By Anagha Rajadhyaksha I’m a 90s kid. We grew up either loving sportsmen or Govinda. And to take that a step further I grew up with an older brother. As younger siblings would know, for the first 10 – 12 years of our life, our sole purpose of living is to get the attention, love, respect…
The first sight evokes awe and large bites of fear…Poetry beckons ,still. Enticingly tripping of wings, nature, flying,birds and of a treacherous unknown :sense of the free.When shaken and stirred, a heady cocktail results into intoxicated delirium.Part truth and mostly well meaning fiction,it is.Euphoria of conquering the Everests of fear and summiteering the unreachable begin to cloud minds and the blasphemy of daring the divine becomes the new vocabulary of desire.At another and more realistic remove,fear overwhelms just because the scale of the unknown is not easily definable.
Paradoxically,however, the continuous search of one’s own identity and to overreach the limits competes with the other intangibles of mortality. It dares your vanity and challenges to commit acts uncommon and not necessarily normal. I would imagine when I sit back rather than stand on the edge of the aeroplane these mixed and sometimes contradictory and conflicting emotions hems the jumper….At least that is what happened to me with uncomfortable regularity.Confused, I look up to read once again the quote that stares from the white sepulcral walls of my bedroom,“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. Barrie,
…I used to be a scrawny and frail child.Small in size and certainly not strong.Though always playing all kinds of games as is the wont of children.Carrying my brother’s much used sports shoes, more often than not, instead of trying to be in them was how I grew.Always striking from behind,running away from the strong,never ready to take a fight head-on, sly and restless my cross of physical fragility was much in evidence.
When I decided to join the Indian Air Force,(IAF) even friends, shook their heads in disbelief.Air Force, to its credit gave me a new confidence,self belief and a sense of discipline and organisation.I must admit, though, there was something of a rebel residue within that seemed to surface every now and then .Physically I was becoming stronger but not enough to fight the street corner thug, yet(if that is what you imagine).Started to play field or troop games like football and hockey, got noticed and found place in various novice levels of teams. In a skewed way, self belief began to get back with my conceited mocking of the modest competencies of the sports-minded in the IAF. While I was changing
slowly in skin and bone I joined the merry band of Parachute Jump Instructors(PJI’s) at Paratroopers Training School (PTS) as a volunteer from a special and strenuous selection process of the IAF. Once again,many of my dear friends, quietly and between their teeth whispered of how standards in the Indian Air Force had deteriorated.
Would you believe I never knew , the selection and training meant; jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes ? I had no clue of the tough Sergeant Majors -back breaking schedules of running, exercise, gymnastics and then again running until the legs and knees were no part of yours’- of salt and water in the body vanishing into thin air leaving you cold, dry and weak -the sinking feeling looking out from within the cosy interiors of the aeroplane into the blue to the blurred and fuzzy green and yellow down below called Mother Earth, -the adrenalin rush and the daylight stars of rude awakening when hurtling on in a roller-coaster fall or the parachute opening up almost wringing your neck … As if that was not enough, totally innocent I was, about the limbs or life that would be always at risk.
I had no idea of what it was to be a man among men. Rambo,I’m afraid was good to watch only, from a distance and on the unreal silver screens.Yes ! And then I jumped for the first time like the thousands before me had,when the green lights came on for the Exit. Became a Military Freefall and Skydiving Instructor too.
