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Saturday, December 18, 2010

dog tags philosophy

The picture you see is of the dog tags I have been carrying around with me for all these years since 1979.

The dog tags have a specific message.

For the benefit of my civilian friends who may chance upon this write up,"A dog tag is the informal name for the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. The tag is primarily used for the identification of dead and wounded along with providing religion (to provide for calling a Catholic Priest, Jewish Rabbi or Hindu Pandit for Last Rites) and essential basic medical information for the treatment of the latter, such as blood type" (courtesy wikipedia)

In the Indian army there are two metal tags worn by every soldier, one on his wrist and one around the neck. The idea is that one remains with the body and the other is sent to the family and an addition advantage is that at least one of the discs can be located even if some body parts are missing.

It has just five items of data. the service number, rank, name, blood group and religion. Every bit of data has a specific purpose. Service number , rank and name form the mandatory information to be given to anyone (including the enemy if a prisoner of war) for the purpose of identification.

The simple information contained on that small aluminum tag can speak for you if you can't speak for yourself; it could mean the difference between a positive identification and an uncertain future for those who survive you, should your identity be "...known only to God."

What really interests me is the 4th and 5th bits of information, ie blood group and the religion. For a wounded soldier, one treatment that can really mean life/death is timely blood transfusion and you need to know the blood group at the earliest.

In case the casualty is beyond any treatment, then the most important information required is whether to bury or to cremate , to call a panditji or a maulvi ; so there is the mention of the religion.

In short what the tags convey is “tips to save the body or to dispose of the body as appropriate”

In case it is the latter,one of the discs is dispatched to the NOK (next of kin) along with other personal effects of the soldier, as and when the time permits.

For the soldier himself, what a way to live ? What an attitude to live with ? Before an operation the soldiers prepare their wills, make monthly allotments to family and update the address es of NOK. Since you don’t know when a war will break out, these activities take placed during "peace time training exercises”. Once a war breaks out all you have in your person , other than rations , water and warlike stores are these dog tags with their briefest of messages.

Is it possible to wear such an attitude in peace time ? Can we issue clear, concise instructions to people who need to know, as to what exactly to be done to preserve this body or to dispose off the body and of course instructions to dispose off other worldly possessions ? I suppose once you can do that,the chances are that you would actually live longer !

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Books , books and ..books

Books , books and ..books, that is the earliest memory of my home. Books in the attic, books on the shelves, books on the table and................books all over the floor. this is partly because of the love for books but more so because of the inherent laziness to organize and being too preoccupied with reading that you don't give the necessary time and effort to earn some real bucks and to put in some real effort to create a library to care for the books you love so much.

my father subscribed for kalki, kumudam, kalkandu, kalaimagal, deepam, manjari, kannan , ambulimama and thughluq, not to mention the deepawali malar published by kalki, sudesamitran, ananda vikatan etc. to top up this reading was the books from libraries, Connemara Pubic Library, and the district library simply called the "mukku library" roughly translated as " nukkad " or "corner".

I never realized till much later in life that majority of our countrymen did not have the luxury of a "street corner library" . Only when I did my BLIS degree at Madras University did I learn that just five of our states have legislation to provide libraries to general public. Another thing I learnt was about the father of library science in India, Shri SR Ranganathan who I believe is distantly related to us.

At the outset, let me make it clear, this post is not to glorify the readers, (though it sounds so) but to understand them, to understand ourselves. Book readers are not superior beings for I have met many people who are much smarter, much more intelligent and much more wiser than some of the voracious readers I have met.

having said that, some of my favourite quotes on books are:-

A book is a garden,an orchard, a storehouse,a party, a company by the way,a counselor, a multitude of counselors . - Henry Ward Beecher

No man can be friendless when he has God and the companionship of good books. - Anonymous

A good Bookshelf is ...
A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civilised countries in a thousand years set in the best order the results of their learning and wisdom.
The men themselves were hidden and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought they did not uncover to their bosom friend is written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age.
– RW Emerson

so said some wise men..

