Friday, December 13, 2019

DO I MISS MY GRANDMOTHER?

One last time in Jul 2005, I stepped out of my Submarine as my sea tenure ended. As I climbed out of the Control Room well stairs, the holding stair rails were cold. They were smooth as so many human hands had put their weight on them to slide down the steps or to haul themselves up. I stood on the Submarine’s black casing, looked back at the fin of the boat and walked out of the gangway to begin a new tenure into the Submarine Base from the next day. From this day onward, I converted to an off-shore Submariner from an on-board one. My skills on Submarine were now considered to be apt to support the next generation of Submariners taking over afloat duties. I had become “In my days” kind variant. I simply loved this transition as it brought higher responsibilities and greater challenges.

Today, as I ponder about the life gone by and its tales, a couple of people come into my thoughts. The memories with them are fading away but they impacted my initial years and contributed to what I am today. My paternal and maternal Grandmothers were the two grand folks in my life. Sharing the shape of their respective fates, both these ladies faced the impact of partition in their respective lives. Born in early 1900s to a landowner’s family, my paternal Grandmother completed her education before marrying my Grandfather- a banker positioned across the western borders of India (as of today). Imagining the travel of 745 Kilometers between the city of marriage to city of settlement provides perspective on how these folks moved their respective lives to adjust to new surroundings. The family grew as time elapsed and even as the fate of the British Empire appeared to be on a wobble in the Indian Subcontinent. She bore the pain of losing her few children as illness struck and there were no remedial measures.

The spirit of freedom touched India with fervor and during the Lahore Session of 1929, the “Purna Swaraj” (Complete Independence) of India was announced by the freedom movement leaders. This touched chord with Indians as the nationalists moved ahead to push for the dominion status at the earliest followed by freedom. My Grandmother donated her jewelry as the call for fund raising was spread in the region. The Indian Sub-Continent went through its own thick and thick even as WW-2 raged near its boundaries. Did my grandparents lived more stable lives even as the World around them was creating new fault lines by replacing the existing ones is a question which I ponder upon?

My maternal Grandmother was younger to the paternal one and growing up in the old walls of Delhi. A marriage at a young age was the norm of the era. She had my mother in her lap even as India divided and a 1000 kms away my father too was a toddler oblivious of the pangs of partition faced by his parents. The lives of both my Grandmothers changed as new Nations came into being and their distances reduced to less than 100 kms before the year 1948 struck its arrival. Both the ladies had a moment of cheer as they say when their respective grandchildren come into the world. They had a definitive role to play in these young lives and so they did with aplomb.

The discipline of student life was inculcated on the first day of school life by my paternal Grandmother. She was turning blind and this was a setback to an educated, well-read lady. She found a resource in my young soul and made me learn reading newspapers at the young age of 4 years! This was a boon not for her but for me. The young mind started shaping up thoughts around human dimensions as the newspapers and magazines became early partners. I would read out for her and could feel her expressions as the world around us moved at its hectic pace. 27+ years had passed since she had left her vast setup in the other Nation. She could make the sense of the World around her and its implications. Her commentary on multiple subjects gave me an insight into her analytical capability and helped in connecting dots to craft the figures emerging out of some where! In-spite of losing their hard-earned grandeur, she never lamented the changes around her. She embraced them with ease and taught us to fight on to live another day. She could live well within her meager sources and kept aside a little sum inside a holy book to take care of her rituals after she was gone. I was the custodian of her secret saving and could only reveal about its existence when she was gone!

The value of time was another virtue which she drilled inside me. The work is worship and she would be waiting for me as I came back from school. Keeping my uniform neatly, stacking my books correctly and finishing the homework before stepping out to play had a clock work precision. A walk into the parks and market area with her taught me to wish elders and handle money on behalf of her blind self. The days began and ended with something accomplished for good. The power of dressing correctly and treating humanity alike was also a great gift from her.

The maternal grandmother was an epitome of gentleness and calmness. She would never raise her voice and her white face reflected purity of thoughts. She would always be adjusting towards others and taught us to give other humans a place before claiming your own space. Today such thoughts might rattle humans, but this helped her to stay out of many conflicts in her personal life within the boundaries of a large family. There must have been many a volcano which she did not let erupt outside as this would have disrupted many lives in her innermost arena. These were important lessons in handling humans with a smile on face and good thoughts in the heart. The mind behaved clearly as it knew that the path of conflict needs to be avoided. The respect that she gave to family elders was a treat to watch and feel. The old patriarch and matriarch of the family always admired her patience and grace. The turmoil of her inner self was never visible to anyone outside. She remains a symbol of divinity for many of us who saw her.

As I settled into my new work place in the Submarine Squadron, I knew that it was time to give best support to the men who sailed those machines. It was a transition into another World as new roles would emerge. Keeping the learning from the elders and training into perspectives, I continued to carry out my trysts. The results had to be measurable and the results were delivered with no inconvenience to any other human. It was great team effort to count the success and a rare failure had a definitive accountability. The World around me kept evolving but I kept the lessons given by my grandmothers fresh with my actions. The World around us does not expect to be subdued but expects more frankness towards humans. With clarity of purpose, no target is difficult and if humans are willing to listen the right inputs. A correct command on the Submarine makes the actions tick like a clock. A gentle guidance from the Grandmother always brought in the best results and the process got ingrained smoothly.

Life in all its ways has a lot to offer, learn and teach. We expect to learn easily so we must also teach calmly. I was taught the Hindi Language Numbering System by my Grandmother as a game- I learnt it in no time. My first dive of Submarine was an easy one as I just gamed it happily. There were absolutely no hitches ever as the clarity within the fog of events is there to be assessed, analyzed and actions performed.

