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!

Madhya Pradesh – Becoming India’s Crown Jewel in Tourism!

Just a few days ago, it was announced that the city of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh is all set to receive a special gift from the state government to reign in the New Year. The special gift in question? An all-new tourism metro bus that will be launched in the month of January. This might seem like a small development at first, but considering recent events, it becomes yet another affirmation that Madhya Pradesh has slowly, but surely, become the crown jewel of Indian tourism. All one has to do, is visit Madhya Pradesh once to understand precisely why it continues to attract so many visitors every year. From its famous Khajuraho temples and Jahangir Mahal, to the Ship Palace, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka and the Queen’s Fort, Madhya Pradesh has something to offer to casual and avid travellers alike.

It is probably no surprise then that, as far as Madhya Pradesh tourism was concerned, 2017 was a marked year of accolades and awards. Apart from the incredibly impressive haul of ten national awards in its kitty (including the Best Tourism State award, the Most Innovative Tourist Product award, the Best State for Adventure Tourism award, and Chanderi being adjudged as the best heritage city in India), Madhya Pradesh is continuing to make new strides in the field of tourism – and by extension is majorly contributing to India’s standing in the world vis-a-vis global tourism – on a daily basis. Perhaps the most essential reason behind this development is said to be the decision of the Madhya Pradesh Government’s State Cabinet to give industry status to the tourism sector in 2016. This one decision by the State Government has not only enabled potential investors to get grants for tourism projects across the state, but has also put an emphasis on amusement parks, water tourism, adventure tourism, film tourism and wellness centres across the state.

And that’s not all – Madhya Pradesh started hosting Jal Mahotsav, the largest water carnival anywhere in India, in October this year. I had the opportunity of meeting the team from Madhya Pradesh Tourism in various international travel marts and loved the way they promoted this event. This annual carnival has, without a doubt, added to the sheen and lustre of Madhya Pradesh tourism and since it takes place for 80 days every year, it will continue to boost MP tourism till 2nd January 2018. The carnival ends up serving as a safe haven for all adventure junkies out there who can take part in a variety of adventure sports such as para-motoring, water zorbing and hot-air ballooning.

For those looking forward to getting intimate with Mother Nature will also not be disappointed with their visits to Madhya Pradesh as the Bandhavgarh National Park happens to be an absolute haven of natural beauty (Bandhavgarh also has the highest density of Bengal Tigers, if you needed another reason to visit this national park).

Other reasons why Madhya Pradesh has ended up making such marvelous strides in the tourism sector include, but aren’t limited to, initiating a guide training programme for residential and state-wide guides alike, providing specialized training to local coolies, developing the state as a water tourism hub (developing water sports centres has been a key priority here, as well as the development of a cruise circuit from Mandla to Bargi) and installing mobile public toilets around the state.

With the addition of over Rs. 14 crores being allocated to the state’s tourism budget, it is probably safe to say that the state government has absolutely no plans of slowing down on the remarkable progress they have made in this sector. They definitely should not!

With tourist arrivals having reached an all-time-high of 15.66 crores this year, Madhya Pradesh has truly cemented its place as the future hub of Indian tourism.

Here’s Why You Should Think About Traveling to North-East instead of Traveling to Europe

Travelling is not just an activity of leisure that people indulge in from time to time – it’s a necessary retreat for those looking to rejuvenate their senses, acts as a much-needed stress-buster for all those who have completely engulfed themselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday work life, and becomes a means through which one can travel to new destinations, explore new places and experience new experiences. In short, travelling is not just some trendy thing you do that’ll help you spice up your Instagram profile, it’s also an incredibly healthy and refreshing breather to take from your everyday life, one that’ll help enrich your experiences as a human being.

 

Now often, when we think about traveling, we think about traveling the world – the beaches of California, the mountains of Switzerland, the canals of Venice and the castles of England. When we think of traveling, we think Barcelona and Bangkok, and New York and Sydney. Even back home, if one were to make travel plans domestically, they’d first think of Goa, Jaipur, the backwaters of Kerala and for those looking for some adventure, Ladakh. But perhaps the most underrated, and largely ignored places you could visit as your next holiday destination happen to be in a corner of the Indian subcontinent itself – the vast, diverse and wildly beautiful Northeast India.

