The Heroes Who Never Came Home…And We Never Heard Of!

25th April is celebrated as ANZAC Day. Some of you may wonder why is a blog about ANZAC Day & Indian soldiers coming up now. Well…all I can say is “Lest We Forget”.

Shirley Jacob and I connected virtually and we found a lot of things in common, including being “fauji kids”. I think that is what cemented our relationship. Shirley lives in Sydney, Australia, and in one of my conversations with her, I requested her to share her thoughts about ANZAC Day, the parades & celebrations, and how Indian Ex-Service Men participate in the same. She happily agreed and wrote a wonderful piece that I am sharing below. Thank you so much, Shirley!

ANZAC Day and the Indian connection

Whilst World War I led Europe’s youth to their early grave, dousing out the flame of a generation of talented artists, writers, sportsmen, and others whose talent bled into the trenches. It also involved soldiers from faraway lands that had little to do with Europe’s bitter traditional hatreds.

On 25th April 1915, the ANZAC legend was born. On the morning of this day, Australian GGfathertroops landed at Gallipoli to force Germany’s ally, Turkey, out of the war. Their plan to capture Constantinople quickly became a Herculean task, as they landed in the wrong position and faced baptism by fire. The order from the British general, Sir Ian Hamilton echoed across the battlefield and Australian shores, “There is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out”. The plan had failed, and months of further fighting resulted in no military victories and little reward. However, from this hardship, the ANZAC spirit was conceived. An ethos built on endurance, courage, mateship and one which irrevocably characterizes Australia’s nationhood today.

Over a hundred years later, the parades, services, and rituals of Anzac Day have survived and grown despite the vestige of survivors remaining. Many stories are also now emerging of the sacrifices Indians made during World War I and II.  At the time, India provided the largest volunteer army in history with approximately 1.2 million Indians volunteering to fight for British forces. Although over 70 000 Indian soldiers ultimately sacrificed their lives during the war, tales of their altruism, courage, and rigour have often been relegated to the footnotes in the Commonwealth’s commemorative diary. Many Australians are still unaware that 15 000 Indians fought alongside the ANZACs at Gallipoli and almost 1400 Indians died there. The Indian voice has remained quiet for years as many of these soldiers were semi or non-literate and did not bequeath the treasure trove of memorabilia such as poems and diary entries, which formed the cornerstone of European war memory.

Recently, the British Library released 1000 pages recounting the first-hand accounts of Indian veterans from the war, painting a picture of racial segregation, valour, and the awakening hunger for civil rights which fueled India’s impetus for independence from British rule. Despite this, the Indian war experience continues to remain a history of fragments as traces of evidence are truncated, censored, or scattered across the globe. There is no sole or panoptic Indian war experience – rather, it must be modulated to the idiosyncrasies of caste, region, theatre of battle, etc.

Being an Army brat, I understood how millions of families in India were irretrievably affected by the war and yearned closure for their loved ones. I sought to discover how I could help unify the missing fragments and illuminate the war experiences of Indian soldiers, even if it were for only one person. That is why, when a friend of mine who is a sixth-generation Armed forces personnel mentioned to me his desire of finding the grave of his Great Grandfather who had fought in WWl, I jumped at the task. After scouring through satellite images, old archives, and memoirs for 6 months, I eventually found the memorial site of his Grandfather and enabled my friend to remember and continue his forefather’s legacy.

Having been enjoined to remember this war, we sometimes struggle to know how to respond. This is because we cannot remember something we never personally experienced. If we visit Gallipoli, our eyes are often drawn to the immaculate cemeteries and war memories, not the battlefields. Perhaps, that is the reason why my heart swells with pride and vitality when I see the Indian ex-servicemen marching as part of the Sydney ANZAC day commemorative events. It is an enduring image of the ANZAC spirit, an acknowledgment of India’s comradeship, and unwavering assurance that India’s war efforts will not be forgotten.

Lest we forget.

