Thursday, February 21, 2013

Defence Forces at the Cross Roads - ?

During the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, the focus of attention, of both the media and the government, on Defence related matters was mostly limited to combat news, promotions and transfers, awards and such like. Very rarely did one come across news related to corruption, internal strife, differences with bureaucracy and the government. In the last ten years or so, the Defence Forces have come under public scrutiny on many counts, often for the wrong reasons. Veterans, as a community, have been quick to notice this development. Some of the important and often debated issues in the media and especially in the veterans circle are the increasing levels of corruption in the Armed Forces – ‘when will we get Chiefs with guts’, ‘senior officers are corrupt’, ‘the Government has no value for us’,  ‘bureaucracy is against us’, ‘ the media is also against us’, ‘why is the judiciary interfering with defense matters’, ‘fellow countrymen do not appreciate our work’, ‘we have come down in the order of precedence’, ‘there’s no respect for the Veterans; look at America’ etc. People express different viewpoints without any hesitation and the arguments continue. There has been no single solution or answer to these vexing issues.

Today, we are being examined as a community, more closely than hitherto – both internally and by external agencies. There are a number of reasons, as to why we are being subjected to this kind of examination. As a result, this exercise of ‘soul searching’ is shaking the community, leading to self doubt, lack of confidence in one’s profession, one’s commitment  etc. This is an extremely serious matter.

Sometimes I wonder – in this day and age, has our role diminished, does the country require us, have we become a key which can no longer open locks, has the ‘firewall’ which once kept us insulated from the outside temptations broken down, are we losing our ‘holy cow’ status, is a new global security apparatus emerging etc.

We have to see each issue in the present day context. The edifice of Indian society has changed very rapidly in the last two decades –our lifestyle, values, morals and aspirations have dramatically influenced the public mind and the direction of their thought. In this process no one is spared. We have to probably reinvent ourselves and change with the times – you cannot continue to play football when others are playing cricket. The game plan has changed.

Nations go to war for many reasons; primarily to expand one’s territory, for territorial disputes, to acquire natural resources such as petroleum, for ideological reasons based on religion and faith, for humanitarian reasons to prevent large scale pogroms or for ethnic differences such as in Africa etc. Human kind has been waging wars since time immemorial – it is nothing new. Over a period of time, weapons have changed, but the rest has remained more or less unchanged. When compared to, let us say the period from 1000 AD to 2000 AD and now, the number of wars has decreased. Flash points do remain, but the actual full scale wars are on the decline. Since World War II and after the end of Cold War there have been fewer wars when compared with the earlier times. The number of intrastate wars peaked in the year 1991 to about 50 and has gradually reduced to around 32 in 2006(1). North America, Europe, Australia, England are conflict free zones. However, some sparks do fly now and then in the Middle East and Asia. Africa has been registering the maximum number of conflicts.

With the passage of time, territorial disputes have been resolved in many places and economies of nations have improved. Globally, the proportion of youth to adults has been decreasing since the late 1970s – resulting in lesser people in the younger age group to fight. Democracy and stable governments have been replacing dictatorship and despotic leaders. There has been an end to the proxy wars after the demise of Cold War. Interdependence between nations, and international pressures, have also contributed in a very large measure to reduce the reasons for conflict.

India has been no exception to this trend. If one takes 1947 as the first post independence conflict with Pakistan – the next came in 1962 with China after a break of 15 years. Within 3 years, came the next conflict with Pakistan in 1965. Six years later we met again for the third time in 1971. There was a long gap of 16 years till IPKF operations in 1987 and finally Kargil took place in 1999 after a lapse of 12 years. Our record stands at 6 conflicts in 65 years of Independence.

The Kargil war was the first time when war entered the drawing rooms of fellow countrymen, courtesy the electronic media, showcasing the armed forces in the order of Army, Air Force and lastly the Navy. The rest of the time, the nation government and media is hardly aware of our presence. We have the largest number of soldiers deployed in the battle field during peace time; more than any other army in the world but this does not matter – no body other than you and I know that. 

I wish to point out that the adage,“Out of sight – out of mind”, deserves a more serious consideration. Ordinary people, bureaucracy, politicians and the government are occupied with other events which they think affects the nation severely and on a regular basis. Votes matter. Be it solving onion prices, controlling sugar supply, petroleum prices, boycotting MF Husain, Taslima Nasrin, 2G, 3G, security for Bal Thackeray’s funeral and so on - the government gets pro active and finds a solution. The fact of the matter is that we do not pose any serious threat to anybody around us. The government will not fall in peace time on account of us. Only during war will they listen to you – period.

