Friday, December 20, 2013

Himalayan Blunder

It is often said that history is written by the victor. However an objective reading of the truth of history requires us to step up and read all versions in order to gain a picture of at least a semblance of truth as to what may have happened. As I write this post, therefore I have to warn the reader that this is my reading of history and the Sino Indian war of 1962 based upon this book and there have been several books regarding the same.

Having said that, this book is special, because often it is the pawn which very intimately is witness to the war than any of the other pieces, or the king himself. This book was written by Brigadier John Parashuram Dalvi, who was the commander of 7 Infantry Brigade, which was at the epicenter of the Sino Indian Conflict of 1962. Post the one month long conflict, when Chinese force overran a lot of Indian territory on the NEFA border, the author was taken captive by the Chinese forces and later returned to India. It is during those months of captivity that he forms the outline for the book. It details elaborately the kind of imbalance in the preparation for the war, the political thought process in relations with China and the events that caused the conflict. It does not therefore hesitate to place the blame where present and identify all the failures of different people in charge at that time. It is therefore critical to note that the book was banned upon it's release and later allowed to be released.

In 1962, the Indian government was headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the book dissects vividly Nehru's priorities for India and his global reputation in terms of crafting India's foreign policy and the non aligned movement. The book details the halo around Nehru's persona and the unquestioned authority with which Nehru ruled the country and his socialist steps to take the country forward and the neglect of the Armed forces. 

The book also details how a person like V.K.Krishna Menon who was the Defence Minister of the time, was often more interested in Foreign Affairs and details how his exploits at the U.N made him something of a maverick and thereby caused his interaction with the generals of the Defence Services leaving a lot to be desired. His disagreement with the great general K.S.Thimmayya being a case in point. Also it often argues against General B.M.Kaul's Forward Post Policy. As per this policy, Indian Armed forces had set up Indian Army check posts in disputed areas of Land, as China had not agreed to McMahon Line, set up during the British Administration of being the natural border between India and China. This erroneous policy costs us dearly as one of these posts at Dhola, becomes the trigger point of the conflict and was the first post which was attacked by the Chinese Army, thereby triggering the conflict. Indian Army had to then go through a lot of difficulty to secure these posts, and most often were in a militarily disadvantaged position and yet had to hold on to them due to political pressure.

While the book could have descended to a massive rant against the establishment, what prevents that from happening, is the author's patriotic and often practical analysis of the situation and his description of events as they happened and his logical questions, which history will find very difficult to answer. It is also his great insight into military strategy and knowledge of Indian history and his recommendations for the future which stand apart and make this a compelling and compulsive read for all Indians who are concerned of India's security and Military strength. While there were many guilty men of 1962, it is always better to understand what we can take back as lessons for the future instead of blaming the mistakes we made in the past. The author is intimately aware of this and therefore uses his words very wisely and often with rightful anger. The herculean hardship that the author as well as the soldiers of the forces he commanded during the short war until they gave their lives for their country remind us of the immense sacrifices made by a simple Indian Jawan. The author upon release comes back to the country after being released by the chinese and is looked upon with suspicion once he reaches India, as to whether he might have been brainwashed. After such travails, it would have been very easy for any normal human being to be highly vituperative, but it is testimony to the author's character that he is very objective, forthright and sincere in his description of the events that occurred.

The book is also enriched further by adding to it's appendix the letter written by Sardar Vallabhai
Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru, which is very insightful and sets the ground rules as to the precautions we need to take in our relations with China. It remains to be said that some of his observations later proved to be eerily true and continue to be relevant today.

Which brings me to the lessons that could be learned from the book for our future.

