Nehru – Gandhi Family

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Feroze Gandhi is a Parsi (not a Muslim as some claim), a politician and a journalist who served as the publisher of the National Herald and the Navjivan newspapers from Lucknow. His father was not any Khan, but Faredoon Jehangir from Bombay.

In 1930, Feroze met Kamala Nehru and Indira among the women demonstrators picketing outside Ewing Christian College, Allahabad. Kamala fainted with the heat of the sun and Feroze went to comfort her. The next day, he abandoned his studies to join the Indian independence movement. He was imprisoned in the same year, along with Lal Bahadur Shastri and lodged in Faizabad Jail for nineteen months.

Feroze first proposed to Indira in 1933, but she and her mother rejected it, saying that she was too young, only 16. He grew close to the Nehru family, especially to Indira’s mother Kamala Nehru, helping arrange her trip to Europe when her condition worsened in April 1935, and visiting her at the TB sanitarium in Europe, where he was at her bedside when she died. Kamala Nehru was so impressed by the conduct of Feroze that on her death-bed, she insisted on Indira marrying Feroze. In the following years, Indira and Feroze grew closer to each other and they married in March 1942 according to Hindu rituals.

The saree that Indira wore for the marriage was a khadi sari that Nehru wove and ispink, not red. It was worn by Indira on her wedding day, then by Sonia on her wedding day in 1968, and then by Priyanka too when she got married in 1996.  Red is generally the bridal colour in India and the Gandhis to choose the more low- key pink and leave the fiery red, a symbol of simplicity and tradition.

Feroze Gandhi won independent India’s first general elections in 1952, from Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Indira came down from Delhi and worked as his campaign organizer. Feroze soon became a prominent force in his own right, criticizing the government of his father-in-law and beginning a fight against corruption. In 1957, he was re-elected from Rae Bareli. In the parliament in 1958, he raised the Haridas Mundhra scandal involving the government controlled LIC insurance company. This was a huge embarrassment to the clean image of Nehru’s government and eventually led to the resignation of the Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari.

This story was narrated to me by Ms Bimla Behn, who used to be the hostess of Teen-Murthy Bhawan when Nehru was the PM.   Further I had spoken to Mr Sharma, the caretaker of Teen-Murthi Bhawan from Nehru’s days. Our unit was responsible for VIP security when Mrs Gandhi’s body was lying in state in Teen-Murthy Bhawan for viewing,  during the first week of November 1984, after her assassination on 31 October and there I met Bimla Behn and Sharma.

They further spoke to me in detail about the relationship between Nehru, Firoze and Indira and the role played by MO Mathai who was Nehru’s secretary. The rise of Mathai (a typical Syrian Christian like me, from the Central Travancore) from being a helper to the cook of Teen-Murthy Bhawan to be the PM’s secretary is another volume.

The aspect that Firoze and Indira lived separately after the birth of Sanjay is somewhat correct as by that time Mathai had succeeded in driving a wedge between Nehru and Feroze. Feroze was part of the fiery young Turks with Chandrasekhar (later PM) and Mohan Dharia and they opposed a lot of Nehru’s policies in the Parliament and party forums. So Feroze avoided any contact with Nehru, but used to enter the Teen-Murthy Bhawan from the Right Flank and go upstairs where Indira lived. This was narrated by Bimla Behn.

Bimla Behn further said that after the death of Nehru, Indira was appointed the communication minster in the Shastri’s cabinet. In those days she always suffered from common cold and a runny nose. If you observe the photographs of those years, one can always see Indira clutching a kerchief in her hand. That was when Indira came in contact with Dhirendra Brahmachari who advised yoga as a cure for her runny nose. She practiced yoga regularly and was rid of the problem.

Regarding the death of Sanjay, I had interacted with the President of the Delhi Flying Club in 1984 – (he was related to one of our unit officer). The aircraft was imported as CKD (Complete Knock-Down) kit and it came in boxes. A week before the fateful day, Sanjay ordered the President of the Flying Club to get the plane assembled. After assembly, even though it was not test-flown and certified by DGCA, Sanjay insisted on flying it. Some mal-function resulted in the accident and Sanjay Gandhi died instantly from head wounds from the air crash on 23 June 1980 near Safdarjung Airport.

So please do not get carried away by any propaganda taking rounds in the social media.

