Sharing is Caring : The Millennium Elders’ Forum

For the past two years, it was my proud privilege to be the President of the Millennium Elders’ Forum. My term came to an end recently in the course of the Annual General Body Meeting held in April 2019. It was a satisfying experience despite the difficulties, at times, of having to deal with elders many of them much older than me! When I was elected the President in 2017,  I was 65 and the average age of our Executive Committee was 73. At that time, someone had mentioned that I was too young to have become the President !!!

MEF Executive Committee for 2018-19

The Millennium Elders’ Forum was established as a registered society of elders in 2008 by a few eminent gentlemen living in the JP Nagar area of South Bangalore like the late Mr S K Banerjee IPS ( a former Director General of Police) and Prof K S Bhat ( a former Professor at the Administrative Staff College of India). They became the Founding President and Secretary respectively. I joined the MEF, as it is popularly called, in 2011 on becoming a Senior Citizen. I had the opportunity, over time, to serve on the Executive Committee. At that time, Mr R Jagannathan IPS, (retired Director General of Police) was the President and he was succeeded by Prof S R Seetharam, a former Director of BEML. We have about 120 members,  all senior citizens living largely in the Brigade residential enclaves in JP Nagar.

I am glad that I suggested we support elders in Old Age Homes in our area as a community service cause to channelize our energies. In doing so, we could render whatever assistance we could to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is so sad to see some elders having to stay there because they have no other place to go to. In some cases, they have been virtually abandoned by their families. It is reported that 18 % of  elderly men and 26 % of elderly women have disabilities because of chronic diseases. After all, our motto in the MEF was ” Sharing and Caring.”

To celebrate International Day of the Older Person in October 2017 we raised funds through a souvenir and donated Rs. 4.13 lakhs to old age homes by way of goods and equipment which they needed. These included cots, mattresses, UPS systems, wheel chairs, large sized cooking vessels etc. Likewise, in the next year we raised another Rs 1.05 lakh for this ongoing community service project. So far, over 390 elders residing in old age homes in South Bangalore have benefitted from our initiative.

I have given much of my time over the last two years for this cause. I have derived a lot of satisfaction from this. The satisfaction of helping someone in need is reward in itself

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“The Garden of No Sorrows” by Deepthi Nair

Deepthi Nair has chosen to begin her story with the flashback format in her delightful book, “ The Garden of No Sorrows“. As you would know, in this style the writer describes a present scenario ( in this case events in the year 2020) before plunging into the story which begins decades ago. At the National Defence Academy, Aarcha is caught up with many emotions watching her only son Arjun pass out from this prestigious institution to begin his career as an officer in the Indian Army.

I liked the book for the author’s detailed descriptions of life in villages /small towns in Kerala, like Kolachal and Marthandam; of the people who live there, and their approach to life which is very different from the one shown typically by city bred folk. Ms. Nair has a good grip on both scenarios! The part about the letter to Yamuna was quite striking as is the description of Bhargavi Kunju.

The central character of the story is a lady called Aarcha. We see how she grows up, sharing time, possessions and secrets with her only sibling, her elder sister, Priya; and how she is brought up by her parents, Sharada and Aravindan Pillai, who again have very different outlooks of life. Aarcha, at a young and impressionable age is attracted by Govind, a doctor preparing for his MD. He was in his late twenties and had been through a failed marriage.

Although she does not love him, for various reasons, Aarcha marries Govind only to discover how different he is as a person when seen from close quarters. By then of course it was too late for her. She has to resign her job on discovering that she is  pregnant. Later, a few years after the birth of her son, she resumes her career and makes a success of it. Her marriage was giving her no happiness whatsoever.  Govind was becoming more difficult to live with as the days went by.

Her quest for someone who would appreciate her for her qualities is fulfilled by a chance meeting at an airport lounge. She meets the famous author, Jehangir Ansari and this changes her life forever. He of course is already married. He is famous, but like her, is unhappy. The two are attracted to each other despite knowing the constraints faced by them in their respective marriages.