I bow my head in reverence to my elders who taught me patiently. Maybe they knew that the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous) World was a reality. Now we know that the Artificial Intelligence enabled VUCA World has already raised its envelope for humans to be engulfed. What do we need? Maybe, the Grandmother’s conduct of her life holds the keys. Is it, eh? 


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

THE WHOLE HOG


I was raised in a small town of an adjoining state of Delhi- the capital of India. Our sleepy town would see its men folk leave towards Delhi in the morning hours and return later in the night after their respective works. As children, we were accountable for many activities of our lives and followed strict directives from both elders at home and teachers at school. At a relatively young age, we were introduced to always perform to the best ability.

The memories of watching batches passing out of the school and following their success stories of joining institutions of repute guided many of us. The chasms of teenage were overcome easily as a set of friends would keep balancing each other’s hormonal instincts. The focus of the desired end state of the student life never was lost amidst the fog of life’s teenage stage. It was difficult for many to retain the balance as everything around and inside us changed at a rapid pace. This eventually led to the creation of the paths that we all took to commence our respective professional and personal lives. There were no short cuts for many of us and we always took the harder rights instead of the easier wrongs. There was simply no turning back but to go the whole hog each time that we moved any needle.

The harder rights of life remind me of the history of many a Kings and Emperors. It is at the point where they needed to go the whole hog that they probably missed their definitions and paid the price. The famous Battle of Buxar fought on 23 Oct 1764 in India saw an Emperor and two rulers of princely states (called Nawabs) losing to a lesser force of British East India Company (EIC). The Mughal Army appeared stronger in number with 40,000 men as against a 10,000 men army of the EIC. The Army must go the whole hog if it must be declared the winner. To achieve the victory, the General must be in clear picture of the war theatre and guiding his forces to move ahead. After all, the defenses of those days were laid at defined distances and cannot be altered thus thinning the lines. Historians summed up that this battle was lost by the larger Army due to lack of coordination as the Emperor never came out of his tent to lead his forces into the battle. He did not go the whole hog and bargained a different position with the EIC. The victory by a smaller force brought the EIC unprecedented rights over the rich parts of East India and their monetary returns compounded. The EIC did not stop here and went the whole hog to expand its reach to Delhi which eventually saw the Imperial Durbar being held three times in 1877, 1903 and 1911. The company had gone the whole hog to achieve its aim of maximizing its shareholder’s profits and to carry out the business in the way its leadership deemed best. The decisions of the leadership of the company have long term effects and a closer scrutiny would reveal that the decision’s results reach their whole hog.

The Emperor managed to live the day of 23 Oct 1764 and then waited for another 12 years before he could set towards Delhi- the so-called capital of the Mughal Empire. Had he gone the whole hog with the other 2 components of his forces on the day of the Battle of Buxar, his history might have had a different connotation! He took a strategic decision of not participating in the battle to achieve an easier alignment and his achievement narrative changed that day. He never could become the Emperor the Mughal Empire needed at that time when European Forces had found their feet into the riches of India.

Alexander too had the great desire to be the ruler of the World. He had the charisma to pull off stunning victories even when outnumbered. He could rally his troops even when their morale was fledgling, and he could keep them away from their homes to move from one campaign to another. He had a General called Clitus who had also served under Alexander’s father Philip. Clitus was aware of Alexander’s instincts and kept by his side to give him wise counsel.

In the autumn of 328, however, a tragic incident took place. After a difficult war, Alexander was in a drinking party in the palace at Maracanda in Sogdia. Many of his courtiers were flattering Alexander for the difficult win. Some called him the son of Zeus-Ammon and belittled Alexander's human father Philip, others made jokes about the commanders who had been defeated and killed by the native leader Spitamenes. This was more than Clitus, who had served under Philip and knew the dead commanders, could stomach: he started to praise Philip.
Hearing his words, Alexander felt offended, and in his drunken rage pushed aside his bodyguards and ran a lance through Clitus, who died on the spot. Alexander had gone the whole hog albeit not in his usual self. The result was a dead General who had the capability to advise his King. When the king was sober again, he understood that he had made one of the greatest mistakes of his life. For three days, he considered suicide but then he decided to accept life again as his other men built up the narrative that he could rest upon. This may have been comfortable to Alexander but set a new standard of flattery. From now on, hardly anybody dared to correct Alexander any more. The hog was not going to be whole again for Alexander from this point onwards. True to its core, the half hogs continued to trouble Alexander from here onwards and his race came to an end in an abrupt manner. The man who set upon to conquer the World died at 33 in Babylon. Shortly before his death, Alexander was supposedly asked who his empire should go to. His answer was said to be "to the strongest man." There was nobody strong enough to hold his empire together. His generals fought over his land and in the end, it was divided up into multiple states. The effort was all but vain as none could go the whole hog after Alexander’s attempt.
In any form of existence, it is vital to complete the details to the finest possible end. This would ensure that the act and the result would match. Humans do have the intrinsic capability to go the whole hog to deliver the result. Many targets have been achieved because some humans thought that they could achieve them. A Nepalese climber climbed 14 highest peaks in 189 days to smash the existing record by more than 7 years! In his own words, this feat was grueling but humbling. He brought forth his determination, self-belief and positivity. These traits helped him reach the whole hog each time he took that first step at the base of the mountain. In this amazing display of tenacity, another accompanying climber became the youngest climber to scale the 14 highest peaks. It was only possible as they went atop each of the peak to register their final step. The whole hog of each peak culminated in the whole hog for the 14 peaks and that too in a record time. This is the spirit of going the complete way to get magnificent results.

