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Friday, November 13, 2009

An island of sanity in this maddening world!

Brings back fond baba would take us first to the campus Gurudwara and then the temple! Both adjacent! I still cannot enter a Gurudwara without remembering him! Went to Leh army temple this year, the Corps mandir, on Hanuman Jayanti! The army had the Gurudwara, Church and Temple all in one hall...not even a partition! Even a Tibetan shrine! I found it unremarkable....the day I hear army chaps discuss religion disrapagingly, I think it will be a most frightening day for me. When Raj Jackass Thackeray rabble roused "Maharastra For the Marathas/ Marathis?, I actually prayed that the very same issue should turn around and boomerang on him a thousandfold! It did...but since he is still standing, the boomarang will strike again, hopefully before long! Everytime I hear a ghoul in the garb of a politician talk of 'protecting the minority" and religion, I wish i could see him lashed instantly! Dead, destroyed, rotting.. and all that he represents, lying as dust!

I maintain that service even for a year as a Defence person for each man and woman should be mandatory! And spent guarding our frontiers! We shall then see who survives...The Hindu, the Muslim, the Christian, the Sikh...or just the Indian!

As a child, I saw lohri celebrations and danced around bonfires and it was a very welcome day for one ate as many revaris and peanut and popcorn preparations as one could desire! Only very greedy children will understand this joy. I have had sevai on Eid, sent home by fellow officers wives', in huge bowls for they did know that my mum possessed a greedy child! I have celebrated Pongal, by dancing in group dances, singing songs I did not know but learnt by rote! I did not even care what Pongal was! it was a holiday and great fun for the entire campus has evening programmes! I considered myself Sikh when my dad was posted in Punjab...would wish all "Sat Sri Akal" without knowing what it meant! Pronounced it as 'Sassriakal" and thought it was one word! I never heard my elders talk of their religion as the chosen one, the others less! I never heard them preach hatred or intolerence! Jamalludin, in my class, was merely a boy with a long name! I did not know about halal and jhatka meat till well after marriage...yes, where did I live?....I lived in defence campuses! I was in college when Indira Gandhi was assasinated. And I was a-boil with rage and horror. Was a "civilian" by then, living in hostel, facing sexist comments by strange men on roads and trying hard to control my temper and not go chasing after them and telling them to call their moms "sexy"! (I blame all mothers when their sons misbehave with women....why on earth did their mothers not do their jobs! i have a son and the day some girl complains that he called her "maal, or sexy", or something similar. or that he pinched her, manhandled her, I will slap myself first and then think what to do with my son later!) Sexy is NOT a does not mean beauty! It implies that the woman is objectified! And while we are on this topic, Ila Arun did women a great disservice by singing the Choli song! If the music director wanted to have the song sung, HE should have sung it! Sly, double meaning, low bred hound! I have had this song sung to me...believe me, all my ladylike instincts abandoned me then and all I wanted to do was chase that sexist ass, sit on him and pummel him till he screamed for mercy! I have actually chased a guy on a cycle once when he sang out merrily to me....he was lucky as I have never been a runner yet outrage fuelled me to the extent that I ran along him for a few seconds till he pedalled hard with his rear in the air, and got away! May Ila Arun, the music writer and all the masterminds behind such songs find that their "art" flees them the instant they get down to penning such godawful lines! Service will benefit them too. Who will one call "maal" in a campus? The lady or girl is a fellow officer's wife or daughter or sister! And she knows her place in the world! And she is not afraid! She probably will not go for backup and will scream so long and hard that one will wish for a quick beating and then a getaway! The Forces do not foster an eve teasing culture!

Newspapers talk of drunk jawans misbehaving with women on a girl travelling alone, it was my fervent wish "God, let me get in the compartment filled with jawans! They will protect me! Save me from the daily commuters and the "students"! You can only begin to understand me if you have been a young female travelling alone in our trains! Polka dotted with blue bruises by the time one disembarked! Marked as prey the moment you were spotted! I would go up to the rowdiest, roughest looking lout, look him in the eyes, call him "bhaiya" and ask for help with my luggage! Never failed! The Forces teaches you survival too!

I got carried read the article below....worth a read!

May our Armed Forces win the favour of all Gods! May they prevail! And may their jobs again acquire the glory and honour that was once associated with them! MAY THE WARRIOR ALWAYS BE ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE ONES HE PROTECTS....IN LIFE AND IN DEATH AND FAR BEYOND THE GRAVE!

...and may the little bit of the 'forces girl' left in me survive as long as I live for she is one of my best bits!

Any one more secular than the army?

As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular' during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.

In the army, each officer identifies with the religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs, masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army. It saved us the walk.

Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.
In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual Yatra. It said, 'Best wishes from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.
On another instance, I remember a commanding officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal casualties.

One day, the junior commissioned officer of the company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major Sharma and said, "Sahib, ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"

Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar went away and that night, huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!
How many of us know that along the entire border with Pakistan, our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays? The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious significance for the Muslims.

In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.

I remember the first Sikh festival days after the event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand."
We were deployed on the Line of Control those days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.
The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards this post, we will mow you down."

