Wednesday, March 31, 2010



For no apparent reason I woke up from the deep slumber I was in.

With the summer creeping in and nights becoming warmer...the AC still not required and switched off, with just the fans enough, I had left the door to the balcony open to let the night breeze in and the screen door closed to keep the swarm of the mosquitoes out.

Slowly as I moved from the dream world to the real I could feel a change in the environment of the room: dark earlier when I had switched off the lights was now suffused with a strange glow bringing in relief the clutter invisible earlier. There was a shaft of bright light angling in through the door and focussing on my bed.

Intrigued about the strange phenomenon, the street lights three floors down below had been on blink for the last so many days, curious and to investigate the cause, I stepped down from the bed, opened the screen door, and walked to the balcony. And there it was...the full moon, large as it can be when full and so bright that it hurt my still sleepy eyes.

To me it appeared as if the Moon had move across the night sky and positioned itself bang in the centre of the small gap, between the terraces of the two seven floor blocks, opposite, across the road and had sneaked in my bed room for the sole purpose of waking me up to be a privileged witness to the magic it had created out-side: the concrete jungle, so mundane a sight during day, now bathed in the magic of the golden light was an ethereal sight; difficult to describe.

Waking up in the middle of night was worth it, the magical sight would have been lost to me had I continued to sleep.

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Friday, March 26, 2010


My American Daughter: My Daughter In America
My Indian Father: My Father in India

BLS:The title came to me on the way back after dropping her at the airport.

Twenty years back she had immigrated to USA in search of the elusive “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”. This time she had come searching for an even bigger pot at this end of the rainbow.

KSF:This is amazing. My father emailed me a blog of his and asked me to add to it since it was about me. I decided to counter each of the paragraphs with one of mine. It’s like we cannot stop arguing even in prose. Actually, let’s just say this is the story behind the story.

A long time ago I was visiting one of my aunts. We were sitting in the balcony of her apartment enjoying the evening breeze when a wandering fortuneteller called out to us and asked if we wanted our fortunes told. My aunt invited him to come in. When my turn came he studied my hand and asked the usual questions as to the time and date of my birth etc. then looked up at me and said gravely: “Your future is set apart from your family. You will never live close to them. It will be further than far away.” Very cryptic, I thought to myself cynically. I did not understand it then. Who knew?

Twenty years back I got myself a tourist visa and took off to the USA in search my destiny. It was 7 years before I saw my parents again.

Whether in America or now, in Progressing India, it’s too bad that, that “Pot of Gold” is still elusive.

BLS:Having explored Bangalore, Cochin and back waters of Kerala, on a short business trip, she entered the flat, after an evening flight, distraught, confused, elated and disorientated. The next four days of her stay were chaotic, difficult and stressful for all. The conflict of culture, now an American National, the explicit and strong business language picked over time still an anathema in the backward Indian house, the ubiquitous Laptop, a barrier to conversation and the unethical Indian businessman with whom she had to deal long distance from USA and lately face to face in India.

KSF:I got laid off in July of ’09. I decided, a little too late, that the “9 to 5” desk job wasn’t for me. In fact I hated it. I hated being hemmed in by all the rules of being employed by a corporation. I was only working in an administrative capacity so the rules were even more restricting. It took me 20 years to gather up the courage to do my own “thing” and not go frantically looking for another job. I took a deep breath and decided to venture out on my own. I established a corporation. People I knew in Delhi had convinced me that there was a huge demand for used Cessna planes in India. India had a shortage of pilots so flight schools were sprouting all over the country. Cessna planes were being used to provide initial training to their students.

I began my own research and started cold calling flight schools all over India. During one of these I spoke to a very nice gentleman in Bangalore. He recruited students to send them overseas for pilot training. During the course of our email exchange he informed me that he needed R44s for his helicopter school. I was ecstatic…I could make a sale here, I thought. I searched the internet for R44s. Prepared beautiful listings and emailed them to him. This guy was a smooth one. He never ignored any of my emails and always politely replied to them. He informed me he needed a little time to study the info. I waited a week then emailed him again. This time his reply indicated that he wanted a used Learjet suitable for ground training only for his engineering school. He also needed an investor to begin a helicopter training school. I sat back confused after reading this. Why did he ask me for helicopters if he didn’t have a school? Now he wanted a Learjet for his engineering school? Investor? What on earth…? I said to myself “Oh well! Let’s find him a Learjet for his students”. Again I attacked the internet and pulled out my contact list which was growing by the day, looking for such a plane. I sent him 2 listings. Again the same polite email response but this time he was looking for an investor for a heli-taxi service to be established in Cochin, Kerala. It would provide transport to tourist who wanted to visit religious destinations in the area. OK! This was enough, I told myself exasperated with the runaround. I stopped emailing him and returned to my cold calling. One day I called a guy in Virginia (I am going to refer to him as the Virginian) on a listing he had for a Cessna for sale. We hit it off right away. Right away I “Googled” him and his company to see who I was talking to. To my surprise he checked out. His company leased and maintained corporate jets. He even had a flight school that trained international students. The following day I went for my morning walk. This was a time I concentrated best on my business. I thought of everything that I had done during the past few weeks and remembered the Bangalorean. He had wanted an investor. I called the Virginian and asked if he would ever consider investing in a foreign business venture. He was interested. He would of course have to go down there to see what he was investing in. And he wanted me to go along with him.

The agenda was planned. It was to be Bangalore for one night, then Cochin & Cherai beach Resort for two then on to Delhi. The beach resort was another possible business venture. Mr. Bangalore suggested visiting it since we might be interested in promoting it as an eco-destination on behalf of the Resort.

The newly built airport at Bangalore was fabulous. In sharp contrast, the City was a mess. I was disappointed. I had heard so much about it from friends & relatives and articles I had read. “The Silicon Valley” of India it was named. The traffic was a snarl at any given time of the day and worse at prime time. Add to that the numerous city projects that involved digging huge holes randomly in the existing roads and leaving them incomplete…or so it seemed. I was a mess by the time we reached the hotel. I didn’t even dare look at the Virginian. My apologies to all the Bangaloreans for trashing their city but it was my first impression and I did not stay long enough to form one otherwise. Sometimes first impressions do count.

We visited the school run by the Mr. Bangalore. It was an air-stewardess training school. What the…? He had given me to understand that it was a pilot training school. I was embarrassed. I felt I had brought the Virginian here under false pretense even though I had, before leaving the US, emphatically issued a disclaimer statement to him. I had informed him that I didn’t know the Bangalorean personally and couldn’t assure him of the outcome of our visit to India. This feeling was further strengthened when we arrived in Cochin the following day. Mr. Bangalore had accompanied us and I fully expected him to show us his engineering school and at least discuss all the various projects he wanted to fund. Instead he drove us to the Resort. Once there I thought he would take us around himself but no that’s not in his plans. He informed us that he had a very very religious ceremony to attend at his family home so he had to leave right away. I was literally left with my mouth hanging open, catching dust as I watched him drive away. What was the eco thing all about? This was uncomfortable. One comes to a resort to relax with family and friends. I was not with family and friends. I was on a business trip. This was turning very awkward.

It was humid. We each had our own rooms or huts with thatched roofs. Mine smelled musty. The Resort, located across from the thundering Indian Ocean, consisted of numerous such huts sprinkled over the property interspersed with lily ponds and different tropical plants. Very quaint! There was a dining room. You ate what they cooked. It was not a restaurant. They also cooked very badly. I, personally, would not call it a good experience.