Civilian Military Interaction - As part of the Independence movement, a lot of the Congress leaders went to jail, participated and protests and fought for the country. While this was happening, the Indian Army was being administered and commanded by British Officers and generals. Post Independence, when Indians formed their own government, the Indian Army which was then respected the world over for it's efficiency was looked upon with mistrust in it's own home. The government enforced civil supremacy and was always suspicious of the Army and always feared a military coup. This forged together unhealthy relationship continued thereon, with often conflicts arising in the interaction between the civilian leaders of the day and military leadership. This culture is evident from the bitterness in the relationships between Krishna Menon and Gen. K.S. Thimmayya, Indira Gandhi and Sam Maneckshaw  and so on. This has sadly continued until recently with the Gen.V.K.Singh episode. While Military rule of a country may not be right, the civilian and military leadership of the day has to be friendly and one of mutual respect. In the Indian case, often civilian members of the bureaucracy have often been disrespectful of the Military leadership and there is a disconnect between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. We learn from the book that often important strategic military decisions were taken by civilian members of the rank of a Secretary and dished out as orders to the Armed Forces. This has to be therefore improved by making sure that there is minimum political interference with regard to strategic military decisions and at the same time provide complete support. This is best illustrated by our 1971 victory over Pakistan, during Lal Bahadur Shastri's reign. Political Leadership should never break the military chain of command or interfere in appointments of the Armed Forces. There is no role for Favoritism in appointment in Defence where the only criteria has to be performance, experience and capability.

Importance of Infrastructure - Thankfully we have advanced a lot since 1962 and the armed forces near the chinese border today have much better equipment, winter clothing and weapons. However the regions near the chinese border remain ill developed partly due to the difficult terrain and also because of lack of inhabiting population. Despite that, it is a must that we have proper roads built so that rapid movement of troops made possible,  without relying on Air dropped rations, like we did in 1962. The Border Roads Organisation which was set up for this purpose in 1960 has to be strengthened and budgets allocated so that the entire stretch of the Chinese border is well reachable and patrolled. Also such infrastructure will help our Intelligence apparatus as well greatly.

Role of Opposition and Public Opinion - During times of crisis, public opinion and opposition in government have to make sure they speak in an unified voice and irresponsible calls for immediate action should never be made, as a tactful military response must be well-planned and executed with a lot of time taken for the same. Sometimes, it may even be a strategic move for our forces to retreat, so that a more advantageous position could be reached, while attacking the enemy. The popular media of the day and Public opinion should always be channelled towards ably supporting our Armed Forces and standing by it's decisions.

Lastly, one important thread that runs throughout the book is that during 1962, though there was massive Chinese build up along the border, there was never any real fear of war on the Indian side, as it expected that Indian clout in global politics will deter the Chinese forces. Throughout that time both the political leadership as well as some generals of the Armed forces never seriously anticipated war. India, however now has to be always in a perpetual mode of war readiness and should always anticipate war because the recent Chinese incursions and activities along the border have been highly suspicious. Recently the Chinese Army arrested five Indians in Ladakh, while they were in Indian territory claiming that they crossed over. Such incidents should keep us in high alert mode and serious political thought given regarding the same. Also recently there have been allegations of Favoritism in the Indian Army. Such instances show us that we still have not completed learning lessons from the past. At least as a tribute to the great soldiers who laid down their lives in 1962 we have to make sure that we learn these lessons quickly and keep our country secure. For any Armed Forces aspirant, I would suggest they give this book a deep engrossed reading as well, as it often highlights the great qualities of an Indian Soldier.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Back to the Past

Pic Courtesy :

To that realm when time turns translucent
To that era I wish my body and soul be sent
When the line blurs between our known history
And the mythical times of magic and mystery

To those years when master carpenters roamed around
Sculpting the abode of gods from stones
To those times when those lives were real and sound
When sages did penance and turned to bones

To those simpler times, shall I time travel
When she nursed her mean husband's sores
And stopped the sun, until it came to her doors
Where tales of character, I could unravel

The divine connection, that lend it's spirit
To the king who built the biggest temples
And yet chose to bless the lady who served
Her simple food to the tired sculptors

That divine spirit!, Shall thy take me back ?
To those times, when rivers built lives
And forests were but a second home
When skies showered gifts of wet nectar

Till I reach there, I fear, I may lose my rhyme
My rhythm and music and joy; Till I dissolve
In the essence of time and nature
In the magic and mystery of those times.

