Who Am I ? : The Arduous Path to Self – Realization

“Your own Self Realization is the greatest service you can render the world”

                                Ramana Maharshi

One of the focus areas for all human beings is to remain physically fit and the training regime is structured accordingly. As one progresses in life, there are also brief introductions to the facets of mental and spiritual health, though the visible attractions of physical fitness act as Blinkers and prevents many from expanding his or her self-improvement targets to include that of Self Awareness and Self – Realization. This is also an important step towards developing one’s Intuition, which is a crucial component of any decision making. Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” speaks of System 1 and 2 types of brain, with one being the fast intuitive brain and the other being slow and rational. Kahneman warned the readers against their fast intuitive System 1 brain hijacking decisions due to the faulty structure of mental shortcuts or heuristics.

A crucial step in the whole process is self-awareness of the decision maker about his/ her decision making style as well as the Schema or mental framework that is influencing the decision. As compared to the Western concepts of Ego and Depth Psychology, which sees the dualism of mind and matter or the Conscious and the Unconscious, the Upanishads spoke of a single consciousness, which is obscured to the observer or normal human being due to multiple factors like ignorance and lack of knowledge. As the world considers Quantum Cognition and correlates quantum entanglement to understand deeper processes of the mind, it will be interesting to have a brief relook at the ancient knowledge systems.

Composed around the 2nd to 5th century of the Current Era, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras is both a classic of Eastern and world thought, forming one the of six orthodox Hindu philosophies of the Upanishadic tradition. Patañjali’s yoga methodology guides practitioners to direct experience of purusa, pure consciousness. In Patañjali’s world purusa is the fundamental ontological reality, which is self-illuminating, singular, eternal, and absolute. He uses several notable terms interchangeably with purusa: perceiver, seeing and ātman. In the Upanishadic tradition, ātman is the individual essence and localized expression of brahman, the Hindu term for God or the Absolute, and often rendered as Self. Clearly eluding a simple English translation, brahman is also variously described as ultimate reality and being-consciousness-bliss. Most notably, it is a term that does not allow for any metaphysical splitting of reality. Conscious, eternal, and irreducible, nothing can be marked out or set against brahman.

Bhagvad Gita has these verses :-

Know that Prakriti and Purusha are both beginningless; and also know that all manifestations and Gunas arise from the Prakriti. (13.19)
The Prakriti is said to be the cause of production of physical body and organs (of perception and action). The Purusha (or the consciousness) is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasures and pains. (13.20)
The Purusha associating with Prakriti (or matter), enjoys the Gunas of Prakriti. Attachment to the Gunas (due to ignorance caused by previous Karma) is the cause of the birth of JeevaAtman in good and evil wombs. (13.21) (JeevaAtman or Jeeva is defined as Atman accompanied by the subtle (or astral) body consisting of the six sensory faculties and vital forces; the living entity; the individual soul enshrined in the physical body.)
The one who sees the imperishable Supreme Lord dwelling equally within all perishable beings truly sees. (13.27)
When one perceives diverse variety of beings resting in One and spreading out from That alone, then one attains Brahman. (13.30)

The Spiritual Journey

How does an individual set forth on such a journey, which traditionally is undertaken under the guidance of a Guru or an enlightened soul, especially while continuing with the day-to-day demands of one’s profession and in some places where even the basic amenities are scarce? A journey, which demands ultimate commitment and sacrifice and a spirit to explore, without being confined by the perceived limits of a human mind might seem unsurmountable for a military mind. What works in favour for those in uniform to set upon such a path is the ingrained sense of discipline, which such a journey mandates. The assured exposure to violence, long periods of separation, possibility of death or witnessing death are certain aspects which makes such a journey imperative for a soldier, or should I say a spiritual scholar warrior. Either with a Guru or through institutionalized measures within the organization, such a journey can be undertaken which can provide perennial bliss in the longer term and peace of mind in the short/ medium term. 

Six major orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, that have stood the test of times are ‘Nyaya’, ‘Vaisheshika’, ‘Samkhya’, ‘Yoga’, ‘Mimamsa’ and ‘Vedanta’. Nyaya school teaches us the precepts of Law that govern us and our environment. Vaisheshikha School espouses Atomism or that all material objects of the world as composed of small parts which can be divided and sub divided into even smaller ones similar to what is taught in Atomic Physics. “Samkhya” is ‘number’ and stems from ‘Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’. It explains creation in a manner where the implicit becomes explicit and that neither there is production nor destruction. ‘Purusha’ is pure consciousness, and ‘prakriti’ is nature. This is law of conservation of Mass. Yoga school teaches us that mind, body, and spirit are all one and cannot be separated. This is law of conservation of Energy. Mimamsa school teaches us ‘reflection’ or ‘critical investigation’ and thus contemplation of the consciousness. This is philosophy of Physics or Quantum Mechanics. Vedanta is “finality of the Vedas”. It reflects ideas that emerge from, all other doctrines contained in the Upanishads, especially the knowledge and liberation. It is the culmination of all sciences that end in one truth, the truth of consciousness. 

