Here is the review of my book in Malayala Manorama
This is the Malayalam version
Here is the review of my book in Malayala Manorama
This is the Malayalam version
Hindi Minimum Test, a test to assess the linguistic ability of cadets, used to be conducted at the National Defence Academy (NDA) for all cadets in their second semester. It was a well known fact that for most cadets who graduated from Sainik School Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) – known as Amaravians, it was hurdle too high to clear. So, we all had extra classes on Thursday evenings and all those Hindi Pundits at the Academy tried their level best to make us imbibe the national language. Thus Thursday evenings became more of a school social at the NDA. At the Indian Military Academy (IMA) the very same test was called Compulsory Hindi Test.
The move by the Congress government at the Centre in 1965 to impose Hindi on Tamizh population was the root cause of Congress being wiped out of Tamil Nadu. The rise of the Dravida Munnettra Kazhakam (DMK) was also due to this imposition of Hindi.
Many argue that the agitations against Hindi have had an impact on the Tamizh psyche. It is often claimed by the political commentators that the people from other Southern States learn Hindi along with their native language, but the Thamizh are fanatical about their language, being cultivated by the Dravidian political parties.
It was bit easier for Mallus as the language Malayalam had nearly all the alphabets as the Devanagari script of the Hindi Language. Malayalam language is closer to Tamizh. but has borrowed its vocabulary and grammar from Sanskrit. For a Tamizhan it was a nightmare to learn Hindi as Tamizh, being the oldest Indian language had limited consonants – only one ‘ka’ (க) in place of ka (क), kha (ख), ga (ग), gha (घ) and similarly for all other sets of consonants. The Hindi Pundits never understood this very basic issue (and till date they do not seem to understand this fact or try and gloss over this fact – else they would have to accept that Tamizh is older and more sacred than Sanskrit – hence, where would the ‘Indian Nationalists’ hide their faces.)
Hindi propagated in the seventies and eighties by various governmental organisations also had its effect. The Hindi terms coined by them to replace commonly spoken English words were so confusing that even the Hindi speaking population of North India would have a run for their money. The national Television (Add to dictionary) and the All India Radio spewed out those tough Hindi words with venom. This resulted in many homes in South India switching off their TV sets at 8:45 PM – the commencement of Hindi national telecast.
In the eighties, with the opening up of media space for private players, resulted in the new channels using a medium – a mix of Hindi and English – which could be better understood by everyone.
With globalisation and advancement of IT, the luck Indians rode on, mainly for maintaining English as a national language, was that many found jobs in the world market. India ended up having a reservoir of English speaking educated mass, which attracted global players to establish business, especially in the IT field.
I do not even remember how I managed to pass the Hindi minimum test. For using the idioms in sentences for पानी पानी होना I wrote – जब मैं स्विमिंग पूल में गया, वहां पानी पानी हो गया and for पांचों उंगली घी में होना I wrote – जलेबी खाते वक़्त मेरा पांचों उंगली घी में था and the list of bloopers go on. This was done knowing well that they were howlers, but it resulted in annoying the Pundits who tried their level best to ram Hindi down my throat and I really derived sadistic pleasures from it. With vengeance, (more than the keepers of the Tamil culture, language etc as displayed during the Jallikattu demonstration) I coined new sentences and helped the Hindi Pundits in coining new words to enhance their vocabulary. I was even successful to a great extend in creating new rules for Hindi grammar -the least it did was to put some doubt in the minds of the Hindi Pundits at the NDA.
Whatever it was, I managed to pass the Hindi Minimum Test in my Fifth Semester. Some of the Amaravians struggled with it during their entire three year stay at the NDA and did not pass until their Final Sixth Term and special tests were conducted for them. After three years of NDA and a year of training at the Indian Military Academy (IMA). I was commissioned to 75 Medium Regiment of Artillery. The Regiment then had three sub-units called Batteries – manned by Jats, South Indians and North Indian Brahmins (Pundits). For all the ‘fun’ I had with the Hindi Pundits at the NDA, the Gods must have been very unhappy with me or was it that Lieutenant Colonel AN Suryanarayanan, our then Commanding Officer (now a Veteran Brigadier) decided it wisely that I must go to the Pundit Battery. I ended up at the right place, I thought. This resulted in me learning to speak proper Hindi for the first time in my life. I learnt Hindi from our soldiers and many spoke chaste Hindi.