Deepthi Nair has made an impressive sketching of her characters. The story has a bit of a slow start but picks up as we go along and ends with an interesting climax. Overall, I thought it was a good read and I look forward to reading more from this author.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom Of Speech

The General Elections are on in India and in the heat of political campaigning, leaders of political parties sometimes get  carried away and say things they ought not to. Yes, we do have the freedom of speech and expression but that does not give an individual an unfettered right to say whatever comes to his mind, more so if it is detrimental to his political opponents .

I am reminded of our lecturer, Mr Clarence Motha who taught us Political Science. He used to tell every batch the same story every year : ” I have the right and freedom to swing my umbrella as I walk,” he would say, ” but that right  and freedom ends where the finely chiseled nose of my young friend here begins!! ”

In the space of the last few weeks, in my view, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi no less, has been guilty of breaking the law with regard to the freedom of speech. He recently implicated the Supreme Court when he suggested that they too supported his political campaign  and endorsed his “Chowkidar Chor Hai” line of attack against Prime Minister Modi. Only a few days ago the highest court of the land was not satisfied with the regret expressed by Mr Gandhi and asked his lawyer to file another affidavit with a proper apology.

If that were not enough, Mr Gandhi in a political rally in Jabalpur, used the expression, “Murder Accused” against Mr  Amit Shah, the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party several times in his speech.  It is no surprise that a defamation suit has been filed against him in an Ahmedabad court as facts indicate that Mr Shah, was acquitted in 2015.

Politicians are guilty of gross exaggeration in their speeches. I was shocked to hear Mr Rahul Gandhi claim that Mahatma Gandhi ( no relation to him whatsoever) had  been in solitary confinement for 15 years during the Freedom Movement. This is untrue. The details of Gandhiji’s imprisonments, first in South Africa and later in India are listed in this comprehensive website about him.  Also, it is widely accepted that unlike the common political prisoner, the British treated Gandhi and Nehru with kid gloves. They were typically kept under arrest in reasonable comfort and not thrown into some dingy cell and made to do hard labour like the convicts depicted in the old Hindi movies.  The Mahatma, for example, was interned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune in 1942.

In another case, the Savarkar family have filed a case against Mr Rahul Gandhi for casting aspersions on the character of Veer Savarkar, a freedom fighter, while glorifying Gandhi and Nehru.

Mr Gandhi is not the only politician  guilty of this. Mr Arvind Kejriwal, the IIT educated Chief Minister of Delhi was sued in a criminal defamation case for the remarks made by him against the country’s Finance Minister  Mr Arun Jaitley. In that case, he was compelled to render an apology in the Court which was accepted by the complainant.

I believe there has to a salutary punishment for defamation. If the accused is allowed to get away with a written apology, as happened in the case of Delhi Chief Minister following his remarks against Finance Minister Jaitley, what is the deterrent to prevent him from doing such a thing again?

In a recent case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court fined singer and composer Vishal Dadlani and political activist Tehseen Poonawalla, Rs 10 lakhs each for hurting the religious sentiments of a Jain monk Tarunji Sagar through their tweets.

Now, that is a deterrent. I am sure they will be more careful when they tweet next time!

 

Politicisation of the Armed Forces. Does This Letter Do More Damage Than Good?

Earlier this month, a controversy broke out involving the usually apolitical Armed Forces of India. Over 150 veterans including 8 ex-Chiefs wrote to the President of India expressing their concern about the politicisation of the Armed Forces. The letter said, ” We hereby respectfully urge you to take all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas.”

Specific mention was made of political parties taking credit for cross-border strikes. Though the BJP was not mentioned in specific in this regard, there is no doubt that these veterans were objecting to Prime Minister Modi taking credit for the unprecedented air strike on Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Balakot in Pakistan. This was in retaliation for the terror attack that killed 40 Indian CRPF personnel at Pulwama in February 2019.