The following day we travelled to another eco destination two hours away in a very odd little car on a very narrow pot hole filled back road. Occasionally a screaming truck passed by. Did the drivers ever take their hand off the horn?

Finally we arrived. It was a bit scary. The car stopped in a big clearing surrounded by a thick forest of coconut trees. The driver disappeared. The Virginian and I looked at each other puzzled. Then two local guys wearing lungis approached us. I relaxed as I studied their faces. Yes! I can sort of read faces and they seemed harmless: Oily hair, dark eyebrows and eyes and the ubiquitous mustache. They greeted us with gentle smiles and picked up our luggage and indicated that we should follow them. The driver and car were going to return the following day to drive us to Mr. Bangalore’s Cochin office. But now as we followed our escorts, I did feel a little apprehensive about where they were leading us.

We walked a short distance through the forest and reached the Cherai Lake. I never realized we were so close to the water. Parked at the bank was a gigantic odd-shaped boat. It was two stories tall. The roof was woven palm or bamboo. It was quaint as only such a strange boat can be (see pic.). I can’t explain it. I guess you’ll have to go down there and see for yourselves. There you go Mr. Bangalore, I have plugged your little eco-tourism venture. Though I should not call it his "venture." I think he just got paid to bring tourists to the resort. We slowly set sail in the famous “back waters” of the Kerala. The Virginian was thrilled to bits. It was an experience for him I guess. He was a smoker and I didn’t want to inhale the second hand smoke. He was also a bit of a loner so I decided to leave him be and climbed up the stairs leading to the balcony of the second floor. It was furnished with sofas and armchairs. I sat and stared out at the passing scenery. Thick coconut trees were all I could see. The heat and humidity were unbearable. I fell asleep on the sofa. Shortly the Virginian called up to me to come down for lunch. It was surprisingly no longer so humid. In fact there was a very pleasant breeze blowing. I realized we had left the backwaters and were now on the lake, in open water. It was beautiful. I relaxed for the first time since I had arrived in India. A spectacular lunch was laid out on the outdoor dining table. All were local dishes prepared lovingly by the chef. I can’t name them but they were delicious and consisted of local fish, rice and an array of veggies prepared Kerala style.

I know I think too much but as we moved slowly on the water propelled by what I think was a diesel engine, I wondered how much we were contributing to the destruction of the eco-system of the lake waters or how much did the fumes pollute the air and where did the waste water go. Some eco-destination. Every now and then the "driver" of the boat would point to a large development and inform us that it was another 5-star hotel carefully behind the coconut trees. I took the coward's way out and decided to ignore all the negative thoughts, things I could do nothing about and enjoy the ride.

We stayed overnight on the boat and the following day I woke up at 5:30 am or so due to the almost sub-zero temperatures in my room. There was no thermosat in the air conditioner. As soon as I left the room I was attacked by the humidity. I walked along the corridor to the bow of the boat where the kitchen was situated. The chef was up and about and pottering around. He smiled when he saw me and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Boy, did I want a cup of coffee! I looked around and noticed that the space was well equipped. Up ahead was the door to the bow of the boat. The sky was beginning to brighten. I sat out and watched the sun rise. The lake was still and there was silence. Far away I could see three tiny boats from which the local fishermen cast their nets. The chef brought me my coffee. I have to write about this because it was the best darned coffee I had had in a long time (See pic.)

After breakfast and a short ride we were taken to the drop off point where we were picked up and driven to Cochin. A nightmarish drive later, upon arriving in Cochin we turned onto a dusty lane and stopped at a nondescript building. Mr. Bangalore was waiting for us. We had arrived at another stewardess training school. What a surprise. Did he just expect the investor to write him a blank check? Obviously that was not going to happen.

We left for Delhi that evening.

BLS:Inside the house she was missing her mother, father being no substitute, for the girly talk; unburdening of the soul to each other.

KSF:I was elated and excited. I was finally going to see my family. My brother came to pick me up at the airport. He was the same old big bear of a guy with a grin on his face expressing his pleasure at seeing me again. We checked the Virginian into a nearby hotel and drove to my father’s apartment. He met us at the door and I gave him a hug before walking in. I looked around. The last time I was here, was when my mother passed away, 10 years ago. It was a sad home at that time and I realized there was still sadness in the air. It was suddenly very difficult for me to be there. My father was still mourning. Over the next few days I realized that my brother and father lived separate lives. They rattled around the apartment each doing their own thing and sometimes passing each other like silent ships on the sea. Sometimes they took tea with me in the afternoon before they once again went their respective ways. Those were the best times. We talked and talked and talked.

BLS:Outside the house, possibly diffused by the trauma of her mother’s passing, impressions of Delhi/India were not so vivid this time. And India has much changed in the last ten years since her visit and so had Delhi and Noida. The Delhi of yore, of her teenage carefree days had been totally absorbed by the so called progress that had since taken places: the milling crowds, the chaotic traffic, the blaring horns, the daredevils on their guided missiles: the motorcycles, the three wheelers, randomly, weaving in and out of the traffic, the jay walking pedestrians so alien to her eyes and the plethora of Malls, even a metro in Noida.

KSF:Delhi is one big dust bowl now. It has apparently finally “arrived” and is considered one of the big cities of the world. Traffic is now a gigantic snarl instead of just a jam. One evening on my last visit in November 2009, we were on Ring Road close to Red Fort area and were trying to get back to Noida. It was truly frightening to see the mess we almost got into had it not been for the quick thinking of the guy driving who turned off to take a less crowded road. There was a time when Ring Road was the quickest way to get around Delhi. But it has been 20 years since I’ve lived in India and things change. Whether it’s for the better still remains to be seen. On a small scale it is apparent. The electricity does not go off every hour on the hour. There is bottled water. The help have cell phones or mobiles as they call them in India. Better pharmacies. TV offers a better choice of programs some even educational if they can get away from riveting Bollywood. The big picture to me shows a jungle of itty bitty foreign cars that all “scream”. Where do people need to get to in such a hurry? This is noise pollution and as they say in America, “there ought to be a law against it”. Where is my Green Delhi? What happened to the simple life? Well it was “Relatively” simpler. Now there is Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day both very good occasions. But if you love your Mother and if you love your beloved isn’t every day a special day? Capitalism has caught on like a ‘house on fire’. Ugly billboards visible everywhere like weeds in a manicured lawn each one trying to out-do the other. “Look at me, look at me,” they each seem to be shouting. No sense of esthetics. What is the point of high-rises and overpasses and the Metro, all apparent signs of progress, if the idea of “maintenance” is not ingrained and an integral part of progress? I went to Bhikaiji Kama place to see a vacant office space. The inner courtyard of the building and its walls were covered in a sea of red from pan spit. Why does everyone say to me “yeh toh India hai bhai…time moves slowly here”? If that is so where are those "screaming" cars going to then in such a hurry?

BLS:The un-reconciled inner and outer conflict was creating stress and keeping her, most of the time, on short fuse. To make the matters worse, I, still living in the past bound in the Indian value system was not making matters easy all around.