“I didn’t want to take forever to retire”…goodbye to the world’s favourite “Gambler”

The trademark silver beard and husky, gravelly voice are gone forever. Kenneth Ray Rogers, known the world over as Kenny Rogers has left a void for all music lovers.

Like most in my generation, who grew on a staple music diet of pop, country, ballad, jazz & soft rock, Kenny Rogers was that cross over artist who did country, pop & ballad in Kenny-Rogerssuch an effortless manner. A Houston boy, Kenny was the fourth of eight children in the Rogers household and took an interest in singing while quite young and as a teenager joined a doo-wop recording group who called themselves “The Scholars”. At age 19, Kenny recorded “That Crazy Feeling” for a small Houston label, Carlton Records, and, he played bass with the jazz groups of Bobby Doyle and Kirby Stone.

His music career began to take shape. His early professional years were stylistically eclectic. After moving to Los Angeles in 1966, he joined the folk-pop unit the New Christy Minstrels and then splintered off with others in the group to form “The First Edition”. Their first big soft-rock hit, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” hit #6 on the US charts, (Mel Tillis’ downbeat song about the faithless wife of a handicapped Vietnam vet), while later successes included “Something’s Burning”, “Just Dropped In”, “Tell It All Brother” and “Reuben James”. The husky-framed singer’s ingratiating personality and sensual gravel tones soon took center stage and the group eventually renamed themselves “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition”.

The band’s fortunes began to wane in the early ’70s, and Rogers signed a solo deal with UA in 1976. He struck pay dirt immediately with “Lucille,” an absorbing vignette about a barroom encounter with a disillusioned woman and her estranged husband. The number became Rogers’ first No. 1 country hit and reached No. 5 on the national pop chart. It also scored Rogers his first Grammy, for best male country vocal performance. Incidentally, his mother’s name was Lucille, though the song was no reflection of her life.

122110-kenny-rogersBy the end of the ’70s, he notched five more No. 1 solo country singles. The two most famous ones were The Gambler & The Coward of The County. Each inspired a popular TV movie; Rogers would portray Brady Hawkes, the protagonist of “The Gambler,” in a series of telepics that ran through 1994. At the dawn of the ‘80s, as outlaws and urban cowboys staked their turf on either side of the country and pop fence, Kenny Rogers bridged the divide and focussed on romantic balladry. “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” (the latter one of many duets with frequent singing partner Dolly Parton) consolidated his standing as country’s biggest crossover attraction. With Sheena Easton, he sang Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” and it went on to become No. 6 on the pop chart & ruled the country charts. Kenny Rogers had 23 top 10 country hits during the decade, five of which crossed to the pop side.

AS the younger generation of country musicians flexing a less countrypolitan style supplanted him, Kenny made his last toplining appearance in a pair of telepics as reformed gambler Jack MacShayne in 1994. In 1999, he notched a final No. 1 country hit, “Buy Me a Rose,” with Billy Dean and Alison Krauss.

From the mid-’90s, he maintained an active touring schedule, till his health failed him in 2015. Kenny Rogers was a multi-faceted personality and increasingly turned his attention to various entrepreneurial enterprises, opening a chain of fast-food chicken outlets, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and a Sprint car manufacturing firm, Gamblers Chassis.

Here are some Kenny Rogers trivia that will interest his fans:

  • He was a well-respected photographer & was invited to the White House to create a portrait of First Lady Hillary Clinton for the 1993 CBS-TV special, A Day in the Life of Country Music (1993).
  • Named “Favorite Singer of All Time” in a 1986 “PM Magazine/USA Today” poll.
  • Voted “Favorite Male Vocalist” in 1989 by “People” magazine readers.
  • In March 1999 was awarded the Recording Industry Association of America’s prestigious Diamond Award, celebrating sales of more than 10 million albums for his “Greatest Hits” album.
  • His high school vocal group’s original song “That Crazy Feeling” landed them a spot on television’s American Bandstand (1952).
  • Co-host, with Lorianne Crook, of an infomercial for TimeLife’s “Superstars of Country” collection of country music [2005].
  • His duet “Islands in the Stream”, with fellow country singer Dolly Parton was ranked the #1 on CMT 100 greatest country duets of all time.
  • Sang “Lady” with Lionel Richie playing the piano.
  • He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6666 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
  • On Oct. 27, 2013, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Kenny Rogers always said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great”, which is exactly what he has done now. You will be missed by generations. Rest in peace my favourite Gambler.

