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!

Quintessentially Indian Army…

“You have never lived until
You have almost died,
And for those who choose to fight,
Life has a special flavor,
The protected will never know!!!”
-Capt R Subramanium Kirti Chakra (Posth)images

Happy Army Day!

Saluting the Indian Army, to which I owe a lot in my life, I have put together some amazing facts for everyone to read. The more I dug into my research & reading, the more I found…I can’t really do justice to what this proud institution has done for Indians & for India. This is merely an attempt to educate the people out there…

  1. Indian army has close to 1.3 million soldiers, making it the second largest army in the world. Numbers do matter.
  2. Indian Army is located in some of the most inhospitable terrains of the world and have never buckled under pressure.
  3. Every scenario encountered in these terrains have been battled and faced by our armed forces.
  4. It is a united army not based on any social, economic, religious or cultural divide.
  5. We are considered to amongst the best in high altitude & mountain warfare.
  6. We are regarded as the best army to deal with counter insurgency operations.
  7. Indian Army controls the highest battlefield in the world – Siachen Glacier.
  8. We have fought four major wars and helped in the creation of an independent Bangla Desh.
  9. The Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 ended with the surrender of about 93,000 combatants and officials of the Pakistani Army. This is the largest number of POWs taken into custody since World War II.
  10. The Portuguese ruled Goa for more than 461 years until 1961. They refused to hand over Goa to India even after the Indian independence. The locals were resisting the Portuguese, but even after many diplomatic efforts, Portugal did not alter their stand. in 1961, India with a massive force outmatched the Portuguese force 10:1 and annexed Goa in just 36 hours.
  11. Battle of Longewala was fought in December 1971 between India and Pakistan, in which just 120 Indian Soldiers with 1 jeep mounted M40 recoil-less rifle held the fort against 2000 Pakistani soldiers backed by 45 tanks and 1 mobile infantry brigade. Indian soldiers held their grounds the whole night giving the Pakistanis the impression that there were around 500 Indians soldiers. When the fire was brought from the sky by Indian Air force in the morning, Pakistani soldiers fled their positions leaving behind 34 tanks.
  12. The Indian Army built the highest bridge in the world. The Bailey Bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It is located in the Ladakh valley between Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan mountains. It was built by the Indian Army in August 1982.
  13. The Indian army has a horsed cavalry regiment. It is one of the last three remaining of such regiments in the world.
  14. The Indian Army is respected because it is one army that knows, understands and fights terror on its own soil, daily. We have combat commanders that actually experience  others shoot at them, and soldiers who actually experience the sheer chaos when thousands of men and machines try to kill each other.
  15. Indian troop commanders develop doctrine-strategy-operations-tactics based on their actual combat experience.
  16. India’s unique positioning allows its army to enjoy some of the best of what both West and East have to offer.

The Indian Army is a powerful one, not just in terms of numbers, but also in its resilience siachen-1and ability to handle stress. Our soldiers complete a minimum of 2 years tour of duty as opposed to the American system of 6 months. I have always wondered whether soldiers from other armies would actually survive a 3 month tenure in Siachen?

Leadership in the army by and large focuses on the psychological & emotional well being of the soldiers. Yes, I know the question of soldier suicides is bound to come up here. Very rarely is this work related. Most of these cases are related to problems at home pertaining to spouse, family feuds & financial dealings. It is here that the rich tradition of regimental life has stood the test of time and the strong bonding woven in an army unit, results in high levels of camaraderie. For those interested in reading more about this, I would recommend Lt Gen Ata Hasnain’s blog – http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/india/lt-gen-syed-ata-hasnain/why-the-indian-army-handles-stress-better-than-all-other-armies-14405-1153882.html

Indian Army has its share of problems and challenges. However, I do not think this is the 20141213_LDD-VSK-MN_POP IMA-11a-1-kuFD--621x414@LiveMintday to highlight those. Today, we celebrate the 68th Indian Army Day and raise a toast to all those who fight to keep us alive.

When you see a soldier…
Be sure to shake his or her hand,
Let that soldier know you’re grateful,
For the protection the military affords our land.

But most of all express your thanks,
For every soldier’s personal sacrifice.
In order to serve our country,
They risk their entire lives!

Jai Hind ki Sena!

Making Of A Leader…Part 2

Men make history & not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. – Harry S. Truman

Leadership is not merely a term or designation. It is the driving force that makes people work not only towards a cause or goal, but also for themselves. Leadership cannot have a single definition, it should not have have a single definition. One size cannot fit all here. What we must look to identify are leadership traits & principles that enable in creating a leader.

Elliott Peterson in his article, “Improve Employee Relationship with Ideas Borrowed from the Military” talks about 13 traits that are the bedrock of leadership.

