Freefall had moved on from the ungainly and rather rigid spread-eagle position to “stable frog position” and onto body-acrobatics in the air.
Having graduated and donned the Para Jump Instructors (PJI) brevets, they were trusted with the lives of all those brave paratroopers with maroon berets mostly
The Indian Army mostly composed of the “maroon berets” or Paratroopers perform the operational role with the help of a large number of the aerial
My friend Tokon had been very keen to see the Golden Temple, Jallianwallabagh,Wagah Border and all that was there to Amritsar. I am not particularly religious. But having been born to a Bengali, Hindu Brahmin family, God and religion was not just a part of the necessary vocabulary of growing up but one seemed to encounter its all-pervasiveness while living, sleeping and eating on a daily basis.Even perhaps in our dreams.That aside,history and the Sikhs as a community fascinated me since childhood.The Sikhs were martial,handsome, big and strong compared to the generally undernourished and famished Bengalis.They had fought the Mughals valiantly and were hardworking farmers too.Interestingly,Bengali households found them to be reassuring and comforting and always recommended their daughters to hire Sikh driven taxis, when alone, for their reliability.
The day finally came when Tokon,my wife and I made the trip on the morning of 21st August by Swarna Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Amritsar
.This was the first time all of us were making the journey to Amritsar.Tokon and I had become senior citizens save Aarti, who is on the wrong side of fifty,devout and god fearing.She was our Travel Planner.
As the train chugged away passing through large and vast fields of green,small and unknown stations,crowded bazaars ,wide highways and lines of trucks I thought of this pioneering social reformer Guru Nanak,the founder of Sikhism.Fed up with the idolatrous Hindu Brahmins, the oppressive caste system and the inequality in society he preached and sang about a new radical social order.Kabir,Farhad and many others joined in the chorus for change and upliftment.These were the days of social renaissance and we are talking about the 15th and 16th century.Subsequent Gurus added to the secular character of this newly formed religious order while reinforcing it with a war-like, aggressive ideology.The Muslims used to constantly harass,loot and attack these swathes of land.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his exploits of daredevilry as far as Afghanistan,fighting for the British in the two Great Wars,the revolutionary Bhagat Singh,the freedom loving spirit of the survivors of Komagata Maru,sacrifices of innocent civilians in the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh,the altruism and courage in the INA was the stuff of bedtime stories: the essential Sikh.Post Independence they were to be seen as far east as Imphal or south in Cochin.They were entrepreneurial,mechanically savvy and loved to work on emerging technologies.Hard working they drove trucks and taxis across states.
Punjab had by then got its statehood but this had not entirely satisfied the Sikh majority.The Green revolution of the sixties had given the Jat Sikhs and the landowners the first taste of rapid growth and modernisation.A small but important section had climbed up the social ladder and soon spread out to Europe, USA,London, Canada and the Africa.Money was being sent back home in plenty.Land was bought and farmed by hired wage labourers.Exploitation of the lower classes like leather workers,sharecroppers,scavengers,carpenters,washer-men,sweepers,blacksmiths and such others was bringing disrepute.They were denied of their dues and rights as the entrenched aristocracy went slow or sabotaged implementation of the land reforms.The Gurudwaras had slowly become exclusive and in very subtle ways were reluctant to open out to the poor.The Hindu Punjabis for their part always saw in the rise of Jat Sikhs a threat to their business or agricultural interests.A new fractured social order was lurking in the shadows contrary to what had been so generously conceived by the visionary Sikh Gurus. It was verily going to seed.Akalis and the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee(SGPC) hung on to a regressive,chauvinistic and authoritarian ideology riding on the enormous funds of the Gurudwaras.The Congress on its part was struggling to continue with an uneasy polygamous marriage of convenience with different and contrasting parties. Into this melting pot the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) rallied round the disenfranchised lower castes and was mobilising them under a new flag and ideology with great success.The Sikhs had themselves squabbled and split. The new pretenders, the Nirankaris laid claim to being the true leadership of the Sikhs.The Radhey Swamis also threw in their lot. Like always the politicians and the powerful had together sold out its own power base-the people and was busy killing the golden goose.Like always the stage was set for some motivated fishing in troubled waters
.My thoughts raced ahead in no sequence or chronology recollecting the history and politics of the region.I was excited and curious.Suddenly,the train jerked to a stop. A whole heap of talk, noise and movement in the aisles interrupted my dark thoughts.We had reached Amritsar and I was to step on the soil of Punjab for the first time.
