Where on Earth are the Marriages made?

New dimensions are being added to match-making…

Until the beginning of 1980s, the thing that drew an Indian traveller’s attention when the train approached a station was bare-bottomed men with a container of water squatting blissfully by the track, deliberately oblivious of the passing trains. Then, there came something that vied for attention and grabbed it nice and proper. It was a hoarding in big white letters in Hindi repeated on the dilapidated brown brick walls separating the tracks from the suburbs on the approach to all cities. It read:

प्रोफेसर अरोड़ा। रिश्ते ही रिश्ते। मिल तो लें। 28, रैगर पुरा, करोल बाग। ब्रांचेज इन अमरीका एण्ड कनाडा।

Literally: “Professor Arora. Loads of matrimonial contacts. Just meet (us). (Address) 28, Raigarpura, Karol Bagh. (We have our) Branches in America (the US) and Canada.”

Innumerable married Indians, and quite a few Americans and Canadians, owe their happily, or very happily married lives to that ad campaign which might be a case study for budding entrepreneurs. That 28, Raigarpura ad was more striking and easier to avail of the offered match-making services than the matrimonial columns of the leading national dailies. The system run by Prof Arora couldn’t have been computerised. Computers didn’t exist even in the imagination in the India of the 1980s. Yet Prof Arora gave a run for the money to all others offering match-making options. Had Modi been the Prime Minister at that time, Arora would have been a subject of discussion on “Man ki Baat.”

Whoever said, “Marriages are made in heaven,” must have lived on a different planet; may not have belonged here. Or, that may have been true in a different era. We rarely see it happen nowadays. The last well known swayamvar was that of Sita (or was it Draupadi?).

The breaking up of the marriage of the daughter of a leading astrologer of India days after she took seven pheras of the holy fire has cast doubt on that system. The role of astrologers, if not the art and science of match-making using astrology, has also lost its appeal.

A joke has been doing the rounds:

A five-floor super store provides choice of men for husbands; desirable qualities keep adding as one moves to the next higher floor. One can climb floors but cannot return to a lower floor to make a choice. A lady wanting to choose a husband found caring men with jobs on the first floor. Curiosity took her to the second floor where she found wealthy caring men with good looks. With a desire to find a better man, she went to the third floor where there were good looking rich romantic men. The woman was happy with the offer but was tempted to have a look on the fourth floor. On offer on the fourth floor were good looking romantic millionaire men who’d help in the kitchen and take care of kids too. Anticipating an even better choice, she took the lift to the top floor to find a prominently displayed message: “Sorry, the kind of man you are looking for does not exist.” [Disclaimer: This joke has been recalled and reproduced to the best of the author’s ability. The readers may change the gender of the main protagonist and re-read if it pleases them.]

Seeing the growing demand, websites facilitating match-making have proliferated. They collect what they call ‘BIO-DATA’ of the customers and their expectations. Then, for a fee they offer contacts of matches who generally meet the requirements. One doesn’t need to write complex algorithms to get the desired output of this nature. A school student adept at using Microsoft Excel can help choose a ‘suitable’ candidate. For that reason, such websites are available a dime a dozen. Satisfaction from their services doesn’t count. Whether matches made through them result in successful marriages or they end up in divorce is immaterial—none visits them a second time. To remove the element of uncertainty people have begun visiting ‘dating’ sites which, again, are a gamble.

All these efforts to find a near-perfect, if not an ideal match, suffer from an inherent drawback—an individual might provide incorrect data or conceal vital personal information during the meetings that follow initial interaction on email or during telephonic conversations. Little has been done to carry out a reliable background check on individuals by the match-making websites. If attempted, this could be construed as invasion of privacy. People with resources are known to employ private detectives for background checks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has still not stepped into this arena in any big way. So, beyond just comparing ‘requirements,’ how does one ascertain compatibility?

In December last year, Hold My Hand Matrimony, was adjudged as the Best Matrimonial Company by the Global Business Award (GBA). I was curious: How can one compare different websites providing almost exactly the same services? May be a website has a larger database with more fields to compare, match and report? My query led to a revelation; the company was doing something different. They were utilising services of skilled and experienced psychologists to ascertain the compatibility between individuals.

Best Matrimonial Company

The process starts with sharing the biodata and pictures for marriage. A compatibility form for marriage is provided to the candidates. On the basis of the criteria mentioned by the candidates, the matchmaking team shortlists the matches.

A personal relationship manager is always present on the first call on conference between the two individuals/ families. It is to make the individuals comfortable before they communicate with each other and familiarise themselves. Hold My Hand Matrimony boasts of having the data on some of the most eligible marriageable youth of the country and a large number of PIOs and NRIs.

Marriages are made here… on the earth

This aspect of involvement of psychologists to ascertain compatibility got me interested; amused, to be honest. So, with a view to find a suitable match for my nephew, I called Mr Navneet Sharma, the CEO of the company to know more about their modus operandi. I discovered that the company is run by the husband-wife team. Ms Puja Sharma (Navneet’s wife) is an equal partner in the Company and handles some of the gender specific issues. I was amazed by their vision. They are experimenting with two more never-before-thought-of dimensions to their match-making service. In their business interest, I cannot write about the fascinating aspects, which are still under trial. Suffice it to say that one of them is social and the other, quite scientific—both will take match-making several notches up to the next higher level.  

It is beyond doubt that with so much effort going into match-making, more and more people will live happily for ever.

PS: A few readers have called me seeking the contact details of Hold My Hand Matrimony. Here they are: WhatsApp: +919319706587 Email: info@holdmyhandmatrimony.com

Poha and Socialism

UNBELIEVABLE… ‘पोहा’ a delicacy from the Malwa Region of MP is stoking up social discrimination.

For ages, restaurants in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh have been serving a delicacy they call Poha. It tastes awesome and a plateful is within the means of the commonest of the common man. It is made using flattened rice and is traditionally savoured at breakfast with jalebi and tea. Some prefer to eat Poha with a glass of milk. The Indian Constitution is silent on the freedom of eating it as a part of any other meal than breakfast. The peace-loving docile people of Malwa have never protested against those deviating from the norm.


Etched indelibly in my mind are little flat plates of Poha garnished with fresh coriander and Senv—a local bhujiya which cannot be substituted by the likes of Haldiram and Bikanerwala. Standing by a thela (a typical roofed push-cart used by the Poha vendors) or outside a shack, people used to eat from enamelled plates with flimsy aluminium spoons. Bent at different angles at their necks, those spoons used to be cutlery marvels. Despite the crookedness, they enabled people to shovel measured quantities of Poha into their mouths without spilling. Using those deformed tools to serve their intended purpose of enabling eating was an art akin to using chopsticks. People of all castes, creed, colour, sex or status used the same plates and the same spoons; there was no discrimination. Socialism!

Over a plate of Poha and a cup of kadak chai (strong tea) folks used to discuss everything. Everything meaning, everything under the sun. They talked about the quality of leadership provided by Indira Gandhi as against that of Nehru or Shastri. They shared their concerns emanating from the Cold War and India’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. They had opinions on whether or not Nawab Pataudi could lead India. Those unbiased views were based purely on the Tiger’s performance on the field, although some people doubted his capability because of an eye-defect. Some even felt that his marriage to Sharmila Tagore had affected his game. For better or worse—they were unsure. They even talked about what could be India’s strategy in the next war with China, if it took place ever. All this… over a plate of Poha and a cup of tea. And of course, in a very amiable atmosphere. They did agree to disagree on a few issues but never raised their voices or carried grudges. Poha united them.

Much of that has changed.

Not long ago, people began questioning the cleanliness of the crockery and cutlery used for serving Poha. They objected to eating from plates rinsed repeatedly with water kept in a discarded Asian Paint bucket. They were right in lamenting, “It is unhygienic.” But most of the Poha vendors did not afford the luxury of running water to clean the used plates.

At a time when Poha Culture, an activity that united the Malwi people and could have earned UNESCO’s recognition, was on the verge of extinction, the Poha Vendor’s Association of Malwa (PVAM) came up with an innovative solution which appealed to all and sundry. They recommended use of bits of old newspapers in place of the usual crockery. They also came up with an improvised paper spoon—origami at its best. Those who still preferred the enamelled (now ceramic) plates and the usual spoons (now made of steel and devoid of kinkiness), could be extended the service. All stakeholders were happy; it was a WIN-WIN situation. “Not really,” was the response of one of my acquaintances. “This change is damaging the social fabric of Malwa,” he was emotional. His voice choked; he couldn’t elaborate.

Curiosity led me to indulge in pseudo-investigative journalism. And, this is what I experienced when I visited Mahaakal Hotel on the outskirts of the holy city of Ujjain in the guise of a highway traveller last week.

Chhotu, the waiter (barely in his teens) didn’t know that I was there to probe a matter of national importance—an issue that could draw the attention of New York Times and sully, India’s image. He came holding five tumblers in a way that his fingers were dipped in the water contained in them, and literally banged them in front of me on the creaky table. He was unmindful of the water he spilled in the process. He bared his yellow teeth when I asked him to clean the table and promptly wiped the tabletop with a smelly rag which left parallel streaks of more water in front of me. Contents of the glasses were tad misty—Poha particles which had been clinging on to Chhotu’s fingers had parted ways and were now descending majestically towards the bottoms of the glasses. It was a beautiful sight; my thirst was quenched without taking a sip.

Exploitation of children concerns me. It pains me to see little ones working in hotels, homes and workshops rather than going to school. On numerous occasions, I have tried my bit to alleviate their misery but to no avail. More often than not, I have found that a child pulled out of the clutches of a restaurant owner ends up sleeping hungry with a school bag for a pillow. Free education—mere ability to read, write and do elementary arithmetic—and mid-day meal, is a good concept but does not find favour with those at the receiving end. Working in the hotels enables those children to earn not only meals but also cash to carry home. Occasionally, modest tips add up to a decent amount. Besides, the life’s lessons they learn while serving people are invaluable. That on-the-job training, I think, is one of the purer and more practical forms of education—more useful than crude literacy. I have come across a rare breed of employers, who treat children extremely benevolently. Some provide for all the needs of the urchins including their part time schooling. We also hear of the cruel masters as projected in Bollywood films. Honestly, I am unsure of my stand on the subject. In rare moments of solitude when I have a conversation with myself, my inability to do something gnaws at my heart. I try to overcome my guilt by tipping children who work to earn their livelihood.

