The Making Of A Leader…Part 1

In a life where I straddle two worlds, the corporate/business world (fetches my bread, butter, jam & cheese) and the world of armed forces (upbringing, passion & love of my life), I have always looked at what best practices can be used from both to lead a better life.

Having worked with human resource management teams in various organizations, implemented and imparted training at different levels to employees, including leadership, I have always felt the corporate world can learn so much from a military leader.

Military Leadership & Corporate Leadership

“I will never quit. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to fight my enemies and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”
― Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL.Mil leadership

Leadership is both similar and yet so different in some aspects of the military & corporate. An army officer starts imbibing leadership traits from a junior level and these skills get honed at every level, in every post he/she holds. The precepts and practices of the military leadership world over are almost common. They all promote & implement the same value system – lead by example, know your job, value team spirit, complete loyalty to the organization, importance of moral & physical courage & the capability to take decisions. 

Geoffrey Webb in his article “5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders” puts it succinctly and says these are the aspects missing in most corporate organizations.

  1. Developing Junior Leaders – developing evaluation/judgemental skills in junior leaders is critical. As a result, they are empowered to take initiatives & flexibility in making decisions through decentralised execution. This builds the right attitude & skills required to cope with an ever changing environment. This is missing at the junior levels in a corporate environment, in most organizations.
  2. Leverage Leader’s Intent – planning is everything, according to military leaders. A platoon, unit, brigade, division & corps in the military is very clear about the intent of their leaders – purpose, key outcomes & desired results. Followers, therefore get an opportunity to adapt, develop & succeed in accomplishing their on ground goals. Very often, this kind of alignment between organizational & self goals are often at a conflict in the corporate environment.
  3. Organization of Tasks – number of teams & missions are not equal in the armed forces; specific teams are created for specific achievements. However, standards are universal and the men are trained in a way that they are able to operate globally, irrespective of where they are. In contrast, the focus on high degrees of specialisation in corporate organizations, compartmentalise employees & does not enable them to multi task or even build multi functional capabilities.
  4. Use of Operators as Trainers – imparting training in the armed forces is the responsibility of the operators, and, not the human resource department as seen in the corporate world. In fact, what corporate organizations term as human resource functions are skills in – built in every officer right from day one. Man management is the bedrock of the military.
  5. Mission First Always – mission of the military & its leaders is of foremost importance. It supersedes personal interests as the very ethos of the organization is to serve the country & its people.

Military In The Corporate

leadership-and-leaders

A lot of the leadership training we see in corporates today find their origin in the armed forces. Military organizations have been in leadership development training much earlier than the corporate world. The military operates in a highly uncertain environment, involving high risks. To deal with & work in such an environment, men & women in uniform are trained in a way that ensures 24/7 readiness & commitment to deliver. Similarly, business leaders must be schooled & groomed in adaptive leadership practices to survive & succeed in the increasingly unpredicted business climate.

Leadership effectiveness in the military is totally evident because the personnel have actual leadership experience, especially in crisis situations. This prepares them in a more concrete way to handle staff, consult, analyse or strategize. A 22 – 26 year old leader in the armed forces gets an opportunity to lead around 100 – 120 persons in crises, which basically exposes them to several aspects of leadership skills, grooming them for various contingencies. This experience  – building very rarely happens in the corporate world, thus, giving an edge to young military leaders over their corporate counterparts. In some cases, these young officers (short service commissioned officers) have moved out of the armed forces and have become immensely successful as authentic leaders in the outside world.

Building Mindful Leadership

In a world that is increasingly focusing on the self, it is only in the armed forces that we still see a semblance of leadership of integrity. The leaders that are trained & groomed in the military can be termed as authentic leaders – leaders who are genuine in their intentions and understand the purpose of their leadership is serving their country & people, and, not their self interest.
Military-Leadership-Quotes-Wallpapers-3

 

 

Living…with a dash of sass

There’s something about the year end that puts most of us in an introspective mood. This year end is no different. There have been ups & downs, mostly ups, which include my girls doing well in their respective lives, a brilliant holiday we all enjoyed together, setting up a second home in another city and the launch of a couple of new businesses. The downside is realising that we are fast losing one generation of people to the inexorable process of ageing. While on one hand, I understand this is part of life’s cycle, it nevertheless saddens me that this process deprives us of one of the most extraordinary generations that India has seen. The veterans of World War I are no more and the people born during World War II are in their late 70’s or early 80’s.

I have spent time with that generation. I have sat through their stories of growing up in an India that you and I can only visualise and never experience. This is not to undermine any other generation’s experience. I am writing to share what I have learnt from these septuagenarians and octogenarians. This particular blog is dedicated to all those who belong to the 15th Course of the National Defence Academy for you all have influenced me to lead a rich life!

