Manohar Parrikar – Till We Meet Again

I was curious and excited to attend the Make In India – Defence Manufacturing Conclave in Hyderabad in February 2015 for two reasons. One, because it was hosted by the think tank I am part of and two, I was going to get an opportunity to hear India’s Raksha Mantri, Manohar Parrikar.

The conclave proved to be a different one altogether. For the first time, I saw a Defence Minister sit among the audience, attentively listen to all the speakers, make notes and ask questions. I was introduced to him in my capacity as an office bearer of an Ex Service Men (ESM) organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad (ABPSSP) and also as an entrepreneur. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I told him that I would like to brief him about our activities for Veterans & their families, from time to time. He said he would be in touch and that was that.

I initially thought that he would restrict his meetings to the President & Secretary of ABPSSP to get regular briefings about ESM welfare and certain critical issues pertaining to OROP, which had become an agitation at Jantar Mantar at that time. Imagine my surprise, when one day I get a call from him, asking me when I would be in Delhi next and could I meet him! It was a jaw drop moment for me.

I made a trip to Delhi from Bangalore to meet him and shared an update about skill building for veterans and their families through ABPSSP. He asked incisive questions about how many actually benefit in terms of employment, self employment, what kind of opportunities are presented by the corporates. I answered his questions with data and he smiled & said, “I like the fact that you are stating numbers.” Thus, began our work towards the welfare of the ESM community. During the course of our association, he once remarked, “I appreciate your never say die spirit and I hope you continue to be Jhansi ki Rani, fighting for causes you believe in so strongly.”

From then on, our meetings became regular and he always had questions & suggestions. He asked me if I travelled to different states to meet the ESM & their families and I said, “Yes Sir, I do. We have adopted a few places, especially villages where our bravehearts come from and we are now focusing on developing them as Adarsh Graam under the Veer Sainik Graam Yojana project of ABPSSP.” He helped us a lot in approaching the local authorities & state governments in Jharkhand, Odisha & Chhattisgarh.

My trips to Delhi became more frequent as my daughter moved back to the capital from UK. I could now ask for frequent meetings which I did for purely selfish reasons – I got to learn so much from Manohar Parrikar. He became this mentor, elder bother and friend all rolled into one and the more I got to know him, the more fascinated I was by his memory, sharp grasp of complexities and result oriented approach that saw many a change in the Ministry of Defence. I discovered the humane side of Mr Parrikar. His quiet visits to families of martyred soldiers, action towards their problems that were stuck in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Ministry, ensuring quick decisions were implemented & cross verification of the same, his simple approach when he interacted and easy manner of communication, are all traits that made him differently unique in the world of politics. When he decided to work with you, he did with complete trust. No halfway measures for him.

During one of our conversations, I requested him that he must come home during my stay in Delhi. He said,”Let’s talk when you land in Delhi.” He gave me a second jaw drop moment when one evening, he announced that he is coming over for some simple “ghar ka khana”, chilled beer & masala peanuts. It was an evening to remember with my parents, daughter and a couple of close friends with whom he was also familiar. My daughter told him, “Uncle, I thought as Defence Minister you will have guards surrounding you, black cat commandos will come home and do a thorough check of our place, something like a James Bond movie.” He laughed heartily and said, “I am not James Bond and I am coming to meet a friend and the family. Why would I need security to surround me?” That was Manohar Parrikar for you.

I was extremely hassled when he had to go back to Goa as Chief Minister and felt (countless others also would have felt the same) that we were losing a Defence Minister to gain a Chief Minister. He very patiently explained why it was necessary for him to go back to Goa. The last meal we had together at his Delhi residence where he asked me if I had read Robert Greene and I said, “I have read one book of his – The 48 Laws of Power.” He gave me a copy of 33 Strategies of War and said, “Read this. You will understand much more about power & politics.”

He was very happy when I wrote to him about getting my book of poems published in August 2017 and called to tell me that he wanted an autographed copy. I told him only if he gives me sometime when I came to Goa. So, when I did make that visit to Goa, he did spend an hour, despite an unimaginably busy schedule. His personal secretary, Upendra Joshi, remarked that “It is amazing how Sir makes time for everything.” That was how Manohar Parrikar built relationships – he gave people time & listened to them. Subsequently, when he read the book, he called again to congratulate me on the poems I had written about soldiers.

Very recently I messaged him about my daughter getting engaged and invited him for the engagement. He declined stating health does not permit him to travel, but, if he got better, he would try to make it for the wedding.

Now, that is not going to happen. The void you have left, Manohar Dada cannot be filled. A deep felt gratitude to the Almighty for having given me the opportunity to get to know you and work with you for a while.

God speed and rest in peace. Till we meet again.


Cancer took my inspiration, guide & friend away, don’t you see?
Time was a ticking bomb thrust decisively.
If cancer had any idea what beauty lay within your soul,
I can promise it would have seen the glow.

Silence began moments ago,
When a voice said its time to let go.

Even though you are gone now,
Your memory will always remain in our hearts.
Your smile and face will never fade.
We will think of you as we go on each day.

The good times we remember
And the days spent together, will be in our memories forever.

