A Wedding Is An Event…A Marriage Is A Lifetime! #ShiSaidKash

A month ago, my older daughter Urvashi married Akash. He is not only the man of her dreams, he is also the son in law of my dreams!

fb_img_1557471757445

The friendship that started almost five years ago, went through romance/no romance, should we/should we not and finally they tied the proverbial knot last month. It was a dream come true for both of them and for both sets of parents, once we got to know each other.

Once the engagement was over and we decided on the wedding date, everyone started asking me, “what kind of a wedding will this be?” I smiled and told everyone who asked, “2 states wedding, giving everyone a chance to witness different events as part of the ceremonies itself.”

For any mother, planning & implementing everything single handed can give her sleepless nights. Initially, I went through the same. The biggest question in my head was – Will I be able to manage? From funds to shopping, to catering to decor to managing the groom’s side of the family and our family too. I am not going to say friends and family here, for everyone who was part of the wedding was family for us. Thank God for two

IMG-20190422-WA0012.jpg

daughters who took to planning in a big way and making checklists, drawing up vendor names, talking to various people to get information, making trips to Chickpet, Commercial Street, Jayanagar (for the uninitiated, these are markets in Bangalore) to gather more information. There were times I felt I had two mothers and mothers in law simultaneously at home! On a serious note, without Urvashi’s organised thinking and Urmila’s practical approach to making things happen, I would not have been able to give Urvashi the wedding she wanted. I will take this opportunity to thank both my girls wholeheartedly.

IMG-20190506-WA0007.jpg

For all those planning weddings in their families, here is one input from me – allow the youngsters to be involved. They will come out with flying colours when they know someone trusts them with such a huge responsibility. Very often, the more experienced family members (I am not saying old) tend to get a little impatient with the younger lot and have a classic reaction, “You don’t know about these rituals, preparation etc…we grown ups will handle it.” My point is if the youngsters aren’t given the responsibility, how will they learn? Allow them to make a mistake or two…those can be corrected. After all, the experienced of the senior family members comes in handy…to forewarn the youngsters of the pitfalls.

Month of February started with the basics like – wedding planner or no, how do we co-ordinate with the numerous vendors, what kind of a venue, indoors/outdoors, and the works. The one thing that we decided was to have a wedding planner who will work with us to deliver everything on the two most important days. Urvashi & Urmila asked me to download an app called WedMeGood (www.wedmegood.com). This was Godsend as it helped me to understand what the girls and Akash were looking for during the wedding itself. Ideas were shared, lists drawn up and references sought on the app. And we shortlisted a few wedding planners, caterers and wrote down names of all possible wedding venues in Bangalore.

Venue Hunting

On a Sunday morning, we three musketeers set out to finalise the wedding venue. The girls had already done a recce and had a few names down in the diary. Every venue we visited, including the hotels fell short of what we had in mind about how the entire event will be conducted. And somehow, we were not ready to compromise…yet. At about 3.30 PM, after 7 hotels and a couple of resorts, I opened the WedMeGood app and went through the venue list. Both Urvashi & I hit upon Miraya Greens at the same time. I called a number given and spoke to a Mr Deepak Mishra, who invited me to the take a look at the place immediately. After fixing the time with him, we drove over.

Miraya Greens

All three of us fell in love with Miraya as soon we entered the gates. The greenery was beautiful, the driveway gave us a feel of how luxurious the property was. We met Mr Mishra, Lohith and Raj Kishore. All three of them were so hospitable and put us at ease straight away. Mr Mishra’s words were, “Uma ji, you have come to see Miraya. Take a look leisurely. Lohith will accompany you and show the whole place. We can then discuss everything based on your experience.”

