The Blood Flows And My Land Turns Red

Death visits the mundane a heightened gravity, making life’s trivia beautiful and everyday weighty. Had Col MN Rai, Lt Col Sankalp, Maj Mukund Varadrajan or the countless others lived, each of them would have grown old with their spouse, experienced the pains & pleasures of bringing up teenage children, cared for their parents, done their bit for society. Above all, they would have lived to tell the tale.

The last year and half has seen many deaths in the Kashmir Valley. Death – that is what it is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. And, that is the thing about death. No one can get used to it. Just when you think you are reconciled, accepted, you hear about it again, and it just hits you all over, that shock.

A lot of my friends had pertinent questions sometime ago, when we were discussing the futility of a war thrust upon a country because of political whims and fancies. Irrespective of how a war happens, one thing is certain…Herbert Hoover said, “older men declare war, younger men fight & die.” One of the questions that came up was, “when we talk of army preparedness and training and strategy, why is it that so many of our soldiers die?” Well, to all those who have that question on their mind, I would like them to read what Lt Gen Ata Hasnain of the Indian Army has to say. He said this in the context of Col MN Rai being martyred yesterday in the Valley.

“In ‘Last Mile’ tactical level operations for elimination of terrorists there will be casualties and the traditional ratios of own against terrorist losses will rise, at times abnormally. This must not draw the ire of the higher leadership but rather its constant monitoring and advice. Losses occur due to the lowering of guard and failure to take sufficient precautions in apparently simple operations. The return of suicide acts by terrorists, last witnessed in the early part of the millennium, remains a distinct possibility with targets being in the areas closer to the LoC. This has the effect of forcing LoC formations to shed more troops for security at the cost of the counter infiltration grid at the LoC.

Horribly proverbial but rightly predicted I feel. It takes away nothing from Late Col MN Rai’s valor and leadership. Most casualties occur either in the first TWO MINUTES of a contact or then, in urban ops, during attempts to break in by the Search elements. In this case it was neither. I recall a similar situation at a village called Batpura, on outskirts of the Old Airfield, where in a long stand off with six to eight LeT trts in 2000, the then GOC Victor Force forced me (I was then Col GS) against my advice to take him to the Cordon to witness the search operations. We were watching the operations without Bullet Proof Jackets and standing on a vantage point provided by the terrace of an incomplete house. Suddenly, I found two trts breaking the close cordon and running towards us, firing on the run. The fire raked the building around and we could just pull the GOC out of harms way. The valiant soldiers of 6 SIKH then eliminated the two trts. I learnt my lesson of not interfering with ops of ground troops.

Late Col Rai’s action is not akin to the above. He was providing frontline leadership. It is usual in the RR for the CO to move to the spot with his QRT and take charge. Let us not fault him on that at all. I am not aware whether he was wearing a BPJ; he must have been because that is an SOP. Possibly, for a momentary break in SOPs he stepped out from cover to examine for himself where the target area was. That is when possibly he was shot at. A case of sheer bad luck but then people have to realize that officers of our Army have this passion to be there with the men and facing the same odds that their men face. If it is not so, no individual under fire is going to raise his head. The presence of a CO with them energizes all ranks. That is the risk that Late Col Rai took and no one can fault him for it. Given the situation I would have done exactly what he did. There is an element of such risk which goes with your responsibility. That is why we are all saying that Late Col MN Rai, YSM, sacrificed his life in the finest tradition of the Indian Army. Such acts need not be faulted, for the sake of the officer – man relationship which exists in our Army.”

Leadership in the army is walk the talk. Harold AcAlindon once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.  ” That is exactly what our brave soldiers do, when they are battling the enemy. They leave a trail behind them, a trail that few us can comprehend, much less follow. To such an army, what tribute or homage do I pay? My eyes are filled with unshed tears, knowing that while they lay down their lives to protect us, their families miss them in the everyday routine. A song heard, a festival celebrated, a birthday party hosted, a movie watched…how does one get over the vaccuum. The absence of that one person in the family leaves a void that can never be fulfilled, a dark gash that cuts through the family every time they think of him. I have lost friends who died fighting for us. The families feel proud….yet, there is an emotional part that dies with the soldier. A mother whose youth snapped over her son’s death, a father who weeps silently rocking himself on a chair, grandparents who keep wondering why it couldn’t be them, instead of their grandson, a wife who feels is presence in everything around her.

For my part, I can only spread the word, share my feelings and help build an awareness of what is it that our Armed Forces are all about. Remember, we have a confirmed threat against our country and I for one am grateful for the Indian Armed Forces sitting in deserts, on snowy peaks and plains all through out the year. I see three commonalities.

(1) Passion. The Indian Armed Forces runs on this one factor…passion to serve the nation, passion to protect, passion to be the best.

(2) This brings me to the second commonality…we are all Indians. Yes, we fuss, we have differences of opinions, but we are all Indians and not hyphenated Indians.

(3) The third and most important commonality is the fact that we all bleed red.

And from where I am, it is the same red blood that is seeping through my land, turning the colour of the soil, choking me, numbing me and a silent cry…how many more, how many more?



