Making Reluctant Horses Drink Water

Never in a quarter of a century of my service as a commissioned officer had I been so grossly off the mark in gauging the collective behaviour of my men.

It was like this:

The year was 2005. I was commanding the Logistics Squadron at Air Force Station Jalahalli. “Logistics Squadron” was a fancy new term coined for the erstwhile “Logistics Section.” Only the name had been changed, all else had remained same.

On a routine round, I came across an airwarrior preparing a report on a desktop computer. I was taken aback when I saw him typing raw data in the columns of an MS Word Table; then carrying out calculations on a calculator, and finally entering the calculated figures in the last column of the Word Table.

“Sergeant Dhillon, Why don’t you prepare the report using MS Excel?” I asked.

“Sir, I don’t know how to use Excel.”IMG_3915

On more inquiry, I learnt to my dismay that among my staff of close to forty men, just about four or five knew how to use Excel. Most of them were using calculators to produce reports. The three desktop computers on our inventory were being used as dignified typewriters. The reports that were being put up to me had much room for error, errors that would be difficult to detect until the reports were made afresh.

It was a sad state considering that computers were introduced at the unit level in the Air Force two decades ago. Something had to be done to change that uneasy state of being.

Education was the way forward. I mustered my men and addressed them. I told them the advantages of using Excel over the calculator. Briefly, a hundred per cent accuracy was assured and it was time saving too. It was a powerful tool in the hands of a logistician who had a lot of data to handle and to generate reports. In the interest of the Air Force and in their own interest, it was essential that they learnt how to use it. “It is easy, even I can use it,” I said.

I told them that I would soon commence classes of one-hour duration for them. “I want six to eight volunteers for the first batch. Please raise your hands.” I expected at least a dozen hands to go up.

Never in a quarter of a century of my service as a commissioned officer had I been so grossly off the mark in gauging the collective behaviour of my men.

Not one hand came up. It was a rude shock for me. I asked them, “Why don’t you want to learn Excel?”

Very sheepishly one of them said, “Sir, I guess you will conduct the classes in the afternoon. That will eat into our time.”

“I too love my golf in the afternoon. I will conduct classes during office hours,” I laughed, “Your afternoon rest will not be sacrificed. Any volunteers?” People looked at each other; no hand came up. There was something in their minds that they were holding back. I was determined to know: “Why?”

After much needling and nudging (read: “coercing”) Sergeant Mishra opened up, “Sir if we learn MS Excel we’ll get more work to do.”

I was shell-shocked. I did not know what hit me. “My men not wanting to learn something because it would increase their workload? …Did I hear him correctly?” I wondered.

It was a clear case of attitudinal deficiency. Intolerable! Such behaviour was just not acceptable. Letting the men get away with that attitude would amount to promoting inefficiency; nurturing penguins in the Air Force. Something had to be done. “Now! How?” My mind was working in overdrive.

I waited for a brief while till murmuring stopped and men gave me their full attention. “Gentlemen!” I began, “Trust me, if you do not volunteer to learn Excel the Squadron or the Air Force will not come to a grinding halt. The Air Force will continue to fly. I know how to use Excel, and with the four or five men in the Squadron who know it, the work will go on.” I continued.

“But let me tell you. And listen to this carefully….” I gave a long pause. “If you do not learn Excel today, in a few days from now, you will fall in the category of illiterate people. Those of your mates who know how to use applications on computers will be sitting and working in the cosy comfort of air-conditioned rooms… you, who will be illiterate, will be sweeping the floors and dusting the stores. You will be doomed to do menial work.”

“Worse still,” I continued with greater emphasis. “If you don’t learn computer applications today, at a later date, you will not be able to guide your children. Their progress will be slow. They will have to struggle hard to achieve their dreams. You are smart young air warriors, I don’t have to talk of the worst case scenario.” I painted the gloomiest possible picture of their future.

After another long pause, I ended my address to them, “With that I rest my case. Get back to your workstations. Be happy! No Excel for you! Jai Hind!” And with that I walked out of the room very briskly, and returned to my office.

My orderly was awaiting me with the usual cup of tea. I settled in my chair to have it. I had barely taken the first sip when more than a dozen men barged into my office. They stood in a row, saluted smartly and said in a chorus, “ Sir, we want to learn Excel!”

We got down to business; men learnt Excel enthusiastically; there was a sense of purpose. I enjoyed those classes as much as they did.

