Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Four days from now, September the 26th will mark the 37th anniversary of an event that, beyond a sliver of doubt, averted a nuclear war. On that day in 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defence Forces was the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command centre outside Moscow monitoring its early-warning satellites over the United States when alarms went off––computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base.

Colonel Petrov was a very important link in the decision-making chain. His superiors reported to the general staff, who would consult the Soviet leader, Mr Yuri V Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack. Since there was no rule about how long the observers were allowed to think before they reported a strike, Petrov took his sweet time absorbing the deluge of incoming information and ‘felt’ that the launch reports were ‘probably’ a false alarm. He, therefore, reported ‘a system malfunction’. “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” he told a newspaper later. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

Petrov’s nuclear dilemma

Every second of delay on that day took away valuable time that the Soviet military and political leadership would have needed to absorb the inputs and react. Petrov told an interviewer, “… I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.” It was at best a 50-50 guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched. He could afford the luxury of sleeping mulling over the inputs because 25 long minutes would elapse between launch and detonation. Petrov attributed his judgment to his training and his intuition. He had been told that a nuclear first strike by the Americans would come in the form of an overwhelming onslaught.

Training and Intuition… where does India stand?

A typical military exercise––conducted at many of the military training institutes/ colleges/ establishments––has a Blue Force (India) and a Red Force (the adversary––Pakistan or China, implied or explicit). The exercises are realistic with full freedom to the participating officers––with 3 to 30 years of commissioned service; sometimes, including bureaucrats, diplomats and scientists––to let go of their imagination to plan and execute military operations until… someone in the Red Force threatens to use the nukes.

The exercise is paused and the director of the exercise (or the umpire) steps in and enlightens the attendees. Put in different words and with varying intensity, depending on the personality of the guru, the gist of what is repeatedly sermonised and hammered into the craniums of the participants is: “Like India, China has a No-First-Use (NFU) policy––therefore, use of a nuclear weapon by China against India is not a likely proposition. As regards Pakistan, although their leadership talks and acts insanely, they are not mad. Nuclear sabre rattling by Pakistan is, but a hollow threat. Pakistan cannot dare to strike India with a nuclear-tipped missile because even with a ‘second strike’ option, India has the capability to turn the whole of Pakistan into rubble…. We can cause unacceptable damage to any adversary if we are struck with nukes….”

The punch line delivered (invariably) with theatrical emphasis and the air of a political leader seeking to hold a moral high ground at a peace conference at the UN General Assembly reads somewhat:

“Nuclear weapons are not meant for fighting; they are there (only) for deterrence.”

This has now been going on for decades since the legendary Mr K Subrahmanyam drew up the draft of India’s Nuclear Doctrine, which communicated, along with India’s NFU status, the spirit that:

“Nuclear weapons are the weapons of last resort; they’ll be used only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.”

As can be seen, there is a subtle difference between what the genius, Mr Subrahmanyam enunciated and what the later gurus interpreted, communicated and taught to the lesser mortals––the military personnel and the scientists––people who would be expected to ‘handle’ the nukes when ordained by the political leadership. Over the years, the people, who would some day play Colonel Petrov in India’s case; have been getting inoculated with a different vaccine than should have been ideally prescribed.

An ambiguity at a crucial moment––nuclear weapons being weapons of last resort or being meant only for deterrence––borne out of years of training, can cost India dear because it would take just about five to ten minutes from a launch (in Pakistan or China) to detonation (in India). In a situation like Petrov’s, Indians would not afford the luxury of time. It is therefore, imperative that people who would some day be in the decision making chain and those who would be executing a political big decision (particularly the men in uniform and the scientists) be educated and trained to act decisively without dithering like Colonel Petrov.

Need to unlearn and re-learn

The need to unlearn and relearn the nuances of the Indian Nuclear Doctrine is also mandated by the recent behaviour of our neighbours. Let’s look at it this way. Pakistan knows that its nuclear sabre rattling does not perturb India, for India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff twice recently––one, by carrying out surgical strikes across the border after Uri terror attack; and two, by executing airstrikes against terror camps at Balakot in response to the Pulwama Terror Attack. In both those cases, Imran Khan first blabbered about the heightening tensions and the possibility of ‘inadvertent’ use of nukes, then ate a humble pie.