An Emperor sitting inside his tent or a youthful King losing his self- control do not go the whole hog and along with them many others also miss their intended destinies. This goes on to prove a point that human destinies are interlinked. The right end provides succor and relief to the achiever as also to his connected humans. Each problem has a solution and once the action is decided- it is best to pursue the whole hog effort. Do not give up till the end and keep the effort focused in the right direction.

Do you have it in you, eh!!! The whole hog approach is demanding and punishing but in the end the result is equally satisfying. The world around is changing at a rapid pace in every dimension. Let us go the whole hog way and scale up the efforts.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

TRAVELOGUE RANTHAMBORE (14-16 AUG 2019)

Leaving the buzz of New Delhi amidst the school and the office traffic is an unique challenge in itself. All the roads leading out of Delhi suck time and make the vehicles guzzle fuel. Traffic is dense and there are no pardons. We could leave Delhi behind after almost 90 minutes of veering through the traffic lines. The first relief came after crossing Manesar and the skies poured. Visibility was reduced to a haze and the Green Duster enjoyed the rain to the hilt. The cabin inside was chilled, Laid Back Classics played seamlessly from Amazon Music and the 4x4 cruised along taking all the challenges of the road. A breakfast stop at Basant Dhaba was refreshing and then I pressed on the pedal to race along with a Toyota Fortuner and Nissan Kicks. The Green Renault Duster rose to the call and my rear view kept seeing both trying to overtake each other. 

We left Jaipur City on our right and then cut onto Tonk Highway. The road is a Driver’s delight with virtually no trucks and or much vehicular traffic. The only challenge is cattle on the road as they are still grappling with human activity cutting across their zone. Be careful and look far ahead. The zoom from Tonk to Sawai Madhopur is again delightful but for the cattle on the road. The Dhoti clad villagers will amuse the city folks- it is a no trouser village zone! Sawai Madhopur has one of the cleanest Railway Stations of India and its first railway line brought it closer to Jaipur when the Jaipur Royals got the control of Ranthambore Fort. The pink hunting lodge of Jaipur Royals is now a Forest Guest House and right behind it stands the 2nd oldest banyan tree of India. Surrounded by rough edged mountains and deciduous jungle, the region boasts of Mango Trees too! How did the Mangoes get in to this region whose main vegetation is thorny Keekar? Let us dive into the history of Ranthambore.

Allaudin Khilji saw the rout of his Army at the hands of brave King Hammir Dev in 1301 AD. The King and his Army marauded through the rank and files of Allaudin’s Army and the battle was won. Hammir looked back towards his formidable Ranthambore Fort perched at 481 Metre above the Mean Sea Level. His eyes were filled with anger when he saw the Black Flag flying at the Fort. He could not clean up the shattered Mughal Army as he had to scale back his Fort. The Black Flag gave the doomsday signal to Hammir’s Queens. He knew that the sacred fire of Joauhar would have been lit seeing the Black Flag’s flutter. Seething in both anger and pain, King Hammir pushed his horse Badal to cut through the thick vegetation. Badal galloped and lunged across mountain tracks. It reached the main gate but the King had no time at his hand.

King Hammir Dev prayed hard in his mind and the folk lore says that the steep mountain wall turned into a wax wall. Badal climbed the wax wall leaving 2 horse shoe marks (visible till date), took a giant leap and jumped right inside the Fort!

The Royal Bengal Tigress Machli (or Machali) was born to Tigress Machli-1. Both the mother and daughter had an unmistakable Fish symbol on their foreheads. Machli-1 forefeited her empire to Machli who went on to convert Ranthambore into a Tiger watchers delight. Raising her clan to a 75 strong today, Machli faded away at the age of 19 years in 2016. Her moments with the humans and wild population were unique. She would walk quietly even as shutters clicked ferociously capturing her moments. She would be lying quietly basking in the Sun as tourists would try to control their adrenaline. Rantahmbore of today is a multimillion dollar industry as humans hungry for jungle King moments flock the hotel properties in and around the Ranthambore National Park. 

Ranthambore takes its unique name from Ran (Mountain), Tham (Valley) and Bhor (Water Body). It is in this geography that both King Hammir and Tigress Machli created a unique historical blend.
Machli fought a major battle with a 14 Foot long Crocodile- captured in the camera. She lunged at the water beast and did not let him go from her clutches till the life was sucked out of its wind pipe. She lost her two canines in this battle and also an eye but she made sure that her litter survived. The progeny grew under her watchful eyes and is spread across 350 square kilometres of this amazing National Park. Machli gave way to her daughter Sundari and walked into a painful old age. She was accorded a Life Time Award by BBC and became the most photographed Royal Bengal Tigress.
King Hammir and Badal landed right inside the Fort and saw that the fire had touched the sky. The entire 13000 Queens clan had jumped into the fire to save them from the victorious enemy (wrongly reported). The King’s unmarried daughter had jumped into a pond inside the Fort and drowned! He was distraught and was told that it was one of his Minister Ranmal who had raised the Black Flag. It was the duty of Ranmal to raise the victory flag of Saffron Color but he had done exactly the opposite thus saving the enemy army from a complete rout- he had a bargain with them for this act! Hammir Dev was crestfallen, distraught and angry. He mounted Badal and rushed to find Ranmal whom he caught at the last Gate of the Fort. With one stroke he had removed his neck and it was kept at the Gate to remind generations about his treachery. The replica of neck in a stone format remains even today and is stoned by people who cross the gate. Treachery never gives sustainable results and Ranmal epitomizes the prophecy. He wanted to be the King and sided with the enemy.