A starting step in such a journey could be with the Mahavakyas. The Mahāvākyas are “The Great Sayings” of the Upanishads, as characterized by the Advaita school of Vedanta with mahā meaning great and vākya, a sentence. The essence of each of these Mahavakyas is the same, since all are intended to guide practitioners toward the realization that all beings are one with Brahman. Understanding this is believed to be the ultimate form of compassion, in which individuals recognize one another as part of the same whole. Tat Tvam Asi is one of the four principle Mahavakyas and refers to the unity of Atman (the individual self or soul) with Brahman (universal consciousness or the Absolute). Jnana yoga focuses on the contemplation of the Mahavakyas.  The four Principle Mahavakyas are:

  1. Prajnanam Brahma – Consciousness is Brahman
  2. Ayam Atma Brahma – This self is Brahman
  3. Tat Tvam Asi – Thou art That or You are one
  4. Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman or I am Divine

If we focus on the Bhagvad Gita, the 18 chapters of the Gita can be seen as three shadgams or sections of six chapters each. In each of these sections, three broad topics are dealt with. In the first set of six chapters, the three topics discussed are jiva vichara, the sadana of karma yoga to attain moksha, and the human effort, purusha prayatna, to gain self-knowledge. The second shadgam discusses Ishwara swaroopa, the sadana of upasana yoga or meditation on Saguna Brahman, and Ishwara Kripa. The focus in the third shadgam is on the oneness of Paramatma and jivatma, the sadana of jnana yoga through practices such as sravana, manana, nidhidyasa, etc., and the importance of character building by cultivating worthy qualities and virtues. It is shown that the first topic in each of the three shadgams, namely jiva vichara, Ishwara vichara and Jiva-Brahma Aikya Jnana, respectively unfolds the explanation of the three terms Tvam, Tat and Asi in the Mahavakya. The ‘Tvam’ pada refers to the essential nature of the individual soul, the ‘Tat’ pada is about the nature of the Supreme Brahman and the ‘Asi’ pada affirms the oneness of Paramatma and the jivatma. The second and the third topics in each of three sections comprehensively deal with the yoga sadanas, karma, bhakti, and jnana and of the importance of human effort, God’s grace and the cultivation of Daivi sampath or virtues.

Two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating.

As Swami Krishnananda interprets the Mundaka Upanishad, the two birds are the Jiva and Isvara, both existing in an individual who is compared to a tree. They exist together as the reflection and the original. They both manifest themselves in different ways in every individual. From the characteristics of the Jiva it is possible to infer the nature of Isvara, and from the nature of Isvara it is possible to determine the potentialities of the Jiva. Both the Jiva and Isvara have a common substratum which is Brahman and which is the reality of both. The body is compared to a tree because it can be cut down like a tree. This tree is also called the Kshetra or the field of manifestation and action of the Kshetrajna or the knower of the field. The body is the field of action and experience and it is the fruit of actions done already. That which distinguishes the Jiva from Isvara is the mind only. In fact, the mind itself constitutes the Jiva. It is the Jiva that is affected by Avidya, Kama and Karma. Because of the conjunction of consciousness with these limiting factors, it has to experience the results of its actions; but Isvara, who is not limited to any adjunct, has no actions whatsoever to perform, and so, no experience of the results of actions. The fruits enjoyed by the Jiva are of the nature of pleasure and pain, i.e., they are all relative experiences born of non-discrimination. The experience of Isvara is eternal and is of the nature of purity, knowledge and freedom. Relative experience is the effect of the presence of Rajas, but the character of Isvara is Sattva and, hence, there is no phenomenal experience for Him. He is in fact the director of both the agent of actions and the results of actions. Isvara’s activity consists in His mere existence. The value of His existence is greater than that of the activity of the whole universe. His existence actuates the whole universe of manifestation.

What Motivates Me?

As a continuation of the journey of self-awareness, it is important to understand as to what motivates each one of us? What is the absolute motivation or incentive to work? Is it the material need as identified by Western motivational theorists or an innate desire to complete all actions associated with one’s birth in this world? Mahabharata emphasizes man attaining his ultimate goal in life, Moksha (self-realization). Man is expected to achieve this goal by synthesizing the different facets of Dharma, Artha and Kama. These concepts have many meanings. In an organizational context they can take on the following meanings:

  • Dharma: Code of conduct
  • Artha: Material attainments – wealth, the apparent reason for action
  • Kama: Desire
  • Moksha: Excellence in work, to go beyond material desires; the non-apparent reason for action.

In some sense, Kama drives attainment of Artha. The Dharma not only keeps a check on Kama so as not to indiscriminately pursue artha but also channels action to attainment of Moksha. One can detect in this aspect of Indian philosophy the similarities with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow identified that the source of motivation for working is satisfying a hierarchy of basic needs which include, security, social, ego and self-actualization. Man’s behavior can be explained in terms of his experiences and by which of his needs are met. When a particular need has not been met, the drive to fully attain it, can considered fuel for that directs the activities of an employee; it determines what will be important to him/her and shapes the employees behavior accordingly. Therefore, according to Maslow’s theory, the level of motivated behavior is seen by the kind of activity a person is engaged in. The tension experienced within that individual, pleasant or unpleasant, arises when the individual is attempting to meet his or her need and is therefore very purposeful or goal directed in the type of actions they take to achieve this end. A need that is satisfied is no longer a source of tension, hence according to Maslow, only unmet needs are the prime source of motivation. If dissatisfaction, discontent and restlessness are the root cause of all activity, then the words of Chris Argyris that today’s bountiful economy is supporting an unhappy society appear true. This gives a very pessimistic picture of human endeavors.

