Look at me, I am the mass-iest English author ever invented in India. My books sell on railway stations and next to atta in Big Bazaar. I have an Indian publisher who operates from the bylanes of Darya Ganj. And yet, on orkut the most common words associated with my name are coolness and awesomeness – tags given by my wonderful readers. I think it is cooler to know how people think in the streets of Indore and Raipur than who’s walking the ramp in South Mumbai. You may have planned your next vacation abroad, but have you visited a small town lately? Have you shown your kids what the real India is like? Don’t you think they will need to know that as they grow up and enter the workforce. Yes, I want people to look down on elitism and develop a culture of inclusiveness. If you are educated, educate others. If you have good taste, improve others taste rather than calling theirs bad.

The last aspect where we need to change our thinking is our attitude to English. We have to embrace English like never before. Not England, but English. This point may sound contradictory to my previous one, but I am not talking about confining English to the classes, but really taking it to the grassroot level. English and Hindi can co-exist. Hindi is the mother and English is the wife. It is possible to love them both. In small towns, districts and even villages – we need to spread English. India already has a headstart as so many Indians speak English and we don’t have to get expat teachers like China does. But we must not confuse patriotism with the skills one needs to compete in the real world. If you are making an effort to start a school where none existed, why not give the people what will help them most. I can teach a villager geometry and physics in Hindi, but frankly when he goes to look for a job he is going to find that education useless. English will get him a job. Yes, I know some may say what will happen to Hindi and our traditional cultures. I want to ask these people to pull their kids out of English medium schools and then talk. If you go to small towns, English teaching classes are the biggest draw. There is massive demand for something that will improve people’s lives. I have no special soft spot for this language, but the fact is it works in the world of today. And if more English helps spread prosperity evenly across the country, trust me we will preserve our culture a lot better than a nation that can barely feed its people.

We are all passionate about making India better, so we can discuss this forever. But today I wanted to leave you with just three thoughts – politics of similarities, less elitism and more English that we need to build consensus on. If you agree with me, please do whatever you can in your capacity to make the consensus happen. It could be just a discussion with all your friends, or spreading these thoughts in a broader manner, if you have the means and power to do so. For the fact that we are sitting in this wonderful venue means our country has been kind to us. Let’s see what we can give back to our nation. Unquote.

I had also written something on values that we need to imbibe to get India its rightful place in the comity of nations. This can be read under the title, "Three-values-that-we-need-to-imbibe".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

GOD, RELIGION, EXISTENCE, ILLUSION.........

If you become aware of God's presence within you and also the presence of the same God in all else,

There is nothing to equal the peace and joy that you get.

Sathya Sai Baba



Many a times I have wondered, thought, read, discussed and debated about God and how each and every thing in this universe is His creation, and is also a part of Him. I also notice that many of us blog on the subject of God and have our own interpretation of what He is like. All this is but an attempt to fathom the why, what, where, how of our existence and its relationship with God, or the Creator. We have many religions in this world - each attempting to answer questions that are eternal.

What is religion? A way to God. There is only one God - He has many different names though. If that be so, then it should be unifying and not divisive, because if the Creator is one then all paths should lead to Him and thus should be convergent, and seem to be so, to every thinking individual. Yet we have discussions based on our individual faiths and beliefs of how my God is better, or how my religion has the answers to all of mankind's questions, and how all the other answers are not correct because they do not correspond to my faith or beliefs. Atheists have their own point of view. They question, "Have you seen God"?

I believe in God and believe Him to be my source and my end, like everyone else's too. I also believe that I have seen glimpses of Him during my journey through this life. In April 2009, I had put the following comment on one post by D. This comment was in response to a question in the post, of what is my God like? An excerpt of the comment is reproduced in the next para.


"I know that God exists - I have felt His presence many a times, when no human was around to give me strength, direction or solace. I have seen Him in many different forms basically dependent on my emotions - sometimes in awe-inspiring moments when I stood to admire the majestic hills and snow capped mountains in the North or while flying over the vast expanse of the seas at 100 ft; sometimes I have seen Him in the pure blissful innocent smile of a little child; sometimes in the indescribable beauty of a woman; sometimes in the sounds of silence in a jungle; I too don't blame Him for "For the way my life has shaped up". I do believe in Karma and Newton's third law of motion. I also believe that my God is very personal". My God is personal and I believe, so is everyone else's too.

I was reading an article titled "Beauty of the Divine" by Benoy K Behl in the July - August issue of "India Perspectives" magazine today. The following few paragraphs about Indian art (and its connection with the divine) were so interesting that I thought of reproducing excerpts of the same on my blog. The author has put in words some thoughts that appeared absolutely magical to me. They talk of the Creator, His creation and our illusions (maaya) The paragraphs are reproduced below.

"The art of ancient India brings before us a vision of great compassion. It is a view of the world which sees a harmony in the whole of creation. It sees the same which is in each of us, in the animals, the flowers, the trees, the leaves and even the breeze which moves the leaves. All that there is, is seen to be a reflection of the One.

The phenomenal world of separated beings and objects seen around us is an illusion, perceived and brought to us by our senses. This information provided by our senses is of a personal and and not an objective nature. Absorbed in this, we are blinded to the reality beyond. The primary illusion is the perception of ourselves as individual entities, which leads us on a path of egoic existence. On this path, we are distanced from the truth.

The high purpose of life is to seek reintegration with the One, to perceive ourselves as part of the beauty of the One, the divine. To see oneself as a part of the divinity of existence. And thereby to lose the pain of a life caught in the web of endless desires.

The aesthetic experience is considered to be of great value in Indian thought. It lifts the veils of illusion which hide the truth from our eyes. Our experience of beauty when we respond to a sunrise or to a great work of art is seen to be a moment when we perceive the Grace which underlies the whole of creation. In that moment, the veils of illusion of the material nature of the world are lifted and we see beyond.... In that instant it is not our material preoccupations which fill our consciousness and thereby blind us to the greater reality".

What are your beliefs? Have you seen or felt God, or His presence? How?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

SECULARISM IS ABOUT FAITH AND RESPECT

I received the following article by email and thought that this is just the right kind of attitude that we need; a definition and understanding of secularism, which is way different from the West, that India with its many religions needs. I thought of sharing the original article, author unknown, to solicit your views and opinions. So, here is the original article.....

Any one more secular than the army

As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular' during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.

In the army, each officer identifies with the religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs, masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army. It saved us the walk.

Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.

In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual Yatra. It said, 'Best wishes from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.

On another instance, I remember a commanding officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal casualties.

One day, the junior commissioned officer of the company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major Sharma and said, "Sahib, ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"

Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar went away and that night, huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!

How many of us know that along the entire border with Pakistan, our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays? The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious significance for the Muslims.

In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.

I remember the first Sikh festival days after the event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand."

We were deployed on the Line of Control those days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.

The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards this post, we will mow you down."

Finally, a real -- and true -- gem....

Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were overheard discussing this a day before Christmas.

"Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?" asked Sepoy Singh.

"It is Christmas," replied the wiser Naik Singh.

"But what is Christmas?"

"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp, "is the guruparb of the Christians."

Monday, November 9, 2009

LIFE - IS IT ALL ABOUT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!?

"Life is full circle", is what I have always heard from wiser people.

Having lived for over half a century, I was trying to analyse my own life ... and decide for myself on the wisdom of this saying. My thoughts took me back to my childhood - starting with the time when my mental faculties started registering the external world, and phenomenon.....I see my grand daughter doing the same these days - its a treat to watch her busy, doing nothing, throughout the day... she can make a play out of anything.... she can help me with any task... no task seems complicated to her... she can put her bare hands inside a warmed up oven to check whether the pizza is ready; or she can open the vacuum cleaner to set it right... popping all the screws in her tiny little mouth... every small missing object can be found there.... eventually.... the bigger ones can be seen close to her mouth, of course, being slobbered with her saliva. All of us go through this stage in our lives, I too have, I am told.