 

The Desert Fox

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A Ballad composed by Nikhil as part of Grade 10 English curriculum, Based on the North African Campaign of World War II)

The third hunter Monty he comes from the East
He has finally defeated the beast
Unaccustomed to desert sands and rocks
He has now whipped the desert fox
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The first hunter let the fox come to him
He waited with patience, his outlook grim
The fox in a flurry of speed and dash
Attacked the hunter in a move considered rash
The fox had beat hunter the first
But underestimated the hunter’s king’s thirst
So the king sent in bold hunter the second
The sands of the desert with blood would now redden
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The second hunter set traps and snare
The fox would die if an attack he dare
Though when the fox came the traps did fail
The second hunter oh did he go pale
The king’s patience was now truly wearing thin
He removed the second hunter for defeat is a sin
He then sent a hunter he long hated
His relation with the king quite complicated
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The third hunter not as dashing as his prey
He chose a position well sited in which to stay
He held his ground well near the sea
He gathered around him a vast hunter army
Once he gathered more hunters than needed
He attacked the weary fox who retreated
All we shocked that fox had lost
Then all were shocked at the cost
Several hunters maimed and so much expense
So many tools broken it makes no more sense
It makes one wonder who was the better
The defeated fox or his bankrupt hunters
The desert fox he tested the king’s patience
He lead the king’s hunters a merry dance
Once moving swift across deserts running tall
He should have feared Monty his final downfall

 

Why So Much Corruption In India?

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Have you ever tried to find an answer to this question? How come that we are forced to pay bribes or approach a middle-man to get our basic government documents like a driving license or passport made? How come in Canada or US one does not have to pay a bribe for such documentation? How come these basic documents are provided to you with one visit to the office concerned in Canada or US? Why is that despite having all the necessary documents and qualifications, you still have to make many a rounds to the offices to get the job done?

Our political/ social/ religious leaders always blame it on the enormity of Indian population.   Anyone with knowledge of automated computerised systems knows that if one person’s documents can be done, then a million of such documents can also be done. It appears that no one wants to correct the system. The politician fears the loss of his vote bank and all other leaders fear the loss of money the corrupt system brings.

What makes the officials corrupt? The salary the government officials receive anywhere in the world is pretty high compared to the common-man’s standard of living in that country. The salaries paid are adequate enough to maintain a decent standard of living for a family and does cater for all the basic essentials of food, housing, education etc. Then why is the greed or need for the extra money?

Let us examine a person’s life in both India and North America and analyse as to what are the causes for less corruption in North America.

A child goes to the school and that’s where they are prepared to be valuable citizens of their country. The most important role is played by the teachers in developing the mind-set of these children and they imbibe good values from them. The teachers’ selection and appointment in North America has its own high standards where as in India we are all well aware of the hefty bribes paid to get the post. In most of the private schools, mostly run by the religious institutions, they sign for a monthly salary of few thousands and take home actually a fourth of it. Here merit and teaching ability are of least concern and only their paying capacity is considered. How can you ever expect such teachers to develop a good value system in their students?

In the North American society, the children after their high-school education tend to look after themselves and graduate by taking loans and/or doing part-time jobs. In India, the parents cater for all these needs and it continues even after their children have got married. The donation/ capitation fees/ normal fees for medical and engineering graduation are pretty high in India and everyone wants their children to be either an engineer or a doctor. When I retired after 25 years of service in 2004, my total pension emoluments was about Rs 30 Lakh (3 Million) and that was the amount needed in case our daughter was to take up medical education in a private medical college at that time anywhere in India. This clearly shows that most of the parents of such students have resorted to some illegal method of getting extra money, either by corrupt practices while serving or have evaded taxes and duties while selling their properties by under-valuation etc. Everyone connected with these professional education institutions – the political leadership, the administration, the courts etc are all well aware of this reality. The real irony is that most of these institutions are run by various religious denominations and they encourage this corruption in the name of their Gods.

Why can’t it be made mandatory for all those parents seeking admissions for their children in these medical and engineering colleges to prove their sources of income? It will never come through as most of these institutions are owned by either the political leaders or by religious groups. Neither the politician nor the God can be made uncomfortable by passing such laws. The politicians do not want to mess up with their vote banks and never antagonise the Gods.

After the graduation, everyone looks to get a government job and there too a lot of money changes hand in many places. In some cases it is either recommendation or the money and in many cases it’s the merit. Where is this money coming from and where is it being used? Could be to pay for someone’s medical or engineering admission and the cycle continues. The only way out is to make the selection and appointment of all government post as transparent as possible. Only problem is that the looser is still either the politician or the God. So that can never be expected.