KSF:I realized that it had really been too long since my last meeting with my father. It was easy enough to carry-on a long distance relationship via the telephone with him every week but I was mistaken if I thought it would be just as easy face to face. Right there it morphed into a different story. He does not realize it but he has been living alone for too long and has become set in his ways. This is not so bad if one is an island. But interaction does require a little give and take. I freely admit that I am stubborn too so these are issues we need to work on. We need to probably meet more than once every 10 years. I have asked him to come to America a gazillion times. He, of course, has his excuses ready and waiting to be made.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The mega article by Arundhati Roy - OUTLOOK March 29 2010

Arundhati Roy, the master story teller has in the mega article made me walk along with her for miles and miles, took me where she went and made me see what she saw with her eyes and made me feel what she felt to some extent and also made me read the hard core of her article, the history of the Naxal/Mao movement which I would have skipped had I not walked with her or seen with her eyes, which, possibly is the major success of her odyssey.

Arundhati has moved with the foot soldiers of the movement, meandering around the Jungle trails of Danatewada getting and imbibing the feel of their motivation, what drives them, their small joys and pains, worries, fears and aspirations. The foot soldiers, totally and blissfully unaware of the setup of the higher echelons organising, planning, directing the movement of this magnitude and their motivating force, are content to carry out the biddings; moving single file night in and night out , not even aware of the final destination and what awaits them at the next bound...

It is amazing how they are living, surviving, fighting, and also dying totally unmindful of personal issues, emotional problems, privation, sickness or fear of the uncertain destiny awaiting them.

Though myself having been a foot soldier once with no voice of my own in the ongoing affairs, obeying orders like a robot, orders emanating from somewhere higher up, I am still not convinced about the method adopted by them and more so by those directing them from a safe distance to achieve their political or otherwise goals, what ever they may be and hatever be the provocation.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

My Surgery

RAPIDLY RECEDING HAIR-LINE with advancing age, I noticed, was getting balanced by equally fast and copious growths. Thick and jet-black, one covering the forearms the other jutting out horizontally from the ears; a most ungainly sight. Being a bit fussy about grooming one fine morning just after the 'shave’ I applied the Gillete Sensor Excels with it's self adjusting twin blades, on the black crop on top of my left ear. Possibly the angle was incorrect or I was careless and in hurry; I nicked the skin a bit too deep. The suddenly oozing red blood was not a very pleasant sight. The flow had to be stopped and the cut camouflaged quickly to avoid awkward questions, in which the bottle of Dettol and talcum powder came handy. Soon the blood coagulated put the pain remained for a few days.

I soon forgot the incident till a couple of months later I noticed a small growth,a small pimple, at the site of the forgotten cut. The body was reacting in its own way to the intrusion by the blade.

I did take my own time to visit the Army clinic. A boring task to be avoided as long as possible. A tedious necessity of sitting outside the Medical Officer's room among the other patients waiting for their turn to be called in with their minor and some not so minor ailments.

After the regulation wait time, I was finally called in. Following a cursory inspection and considered advice by the doctor which was not much reassuring...since post surgery the growth could once again reappear...I was prescribed some ointment. However, the dutiful application for a few days proved to be ineffective.

A visit to a homeopath confirmed the earlier opinion of the doctor. This time I was promised that the growth, with treatment, would shrivel and soon fall off. Week after week I would walk the short distance to the clinic of the Homeopath and exchange Rs 100 for the weekly doze of pills. The growth did shrivel but did not fall off. In fact it grew and grew like a horn and I would trim it off and on with scissors.

A bit frustrated with the lack of relief, I once again landed at the Armed Force’s clinic. This time, not only was I advised immediate surgery but also given a dire warning.

Post-haste I drove to the nearby Hardpan Hospital. The surgery was scheduled for the next morning. After a few mandatory tests, I signed a few forms that absolved the hospital and all concerned of their acts of omission and commission on my body when on the table and unaware of what was happening to me and my body.

Next day at the hospital I was moved into the freezing OT and was asked to don a green surgical gown. At the side of the operating table was a wired man with all sorts of pings and beeps emitting from the various monitors along with the background hum of the air conditioner.

I had not informed anyone about my operation and as such I was now alone with only myself for company to share my worries. I had the not so pleasant thoughts of the frequent visits to the various hospital in the past. This time Jeet, my late wife, "The Patient" and I "The Attendant". Vignettes of that time flashed before my eyes...of her being wheeled towards the OT, while I was left behind, waiting at a distance, scared, worried, confused, apprehensive, and uncertain of the outcome of the operation, the gravity of the problem foremost in my mind as I saw her disappearing from my vision,

Next I was covered with a green sheet. Another piece, one with a hole exposing just the area required for the procedure, was placed over covering my neck and the head.

A pin prick announced the inflow of the anaesthesia in the periphery of the ear soon making it numb. As the operation proceeded, I could hear the clipping of the instruments cutting the growth but felt no pain or sensation except a mild heat as the cut was cauterized.

The now dismembered part of my body, 'the growth, was placed in a vial with the most dreaded post-operation remark...‘For Biopsy’, a process requiring a few days to arrive at a conclusion about its nature.

A few days passed by and in due course I was called for the removal of the stitches. While I waited in the Minor OT, for the now minor, yet painful operation, Ranjit, my son, who had accompanied me this time, was asked to fetch the biopsy report from the laboratory.

I was a bit worried and apprehensive, not for myself but for Ranjit. If the report happened to be malignant, remembering my own inner turmoil when I had walked the short distance from the Command Laboratory in Army Hospital to the car park with a malignancy report in my hand, where Jeet, with a brave face, was anxiously waiting for the reprieve or the death warrant.

My fears came true Ranjit entered the room with the envelope containing the report in his hand and the statement `Malignant` on his lips and his feelings bottled-up inside of him.

Strangely I felt relieved. The guilt I had harboured all these years with Jeet suffering her cancer and me hale and hearty, albeit with a turmoil of foreboding inside me, was slightly less painful. The guilt of 'survival', a feeling difficult to explain but experienced by surviving soldiers more often than not when returning from the battlefield with friends, comrades and colleagues left behind, dead or injured and battling for life had been tormenting me. Now I was also a battle casualty and in the same league as Jeet.

Apart from Ranjit, my son, and Jeet, my late wife the other affected party was the surgeon Dr Arora, unfazed and upbeat..."Nothing to worry about," he exclaimed, "There is enough additional territory for surgery if required," he continued, leaving me to decide for myself whether to feel relived or apprehensive about what future held in store for me.

Dr Arora was referring to the 99.9% of my outer ear still available to him to explore.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Chandigarh Family Meet

Getting out of Delhi was a bit difficult. The straight roads, well traveled from earlier days, were now folding and turning over themselves with 360 degree turns, while climbing over the numerous flyovers en route and forking in detours to different destinations. One wrong fork taken and you are lost.

New landmarks, the old having got obliterated by the frenzy of construction and chaos, added to my confusion.

I had started early to beat the traffic; apparently every one had the same bright idea, it appeared that the whole of Delhi had decided to exit on the same route and at the same time.

Once on NH 1 (National Highway), The grand trunk Road from Calcutta to Peshawar, I shifted to the overdrive, the fifth gear of the Astra, and with the engine purring smoothly accelerated to a steady 80 KM per hour.

80 KMS was slow for the highway with 90 the max permitted speed, others driving at 100 plus overtook me with ease; the brash Santros, i 10s’, Maruti Ritz’s and others of same ilk, showing no respect for the big brother; aggressively and disdainfully by the Honda Citi’s, SX4’s and Assent likes, all with disregard for the elder sibling, smoothly and condescendingly by the stately Mercs, Accords and Audie’s and frighteningly by the intimidating behemoths of the Haryana, Himachal and Punjab Roadways on any and every one in their path, hurtling down with blaring pressure horns. The truckers were the one who showed courtesy and waved me past.