As a child, I had many questions about everything and looked for answers from anyone...parents initially, then grand parents, relatives, teachers and so on, as I advanced in life. The answers provided were stored for future use. I went to school and learned a number of subjects - from languages to history, geography, civics, social studies, physics, chemistry, biology, maths and so on... I never got to use most of these subjects that I had learnt in school.

Reached National Defence Academy and learnt many more subjects like military history, wood work, casting moulds, working on a lathe, photography besides other things like physical exercises, cross country, riding, drill etc. Once again never got to use most of the skills and subjects learned.

However, while going through each of these classes in school and NDA, I and others like me, had a large number of questions to which we were required to provide answers when it was time for the exams, so as to pass the exam, and move on. Our questions were endless and someone who had the answers, like our teachers and instructors, would help us with the answers. Finding answers on our own, by reading, and inquiring from others around was also resorted to. As we kept growing we were required to find answers on our own by comprehending what was taught, and by doing independent research. The brain and the mind slowly started expanding. I had questions AND had also acquired the skill of finding the answers on my own. I got into flying thereafter....

I was back to square one... again too many questions and very few answers. Flyiing in those days looked like it was designed for the birds and bees only....considering how effortlessly they performed this very difficult task - my perspective at that time. Only way out... take the instructors word as Gospel. This helped. Slowly flying became something that was manageable... a time came when I started to enjoy flying... and then.... soon thereafter, came a time when I started experimenting with things for which no one had provided me with answers. I felt like an ace and the air seemed to be my playground. I could take off and land on the runway (a basic requirement for manned flight, but considered more than enough by me), and make the aircraft perform manoeuvres that I wanted it to, whether in proximity to another aircraft, or singly. During this phase I took part in many simulated war like exercises and eventually the 26th January flypast. Felt that I had mastered the art of flying....... The IAF also acknowledged my performance and I was detailed to undergo the flying instructor's course.

After five months of this course, I realised to my horror how little I knew about flying... I shared two of the three trophies at the end of this course... and should have been visibly proud. Instead at the farewell dinner I was standing with my instructor, with tears in my eyes, and asking him, "how can I teach flying, when this course has taught me one thing, and that is... how little I know about it myself. How can I teach someone when I myself donot have all the answers". My instructor was a seasoned instructor. He told me, "don't worry, the pupil would know nothing about flying and you would do well" and to reassure me said that, "all of us have been through this - we made it - you too would and remember - you are not the first one with such questions". Well, this advice proved very sound - I made it as an instructor for the first six months and until my second course, when I had a BORN FLIER as my pupil.....

I could not demonstrate any manoeuvre to him, as well as he could perform it on his own... I would feel inadequate as an instructor but the only thing that I could tell him was... you are going to be an asset to the IAF one day, if you can live through the first 500 hours of flying. Being better than your instructor can give one a huge dose of overconfidence... and over confidence without experience, in flying, is a killer. I am happy to say that this pupil went through some trying experiences in the Academy, due to his overconfidence. I am also very happy that he managed to live beyond 500 hours of flying, and has lived up to my forecast of being an asset for the IAF. This pupil kept me busy trying to find answers to questions that he would not ask, but to which he needed to have the answers.

Life beyond this stage was on the upswing... I had answers to nearly every question that came my way in my profession....

Professional life was at an upswing, and was reaching a stage where I had no further questions. Thereafter, I donot know when my professional and non-professional lives merged and I started to get the feeling that I had answers to every question or situation in life. I did not have any questions anymore.... I never did realise that this was not a healthy, or normal state, for a mortal like me. I knew everything about everything, or so I felt. I could contribute my four anna bit into any conversation, on any subject. I never realised it until one day.....

I was going for a walk with my younger brother (a graduate of Electronics Engineering from BHU-IT; MBA in marketing from IIM Ahmedabad and Ph. D in Finance from Pittsburgh, USA). We were talking about Finance and got onto discussing the stock market. I started advising him on what stocks to buy, and why. He kept listening to me with a smile on his face (until after this, I had never noticed these things; I had advised him on so many matters, on which he was the expert). Being of Indian descent, he would keep quiet in deference to his elder brother, but this once I had probably gone too far. He smiled and spoke only one line, after listening to my persistent advice on stocks and said, "Bhape (Elder Brother), I have a Ph.D in Finance". I shut my mouth thereafter, and realised my great folly. Instead of having questions to ask of this expert, I was providing him with answers on his area of expertise. It set me thinking..... many years of thought, and practice, have made me realise.....

....that at no stage can I have all the answers. I can have some answers pertaining to my chosen profession; some pertaining to my life, based on my experiences - but all these cannot be universal - they need to be adapted to changing situations, as change is the only constant in life. As I grow older, the number of questions to which I have no answers keeps growing - my answers seem inadequate at times, and I feel that I am becoming a seeker once again.

From 'questions only', after birth, to 'only answers' at the top of the circle, I have come to 'more questions than answers' once again...... is it possible that I would die like I was born - 'only questions, no answers'...

I actually do believe so, the way things are going. Life will go full circle???

What is your experience? What do you feel??

Friday, October 23, 2009

EAST AND WEST - WILL THE TWAIN EVER MEET??

East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet - Rudyard Kipling. From his poem......“The Ballad of East and West"

Having lived most of my life (about 49 years) in India, and part of it (about 7 years) in North America, I am always fascinated about the way things are done in this part of the world. They are done differently for sure, and I always try to find the reason "Why". The answer always eludes me but I keep trying. Here is one such attempt.

I take off from Bangalore at 02:10 am on 25th September and land in Toronto at 13:30 hours on 25th September itself, after a nearly 24 hour flight. How? Time zone, earth's rotation etc. Pretty logical and rational. However, what has always caught my fancy is that when the sun rises in India, it is setting here. When it is day in India, it is night here and the other way around. Why? Rationally the same answers again but why was it thus designed by the Designer?

My faith tells me that this world was designed by God, in play, to enjoy the sight of many, from one. It also tells me that this external world is all 'maaya' - illusion, brought to life by our five senses and ego, besides other factors. Everything exists within us, and the external world is just a trigger for us to reach inside, and evolve, I am told. Is this true? If that be so, then what could be the reason for this difference in the times of day in this same world - is this a trigger for us to understand that these two worlds are designed in the opposite moulds for us to experience both, and then grow or evolve within, learning from both.

Two things that always fascinate me about the East and the West, at the macro level, are human relations and man-made systems. Taking human relations first...

I believe, in India, society is supreme and the individual has to conform - this translates to the fact that the human relations and interactions are non-negotiable - there is a 'maryada' about each relationship, which cannot be crossed in the normal course. A parent's word is final, in most cases, and the offsprings generally donot go against it, in a majority of the cases. Manifestations of this are seen in every sphere - be it marriage, choice of career, or in the choice of friends, school, college, etc. It is believed that the parent knows what is best for the individual and society, and a parent always acts in the best interest of the offspring and the society.

In the West, the individual is supreme and the society evolves around the individual. Even at a very young age, the individual is allowed to exercise their choice - starting with the TV channel to watch; of course, within certain man-made rules. The first time I witnessed this was when I went to my brother's house in New Jersey in 1989. They were four members and there were four types of breakfast cereals. Each one took his own type and we had four different types on the same table. I was also required to make my choice - "any is good enough", was not considered good enough. I was dumbfounded - coming from India - breakfast at home, was what was cooked, or served, and one ate that - what was the choice. Yes, one day breakfast could be of my choice and next day it could be my brother's/ sister's choice and so on.

As the individual keeps growing this sphere of exercise of individual choice keeps expanding and human relations become totally negotiable between parent and child and between each human and the others around. It is fascinating to watch these interactions. Some of them would be considered absolutely blasphemous in the Eastern part of the world. I thus find most humans here are ready to discuss and negotiate, whereas in India, most humans argue, as we have not learnt the art of negotiation from early on.