In the run up to republic Day camp, we go through a series of camps to train the cadets. I shared a room with a rajasthani friend of mine, who had a knack for making money, was good at organizing, but was generally not guilty of reading. after a long day, seeing me curled up on the bed with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a book in the other (evidently he had never ever seen a spectacle like that ) he spontaneously remarked ,"sir, aapke lie to book snack ka kaam karta hai" Well, so be it.. book is a snack, book is food, book is drink and it can do any good or harm that food and drink can do.

but once a reader, always a reader and for good or bad you cannot stay away from books. A curse or a blessing I know not.

I would love to die with a book in one hand and a glass in the other, with MS Subbulakshmi's 'kurai onrum illai" streaming in..... oh! what a lovely way to go ! ya, a book shelf within reach, with a choice collection of kahil gibran, paulo coelho, spinoza and our own shankara and ramanuja.
and a pen and notepad at hand to record the 'death poem' of the Japanese, should the maker care to make you his instrument.....

something like

"Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf

I vanish. "

My earliest memory of my interaction with books was not a pleasant one. It was a typical Sunday ; I remember because the magazines , the newspaper man had delivered were "kumudam and kalkandu. Those were the days when week days were marked by the weekly magazines you received and the beginning of the month by the monthly periodicals and a fortnight was marked by.. yes you guessed it by fortnightlies like thughluq. I was in 2nd standard,( folks, I was in first standard when four year old and in second standard when I was four and half years) . I saw my brother reading "kumudam' and promptly I snatched it from him and I pretended to read. He quietly picked up the other magazine and started reading and I had to snatch that too. My father who was watching all this , gave a sound whacking, "enna asigai paaru" . yes, I was jealous , but not because i did not possess the book; i was jealous because he could read and I could not. Today I believe i would love such envy in my kid, or any kid for that matter. I don't remember when I actually started reading , first the jokes, which were a aplenty in tamil magazines and later stories... But the first motive to read was through what we call a negative emotion, 'plain envy'....

................will continue by the grace of God

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

book: Families at Home by Reeti Gadekar

It is the debut novel by Reeti Gadekar. The book was shortlisted for Manasia literary award. The plot is set in Delhi . There is police, business families, middle class and the rustic rural characters. The paragraphs describing the various localities and the people living there in delhi are quite accurate and hilarious. the main characters include juneja the ACP, who sees the world through the eyes of the privileged class with feudal values in personal life and liberal view on everything else. Joseph is a keralite, totally at sea in Delhi, unable to understand the psyche of a delhiite . There is Sajjan Kumar , the 'thug' in the police team and then NK and RK talwars along with NK bhabhiji and RK bhabhiji of the typical punjabi business family.

The murder plot pans out like a B grade detective novel, the language is of Hindusthan Times and vulgarity generally passes for humour, may be that reflects the NCR culture. Probably the subject calls for such a style of writing. one example "....Nothing like the Delhi Policeman to wax eloquent on the orifices of the female body and what could be best deposited there..."

About editing, the less said the better it is. There are fragments of sentences, spelling mistakes, repeated words, and generally the book seemed to have been published in a hurry, when the deadline was more important than quality.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Book : Difficult Daughters

Read 'difficult daughter ' by manju kapoor. a catchy title really; may be the alliteration or just the contrast between the two words; after all daughters are supposed to be sweet , not difficult in any case. Yeah, when they are difficult, they can be very difficult.

This is not really a book review, but just an account of the impression the book created on this reader.

The theme of the story is 'education' vs 'marriage' ; wife as a 'companion' vs 'housekeeper' ; husband as a 'companion' vs ; 'provider'. One gets an impression that marriage constitutes slavery for women and that freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.

today education and marriage are definitely not mutually exclusive options for a woman, though choosing between career(not a job) and housekeeping (or home making) is still a difficult choice to make.

There is a lot of talk about emancipation of women. It is not the feminists, it is not education , it is not inheritance laws, not even the economic independence that has liberated women. If there is one invention that has made a major contribution to liberating women , it is the pill. As long as their most productive years were spent on reproduction and childrearing, where was the time and energy for anything else? Liberation from kitchen , to a great extent has been brought about by gas stove, pressure cooker, microwave oven and the refrigerator. With years saved by the pill and hours saved by the modern gadgets, there is so much more time to think about "emancipation". (Of course, you can save the entire lifetime for yourself by avoiding marriage altogether)

Now, the question is, what after education, career and economic independence ? will it pave the way for healthy interdependence, synergy and harmony at home ???!! or are we heading for more discords, disharmony and dissonance ?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Like the flowing river

read a book by Paulo Coelho "LIke the flowing river". As the title suggests, it is like the flowing river. You feel you are sitting on a sandbar in a river at the sunset hour just watching the river flow all around you ; listening to nature.
The sandbar where the river is three metres below its normal level.
There are no earth-shattering ideas. Every idea in the book has evolved beautifully over time to be expressed in a gentle, inoffensive manner just as the river water caresses you.