Humiliated at home and abroad on those counts, and coupled with a messed up economy and a battered national prestige (because of Pakistan’s terror links), the Khan is vulnerable to arm-twisting by three agencies––Pakistan Military; Pakistan-based terror outfits; and a Shylock-like China, whose debt makes Pakistan cringe. China is capable of using several levers to instigate its stooge, Pakistan to surprise India. Considering these mounting pressures, the cricketer turned puppet of a politician, might be forced to reconsider and carry out his nuclear bluff. The probability, although infinitely low, is not equal to zero. Therefore, it would be prudent on India’s part to cater for a ‘mistaken’ use of a nuke by Imran’s Pakistan.

To sum up, security, and nuclear security in particular, is a dynamic concept; its doctrines and understanding of the same by every link in the chain needs periodic review and refreshing. Exercising realistically with the nuclear option will convey a stronger ‘resolve’ to the adversaries and work as a more meaningful deterrence without changing anything on the ground.

Related Posts

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Loss of More Than 140,000 Innocent American Lives: The US is Paying for its Inaction in 1945

Corona Virus!

Conspiracy theories abound. Many people think believe that it was developed by scientists in a laboratory. And, even if one disregards that bizarre pronouncement for want of credible evidence, one thing that can be said with certainty is that the virus originated ‘somewhere‘ in China. That the pandemic could have been controlled well had China shared the relevant information about it with the rest of the world in time is a bone of contention. President Donald Trump blames China squarely for being instrumental in causing devastation of untold dimension. While the experts in the World Health Organisation (WHO) spent more than ten days to christen the pandemic: “Covid-19,” an irate, Donald Trump took no time to declare it a ‘very bad gift’ from China. He went on to call it by more different names: “Kung Flu” on one occasion, and the “Chinese Virus” on another.

Rhetoric apart, today the Sino-US relations are actually at their lowest ebb. The two major world powers (mind the deliberate strikethrough) countries have been trading blows on many fronts––unbecoming behaviour amid extreme crisis. Washington on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 ordered the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston; a move it said was aimed “to protect American intellectual property and private information.” It was another way of accusing Beijing of cyber espionage.

Covid-19 Pandemic is but an excuse; lined up behind it are numerous other issues––disputes over trade; Taiwan; violation of human rights in Tibet, Tiananmen Square, Xinjiang and Hong Kong; Chinese assertiveness in the sea they call “South China Sea” and of course, the “not so Peaceful Rise of China….” There isn’t just one issue––there are loads of them. That China is at the root of the problems facing the world today is evident in the actions initiated by Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia, and several other countries.

Actions, counteractions and the blame game will go on till cows come home. At this point when the pandemic is a stark reality and the world is desperately looking for a drug and a vaccine to contain the spread of the virus, some questions beg answers: “Could this pandemic have been avoided? If the answer is “Yes,” then, “How could it have been avoided?”

‘The Butterfly Effect’* might explain how the world has reached this state of being and how it could have been avoided altogether.

Read on….

But before proceeding, please bear the repetition of a fact for the sake of emphasis, and better understanding of the current and the would-be crises of this nature. Openly or in subdued voice, willingly or grudgingly, all the world’s countries, including Chinese stooges like Pakistan and North Korea, are unanimous on two counts: one, that the pandemic originated in China, and two, Beijing could have done much more to avert the catastrophe. China’s predominant role in the spread of the pandemic is undeniable; it is indefensible too. When not under the watchful eyes of Xi, the screams of millions of Chinese––the ilk of Dr Li Wenliang––will also chorus in agreement.

And now, about the distant flutter (Butterfly Effect) that led to the present world crisis. On September 2, 1945, at the time when the formal Japanese surrender ceremony was taking place aboard the battleship Missouri, civil war was brewing in China. With difficulty in communicating an idea from one part of the country to another, let alone transporting a bag of rice, the Chinese were living in extreme poverty and hunger. They were falling easy prey to the Communist ideology. In a showdown between Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists, the Communists had a good chance of winning out. One way to strengthen the generalissimo was to provide him mobility––the ability to spread his influence in the far reaches of China where the Communists were operating freely.