Finally, a real -- and true -- gem....

Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were overheard discussing this a day before Christmas. "Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?" asked Sepoy Singh.
"It is Christmas," replied the wiser Naik Singh.
"But what is Christmas?"
"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp, "is the guruparb of the Christians."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Life....the journey's been good!

After reading Subroto Bagchi’s article which you had sent, I had the overwhelming urge to read the book”Go, Kiss The World.” Coincidentally Ajit was here when I picked it up at a bookstore and he told me he had it lying back at his office. I read it and am re-reading it! It’s a powerful book made all the more so as, I think, we all can identify with his writing….he could be describing my parents’ and grandparents’ philosophy of life.
We went through a large part of childhood minus a fridge and then a TV as my dad could not see their need! And we walked….everywhere! I never gave these incidents much importance! I have always believed that I have been lucky…now I realize it is so because of the attitude I had imbibed unconsciously! When I got married to Ajit and went around in the beat-up vehicle, I was really grateful that I had bid farewell to the DTC buses…and to the bad hair days courtesy my dad’s scooter! A bare house, post wedding, was pure possibility….so many things to look forward to! The yearly bonus lifted my spirits till it came again…Ajit now gives me that amount as spending money and it is not appreciated half as much!
I will read out the book to Sangram and we will pause and talk about it. We all talk about how times have changed….but I was overcome with nostalgia for what we had while growing up and what our kids will never get! A simple life….where possessions were just that….they did not define us! Four glasses of milk in a day religiously…only actual throwing up could make one miss that ghastly glass once! One cold drink per child not matter what the occasion…no counting calories, no fussing over food…we ran about so much we ate everything that was edible and sometimes, some that was not…my teenaged sister ate an entire rasgolla tin, after lunch, (all 48 pieces) which had been left as it was “suspect”! She said that they were ‘sourish’ so she drank all the rasa to make up! We observed her carefully that afternoon but she suffered no ill-effects!

Sometimes, some things make one pause and reflect. This book did this to me. And as I re-evaluate my life and weigh it, I know I would not make any changes…the journey has been good!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


It was a typical pre-Indepence village in the heart of UP, baked mud houses with thatched roofs, a cow or two tied in the middle of the courtyard, goats leaping free, chickens scratching in the dust, no electricity, no running water, no sewage system. The village had a one section school held under a sprawling banyan which protected them during the blazing summer months. During winter, the solitary teacher and his charges moved out from under the shade in the welcome heat of a benign sun. The boy was a happy lad, much favoured by his mother, running about barefeet with his myriad cousins, much like all the other kids in play, climbing trees and jumping in the vast pond where buffaloes joined them on particularly hot days, doing what little boys do when they are able to run free. What separated him from the others was when he was in school! The school had boys of varied ages, all sitting on the ground, learning aloud by rote what their ‘master’ deemed fit. Sometimes he would send Bholu to wash his buffalo during school hours, sometimes it was Chiddi who went to assist his wife in her household chores…the school teacher was the undisputed king and his word law! He would sometimes get up leisurely and catch a daydreaming boy by his ear and wring him rudely back to reality, sometimes whack a slow to learn boy on his back, secure in his knowledge that physical pain often made minds keener and sharper. He never touched the young lad. One day, he called the father and told him that the lad had learnt all that could be learnt in the little open school under the tree. The father sent his boy to a larger school which was far further and one had to walk a few miles to reach it. For the sake of company, the father sent his older son and a few nephews along too. The lad soon outpaced his elder brothers and completed his schooling.
The father had realized that he had an unusual boy on his hands and made the decision of sending the boy to the city where as was expected, the boy fared well and was ready for college. The father sold some land, gathered some money and sent his son abroad for further education. The boy lived and studied in a foreign land, among an alien culture with limited resources. He made friends and lived and laughed and studied ferociously. And after seven years of exile he came back home.
Two days later he was attending his own wedding to a bride he had not seen, let alone met. She came from a vastly different background than his. He applied for a job, got it and so joined the Indian Air Force at 26 yrs.
In time he had two daughters who went to convent schools and sometimes, his wife and daughters would giggle helplessly when he called a donkey a dunkey. Once he told his girl that a “steak” was pronounced as “stake’ and she did not believe him until he brought out the dictionary. He was a fun father but very short of time and when the girls would come into his room to bid him goodnight, they would find him sitting, surrounded with books and scribbling away in reams and reams of paper. When they got up in the morning, the light in his room would still be on and when they peeped in, he would still be studying. On rare occasions, he would suddenly burst out of that cell and sing songs in a language none of the women could understand and then disclose that it was a French or a German song to his wide eyed audience.
The younger daughter would creep into that room and do her homework very importantly there and if she had important questions, of which there were many, she would always go to him for answers. When all the neighbours bought fridges, he did not as he found it pointless. And TVs were relegated to the same category….he would teach all his kids and their playmates on holidays under a guava tree in the lawn and the lessons were endless. The kids would disappear on by one, on noiseless feet after a few hours….the final hapless youngster would ultimately be rescued by an irate mother late in the day. He believed firmly in feeding the kids well and in physical exercise.