Find Ways To Do

One of the easiest and simplest thing is to find reasons why we can’t do things. They are called excuses. My biggest lesson from these stalwarts is to find one simple reason to do things. That one overwhelming “why” that will ensure the barriers come crumbling down. Living in different cities, leading hectic lives make it difficult to meet close family & friends. However, the older generation has taught me that it’s important to cherish those relationships. I still see them make an effort to be a part of everyone’s lives around them. new-year-quotes-07

Share Your Life

My parents have shared their lives with my brother and me. It just made communication so much more easier for all of us. I never had a problem expressing to my parents what was going on in my mind and why. I also realise that this was only possible because they were genuinely interested in our lives and shared activities with my brother and me. A lot of things I do now in my life are because of activities initiated by my Dad and his friends, while I was growing up.

Choose Happiness

Almost everyone I have met in that wonderful age group focus on quality of life and they choose happiness as the one determining factor. Most of them have gone through some kind of illness/surgery/treatment in the recent years. They see a sense of fragility that belongs to these experiences as directly contributing to their ability to savour life. “Tomorrow is unknown, future uncertain at our age. Lighten up and live life completely today.” Wise words from wise people. Rythm

Accept Life & Connect With Yourself

The terrace at my parents’ place offers a lovely view of the green canopy of trees in a quiet residential area. A wall of windows at my second parents’ home overlooks a lovely verdant patch of lawn bordered by flowering shrubs and lemon tree. Having spent ample time in both places, I see that later life has brought all four of them a sense of wholeness, acceptance, and the ability to enjoy small pleasures. They love the place they live, people visit them and are always welcomed, they entertain the way they want to and not because they are expected to…a complete sense of liberation & contentment.

Build A Life With Someone You Respect & Love

It sounds simple. Yet, very few can say this. Most of the couples I know, in their grand old 70’s and 80’s are the ones who have celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. What I have observed and learnt can be succinctly shared in the following words…you have to like each other. Be friends, try to get past the initial heaving and panting, and make sure there’s a real friendship underneath that. I don’t think identical interests are important, but shared values are. That is the bedrock of the relationship. And critical. Build on that a set of dreams that both cherish & work towards.

And as my soul mate and I complete three decades of knowing, understanding, accepting & loving each other, I can happily say, we both love certain kinds of things. We both love movies, good movies, and part of our courtship involved staying up all night and talking out what an Ingmar Bergman film really meant. We both love to read, and we love to talk about what we read. A similar sense of humour — that is a very important part of our life together. The ability to make each other smile and laugh has seen us through some difficult times. story3

Here’s wishing all of you all a magnificent 2016 and praying that Santa Claus fulfils your dreams (incidentally, I still believe in magic and miracles for my life has been so). I sign off with C Joybell C’s quote, “The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

 

 

 

Fifty Ways To Thank Our Armed Forces!

Spending time in the UK led me to discover some amazing day to day aspects of British society treats people in general, and the armed forces in particular. In the last couple of days, I took the opportunity of visiting St John’s House, Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Royal Warwickshire). The museum tells the story of over 300 years of history of the County Regiment, from its raising in 1674 to the Fusiliers of today…a fascinating journey!

What was more fascinating for me was my conversation with a veteran, Major James Fullarton, who was visiting the

St Johns Museum, Warwick

St Johns Museum, Warwick

museum. Major Fullarton was curious to know why an Indian woman was visiting this particular museum as he said not many foreigners are seen here. I explained my background of being an Indian army brat and we started talking. His grandfather had served in the British army in India in the 1920s and his father served in the Royal Navy. Our conversation led us to discussing many things about the state of the armed forces world over and he shared some things that made me feel proud & elated, yet, disappointed & sad. Proud & elated because the community of armed forces world over is based on the same set of ethos and principles, unlike the governments they are part of. Disappointed & sad because we in India, do not do half the things that British, American or any European society does for their soldiers.

Part of my learning that from Major Fullarton is compiled into what I would call Fifty Ways to thank our armed forces and this includes veterans and military wives and children. 1_Flag_of_Armed_Forces_in_India

  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.

Jai Hind Ki Sena!

My Army, My Pride!

“I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish between a mortar from a motor, a gun from howitzer, a guerilla from a gorilla,..although a great many resemble the latter.”

Field Marshal Sam Maneskshaw’s had assessed the political system of our country aptly. The number of articles & write ups on line and mails I have read in the last forty eight hours are testimony to the the anger & fury all of us from the armed forces community are going through.

I do not wish to write about One Rank One Pension (OROP). There are experts who have written about it. How the Veterans have been treated and what they have faced on the 14th of August, is what has brought shame to our country & that is what I write. What is appalling is that one security organization threatened and man handled a community of Veterans who had served to keep our country safe and secure. The Delhi police can shout to high heavens that they were given orders. Are they so blind that they did not know whom they were evacuating in Jantar Mantar? Were they so intent on showing the Ex Service Men who was the boss? Would they like their medals being torn away from their shirts in the disgusting manner they tore the medals away from the septuagenarians and octogenarians who were peacefully protesting for their rights? Do the police even know what it means to have your medals and ribbons torn away in that manner?

The shame lies in how we treat our Armed Forces. I am a proud daughter of a proud army officer who served his country for 38 years. A lot of people out there are family to me. The pain of watching how they were  being treated by the cops brought in a combination of angst, frustration and helplessness. At that moment a lot of things came crashing down in my mind. And I am sure there are many more like me in the rest of the country who will echo my sentiments. Why do our Veterans have to go through this ignominy? Only because they were protesting peacefully in public?