In the Indian Army, the official publications and forms were bilingual – with English and Hindi. It did not achieve much other than making the publications double their weight and increasing production cost. I used to advice young officers in the Regiment to read the publication – Glossary of Military Terms, because of the need to use and understand military terminologies is very important for a young officer, especially during training courses and also during tactical discussions. This book was bilingual – with Hindi on the left pages and English on the right pages. I would often suggest to the officers to read the Hindi side when they got bored of reading the English pages as they would find many of them totally out of place and some really humorous.
Nowadays, the Indian Army has done away with the Officer’s Hindi Minimum Examinations – to the delight of all Amaravians joining the NDA.
Something Special : The Indian Army Way
This video is a great tribute to our soldiers and is worth watching, especially on the Valentine’s day. Do not be surprised, it has come from Malabar Gold, a jewellery chain in Kerala. The animation is excellent with apt scripting. It depicts how a senior army officer would advice a young officer in a situation like this. It celebrates the bonding and bonhomie among officers of the Indian Army. In fact, it is a real motivational video.
After watching this TV commercial, I reminisced about my Commanding Officer days in 2002. Our Regiment was deployed in Rajasthan sector for operations since January. After I took over command in June, I realised most young officers, especially the newly married ones had not been home to look up their wives. Leave for everyone in the army was curtailed and could only be sanctioned in extreme emergencies only.
After taking over command, I had to travel to Devlali, our permanent peacetime location, to carryout documentation procedures. I was accorded permission by our higher Headquarters to move out of the sector for a week. I took this opportunity, rather misinterpreted the orders knowingly, to take our two young Captains with me as my staff officers – Adjutant and Quartermaster – to facilitate various documentation.
We three booked our tickets to travel by train from Jodhpur – Captain Subhash to Devlali as his wife was stationed there and Captain Mitra to Ahmadabad, Gujarat, which fell enroute. Mrs Mitra was living with her parents there. I was booked for Devlali as Marina had by then emigrated to Canada.
The train was scheduled to stop at Ahmadabad by daybreak. Subhash called up Mrs Mitra instructing her to prepare breakfast for the Commanding Officer and him and carry it along. He also did not forget to add an advisory note that the Commanding Officer was a connoisseur of good food and so it got to be good.
Half an hour before the train was to pull into Ahmadabad Station, Mitra woke us up with a cup of hot tea and with the best smile he could portray. That was when the ‘devil’ in me worked overtime. I asked Mitra to step out of the train – not on to the platform side, but to the opposite side. Subhash was to meet Mrs Mitra at the platform and break the ‘sad’ news that the leave of Mitra was cancelled by the Commanding Officer on the eleventh hour due to unforeseen operational requirements. I was to walk in then to meet Mrs Mitra for the first time.
After the train came to a halt everything proceeded as planned. She was waiting on the platform next to our coach with her dad, all smiling and eager to meet her husband who was away for the past six months. The moment Subhash broke the ‘sad’ news, I walked in to meet them. I could now see the dark clouds of sadness layering over her smiling face. Rather it was as if the arc light bright face now had a fused bulb look. Her father was comforting her by reasoning out that her husband is on an important national duty and would be with her shortly.
I apologised to her that I had to cancel Mitra’s leave and he would be sent on leave home surely after two months. Mrs Mitra was surely not hearing me – she gave a dazzled blank look. Subhash now grabbed the breakfast hamper from her saying “He has not come, but we can have the breakfast. Haven’t you brought it for us?”
The train blew its whistle to indicate that it was leaving the station. We thanked them and got into the train and stood in the doorway, waving goodbye.
Wishing all the couples Happy Valentine Day.
Falling in love is like looking at the stars. If you pick one among the billions and stare at it long enough all the others will melt away.