On the 22nd Aug, around 6 in the morning we were at the SwarnaMandir.Most shops leading to the temple were closed,residential houses were still to feel the first rays of the sun and remained tucked into their snug bedsheets perhaps.Sweepers were still cleaning the roads and open spaces while the early risers were warming themselves with a steaming cup of “pati-tej chai”(strong tea) from their favourite roadside vendors ! The meandering path was margined by garish, unkempt hotels and shops to disappoint as it curled upwards to the Golden Temple.It was a maze of alleyways sometimes chokingly narrow and sometimes wide as souks as if the history of assaults by Mughal,Afghan and later the English from 17th to 19th century had permanently infused a sense of siege even into its architecture and town planning.
A bandana to cover our heads was provided for free while we removed our shoes and handed over to a matter-of-fact caretaker.Thereafter,we stepped into a clean patch of water in a marbled drain of sorts to clean our feet before entering the sacred premises.
And then was the spectacle ! We stood at one of the four enormous gateways leading into the Golden Temple located at four cardinal directions, symbolizing the inclusiveness of the Sikh faith for all religions,caste, creed or colour.
As we descended down the flight of stairs, a striking sight filled our eyes : the golden Harmandir Sahib (the abode of the Gods) majestically shimmering on the surrounding placid waters of Amrit Sarovar(the lake of ambrosia).
Out of habit and reverence our heads bowed in prayer.Interestingly,the place of worship,the other gurudwaras,restrooms and the marbled walkways have been deliberately designed down below to emphasise humility and gratitude as the central virtues of this young faith.
Thought and conceived by the third Guru Amardas in the mid 16th century,it was Guru Ram Das who helped its construction. Finally the fifth Guru Arjan Singh who also gave further shape and substance to Harmandir Sahib a.k.a Durbar Sahib (the Court of the Lord) completed it in a manner of speaking. Guru Arjan also compiled and placed the Adi Granth(the holy book of Sikhism of more than 7,000 Sikh, Sufi, and Hindu hymns, set to 31 ragas and calibrated to different moods, occasions, and times of the day) in the heart of the Durbar Sahib . Each day before dawn, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is transported in a palanquin from the Akal Takht to the sanctum sanctorum, to be read and sung from,until late night.
The waters of the Ravi were channelized to keep the tank water filled and it was Maharaja Ranjit Singh who contributed in gold to give the temple its famous persona. The Akal Takht(the Throne of the Timeless One)
one of the five Takhts, but highest in importance was added by Guru Hargobind to be the seat of temporal power. Thus both the temporal and spiritual (the concept of piri and miri) were co-located in the precincts of this historic temple.A square walkway of marble with intricate inlays(typically reflecting the congruence of Mughal and Hindu architectural styles )circumlocutes the Harmandir Sahib.While walking through I noticed the many hundreds of ceremonial plaques,commemorative pieces and marble stones of various regiments with the names of officers and men embedded in various walls.The Harmandir Sahib also stood as a testimonial of the acts of bravery and sacrifices and martyrdom of its brave sons fighting for the British stretching from Mesopotamia,North Africa, Malaya,Turkey and later for the Indian Army.
The two Bunga Ramgarhia Towers stood as erect sentinels of the Guru ka Langar(Community kitchen) building which provides a simple non-vegetarian meal to all devotees for free and accommodates as many as one hundred thousand devotees in a day. The soft and serene sounds of the Shabad which starts playing pretty early and goes into the late night envelops this awesome place in a spiritual embrace of bliss. This unique blend or contrasts in sight and sound entrances the believer and the unfaithful alike !