At that time, the Americans were busy winding up; airlifting men and equipment to India/ the US. The Orient Project was under way. They had the capability and the capacity to provide the vital support Chiang Kai-shek needed to thwart the opposing forces. And, although the war-weary American generals strongly supported the idea, there was little political will. The congressmen who visited the region were under pressure from the womenfolk (mothers, wives and sweethearts of the men in uniform) back in the US to bring their menfolk home. It gave every politician a chance to curry favour with the voters by joining in the cry: “Bring the troops home!”

Thus, the Chinese who had supported the Allied war effort in the Indo-Pacific by tethering a two lakh strong Japanese Army in the region, were dealt a raw deal––they got ‘nothing’ for pulling the proverbial chestnuts out of the fire for the Americans. Had the Americans stood by Chiang Kai-shek for some time after the WW II, the geopolitics of the region would have taken a different turn––China would not have gone ‘RED.’ Today’s China would have been ‘different.’

If that was not enough, the US let go of another opportunity to stymie the rise of a belligerent China when, despite the ‘Tiananmen Square Carnage’, it continued to maintain trade relations with Beijing, albeit after a pause.

The monster that the US let take birth and grow is now turning on it. The US is paying for its follies with innocent American lives. As on date (July 20, 2020), Covid-19 infection cases have crossed a 4-million mark in the US. There have been 11,46,516 deaths (and counting)––the number has already exceeded the sum total of American lives lost in all the major wars the country has fought since the War of American Independence.

US inaction today might lead to perpetual mourning

As can be seen, had US prevented the birth of a “Communist” China in 1945––which it was capable of doing then––the world would not be facing the Covid crisis today. Thus, to an extent, the US is responsible (because of its inaction) for the crisis facing the world. That conclusion begs yet another question: How can the US atone innocent deaths all over the world? The simple answer is: By standing up and taking charge. There’s no room for another error of judgement. There will be a huge cost attached to relinquishing leadership under the present circumstances.

*The Butterfly Effect: It is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. The concept is imagined with a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon. Of course, a single act like the butterfly flapping its wings cannot cause a typhoon. Small events can, however, serve as catalysts that act on starting conditions.

China’s Champagne Moment

Champagne!

Champagne in his Good Days
Champagne, in good days

Do not be misled; I am not talking about the sparkling white wine, which comes from a region of that name in France. I am talking of the stray dog, also of the same given name, Champagne who shares the space with a score and more of potted plants placed at the entrance of my house. He quietly occupied that spot more than half a dozen years ago, and before we could realise, started staking a claim on it as ‘HIS DOMAIN’. We didn’t mind his presence there because he barked at every moving thing that crossed our entrance, giving us a vague sense of security. Soon doles of leftover food became a routine and Champagne started demanding them as his right. Passers by started treating him with the regard due to someone’s pet; unknowingly, other dogs started paying obeisance. Our occasional unintentional good treatment and cosseting led to further closeness with the cur. Our affinity notwithstanding, Champagne has bitten nearly a dozen unsuspecting humans including my dear wife and yours truly.

In the last few days––since the lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic came into effect, to be precise, there has been practically no human footfall in the Amity University campus where we live; stray dogs and birds have been ruling the roost, almost. While strictly observing social distancing norms I have been taking occasional walks. A few days ago, Champagne started accompanying me on these walks.

Champagne expanding territory…

The other day I found something strange in Champagne’s behaviour––he was stopping every now and then, smelling something and peeing on objects. It wasn’t once or twice––he did it more than ten times in the span of an hour. I thought it was unusual. I wondered and pitied, “Was he suffering from some ailment of the urinary system? Do dogs suffer from prostate?” Concern for the poor dog led me to Google the issue and also consult my ‘genuine’ canine lover friends. I discovered that the act of peeing was a dog’s way of marking its territory. Over a few days in the past, he had been trying to expand his geographical area of influence.

You got it right. It’s time China appeared in this discourse…

Champagne was behaving exactly like China––flexing muscles and grabbing territory altering geography. It’ll be easy to recall China messing affairs in Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, the sea to its south (some people inaccurately call that region, South China Sea), Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Doklam and Ladakh––the list is very long. Not to talk of the US, whole of Europe and many other countries all over the world whose economies have been dealt a near death blow by Covid-19 pandemic––allegedly triggered by China.