Lohith conducted us around in the most detailed manner and I kept praying that my

IMG-20190508-WA0012.jpg

budget allowed me to host the wedding in this haven. The icing on the cake was when we saw the accommodation. Urvashi, Urmila & I just looked at each other with a silent agreement showing in our eyes. Subsequently, over a cup of tea with Mr Mishra, I discussed the modalities and he said to me something which I will not forget ever in my life, “Uma ji, you are conducting your first daughter’s wedding. If you decide on Miraya, it means that we are the ladakiwalas (from the bride’s side). We will ensure you get all the support from us and Urvashi will have the wedding of her dreams here.” Thank you Deepak ji. That put my mind at ease and we agreed to host the wedding in Miraya.

There are numerous aspects that make a venue hugely successful & popular. Miraya has all those aspects. Wonderful hospitality, beautifully maintained rooms, gardens & lawns, waterfall & swimming pool and the best of all in a city like Bangalore – ample parking space for 800 + vehicles! I would definitely rate them at the top in wedding venues of Bangalore.

Avenues Wedding Hospitality Services

For any event to be successful, you must have a team that will make it possible. Earlier generations had family members who could take time off and come to help and contribute towards wedding preparations. Today, we do not have that luxury. So, in steps

IMG_20190506_193311.jpg

the wedding planner, who becomes part of your family so much that you end up wondering how did I think of surviving without these guys? Nazia & Yassir of Avenues Hospitality Services became those family members for us who understood us from the word go.

How did we discover them? Again WedMeGood came to our rescue. We had met a few wedding planners before but just did not get the vibes with anyone. When we met Nazia & Yassir there was no looking back. Their understanding of what we wanted, their concern about our budget, suggestions and alternate ideas to fit in our budget and just unconditional & empathetic support whenever we raised a concern, all these endeared them to us. Their level of efficiency to handle changes, requests and last minute developments is tremendous & very very professional. Not once did I hear them crib or complain or stop smiling. I am sure they must have gone through enough heart burn in the back end. However, as true family members and thorough professionals, they ensured Urvashi & Akash had the wedding of their dreams! Thank you once again Nazia & Yassir and kudos to your team!

The Creative Kitchen

Oscar Wilde said, “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” This quote resonates in my head every time I think about Vishal Gupta, our caterer or “anna daata” as we say in India. At Miraya Greens we got the reference of The Creative Kitchen and we met Vishal. In our first meeting, when he understood the two state wedding concept, he made me smile with one statement, “Ma’am, don’t worry. I am a baniya also and we will have two ingredients to add to the food we serve. Tashan & Khaatirdari – style and hospitality”. I knew I could leave food & feeding to his capable hands. Vishal & Shweta, his lovely wife, who is the backbone of The Creative Kitchen, also turned out to be related to the Mittal family. That was the icing on the cake.

IMG_20190506_192326.jpg

Vishal’s efficiency & professionalism came to the fore on the day of the wedding. We had great weather during the day and exactly when Urvashi & Akash exchanged the Jaimala, the heavens opened up and it poured! Never had I experienced rains like that in Bangalore for a long time. We got busy getting things reorganised in the mandap and the staff at Miraya Greens brought out umbrellas to cater to all the guests who were there…that itself was a miracle! Miraya did wonders to get everyone under a roof. Vishal added to that miracle by shifting the entire catering indoors within 15 minutes and some 300 plus people were comfortably floating around continuing their snacks & dinner. Vishal & Shweta, you guys were brilliant in handling everything and not once did I worry about the how, what & when of the food being served. Thank you once again!

The Family

Ever since the wedding, numerous people have been calling and sharing with me how much they enjoyed attending the ceremonies. One common thread in all those conversations is this – “Uma, hats off to your family for taking care of all of us. The way everyone was involved in all the things, young & old looking after us, ever smiling and warm…loved every bit of it.”

For that wonderful family of mine – my parents, brother & sister in law, uncles & aunts, cousins & their spouses, nieces & nephews and the grandchildren too – I am forever grateful for all the support you have given. This big fat Indian wedding would not have been possible without all of you doing what you did – rolling up your sleeves and chipping in. Thank you!