Our politicians, bureaucrats & certain parts of civil society must understand certain ethos of the Armed Forces. In the last 69 years, we have never had our Veterans go on a relay hunger strike or a public protest like this one. It is simply not in our culture. For them to do so, it means they have been pushed to a corner by the government. The rest of the government servants or the politicians will not understand this because they take to the streets easily to protest, and, they also know how to turn such events to their advantage. Veterans or the Armed Forces in India do not do that. All that they were doing was drawing attention to an issue that has been long overdue which the Prime Minister and his government had promised.

Why did the Delhi police do what they did is a question that may be answered satisfactorily or may not be. In any case, whatever be the clarification, it is too late. The damage is done. Anything that is said or done will be seen in retrospective to this one incident. Which is why, even the Prime Minister’s speech on our Independence Day seemed like a  rhetoric to many people. In one part of his speech he spoke about focusing on the positives of what the NDA government has done and not dwell too much on the negatives. After all, the intention to fulfil the promises is there. When the Government of India cannot focus on the positives of our Armed Forces and Veterans, it’s a little difficult for us to return the same favour Mr Prime Minister.

Whether the mask is labelled democracy or dictatorship, our great adversary remains the bureaucracy & the political class. Our Armed Forces & Veterans have shown us beyond a doubt that they can fight the enemy facing us across the frontier of the battle lines. Today, they have to fight the insecurities of the internal adversary, as well as battle the external forces. Isn’t that a little unfair on them? What would our administrators and law & order protectors  do, if the Armed Forces refused to get involved in rescuing people from floods, in earthquake hit areas or landslides? Why should the Armed Forces deal with insurgents who are all part of the problem created either by bureaucrats or politicians?

Mr Jay Bhattacharjee, a policy and corporate affairs analyst, wrote yesterday, that “every regime whether a democracy or a dictatorship / junta faces its moment of truth.” To me this seems that moment for the NDA government. Almost 95% of the Ex Service Men pledged their support and votes to this motley crowd of politicians, in the hope that the new government will prioritise the nation and the people who truly serve the nation. Sadly, they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Our military leaders don’t seize power in coups; our soldiers don’t go on strike for their benefits; our armed forces don’t weigh in on the political process. In return, the country has a sacred duty to treat them honourably. Chanakya wrote to Chandragupta Maurya in a letter:
” If ever things come to a sordid pass when, on a given day, the Mauryan soldier has to look over his shoulder prompted by even a single worry about his and his family’s material, physical and social well being, it should cause you and your Council the greatest concern & distress. I beseech you to take instant note and act with uncommon dispatch to address the soldier’s anxiety. It is my bounden duty to assure you, My Lord, that the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues, or worse, plead for them, will neither have arrived overnight nor in vain. It will also bode ill for Magadha. For then, on that day, My Lord, you will have lost all moral sanction to be the King. It will also be the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire.”

Every other country has understood this and implements this. Isn’t it time we do it also?

The Reality of Acting…Actor’s Reality

An article I read in the papers got me thinking about how certain characters in movies endear themselves to us…only because we find them so realistic. I also walked down memory lane on a Sunday morning, sipping my tea, sitting in myPiku-Amitabh-Bachchan-Images balcony…just reminiscing about actors whom I have admired. We so often undervalue the roles that are played by actors in our movie watching. The actor – character divide goes in and out of focus in most movies. However, there is a certain kind of cinema, where this divide does not exist and the character overtakes the actor, or, rather, the actor submerges himself in the role, disappearing completely until you forget about the real life person.

A recent character that had such an impact on me was Bhaskor Banerjee, played by Amitabh Bachchan in the film Piku. Amitabh is one actor who has been immortalised in our minds. Right from playing the character of Vijay in Deewar, to the leather jacketed hero on a bike, in Muqaddar Ka Sikander and now, as Bhaskor Banerjee in Piku, there is something about Amitabh where the actor – character divide becomes a blur. There is one scene in the movie, where Piku is talking to the maid who has a complaint against Bhaskor. He is constantly hovering over her as she works and suspects her of being a thief too. The maid is naturally upset. Bhaskor’s expression when Piku adopts a conciliatory approach to dealing with the maid is priceless. His behaviour is also something most of us see with older people in our homes.

The other scene that impacted me a lot was Bhaskor dying in his sleep. It was very different from seeing Amitabh dying in his movies of 1970s or 80s. Bhaskor’s death felt more real, closer home. It hits me with the reality that in real life too Amitabh Bachchan is 73 years old. Amitabh as Bhaskor in Piku was very different from Amitabh playing the role of an old man in his earlier movies. Bhaskor strikes a chord…reminds us of our own parents, grand parents…

Watching Piku, drove home two points for me. I became more aware of mortality & how some of the reel life characters leave an indelible print on our minds. Some of the older Hollywood movies I watched  have also had the same impact. Omar Sharif’s role as Feodor Sverdlov, a handsome Russian diplomat 13.1-Tamarindin Tamarind Seed, was one such character. Omar Sharif slipped into the role so well that it was difficult to think of him as Omar for a while after that. He falls in love with Julie Andrews, who works for the British government and it is a romance set during the height of the Cold War. The storyline and the roles were extrapolated in real life for me because I was in Vietnam at that time when my Dad was the military attache there. I was witness to a couple of budding romances around me.