Geographically speaking, the Northeast is home to eight states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and Sikkim), amassing a total land area of 262,230 square kilometers (101,250 square miles) and 8% of India’s total landmass. And yet, it’s barely talked about as a potential destination for one’s travels, despite having so much to offer. Since that makes absolutely no sense to me, allow me to give you just a tiny glimpse of the sheer beauty, delights, and diversity that this unexplored paradise has to offer.

When it comes to talking about the multitude of wonderful things that make the Northeast so special, it’s hard to know where to begin. From the beautiful lakes and exotic wildlife sanctuaries to the picturesque hill stations with their fresh Himalayan air and the scenic banks of rushing rivers, the Northeast has a lot to offer. As it is home to eight different states, each state comes with its own culture, gorgeous landmarks, and unique attractions.

Take for instance the village of Mawlynnong located in Meghalaya. Often labelled as being the cleanest village in Asia, Mawlynnong is home to the Khasi tribe and beautifully illustrates their devotion to look after their environment (something that the rest of us should seriously think about adopting as well).

 

Then there is the Loktak Lake in Manipur – the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India that is also known as ‘the jewel of Manipur’. A natural wonder if there ever was one, the scenic and breathtaking Loktak Lake harbours the world’s only floating national park. It truly is a remarkable sight – with floating islands called phumdi scattered across the lake, constantly in motion thanks to the movement of the lake’s water.

 

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And then there are the beautiful Nuranang falls – perhaps one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll see ANYWHERE in the world. Also known as Bong Bong falls, the Nuranang falls are 100 meters high, situated in Arunachal Pradesh, and simply breathtaking to look at.

 

 

And while you are in Arunachal, do visit the largest monastery in India – the Tawang Monastery – located at an elevated height of 10,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh?

 

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And if all of that isn’t enough to satiate your curiosity, how about the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, home to the one-horned Indian rhino? Or if you want to experience something truly unique, you can visit the Nathu La pass in Sikkim and experience the sound of your own voice echoing throughout the pass. Finally, those interested in getting an adrenaline rush from their travels can also try out some river rafting on Siang River. A tributary of the great River Brahmaputra, River Siang is located in Arunachal Pradesh and offers a truly exhilarating river rafting experience.

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What you read, just captures the tip of the iceberg, and I can go on and on about the truly wonderful, unique and fascinating attractions that the Northeast has to offer – that’s just how captivating this place is. What’s more important is that you take out the time to discover the many hidden gems that are in the Northeast and, instead of travelling to those clichéd tourist hotspots, plan a trip around these eight Indian states for a fraction of the price. Trust me, you won’t regret it. You will come back with a bagful of memories, lasting a lifetime.

 

 

 

Play It, Sam.

26th November, 1942, when Warner Brothers and director, Michael Curtiz held the premiere of “Casablanca”, they thought they were giving the world another Hollywood flick. Little did they realise that this movie would become an icon and change so many things for so many people.

Casablanca catapulted Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman to a new level of stardom, with dialogues & lines from the movie woven into every romantic, flirtatious Casablanca1conversation for 75 years. The story is iconic – a devastating romance between Rick Blaine, an expat cafe owner and Ilsa Lund. The two characters played Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman leave an indelible mark on your mind with powerhouse performance. Released during World War II, to capitalise on the Allies invasion of North Africa,Casablanca is about triumph of idealism over cynicism, passion over protest, and human nature in all its glory.

Here are some facts that people may not be aware of, even though you may have watched the movie umpteen number of times.

Playwright Murray Burnett co-created expat café owner Rick Blaine, piano player Sam, Czech resistance fighter Victor Lazlo and fresh-faced Ilsa Lund when he and his writing partner Joan Alison penned a play called ”Everybody Comes to Rick’s” in 1940. The play was intended for Broadway, but never made it. Warner Bros, however, saw the potential and decided to make a movie out of it. The rights were purchased for $20,000. No sequel has been made, even though a lot of producers and directors approached Murray Burnett for the same.

Imagine, if the movie was called “Lisbon”. That was the original title of the play and the story was set in Lisbon. It was later changed to Casablanca. Yet, Burnett never visited the city in his lifetime.