The Mughal Army regrouped and laid a 07 month siege around the formidable ramparts of the Fort. The gates of the Fort with their iron nails still stand testimony to their strength. The gates would not let the elephants move ahead as these thick iron nails would bleed them. King Hammir was a man of his words and never let down someone who had sought refuge under him. It was Mohammad Shah (who was Allaudin’s General and had betrayed the faith of his King) who had sought refuge under Hammir. Allaudin wanted Mohammad Shah and King Hammir stood true to his words. The Mughal Army had carried mangoes in its food stock and the thrown mango seeds led to the mango trees growing into the jungles surrounding the Fort.

The Fort ran into a famine like situation as the siege progressed for 07 months and till one day Hammir came charging out of the Fort for that one last battle. Their families long dead, the King of Ranthambore led a dispersed attack. He was extremely brave and courageous in his approach but somewhere his heart was broken by the sequence of his life. The two armies fought but soon the King was outplayed and outnumbered. He had no support from outside Kings as he had made no friends with them in his 13 year of rule and some of his important Generals also lost their plot in the battle- they too sided with the enemy. The folk lore reveals that he cut his own neck and presented it to Lord Shiva- his God. Allaudin Khilji entered the Fort but it had nothing left inside other than the bricks and remains of its grandeur. He did not give Hammir’s Generals their due and removed their necks for not being true to their own King! What an irony of fate as even they did not learn from Ranmal. 
Both Hammir and Machli lived within miles of each other in different times but lived by their own principles. They would put their lives at great risk to maintain their respective honor.

Today, the Ranthambore Fort is also famous for its 3 eyed Ganesha Temple. As we walk toward the temple, we cross small stone houses built by devotees seeking the blessings to build their own houses. The wind blowing at the Fort is refreshing and the lungs gasp to grab the clean oxygen. The clouds occasionally poured to give the clean water that splashed into the face even the wind dried it away. The sight of lush green jungle all around gives the confidence that the oxygen factory is still working and the concrete is only within the mountains with no heat generating machines. Climate change is still a little away from these zones. The infrastructure leading to various tourist spots needs to be done up and keep Ranthambore an economic paradise for its population.

Our guide Manish was from a nearby village and reminisced his life of venturing into the jungles with his cattle. Spending nights in the jungles with cattle’s is the best thing as per him. I could only imagine the lit up sky as I rested my neck on a stone in Manish’s description. Wrapped in a woolen blanket which does not permeate water, the jungle wind caresses my head and I fall asleep surrounded with the pleasant sounds of the jungle and the cattle bells. He speaks fluent English without any accent and this truly is an example of Skilled Indian- no one has taught him but his brush with the tourists. He runs a safari tour booking service, helps tourists understand about Ranthambore Fort and also manages his cattle. He continues with his education and is now enrolled into his MA. He laughs when I ask him where is his stone home near the Ganesha Temple. He rings the bell of the Temple and says that he is happy in his village home right inside the jungle territory. It has its stones. He plans a smaller family even as his bride is finishing her Bachelor studies from her mother’s home. He has a dream for him and her.

Rantahmbore is a dream igniter. Mother Nature has blessed its territory. We could be part of some moments of its existence since 944 AD!

The Jungle Safari will be done soon and I hope that some progeny of Machli would be magnanimous to let us a watch a glimpse of their lives.



Friday, July 19, 2019

THE DJINNS

New Delhi is a fascinating City and its weather has started churning once again. Delhi faces each type of weather and has a charm around its existence.  

I just finished reading an account about Delhi's amazing history by William Dalrymple. Sparkling with irrepressible wit, City of Djinns peels back the layers of Delhi's centuries-old history, revealing an extraordinary array of characters along the way-from eunuchs to descendants of the Moghuls. In this account and with ease, William Dalrymple explores the seven "dead" cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city-today's Delhi. Underlying his quest is the legend of the djinns, fire-formed spirits that are said to assure the city's Phoenix-like regeneration no matter how many times it is destroyed. Entertaining, fascinating, and informative, City of Djinns is an irresistible blend of research and adventure. It is a one read account and for some book lovers- it would be a Collector's Delight.

Confusion is the mother of all evils. It can lead to chaos and no wonder humanity thrives in chaos. Let me narrate an incident that happened during my 3rd Term at the Fox Sqn (Jul 1989).

CHM Girdhari Lal, the Drill Instructor of Fox Sqn, stepped out of the Sqn Office and turned right towards the GFCL. His cane tucked hard under his left arm pit, he had a deep gaze and the Academy DO was in his right hand. He waited outside the CSM's Cabin and again looked into the Daily Order. The Sqn had started falling in for the after lunch run practice. 2nd & 3rd Termers had fallen in and 4th Termers were trickling down from stairs and corridors. Girdhari Lal's gaze swept through the 2nd & 3rd Termers but his question appeared to have remain unanswered!

His mind drifted on that fateful day at Itarasi Junction when Tamil Nadu Express came and stopped parallel to the NDA Special. It became a heist at broad daylight as some courageous souls alighted and boarded the Tamil Nadu Express! The Adjutant observed this from the First Class Coupe and rushed out with his Drill Instructor's team. They fanned out into different bogies of the TN Express to flush out the souls attempting to reach New Delhi and other stations earlier. Many were caught that eventful day and then brought back to the NDA Special where they were herded near the First Class Coupe of the Officers. They waited with baited breath for the Adjutant to return.