A Friend For Life – Bonding With the Son In Law

Dear Akash & Vasu,

I wondered what to write as my first blog for 2020. Thank you both for being my inspiration!

In the stereotypical world that we live in, many articles & write-ups can be found about the mother in law/daughter-in-law relationship. The son in law somehow never gets written about.

You both became part of the family even before your respective weddings took place. I do not mean this superficially. Your attitude and the way you simply blended in with all of us endeared you right away. From attending golden jubilee anniversaries to birthdays to poojas at home, you both went with the flow. Not just that, you rolled up your sleeves and worked side by side with all of us. This is in stark contrast to how some other sons in law behave – remain aloof towards their in-laws’ side of the family.

As a spouse, your ability to accept our girls as they are and encourage them to pursue their dreams is phenomenal. I have observed intelligent conversations between you all and it gladdens my heart, not just as a mother, also as a woman. In observing you, I have found you to be of complete integrity, true character, loyal & honest. I have seen you rationalize situations even when your wives were being a little stubborn about the same. Today, I would like to salute that and praise you unabashedly.

All marriages have to be worked on. It is not easy. It is everyday work. A lot of times, women believe they are the only ones who invest in a relationship and work at it. I am proud to say that you both have done the same in so many different ways. I understand the pressures you may go through, the uncertainty & insecurities that crop up once in a while. You have handled a lot of that with aplomb and I feel happy that we have established a relationship where we can talk about it comfortably.

We have raised daughters who love you wholeheartedly and who understand marriage is total commitment and a covenant that goes beyond broken promises and hearts. It is not be taken lightly and I know, they will stand by you. Yet, some aberrations will happen, mistakes will be made, by both of you. You know the best part, I trust you all to deal with them and handle it to the best of your ability.

You may have understood by now that we women think a little differently. For a wife, if the husband makes an effort to build a relationship with her parents, then she feels cared for and secure. Our girls are no different and you have made them feel secure & cared for. Thank you for doing that.

There is a saying – a man who treats his woman like a princess is proof that he has been born and raised in arms of a queen. I have often told both your mothers, that we are blessed to have you both as sons in law and a part of our family. As a mother, I would like to thank Archana & Rama for the value system they have given you. And today I can happily say…

son-in-law-quotes

Thank you dear Akash & Vasu for being who you are and how you are. Stay happy & stay blessed!

Love & hugs

Uma

Manohar Parrikar – Till We Meet Again

I was curious and excited to attend the Make In India – Defence Manufacturing Conclave in Hyderabad in February 2015 for two reasons. One, because it was hosted by the think tank I am part of and two, I was going to get an opportunity to hear India’s Raksha Mantri, Manohar Parrikar.

The conclave proved to be a different one altogether. For the first time, I saw a Defence Minister sit among the audience, attentively listen to all the speakers, make notes and ask questions. I was introduced to him in my capacity as an office bearer of an Ex Service Men (ESM) organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad (ABPSSP) and also as an entrepreneur. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I told him that I would like to brief him about our activities for Veterans & their families, from time to time. He said he would be in touch and that was that.

I initially thought that he would restrict his meetings to the President & Secretary of ABPSSP to get regular briefings about ESM welfare and certain critical issues pertaining to OROP, which had become an agitation at Jantar Mantar at that time. Imagine my surprise, when one day I get a call from him, asking me when I would be in Delhi next and could I meet him! It was a jaw drop moment for me.

I made a trip to Delhi from Bangalore to meet him and shared an update about skill building for veterans and their families through ABPSSP. He asked incisive questions about how many actually benefit in terms of employment, self employment, what kind of opportunities are presented by the corporates. I answered his questions with data and he smiled & said, “I like the fact that you are stating numbers.” Thus, began our work towards the welfare of the ESM community. During the course of our association, he once remarked, “I appreciate your never say die spirit and I hope you continue to be Jhansi ki Rani, fighting for causes you believe in so strongly.”