Let me go. Let me dissolve...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Let's Be the Change

Recently in media, be it in print or in television, there is one word that manages to sneak into the headlines. The word unfortunately is 'Rape' and there is not a single day which passes without one having to come to know depressing incidents such as this. It is not clear whether incidents of rape have increased post the famed Nirbhaya case or the media has decided suddenly that there is more sensationalism to such news and has started doing more active reporting of the same. Either ways, it is a very disturbing trend, because it does not ultimately do anything to improve the situation or rectify the core issues in our society.

Like all other mammals, Man is also an animal and animal instincts cannot be suppressed, so lust is something that every man will feel, whether a woman likes it or not. In that sense, a man and a woman are very different creatures, because men are in a way more prone to lust than a woman is. This is not to justify rape, but to understand that in terms of addressing this issue, we need to think more organically. We keep protesting and issuing ultimatums to politicians as well as asking for stricter punishment for rape, but never think holistically about what can bring change.

I am sure, people greater than me, might be knowing this already but just so that this in clear in my mind as well. What we need essentially is a movement!. When I say a movement, it should definitely not be one like feminism, because feminism has already been acknowledged as a failure and I think this is mainly because it focused on female spirit and women's rights and in the process in certain ways antagonized the male gender instead of engaging them to arrive at a solution.

We need to drive towards social, cultural change in our mindsets and this does not happen quickly. It has to happen slowly over generations and these lessons should begin at home. Especially, in India, in order to drive towards a generational shift in the attitude towards women, we have to start with teaching our children. To teach our children, we have to start from our home. Teach, not just in words, but in our actions. We have to lead by example and respect the women of the household. Men need to participate in daily chores, just the way women do and share responsibility. I know of many households where when a guest arrives, women run inside. We have to bring women to our living rooms and start treating them as equals and women need to start living as equals at home.

For generations together we have had our women subdued and therefore they remain soft targets for many men. Rape or any other form of harassment is ultimately also about power and violation of another individuals personal space. Therefore what we need is, to educate and spread awareness in society of rights and duties of every citizen. When we debate these instances, what we refuse to discuss is the moral decline in society, in popular medium. There are no stop-gap solutions to a problem which, like a disease has been plaguing us for a very long time. We have to cure this disease over a long term with a few mandatory steps.

Strengthening our Education System : Our education system is today completely job and earning focused and with each passing day, less and less driven towards imparting knowledge and inculcating moral values into tomorrow's citizens. Be it in rural schools or big reputed colleges in the cities, the focus is on factory-like delivery of products for market consumption and there is no organic growth of knowledgeable free thinking individuals. This market pressure and peer pressure today helps only in producing selfish citizens who think only about their own lives and achievements rather than the society as a whole. I am a product of the same system and I believe that in many schools not all is lost, but still the decline in imparting of moral values is very much evident. Value based education today for the masses will result in a more benevolent society tomorrow. Men and Women and their differences and potential has to be taught about. We cannot afford to shy away from sex education as well any more. Educational reform is required so that every citizen is aware and has respect of his or her rights and the personal freedom of every other person.
Awareness programs for the masses : One of the big impediments to there being serious steps taken to prevent these kinds of crimes is because it is misplaced and treated and discussed as a law and order problem or a social evil, which in turn limits the debate and does not enrich it.We have to treat this as a disease that is plaguing our society and work towards eradicating it like, we worked towards eradicating polio.A sickness be it of the body or the mind must be treated by spreading awareness about it and in this case we have to make the masses aware about personal freedom, women's rights, child psychology, marital discord and it's impact and these awareness programs have to reach the masses of the country through local panchayat or municipal programs, through videos, through street plays, through word of mouth.The importance of spreading the message of equality and having resourceful and enterprising women citizens is at an all-time high and is the need of the hour.

Public Participation and Selflessness : It is no more enough that the authorities alone handle this problem. It is the duty of every citizen to ensure the safety of every woman and child in their neighborhood. I remember I saw this social awareness video where domestic violence is protested against by the public by knocking on the doors loudly. Such efforts have to increase multifold and the media has to focus on spreading this awareness instead of concentrating all their energies on reporting of more rape cases alone. If a person witnesses violence happening against a woman, be it by a man or a group of men, there has to be an immediate response to stop the violence and the women of this country must also understand that they cannot question a person who comes to their aid, because an on-looker, his conscience and his freedom to live in a peaceful society is also being violated against. It need not be the job of just a policeman to stop an act of violence. It is the duty of every citizen.Today our society has slowly moved away from the joint family system to being nuclear families, from the close bonding in the villages to the total alienation in the cities and in the process the welfare of the self has gained precedence over the welfare of thy neighbor, fellow traveler or bystander. We cannot move back to the villages or to being joint families now, but we can surely try to be more selfless in our every day lives. Even if it is one selfless deed a day, it could touch so many lives and that should be motivation enough.