What is right or wrong? Do you believe one is better than the other - the system followed in the East or in the West?

Coming to man-made systems....

In India, these are always negotiable - be it jumping the redlight at a busy intersection or not forming a queue, when it is most desirable or bribing someone to circumvent the system or not wanting to wait one's turn.

In the West, these systems are absolutely non-negotiable. You stop at the STOP sign, even at midnight, even though you are the only car on the roads; you form queues wherever there are more than one person waiting for the same service, etc. This has a large number of advantages for common people. Are there any disadvantages? Maybe. What do you think?

There are many more such facts that I have witnessed. I wonder - is this by design? We all have similar mental faculties, of course layered by cultures and way of doing things. Dr. Brian Weiss's book, based on his scientific practice, "Only love is real" tells me that I could have lived in the East in one birth and maybe born in the West in the next birth. Is this God's way of ensuring my continued evolution to perfection? Can the East and West ever become one? EVER? or would that negate God's design?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CROWD PARTICIPATION....REALLY EXCITING!!!!

I had seen this video of the enactment of the song "Doe a deer.." on a platform in Belgium at this blog. I had enjoyed the video for its originality. It gave me great pleasure to watch.

I was narrating this to my son-in-law, who happens to be in the visual media field and he told me about another one performed in the streets of downtown Chicago. Watching this was a very exhilarating experience. Here's what happened....



I do hope some one can get something of this kind performed in one of our cities in India. Ordinary people's participation, alongwith paid performers, gives it a totally different feel.It can really lift people's spirits.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A SALUTE TO THE INDIAN AIR FORCE.

Some one forwarded this video to me and I thought of sharing this with you.

It gives some good snapshots of what the IAF is all about. Of course, it shows only the glamour part here; the hard work that goes into keeping these glamorous machines airborne, and flying for the purpose for which the IAF has been authorised by the people of India can only be sensed.

So, let the video talk - please keep your sound ON.

Friday, September 18, 2009

BRASSTACKS, DEPLOYMENT AND CRICKET DIPLOMACY!!

CONTINUED FROM "NEVER GOT TO USE SWIMMING TRUNKS"

We landed around mid-day and were instructed to taxy into blast pens dispersed all around the airfield. A little later we were given a briefing in the underground operations room, where we met the crew from a number of other fighter squadrons who had also moved to this location, or were staging through. The local squadrons had not yet moved out and thus there was a problem with accommodating so many of us - the messes are designed only for normal strength of officers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers and airmen. Our bedding and clothing was already positioned in a barrack with a large number of emergency cots put in until we could be given some better accommodation. "No lights - black out" was enforced on the station and thus when we reached the barrack at night, we had to find our cot by dimmed torchlights. Hit the bed and went off to sleep - woke up a little afterward as one of the glass panes on the window behind me was broken and there was cold draft of air coming in....somehow managed for the night and were shifted to better accommodation on the next day. Fast forward 19 years.....

.....I now fly for an airline. "Where would you like to stay in Delhi - Meridian, Taj or Radisson". "Why do you ask?, any of these is good enough, the cheapest for the company would be best", I answer. "Some pilots are very fussy and prefer one to the others", I am told. I am reminded of my nights in less than perfect beds, (what to talk of five star comfort and the other frills and fancies) when serving in the Indian Air Force as a pilot.

Back to 1987.... the next few days are very hectic with 24 hour activity on this, and all other bases.. preparations - we are permitted to fly to operational limits and this is an indication that things are serious. What had actually happened?.. To give you an idea - read the following excerpt from a working paper by P R Chari of the Henry L Stimson Center of Washington D.C. published in August 2003.


This crisis arose from the Indian military exercise code-named “Brasstacks,” and could have precipitated a war between India and Pakistan since it led to an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between their armed forces. A tense situation developed in which even a minor clash could have triggered a major conflict. The Brasstacks exercise — comparable to the largest military exercises held by NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War years—involved 10 divisions of the Indian army, including its two strike corps. It was held in northern Rajasthan, which is the most likely ‘jump-off’ area for India in any future hostilities. This led Pakistan to continue deploying its troops that were holding their winter exercises, in their exercise locations. Later, these troops moved closer to the Indo-Pak border in a dangerous maneuver which threatened a salient in the Punjab and/or disrupted communications between Kashmir and the rest of India. A massive airlift and ground movement of troops was then undertaken by India to occupy their defensive positions along the border, resulting in a further escalation of tensions. A flurry of diplomatic activity ensued drawing in the United States and the Soviet Union. President Reagan is understood to have telephoned Rajiv Gandhi and President Zia, instructing leaders to “cool it.” A telephone conversation between the two antagonists finally defused the crisis.

A nuclear threat is believed to have been issued to India during the crisis on January 28, 1987 by Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q. Khan during the course of an interview to a prominent Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayar, in the presence of a well-known Pakistani journalist, Mushahid Hussain. Apparently, Khan informed the two journalists that Pakistan had enriched uranium to weapons-grade and
affirmed that a nuclear device could be tested by simulation techniques. He then added, “Nobody can undo Pakistan or take us for granted. We are here to stay and let it be clear that we shall use the bomb if our existence is threatened.”45 This course of events is extremely unusual, but its veracity remains shrouded in mystery, since Khan later denied its contents. Doubts in this regard have been strengthened
since “much of the interview, though not its most provocative passages, was an unattributed, nearly verbatim repetition of an article Khan had written six months earlier in the Karachi English newspaper, Dawn.”46 Moreover, the crisis had peaked on January 26 when Pakistan agreed to send an official delegation to New Delhi for negotiating the withdrawal of troops from the border.47


The deployments had the desired affect when in an unprecedented move, the Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq came down to witness the cricket match between India and Pakistan at Jaipur on 21 Feb 1987, almost uninvited - cricket diplomacy, as it is termed. The tensions started to come down thereafter but our deployment continued, although the rest of the government and defence establishments that interface with the public had gone back to 5 day week. Ours was still a 24 x 7 affair.

I was posted out to another squadron during this deployment; and we were still at this forward base until I left for my new unit in end of April 1987. Our families continued to manage on their own during this unexpected and sudden deployment, like always - they also served by not asking too many questions; managing the homes and children, and just waiting for their loved ones to come back home.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NEVER GOT TO USE THE SWIMMING TRUNKS!

....and finally, "DO NOT FORGET TO CARRY YOUR SWIMMING TRUNKS". After nearly two hours of operational briefing, these words concluded our ferry and operations briefing on 20 January 1987.....

We were based in Gorakhpur and were planned to go to Goa for some Naval co-operation and Air to Ground firing off Dabolim naval air base on 21st January, for a two week detachment. All of us were excited to get away from the cold and enjoy the sun, sand and sea at Goa, besides of course getting our usual professional training of flying over the sea, and with the Indian Navy warships, as also practice some live firing over the range just South of Dabolim. All we carried as luggage was some shorts, some summer and some formal clothing for the Mess, and of course our swimming trunks...weekends were meant for fun.

As planned, on 21st ten of our aircraft took off for the 2 hour 15 minute ferry from Gorakhpur to Goa direct. We landed, were received and accommodated by the Navy in the crew room just below the ATC and my log book shows that we started our training flying immediately; this being a short week; 21st was a Wednesday. Did our usual full day of flying on 22nd. The detachment was going well and we were all looking forward to the weekend. 23rd - we finished our planned first detail and were getting ready to launch for the second detail; sometime around mid-day, as the Navy was practising the Republic day flypast over Dabolim airfield before that and had delayed our take-offs.