The mystique and mythology continue unabated.The three old Ber trees ( Jujube) fascinate the inquisitive.Sikh Gurus preferred to plant jujube trees in the religious places (Gurdwaras). In the Golden Temple, Amritsar, the historic jujube trees are the sign of rich heritage. Ber Baba Budha Sahib is one of the oldest jujube trees and is considered 440 years old. As this tree was associated with religious Saint Baba Budha Ji, hence it is called Ber Baba Budha Sahib. Dukh Bhanjani Ber and Lachhi Ber are also very old jujube trees.
Many such stories have kept the faithful in awe.Fact and fiction combine ever so often in this Temple of the Gods.We feel weary and sad for the time has come to leave.The three of us would carry our very own impressions.Some new, some shared and some very private and personal.We shall tell new stories to the ever-growing numbers of the faithful or just curious. and thus the sacred word shall spread. Aarti, perhaps feels blessed and is very grateful;Tokon considers himself fortunate to have made it this far as I am clouded with mixed feelings on our climb out of the Temple thinking of that inevitable tragedy of June 1984.
Operation BlueStar should never have happened.Though I know it shall again. What with the evil and misdirected finding strange retreats ! The devout and the well-meaning together rue the divisive politics of those days and the impious entry of the Indian Army boots into its sacred interiors, the pathology of a Bhindranwale,heartless and avoidable loss of lives of the innocent and the wanton destruction of the holy of holies, Harmandir Sahib, in a free India by the tanks, helicopters and armour of the Indian Armed forces.A Prime Minister and a Chief of the Army Staff paid with their lives .So did several hundreds of Sikhs later during that sad year.
The proud Sikhs seemed to have been wronged by desperate measures. .Punjab no longer has the rivers flowing freely.No longer do the fields dance the bhangra or beat the Dhol when green and golden. Poverty and casteism is back with a vengeance.Politics rules the roost..The Shabad of equality,non-discrimination and brotherhood is slowly dying in the Punjabi hearts.He suffers.The nation bleeds.The hurt lingers still, refusing to heal…
So for one last time, on my way out,from all of us,our sincere prayers to that One Onkar, to make this land once again,the Land of the Brave !
A recent article written by a respectable author got me thinking.In response, this is what I have to say… Read more
I would only like to emphasise that the Indian Armed Forces is an implementation arm of the political masters.It is also my understanding that their strategic and tactical actions are also tuned to such political perceptions or policies.This is the legacy of that much applauded apolitical character of the role of the Armed Forces in a so called post colonial democracy and that too in an underdeveloped country. Army does not dictate a larger political philosophy.Instead it is the other way round.Many honest and nationalist generals have voiced their own concerns against a militarist approach and have suggested a political solution as the only solution.That it ends up in a mess is an unwritten tragedy yet but erroneously put in the front door of the Armed Forces which needs, also to to be brought out before the misinformed public.Killing is not the vocation of these men in uniform much as this might be good slogan for motivation.All, need to know they too, need to be understood as patriots with a confused job description. What with nationalism and martyrdom itself misunderstood ever so often !
Comings and goings are the thing of a mortal world.There are no Gods.We all know.Yet,some in their passing make many to rub their eyes in disbelief,stir themselves,sit up to take notice.One such was this beautiful face of the boxing gloves !
Who of my generation, before or after could have not shared an incandescent glee when each time he had boxer after boxer flat on the ring mat .The pathetic sight of the defeated limbs, tired and bruised body on wobbly legs and a sullen slouch after having gotten up almost after a trippy dream.To behold the mesmeric presence of a silken superior,a silent assassin who felled many an adversary without spilling much blood to revel upon, in a gory gladiatorial sport.Would it then, be too much to praise him as a Gentleman of the Ring.?
Better still who would forget the Cassius Clay
rechristening himself as Muhammad ,making faces at the mighty White Americans in their own backyard and happily going to jail much before most had found Vietnam to be no war of their own ! For this is how I remember him as a child,a hero who articulated what I could not speak or put words to.He was the big brother who had answered my silent prayers and had bashed and shut bullying mouths of the Americans or the British : my Black Param Yodhya. A modern Eklavya ?