The role of the armed forces is diminishing as conflict situations and flash points globally decrease. Also, other measures such as nuclear deterrence, economic persuasions and international intervention are on the increase.  "The Utility of Force in a World of Scarcity, International Security, Vol. 22, no. 3 (Winter 1997) notes, ‘In the past five decades, however, the great powers have shown increasing reluctance to employ force overtly against one another or even against weaker states. Their apparent hesitation has led several sophisticated observers of international affairs to conclude that the once-central role of the armed forces is rapidly diminishing, perhaps soon to the point of irrelevance.’(2).

The role of the Armed forces is certainly diminishing and there is an urgent need to juxtapose ourselves in this new world order. Perhaps we need to find new peace time roles, expand our areas of activity and eventually appear to be more useful in the eyes of the ordinary countrymen who do not understand exalted and lofty expressions such as - major component of national power, Net Security Providers, state craft, projection of sea and air power, command and control of sea and air space etc. What Admiral Sushil Kumar said in TOI on 10 Dec 2012 is a case in point – “Joshi's reassuring message on our Navy's 400th anniversary was essentially meant for the people of India. That such a message was misconstrued as a diplomatic faux pas clearly shows that we have a scant understanding of what sea power is all about.”

The Army, Navy and Air Force, as we see it today, is the outcome of many changes that have taken place over a period of time. We have changed uniforms, allowed mustaches in the navy, brought changes in staff work, computers have entered every facet of work, weapons have changed, tactics and strategy has been rewritten, women have joined the forces, educational background, concept of security, brotherhood of nations and so on and the list is endless. Change is very essential for the healthy growth of any organization. When, every aspect of our organization changes, it is inevitable that the individual also changes. The very same society from where we recruit our officers and men is undergoing constant change. These factors have certainly impinged on the most important element of the armed forces – the ‘Soldier’. Ethos of service has undergone a change. How an individual behaved in a situation fifty years back, may not find many takers in today’s military. As a community, we need to embrace these evolutionary changes with open arms, instead of stone walling them.

Imagine ourselves as a body of highly trained professional soldiers – ready for action, trained to kill, seeking victory,waiting to draw first blood in the battle field, instead finding ourselves (for the most part)kept in a locked room and chained to the dictates of peace time. The body cries to be released to justify its existence and seek professional glory, satisfaction and above all recognition. Unfortunately none of these attributes can be found during peace time. In turn, the soldier adapts to the new environment unwillingly and develops traits which are in conflict with his natural war time behavior. Within the service it becomes difficult to correctly rate an officer during peace time; what is the unit of measurement? We may unwittingly end up with square pegs in round holes. Number of peace time syndromes attach themselves as barnacles – believe me it is difficult to scrape it off. Making up fake encounters to garner ACR points, seeking cushy appointments, avoiding high risk jobs, having the ’yes sir’ syndrome, toeing the line, not rocking the boat and so on, are some of the ‘peace time‘ manifestations.

I see corruption as a human flaw. I may be wrong; corruption always existed in the forces in some form or the other. What has made the difference is the instant exposure due to rapid progress made in communication, cell phones, e mails, hundreds of television channels vying for TRP. Over a period of time services have acquired considerable fiscal independence, they now operate with huge sums of money, which was not there earlier. Proximity to money is fraught with temptation, unless each individual exercises the highest levels of probity. The public, for whatever reason, see the services as the last bastion of fair play, integrity and discipline – if these break down, the public becomes disappointed. Every service individual needs to be aware of this particular responsibility that we owe to the society at large.

Take the instance of officers and men going to court. It is a new phenomenon wherein personnel are seeking justice outside our own campus. What does an ordinary citizen do? He seeks justice at every level and up to the Supreme Court. As the invisible cantonment barrier breaks over time, the insulated military also starts behaving like civilians. Unlike earlier days, today’s soldier is better educated and is socially more aware of the issues around him.TV has invaded the ships and messes – one simply cannot ignore its presence and effect. The service as a body is not spending quality time to examine why there is a trend amongst officers to seek redressal outside. Archaic laws, injustice in promotions and transfers, lack of transparency in day to day matters, are some of the areas which require closer examination. We need to take a relook at all the rules and regulations and correlate them to today’s context. I did not go to court and therefore you will not go and wash dirty linen in public does not carry much conviction any longer.  One should read what the Karnataka High Court had to say about a Major who wished to marry a Sri Lankan. The division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen dismissed the two writ appeals filed by the Army. The bench observed in its verdict, “...the world has become a global village; distrust and discrimination against a foreign citizen remains the order of the day. There are several instances where citizens betray their own country. There is no empirical data that a foreign spouse will invariably constitute a weak link in the matter of national security.”