Our Commanding Officer (CO) has just walked to the aircraft when the phone rang - I being the closest picked it up and was surprised to hear, "Director Offensive Operations here, please get your CO on line". This is not a normal call.... a normal call comes through the exchange with PAs piping in etc. I informed the Director that "CO had walked to the aircraft", and enquired, "should I call him back?", to which he replied, "Yes". I sent for the CO. He too was surprised to be called back, looked inquiringly at me and took the phone. The conversation was not audible but the message was very clear to all of us there, as the CO kept listening, said "Yes sir", sat down and told the Director that he would call him back in half an hour, after firming up the plan.

The look on his face told us that something serious had come up. I asked him about the destination so that we could get the maps ready, and he gave us the name of a forward base in Punjab - the temperature there on the night of 22nd January was below freezing. Our CO had been asked by the Director to fly with 12 fully serviceable fighters to this base immediately - we had only 10 in Goa. Our CO worked the plan in his mind and called Air HQ and told the Director that none of us had any winter clothing or bedding and thus he did not think it would be right to ferry out immediately, as all pilots and other personnel would fall sick and the whole purpose of the move would be defeated. He suggested that a transport aircraft could be sent to Goa to pick up one officer and one airmen who would be transported to Gorakhpur; pick up winter clothing and bedding from the houses of all the personnel through the night and take-off early morning for the base in Punjab. As soon as this transport aircraft landed in the base, the fighters would take off from Goa. He said that if all went as per plan then the fighters would take off from Goa between 8 - 10 am depending on weather in Punjab - this airfield gets thick fog in the mornings.

Sure enough, an AN-32 landed at Goa at around 3 pm and the crew told us that they were doing local flying at Yelahanka, Bangalore and were told on radio, in the air, to position at Goa straightaway. This transport aircraft was not even allowed to land back at Yelahanka to pick up their clothing; they were not aware of the mission beyond Goa. Fortunately our transport crew always carry an overnighter when flying.

One officer and airmen from our squadron took off in the AN-32, after the aircraft refuelled. We got our maps and briefings ready for departure the next day. Next morning we got a call that the AN-32 was on its way to our destination, with all our needed equipment, winter clothing and bedding.

We took off, as planned - two four aircraft formations and one two aircraft - first formation, Arrow formation,led by our CO. We were pleasantly surprised to find the Bombay ATC speaking in a different tone. Normally civilian controllers donot understand what the fighters do.... fighters take the shortest route due to fuel constraints; these sometimes cut across busy airways, and this fact is not appreciated by civilian controllers, and rightly so. The Air Force positions IAF controllers to assist the civilian controllers manage the fighter traffic during emergencies. We did not know this at the time, but this had been done and that is how, we were given our choice levels to help us reach our destination, without refuelling enroute.

As we kept flying North, it was evident that something was on, as the AF radars were giving pigeons to destination(course and distance to destination), without our asking, so as to minimise radio calls... many different fighter squadrons - Tiger, Panther, Archers, to name a few, from different bases were airborne and we could count the squadrons by their call signs... nearly the entire fighter fleet of the IAF was airborne positioning to war locations. The radar controllers were aware of who was heading where. Radio was crisp, short and professional and everyone was aware that something big had happened and none of us knew what exactly had happened.

There was no way to inform the families - they guessed something was on when they were asked by a squadron officer to get the winter clothing and bedding ready for each one of us, and that someone would come to collect it any time during the night. The last of the stuff was collected at about 5 am on 24th January. My wife had envied me going to Goa; away from the Gorakhpur winter and now she did not know which way we were headed, except that it was cold there. Every fauji family lives through this sort of a thing, and without complaints.... they also serve who sit and wait, for the loved ones to come home. She had grudgingly given me my swimming trunk ..... which I never had the opportunity to use, before flying out of Goa.

............................TO BE CONTINUED.....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

RICK REILLY'S EXPERIENCE IN THE BACK SEAT OF A F-14 TOMCAT

The article below was written in 1999 by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated and is titled, "On a wing and a prayer".

I received this as a forward by email and thought of sharing it - in case any of you ever get invited to fly in a fighter cockpit....this would be helpful. This is written by an American with an American perspective, and also with a little bit of humour mixed with a pinch (handful)of salt.

So, tighten your straps and enjoy the flight!!!


An F-14 taking off with both afterburners lit up. (Image Courtesy Google Image Search)

Quote: Now this message is for America 's most famous athletes:


Someday you may be invited to fly in the back-seat of one of your country's
most powerful fighter jets. Many of you already have. John Elway,
John Stockton, Tiger Woods to name a few. If you get this opportunity,
let me urge you, with the greatest sincerity.... Move to Guam .

Change your name.

Fake your own death!

Whatever you do.
Do Not Go!!!

I know.

The U.S. Navy invited me to try it. I was thrilled. I was pumped.
I was toast! I should've known when they told me my pilot would
be Chip (Biff) King of Fighter Squadron 213 at Naval Air Station
Oceana in Virginia Beach ..

Whatever you're thinking a Top Gun named Chip (Biff) King looks
like, triple it. He's about six-foot, tan, ice-blue eyes, wavy surfer hair,
finger-crippling handshake -- the kind of man who wrestles
dyspeptic alligators in his leisure time. If you see this man, run the
other way. Fast.

Biff King was born to fly. His father, Jack King, was for years the
voice of NASA missions. ('T-minus 15 seconds and counting'. Remember?)
Chip would charge neighborhood kids a quarter each to hear his dad.
Jack would wake up from naps surrounded by nine-year-olds waiting
for him to say, 'We have liftoff'.

Biff was to fly me in an F- 14D Tomcat, a ridiculously powerful $60 million
weapon with nearly as much thrust as weight, not unlike Colin Montgomerie.
I was worried about getting airsick, so the night before the flight I asked
Biff if there was something I should eat the next morning.

'Bananas,' he said.

'For the potassium?' I asked.

'No,' Biff said, 'because they taste about the same coming up
as they do going down.'

The next morning, out on the tarmac, I had on my flight suit with my name
sewn over the left breast. (No call sign -- like Crash or Sticky or Leadfoot.
But, still, very cool.) I carried my helmet in the crook of my arm, as Biff had
instructed. If ever in my life I had a chance to nail Nicole Kidman,
this was it.

A fighter pilot named Psycho gave me a safety briefing and then fastened
me into my ejection seat, which, when employed, would 'egress' me out
of the plane at such a velocity that I would be immediately knocked
unconscious.

Just as I was thinking about aborting the flight, the canopy closed over me,
and Biff gave the ground crew a thumbs-up In minutes we were firing nose
up at 600 mph. We leveled out and then canopy-rolled over another F-14.

Those 20 minutes were the rush of my life. Unfortunately, the ride lasted 80.
It was like being on the roller coaster at Six Flags Over Hell. Only
without rails.
We did barrel rolls, snap rolls, loops, yanks and banks. We dived, rose and
dived again, sometimes with a vertical velocity of 10,000 feet per minute.
We chased another F-14, and it chased us.



We broke the speed of sound. Sea was sky and sky was sea. Flying at
200 feet we did 90-degree turns at 550 mph, creating a G force of 6.5,
which is to say I felt as if 6.5 times my body weight was smashing
against me, thereby approximating life as Mrs.. Colin Montgomerie.

And I egressed the bananas.

And I egressed the pizza from the night before.

And the lunch before that.

I egressed a box of Milk Duds from the sixth grade.

I made Linda Blair look polite. Because of the G's, I was egressing
stuff that never thought would be egressed.

I went through not one airsick bag, but two.

Biff said I passed out. Twice. I was coated in sweat. At one point,
as we were coming in upside down in a banked curve on a mock
bombing target and the G's were flattening me like a tortilla and I
was in and out of consciousness, I realized I was the first person
in history to throw down.