Colonel Mahaveer Singh was the first Commanding Officer (CO) under whose guidance I spent my five years as a young officer. He was a real father figure who believed that the Regiment was his family and insisted on all officers getting together for tea at 10:30 AM. All officers, especially the young officers, really enjoyed these meetings as the first five to ten minutes was official stuff where in the CO gave out a few directions and it was for us to act on them and execute them. The next 20 to 30 minutes used to be “story telling” time and we all could narrate anything and everything and all officers would listen and participate in the discussion. This instilled a lot of confidence in all the young officers and they all are doing well today. Colonel Rajan Anand (now a retired Brigadier) and Colonel PK Ramachandran (now a retired Major General) were two COs who never ever held a conference or meeting. They gave their directions on the run and everybody executed them and for sure executed them really well.
All three of the above mentioned COs never ever seemed to supervise our work and believed in all of us and in delegation. They had trust in us and hence we always went an extra mile to ensure that the results were the best. The performance of the unit in all spheres spoke for itself and each and everyone, to the last soldier, took pride in being from a great Regiment and put in that extra effort to keep the Regimental flag flying high.
I have had my share of pathetic experiences also which led me to ensure that I never held a conference or meeting during the command of the Regiment, mainly because I hated them. Based on the lessons I had learnt from the above three COs, I put into practice the ethos of trust in all my subordinates and also provide them enough elbow space to execute the task with minimum directions. The performance of the Regiment at that time was there for everyone to see and the men were confident of what they did.
Why do I hate conferences / meetings?
During a short stint with our Regiment, I was called in for a conference regarding a task. Normally every soldier would get into their drills and procedures, while the officers get their briefings and directions from the CO. This meeting was attended by nearly all up to the Havildars (Sergeants) and the CO’s office was overflowing and also nauseating. The meeting went on for two hours, with nothing new other than a few finger pointing by the CO and on returning to where the men were, I found no activity at all.
On inquiry I found that all the soldiers generally have their lunch and sleep off the moment this CO called for a conference as they knew how to make full use of this valuable “dead-time”. The soldiers would never do anything much even after the conference as they were pretty sure that this CO would make them re-do or change what they did. So they felt “why waste effort and time”. A well oiled Regiment was now waiting for the CO for everything and the soldiers felt most miserable about it as they were not used to such ridiculing and lack of trust ever before. When I returned to the unit after two years, luckily the new CO had turned the clock back and I found the soldiers happier and proud of being part of a great Regiment.
What Makes these Conferences/Meetings so Resentful?
The conferences are held to show that the boss has done his job of briefing anybody and everybody, many not even remotely connected with the task in hand, thus making him ‘safe’. The boss is mostly unsure about the task in hand and who will execute it and has normally not done enough homework. Most of these conferences tend to be confrontational instead of being collaboration, especially in a hierarchical organisation like the army.
The bosses tend not to get to the point quickly enough and often are with the bad attitude that the people sitting in front “just will not understand it”.
The listeners are mostly not the right people in the right meeting. Some do not even know as to why they were called for the conference, wondering what the meeting is all about. Even if they know what it is about, they are not prepared to contribute to the discussion or their inputs are never asked for
The boss holding the conference tends to lose focus and gets off track. These monologues do not to add value, but the boss feels that there have been value additions, but mostly are time wasters. These bosses do not realise that most of the attendees already know that most of what is discussed and what their jobs are and the part they got to play.
Exhaustion spreads like wild-fire. All it takes is a couple people to start squirming and a few yawns and it spreads. This is compounded by the feeling as to why they were attending the meeting – to get ready for the next meeting.
Suggestions for a Good Conference/Meeting
Never Hold One. It is very apparent that many meetings serve no purpose. The best methodology is to consider two to three days in advance whether there is any way at all of avoiding the meeting.
Keep Attendees the Least. Fewer the people who attend the meeting the more effective it will be. Many bosses love to hear the sound of their own voices and the bigger the audience the greater the need to pontificate.
Direct the Meeting. It is much easier to control a meeting that is about specific topics rather than merely held for the sake of meeting itself. Allow all the participants to give opinions while at the same time stopping them from talking unnecessarily.
Know the Job in Hand. If you knew exactly what the job was, you would have never called for the conference; instead you would have given out clear cut instructions to your subordinates. If you know what you are trying to achieve, then it is far easier to do so.
