Jay, Veeru & India-China Relations

What if the world we live in was Utopia? And the countries of the world played golf (rather than rugby)?

Utopia is Utopia. To simplify the other analogy, golf is a game in which, ideally speaking, one plays with one’s own ball, as it lies. Emphasis added on ‘as it lies’. So, what if countries pursued their agenda without jeopardising the interests of others?

Or, at least, countries did not behave like the proverbial dog in the manger––doing little on their own but raising hue and cry when another one tried to do something in its best interest. Allusion here is to the countries of the world (including India) not doing their (enough) bit to gain from the trade and commerce that is available to them but envying (read ‘being jealous of ’) China. For example,countries not doing enough to woo the Dark Continent or Latin America but raising a hue and cry when China lands there and starts reaping benefits; and sending those benefits back home to Beijing.

Another example is the Chinese initiative on the connectivity of countries of the region––Xi’s ambitious OBOR Project. The countries that have joined the mega project know what is good for them and what is not. They have got on the bandwagon with conscious volition. Period.

Why should others (read India) bark?

Because in real life, this world is not Utopian, and the countries are not playing golf. And even those that appear to be playing golf are not playing the ball as it lies––honestly. At least one American President in the recent years has been notorious for(blatantly) improving the lie of the ball. Let’s spare the US and the US Presidents for the time being, since China and India are the subject matter of this post.

It was fine so long as China was pursuing its trade and commerce for its own good in the countries surrounding India; a little adverse effect also would have been an acceptable outcome. But then,China began pursuing its interests at the cost of India’s. The GMR issue in the Maldives, for example, was a setback for India.

India-China Relations

If that was not enough, China started establishing its military bases in return for the infrastructure it developed for the host countries. Acquisition of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and the islands leased to it by the Maldives are some of the many cases in point. Besides, the CPEC running through POK is a cause for great concern for India. China’s initiatives in Nepal and the Doklam standoff confirm that it is not Utopia; it is not golf either.

So, what could or should be India’s approach?

Those who occupy offices in the North and South Blocks and steer the destiny of this country know it best, but here is a simple suggestion for whatever it’s worth.

Jay-Veeru Relations

For a moment, recall the Jay (Amitabh Bachchan), the Veeru (Dharmendra) and the Mausi (Basanti’s Aunt) of the Bollywood classic, Sholay. Recall also, how Jay paints a (dark) picture of Veeru for Mausi: “…a good guy until he drinks. He drinks when he is sad. He is sad when he loses money… gambles, visits brothels, blah… blah… otherwise a good guy.”

Can India do to China what Jay did to Viru? Can India paint China’s character for its prospective host countries the Jay way: “China coming to your country would be a great thing. You’ll be able to boast about enviable infrastructure. Your country will progress in leaps and bounds. But of course, the Chinese will use their work force and machinery and building material. So what if your people don’t get employment, they’ll learn good things by being (sorry) spectators. Besides, there will be signs of prosperity, so what if you have to seek more loans to pay the interest on the Chinese debt…. After all being in perpetual debt is not all that bad a thing for a country. Things could be even worse. Haven’t Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even Pakistan benefitted from Chinese largesse?”

Two things need to be borne in mind while dealing with China…

One: For long India has been responding (reacting) to Chinese moves. Pre-empting China on known turfs will consume much less effort than dowsing the fires it lights for India in the future.

Two: Countries are run by people. By human beings who are made up of flesh and bones and blood. And they have a mind. And they have a mind that knows (learns) fear. The fear of notional (and national) loss and slavery is a fear. It can give nightmares, if not to (a corrupt) leadership, at least to the intelligentsia of a country. That fear is the key.

A conscientious three-pronged effort by the diplomatic corps, by those who pursue national interest on parallel tracks and by those who promote people to people contacts with other countries, can go some way in dealing with a less sporting neighbour.

MiG-21 Bison & F-16 in the Eyes of a Goof

A New Golf Set

My pride in my brand new Grand Slam Powerbilt golf set was blown to smithereens when I saw a caddie––in tattered trousers and oversized shoes––lob a golf ball beautifully over a bunker on to a practice green. The club he used was not a branded lob wedge but the branch of a tree, which resembled a walking stick. I was incapable of performing that feat.

Unbelievable, but true!

Although the golf set I was using was gifted to me by Mahesh, my nephew, that incident, more than a dozen years ago, made me wonder, “Was it worth it to invest a couple of thousand rupees in a costly golf set, when a similar result could be obtained with an ordinary old set (or a stick)?” The example of the caddie lobbing a ball with a stick was playing on my mind. Secretly, I envied that urchin to no end.

I’ll give a pause to golf for the time being for there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.