Sadly, the earlier king of the road, the status symbol of yore, the ubiquitous Maruti 800 was conspicuous by it minimal presence on the road, completely ignored by all. Alas their time had gone past.

There was a new menace on the road, three wheelers plying between Karnal and Kurukshetra, obstructing and slowing down the fast moving traffic with their quirky habits of hogging the road.

Past Ambala and the confusing signage with the road bifurcating in numerous directions to various destinations travelled earlier replaced by a smooth highway traversing many flyovers. Once on the road to Chandigarh made me wonder as to where the single carriageway had vanished.

The only jarring note of the journey was the reasonable and at places unreasonable Toll Tax I had to dish-out en route starting from Noida itself.

Though entering Chandigarh was easy, identifying the land marks as indicated, on phone, by Bimal Jain to his house in Sector 35A, where every one was congregating for lunch, was difficult.

I missed the Tribune Complex, the first landmark, but did pick it up the under construction hotel on the left, a bit confused took the left turn at the roundabout instead the right and promptly got lost.

Many queries and directions later, especially by the good and ever helpful Rickshaw-pullers, I finally did reached Bimals, albeit when most, a few diehards still holding to the Beer mugs, were past the dessert stage.

To the all 'round delight, the officially designated ‘Photographer’ had arrived and I was hailed with more than a hearty welcome. Karnail Sandhu, pleased and excited was all smiles to see in me one from our own, the Technical Graduate entry.

Missed the lunch, I retrieved the Yashika from the car, and got going with my assigned duty. Hopefully, the worthy editor of the News Letter will find a place for some of the vignettes captured from the occasion.

With the sun creeping down, the shadows lengthening and many eyes drooping down with the beer induced sleep, it was time to break.

I had the now daunting task of locating the house in Sector 8B where I was to stay. Once again the Bihari Rickshaw-Pullers came to rescue and pointed me on to the right road.

Once settled, I had time to open the thick envelop proffered in my hand earlier on arrival at Jain’s. It contained a thick sheaf of papers; a detailed itinerary of events of our stay, directions and instructions with information on the hosts and guests; very helpful and convenient, a neat staff-work it was.

Dinner at Bakshi’s, with their house, fortuitously, in Sector 8A was just a walking distance away.

I changed into a lounge suite from the blue blazer, picked my camera along with the flash and drove the walking distance to Teginder’s imposing house. The entrance was full of blooming Chrysanthemums, the house tastefully done. I walked into the open arms and broad smiles from the Bakshi’s not forgetting their charming daughters-in-law and the doting assistant hosts, their sons.

Everyone, in keeping with the dignity of the occasion had changed to formal attire from that of the earlier casual dress for lunch.

The party went along roaringly, with snacks, drinks, games, sing-songs and the soothing music from the Bose stereo in the background.

The food on the table with the candles lit earlier, lovingly by Mrs Bakshi, catered to every taste and even included ‘Makki ke Roti and Chana ka Sag’.

One would have liked to linger on but the next day's activity, the picnic, were to start early in the day.

The RV for the picnic was the Rose Garden parking lot and I arrived early carrying my Mamiya SLR loaded with a slower 200ASA film, giving me ample time to view a Chandigarh that was in a holiday mood with the milling crowd enjoying the open space of the Rose Garden and the early morning fresh and nippy air. The much liberal and uninhabited attitude of teenage boys and girls, out for fun on public display in the parking lot was a revelation in as to how far ahead the teens were from rest of the country.

Cars kept arriving with guests, driven by hosts or drivers. Once all were present, they left en block leaving Bajaj and me to find our own way to a place known as the ‘Kansal Forest Reserve Resort’ with a cryptic direction: “Go past the Engineering College...keep driving straight”.

We drove straight for some time but even the straight roads do turn and twist and so did our road. The mobile signal wastoo weak to seek guidance from the main party and once again I had to resort to seeking directions from passers-by, some ignorant others indifferent. The helpful, on the other hand guided us to a "Forest Resort" but not the one that we were seeking.

The diversion was, however, utilised by Bajaj to have a look around and speak to property dealers who had setup shops to sell plots to those who couldn't afford one in Chandigarh. Still, by spending some money, one can live cheek and Jowl with the rest of the city.

To cut the story short, we did manage to reach the gate of the Forest reserve, or was it reserved forest for VIP’s and cajoled the frail looking forest guard and after establishing our bone fides, he opened the gate and let us in.

Driving on and on the narrow dirt track, cutting through the thick forest, over a number of causeways some dry, others with a thin stream of water flowing over, we suddenly reached a wide open space, the line of cars parked and the partying crowd in the distance was welcome sight. Bajaj and I joined the conglomeration to a tumultuous welcome, having been given up as lost, with mutual relief.

With beer, coke and snacks all around and in plenty from the makeshift bar and kitchen, some went for a walk while the others basked in the sun reminiscing about old times and current ‘Sass - Bahu - Children’ issues. The die hard Golfers tried their hands at the makeshift chipping range and won some prizes. I, on the other hand, in-between sips from the glass of Coke, got busy capturing the mood of the party on the Mamiya.

After the sumptuous lunch and bit more lingering around it was time to say goodbye. DSR Sahni on behalf of all of us thanked the Chandigarh family members for the unique and unforgettable event that they had organised. As some of us had plans to leave the same evening and were in a hurry, it was also getting late, so the departure and exit from the forest was quick.

The Golfers among us stayed on for the next day Golf. I, a non-golfer, left for Delhi / Noida early next morning.

As I drove out of Chandigarh, having spent the last two days with fellow course-mates, was profoundly moved and felt honored and privileged to have been part of the Jun '55 pass-out's family.
Posted by BLS at 6:56 AM
Labels: Army, Indian Military Academy Jun 1955 pass-outs

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Destiny's Child

This afternoon’s image of the child, currently in nursery class, ensconced in the grand father's lap, who earlier had interacted with me in only sign language, refusing to be prompted to use his vocal cords, still persists and makes me wonder as to how far the generation has progressed from our childhood days and where it is headed.

The tiny tot opens the lap-top, lying on the table, starts playing with it, simultaneously, absent mindedly, chewing on the morsels of food being pushed in his mouth by the servant in attendance, all the time intent on the PC screen, while manipulating the track ball.

Earlier the saying went, ‘Born with a silver spoon’: soon would need to change to, ‘Cyber Child’, ‘Born with a mouse in hand’

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

OBITUARY- Kathleen Frain

Yesterday, I was informed that my son-in-law’s mother had passed away. It was sad moment and I immediately thought of the first time I met her...

We had taken a flight to New York late October 1999 for a short stay with Ric and Kal.

On arrival we had a pleasant surprise awaiting us: an invitation from Ric’s family for a visit to Cherry Hill. For the next few days there was a spate of e-mails enquiring about out tastes in food and other requirement that showed concern and consideration for us.

We were to stay overnight with Ric’s mother, Kathleen Frain. On the appointed day, Saturday, Ric drove us in his Toyota truck to Cherry Hill, NJ, where a warm welcome by his mother, awaited us. Kay greeted us with open arms and a disarming smile that soon made us feel at home.