As the Drill Instructors moved from compartment to compartment, even the TN Express passengers cooperated with them. They pointed out to the deserters hiding inside toilets and even creeping under their berths! One soul was lifted even as he had put a lungi on his face and pretended to be asleep! The raid finished even as the exasperated TN Express guard wanted to move his train on time. A couple of Drill Instructors including CHM Girdhari Lal could not de-board TN Express and had to move ahead. The action now shifted to the Adjutant's coupe in the NDA Special. The names and numbers of the cadets were taken till two cadets gave out the names Cadet Sanga and Cadet Banga from Foxtrot Squadron! Their names were noted by a benign Gorkha Regt CHM from the world of the 3rd Battalion. The cadets were dispersed and the NDA Special moved at its pace. CHM Girdhari Lal and others embarked from Agra Station and the eventful journey came to an end.

Standing in the GFCL and as the whole Sqn had assembled, CHM Girdhari Lal thundered the names of Cadets Sanga and Banga to fall out. No one moved an inch and the stone faced Cadets were lost in their own thoughts. The silence after the thunder stated as if the names did not ring any bell in their minds. CHM Girdhari Lal was now livid. He directed the CSM to divide the Sqn into two parts- one on NDA Special and other of Non-NDA Special. It was almost a 60-40 divide. He again read out the names, numbers and the punishment awarded to these 2 Cadets- 14 Sinhgarh Hikes. Nothing moved in the NDA Special type wing! CHM Girdhari Lal now had beads on his forehead- he had to go back to the Sqn Office with these cadets and he had no bird in his hand. The SCC and CSM huddled with the CHM to provide their interpretation. CHM Girdhari Lal discovered that it was the end of this trail to identify Cadets Sanga and Banga. The story fanned like fire during the evening dinner night and there were mumbled talks amongst the cadets who had received their share of travel to the fabled Shivaji Fort. They knew that they could not play up what the so called Sanga and Banga had achieved.

The Dinner Night got over. It was a moon lit night as the squads of 4 & 6 marched towards their Sqns. The Drill Instructors were standing at their nominated locations. At one point CHM Girdhari Lal from Grenadiers stood along with the Gorkha Regiment CHM- A Squad walked by with a loud Jai Hind Sahab salutation. Both the CHMs were in ram rod straight position and trying to identify the elusive Djinns Sanga and Banga. As the Squad walked ahead, the front right Cadet whispered,"Ki haal Sanga?". The left cadet smiled at him and then looked straight ahead even as the Sinhgarh peak dipped behind the rising facade of the 2nd Battalion. 

Sanga and Banga lived on in CHM Girdhari Lal's mind even as he continued his efforts to find them. During the POP of my course, CHM Girdhari Lal was also finishing with his time at the NDA. He still wanted to unravel the mystery and would inquire quietly from individual cadets about the culprits! 

The POP came and the so called Banga's father came with a camera. The cane was stuck hard inside the left arm pit of CHM Girdhari Lal as the two Djinns Sanga and Banga stood on his either side to capture the moment. As CHM Girdhari Lal shook their hands and walked away , so called Cadet Sanga whispered,"Ki haal Banga?"  
 

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

THE CULINARY SKILLS

The aroma filling the four walls of our home today morning set my mind thinking. I have never been a culinary human! When we were young and growing, I saw my mother switching between the Angeethi (a traditional brazier used for cooking in India) and LPG Cylinder based gas stove. The use of the medium depended upon the type of food being cooked. The chilly winters saw more use of Angeethi to cook Saag (leaf based dish) and boiling water. These mediums also provided for instant heating of hands to ward away the perils of ice cold conditions. In the summers, the heat from these mediums added to the woes of scorching summer winds from the deserts nearby.

Bookish children, as we were and living with doting grandparents, never exposed me (and I can vouch for a few close friends of mine too!) to the culinary skills. The maximum that we would do was to join the women folk to peal away peas. Our duties were to fetch milk and take the wheat to the market for getting it machined to flour. No one taught me or encouraged me to learn cooking or to cut vegetables (I was brought up as a vegetarian). As I grew to about 8 years and became a little self confident, I learnt to make Maggie 2 minute noodles to quench the taste buds and could make a cup of tea for my blind grandmother. This skill just about stopped there itself as my grandma faded away. There was no upgrade from here.

The studies kept us busy and the food was always at the table when needed. The trend continued at the National Defence Academy and the Indian Navy thereafter. Good discipline habits ensured that I never got late for any meal albeit for a brief phase at the National Defence Academy where the ragging did take away some calorific inputs. Missing of these meals did not affect much and rather helped to shear away some baby fat. These intermediate fasts were good for the system and were occasionally broken with the help of Course-mates who would bring toasts smeared with a thin layer of butter/jam tucked away in starched uniform pockets. The handkerchief would be the medium which would engulf such sandwiches and the soggy bread would taste out of the world. In spite of these hardships, the culinary skills steadfastly remained away. In due course of time, an ecosystem emerged wherein some Cadets would be cooking Halwa (a sweet dish) in their aluminium mess tins. I just became parasite to them as they cooked and I ate. I never could devote time to learn the cooking skills as other activities kept my time engaged. 

The food became quintessential for the survival but was always accompanied by a reading material alongside. The breakfast was never complete without the newspaper and other meals were eaten along with books or periodicals. The state came to such a passé that it did not matter what was served so long as it was even mildly palatable. This helped me survive travels within the vast India as I seamlessly moved from one state to another. I would just not crib about the taste, aroma or spices as food was needed to survive. In my trips to foreign destinations, anything that was served or easily available would help me survive. I never had a choice for my guts and in a gathering I would just let others do the ordering whilst I would just wait for the food to arrive!