I also want to share with my daughter, Urvashi & son in law, Akash (there is a nice ring to that) while the wedding is an important event, it is your marriage that is an entire lifetime. Everyone who was part of those three days have blessed you both not only on your wedding day; their blessings are for your marriage, which is like salsa dancing.

So, go on, build your rhythm and pace and find your footsteps…twirl away into a life filled with more sunshine, less rain, even lesser storms, flowers and blooms bringing you happiness all the way!

#ShiSaidKash

Do I Love My Country Or My Government?

“We are Indians, first & last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 365 Page Book Called 2017

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves….its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

It’s that time of the year again! The winter season signals the year-end and tells us that a new dawn is approaching. This “change of year” symbolism is important for two reasons: first, it allows us to take stock of the year that has gone by and second it provides us with the hope of being able to start afresh and not get weighed down by the past.new-year-quotes-07

I have never been where I am today. I have never been the age I am today, or had the experience I have today. The river of life flows and I find myself in places I have never been before. What an exhilarating moment of truth that is!

Everything is new. It is a starting point. At the same time there is a flow from the past that influences the process of ringing in the new. There are so many dreams and aspirations that one has in a lifetime. These change as we grow older and gather more experiences. Mine have changed too! I have realised that I want more for some of the people in my life, I dream more about what we will be as a society and a country. I see a lot of great people out there contributing in building a India of our dreams. You may not even hear of these contributors in your lifetime, for they focus on their actions. I want to highlight a few of them today for they have genuinely made a difference.

  1. Dreamers Doers started by Manjunath Hebbar is a platform for all those social entrepreneurs who want to showcase their work and collaborate with the like minded to impact social causes positively.
  2. Skip Armour brought to us by Chakradhari Rowe that helps a common man understand what is safety & security for an individual, a society and therefore, a country.
  3. Swayyam that teaches us eco conscious low impact living and how to connect back to the earth for our basic living. Malvikaa Solanki, the brain or rather the heart behind this can teach the young & old a thing or two about the “earthy” choices we make in life.
  4. Bal Utsav that brings life-changing education to children living in poverty. They revitalise government schools, support teachers, facilitate interventions in the space of water, sanitation and hygiene. The founders, Ramesh Balasundaram & Binu Ramesh Verma  are ever ready to facilitate learning for children and parents alike.
  5. Durga India, a project by I’m Every Woman started by Priya Varadarajan and yours truly is focused on creating awareness among the girls & women about their own safety in an increasingly unsafe world. Durga’s effort to create safer public spaces for women, including public transport, gets them to work with Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation & install safety alarms in buses.
  6. The Results Cafe, a self improvement project started by Mandeep Kataria & Prashant Reddy that enables & empowers people to stick to their resolutions and not get waylaid. Powerful, for in the end, we all need that push at some time.

These may seem like drops in the vast ocean…but, remember the old adage. They are doing their bit to create a better, stronger and self sufficient India. An India that is crossing the threshold and moving into a space where the world has to sit up and notice. Which brings me to the point of all the nay sayers out there. You can criticise, negate and shoot down any contribution made by anyone, be it an individual, a community or even the government. The fact is there are people whose purpose is to make a positive difference…even if it is to one individual. Negativity does not deter them. They look at the larger good and spread that goodness around them.

The above mentioned dreamers have influenced my own life in such significant ways that I initially did not even realise it. Who I am on the 1st of Jan 2017, somewhere is a result of that influence. What binds us together is this vision we have for this country of ours, for our society, community and people. We all want the following:

  1. A Swachch Bharat that is eco friendly. A national conscious against littering, spitting,  throwing trash everywhere.
  2. A country where girls and women feel safe and are safe. Both are equally important – the feeling & the being.
  3. An India where basic amenities are available to all citizens, in a manner in which they can afford it. That means no freebies for political gain.
  4. A youth that understands the power of our Constitution, the power of voting and contributing to the electoral process.
  5. Adherence to law and order. No negotiating as far as this is concerned.