.I felt like a proud coward who was happy when he saw his tormentor beaten in a street fight or classroom. He made us believe that Americans were paper tigers with their nuclear bombs even when we or our kind had none.Ho Chi Minh,General Giap ,the guerilla commander, the Vietnamese were the greatest whom we came to recognise. Curiously their courageous sagas were brought home and into our fiery, but infant hearts largely through this man and his much abused mouth.We woke up to the blatant oppression and the indignities of inhumanity subjected on other people and saw in them a shared history struggle and common destinies.
Our small worlds started to become bigger.We got to understand better the pungent wit in the nonplussed interviewee(Dhritiman Chatterjee) when he instinctively reacted to the question on the most important event of the times to be, “the victory of the Vietnamese and not the landing on the moon” in the movie” Pratidwandi”. The Interviewing Board in mock disdain and with clipped accents of the Brown Sahib had famously questioned then, “Are you a communist’?
I shall never know whether you were one.For many believe in their fond minds you were like Spartacus who cared for the weak.May you keep your boxing gloves on for your fight is unfinished yet.And they go well beyond those mortal 15 rounds !
Fare thee, Well !
Is there a case for the defence forces to start their own Bank?
In a sad news today, the Syndicate Bank, which serves over sixty thousand defence pensioners, has declared a quarterly loss of 882 Crores. Their Chairman & managing director had earlier been arrested in a bribery scandal. Total loss declared by the Syndicate Bank, in this tranche of unpaid loans will be 2158 crores.
The State Bank of India serves nearly seven lakh pensioners and its assets are under stress forcing it to merge with its subsidiaries to create a facade of well-being when the money, in fact, has all but gone. Other Banks serving the Services and the Veterans/families are also in no better state. Tax-payers money will now be used for refinancing these Banks.
All our NPFs, the Serving, and the Veterans are using different Banks for their day to day requirements. Services have provided costly real estate to the Banks to run their Branches. Truthfully, the Services and all its personnel, past & present, are the net creditors of all the Banks. Statistics would prove that Servicemen would never default on their loans. They use the Banks to leave whatever extra they have. This trust of the depositors has been completely betrayed by the Banks who have created these humongous unpaid loans.
It’s here that a need arises for the Services to establish their own Bank. The personnel will never have to worry about their money getting embroiled into ‘the NPAs’ as the deposits would be under strict vigil & loans extended only to the legitimate borrowers. Retiring personnel will have their own in-house avenue for jobs after their early retirements and all the real estate of the Services would be utilized for the betterment of the people from the Services.
For bigger volumes and scales, the CAPFs can also be co-opted for such a venture.
The need is to apply for a licence and we have NPFs who can take a lead in this matter. The NPFs will then have full control of their money and would be able to devote resources for the betterment of its own personnel.
Imagine, every serviceman/woman getting the salary from the same bank, all pensioners getting their pensions from the same institution with no confusion in interpreting the rules, arrears being given correctly and in time, money being utilised correctly for the nation building, no unpaid loans and easier loans for the people from the services., centralised accounting, employment opportunities!!!
This post is on the Air Force Association Facebook blog on the 18th 0f May to elicit responses from the frustrated and impatient veterans (read Ex-Serviceman) in particular.
As being one I too felt the need to give vent to my lungs.It can be heard or read as : First thoughts: the need for a systemic soul-search !
To me, starting a new bank, all of your own with new guiding principles and in full command is a little about quixotic wind-milling battles ! Very simple and impressively idealistic at first glance .What scares is when I keep looking and then staring in disbelief at what I see in the unrecognisable mirror….
The Great Meltdown of 2007:The failure of Modern Neo-liberal Banking Systems
It may be recalled in the not too distant past,in response to the so-called limitations of measly returns and unimaginative spending, hidebound and very conservative criteria ( which are not in sync with modern neo-liberal economic paradigms that assure better growth and some attractive risk-linked returns), a so called win-win proposition for record and unprecedented returns met its Waterloo in 2007 with the economic meltdown in the First world. Hell broke loose and a chain reaction resulted. Millions of dollars of the people of these parts and even globally lost precious money. Banks went crashing and the tainted governments which are the flag bearers of such liberal and market based investment philosophy had all the tell-tale signs and symptoms of a horror story : relaxed controls, easy lending, over leveraging, incorrect pricing of risk, failure of financial innovation and understanding of its complexities etc. Not chastened enough with this calamity, the same governments went out of their way to bail out the offending banks or economies. This time again the money was of the public and the mystique was credited to the Fund-Raising Managers,entrepreneur bankers and Risk Analysts.Tragically, the people are easily short-changed being defenseless and always in a lose-lose situation .Well ,the faithful would say, that was sometime in the past.Best forgotten !