The Indomitable MiG-21 Bison

The other day, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16. That’s what they say, and that’s what my feeling of nationalism, which is overflowing at this moment, makes me believe. In the many debates that ensued on the prime time television and in the electronic and print media, I found some people suggesting that MiG-21 aircraft was a match for the F-16. In fact, it was the other way round. They said, “F-16 is no match for the MiG-21 aircraft.” Mind the subtle difference!

F-16

Some suggested that Indian fighter pilots––with their Su-30 Mk I, Mirage 2000, Tejas and MiG series of combat aircraft––were too good, and were capable of matching any adversary. Hesitantly though, some experts broached the subject of urgency to procure the Rafale fighter aircraft. They felt that it was important to remove the doubts about the kickbacks before procuring the aircraft.

In a vibrant democracy people are not only entitled to opinions, they’re free to air them too.

Returning to golf. In due course of time I realised that the youngster could do little more than lob the ball a few yards away with that stick. To strike the ball long, or putt it, he needed a proper club––a stick of any shape or size was no good. When I gave him a pair of better shoes and one of my golf clubs, he displayed even superior prowess.

I set aside my envy and focussed on my game with the new set. My spirit was high; and my game improved––a few more pars and an odd birdie on the whole. I started winning more games against my usual partners. Interestingly, the scores of some of my opponents dipped. “How can we match your superior new golf set?” said one.

To conclude: Ability of the man behind the machine (equipment) matters; it is of utmost importance. But good equipment not only improves his performance but also raises his morale and goes on to intimidate the adversary. It’s time to address the equipment needs of the Indian armed forces in the right earnest. Today, the morale of the adversary is at a low ebb. Delay in enhancing our capabilities will give time to the adversary to recoup and re-muster its strength.

Beyond Work & Golf

Sapan Das.

My meeting with him was incidental. It (just) happened.

When I was posted to Tezpur in the December of 2000, I had to leave behind my family in Delhi to avoid disruption in our son’s studies. He was in the XI standard then, and had to appear in the board exams in the following year.

In the Exotic East it was rather difficult for a forced bachelor (that is the term commonly used in the Air Force for an Air Warrior separated temporarily from his family) to spend the time after work hours. I had taken to serious golfing to put my spare time to good use but then, there were days when weather stymied that effort.

It was one of those days when, although it was not raining, the golf course was flooded and I had little to do. So I started my scooter and headed aimlessly towards the sleepy town of Tezpur. I stopped en route to visit Sapan Das. I thought I’d buy one of those wooden rhinos sold at his complex. Normally I would have requested one of my colleagues to buy one for me.

Hidden from view, a little off the road among the trees was his set up. A better word would be ‘Ashram’––‘Ashram’, because he used to sculpt his masterpieces in that serene environment. He had mastered the art of carving a rhino in wood. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he could carve a rhino with his eyes closed. All his creations were identical to the minutest detail––only the size varied.

Sapan’s Masterpiece

Everyone posted in the region used to buy one for self and more for gifting. It was almost a ritual, and I had gone there to fulfil it.

In his hamlet among the trees, there was a low platform, half the size of a volleyball court, covered with a thatched roof. He sat there on the floor engrossed in chiselling a piece of wood. He greeted me with a smile and pointed at a cane chair opposite him.

“Dada, I have come to buy a rhino,” I said, as I sat down.

“Sure Sir, please choose one from those kept on the shelves,” he pointed at a rack. It amazed me that he was looking at me while his deft fingers worked unceasingly on his next masterpiece. Awestruck, I postponed the selection of a piece and sat down again in the chair and started observing the master.

I sat mesmerised for the greater part of an hour.

The spell broke when Sapan Das took a break. Otherwise a quiet person, he opened up when I made small talk over a cup of tea. He had won several national and international awards for his work. He had also been training youth in the area. A large number of them were learning the art from him. I sat for another hour looking at him work. I bought a rhino and returned to the Air Force Station only to come back to Sapan’s abode the next day.

Golf, my passion, had taken a back seat.

My second day at his premises: he was amused at me watching him work so intently. Soon it became a routine. I would visit him whenever time permitted and just watched him work. It used to be a soothing experience; next best to a round of Yoga.

Then, one day, I asked him, “Dada, why do you carve only rhinos? Why not any other thing?”

“Because it represents our region; it symbolises Assam. Besides, it sells and generates funds for me to train these children.”

“For a change, why don’t you carve something else?”

“What else?” He was quizzical.

“I’ll get something for you.”

Sapan’s New Creation

The next day, I brought a clay dog for him to copy. For him, it was a refreshing change. He got down happily to carving a replica. While he did so, I took a piece of wood with his permission and tried my hand at woodcarving with my Swiss Knife. This amused Sapan Das to no end. He encouraged me by giving me a chisel and a larger piece of wood to carry to my room and work on it in my own time.