I still cannot figure out where Don Vito Corleone began and where Marlon Brando disappeared in Godfather. The larger than life character of Don Vito took over Marlon Brando’s persona completely. The scene where Vito talks to other Mafia chiefs and transitions from peace talk to subtle warning if any harm were to befall Michael, Brando is brilliant. He goes from regretful, sad, to calm and forgiving to powerful and firm but it so subtle, it hard to distinguish between Don Vito & Marlon Brando.  “But I’m a superstitious man…and if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he gets shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he is struck by a bolt of lightning (I got goosebumps here), then I’m going to blame some people in this room, and then I do not forgive”

I know a lot of people sideline Brando’s role and prefer Al Pacino’s role as Michael Corleone. Al Pacino, was no doubt fantastic. There is no denying the character – actor overlap there. However, in my mind, it will always be Don Vito Corleone vitowho will send the shivers down my spine and yet, will be an endearing old man tending to his vegetables in his garden. The lines between performance and reality break down with such actors and roles. And I guess age does make a difference…beyond a point there is no faking. Even if it happens momentarily, while watching a scene, where the person is rising from the chair, pauses to balance himself, or, has a faraway look in his eyes while thinking of his life, or, the tone of his voice changes subtly to convey the emotions he is going through, without changing his facial expressions….you continue to wonder,”Was that Amitabh or Bhaskor/Omar or Feodor/Brando or Don Vito?”

Flying On The Wings of Fire…

“Death’s got an Invisibility Cloak?” Harry interrupted again. “So he can sneak up on people,” said Ron.                                        – Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

The invisible cloak of death covered Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and took him away in a moment.Although death and its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be. While this event is painful we still embrace the eventuality. His greatness was in the simplicity of his nature in our midst – a caring leader who made time for all and opened the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan for all. Dr Kalam once said, “I should not be the only one to enjoy the grandeur of this wonderful place…the history, the rich library, the legacy of our country. I want everyone to do the same, especially the youth.” He truly believed that the ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful force on this earth.

A great believer of the heritage we have inherited, he always said that the youth of our country have grown up with our Abdul-Kalam-Thoughts-wallpapers-images-pictures-2-300x196value systems, they will uphold it. Fulfilling his vision for the youth and our country is something that we can all strive for in our own way. Dr Kalam said that all of us do not have the equal talent, but all of us have equal opportunity to develop our talent. Let us show our respect to him by helping create those opportunities for everyone.

One of life’s lesson we can learn from Dr Kalam is how to handle failure. He once told a group of children that dealing with failure is a national character. We, as Indians have to work on building that character. His own example of handling failures in life is to be admired and followed. As a student, he was very keen on becoming a pilot in the Indian Air Force. He worked towards that and applied to the IAF. There were nine vacancies and he, unfortunately for the Indian Air Force & fortunately for the rest of India, was the tenth candidate. As a result, Dr Kalam did not selected. Was he disappointed? Yes, he was. Did it stop him from becoming successful otherwise? No, it did not. That is why I say, unfortunately for the IAF and fortunately for the rest of India…because he could not become a pilot and fly, he became a scientist who developed air crafts and missiles for the country. His passion for flying made him find alternate channels to live his dream.

One of Shakespeare’s quote from Romeo & Juliet makes perfect sense…

“When he shall die,
Take him and put him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

While it is natural to mourn the death of a great one, it is also important to keep him alive by working towards fulfilling his vision. Dr Kalam set out such bench marks for all of us to follow and achieve. Having personally heard him on a number of occasions, I once had the opportunity of interacting with him for a few minutes. I walked away from that interaction with so much food for thought. I shared with him about two people who had worked with him in the Ministry of Defence and the same two men had influenced my upbringing and my life…Dr Kalam remembered my father and my god father and told me I was lucky to have been influenced by such stalwarts. Not only did he remember them, he also remembered their little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The human heart is always greedy for more. Yes, I wish you were with us for a few more years to continue guiding us, to continue helping us grow. You have also left us with so many aspirations and dreams for this country. So, today, more than grieving for you Dr Kalam, my way of paying tribute to you would be to strive to make some part of your vision a reality.

Honouring you Sir…

We stand here and watch them bury you today,
They say you are gone, left this life behind,
That’s not true, for in our hearts you will forever live,
In our thoughts you’ll always be there for us to find.

We honour your life with flowers and speeches,
We honour you with the love in our hearts,
You will never and can never be replaced,
Even in your death you set a standard apart.

You were one of the greatest this country has seen,
You inspired millions to never give up on their dreams
Your memories will be honoured, your life celebrated,
Your vision for all of us will be turned into a reality.

I know you look down from that missile you created,
I can feel the pride you have for everyone of us,
You give us strength and the will to continue
And will be for as long as we are alive.