Now comes the costliest of all events – the marriage. In North America, the bride and the groom have to arrange for the marriage expenses and sometimes the parents do chip in. The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known, may be to make up for the money spend on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – the possibilities are endless. Still the money gets back into the same system and the cycle continues. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

Next comes the housing – everyone seem to be building houses bigger than their neighbour’s. It is never based on family needs, but in many cases only as a status symbol to show-off one’s mostly ill-gotten wealth. In North America, the old parents down-size and move to smaller homes, or to a gated community, or to an old age home once their children move out for education or jobs. In India it is always up-sizing, even when one is on his death bed. Only social awareness can eliminate this problem.

Now comes the ultimate – to get even with the Gods who has to forgive and remit all sins in getting this wealth.  Huge offerings are made in the God’s houses to please Him. Most of the offerings are of no use to humanity like golden crowns, golden crosses studded  with diamonds and chariots, elephants and even one’s hair. It is not understood as to which God is going to be pleased with these offerings. In North America, most old people donate all their wealth or part of it to the charities, which could help the humanity and may be the Gods will always be better pleased with them.

 

Education and Punishment

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The rape of a first class student in school premises on July 17, 2014 in Bangalore added one more to the long list of child abuse cases, many of which remains unnoticed. It has brought back light on one of the worst perils that our country is facing today – child sexual abuse. It is a pity that most of such abusers are either close relatives or teachers of the children. In this case too, it was the physical education teacher. Most Principals let loose these physical education teachers (goons) on to the children to ‘discipline’ them, especially during assemblies or sports or cultural events. These teachers mostly end up misusing the ‘authority’ vested in them by the Principal and in many cases resulting into physical, sexual and mental abuse to the children. Majority of such physical education teachers have no qualification to be one.

Joshi Philip, our family friend, invited me to attend the prize distribution ceremony at their daughter’s primary school. Ann Maria, their daughter, a Grade 2 student, that day had the annual prize distribution ceremony at the end of the academic year. I accompanied Joshi to the school and at the reception we signed-in and were given a round yellow sticker which said “A Proud Parent”. I stuck it above my shirt’s pocket, close to my heart, as anyone will feel proud of it rather than hanging a visitor badge around the neck.

We entered the gymnasium where the award ceremony was to take place. Every primary school here has at least two such gymnasiums and we used to boast about the one we had at the National Defence Academy. We did not have one in the Sainik School. The gymnasium is a hardwood floored hall which serves as a basket ball court, assembly area, an auditorium and a lunch room or a cafeteria. At the end of the gymnasium was a stage where all the award winners were seated. The students marched in class wise with their teachers leading them and the students sat on the wooden floor while the teachers occupied their positions at the end near the wall. As expected of little children from Kindergarten to Grade2, they were talking and then the Principal appeared on the stage and raised her right arm. All children became silent and she said “eyes and ears towards me please” and introduced the two Masters of the Ceremony (MC) who were Grade 5 students.

The prize distribution ceremony went on beginning with the Kindergarten and any time when the children became noisy, the Principal would appear with her right hand raised and everyone became silent. During the entire proceedings not even a single teacher moved from their positions. At the end of the ceremony the Principal came on stage to thank everyone and to congratulate the prize winners and at the end wanted the children to do their usual “Silent Cheer”. I had no clue what it was. It was all the body and face expression of a cheer but done without a sound and was impressive and unique.

On leaving the school I realised that the self-discipline inculcated in these children will make them better citizens of the country and they do not need any “policing” to implement any laws or regulations.

Looking back to my Sainik School days, we mostly had the Principal and the Headmaster from the Education branches of the three services, and most of them one felt were the least ‘educated’. This was further reconfirmed during my training at the Academies and service tenures. Most of the Education Corps officers are masters in some discipline or the other and today we have many officers from the Arms and Services holding masters degree by virtue of undergoing the Staff College or the Long Gunnery or the Engineering degree courses. Some even hold Doctorates too. Academically these officers are many times better than their Education Corps counterparts.

Then why post such officers to the Military/Sainik Schools? Many of them behave no better than the physical education teachers of the Bangalore incident. Most are incapable of moulding and motivating the students to join the defence services and are pretty ordinary in teaching. Any officer in the Indian Army can conduct a better class than these Education officers. The only qualification these Education officers boast of is their Bachelor of Education (B Ed) degree. Most of the Haviladrs (Sergeants) who have attended any courses of instruction in various military training establishments (where they are luckily not trained by the Education officers) will beat them hollow in the art of teaching. Then why not even do away with the Education Corps, considering the education standards of the present recruits into the army.