Start on Time and End on Time. One of the most frustrating things about meetings is the long wait for a few stragglers who cannot be bothered to turn up on time. Avoid demonstrating Parkinson’s Law that work will always fill the time available to it.
Wishing you all the very best for your next conference/meeting.
On joining Sainik School in 1971 at the age of nine, I underwent my first run of drill classes. The Drill Sergeant with his order for Tez Chal Quick March always followed it up with “Shoot your Left foot”. This Left foot first then continued through the training at the Academies and during my military service.
While travelling on a train during my vacation from school in 1978, my co-passenger was a Veteran Sergeant who had seen action with the Royal Air Force during World War II in the Burma Front. He spoke of a Black & White English movie, ‘The Tie.’ He described a scene where a detective and a constable are tracking a fugitive through the city roads on a foggy winter night. Only the silhouette of the fugitive is seen and suddenly it stops walking and then walks ahead. The detective says that it is a woman. Now, the question of the Veteran was as to how the detective made out that it was a woman. I had no clue and so he explained that women generally commence walking with their Right foot first and men with their Left. That is why when we march, we are drilled to shoot our Left foot first. After this meeting, I started observing men and women and the first Right foot applied to women in about 80% cases. Perhaps the remaining 20% were taught drill by some Sergeant Majors.
Shooting the Left foot first in the military was mainly because the soldiers were mostly right-handed and they carried their weapons the right side. So when a soldier stepped forward with a Left foot, they were in a better balanced fighting posture, with Right foot planted and weapon up, ready for action. It was also to keep everyone on the same foot for advancing in a line. In the old days of battle, soldiers advanced together ahead in formation, so that the enemy could not break the lines. In order to do this they used drums to keep everyone in line and together and commenced the march on the Left foot. Every time the drum struck, their Left foot hit the ground. Modern Armies across the globe follow this to keep everyone in step while marching, more to instill discipline and team work and for a ‘Soldierly’ look while moving in a group.
In the military, one always walked on the left side of a superior officer. In other words, one always kept his superior on his ‘Right’ side. This was to facilitate him to return a salute with his Right arm without poking his arm into someone on his Right.
We are all familiar with the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, ‘That is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’ Surely no one would have been there to photograph this one small step. The second human to set foot on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and the instant was captured by Neil Armstrong. In this image (courtesy NASA), Aldrin is seen landing on the lunar surface with his Left foot, that too in rearward motion. Perhaps, a mere coincidence or the sheer logic of the number of rungs in the ladder.
In this connection, a bit of mythology may interest the reader. Nataraja, the Hindu God Shiva as a cosmic dancer, is depicted in idol form in most temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, balancing on his Right foot with his Left foot up. The only exception being the Nataraja idol at Meenakshi temple, Madurai. It is believed that the Pandya King who commissioned the temple wanted to give some relief to Natarajan’s Right leg, at least in the temple constructed by him.
God Shiva with his consort Parvathi is mostly depicted sitting and in most cases, Shiva has his Left foot folded up and Parvathi her Right. As per Hindu mythology, Shiva represents the Purusha (male) and Parvathi the Prakrithi (nature or female). Some Hindu mythological art portrays gods with both feet on together on the ground and this may be the depiction of combination of Purusha and Pakrithi.
When an Indian Bride enters a home, she is advised by her mother-in-law to enter with her Right foot first, but no such instruction is ever passed to the groom. During many Hindu marriages, the groom ritually places the Right foot of the Bride on a grinding stone. The mantras recited during this time advise the bride to lead a firm life like the grinding stone, to be as firm as a rock, so that the family can depend on her.
Most Hindu Goddesses are often depicted with their Right leg folded up, depicting Prakrithi.
This may explain as to why women commence their walk with their Right foot.
There are many soldier Gods in different border areas where the Indian Army operates. Most of the shrines dedicated to these Gods are situated in inhospitable terrain and mostly placed out of bounds to the civilians. There are no hymns or keertans sang on behalf of these Gods, they do not have ashrams, they do not ride in luxurious sedans, they do not hug devotees, they do not run charitable institutions, and they do not give darshans, and so on. They are soldiers who sacrificed their lives in service of their motherland and now regarded as patron saints guarding the areas where they achieved Martyrdom.