My Maiden Effort

A few days later, when I went to collect the wooden dog, I surprised Sapan Das with my work––a statue of Ganesha. He was mighty happy with my maiden effort. He appreciated my work and wax-polished it for me.

A Professional Work by an Amateur

I continued visiting Sapan for the rest of my stay in Tezpur.

Observing me learning woodcarving, one of my men too got interested. He was talented and picked up the art really fast. I was delighted when he carved a miniature replica of Sapan’s iconic rhino, and presented it to me. Still later, he carved a large, 18-inch statue of Ganesha––an absolutely professional work by an amateur.

Sapan Das is one of the most unforgettable characters I have met in my life. Time spent at his abode, was time well spent. There I learnt that there was life beyond work and golf.

Straight From a Goof’s Heart: An Eagle on the Seventh Hole

The par four seventh hole of the Air Force Training Command Golf Course was a difficult one. Let alone a par, getting a bogie on that hole was a herculean effort. But in those days––I am talking about 2004 when owing to family commitments, I was leading the life of a forced bachelor––I had all the time in the world and I used to play regularly. My game had improved greatly. I was hitting good distance, fairly accurately. I was confident about my short game and could manage puts equally well. Getting a few pars and an occasional birdie had become an expectation.

IMG_4287“Small bets make you fight; they get the best out of you.” That suggestion from a fellow golfer had appealed to me and I had got into what I thought was competitive golf. The bet used to be modest: breakfast on the loser, or meagre amounts that would be barely enough to pay the caddie. Howsoever small those amounts were, there used to be a great charm in winning. If nothing, honour used to at stake. No wonder, the hundred-rupee note that I won for hitting an Eagle on the seventh hole, signed by the fellow golfers (those days scribbling on currency notes was not considered an offence) became a trophy of sorts for me.

The habit continued when I left Bangalore. I have been playing with very modest stakes for more than a dozen years now. When I look back, I find that in all these years, my game has deteriorated gradually. I have analysed the decline in my performance and have been satisfied with my conclusions: I have not been playing regularly; age is catching up, my strength and stamina has gone down…

“Could playing with stakes have taken toll of my game?” The idea never cropped up.

This afternoon I was with someone I consider my golf guru, Minky Barbora. It was not for a lesson in golf, but we were at the Noida Golf Course just for lunch. Discussion on my own performance was not even the last thing on my mind. There were two other gentlemen and as it always happens, the discussion moved on to performance on the course.img_4280.jpg

Minky had an opinion on betting, much different from mine. He said that when one bets, one is content with performing to a level, which ensures a win––just a win. One is satisfied with a par when the opponent has a bogie. He is fine with a bogie, if the competitor has a double bogie and so on… The determination to go for pars and birdies, regardless of the competitor’s performance, erodes. Under the circumstances, progress is a far cry.

The guru had a point, a valid one in that. I have so often seen people conceding holes when playing with stakes––to save time and to move on to the next tee.

In my case, quiet introspection has led to a decision: On the next visit to the course, I’ll play G-O-L-F. The modest betting amount that I have been setting aside—If I improve upon my previous performance, I’ll tip the caddie.  If my game is bad, I’ll give it to him assuming that I have lost a bet.

 

Straight From a Goof’s Heart: Greens & Dreams

Slide1Last Monday, playing nine holes after six months, I had three pars; two of them were missed birdies. Rest of the game was decent, mostly bogies, and an odd double bogie. For me, that’s a great performance. It can give me wings to soar for the next six months. But that is not what made my day. My day was made at the Noida Golf Course when I went there later in the afternoon to witness a Golf Tournament organised for the caddies.

I was late and saw only the concluding ceremony. That was enough to overwhelm me.

Slide3The golf bit––the gross scores, the net scores, the longest drive, the closest to the pin… and the prizes––was like any I had seen in so many places. What touched me was a team of people talking passionately to them about L-I-F-E. Trying to talk them into looking at their lives and think about improving it. I did not know the people who spoke, but I remember the passion with which they were trying to influence their minds. They spoke to their families too––their wives and children who had come well dressed for the occasion. They had cast a spell on the lot. At the end of it, they seemed determined to rise and shine in life.

Chicken biryani, dahi raita and gulab jamun laid in an area which is normally an out of bound area for the caddies was another high in their lives.

In the end of it all, when they were asked to write on a display board, one good thing each one had learnt that morning, they vied to express themselves. It was a sight I’ll cherish for days to come.

The joy and the positive vibes that I experienced there were unparalleled.

Well done Minky! Well done Mahima! You are making a big difference! Keep it up!

Slide2

Straight from a Goof’s Heart: Guru Nanakji & Golf

My drive from the third tee and the conversation following it changed my life forever.

That day I had landed at the golf course without a plan; I often do. Bansi, the Starter let me tee off with another golfer waiting to start.