When I sat down to watch the TV tonight,
And I started to cry…
I thought of your strength & then your pain
And asked Lord Almighty why?

I’ll just leave it at that and know you’re in a better place.
Your heart is right with God.

So, Manohar Dada we love you & we will miss you so much.
I also know you are at peace today.
So watch over us and make sure we’re okay.
And I will see you again someday.

The Serpent Is Under The Carpet – Lt Gen PG Kamath

*THE DEEP STATE IN THE MOD IS AGAINST MODI* This writing has been on the wall since 16th May 2014. Lt Gen Kamath writes in no uncertain terms about what bureaucracy had reduced the Armed Forces to, it’s implications of the political leaders do not learn how to tackle this.
_*THE SERPENT IS UNDER THE CARPET*_

By

Lt Gen PG Kamath

Since the time the NDA took over in mid-2014, I was wondering as to why the rightist government is framing policies against its own armed forces? The volleys against the armed forces have been unabated. There have been three RMs in four tenures and all of them were being played around by the bureaucrats in the MOD like the play dough in the hands of a pre-school child.

It started with the delay in granting OROP and after it was granted its entire character had changed when the details emerged in the government order. The original OROP was badgered and mutilated. The bureaucracy had played its tricks. Then came the 7th Pay Commission as the services got the rawest deal; the officers’ rations were cut in peace times and were given a pittance of financial compensation lesser than what is paid to the convicts in jail in Delhi and other metropolitan cities. Justice Mathur has mentioned in the pay commission report that he was against the NFU however, as it was already in vogue for the past ten years, he let it continue. However, without batting an eyelid he willingly stopped the rations of the officers that were in vogue for over three decades. To quote from what I had read earlier “Justice Retired Mathur Retired Justice” to the armed forces in his recommendations. The government instead of taking him to tasks readily agreed to cut the services to size. The 7th Commission report was accepted without even resolving the Anomalies of the 5th and 6th Pay Commission.

In each quarter the MOD is bringing out one new issue; one after another; seniority issue with the armed forces cadre, not considering the JCOs as gazetted officers in giving them the ID cards of lower class, opening the Cantonments to public by misguiding the RM that the Vice Presidents were responsible for the cantonments, trying to usurp the post of General Manager of CSD from the services, trying to play around with the well laid out procedure and trying to insert an Addl Secretary for selection of Defence Attaches, undermining Gen Shekatkar report by reducing the armed forces personnel without reducing the civilian cadre in Armed forces who are more than 40 percent of the uniformed personnel, reducing the CSD allocations of the forces and taking over Advance Base Workshops so that they have one more cash cow to milk from. Granting NFU for all the central government servants including the PMF but fighting tooth and nail in the court for not granting the same to the Armed Forces, as if they are from a hostile country. They have also made the AFT ineffective, which is functioning with less than forty percent of its authorised benches. The list is endless. Now you may ask why well-settled issues are being raked and new issues are being raised by the MOD to undermine services and lower their morale? The reason should bewilder the PM and RM as well.

The truth is MOD officials are very circumspect and worried of the inquiries into the previous arms deals such as Westland Helicopters. They are also constrained under the NDA that their erstwhile turf is getting reduced and the size of their illegal pie is getting smaller. How marvellous it was under the UPA when there were scams galore; who really had time to talk of scams in defence purchases? Their leverage and their range of operations to milk from cash cows of DRDO and defence deals are getting more and more dangerous as no minister is really partaking and claiming his share of the spoil. To do it alone is dangerous; is it not? The extradition of Christian Michel and Rajiv Saxena has also opened new threats and the best way to guard against the threats is by making Modi very unpopular with the services. The latter to their dismay has also become an approver. The total strength of the Indian Armed Forces is 1.4 million and 2.1 million reservists. In addition, there are well over 5 million veterans. The total adds up to 8.5 million. Multiply this figure by at least 10, the close family circles and extended family circle influenced by the servicemen and veteran and the figure comes to a whopping 85 million voters. The aim of the MOD is to make this 85 million disgruntled with the Modi regime. If even fifty percent of the voters vote against Modi or give the option of ‘NOTA’, it will make a substantial dent into the number of seats for the NDA. We all know how the ‘NOTA’ has made a difference in the number of seats in the recent state elections. As also, the margin of difference has been in some cases a single figure. Once the UPA comes to power they are all smug doing what they want without any threats. The deep state in the MOD can revert back to its antics.

The RM is busy as a spokesperson of the party than as a defence minister. She really does not realise that the ice below her feet is melting slowly. She has fallen prey to the MOD by opening up the Cantonments to civilian traffic, where she had vested interests and that has cost her the moral clout to give firm directions to the bureaucrats in the MOD. Now that they have ensnared her, they are at liberty to badger the services with hitherto non-existing issues. As on today, there is no General Manager for the CSD. The MOD wants a bureaucrat there as they eye it as a lucrative post to make money. A number of DAs posts are lying vacant as MOD is not approving them as they want to insert one of their Babus in the selection committee for the Military Attaches. There is a well laid out system under the Vice Chief of services operative for the past several decades and the MOD wants to tamper with the system. Even the High Commission of India in the Maldives; the country that is geo-strategically so essential for us to sustain our clout in the Indian Ocean has not been posted with a Naval Attaché (NA). The island nation, which has fallen into our fold, due to divine intervention is without an NA; there we are sending a message of indifference towards the nation. The timing is so essential as their new PM has just visited our country and we are in the process of ousting China from the island archipelago. However, the national interest may go to dogs as far as the ego of MOD Babus prevails; they have won their battle. The delay in approving the DA is an anti-national act: RM has to open her eyes and understand how her act of omission is doing a disservice to the nation. She, unwittingly abetting anti-national elements in the MOD. Please do not be surprised if the Embassy of China posts their NA and fills the gap in the absence of Indian NA. All the energy lifelines to China pass between Maldives and India and the geo-strategic ace in our hands would get compromised overnight; the moment the Maldives prefers China to India.