The children grew up and married, left home. And one day, the younger daughter who was now a mother herself, decided to go with her father back to the little village “to discover her roots” and so father and daughter came full circle to the tiny village with the mud baked houses and thatched roofs. And the girl turned woman then realized who her father really was. He was an ordinary Indian with an extraordinary mind who had leapt out of a village straight into the big world, straddling two lifestyles, different cultures, who had changed so much yet remained so intrinsically the same! Such a long journey traversed with such humility and matter of factness!
Yes, the lad is my father and I’m the younger daughter. I speak English effortlessly (French with effort) and drive myself around, equally at home in saris and jeans. I have one child and two dogs and live a life so different from the women in the village that we could be living in separate universes. And it happened all because a young brilliant lad in a village had the courage to leap into the vast unknown!

On Independence Day

My grandfather was a colonel in the Army and his three sons joined him there. My earliest memory is how alive the house seemed with all these four 6 footers together. Larger than life with fierce moustaches of all types…my nana amd mamas were my earliest heroes. I extended this same unconditional love to the Armed Forces. The olive greens, the black boots lined up in a military row, gleaming like only a soldier’s boots can, the dress uniforms with the polished gold bottons, the solitary camp cot whose narrow confines held all of us wriggling in it like puppies, the white enamel mugs which seemed to hold the very essence of this glamorous life….I think I loved all of it with a white hot intensity.

My father was also in the Forces…I saw another aspect of the Forces with him…fearless warriors patrolling the very skies….I grew up on campuses and I did not know what fear meant. We were the military kids and we were the protectors. I remember being puzzled when adults questioned me “who are you?’…I actually replied that I was an Indian. I got married outside the forces and saw a different side of life…but my love affair with the Forces never came to a halt. I have seen life come a full circle…when I was really young, the finest of the fine entered our Armed Forces. It was a matter of pride and honour to serve one’s country. And those who joined here could be spotted a mile off…they never tolerated any injustice , they were truly fearless…I had one mama who must have been in his late forties, who while escorting me beat up a guy who said something very nasty to me and who had made the mistake of thinking that I was traveling alone! The way my mama thrashed him with just his bare hands was a sight to behold. The predator turned prey did not have breath in his body to beg for mercy! Contrast that to the hordes who pass by when a woman is being molested and choose to keep mum! I have countless such stories…my nana aged but he still remained a lion. When one walked with him, one could sense the aura of powerful protection he exuded!

Then I saw how people began avoiding a career in the Forces. To become a soldier was now associated with foolishness…keeping pace with the marching materialism, fighting for one’s country was equated with outdated notions of idealism. What place does idealism have in our lives today? What do we teach our kids…do we teach them at winning is what counts or do we teach them that losing gracefully too is an art? Money is the biggest motivator for us today…money and the soldier are opposing forces. A Soldier cannot be money minded! A business man is money oriented, so is a trader, so is a householder! A soldier protects and defends…he fights. No more and no less!

And what do we give him in return? I ask you this question…how do we repay a man who takes up arms in our defence? How can we repay them? These questions are so relevant today because we see it for ourselves that our systems are collapsing but our Armed Forces still stand tall. Give a soldier his due. He asks for nothing so should we take him so much for granted? While rescuing frightened people during the Mumbai attacks in November, a soldier told them “Do not fear! To get at you, they will have to get me first,”….just one line but what a world of meaning!

If we all did our duty as bravely and unflinchingly as the soldier, we would be in a far happier position today. For to live life with honour is still one of the finest tenets to follow!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Battle of Tololing Hill & Knoll - Capt Vijayant Thapar

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over,
the martyr dies and his rule begins”
..Soren Kierkegaard

"It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep."- Italian proverb

Here’s the saga of a 22 year old. He lived his one day as a lion. And what a story he left behind. Captain Vijayant Thapar (Robin) of 2 Rajputana Rifles, was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously. His grandmother received it. Capt Thapar was the son of an Army officer and his grandfather too had served in the Army as an officer!

Vijyant after getting commissioned on the 12th Dec'98, joined the 2 Rajputana Rifles at Gwalior. The Battalion stayed barely for a month before they moved to Kashmir to check counter insurgency. Before being inducted he was given some training in an Army establishment then moved to Kupwara where he was involved in two fierce encounters. While talking to his mother on telephone he described how he lived through a live encounter in which about thirty bullets were fired at him. While still involved in this counter insurgency tasks, orders were received for the unit to move to Drass to evict the enemy who had occupied Tololing, Tiger Hill, and adjoining heights. Vijyant moved under the command of his CO, Col. M.B. Rabindernath, VrC and his Company Commander Major P. Acharya. The Battalion was then given the task of capturing Tololing. This was a God sent opportunity for Vijyant as he was an officer always looking for action. After the initial assault by Major Mohit Saxena was held up, on the night of 12th June'99 Capt. Vijyant Thapar led his platoon to capture Barbad Bunker. His diary notes shows how in the close combat he killed two militants and his disappointment at not being able to capture two enemies alive.