From then on, our meetings became regular and he always had questions & suggestions. He asked me if I travelled to different states to meet the ESM & their families and I said, “Yes Sir, I do. We have adopted a few places, especially villages where our bravehearts come from and we are now focusing on developing them as Adarsh Graam under the Veer Sainik Graam Yojana project of ABPSSP.” He helped us a lot in approaching the local authorities & state governments in Jharkhand, Odisha & Chhattisgarh.

My trips to Delhi became more frequent as my daughter moved back to the capital from UK. I could now ask for frequent meetings which I did for purely selfish reasons – I got to learn so much from Manohar Parrikar. He became this mentor, elder bother and friend all rolled into one and the more I got to know him, the more fascinated I was by his memory, sharp grasp of complexities and result oriented approach that saw many a change in the Ministry of Defence. I discovered the humane side of Mr Parrikar. His quiet visits to families of martyred soldiers, action towards their problems that were stuck in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Ministry, ensuring quick decisions were implemented & cross verification of the same, his simple approach when he interacted and easy manner of communication, are all traits that made him differently unique in the world of politics. When he decided to work with you, he did with complete trust. No halfway measures for him.

During one of our conversations, I requested him that he must come home during my stay in Delhi. He said,”Let’s talk when you land in Delhi.” He gave me a second jaw drop moment when one evening, he announced that he is coming over for some simple “ghar ka khana”, chilled beer & masala peanuts. It was an evening to remember with my parents, daughter and a couple of close friends with whom he was also familiar. My daughter told him, “Uncle, I thought as Defence Minister you will have guards surrounding you, black cat commandos will come home and do a thorough check of our place, something like a James Bond movie.” He laughed heartily and said, “I am not James Bond and I am coming to meet a friend and the family. Why would I need security to surround me?” That was Manohar Parrikar for you.

I was extremely hassled when he had to go back to Goa as Chief Minister and felt (countless others also would have felt the same) that we were losing a Defence Minister to gain a Chief Minister. He very patiently explained why it was necessary for him to go back to Goa. The last meal we had together at his Delhi residence where he asked me if I had read Robert Greene and I said, “I have read one book of his – The 48 Laws of Power.” He gave me a copy of 33 Strategies of War and said, “Read this. You will understand much more about power & politics.”

He was very happy when I wrote to him about getting my book of poems published in August 2017 and called to tell me that he wanted an autographed copy. I told him only if he gives me sometime when I came to Goa. So, when I did make that visit to Goa, he did spend an hour, despite an unimaginably busy schedule. His personal secretary, Upendra Joshi, remarked that “It is amazing how Sir makes time for everything.” That was how Manohar Parrikar built relationships – he gave people time & listened to them. Subsequently, when he read the book, he called again to congratulate me on the poems I had written about soldiers.

Very recently I messaged him about my daughter getting engaged and invited him for the engagement. He declined stating health does not permit him to travel, but, if he got better, he would try to make it for the wedding.

Now, that is not going to happen. The void you have left, Manohar Dada cannot be filled. A deep felt gratitude to the Almighty for having given me the opportunity to get to know you and work with you for a while.

God speed and rest in peace. Till we meet again.


Cancer took my inspiration, guide & friend away, don’t you see?
Time was a ticking bomb thrust decisively.
If cancer had any idea what beauty lay within your soul,
I can promise it would have seen the glow.

Silence began moments ago,
When a voice said its time to let go.

Even though you are gone now,
Your memory will always remain in our hearts.
Your smile and face will never fade.
We will think of you as we go on each day.

The good times we remember
And the days spent together, will be in our memories forever.

When I sat down to watch the TV tonight,
And I started to cry…
I thought of your strength & then your pain
And asked Lord Almighty why?

I’ll just leave it at that and know you’re in a better place.
Your heart is right with God.