While western thought talks about action propelled by individual drives, the Vedantic philosophy views the role of personality with its internal predispositions for motivation being secondary to societal considerations in guiding behavior. The unfolding of selflessness in the form of taking action towards societal good and betterment of the world is the ideal to be pursued. Hence for all people, action is inevitable but not in the same way Maslow proposed, that individuals are need-driven. Man cannot escape having to work, according to Vedanta, he must work in order to attain both Abhyudaya (worldly excellence) within the ambit of Dharma and also strive to attain Nishreyasa (spiritual excellence). Vedanta defines the importance of all desires of man, from the material and sensory to the moral, ethical and transcendental in its concept of Purusharthas (values sought by man). However, in sharp contrast to Maslow’s need based theory, Indian philosophy holds that the four aspects are not “needs” but “what always exists”. The word kama, desire, constitutes the entire range of human cravings and satisfactions at the sensory level. The second, artha (wealth), is the instrument for satisfying kama (desire). The third, Dharma, means ethical sense and helps to discipline and regulate the pursuit of the first and the second. Therefore, it would still be possible for one to strive for the greater good and during this process experience spiritual excellence without necessarily being affected by the material costs of the endeavour. Man could then attain Self-Realization, a concept that is profoundly higher than self-actualization, because it is no longer limited to the individual but ultimately elevates him to a higher plane. This idea of selflessness is the cornerstone of the Vedantic worldview. Accordingly, Human values in management proceeds from Dharma.

Sage Patanjali mentions five kleshas in Yoga Sutra 2.3 “Avidya-Asmita-Raga-Dvesha-Abhinivesa-Klesha” responsible for all our suffering in life. The Sanskrit word klesha translates to “poison” or “affliction.” This term is used to denote specific negative mental patterns that obscure our true nature. The kleshas are considered the cause of suffering in yogic and Buddhist philosophy and are to be actively overcome. 

  • Avidya: ignorance
  • Asmita: I-ness, ego sense
  • Raga: attachment
  • Dvesha: aversion
  • Abhinivesah: fear of death, clinging to life
  • Klesha: painful, afflicted

    Only through proper understanding, we can outgrow our intrinsic afflictions as we are all born with these kleshas. The first step is to understand these kleshas and then make an effort to eliminate them while fully understanding that all of these afflictions are tangled together within our egos. 

The Future – Closer to Self-Realization

    As Wg Cdr NJ Reddy (Retd), the founder of Yoga Prana Vidya (YPV) says, “Mindfulness is a state of being aware of the present moment without any expectation or judgment. It can be done by becoming more aware of one’s feelings and thoughts and can help you listen in detail, appreciate others better and not react instantly by being carried away by emotions”. Sadhguru, the founder of Isha Foundation speaks of repeating, “I am not the mind, I am the soul” as part of Isha Kriya to get one’s attention to breathing and says that it is not a “slogan, philosophy or ideology, but a fragrance added so that one can more readily become aware of the breath”.  Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of Art of Living, has included focusing on one’s breath as part of his meditation programs like Sudarshana Kriya to make one aware of the present moment. 

    An interesting perspective on understanding ones’ intuitional plane can be seen in the teachings of YPV.  While speaking of connecting the jivatma (lower soul) with the paramatma (higher soul), after establishing connection with the higher soul through Lord’s prayer (Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil) and Affirmation (“I am not the body, I am the Soul (Incarnated Soul). I am not the emotion, I am not the thought, I am not the mind. Mind including mental, emotional, etheric and physical bodies is the subtle instrument of the Soul and I am that Soul.”), Wg Cdr Reddy (Retd) speaks of the Crown Chakra/ Centre and the Forehead and Back head Chakras/ Centres as doors to the higher and lower intuitional plane. Calling them as centres of direct perception, the YPV offers various sadhanas and techniques to increase one’s awareness and become better human beings.

