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

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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.

Letters From Home…Saluting Military Spouses Across The World

If you’re not in love with a soldier, you can’t know adventure. You don’t understand why green & brown camouflage bags & fatigues are better than any designer clothes & mil-wifeaccessories. If you’re not in love with a soldier, you don’t know what it’s like to say that good-bye.  If you’re not in love with a soldier, you won’t know what it means to stay away for years shouldering your share of family responsibility, while he is responsible for protecting the country. If you’re not in love with a soldier, you can’t know the immense joy, the uncontrollable smile, or the butterflies in your stomach when you see your soldier march into an airport lounge, get off on the railway platform and walk towards you with his lopsided smile. If you’re not in love with a soldier, you don’t know what it’s like to wait for a phone call or email or a text message for days. Yes, even in this age of super fast internet connectivity. 

This open letter is for all those who wish to know what a military spouse goes through. We are the “silent ranks” and there is a reason why we are silent. We wait…for  letters, phone calls, emails and most important, homecomings. But, hold on, there’s more. We wait for practice camps, new commanders,  military exercise schedules and dates for field.postings. We also wait for leave approvals and short weekend breaks…which sometimes get cancelled.

We are not perfect wives. The staying away gets to us and sometimes nothing seems to go right. We get tired of taking decisions all by ourselves, at nights the pillows are soaked with our tears when we consistently try to stay strong. We become a single parent in that period of separation and learn to grin & bear it. There are times when I go numb with the loneliness…however, when I think of how much I love my soldier, I am proud to be an army wife.

We are like other wives, yet, different. We clean our homes & mop floors but, are unsure for how long we will do it in the same place. We plant and grow gardens wherever we are, but we can’t grow roots. So, potted plants become as dear a possession as any. Like  other wives we too buy furniture. It can’t really be fancy antique stuff. It has to be sturdy enough to last various postings and moves. We learn to entertain by serving a six course meal wherever possible, and with just bread & eggs too…with the same ease & panache. We make new friends all the time, yet, never discard the old ones. Because we know we will meet somewhere, sometime and that bonds us for life. The same holds good for our children…they learn to network and build lasting relationships.

Sure, I have been frustrated at times and been angry at certain situations in our life. When the exigencies of military life have kept us apart not just for days & months, but, for years, I felt that life is unfair. However, I also realise that it is the same for my man in uniform. I also know that he goes through the same levels of frustration of not being home with me & the children. I pray that he is safe when he is posted at the borders, not just because he is fighting the enemy. He is fighting harsh weather conditions also. I also know that when he is posted to certain operational areas and there are tragedies that take place, I am the only person he will turn to, to share his emotional upheaval. I am his rock, anchor & stronghold…I am the woman he loves. And that, is a feeling I will never exchange for anything in the world.

mil-spouseAs military wives, we take care of our homes & families for months & months, without letting our husbands know some of the challenges. Not because we don’t want to tell them. But, because we want them to focus on protecting you & us. Like someone very correctly said, “He risks his life for people he doesn’t even know, imagine what he’ll do for me.”

There is a universal recipe for being a military wife…3/4th cup patience, 3/4th cup tolerance, 1 pound courage and a dash of adventure (every now & then). Mix all ingredients together with large tablespoons of elbow grease. Marinate frequently with salty tears. Keep aside for a year. Pour of excess fat. Sprinkle lightly with money regularly. Knead the dough until payday. Season with spices from across the country. Bake throughout the soldier’s tenure. Serve with complete pride.

So, the next time you meet a military wife, do look beyond the obvious that is shown to the world. Discover the inner strength & the fortitude the lady hides behind her words & smile…you will get to know a “woman of substance.” 10845816_10153364758294444_3709304054657174943_o

This post is also a tribute to two beautiful ladies, Radha Patil & Shakuntla Malik, both army wives & women of substance who have been responsible for shaping me as an individual…Radha Patil from the day she gave birth to me and Shakuntla Malik in my  formative years. You both continue to influence my life in myriad ways. Thank you!!!

When I Fell In Love With Mr Tambourine…

May God bless and keep you always black-and-white-bob-dylan-hero-i-love-him-favim-com-874865
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young…

That’s my prayer tonight for the one & only Bob Dylan. Young in terms of reinventing yourself, creating new poetic waves and awakening a delicious sensation in the likes of me, when we listen to you.