So, Manohar Dada we love you & we will miss you so much.
I also know you are at peace today.
So watch over us and make sure we’re okay.
And I will see you again someday.

Gift Yourself a New Year…

Once in a while it hits people that they really don’t have to see the world in the way they have been told to. dawn-3846778_1920That is the beauty of exploring, learning, understanding & accepting newness in life. That is serendipity (in a way) and letting go of what we are conditioned to or cling on to. All of us like to feel we are in control of our lives, plan every step and steer the course of all happenings exactly at the time we want it to happen. We all want to know what’s going to happen before it does, like to play scenarios out in our heads, use favourite words to make sense of this world as much as we can. Even though we know, in the back of our minds, that it may never fully happen.

Somewhere, between being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, an entrepreneur, I realised that no matter what pre planning I do, there will always be moments in life that will be unexpected, out of the blue and hit you like a ton of bricks. And then, you are in a free fall. 

Now, the beauty of free fall is that, it is the right moment to find your wings. Wings help you fly. 

There is flip side to free fall, too. When you fall, if you do not allow your wings to come out, spread and flap them, you are likely to hit the ground with a big thud. The most important thing then is to trust your instinct, let go and allow your wings to emerge.

You will never know you can fly if you do not unfurl your wings, flap them and push yourself to soar. You’ll never know the strength in your muscles if you don’t flex them. You’ll never know who you can become, if you don’t take the first step.

Two and half decades ago, I was jolted from that familiar, comfortable bubble I had built in my life. And I went into a fall. I also discovered I could fly. That changed everything.

There will always be winds of change, forcing us to come down at times, falter in some cases, change direction completely and soar. Allow for those serendipitous periods in life, which will give you the freedom to discover a new you.

May that be your gift to yourself this year! May 2019 bring out the serendipiter & the discoverer in you! Happy 2019!!!  

 

Manohar Parrikar – The Man, The Minister

After having gotten over the news of Manohar Parrikar going back to Goa as the Chief Minister, I write this piece as someone who has had the opportunity of meeting & interacting with him. My interactions with Mr Parrikar happened because I work with an Ex Service Men (ESM) organisation called Akhil Bharatiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad (ABPSSP) and as a member of a Mumbai based think tank, Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS).

I first met him in a conclave organised by FINS in February 2015. What struck me in that conclave was unlike other politicians, I found him listening more than talking. His speech at the conclave was brief, to the point and his vision of Make in India to succeed in the

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Image courtesy NDTV

defence production segment was one of hope, positivity, and inclusiveness. He said he wanted more local manufacturers, big & small, to be part of the defence production process and assured them business from the Ministry of Defence if they were willing to commit to quality, timely deliverables & cost effectiveness. He made notes and asked questions to clarify, validate and understand. What a refreshing change it was to find a Minister do that.

The preceding months I had read enough criticism about him in/by the media – print, electronic and social. How he does not understand defence & security, his dressing sense, how he cannot salute, etc. etc. After having met him, the media view seemed so shallow. I wondered (still do) why the media focuses on the negative and destructive criticism rather than positive and constructive criticism.

In the following months, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Mr Parrikar again. This time it was to do with my work in ABPSSP and working for the welfare of ESM. OROP agitation was at its peak and he was doing his best to resolve it in a conducive manner. His predecessors were in no way close to the patience he displayed towards all the ESM organisations and his commitment in seeing the OROP issue resolved. As OROP

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Image courtesy Indian Express

became a reality, he personally instructed my organisation to keep validating with our ESM members & families about the money being credited into their accounts. In fact, Mr Parrikar became a guiding force for ABPSSP to organise several meetings to resolve any pension related challenges of our ESM. On a visit to remote Mahuadan village in Jharkhand, when I addressed about 250 plus ESM & families and asked them about receiving OROP, they all affirmed positively. Not only that, they said, “We bless the Raksha Mantri for having made this possible.” Few politicians actually get blessings from the public!

Formal education and current position can define your worthiness. What makes you different is defined by your attitude towards others. And this is seen in Mr Parrikar. He always returned calls, responded to emails and did not bother about detractors who underestimated his intellect & judged him only by his outward appearance.