Most of the articles are based on the author's personal experience. There are quotes from Bible and Bhagavad Gita as also from an obscure writer. There are some lengthy and profound stories, and some are terse, like a simple paragraph on Japanese tea ceremony.

Like a river, it does not follow any predefined course, but simply makes a course for itself as it flows. Extending the simile further, at times you are just wading through shallow waters and there are times you are totally out of your depth.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Charge, discharge and recharge

With every other gadget today, running on rechargeable batteries, I cannot think of a better analogy for the ebb and flow of one's morale. When you are fully charged, literally nothing or no one can upset you, and when fully drained out, anything or any one can hurt you. Most of the times we are somewhere in between, coasting along, with occasional surges and dips.

Morale is generally defined as "The state of the spirits of a person or group as exhibited by confidence, cheerfulness, discipline, and willingness to perform assigned tasks." I might also add "capacity to tolerate fools and to accept nonsense"

Can every activity in life be categorized into energy drainer, energy neutral and rejuvenator. If so, can your life be so organized that you are always well 'charged' to take on the good and the not so good people and events in your stride. Is it possible to move from one mode to the other at will in a normal work environment ? You are in great spirits and one phone call from a person you particularly dislike and you are 50% drained and is it possible to pick an activity (like listening to your favorite music) to recoup that lost energy? Then, just as among rechargeable batteries, there are good batteries and dubious ones, does 'the quality of battery' differ from person to person . Can you 'train' your battery to charge faster and to last longer ?

Ideally, your work or home environment should be such that you are doing only what you want to do; so it is all life rejuvenating activities, and there is hardly any energy drain. But as mere mortals, we may have to work at jobs we do not always like, with people we don't always get along, and share a home with people not always in agreement with us ; and in short, we may live at occasional or frequent disagreement and dissension at home and work place. I am sure, most people have their own ways to resolve their problems.

While I was posted at an Army public School, I made it a point to walk through the corridors of the school during a recess. Just a couple of cheerful greetings from children can recharge your battery to face a long, difficult conference.

A General officer at Bareilly used to take a circuitous route to his office so that he can go through the recruits training area. An officer from the Gorkha regiment can't be faulted for getting his highs seeing recruits training. Different strokes for different folks.

How is it that some people always look 'Thrilled with Life' and some look "Disgusted with Life' ? (TWL or DWL as we used to say in the academy.) If you have more Life Rejuvenating Activities (LRA) than energy draining activities, I suppose you are always on top , in any situation.

Just as a battery has limited capacity for storage, I suppose we too have our limitations. So the life rejuvenating activities have to be built into our day to day routine so that a person is always in good spirits. can we quantify this ?

For eg , let us take a typical day; getting up in the morning for work can be a pain to most people. Then you have a refreshing cup of coffee or tea. A good bath and prayers can really pep you up. Then commuting to work can be stressful. So, before we get sucked into the office routine, can we squeeze in some short term LRA like meditation, music, or a phone call to a friend or family member ? By the time you get home, anyone at home can make out if you had had a good or a lousy day at office. Whatever be, just as you put your laptop or cellphone on charge, it is time to engage in some long term LRA, followed by a good sleep to face the next day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What keeps the NCC Cadets going ?

By now I have been with NCC cadets, for about seven years and I keep wondering as to what keeps them going. I have been through three different states, poles apart, socially and culturally. Financial Support from the State Govt, the standard of Educational Institutions and the work culture are so different in every State. Yet, one thing that is common is the enthusiasm displayed by the cadets. How can you keep attending camp after camp? After all, these are not five star camps, in the garb of adventure tourism, where all possible amenities are provided under canvas. The accommodation provided is partly built up and partly tentage, generally the less used portion of the local school or college, with some support provided by the local municipal body.