She served us tea in her lovely china, during which time the small gifts we had brought were gracefully accepted by her.

We had a comfortable night in the well-appointed guest room of the equally lovely house displaying Kay’s feminine touch. She had been living alone for some time as her husband, Ric’s father, had lost the battle with lung cancer earlier that year.

The following morning we took a walk to the nearby historical compound of Barclay Farms for which the community is named. The old brick farmhouse with all its outbuildings, now a museum, added to the charm of the neighborhood.

Later we all went over to dinner to one of her daughters’ home where Ric’s immediate family had gathered to meet with us. It was a lovely evening.

Our stay in Cherry Hill was short and everyone was very nice. Above all it had been a privilege to meet Ric’s mother, a warm hearted and considerate person who did not let us feel that we were foreigners from a distant world and to a large extent from a different culture.

I pray and I am sure my late wife Jeet would too, were she alive, that the soul of the departed rests in peace.

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Message of Life


Standing on the threshold of the decade of eighty as I step over the dividing line on November the fifth, the question of celebrating the birthday does not cross my mind.

Come evening, there is a visit by a family of friends: father , mother and daughter, carrying a box of pastries and a bouquet of lovely blue-green and magenta orchids arranged tastefully in a basket.

I am pleasantly surprised, overwhelmed and falling short of words, in how to thank for the thoughtful gesture: the present and the effervescent ‘Happy Birthday’ wish proofed in unison, mumble some thing...

The box, containing Black Forest and Pineapple pastries, the pastries to be savoured slowly, is destined to the fridge, the basket, the Orchids to be admired at leisure, to the centre of the dining table.

As the days pass, one by one, the pastries, slowly, dwindle in number, enjoyed in small bites and pieces, the orchids on the other hand, strangely, day by day grow by millimetres, both in height and beauty.

Somehow, in the growing Orchids and dwindling Pastries I discern a subtle ’Message of Life’: its beauty, continuity and finality.

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Monday, March 15, 2010



Had I delayed my trip to Dehradun till after reading Ruskin Bond’s Mussoorie Diary, in Outlook March 15, both I and my car would have been in a better shape today.
From Delhi, reaching the Meerut bypass, I was diverted on the road passing through the city and soon joined a crawling nightmare of a procession of all imaginable types of vehicles, with a sickening sound announcing the scrapping of the car by a rogue truck.

Wary of taking the same route back, I took the third, rather than choosing from the two suggested by Bond, via Pauntasahib planning to hit the GT Road at Karnal.
I made good time up to Pauntasahib. and then suddenly there was no road, only undulating ground where perhaps a road lay aligned earlier , the yellow of the mustard and the green of the lush wheat crop were all there but obscured by the swirling dust clouds raised by passing busses and trucks engulfing the car and totally blinding me , the engine whining , body creaking, swaying ,dipping and rising like a boat in a choppy sea, with me on tenterhooks, struggling with the steering wheel to keep the boat of a car on even keel. It was a wonder that we did make to Yamunanagar without a breakdown or accident .

Things changed and the torture subsided only on hitting the GT Road at Karnal with both the car and me long taking a long sigh of relief with the foot pressure transferred from the brake to the accelerator.

Nearing Delhi it was a nightmare of a different kind; with the familiar landmarks disappearing fast, thanks to the frenzy of construction due the fast approaching date of the CW games, especially now that it was night , with no signages to guide I took a wrong turn and promptly got lost , only and thankfully to be extricated by a good Samaritan of a Taxi Driver who led and guided me to the Road to Noida.

The car resting in the custody of local "Denter" (painter-repairman) I am still trying to calm the frayed nerves from the return journey, wishing I had chosen one of the two routes advised by Bond in his diary.

Inspired by Ruskin Bonds' 'Mussoorie Diary' in the current Outlook issue

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

THE FLIGHT TO GOA and the Honeymoon Couple


Jostled by the impatient and milling passengers, crowding the isle, with bulky carry on board baggage, searching for some empty overhead bins, I make way to 24 C, my isle seat, on the Kingfisher flight to Goa, a bit uncomfortable to find 24 A and B occupied by a Goa bound Honeymoon couple for company.

Seated, I look for the two ends of the seat belt, wondering of their feelings with a stranger intruding in their privacy. Sitting a bit separate from each other, as far as possible, in the narrow seats of the cattle class, I notice that, unlike typical honeymoon couples, they appear a bit like two strangers thrown together by chance or parental design, yet to fathom and explore each other.

My ‘Hi’ barely acknowledged, confirming my first impression, I confine my attention to the small TV screen on the back of the seat opposite flashing updated messages of distance and time to destination, outside temperature the moving progress of the plane to Goa on a relief map of India and later , once airborne, a choice of movies and live news.

The plane starts to move, trundling like a lumbering overloaded truck, for its position in the long queue of other departing flights. I keep shifting my attention between the ever changing display on the TV screen and the shifting scenery through the window. Ages later the plane stops, finally at the top of the queue. With clearance from the ATC, the pilot pushes the throttles forward and rumble of the twin GE engines increases, the engines whining are tested at full power, the brakes are released and the aircraft commences the takeoff run lumbering slowly, soon picking speed, accelerating furiously, with the massive effort to free itself from the shekels of gravity.

The uneven ground run, bumping on the runway potholes, shuddering and squeaking of the aircraft all adds to the typical takeoff stress that permeates the cabin. : Looking out of the window, at the speedily falling distance markers of the runway behind , I can not but help notice some other shekels of inhibition being cut in the cabin itself: the slowly crawling hand of the bride suddenly jumps like a spread Cobra-head and clutch the expectant hand, hopefully waiting all the time for this to happen.
As the plane breaks from the pull of gravity and takes to air, climbing at a steep angle, the vibrations die and an uneasy calm descends in the cabin. The tension some what ebbed, the hand also is slowly withdrawn back to the comfort of the lap, strangely, at the same time trying to hide the large number of shiny slivery bangles on the other hand, a newly wedded’s traditional symbol, under the pullover’s long sleeve!

During the flight, though, deep in my own thoughts, I could not but fail to sense their lack of mutual chemistry. If a confirmation was needed it came nearly two hours later, during descent for landing at Goa; with one hand, expectant and waiting for the other, extend hopefully for the repeat of what had happened at the takeoff, which all this time, in the flight, lay inert in the lap, suddenly getting twined but once on the ground and the Boeing rolling to a stop is withdrawn with alacrity.

Hopefully they were more comfortable with each other on the return flight after the three days and two nights of the honeymoon package, a post marriage gift.

This little drama pushed me back the memory lane, back to the July of the year 1985: we were on an Airbus flight to Bombay a few days before my imminent retirement from Army.

With the monsoon clouds extending right up to the cruising altitude of the aircraft and only the pea-soup of the woolly clouds visible through the window, my wife of 27 years, unlike the bride of the day, held my hand, tightly clutched all the way from Delhi to Bombay. Was it the feeling of security accruing from the low voltage, low frequency current of companionship and its assurance flowing to and fro, or was it the silent expression the deep love and affection, felt more so in the close proximity and isolation of the Airbus cabin at 35,000 feet cut-off from the myriad pressures of the small worries of life left down below.

Once on the ground and the plane taxiing, the grip loosened some what, possibly the expectation of soon meting her younger sister, then residing in Bombay, some what overshadowed the influence of my proximity.