Chhotu enquired if I preferred Poha being served to me on a plate, or on a piece of newspaper. “Both will cost the same,” he chimed.

“Get it on a newspaper,” I told him as I placed a rupee fifty note on his little palm. He thought that I was making advance payment for my plate of Poha but was pleasantly surprised when I told him that it was his tip. He looked around and pocketed it.

Mahaakal Hotel was strategically located on a fairly busy road crossing. Next to the hotel was an empty plot of land. More than half a dozen cars were parked haphazardly in that open space. There was a rare green Merc A Class, a passion yellow Audi A4, a black Skoda Ocatvia, an old grey Honda City and a couple of i10 and Maruti Alto class of vehicles. These were the Poha lovers who had travelled long distances from the heart of Indore and Ujjain to relish a plate of the popular Mahaakal Poha. They were honking to draw the attention of the waiters who were fluttering about like butterflies from one car to the other taking orders and effecting deliveries. The occupants of the yellow Audi were clad in white Khadi. When two of them stepped out to stretch their legs, their body language suggested that they were in the business of running the state government. I recalled seeing one of them on the cover page of Nai Duniya that morning. The waiters were certainly not indifferent to the customers sitting at the tables but surely, they were paying greater attention to the needs of patrons sitting in the cars.

Just then, I heard a customer at the adjoining table, whining. He was complaining that his order had been delayed and that the carwallahs were getting preferential treatment. Smelling trouble, the obese owner of the Hotel left his chair at the cash counter and tried to pacify the disgruntled man. “Please calm down, Sir” he said. “Your order will be here in a jiffy.” Then he added with deliberate stress for everyone around to hear, “Sir, for us all customers are equal.”

He then shouted on top of his voice, “Golu, chhallewali gaadi me poha dekar teen number table ko attend karo.” [Golu, attend to the customer at table number 3 after serving the guests in the car with rings (meaning Audi).]

After a little while, I overheard one of the Audi occupants addressing Golu jocularly, “Keep serving us tea like this… we’ll make sure that one day you become the Prime Minister.” This monologue was followed by a chorused chuckle.

Chhotu returned to me after all guests had been served and most of the cars had departed. “Can I get you anything else,” he enquired. He continued when I declined. “Sir, you must try a plate of our special Poha. It is really good.”

“What’s so good about it,” I asked.

“In addition to the usual Senv and coriander, we garnish it with chopped onion, boondi and fresh pomegranate. The helping is larger and it costs just five rupees more.”

I accepted the offer.

Chhotu got me a plate. Since there weren’t many guests at that time, he stood a little distance from my table and made a deliberate effort to engage me in a conversation. “How’s it, Sir?”

“Hmm, it’s good,” I said indifferently.

“Sir, those guests who come in shining cars always order Special Mahaakal Poha… I know they are VIPs and serve them on the glossy pages of English magazines or The Times of India newspaper. Others, I serve on the pages of Nai Dunia and Dainik Jagran.”

Chhotu’s salesmanship made me laugh. “But, your boss said, you people do not discriminate. All guests are equal for you?” I took a dig.

He gazed at me in a way which seemed to say, “Come on, Sir you must be joking.” Then he said aloud with all seriousness, “Sir, in theory it is alright to say that all customers are equal. But in real life, some customers are more equal than others… and, they have to be given their due.”

I am still waiting to conclude my maiden project in journalism.

Unleashing the Power of Women Warriors

Need to chart a different course

War and Warriors—a Perception

It is said: “War is the failure of diplomacy.” And, since there is no medal for the runners up in war, each war must be won—there are no two ways about it. Put starkly, for a warrior, the essence of war is: To live and let (the enemy) die. Among other factors, it is the ability of a warrior to generate extreme violence that proves his/her worth. A study has shown that humans have evolved to be six times deadlier to their own species than the average mammal.[i] Although the study does not distinguish between males and females, the perception is that females are less capable—physically and otherwise—of generating violence than the males. So then, based on such perception, one wonders: Do females qualify to be warriors?

In a world striving for gender equality, most often the answer is neither a firm ‘YES’ nor a clear ‘NO. The response to suchlike questions comes with a pause and is loaded with doubts, counter-questions, conditions and ‘what-ifs.’

Congenital Bias

In 1878, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a warrior in a 10th-century burial tomb in Birka, Sweden. By the side of the warrior’s skeleton were, among other things, weapons (a sword, spear, shield) and a board, which was perhaps used to map out military strategies. For nearly 140 years, archaeologists maintained that those remains were of a male warrior until, in 2017, a study proved that they belonged to a female warrior.[ii]  

The 2017-study was questioned vehemently: Whether the correct set of bones had been analysed or, the presence of a male warrior sharing the grave had been overlooked, or the grave belonged to a transgender man? Follow-up research reaffirmed the original findings stating that there was sufficient evidence that the warrior (female) held a high-status in the military. The array of weapons indicated the probability of the deceased being an experienced mounted archer. Interestingly, there were no domestic utensils and tools which people generally associate with women.

The warrior’s (initial) incorrect identification as male could have been because of archaeologists’ ‘in general’ assignment of sex based on a grave’s contents rather than scientific analysis. Also, at the time of the grave’s discovery, male biological sex was related to a man’s gendered identity and being a warrior was taken for granted to be an exclusively masculine activity. Therefore, it is understandable that for long years there was denial of the remains being those of a female warrior. Clearly, gender bias was at play.

Time hasn’t helped erode that perception of what is masculine and what is not. If at all, it has upheld it. The bias has continued to linger on and permeate the atmosphere to different levels in all walks of life.

Women Warriors of the Second World War

A phenomenal 3,50,000 women volunteers enlisted for the US military during the Second World War and extended exemplary service, yet their entry and subsequent terms in the armed forces were riddled with difficulties. Some senior admirals in the Navy would have preferred “dogs or ducks or monkeys” to females if it were possible for those animals to perform the same chores. There were drill instructors who resented women “more than a battalion of Japanese troops.”[iii] A rumour encouraged by a slanderous campaign against women claimed that many of them sold sex for cash.[iv] At a time when the US needed every citizen, blatant discrimination severely limited the notion of any kind of full mobilisation.

Despite the initial hesitation and resistance, a thousand women flew military aircraft of all kinds. They were allowed to operate only as Civil Service personnel “attached” to the Air Force. That discrimination did not stop them from excelling professionally. By dint of her ability, one of the women pilots, Ann B Carl, became an experimental test pilot and the first woman to fly a jet aircraft. Yet American women’s contribution to fighting the War went unrecognised—Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), an organisation which was created to boost the war effort, was disbanded in December 1945. Women could become full-fledged members of the Air Force only in 1977.[v]

Around the same time, in the Soviet Union, women bomber pilots, popularly known as, “Night Witches” were active in the air war against Germany. Unlike Soviet men, they were not formally conscripted into the armed forces. But when the chips were down in 1941, there were mass campaigns to induct them into the military. More than 8,000 women fought in the charnel house of Stalingrad. In late 1941, Stalin signed an order to establish three all-women Air Force units. Over the next four years they flew in excess of 30,000 combat sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of ammunition.

In those days, the items of military equipment were designed (only) for men. As such Soviet women faced difficulties in performance of their duties. They had to wear hand-me-down uniforms from the male pilots. Notwithstanding the constraints, they efficiently and bravely flew 1920s-vintage Polikarpov PO-2 two-seater biplanes. Their aircraft had only the rudimentary instruments; there was no radio; navigation was done with a stopwatch and a map. Those planes did not carry guns and parachutes. Women flew only at night, and were mainly involved in harassment bombing of German military concentrations, rear area bases and supply depots. They were not assigned targets of strategic importance, but their bombing raids had considerable psychological effect.

Among the Soviet women pilots who flew missions during the War, Nadezhda Popova, was an ace pilot who logged 852 raids against the enemies. Her aircraft was shot down or forced to land several times, but she always managed to return unharmed. Once she flew 18 sorties in a single night. She was awarded three Orders of the Patriotic War for bravery. She became a flying instructor and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.[vi]

The women who fought alongside the men in the Second World War proved their worth as combatants but were not accorded—let alone an equal status as men—the respect which is due to warriors.

Indian Women Warriors—The Early Years

Think of women warriors of India, and the names that easily come to the mind are those of Rani Kittur Chennamma and Maharani Laxmibai and several other women rulers who fought the Britishers. A more recent name is that of Captain Laxmi Sahgal of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army (INA), raised by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in July 1943.

The first batch of about 170 cadets of the all-female regiment was trained in Singapore. They were given military training which included drills, route marches, and weapon training with rifles and bayonets. They were capable of hurling hand grenades. A chosen few were trained in jungle warfare. They were given ranks of non-commissioned officer or sepoy based on their education. Five hundred cadets completed their training on March 30, 1944. Two hundred cadets who were trained as nurses, formed the Chand Bibi Nursing Corps. Plans were afoot to form a vanguard unit of nearly a hundred troops to enter the Gangetic plains of Bengal after the expected fall of Imphal. Following the failure of the siege of Imphal and the INA’s hasty retreat, the Rani troops coordinated the relief and care of the injured INA troops who returned from the frontline. After the fall of Rangoon, the troops originally from Burma were allowed to disband, while the remainder of the regiment retreated along with the Japanese forces. They suffered enemy attacks during the retreat. The Regiment later disbanded. Although trained to fight, the troops of the Rani Jhansi Regiment could not be deployed effectively in combat.