It may be appreciated that stringent laws against banking and investment of public funds in the realm of speculation like Real Estate, start ups,Shares and Primary or Secondary markets among other things in which sound fundamentals are in doubt was the norm in a centralized,welfare-oriented command economy planning perspectives and public sector driven politics.All said,these old-fashioned economic methods and tools ensured India to weather reasonably the chaotic aftermath of this worldwide phenomenon called European Meltdown crisis not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Our memories need to be revitalized .We need to learn from our strengths and recent histories. More so when we are not getting any younger and precious monies do not multiply by smart talks of the sharks of marketing finance and the idioms and vocabularies of a Wharton, Cornell or even Harvard alumni.
The Corporate-political-industrial-mafia-bureaucratic Nexus
Recently we were informed of thousands of crores loaned out to some of the world’s finest corporate houses of India. They all are not to be returned instead to be regularized, under-written or waived off as bad debts or as non-performing assets. Interestingly, there are many of our scheduled banks which had made investments of public monies apparently to reap higher dividends. This huge loss impacts disastrously the military and society in general.This then is also a national question and cannot be de-linked.
Since the nineties of the previous century, the Indian government under Rao had started making momentous changes in our public sector oriented policies to respond to market globalization trends. In this, Manmohan Singh the then Planning boss with Montek Singh Ahluwalia in tow had championed such loosening of regulatory controls and stifling governmental restrictions. This was to usher in double digit growth ,rising prosperity and all round inclusive development. International Monetary Fund(IMF) and World Bank had applauded these revolutionary changes with suitable appointments, gifts and rewards. These were sadly and very mistakenly believed as Nobel Prizes of Economics. It has taken two decades for the bubble to burst.Contrary to widely held understandings,it was more than fortuitous that the coalition governments led by the Indian National Congress did not have the heart or legs to get on with it.Now,the present regime is trying to impose such economic ideas with more purpose and vigor for there is not much difference in the economic policies of a Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP)
How the Banks (Scheduled ones at that) get to invest money or provide loans,what are the regulatory safeguards,the persons empowered to make such vital decisions,the levels of autonomy or governmental interference,the beneficiaries and their linkages,levels of transparency,accountability and public knowledge of the aftermath of the loss or embezzlement or plain swindle are questions to be asked and answers thereto would then perhaps form the basis of another venture howsoever,well intentioned or noble minded it might appear to be.For a start are we to understand then, that such investments or loan giving were made with government consent(read sugar coated or blatant aggressive coercion) and/or RBI approvals .
The myth of Financial Independence or Freedom
Is the military then in their naiveté sufficiently prudent or financially confident to believe that they have the necessary operational freedom and flexibility in making their own investments and taking control of them ? Are they convinced that the banking industry which has considerable skills of its own ,enviable vintage and domain knowledge to be not equipped or qualified to understand its responsibilities? Is it then being wise to breast beat that we are special and capable enough to remedy all the anomalies,subservient and obligated to none despite being privy to shady histories and systemic malfunctions ?Or are we reinventing the wheel and fooling ourselves without even looking at the deeper issues of political control ,venal nexuses and anti-people economic philosophies in vogue detrimental to the greater good or common happiness ?
The Air Force:How good is its Experience and Track record
We , in the military need to look, think and understand out of our skins and traditional mind sets. Contrary to impulse and bravado,to imagine not to be a part of the same system that governs and control all lives is to be insulting our own native intelligences.In fact, to believe that we as a military organisation based on a rich tradition of honesty and integrity to be enough to foray beyond our areas of traditional strengths would be ambitious, but under prepared in demonstrated performance, knowledge and experience.