Fear wore many masks and played hide and seek with me.It was de rigueur. Sometimes I was simply scared without knowing why or when looking out from the open doors of the aeroplane high above.At other times on ground I felt weak kneed thinking of all that could happen to me.Parachute not opening, failing to deploy the Emergency reserve when the mains had failed to open, twisting my knee or neck and much worse cracking strong bones upon landing. If I got over the heebie-jeebies thinking of jumping by day, the night jump stalked like an unfriendly ghost.As I put behind these ; a new aeroplane,changed doors of exit, different heights, parachutes and Landing Zones became the fresh bugbears. The previous ones were so benign after all,I reasoned.This done, now fledging trainees got off aeroplanes at my bidding.I kept my fingers crossed and prayers quiet.My never-ending platter of queasy meals of anxiety and fear teased further when Free Fall came my way and I had to open a parachute, of my volition at designated heights, while racing down at over 180 miles per hr.(Until then, the static line attached to the parachute used to assist opening of the round canopies mechanically and without any of my doing,but getting out of the aircraft). My leader queried if I was ready to save other lives.Would all my trainees come off safe and alive?
Dropping Zones looked like a blur and far away often times.Sweat refused to come and inchoate pains crept up for unwelcome leavening of my tasteless palate.Psychologically troubled I was left to wonder churlishly of birds, skies ,freedom and song.
Shhhh…No one was to know of these unmanly secrets. Lest, I be found deficient of maschismo in tales untold at extended sessions in the bar or at the back slapping glorified re-unions.It was quite another thing that in lot of other countries including the Asian ones, the sport of skydiving had been divested off a lot of myths and misplaced fears as all and sundry had taken to it on weekends at beaches and abandoned air strips.The passionate had gone to cliffs and towers and bridges instead of aeroplanes, wore skates or nothing, rode cycles in the air while falling free.They stood, rolled and sat quite literally in the air and made a mockery of gravity.
Thankfully,this too did pass and I went on to make several jumps from many aeroplanes, at different places and in front of many dignitaries. Cheers, applause, photos and garlands,exclusive videos uplifted me into rapturous delights and it was the magical brew I pined for.All fears were strangely forgotten.Birds and wings once again filled my dreams and sleep.I too, then did it like many others….
And I look at myself, today, to wonder what has changed after all? That little wimp from distant Cuttack from the state of Odisha,India had finally managed to look down on the earth below by falling? Happenstance,luck ,destiny…?Or is life about the many small things of the routine and ordinary that get stitched together, as if by some mysterious design, to become and look incredible ? Or is it quite simply because in India not many get to do or find an opportunity to skydive and hence its “mystique”
Am I then coming to terms with what came my way and was fortunate to have lived it? Struggling to realise that life should not script a story of “mourning” or become an ‘endless tantrum’ about the lives we are unable to live,’ for the exemptions that we suffer, whether forced or chosen , makes us what we are ‘. Who knows ?
I am still trying to reconcile a past : overcome the distressful thoughts of roads not taken,opportunities wasted,possibilities refused, of potentials never fulfilled or to just as well be happy for what I am, rather than wondering, what was and could have been.
Life, maybe, is all about the interregnum between the beginning and the aspiration .For it is, in between, that we have to encounter luck, coincidences, opportunities, fears, anxieties,failures and hardships, envy and humiliation.
General Bhupinder Singh‘s coming out of the closet is indeed timely. The country would like to hear how the military and its brass,thinks, in particular , about nationalism, dissent, disruptive politics and of course patriotism which is not of the “sarkari” kind. What is to be termed as defiance or much worse sedition?
The General has spoken and spoken with intelligence, courage and acuity :very seldom noticed, otherwise in most others of his kind, when dabbling with matters, not traditionally military. The General stands under the flag of his own choosing : a tri-colour without the shadows of the unseen hand. The masses need to be educated about the Armed Forces to be, yet another job : only a little bit risky and difficult at times.It is to be borne out of a purgatory.Not to be an act of apology or much less shame.It is to remain proud and forthright as before,only the definition is to be different.
It is time also to look beyond the feudal understanding of the military from the glorified notions to be all self sacrificing and made out of different elements than that of normal society.They are always only and as good as the people and society they represent and come from.Their training, task and objectives,framework of functioning demand a different set of skills both soft and hard.How it should be read in the present context and freedom that we have in the word called parliamentary democracy has to be re-visited and re-interpreted without the hoopla of derring-do and martyrdom.What with no wars being fought with the enemy on the outside but very much within – in the era of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency !
Have we become or reduced to just a better peacetime para-military force and to be mirror imaged with lesser and limited versions of guardians of combat and geographies? How do we relate to our pristine and designated goals set in the context of a new and free India against what we are called upon by governments and not the state with the passage of time? Have the lines of such distinction got blurred? Has our reading of military history changed accordingly for history is dynamic and is constantly being seen differently and re-calibrated with changing socio-economic and political realities? The clothes of the Emperor proverbially is what meets the eye.Tragically so. Are we in the military ready to adapt and accommodate or much better still,re-morph ? Change?
A few erstwhile Generals and Admirals have confessed in public or privately AFSPA to be a bone of contention consequent of unfortunate realpolitik.Are they then indications of a changing mind-set? or isolated sparks of misguided or the disgruntled? Those that wear the uniform and weapons are but an agency.They are human and are not just trained to shoot. They would also like to know whom the masters want to kill or destroy. Who is the enemy is a moot question which the military is slowly standing up to ask, albeit when not in uniform. ..
When most were busy cramming copied notes, buying or stealing comics, enjoying goodies only the fortunate were blessed with, there used to be a young child dark and gangly. Did he wear spectacles then? I do not quite, remember. He, on his own, worked away with quirky tools like the nails, hammer, a broken screwdriver, wood and bamboo, glue and paper, grease and grime making crazy-shaped kites for others to fly and original but distasteful bric-a-brac to adorn certain dark and mildewed corners of chalky walls.While English and only English was the legal tender,his stern but far sighted father, endearingly known as “Masterji”,along with his caring mother (affectionatelyMausi to all) got him to master his Hindi through the government sponsored certifications : Prabodh, Pragya( I’m not sure of the names really). No one took notice ever.Much less bothered.
Sweating away too on a contraption ,popularly known as a bicycle or on spindly legs he made a habit of reporting late to school to catch the not-so-friendly eyes of superiors and colleagues alike..Actually he was busy getting milk or much needed groceries for the modest home to which he was born to. Making the school on time, therefore was a very difficult chore and unsung two- wheeled rickety ride.Forever the left square pocket of his washed but not crisp enough, blue-school shirt had the signature stamp of a leaking fountain pen which he used perhaps, earlier than most.His conduct was a mistaken matter of censure and gloating glee for the many at school: teachers and students alike.He was the proverbial back -bencher or ‘Chokra boy'(an anotonym of the “baba-log”) as the Anglo-Indians ‘chi-chied’ in snooty disdain. The naughty and not so wicked,I dare say, had mistakenly befriended, thinking him to be one of their kind. In the monthly exams he never got marks enough.(under his breath he still curses the teachers of his day).In all outdoor games he was the royal reserve.And always outstanding ! But, never one to be put down ,a special gift made him see much more than most to snap away with the Agfa Click III of yore, for photos,like the one below : (that all my marriage photos were a wash-out is still being sorted out with him, is another story).
And then that weird kite, fondly Pappu, caught wind , and soared up and above the world so high .The wheel of fortune seemed to be turning, for once. Come the ICSE Exams,he beat most and to their disbelief got a thumping first division.Friends shook hands while the nay-sayers were still shrugging their shoulders in contempt or disbelief. Just when the knives were being sharpened, yet again, when he flunked the Graduation exams from Ravenshaw he had cracked the unthinkable;the SCB Medical College Entrance Exam.
The sagging thread had finally shed its slack.An MBBS was soon to be followed up with an MD and then a DM in Gastroenterology from Vellore,to HOD, SCB.And more of such puzzlingly rearranged alphabets in two’s and three’s made impressive credentials adding fat to his otherwise, slender frame.There has been no looking back ever since.While all this was happening, he got married to a very companionable Sudha, sired two equally beautiful daughters,Haley,not a comet actually ( who is also a doc married to another doc ) and Lalli,the architect designing the foundations for future governance.