Dear Prime Minister; please tell your RM to do her job and the spokesman for the party can be someone else. The opposition is flogging a dead horse called ‘Rafael’ and they would continue doing so as they really cannot imagine or understand how a defence deal can be done without middlemen and bribes. You should not really blame them as they have done it from the very first deal of independent India in 1948 when they bought jeeps from Britain. Just tell me; how such a party can conceive a defence deal without allurement? It is beyond their thinking prowess. Do not try to defend the deal any more as the public has seen through it; more they talk of the deal the more alienated they would be from the general public. They are digging a pit called Rafael in which they will collectively fall.

All I can say to you, to open your eyes and win back the servicemen and veteran constituency that has been loyal to you and let them not wander away from you, due to clever mechanisation of the MOD. The serpent is under the carpet; you do not have to look for it elsewhere

A Promise To Stand By…

I ended my 2018 by watching Nathicharami on 31st December. It was one of the best things I did on new year’s eve. 

I must admit, the desire to see the movie was because I heard the music before and Nathicharamiloved  every bit of it. Then I saw the official trailer and my curiosity was piqued. I do not know of other Kannada directors having explored the subject of what two young Indian women go through in a particular phase in their lives. I saw the movie & spoke to some friends who had seen it. Most of them emphasised on the theme as “awakened sexuality of the young widow”. I beg to differ here. 

To me, the entire experience was going through Gowri’s journey after she becomes a widow. It is about how she battles loneliness, sleepless nights, parents who pressurise her to get married again (perhaps for the wrong reasons), a predatory boss and her own desires that make her feel guilty. Salvation comes in the form of two office colleagues & friends who help her with a dating app and connect her to Dr Carvalho, the psychiatrist. He helps her peel the layers of her emotions, and, deal with the mental conflicts. Loved his metaphors and one liners!

A parallel story unfolds with Suma, an educated woman from a village, yearning for her husband, Suresh’s love & affection. I appreciated the unfurling of this marital relationship, where Suresh is always condescending in his behaviour towards Suma and criticises her supposed “village mentality”.  The director, beautifully leads you to question Suresh’s frustration at one level & audacity at another level, because he also displays “village mentality” in the movie.

Yes, sexual desires or sexuality has been used as a subject to bring out deeper issues like guilt, societal reaction & gender sensitivity. Nathicharami is metaphorical, refreshing & relevant. Metaphorical, because it shows Gowri anchored to a time & relationship in the past. Refreshing, because it talks about consent for sex in a marital relationship & sensitively explores predefined notions of morality & desires. Relevant, simply because it opens up a sea of questions that ordinary women today face in the many facets of relationships. 

The movie by award winning director, Mansore, has good cinematography and amazing music by Bindhu Malini. Her unique voice is what you hear in the songs and her ease of combining various musical instruments to create hauntingly beautiful music is testimony to her musical expertise. The use of the trombone, drums & guitar is melodious and it is the kind of music I would love to play while I sit in my balcony or on my terrace, sipping a glass of wine and watch the sun go down & the moon come up with the stars shining. 

I wish more and more directors, producers and actors give us such wonderfully crafted & engaging movies like Nathicharami. We will promise to stand by them. 

 

Gift Yourself a New Year…

Once in a while it hits people that they really don’t have to see the world in the way they have been told to. dawn-3846778_1920That is the beauty of exploring, learning, understanding & accepting newness in life. That is serendipity (in a way) and letting go of what we are conditioned to or cling on to. All of us like to feel we are in control of our lives, plan every step and steer the course of all happenings exactly at the time we want it to happen. We all want to know what’s going to happen before it does, like to play scenarios out in our heads, use favourite words to make sense of this world as much as we can. Even though we know, in the back of our minds, that it may never fully happen.

Somewhere, between being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, an entrepreneur, I realised that no matter what pre planning I do, there will always be moments in life that will be unexpected, out of the blue and hit you like a ton of bricks. And then, you are in a free fall. 

Now, the beauty of free fall is that, it is the right moment to find your wings. Wings help you fly. 

There is flip side to free fall, too. When you fall, if you do not allow your wings to come out, spread and flap them, you are likely to hit the ground with a big thud. The most important thing then is to trust your instinct, let go and allow your wings to emerge.

You will never know you can fly if you do not unfurl your wings, flap them and push yourself to soar. You’ll never know the strength in your muscles if you don’t flex them. You’ll never know who you can become, if you don’t take the first step.