Military Nursing Service (MNS), established in 1888 under British rule, was another (mainly) women’s organisation devoted to military service during the two World Wars. Nearly 350 nurses either died or were taken prisoners of war, or declared missing when SS Kuala was sunk by the Japanese Bombers in 1942. Post-independence, nurses were granted regular commission. They were administered the oath of allegiance, wore the same uniform, had the same privileges, entitlements, and retirement benefits, and were in every respect on a par with the regular army, and were to be treated as such.

They have served in the war and conflict zones in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. In India, they have been posted in Jammu & Kashmir and served on active duty in Kargil near the Line of Control. They have been posted in insurgency prone areas of the North-East. They have been accompanying the wounded in ambulances through the conflict zones. In effect they are combatants.[vii]

For reasons, which social scientists might be able to discern, over the years, the personnel of the MNS have been relegated in status and are treated with a degree of disdain. Despite their occasional deployment in field conditions, their weapons and arms training was discontinued. In 2000, their uniforms were also changed to differentiate them from the regular army.[viii]

A dispassionate study of the antecedents of Indian women warriors of the past might reveal that—as it happened in other parts of the world—their warriorhood was mandated by the circumstances prevailing at those given points in time. Of course, they were volunteers but they were certainly not the first choice of the recruiters. In most cases, they were enrolled mainly because enough numbers of able-bodied willing men to wield weapons could not be mustered to tide over an existential crisis. It needs to be understood clearly and emphasised that, in the past, women joined the profession of arms because they were needed; and not because the then existing environment wanted to open the doors for them to a domain deemed fit exclusively for their male counterparts. Gender equality was not on the agenda.

Breeze of Change

In the years following India’s independence, the subject of women warriors lost its relevance (almost). There was no crisis necessitating recruitment and training of women warriors. The usual human resource requirement of the armed forces was met through recruitment of men. All the stakeholders seemed content with the situation.

In the 1990s, when an increasing number of women began stepping out of the homes to seek job opportunities, some looked at the profession of arms and wondered: “Why not?” Their foray into the (still considered) exclusive male bastion, was taken lightly and brushed aside by most other stakeholders. The thought of women donning military uniform, aiming rifles, and firing shots or flying military aircraft, was considered outright quixotic. After much deliberation, in 1992, the parliament granted Short Service Commission to the women in selected branches.

Fast forward to today. Women are now entitled to permanent commission in the three services. They are being employed as pilots in the Navy and the Air Force. On experimental basis, the Air Force has begun training women as fighter pilots.

A Backward and a Sideways Glance

In the years since their induction, women have carved a niche for themselves in the Indian armed forces. At this juncture, it would be worthwhile to throw a fleeting glance at the road travelled this far to appreciate some distinct thought processes at play. This exercise will help chart a definite future not only for the women but also for the armed forces and the country.

To begin with, the argument to include women in the Indian armed forces was often propped up with historical events—the Rani Laxmibai and the INA examples. “Because, they were women and they could fight, so can the women of today.” The other justification used to be: “Because it has worked in so many countries the world over—the US, the UK, Russia, Israel, China and even Pakistan, it must work in India too.” The implied suggestion has often been to ‘COPY/PASTE’ what are perceived as the best practices abroad.

The commonly extended arguments against women’s employment in the military (including combat roles) could be grouped under three broad categories. One: Women’s physical limitation every month during the menstruation cycle. Two: Their prolonged physical absence mandated during pregnancy and post-partum period. Three: The fear, what if they are taken PsOW by the enemy? This concern about women warriors is posed with dramatic effect. It is presumed that minimum of a Nirbhaya Treatment awaits every woman POW.

Repeatedly, the decision makers have wrapped these arguments in different words to present their cases. Answering questions in Kanpur in 2014, the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Arup Raha, had said that the capabilities of women “air warriors” in the Air Force were never in doubt but “biological and natural constraints” precluded them from flying fighters. “As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it’s a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems,” said ACM Raha, as per news reports.[ix]

Women Combatants — an evaporating “NO”

At a Passing Out Parade at the National Defence Academy, in 2017, the then Defence Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar echoed the IAF Chief’s opinion by categorically ruling out combat role for the women in the Indian armed forces.[x]

In contrast, in 2013, the US lifted its ban on women in combat roles seeing their contribution in support services over a prolonged period during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[xi] Although the reason extended for lifting the ban was ‘to bring about gender equality’, the purpose (as it was during the Second World War), could well have been ‘to bolster the strength of the military in another crisis situation’. Therefore, following blindly in the footsteps of the US would be unwise.

There is another reason for exercising caution while applying the COPY/PASTE formula to the experience of the US (read, “other countries”). Women warriors in the US face far too many cases of sexual harassment. Surveys by the Pentagon have revealed that as many as 26, 000 service members were victims of sexual assault in the year 2012.[xii] 

No need to ape the US Military

Level Playing Field: A Must for Mission Success

Much has been done to accommodate women as warriors; more needs to be done to create an environment which gives them a fair, and equal, opportunity as men to achieve results.

As is the case, almost all the military equipment in use today, was designed and developed keeping an ‘average male’ body in mind. To be able to use such equipment, women must work their ways around difficulties. A flying helmet tested on an average male dummy might fit the head of a female pilot snugly but the added risk her neck is exposed to during a likely ejection, cannot be quantified. The ejection seat itself caters to the forces which a male body can withstand. The flying boots, the gloves… the list is long. The ergonomics of the cockpit and the physical force required to operate the different switches and levers—all cater to an ‘average’ man; women need to put in an ‘extra bit’ to be able to use them or operate them.

A more specific example will illustrate the point. The Tactile Situation Awareness System (TSAS) is a vest designed for air force pilots and fitted with 32 sensors that vibrate if the pilot needs to correct his position in the cockpit and avoid disorientation. The TSAS enables the pilot to always know his/her orientation with respect to the ground. A review of the system casually mentions that vibration is detected best on hairy, bony skin and is most difficult to detect on soft fleshy areas of the body.[xiii] Given that women have breasts and don’t tend to have particularly hairy chest, they might not accrue as much benefit as men while using the vest.

It must be realised that failing to consider female bodies while developing equipment doesn’t just result in equipment that doesn’t work for women, it can cause them injury and, in some cases force mission abortions.

Time to refine ‘the Question

It has been more than two decades since process began to induct women in the armed forces. In these years, women officers have displayed professionalism of high order in execution of their duties as military personnel. The doubts that used to be raised at the time of their entry into the armed forces have lost much of their relevance.

It is time to see through the optics of a woman President or a woman Defence Minister, or a woman journalist donning a flying overall and taking to the sky in a fighter aircraft. It is time we stopped being euphoric about these symbolic gestures. Today, these can hardly be construed as: ‘breaking-through-the-glass-ceiling.’ It is also time to stop eulogising a woman pilot for landing on a high-altitude airstrip, or carrying out daring rescue missions. All these, and more, are the ‘new normal’ for Indian women warriors, and must be seen in that light. That would be a genuine first step towards gender equality.

Optics and beyond…

While at it, it is important to appreciate the difference between sex and gender. ‘Sex’ relates to the biological characteristics that determine whether an individual is male or female. ‘Gender’ relates to the social meanings that are imposed upon those biological facts. One is man-made, but both are real. And both will influence the outcomes of future military missions.

With focus of war fighting shifting from contact to more technologically advanced battles, proliferated with sophisticated platforms and non-contact standoff operations, adequate avenues exist for employment of women as warriors. Therefore, there is a need to refine the old question: “Do females qualify to be warriors?” Today the unequivocal answer to that question is: “YES!” And, it is axiomatic; it doesn’t have to be proved, or explained anymore. In fact, it is time to refine that question thus: “What can make women better warriors?” The answer(s) will have far reaching consequences for the armed forces. Women have the ability (and the capability) to be warriors; all that needs to change is the attitudes so that another half of our country’s population can contribute their bit more meaningfully.


[i] Gómez, José María, Verdú, M, González-Megías, A et al, The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence available at https://doi.org/10.1038/nature19758 accessed on September 21, 2022.

[ii] Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, February 21, 2019, “Researchers Reaffirm Remains in Viking Warrior Tomb Belonged to a Woman,” available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/researchers-reaffi rm-famed-ancient-viking-warrior-was-biologically-female-180971541/ accessed on September 20, 2022.

[iii] Jeanne Holm, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992) p. 24-37 and  Leisa Meyer, Creating GI Janes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) p. 77]

[iv] Robert A Slayton, Master of the Air: William Tunner and the Success of Military Airlift (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2010) p. 26 & 28.

[v] Ann B Carl, A Wasp Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in WW II (Washington DC: Smithsonian Books, 1999) Kindle Edition Loc 61-67/ 2689.

[vi] Nadezhda Popova available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10171897/Nadezhda-Popova.html accessed on September 26, 2022.

[vii] Colin Gonsalves & Major General Usha Sikdar (Retd), Hindustan Times, “Indian Army must stop its discrimination against military nurses,” December 13, 2017 available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/indian-army-must-stop-its-discrimination-against-military-nurses/story-VmhPT6cKj3GW3M3KjCterK.html accessed on September 30, 2022.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Rajat Pandit, The Times of India, “Women not fit to fly combat jets: IAF boss, March 13, 2014, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Women-not-fit-to-fly-combat-jets-IAF-boss/articleshow/31910462.cms, accessed on September 30, 2022.

[x] The Times of India, “No combat role for women in armed forces, says Parrikar, Sunday, March 31, 2017, p. 17.

[xi] Reuters, Phil Stewart and David Alexander, Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat, Thursday, January 24, 2013, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/24/us-usa-military-women-pentagon-idUSBRE90N0SI20130124 accessed on May 30, 2013

[xii] “When an army endangers its women,” The Times of India, Sunday, June 16, 2013, p. 14.

[xiii] Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a world designed for men (London: Penguin Random House UK, 2019) p. 122.