    As per one author, the path to Self – Realization consist of nine steps, Self Awareness, Self Exploration, Self Discovery, Self Understanding, Self Love, Self Transformation, Self Mastery, Self Transcendence which finally leads to Self-Realization. Sri Aurobindo believed reaching profound silence was the first (not the last) and the most important step in self-realization. He believed that silencing the mind and body totally was imperative for the descent of supreme consciousness inside a human body. He said that none could ever hope to bring the higher realms of consciousness into one’s being without this basic and foundational step. The Upanishads spoke of four main paths to self-realization: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and raja yoga. Karma yoga is the yoga of action. To perform karma yoga perfectly, you must do every action with the thought that God (or your higher self) is acting through you. When you practice karma yoga truly, you have no desire for a reward or any recognition of your actions, because you know that it was really God, not you, who was the doer. It doesn’t matter so much what you do, although it may be easier when you know that your action is benefiting someone. Mother Teresa and Gandhi are famous examples of karma yogis. Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, is the main focus of many religions. It’s the simplest and sweetest of the paths. Bhakti yogis merge back into God when they have attained perfect divine love. Just as it doesn’t matter what type of action is being done in karma yoga, it also doesn’t matter what the object of one’s devotion is. In Christianity it is Jesus; in Hinduism it can be one of thousands of gods and goddesses or the one infinite God beyond creation; in Islam it is Allah. Gyana or Jnana yoga is finding God through wisdom. Gyana yogis use self-examination and ever-deepening insight to penetrate through their likes and dislikes and extract the seed of Truth. The key is not to become attached to one’s insights into profound truths, which again allows the ego to come in. There is a Sanskrit saying that describes gyana yoga: “neti neti,” meaning, “not this, not that.” Gyana yogis toss aside everything that is not eternal, until all they are left with is God. One well-known gyana yogi is Shankaracharya. Raja yoga combines the three yogas above, with an emphasis on meditation. Meditation helps to strengthen and guide each person’s practice of the other yogas to keep them heading toward God and self-realization.

    Self-realization is not only a withdrawal and detachment process, but it is also a silencing process. You become silent gradually from outer aspects of your beingness into your inner aspects, until you become fully silent. Therefore, the next step in your progress is to rest your imagination completely and enter into a zone of silence. This, in fact, is the last frontier in your quest for truth. The Upanishads see a clear distinction between a yogi who has silenced his desires and awakened to a new knowledge and a seer, who has actually witnessed the true Self. When the mind and body become silent, when intelligence and imagination stop playing games inside your consciousness, when you enter into a deep silence and spend considerable time there, you peel off the last remaining layers of impurities around your Self, which are mostly the past life impressions (samskaras). Then you pass through several states (desas) of samadhi, some in which you will retain little awareness (savikalpa) and some in which you will transcend all subtleties and distinctions (nirvikalpa), until you become your True Self. Some say, this is the end of the journey. After that you are like a rain drop that has fallen into the ocean. Some say, there is one more step, that is coming into contact with Supreme Brahman (brahmasparsa).

    The quantum of knowledge available in our ancient knowledge system is unfathomable and the journey is an arduous one. As members of the Armed Forces tasked with the supreme responsibility of safeguarding the Motherland, even at the peril of our own lives, such a spiritual journey is sine-qua-non for all of us. The recent efforts at national level to revive the ancient knowledge systems and various parallel processes undertaken by premier institutions like the College of Defence Management are small but pivotal steps towards such a noble future. The Thirukkural says that time is but a sword, which keeps cutting away at life. If we thought of life as fleeting, then we would not waste our time, but would want to be of some service to others. 

Womb Rights….

Tikki and Dobbie are the names of our girls..sprightly and affable…cute and curious…puny but everywhere..they are all around when they are not sleeping or eating….barking at people who dare to approach the gate…expressing their annoyance at those who walk or cycle on the road in front…yelping at Scooby, their brother from another mother, and bouncing away when Scooby doesn’t want to play….they are always in a state of animation especially when a hearty meal has to be digested.

But at this moment they are sleeping…not a natural sleep but a sleep induced by an injection of some chemical as a step prior to their spaying or neutering….their breaths deep, eyes fighting to remain open, body and mind refusing to shut down as they can sense the imminent loss…loss of a body part which will get them lifelong freedom from brutal assaults and troublesome males..a life free of pangs of child birth and associated worries.

I ask reena….what is our right over their wombs? How can we deny them their motherly rights? Can we take such a monumental decision…just because they are our girls?…what is the cost benefit analysis between being a mom every six months versus never having a chance of being a mom…when you see the state of poorly fed pups by the road side and malnourished moms and unattended pups who get shunted around, an easier option is surgery even if it entails a cost.

The weekly adoption drives are indicators of public preference for male pups or lack of love for the femmes…female pups are looked down upon due to associated expenses of child bearing and six monthly repetitive days when they are on heat..forgetting the fact that they are the most lovable and adorable and of course the most beautiful….

An evening stroll would also reveal the gender biased world of dogs… The males strutting around to prove their domain or territory while the female of the species, just a silent member or temporarily emboldened by the male attention. The moment she becomes a mom the males carry on leaving her to the whole process of child bearing and care. The cycle repeats every six months and goes on until the poor female is no longer capable of being a baby machine. Those of us not exposed to the Breeder mafia should understand that such a process is replicated when it comes to high end breeds wherein we humans use those silent beings as baby and money making machines with no scruples.