Epilogue: Months later, one of my equipment assistants who was under posting orders came to me to bid bye. “Sir,” he said with tears in his eyes. “You opened our eyes that day. I have not only learnt Excel, I have bought a PC for my family. I am learning more applications and teaching my children too.”

One can take a horse to the water but to make him drink, one has to whisper things in his ear, which strike the right chord in his heart.

I Love my India

Patriotism in our country follows a sine curve. Almost. Come Republic Day, come Independence Day, The tricolour surfaces and flutters atop everything moving and non-moving. It can be seen atop buildings and on cars and motorbikes. Forget the debate on the use of flags made of synthetic material, the sales peak around this time. Patriotism also dominates the theme of the songs played on blaring speakers in every street. Television channels vie to screen films with themes patriotic. Film producers, some more patriotic than the others, time the release of their multi-starrers to coincide with the big day.

My childhood memory of those celebrations is simple yet vivid. We kids always remembered the day more for a half day at school without school bags, and the distribution of sweets. The unfurling of the flag, chanting of national anthem, Vande Mataram and some patriotic songs did instil some good feelings, which we could hardly define. But for sure, we used to talk about Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad,… all the year round––not just twice a year.

That was a half century ago.

Blog I Love My India Flag Fluttering IMG_3425The other day I spent some time with my nephew Lakshya, an intelligent youngster. I was driving him around when we passed a large tricolour atop a sixty odd feet flagpole. I looked at it with reverence and asked Lakshaya, “What thoughts come to your mind when you see our national flag?”

He gave me a blank look and said, “Nothing, really.”

“Doesn’t it remind you of our national heroes? Doesn’t it fill you with love for the country?” I tried nudging him into answering with a stereotype that I had in mind.

But his answer left me speechless. “Nanaji,” he said, “I have so much homework to do. I am left with little time to think about all these issues.”As we drove along, we came across a giant hoarding of Mahatma Gandhi. I dared not ask him who he was. I feared he might say, “Ben Kingsley.”

 To be concluded some day…

Calming a Crying Kid – II (Kartik)

It is always fun discussing parenting with Ravi, my nephew and Swati, his wife. They come up with innovative ways of addressing issues concerning Kartik, their son, my grandnephew.

The last time we met, I asked Ravi whether Kartik, otherwise a very well behaved toddler ever causes ruckus. And how do they calm him. Ravi said that Kartik doesn’t normally cry. He cries when he has a genuine reason to do so. Say, when he hurts himself. But then, he becomes quiet soon enough, on his own.

Ravi added, when Kartik cries because of a genuine problem, they try to pinpoint the problem and resolve it. On very rare occasions, Kartik cries purely to draw attention. He even says: “See Papa, I am crying.

Ravi says that they have discovered a way to deal with those situations; and it works.

In rarest of the rare cases when Kartik cries for no apparent reason, Ravi initiates the following conversation:

“Kartik, let’s play carom, now. Or, shall I read the story of the tortoise and the rabbit, now?” Or, would you like to drink a glass of milk, n-o-w?… … You can resume your crying later.”

Note: playing carom, being read a story, drinking milk,… are some of Kartik’s favourite pastimes.

Says Ravi, “Most often Kartik chooses to indulge in an activity of his choice and postpones his crying for an opportune moment later, which never returns.”

Agony deferred is agony lost!

Calming a Crying Kid – I (Kush)

It was another of our family reunions. My parents, my siblings, our children, and their children––four generations of us were rejoicing under one roof when the agonising cries of a child put a pause to the celebration.

Kush, one of my grandnephews (about two years and a half) was crying; a more appropriate word would be: “Wailing.” We felt he was hurt and ran to his aid. Rachna, the child’s mother took charge; I joined her in her effort to calm down the little one. He wasn’t hurt. No physical harm had come to him. He was sitting rather coolly in a chair, wailing occasionally at will. Interesting conversation ensued between the mother and the child.

“Beta! What happened? Why are you crying?”

“Because Dhruv (another of my grandnephews) didn’t play with me yesterday.”

“But he is playing with you now. Why don’t you play?”

“Because he said that he would not play with me next Sunday.”

“He won’t play with you because he is leaving for Ujjain next weekend.”

“But why did he tease me in the school, two days ago?”

The Q & A session between the two seemed endless. Kush filled the time between each question and the following answer with a wail, each of which sounded louder, more orchestrated and more dramatic than the earlier one. The problem was that there was no problem. Was Kush seeking more attention than he was getting in the crowd?