In my view, this letter does more damage than good. It shows that some among the veterans are taking political sides and claiming to speak on behalf of the forces ( serving and retired). General Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal N C Suri disassociated themselves from this petition, thereby creating more confusion. To counter this, the main signatories tried to prove that these gentlemen had actually agreed to the contents of the letter. In short, washing a lot of unwanted dirty linen in public.

Not everyone supported this move by the veterans. Seasoned defence analyst and strategic affairs expert, Bharat Karnad went so far as to call it  “alarmist nonsense!”.

I see nothing wrong in the Prime Minster taking credit for the Balakot air strike. Did he fly the Mirages that hit the targets as his detractors asked? No, of course not. But neither did Smt Indira Gandhi para drop over Dacca in the ’71 War. Yet, history credits her for being the liberator of the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. These leaders did not, as is painfully obvious, actually take part in the fighting, but they had the political will and courage to take decisions which fashioned these military successes.

Franklin D. Roosevelt  ” FDR”  the legendary three-time President of the United States is widely credited for winning the Second World War for the Allies against the Nazis. He took decisions in 1940 to move the United States from its strong isolationist stand to supporting Britain even before the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941. He wasn’t there in the many battles fought by the US troops in the 6 year War. Indeed he was a heroic figure in his wheel chair, being partially disabled.

As regards wearing uniforms, many political leaders have done this in the past, even in Western democracies. Churchill, as the British Prime Minister during the Second World War prided himself on strutting around in military uniforms. No one objected to that, then or later.

The main difference between Prime Minister Modi and his predecessors, Prime Minister Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh was that he showed the political courage to order a cross- border strike using aircraft to bomb terror outfits. Even horrendous events like the Terror attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 which left 9 people killed or the Terror Attack in Mumbai known as 26/11 in 2008 which left over 170 people dead did not result in any reprisals by the Prime Ministers of that time.

I wish the honourable veterans had shown such alacrity in submitting petitions to the President when Lt Gen Biji Kaul actively politicised the Army before the ’62 debacle splitting the officer corps into pro-Kaul and anti-Kaul;  when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi returned 93,000 Pakistani POWs in ’71 without getting back the 54 Indian POW s (who we are not sure even to this day whether they are dead or alive). Or more recently when Lt Kalia’s body was found mutilated in the Kargil War.

 

 

 

Blog Or Coffee Table Book?

“Time and tide,” as the ancient saying goes, “wait for no man.” Actually, they don’t wait for a woman too but as this saying dates back to 13 th century England, I guess they were far less “politically correct”  than we are today. That all of 45 years have flown past since we graduated from XLRI, the well-known business school, was brought home when friends began talking about a reunion of The Class of ’74.  Where should this be held? All other options discussed were shot down when someone suggested that we meet at the good old campus at Jamshedpur itself. Sure, the campus would not be the one that we experienced in our times but this idea had a strong appeal for the majority of our class. Nostalgia, Walk Along Memory Lane et al came readily to mind.  In any case, our Alma Mater has a wonderful concept of “Homecoming” an annual event to welcome alumni batches from the past. It is common for batches to head there for their 25 th anniversary. We plan to be there (body and mind permitting) for our 45th. Continue reading “Blog Or Coffee Table Book?”

“Where Monsters Hide” by M. William Phelps

You may be shocked to know that at times real life stories about murders can actually be more gory and brutal than those written about in fiction. To cap it off, they don’t necessarily happen in the big cities. They can happen in nondescript small towns all over America. M. William Phelp’s book  “Where Monsters Hide” is one such story. If violence and a lot of bloodshed put you off, you can skip this book! This is a true crime story pieced together by the well-known investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author,  M. William Phelps. The book is based  on his in-depth research into true crime with a special interest in solving mysteries of those reported missing. Data shows that many of those listed missing are never found again. A fair proportion of these people, young and old, male and female, are later discovered to have been killed.