Equal Ownership and Responsibility : As far as society is concerned, once a rapist is arrested and put behind bars, or is hung till death, the matter is closed and justice is done. As far as a rape survivor is concerned, the death of a rapist does nothing to soothe her stigma, the pain and humiliation. As a society and a citizen I have to take equal blame for every rape. I am as responsible as the rapist, as responsible as the policeman in-charge, as responsible as the parents and as responsible as the rape victim. I am part of the system which failed to prevent this incident and it is just a pretense if I feel justice has been done, once the rapist is punished. We have to lead the change, be the change to ensure a better tomorrow and take ownership of ridding the society of this evil. The responsibility falls equally on the shoulder of both men and women. Women too have to rise above the ills of gossiping about the the girl in the neighborhood, rise above the habit of being judgmental of a daughter-in-law or a sister-in-law or a mother-in-law, rise above the practice of thinking about one's family alone and step out  and start thinking of the whole society as a big joint family.

We cannot afford to relieve our burden anymore by finding someone else to blame. We have to be the change. A punishment does not and will not stop the crime from happening and if at all we have to punish, let us punish the sin in all of us, instead of punishing only the sinners.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ganga's Plight

Ripples abound, O mother as you silently flow
Around you we build our homes and lives
Of your tumultuous journey, your children know not
In the rush of our lives, your troubles we forgot
Every obstacle we create, you bend and bend and sacrifice
In the Mystic Land of Shiva, could Ganga be slow

The wealth, you brought we never treated right
Amidst carcasses and dirt, as your tears dissolve
Yet at dusk, with beauty and calm, you soothe our pain
Alas, when dawn comes we used you to wash our stain
Amok ran the saints. Whose problems did they solve?
But she flows and flows, stop not to pity one's plight

In the months of monsoon, O mother you feel the surge
From the hills, what he brings, you had to bring to us
As clouds explode, you shiver to the thunder of rain
When we struck away at your soil, we only thought of gain
Not of your loss, or the trouble in your journey thus
And kept your sisters apart, your hands never could merge

You could not stop, as our homes break down and go
Under your turbulence, we drown and breathe our last away
In your anger and helplessness, you break his silent penance
As the rest of us move away, unsure of our lives; thence
You know that you must go on, never stop and stray
All the pain and tears, you must wash away to keep your flow.

Even as we offer prayers and condolences to those who lost their lives and homes, due to the Flash floods of Uttarakhand, we have to remind ourselves that we still have more to do for our great rivers and their preservation.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meandering in the Netherlands

To roam the world and see wondrous places and have unique experiences. What more could one ask for. It ravishes the soul and sets the discoverer in you on wings. Recently for a business trip, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend three weeks in the Netherlands and was thus able to roam around Netherlands and admire it's beauty. 

Netherlands or Holland is a small country in Europe and distinguishes itself from the other countries in Europe, by the strange mysterious presence of water everywhere. In the form of streams or rivers or canals or the ocean, the small country was brimming with water everywhere.

One of the first places, I set out to visit, during the first weekend was the famed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which was opening after a period of ten years, when it had been shutdown for renovation. Any country's pride is it's history and culture which makes the experience of visiting a new place all the more richer for a visitor. It was the same for me. Rijksmuseum was a treasure trove of beautiful paintings by some of the Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Each of the paintings depicted the lives of people, be it royalty or be it the local peasants. Some of the paintings tried to highlight a principle of their lives while some were highly inspired creations of Fantasy like 'Orpheus and the Animals'. Those paintings were able to take me to another time and another realm, a time of kings, peasants and mythical creatures.