I gave the issue a quick thought.

Rachna had been blessed with a second child, a son. At home, the infant was gnawing at her time and attention, which was once entirely Kush’s. It was natural for little Kush to feel neglected at home. Then, in the family gathering, there was none to spend much time with him. It was attention that Kush was seeking. I shared my thoughts with Rachna and advised her to make a conscious effort to spend quality time with him every day. That was a long-term solution; an immediate remedy was still eluding us.

We were struggling to find a way out to quieten him when I stumbled upon an idea that worked. I urged Kush to stop crying instantly because unabated wailing was having adverse effect on his body; his features were getting convoluted. I told him, “One starts looking like a dog when one cries for long without a proper cause.” And, before his little mind could get the import of what I said, I clicked a photo on my iPhone. Then, picked the picture of a stray dog from my photo library and showed it to him.

Lo and behold! Kush became silent. The amazement in his eyes defied description.

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Epilogue: In due course Kush caught on the joke. A year later, when we met again, he made a funny face and asked me to click another picture. “How will the dog appear in the pic, if I make a face like this,” he asked with an impish smile.

Kids, Cricket and Carrots

Clan Chordia had gotten together in our Bhopal home. As always, fun and frolic ensued. Being together was always an occasion to celebrate. We, the brothers––three of whom were young grandparents––reminisced about our childhood. Having met after a long time, the children exchanged notes as we waited for the table to be laid for lunch.

Oblivious of what the grandparents, parents and uncles were occupied with; Aashi and Dhruv were playing cricket in the little corridor between the dining area and the entrance. My mind governed by my years in military uniform did not approve of their playing inside the house. There had to be some decorum.

I held back the impulse to exercise my authority to stop them. Instead, I tried to feel the pulse before deciding a course of action.

“Hello kids! Playing cricket!?” I broached the subject half-heartedly.

Dhruv: “Yes Dada, why don’t you join us; we need a fielder?”

Me: “But you should be playing cricket on the playground; not here in the house.”

Aashi: “Temperatures are soaring outside. We have been permitted to play indoors. We are playing defensively and carefully so that we do not damage things around.”

Me: “OK, so you are trying to get into the league of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dhoni, ….” I changed the tone of my conversation. It was their home and their actions bore the formal seal of approval of their parents.

Aashi stumped me by his reply: “Dada, I don’t want to emulate any of those legends. I want to be a successful cricketer and be known for my own style.” I envied him for his clarity of thought. I didn’t have it when I was his age. Chhaya, my wife vouches I still don’t have it. Disregardful of my poor skills with the bat and the ball, I joined in. After all, at 56, I was nearly ten times their age and thought I could match them in performance. They thought otherwise.

Constricted space mandated slow under-arm bowling. Those little champions who had mastered indoor cricket started hitting my slow straight balls all over until I discovered that spinning the ball while bowling under-arm was easy, and effective too. I exploited the possibility and bowled both “OUT!” several times in quick succession. They were awestruck; couldn’t fathom a reason for the steep fall in their performance with the bat.

Then, it just happened…

I asked them, “Do you eat carrots and green vegetables?”

“No, we don’t like them,” they were spontaneous.

“Oh! I guess that’s why your eyes are weak; you are unable to spot the ball in time. Also, since you don’t eat vegetables, you don’t get the necessary vitamins and minerals. I am not surprised your reactions are rather slow and you are getting beaten repeatedly.” It was an off the cuff statement with no intention whatsoever to sermonise the kids.

I carried on pulverising their pride in their batting prowess. Aashi continued to get bowled while Dhruv took a break. He went missing for a while––a long while, indeed. Next, I heard Ruby, his mother, chastising him, “ What are you doing with the knife? You’ll hurt yourself. I’ll do that for you.”

OMG! Dhruv was trying to clean up and cut a carrot to eat. He sought immediate improvement in his eyesight and reflexes. Both Dhruv and Aashi returned to bat after eating some carrots. This time on, I was under obligation to demonstrate the benefits of eating carrot and green leafy vegetables to the two grandchildren. I did not spin the ball anymore. With improved sight and reflexes, Aashi and Dhruv regained form. Rather they displayed superior performance.

While Aashi and Dhruv, realised the importance of healthy eating, I carried a different lesson:

“There are times when the fear of notional loss from not doing a thing far exceeds the joy of apparent gains accrued from doing it. This vulnerability is exploitable.”