The routine starts at six in the morning and may well go on past the midnight. If lucky, you might get some hostel accommodation, with cooking and dining facilities, but most of the times, the camps are held under abysmal conditions, going by the normal standards of urban lifestyle ; ie a place to cook, a place to eat, a place to wash and bathe, hot meals, amenities like electricity, running water, TV, decent working hours etc. Living in tents is okay for 3-4 days but carrying on for 3-4 months is beyond my understanding. There are at least seven camps in the run up to the Republic Day Camp at Delhi. The competition is so stiff that no one dares to fall sick even for a session leave alone a day; his or her place would immediately be taken by one of the cadets sniffing at his heels. There are cadets who are dropped in the last camp and the subsequent year, to my surprise, they are back again for the grind. What's more, they are ever so cheerful; so much so that, being with them you forget all about the heat, dust, and deprivations. You just feel refreshed and energized in their company.

Recently I had a chat with one of the cadets who had done umpteen number of camps in 2009 and this is what she had to say .... we all are missing the camps sooooo bad...... i'd die if i don't get to attend another one.....

What is it that keeps them going ?!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

children and soldiers

taking a leisurely stroll in a cantonment, i am amazed seeing childen behaving so free and happy... so confident and so spontaneous. The cantonments have lots of open space and yet have the kind of facilities big cities boast of. the kids are so free with the "bhaiyas" (soldiers) who run these facilities.

In the thick of the battle in Srilanka, the tamil kids used to wave at the burly, ferocious looking, dark skinned sardars of the "SIKHLI REGT" is reminded of Tagore's Cabuliwallah. wherever men are away from their families the soft spot within the tough exterior comes to light. It is a pity that only children notice it.

I am reminded of the lines I read somewhere, " the world over, children like soldiers; soldiers like children; perhaps soldiers are children."

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fine Family

I remember reading somewhere, “ A family that prays together, stays together” In most families we have a tradition of all family members having at least one meal together. In the earlier times there was hardly any privacy as most activities including a bath took place in the common space in the house or in the open courtyard. Even reading a newspaper or a weekly magazine was a family activity. Times have changed and there are hardly any spontaneous family activities. Today we have families where each member eats separately, sleeps separately, works separately, relaxes separately, prays separately and yet live under the same roof. Is it something that is a sign of progress or constructive evolution ?

First came the nuclear family and then followed the 'atomic family', where the husband and wife keep spinning around in their own orbits looking after the children in 'time slices' . Some of the indicators of such families are :-

(a) Four or more keys for the main door, to facilitate convenient entry and exit.
(b) A big fridge and a microwave oven
(c) TV in each bed room /living room.
(d) multiple mobile phones
(e) multiple vehicles.

In such a family, it may be assumed that sometime in the evening people do come home and stay under the same roof till morning. In the earlier days people were forced to gather around a central point due to climatic constraints or for sheer convenience. Kitchen is a particularly popular place for a gathering in a cold place like Russia and the English talk of the home and hearth so fondly since it was too cold to stay away from the hearth irrespective of whether you like the people around or not. Then you needed a common place for wash etc. In a tropical country like India In summer people spent the cooler hours in the the courtyard and in winter the daytime was spent under the warm luxuriant winter sun .

Then came TV. A typical Indian middle class family could be seen huddled around the TV watching Ramayana or chitrahar. now with the numerous channels catering to every age group and every interest, you can hardly expect all people to watch the same channel even for a few minutes. More over the families are also have become more heterogeneous.

Today with central air conditioning , attached toilets, and TV / Music Sysytem/ Computer in each room, there is no need to come out except may be for food. but what is food today? pick something fro the refrigerator , have a bite sitting in front of your TV or computer, may be wait for a few minutes at the kitchen to route it via the microwave oven.

Don't we need something that is shared ? even if it be just the physical space ?Architects today, talk about providing a family room in addition to the drawing / dining room. I suppose the family room is a place where people get together to have a conference on some important issues , just as in a conference room in an office. Having a corner designated as family room simply means that bed rooms are for individuals and the drawing /dining rooms for the visitors. Those were the days when the entire house was family room.

With the common physical space gone, what is left now is the cyber space.. If you want to be closer to your children look to his /her profile . There you can come to know from the 'status ' proclaimed to the whole world that your offspring "had a great game today........" or “in a lousy mood....”