Humphrey Bogart was the quintessential romantic guy I wanted in my life, when I saw the movie. I wanted to be romanced & loved the way Ingrid Bergman was in Casablanca.Casablanca2 Imagine my surprise when I read that in real life, he was 5 feet 8 inches with Ingrid Bergman towering over him by two inches. The director had to make Bogie stand on wooden blocks or make him sit on piles of extra cushions to make him look taller!

There is no doubt that the film looks exotic and I have always thought that Casablanca during the war, looked like that. Did they shoot the movie on location? No, hold on. It was almost entirely shot in Warner Studios, Burbank, California. They did such a great job, that generations of men & women fell in love with Casablanca, the place.

Originally intended for an early 1943 release, showing Casablanca to the public was a rushed affair. It premiered on 26th November 1942, in New York City. The film then went into wide release on January 23, 1943, to coincide with the Casablanca Conference, a high-level meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Casablanca.

Many of the actors had first-hand experiences of the war and of Nazi brutality. S. Z. Sakall, who played the waiter Carl, was a Jewish-Hungarian who fled Germany in 1939 and lost his three sisters to a concentration camp. Helmut Dantine, who played the Bulgarian roulette player, spent time in a concentration camp and left Europe after being freed. Curt Bois, who played the pickpocket, was a German-Jewish actor and refugee. Conrad Veidt, who played Major Heinrich Strasser, was a German film star and refugee, and even though he fled the Nazis, he was often cast as a Nazi in American films.

Director Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant who had arrived in the U.S. in 1926, but some members of his family were refugees from Nazi Europe.

The last surviving member of the cast was Madeleine LeBeau, who played Yvonne, Rick’s girlfriend. She died on May 1, 2016, at the age of 92.

The line “Play it again, Sam” is one of the most widely quoted lines from Casablanca — but it never appears in the film. In the famous piano scene, Ilsa leans on the piano and says, “Play it once, Sam” and “Play it, Sam.” Rick also says, “Play it” — but nobody says, “Play it again, Sam.” Most attribute the phrase, and the misunderstanding, to Woody Allen’s stage play of the same name, which became a major motion picture in 1972.

There have been many spoofs, TV serials, radio plays based on Casablanca, but, never a full fledged remake. Among the famous parodies are the Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978). The film is also heavily referenced in The Usual Suspects (1995) and in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972), where Rick appears to give Allen’s character life advice.

Ingrid Bergman, who remains for many, the most beautiful woman to act on silver screen, never actually wanted to be starred in Casablanca. The screenplay was apparently rewritten a dozen times and she, during the filming, did not know, whom she would finally land up with, Rick Blaine or Viktor Laszlo.

The music for the film was written by Max Steiner, an Austrian-born, Hungarian-Jewish composer and arranger who gained fame for his score of Gone With the Wind and King Kong.

The classic song “As Time Goes By” was included in the original play, but Steiner didn’t Casablanca3like it and wanted it excluded from the film adaptation. But Bergman had already shot the scenes with the song and cut her hair for her next role, so they couldn’t be re-shot, and the song stayed.

After the movie was released, “As Time Goes By” spent 21 weeks on the hit parade.

75 years and still going strong. Casablanca is a movie that can still stir many hearts. It definitely does mine. Every time I watch it.

Manohar Parrikar – The Man, The Minister

After having gotten over the news of Manohar Parrikar going back to Goa as the Chief Minister, I write this piece as someone who has had the opportunity of meeting & interacting with him. My interactions with Mr Parrikar happened because I work with an Ex Service Men (ESM) organisation called Akhil Bharatiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad (ABPSSP) and as a member of a Mumbai based think tank, Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS).

I first met him in a conclave organised by FINS in February 2015. What struck me in that conclave was unlike other politicians, I found him listening more than talking. His speech at the conclave was brief, to the point and his vision of Make in India to succeed in the

manohar-parrikar-afp-file-650_650x400_51434000668

Image courtesy NDTV

defence production segment was one of hope, positivity, and inclusiveness. He said he wanted more local manufacturers, big & small, to be part of the defence production process and assured them business from the Ministry of Defence if they were willing to commit to quality, timely deliverables & cost effectiveness. He made notes and asked questions to clarify, validate and understand. What a refreshing change it was to find a Minister do that.

The preceding months I had read enough criticism about him in/by the media – print, electronic and social. How he does not understand defence & security, his dressing sense, how he cannot salute, etc. etc. After having met him, the media view seemed so shallow. I wondered (still do) why the media focuses on the negative and destructive criticism rather than positive and constructive criticism.