In the meanwhile Pappu had majored in many a different way.Pity,I always thought childhood is the epitome and signpost for all that the future holds.While some of it may be true,your own consciousness is also a product of your own education, readings, associations, experiences – the speed and quality of it can be always coloured, of course.And most of us men,patriarchal and chauvinist, in our own given ways do seldom credit the woman you get married to.Oh,she is one heluva presence and with that comes the influence.And Sudha, certainly is quite a one, formidable! If Gopi and Tokon wonder, what of them bachelors, well, better left to another day.It would be fair to say, however,somewhere and sometime during all of this Pappu was brushing his own memories of a past both at a personal and historical level -where after all, did he fit into the larger scheme of things.His world view, in a manner of speaking,must have been taking affectionate shape with his success,status on the upside and an immediate family doing not to badly either.The Rajput in him,his self-made persona coupled with a host of insecurities,vindictive and jealous colleagues,the relentless Bihari perseverance and capacity for hard work must have had its pervasive influence in his identification with the sense of discipline and order, a sense of historical wrong (howsoever, misplaced) and pride of what we as an individual and glorious family of a Hindu nation were capable of. He is shy to admit, when asked, that he sees in the RSS, the seesawing mentor and master of the BJP and all its many siblings – a dream of redemption and resolution of all his fears, anxieties and desperate ambitions.Is his politics as good as his skills of the accomplished physician or a specialist with the gastroscope? As for me I remain disturbed for it while the best in current times would prefer to shrug it away – as a matter of opinion.
Daktar Babu had finally arrived.Dr Shivaram Prasad Singh,he had become. Friends and family stand by cheering with their hands together, for the “late bloom,” which they always knew, was to and would happen.We are all very happy ,and not a bit embarrassed that you exceeded our expectations .
Looking back – it was along time ago when life was but a game of snakes and ladders ;being bullied by the cowards, sermonized by the not-so-holy,taught by the unkind, forgotten in the dusty rear benches and to become the victim of the “Conduct Marks”conspiracy.(Discretionary marks awarded at the end of the month on the basis of individual discipline and added to your aggregate to determine final tally) I believe you to have found those legs to keep running and running as only one in a marathon can – strong in the knowledge of one’s own ability and spirit, faith in the love and compassion of family and friends and to resolutely consider, no distance is impossible to complete and no difficulty is daunting enough !
You have found your love and vocation. You have gotten into knowing more and sharing with the creation of a very timely NGO Kalinga Foundation dedicated to the afflicted.
Your sport and spikes,hard-fought inheritances,now a grandfather too -you have moved on .Keep running,friend -well and truly northwards.From a wet-in-the-ears Bihari to articulating the unnumbered burps of Borborygmi has been some travel…
A Very Happy Birthday ! Friend
Updated on 15th March 2020.
Once again icons and celebrities with their socio-cultural messages have muddied the “flood-plains’ of the Yamuna passing through the lacerated heart of Delhi.Questions abound.Did not the government, media and alert activists not know of this mega-event? Do we not hold such events on river beds since a long time, especially the Kumbh Mela? Is our religiosity which is private and sacred being hijacked by saints and eco- gurus dwelling on our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as oppressed masses? Or is it that our ignorances and confused intellects in search of newer facts onwards to truth-finding losing its way on the sands of dead habit ? Power and pelf rage and rule .Once again the arbiters of justice stand and watch the steady abuse and willful destruction of mute nature and ecology.among so many other things !
What do you think? Which side are you on? Wear your thinking caps .Better still, be on the streets and sweat it out.For the truths need to be searched and identified.,understood, and fought for. There is a silent war and unseen.Not unlike the cold war : of powerful people, parties with new weapons closer home and across the world. The game of take overs, acquisitions,appropriation all within the letter of law.Very democratically !