I suppose, the least we can do is to make the living room a place where people can spend a few minutes before leaving the house or after coming back. to read a newspaper, watch TV, relax over a cup of coffee or cold drink or simply listen to the sounds in the house; the comforting sounds people moving about, a gentle aroma of a meal being prepared, children playing or fighting among each other.

my space, our space and a place under the sun to find yourself and be yourself

Staking claim to territory/space or fighting for territory is prevalent among all creatures.

As times change the game of 'my space and our space' is manifested in differnt ways,; in the office it is a cornor office or a larger cabin and while travelling it is a window seat or front row. At home , it is not so obvious, but every one including the family pet, finds the most comfortable place for himself/or herself.

While the mundane aspect may be a matter of physical comfort, the more important factor would be the need for privacy, or the need for company. A four year old, may jockey for a place closer to his dad(or mum ).

A couple may look for a place to relax by themselves.

It is not that only the well to do people 'find' theirspace. Look at this villager comfortably perched on a roof top watching the sunset. He seems to be as much at ease, as a sophisticated lady in her drawing room.

It is always a balance between too much proximity which can be intrusive or too much distance leading to loneliness. At Ahmadnagar, during one of the many army courses I have been through, I made it a point to go for an early morning jog. At the end of the run I would stop to enjoy the sunrise. It was a kind of lonely place , a gently sloping ground, in the middle of nowhere. Everyday, without fail, en elderly couple would be sitting there well before the sunrise. They would sit about four feet apart , never closer nor farther. Since the place was desolate, there was no dearth for space. Probably, getting closer would crowd them and getting farther would be lack of company; In any case there was no verbal communication.

There is a requirement of someone near and dear within earshot distance yet non intrusive. To some extent this requirement is fulfilled by non stop FM radio or TV. An added advantage with this surrogate companion is that you can set the volume or turn it off when you want.

The comforting sound of pots and pans, or bangles accompanied by the aroma of cooking can actually be better than a non stop chat. This being the male perspective, I am sure ladies would find it good to have some signs of the presence of a man around; non intrusive I mean. Some music, a game on TV, ruffling of newspaper, cursing or even snoring. Of course, the signs of children in the house is generally distracting , but the absence of the mess they create may be disturbing or even depressing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why I don't want to be a normal person ?

My daughter appeared for a music theory exam at bhopal. the music teacher had assured her that she would be helped, to which my daughter had shot back , "i don't cheat"

Eventually the exam was conducted on the terrace of a friend's private house (music teacher's freind) . most of the candidates were adults, who were not only copying from books but had also to be helped by the invigilators to do just that. my daughter kept watching the whole thing while she refused to be part of the cheating that was going on.

her music teacher saw her answer paper, and was surprised to find that many of the answers were correct. He was referring to a book and could find some answers incorrect and offered to help ,"just two lines....". My daughter refused flatly. then came the gem,

" aapka mummy bahut strict hai, papa to normal hai na?"

when i heard that i actually felt so offended. what does it mean when an average indian today, specially on the northern side of the Vindhyas call you normal?

What is a 'normal' person expected to do in this time (kaliyug) and space (bharatvarsh) ?

At the workplace

- Do minimum work and get maximum pay, perks and privilages and 'the other income'; hardwork even a donkey can do, we are human's na ?

As a parent

- admit your child in the institution where you want him to be, after buying/making necessary certificates and negotiating the right price for the right service

As a student

- get maximum marks with minimum studies after all you are training yourself to do the same at the 'workplace'

As a trader /businessman

- Obtain maximum returns for minimum services or goods, afterall you have to get rich quick to prove yourself.

As a taxpayer

- What tax and why ? just pay whatever it takes to avoid tax.

As a teacher

- Earn more from tutorials while conserving time and energy at regular teaching

As a doctor

- Expend your time and effort only on such treatment that maximizes the bill.

As a general citizen

- Spit in public places
- buy a platform ticket, parking ticket or traveling ticket only where absolutely necessary
- follow only such laws/rules where infringements are monitored and where the rates for bribe is higher than the cost of abiding the law.

.....and many more

under such circumstances, It would definitely be a compliment when you hear someone say "Oh, he is abnormal"