One such case is covered in great detail in this book. An US Air Force veteran aged 53 called Chris Regan goes missing one day in October 2014 in Iron River, a small town in Michigan. Laura Frizzo, the Chief of Police  is intrigued about the man’s sudden disappearance more so because early investigations show that he and his son, who lived in another town, had planned to shift to a new location in North Carolina only a few days later. As the investigations picks up steam, suspicion falls on Jason Cochran, a known drug addict who is prone to depression and alleged to have a violent past. Later, Chief Frizzo wonders if Jason’s wife Kelly has more to do with the case that she makes out to be. Kelly it is learnt, was the girl friend of Chris Regan, the man who went missing. Indeed, they had been together shortly before he vanished.

In her investigation, Chief Frizzo is helped by Detective Jeremy Ogden of the Hobart Police Department . They are persistent despite coming across many obstacles in their investigation not the least of all being Kelly Cochran herself. She is well-educated yet street smart and is a smooth talker. The case takes a major twist when Jason Cochran is found dead, allegedly due to an overdose of drugs. The investigators want to know whether his was a natural death, a suicide or was he killed? If he was killed, did his wife Kelly have anything to do with the murder? And of course, was he killed because he knew too much about his wife’s affair with Chris Regan, the man still untraced?

Overall, the book is interesting. It explains in considerable detail the difficulties involved in solving such extremely complex cases. It delves into  the minds of psychopaths, giving you an understanding of why it is more difficult to deal with them and bring them to justice. I shall not spoil the book by telling you what actually happened to Chris Regan and later to Jason Cochran- and why! For this, you would need to read this book for yourself!

 

“World War II: Battle by Battle” by Nickolai Bogdanovic

What are the images that come readily to your mind when you think of World War II? Amongst others, the ones which flash in my mind are the Spitfires in the Battle of Britain; tired British soldiers waiting to be rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk; the U-Boat packs raiding Allied shipping in the Atlantic; the siege of Stalingrad and the bloody winter wars in Russia; D-Day and the landings on Normandy; the last days of the Third Reich in Berlin; the US Marines hoisting the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima; and the formal Japanese Surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The Second World War which raged between 1939 and 1945 is said to have claimed more than 60 million lives, both military and civilian. However, there will perhaps never be an exact figure for this. This was truly a World War, far wider in scope than the First World War of 1914-1918 as the battles were fought not just in mainland Europe but also in South East Asia going as far as some remote islands of the Pacific Ocean.

A compact publication I enjoyed reading recently was  “World War II: Battle by Battle” by Nickolai Bogdanovic, published by Osprey Publishing.  

Volumes have been written about the War but in this book, thirty of the World War II Battles are described quite succinctly. This gives the reader a bird’s eye view of some of the most important battles that were fought in that time.  Many of them were responsible for turning the course of the War.

The writer has not restricted himself to the battles in Europe. He has covered some of the battles in South East Asia and in the Pacific which were equally important from that region’s perspective. The feats of military leaders on both the Allied and Nazi sides are explained in brief as befitting a book that seeks to cover a very wide spectrum.  In my view, a short preface giving a broad overview of the Second World War would have been useful, especially for the uninitiated.

Students of military history and young people at large who have heard of the War but may have a sketchy idea of the battles would be well advised to read this book. I am sure they will enjoy it.

 

 

Nehru, China and the Indian General Elections

The dates for the General Elections in India have recently been announced. We will know on May 23, 2019 as to who will form the new Government to rule the world’s largest democracy with a population of over 1.3 billion people, for the next five years. It is natural that there will be a huge spike in political activity. Opponents of the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will lose no opportunity to take pot shots at the ruling Government and its policies. However, judging from recent comments made by leading people in the Congress party, the quality of debate (if one can call it that) will be in the pits this time around.