After reading ‘Being with Bird’ by Col K Bhattacharya in the Feb 2010 issue of ‘The Signalman ‘I feel, I can now make sense of the ‘Bird Talk’ from yore that had intrigued me all these years

It was some time in 1980, I was then commanding FCE, that on my wife joining me at Mhow, we were allotted a hutment with the No T 214, marked in bold letter and figures, on the Generals Road that was in a dilapidated state, derelict about to fall and with all rooms leaking during the monsoons. However, General’s Road was indeed a very prestigious sounding name and yes Gen Sunderjee the Commandant College of Combat did live on the same road, though alone in the appointment house a massive double story old bungalow.

My wife and I would often go for an evening walk past the Flag Staff house and across the old bridge on the normally dry nulla, where on the left side of the now, past the generals house, the track of the road there was a vast bare ground , possibly where the present Signal Vihar stands .

On certain occasions we would be intrigued to witness to a strange phenomena of a large conjugation of Crows gathered from far an near on the ground with more flying-in and joining those already there: the chatter among them was deafening, leaving us wondering of the reason for the massing gathering of Crows and the furious bird talk going on .

Possibly somehow with their bird sense they had come to release that soon they were going to lose their favorite meeting place as the process to acquire the land for Signal Vihar was in full swing under the patronage of Gen Paintal the than Comdt Military College of Telicommunication hence the frenzy.


Saturday, March 13, 2010



8 September: The Day the Balloon went up

It was 8th of September, a Saturday, a weekend, a legacy left by the British. In bracing cold, Towang at 10,000 feet plus, was basking in bright sunshine. A clear day with the greens of the meadows, the deep blues of the sky, the silver of the river Towang Chu, flows deep in the valley, the browns and reds of houses of the Towang village. The majesty of the Towang Monastery, visible not far away, was over powering. Not too cold not too hot, it was just pleasant, a tourist’s delight. However, there were no tourists in Towang those days except VIP brass who choppered occasionally to stay for lunch, give sermons, talk in platitudes and fly back again to civilisation in plains of Tezpur, Lucknow or Delhi. In any case it was too quiet and peaceful to resemble a noisy and bustling tourists resort. The Brigade HQ equally quiet. There was no officer present in the HQ except Lt Sharma, the Brigade Ordnance Officer, the duty-officer of the day; all others had gone off to attend a Barakhana in one of the battalions.

I had managed to stay back. I hated these events, although these were the only entertainment providers at that far-away outpost. We had no TV, no cinema and a total of two radios in the Brigade HQ, one small table model in the mess and a National Transistor with the Commander in his hut. I was a vegetarian, and a teetotaller on top of it. I had no interest in the sex starved jokes flying around, or looking at the young soldiers dressed as girls singing folk songs and dancing to popular tunes.

To top it all, we were passing through a bit of anti-climax phase after the hectic activity of the previous few days. The Brigade Operational Order, which was based on the premise that the Chinese could not mount a major offensive till the railway line from Peking to Lhasa was operational, had to be finalised before the Commander could proceed on annual leave. I do wonder if Lhasa has its railway line from to Peking even now. Brig Dalvi had duly left for Tezpur en-route to his leave station at Meerut on 1st September.

The Hindustan Times Delhi 8 September 1962

Post Lunch-8th September

It was my practice to go for an evening walk in the afternoon. I was reluctant to go out on this day, as there was no one in the Bde HQ (Brigade Headquarter). However, Lieutenant Sharma insisted, even though he was the duty officer. We had been lulled to the extent that even the duty officer was willing to leave his post, with firm faith that nothing could happen especially in our Brigade Sector. We left via the Signal Centre, as was my practice. It was all quiet-there, nothing on the air or line. I had no inkling at that time that it was the proverbial lull before the storm. We may have been away from the HQ at the most for an hour. However, as we approached the HQ, I could feel a tension in the air, resulting in quickening of our pace. The scene had completely changed. It was getting dark, and gloomy and there was unease in the atmosphere. Some thing was wrong, very wrong.

Wondering as to what had happened to bring about the sudden change, both of us gingerly trooped in to the BM’s (Brigade Major) room, apprehensive and expecting a rocket for our absence from the HQ, where in every one seemed to have gathered. No one took notice of our entry. Kharbanda, a bit worse for wear due to some extra beer, incoherent with his eyes- bleary, red and watering, but a soldier to core - he was all decked up in full battle gear, with his large-pack ready for move. It transpired that Bingo, the Assam Rifles post, had been surrounded by more than 600 Chinese earlier in the day. This was according to a message received in a round about manner late in the evening; that is how the communication system was functioning those days. Kharbanda as we could see was all set to relieve the Assam Rifles post single-handed. All of us were more worried about him, desperately trying to hold him back, than the Chinese or Bingo. The scene would have definitely appeared a bit comical to an outsider, ideal for a sequence in the war movies being produced in Bombay.

It so happened that Bingo was established, though in disputed territory, near the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and Tibet, some times back under ‘Op Onkar’, the move forward policy of the Indian Government. The post, under the Brigade’s operational responsibility, did not have direct communication link to the Bde HQ all due to ego problems and petty inter-service rivalries. We of the Signals, me in particular, were blamed for any delay in passage of information, even when we had no role in its passage.

Kharbanda’s small room, the telephone ringing continuously, with incoming and out going calls to Tezpur, where all of us of the Bde HQ had gathered, resembled an ad hoc Operational Room. With so many of us crowding around, the air had become charged with combined energy of diverse emotions; excitement, apprehension, uncertainty and even fear of the unknown, all adding to the whole in various proportions depending on the attitude of the particular individual. With The BM being out of action, only TK Gupta, the IO with access to the Top Secret Operation files, Pereira, the DQ, the only possible link with the Commander at Tezpur, and possibly
me the Signals officer had a role to play, others, apart from the mess staff providing unending supply of mugs of coffee and tea, were just hanging around trying to look involved and useful, not unlike friends and relations holding vigil outside the Operating Theatre, with some near and dear one on the surgeon’s table inside.

Willy-nilly, the Brigade HQ swung into action, Maj Pereira took charge of the situation. Commander was located in the guest room of the Mahar Regiment at the Tezpur airfield, next door to the air strip from which his IAC plane was to take off early next morning, carrying him thousands of miles away to Meerut in North India. The plane did take off the next morning. However, his seat was empty. He took another seat but in a helicopter back to Towang.

The night had been hectic, I do not think any one slept, including the mess staff, kept busy passing around mugs of tea and coffee. The loving care we had bestowed on the 499 transmitter/ receiver station paid off. We had telephone quality speech with Tezpur and the Commander on remote, couple of miles away from Divisional HQ. He kept asking for Kharbanda the BM whom we had put to sleep to recover from the after-effects of beer. Pereira, who was fully in picture and better equipped to hold his drinks, kept taking and passing on instructions. Op Leghorn had commenced as far as we were concerned. I feel it could have been more appropriately christened Op Lameduck.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Thursday afternoon, with the empty roads, the drive to New Delhi station is smooth till the cab hits the CP then crawl, especially at the entrance to the station with people , cars, taxies, buses, autos... an amalgam of men and machine, in desperation to somehow catch their respective trains departing Delhi more or less simultaneously.