You showed us that life is not just the here and the now,
It is then and there as well,
Your death, as your life, taught us the greatest lesson,
That we should not on our failures dwell

Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.

Rest in peace Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

A Music Concert That United The World…

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”
 Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Live Aid Logo

Live Aid Logo

Thinking of the Live Aid Concert held thirty years ago, those words made a lot of sense to me. I was in one of my “walk down memory lane” moods, just after my man had shown me a video of Cliff Richards singing Bachelor Boy and was also very nicely reminded that I hadn’t blogged for a very long time.

I know a lot of people in my generation will remember that event. I was in my first year of under graduation and was madly in love with most of the singers who performed in two different places simultaneously. It was truly a one of a kind concert. Sixteen hours of music from the who’s who in the musical world, 72,000 people at London’s Wembley Stadium, 100,000 more at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium and nearly two billion TV viewers at home watched more than 75 popular acts & some of the outstanding performers teamed up in interesting combinations, including (temporary) reunions of three of the most important groups in rock history. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin reunited to perform for this event.

The inauguration of the event by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the excitement of the performers and audience and

Live Aid Inaugaration

Live Aid Inaugaration

the triumph of technology combined with sheer good will – all made it hard to forget. A lot of us still recount how some of the acts were performed….Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in a very Vegas like act with Jagger changing costumes mid song (bizarre is how some would define it), Sir Elton John belting out five of his super hits, including ones with Kiki Dee and George Michael and Sir Paul McCartney singing “Let It Be”.

My personal favourites were also there Bob Dylan, Queen, Sting, Bryan Adams, U2, Tome Petty & Phil Collins. Phil Collins riding high both as a solo star and as Genesis front man at the time — thrilled the audience with his humour and singing. With the help of the Concorde supersonic jet, he played solo sets at both the London and Philadelphia shows. Plus, he played drums for both Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. After he was introduced on the Philly stage by Jack Nicholson & Bette Midler, listening to him sing, “In The Air Tonight”  & playing the piano, was treat beyond words.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof

David Bowie, Chris Taylor, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Bob Geldof at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium-1985

David Bowie, Chris Taylor, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Bob Geldof at Live Aid, Wembley Stadium-1985

traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together  to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in UK to that date and raised more than $10 million.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.

The event had Bob Dylan, Keith Richards & Ron Wood (both guitarists from Rolling Stones) performing. Some artists’ works speak for itself and some artists’ works speak for it’s entire generation – that’s the power of Bob Dylan’s contribution to the world of music. To be called America’s voice of freedom is no small achievement and he once again proved it on stage that evening when he spoke about the plight of the American farmer. This actually led John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson & Neil Young to organise Farm Aid, a concert that was held a few months later and has continued to be held every year, except for two years.

Queen in action

Queen in action

Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.” Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa. Bob Geldof was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.

In a lot of ways, to me this global charity event was like the final fanfare of the musical industry. The kind of reverence the world had for pop music and it’s stars came to an end during that period…with the internet changing how music is heard, downloaded & stored, the reduced combination of acts of kindness, influence and music or even the absence of a younger version of Sir Bob Geldof willing to take the lead to bring musicians together for an act like this. I have always wondered…why couldn’t we have another Live Aid?

The picture that will remain forever in my mind, will be that of the audience – the real stars. Real stars for  no one could

The enthralled audience...

The enthralled audience…

have worshipped and enjoyed music as much as they did on that 13th July 1985. Deliriously happy, swaying their hands and pumping their fists in unison to Queen’s Radio Gaga, clambering over shoulders to listen to Sting sing Money for Nothing with Dire Straits or join the artists in the two songs that will represent musical harmony to me – Do They Know It’s Christmas and We Are The World….that ecstasy transformed millions of living rooms that day, when the proxy audience was glued to their televisions and donating their money. Live Aid created a surreal, magical experience of listening to thrilling live music…something I will never ever forget in my lifetime.

Whiskey – My Miracle With Paws!

There are ways of being woken up and there are ways. One of the ways that really got to me was a cold wet nose nuzzling my cheek and neck every morning for the last seven years. While I shooed away my golden Labrador every morning for doing that, this morning I missed my wake up call. Whiskey isn’t around any more to wake me up.

Whiskey - 6 week old pup

Whiskey – 6 week old pup

Whiskey came home to us one April evening, when he was 40 days old. I had resisted having a pet for a long time as it meant a lot of commitment and dedication. Given my business, my travel and other responsibilities, I did not want another one. Everyone else in the family however, had a different view. So, my children decided to conspire with their father and just get a puppy home. Lo behold! I return from work one evening and there is a red basket with two golden angels blinking with their warm golden eyes at my face. One of them had a dark brown streak running down the bridge of nose and as I watched with a mixture of fascination and trepidation, he climbed on his sibling and looked at me with an expression that said,”Keep me with you.”

I fell in love.

Can I do anything for you?

Can I do anything for you?

This is what my daughters, Urvashi & Urmila were counting on. I nodded my head, after extracting futile promises from all three of them that everybody will contribute in looking after him. As some great concession, I was told that I could chose a name for him. I christened him Whiskey – for his eyes reminded me of my favourite single malt and were as intoxicating.