On my first assignment to the Kashmir Valley as a young Captain in 1987, my belief in the God Almighty was rekindled mainly because of the inhospitable terrain, sub-zero temperatures, heavy snow-falls, avalanches, thin air with deficiency of Oxygen, high-altitudes above 10,000 feet, and the drive through the mountain roads where one could slip off the road, down the gorges, and no trace would be left of the vehicle or the passengers. I was attached to a Punjab Battalion as the Artillery Observer. The battalion had troops mainly from Punjab, Himachal and Jammu, consisting of Hindus and Sikhs. As per the norms of the Army, the battalion had a Mandir with a Hindu Pundit and a Gurudwara with a Sikh Granthi. On Sundays or on important religious days we attended both Mandir Parade and the Gurudwara Parade. These being Parades, it was mandatory for all officers and men to attend.
On the way to the battalion headquarters, there was a Muslim Peer Baba and every man, irrespective of their rank or position, used to stop and pay their respects to the Peer Baba before proceeding to the battalion. The belief among the troops, passed down over the decades of army deployment, was that the Peer Baba took care of the soldiers and in case anyone failed to stop and pay respect, he will meet with some tragedy. Being a Christian by birth, I said the Lord’s prayer in the mornings and evenings, a ritual embedded in me by our father. This was the place I understood the meaning of secularism and realised that all Gods were the same. I was never sure as to who saw me through my first Kashmir tenure, the Gods in the Temple, the Gurudwara, the Peer Baba or Jesus. During my later years of field service in Sikkim and in Siachen Glacier, I came across two Soldier Gods.
OP Baba, Siachen Glacier, c/o 56 APO
Siachen Glacier, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, the highest battlefield of the world, is well known for its inhospitable and treacherous terrain, freezing cold at -40 degrees, crevasses and avalanches and lastly enemy action. Statistics reveal that more lives have been lost to the weather than to the enemy action since 1984, when the Indian army first occupied the Siachen glacier. Hypoxia, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (“high-altitude sickness” or HAPE), bone-chilling winds, sun burns, chill blains, frost bites, the thin air and sub-zero temperatures inducing acute depression, are the some of the weather factors affecting our soldiers. Most of the soldiers serving in such areas become very religious and the trust in their Gods really multiplies.
There are many a myths and legends about the Siachen Glacier, like any other battlefields Legend has it that OP (Om Prakash) Baba, deeply revered by troops posted in these glacial heights, was an army soldier who fought valiantly to preserve Indian frontiers from Pakistani intruders in the most adverse situations. The belief in the soldier saint is so strong that a formal report is given to OP Baba before the induction of a soldier party on the glacier and after the successful accomplishment of any mission. Any officer moving into the area reports his arrival to the Baba by visiting the shrine and paying his respects.
The faith in the legend of OP Baba is so strong that all troops give up consumption of alcohol and tobacco during their stay on the glacier as the Baba is believed to have been a strict disciplinarian and expects the same from fellow soldiers who come here to guard the frontier. Every battalion or company before taking position begins with a prayer at Baba’s shrine. The company commander gives a detailed briefing to Baba before tying a brass bell in the complex, taking a vow to keep away from cigarettes and intoxicants and fight the enemy till the last breath. The personnel keep the promise till the last day of their tenure in the glacier and is strongly believed that any deviation is met with instant punishment from the legend himself.
It is believed that a night before any imminent danger, the Baba comes in the dreams of soldiers and warns them of such eventuality. The Baba has always been with the troops and protects every soldier and warns them of any impending danger in the Glacier.
Baba Harbhajan Singh, Sikkim, c/o 99 APO
Baba Harbhajan Singh has defeated death. Believe it or not but it is true, one of its kind of story in the world- a man from an Indian army in Nathula border in Sikkim, is still doing his duty even after his death some three decades back. 60km from Gangtok towards the Nathula Pass lies the valley of Kupup. Here is the shrine of Baba Harbhajan popularly known as Baba Mandir. Baba Harbhajan has been guarding the international boundary of the two Asian giants, China and India over the last three decades. But believe me he does it alone. The Baba warns the dangerous activities on the border through the dreams of fellow army men. Legend has it that even the Chinese army men confirm sighting a man riding a horse all alone, patrolling the border.