In the past or even now path breaking schemes based on non-traditional and challenging ideas have been adopted to support or encourage not-for-profit ventures like horticulture farming, grocery shops,coaching centres,dancing classes,beauty parlours,self-reliant canteens,bakeries,dry cleaners funded and backed up by regimental or non-public funds.The Women’s Welfare Initiatives to empower young women and wives in distant locations and use their capacities to bring up not so fortunate segments of society,help and facilitate local integration with local civilians have to be seen in similar light.Impressive achievements have been noticed in the creation,planning and running of Schools in urban and rural based stations.The Army has shown skills in management of technical and medical institutions. In the real estate and construction activities Army in particular has been successful and set high standards.These have been very fine ideas but very limited in scale for developing business expertise or entrepreneurial acumen.As a caveat it would be most instructive however to remember:these have not all been success stories either and the mismanaged accounts or finance books quietly backed by hedge funding from the leadership have not exactly covered the military with glory.
Today in the Indian Air Force the core accounting skills or expertise are those that of MCom/BCom trained officers and men. Chartered/Cost Accountants are an exception.Advanced Financial Skills are not honed, upgraded or developed.It takes courage and vision to concede that such Non-technical officers and men are very low in the pecking order with limited promotions or motivation.In fact senior officers would easily introduce these lesser mortals to be innocent of combat knowledge and are there because well someone has to the dirty job of calculating and then distributing salaries. Such being are recruiting methodologies or qualifications required OROP (One Rank One Pension) was not surprisingly an expose` of poor financial knowledge or strategies when pitted against the specialist,professional and not-so-friendly bureaucrats from the Administrative, Accounts or Audit streams.To cap it all,the large Indian Army is beholden to the rank corrupt civilian audits and Accounts Branch having no Branch or department of their own. OROP in that sense should be an admission of failure right at the top of the leadership for its incapacity to realise some emerging basics for a strong and complex organisation at the outset , post-independence and progressive dilution subsequently, of its importance .Finance the single most important facet of any organisation or bureaucracy was left to the lowly clerks widely believed to be non-combatants.As a military organisation we were subject and captive to a pre- colonial mind set and ideology at best and an ancient or feudal doctrine at worst.To be just a well-oiled fighting machine deployed to protect the borders doctrinally could not support the developmental demands of a growing nation with its ever increasing complexities or demands.The macho but myopic military was caught with its weapons gutted thus in the OROP maelstorm: tortuously exposed and in tatters trying to fight a lost battle if there was one ! Hubris is so often closely related to the fatal arrogance of ignorance !
Unless, of course, the Armed Forces together agree not to engage in inter-service competition and gamesmanship and instead decide to see the root and genesis of the problem as a common one and look to devising a forward path born not just on an emotional solidarity platform but as a genuine professional idea that has come late though long overdue .The driving interests should be for the broad-based modernisation and empowerment of the military in particular and the ultimate benefit -a combined accrual, to the nation.The military has to see the civil world as an essential resource option to be co-opted for programme implementation and to remain sufficiently relevant within the developing world of new ideas . With the coming of digital technology and the addition of the cyberworld NORAD and the Pentagon have moved on to welcome the disdainful community of nerds,smoke-addicted,bespectacled,ear-muffed,slinky and slouched youngsters to fill in a requirement of intelligences, hitherto, found wanting with the uniformed soldier.But in order to integrate and yet,be stamped with the military edge they need to equip themselves with an improved training curriculum and revamp existing promotional policies so as to give adequate recognition to those that perform such tasks.The leaderships have to recognise and welcome its importance and not to be in an indecent hurry to appropriate newly created posts for themselves, as of divine right.
To ardently and wishfully believe many jobs would result mostly for the veterans, generation of increased interests and business through sound investments, unifying ownership and taking control of its capital is therefore foolhardy.In view of our limited skills in the finance sector therefore, be rest assured to becoming a redundant army of clerks controlled and run by another civilian bureaucracy.We would be sweet talked once again for some after-retirement positions and assignments at home and abroad,creation of additional vacancies and ranks,travels abroad,scammy defence deals etc.