We also need to realize that in India, strangely enough, the public do not have a high regard for any institution - be it politics, bureaucracy, police, sports, judiciary, artists, god men and others. There is hardly any institution which is continuously revered – I do not know whether this phenomenon is good or bad. We are indifferent to all that is happening around us as long as it does not directly impinge on us. We also have no yardstick for measuring public morality. The former Chief Justice of India, MN Venkatachaliah, recently observed, “The old order has out lived itself and the new order is yet to take shape --- in the interim there are no values or standards for the public to follow”. He went on to attribute the cause of today’s low level of ethics, morality and public conduct in India to a lack of any new set of values. The Indian armed forces are operating in these difficult times.

So in the mean time what are we supposed to do? My take on the subject is to look inward – introspect. Be pragmatic and establish where the military stands in today’s society. Like any other profession we are also ruled by the market forces of demand and supply. Realign ourselves to ground realities. In the first instance we should stop wanting others to recognize and value us. As a community we need to step down from the pre world war pedestal and behave in a normal fashion.

There are a number of areas within the services which can be improved to enhance our own image, do our jobs with integrity and a sense of pride and increase the satisfaction quotient. Concentrate on the improvement of messes, accommodation, promotion rules, transfer procedures, better preparedness for retirement, medical benefits, education for children, employment avenues for the spouse, education of the spouse, dignity to veterans, and other such initiatives which do not require more than routine bureaucratic and government approvals. We also need to shrug off our ‘Atlas’ complex. We are not alone in carrying the entire burden of the ‘Defence of India’ on our shoulders – for heaven’s sake do not flap – the bureaucracy, politicians and the public are equally responsible. Cultivate the highest respect for your profession, but at the same time, be prepared to quit if you feel stifled for any reason. Staying in the job at all costs may be sending a wrong signal to the others outside – let no one take us for granted. We will serve the nation – “on our terms.”


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Inviting People Home

 Inviting kith and kin home for a meal is an integral part of our social behavior. We invite people to come and have dinner or lunch for a variety of reasons. We invite people for religious functions, birthday celebrations, mourning, children’s naming ceremony, pregnancy announcement, promotions and success in life – all these events are shared over a meal with people who matter. Sometimes we meet for no reason at all – just to catch up and chitchat. Calling people home also serves other purposes – it establishes a bond, conveys a sense of camaraderie and demonstrates acceptance of the individual into your circle – it’s like a sort of club membership.

In all this, I find the casual invitation to meet for no specific reason the most intriguing. I have this acquaintance who makes it a point to invite me to his house every time we meet. He says, “Pabbi it’s been a long time since we met – why don’t you come over some time?” and I will invariably say, “Sure!” and walk out. This dialogue has been going on now for over six years and we are yet to visit. Some other forms of verbal invitation which are even more amusing – ‘We should meet some time, ok?’ – ‘Let us catch up’ – ‘Do visit us whenever you are in this area next time’ ‘I say, drop in ’and so on.
I for one feel that the invitation should be precise ‘Please come and have dinner with us on 16 Feb 2013 at 1930 at my place’. The intention should be made clear – period. This precise method always produces the desired results or in the worst cases ‘Regret unable’.

When you are inviting out of station friends, layout the program clearly. I invited a friend of mine from Bangalore to visit me in Kochi. May be, I was not specific and did not mention the part about – How Long? The blighter started liking the atmosphere very much and did not utter a word about departure. Days became a week and the beneficiary never looked in the direction of the railway station. My other friends took pity and advised me to buy a ticket back to Bangalore which fortunately was working out cheaper than his daily expenses.

It is always good to find out your guest’s dietary preferences. When I was posted in Port Harcourt Nigeria, Jai and I were invited to the governor’s house for an official dinner. Jai was served the most exotic ‘Bush Meat’ and she is a pure vegetarian. Imagine an ant eater staring at you. On the way back from Riga our ship berthed in Benghazi, Libya. On the table was a goat with another animal in its mouth and that one had something else and so on. Sashi Khera, Atutosh Anand and NL gave it a wide berth. The poor host brought eggs in lieu – the threesome said no to eggs and onions too. The bewildered host finally placed the fruit tray in front of them.