I used to know 'cool'. Cool was Elway throwing a touchdown pass,
or Norman making a five-iron bite.. But now I really know 'cool'.
Cool is guys like Biff, men with cast-iron stomachs and freon nerves.
I wouldn't go up there again for Derek Jeter's black book, but I'm
glad Biff does every day, and for less a year than a rookie reliever
makes in a home stand.

A week later, when the spins finally stopped, Biff called. He said
he and the fighters had the perfect call sign for me. Said he'd
send it on a patch for my flight suit.

What is it? I asked.

'Two Bags.'

Don't you dare tell Nicole. Unquote.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

HAPPINESS - A QUEST

Happiness is illusive to most of us. We do one thing after another to be happy. We set goals; we focus on the goals; achieve them, all to reach a state of happiness, and still find that we are not happy.

Happiness, as defined in wikipedia, "is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy". We are all looking to reach that state; some through earning more and more wealth; some through buying things that they want - the latest gadget, a dream car, etc.; some through marrying the person of their choice; some through looking and finding the career of their choice; some by immigrating to faraway lands; and through many other means. Did we find the happiness that we sought through all these means listed above, and which are widely sought after by most of us? Having been through over 56 years of life, I can unequivocally state that the answer is a definite "No". Why? Primarily because we have been looking for it in the wrong place. The power to be happy is in our own minds, and not in the external world in which we keep looking for it. Yes, we do get fleeting pleasures from the external world and stimuli - a new car of one's dreams gives great pleasure but the first scratch gives an equal amount of pain.

Happiness is always in the present moment and not in the distant or near future, and so it is important to enjoy the journey by accepting what comes one's way, rather than waiting for events to turn, as per one's own wants. Children have this unique ability and somehow we adults loose it in the process of growing up. My grand daughter gave me a number of lessons; the most important being that I was most happy when I saw her happy - happiness comes when one makes another happy - we are human - we are interdependent in every which way - we cannot be happy when others around us are unhappy.

I found these quotes, on the subject of happiness, that I really love, and thought that I would put them down here for easy reference......they do make a lot of sense to me and are really good food for thought, and for reflection.

1. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful............Herman Cain

2. Happiness resides not in posessions and not in gold; the feeling of happiness dwells in the soul .........................................Democritus

3. Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities ................Aldous Huxley

4. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion ....................Dalai Lama

5. I am very happy
Because I have conquered myself
And not the world.
I am very happy
Because I have loved the world
And not myself .............Sri Chinmoy

6. There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you .............David Burns

7. People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be ............Abraham Lincoln

8. Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony .............. Mahatma Gandhi

9. Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom ...................Marcel Proust

10. If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years ....................Bertrand Russell

11. To be able to find joy in another's joy, that is the secret of happiness .........George Bernanos

12. We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it .............George Bernard Shaw

13. A happy life consists in tranquillity of mind .........Marcus Tullius Cicero

14. Men spend their lives in anticipations,—in determining to be vastly happy at some period when they have time. But the present time has one advantage over every other—it is our own. Past opportunities are gone, future have not come. We may lay in a stock of pleasures, as we would lay in a stock of wine; but if we defer the tasting of them too long, we shall find that both are soured by age ..................
Charles Caleb Colton

15. Happiness is where we find it, but rarely where we seek it ......J. Petit Senn

15. Our happiness is greatest when we contribute most to the happiness of others .........Harriet Shepard

16. When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy .........Samuel Goldwyn

17. When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us .......Helen Keller

18. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go .........Oscar Wilde

19. Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain .......Unknown

20. Happiness depends upon ourselves ...................Aristotle

21. The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty-stricken man makes the same mistake about the rich man ...........George Bernard Shaw

What has been your experience with happiness in life? Do you agree or strongly disagree with any of the quotes above? Your comments are solicited.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BUILDING INDIA'S FOUNDATION

This afternoon we were watching a TV programme, "India's got talent". It is a beautiful programme which show cases the best of Indian talent, in any field. The only requirement for winning is that the act should entertain people. The three judges are Shekhar Kapur, Sonali Bendre and Kiron Kher. There have been many acts performed on this show by people of all ages and from different strata of society - some individually, and some as part of a larger group. The creativity and talent of people from small towns and big cities of India is immeasurable, if only some one goes out and looks for it - this has already been proven in the numerous musical reality shows like, "Sa Re Ga Ma" and others. What amazed one was the creativity of people from relatively deprived sections of society; people who spend their time thinking of the bare necessities of life - roti, kapda and makaan(maybe).

This afternoon was a repeat telecast of a semi-final performance - six acts were performed. Each one of them was brilliant by itself; and it is left to the people of India, through votes, to decide on which two of these acts would propel the participants in to the finals. The act that impressed me the most was the one performed by a group of young people from the construction industry (they did not want to disclose what they did for a living so as not to bias the country into voting for them out of sympathy - these kids actually the know the meaning of hard work and self respect - God bless them). The TV footage though gave one an idea that they were construction workers. This bunch of kids were from Berhampur in Orissa.

The last time they had performed, it was just mind boggling - they had painted themselves with something like lead paint and had depicted the mythological events in Lord Krishna's life, including the famous Mahabharata scene in which Arjuna is on the chariot with Lord Krishna - it was done so beautifully and artistically that one actually felt that the horses of the chariot were moving. They had practiced and perfected this on the beach at Gopalpur, they said, as they do not have a large enough place to practice. The act was exceptional and showed their devotion to the art, their creativity, and rightfully so, they were selected by the judges for the next level. I found this video on youtube - though I must confess that it does not do full justice to the live act that we saw on TV.



In this next level, the semi-final, they performed another act with the Tricolour as their main theme, reason being that this show was being telecast around the independence day. The imagination, the use of colours and the depiction of the human flag(they had painted themselves in orange, white and green), in myriad ways, was so artistic that one could not help but admire them for their talent. The judges, the live audience were all spell bound and so were my wife and I, at home; and so would many more like us who had witnessed it on the TV.

These boys through their act gave many important messages - the most important ones being that, "one can always find the 'how', when one is convinced about the 'why' and also about modern management's bug bear - "teamwork and leadership". (Some of the team members are physically disabled, but are still accommodated in the acts). I do hope that this group reaches the finals and wins - Rs 50 Lakhs would change their lives for sure. The judges were very impressed and their comments were very insightful.



Kiron Kher and Sonali Bendre were impressed and gave glowing comments; Sonali also said that she personally would vote for them; but the comments by Shekhar Kapur had tears in his own eyes and also in those of us who were watching - my respect for him has grown with every episode of this programme that I have watched. His remarks were very incisive and showed his deep understanding of life. He said that each one of us performs, and progresses, in life while standing on the shoulders of the 'Jawan', the 'Kisan', and the 'Mazdoor'. Even our late PM Lal Bahadur Shastri had given us the slogan, "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan"; he had missed out the mazdoor.

This statement by Shekhar Kapur needs to be remembered, and more importantly internalised, so that we feel humbly obliged to treat them with the respect that they so truely deserve. Why?? Simply because they build the firm foundation on which we can grow our personal and professional lives; as also build the India of our dreams. Is this is what is meant by, "dignity of labour"?

Monday, August 3, 2009

FROM MY LOG BOOK - PART III

Continued from Part II.

The trip from Leh to Base camp via Thoise was absolutely out of this world. The Mi-8 climbed over Leh and then hopped over Khardungla onto the Shyok valley. The helicopter had been stripped off of all equipment that is not required to climb over the pass. The winds at these altitudes in the mountains create their own set of problems. However, the helicopter pilots were experienced and made the whole thing look like routine. We met the Army people at Base camp. We were briefed on the sortie; switched helicopters; from the heavier Mi-8 to the the lighter Cheetah, with skis. Siachen glacier is the second longest glacier in the non polar world, and is about 70 kms long. We took off for the sortie in the Cheetah.