And by doing so, Champagne, like China, was getting on the wrong side of many who were affected by his belligerence.

Then…

Then, yesterday something happened which made me wonder about China’s immediate future.

Champagne Cornered
Champagne cornered, pays for belligerence…

All the dogs of the area––the strong and docile dogs who had been sitting quiet all the while; the weak dogs who were whimpering but had felt helpless; the couldn’t-care-less dogs; the happy-go-lucky dogs… all the dogs, all the dogs without exception––got together and attacked Champagne. In their offensive action they were fierce like wolves; even the weak and meek ones. They barked in chorus and vied for their turns to bite Champagne. Some, who could, went for his jugular; they wanted to shred him to pieces, smithereens. My effort to save him from the wrath of the angry pack was just about sufficient to save his life.

Champagn'e Jugular
Jugular… almost gone!

Now…

Champagne is licking his wounds (except the ones around his jugular). His body language suggests that he is ruminating, “What went wrong?”

Everything about the recent happenings suggests that China’s Champagne Moment is near, very near.

Will a crystal gazer bury the doubts about ‘when’!?

World Leadership Beyond Covid-19

The 9/11 terror attacks led to killing of over 3000 Americans in New York. The US reacted; formed a coalition and vowed to avenge the strikes. In a response that was largely punitive for the mastermind and the abettors, who were still invisible, Uncle Sam went pounding and pulverising Afghanistan. As if that were not exemplary enough for the rest of the world, an enraged George W Bush went about setting his own standards for the world’s behaviour. He threatened the comity of nations: “Either you are with us or against us.”

Arrogance!

The outcome was much expected: In a moment of America’s extreme sorrow, the world responded with sympathy on the face and a subdued indifference in the heart. The feigned feelings made little difference to the US.

The US was the (mind the strikethrough) a Super Power then. The world looked at that country with awe, and respect, born of fear of its military and economic might rather than reverence for a true leader.   

In its effect, the Covid-19 pandemic has been more devastating than the 9/11 attacks––the death toll in the US has exceeded 10,300. It is more than three times the lives lost in 9/11 and the figure continues to rise harrowingly. The catastrophic effect on the economy will be more evident as time passes. In denial, President Trump first called the pandemic a hoax and, in a matter of days changed tack to declare that it was horrific.

With a difference though, this pandemic is indeed America’s 9/11 (Version 2.0).

In 2001, without a second thought, the US began bombing the perpetrators of 9/11 allegedly hiding in Afghanistan. In this instance, although President Trump has blamed China for the spread of the pandemic, and has gone on to call Covid-19 as the Chinese Virus, he has displayed no desire or keenness to punish that country. As it appears, the US contemplates enough before punishing and chastising countries for errant behaviour. China is certainly not Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Guatemala or even Iraq.

There are stark reasons for this reluctance. The years gone by have exposed the rot setting in and have proved the powerlessness of the most powerful nation on the earth. Whether it is Paris Summit on Climate Change, or it is the Nuclear Deal with Iran, or it is trade war with China, or it is the affairs of the NATO, or it is China’s expansionist actions in the Sea in the South of China or it is intervention in a war-torn Syria, the US has gradually relinquished its leadership role. There are allegations that in the last few days, American firms have got a few consignments of medical equipment, meant for Europe, diverted to the US (of course, unscrupulously). Needless to say, these are acts unbecoming of a world leader. In hindsight, Hollywood’s projection of Uncle Sam as the saviour of the world looks comical.

In the same context, the high death toll in Europe (in Italy, Spain, France and the UK in particular) has laid bare the hollowness of the superiority of the West over the rest of the world. Last month, the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte was heard saying, “If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’être for the people.” The Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic was scathing: “European solidarity does not exist… that was a fairy tale. The only country that can help us in this hard situation is the People’s Republic of China. To the rest of them, thanks for nothing.”

The Covid-19 pandemic curve for China is flattening. Beijing has already begun extending medical support to countries all over the world. Its economy will soon get off the ventilator and show signs of improvement. But, if the news of dissent brewing in the Chinese population is to be believed, the peacefulness of further rise of the People’s Republic of China would be in doubt.