The modern day military needs to balance the mostly contending needs of a threatened, yet competitive and already superior bureaucracy with that of the political masters governed by the dictates of vote banks and frightfully flexible ideologies. Frequently,the military is subjected to the compulsory silences of the Official Secrets Act and kept out of the pristine doors of real power as custodian of its turbulent borders.The realpolitik of routine exposure in exercise of aid to civil power in disaster management of forest fires, riots,internal insurgencies, floods and earthquakes both within and across countries however exposes the military to live and suffer the indignities of overuse and public criticism.It needs to be underlined that successes or failures in the educational or real estate sectors is an interface not just with civilians but of transactions that are also not necessarily clear cut and rule bound.It brings both the serving and veteran to a new ethos and value system which at best culls for the smart and clever.Business is about profit making and money is God.Therein lies the Frankenstein and the worries of compromise or potential conflict.
Out of all the fears imagined or real,the aspirations ideal,realistic or exciting comes out the need for caution.Is the military prepared to re-invent itself to claim its rightful place in a constitutional democracy by redefining its philosophy both in war and peace in a post-colonial world?Will it decide to see the need to integrate itself with the larger civilian masses and see the wisdom in gainfully utilising their knowledge,experience and skill sets while developing their own domains?Will the bureaucrats and politicians be comfortable to revisit their own exclusivities and grant honourable participation to the military beyond the normal accustomed boundaries without raising the spectre of a military threat?Somewhere in its answers shall lie the future of non-traditional endeavors of the military.Until then, Fauji Banking would be as surreal as Sachin Tendulkar commanding a Fighter Squadron.
Where did the well earned money get lost in the Bank anyways? That is the question.Some unconnected clues have been deliberately inserted by me for discovering the design of the macabre. When we import weapons and machines of war the bureaucracy and not the military makes the final choices and deals.. When we get armed we need to know who our enemies are. Do we need the weapons against such enemies and/or are they part of the government brief as a result of result of deep seated military-politico analysis which shall serve the interests of the nation?Are the drones and policing the South China seas part of our national military strategy or as influenced by new found friends who want us to fight their wars ? For when military contracts and purchases are made the government invests much needed public finances in our local manufacturers, brokers or industrialists or corporate houses?Or are these crony capitalists hiving off precious monies on created or imagined terror doctrines keeping the military happy and going laughing to the bank in the end?Interestingly Reliance, the Adanis and others who have little or no Defence manufacturing experience have won big contracts despite being defaulters of government loans. All such perceptions cost money and they come from government investments which come out of the public pockets. Most of it therefore gets lost without creating more money. We fight wars and therein we are aligned with everyone else. To perceive otherwise is to be either unintentionally ignorant or being greasy by design.
.It is only to the State represented by the government of the day the military answers to constitutionally :never to individual bureaucrats or politicians or political parties or their brokers or lobby groups. Albeit,this understanding and policy implementation has a tenuous navigability which calls for military statesmanship of a high order to steer clear of the twin pitfalls of brash hot headedness or servile supplication.
Sorting Out the Whodunit !
We have to see the causal interconnections from the very slight to the huge.We are to bring order out of the chaos of perceptions as the food chain of governmental sectors and departments: a humongous monolith is dramatically linked. The deceptive threads of growth, their basis and many intersections need to be puzzled out like a big whodunit if the military does not wish to be found short while traversing newer and unfamiliar minefields . We are no longer lost atoms in an unfriendly world. These are newer days asking fresh questions to the ordinary military world. We need to debate economic freedoms in the time of neo-liberal governments at a holistic level and then map our financial strategies within the degree and limits to independence imposed. Reactive policies are at best good in short time scenarios. More returns and interests from Real Estate or other area of speculative trading and business seems seductive at best and calamitous at worst. My suggestion is from the above evidences it is infinitely clear that there is no such thing of assured returns in a market-driven society where profit-making and anything-goes-value system prevails. It is an oligarchy of power and authority exercised through the rich and powerful of the industrial-bureaucrat-political-mafia combine.As to where the military fits in to this free-for-all democratic regime is anybody’s guess during these changing times .
So tread with caution while the nudges and winks from shady quarters entice!
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. ..