Well, Tikki and Dobbie are now carried in to the operation room..even as another 6 females await their turn under various stages of dissent and worry….Dr says it will take just 20 minutes…but for us it is like 20 hours….minutes become hours even as the hour hand refuses to move…

Two indies is infinitesimal when seen against the large number of Indie population …but then as the saying goes…little drops of water make the mighty ocean…..Hope is the only beacon and point of strength in such a dark and dreary world…

Possession

Is it necessary to possess something if you completely love it? A lovely beautiful flower which you see on the wayside, will you pluck it or rather leave it there to spread its beauty for the balance of its life? First impulse is to take it along but is that the best impulse?

Is it the physical body of the flower that attracted you or the lovable spirit of its innate beauty? If you see the flower as a being, then you will understand it better. The fact that you felt a connection or felt uplifted in its company means there is a connection beyond your comprehension.

Didnt you just upset the balance by plucking that flower and preventing it from connecting to many more other souls with which it could have connected or uplifted? Weren’t you truly and purely selfish?

Can we really posses something or someone? Only takeaway from any interaction or transaction are the memories and the happiness or pain those memories invoke. Can you really possess a puppy which gave you so much of happiness with those innocent trusting eyes? You can of course adopt her but do you still possess her?

During our trips around we spend so much time capturing the scenery around or clicking ourselves with the scenery as a backdrop. How much time do we spend going back to those photos to relive the moments? Is it better to just enjoy the moment rather than trying to capture it in a photo frame and hoping to relive it in a future over which you have no control?

Bhadraj Baar Baar Lagataar…12 Baar

Circa 1997. It was a lazy sunday for many…especially for the second termers at the Indian Military Academy as they had just finished a major runback exercise called Bhadraj…an arduous 30 hour navigation exercise in which one of the check points was the Bhadraj feature. ..locals and tourists visit Bhadraj temple (temple of bal bhadra or Balram) using an easier route but for the gentlemen cadets there is no easy track. It is always the harder right than the easier wrong…..

The Academy was in a celebratory mood. Second termers had finished a major exercise and third termers were busy with their exams. But it was not to be a free day for hapless few like the Lemans who had been ordained to visit bhadraj again. The khaatey peetey bacche were being tasked to forget their khana and go look for a rifle magazine which they had misplaced during the night climb to the top during the run back exercise. To understand why such a small thing as a rifle magazine is so important, you should understand the rules of the game just like any other game or exercise or story.

A runback is organized for a group of gentlemen cadets to test their navigational skills, camaraderie, soldierly skills and fitness levels. Sleep deprivation, fatigue, forced marches, limited food availability are all part of the induced combat environment so as to make these boys ‘men of steel’. Every cadet, in addition to his combat dress and backpack, carries a rifle, some central stores like stretcher, light machine gun, few bullet filled/loaded magazines meant to be used if in dire straits, compass, binoculars and few mini flares meant to indicate own position if lost in thick jungle. Each rifle has it’s own set of 5 magazines which is part of a cadet’s basic kit. The rule states that all the items which were at the start point including the cadets themselves should be present at each checkpoint enroute and at the finish point where a detailed check is carried out. If an item is lost enroute the cadets are expected to report it at the next check point and take a decision from the umpire about continuing with the runback or pausing and looking for the item in day light. Any drop off enroute will attract heavy penalties varying from high penalty for a “cadet dropping off” to a lesser penalty for loss of a smaller item like an empty magazine. Of course, the penalty of a cadet dropping off is equivalent to doing the run again, so that is one event which rarely happens.

Now, how did we lose that magazine or how did the magazine lose itself from the rifle of a capable Leman so as to cause discomfort to all of us that Sunday? Well, that’s a story by itself but I will keep it short and zoom into the Leman runback group that night. We were blindly following our able map readers on the never ending false crests of Bhadraj feature, trundling our personal as well as central stores like stretcher and Light Machine Gun. As many of you would understand, when you climb a mountain, especially when you are fatigued to the point of being a sleepwalker, it’s frustrating to encounter false crests as the exhilaration of reaching the top is lost when you see the top still shining far away. Another miracle is how a sleepwalker is able to move along those narrow mountain paths without falling or slipping into the ravines far below. So, there we were, singing our favourite Leman battle cry and sleepwalking our way onto the third checkpoint of the route, i.e.Bhadraj temple, when we were forced to take a break as a hailstorm stuck. The temple was now not so distant and the yellow lantern light (normally placed at checkpoints) could be seen as a welcoming speck few crests away but the wet sheet of tiny ice balls and water made us wet to the bones.

We just dropped our sweaty selves onto the narrow pebbly mountain track with our legs dangling towards the deep ravine most of which was obscured due to darkness and a fine white mist which was filling the valley. Out came the haldiram and bourbon packets, some chit chats, some deep sighs, some cribs about a childhood basketball injury which was now playing up, etc etc.. the hailstorm took a break and we were all up on our wobbly feet to present ourselves at the next checkpoint. That’s the time when the proverbial thunderbolt struck. Our josh box Goyal reported that he dropped his rifle magazine and his buddy Ally reconfirmed that he sighted the magazine taking seven bounces into the misty folds of the ravine. We had 2 options- search for a magazine which has bounced at least seven times and gone beyond obscurity or trudge towards the yellow glimmer of hope not so far away. We opted for the easier one, dutifully walked into Bhadraj checkpoint, reported a lost magazine and requested Umpire to let us finish the runback or help us search for it. The delicious hot chocolate served at the check point was tempting many to drop it all and report sick. Decision  soon came to finish the runback, ofcourse with concomitant penalties, which didn’t do much to improve our runback performance which as such was not so stellar considering the fact that the main  focus of any Leman is to shine on the Obstacle Course and not a runback.