Hyphenated Indians – Building A Sense of Pride

I have to thank Theodore Roosevelt for the above phrase. He used the term hyphenated American when he said, “In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans.”

I could immediately relate this to the movie “Chak De”. In the scene where Kabir Khan, the coach for the Indian Women’s Hockey Team asks the team members to introduce themselves, each player introduces herself and the state she plays for The only exception being Vidya Sharma, who says she plays for India. Every single player in that team was a hyphenated Indian. indian-patriotism-22654920

As I was watching the Republic Day parade this morning and listening to a host of panel discussions on different channels, I was struck by the fervour of nationalistic pride I heard in the commentary. I was also shaken by some strange criticism that was aired by television channels with regard to improving our Republic Day Parade standards. This led me to ask a number of questions to myself.

1. Is this sense of pride visible only on certain days? Republic Day, Independence Day?

2. What happens to this sense of nationalism or patriotism on other routine days?

3. Is this pride demonstrated only by waving out tricolour on 26th Januaru and 15th August?

4. Last but not the least, are there other ways to show that we are proud Indians?

Earlier, a large part of India used to treat both these days as just national holidays. Republic Day and Independence Day badge_logowere like an unexpected Sunday. Make the most of it…watch a movie, sleep, finish odd jobs around the house, catch up with friends, etc. Let somebody else hoist the flag! I am not saying people still don’t do the former. However, I have sensed more and more people participating in social/welfare/developmental activities on these two days. Very heartening and very inspiring! How do I sense this? Thanks to social media…one gets to see what is happening in different parts of the country, not to mention the world.

I have always found older generations lamenting about the younger generation not respecting our country enough, not empathising with the way we got our independence or remembering our freedom fighters, etc, etc. Have we, as the older generation, done enough to instil a sense of pride about our “Indianness” among the younger generation? Persoanlly, I find a lot of the youth today are proud of  being Indian. They may not appreciate our legacy, our cultural & historical inheritance. However, we are to blame for that. How many of us have shared that wonderful national heritage with our children by way of stories, travel, or movies? We may have done it in a very parochial sense, which never gives the holistic picture in any case.

If we haven’t, then we are responsible for grooming another generation of hyphenated Indians.

Hyphenated Indians can fall into different categories – religious, linguistic, caste, creed, state wise, district wise, city wise, sport wise, qualification wise, career wise and the list can go on. Today, it’s a tight rope walk to bring up just Indians, when there are so many dichotomies being politicised. Here is where something magnificent like the Republic Day Parade can make a difference. Watching the parade with our children, explaining to them what the tableaux mean, sharing little anecdotes and stories of our beautiful country and her history…all of that becomes the foundation. Of course, there are other channels that need to contribute to this national pride. In my experience, it’s always the home where the child learns such values. We all did 🙂  liberty-the-secret-of-happiness_1859060793

Our education system is another great leveller as far as building such a pride is concerned. The syllabus in our school and college must include various aspects of our legacy in a manner that will appeal to this generation. Remember, today’s youth and children are amazingly tech savvy, information savvy and well connected. They read, watch and observe. Hence, they also ask very different questions from what we did. We, as a society, must be prepared to answer those questions.

I can confidently say that we are on a roll today. The world is watching us. The world is also waiting for us to deliver on our promises. The world is waiting to see whether we will stumble and fall. My response to that is what our Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech last year –

“The world has undergone a change. My dear countrymen, the world has changed. Now India can not decide its future by remaining isolated and sitting alone in a corner. The economics of the world have changed and, therefore, we will have to act accordingly. Government have taken many decisions recently, made some announcements in the budget and I call upon the world and call upon the Indians spread world over that if we have to provide more and more employment to the youth, we will have to promote manufacturing sector. If we have to develop a balance between imports and exports, we will have to strengthen manufacturing sector. If we have to put in use the education, the capability of the youth, we will have to go for manufacturing sector and for this Hindustan also will have to lend its full strength, but we also invite world powers.

Therefore I want to appeal to all the people world over, from the ramparts of Red Fort, “Come, make in India”, “Come, manufacture in India”. Sell in any country of the world but manufacture here. We have got skill, talent, discipline, and determination to do something. We want to give the world an favourable opportunity that come here…”

The Prime Minister has shown us many ways in which we can display we are proud Indians – Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan, Make in India, Beti Bachao, Adarsh Graam Yojana. There will be many more coming. Let us pick one project, associate ourselves in any which way we can, involve our families and contribute. Walk the talk is the best way to build a culture of Jai-Hind-Independence-Day-Wallpaper-To-Printnationalistic pride. To quote Mr Modi again, “This country has been built on such foundation of ancient cultural heritage, where we were told of only one mantra during Vedic period, which is indicative of our work culture, which we have learnt, we have memorized – “Sangachchhdhvam Samvadadhvam sam wo manansi jaanataam.” We walk together, we move together, we think together, we resolve together and together we take this country forward.”
Let us live for & serve our country in a manner in which sentiment of love, the sense of fellowship  binds together all the Indians, cutting across all man made barriers that stop us from growing, developing, progressing…
Jai Hind!