One major attraction at Rijksmuseum was Rembrandt's 'Night Watch'. A colossal painting which adorns the wall. Every detail of the painting so sharp and vividly telling a story in itself. The painting actually depicts a scene set in the Dutch Golden Age in the the 16th century and is striking for it's use and rendering of light and shadow.

Every painting had a story to tell or a lifestyle to depict, be it in terms of food or children's games or the popular flowers of the period. They also spoke a lot about Dutch history and culture. Their trade relations with other countries including India, their conquests of colonies like Surinam and so on. Apart from paintings the museum actually has a lot of craft exhibits, models of ships and actual ship mastheads and a huge Library of books maintained for centuries together..

After spending time at Rijkmuseum, I started my journey to the Van Gogh museum which housed the great paintings of the eccentric genius post modern impressionist. However the paintings were temporarily moved to the Hermitage museum and therefore took a canal ride to Hermitage museum. The canal ride was fun as it had people from all over the world. I spoke to others in English and as they tried to make sense of my English and I tried to make sense of theirs, I started enjoying the beautiful sights of the canal and the old buildings. The journey to Hermitage took quite some time, but the sights were really beautiful and is a really good way to take in the sights of Amsterdam.I was glad that I took the canal ride, though Hermitage is actually nearby if one were to walk.

Vincent Van Gogh has always been an interesting figure in history and some of his paintings have been so iconic that they keep getting reproduced. The vigorous, confident brush strokes and sheer explosion of colour, shapes and madness in his work really can be a very emotionally and intellectually tiring experience.

Be it the innumerable paintings of houses and flowers or be it the self portraits, they are done with so much imagination and cleverness that you are in awe. The paintings were all chronologically arranged starting with his first pieces of work, then his time spent along with the peasants, when he produced his masterpiece, "The Potato Eaters", followed by the paintings he created of Japanese gardens. The pictures of the beautiful japanese blossom gardens, reminded me of Akira Kurosawa's film "Dreams", where he pays tribute to Van Gogh in the segment "The Crows". It was a humbling experience to see and feel how Art keeps inspiring more art and beauty. Some of the most striking and sad paintings were those that he had painted while he was put up at the St.Remy Asylum. They evoke a deep pathos and sense of loneliness and yet are such magnificent paintings. In those moments, I actually started to feel the happiness and sadness of Van Gogh's life, almost as if I had imbibed his spirit and those moments shall always remain in my memory forever.

I also visited the well known Rotterdam zoo at Blijdorp. The zoo was one of the biggest ones in the world but was damaged a lot during the world war. The zoo housed a lot of beautiful birds, reptiles and a huge underwater aquarium called 'Oceanium' which was really beautiful with sting rays and sharks and other colourful fishes. The world under water is at times infinitely more beautiful than the one above and yet still waiting to be discovered.

Walking around the zoo early in the morning, the fresh air and the jungle like surroundings, the feeling of being close to nature is so much more that it fills your heart with peace and happiness. Sometimes I wonder that perhaps all man made creations are still aspiring to provide the same happiness that nature so easily provides.

The park also had several exhibits of varied botanical species, exotic snakes, polar bears, meerkats, birds of prey, wild cats, tigers and lions and giraffes. The exhibits of vividly colored frogs and other amphibians and komodo dragons were all well organized. At a point, I got lost in a clearing and didn't know which direction to turn, when the lone elephant started trumpeting in it's enclosure well hidden behind the bamboo tree almost as if calling out to me to help me out in my predicament.

I have been to the excellent Jurong Bird Park and the zoo in singapore as well and it is quite natural that one may wonder what is so special and different about every other zoo, but these animals and plants are also in many ways integral to the beauty of a place because their pleasant existence speaks volumes about the humanity of the people living along with them. The Swans, ducks, seagulls and cute dogs seen across the breadth of this country are testimony to this fact.

A trip to the netherlands however has to be in spring, because it is only in Spring that the tulips at Keukenhof are in bloom and a trip to the netherlands is not complete unless one visits Keukenhof. It is simply paradise on earth and the silent shy presence of the tulips can make you feel small before the beauty and magnanimity of mother nature.