The lack of culinary skills caught up with me in a longish outstation duty in Russia. My other two team members became home sick and just would not come to the kitchen to cook (I was happy doing the dishes to do my share of work). I survived the evening as it snowed outside. The next morning, I managed the breakfast of some dry bread with jam along with tea. The lunch was skipped as the team members just refused to come out of home sickness! I got out of the hotel amidst the snow and walked to the nearest shop. With some broken Russian and gesturing, I could lay my hand on a frozen packet which looked like Momos. I got the packet to the kitchen and put the contents in boiling water. The frozen content just exploded and the meat floated in water. I did not know what to do till a Russian lady walked in to bake and was generous to give me some baked bread. Her husband was a Russian Submarine Captain and shared Vodka from my bottle as I managed some dinner for me and my homesick team members. In spite of these experiences, I just could not manage to get some culinary skills.

My heart still pounds when I have to wait for the rice to cook. I make sure that I rattle out the time of receiving the order and count exact minutes to shut that gas valve to off. The pressure cooker tries to play truant at times as it’s whistle does not follow the laid down process when I am in charge! These moments are nerve wracking and food serving Apps appear all over my digital screens. I always add a tip for the food delivery boy as if to thank him for being my savior in those trying moments. My culinary skills just refuse to build up in spite of constant pressures and prodding. It stays limited to cutting the lemon to equal halves and preparing the warm glass of water to kick start the mornings. The tea making skill remains constant as the instant noodles have lost my appetite long ago. In effect, my skills have remained steadfast to some liquids as putting bread and jam on a toast is not counted in the category of the culinary skills.

In spite of this lack of skill, I have survived some tough terrains and worldwide travels. I have eaten whatever is the local offering and can survive effortlessly with zero demand. A swig of water and my body responds with full energy. A new year has set in today and I have decided to go more frugal. Despite the frugality, I have decided that I will try to learn some basic cooking (which is counted in the culinary skills). I will have to be careful with the knives and cutting of vegetables as I go along (not to repeat a deep gash in my left palm as a bread-cutter ripped the lemon into precise two and then rested deep inside my palm!). I am not here to impress anyone with this skill, I just need to get it for the balance survival on this planet. I would continue to take care of my teeth to bite and chew the limited food that I vow that I would intake. 

Culinary skills is an art and my salute to all those who do it so effortlessly. My better half is a master at that but she has found a weak student in me till date. Can I change her perception about me? I need to work hard to get the culinary slumber to wake up inside me. Fortunately, I have a new neighbor who claims to be a great cook but he has completely retired from all other works! This challenge looks to be exciting with a partial fright lurking in the corner of my mind. I have to overcome this bastion too as I build up towards my resolves for 2019. I also need to ensure that my culinary skills benefit others. The task appears gargantuan in its theater but then the Military taught me a golden rule- the first contact with enemy and all strategies get muddled up. Let me try my hand at some cooking this year and find some solace for all those who have excitedly waited for me to adopt this habit.

Do you know what I would cook? Happy New Year 2019, eh!

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Travelogue Itmenaan Estate, Chalnichinna, Dist Almora, Uttarakhand, India

Day-1:- 30 Aug 2018. After a fruitful working day at Delhi, left at 4pm towards Haldwani. The Green Mamba (Duster) purred with excitement as finally it was climbing hills. The drive out of Delhi was good as the new Meerut Highway led us towards new KMP Highway and we bypassed bad traffic of Ghaziabad. The ongoing flyover constructions slowed us down till Pilakhuwa where we crawled and lost 40 minutes. A pit stop at Bikanerwala on Hapur -Moradabad Highway for an early dinner (Uttapam) and I throttled the 4x4 on the dark Highway (which had lamps but no current). 

A Uttarakhand Roadways Bus travelling towards Haldwani guided me and put us on a track right through deep forest route. It was an occasional vehicle on road and I maintained a steady 80 KMPH to avoid any disturbance to the flora and fauna.

A wild elephant turned his (or her) back towards us as the Duster emerged silently out of a bend with all its lights lighting up the jungle.We checked into Haldwani at 11pm and snuggled into a nice room at Hotel Devashish as the town slept quietly.The car performed well and the Honeywell Car Purifier worked silently to keep us absolutely fresh.Looking forward to the climb today as rains pour down.

Day 2- 31 Aug 2018. The stay at Hotel Devashish, Haldwani rejuvenated us and after the breakfast We were all set to brace the rains which were lashing Haldwani. The Green Mamba (Renault Duster) had been itching to burn up the diesel in its 1461cc engine. The trick of the mountain driving lies in a careful driver and a fit car. We fueled up the diesel at Haldwani and I pressed the gas to meet our first destination Bhimtal. 

The nature's fury had brought down a large tree at a busy Haldwani Junction. The smiling policemen were busy clearing the traffic and helped us to the Bhimtal axis. The 4x4 sprang to life as the Green Mamba could sense the fun on pot holed roads. The gas pedal merits careful handling as all 4 wheels rip through the pot holed and keep the 4x4 vehicles scale dirt with ease. The Haryana Registration helps the cause as the hill drivers feel that the driver is a novice! Speed is a thrilling bet and the Green Mamba had its share of fun as it set a scorching pace through the hill bends with all its lights blazing. Soft rock songs filled the cabin with delight and we crossed a filled up Bhimtal Lake. A large group of ducks was wading through its waters as rains lashed around. It was a great sight and we paced towards Almora.

The roads are good and a few pot holed patches but who cares as the radials tackled them with ease. The bumps in the cabin can hardly be felt and I tried the ABS of the Green Mamba to my utter joy. It performed smoothly.