I am sure every upright citizen wants the same. So, when there is a collective dream, the only thing we have to do, is follow it.

new-year-quotes-2014-beautiful-cards-to-send-your-wishes-brad-paisleyI picture ourselves and India starting a book called 2017 stretched out to 365 pages before us, beckoning to a future somewhere in different chapters that calls us to drive a positive change. All that we will become lies out there, in those pages. The beauty of starting this book is we all can write a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we write.

We spend December 31st & January 1st walking through our lives, chapter by chapter, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the chapters of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

Praying that everyone writes beautiful lines in the Book of 2017! Happy New Year!

 

 

 

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!

The Blood Flows And My Land Turns Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Hyphenated Indians – Building A Sense of Pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A War…Hundreds Of Martyrs…A Lifetime Of Memories!

“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” – Sir Winston Churchill.

This was the thought that I carried in my head all along my journey from Srinagar to Drass and Kargil. It is almost fifteen years since we fought the last war with Pakistan…a war in which many a parent lost their child, many a wives lost their husbands, many a children lost their fathers and I lost dear friends.

The last 15 years life has moved on for everyone…everyone except the snowy peaks that saw the bloodshed and those who died in that war. It is true when they say, “For our tomorrow, they gave their today.”

Zoji-La at 11,649 feet

Zoji-La at 11,649 feet

Driving through the icy Zoji-La

Driving through the icy Zoji-La

My journey started from Srinagar at 0700 hours and we reached Drass at 1830 hours. The scenic beauty of the region must be seen to be experienced. No amount of words can do justice to what nature has created. Sleepy villages that echoed of school children’s laughter, apple and apricot trees lining the roads, snowy peaks that were at a distance initially and gradually came closer as we started our climb to Zojila, icy mountain air that was crisp and kept me refreshed all through out, the gushing sounds of the Sindh river as it flowed on our right and the magnificent white glacier on the left. With every turn and bend, I truly felt I was one step closer to heaven…in more ways than one!

A quick stop at Sonamarg for lunch and an interesting chat with the Commanding Officer posted there opened my eyes to the hardships that our army faces on a day to day basis. Having travelled to Jammu and Kashmir many times earlier, I had never been to this part of the state beyond Sonamarg. And when one is young, the romance of life is very different!

Sun peeping behind the Ghumri range

Sun peeping behind the Ghumri range

All throughout the drive to Drass from Sonamarg, I kept thinking about what some of the officers had shared with me. The logistical support of the Indian Army, the medical camps they set up during the Amarnath Yatra and the collaborative work they do with the local administration all through out the year…left me overwhelmed and immensely proud of belonging to a community called “Army Brats.” I can’t thank my Dad enough for having been part of this glorious organization, which has given us so much in life…including the man I love 🙂

As we crossed Zojila, I was awestruck by the beauty of the stark landscape around me. I was sitting in a semi open jeep, so I could indulge in some photography on the way and I wasn’t disappointed at all. As we climbed higher, we saw less and less of human population on the road as the villages and towns are far and few in between. At Ghumri, a roadside board brought a smile to my face…an enterprising local had put up a board of selling “hot momos.” We did look for the shop, but it was closed!

Approaching Drass, a feeling of melancholy crept over me. I was excited to be there, yet, the thought of our army standing guard, fighting to protect us from an enemy who actually wasn’t an enemy 70 years ago, brought home the futility of war… for war means fighting and fighting means killing. As we entered Drass and were driving to the place where we stayed a couple of nights, my driver pointed out and said,”Madam, Tiger Hill!” That was enough to get my adrenalin rushing…finally I had reached the place where I had come to pay homage, not only to the friends who had died fighting, but all 543 martyred soldiers and the 1000 plus who were injured. The ones who are alive continue to carry the horrors and scars of those fateful days.