Battle of Tololing Knoll and Three Pimples
2 Raj Rif was given the task of captaining Toiling Knoll, Three Pimples. In this actions Robin fought like a man and true soldier. These forbidding heights were held by enemy Northern Light Infantry (NLI) . They had well constructed fortification very well stocked, well sited, dominating the narrow ridge line on which 2 Raj Rif had to attack. During this Battle Vijyant captured a Pakistani position called Barbad Bunker Pt. 4590. Tololing was the first victory for Indian Army on 13th June 1999 and has gone into history as a turning point in the war.
Atop Barbad Bunker position

After the successful capture of Tololing he spoke to his mother on V-Sat telephone and proudly said "Mama we have captured Tololing". Later on 28 June, 2 Raj. Rif. was given the task of capturing Three Pimples, Knoll and Lone Hill area. The attack started with Vijyant's platoon leading on a full moon night along a razor sharp ridge with no cover to offer. There was intense and accurate artillery shelling and heavy enemy fire. He lost some of his dear men and some more were injured causing the attack to be disrupted. However with his indominable spirit and tremendous urge to capture Knoll he got together, the remenants of his men and moved through a ravine to face the enemy. It was a full moon night . Moreover this was an impossible position to capture. The troops of 6 Northern Light Infantry had all the advantages. Strongly prepared positions, one narrow knife edge ridge, with precipitous slopes on both side, ravines thousands of feet deep, devoid of cover and almost vertical climbs at places.

At 8PM the attack commenced with a thunderous shatter as 120 guns opened fire, rockets hit up the sky. Shells, own and Pakistani covered the whole area mixed with lethal machine gun fire. Into this inferno 2 Raj Rif moved with Capt. Vijyant Thapar leading the attack. Among the first to fall in this rain of death was sepoy Jagmal Singh, Vijyant's very dear orderly.

While the exchange of fire was going on, full of excitement, Vijyant reached his Company which had already secured a foothold on Knoll. By this time his Company Commander Major P. Achrya had been killed. At this news Vijyant's anger was explosive. He surged ahead with his colleague Naik Tilak Singh. Both of them started engaging the enemy merely 15 mts. away. There were two enemy machine guns firing towards them. After about an hour and a half of fierceful exchange of bullets and abuses Vijyant decided that he had to end the enemy. As he moved up to do so a burst of fire struck him on his head. He fell in the arms of his comrade Naik Tilak Singh. A brave son of India had fallen. It was after that the men of his company charged and fully captured Knoll. The victory at Knoll on 29 June 1999, is a saga of bravery unmatched, and unbounded grit and determination. Courage alone and unflinching faith in almighty God alone turned a tactically impossible situation into a victory.

And this is the last letter he wrote to his family

Dearest Papa Mama Birdie and Granny,

1. By the time you get this letter, I'll be observing you all from the sky enjoying the hospitality of Apsaras.

2. I have no regrets, in fact even if I become a human again I'll join the Army and fight for the nation.
3. If you can, please come and see where the Indian Army fought for your tomorrow.

4. As far as this unit is concerned the new chaps should be told about this sacrifice.I hope my photo will be kept in the 'A' Coy mandir with Karni Mata.

5. Whatever organ can be taken, should be done.

6. Contribute some money to orphanage and keep giving 50/- Rs to Ruksana per month and meet Yogi Baba.
7. Best of luck to Birdie, never forget this sacrifice of these men. Papa you should feel proud. Mama so should you, meet ________ ( I loved her). Mamaji forgive me for evrything wrong I did.

Ok then its time for me to join my clan of the Dirty Dozen. My assault party has 12 chaps.

Best of luck to you all
Live life kingsize

Yours, Robin

I’m weeping like a fool here, my nose and eyes streaming. I have no composure! And I have this deep sense of loss…to lose a man who had such purity of thought! To know that one could die, and to run forth to embrace that death willingly! At 22!! This was an exceptional person. And he makes me feel so proud! Till the time India breeds soldiers of such mettle, we are safe in the face of any danger. Yet the mind rebels…how can men sacrifice themselves so willingly for us, their countrymen and we sit back and take it as our due? What do we give back? And how? Senator Robert F. Kennedy said "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. That ripple builds others. Those ripples - crossing each other from a million different centers of energy - build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice."

Khushnaseeb hai wo jo
Watan pe mit jaate hai
Mar kar bhi wo log
Amar ho jaate hai
Karta hoon tumhe saalam
E-watan pe mitne walo
Tumhari har saans mein basta
Tirange ka naseeb hai

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hero of Batalik - Maj Sarvanan

After serving with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka for a couple of years, Lieutenant Colonel A Mariappan was finally returning home. But he could not make it to his family. Enroute, he died in a road accident in Bangalore.

His oldest son, Sarvanan, was only 14.

Saravanan, now a Major in the Indian Army, was also coming home. His body was being brought in a coffin draped in the Indian tricolour. The 27-year-old officer had died defending the peaks of Batalik in the Kargil war. His body had lain in the snow for a whole month, caught in a no-man's lands between Indian and Pakistani positions.