Crossing Almora, we cut across roads leading towards Ranikhet, Binsar and zoomed towards Jageshwar Dham. A river flowed alongside and its flow through its rocky surface boosted the spirits of the drive. A patch of racing with an Innova Crysta whose driver was not willing to let us pass ahead created some good fun moments. Eventually, we cut him across after a bend and Green Mamba blinked its parking lights signalling its better grip on the road.

Leaving the main road behind at a junction we turned towards Artola and Suakhan to reach our stop at *Chalnichinna*. It is at this place that our stay in *Itmenaan Estate* was planned.

Leaving Green Mamba parked in the village market,we made our way 670 meters down the hill through a stone track. This track tests the mettle of pollution impacted metro city lungs. The calf muscles felt the load and became live again. The stomach churned the last morsel into energy and also dug deep into fats layered here and there.

The stop at our breathtaking cottage made the down climb a great cheer. The whiff in the air opened up the lungs and blood stream felt a new vigor. The Welcome Drink was made of a local fruit and purged the system walls of clogs and dirt. The home cooked lunch had a brilliant taste and as if to welcome us- the rains did not lash us. The terrace farmed hills, villages spread across hills and intermittent clouds coming down as if to check the new habitants made our day. 

Itmenaan Estate has stoned rooms,wooden floors and comfortable beds. The Staff is amazing and makes this a perfect stay where one can get merged with the Beauty of the surroundings. No wonder, it is a hit with foreign visitors who come here to merge with the nature and enjoy week full of village life experience.

The silent night there out some wonderful stars and inspite of light clouds the patch of stars opened up at our azimuth. The neck craned up and the mesmerizing spell kept us awake. The stillness,the calmness and the nature's fragrance are our partners for this stay. Cheers.

Day 3 & 4- 01- 02 Sep 2018. The stillness,the calmness and the nature's fragrance were our partners for this stay. If today, these places are so enchanting, then what bliss they would have been for the likes of Jim Corbett and to the saints/poets/writers who lived in these serene mountains! Life would have been so very different for these folks- we can only wonder and remain in their awe.

The climb from our Deodhar Cottage to the road head amounted to 27 Floors (or downhill!) of 670 meters. This challenge removed the need for any TMT and proved that the body was still performing at 1763 Meters above the sea level. The pounding heart heated up the blood vessels as we did this route 4 times in 02 nights stay. The view en-route is simply- breathtaking.

When we finally climbed for our departure towards Bhimtal, the whistling winds from the tall trees ran a melodious music for us. The clouds rose through the valley and hit the cheeks to leave a cool effect. The village market Folks gave a passing glance as if to tell the traveler that you can stay longer! Wish we could and with a vow to return, I powered up the Duster. 

We crossed a bend and saw the signboard *Jageshwar Dham* - 3 km. We put the Duster on the track and came to an ancient heritage site with a temple complex. This complex has small and big temples in a single complex sitting next to a rivulet. The nip in the air cannot be missed here. Going around the temples, we saw newly weds going through prayers with their families. It is here that we met an astrologer who was candid with his calculations and the discussion was amazing. We left Jageshwar happy and contended- our lives have so much.

We scaled Bhimtal and after a rejuvenating Masala Tea at a NGO Tea Stall checked into *Freddy's Bungalow* at Bhimtal. This Bungalow is also a part of *Itmenaan Estate*. The wonderful part of this Bungalow perched up high on a hill top is its amazing collection of well preserved Butterflies and Insects found in these hills. Amazing and worth a watch. The courteous staff looked after is well and we stayed the night in a well maintained attic room.

Jim Corbett has always been an intriguing figure for me. This time, we decided to stop at The Corbett Museum located in Kaladhungi. His house wherein he lived with his spinster sister Maggi is a treat to visit. We had crossed this place so many times during our travels to Corbett Park but never stopped. Jim's adventures and his books have some of the most captivating accounts of Man Vs Wild. If Jim had technology at his disposal, Bear Gryllsmay not have been in business. Jim Corbett traversed through a large tract of Kumaon and Garhwal Hills. Many would be amazed to know that he was born in India from his parents respective second marriages, worked for Railways, fought with Kumaoni troops in the First World War (was a Colonel) and went on to do successful businesses. He was a true colonizer and each visit to Corbett leaves us mesmerized as we discuss how he would have lived in those days! Amazing lives and Jim deserved the best from India.

The pit stop at Corbett Museum rejuvenated us as we read the letters which he wrote and how well he understood India. The Museum Shop has a handsome offer of great stuff. We picked up spices, tea, pickles and a Compass to keep us focused on the North.

The return leg to Delhi has its choke points at Pilakhua (Hapur) as the bridge construction leads to jams. Well, a price has to be paid for infrastructure development and we paid 45 minutes for the cause.

We entered Delhi amidst news of water logging due to heavy rains and checked into the home at 9pm. 

The 04 days amounted to 840 kms, a study of Kumaon hills above Almora and the next travel to Berinag and Munsiyari beckons ahead. It is always a pleasure to see the snow clad mountains and the chill in the atmosphere.