In the following months, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Mr Parrikar again. This time it was to do with my work in ABPSSP and working for the welfare of ESM. OROP agitation was at its peak and he was doing his best to resolve it in a conducive manner. His predecessors were in no way close to the patience he displayed towards all the ESM organisations and his commitment in seeing the OROP issue resolved. As OROP

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Image courtesy Indian Express

became a reality, he personally instructed my organisation to keep validating with our ESM members & families about the money being credited into their accounts. In fact, Mr Parrikar became a guiding force for ABPSSP to organise several meetings to resolve any pension related challenges of our ESM. On a visit to remote Mahuadan village in Jharkhand, when I addressed about 250 plus ESM & families and asked them about receiving OROP, they all affirmed positively. Not only that, they said, “We bless the Raksha Mantri for having made this possible.” Few politicians actually get blessings from the public!

Formal education and current position can define your worthiness. What makes you different is defined by your attitude towards others. And this is seen in Mr Parrikar. He always returned calls, responded to emails and did not bother about detractors who underestimated his intellect & judged him only by his outward appearance.

The energy and the “to do attitude” was so evident and infectious, that Mr Parrikar inspired the implementers endlessly. He himself is a man of action with a simple, straight forward approach. I had once asked him how he views his role as Raksha Mantri of the country. His response reflects his attitude. He said this is a role with responsibilities that has been entrusted to him by the government and he must deliver results to ensure proper functioning of the ministry. He shared great vibes when he visited formations and addressed the soldiers. Many of my serving friends in the armed forces have come away pleasantly surprised by his no nonsense approach & positive outlook towards bringing in necessary changes in the armed forces.

This must do approach again became evident when he facilitated a meeting between ABPSSP and Skill Development Ministry as we had requested for it. His support to build skill sets for our retiring soldiers and encouragement to use the skill sets they have developed while in service enabled us to create projects at the state level for both – the retired & the retiring soldier.

His sharp grasp of complexities and result oriented approach saw many a change in the Ministry of Defence. That was him as the Minister. What a lot of people may not know is 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 interacts and easy manner of communication, are all traits that make him differently unique in the world of politics. Families of martyred soldiers have a lot to be thankful for. In November last year, Mr Parrikar quietly doubled the compensation for widows and families of soldiers dying while fighting for the country in five categories. He has taken personal interest in every case that was put up to him for rehabilitation or resettling of families of martyred soldiers. For two ladies, Mrs Swati Mahadik (w/o Late Lt Col Santosh Mahadik) and Mrs Nidhi Dubey (w/o Late Naik Mukesh Dubey) he helped cut down the bureaucratic process of applying to the Officers Training Academy and today both are proud lady cadets at the OTA.

Mr Manohar Parrikar definitely initiated change in the Defence Ministry. However, as the man performing the role of a minister, he sets the benchmark high. That is a tall act to follow.

 

Do I Love My Country Or My Government?

“We are Indians, first & last.”

So said Dr BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution. Today, as I watched India celebrate the 68th Republic Day, that emotion was re-emphasised. Multitudes of people from across the country who were standing on Rajpath on a cold wintry morning to badge_logowitness the military & cultural show of strength, were themselves India’s show of strength. Not having missed watching a single Republic Day Parade in the last 23 years, I felt something different this year – a definitive change in the way we have showcased ourselves as a country. If I could describe it in two words, I would call the 2017 Republic Day Parade as “chic & dignified”

With the images of the parade, a series of thoughts went through my mind. India turns 67 from a Constitution perspective. So, does our Prime Minister. Both, he and our Constitution were born in the same year. Our Constitution is what we have to implement in letter & spirit and as the Prime Minister of our country, he has taken an oath to do so.

Robert Ingersoll once said, “In a republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.” Do we have to accept mediocrity as a nation and then deny the geniuses a chance to help this country develop & progress? The parade, once again told me that we are no longer looking at mediocrity. The tableaux today & the show of strength by our Armed Forces tell us a very different story. The NSG marched on Rajpath in the parade for the first time today and they could send shivers down anybody’s spine in their uniforms and weapons. LCA Tejas flew for the first time, the Air Force contingent headed by a lady officer, the Naval contingent and the Corps of Military Police all stood like beacons.