I am told the Mumbai Rajdhani leaves from Platform No 3, I rush, bag in hand, a bit too heavy for me yet too light to merit a Coolie, a tribe that I try to avoid, jostling and being jostled, pushed and pushing, up and down the high over-bridge, with innumerable steps to climb and descend . I land at near end of the long train. Huffing and puffing, ultimately, I manage to locate Compartment ‘I A’ at the far end and to next to the engine.

Compartment ‘C’, with me as the sole occupant, the AC humming pleasantly, the double glassed window isolating the noise and the typical, unsavoury, aroma of Indian railway stations, after the torture of the last half hour and so, is heaven indeed. And now starts the pampering: aromatic, cool, wet napkin to sooth the by now burning forehead, welcome glass of apple juice and a soft pillow to lean on. Soon the attendant unfolds a table and sets a tea tray; real crockery and cutlery with a plate full of sandwiches, samosa and sweet from Haldiram.

Dinner is served early, four courses; with soup then a starter, a starter of a full meal, followed by a typical North Indian main course (Chicken and Dal makhani) to gorge on and to top it all Ice-Cream along with a packet of mouth freshener. Railways just forgot to provide a tooth brush and paste to nicely round it off.

The bed is dropped down and the bedding spread followed by frequent queries from the indulgent staff about the creature comfort, evens the temperature of the AC.

I visit the toilet. From the half open window, the unseen vista, blanketed in the pitch dark outside, falling rapidly behind, the train hurtling forward at breakneck thundering speed, the frequent tooting by the massive engine, the rattling of the wheels over the not so smooth rails, the swaying, swinging, the up and down movement of the small enclosure in all its three dimensions making it difficult to balance; all combine to create an unnerving and uncomfortable feel accompanied with a perceptible tension forces me to soon return to the benign environ of the sealed cocoon of compartment ‘C’.

From Bombay Central to Hotel in Andheri (East) even at 8.30 in the morning it takes, with traffic snarls, jams, a stop and go cycle of just creeping ahead, a torturous two hours.

Mumbai looks so different than the Bombay of yore that I remember: unswept, stinking with debris of crumbled buildings, diggings on either side of the road with the centre verge taken over by under construction ‘Mumbai Metro’, ‘Mumbai Mono-Rail’,’ the Elevated Road’ from East West highway and the innumerable partially dug, water filled trenches housing assorted cables, strangely with no activity visible then and even when visited later.

Bombay as I remember, always had Jhuggis, resting cheek and jowl with ‘High-Rise’s’ in posh areas. Mumbai as I see has ubiquitous Jhuggi clusters with an odd shining hi-rise, a glass and marble edifice, bang in the middle of the cluster. It makes a bigger eyesore, in an eyesore.

Trying to escape from the artificial environ of the Central AC , I come out of the gated hotel to catch some fresh air to be hit by the foul smell emanating from stagnant road side pools and the sight of filth around to promptly retreat to the room: a room with a view through the large picture window but sadly the vista is of a sea of Jhuggis spreading far to the horizon and climbing up the slopes of the distant hill.

With the Air India pilots on strike, the ride to the airport is tension filled with uncertainty of the journey back to Delhi, the long delay at check-in, with three AI flights combined; the information system is in disarray with the system now on manual mode. I am made to rush from counter to counter for confirmation of the seat before the boarding card is issued.

Baggage checked in, boarding pass in hand, the security check done, I wait along with other impatient, harassed and distraught passengers of different age and genre.

With all the late night Garba and Dandia beats that would somehow creep into my room, Mumbai did not seem to be worried much about the Swine flu. I can see just one sole and paranoid young lady donning the surgical mask, certainly an aberration in the complacent crowd.

Hunger pains and rumbling stomach, due to the missed breakfast, lead me to the snacks stall. After munching at the Rs 40 frozen samosa and sips of the Rs 20 tea, a bit of browsing at the book stall, books selling at Rs 600 plus, I return to take one of the still vacant hard bottom seats and await the boarding call to witness, with amusement every now and then the long lines of impatient passengers forming to an unannounced flight and after a long and fruitless wait disintegrating in to chaos: Cattle of Cattle Class!

Announcement! Then the mad rush to the first bus in line, somehow to squeeze in, as if the flight will take-off, leaving those in the second bus, in line, stranded.

Welcome, 'Namaste', from someone as old and ponderous as the AI Air bus itself, followed by the long walk I locate 26 A the window seat. Soon my point is proved: After the door close and head count - one passenger is found missing. A long wait ‘til the missing culprit, sitting nonchalantly in the terminal, is located and rushed back in a staff car, who now with a sheepish grin on his continence and to frowns and jibs from the frustrated and impatient passengers finds a seat to plonk himself down.

More than one hour lost. At last the two massive GE turbines start to whine, the Air bus shudders and creaks as the whine increases to a screech and the wheels start to move the aircraft with some effort. Lining at the top of the runway for the take off, the pilot, with full brakes on, pushes the throttles forward to test the engines at full power, satisfied, brakes and flaps are released freeing the bird for the takeoff run. The slow trundle suddenly changes to a sprint, with the massive surge of acceleration pushing the aircraft faster and faster. I see the runway markers flashing past with ever increasing frequency till the rumbling and the jerks stop suddenly and the plane becomes unusually quiet now. A free bird in flight, climbing with its nose up at a steep angle and me sitting near the tail of the aircraft gives me an uncanny feeling of being left behind. The climb continues till it reaches 37, 000 feet, the operating altitude and aligns itself now towards the far away Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, flying at 800 Miles per hour.

With nothing to see from the window but the thick cloud carpet of the receding monsoons, I turn my attention to flick thru the pages of the in-flight magazine ‘Namaskar’ only to be distracted by the floating aroma from the snacks trolley. After struggling with the sachets of sauce, sugar, teabag, jam, butter one after other and cellophane packets with scone and bread, leaving the channa untouched, somehow, I finish the breakfast and shift attention to the faded frames of the movie ‘Delhi 6’ on show, flickering in silent mode. I struggle with head phones but soon lose interest in the tinny quality of sound and in the process also in the movie.

I sense a slight tilt in the nose of the Aircraft and a few more now discernible features of the terrain down below, the descent becomes steep and Delhi, though visible down below, look so different with ever changing and unrecognizable landmarks springing up so frequently.

Lots of banks, turns, twists, up and down nose-tiltings later the pilot manages to align with the approach to the airport and descends fast to level a few feet above the runway, still moving at high speed. Eventually the wheels hit the tarmac with a thud, accompanied with a collective ‘Ah’ from the, ‘til now, tense and silent passengers. The brakes seem to be losing the fight with speed as the aircraft continues to hurtle forward unchecked until the brakes win and it comes to a gradual halt.

Everyone is up and in a hurry; cell phones are switched on in unison, despite instructions to keep them off, informing the near and dear ones about safe arrival with a cryptic. ‘Just landed!’ The ground staff, unaware or unconcerned of the frenzy inside, take their own time to attach the ladder. As one exits, the welcome ‘Namaste’ is now replaced with a plastic smile and a farewell ‘Hi’ or a nod.

Having enjoyed the privilege of flying by an international carrier we find ourselves at the International Terminal of the airport. Then begins a 45-minute inspection tour of the parameter wall. A jerky, uncomfortable, hanging by the overhead strap bus ride to 1A, the Domestic Arrival Terminal.

Once again the mad rush to the turnstile for the checked-in baggage, as if it had accompanied us in the bus itself. It arrives rumbling… much later following the same route by a slow moving tractor-trailer combine that too by two trips back and forth.