The energy and the “to do attitude” was so evident and infectious, that Mr Parrikar inspired the implementers endlessly. He himself is a man of action with a simple, straight forward approach. I had once asked him how he views his role as Raksha Mantri of the country. His response reflects his attitude. He said this is a role with responsibilities that has been entrusted to him by the government and he must deliver results to ensure proper functioning of the ministry. He shared great vibes when he visited formations and addressed the soldiers. Many of my serving friends in the armed forces have come away pleasantly surprised by his no nonsense approach & positive outlook towards bringing in necessary changes in the armed forces.

This must do approach again became evident when he facilitated a meeting between ABPSSP and Skill Development Ministry as we had requested for it. His support to build skill sets for our retiring soldiers and encouragement to use the skill sets they have developed while in service enabled us to create projects at the state level for both – the retired & the retiring soldier.

His sharp grasp of complexities and result oriented approach saw many a change in the Ministry of Defence. That was him as the Minister. What a lot of people may not know is the humane side of Mr Parrikar. His quiet visits to families of martyred soldiers, action towards their problems that were stuck in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Ministry, ensuring quick decisions were implemented & cross verification of the same, his simple approach when he interacts and easy manner of communication, are all traits that make him differently unique in the world of politics. Families of martyred soldiers have a lot to be thankful for. In November last year, Mr Parrikar quietly doubled the compensation for widows and families of soldiers dying while fighting for the country in five categories. He has taken personal interest in every case that was put up to him for rehabilitation or resettling of families of martyred soldiers. For two ladies, Mrs Swati Mahadik (w/o Late Lt Col Santosh Mahadik) and Mrs Nidhi Dubey (w/o Late Naik Mukesh Dubey) he helped cut down the bureaucratic process of applying to the Officers Training Academy and today both are proud lady cadets at the OTA.

Mr Manohar Parrikar definitely initiated change in the Defence Ministry. However, as the man performing the role of a minister, he sets the benchmark high. That is a tall act to follow.

 

The 365 Page Book Called 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday…

Rest in peace Leonard Cohen.

In Beautiful Losers, his second novel, he said, “Do not be magical, be magic.” Cohen was magic and therefore, magical. Poet, novelist, songwriter, singer all rolled into one, Leonard Cohen entered the music scene in New York in 1967. For almost 60 years he mesmerised those who heard him.

I first heard Cohen in 1983 at a friend’s place on a rainy afternoon in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were the days of a cassette recorder and when Cohen’s voice echoed in that room, eight other voices went silent. It was a distinct voice…one which took “500 tons of cohenwhiskey and, you know, a million cigarettes” to develop as he said in an interview. The album was “Recent Songs”. To say we were hooked would be an understatement. There was this hunger and curiosity to know who Leonard Cohen was. Personally, I thought & still think he was the only other person whose songs influenced me as much Bob Dylan. His response to Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature was, “giving the award to Dylan is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain”

One of the most fascinating and enigmatic song writer/singer, Cohen rarely made it to the pop music charts. Influencing many musicians and winning numerous awards, including The Companion of the Order of Canada (highest civilian award in Canada), Cohen’s folk-rock music commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960’s who continued to work till the outset of the 21st century. The testimony to this was the release of his latest in October 2016 – “You Want It Darker” a solemn album of elegies. The power of his words can be felt in his last letter to his muse Marianne Ihlen. It said, “well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” She died in August 2016.

Cohen’s successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in “Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs”, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen’s poems, several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics. It may have seemed to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, I would call him as a quintessential Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines.

Thank you for speaking from specific vantage points at every stage in your life.  Thank you for the quiet nights, the solitary reflections, the 360 degree perspectives, the wry smiles and the truth.

I will miss you.

Letters From Home…Saluting Military Spouses Across The World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I Fell In Love With Mr Tambourine…

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

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

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

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

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

MusiCares Person Of The Year Tribute To Bob Dylan - Show

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

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

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