The glacier was a white expanse of snow with snow covered mountains on either side and light clouding on top - ideal conditions for whiteout. - "Whiteout is a weather condition in which visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow and diffuse lighting from overcast clouds". Everything looked white and the horizon was not discernible, making it very difficult to decide on what is right side up. It seems as if one is enclosed inside a white ping pong ball. The helicopters were being stretched to their limits; the French (manufacturers) had opined that these helicopters were not designed for these altitudes. However, our aircrew operated them successfully on the glacier.

Our chopper was flying at very low heights and it seemed that we could touch the white virgin snow. The chopper pilots told us that the fresh snow made their task very difficult. They also told us that it made the task of the Army even more difficult, as snow covered the crevices and posed a hazard to the Army troops that marched up and down the glacier. We passed various Army camps on the glacier - small posts with personnel positioned there permanently for a duration of time. The environmental conditions, and the living conditions, as we saw them from the helicopter made us feel that we were living in 5-star comfort in Leh. This being our Army's first year on the glacier - the conditions were very basic, to say the least; things, in terms of living conditions, have since improved, although the natural environment has not altered materially - temperatures of -50 degree Celsius are normal; with snow storms and other high altitude phenomenon like strong winds, snow drift, avalanches are part of the major hazards.

The glacier slopes upward gradually and helicopter was following the slope of the glacier, slowly gaining height. We reached Sia La. The chopper pilots did not want us to get out of the helicopter, as the helicopter could not switch off at that altitude - oil congeals and it becomes difficult to restart the engine thereafter. We had carried some mail for the troops there and handed them over to the jawans - lighting up their faces - letters and news from home is always welcome, specially so at these desolate places. The jawans did not let us close the chopper door thereafter. They insisted that we get off the chopper - the chopper pilots relented and told us that we could go out for 2 minutes. Those two minutes were spent with us meeting with all the jawans and getting a feel of the area and the prospective targets. We took a picture with the tricolour and the jawans based at this pass. The soldiers requested us to send some old magazines for them, so that they could keep in touch with what is happening - it's a different world out there, you see.


Any visitor is welcome here, as it breaks the monotonous life of the soldiers based there - imagine sitting at over 18000 ft on a glacier with no means of leaving for an extended period - you have trekked up and will live there for a, hopefully, pre-defined period and trek down on completion, if all goes well. Living at these altitudes is a task by itself for normal humans born and brought up in those regions. Imagine the degree of difficulty for some of our troops that have been based at Siachen that have never used blankets, let alone quilts - troops from the southern parts of India. Some of us have a feeling that the Army fights only during the war - well, they fight the elements, besides the enemy, every day along our borders, some of which in the North and the East of our country are really breathtakingly beautiful but are a nightmare to defend against external aggression, as we saw during the Kargil war. Loss of limb and life is not only during war; it happens on a nearly daily basis at these places. Frost bite, pulmonary oedema are two of the major reasons for these losses; it happens in the 'line of duty' - a term that all our troops are very familiar with.

We then were taken to Bilafond La. Once again the chopper could not switch off here and the pilots did not permit us to get out of the helicopter because we had to leave early. The mail was passed on to the troops and they were heart broken when we said that we could not come out - they did the next best thing - they insisted that we have at least a welcome drink, to which we said ok, if they could hurry up. Within no time we were handed over steel glasses which felt warm to the touch - the drink was warm orange squash laced with rum. We fighter pilots had the same and the chopper pilots were given orange squash only. We took off and returned back to base camp; thanked the helicopter pilots; the Army and took off for Leh in the Mi-8. This trip was an experience - it taught us many lessons, besides giving us an insight into what we are up against. One of the most important lessons that I learnt can be summed up in the words of a hoarding that I had seen on Marine drive in Bombay in 1976, "I complained because I had no shoes, until I met someone without feet".

Our trip to the glacier; our meeting with our Army brethren - some of them disabled due to the natural elements convinced us that our living conditions at Leh with all its shortfalls was actually 5-star, relatively speaking. I can only salute the work that our personnel in Olive Green do during peace and war, and personally feel that they rightfully deserve our respect and gratitude for doing what they do to keep us secure as a nation.

I found this video on youtube which may give one an idea of the living conditions on Siachen glacier.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

THOUGHTS OF CAPT. VIKRAM BATRA'S TWIN

I received the following by email, as a forward. I wanted to share these thoughts.

My dream of visiting Vikram as a commanding officer of a regiment couldn’t come true. But he still commands—in the hearts of the soldiers posted in Kargil and Drass
When I talk about Luv, I don’t know where to begin. Capt. Vikram Batra PVC (posthumous) is Luv, and I, his younger twin, Kush. His identical twin. Ours was a childhood spent in the hills of Palampur making the most of our identical looks—playing pranks, filling in for each other and at times even getting punished for one another’s mistakes. The similarity ran deeper than looks. We also had the same interests. Both of us started playing table tennis at the age of ten. It’s another story that Vikram went on to become the school champion for five consecutive years. But I’d like to believe that I had a big hand in that. After all, I chose to lose to him in the semi-finals in the fifth year so that he could make the school record. But deep in my heart, I know that my brother—Shershah of Kargil—was a winner right from the start.

Shershah of Kargil. That’s what the enemy too called Vikram. That’s the mark he made on them on those unforgiving mountains of Kargil. I don’t know at what stage Vikram marched on way ahead of all of us. We’d grown up as regular kids, making our choices as we went along. The first different choice that I remember is when our father started giving us Rs 50 a month for the school bus fare. I chose to travel to school by bus. Vikram opted to walk it and instead spend those rupees in the canteen. As we grew up, Vikram opted for the Army, and I, rejected thrice by the Services Selection Board, settled for business administration. How thrilled he was when he made it to the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun.

It was 6 December 1997. Vikram Batra’s dream came true. He took the oath as an Officer of the Indian Army: The Safety, Honour and Welfare of your country comes first, always and every time / The Honour, Welfare and Comfort of the men you command comes next / Your own Ease, Comfort and Safety comes last, always and every time. /
Mom and Dad pinned up the stars on his shoulder. He stood there smiling from ear to ear in his crew cut and several kilos thinner after the rigorous training. It was a grand moment. But it wasn’t going to be an easy life and Vikram knew that.

When he’d come home on annual leave, we would talk for hours about the challenges he faced in Sopore—the strife-torn town in Jammu & Kashmir’s Baramulla district—which was his first posting. He had been commissioned into 13 JAK Rif. We would dream of the day he would command his regiment and I would get a chance to attend some of the regimental functions with his family and children. That dream is lost now.

Never could I have imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that the stories we saw in the famous TV serial, Param Vir Chakra, which we watched at a neighbour’s house in 1985 (we didn’t have a TV at home back then) would one day become so real for me. And Vikram would be the hero. Vikram was awarded the country’s highest gallantry award, posthumously. He was only 24. His famous words from the height of 18,000 feet: “Yeh Dil Maange More,” after victory over the enemy, still ring in my ears.

It’s been ten years. A lot has changed. And a lot has remained the same. I have many more grey strands in my hair. Vikram is as youthful as ever. Time cannot touch him. In these last ten years, I have longed to visit those mountains that he conquered. And then suddenly, out of the blue, I got a call to travel to Kargil and Drass. It was as if Vikram was calling me to have a chat with him. I didn’t look back, packed my bags and set out to meet him.

I landed in Leh at 10:30 in the morning on 2 July, five days before Vikram’s tenth death anniversary. The valley was more beautiful than it is made out to be in books. From the snow-capped hills surrounding it, I could almost sense Vikram looking at me. I then began the road trip to Drass to meet him. The mountain wind blew faster than the speed of the car and in my mind there was just one picture—of the bearded young man who had become a legend for pushing the enemy back at insurmountable heights where even life does not exist.