I had left Mumbai hotel at 7 AM; it is now 3 PM on the Dusshera day. The taxi is driving me to Sector 21, Noida, on the nearly deserted green canopied roads of New Delhi, a complete contrast to Mumbai. I feel good. Delhi looks so good and inviting. I am happy with my Delhi. Mumbaikars are more than welcome to keep their Mumbai with them.

Mercifully with the IETE Annual Technical Convention over there are no more frequently ringing phones, no more incessant ringing of the door bell, and no more couriers’ knock at odd hours. Now, back in my favourite easy-chair, with my loyal companion The ‘Times of India’ in hand, I, in my small world, am at peace once again.

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The Karpola (16,000 feet) and Hatungla(18000) Pass, the three rivers Towang Chu, Nayamjang Chu and Namka Chu are intimately connected with the trials, tribulations and travails of Seven Brigade Troops during Op Leghorn.

Pushed and prodded relentlessly, threatened ruthlessly with a long stick, the Seven Brigade staggered into the valley of River Namkachu, struggling up the formidable Karpola pass, only to face the massive Chinese build up across the River Namkachu on the Thagla ridge. The men bereft of equipment, heavy weapons, mines, barbed wire, digging implements, rations, ammunition, snow clothing. Illequipped either to take an offensive action against the Chinese or take effective defensive positions and more importantly without a cause and motivation to fight.

The valley deceptively serene all this time suddenly bared its fangs on 20th October 1962 and turned into the valley of death.

A valley of death for those who perished on that fateful day strung along the river line. For those herded across, to languish in the prisoner of war camps. It was worse still for those mortally wounded, lying unattended in the valley, on the riverbank, up the slopes, life slowly draining out, without food, water or medical aid, in abject misery, unbearable pain. With no one to provide succour and no hope, they could only wish for a quick and early merciful end.

Those who did manage to escape from the valley of River Namka Chu on 20th /21st some had to once again negotiate the Karpola pass, others the Hatungla pass, cross the river Nayamjang Chu near Shakti over a half demolished rope bridge and finally the River Towang Chu on the night of 23rd into the uncertain safety of Bhutan,

Survivors who managed to crawl out also did not return intact, losing their pride and self-respect in the process. All that they brought out was vision of comrades dead and dying, a nightmare which refuses to go even after more than 40 years. The eternal unanswered question still haunting: why were we sent in and why the manner in which we were sent in?

The Valley of River Namka Chu was indeed the ‘Valley of No Return’ for all those who had ventured into it. Equally for those who perished and also those who survived.

The Seven Brigade Signals was deployed with the brigade at Towang the HQ of Keming Frontier Division of Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA). It also moved forward, consequent to the Sino-Indian conflict starting 8th September 1962, along with the brigade.

The less told story ‘Letters from the Border’ pertains to The Seven Brigade Signal Section, for the simple reason that the author was involved in the trails and travails of the Section from the beginning to end. The ‘ Less Told Stories’ are equally relevant and pertinent in bringing out the devotion to duty, unquestioning obedience and feelings of those who did not form part of the decision making loop of the higher echelons of military or of those who had political reasons and priorities to keep and maintain.

From My book: "Letters From the border and other less told stories"

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It was back in 1962, IA was then known as IAC, that then as a young Captain, I was posted in Assam, separated and far away from a younger wife, living in Dehradun. The only contact between the two pining souls was by the infrequent letters, which took days to move to and fro.

The daily IAC flight from and to Calcutta, flew low over our Regiment, located at the Sonbari Airfield, Tezpur, and landed and took-off regularly. The flight operated by a Dakota aircraft, which with its characteristic drone of the twin engines was both a friendly sight and sound.

A God-sent short training assignment at Agra made me realise that I could manage a couple of days at Dehradun by shaving-off some from the slow train journey, from Tezpur to Agra, if I took the flight to Calcutta and then the train to Dehradun .

It was a strange feeling of exhilaration when I had taken my seat in the aircraft and the door closed with a bang. I had flown earlier, as a young boy of fourteen, but only in a Royal Indian Air Force aircraft. A pair of Tiger Moths were on a war effort exhibition tour giving joy rides to district officials and local VIPs. It was just a takeoff, a single circuit around and then the landing on the grass strip at Saharanpur way back in 1945.

The Dakota flight was an entirely different experience, with its comfortable well-padded seat next to the window, looking down at the town of Tezpur, the majestic Brahamputra maundering on its way to Bay of Bengal and the slowly changing landscape down below. Seeing all, but possibly not registering much, with my thoughts at far away Dehradun.

Nearing Calcutta the aircraft banked, took a turn and aligned itself with the runway and slowly sank down making a smooth three-point landing. As we were walking towards the terminal I did manage to complement the Captain for the flawless landing, who gave me a pleasant smile in return.

The taxi drive to the Howarth Junction from the airport took more time than the flight had from Tezpur to Dum Dum Airport, Calcutta. However, I did manage some precious time with my wife and baby daughter, many times worth the princely sum of Rs 100, I had spent on the air ticket.

On the other hand, returning from Nagpur to Delhi by Flight 872 on the morning of April 5th 2004, this time in a Boeing 737 Jet, was a different flight experience. Unusually fussing-over cabin-crew, breakfast not served with shining cutlery but with a plastic knife for reasons of security. Different than flying in a Dakota, but similar in a respect.

Approaching Delhi, the aircraft started to loose altitude preparing for the landing, I could see it closing by the second, crossing the outer-fence of the Airport and then descending to contact the tarmac and the runway markers flying backwards. It was any moment now, by instinct and based on the experience of so many earlier landings in fair weather and foul that I braced myself for the expected thud and the accompanying jolt of the landing wheels making contact with mother-earth. My co-passenger made some remark but before I could respond I realised to my surprise that we had landed. No thud and no jarring note at the end of the flight. It was a strange coincidence, the non-event, suddenly brought back the memory of the landing at Dum Dum Airport way back on the afternoon of 24 March 1962.

There was no chance to complement the pilot this time; I could only request the cabin crew to do the needful.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

A Journey Through Life With Two Wives

The reader joins the author in his ‘Journey through Life’ commencing sometime between 1935-36, and follows him through the simple life in villages of Western UP as perceived by a five year old then six, and then to Delhi of yore and other small towns of the province. He feels, just as the author, the cultural shock of the move to Lucknow in the 50’s and the freewheeling life in the university and is introduced to the new concept of 'Love at Far Site’. Moving on next to the Indian Military Academy located in the foothills of the Shiwaliks with its dreaded Drill Square and the Obstacle Course. After passing-out from IMA, the proud but shaky 2nd lieutenant faces the pains of growing up in the post independence Army, a blend of the British traditions and the Indian value system. The reader is soon introduced to the new 'Babbler' post facing the young officer’s 'Love at First Sight' and feels the pangs of separation in married life resulting from combat service and thereafter the dangers to life and limb on entering the 'Valley of Death' during the 1962 Sino Indian Conflict. As the author climbs up the career ladder, the reader has a chance to look at the intricacies of Command and Staff at Army HQ and the student – instructor relationship in a service environment that are so different from traditional institutions. One is saddened watching the author's trauma on being a helpless witness to his wife's tenacious fight with cancer with his, only partly successful, efforts to minimize her pain through the long struggle and culminating in her untimely demise. In the end one can only sympathize with his efforts to cope with the pain and guilt of living without her.

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