Vijay Path & Tololing Range in the background

Veer Bhoomi

Veer Bhoomi

Drass War Memorial

I’m not going to recount what happened between April – July 1999. Historians have chronicled the Kargil War very well and my readers can refer to that if they want to know what the war was all about and how it was fought.

I am writing for my fellow Indians to realize they have forgotten that there are soldiers out there who have sacrificed everything, just so that we live peacefully where ever we are. When I meet people in urban areas who have no clue about what it is to live at altitudes ranging between 10,000 feet to 21,000 feet and eat tinned food for 7 – 8 months in a year, not talk to your family for the same period, bear temperatures from 5 degrees to minus 40 degrees…I keep thinking that every Indian must make the effort of travelling to such places to experience a wee bit of what our Indian Army goes through. Just the road trip should suffice to understand.

Tiger Hill, Rhino Horn & Batra Top

Tiger Hill, Rhino Horn & Batra Top

Walking through the gates of the War Memorial, as I tread softly on Vijay Path, I could not control my tears. So overwhelming was the emotion that I broke down. I wept for the martyrs, for the families who had sacrificed and the families who continue to sacrifice . The officer, a young Major,  who was briefing us about the Memorial, had just completed 7 months on a snowy peak at 18,200 feet altitude and had come down to Drass after that rigorous stint. What could I say to someone like that…all I could do was listen to his experiences and feel humbled. Havaldar Razak’s ability to narrate the events of April – July 1999 had all the listeners weeping…there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience. Such is the ambience at the War Memorial.

George Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country”. 13 JAK Rifles, 18 Grenadiers, 2nd Rajputana Rifles, 8 Sikh, 1/11 Gurkha Rifles, 14 Sikh, 2 Naga, 12 Mahar, 17 JAT and soldiers from other regiments and battalions have more than proved it. The army believe in only thing completely – that they are here to protect the nation at any cost. It is because of that single minded focus that the rest of the country is able to live in peace. A look at our immediate neighbour is proof enough for us to be grateful for such an army Like Alfred Tennyson opined,

All our heroes!

All our heroes!

Operation Vijay

Operation Vijay

 

“Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die”

My Dad, who served 37 years in the Indian Army, who has been part of various wars and conflicts, once told me, “What you don’t know going in is that when you come out, you will be scarred for life. Whether you were in for a week, a month, or a year—even if you come home without a scratch—you are never, ever going to be the same.

When I went in, I was twenty. I thought it was all glory and you win lots of medals. You think you’re going to be the guy. Then you find out the cost is very great. Especially when you don’t see the friends you were with when you went in. Living with it can be hell. It’s like the devil presides in you. I knew what I had signed up for then, yes, and I would do it again. But the reality of war—words can’t begin to describe it.”

For such an army, let us salute whole heartedly. Let us not forget what they endure and support them in whatever way we can. I ask everyone

Sunrise outside Drass town

Sunrise outside Drass town

Sunrise while driving through Drass

Sunrise while driving through Drass

who is reading this – have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of blood spilt, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of noble men and women lost in battle so that we as individuals might have a say in governing our country?

As I left Drass that early morning, I felt a sense of calm and peace that came to me for I had discovered one more purpose in life. A mission of creating awareness about the army I love and respect, of  the humane aspect of being a soldier, of the stoic and sensitivity of the men in uniform.

Honour the lives sacrificed for your freedom. I thank the Lord above everyday for giving me this life that is protected by such a gallant & brave army. Thank you Indian Army!!!

Jai Hind!

 

 

 

On The Road…For A Hat Full Of Sky

I was wondering what random thoughts I would write about now on my blog as I was talking to my man one night. I asked him and he said travel. That caught my attention…I do follow a couple of travel blogs and I find them fascinating. The writers pour their heart into their writings and manage to transport me to their world.   Travel 1

Travel has always fascinated and interested me. It fulfils a deep yearning of the wanderlust in me. The sheer joy of going to a different place, meeting new people, exploring the culture, the cuisine and the countryside…all give me an adrenalin rush. The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he wants to see. It’s a very profound statement that GK Chesterton made. And this only people who are travellers will understand. A mere vacation person will never know the pleasure of travelling to a destination to enjoy the travail. I know I may sound arrogant when I say something like that…however, I have experienced check list vacations and have hated every minute of it. I realised that I enjoy my travails more than quick holidays.