The flowers were of all kinds, of different colours, shapes, some hairy, some small and yet each flower so different and vibrant that you sense the life and cheer in them. Walking around the tulip garden, occasionally sitting amidst the flowers, I explored the gardens for a long time and since I had reached early in the morning, was able to linger and take in the sights slowly and passionately.

Often in our mad rush to lead our lives, we forget to see the beauty around us in every child of mother nature. We rarely stop to retrospect, adore and admire the beauty around us. It was like all of us visitors at Keukenhof were forced to stop and retrospect about our lives and how we had not been seeing all this beauty around us. People from all over the world had arrived to see the famed tulips at Keukenhof dance and bloom and I was infinitely glad to just be there and wished that my family was there with me at that moment. I felt emotional and vulnerable then.

There were long stretches of fields until the horizon with just those beautiful flowers. it was almost as if mother earth had decided to deck herself with her finest dresses and jewellery to celebrate the occasion of Spring.

I could instantly identify with Wordsworth as to how he could have been inspired by a field of Daffodils to write that marvelous poem. Those few words of the most beautiful poetry does not still do justice to the beauty of these flowers.

The friendly American couple I was sharing an apartment with asked me which was my high point during my visit to netherlands and I did not have to think twice before I answered, "Definitely Keukenhof!".

Delfshaven was another beautiful place situated along the river banks of the river Nieuwe Maas. The seagulls, swans and pathways, old ships and windmills and lots and lots of water. In essence it felt being inside a microcosm of each and every representative of the beauty of netherlands.

A good walk along the river in the evening is all one needs to set one's spirits light. I also had the privilege to dine at the famed Bla Bla restaurant in Delfshaven which is completely vegetarian, along with my colleague and the magic of that place has stuck with me deep inside somewhere.

All journeys have to come to an end and on my last weekend after an hectic 3 weeks decided to head to Scheveningen Beach in Hague. All rivers have to lead to the mighty ocean and the sea is like the final destination for a tired soul, where one just lets go, embraces the salty breeze and waves. Of course I could not embrace the water though as it was really cold.

To head to the sea, I had to take a tram from Hague Central and the journey was really nice as there were lots of people and the sights and scenery were really splendid. The beach was a long stretching one and there was a pier heading into the ocean, where you can walk till the end and take a closer look at the raging waves.

From there, the coast line looks beautiful, with hotels and buildings not far away from the beach. There was also a lighthouse at the horizon far left to me and I headed towards the lighthouse and saw suddenly lots of kites flying in the air. On reaching closer, I discovered people actually flying them on the water and surfing using them. It was a sports activity known as kiteboarding and it was fun to watch as they used their colourful kites to surf across the waters.

After a while, I sat on the sand and gazed into the horizon and thought about my journey back home across these seas, wondered about all the other places across these seas that I have not travelled to, not known about and yet felt happy that I have discovered Netherlands and travelled so far away from home.

In a way every journey is a learning experience as well, because it lends us perspective of what life could be, of what a global society is capable of and the limitations we have bound ourselves in. As you travel, you also in a way discover yourself, liking things you never thought you would like. I learned that there is a lot that I have, to learn about myself and perhaps as the journey continues, hopefully every lesson will be, as exciting as this one.

Pics : All taken by yours truly and thanks to the excellent public transport system in Netherlands

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ode to a Broken Soul

 The darkness is unsettling, setting around
Around are the walls, trapped and quiet
Shrouded, in fear, amidst all the sound
So were his dreams, an emotional riot.

The world's smiles lent a ray outside
Yet the mind struggles to really leave
At once love and yet a panicky ride
A song, some colours and yet he does grieve

Every little joy so treasured, surreal
Wrapped around the harshness of reality
The little joys, in mind, ever memorial
Scarred is the soul, a fragile fatality

With passage of time, to the world doors open
To the world, he remains a happy soul
His happiness external, in spirit his pen
Behind his smile, cries of anguish, behold!

To the wounded little boy, easy come the tears
Genuine smiles are rarer by the day
As egged on by society, to the same walls, he leers
The man, the boy, the soul still cry everyday.

Clueless, he roams the world, for he knows not
Where resides his happiness, from his heart; he lost
His life, not in breath, in spirit what he got
After all the sad stories, his pen remained lost