The air is one of jubilation, energy and optimism and yet there are systemic challenges that stop us from moving ahead at the pace with which we want to move. The Prime Minister and his team have promised us a government “bearing true faith & allegiance to the Constitution.”

Make no mistake when you read this. I am proud of the way things have turned out in the last two & half years.The greatest hero for a country is the person who gives a progressive vision, a peaceful landscape, a modern mind and an unshakeable belief in sustainable development to his nation. However, there are systemic issues that come in the way of such a leader. The beginning is the most important part of the work for a leader and that has been made. Yet, if the challenge of systemic corruption is not taken care of in our governance processes, all the initiatives will not yield the results visualised or worse, will be killed by those who may not be knowledgeable or interested enough in implementing them.

A show of strength today must translate into everyday practices that will truly make our nation great. We have demonetised our economy last year, yet there are those who still promote cash transactions. Middlemen exist and control our real estate, mines, forests and  certain industries creating complications for those who want to do business with the ease that has been promised by our Government. Swachch Bharat can only happen when the local governing bodies provide infrastructure to keep their areas/regions clean, when water bodies are maintained, sewage systems are built in every village of India, citizens are made aware of hygienic practices everywhere.

Real life situations for commoners like me are very different. We pay tax only to realise that our hard earned money has not been spent on facilities that we can use publicly or worse, those public facilities are ruined, destroyed or exist only on paper. We would love to be self employed, but, the documentation and bribery to start/grow our own business forces us to think twice about contributing to the wonderful Make In India projects. There are those of us who have daughters and love the girl child and would like to work on empowering our young ones as initiated in Beti Padhao Beti Bachao. Yet, when we find our politicians making sexist remarks and perpetrators of sexual crime walking freely on Indian roads, our blood boils. It is a horrible reminder that our show of strength should not just be on Rajpath, but every lane & road and nook & corner of our country to protect and empower our women & girls.

Yes, the government owes its allegiance to the Constitution. However, there are 1.25 billion Indians who believe in the core values of our Constitution, even though they don’t take a formal oath to obey it. In a democracy, the safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society are but the people themselves. Abraham Lincoln said, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Today, a handful of political leaders are trying their best to keep the Constitutional processes safe and implementable and are being stone walled by the majority who are loyal to their own interests.

In the heat of introducing initiatives and new projects, let us not forget the foundations that have to be cleaned first. While our foundations are strong and built on core values of our civilisation, they have also gathered a lot of dirt. It is that dirt which has to be washed away for us to acknowledge and the world to believe that our show of strength is not limited only to 26th January.

Signing off with freedom in my mind, faith in my words, pride in my soul and great memories in my heart, I look forward to the day when I can say I love my country and my government. Jai Hind!

The 365 Page Book Called 2017

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves….its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

It’s that time of the year again! The winter season signals the year-end and tells us that a new dawn is approaching. This “change of year” symbolism is important for two reasons: first, it allows us to take stock of the year that has gone by and second it provides us with the hope of being able to start afresh and not get weighed down by the past.new-year-quotes-07

I have never been where I am today. I have never been the age I am today, or had the experience I have today. The river of life flows and I find myself in places I have never been before. What an exhilarating moment of truth that is!

Everything is new. It is a starting point. At the same time there is a flow from the past that influences the process of ringing in the new. There are so many dreams and aspirations that one has in a lifetime. These change as we grow older and gather more experiences. Mine have changed too! I have realised that I want more for some of the people in my life, I dream more about what we will be as a society and a country. I see a lot of great people out there contributing in building a India of our dreams. You may not even hear of these contributors in your lifetime, for they focus on their actions. I want to highlight a few of them today for they have genuinely made a difference.