Two and half decades ago, I was jolted from that familiar, comfortable bubble I had built in my life. And I went into a fall. I also discovered I could fly. That changed everything.

There will always be winds of change, forcing us to come down at times, falter in some cases, change direction completely and soar. Allow for those serendipitous periods in life, which will give you the freedom to discover a new you.

May that be your gift to yourself this year! May 2019 bring out the serendipiter & the discoverer in you! Happy 2019!!!  

 

The Price of Freedom & Of Promises Not Kept

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, sacrifice leaves a memory no one can steal.

Before we treat 15th Aug 2018 as another holiday (mid week, albeit), let us stop for a moment to pay homage to thousands of soldiers who have paid the ultimate price of giving & maintaining for us that holiday. Going back 72 years, we hoisted the Tricolour in Delhi and declared our “tryst with destiny.”

Seven decades has seen India through tremendous changes in some parts of the growth landscape and stagnation in some other parts. Deterioration in a few. The Armed Forces of India has gone through its fair share of ups and downs. We have developed as a force to reckon with with the tag of being one of the most professional armies in the world. Our track record as Peacekeepers in the UN Peacekeeping missions across the world is phenomenal and our soldiers have done us proud. Historically, Indian soldiers fought under the British rule in both the World Wars before 1947 to keep Britain safe. Post independence, we fought Pakistan and China to protect our sovereignty and safeguard our national interests. In the last 70 years plus, Indian Army has also battled insurgents across the country to keep citizens safe. They continue doing so in different parts of the country.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and that vigil is maintained by our Armed Forces. They sacrifice in more ways than one. Not staying with their families, not watching their children grow, not being around for milestone days, and, finally, the ultimate sacrifice of signing off their life to protect us.

Are we worthy of that sacrifice?

Indian Army has answered this country’s call several times and will continue to do so. It is engaged in both military and civil operations whenever & wherever necessary. It is time to honour that commitment & dedication. Every soldier who serves unflinchingly & every soldier who pays the ultimate price expect only one thing – respect & honour for the work done by the Armed Forces. The Services must know we are a grateful nation & are thankful to them.

We, in India, do not have a National Military Memorial where one can go and pay tribute to the brave hearts. There are a lot of people who ask the question – why do we need one?

War memorials are erected world over as a mark of respect & remembrance for all those who died in the service of the nation. Each memorial is unique and acts as a historic touchstone. They link the past to the present and remind every generation to remember & respect the sacrifice of those who died, fought, participated and affected by the conflicts.

Eight years ago, the Government of Karnataka, made a commitment to build a National Military Memorial. This was not at the behest of the Indian Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence. It was an initiative taken by the state government. Personally, I was very happy that there was one state government  willing to take the first step to honour our soldiers. While the Memorial Park has come up beautifully with lush green landscaping, a central exhibition hall with models of warfare technology, a 210 foot flagpole with a 78×48 feet flag next to the names of 22,600 martyrs, the Veeragallu (literally meaning the Heroes’ Stone)  is still incomplete and yet to be installed.

The soldier never asked for it. The citizens did not even know about it. Yet, a promise was made. We urge the Government of Karnataka to honour that promise and complete the project with a committed deadline. We owe a debt to all the fallen soldiers that we can never fully repay, but, we can honour them & their sacrifices.

Come, join us this 72nd Independence Day, as we celebrate the freedom we have, because of the heroic sacrifices of our brave hearts. Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream Every generation must fight for it, protect it and hand it to the next one, for them to do the same.

Happy Independence Day to all! Jai Hind!

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Reducing NCERT’s Syllabus for 2019 Academic Session is the First Step

“Stress, depression and anxiety are caused when we are living to please others.” – Paulo Coelho

When the pressure to get a score of at least 96% in school examinations is at an all-time high (pressure that is only getting amplified each time Universities & colleges in India come out with outrageous and unrealistic cut-off lists), it’s not an understatement to say that school students are stressed out completely. In fact, grim and alarming statistics help quantify this disturbing trend – every hour, one student commits suicide in India.

No, you didn’t read that wrong! According to a 2012 Lancet report, India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youngsters aged 15 – 29. This statistic is further reflected in the number of student suicides that occurred in 2015 – an alarming 8,934. Even more depressing is the fact that around 40,000 students killed themselves from 2012 to 2015, and none of this takes into account the much higher number of attempted suicides (many of which end up being unreported).

In fact, one only needs to talk to a school counsellor to understand just how much pressure youngsters are in these days. Be it the difficulty to cope with a long and challenging syllabus, the stress of dealing with failure in examinations, the tension regarding one’s career, and the constant fear of letting down one’s family, there is no dearth of reasons why students are taking such a drastic step in such alarming numbers. Adding to this problem, is the grim fact that around 87% of India faces a shortage of counsellors and mental-health professionals who can help aid students combat early signs of depression and overwhelming bouts of stress.