There are as many opinions on the subject as people thinking about it. An opinion I came across is that there are good, bad and average professionals among both, men and women warriors; they must be judged and treated by the same yardsticks. Also, the physical standards (which appear to have been lowered considerably for women warriors) must be reviewed.

Another opinion expressed by a reader is that women are mollycoddled. Also, too much is done for symbolism. Some striking examples are — all women squad on Republic Day Parade; they being detailed to carry the ceremonial trays during investiture ceremonies and they being deputed as liaison officers for visiting dignitaries. It would serve a better purpose, if women warriors are assigned ‘more professional’ roles.

The interesting question then would be: Who’ll perform those ‘apparently-less-military‘ (read less “manly”) duties? Men? Perhapss there are no standard answers.

Café Caffeinated

A new eatery, in NOIDA yet far from the noise and humdrum of the NCR !

It just happened!

The other day Chhaya and I decided to be somewhere else. We didn’t want to travel far, yet we wanted to be in a quiet place which was far from the madding crowd. Noisy eateries in Sector-18 and the malls nearby where we normally hangout, were out of the question.

A little research led us to Café Caffeinated an eatery which was inaugurated just about a week ago. Situated near Oxygen Tower, in Sector-144, it is a different world between Noida and Greater Noida—not too far from the madding crowd, yet so quiet and cozy. The first thing that gave me big relief was the car parking—there is enough space in front of the Café. Struggle involved in parking my car and walking to a restaurant in Sector-18 (even in the three-tier parking in The Mall of India) triggers a tsunami of negative feelings.    

There is open-air seating with soothing greenery as well as a tastefully done large hall with a high ceiling. The tables are very well spaced so that your peaceful little world within that world doesn’t get encroached by the staff or the other guests. The large glass windows, the furniture, the paintings on the walls, the lights and the plants together create the ambience for a perfect evening.

In addition to freshly brewed coffee, the Café offers a wide range of broths, salads, European and Oriental appetizers, Sushi, dimsums, dumplings, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, nachos, meals in rolls, pastas, risottos, lasagne, special kid-friendly dishes, classic desserts… the list is long, very long. There is different menu on offer for breakfast.

We chose to try Mexican Fajita Roll, Cheesy Garlic Toast with Drizzle Pesto and Arancini Balls along with Banana Coffee. Well trained and courteous staff served us warm food with equal warmth. We relished the preparations with the soft music playing in the background. This again, was in sharp contrast to the many eateries where blaring music assaults the eardrums and kills any scope for exchanging words with your dear ones. After our meal, the Director, Mr Sanjay Mishra came enquiring about our experience and seeking suggestions for improvements. “Keep it up!” was our only suggestion.

What do you do when you go through such a ‘different’ experience? Answer: Share it with friends. That’s what is the purpose of this post. Next time you want to be somewhere else, try the ambience, hospitality and delicious cuisine at Café Caffeinated.

[ Café Caffeinated, SH-4, near Oxygen Tower, in Sector-144, is the brainchild of Nitin Mehta, Vikas Suri and Sanjay Mishra.]

Jumping… definitely not to conclusion

“If your main parachute fails and the reserve also does not open… …then you are jumping to C-O-N-C-L-U-S-I-O-N.

A skydiving demonstration in September 1988 was a humbling experience for me as a member of Akashganga, the Skydiving Team of the Indian Air Force. It was a matter of rare honour to have been tasked to jump and land into the Nehru Stadium, New Delhi during the Pre-Olympic Trial Games to cheer up our sportspersons headed for the Seoul Games later that month. On bailing out of a MI-17 helicopter, the Stadium—with its maroon race track, brightly coloured PVC seats, fluttering flags, ribbons, and buntings—looked like a bouquet of bloomed flowers. It was packed to capacity with euphoric spectators. We, the jumpers could hear their cheering a thousand feet above the ground as we manoeuvred our parachutes to land in their midst. The gaiety of the occasion was an integral part of Akashganga demonstrations—a given. But what followed that day was something unprecedented for me.

I was bundling up my parachute after landing on a predesignated part of the track when a young mother—with a child she was barely able to lift, and an older boy in tow—managed to slip past the security cordon, and staggered towards me. “Sir, please… my son wants to touch you,” she urged and, before I could realise what was happening, put the little one down and stretched his hand to enable him to touch me, and feel my parachute.

Soar like an eagle; land like a feather…

“You said you wanted to touch the uncle who jumped from the helicopter… here he is…,” she said to the child as she pulled the elder boy who was a bit hesitant, and made him follow suit. “See uncle is like us… he is not different,” she added excitedly as she encouraged the two youngsters to feel my overall clad arms and shoulders. Then pointing at the younger boy, she said to me, “My little one thought you people are gods descending from heaven… he wanted to touch you and have a close look at your parachute. It’s indeed a big day for my kids. This event will remain etched in their minds forever.”

I was overwhelmed.

All this happened in less than a minute. The mother didn’t argue with the security personnel who had followed her to shepherd the family away. Having accomplished their mission, the three prepared to leave. And, even as the lady took the boys away, the older one managed to say with all the confidence he had mustered in the minute gone by: “Uncle, what if, your parachute had not opened?” Although I told the curious child that I was carrying a reserve parachute to provide for that contingency, his question kept ringing in my mind for a few days before it was consigned to the less accessed recesses of my brain.

Whipping open a reserve parachute in case of a total failure of the main parachute, is a standard drill all jumpers practice before emplaning an aircraft for a jump. I had gone through that mock exercise before each of the hundreds of jumps I had carried out. In the process I had begun believing that opening a reserve parachute if, and when need arose, would be a reflex action. It’s a different matter though, that the thought of my parachute really failing never crossed my mind.

Not too far in the future, I would recall my interaction with the boy, and his innocent question, with a sense of déjà vu.

It happened about a month and a half later when I had almost forgotten the Nehru Stadium incident. It was yet another Akashganga demonstration; this time on, at Air Force Station Ambala. An AN-32 aircraft with our team on board, was cruising at 225 kmph, 6,000 feet above the ground. The team leader gave thumbs up––the universal sign conveying readiness––when the aircraft was over the spectator-stand. He opened the barrier at the aft end of the aircraft and roared, “Go!” On that command, the team members jumped out of the aircraft one after the other in quick succession. I, being the lightest, was detailed to exit the aircraft last. Within seconds, we reached our terminal velocities and were falling at 120-200 feet per second. We had been assigned different (staggered) parachute opening heights to avoid a melee at the time of landing on the target––a circle of 15 metres diameter facing the enthusiastic crowd.

The Strato Cloud parachute I was jumping with, had an aerofoil-shaped canopy. Once deployed, it behaved like a glider. Rather than descending vertically, it glided with a good glide ratio of 1:3. Simply put, it moved forward three feet for every foot of descent. It could reach airspeeds of 40-50 kmph. Its manoeuvrability and high sensitivity to controls enabled experienced jumpers to execute pinpoint landings. They used to say: “With deft handling of the control lines, one can land on a target as small as a lady’s kerchief.” Miscalculation, on the other hand, could lead to serious injuries.

The spectators looked skywards and counted the jumpers who popped out of the aircraft like tiny pebbles. They held their breath waiting for the parachutes to open. The jumpers falling below me deployed their parachutes at their assigned heights. I too threw away my pilot chute—a small parachute which initiates the opening sequence of the main parachute. In a second and a half, my parachute was filled with air. And then began an ordeal, the memory of which, even today, sends a chill down my spine.

Akashganga days…

The suspension lines on one side of my parachute were jumbled up and the canopy was badly deformed. The partially deployed parachute began turning to the right. My efforts to untangle the suspension lines were in vain. In a few seconds, the turns became vicious; I was hurled like a stone at the end of a sling and spiralling down at a tremendous speed. I pulled down the lines to stop the turns. Thanks to the gruelling training sessions under Sergeant R Singh, I had developed strong arms to deal with such situations. My effort met with partial success. The turns slowed down to a stop (almost) but now the parachute headed for an incipient stall––a condition in which there could be a sudden loss of height (40 to 50 feet). Holding on to the lines would certainly result in a stall. I was still at 4,500 feet above the ground; a stall at that height would cause me no harm. But a stall close to the ground would be disastrous. I recalled with horror, an accident involving Warrant Officer Augustine who had been sentenced to the confines of a wheel chair for life due to a heavy landing.

There was a surge of adrenaline and yet my mind went on several quick errands. I was reminded of Mudit, my son, eliciting a promise from me while bidding me bye that morning to make a paper bird for him that could flap its wings. Let alone giving him lessons in origami, I wondered if I would live to see him again. Then I recalled Squadron Leader (later Air Vice Marshal) Ajgaonkar’s ordeal a year or so ago. In a similar emergency, he had promptly deployed his reserve parachute and landed safely. “Never Say Die” was the gospel he had passed on to us. “Am I in the same situation?” I began comparing. “His was a high-speed emergency––total failure of the main parachute. I was faced with a slow speed emergency; I had, at least, a partially functioning parachute over my head. What if I jettisoned the malfunctioning main parachute and the reserve parachute did not open?”

That must-be-avoided-at-all-costs conversation with my own self had a numbing effect.

Mudit… origami… Augustine in wheelchair… Ajgaonkar…. Had time coagulated? No, it was an illusion. Time, and height above the ground, the two most precious commodities for me were fast running out. The impartiality of the earth’s gravity was evident in the rate at which the unwinding needle of my altimeter was sweeping the face of the instrument.

“Should I risk a stall with a deformed main canopy, or jettison it and depend on the reserve parachute for a safe landing?” The dilemma was damning. I was a mere 2,500 feet above the ground and approaching it at a breakneck speed. I was left with a few precious seconds in which, to decide, and cram deliberate action on which, would depend my survival, and the safety of my limbs. I pulled down my goggles, which had got fogged due to excessive sweating.