A little outside Leh, we reached Gurdwara Pathar Sahib. I said a prayer for Vikram and for all those great soldiers guarding those mountains and our motherland. I recalled what Vikram had written in one of his last letters before the attack: ‘Life is at total risk. Anything can happen here. Take care of yourself and Mom and Dad… My picture has appeared in The Times Of India. Keep a copy for me. I want to see it once I’m back.’ The picture had appeared on the front page of The Times of India on 2 July 1999. It showed him standing with an anti-aircraft gun and weapons he had captured from Pakistani soldiers. This was after the first ferocious attack on Peak 5140 launched after they performed pooja at the Ghumri Base Camp with the call of “Durga Mata Ki Jai”.

Vikram and his men captured point 5140 on 20 June 1999, and two weeks later, when his company launched the attack on point 4875 on 5 July, Vikram was fatally wounded—hit by sniper fire. The company captured the peak, but after 11 casualties. Vikram was one of them.

It was months later, at the Western Command headquarters, when I met the junior commissioned officer (JCO) who was with Vikram the day he was fatally wounded. He was the last man to speak with Vikram. Sub Major Raghunath Singh started wailing when he saw me. He solved the mystery of my twin’s death for me: a young officer, Vikram’s junior, was hit and crying for help. The JCO wanted to go out to help but Vikram stopped him. “The enemy was firing heavily. ‘You have a family and children back home, I will do this,’ saahab said. He stopped me with these words and went out,” Raghunath Singh told me as he wept like a baby, inconsolably. But Vikram was hit by sniper fire. Having realised that, the charged company went berserk, mad with rage at their leader being hit, and killed the enemy soldiers. The tricolour was planted atop point 4875—they call it Batra Top now. Vikram reached Palampur before the sun rose on 11 July 1999. He was wrapped in the tricolour, lying calm almost as if he was trying to catch up on sleep he had lost during these arduous assaults on those treacherous peaks.

Was I really so close to those peaks that I could almost see him fighting there? I wanted to reach up there as fast as possible, but the track was treacherous—the rocky mountain on one side and the sheer fall on the other. In some time, we had left the Indus River behind.

It was a breathtaking journey. A place so beautiful and yet caught in the crossfire of war a decade ago. Midway, at one of the military posts, we had lunch with the commanding officer of 4 JAK Rif. I also met an officer six months senior to Vikram—now a major—and a JCO, both of whom had fought the war together with Vikram. “You look so much like Vikram Sir,” the JCO said and hugged me. I’ve been told that a billion times in the last ten years. There are people now who know me as Captain Vikram Batra’s brother. Many of them even walk into my office at ICICI Bank in Delhi and stare at me as if they know me. Some of them even say, “We’ve seen you somewhere.” When I tell them I’m Captain Batra’s twin, they say, “Oh, ‘Yeh Dil Mange More,’” and shake my hand.

My dream of visiting Vikram as a commanding officer of a regiment couldn’t come true. But Vikram still commands. He’s there in the hearts of the soldiers posted in Kargil and Drass. In that mountain named after him (the Batra Top). And in the transit camp in Drass, called Capt Batra Transit Camp, where weary soldiers break their journey in the call of duty.

‘Call of duty’, the mention of these words takes me back to the days he was to be commissioned as an officer. When he was in the IMA, the footnote of Vikram’s letter pad read, ‘If Death comes to me before I prove my blood, I promise I’ll kill Death.’ You kept your word, Vikram. My Brother, My Twin, I salute you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

FROM MY LOG BOOK - PART II

In continuation from here........

Our first landing at Leh was an experience. We were still relatively shielded from the army and thus at least I had no clue about Op Meghdoot. We were ready to ferry back, now that the trial landings were a success. Instead we now had orders to continue at Leh until further orders. These further orders were received on 25 Sep 84, when it was no longer feasible or required to operate from Leh - five day trial landings became a five month sojourn at Leh - this is not abnormal in the fauj. Faujis don't complain because they make the best of the worst that is meted out to them - it is this 'never give up' and 'make the best of everything, with very minimal complaint' spirit that I love about the fauj. Coming back to Leh...

We had flown in the valleys North of Bagdogra and Tezpur, but had never landed at such high altitude. Some of us had landed at Srinagar, elevation about 5000 ft, but Leh was close to 11000 ft. What's the big deal? Two things come to mind; first is the mind itself, which happens to be the biggest problem, and secondly of course are the physical limitations, which can be overcome; and the limitations of the machine, which should not be transgressed under normal conditions. However, this was not a normal condition. In this instance, the mind had got no chance to be prepared for this mission - this normally happens in the fauj, because surprise and secrecy are two of the basic principles of war.

Mind says its never been done - this is the first time; we don't know the risk involved; what are the problems; we did not even get time to study and ask the experts about solutions to the problems; we've never been there; the terrain; the obstacles; the pressure altitude; the runway without arrester barrier and Indus river in the take-off path; and finally 'what if?'; we told our near and dear ones that we are going for 5-day trial landings at Leh. None of us had been there - fear of the unknown. Well the fauj trains you in how to deal with such situations. This is where squadron, izzat (honour), esprit de corps, nation and the other higher sentiments come into play automatically and one is ready to do what is needed, and the doubts in one's mind are put to rest. The families also understand the meaning of the term "service exigencies", and are generally very supportive.

The physical limitations were not insurmountable but just to highlight a few that were encountered. For one, the aircraft flies in the medium of air and any changes in the pressure and temperature (pressure and temperature reduce with altitude) of the air has an impact on the performance of the aircraft and engine - suffice it to say that the aircraft performance at altitude is less than that at sea level. Secondly, Leh is in a valley at 11000 ft, with even higher mountains around it, peaks touching about 18000 ft. Khardung La pass is at 18380 ft, just NNE of Leh. Fighters typically do a circling approach to land, and aim to keep the runway in sight all through the process. In Leh, this was not possible because of the mountain ridges all around. The ground is sloping all around with hardly any flat stretch. Thirdly, the Leh runway is sloping - this has its own implications on takeoff and landing - you could only land one way at Leh and takeoff only the other way, that is towards the Indus river. This has implications - slope may be favourable but then winds may be totally unfavourable for takeoff. Leh gets very strong winds during the day, and mostly adverse for take-off, and even the temperatures go beyond 30 deg Celsius during summers - not a good combination for aircraft performance during take-off. Lastly, on short finals one flies over the Indus river, where normally wind shear is encountered as the day progresses.

Anyway, the landings were successful and we were now ready to find a room and rest, as per the doctor's orders. We could hardly see any building in the area - there was sand all around and some mud hut kind of structures. We were taken to the Officers mess - a small outfit catering to the small contingent of Air Force officers permanently based at Leh (2 year hard area tenure), and for helicopter crew operating on detachment out of Leh. Helicopters, Cheetah and Chetak had been there for some years before us - for how they reached there you can visit this page. The rooms were thus in short supply in the mess. We were assigned two to a room - small rooms with two beds each and a kerosene bukhari in the centre - the bukharis kerosene supply ends on 31 March, irrespective of outside temperature - audit requirements. It had an attached toilet but no water pipes or taps. There were two buckets to store water in the toilet. Water had to be collected from two big open drums kept in the courtyard, which in turn were replenished by water bowsers twice a day. Temperatures at night were still sub zero, and thus the water would freeze in the metal buckets. In case one wanted to have a bath in the morning, we had to insert the bazooka (a local innovation - a long wooden stick on which a 2000 W heater element was wound and which could be plugged into the socket - served the purpose of an immersion rod) in to the bucket before going to sleep. There was no 24 hour electricity, but a generator supplied electricity for a few hours during the morning and evening hours.

Having put our luggage in the assigned room, and looking at the state of our accommodation, we went and had lunch followed by the saunf. It was interesting to see some vitamin tablets in the same tray. On inquiry it was revealed that until the roads to Leh open, fresh vegetables are scarce and thus most of the food cooked is from packaged tins. This food causes digestive problems and it is thus advisable to partake a tablet of Vitamin B, along with the meals. Anyway, went back to the room for some rest.