So, this sunday was dedicated to Ally and Goyal, who promised a treat in main cafe that evening as a compensation for the bounced magazine. A Maruti Gypsy and an Eicher van got us closer to the objective but the Bhadraj top was still one hour plus of 60 to 75 degree slopes and we were accompanied by none other than our own 3 platoon commander Capt Sahatpure, of whom I have spoken enough in the last article.

Capt Sahatpure was a walking talking molten lava that day and the proximity to Bhadraj or Balram who is also famous for his short temper seemed to have added onto our platoon commander’s rigour. He tasked us to  climb the hill and find out the magazine without wasting his Sunday hours. We, like good Lemans, set sail or set foot on the Bhadraj feature, walked 30 minutes, reached the spot and commenced our search. Maybe it was the day light, or the Sunday mood or our joie de vivre, the magazine was found within few minutes, not very far away from where it had dropped off. What Ally saw as seven bounces that night emerged as an optical illusion played by his tired mind..in hindsight, we would have found the magazine had we searched for it that night itself…

The good Lemans that we were and with the prospect of a Sunday feast awaiting in the Main Cafe, courtesy Goyal and Ally, we informed the grand recovery of the bouncy magazine over radio set to our platoon commander who was waiting at the base of the Bhadraj feature. Life can never be so simple, right? Lose some store, earn negative points, spoil a Sunday and then feast away into the afternoon..which self respecting platoon commander can let karma do it’s job..

Capt Sahatpure had special plans for us as the day was bright and promising. Orders came over the radio set to continue with our trek to Bhadraj top to pay obeisance to Lord Balram and thank him for keeping our magazine safe. The good boys that we were, on we went under the command of our to be Senior Under Officer Saurav Kapoor who was tasked to give a report from the hill top once the trek was completed..we were all fresh as well as eager to finish off the magazine story, so the climb was executed in super human time and saukaps was on air calling Sahatpure to report “All in”. Knowing us inside out, Sahatpure sir was not convinced and ordered a line up on the hill top to have a physical count through his binoculars. With that part also done, next order was to reach base in double time which was also executed with an alarming sense of discipline which I am sure would have alarmed even our Platoon Commander and gave him more ideas.

Just as we were making plans for balance of the Sunday, we heard the order to go back up the hill which was unbelievable for many but for some, they had the expression of “I told you”. So, off we went once again, up the hill to disturb the morning siesta of Lord Balram but at a slower pace than before. A 45 minute climb at first go, was replicated with a 1 hour 30 minutes performance which now had our Platoon Commander in full boil mode. Presence of some other company personnel on similar search mission, glaring sun, fatigue of last few days were some of the reasons our poor Saukaps had to convey to Sahatpure sir over the radio set even as the only acknowledgment from the other end was “bloody chaps” to the nth order. We really had him on a boil, that we knew ..but the presence of the Lord was emboldening us to test our platoon commander’s patience further. A line up on top similar to last climb revealed two personnel less as they were cooling their heels under the lone umbrella tree that was also providing shade to Lord Bhadraj. After many animated threats over radio set and with field signals (to see which we had to use binoculars which were only two in number), our Platoon commander could see a full lineup on the hill top. The order that followed was a repeat of the last but we were expected to roll down the hill, literally. That task was also soon completed with the hope that our actions will assuage the hurt feelings of our platoon commander, but that was not to be so.

The Lemans climbed Bhadraj 12 times that day with every trip changing the karma balance in each of our lives. Our platoon commander was beyond lava state and our minds had stopped thinking maybe after the 4th iteration…the Lord, well, he slept off after our 2nd trip itself as he could sense our lack of interest in any spiritual goals straight away. Well, shouting “La mere hathode ko and maar @#%^! Ke @#&@@ ” would surely come under one of the top crimes you can commit in his abode. Forgive us oh lord, for our focus was on appeasing our other Lord i.e. our platoon commander who was moving up one decibel after each trip of ours much to our consternation.

Somewhere on the slopes of Bhadraj that day, a line was crossed. A threshold was reached or a Rubicon was crossed and a breath of daredevilry was born in all of us. Enough of this shouted many, what the beep beep shouted some..this is not fair said some …and thus was born our “Plan Roy”…. The stretcher which we were industriously carrying up and down all the 12 times gave us a wonderful idea and the main protagonist became our own Souvik who was the slimmest with a 22inch waistline. Plan Roy involved reporting that Souvik had a fall, almost the same place that the magazine was supposed to have bounced and the balance of the plan was left to survive first contact with Sahatpure. Glucose powder was used to make Souvik’s face filled with sweat marks to add on to the dehydrated look.