Suddenly everything became tranquil, and clear. Reason booted out all the silly thoughts from my head. There was no basis for assuming the possibility of failure of the reserve parachute. It had been packed by the most proficient hands and overseen by the most careful eyes; those of the skilled and conscientious Safety Equipment Workers of the Paratroopers’ Training School.

And then…

I took the most vital decision––the decision to jettison the main parachute and go for the reserve parachute. A tug at the cutaway handle got me rid of the malfunctioning main canopy. With the Newton’s Law of Gravitation at work, I went hurtling down approaching Mother Earth at a very high speed, and accelerating. Then, without further delay, I pulled the ripcord handle of the reserve parachute. Sight of a fully deployed white canopy was a great relief. 

When the parachute opened, I was 2,000 feet above the ground level—just about sufficient height to manage an accurate landing. Joy rioted in my heart; the wind with prankish flurry caused the stabiliser of the parachute to flap rhythmically. Its flutter was music to my ears. Since I had lost sufficient height, I executed a tight circuit and homed on to the landing area. I felt victorious and exhausted when I touched down softly on the target.

As I removed my helmet and unfastened the parachute harness, I realised that the usual enthusiasm, and the frolicking associated with an Akashganga display, was conspicuously missing. In its place was a lingering melancholy. The main canopy that I had jettisoned a while ago had fallen a mile away from the spectators. They had taken it to be a case of a total failure of the parachute and had feared a fatal accident. Concern for the safety of the unknown skydiver had cast a shadow of gloom. They heaved a sigh of relief when they came to know the fact.

In the flight back from Ambala, I went through the day’s events. I also recalled my interaction with the little boy in Nehru Stadium: “Uncle, what if, your parachute had not opened?” Even in solitude, that thought registered a smile on my face. Then, mind, as is its wont, began wandering further. It flew way ahead of the aircraft, to my family in Agra. “How would I disclose the incident to my wife without causing anxiety?” I began contemplating.

At home, Chhaya was awaiting me at lunch with a plate of Russian Salad and her usual welcome hug. Having been a parachute jumper herself, she took the incident in a stride. I devoured the sumptuous lunch and was off for another Skydiving Demonstration in Agra that very afternoon.

That much to answer my little fan’s question about parachute failure. Parachuting today, is indeed as safe as safe can be—it is safer than crossing roads in Delhi. But then, there’s another curious question people sometimes pose: “What if the reserve parachute also fails?” Wing Commander AK Singh, a colleague veteran parachute Jump Instructor has an answer: “If your main parachute fails and the reserve parachute also does not open, then you are jumping to C-O-N-C-L-U-S-I-O-N.

The ODESSA’s Revenge

The ODESSA resurfaces after years of hibernation; this time on, in Sweden. Will the Police Department of Gothenburg be able to contain the onslaught of the infamous underground German organisation that now seeks to go beyond its mission of rehabilitating ex Nazis?

The number of people in Sweden who were privy to the real identity of Karl Gustavsson could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In Gothenburg, only the Police Commissioner Johan Walin and the Chief Superintendent of Police, Erik Lindberg knew who he was. According to the information contained in the confidential file marked, “FOR THE EYES OF THE COMMISSIONER ONLY,” locked in the archive of the Police Headquarters, the Englishman, Mr John Brown was given that Swedish name, and an identity, when he arrived in the city in the winter of 1952 to help him evade the ODESSA (the German: Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, meaning Organisation of Former SS Members).

The ODESSA—whose raison d’être was to facilitate the rehabilitation and survival of the ex-Nazis by providing them fake identity documents and asylum in sympathiser countries—had, as an exception, decided to go after one individual. To eliminate John Brown was an important bullet-point on their agenda. The Englishman had gotten on the wrong side of the underground organisation for collaborating with the Norwegian Resistance against the Nazis in the German occupied Nordic Region during the Second World War.

On February 20, 1944, John Brown, still in his teens, had smuggled and planted plastic explosives with alarm clock fuses on board DF Hydro, a steamship ferry on Lake Linn to sabotage the effort of the Germans trying to ship away a consignment of heavy water from a hydroelectric plant in Vemork to a safe location in Germany. Heavy water was a by-product of the Vermork plant. The facility had become the target of incessant air raids by the Allied bombers wanting to destroy the stockpile of heavy water stored on its premises.

Collateral damage in the form of fourteen Norwegian civilians, four German soldiers and seventy bags of charcoal and rations couldn’t be avoided as the sinking of the ferry served a much higher purpose—it thwarted Hitler’s ambitious plan of making an atomic bomb using the reserves of Vemork’s heavy water. Brown’s daring act withered the lingering possibility of the Fuhrer’s use of nuclear bombs in Europe well before Nagasaki and Hiroshima happened.

It was no wonder then, that John Brown alias Karl Gustavsson became a much-wanted man by the ODESSA. His security became Lindberg’s concern when the Police Commissioner entrusted him with the responsibility four years ago. Lindberg became the one-man-Swedish-contact for Brown. For understandable reasons, Lindberg and Brown avoided personal meetings but they remained connected anyhow. Once in a while, Brown scribbled cryptic messages on useless bits of paper and left them under a discarded bin kept in a corner of the unused bomb-shelter in the basement of his apartment in 9, Barytongatan. Messages meant for Brown—there were hardly any—were placed discreetly in the confessional of the Kaverös Church which he visited every Sunday. Those used to be mostly routine messages conveying normalcy at both ends. One of the housekeeping staff working in the complex was the pigeon who shuttled the messages between Brown and Lindberg. The messenger was oblivious and, to an extent, indifferent to the importance of those communications. He didn’t care as long as he was paid a few Swedish Kronas every month for those errands.

One November day in 2022, Lindberg received a badly smudged message from Brown that read, “202211091321.” It was signed hurriedly in red ink with a trembling hand and the bottom left corner of the paper was torn. In a mutually understood code, the message signed at 1:21 pm on November 9, 2022 was, in effect, an SOS from Brown. The Police Superintendent got the import of it instantly: “They have found me!” The use of red ink and the torn corner indicated that Brown felt extremely threatened—the ODESSA could strike any moment.

Lindberg looked at his watch. It was 4:30 pm. More than three precious hours had gone by since Brown signed the message. The pigeon, had taken his own sweet time to deliver the message. Unmindful of the urgency, he had indulged in Fika—a customary coffee break with friends—on his way to the Police Station. For Lindberg, the receipt of the piece of paper had sounded an alarm bell.

John Brown had to be saved at all costs.

The Police Commissioner was informed, and within minutes, the area around 9, Barytongatan was infiltrated by Lindberg’s men—they were inconspicuously attired; but well-armed to deal with any situation. Lindberg himself was in the guise of an old professor sporting a grey beard and round-rimmed glasses. The hearing aid he wore, was actually an earphone on which he was receiving updates from his team as he walked slowly with a deliberate limp. His alert eyes scanned the foyer for possible snoopers or eavesdroppers before he began climbing the flight of stairs to Brown’s second-floor flat. The only other flat on the floor was locked; the name plate on the door read: “Rukhsana & Salman Khurshid.” Lindberg had got them verified long ago—Salman was a Pakistani research scholar studying renewable energy at the KTH; Rukhsana was a conservative Karachi housewife who had still not got used to moving around the city without a burka or a hijab—the two were harmless.

Lindberg didn’t ring Brown’s doorbell; instead, he dropped his walking stick—deliberately and noisily. Then he cleared his throat and tapped Brown’s door with the brass handle of his stick—three short taps in quick succession followed by two with a little pause. As if he were waiting for the special knock, Brown whispered from behind the door, “Grouse!”

Gunnerside!” hissed back Lindberg.

Grouse and Gunnerside were two of the several operations undertaken to sabotage the hydroelectric plant at Vemork in the War years. They were also the chosen code words used by Brown and Lindberg to distinguish friends from foes.

Brown shut the door the moment Lindberg stepped in; he almost slammed it. “Good afternoon, Superintendent Lindberg! You are rather late,” he accused the visitor raising a frail finger which didn’t exactly point in Lindberg’s direction. “Coffee? Or, wine? Help yourself. The bottle is on the table.” Brown said, gesturing towards a side of the table where there was nothing. A bottle of Chambertin was kept on the other side of the table; it wasn’t even in Brown’s peripheral vision.

“We didn’t want to raise an alarm… had to be discreet. Besides, the area around here had to be sanitised for your sake.” Lindberg said as he poured himself some wine and sat down on a stool by the window. Brown put his hands in the pockets of his waistcoat and paced slowly in the restricted space surrounded by sofas and chairs. For a man who’d seen 92 summers, he walked erect; spoke slowly, and clearly, with emphasis.

“There’s a weird guy in the apartment yonder,” Brown came straight to the point. He gestured at the window of the flat opposite his and continued, “Hmm… …maybe he’s a mulatto… paints his forehead sometimes…. I’ve crossed him at Wily’s on two occasions in the past. Also, saw him through my binocs just yesterday. He drinks from a mug bearing a SWASTIKA. Every evening, for the last few days, he’s been sending coded messages using his bathroom light; kind of Morse Code. I understand very little of it… learnt it long ago, when I was supporting the Allied war effort in Norway. I have tried noting down his messages… but the guy is too fast. Perhaps he has accomplices in the flats nearby or, they stand in the street and take down notes,” Brown groped for something on the mantlepiece as he continued. He found his spectacles and put them on. His moist greyish green eyes appeared much enlarged, owl-like, behind the thick cylindrical lenses.    

He took out an old leather-bound diary from the drawer of his study table and flipped open a dog-eared page. “Here’s the code—the dahs and the dits… and below it… I have tried deciphering it… might not be too accurate,” he proffered. For Lindberg, the illegibly decoded message was as difficult to read, as the coded one. He couldn’t make sense of either. He too had forgotten all of the Morse Code he had learnt as a boy scout; and the Police Department didn’t use the Morse Code anymore.