Pawan Khera, the Congress Spokesperson said some disgraceful things about Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in a debate that was televised nationally. He said M-O-D-I was for Masoor Azhar, Osama Bin Laden, Dawood Ibrahim, and the ISI!!!  The Congress which in the last General Elections was reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha seems to have decided that this will be a no holds barred contest. The rank and file are probably taking a cue from Congress President Rahul Gandhi who has been very vocal in his criticism of the Prime Minister.

In the recent past, he accused the Government and the Prime Minister of lying about the Indian Air Force strike against Jaish E Mohammed terror camps deep in Pakistan. He asked for proof, ignoring the fact that details of top-secret strikes like these are never revealed by any country. His accusations left many shocked as the country has to come together to fight terror. They did not go down well with everybody including some in his own party. Binod Sharma, a Congress leader left the party after three decades saying Rahul Gandhi’s approach was all wrong.

Rahul Gandhi has been equally vocal about the Rafale deal, claiming that Prime Minister Modi had gifted Rs 30,000 crores to his crony, the industrialist, Anil Ambani. He has not been able to substantiate any of these charges of virtually calling the Prime Minister a ” chor” or thief.  The reputed columnist Tavleen Singh wrote that to get more credibility for his claims it is about time that Rahul Gandhi produced some evidence of his accusations.

What shocked me more was Rahul Gandhi accusing Narendra Modi of being scared of Xi, the Chinese President. “Weak Modi scared of Xi” he tweeted. Most observers would testify that Modi has shown more sagacity than his predecessors in dealing with different countries of the world including China. The fact that China, which backs Pakistan so strongly, did not object to the Indian strike against terror camps in Pakistan speaks for itself.

The irony was that Rahul Gandhi chose China as the topic to criticize the Prime Minister. The track record of the Congress has been dismal when it comes to China over the decades since India became independent. Rahul’s great grand father Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964 a broken man following the debacle against the Chinese in 1962. His policies of appeasement and grand standing on the international stage as a great statesman came crashing down when the Chinese humiliated the Indian Army in the 1962 war.  The people of Tibet even decades later feel totally let down by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. Here’s one example of their feelings captured in this article in the website of the Tibetan Association of Southern California titled, ” Nehru and the China-Tibet Blunder.”

The battle has just begun. I am sure in the coming weeks we will see much mud being flung on both sides. The Indian voter has to judge for himself about the political party he would like to see in power. Would he like to give Prime Minister Modi a second term which will continue the stability of the Government or will he opt to give a combination of parties the opportunity to form a Government despite their differing ideologies?

 

“On A Knife’s Edge: The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943” by Prit Buttar

In the annals of history, perhaps no war saw such savage fighting as there was in the Second World War which raged from 1939 to 1945. While there were many important battles during this long fought war which took an immense toll on both sides, one of the most savage has to be the fighting between the Russians and the Germans following Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941.

Both sides were guilty of what today would be politely called, “excesses.” The two powers had much at stake. The Russians were defending  their Motherland and trying to get back all that they had lost. For the first time, in November 1942, Stalin and the Russian top brass felt the tide was slowly but surely turning in their favour. The Germans on the other hand had too much at stake to retreat from Russia, even if doing so may have been strategically a better option. Their Sixth Army still lay trapped in Stalingrad and Hitler made it a matter of ego. There would be no withdrawals, he ordered, irrespective of the huge costs this would entail in human lives.

It is in this setting that Prit Buttar writes this in-depth coverage of the battles in the Ukraine in his book, “On A Knife’s Edge: The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943“.

Continue reading ““On A Knife’s Edge: The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943” by Prit Buttar”

“Humans Of New York” by Brandon Stanton

On a recent visit to the United States, my son recommended I read a book which he thought I would like knowing my interests in people and in photography. I was so happy to read, “ Humans of New York” by Brandon Stanton a book which is so much different from most others. It is a large collection of photographs with incisive comments and captions which make for very interesting reading. All the photographs have one thing in common, they feature people in the City of New York, The Big Apple,  so often called a melting pot of many cultures. Continue reading ““Humans Of New York” by Brandon Stanton”