"Every time we go to recover the body, the Pakis open fire and if one of their men tries to claim the body, we open fire. That is why his body remains where it is," a senior army officer had then said.

Major Sarvanan's mother had lost her husband and now her only son.

"My son was the first to fall and the last to return," she said remembering him in her home in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu.

Pictures of Major Sarvanan in his home; inset, his father Lieutenant Colonel Mariappan.

Major Mariappan Saravanan was born on August 10, 1972 on the island of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. His father Lieutenant Colonel A Mariappan was a doctor in the army. After completing his schooling in various places -- Belgaum, Kannoor, Gurdaspur, Jorhat and Bihar, he joined St Joseph's College in Tiruchi which was founded in 1844.

"After college he tried to get into the National Defence Academy and landed up in the Officers Training Academy," says his closest friend Amalraj. He graduated from the OTA in 1996 and joined the First Bihar Regiment as a Lieutenant. He was made Captain the following year and Major in 1999.

"I was training with the Army in Assam, his unit was there so we managed to meet, from there they went straight to Kargil," says Amalraj in palpable grief. They were a bunch of three friends -- Saravanan, Karthik and Amalraj. A few years ago, they had made a trip to Kanyakumari. On the way, their bus driver fell asleep on the wheel and crashed headlong into an incoming lorry. "Seven people died on the spot and many were injured. We students were in a shock. But not Saravanan, he was cool. He went about checking the dead. Then he helped the injured into passing vehicles and took them to hospital. It was his Army background that made him react to an emergency so calmly and resolutely." Amalraj is an IPS officer now and the Superintendent of Police in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

St Jospeh's College, Tiruchi; Major Sarvanan as a child.

'There was this Sippy theatre in Tiruchi. It used to show English movies," says the other friend Karthik, "We never missed even one. Saravanan was a bike freak. We even planned to take part in a Scissors rally. We could not find a sponsor and the plan fizzled out." Karthik is now a businessman in Theni and recounts the college election as if it were just yesterday. "In our college, the Chairman was always a member of some political party or a very rich kid. We changed that. We decided to make Saravanan the Chairman in our final year and succeeded. It was the first time the college had an intelligent chairman in a long time."

Major Sarvanan with his mother.
Sarvanan's mother Amithavalli Mariappan was very sad the day I met her. It was her son's birthday. He would have been 32. Her daughters -- Chitra, a doctor in Chennai and Revathy, a software engineer in the US -- would call. Her son was so industrious, she said. Always fixing his bike or other electrical items in the house. He hardly ever sat still. He was a good son who came home every year for his holidays and called her almost each day.

When he had told her that he wanted to join the Army, she never discouraged him even after losing her officer-husband.

"He came home before the Kargil war. He had to attend a friend's marriage and stayed with us for one-and-a-half months. The last time he called was to tell us his unit was shifting. He never told us he was going to Kargil, we thought it was one of the regular postings." Sarvanan told her he would call. He didn't call for 15 days after that.

The First Bihar Regiment was in Assam when the Kargil war broke out. They were ordered to move to Kargil, Jammu & Kashmir. From the heat of Assam to the cold of Kargil wasn't an easy change. There wasn't enough protective weather gear.

On the night of May 28, 1999, Major Sarvanan was assigned the task of capturing a well-fortified Pakistani position at 14,229 feet in the Batalik sector. He and his men launched an attack at 0400 hours. Despite intensive firing from the enemy with artillery and automatic weapons, they charged into a volley of bullets. Saravanan fired a rocket launcher into the enemy position

that killed two enemy soldiers. During the combat, he was hit by a splinter and injured but the Major continued fighting. His Commanding Officer ordered him to retreat because too many Indian soldiers had been injured.

'Ghenghis Khan fall back,' came the order.
'Not today sir, we are very close to the objective,' replied Sarvanan who was codenamed Ghenghis Khan. He killed two more invaders but this time he was hit by a bullet in the head.

Major Sarvanan fell defending his country, his body nestled in the snow. As if mother nature had held her child close to her bosom and kept him fresh. He died at 6.30 am.

A friend in Bangalore called his mother and told her Saravanan had died in Kargil. "We switched on the television and saw it in a news bulletin."

Two days later, the official telegram arrived. "He was the first officer to fall and the last one to come back. Almost as if he did not want to leave the border till the enemy was thrown out," says his mother.

Major Sarvanan's body was recovered on July 8, 1999, 41 days after he died. The entire town of Tiruchi turned up to attend the funeral. "It was a fitting tribute to him," says Father John Britto, his College principal.

Had he lived, the family would have celebrated his wedding in June -- just a month after he passed away. They had liked a girl and sent her picture to him. Major Sarvanan had agreed to marry her.

The funeral in Tiruchi

Major Saravanan's unit was the first to find out that the Pakistanis up there were heavily armed. Before that it was thought they were only armed with light weapons. His sacrifice brought out the extent of the weaponry of the enemy and his deed did not go unrecognised. A grateful Indian Army gave him the title 'The Hero of Batalik.' The Tamil Nadu Government has introduced a Chapter in class VII called -- 'They brought home the hero dead,' which is a true inspiration to the children who read it.