“May I take your diary to get the messages analysed by experts? I cannot spend time on it now. At this moment my priority is to move you to a safe location elsewhere…”

Brown declined to handover his diary to Lindberg. “I regret I can’t hand over my personal diary to you. You can, discuss it with me later. And, how will you move me out? Those guys must be all around. They won’t let me go.” Brown was skeptical; tad paranoid.

“I have got something to steer clear of that situation,” said Lindberg as he pulled out a black burka from his handbag. “I suggest you wear this and depart in the guise of Ms Rukhsana, your neighbour. That’s a sure way you can leave without people getting suspicious,” he told a reluctant Brown. “I want you to go straight to Nymilsgatan Station and take the first tram to Haga. Two of my men will shadow you all along. A cab waiting at Haga will take you to your final destination where you’ll be as safe as in an oyster. The taxi driver will be a police sergeant. Grouse and Gunnerside will continue to be your passwords in your interaction with my men. You needn’t bother about your belongings in this flat. They will be delivered to you in due course of time. I’ll leave your flat in an hour, after watching the target flat for some time.”

While Brown inveigled himself into the Burka, Lindberg telephoned one of his deputies, and instructed him to post a team to observe and report any suspicious activity in the target flat. “Inspector Anders, I want you to personally follow anyone who leaves that accommodation,” he was categorical. After Brown’s departure, Lindberg stood behind the venetian blinds in the balcony and studied the target flat. There was no perceptible activity.

It was dark at 5:30 pm in Gothenburg; none noticed a lady in burka enter and leave the Kaverös Church. As an afterthought, Brown’s prudence had nudged him to tear a page of his diary—on which, he’d jotted the coded messages and which was of special interest to Lindberg—and to leave it in the confessional. He’d brief Lindberg about the messages later, he thought.

Ten minutes later, it was Anders on the line: “Chief, there has been no activity or movement in the flat you directed me to put under surveillance. The caretaker of the building, says that the flat has been vacant since Dr Klaus Schmidt, a research scholar at the KTH vacated it and returned to Berlin more than six months ago.”

“Then, who on earth has been sending those messages from the bathroom of that vacant flat over the last few days,” a stunned Lindberg got concerned.

“Stay put and await my instructions,” he told Anders and disconnected; only to receive another telephone call and a damning bit of information.

“Hello Chief! Sergeant Lundin here. I had picked up Mr Karl Gustavsson from Haga and was driving him to Nordin Villa in Tuve District when he suffered a bout of hiccups and was gone even before I could pull up by the roadside…. Just a few hiccups and…, and he was no more. I tried reviving him but my effort was in vain. Dunno what happened….”

“Dammit! Are you sure he is dead! Rush him to the City Hospital… see if he can be revived. Ask them to conduct an immediate post mortem, if he’s really gone. Secure his diary and other belongings, and get them over to my office,” directed Lindberg.

First, the light signals from an unoccupied flat. Then, Brown’s death under strange circumstances. Was it a natural death? Or, had the ODESSA gotten him? Had they infiltrated the Police Department to get Brown? Would they be content with killing the Brit? Or, they would also inflict punishment on the Swedes for sheltering Brown? How would one account for the coincidences?

Questions! And, more questions!

Lindberg needed some time to organise his thoughts and plan further course of action. He slumped in the nearest sofa and swallowed the last swig of the wine. Even though his mind was badly cluttered, and he was preparing to leave, he kept surveying Brown’s flat to find answers to the many questions swirling in his mind.

In those moments of confusion, his fleeting gaze returned to a document that had been lying on the table ever since he entered Brown’s flat. It was a Test Report—Brown’s eye test report. He scanned the page mechanically; re-read a line which declared that Brown was suffering from extreme myopic astigmatism. It was a vision defect because of which he couldn’t see far or straight. For Lindberg, that accounted for Brown’s thick cylindrical lenses. The sleuth also concluded that, with a vision defect of that nature, Brown was perhaps pointing at a different flat than construed by Lindberg earlier in the evening. It had to be the flat next to the one under surveillance by his team.

“Oh my God! We are on the wrong track,” he said to himself and stood up to and took a second look at the flats opposite Brown’s. There were two of them—no light or activity in either. “Observe and report on the neighbouring flat and its occupants as well.” Lindberg ordered Inspector Anders to widen the span of his surveillance.

At the City Hospital.

It was difficult for Lindberg to trust an expeditiously prepared and presented post mortem report which concluded that nonagenarian Karl Gustavsson’s death was natural. “There is more to the death of this man, Gustavsson, than discovered and reported by the medics,” a suspicious Lindberg told the Police Commissioner, “We might need to brace up for a follow up by the ODESSA. I am trying to get at the bottom of the case… will update you, soon.”

Back in his office, Lindberg opened Brown’s diary with extreme anxiety. He was aghast when he saw the most relevant page missing. He rechecked the diary but to no avail. That page was just not there. Were his men siding with the ODESSA? “Lundin! Sergeant Lundin! Where’s he? Get him here, instantly,” he yelled at no one in particular.

“Sergeant Lundin, one page of this diary is torn… and… and missing. Who tore it? Where is it? Where are Gustavsson’s other belongings? Where’s his waist pouch? See if that page is there in the pouch. And, see if it is in the pocket of the burka he had discarded after boarding your car.” Lindberg fired a volley of questions and orders when Lundin reported to him.

“I really don’t know, Sir. I got everything that belonged to Mr Gustavsson as it was.”

“Did you leave the car any time? Do you think someone might have had access to things in your car?” Lindberg tried to calm himself down. He felt miserable doubting the integrity of his most trusted aide.

“I had left the car for a good thirty minutes to complete the documentation to handover Mr Gustavsson’s body to the Hospital staff. I wonder if during that time someone managed to open the door and took away something of importance?” Sergeant Lundin sounded innocently confused and clueless.

“How can you be so callous?” Lindberg withdrew. “I’ll call you later. Dismiss for now.”

Lindberg’s hope of cracking the case now hinged on finding the guy who had been flashing messages from the flat under surveillance. He doubled the strength of his team on the watch. At any cost, he didn’t want the mulatto to slip out of his hands. Lindberg himself patrolled the area several times through the night. But there was no trace of the man.

The news of the death of Mr Alfonso Clement came as another bolt. The registered occupant of the flat was found dead on a bench in the park in Tynnered under mysterious circumstances. “HEART SEIZURE,” was the cause, declared the post mortem report. The preliminary report submitted by Inspector Anders to Lindberg brought out the fact that several objects in Mr Alfonso’s flat bore the SWASTIKA.

Lindberg visited the flat to establish a possible ODESSA link. But the case took a U-turn when it was discovered that Mr Clement was a Keralite from India. A worshipper of Ganesha, he displayed faith in the religious Indian symbol of SWASTIKA as different from the Nazi SWASTIKA. The symbol appeared on everything from Alfonso’s table-cloth to bedsheets and pillow slips; from covers of notebooks and diaries to his bedside lamp; from items of crockery to his cufflinks and tiepin. His colleagues in VOLVO’s Sales Department, where he worked said that sometimes he even painted different symbols on his forehead with sandalwood paste.

On the Police Commissioner’s insistence, Lindberg closed the file and the case of the death of John Brown alias Karl Gustavsson, but some questions continued to baffle him: Why, and to whom did Alfonso Clement send those coded messages by flashing the bathroom lights? How did that page with the coded messages disappear from Brown’s diary?

Lindberg would go to his grave with those questions.


December 1, 2022. Kaverös Church was being spruced up for Christmas. A conscientious Ms Eva Holm was cleaning every nook and corner of the complex when she saw a shabbily folded paper wedged between the partition wall of the confessional and the wooden floor. Her curiosity wasn’t aroused by what she thought was doodling and artwork of a confused teenager whiling away time in the church. She shredded and consigned that paper to the bin marked ‘RECYCLE.’ Around the same time, a Dr Kurt Waldheim, an expert on life cycle assessment of electric car batteries, rented the apartment in which Mr Alfonso Clement had spent his last days. Before moving into the apartment, he thanked the housekeeper, “Thank you Mr David, I am glad everything has been done up nicely… to my satisfaction. I am particularly happy about the replacement of the faulty switch in the bathroom. That light, coming ON and going OFF on its own repeatedly, was quite distracting; nagging at times.”

Unravelling Suicidal Ideation

Can the outcome of a recent study on a type of bacteria in the saliva of a person with suicidal ideation help prevent suicides?

A study at the University of Florida has found that the bacteria in the saliva of college students who reported recent suicidal tendencies differed significantly from those found in the saliva of students who had not experienced recent suicidal ideation. Such students showed lower levels of Alloprevotella rava, a bacteria associated with positive brain health, in their samples. For the purpose of the study, recent suicidal ideation was considered as thoughts of suicide arising within the two weeks before the saliva sample was taken. The study was undertaken controlling the other known factors like diet and sleep etc which affect mental health. It was found that students with recent suicidal thoughts had higher levels of bacteria associated with periodontal disease and other inflammatory health conditions rather than of Alloprevotella rava. The study analysed saliva samples collected from nearly 500 undergraduate students. Those who reported recent suicidal ideation were referred to on-campus mental health services. In India too, a large number of youth commit suicide; study suggests that two lakh students died by suicide since 1995. In 2021 alone, 13,000 students took their lives.

Suicide by youth is a serious issue all over the world

It is a known fact that mental health is a serious issue on college campuses. A 2020 study by the US based Centre for Disease Control (CDC) found that up to a quarter of people between ages 18 to 24 had seriously thought about suicide within the previous month. The story is not much different in other parts of the world, including India. Although, various treatments and lifestyle changes help, there is a need to explore how some microbiomes affect mental health and could be harnessed to improve it. While at it, at is extremely important to ascertain whether the lower levels of the said bacteria result in suicidal tendencies or the lower levels are the result of suicidal ideation.

In future, a close observation of these bacteria might help predict tendencies and might lead to pro- or prebiotic treatments for those at risk.