  1. Dreamers Doers started by Manjunath Hebbar is a platform for all those social entrepreneurs who want to showcase their work and collaborate with the like minded to impact social causes positively.
  2. Skip Armour brought to us by Chakradhari Rowe that helps a common man understand what is safety & security for an individual, a society and therefore, a country.
  3. Swayyam that teaches us eco conscious low impact living and how to connect back to the earth for our basic living. Malvikaa Solanki, the brain or rather the heart behind this can teach the young & old a thing or two about the “earthy” choices we make in life.
  4. Bal Utsav that brings life-changing education to children living in poverty. They revitalise government schools, support teachers, facilitate interventions in the space of water, sanitation and hygiene. The founders, Ramesh Balasundaram & Binu Ramesh Verma  are ever ready to facilitate learning for children and parents alike.
  5. Durga India, a project by I’m Every Woman started by Priya Varadarajan and yours truly is focused on creating awareness among the girls & women about their own safety in an increasingly unsafe world. Durga’s effort to create safer public spaces for women, including public transport, gets them to work with Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation & install safety alarms in buses.
  6. The Results Cafe, a self improvement project started by Mandeep Kataria & Prashant Reddy that enables & empowers people to stick to their resolutions and not get waylaid. Powerful, for in the end, we all need that push at some time.

These may seem like drops in the vast ocean…but, remember the old adage. They are doing their bit to create a better, stronger and self sufficient India. An India that is crossing the threshold and moving into a space where the world has to sit up and notice. Which brings me to the point of all the nay sayers out there. You can criticise, negate and shoot down any contribution made by anyone, be it an individual, a community or even the government. The fact is there are people whose purpose is to make a positive difference…even if it is to one individual. Negativity does not deter them. They look at the larger good and spread that goodness around them.

The above mentioned dreamers have influenced my own life in such significant ways that I initially did not even realise it. Who I am on the 1st of Jan 2017, somewhere is a result of that influence. What binds us together is this vision we have for this country of ours, for our society, community and people. We all want the following:

  1. A Swachch Bharat that is eco friendly. A national conscious against littering, spitting,  throwing trash everywhere.
  2. A country where girls and women feel safe and are safe. Both are equally important – the feeling & the being.
  3. An India where basic amenities are available to all citizens, in a manner in which they can afford it. That means no freebies for political gain.
  4. A youth that understands the power of our Constitution, the power of voting and contributing to the electoral process.
  5. Adherence to law and order. No negotiating as far as this is concerned.

I am sure every upright citizen wants the same. So, when there is a collective dream, the only thing we have to do, is follow it.

new-year-quotes-2014-beautiful-cards-to-send-your-wishes-brad-paisleyI picture ourselves and India starting a book called 2017 stretched out to 365 pages before us, beckoning to a future somewhere in different chapters that calls us to drive a positive change. All that we will become lies out there, in those pages. The beauty of starting this book is we all can write a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we write.

We spend December 31st & January 1st walking through our lives, chapter by chapter, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the chapters of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

Praying that everyone writes beautiful lines in the Book of 2017! Happy New Year!

 

 

 

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday…

Rest in peace Leonard Cohen.

In Beautiful Losers, his second novel, he said, “Do not be magical, be magic.” Cohen was magic and therefore, magical. Poet, novelist, songwriter, singer all rolled into one, Leonard Cohen entered the music scene in New York in 1967. For almost 60 years he mesmerised those who heard him.

I first heard Cohen in 1983 at a friend’s place on a rainy afternoon in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were the days of a cassette recorder and when Cohen’s voice echoed in that room, eight other voices went silent. It was a distinct voice…one which took “500 tons of cohenwhiskey and, you know, a million cigarettes” to develop as he said in an interview. The album was “Recent Songs”. To say we were hooked would be an understatement. There was this hunger and curiosity to know who Leonard Cohen was. Personally, I thought & still think he was the only other person whose songs influenced me as much Bob Dylan. His response to Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature was, “giving the award to Dylan is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”

One of the most fascinating and enigmatic song writer/singer, Cohen rarely made it to the pop music charts. Influencing many musicians and winning numerous awards, including The Companion of the Order of Canada (highest civilian award in Canada), Cohen’s folk-rock music commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960’s who continued to work till the outset of the 21st century. The testimony to this was the release of his latest in October 2016 – “You Want It Darker” a solemn album of elegies. The power of his words can be felt in his last letter to his muse Marianne Ihlen. It said, “well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” She died in August 2016.

Cohen’s successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in “Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs”, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen’s poems, several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics. It may have seemed to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, I would call him as a quintessential Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines.

Thank you for speaking from specific vantage points at every stage in your life.  Thank you for the quiet nights, the solitary reflections, the 360 degree perspectives, the wry smiles and the truth.

I will miss you.