This prompted me to go down memory lane and think about all the travelling I have done and enjoyed. I have done my fair bit of domestic and international travel. What strikes me while the international travel has been fun, I want to share with all of you out there some of the places I have visited in India that have left a deep impact on me in terms of beauty and culture. I don’t think I will ever forget those experiences.

1. Sonamarg, Kashmir

The whole state of Jammu & Kashmir has been described as “heaven on earth”. I particularly fell in love with two places. Sonamarg or Sonamargliterally “meadow of gold” is one such place. Sonamarg is backed by the might Himalayas and the lovely Sindh river meanders through the valley. My first impression of Sonamarg was during autumn and the all the hues of the season against a bright cerulean sky, with fluffy white clouds…I will never forget!!! The crisp mountain air would keep me outdoors most of the day and I would love walking through the valley exploring different things locally. Many a times I had some food packed for me, with a couple of books and my music, I have spent blissful hours reading, gazing at Mother Nature’s marvels and just…day dreaming.

 

 

2. Ladakh, Kashmir

Two thing that struck me about Ladakh were – stark and crystal clear. The desert landscape is so stark that it touches your soul deep down yak-ladakhsomewhere and forces you to introspect about so many things in life. My first trip to Ladakh was a bikers trip with friends and the pristine beauty of the place left me wanting more. Which obviously meant I was going back for more…

My second trip was trekking and camping and discovering the place on foot…again with some friends. Ten days through Hemis, Latza Kongmaru, Tilut Sumdo and finally arriving at Padum through Zangla not only helped us bond as better human beings, but, also brought about clarity in so many things that I was doing in life. You see, while communing with nature, I had nothing to do but think of myself and my life :). It’s funny how the noise and pace of the city life keeps you superficially connected with yourself…one trip at 11,000 feet is enough to get you to listen to your heart more than your mind.

 

3. Pondicherry

What is that feeling when you are driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? That was the feeling I had when I left Shrikant and his family after my travail into Pondicherry. My first visit to this lovely state was purely business and theHotel Pondy Pondy first evening when I set out on foot to explore the city of Pondicherry I fell in love. So, I went back again…

I fell in love with the slice of France that co exists with varied slices of India. The time that I spent there was indeed “gimme a break” time and my friend Shrikant and his lovely wife Sharada, helped me take that break. The French part of the town, with its boulevards, white and ochre buildings, clean roads and inhabitants on cycles…all reminded me of my trip to the villages of Southern France. Auroville, the area where Aurobindo Ashram is situated is such a peaceful place. The silence and quiet calm of the Ashram once again plucked at my heart strings for this was the final resting place of a great soul who was not only a freedom fighter, but also a spiritual guru – Shree Aurobindo Ghosh.

 

4. Shivas, Cliffs & Kapu Beach Lighthouse, Karnataka

On a visit to Mangalore for my company’s recruitment drive, I met Prasanna Shetty who introduced me to the virgin coastline of Karnataka. His description of the 40 odd kilometres of drive along the Bhatkal coast piqued my curiosity enough to plan my exploration in that region. And I did not regret.

Kiran surfingThe three places I have mentioned, Shivas, Cliffs and Kapu Beach Lighthouse are relatively unheard of for a regular tourist or vacation person. I also discovered that these three places are a surfer’s paradise in India. I know, I know…a lot of people will say…”surfing? here?”. It’s true…I got to meet surfers from France, US & UK while I was beach combing for crabs, shells and other oddities that you can find only in such places.