I bring this up to emphasize the point of our school students being under enormous pressure, and, this cannot be taken lightly anymore. There are many ways to reduce this pressure and syllabus change is one of them. The curriculum must be evaluated regularly, and relevant additions & deletions must be made, to keep academics robust. The decision by the Human Resource Development Ministry to reduce the NCERT syllabus by half from the 2019 academic session is a much-needed respite. In fact, the HRD minister summed it up perfectly when he said that the syllabus of school students was actually more than that of college students pursuing BA and B.Com courses. The minister also stated that if a student were to fail his examinations in March, he/she would get another chance to clear those exams in May (yet another commendable decision). Furthermore, his emphasis on all-round development and improving the quality of teaching is exactly the type of approach that the HRD Ministry should be taking vis-à-vis education in India.

In addition to what the government does, a more important change has to come from schools and parents and aid in decreasing the stress of the students. For instance, parents and teachers can begin by creating an environment that doesn’t give academic scores a disproportionately high value – this can mostly be achieved by reinforcing the notion that academic scores and school grades are neither the most important, nor the only barometer of success. Additionally, teachers can go one-step further by prioritizing extra-curricular activities (and not just as a gimmick!) and their importance, whereas parents make their kids feel more at ease by letting them know that their dreams are valid and that they should never shy away from following the careers they want to.

India is a developing country that happens to be home to one of the largest and youngest population in the world. In fact, the youth of our country are not only paramount to our present-day development, but will also play an instrumental and decisive role in our country’s future development. As such, for our future innovators, entrepreneurs, inventors, athletes and job creators to be so stressed-out in school that committing suicide actually starts seeming like a viable alternative reflects on our failure as parents, teachers and educators. We have a powerful potential in our youth. We must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we direct their power towards good ends.

All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed…

“Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.” –  Augusto Boat

World Theatre Day

27th March is celebrated as the World Theatre Day around the world. Initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Day is celebrated around the world by the theatre community, with a variety of national and international theatre events being organized to mark the occasion. One such event involves the circulation of the World Theatre Day Message (first written in 1962 by Jean Cocteau), a process through which a renowned world figure expresses his or her views on theatre, its meaning, and its relevance in modern times (as well as the future). This special message is not only translated into more than 50 different languages but is also read for tens of thousands of people (before a theatre performance) around the world, as well as printed in many daily newspapers. In short, this message is spread around the world to mark the occasion of World Theatre Day.

India has a rich history of theatre – in fact, we have already well defined the art of theatre in the Nav Rasas. Just think about it – all of our Nav Rasas can be used to express an emotion that is usually expressed in theatre – Shringar (romance), Hasya – (humour), Karuna (empathy) (Raudra) anger, Veer (heroic), Bhayanak (fearful), Vibhatsa (disgust) Adbhut (wonderful) and the ever so important and always relevant Shant  (peace). In fact, one of the earliest forms of theatre in the world was the Sanskrit theatre. It emerged sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century and flourished between the 1st and the 10th centuries, which was a period of relative peace India’s history. During this time, hundreds of plays were written and performed until the Mughal Empire came into existence after the 11th century and started discouraging or forbidding theatre entirely. To combat this, village theatre was encouraged across the subcontinent, developing in a large number of regional languages from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Finally, modern theatre developed during the period of colonial rule under the British Raj, from early 19th century until the late 20th century. Indian theatre not only acknowledges the importance of the occasion, but to also celebrates its own long history of theatre.

Now many people may wonder exactly why it is that we choose to celebrate theatre – what is it about this art form that warrants such a celebration? Well, apart from being the oldest expression of performing dramatics, theatre is (and has always been) an incredibly powerful tool of social change. Think of all the great plays that have been written and performed with the singular aim of pointing out social evils currently plaguing society and demanding the powers to be to do something about it. Be it The Normal Heart by Larry Kushner that was a scathing and rage filled (read: Raudra) commentary on the AIDS crisis disproportionately killing gay Americans and the Reagan Administration failing to do anything about it, or Jerusalem that talks about the importance of staying true to your roots and now bowing down to suburban development, theatre has always been an effective and hard to ignore medium vis-à-vis social change. In fact, plays like Angels in America that, once again, helped shed a light on the gross mishandling of the Aids epidemic in the 1980’s, and Inherit the Wind (that reinforced the importance of freedom of choice) can actually be credited with accelerating the pace of societal change. Simply put, theatre has always been an essential channel of communication that many people have relied upon for spreading their message and afflicting a change.

In India, street-plays have always been an excellent and powerful tool of spreading a message. Most colleges in India have their own street-play society, and each of these societies annually come up with creative and relevant themes to base their plays around, plays they perform at various college fests and events. What is so inspiring about this trend is the way youngsters are using the platform to not only voice their opinions, but to also help do their bit to make a difference. These street plays usually talk about social evils plaguing our country – casteism, communalism, sexism – and why it’s important for the younger generation to combat them. That’s the beauty of theatre – you can be of any age and belong to any nationality, creed and class to indulge in it.

P S Baber said, “The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.”

Personally, I long for the simplicity of theatre. I want lessons learned, comeuppances delivered, people sorted out, all before your bladder gets distractingly full. That’s what I want. What I know is what we all know, whether we’ll admit it or not: every attempt to impose the roundness of a well-made play on reality produces a disaster. Life just isn’t so, nor will it be made so.