Born in Brondal village of Kapurthala, Punjab, Harbhajan Singh joined the 23rd Punjab Battalion on February 1966 as a Sepoy. On October 4, 1968 Sepoy Harbhajan Singh was escorting a mule caravan from his battalion headquarters, he fell into a fast flowing stream and was drowned. Search for Sepoy Harbhajan was made with no results it was on the fifth day of the missing, his Commanding Officer had a dream of Harbhajan Singh informing him of his tragic incident and his personnel weapon being under the heap of snow. Harbhajan Singh desired to have a samadhi (memorial) made after him. The Commanding Officer ignored the dream as an imagination but later when the personnel weapon of Sepoy Harbhajan Singh was found at the spot where Harbhajan Singh had informed, the Commanding Officer was taken aback and to mark respect and towards his wish a samadhi was constructed there.
Here too, the belief in the soldier saint is so strong that any officer or troops moving into the area reports his arrival to the Baba by visiting the shrine and paying his respects. On my arrival at Sikkim, Colonel PK Ramachandran, our Commanding Officer, realising my rational stands on such issues had advised me to visit the Baba Mandir. He said that my visit to the Baba Mandir may mean nothing to me, but will go a long way in upholding the faith of the men under command. I did as ordered without realising the implications of his words until I read a research paper by a US Army Doctor on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by operationally deployed US Army troops. I realised that cases of PTSD were the least in the Indian Army despite all the operational commitments and I can attribute it only to the faith in God by our troops and the role played by the myths and legends and patron saints of different areas. This may also be the reason for increased evangelistic activities reported among the US Military personnel deployed in operational zones.
St George and the British Army
St George is patron of soldiers, cavalry and chivalry and he is the patron saint of England, Georgia, Lithuania, Portugal, Germany and Greece. He has no biblical significance. He held the rank of a tribune in the Roman army and was beheaded by Diocletian for protesting against the Emperor’s persecution of Christians. St George was adopted as the patron saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the Crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098.
He is usually represented on horseback in the act of spearing the monster which is vomiting fire. It is based on a myth that in Sylene, a city of Libya, a lake was infested by a huge dragon, whose poisonous breath would kill anyone. The citizens could never draw water from the lake and in order to keep the dragon away, every day a virgin was sacrificed to it. One day the turn came for Sabra, the king’s daughter, to become its victim. She was tied to the stake, and left to be devoured, when St. George appeared mounted on his charger and is believed to have killed the dragon. Many similar stories were transmitted to the West by Crusaders who had heard them from Byzantine troops.
The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possibly in the reign of Richard I, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.
In 1940, when the civilian population of Britain was subjected to mass bombing by the Luftwaffe, King George VI instituted the George Cross for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’. The award, which is second only to the Victoria Cross, is usually given to civilians. The award consists of a silver cross. On one side of the cross is St George slaying the dragon, with the inscription, ‘For Gallantry’; on the other appear the name of the holder and the date of the award.
After setting foot in India, British Army built its first fort in Madras (now Chennai) in 1644 and christened it Fort St George after their patron saint.
Working in any hierarchical and structured organisation, one always had a boss, someone to whom one is answerable and someone who always gauged your performance and guided you to achieve the best. I too had my bosses and one always had subordinates, for whom one was the boss. After retirement, I realised that I was not my own boss as one had to be answerable for the actions to someone or the other.
I would classify the bosses under whom I worked as :-
One can never select one’s boss, especially in the army and one got to accept them ‘As Is’. I had been lucky during my service that I got a good lot of the Category 1 bosses as mentioned above. The distribution of the bosses were:-
How they will perform in a given scenario is an interesting study. Let us take the case of a senior executive (a General or a CEO) flying in from the head office or the higher headquarters and need to be briefed for about 10 minutes by the boss under consideration.
The final result you all can guess, but ultimately it is the subordinates who suffer, especially in doing unproductive work.