The President awarded him a Vir Chakra for his admirable courage. His Commanding Officer came for Major Sarvanan's funeral and told his mother: 'You are not Saravanan's mother alone, you are a mother to the nation.'

"She is a very courageous lady," says Father Britto, "we invited her to a few functions after his death and she spoke very bravely. Probably the army background makes her strong."

His mother receives the Vir Chakra from President K R Narayanan.

In Major Sarvanan's home, the prayer room has photos of his father and him, both revered like the other gods in that room. "His name was Saravanan but we used to call him Saro," says Karthik, "Today I have named my daughter Saro after him."

When Major Sarvanan's funeral pyre was lit by his uncle, a retired army man, a multitude of people stood there in grief. They were friends, relatives and many others who did not know him while he lived. They had come to honour a soldier who had died defending his country and theirs.
"We tell his story to students as an example of bravery. He is an icon for them. They all want to be like him," says Principal Britto. On the College notice board is a colourful poster beckoning young people to join the Indian Army. Some inspired by Saravanan, have joined.

Eleven years ago, Major Sarvanan was martyred but he still lives on in the hearts of those who loved him. In the name of his friends' child, and in the annals of a grateful nation.

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao, Kargil hero

The first of the Kargil War Heroes and their tales!

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao
.....We are proud of you Nachiketa!

Let's begin with a timeless tale, one that has been passed down from generation to generation in the great land of India. The hero of this tale is a young man by the name of Nachiketa. According to Indian history, he is the youth who goes to Yama, the Lord of Death, in order to discover the true meaning of Life. The dialogue between Nachiketa and the Lord of Death is contained in the immortal work, the Katha Upanishad. This work explains the most timeless question of all existence, "What lies beyond Death"? And it was Nachiketa who had the courage to confront even Death in his pursuit of the answer. In India, the mere mention of Nachiketa's name is instantly recognized as synonymous with the feeling of indomitable spirit, spiritual bravery and insurmountable courage in every human being.

It is no coincidence that the brave young soldier who is currently in the clutches of our enemy, holds the same name; Nachiketa. ( Nachiketa was released from Enemy captivity on 4th June 99)

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa Rao turned 26 today. He had no fatherly blessings, sisterly hugs or sweetmeats to celebrate the event. Nachiketa probably spent his birthday in a dark and dangerous Pakistani prison, mocked by jeers of Jihad and insults. He is probably remembering the moments before he crashed onto Pakistani ground and felt the clammy grip of Pakistani fingers as they held him down.

It was a gloomy day when Nachiketa had set out with his squadron to carry out another air strike against the Islamic terrorists who were holed up in the treacherous snow-clad terrain of India's Kashmir. The landscape is littered with dangerously rocky ridges and shadowy valleys, which greatly hamper maneuverability and ease of flight. The objective was simple; to repulse the attempt by Pakistani troops lurking on the mountains along the Line of Control. For almost a week they had been trying to infiltrate into sovereign India's territory. As he flew over the mountains an ominous mist surrounded his plane and Nachiketa realized that he was right on the edge of the Line of Control. As he began veering his aircraft back towards Indian territory a sudden sputtering clued him to the fact that his engine had died out in a burst of flame as his MiG-27 combat Jet developed mechanical failure. Was it mechanical failure or Pakistani fire that had disrupted the engine? Who knows...

The last words that his colleagues heard before he faded out were: " Nachi - engine flame-out, relighting.... Nachi ejecting now." and then an ominous silence. As Nachiketa parachuted down the dark ragged edges of the snow-clad mountains, the sky was lit a brilliant red by the giant explosion of his hapless aircraft. And then suddenly as he landed on the rocky surface, Nachiketa observed a speck in the sky. It was his fellow pilot, a daredevil Squadron Leader by the name of Ajay Ahuja, hovering over in his MiG-21 straining his eyes to catch sight of the landing area of his colleague.

Suddenly an explosion reverberated across the horizon, as Nachiketa recoiled in horror. A missile from the Afghani Mujahideen stockpile found its mark and hit Ahuja's plane. Ahuja frantically radioed his team leader Hercules One, "missile hit" his voice crackled and then again a deathly silence.

Nachiketa must have watched in anticipation as Ajay parachuted out of his aircraft to escape the flames. There was a resounding crack as Ajay broke his left knee during the fall, and then all of a sudden menacingly dark shadows dressed in Pakistani Army uniforms, were lifting their guns and shooting Ajay at point blank range. They fired not once but twice straight through his head and heart. As Ajay and the rules of the Geneva Convention lay in a pool of blood, Nachiketa raised himself to his feet and put all his strength into a break for escape. When the menacing outlines of the Pakistani soldiers started looming closer in pursuit, he drew out his 9-mm pistol and fired eight straight rounds at them with unfailing accuracy. How the Jehadi blood must have boiled at this intolerable insolence! There were far too many to run from and Nachiketa must have steeled himself to accept his fate with determination as the rough callused hands of the Islamic Jehadis grabbed him.