I also strongly feel that one should be invited to visit .I just like to be prepared and entertain royally when I do invite people over. I very rarely call up and say, ‘Are you people free tonight, we want to drop in and have a drink’. I am not comfortable even with this format. There are a lot of people whom I know, using this ‘announcement format’. There is also a slightly better SMS format ‘Wht r u doing dis evng, can v cum over?’The issue in all this is – give the host and the guest a chance to choose their time and day. In today’s fast paced life, time is precious and everyone wants to spend ‘Quality Time’ with each other. I may be tired or sick and in no mood to party or socialize – there are many such evenings when one wants to hide away from the world and be on one’s own. On such days, I do not wish to sit and talk about the ‘rising importance of Iran in Asia when juxtaposed with the decline of Afghanistan’ or ‘Advantages of watching Life of Pi in IMAX’ or even the mundane subject of ‘difficulty in finding trust worthy cooks’ and so on. Of course, the whole issue is debatable – I may be totally wrong. Some people just love an impromptu visit or an impulsive hopping across to say ‘hi’. A neighbor of mine has made this technique into an art form – whenever he feels like a drink he drops in.

On the lighter side - some people invite you for dinner and forget about it. It happened to me once. I landed up in my friends place for dinner and found the LOH totally unprepared for the event. I kept waiting to be served – they in turn, kept waiting for me to leave and it went on. On an invitation, six of us went to Kochi Port Trust chairman’s house for lunch – lo and behold – the table was set perfectly with crockery, cutlery, serviettes etc – but for one – chairman’s son had forgotten to inform the kitchen staff. Never extend an invitation after a few shots of courage. Neither you nor the other party is likely to remember the late night agreements. My B in L once planned a cocktail, dinner and dance party at home. According to him we were to expect thirty to forty guests – so the preparations were accordingly made. Time came for the birds to settle down and the bats to take flight, yet no sight of any guest. Finally a couple came and the male portion asked for a warm beer and the female part asked for hot cup of Bournvita. It appears nobody took the invite seriously. Weather it is formal or informal meal, it is good to a do a bit of homework.

When I was young and staying with my parents, I used to regularly watch hordes of people visiting our house unannounced and uninvited. In those days, I suppose protocol was not an issue and people went to each other’s houses whenever they felt the need or urge. My father’s friend Raghu Anna visited our house daily and tasted food, some relatives came every Monday to have ‘Palahara’ (a meal of fruits - which over time turned into a one dish meal), a relative from Kolar visited us every time he had some business in Bangalore, similarly, two uncles came home every Sunday to play cards and would stay on for lunch and a bit of Zzzzzz after that. The list was endless and to this day I wonder how my parents coped up with all the visitations. But its different today – when I invited my granddaughter of five for lunch she  told me, “Tata, I am busy on Saturday and Sunday with ballet and golf!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

We Visited Chikmagaluru – Kapi! Kapi! Kofi, Bisi Coffee!

Any write up on Chikmagaluru is incomplete without exalting the virtues of ‘coffee’. The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century. The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goat herder who discovered coffee while searching for his goats, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal. It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night. From Ethiopia, coffee was said to have spread to Egypt and Yemen. Today, some 70 countries produce coffee. Brazil leads the table by contributing 30% of world production and India 4%.Coffee is not just a drink. It’s a global commodity. As one of the world’s most traded products—second in value only to oil.

Figure 1 - Word of Coffee

Interestingly Kraft, Nestle, Sara Lee, Procter & Gamble and Tchibo control 50% of the global coffee trade. More than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year, making it the most popular beverage in the world.USA consumes a humongous 24% of all coffee production. No wonder Starbucks have introduced their ‘Brenta’ which contains nearly 916 ml of coffee. Read Incidentally, a bottle of beer has 750 ml. Coffee is worth over $100 billion worldwide.

The French statesman Talleyrand (1754-1838) sums up coffee as
Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love”.

Coffee production in India is dominated in the hill tracts of the South Indian states, with the state of Karnataka accounting for 53% followed by Kerala with 28% and Tamil Nadu with 11% of a total production of 8,200 tonnes. Indian coffee is said to be the finest coffee grown in the shade rather than in direct sunlight, anywhere in the world. The Indian context started with an Indian Muslim saint, Baba Budan, who, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, smuggled seven coffee beans (by tying it around his waist) from Yemen to Mysore in India and planted them on the Chandragiri Hills, now named after the saint as Baba Budan Giri (‘Giri’ means “hill”) in Chikmagaluru district – Wiki.

Robert H Elliot in his book,”Gold,Sport and Coffee planting in Mysore – 1898 notes, “the earliest notice I can find of coffee in India is in a Dutch Editors Preface in “Letters from Malabar” is 1743.It is evident that coffee must have been introduced five to six years earlier ……I can find no other allusions to coffee till we come across Heyne’s Tracts published in 1800 – "Coffee was sold in the bazaars of Bangalore and Seringapatanam" …. This plant was finally called “chick” variety of coffee and the  name was taken,I believe,from the town of Chickmagalur…. 