India is Failing to Realize its Massive Potential to Build Winter Games & Host the Winter Olympics

Keeping in mind the fact that India is home to the gorgeous Himalayas, the beautiful and picturesque valleys of Kashmir, and more hill-stations than one can keep track of, it’s surprising and even alarming to note that it has never really taken its potential to develop winter sports seriously. In fact, I’d go a step further and ask a question that should have been asked a while ago – why has India never thought about winter sports and hosting the Winter Olympics? If a small country like South Korea, that’s not necessarily known for its mountain ranges or snow-filled valleys can host the Winter Olympics, why should India stay far behind?

Let’s begin with talking about the major sports that make up the winter games – cross country skiing, luge, ski jumping, speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and snowboarding. India receives a good amount of snowfall every year in states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh. Each of these states have numerous locations where there is fresh powdery snow every year that is most conducive to develop winter sports. We do have a smattering of activities in the name of winter games. The larger question – is there a focused approach to developing this segment of sports, in order to make India a favoured destination in Asia for winter adventure holidays?

The answer is a big NO.

The government has written a policy of sorts for developing adventure sports in India. The implementation of that policy with the requisite safety & security benchmarks leaves a lot to be desired.

A little story of two Indian Olympians will tell you why we are lagging behind in winter sports and Winter Olympics.

Winter Olympics 2018 ends on 25th February. In a population of 1.3 billion Indians, India has been able to send just TWO participants to Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is not because we do not have enough interested & enthusiastic sportspersons. This is because

  • We DO NOT have adequate qualitative infrastructure to train our budding champions
  • So called LACK of funds at every step
  • NO VISION of building a legacy of sports culture
  • Absolutely NO WILL POWER in the bureaucratic corridors of the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs

On 15th February 2018, Jagadish Singh began his first Winter Olympics campaign in Cross Country Skiing.

  • Two days before his race, he did not even have a racing suit and proper equipment.
  • A week before his race, he hadn’t even landed in South Korea.
  • Two weeks before his race, when he was supposed to depart for South Korea, he missed his flight from Delhi because of a bureaucratic scramble over who will accompany him to the Games.
  • Two months before his race, he had not even qualified for the Olympics.

For the 26 year old, going for his first Winter Olympics has been a harrowing experience. Interviews with the young skier clearly indicate that the “Winter Games Federation just doesn’t care”, “They are more bothered about who will travel abroad with the athlete.”

In cross-country skiing, athletes have to glide across a 15km-long path on a snow-covered field in the shortest possible time. The track has uphill, level, and downhill fields. It is an event that requires each competitor to have at least 10 pairs of skis, if not more, including ones for training and competition. Jagadish has had to do with 4 pairs that Indian Olympics Association sanctioned him. He had to buy another pair in Pyeongchang, which still may not be adequate. He has had to buy his own equipment, including skis, shoes, a racing suit and a jacket, worth Rs 72,000 after reaching Pyeongchang, an amount he isn’t sure will be reimbursed. As a result, Jagadish Singh’s racing suit and jacket does not even have the word “India” printed on it.

The story of our seasoned Winter Olympian, Shiva Keshavan is tad better this year, because he was able to garner six sponsorships and Rs 20 lakhs from the Indian Olympics Association. He, however, achieved this after huge struggle and fight with our sports bodies. For two decades, Keshavan has hurtled himself down an icy concrete chute, going 130kmph without brakes and pulling more Gs through the corners than an astronaut during a rocket launch. And that’s the easy part. Making his way back to the starting line each time has been an Olympic challenge.

In 1997, a team, led by Austrian world champion Gunther Lemmerer, set up a scouting camp in Panchkula and discovered a talented young skier from Manali who had little trouble rolling down the roads on a sled with wheels. He was taken to Austria and a year later, Shiva Keshavan, 16, became the youngest Olympian in luge at the Nagano Winter Games. Bureaucratic red tapism and an apathetic government approach dogged him from then onwards. Starting from a Sports Ministry that had not done his paperwork to hitchhiking to the Games Village, not having $10 to pay for crossing the border into Canada, riding downhill in Sochi Winter Olympics with names of 50,000 donors etched on his suit because he did get a uniform from the masters sitting in the Ministry & IOA, it is a wonder that Keshavan persisted and pursued his passion.

With six Olympics, nine Asian Championship medals (four gold), and being President of the Olympians’ Association of India, under his belt, there is no dearth of opportunities in the international arena for ace lugers like Keshavan. What will be a disaster is to lose all that experience and expertise to countries that are willing to work with him and compensate him handsomely for it.

There has been a lot of debate in India about developing winter sports and support for Winter Olympics.  When you see how even Olympic sports have been obscure in India, of course Winter Olympics is in an even worse position. The four hurdles mentioned above must be tackled immediately if we are to go ahead in the future.

Our only hope right now is that we have a Minister of Sports & Youth Affairs who himself has been an Olympian and a medal winner for India. He should understand the plight of the Indian athlete and sportspersons and find solutions on a war footing. Besides finding solutions, ensure implementation quickly and effectively.