Falling in love with Dylan is something that happens every time I hear him sing. It did not happen the first time I heard him, though. I was all of 14 when I first heard him sing “Forever Young”. I also heard Joan Baez sing it and fell in love with her voice. Then something compelled me to listen to Dylan again…and again…and again. “Forever Young” is part of his album called “Planet Waves” which also had some other amazing songs “Something There Is About You”, “Tough Mama” & “Never Say Goodbye”. I didn’t want to say goodbye…in fact I wanted to say hello all over again.

The next day saw me in a music shop asking for Bob Dylan cassettes (yes, those were the days of cassettes and LP records). The store owner looked at me as if I didn’t know what I was asking for. He told me there is no singer like that! I argued and he finally gave me the address of another store and said “try there…you will find English music”. I walked into this shop that looked like it needed repairs 50 years ago & approached the old man at the counter who was humming “Country Roads”. He smiled and I asked him”Bob Dylan?”. His reply was “No darling. John Denver” and both of us laughed. “Aren’t you too young for Dylan’s music?” he asked and I said with all the passion of a 14 year old, “I can’t get his songs out of my mind”. In later years when I started dating the love of my life, he actually wooed me with Dylan’s music – “Tangled Up In Blue”, “You’re A Big Girl Now” & “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome  When You Go”.

So, began my love affair with Dylan’s poetry, music and writing. I couldn’t get enough of him or Joan Baez for that matter. I would look for every piece of information I could get about them. My brother & I were holidaying in Vietnam with my parents in 1984 and my Dad sat with me to listen to “my kind of music”. I got him to listen to “The Wall” by Pink Floyd first and then “The Times They Are A Changin'” by Dylan. One of my happiest moments was when he said, “Out of all the music I have heard you listen to, over the years, this man sings in a way I can understand”.

MusiCares Person Of The Year Tribute To Bob Dylan - Show

That is actually the power of Dylan’s music. It is something that most people can understand and relate to. Guitar & harmonica, bass, piano & ensemble strings all accompanied the lyrics to create musical poetry. Dylan phrases his writing so perfectly that the meaning is rendered starkly and with profound resonance.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has surely created a buzz among critics & analysts of his career.That Dylan has never conformed to the usual and Dylanologists love that about him. After five decades of “creating new poetic expressions” and not separating the music from the words & voice (you simply can’t), Dylan came up with The Tempest & Shadows In The Night primarily drawn from the great American Songbook. What’s so different, one may ask. Almost every singer from Robbie Williams to Paul McCartney to Carly Simon to Rod Stewart have done it. Just one difference I think will suffice – most singers make albums vaguely attempting to create a blend of their best-loved classic works; Dylan makes albums that bring up a world before Bob Dylan existed – filled with music that sounds like blues, country or just plain rockabilly from an era when pop was still untouched by his influence. That, my dear readers & friends is quintessential Bob Dylan.

He has threaded himself without any obvious knots & cuts, into the complex tapestry of American popular music. He has borrowed from the past, reworked melodies, images, characters and most of all, attitudes. The Dylan I fell in love with mocked the world from behind his grey – blue- black shades by combining  symbolic poetry and the tempo & energy of various music forms. He deserves this Nobel Prize only for that. For just being himself!

War Does Not Determine…

War does not determine who is right…only who is left.

Vijay Path

Vijay Path & Tololing Range in the background

1999. Kargil. 527 brave-hearts dead. 1367 injured. Rest of us are left…far behind.

Two years ago I wrote a piece – A War…Hundreds of Martyrs…A Lifetime Of Memories – when I made my trip to Kargil after 15 long years, to pay homage to our martyrs, among whom were friends I lost. Today, marks the 17th anniversary of the Kargil War.

17 years and the souls of our dead soldiers turn to us to ask. What did they fight for? What did they die for?

  1. They died protecting the land that would have been with Pakistan today.
  2. They died protecting the people who would have suffered in the hands of those Pakistanis soldiers & eventually Pakistani administration.
  3. They fought to retain the freedom of the land which is ours…the freedom & the land.
  4. They fought so people in Kargil, Dras, Leh and the surrounding areas could live peacefully. Not just our generation, but the future generations also.