  1. Judgement  M_Id_339213_Indian_Army
  2. Justice
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Integrity
  5. Dependability
  6. Tact
  7. Endurance
  8. Bearing
  9. Unselfishness
  10. Courage
  11. Knowledge
  12. Loyalty
  13. Enthusiasm

Principles of Leadership

Principles of leadership are basic guidelines explaining how a leader will apply/implement the above mentioned traits. World over, the armed forces follow certain basic leadership principles. First principle is to know oneself, learn & constantly seek self improvement. Second principle is to know your soldiers and look after their welfare. Third principle is to ensure that the assigned task is understood correctly, undertaken, supervised & accomplished.

A Successful Military Leader

A corporate leader can learn a lot from a military leader. Korn Ferry International, a global executive search firm has researched & written about “Military Experience & CEOs”. They share statistics that show the average tenure of a CEO with a military background is 7.2 years as opposed to the tenure of a CEO without a military background, that is 4.6 years.

  1. Building a Personal Relationship – a leader in the armed forces knows the members of his unit up close. He/she knows their personal backgrounds, their potential and also how they will react given a situation. It is his/her duty to motivate the unit members & improve their performance; be it physical tests, exams they have to pass or overall knowledge acquisition – the responsibility lies with the leader. This can only be done if there is a personal rapport between the leader & the men. A corporate leader can imbibe the same tenets and understand the team he/she is leading. Very often, in the corporate world business & personal lives are so strongly compartmentalised that leaders don’t even know where the team member lives.
  2. Decision Making – Taking decisions and taking right decisions at the right time is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Both, easy & tough decisions have to be made by a leader. The decision to choose the right people for the right task; the right strategy to implement for the desired results; decision to delegate correctly and the quick, timely decisions so as not to miss the opportunities presented. Every officer of the armed forces is schooled & groomed for this. Unfortunately, our education system does not allow for this. Hence, one of the biggest handicaps of corporate leadership is the ability to take decisions; taking right decisions at the right time is a step way, way ahead.
  3. Mission First & Always – in the armed forces everything revolves around the mission at hand. A leader there is driven by the mission he is striving for. The focus is completely on the mission. He/she has to follow orders to complete the mission while fulfilling all other responsibilities as a leader. There is complete alignment within the unit at all times and at any cost. End result is completion of the task on hand. Corporate leaders struggle to get the alignment in place – the main reason this happens is as leader, they fail to understand how to manage the personal & career aspirations of their team members.
  4. Evolving Right Strategies – A leader’s decision can be made right if he/she uses the right strategies. To evolve a right strategy one has to use the acquired knowledge, experience, observations and analyse them. As a leader it is critical to communicate the strategic intent & enable others to act upon that intent. This is specially critical in crises situations. Very often in the corporate world, while grooming the second line, they are not mentored or coached to build strategies for various situations. A lot can be learnt from ‘war game’ activities conducted in the military.
  5. Communication, Feedback & Response – a well established communication & feedback process is important for any unit/team to function effectively. Participation in the communication process & response enable to build understanding among all stake holders. Asking & accepting feedback is also a very important part of strengthening team bonds. One thing every military leader I have observed, leaves the operational implementation to experts in the field and doesn’t pull rant there. For example, a soldier handling guns will know the intricacies of the gun and his platoon commander will take his feedback regarding guns.
  6. Present at the Right Place – being present at the right place at the right time is something a leader will have to learn & develop. It is always assumed that a leader will have to lead from the front always. Not necessarily so. There are occasions when the leader will be effective wherever there is a difficult situation or a crisis or friction. The right place will depend on the priority of what has to be achieved at that moment.

Building Authentic Leaders in the System

The visible corporate leadership failures in recent years globally, have screen-shot-2011-02-04-at-11-20-37-amdeeply shaken public confidence in business leaders. We see leaders placing self-interest ahead of the well-being of their organizations.  A look at social media posts and informal surveys show that there is a leadership crisis globally with politicians, media, finance, and business leaders getting the lowest ratings. “Far too many leaders have been selected more for charisma than character, for style over substance, and for image rather than integrity.” says Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor. 

Leaders do not fail because of low Intelligence Quotient (IQ); they fail because of low/no Emotional Quotient (EQ). It has been observed that failed leaders seem to lack an awareness of themselves, their actions & the resulting impact on their surroundings. Deeper motivations are not understood, fears & earlier failures are not accepted & primarily these cause leaders to lose sight of their of their values, especially when they are under pressure to sustain their success. In some other cases, leaders who lack self-awareness get enamoured by success and its rewards – money, power, and recognition.

chetwode mottoThe emergence of a new generation of authentic leaders is vital and must happen at all levels of society to rebuild the trust deficit experienced by customers & citizens alike. A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they don’t flock, you find them one at a time. That’s what the armed forces teaches and that’s what the rest must learn.

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.