The leadership in India took timely and daring steps to fight the pandemic. Until now Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the population of 1.3 billion along by exploiting the ancient art of ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (साम, दाम, दंड, भेद) literally meaning: “by hook or crook, or any rule in the book.” His leadership will be put to an even greater test when the storm has gone past and it is time to pick pieces and revive the economy.

It will be a while before conditions start improving in the US and other parts of the world. As it appears, Post Covid-19, US will not be automatically restored to its Super

IMG_3980
Leadership in the Post Covid-19 World

Power position. Perhaps the world will look for a replacement for its desiccated and introverted leadership. Also, in a world that clamours for human rights and democracy, Russia and China will have to work overtime to prove their credentials to be accepted as the Number One. Perhaps it would be a leaderless world until a truly deserving country occupies that first-among-equals status. Perhaps the pace of life will slow down. Perhaps people will be more inclined to family values and spirituality….   

Did someone say (…more loudly, this time), “It will be an Asian Century?”

All said (and hinted), it would be naïve to assume that the leadership of the post Covid-19 world would be up for grabs. It’ll have to be truly earned.

Reason Why Prime Minister Modi’s Initiative Deserves Whole-Hearted & Unconditional Support by Every Indian

Kudos to the person who has made this presentation (I wish I can find him and thank him for his effort) to explain the complex issue of the Corona pandemic. It is very simple, even President Trump––who, at present seems to be more interested in the health of the US economy rather than the health of the american people––should be able to make sense of it.

Lockdown explained for dummies

Smothering a Smouldering India

“The hottest corners in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

~Dante Alighieri

To be able to have an opinion in times of crises, one must be in the know of things. How does one become well informed when one is not sure of the veracity of what one hears? How does one believe what one sees when there is doubt about the genuineness of the source? The faith in the media (social media, included) has eroded considerably. There’s a limit to the size of a pinch of salt with which one can accept a bit of information these days. That limit is breached so often. Truth is a casualty of our times and circumstances.

The sense that something was drastically ‘amiss’ (I do not consider myself knowledgeable and qualified to use the word, ‘wrong’) dawned on me last week when I spent nearly four torturous hours in traffic travelling from the IGI Airport to my residence in NOIDA. Google was in a state of confusion too, as I guess, three categories of people had stifled the NCR––those, who were against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), those in support of it, and the police force trying to contain the mob’s fury and to maintain law and order.

There were riots in several parts of the country; some people died, many were injured. There were conflicting claims of police brutality and counter claims of policemen being hounded and beaten. There were visuals (some ‘doctored’) to support those claims. It was time to get off the fence, out of the comfort zone, and to have an opinion.

How?

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

The speeches and the debates on television were high on decibel, low on content. The speakers did not sound convincing in absolute terms. Quite a few of the speeches reminded me of my visit, a few years ago, to a world heritage site in Canada: “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.” It is a cliff where the first nation (the native) people guised in the skin of the wild buffaloes used to mingle with the herds, cause panic and make the unsuspecting animals run through channels guiding them to their death by falling from the cliff.

Are opinion-makers guised as well-wishers driving a naïve population down different cliffs to mass deaths? Time alone will show. For now, there’s a dire need to defer the urge to follow the Pied Pipers wearing cloaks of any colour.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

But how long can one be a sorry spectator and be insensitive to what is going on? A serving general officer of the Indian Army opened his mouth to air some thoughts on the issue. His own breed of men who had donned the military uniform at some point in time in the past, pounced on him, tried to shred him. I shuddered looking at his plight because I had donned military uniform for 35 years before re-attiring. Should I, or I should not, have an opinion, which in any case would instantly regard me as politically inclined (either side)?

I wouldn’t have been so indecisive even in a warlike situation; the dilemma was damning.

A Roman mosaic depicting Medusa, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Then I saw this activist. Her countenance reminded me of Medusa, the mythical being with snakes in place of hair––one who could turn things to ashes by just staring at them. She was spewing venom; advising the youth to give incorrect information when the officials visited them to collect data. “Give your names as Ranga-Billa…,” she said something to that effect. She must have been joking, I thought, because she was smiling as she said what she said. I am sure, as a responsible citizen, she wouldn’t want the youth to epitomise criminals like Ranga and Billa. Also, if people gave incorrect information, one would be groping for reliable data in the future, to write a treatise on the “Algebra of Infinite (in-)Justice (in India).”