Our eager and hot platoon commander who was awaiting our arrival soon heard the commotion and a loud cry from Souvik. Over the radio set it was conveyed to him that Roy had hurt his knee and we would take another hour to get him down. Even a threat from the platoon commander to climb up and meet us halfway didn’t deter us as we took a long long break after our to and fro trips to the Lord’s abode. After a long long wait, we commenced our stroll down the hill side silently bidding goodbye to the Lord whom we hoped to meet under better circumstances. Our casualty Roy was alternating between lying (on a stretcher) and walking depending on the visibility from ground zero.

It was soon time to meet our platoon commander…an experienced soldier himself who was also the product of the RIMC where he would have surely seen many such dramas. Rant and rave he did…made us carry Roy here and there..made us crawl through a small passage under a rock through which we had to even pass Roy on a stretcher. Poor Roy, we had to really shove him down that hole like a cork into a wine bottle to make our story stick.

Maybe it was time to move back or maybe our platoon commander realized that we had reached a point of no return….he ordered us to move back to Base. Happy (albeit shortlived) that our drama won us a quick ticket home, we jumped on to the soothing comfort of Eicher Van’s cushioned seats only to be summoned for another fall in by our scorned commander. In clear words without any sugar coating, he informed us that he had seen through our charade and told us to make up for the same by walking back to our barracks. It was like the false crest of a mountain..a moment of happiness followed by that of gloom…

The now hardened Lemans, followed the Gypsy and Eicher Van in a silent trance..a sort of death walk,  which would have beaten the setting of any movie known for its gloom and tragedy. Seconds became minutes and minutes into an hour when our platoon commander again summoned us to give another moral insight into the depths of Mariana triangle that we had plunged into urging us to become better human beings…

The day indeed was a molotov cocktail of karma and dharma, sweat and toil, satya and asatya combined with the heady mix of 12 back to back visits to the abode of the Lord himself. Our balance sheet of karma would have been a crisscross of dots and dashes. Seeing our plight or maybe it was time to break off the civil drivers, capt Sahatpure ordered us back to the bus with a rejoinder that the movie will continue back in Leman company.

Off we moved out from that bleaky landscape..our tummies were rumbling and main cafe was waiting…afterall it was the day of the “bouncy magazine” but it was we Lemans who were now bouncing in a vintage Eicher Van after scoring a century on the Bhadraj feature. Yes, a star was born that day…a true star, our own bengali moshe Roy who could defend a story that we all trusted upon him to save us from further climbs even at the peril of being caught….

Vikram iyengar the baritoned dramatist did indeed make Roy a central figure in his future narrations/ skits and I am sure Sahatpure sir would have had his share of hiccups……

Dedicated to those Lemans who are unable to read and comment here as they have joined the Lord…party we shall ..

Biases…known and unknown….

Just happened to read about Dunning Kruger bias…Further reading threw up a list of 140 odd biases which are equally interesting and then I thought why not share this knowledge…

wiki says….Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from people’s inability to recognize their lack of ability.

I was left wondering how do you tell a person especially if he is your supervisor or superior that he is a victim of DK…without inviting a string of expletives if he is such a man..or a lower performance report if he is a silent version who keeps such incidents noted and fixes you later!! Or if he or she gets hurt by your bluntness?

Very few organizations have a system wherein the lower order have a system of feedback to tell the higher order of their flaws or unknown biases. Now it gets more interesting..there is another bias by the name of Bias Blind Spot...wiki defines it as..the cognitive bias of recognizing the impact of biases on the judgment of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgment.

Now who is biased. The employee who is seeing the superior’s bias without seeing own or the supervisor who sees only the employee’s or junior’s bias. And how do you define Bias. Maybe your definition of the bias itself is biased?

Even while we are seeing these biases how sure are we about another bias…the Affinity bias…that bias which makes us partial towards some person or event towards which we have affinity to and on the corollary make us hate or criticize someone who doesn’t have our affinity? Like a strict boss?

Then we start seeing another effect called the Halo effect which comes into play when we are overawed with a person or his achievements. Halo is when we see one great thing about a person and we let the halo-glow of that significant aspect affect our opinions of everything else about that person. His mistakes are forgiven and small acts of success are glorified.

In life as well as in workplaces, we very often experience the Sunk Cost Fallacy which all of us can identify with. The amount of money and effort that we have spent on an entity make us reluctant to dump it and move on even if it’s on a regressive spiral. Emotions take over or is it a feeble attempt to avoid accepting that we could not have been wrong in the first instance?

Yet another one is Confirmation bias.. a cognitive bias that nudges us to cherry-pick information confirming our existing beliefs and ideas. I guess it’s a lifelong process wherein we look for facts and inputs to confirm our own beliefs. As a corollary it also makes us blind to inputs from someone whom we distrust or dislike.

Another interesting one is Anchoring effect which happens when we are shopping. The moment the seller says the cost of an item is 720 we bargain or feel good when he gets it down to 700 little realizing that it could have been 500 or 400. The seller anchored you to 700 plus so you got stuck at 700. Maybe delhi types are beyond this bias wherein the quoted rate of seller are straight away halved.

