Do I Love My Country Or My Government?

“We are Indians, first & last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Home…Saluting Military Spouses Across The World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Blood Flows And My Land Turns Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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