A collaborative approach between the Ministry of Sports and Ministry of Tourism can do wonders to build this segment in our country. There’s no other country in the world which has the natural resources for winter sports like India. There’s 3000 kms of Himalayan mountains. Experts from all over the world dream of coming to India to practice. It is high time we work on infrastructure so that our next generation athletes can take on the world. Look how removed Himachal, Kashmir, Uttarakhand and North East are from your Delhis, Bombays & Bangalores.

The big question I pose to both, government and corporates is – are we willing to use winter sports, a multi-million dollar industry, as a means of development?

The BSF’s all Woman Bikers’ Contingent Made History on Republic Day

“There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise” – W. E. B. Du Bois

26-WOMENBIKERS(Credits -Photo- The Hindu)

As is always the case, India’s 69th Republic Day was filled with gleaming illustrations of India’s defence prowess, its enviable spirit of unity in diversity, and its unquestionable sense of patriotism. It was also a day when history was made by the BSF all-woman bikers’ contingent. Ranging in age between 25 and 30 and personally handpicked by BSF trainers, these immensely skilled women (collectively known as ‘Seema Bhawani’) pulled off 16 varied stunts during the Republic Day parade, leaving audiences at Rajpath, and around the country, awestruck and spellbound.

The team was created at the Central School of Motor Transport of the BSF Academy on 20th October 2016 and in less than two years, was trained enough to perform death-defying stunts with accuracy, proficiency and grace. What makes this feat even more special is the fact that most of these women are married, some even have children and almost all of them didn’t even know how to ride a bike before they were chosen to be a part of the squad. Riding on their 350cc Royal Enfield Bullets and led by sub-inspector Stanzin Noryang, these BSF women have given us all yet another reason to be immensely proud of our border security forces, all the while making a powerful statement about how Indian women see themselves as being equal to their male counterparts in 2018.

Traditionally, it’s always either the Army or the BSF’s male bikers who end the Republic Day parade, but this was the first time ever that a woman contingent of the Border Security Forces performed such spectacular stunts to end the parade. Some of those stunts included Salute to the President, Saptarishi, Peacock, Fish Riding and Mobile PT. Needless to say, the women were the highlight of the day, and keeping in mind the fact that they ended up drawing the largest applause from the crowds, something tells me this won’t be the last time we’ll be seeing the inspiring women of Seema Bhawani performing these stunts.

While some might choose to look at the death-defying acrobatic stunts that were performed by these women as a gimmick, it’s actually yet another manifestation of an inspiring trend we’ve seen at display in the last few months. After all, it was only a few months ago that Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed as India’s Defence Minister (thereby becoming only the second woman to hold that integral post). While other countries are still struggling to put women in positions of leadership (the United States is yet to elect a female president), India is not shying away from showing its women (and the women of the world!) that they are not only capable of shattering the glass ceiling, but are also breaking female stereotypes. Add to this the recent Supreme Court judgement against triple talak (a case that Muslim women had brought and fought for in the Supreme Court), and it becomes clear that women are no longer going to tolerate discrimination, sexism or misogyny.

Gratitude To A Soldier for Life

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
–General George Washington,
November 10th, 1781

14th January is celebrated as Veterans Day and 15th January is Indian Army Day. Both days are significant because Field Marshal Kodandera M. Cariappa’s (then a Lieutenant siachen-1General) took over as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from General Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander-in-Chief of India, on 15th January 1949 and the same Field Marshal Cariappa retired from the Indian Army on 14th Jan, 1953.