My memory of coffee drinking dates back to my childhood days. My grandmother used to get her coffee seeds from the Chikmagaluru estates of Koppa and Javali her birth place. . The coffee seeds were roasted at home and thereafter sent for grinding. Bangalore was a much colder place than what it is today. Especially in winters, it used to be full of mist and one could feel the cold on the skin. Drinking coffee served in silver lotas (cups) was a memorable experience. Even in my parents place, coffee occupied the pride of place and was the first beverage to be consumed. The day started with a cup of Kapi. I still continue to buy my coffee from ‘Flavor Coffee Works’ Vishweshpuram, Bangalore – a combo of P Berry and Plantation A - in equal proportions with 10% chicory.

Figure 2 - A must in every South Indian Home

Figure 3 – traditional way of mixing coffee before it is served

Traditional coffee decoction is prepared in a two tier container – Termed ‘Filter’ hence the name ‘Filter Coffee’ – the elixir of many South Indians. Times have changed and the poor filter is slowly being replaced by its modern, sophisticated cousin, the coffee maker. I like my coffee slightly bitter, thick and dark and unlike Starbucks, in very small quantities – around 130 ml. Decoction once made should never be reheated and never ever be filtered twice. Coffee grounds can be used to remove any odor from the microwave oven or fridge. One of Bangalore’s USPs  is its ‘one by two’ coffee. One cup shared by two persons.

Coffee Tidbit. Kopi Luwak, or Cat Poop Coffee, is made from beans eaten, partly digested, and then expelled by the Indonesian civet cat. Civets, which live in the foliage of plantations across South East Asia, are said to pick the best and ripest coffee berries. Although kopi luwak is a form of processing, not a variety of coffee, it has been called the most expensive coffee in the world with retail prices reaching up to US $ 700 per kilogram.
Aptly named ‘Coffee Decoction Friends’ – Sunder, Nair, Dore and self along with our respective spouses Saroja, Sudhi ,Lalitamma and Jai decided to visit the Coffee Town for a quiet R and R during the Republic Day weekend. We booked Kadur Club – established in 1887 by an Englishman planter, M A Allardice, the first president of the club - as our base. The hidden agenda being golf at the ‘Chikmagaluru Golf Club’.

Chikmagaluru City takes its name from the word "Chikamagala Uru" which literally means younger daughter's town (in Kannada). It is said to have been given as a dowry to the younger daughter of Rukmangada, the legendary chief of Sakrepatna. Another part of the town bestowed on the elder daughter is known as Hiremagalur. The town is at an elevation of 1090 meters (3,400 feet) and the hill stations around are famous summer retreats since they remain cool even during summers. The temperature of the city varies from 11-20 °C during winter to 25-32 °C during summer. Around Chikmagaluru there are a number of resorts and home stays for a quick get away from Bangalore. We left the outskirts of Bangalore at 0600 in a Tempo Traveler and reached the club at 1030 after a sumptuous breakfast at the Kamath’s in Chenarayapatna,after covering 226 Kms.

The club itself is very old (116 years) and the colonial ambience makes it an ideal place to unwind. The club area is huge and full of old trees, which are home to many varieties of birds. This is evident as the sun sets and the birds chirp their way back home. Dusk is pleasantly noisy till the birds rest.

Figure 4 - Great setting

Figure 5 – The long table reminded me of a Hollywood film 'Salt and Pepper' with Mr Salt at one end and Mr Pepper at the other end. By the time the waiter serves food, the one sitting at the other end would have grown a beard.

The main halls of the club reflect the lives and times of planters from a bygone era. Long tables, stuffed animals adorning the walls, candelabras, trophies and period furniture provide a glimpse of club life. The rooms are in an excellent state; however the food needs to be improved. A short orientation course with the naval cooks will do a lot of good. (Lunch by the sea). Coffee at the club was delicious – very earthy with a long finish.

Figure 6 - So realistic (sic)

Holidays with good friends are therapeutic and if one adds golf, it becomes divine. Three days were well spent with golf, long walks, idle banter, laughter and a fair amount of ‘elbow bending’. The idea is to find an excuse and push off from Bangalore every now and then. This is the best way to keep alive the spirit of life.

Figure 7 - A view – our rooms at the far end

Figure 8 - View from our room

Figure 9 - Dore and Lalitamma about to take off in Kemangundi- shades of the Titanic 

Figure 10 - The clan

Figure 11 - Tee off at the 7th hole – Chikmagaluru Golf Club