Seek The Living Among The Dead

Today, we live in a world impacted by pandemic and natural disasters.  We are all going through a difficult phase of our lives.  Many are coping with complex personal environments and circumstances.  This is where we need spiritual support to fill that vacuum left by the absence of God in us. 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going” was the catch-line during our tough five week-long Commando training, considered amongst the toughest in the world, designed to push the trainees, testing our physical and mental toughness to an extreme.  Our training began at 2 AM with physical training, obstacle crossing, long marches up to 40 km, and ended at midnight with night navigation marches, raids, and ambushes – all while carrying our personal weapon – the rifle weighing over 5 kg and a 30 kg backpack.

This was where I needed someone to hold my hand, pat me at the back, encourage me to complete the tough tasks, push me from the back through those long endurance marches, etc.  Here my faith in Christ helped endure through it successfully.  I found our Saviour, the Resurrected Christ there when and where I needed Him.  Whatever physical and mental turbulence I was going through, He underwent many times more and emerged successful. 

Timothy 2:3 says, “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The bible does not offer you space to complain or crib.  St Paul was beaten, persecuted, betrayed, drowned, and thrown into a prison, still he never complained.  Paul endured his perils by holding to his faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Did Jesus Christ ever complain even while He was dying on the cross?

The essence of resurrection is contained in the verse Luke 24: 5 where the angels at the tomb said to the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  It happens to be the first spoken word after the resurrection of Christ.

This question led the women to understand the reality of resurrection.  We must realise how pertinent it is in our daily lives. Resurrection celebrates the moment death was defeated and hope came alive.  If you are looking for Jesus among the dead, you will not find him, because he is not there.

We often end up failures, dissatisfaction, or burnout after the long and treacherous hours we put in.  Often our efforts do not bring us a sense of achievement and fulfilment.  This could be due to the lack of realisation as to how our effort may have helped others and not us. We place an unrealistic expectation on returns that will lead to frustration, anger, and disappointment. It is a way of seeking the living among the dead. Here we are not looking at the joy and happiness that our action has brought to someone else (living,) but we are more concerned about what we will receive in return (dead.)

We look for the dead weighing our success based on our achievements like bank balance, grades scored, promotions achieved, the brands of the clothes we wear, the car we drive and so on.  We keep looking for self-worth in our personal image and some end up finding relief in drug and alcohol abuse, leading to addiction (further death) not liberty or freedom or solution to one’s problems (mirage of living.)  For some, it leads to anxiety and fear, rather than joy and fulfilment of life.

Looking for the living among the dead also means looking for a spark or a ray of hope when everything around is grim and bleak.  While on a military mission, driving on a Himalayan mountain road at about 12,000 feet above sea level, the pickup truck with two soldiers ahead of me suddenly toppled to the side, because the road caved in.  The pickup with every tumble lost each of its wheels, finally rested on a tree at bout 1000 feet below. I ran out of the Jeep with my driver and two of my radio operators and we reached the vehicle to see the two soldiers badly injured, bleeding profusely.  Upon seeing the state of the vehicle and the tumbles it took, I did not expect any survivors.  Here I was ‘Looking for the living among the dead’ as hardly anyone survived such accidents in that area. We carried the two injured soldiers up the steep slope, evacuated them to the nearest first-aid post to be evacuated by the Army Helicopter and they survived.

Until today, I do not know how we rolled down that steep slope, brought those soldiers up the mountain.  Everything appeared to be a miracle, where the Resurrected Christ gave me the strength to execute the task.  It saved the lives of two soldiers, but for us who participated in it, it was all some bruises left on our body by the bamboo which grew on the mountain slope.  No one complained. We were all happy that we could save two lives.  That is what soldiering is all about – Risking one’s life to save others.

Whenever I passed on that road again, I felt the Resurrected Christ appearing before me.

This Easter, we must all look for our resurrected living Saviour, one who brings joy and life and hope, the one about whom the Prophet Isaiah said: “Those who hope in me will never be disappointed.” 