He was thrown into the dank confines of a Pakistani prison. On Friday, the Pakistanis in a venomous display of cruelty paraded him in front of journalists, including representatives of international news channels like BBC and Voice of America. As the obscene parade continued, he was not allowed to speak to the reporters as Pakistani army personnel kept him at least at a distance of about 30 feet. "There are certain procedures which have to be followed," the Pakistani officials told journalists, who waved at the Indian pilot. He was touted as a "Prisoner of War" regardless of the fact that no war had been declared. Journalists observed a huge large red welt deepening across his forehead as Nachiketa faced them with calm serenity and strength etched into every line of his face. "He is being treated well and taken care of" sneered the Muslims as the journalists' attempts to communicate with Nachiketa were rebuffed by them. Pakistan's Information Minister Mushahid Hussain 's face wore the same sneer as he commented on how Nachiketa was "safe and sound" and being treated according to "Islamic traditions of hospitality". Indeed the same traditions of Islamic hospitality must have been aroused in Pakistani breasts as they shot Ajay Ahuja at point blank range, in an act of utmost cowardice and depravation.

It is these same Islamic traditions of hospitality which translate into cruel extremes of torture and inhuman treatment. Was it not Prophet Mohammed who set the standard for these traditions when he had killed and murdered millions of Jews and Pagans taken prisoner by his terrorist army? But remember it is no coincidence that the young man who is in Islamic custody right now is named Nachiketa in the tradition of that ancient brave soul of India. Just as that Nachiketa walked calmly into the jaws of death and walked out unscathed, so too will this warrior.

The incident is described clearly in the Katha Upanishad. As Nachiketa asks Lord Yama the secret of death, he sees the brilliance inherent in the youth and replies in a voice filled with wisdom.

"The wise, realizing through effort
The Timeless Self beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
Those who know they are not mere body or mind,
But the infinite Self, the Divine
The essence of existence, they discover the source
of all joy and live in the truth of it forever.
I see the doors of joy are opening
for you, O Nachiketa...."

So too have the doors of joy and fame immemorial been opened for our brave Nachiketa of the Indian Air Force. So too have the doors of joy opened for Ajay Ahuja who gave up his life in the Supreme sacrifice for his motherland. The name Ajay means "undefeatable" and even in his death Squadron Leader Ahuja has shown us the true meaning of this word. He was cremated with full military honors in a cremation ground in village Kili Nihal Singhwala near Bisiana Air Force Station. His brave four year-old-son Ankush helped by his relatives lit the funeral pyre in the presence of his widow Alka and a large number of Air Force personnel and civilians.
His memory will spur us on to punish those cowards who try in vain to usurp our territory!

Lest WE Forget

26th July is Martyr's Day. It marks 10 years since the Kargil War...a war that no nation other than India recognises! A war that threw up daily acts of such raw courage that had we been a nation where the brave are feted, we would have run out of accolades. A war that would have had disastrous results had the Indian Armed Forces not proved itself to be one of the best in the world. A war that happened because we treated Pakistan and the threat it poses lightly. A decade later, we saw ‘Operation Kasab and his gang’ and the havoc they created in the heart of India ’s financial capital.

The heroes of Kargil are long gone, their work done. Each of their stories reads like a drumroll of honour. Men who were little more than boys and who turned into legends! I have not forgotten Capt. Vikram Batra, Capt Anuj Nayyar, Lt Vijayant Thapar, Lt Saurabh Kalia, Maj Ajay Jasrotia, and the countless others …their tales of valour must be read out to our children. We cannot afford to forget those who protected us at such odds!

There is a war still being fought in Kashmir where a young 25 year old Major fights with fifteen bullets in him and takes down three fidayeen down with him. We read about these men and turn the page. It is time to stand up and acknowledge our debt to the Armed Forces, time to realize the danger India is in, time to take action.

I do not know how to mark 26th of July. I do not know how to make it special. I would take my son to Amar Jawan Jyoti in Delhi and tell him the stories of these brave men. I also weep, mostly from pride! I might donate blood. Pretty futile gestures but they make me feel a little lighter!

I write this mail in the hope that all of us mark Martyr’s Day in any way we can. A nation is only as great as its heroes!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I always hear a scream when I see the word 'rape'

Some ugly words in the English language …..
snot, gruesome, accursed, abandon, slime, decaying, deceit, carnage, bloodsucking,
maim, backstab…
and one of the ugliest is rape. I always hear a scream when I see this word. Read about the MBA student and I couldn’t sleep again at night. It took merely an evening to destroy the hopes of a girl, to throttle young promise and laughter and joy! There is now a girl who will jump at shadows all her life. And nothing can even the score for her. Ever.

For the men who think of it as a crime, ranking below murder, I offer a visual image….most girls will drink a bowlful of snot, decayed eggs, liquid roadkill if they had to make a choice between this and being raped. We would choose to be killed than be gangraped….I would kill to protect a girl from such a fate, if I could, without blinking! It is something we are warned about from the time we are baby girls, when ‘the enticing stranger’ is someone who can eat us maybe. And when we are old enough, we realize that we can be harmed in such a manner that our soul can be maimed. It is an act which is worse than murder….a raped woman has been damaged beyond repair and she still has to carry on living.