To, or not to, give information sought by the government is one thing; to give incorrect information, is quite the other. The latter, would be a grave mistake––could at best be avoided. On demand, we give (with proof) whatever information a foreign government seeks from us when we apply for a visa. We let open our world to Google, WhatsApp and Facebook. Some of these agencies have been found to be misusing the information.  What then, is the harm in sharing the same with our own government?

Some are wary, and are nudging others to be fearful of the intentions of the government.

We are a vibrant democracy. We have proved it repeatedly. If there is a trust deficit, when time comes, people at the helm can be voted out of power as easily as they were voted in; and others, with ‘better’ credentials can be made to replace them. If something has been done unconstitutionally, it can likewise be undone.

The constitution itself is but a document compiled by humans; there are ways to rephrase it, amend it to meet the demands of the changing times.

That said. I am still confused and undecided on the issues causing so much consternation. Until, I form an opinion, I have decided to continue to be neutral. For, in this bitter winter the hottest corners of hell (reserved for neutral people) might still provide some comfort.

I pray to God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. In my own small way, I have taken it upon myself to urge people––regardless of their stand on the issue––to refrain from burning buses, pelting stones and causing disruptions. I firmly believe that any increase in my ilk is sure to help smother a smouldering India. In the final analysis, whichever side prevails, we all will have to pay for the senseless losses the country is incurring today.

Stumbling on a Purpose at 60

Like any other day, I woke up early and got down to my routine; brushed, and made myself a cup of tea. I felt a pleasant nip in the air when I opened the door to fetch the newspaper. Soon it’d be winter. There was no breeze; a thick layer of dust had settled on the leaves. People like robots had started walking the street in front of our house––the safaiwallahs, the housekeeping staff and the sleepy guards trudging or riding rickety bicycles enthusiastically to handover charge and go home. A dog yawned, another peed on the revered Tulsi plant from which, thanks to Baba Ramdev, passers-by have been plucking leaves to ward off many known and unknown diseases; some others barked, exercising their lungs. A bird chased by a dog, chirped and hopped from a branch to another as it mocked its canine adversary.

Champagne in his elements

It was like any other day.

Then came Champagne, running. He licked my hand as I bent down to pick up the newspaper. He was all over me, wagging his tail. He calmed down and sat by my side only when I gave him a caress that he considers his birth right. Champagne is an affectionate stray who stakes claim (with authority) on the membership of our family.

Chhaya, all smiles, walked in as I settled down to read the newspaper. “Good morning dear,” she said as she gave me a warmer-than-usual hug. “Happy birthday! Many happy returns of the day….” She was lavish with her wishes. “So, now you are a senior citizen…. Unh!” She added with a meaningful, yet guileless smile. With that, not only did she make my day but also triggered a chain of serious thoughts.

Now, I was 60. I had heard a lot about the woes of the elderly. Most of them related to issues concerning health and relationships. A major concern was finding a suitable job to remain ‘occupied’.

I realised, I had been happy blogging, reading, writing odd articles, and editing books. A lecture here, a seminar there, or a talk to students/ young officers once in a while had been keeping me occupied. Since it is fashionable to be working after retirement, I have broken my vow (of not picking up a nine-to-five job) and have consented to being an adjunct faculty in a College––to share my life’s experiences with students, twice (emphasis added on ‘twice’) a week. Period.

Inspired by my late nonagenarian father’s zeal to learn, and motivated by my niece Swati, I am also planning to enrol into a ceramic art class. I wonder if I’ll be left with time to do more things concurrently.

Sharpening the brain?

Everything looks yellow to a jaundiced eye.

As if the thought of being a Senior Citizen came to me to stay, and nag––a news item in The Times of India that day read: “For sharp memory in old age play a lot of board games.” “Why board games?” I question that finding as I do so many others. I vie with Chhaya to grab the newspaper and solve Sudoku, Kakuro, Hitori, Spellathon and Jumble. We solve them not because researchers say solving puzzles sharpens the brain, but because we enjoy both––haggling for the newspaper supplement, and then solving the puzzles. Besides, for several years now, Lumosity, a set of online brain games has been keeping our grey matter in good condition. Another habit––playing rummy and a few other card games before hitting the sack, keeps our minds active.