Exceptions Always Prove the Rule

Group  Captain (Retired) TB Srivastava with our classmates and their ladies- 02 March 2019

The phrase is derived from a legal principle of republican Rome: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted), a concept first proposed by Cicero. This means a stated exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception.

Commenting on my previous blog “Education and Punishment”, many of our school mates referred to Wing Commander TB Srivastava, our Principal and Late Mr C Madhavan Nair (CMN), our Physical Education Instructor. They both are the exceptions to the blog.

Mr CMN was a retired Havildar (Sergeant) Major from the Indian Army, who joined the school from its inception. The day started with his Physical Training (PT) class early in the morning and in the evening it was the games. Most students remember him for his love for his students and always addressed them as “Mone (മോനേ)” in Malayalam meaning ‘My Son.’ It caught on especially as majority of the students hailed from Tamil Nadu and thus spoke Tamil and not Malayalam.

The organisational capabilities and leadership skills of Mr CMN were on display when he conducted the “Massed PT” for the School Day, involving all students from grade 6 to 12. He trained everyone, coordinated all their movements from entry till exit and the choreography will surely put Chinni Prakash (movie choreographer) to shame. All these he achieved by motivating each student to put in his best and by blowing a few notes using his whistle. One has neither seen him losing his cool nor using any ‘difficult’ language to the students.

CMN Grndsmen
Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Groundsmen – from the left – Maria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one

As a Captain, I was entrusted with the task of marking the ground for an athletic meet. The effort I had to put in to mark the 400M track, especially the curves, that too with about 200 trained soldiers under command, reminded me of Mr CMN. With half a dozen illiterate groundsmen, he executed the same task in six hours and I took two full days with 200 soldiers.

Mr CMN trained the students in swimming, diving and life saving (his core area while serving in the army) and also all the games – football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and boxing. His knowledge of each of these games was immense and refereed all the in-school competition matches. His skill in refereeing to ensure fair play and sportsmanship was exceptional.

CMN with Family
Mr C Madhavan Nair with his family

His treatment to all his students as his ‘Sons’ must have been because he was a great father. His two daughters and son studied in the same school (senior to us) and that also added to his attachment to the school and the students, despite the low salary he earned.

Wing Commander TB Srivastava was our Principal from 1972 to 1975. Another great teacher who brought in many changes to the school’s day-yo-day functioning and a great motivator. He was a cause for many of our school mates to join the Indian Air Force. The fruit of his effort was that our school won the Defence Minister’s trophy for sending the maximum number of cadets to the National Defence Academy (NDA) from all Sainik Schools.

The Principal was seen participating in all activities the students indulged in – from morning PT to the evening dinner. He was a great orator, real good horseman, played all games pretty well and spoke with love and poise with the students. Unluckily we never had any other officer from the armed forces who came anywhere near Wing Commander TB Srivastava (many were real pathetic expressions of humanity) and that is why many of us do not even recall their names.

Hence the rule stands proved.

tb Wing Commander TB Srivastava

Poor Banian or a Wife Beater

One day our teenaged son came up to me and asked me if he could borrow my ‘Wife Beater.’ I lost all my balance and composure and I told him that I neither ever had beaten their mother nor ever intend to do so. I stopped short of telling him that the idea did sprout in my mind a few times, but good senses always prevailed over my impulse. Our son understood my predicament and explained that he wanted the sleeveless white vest I used to wear while in India. Hardly seen anyone wearing it in Canada; could be something to do with the weather and reduced perspiration level.

Our son explained that in the TV show ‘COPS‘ had a lot do with the creation of this word. Every time they showed a guy getting arrested for beating his wife, he was shown wearing one of those sleeveless vests.

Some say that in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan, when police arrested a local man (James Hartford, Jr.) for beating his wife to death, the local news stations aired the arrest and elements of the case for months after, constantly showing a picture of Hartford, Jr, when he was arrested, wearing a vest and constantly referring to him as ‘the wife beater.