Shooting in US Gurudwara

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Most of you must have followed the unfortunate shooting of some Sikhs in a Gurudwara in USA on 05 August 2012. What was most striking about the episode was the conduct of the Sikh community in USA. They conducted themselves with dignity and honour. Their conduct has shamed many Americans. I had read many American papers and watched the TV coverage of the date. All communities including Christians, Muslims, Jews etc not only condemned the killings but came out openly in support of a very mature and religious community. Even the mother of the assailant was apologizing to the Sikhs openly.

In all this tragedy the conduct of our Sikh friends had been exemplary. Not one angry word, no burning of buses, no abuse, and no vulgar display of sorrow. Listening to the family members of the victims was so satisfying. No whining. I felt proud of being an Indian in sharing their sorrow.

In North America you do not protest by burning buses, abuses, vulgar display of sorrow, etc because they are all criminal offences as also the case in India. Here legal action would be initiated in case of such incidence and the court would take serious view of it, sometimes based on media video footage. Once your name is in the offenders list, finding a job, a house, a car etc would become difficult as everything is connected to your Social Security Number. May be with Aadhar, in India also things will change.

A few years back, in a protest by thousands of members of Toronto’s Tamil community, blocked and shut down the Gardiner Expressway for five hours. They were demanding the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka in wake of the civil war. This mode of protest was condemned by everyone in Canada. This protest took away any sympathies the Srilankan Tamils had in the minds of any Canadian.

US President Barak Obama insisted that American flags in the capital and at all government buildings throughout the nation be flown at half-mast in honour of the victims of the Gurudwara massacre. May be a token gesture some may claim, will not bring back the dead or justice may not done etc.

Recently there was carnage in Assam and did the Nation ever mourn the dead or fly the National Flags at half-mast? Some sceptics may say that in that case the national flag will mostly remain at half-mast. Is it that we have become so insensitive to such happenings?

In Kerala we saw the protests by a political party when a district level leader was arrested. We saw how the state was held to ransom by a handful of misguided elements. The damage to public property was huge so was the inconvenience to the public in general. May be its true that in a Democracy we get what we deserve and not what we desire.

We need to learn from the way the US as a nation mourned the death of its citizens and how the media and the public reacted to the massacre. The media did not show the deployment of the police forces in and around the Gurudwara so that the attacker(s) if any left would not make use of it. Compare it with what happened in Mumbai (26/11) and also the media frenzy during the recent Assam carnage which may have contributed to worsening the situation. The US media did not show any dead-bodies or dear and near ones of those killed wailing, thereby reducing the pressure on others. Even though there is no media censorship or guidelines, responsible reporting is done by the media. In India, the whole incident would have been sensationalised by the irresponsible media, as was the case in Assam, resulting in worsening the crisis.

 

Skydiving

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In the summer of 2009 we decided to visit Chicago for a week for sight-seeing and to meet my old Sainik School classmate Marur Mouli.  Mouli had his desk next to me in the class at the especially reserved place for the abstract thinkers – the last row. We were real outstanding students in Maths that we spend most of the Math period standing outside the class where we continued discussing our teenage ‘philosophies’ of life. We both qualified the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Mouli was found medically unfit after the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview. He had opted for the Air Force and the medicos said that he had an open sacrum – the last-vertebra in the spine. I thought they would have declared him unfit for an open mouth and not an open sacrum. Never seen Mouli quiet and would even speak while sleeping.

Mouli was a great artist in the true sense. Good at every form of art – drawing, painting, caricature, singing, playing all the instruments available in the school’s band section, acting (his playing the Pied Piper of Hamelin is still etched in my memory), debating etc. When I left school to join the NDA, I realised that Mouli was a bit dejected and in order to raise his morale I said to him “Better things are awaiting you. Better cheer up”. I never realised what I told him until he once called me while I India to say that he saw “the better thing” after a long struggle and that he was working as a graphic designer for Apple Macintosh In 1989 he had taken up a job as a lecturer in graphic design with the Art Institute of Chicago.

During the boat cruise in the Chicago River, we came across an advertisement for skydiving and all of us decided to try our hand at it the next day. Skydiving is inherently a dangerous activity, given the unknown variables of man, nature, and machine. We reached the Chicagoland Skydiving Center located in an air-strip which was a clearing in the cornfields of Hinckley, Illinois. We reached the Center by noon and we saw a 200 Series DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft parked next to a shed which housed the office. The receptionist, a young lady, said that the minimum age for skydiving was 18 and hence Nikhil being 12 years cannot undertake the skydiving. Nikhil said that he will come back on turning 18 and wanted me also not to jump that day. So Marina and Nidhi decided to take the jump and the receptionist got all the paperwork done.