A set of stretching exercises, as I listen to the BBC News podcast, is the next ritual of the morning. Incidentally, a news item on my birthday had to do with the life and woe of a senior citizen. A burglar who had made a forced entry into an 82-year lone woman’s house was thrashed and clobbered by the lady after she blinded him with hand wash until the cops arrived. Bravo! I am inspired!

Family and extended family apart, friends don’t look for reasons to get together––we meet fairly regularly. An occasional cup of thoughtfully brewed green tea with my NDA coursemate, JK Kaushik in the afternoons is another ritual I look forward to. Arun and Prashant both of whom I had met during a train journey (1993) are best of friends, a phone call away. Akhilesh Mishra, whom I met at the reception of CLOVE Dental Centre, is another friend I just added to my list.

Blissful on railway platform

In the last few days, I have come across children who have nudged me to think. Last month I saw two children (about six years of age) lying on a sheet on a platform of Nizamuddin Station, glued to the screen of a mobile phone. Their mother was breast-feeding a third one. I pitied them. Then, more recently, at the Wedding Asia Exhibition, I came across children playing video games on mobile phones; their ‘educated’ parents were engrossed in appreciating flashy haute couture presented by reputed designers. At least one of those children wore glasses with thick cylindrical lenses. Need I elaborate?

Engrossed

In another instance, in different circumstances, a wretched boy, barely ten, nose running, sitting in a roadside puncture repair shop where I was getting a flat tyre repaired, drew my attention. Vidhyanshu’s school had been closed due to heavy air pollution in the area. I felt sad for him. I certainly did not expect him to think about making up the loss of studies sitting at home or in that shop. I got into a conversation with him and, while at it, I made a paper ‘bird’ (origami) that could flap its wings. I do it quite often. Happiness was writ large on his face when I gave him the bird for keeps. Then I gave him a pen to write his name on a piece of paper, which he did fairly legibly. I was trying to relive one of my childhood memories when I appreciated his handwriting, and told him to keep the pen. I could read on his cheerful face, he was thinking of more possibilities with paper (origami). He displayed a great sense of pride in getting a pen as a reward for writing his name legibly. Nose still running, his unadulterated smile was a big reward for me. The incident gave me a purpose in life––60th birthday was but a catalyst that helped me crystallise my thoughts.

A precious smile

Post that incident, Chhaya and I decided to skip my birthday bash; and share some time cheering the underprivileged students of a school run by an NGO. Some origami, an odd magic trick, some eatables and a hamper of items of stationery, is what we have in mind.

That much on ‘stumbling upon a purpose on my 60th birthday’.

An epilogue of sorts…

A reward

We had a quiet dinner on my birthday––just the two of us. Chhaya presented me with an automatic car. “I hope now you’ll have no excuse to skip a game of golf due to your joint pain?” She had said slyly eluding to the excuses I make to skip golf. She believes that driving an automatic will help relieve my joint pain.

What more do I need at 60?

Trump-Darroch Spat & Admiral Awati

National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (1977).

Rear Admiral MP Avati (later, Vice Admiral), the Commandant, wasn’t amused when cadets mocked him on the stage. It was an Inter Battalion Dramatics Competition and cadets acting as roadside magicians (madaris) had gone overboard with their act. With the wave of a wand one had turned an on-stage Admiral Awati into a goat; and the goat went bleating until the play lasted. The antics of the cadets were in bad taste.

Few appreciated that stage performance. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the Admiral walked up to the stage after the play and started bleating somewhat like the cadets had done a while ago. He waited for the officers and the families to vacate the auditorium and when only the cadets were left behind in that closed space, he made another small speech, the sum and substance of which was: “Future officers of the Indian armed forces do not behave like this. I don’t approve of this sense of humour.”

Vice Admiral MP Awati PVSM VrC (graphic courtesy Latestlaws.com)

In the following days, did some heads roll? Were the producer, director and actors of the skit taken to task? Might have been; might not. Most of us never came to know. In fact, nearly half a century later, all that is of no relevance. What is really relevant is the message that went down to a thousand five hundred future officers, and through them, to thousands more. And the message was not about ‘mocking/ not mocking superiors’, but a more serious one––it was about the art of speaking one’s mind and leaving a lasting impression.