I always marveled the simple in design white sleeveless vest for all the services it rendered. It never even cared where it ended up after its owner threw it out after clinging to his skin and exploiting it to the hilt. They mostly ended up as a shoe-shining cloth, a mop, a duster, etc. Why should someone discard such good quality pure white cotton cloth?

I never understood why any more layers than absolutely necessary are worn in a hot climate, but I always felt that it absorbed the sweat. It absorbed the sweat, got wet, making me feel a bit uncomfortable at times, but it always stopped the passage of the sweat to the outer layer of the Olive Green (OG) Uniform. The white salt left on the shirt after the sweat dried up was rather un-soldierly. My skin never felt comfortable touching the thick clothed OG shirt. The poor banian maintained an impregnable gap between my skin and the thick shirt.

Some of my friends in the Army wore a banian with sleeves. I always preferred the sleeveless version to avoid ‘Sunday is longer than Monday‘ syndrome. This happens when you wear a short sleeved shirt or T shirt, under which you have worn a sleeved banian and the sleeve of the banian creeps out of the shirt sleeve.

On joining Sainik School Amaravathinagar (TN) at the age of nine, my box had a dozen banians. We had to wear the banian for the morning Physical Training (PT). The aim was to observe the physical development of the body and to ensure that there were no skin infections. This practice of wearing the banian for PT continued on to the National Defence Academy (NDA) and the Indian Military Academy (IMA), till I was commissioned as an officer, after which I started wearing the white T-shirt as was the practice for all officers. The men still wore the faithful banian for PT. I still enjoyed the banian clinging to my skin and ensured that I had it on at all times.

My sahayak (helper) in the regiment was Sepoy Hukum Chand, who served me with at most dedication, love and care. He was my accountant, my personnel assistant, my bodyguard, my radio operator, my buddy in all aspects. He ensured everything for me – from when I got up, my morning tea, my cigarettes, my uniform, my room, my wardrobe, my outfit for the evening party etc. This continued for long seven years until seven year itch erupted – I got married and Hukum Chand refused to be dictated to as to what dress I wore for the evening party. My wife did not approve the suit Hukum Chand had chosen for me to wear that evening as it did not match her saree. My wife won and Hukum Chand lost.

Sepoy Hukum Chand had observed my keenness to wear the banian at all times and every six months he bought a dozen of them from the regimental canteen (he paid for it with my money as he was my accountant and I had no clue about the expenses). On enquiring as to why he bought new banians every six months, he told me that they become yellow on washing repeatedly in brackish water used by the waherman. He used to snip off the shoulder straps and cut open the trunk and it became a shining cloth for him to polish the leather boots and the belt and also the brass badges of rank. He said that the yellow shining-cloth available at the regimental canteen left yellow lint on the OG uniform and the black boots and looked awesome and he had to put in extra effort to clean-up after polishing. Used and many-time washed white banian was best suited for it and one did not have to pay to buy the shining-cloth – What a costly saving?  He had the thin cloth for the leather boots and belt and the thicker ones for the brass.

After five years of postings on staff and various long courses, I returned to the regiment at Sikkim as a Battery Commander. Sepoy Sri Chand was this time assigned as my Sahayak and Hukum Chand was by then promoted to the rank of a Havildar. A few days after I rejoined the unit, Havildar Hukum Chand came to my bunker while I was having my afternoon siesta and started admonishing Sepoy Sri Chand as he had not maintained the Saheb’s bunker as per standard. Hukum Chand started advising Sri Chand about my likes and dislikes, my preference of tea, food, clothes, cigarette, etc. At the end he said “Saheb likes wearing a banian at all times, even while he is sleeping.” That was the time I observed that I was sleeping in my favourite lungi-banian. He added that I preferred wearing the thick banian under the uniform and the thin ones under the civil dress. A preference I never had and may have been cultivated by Hukum Chand to ensure that he had a constant supply of thin and thick cloth for polishing the leather and the brass.

Many a times your preferences and habits are not self-developed, but thrust upon you by the environment.