There was one man mowing the grass in the strip cleared in the cornfield and another man picking up the garbage and cleaning the washrooms and the sheds. At 12:30 PM. About 15 men came in their pickups and most appeared to be construction workers from what they were wearing. They were the instructors and after a 30 minute orientation and kitting up, they boarded the aircraft with two instructors each – one the tandem and the other the cameraman.

The man moving the grass by then had refuelled the aircraft and was seen inspecting the aircraft as he was the flight engineer. The man picking up the garbage took to the pilot seat and the young receptionist was the co-pilot. The aircraft took off and climbed to 18,000 feet and dropped the jumpers and landed back. The flight engineer, the pilot and the co-pilot – all went back to do what they were doing before the takeoff.

The freefall was for a minute and a half on a tandem with one instructor while the other was video-graphing the fall. They were taken through many manoeuvres by the instructor during the free fall. Since the jumper was in front of the skydive instructor with own altimeter and ripcord, they had the sensation of skydiving on their own. After the ripcord was pulled, the instructor offered guidance as they flew the parachute together and landed.

The greatest advantage of skydiving in the State of Illinois is that it is not mandatory to wear a helmet (even on motorcycles), but the safety goggles is a must to protect the eyes. Thus the videos come out much better without the helmet on.

After seeing as to how the Skydiving Center operated, I had to see-off a family friend from the Toronto Airport by the New Delhi flight of Air India. As we reached there, a bus pulled up carrying the cabin crew and they moved to one corner. After five minutes the co-pilot and the flight engineer arrived by a car and took position in another corner. After another five minutes the captain arrived in another car and stood in the middle. In case of all the other international carriers, all the crew and the captain all come by the same bus and move into the aircraft as a team. Now I realised why Air India is running in perpetual loss.

Family Prayer

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Morning and evening family prayer has been a ritual followed in our family as far as I can recollect. Our father would lead the prayer real loud (could be because he was a Headmaster and our grandfather who was also a Headmaster, prayed much louder) and we all would follow suit. As a child I never understood the meaning of whatever I said during the prayers and also what was the intention of such an act. I always perceived it as a punishment our father meted out to all his children for their unruly behaviour. I actually realised the value and importance of it only after I joined the Indian Army.  (Please CLICK HERE read my blog on Soldier Gods)

The family evening prayer used to begin at 9 PM with our mother singing a hymn followed by one of the children reading a passage from the bible. The actual prayer would commence after that and it used to last about five minutes. At the end of it everyone was expected to observe a minute or two of silent prayer. I never knew what to pray for most times, but I also sat silently. During the lent, we had special prayers and the duration extended for another five more minutes.

With advent of the Television beaming out many tear jerking serials, our parents by then retired from teaching, also got addicted to many of them. In Kerala due to power shortage we have half an hour power-cut on weekdays in the evening. The timing of the power-cut used to change every month and now the evening prayer time was dictated by the power-cut, as that was the time our parents could not watch any serial.

The morning prayers were a nightmare for me as our father would wake us all up by 5:30 AM and he would begin the prayer with us in chorus. I always felt that the morning prayers were much longer than the evening prayers. After the prayers, we had to brush our teeth and get cracking with the household chores. Our father would distribute each one of us a task and later our eldest brother when he turned a teen took over the responsibility. By that time our father would have gone to milk the cows and clean up the cowshed.

My main chore when I came on vacation was to draw the water out of the well in the courtyard using the pulley-rope-bucket system. In those days we did not have the pumping facility. This was the toughest chore among all and as I was away most of the year at school, my brothers wanted a relief and I did not mind it. The drawing of water would begin by 6 AM and would end only by 9 AM as the water was needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing and also for the animals in the shed. The last requirement of water was for my mother to bathe before setting out to the school and by that time everyone else would have left home for their schools/ university. This water drawing chore continued till I turned a teen as by that time a pump set was installed with pipes to distribute water to the kitchen, the bathroom and to the cowshed. During our last visit home, I wanted to show our son the pulley-rope-bucket system, but I could not find it anywhere.

Behind our house lived Vasu and Chellamma with their two daughters and a son. Vasu was a daily wage earning farm hand and Chellamma made a living out of rearing cows and goats and selling milk to the neighbourhood. One day Shankara Panikkan (Please read my blog on Shankara Panickan by CLICKING HERE) died at about 5 AM. We all went to the Panikkan’s home to console the family. By about 7 AM Chellamma came running to the Panikkan’s home saying that she did not wake up early in the morning as George Sir (our father) did not pray that morning as we all were at the Panikkan’s home.

That was when we realised that the loud morning prayers at our home also served as a wake-up call for the neighbourhood (It would have surely woken up the God Almighty too).