Travel you must and discover the hidden India. Itmenaan Estates gave us an amazing perspective as it is a challenge to reach its boundaries. Once these boundaries are scaled, you will be awestruck with the power of Mother Nature running its magic all over. The cool breeze whistling through pines, the gushing water in a hidden waterfall, the Milky Way lighting up the night, the clouds going up and down- what more one needs to charge the heart, mind and soul. (Travel Photos- https://photos.app.goo.gl/m3FNMV57Tk6JB5Hc9)


Saturday, August 25, 2018

THE BATTLES WITHIN


52 BCE, the City of Alesia lay under siege from the Roman Army of Julius Caesar. The wooden barricades were laid all around the city and gradually choked the city of its food supplies. The Gaul General Vercingetorix (The Winner of 100 Battles) was trapped inside Alesia with his supporting legions and had waited in vain for the support to arrive. He had a decision to take that fateful day. As the silence of the siege built up outside, a battle within Vercingetorix had raised its head. The General had limited options and he had to exercise one of them to push the situation ahead. 

Vercingetorix emerged from his quarters early in the morning. He was dressed in his finest armor and his imposing figure commanded respect from his followers. He looked at the city’s sights, his mind went back over the details of his earlier decisions wherein he had burnt down cities, farms and food halls to dissuade the Roman Army and to limit their supply chains. He climbed on his tall stallion and rode outside the city gates. 

Julius Caesar was sitting in judgment over a tribunal when Vercingetorix appeared suddenly from nowhere. The battles immediately raged in the minds of everyone present on that site. Each mind was calculating the next move and their hands instinct went to locate their respective weapons and armors. The strapping General got down from his horse, unlocked his armor and went on his knees in front of Caesar. He culled many a battles short as he offered himself but sought the safe passage for his citizens out of a parched Alesia. History holds the imprint of this action of Vercingetorix and his stature as a great hero of the ancient World continues in the lands that he once strode tall on. He had the capability of cutting the battle lines short with his one decisive act. He did pay the price with his life eventually, but ensured that many lives were saved that fateful day and lived on to tell the tales.

Julius Caesar, at that time, was busy consolidating his position and had great ambitions. His Army was getting stronger by the day and with this surrender, he knew his time had come to go back to Rome. The orders from Rome, though, directed him not to come back to Rome but to expand the empire! Now, the battles raged within his mind and he had options to exercise. He moved back towards Rome and his men had their own battles running within as they sensed that this victory over the Gauls would fetch them good returns. This is the irony of the human life- the battles within continue to build up one after another.

Caesar’s march came to a halt one day when he reached the other end of the River Rubicon. The orders from the Roman Senate were not to cross the river with the Army. A potential civil war loomed ahead and Caesar knew about the imminent war. His words were that the die has been cast and his legion cross the River Rubicon. The battles within many minds subsided to give way to new battles rising and Caesar went onto become the Dictator of an Imperial Rome. No victory is perfect and new battles keep shaping up at each milestone of life. Julius Caesar’s battles within just multiplied when he announced his dictatorship. He wanted to control the empire to follow his dreams. There is no denial to the fact he implemented many ideas and made Rome into a powerful Empire. His fist was strong till he hit upon a disease which affected his cerebrovascular abilities. The battles continued to rise within him and his detractors. Eventually, Caesar also left this World still battling many odds as he was stabbed multiple times. 

The question then emerges- can the battles within be controlled? Some humans do have the capability to control their own surging battles and douse them by taking harder decisions upon themselves. Their decisions do a lot harm to them than the good but they are willing to pay the quoted price. This does help them to limit the battles that rage the average human mind and each assault becomes harder to tackle. Something similar to what Vercingetorix and Caesar faced in their lives is faced by business teams each day. The vagaries of the World, its changing priorities and emerging trends – collectively put a business team on its toes each day. There is no escape from its clutches.

There are high expectations for growth, but few manage to expand sustainably and profitability year after year. However, the probability of achieving profitable growth is heightened whenever an organization has a clear growth strategy and strong execution infrastructure. One without the other impairs the probability of success. This is what culls out the battles within.  One in about 10 companies grow sustainably and profitably. Ninety percent of companies fail to hit the growth projections they put in their own annual report. We can safely interpret that growth is one of the hardest acts in business or even in other walks of life. Sustainable growth is fascinatingly hard. And when you try to find out what were the barriers to growth, the incredible thing is that in only 15% of the cases the market emerges as a culprit!! Only in about 15% of cases do they say “We didn’t grow because of something that happened externally.” In the majority of cases, what emerges is that there are internal barriers to their growth, which leads us to say “What kills the future of growth is not the market, but your own internal complexity.” This again gets us back to the point where the battles within minds keep adding up the complexities. Complexity becomes the silent killer of the growth.

But, interestingly, the strategy itself is simplifying if done right.
 
The first strategy is: FOCUS.      You have to have a strong, well-defined core business that you drive to its full potential. That is simplifying. You have to focus on a few things. Keep the mind decluttered.

The second strategy is: LEADERSHIP.     There is always a need to drive to leadership economics. Again, that’s simplifying. Focus on those businesses which are leading and get better performance from them.

The third strategy is: CUSTOMERS.   If you had to do one thing: Be completely focused on customer advocacy. Keep the customer to the forefront of each activity that you are doing. Customer is the King.

The fourth strategy is: DISCIPLINE & POTENTIAL.  If you have to move into businesses outside your core, make sure you’re doing it from your full potential, and make sure you’re incredibly disciplined, because expansions to uncharted waters often kills businesses.

The fifth strategy is: LEVERAGING. Leverage a repeatable model. Figure out what it is that you do incredibly well that can be translated into a front-line routine and do it again and again.

One size never fits all and so is true for life/business as well. The heat of the battle can only be gauged when the first contact is made. The victorious eventually realize that their clouds of doubts were lesser than the fallen. The battles within will continue to snare the thought process. It is the ability of the human mind which has to find deft solutions to keep scaling the grey zones of the mind. So, what is the battle which is raising its rampart in your mind right now? Have you got the solution to its challenges, eh?