Fast-forward forty years; a different geographical location; different characters but quite a similar situation in some ways. When Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch wrote a memo to his government expressing his ‘free and frank’ opinion about President Trump and his Administration, he was performing his solemn duty as UK’s representative in the US. It is just that the confidential communication got leaked and embarrassed the governments and a whole lot of individuals on either side of the Atlantic.

The spat that followed is unprecedented. President Trump stopped short of declaring Ambassador Darroch persona non grata. Saying, “We will no longer deal with the ambassador,” and calling Sir Darroch, “Whacky,” was no less damaging. It would perhaps have been a different spectacle, had President Trump dealt with the situation in a more amicable way––like Admiral Awati––behind closed doors.

All-weather Friends?

Needless to say, at this moment the US-UK relations are at their lowest ebb since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, Ambassador Darroch’s resignation is not likely to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of their partnership––they cannot afford to let it be. Even in times of extreme crisis these two all-weather friends have lived with certain amount of lack of trust. At the peak of World War II (1944), the Americans had put the pilots of the RAF in a (friendly) lock up in Purulia to maintain the secrecy of their B-29 Super Fortress bomber operations against the Japanese.

Country’s interest comes first!

Today, both UK and US are facing the worst crisis since World War II. The US is grappling with Iran, China, Syria, North Korea and Mexico (not to talk of the irritant that has cropped up because of President Trump’s recent racist tweets against congresswomen). The UK, on the other hand, has its hands full with Brexit and the urgency to form a new and stable government. The sacrifice of a diplomat on the altar of their mutual relations would be put on the back-burner for the time being; to be put under the carpet later.

At this juncture, any further dip in relations will be a monumental mutual loss. In a zero-sum game, who’ll gain from their strain? A third party?

Cooking the Goose of the Gender

It is important to make sure that one doesn’t offend people by inadvertently using language that might be considered sexist. In these times of #MeToo, it is even more important to mind one’s P’s and Q’s. For several decades now, many words and well-accepted expressions have come to be seen as discriminatory––discriminatory against women, in particular. It could be because of the nature of job being done mainly by men in the bygone days e.g. businessman, postman and fireman etc. Some other words give a distinctly different identity to women than their male equivalent (e.g. actor/actress; mayor/ mayoress, steward/stewardess, heir/ heiress, hero/ heroine, manager/ manageress). Some of these words, while giving the women a different identity have, over a period of time, come to convey a somewhat different status for them.

Feminists and well-meaning people on either side of the gender divide have been trying hard to remove the bias in the language. So now we have words like chairperson or chair (instead of chairman), head teacher (instead of headmaster/ headmistress). Mrs, for a married woman is passé; Ms is the right form to use. It is also customary now to use a term, which was previously used exclusively for men to refer to both men and women. For example, authoress, poetess and actress, have been replaced by author, poet and actor. The more conscious of the English language users have begun using human race or humankind instead of mankind. And until acceptable words/ terms are coined, words like princess, tigress, lioness, abbess, duchess, usherette, seamstress and seductress etc. will remain in use. One is less likely to take offence.

We do not mind using he/ she, him/ her and his/ her any number of times in our correspondence to remain gender neutral. Here are some examples:

  • He/ She (the candidate) must report at the reception by 10 am.
  • The HR department will inform him/ her about the likely dates.
  • A scholar is expected to submit his/ her report in a month.
  • The student can seek advice from his/ her

While the linguists and the feminists have been striving to achieve gender neutrality, people are exercising their right to cook the goose of the gender. I know of a lady from the Hindi heartland of India who prefers to use the male verbs (in Hindi) for herself e.g. करता हूँ, खाता हूँ, जाता हूँ,… etc.

Mrs Indira Gandhi didn’t like to be called ‘Madam’. Legend has it that once when she was on a state visit to the US, the American President wanted to know (through the then Indian Ambassador, Mr BK Nehru) how to call her, “Madam Prime Minister or Prime Minister?” She said, “Tell the President I don’t care what he calls me; he can call me Mr Prime Minister or just Prime Minister. But tell him also that my colleagues call me Sir.”

TOI Gender IMG_9170
Cooking the Goose of the Gender

Are the editorial staff of the Times of India following in the footsteps of Mrs Gandhi’s colleagues?