In the evening, my Flt Commander and I went over to have a look at our airmen's accommodation - it could be termed as 'just to survive'. I was getting agitated now and my senior told me to relax and wisely told me that "water will eventually finds its level", and it eventually did. Our clothing was pathetic for the climatic conditions. The local base issued us coat parkhas and monkey caps which became our survival kit. The airmen had to be briefed not to touch any part of the aircraft or metal at night or early morning, lest one looses the skin of his hand - we did not have the requisite gloves - the move was at very short notice, and also to a place we were never planned to operate from.

We rested on 06th May and my log book shows that I flew a handling sortie over the Leh runway on 07th May. Each one of us had done a sortie each, and the Leh valley was reverberating with jet engine sound and Hunter aircraft doing aerobatics over the airfield. We were trying to adjust to operating the aircraft at higher heights - the handling characterstics change; of course, the terrain at Leh is also imposing and needs to be pictured in your mind's eye to make one comfortable operating there. After landing we decided to investigate our surroundings, now that we were destined to stay at Leh for an extended duration. All of us piled up in the jeep and headed to the Army movie hall. We were still in our anti g-suits. When we got off the jeep, we were received by the army who termed us as their biggest saviours - they told us how they feel re-assured now that our Air Force is here. The movie was on and we were ushered in to the last row of seats and were told that this row would always be kept for us. Our reception by the Army jawans was spontaneous and heartfelt - it felt nice to be wanted. Later we pieced together information about Op Meghdoot and how the Army had pre-empted Pakistan and moved on to Siachen Glacier on 13 April 84. Sometime after this 4 Pakistani Mirages had overflown the glacier and that is when the Army had sent in an SOS for the IAF, and we were selected at short notice, with that phone call on 25 April 84.

The next day we had a severe dust storm and the visibility dropped to less than 10 metres. The wind was howling and the there was sand all over. Our aircraft did not have the requisite protection for these conditions and so despite all our sea level protection, we had sand in every opening in the aircraft. A lot of time and energy was thereafter spent on cleaning and ridding the aircraft of the sand. In the mean while Pakistan army had launched an attack, which was repulsed by our troops, as we were sitting at higher heights. We were planned to be taken on a glacier recce trip in the helicopter to get to know the conditions where we were required to operate. We were picked up in a Mi-8 from Leh and were transported over Khardung la to the Base camp. At base camp, there were two Cheetah helicopters that were assigned to take us up the glacier, and show us the two passes - Sia La and Bilafond la at an elevation of about 17000 ft - these passes were overlooking the Pakistani troops stationed 3 -5000 ft below.


A Cheetah helicopter over the Siachen glacier. Image courtesy - Bharat-rakshak.com

...................................To be continued.

Monday, July 27, 2009

FROM MY LOG BOOK - A SANITISED GLIMPSE

25th April 1984.....around 2 pm; Hasimara, West Bengal. We had finished flying for the day and were getting ready to packup when the phone rang. Command Headquarters on line asking for the Commanding Officer. Boss took the phone and we could all hear him saying, "Yes sir". We instinctively knew that something was on. He puts the phone down and tells us that we were required to fly to Srinagar for trial landings at Leh...an airfield at 10734 ft. elevation. (Some of us in the Air Force had never heard of Leh back then. As per us, only the Army ventured there - hard area. The transport and helicopter fleet also landed there to support Army operations, specially in winter when the roads all shut down due to snow). When? We need to fly out tomorrow early morning. Get everything ready - 4 aircraft with 230 gallon tanks on and 100 gallon tanks to be carried in the AN-12, which will be landing here tonight. How? Nobody could understand, but one does not question on operational matters. Everyone gets busy... men getting aircraft ready, pilots getting maps and briefings ready.... will be staging through Kanpur, as we cannot make it direct to Srinagar.

My thoughts...my wife with our four year old daughter is booked to go to Delhi by Tinsukia mail from Alipur duar (about 40 kms away) in the first week of May. Our trial landings, we are told, will last for 5 days and so should be back by the time she has to leave. No sweat...lets focus on the task at hand. Personal life thoughts......put away.

Doubts linger in our minds....trial landings are not time bound....so, maybe we will not leave tomorrow...in any case there is no AN-12 anywhere close and we cannot leave without transport support. At night, we hear an AN-12 landing at Hasimara - a rare event. We now know that something serious is on. The AN-12 crew tell us that they were in Kanpur in the afternoon and had already loaded a glider to transport to some destination when they were ordered to throw the glider out and mover ASAP to Hasimara and take further instructions from our boss. It is late at night by now. Next morning...

The AN-12 is already loaded and we are ready to ferry out. Kanpur - land, refuel and off to Srinagar. On landing at Srinagar, we are informed to move to the satellite base. Take off Srinagar...land at sattelite base....aircraft are parked in blast pens. As we come out, we hear a helicopter coming in to land. Out comes a 3-star General who tells us that don't worry... in case you eject over the glacier, I will have my ski troops pick you up in 15 minutes....we are all flabbergasted...what glacier?....we thought we had come all the way for trial landings at Leh. The Base Commander steps in, and tells the General that we are unaware of the mission and could the General wait until we reach the underground, secure base operations. Our heads are already spinning...what's going on here?

We are given a 'need to know' briefing that tells us that our Army may need our presence at Leh and thus we need to do trial landings there, so that in case they need us, we would be ready for operations ex-Leh. It is still trial landings and then return to Hasimara. Leh is not a normal airfield for fighter operations, to say the least. Our aircraft are checked out and configured with 100 gallon tanks... 230s being stored for the return flight to Hasimara.

Next few days, we are briefed by our Packet stalwarts about the terrain, the route and the take off and landing considerations at Leh. We are all given an aerial reconnaissance trip in a Packet from Srinagar to Leh. This trip was absolutely mind boggling. The aircraft took off on two engines and once airborne the flight engineer started the jet pack, the aircraft orbited in the valley to gain altitude and then got into the valley heading towards Kargil. As it crossed 10,000 ft, the Captain asked us to have a hookah inhale....we were given a tube through which we inhaled oxygen through our mouths...like smoking a hookah. The aircraft is not permitted to enter clouds and the rate of climb, even with the jet pack on, was so little that we fighter pilots were feeling suffocated in the valley between tall mountains on either side; valley with clouds and the aircraft with no capability to climb .... we admired the guts of our Packet brethren to fly such an aircraft is such hostile conditions. It seemed that the wingtips of the aircraft would touch the mountains any time when the pilots were manoeuvring to avoid the clouds. Eventually they gave up and we returned back to our departing base. We were then briefed some more and we were ready to do it on our own, and we were happier, as our aircraft atleast had the capability to climb above the high mountain peaks.


Packet with a jet pack on top at Leh airfield.
Image courtesy Bharat-Rakshak.com


This was followed by a couple of handling sorties at high altitude; followed by overshoots at Leh. Our CO and flight commander land at Leh... in true military style...leader leads the way, always. On 05 May 1984, all four aircraft land at Leh and we are proud to be the first fighter squadron to have landed at Leh. The doctor comes and tells us to stay resting in the room for atleast 24 hours to let the body adjust to the high altitude...when one reaches above 10,000 ft, without acclimatisation, from sea level, it could lead to complications of water in the lungs due to inadequate partial pressure of oxygen at that altitude.

What happened to my wife and daughter? She got to know that we would not be coming back before her departure. She requested friends from the Air OP flight to have her dropped at Alipur Duar. The train was at night and that region is not very friendly, specially at night. 4 of our friends took time off and saw her off at the station and she reached Delhi. Service exigencies.....she, like most fauji wives, had understood the meaning of these two words very early in our marriage.....we generally brief them before the marriage itself.....there are cases where some weak hearted then have had doubts about marrying a fauji.

...................To be continued.