Life in the military makes you a multi disciplinary professional. The five pillars on which your life will revolve is so ingrained in you that you cannot think otherwise. The pillars are service before self, mental & physical toughness, a spiritual not religious approach to life, trust & faith, social contribution. You will see this in varied shades in every soldier.
The Army makes you a soldier for life. Which is why, so many Veterans find it difficult in the initial years of retirement to adjust to civvy street. The punctuality, discipline, a methodical approach to doing things and the very thought process itself is very very different.
Indian Army has answered this country’s call several times and will continue to do so. It is engaged in both military & civil operations whenever & wherever necessary. It is time to honour that commitment & dedication of our soldiers. Every soldier who serves unflinchingly expects only one thing from us – respect & honour for the work done by the Armed Forces. The Services must know that we are a grateful nation and are thankful to them. However, the relationship between the Indian soldier, government & citizens is a sad testimony.
Time and again it has been observed the ignorance and worse, apathy towards most things military. I will not comment on the bureaucracy – politicians – military relationship. There are enough experts who write on it regularly. I am more interested in bringing the awareness in a common citizen. Hence, I relist 50 things we can do for our soldiers to show them the respect and honour they so richly deserve. This list is from an earlier blog of mine.
  1. Listen to their stories with interest. If they have fought wars or are a war-veteran they have seen things you will never see. Listen & learn.
  2. Initiate a special talk by anyone from the armed forces fraternity in your schools or colleges.
  3. Greet a soldier in uniform or a veteran with a smile and a thank you.
  4. Start a social drive for them. Gather people in the neighbourhood or like minded people and work on a veteran oriented project.
  5. Make greeting cards and post them to the soldiers, veterans and their families you know.
  6. Send e cards using social media.
  7. Post messages of gratitude in social media pages dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces. Some of the pages are Indian Defence Review, Defence & Security Alert, Indian Defence News, Indian Defence, etc
  8. If there are veterans & their families in your neighbourhood, acknowledge them on special days like Indian Armed Forces Flag Day, Republic Day and Independence Day.
  9. Invite veterans, soldiers and their families to give a talk on those special days. army women
  10. Those of you who knit, sew or embroider, make something for veterans or their families and gift it to them.
  11. If you are dining out or having a coffee or a drink and you know there is a member of the armed forces (serving or retired), invite them to join you. I promise you…you will have a great conversation.
  12. Do a random act of kindness for the members of Indian Armed Forces.
  13. Visit War Memorials in different parts of India, whenever you travel next. You will also meet some of the serving soldiers then. Talk to them…listen to them.
  14. Talk to your children about the pride we have and ought to have in our military. Instil in them the value of being a nationalist and a patriot.
  15. Open your homes on festivals for soldiers on leave, veterans and families. Make it an occasion they will not forget…neither will you.
  16. As parents and teachers, encourage your young ones to write about the Indian Armed Forces. Post it on social media.
  17. Whenever & wherever you hear our national anthem playing, stop, stand and give a thought to our security forces. They have sacrificed for us hear the national anthem. join-indian-defence-forces
  18. Employers – look beyond the usual hiring process and re-employ veterans. They can truly bring a lot of strength to your organization.
  19. Organizations – do not stereo type members of the Indian Armed Forces. You do not know what potential they bring to the table. Think out of the box…they did when they had to save your freedom.
  20. You will find a lot of car stickers that say Army, Navy, Air Force or Armed Forces. Leave a thank you note on the windshield. You will make their day.
  21. Find out which businesses or companies support veterans in your areas or communities. Become their customers.
  22. If you are running a business yourself, offer discounts to your veterans, soldiers and their families.
  23. Check if the local armed forces hospital will allow you to spend time with recovering soldiers and families. Become a support system there.
  24. Do you know parents of soldiers or veterans? Thank them for raising India’s true heroes.
  25. Proudly display “I love Indian Armed Forces” “I support Indian Armed Forces” stickers on your vehicles. Saluting Our Heroes
  26. If there is a military member at the same restaurant as you, send across a drink or dessert expressing your gratitude.
  27. Support war widows in their endeavour to stand on their own.
  28. Find out Ex Service Men organizations that support children of our martyrs. Work with them in enabling and empowering those children.
  29. Become part of developmental projects in villages and towns our war heroes come from. One such project is the Vir Sainik Graam Yojana.
  30. With the help of your local corporator, mayor, panchayat head, district officer or politician organize an event acknowledging and rewarding our veterans.
  31. With the same people helping, you could also organize a pot luck lunch and invite the local community and veterans.
  32. Take a couple of veterans and their families out for a picnic. Swap life stories…you will realise how different their lives are.
  33. Get in touch with local army schools and see how you can help in some of their projects.
  34. Talk to the local army formations and see what kind of community initiatives they run. The Indian Army has some projects going on where they work with civil society. Become part of those.
  35. A number of Ex Service Men organisations also work with local army formations for certain initiatives. Connect with them and contribute your time and skills.
  36. If you have a special talent, offer to teach that talent to children of soldiers and veterans.
  37. Donate your “air miles” to a veteran family you know.
  38. It is not the job of a military man to campaign or publicize what they do. We can do it for them. It also shows how proud we are of them, what they do to protect us.
  39. A group of like minded people can come together and hold an exhibition with the help of veterans on a particular military theme.
  40. As civilians let us ensure our government does it’s duty, so our Armed Forces can do what they do best – protect our country.
  41. During a family union, please raise a toast to the veterans in your family – immediate and extended. Express your gratitude.
  42. Teach children and the youth of our country India’s proud history and legacy. We have much to be proud of and this legacy we have to pass on to our next generations.
  43. Pass out small flags on Armed Forces Day in your neighbourhood. Share small stories that you know or get people to share those stories with you.
  44. Dedicate a patriotic song in honour of a veteran or active soldier on your favourite radio channel.
  45. Offer a pick up or drop to the airport or railway station to your veteran neighbour and their families.
  46. Encourage your kids to spend time with the veterans or active soldiers whenever there is an opportunity. They will learn a lot. martyrs-day
  47. Teach children patriotic songs and get them to sing them on various occasions.
  48. Employers & Companies – host a special lunch for your veteran colleagues. Acknowledge their contribution to the growth of your company and your country.
  49. Vote. Exercise your franchise. Don’t let their sacrifices come to a naught. A good citizen votes to protect the freedom of our country. Do not take that freedom for granted. Our soldiers have paid with their lives for that freedom. Value it, cherish it.
  50. To truly honour our armed forces make the best of the opportunity the sacrifices of our fighting men and women have provided. Love India with passion, and do what you can to make it a better place.

Who is a military man? A military man – whether active duty, retired or in reserve or re employed – who at one point in his/her life signed a blank cheque made payable to the “Republic of India” for an amount of “up to & including his/her life.” That is honour. A lot of people do not appreciate or acknowledge or understand that fact.

Let us stand up for them, raise our caps, raise a toast and salute the honour and integrity of these brave hearts.

Happy Army Day!