Are we an ungrateful nation? Yes and no.

No, because there are some who have not forgotten the sacrifices made by the Indian Army. There are some who continue to fight to protect the same land & freedom. Not necessarily from the borders or in Jammu & Kashmir. Some of us fight battles in towns & cities to educate the rest of the population about being grateful. About being thankful that they are Indian & free.

Yes, we are ungrateful, because there is a section in our society that does not think national interest or national security. The ungratefulness comes to the fore when terrorists are eulogised and their killing is called unconstitutional or human rights activists are holding placards asking for humane treatment of those terrorists. My question to such people is have you lost someone close to you, someone who died simply because he wanted to protect you? Quite a few of us have. So, listen to us. For we will tell you what it means. What it means to hear that he will not come back again to meet you, to laugh & share a drink with you, to plan important events in life, to get married, to have children, to eat what his mother cooks, to support his father as he gets on in years…in short to experience life.

Yes we are ungrateful when we allow misguided citizens of this country to take the security forces for granted. Aren’t the security forces human? What gives anybody the right to harm them? And, when they are harmed, why should they not protect themselves? Would you and I not protect ourselves if somebody pelted stones at us? Would we not defend ourselves? Let us allow our defence & security forces to protect the country, instead of protecting themselves from an ungrateful nation. Remember, there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of a thankless country.

As parts of the country gear up to honour our martyrs & their families, it is time for the rest to pause & think about the dead soldier and how it is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organise the peace. Peace has to be organised, otherwise war will not end; and if war doesn’t end, we end as a country. That is not acceptable to a large majority of us.

Sometimes, you have to pick up a gun to put the gun down. I will not mourn our soldiers who die protecting us. I am thankful and grateful we are still a nation that produces such heroes!

We Serve With Pride

 

No matter how much frustration there is,
Fear, trepidation, anxiety or unease.
Despite all the hardships  & adversity aside,
As long as I wear the uniform I endure all with pride.
For service and loyalty are what matter to me,
Honour, courage, respect and integrity
Are the armour I wear to counter all foe
They give me strength when into enemy land I go.
I depend on my comrades, and defend them I must,
They in turn they depend on me keeping the trust.
Together we shall overcome the toughest of test,
Our resolve will never waiver as we all give our best.

Jai Hind Ki Sena! Salute!

 

 

One & Only…Field Marshal Manekshaw

On his 102nd birth anniversary…Sam1

It’s true when they say God doesn’t make ’em like him any more. India’s first Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, popularly known as Sam Bahadur, was truly a quintessential soldier and a gentleman. Those who are part of the armed forces of India and their families will know of this great man. Those outside, may not even be aware of what his contribution is to the history of India & Indian Army.

Without delving too much into his early life, I would like to share some incidents & situations that made him who he was – a legend. Spanning four decades, his career began in pre independent India. Capt Manekshaw, fighting in WW II, led his company in a counter-attack against the invading Japanese Army and despite suffering 50% casualties the company managed to achieve its objective. In the counter attack, Capt Manekshaw got hit in the stomach by a machine gun fire. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division, Maj Gen David Cowan, having witnessed Capt Manekshaw’s valour, rushed to his side. Fearing that the young officer would die, the general pinned his own Military Cross ribbon to Manekshaw saying, “A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.”

Capt Manekshaw was evacuated to Rangoon, and, when the surgeon asked what had happened to him, he replied that he was “kicked by a donkey”.

In 1961, his outspoken frankness got him into trouble with Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and Lt Gen B M Kaul. He refused to toe Menon’s line and was sidelined, albeit temporarily.

Manekshaw was vindicated soon after when the Indian army suffered a humiliating defeat in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh, the next year, at the hands of the Chinese leading to Menon’s resignation. Prime Minister Nehru rushed Manekshaw to NEFA to command the retreating Indian forces. This had an electrifying effect on the demoralised officers.

In no time, Manekshaw convinced the troops that the Chinese soldier was not “10 feet tall”. His first order of the day said, “There will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.” The soldiers showed faith in their new commander and successfully checked further ingress by the Chinese.