As the scientists go ahead with their research, there’s an urgent need to widen the scope of this study to include people from other walks of life. The first category of professionals that comes to mind is the armed forces personnel. An article published in the New York Times in June 2012 included startling figures on spike in suicides among the active-duty US military personnel. As per Pentagon, the suicide rate (in 2012), eclipsed the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade earlier. The suicide rate was nearly one per day in 2012. The sharp increase in suicides led Pentagon to establish a Defence Suicide Prevention Office. The commanders were reminded that those seeking counselling should not be stigmatised. Defence Secretary, Leon E Panetta emphasised that suicide prevention was a leadership responsibility. But veterans’ groups felt that the Pentagon had not done enough to moderate the tremendous stress under which combat troops were living, including coping with multiple deployments. Suicides among active-duty military personnel were “the tip of the iceberg.” A survey conducted among the 1,60,000 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Group found that 37 percent knew someone who had committed suicide.

Stress-busters alone are not enough

It is a similar story in case of the Indian Armed Forces. In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, in March 2021, the then Minister of State for Defence, Mr Shripad Naik had said that the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Air Force and Navy) had lost 787 personnel to suicides in the preceding seven years. In quite a few cases, the mentally stressed students and military personnel have gone on a shooting spree, killing innocent people, before committing suicide. The ever rising numbers of suicides point at the need to do more qualitatively to mitigate nay eliminate the circumstances nudging men to take that drastic step. Mechanical stress management efforts do not suffice. A study like the one conducted at the University of Florida with a wider scope (to look into the high rate of suicides in the Armed Forces) will go a long way in addressing the issue.

Mozquiteerz Unite!

In June 2022, Delhiites narrowly escaped something deadlier than the Covid pandemic! The danger still lurks…

Not too long ago, in June 2022, a lady was hit on the head by a bottle in an uncultured club in South Delhi. She had to be treated in a hospital. Apparently, an FIR was also lodged but was withdrawn later. A show-cause notice was served to the owner of the bar cum café for running well past the permissible time. This was followed by suspension, and subsequent cancellation, of the licence.

How procedurally methodical!

The court took a serious view of the case and dismissed the plea of the owner to reopen the facility, but then, hoped that the police commissioner would take a sympathetic view since the last two years had been catastrophic on account of Covid-19. The restaurant and service industry in particular, had been severely hit by the pandemic. The court added sympathetically that the restaurant had been providing employment to a number of people since 2017.

How socially conscious and considerate too!

The club did reopen after it was established that ‘nobody hit the lady.’ Some recalled the film No-One-Killed-Jessica-Lal with a sense of déjà vu. Now, all that has little to do with what happened behind the closed doors of the club before it was so conscientiously reopened in the public interest.

Unbeknown to the outside world, a meeting took place behind the sealed ‘bar and café’ doors. Numbering more than a hundred, the members of the group occupied every nook and corner of the premises. And, although all of them, without any exception were slurring (“Zzzuzzu-ing,” to be more accurate), they definitely were not suffering from speech sound disorder. They weren’t drunk either. They were very much in their senses and knew their agenda well.

The oldest and most revered member of the group began, “My friendzz,… Aedez, Anophelez, Culex,… before we prozeed, I want to requezt you to ztand in zilence, wherever you are, for two minutez, to mourn the untimely death of 47 of our brethren.” The gathered members stood motionless––one could hear only the zzzuzzuing caused by their breathing. Tears rolled and the cheeks of some of the members, mostly female, glistened in the intermittent glow of the blue and red LED light emanating from the RO water filter installed behind the bar counter of that dark and gloomy complex.

After two minutes, which lasted barely ten seconds, the revered member continued, “They died young… in fact, if you azk me, they didn’t die… (emphasis) they were killed… yez, ladiez and gentlemen… they were K-I-L-L-E-D…. And we will avenge their deathz,” he paused and looked around for attention as the zzzuizzing rose in decibel. “They were trampled to death when they lay unconsciouz on the floor of thiz very bar. Our expertz have dizcovered that… I’m zad to zay… they were inebriated.  They were intoxicated becauze they had conzumed the blood of the drunken lot in thiz bar. Their blood had unuzually high levelz of alcohol.”

“Death to Delhiitezz!!” one member sitting on the shade of a fancy light expressed his rage.

Another one, perched precariously on the brim of a wine glass screamed, “Aedez! Anophelez! Culex… mozquitoez of the world, unite… zzz.” Shivering with anger, he lost balance and slipped and fell into the empty glass and hurt his head.

“Ladiez and gentlemen, maintain zilenze! Zloganeering will take uz nowhere. Let the revered leader zpeak,” a volunteer who looked like a muscular bouncer gestured to the crowd to settle down. “And… ladiez and gentlemen, let me make it clear… we are not mozquitoez… we are M-O-Z-Q-U-I-T-E-E-R-Z… and let’z behave like MOZQUITEERZ,” he stressed before letting the revered member resume.

The response of the audience was exactly as the revered member had expected it to be. He proceeded with his melodrama with a heightened sense of satisfaction, “Thankz to the new excize rulez in zome Ztatez… more and more people are now dying of drunken driving, brawlz in the barz and road rage… there is no account of zpike in the deathz due to increazed domeztic violenze. Thoze rizing numberz, my muzquiteer friendz are alarming. Our worry iz that in due courze of time, thoze numberz will exzeed the numberz dying because of Covid, malaria, filaria and chikungunya… we’ll loze the leftover trazez of rezpect.” The voice of the revered member crackled with grief. “It is a viziouz zircle,” he became philosophical, “Free electrizity, free water, free buz-ride… haz left the aam aadmi with enough money to zpend on himzelf. A mazzive cut in liquor prizez haz brought it within the eazy reach of everyone. Of courze, it iz a beautiful trend… fatherz, motherz, zonz, daughterz,… familiez and friendz drinking together from the zame bottle of cheaply and readily available Glenlivett and zpeaking in just learnt farratedaar Englizh… I don’t mind those people blowing up the government largezze… but my conzern is the long term ill effectz it’ll have on our young mozquiteerz, and our breedz.”

There was silence in the bar; even the zzzuzzuing had stopped. Faced with existential crisis, the mosquitoes had gone into introspection.

Sound of footsteps and human voices broke the chain of their thoughts. Concern and fear writ large on their faces, their heads turned towards the bar door. With bated breaths they heard the keys clink and the door knob rotate. “Thank God, they have finally accepted our plea. Victor, I have organised a Hawan at nine tomorrow. Please get the bar cleaned and sanitised before sunrise tomorrow. And… oops… these mosquitoes! Spray some odourless repellent,” said the bar owner as he killed a mosquito who had mistakenly landed on his chubby cheek. Then, there was commotion. The last thing heard as the mosquitoes ran for cover was the voice of their revered leader: “Dizperze! Dizperze! Each one to himzelf…. We’ll meet again zoon… until then take care of yourzelf and avoid conzuming the blood of drunken Delhiitez. Don’t worry, there haz been a brawl in another bar… more will follow… we’ll have a wide choize of venuez to get together… the addrezz of our next meet will be communicated to you. Remember we have to avenge the killingz of our fellow mozquiteerz. Zai Zind!”

Fighting Diabetes––American, Indian Way

Every 17 seconds, an American is diagnosed with diabetes. ~ The American Journal of Managed Care, 2018

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how one’s body turns food into energy. Most of the food one eats is broken down into sugar and released into one’s bloodstream. Pancreas release hormones which, in turn control blood sugar levels. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys. With diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should. For treatment of diabetes, among others, insulin therapy is a commonly recommended line of treatment, which is fairly expensive.

Last Thursday (July the 7th, 2022) Governor Gavin Newsom announced a 100 million USD funding for manufacture of low-cost insulin to make the diabetes treatment more affordable in California. According to Newsom (on Twitter): “Nothing epitomises market failures more than the cost of insulin.”

In the US, insulin costs nearly 100 $ per unit. Diabetic Americans spend anywhere from USD 300 to 500 per month for this life-saving drug. Nearly, 80 percent of the Americans needing the drug incur credit card debt to pay for the costly drug. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 37.3 million people in America have diabetes. California has a particularly high rate of new diabetes cases—mainly affecting minorities, the elderly, males and low-income individuals, according to the governor’s office. The Californian programme allocates $50 million for the development of cheaper insulin products and $50 million for an in-state insulin manufacturing facility to improve the supply chain of the drug.

Californians will have to wait for some time before inexpensive insulin is readily available.

In India, the story is a bit different.

In quite a few cases, diabetes gets detected only at a late stage. More than the difficulty of access to testing facilities, it is the problem of attitude. Not many people take diabetes really seriously––before detection, or after the tests confirm it.

In India, the story is quite different for another reason––a home remedy is readily available.

On this count, I speak only for myself. In February this year, I underwent angioplasty. The tests I took at that time indicated, among other things, marginally higher level of sugar in my blood. Those tests demolished my high opinion about myself. I always thought that active and carefree people like me (a cross country runner, a Parachute Jump Instructor, …) with much physical activity and reasonably good dietary habits can’t possibly have diabetes. I somehow believed that people with sedentary lifestyles and much burden on their minds were more prone to have complications with blood sugar levels.

My brother advised me to consume a teaspoonful of a mixture containing in equal proportion by weight, powders of seven Indian plant products––leaves/ fruits/ seeds [Amla (Phyllanthus Emblica); Dana Methi (Trigonells Foenumgraeceum); Jamun Guthli (Eugenia Jambolana); Belpatra (Aegle Marmelos); Neem Patra (Azadirachira Indica); Gudmar (Gymnema Sulvestre) and Karela (Momoradica Chrantia)]. He was diabetic and was able to reduce his dependence on insulin (to a near zero level) similarly.

