Self Help – The Best Help


यात्री अपने सामान केलिये ख़ुद जिम्मेवार है” (Passengers are themselves responsible for their belongings) is the line written on most state transport buses in India, but this was the first sentence spoken to me when I joined the Military Intelligence Directorate at Army Headquarters by our team leader Major Jawahar Lal Malik.  I never fathomed the depth of the advice at that moment, but was always thankful to Major Malik as I carried it with me for the rest of life – during the days when I commanded the regiment and especially after landing in Canada.

In the Army Headquarters, there is only just adequate resources for doing your official job.  Your  clerk will also have to come in and leave with you; else he will miss his bus back home.  All personal and private tasks have to be done by everyone themselves – making various pay & allowances claims, leave certificates, various applications, etc.  Official noting and letters need to be written by the officer at most times.  Neither there will be anyone to receive you in front of the office, nor to see you off in the evening.  If you intend to sit late, you got to switch off all lights, lock the door and deposit the key with the security and then leave.  All these are thrown out of the window the moment the officer steps out of the Army Headquarters and everything is back to normal when they take up command of the units or formations.  The only reason I could attribute to this behaviour is that most are unsure of their status as commanders and need self assurance at all times – in terms of someone receiving in front of the office, someone to carry the brief case, etc.

Each and every officer posted at the Army Headquarters carried a brief case and since I never had one, the first addition to my personal inventory was the brief case.  The only thing I had in it was the lunch box, another never used before addition.  I had never carried a brief case as I never believed in carrying home to office or vice versa, and I never knew what to carry in it.  During one of the courses I really made an effort to carry a brief case (to give the look of a serious student) and I stuffed it with pens of different shades, shapes and purpose and a notebook.  I never found any use for the contents of the brief case and discarded it forever.

Carrying a pad with me as expected by the seniors, to note down anything and everything that was being said, was one I hated most.  I went through all my Army courses like the Technical Staff Course, Long Gunnery Staff Course, etc all without a pad or a notebook.   As a Brigade Major, the Brigade Commander was always peeved at me not carrying a pad to the morning ritual of staff conference.  Once he ticked me off and asked me where my pad was.  I had to politely say that only cricket players and females used pads and in the Artillery we used it for Survey.

On assuming command, I had banned the use of pads in Sainik Sammelans ( I had banned conferences too) – mainly due to the fear that everyone sitting before me would be making my caricatures on their pads – the same way I used to do.  I always believed that what is said must be perceived, understood and acted upon by the men and not to be confined to the pages of a pad.  As a young officer, I realised that long Sainik Sammelans (I have gone through the torture for three hours) resulted in cramped legs and sore bottoms for the men and a few caricatures for the officer.   Could be that some Commanding Officers liked listening to their voices or they thought they could pass down all the wisdom to their men in one go.

Major Malik’s advice came really handy on reaching Canada.  Here everyone does everything themselves –gardening, cleaning the cars, all household chores, plumbing/ masonry/ carpentry maintenance tasks of the house and the list goes on.  In case you want help, you got to pay through your nose.  The material cost of any household project will only be a third of what a contractor would charge you, rest is all labour.

The greatest advantage one enjoys to practice self help here is the benefits of standardisation in everything you put your hands on.  The doors and windows all come in standard sizes and even the hinges are placed to the standard.  In case you need to change a door, you buy a new one of the correct size and the hinges would be so placed that they will always match with the one already drilled on the frame.  The only standardisation I found in India was for the light bulb and holder – even the electric sockets are never to a standard as you realise that you really need to push it in with all your might or modify the distance between its legs to pass into the socket, when you buy any new appliance.

The do-it-yourself videos on YouTube on repairing a leaking flush tank or a tap, building a deck, paving the drive way etc – are a real boon.  Most of them are well made and demonstrates all steps involved in an easy to understand format.  It also gives out the materials required, tools needed and the time required to execute the project.

We buy most of our home hardware from the Home Depot – a North American retail chain.  The staff there are really helpful, especially the experienced ones.   They will happily explain you everything and help you select the required material from the store’s aisles.  There is no fear of ‘over purchase’ as they have a very convenient return policy – anything unused – other than paint and cut lumber – would be taken back without winking an eyelid and full reimbursement is done without a penny being deducted.

The store also has a tool rental section, where in you can rent any tool at nominal rates.  You got to ensure that is clean when you return it (else they will charge you cleaning charges). They rent you a cargo van also in case you got to transport material that cannot fit into your van/car.

My wife suggested that we build a deck at the back of the house to facilitate sitting outside during the summer evenings for barbeque.  There were two options – call in a contractor or remembering Major Malik – do it yourself.  We took the second option – to reduce the cost to a third and also have fun as we took up the project as a family activity.  Children made the plans, duly approved by their mother, the materials  and tools needed list was prepared.  We marked the layout on the ground and dug the holes on the ground for the poles to set in.  Hired a cargo van from the store and purchased the necessary materials and brought them home.  In the next two days was laborious effort by the entire family and we completed the deck, less painting.  That was the time I realised why we were taught carpentry, tin-smithy, turning, milling etc at the National Defence Academy (NDA).

Thank you Major Malik and thank you NDA.

10 thoughts on “Self Help – The Best Help

  1. Nice write up . I could co relate with my various stints in various appts – Esp the two tenures in AHQ and BM with Brig Herr ( Hope you know him ) . Every time I went to him , came back with at least 200 to 300 points ! Life of one pad was just a couple of days 😄😄. More of it, later .
    Any way, thanks for the post, enjoyed reading it .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well articulated experience on self help.. My experience in Army HQ was a little better, may be due to the difference in the Branch.

    My real experience in self help was during the deputation with Govt of Botswana. We did everything on our own. Only a Landrover, driver and an escort was provided by their Army.

    Even haircut was by self help!.. Haircuts were costly and available only in star hotels. Costed about 50 Pula ( about Rs 500/-).. HIV infection during haircut was another danger. Hence we bought the barber kit, and my wife did some ” on the job” training on me and the two boys every month.
    At the end of our 3 year tenure , she became an expert ” Barber” / Hairdresser!

    HAKOONA MATHATHAA! (No problems, as advised by Lion King)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reji , you have made me popular through your blog….the fact of the matter is , you are a self made man, who doesn’t require anyone’s guidance… are remembered by many for your typical WAY OF LIFE AND THINKING

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi regi…. Srini here!!!!
    I always read your blog!!
    This one steals the show!!!
    Keep up the “Self help” work….
    Post some pictures of the Creation tooo….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Col Reji,
    This is indeed Simplicity in thought & practice.
    I sacrificed my PR status of Canada, partly being a bit shammer and partly due to wrong habits(of behaving like gora sahib) acquired during army !!😡
    Keep it up pl!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sir,

    A valid advice from the Major Malik. Generally in India, one would hesitate to venture beyond one’s academic training and professional trade, probably because there’s always a relative cheap labour, a spouse who wouldn’t trust in partner’s, say ‘plumbing skills’ and general fear of failure among the candidates to venture beyond the comfort zone.

    I agree with the issue of standardisation in India. I remember situations wherein multiple adapters have to be mated before a mobile could be charged.

    The hilarity of the pads in morning meeting is synonymous with most people in Armed forces, but you worded it perfectly to describe the syndrome.


    Liked by 1 person

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