The small town of Maravanthe where I stayed at a homestay, has one stretch of the beach where a two lane highway runs parallel to the ocean within 15 meters of the water’s edge and on the opposite side of the highway is a big fresh water lake. In the lake are several islands with villages on them and there is an ancient 2,000 year old temple. The entire stretch along the sea reminded me of one of my favourite book series – Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. The five friends who go from cove to cove, discover adventures and solve mysteries…while I didnt solve any mysteries, I went from cove to cove, discovered white sand beaches, stretches of water that made me realise what a small place I occupy in the world.

 

5. Harsil, Uttarakhandharsil-sunrise

Situated in the lap of the Himalayas, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi, I discovered Harsil on my way to Gangotri. While the world hears of Gangotri as a one of the pilgrimage and tourist attractions in Uttarakhand, Harsil is the poor but beautiful cousin no one has heard of.

The place is a nature lover’s paradise, with dense deodar forests, chirping birds, gushing waters of the river, salubrious & serene environment. It also offers innumerable trekking routes that allow you to explore the mountainside and experience beauty like never before. I fell in love with the state of Uttarakhand…but Harsil remains a never ending passion. During the 70 odd kilometres of drive from Uttarkashi to Harsil, the green mountains were dotted with an occasional spot of orange. I later realised that these trees were called flames ofHarsil bridge the forest. The roads are dotted with apple trees and during the harvesting season the air is heavy with the smell of apples – quite intoxicating is all I can say.

An unexplored territory, Harsil was however featured in a Bollywood movie I was told by the locals…a movie called Ram Teri Ganga Maili!  I thought to myself a career as a location hunter in a movie production house is a good option if it allows me to travel, discover & explore.

 

6. Forts in MaharashtraJanjira

I love history…I love the romance associated with the stories of yore. A road journey to some of the lovely forts in Maharashtra allowed me to soak in Maratha history in such a way that no classroom had done in all those years of studying the subject. Maharashtra alone boasts of 350 forts of varied sizes…a treasure house I can say. I haven’t visited all of them…the ones I have, left me with echoes of the past and the impact it has had on generations after.

Starting with Shivner Fort, the place of  the Maratha emperoor Shivaji’s birth, we travelled to Sinhagad Fort where he lost is trusted and most brave commander in chief, Tanaji. Purandar Fort, the capital of the Maratha kingdom has a quaint charm of its own and is about 40 kilometres from Pune, the culture capital of Maharshtra. Shivneri

The twin forts of Sindhudurg and Vijaydurg off the coast of Mumbai were built by Shivaji in the 1660s to protect the land from coastal invasion. The Mumbai Fort is also part of the same vintage and today has only parts remaining in the business district of Colaba in Mumbai.

The fort of Murud Janjira, near the small fishing town of Alibaug was also constructed for the same reason by the rulers of Ahemdnagar. Ahemndnagar itself boasts of a lovely fort, which falls into the old fort category – more than 600 years old. Our journey then took us to Lohagad and Visapur Forts, near Malavalli, Pune. These two forts that are separated by a ridge are relatively newer – constructed in mid 18th century.

Sometime in the future I will write about some of the other places I have travelled to in India. To me India is a cornucopia of delight where you Travel 2discover something new every minute, at every turn and bend and never get disappointed with what you discover!!! My restless roaming spirit does not allow me to stay home very long…a wanderlust at heart. I realise that the best journeys answer the questions that in the beginning you don’t even think to ask. I want to travel far & wide and one day when I sit and recount my travails to people around me, I would like to say “I have left my heart print on the world map”

The icing on the cake is when you have a family that loves to travel as much as you do. I am lucky that way. The man in my life loves it as much as I do…if not more! In fact, one of the things that keeps our relationship going is our love for discovering new places, new experiences. That the children love to indulge in this with us is an added joy. The one thing I keep sharing with him is,”I want to make memories with you all over the world”…and do that we will!