Since most people cannot understand the psyche of a victim and feel the death penalty is too stringent, why don’t we let the victim decide the magnitude of the punishment meted out. If a victim feels that it is no big deal, she can settle for a financial settlement or let the accused off with ‘a stern warning’…she can have his arm or leg or some other appendage cut off…let us give the victim a chance to get even. Let us see what is asked for in exchange…I can promise you it will be an eye-opener for us all!

I am thunderstruck that here justice is pure hogwash…the victim is punished over and over while the perpetrator is let off! Remember Santosh Kumar who entered Priyadarshini’s home to rape and kill her…and the judge let him go while stating that “I know you have committed the crime…” it was only the relentless efforts of a father who had nothing more to lose and an indignant public who finally saw that the man was put behind bars. Would the judge be this merciful had his daughter been the one to lose her life? Why do we bay for justice only when we or ours are harmed? How can a rapist have anything to say in his defence? Do you remember Aruna Shanbaug, the 19 year old nurse, raped by a sweeper in the very hospital where she worked? Choked by a dog chain? Still in hospital after more than 3 decades, unable to talk, walk, braindead…while her rapist walks free and lives his life !

We are two sisters and my dad is 5 feet 7 inches…he’s always been slight in build. BUT he would transform when he felt his daughters threatened…I have NO doubt in my mind that my dad would have killed to protect me and my sister! And he would have no remorse…the essence of a father is protection. He would extend this protection to my friends who came over to our house as he was conditioned by then. Does one need to have a daughter to realize that rape is frightfully wrong? All have been born of women…does this universal truth hold no insight?

We need to change laws which deal with rape…and change them fast. When it is child victims, there should be no other punishment other than the death penalty. And when victims are women then they should be given the choice of an adequate ‘exchange’! Let us see what price a woman puts on her self respect! I think that in such cases, most rapists will be happy to be hung!
I remember one boiling summer afternoon in Delhi when I was a thin married girl of 25. Had to take my Doberman out as usual when I found a young girl, literally gibbering with fright. She was terrified of my dog, yet she was sticking to me. Her mama had left her near a bus stand to go finish her work and two men had tried to grab her while she was standing there. I was instantly afire…took her back to the stand where sure enough, two mangy men were hanging about. I sat down and made the girl sit next to me while Lady, my Dobe, stood in front of us both and I prayed for the men to come near! Three females united! I think I might have been growling too. Those days I needed my husband when I had to open a jam jar but that afternoon, for 15 minutes, I was Kali! I just remember heat….heat of that merciless May sun and an inner heat that had me inflamed. Those two took off after sometime…they recognized my unspoken wrath that had me vibrating visibly! And I was disappointed for I wanted some bloodletting that day…the girl was an eight year old! I felt no pride then or now…I had just wanted a reckoning…and I knew that I would not have backed down! Not that day!

Life gives no second chances

Is “understanding”an abusive word? I think it is when some of us urge the others to “understand” a terrorist’s point of view! Many of us feel that Kasab was brainwashed and that he actually is a victim as he is dirt poor. Okay, my brother was a toddler aged 2 and a half when he put his hand inside the mouth of a stray dog to rescue a half eaten squirrel. What made my brother feel this kind of compassion for an animal when so young and what made Kasab kill an unarmed unaware populace peacefully going about its business? Kasab supposedly studied till the forth standard… brother had not touched a book by then!

By the same lunatic reasoning, should we ‘understand’ vermin who rape babies? And ‘understand’ adult humans who beat strays to death, who poke out the eyes of puppies and leave them staggering around in unspeakable agony? Or should we ‘understand’ those who throw acid on young girls and make the rest of their lives a living hell? Maybe we should ‘understand’ Santosh Kumar who stalked a college going Priyadarshini Mattoo for two years and then entered her house where she was living under police protection, assaulting her so severely that he sustained fractures in his hands before finally strangling her! Would we be so ready to ‘understand’ if we were at the receiving end of such brutality? Should we get inside the mind of Manu Sharma who took a life over a simple refusal of a drink as the bar was closed? “Understand” him too? “Understand” human trafficking and pedeophilia! Child porn! Why not ‘understand’ the Austrian who fathered 7 children from his daughter he confined in a basement for over two decades? ‘Understand’ those who sprinkle petrol over a bear, panther, elephant which has strayed from its habitat and come into a village or a town, and then set it alight? So many things to ‘understand’ and so short a life!!

Or should we understand that these people concerned are not human….they cannot be reached by compassion or love and need to come back to earth again in a new and improved form! And to forgive them is an unforgivable act of weakness. They have proved beyond a doubt, that they are maneaters…predators. Do we leave them unleashed in a civilized society? Do you really think you can leave them in a world where your sons and daughters live?

There are some acts which are simply not acceptable. They make one’s gorge rise. To let them pass and go unpunished severely is a crime in itself! If we can find excuses for such behaviour and seek to understand it, we violate the concepts of fairness and justice.

We all have one life…we all are responsible for what we make of it. Life gives no second chances…a life gone is gone for all eternity. And one who kills with so much of malice and so little compassion had served his time here.