In 1964, he took over as Army Commander, Eastern Command in Kolkata. He successfully responded to the insurgency problem in Nagaland, dealt with the Mizo uprising and strived to bring normalcy to the North East. It was here that my father, serving as ADC to Maj Gen KP Candeth, ( commanding 8 Mountain Div) met his Army Commander for the first time. This interaction also taught a lesson that my father has handed down to the next two generations in our family. It so happened that after the day’s work, both Maj Gen Candeth & Lt Gen Manekshaw were relaxing that evening in the GOC’s quarters. My father, being the ADC wheeled in the bar trolley and lifted the bottle of whiskey to pour a drink for both Generals. Lt Gen Manekshaw saw the way this young captain was holding the glass and the whiskey bottle and asked him a question, “Young man, how long have you served with Unni (GOC’s nickname) and do you have a girlfriend?” My father replied, “I have been with Gen Candeth for 8 months Sir. And no Sir, I don’t have a girl friend.”

The Army Commander winked at my Dad and said, “It shows that you don’t have a girl friend by the way you hold the bottle. Remember, always hold the bottle by the neck and your girl by the waist. Never the other round…you will get a kick in the wrong place.” That priceless lesson was handed down to my brother and me and that was the first thing I noticed when I fell in love with my man. He got the permutation right!

As the 8th Chief of Army Staff, Gen Manekshaw’s experience was going to be put to test in 1971 when we went to war with Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was yet to understand her Army Chief. When she asked him if we were ready for war, Sam Bahadur’s classic reply was, “I’m always ready, sweetie.” It makes me smile every time I think of the PM’s reaction to a statement like this. Having said that, he also pointed out that our armed forces had to be readied for war and that would take time. He said he could guarantee victory if she would allow him to prepare for the conflict on his terms, and set a date for it. The PM acceded to this and thus, Bangla Desh was born. When the PM asked him to go to Dhaka and accept the surrender of Pakistani forces, Manekshaw declined, magnanimously saying that the honour should go to his Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora.

He was the epitome of soldiering with dignity. After the 1971 War, he was visiting our injured soldiers in hospitals. He met a young man who had three bullet wounds and quipped, “You received three at this age; when I was of your age, I received nine bullets and look—today, I am the commander in chief of the Indian Army.” He ensured that the 93,000 prisoners of war were treated with utmost respect. Officers who served with him were told to maintain the dignity of the captured soldiers. He personally supervised some the PoW camps, which led to even some of the Pakistani officers salute him for is humane approach.

Handsome, charismatic and a razor sharp wit characterised Field Marshal Manekshaw. That he held politicians in disdain is no secret. He was blunt about the views he held of them, the most famous one being, “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.”

On another occasion, PM Gandhi asked him whether he was planning to take over the country. Pointing to his long nose, the General replied: “I don’t use it to poke into other’s affairs. I don’t interfere politically as long as nobody interferes with me in the Army.”

Suave in all his social interactions, Sam Bahadur could charm the pants off anyone, including Bollywood stars. This incident was in Nov/Dec 1999 in Mumbai. A talk & ceremony was organised to honour the heroes, martyrs and war widows of Kargil. The theme was “Lessons from Kargil” and Field Marshal was the main speaker that evening. My Dad had the opportunity to share some of his thoughts and we were in the audience. Some of our Bollywood stars like Raveena tandon & Nana Patekar had visited Kargil just before this event and were also present. It is was an emotianally charged atmosphere and Raveena in her exuberance declared that all soldiers of the Indian Army were like her brothers and wanted to tie a rakhi to Sam Bahadur. He promptly got up from his chair, hugged her and said, “Raveena, a pretty girl like you should tie rakhi to this young General and not me. You and I are friends.” The young General was my father, pushing sixty at that point!

Such a hero was treated shabbily by the government as they did not give him his dues as Field Marshal. His death also showed us how this country views it’s soldiers. Irrespective of how he got treated by the politician & bureaucrats in his life or death, Sam Bahadur will always be loved and respected by the likes of us who have known him or known of him.

And to think he wanted to become a gynaecologist when he was 15 years. When his father refused to send him to London to study, Sam Bahadur rebelled and applied for the entrance examination of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun.

Thank you Uncle Sam for rebelling when you did…because India got one her best and most celebrated army officer!