The Magic Potion

I followed his advice and took a dose every morning (empty stomach) with water. It was bitter as bitter can be, and was difficult to swallow in powder form, but I went through the torture which lasted less than half a minute every morning. And, lo and behold, in a span of less than three months my HbA1c level dropped from 6.1 to 5.8. The feeling of thirst and the need to pass urine (twice) every night also ceased.

A happy downward trend…

A well-placed acquaintance who also suffered from diabetes, couldn’t consume the bitter powder. She got tablets made of the mixture. Innovative! At this point, rather than appending a disclaimer, I would urge someone who understands medicine and has the resources, to undertake a dispassionate control experiment, to ascertain the usefulness of the mixture in curing diabetes.

The Last Straw: The Air Raid on Government House, Dacca  (Indo-Pak War 1971)

The Air Raid on Government House, Dacca  (Indo-Pak War 1971) triggered a chain of events that eventually led to the historical surrender of a 93,000 strong Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971.

Many events led to the historic surrender of a 93,000 strong Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971; some stand out. One of them is the bombing of the Government House in Dacca which, according to many historians, was the proverbial last straw which broke the camel’s back. It is interesting how it came about.

In about a week since its breakout on December 3, the Indo-Pak War in the eastern sector had reached a turning point. The Indian Air Force was in command of the skies and was striking Pakistani military targets with impunity. The Indian Navy had achieved a blockade in the Bay of Bengal so that no assistance could reach the battered and bruised Pakistani forces from the sea. The biggest and the most successful paradrop since the Second World War (Tangail, December 11, 1971) had shattered the morale of the Pakistani forces. The Indian Paratroopers who had landed at Tangail had linked up with the troops from the north and had closed in on Dacca. Dacca with 26,400 Pakistani troops was surrounded by 3,000 Indian troops. The numerical asymmetry favoured Pakistan. Hereafter, it would be a bloody street fight between desperate Pakistani troops fighting for survival and the Indian troops and the cadres of Mukti Bahini flushing them out in an effort to wrest control of the city.

The rudderless and helpless Pakistani leadership holed up in Dacca knew that a fortified Dacca would be costly and time-consuming for the Indian troops to capture; holding on to it would give them the possible time needed to clamour for international support, and maybe, get it. Several ceasefire resolutions had already been tabled in the UN. The US, siding with Pakistan had tried to pressurise India in to a ceasefire by moving its aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and other warships into the Bay of Bengal. The Soviet Union had vetoed all the resolutions that did not link a ceasefire with the recognition of the will of the people of East Pakistan. But under diplomatic compulsions, Moscow had conveyed to Delhi that there would be no more vetoes. Under those circumstances, any prolonging of the War would be detrimental to the interest of the freedom fighters seeking independence from Pakistan and for the Indian armed forces who had brought the War so close to a favourable conclusion. Victory and the achievement of the goal was so close, yet so far. Something had to be done before a third party could intervene and ‘thrust’ a ceasefire.

To work out a concrete plan to delay the fall of Dacca until international support could be mustered, Governor Dr AM Malik had called a very high-level meeting in the Government House around mid-day on December 14. The who’s who of the administrative machinery, the military leadership, a few foreign diplomats, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN representative, John Kelly would be present. The main aim was to find a way to bring about a face-saving ceasefire rather than a shameful surrender by the Pakistani Army.

There were several transmissions by the Pakistanis on the radio air waves sharing the details of the meeting called by the Governor. It is a matter of chance that those communications were picked up by a vigilant Wireless Experimental Unit of the Indian Air Force. A flight lieutenant officiating as the Commanding Officer, heard and re-heard those messages because they indicated a congregation of the top Pakistani leadership at a place at a given time. He wasted no time in bringing it to the notice of his ‘higher ups.’

Thereafter things happened really fast. The Signal Intelligence Directorate, Army Command and the Eastern Air Command shared the leak with Delhi. Those in Delhi, realised the strategic importance of the leaked message. To thwart the Pakistani design to manoeuvre a ceasefire or to tether the Indian troops on the periphery of Dacca until ‘help’ arrived, it was imperative to somehow prevent decision making by the Governor. It was of strategic importance to disrupt that planned meeting. The stymieing of the meeting would also send the administration and defence of Dacca into total disarray. With the time of the meeting fast approaching, the window of opportunity to throw a spanner in the works was rather small. 

Acting fast, Air Headquarters ordered the Eastern Air Command in the morning of December 14, to strike the Circuit House where the meeting was to take place. The First Supersonics, the MiG-21 fighters of 28 Squadron, Air Force based at Guwahati, were tasked with the responsibility. Wing Commander BK Bishnoi, the Commanding Officer, who had just returned from a close-support mission from Mainamati Cantonment in the morning received the instructions through Group Captain MSD Wollen (Station Commander, Air Force Station, Guwahati).

The time was 10:55 am when Bishnoi was directed to strike the Circuit House in Dacca at 11:20 am. It was a tall order in as much as, the flying time from Guwahati to Dacca was 21 minutes. And, to add to the woes of the pilots, none in the Squadron knew where in Dacca was the Circuit House located. The building was not clearly indicated in the quarter-inch and the one-inch maps available in the Squadron. Under those circumstances, striking the target without causing collateral damage would be difficult.

To help out Bishnoi with the location of the intended target, Wollen produced a tourist map which gave the location of the Circuit House. Even on that map of the city of Dacca, pinpointing a particular crossing and the Circuit House on that crossing in a crowded locality was difficult. How to strike the target in that crammed locality and yet avoid harming the civilian population in the vicinity, must have been uppermost in the mind of a conscientious Bishnoi when he took the tourist map from Wollen and accepted the daunting task. Since time was running out, he decided to fly over Dacca with the tourist map and look for the Circuit House. He could afford that luxury because there was practically no resistance from the Pakistani Air Force.

Four MiG-21 aircraft loaded with 32 High Explosive Rockets each were readied for the mission. It was when Bishnoi was strapping up in the cockpit that one of his officers came running to him and gave him a slip of paper which said that the target was Government House and not Circuit House. A major faux pas was averted.

Once the formation was airborne and was on its way to execute the mission, Bishnoi scanned the tourist map and identified the Government House on it. The other three members of the strike team––Flight Lieutenants Vinod Bhatia, Raghavachari and Malhi––were still oblivious of the last-minute change of the target from Circuit House to Government House. Bishnoi had not announced the change on the R/T, to maintain secrecy to the extent possible.

Barely a minute before the formation was over Dacca, Bishnoi shared the ‘revised’ target information with his team. He described it for them and gave them the approximate location and asked them to look out for it. Bhatia who spotted the Government House first, identified it as a magnificent old styled palatial building with a high dome, in the middle of a lush green compound, eleven o’clock to them, about 500 yards away. A few vehicles were parked on its premises.

Bishnoi orbited once to confirm the identity of the target and then ordered the attack, himself taking the building from the wider side. He aimed at the room below the dome. The others targeted other parts of the building. In two passes, the team fired 128 rockets at the Government House. Two MiG aircraft of No. 5 Squadron Air Force followed Bishnoi’s formation. They made four passes each, firing rockets at their target. The IAF aircraft remained unscathed by the half-hearted firing by the Pakistani anti-aircraft guns

Smoke and dust rose from the seat of Pakistani power in East Pakistan.  

Like Wing Commander Bishnoi, Wing Commander SK Kaul, the Commanding Officer of 37 Squadron, Air Force located at Hashimara, too didn’t get much time to prepare. At about 10:30 am on the same day he also received instructions to target the Government House in Dacca. When he raised questions about the location of the building, a young officer of his Squadron came up with a Burmah Shell tourist map of the city of Dacca. It amazed the Commanding Officer to no end. But, according to Kaul, the map was more detailed than the quarter-inch and the one-inch maps used by the pilots. At least, it served the intended purpose at that crucial moment.

Before, the Governor and the people in the Government House could absorb the shock of the rocket attack by the MiG fighters, they were attacked by two Hunter aircraft flown by Wing Commander SK Kaul and Flying Officer Harish Masand, respectively. They made several passes over the target and emptied their guns. On their way back they saw the spectator gallery that was on the rooftop of the Dacca Intercontinental Hotel. Standing atop the hotel building, the foreigners and the media-persons were watching the spectacle at the Government House.

Those in the Government House didn’t have a respite; they didn’t have time to raise their heads. The raid by the duo of Kaul and Masand was followed by a raid by Squadron Leader Bose and Flight Lieutenant Menon. Again, there was a feeble response from the Air Defence elements on the ground. The Indian MiG and Hunter formations had inflicted severe damage on the seat of power in East Pakistan; the air attacks had shattered the pride and morale of the leadership.     

Down below, the massive roof of the main hall of the Government House was ripped. There was pandemonium in the building as people ran for cover. The Governor rushed to the air-raid shelter. Between the raids, he quickly scribbled his resignation to General Yahya Khan, the President of Pakistan. He was seen taking off his shoes, washing his hands and feet and kneeling down for prayers in an air raid shelter. Allah alone could save him and the Pakistanis from the wrath of the Indian Armed Forces.  

After tendering his resignation, Dr Malik, his Cabinet and the West Pakistani Civil Servants based in the city, made a beeline to the Dacca Intercontinental Hotel, which had been converted into a Neutral Zone by the International Red Cross. As per diplomatic norms Serving Pakistani officials couldn’t have taken refuge in the Hotel. So, the top brass dissociated themselves in writing from the Government of Pakistan to become eligible to get admission in the Neutral Zone.

The same evening, in a desperate bid, Lieutenant General Niazi rushed to Mr Herbert Daniel Spivack, the US Consul-General in Dacca with a request to negotiate a ceasefire with India on Pakistan’s behalf. The American diplomat declined the request outright, instead he offered to ‘send a message’.      The air attacks on the Government House in Dacca broke the back of Pakistani command and control in the eastern sector. In the following two days, it took a little more of arm-twisting of Lieutenant General AAK Niazi by Lieutenant General JFR Jacob to make him agree to an unconditional surrender by the Pakistani Army.