He was a Sikh gentleman. He must have been in his early seventies; his grey hair and thick glasses suggested so. In his appearance, he resembled the legendary Khushwant Singh. He walked slowly and deliberately. He swung equally slowly with a perfect follow through. He must have been a very good golfer in his heydays. He was hitting short distances but his ball was following the path intended and directed by him. On the first hole he missed a five-foot putt and a par by a whisker. I barely managed to get a bogie.

On the second hole he got an easy par; I missed it narrowly.

The third fairway at the Race Course Golf Course is narrow in the beginning and widens in the later part. There are OBs on either side. One has to hit a long straight drive to be in a comfortable position for the rest of the par-five hole. He cleared the first hurdle comfortably.

It was my turn to tee off. I placed my ball on the tee; walked back a few paces to align myself and took stance. I thought of some of the 50 and more elements that go into making a perfect drive: the grip, the stance, the swing, the follow through, the transfer of weight, eye on the ball etc. I must have done really well at that because it was a long and straight drive, way ahead of the Sikh gentleman. There was instant accolade from him. “That’s a marvellous hit,” he said.

As we walked down the fairway to play our second shots, he appreciated my drive. The praise from the otherwise quiet man filled with joy and pride. Outwardly I didn’t express much; I wanted to be modest; look modest.

“It just happened. I didn’t do anything. I just struck the ball, said “Wahe Guru” and prayed that it went long and straight.”

“Come on! You can’t get this good result with prayers alone,” he said. “You surely have worked hard for it.”

I tried to look even more modest. That’s when he narrated this story and I reproduce it:

“A Sikh youth was looking for a five-rupee coin that he had accidentally dropped in wet mud. He was praying to the gods to help him find his coin. There was a peculiar thing about his prayers­­––he was praying to all the gods other than the Sikh gods. When a curious bystander asked him, why he was remembering the other gods when his prayers could be (obviously) responded better by Guru Nanakji or other Sikh saints, he said, “Come on! Don’t expect me to ask Guru Nanakji to go into the mud for my five rupees. I’ll bother Him when I have a bigger problem or need. If I keep bothering him for petty things, He might not come to my rescue when I actually need Him.”

Returning to my good drive and prayers to Nanakji, he chuckled and said, “Don’t bother Guru Nanakji for small things in life. Save your prayers for the day when you are in dire need of His intervention.”

The message was loud and clear. That moment onwards, I have always done my bit; and done my bit well, and never nagged God for small favours.

Pray, I still do.

IMG_2662.jpg

 

 

It Happens Only in India!

Early one summer morning, I was on my way to Gurgaon to participate in a golf tourney. It was an annual feature in which the logistics officers (serving and the veterans) of the Indian Air Force vie for honours. The modest prizes mean little; actually it is an occasion for the logistics officers to meet and catch up with friends. I had started a tad early from Noida to be able to spend some quality time with buddies before teeing off.

I saw a white Ambassador car parked by the roadside as I was driving past the Film City. Someone was working under the bonnet. Another person, back towards the car, was looking expectantly at the passing vehicles. It was daybreak and there were very few of them on the road. The man was fidgety, gesturing to stop the passing cars.

I stopped abeam his car and lowered my window. “What’s the matter?”

“Sir, my car has broken down. I have to catch a flight from the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The driver has not been able to place his finger on the fault yet. I’ll miss the flight if I wait till the car gets repaired…”

“Hop in,” I said cutting him short. “You are lucky. I am heading for a golf course in Gurgaon. The airport is on my way and I have some time in hand. With a small detour, I’ll be able to drop you.”

He was accompanied by a lady who stepped out of the car as we spoke. They sat in my car; the gentleman by my side and the lady on the rear seat. We exchanged niceties. Then the gentleman expressed their profound gratefulness. What he couldn’t express in words, he tried to convey with his body language.

They were in their late twenties; maybe early thirties. Just married. They were on their way to Leh for a honeymoon. The gentleman was a senior executive with a Government of India enterprise. The lady was an NRI settled in the US. She had come to India after decades.

As we drove along, we indulged in polite meaningless conversation, the type we make with strangers to while away the time––we talked about the weather, about the beauty of nature, about global warming, about congestion on the roads… The lady, who was a bit reserved in the beginning, started participating actively.

I was buIMG_3770sy making calculations as I drove; I wanted to be in time for the golf tournament after dropping the couple at the airport. With the mind racing ahead of the car and trying to reach the golf course, I was participating passively in the discussion. But then, the lady said something, which drew all my attention. After thanking me for the lift she said, “I never expected this to happen in India.”

I turned my head for the first time, smiled at her and said: Young lady, it happens only in India.” There was silence.

The silence was broken by the man. He gave a long monologue, which was meant for his sweetheart. He highlighted every good thing that happens in India.

The lady was sheepish when I left the honeymooners at the airport.