Our relationship and rituals developed over a period of time. The waking up ritual was one of the first ones. The activity would not stop at just waking me up. He would wait patiently for me to get out of the bathroom, with a ball or a stuffed toy or a piece of rag in his mouth. This was the cue for me to chase him and pretend I wanted whatever was in his mouth, followed by me hiding from him in one of the rooms and he looking for me.

Whiskey gave us his all. Undivided attention, unconditional love, umpteen number of hugs and sloppy licks through out the day. He was my morning walk companion, he was Urvashi’s confidante and Urmila’s study buddy. If Whiskey

Yo...wassup Urvashi & Urmila???

Yo…wassup Urvashi & Urmila???

could write an exam, he would probably do better than most students, because Urmila made sure he sat with her when she studied for her 10th and 12th standard exams. He was Krish’s play mate in the evenings when they engaged in a robust game of tug of war. He was my maids’ followers the moment he smelled something different in the kitchen or one of them opened the refrigerator.

Everyone who came home could not get over his playfulness. Whiskey’s all time favourite was to sit in the middle of a circle of people and revel in the attention they gave him. He was happiest when we had friends and family visiting us. It meant more fun, more games, more people to play with and most of all, more variety of food. Some of my nieces and nephews were initially scared of him…they were not used to dogs and Whiskey had the capacity to overwhelm anyone with his exuberant greeting and loud bark. His bark would scare people. However, when he realised that someone was not comfortable, he would allow that person to befriend him at their own pace. Eventually, most people visiting our home learnt the trick of not ringing the doorbell, but, calling us up, so we could leave the door open. If anyone entered our place without ringing the doorbell, he would quietly welcome them!

I remember reading somewhere that dogs may not be our whole life, they make our lives whole. It is so true. Whiskey completed my circle of love. My day would begin with him and end with him on my bed, while I was either reading or watching television. My bed was his bed. No one was allowed on it…not even my daughters. They were very politely but firmly shoved out in a step by step manner. And heaven help anyone who said “Whiskey, this is my Mamma!” 🙂

I have watched all doggie movies (Marley & Me, 101 Dalmatians, etc) with Whiskey by my side. I remember

Whiskey & Soda...friends forever! Cheers!

Whiskey & Soda…friends forever! Cheers!

watching Hachiko, the movie, one Saturday morning with my daughters, niece and Whiskey lying on the bed with us. He just could not understand why we all sobbed, hugging him after the movie got over.

Whiskey reminded me of some lessons I had learnt from my earlier pets. Living life with unbridled joy and exuberance…as if there is nothing to worry about. When we did our joy rides together in the car, he taught me how to seize the moment and follow my heart. The look of sheer happiness on his face with the breeze blowing away his floppy ears, head out of the window, looking at everybody with smile at traffic signals…he was all heart! Whiskey taught me to appreciate simple pleasures of life…sitting in the balcony, sipping my morning cuppa, we both loved the winter sun on us, we have chased butterflies when we have gone to the countryside, playing ball or just lying on the floor and looking out of the window on a rainy afternoon. The last few days of his life, he taught me one of the most important lesson – to smile in the face of adversity, to be gracious even though there is pain. Despite his pains and aches, whenever someone came to visit him in the last few days, he would stand up, wag his tail and lick the person’s hand. Appreciating came very easily to him.

To such an angelic puppy baby (as I loved calling him), I can only pray that we cross the Rainbow Bridge together. Words cannot do justice to what we have felt for each other…this is merely an attempt.

Whiskey Puppy Angel

When your golden eyes no longer glow,

I know the time has come for you to go

Don’t look at me with eyes so sad,

I want to remember the great times we have had

When the sunlight upon us did shine,

The last 7 years were yours and mine

Through the house we both did run,

Sitting in the balcony, feeling the morning sun

I don’t want to think of your helplessness & pain

Only about the joy & laughter you brought me again & again!

High up in the courts of Heaven today

An angel puppy called Whiskey waits

With the other angels he will not play,

But sits alone at the gates

“For I know that my Mamma will come, ” says he,

“And when she comes she will call for me.”

He sees the Spirits that pass him by

As they hurry to the throne

And he watches them with a wistful eye

As he sits at the gates alone.

“For I know my Mamma will come for me

If only I just wait patiently.”

And his Mamma, far on the earth below,

As she sits in her easy chair,

Forgets sometimes, and she whistles low

For her puppy doll who is not there.

And Whiskey puppy angel cocks his ears

And dreams that his Mamma’s call he hears.

And, when at last his Mamma waits,

Outside in the dark and cold,

For the hand of death to open the gates

That lead to these courts of gold

Then Whiskey puppy angel’s eager bark

Will comfort her soul in the shivering dark.

A Soldier Never Gives Up…Saving Naushera

Today, as the new government took oath in Jammu and Kashmir, I was thinking of the price we have paid as a nation for this to happen. Even as the debates ranged from what will be priority, to AFSPA, to the new Chief Minister’s statements, to Sajad Lone becoming part of the government, my thoughts turned back to the time when the problem in Kashmir first hit us.

There never was a good war or a bad peace – Benjamin Franklin.

Starting in October 1947, Pakistan employed regular troops along with militants to attack and capture areas in the Kashmir Valley in different sectors. Pir Panjal Range divides Jammu & Kashmir into two halves. Srinagar Valley is on the north east part and Poonch Valley is to the south west. The Pakistani army and the Raiders had attacked the Uri – Baramulla sector in Srinagar Valley first, where they were defeated and evicted. They started making advances in the Poonch Valley, massacring non Muslims in Mirpur, Kotli, Jhangar, with the aim to capture Naushera. If they had captured Naushera, the entire state, south west of Pir Panjal would have been effectively cut off.

Brig Mohammed Usman

Brig Mohammed Usman

It is important to understand this background before reading about how the Indian Army saved Naushera and the courageous acts of our soldiers.

By 25th December 1947, Pakistani army had deployed troops around Jhangar and had captured it. They planned to attack Naushera from the Mirpur – Jhangar axis and capture it. To save Naushera, the axis and the road had to be denied to the enemy. This task was given to Brig Mohammed Usman, one of the 16 Brigadiers of the Indian Army at that time. He was given command of 50 Para Brigade in December 1947 and was asked to cut off the link for the enemy soldiers.

Major General Cariappa had told Brig Usman that Kot, the feature dominating Naushera, had to be captured and secured. The determined Brigadier launched an operation in early February 1948, code name, “Operation Kipper”. Kot

Operation Kipper

Operation Kipper

was secured and played a significant role in inflicting heavy casualty on the infiltrators, who numbered up to 10,000 just a week later. In one of the firecest battles fought, over 900 enemy soldiers died and the attack on Naushera was stopped. This became a major turning point in the First War of Kashmir and Brig Usman came to be called as Naushera ka Sher or the Lion of Naushera.

The next step was to reclaim Jhangar. This was an important junction joining the roads from Kotli and Mirpur. Thus, “Operation Vijay” was launched in March 1948. He wrote a letter to all ranks of his Brigade, before they attacked. It read, ” Comrades of 50 (I) Para Brigade, time has come for the capture of Jhangar. It is not an easy task, but I have complete faith in you all to do your best to recapture the lost ground and retrieve the honour of our arms. We must not falter, we must not fail. Forward friends, fearless we go to Jhangar. India expects everyone to do his duty. Jai Hind.”

Three days later 50 Para Brigade successfully moved into Jhangar, reclaiming lost territory. This irked Pakistan so much that they announced an award of Rs 50,000 on Brig Usman’s head, while he asked for a charpoy and slept peacefully in months.

Unfortunately, the fruits of success were short lived as far as the brave Brigadier was concerned. The continuing fight with Pakistan denied him the pleasure of basking in that success and he died in heavy artillery shelling on July 3rd, 1948, at the age of 36. His last few words before dying were, “I am dying, but let not the territory we are fighting for fall to the hands of the enemy.” His death was a blow to the Indian Army and his state funeral ceremony was attended by the then Governor General Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru, Union Minister Maulana Azad and Sheikh Abdullah. For his bravery of exceptional order, dedication and valour, he was decorated with Maha Vir Chakra. J&K04low

An inspiring leader, he believed in walking the talk. He set an example of personal courage, great qualities of on ground leadership and devotion to duty. His memorial in Jamia Milia University stand testimony to this true son of India.

The battle of Naushera saw some fantastic bravehearts, who laid down their lives to help us save the Valley. Subedar Gopal Singh of 3 Rajput, undeterred by the numerical superiority of the Pakistanis, with his men fought valiantly for seven hours. He and his men were responsible for inflicting heavy causalities on the enemy. He led a bayonet charge to separate the attackers. He got isolated and was wounded in the ensuing fight. Sepoy Sikdar Singh found him and carried him back to his platoon. Havaldar Mahadeo Singh assumed command and continued the firing. However, enemy fire killed him on spot. All three were decorated with Vir Chakra.

Jadu_Nath_Singh_Portrait

Naik Jadunath Singh

Lt KS Rathore of C Company, 1 Rajput was yet anther hero who defended Taindhar Ridge and kept the fight on against approximately 1500 Pathans who had crossed over. He moved from bunker to bunker, aggressively encouraging his men to keep up the good fight. At one stage, the enemy came within 50 yards of of the bunkers. Havaldar Dayaram, part of C Company, adopted an ingenious method of firing 3 inch mortars without secondary charges. He started dropping the bombs within 50 yards of the bunker lines without any regard to his safety. This thwarted the enemy approach and also killed many of them. Naik Jadunath Singh was another determined soldier from C Company who displayed great valour and exceptional leadership. He moved his men to additional trenches that were prepared, in such a way that his small group of men, with controlled firing, brought down the Pakistani army from which ever side they attacked.

At the most critical stage of of the battle to defend Taindhar Ridge, Naik Jadunath Singh, left with no option, came out with his Sten gun and started firing into the enemy lines. The surprised enemy fled in disorder and this valiant Rajput met a gallant death as two bullets hit him squarely in the chest and head. He had made the ultimate sacrifice. Naik Jadunath Singh was decorated with the Param Vir Chakra. Lt Rathore and Havaldar Dayaram were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

The threat to Naushera was eliminated over months and months of fighting in sectors and finally on 20 November 198, Poonch was freed and a link up took place.

The battles to save Jammu and Kashmir have been fought over a period of 60 years. What started as overt fighting, today includes covert fighting to a large extent. We are in a constant state of conflict with Pakistan over this issue. In the bargain we have lost hundreds and thousands of precious lives – on both sides. Today, we have enormous possibilities of new beginnings. cautious optimism, instead of total negativity will save the state from further destruction and pave the way for future generations to reinstate the glory of that beautiful state.

Crazy optimism right…but then I do believe in miracles 🙂

 

 

 

A Soldier Never Gives Up…The Battle At Badgam

Continuing the series on A Soldier Never Gives Up, we move to the next theatre of the 1947 war.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston S. Churchill

As 1 Sikh stalled the attack of the Raiders on the Srinagar – Baramulla highway, it provided tremendous opportunity for the other units to land in Srinagar airport. The impetus to fight the enemy was increasing by the minute. One of the units that landed on 31st October 1947 was 4 Kumaon.

Major Somnath Sharma

Major Somnath Sharma

On 3rd November, fighting patrols under A & D Company of 4 Kumaon, under the command of Major Somnath Sharma were moved to Badgam (30 odd kms away from Srinagar) to hunt down and destroy the Raiders who were hiding in and around the area. Intelligence reports had warned us that 1000 strong lashkar was in the area, with the intention of attacking Srinagar. The Battalion, however, could not find the Raiders. The enemy had used the clever strategy of mixing with the villagers, dressed in local attire. As a result, Major Sharma reports that Badgam is peaceful and quiet, with the villagers going about their routine work. He is ordered to pull his companies back.

At 1400 hours, Major Sharma sends A Company back, but, plans to keep D Company in Badgam till evening. The lashkar was arriving in Badgam in bits and pieces and was led by a Pakistani Major. They had hatched a crafty plan of getting the Pakistani soldiers to mix with the locals, wait for the Pathan Raiders to come to Badgam and then attack the Indian Army. Their plan was to then capture Srinagar, cut off Army access and take over Jammu & Kashmir. It was a well thought of plan.

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

After A Company is sent back, the “villagers” starting dispersing around the village. Major Sharma was under the impression that the locals were going home. In reality, the Pakistani soldiers and Raiders were positioning themselves around D Company. As soon as they had about 700 men, the enemy attacked us. It was 700 as opposed to 90…we were outnumbered 7:1.

Major Somnath Sharma, with a plastered hand, and total disregard to personal safety, moved from trench to trench encouraging his men to fight. The Company was under heavy fire, yet, they were beating back many attacks and held on to their position for nearly six hours. Holding back tenaciously, urging his men to fight, he radioed for more ammunition, reinforcements and supplies. Those 6 hours, while D Company was fighting valiantly, gave Indian Army the much required precious time to plug the gaps as they built up strength along with Indian Air Force.

Major Sharma’s last message, when he was asked to pull out, as they were heavily out numbered, is testimony to hiscourage and valour. He said, “The enemy is only 50 yards from us. We are heavily out numbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and last round.” This was the brave heart who in the last few moments of being alive, rushed to help one of his men load and fire a light machine gun. While he was doing this, a bomb landed on the ammunition dump next to him, exploding and killing Major Sharma immediately.

Pathan Camp

Pathan Camp

On seeing the enemy closing in with the LMG post, Sepoy Dewan Singh of D Company, stood up with the LMG firing from his hip and killed many of the advancing attackers. His murderous fore stopped many a Raider and Pakistani soldier dead. However, he too died, with his body riddled with bullets. Seeing two of their brave hearts die like this, inspired the rest of D Company to continue fighting. Simultaneously, Indian Air Force Spitfires started chasing the Raiders from the sky, killing many and  forcing the others to flee.

The Battle of Badgam continued and on 5th November the village was captured back by the Indian Army. Bodies of 300 Raiders were conuted, which proved how ruthless the fighting had been. Retaliatory fire had been so harsh that the Pathans had not been able to pick up their dead. It was with this tenacity, fierceness and nationalistic fervour that our soldiers fought to save the Valley. As the Raiders were not trained soldiers, their resolve to continue the fight disappeared and they started withdrawing and pulling back. Srinagar was saved.

Sepoy Dewan Singh

Sepoy Dewan Singh

In this battle, Indian Army lost Major Somnath Sharma, Sepoy Dewan Singh, Subedar Prem Singh Mehta and 20 other ranks. 26 people were wounded. For his gallantry, fierce defence and exemplary leadership, Major Somanth Sharma was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) posthumously. He was the first PVC of independent India. Sepoy Dewan Singh was awarded Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) for his exceptional valour.

I am sure that when Major Sharma and D Company were fighting they had their own fears. When I think about our Army fighting wars, I always wonder what goes on in their minds, in their hearts, how scared are they, how steely is their resolution….and am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” All I can say is thank God we have an Army that conquers its fears and strikes terror in the hearts of it’s enemies.