The Representative bias is another which almost all of us have. An example is when someone says ” oh he is a thambi. He will be good in studies”. Or “he is a speco, he will be intelligent”.

The Bandwagon effect is another one which also manifests as Group thinking or what some attribute as Peer Pressure. The innate feeling to conform to a group’s thinking forces a sane person to say yes despite knowing that he or she is wrong. A dangerous class of bias which any group should be careful of.

Well.. that’s a good list already…happy reading….do remember that the awareness of a bias does not mean that you will shun that bias. Their name says it all..its an unconscious bias and at times you might be adopting it as a part of your character.

Programs exist like the debiasing software or instruments which can be tried to get a feel of those unknown unknowns. If interested, you could try the Implicit Association Test. Available at https://www.projectimplicit.net/

Happy debiasing…

BCAM: October 30th

A frank, from the heart account from an iron lady…

Labels. Labels are fraught with meaning and can be difficult for a variety of meanings. Adiba tackles the label survivor in this way … Breast Cancer Survivor. What does that actually mean? Should I that live with metastatic breast cancer ever be called a survivor? I say no! Please don’t call me that!You hear breast […]

BCAM: October 30th

Life…

What defines a human life? Is it the quantum or lifespan spent by that life in this world? Or is it the legacy left behind by that life which is later seen or heard from near and dear? Isn’t it defined by the actions of that Soul which came to occupy that human body for a short while, in this infinite world as an infitesimal entity?

If I ask an old lady, how does she define her life..she might list all the highs and lows of her life and those contributions made by her progeny and her near and dear. If I ask her what’s been the purpose of her life and did she achieve it..she might say yes, she got all the happiness that she wanted despite the few odd setbacks like a drunkard son or a quarrelling nephew or a jealous sis in law. Or, she might say, she spent her entire life searching for a purpose..an ethereal purpose beyond the obvious one of living and breeding and dying..and that she is still searching.

In one of those spiritual interactions in the College of Defence Management in 2005, someone asked our class (which me and Reena were part of), what’s our purpose in life..and of course, we all had different answers..some said about being successful, some about being helpful, some about being rich, and it went on…in the end, the person who asked the question said that the whole purpose is a pursuit for happiness. Whether it’s a sort of selfish happiness or community happiness was left unanswered, maybe because we were all in the 30-40 age group and he felt that the subject is beyond our comprehension.

Its a fact that no life is a smooth road. In a four dimensional world where time as the 4th dimension and personalities as unpredictable variables keep interacting, the journey is expected to be a roller coaster ride indeed.. exhilarations and depressions keep interchanging depending on the strata and class in which you are born in..some are born with a golden spoon while some struggle for a simple spoonful of rice for sustenance.

If we see the set of human beings as small subsets or spheres..a sort of permeable, transparent bubble which lives and breathes alongside other mini bubbles within a bigger bubble which we can call the world, can we define life better? How big will be the bubble..a family or a tribe or a clan or a race or just a big bubble of human beings?

We know that every person born in such subsets or small spheres has a role to play within that. Some grow beyond it or change spheres as they collide or interact with other spheres in the system. Emotions and attachments get overlapped with feelings and sense of belonging within a bubble and at times even beyond the bubble. At times you meet a person from another bubble and feel a sense of dejavu… is it because of some past life connections or is it a soul from your bubble which has now restarted in the other…

A soul after fulfilling its role in one bubble sets forth to another, even as the others in the bubble hang on to whatever they have in the form of memories of the interactions they had with that soul. Will they really want to call back that soul, if they had a vantage view above all the bubbles which shows them the soul in another bubble in another form, fulfilling the purpose assigned in that bubble?

So, where are we in this discourse on defining life? If we ask that soul which is now in another bubble, that Being would identify with the current bubble and not the past. If you ask the others who are missing that soul or the erstwhile live body or Being in that bubble, they would list the memories and legacies of that “Being’. If you ask others in other bubbles, some may or may not have heard of that Being…

If the “Being” itself is disinterested in its definition of the life it has lived, at a later stage (of course, many would be highly interested in the present), then why fret? Why not just enjoy the small bubbles of happiness and sorrow, glory and gloom, births and deaths, victory and loss, work and relaxation, and the umpteen paradoxes that our life is filled with.

The Hindu concepts of four Purusarthas and the Japanese Ikigai are interesting reads on life’s purpose. Also happened to read somewhere about the “six feet of earth” which a body actually needs as the soul departs. Saw this poem online, a similar version was taught in the school too, I guess. https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/six-feet-earth. As the Bible says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” and “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it“.

More on fate and destiny, in the next edition. Do feel free to comment on these thoughts or if you have some deeper insights on these lines of thought….

The Drongo Duo

His nom de guerre was the Black Twin Tail, until he and his sweet lil wife decided to build a nest on a Y shaped branch of a mighty large tree near the balcony of my second floor apartment. An activity which was earlier ignored now became our favourite pastime to observe and comment, due to the umpteen hours, minutes and seconds that covid19 lockdown gave us.

Stuck in a two room apartment in the Officers’ Mess during Covid lockdown, me and Reena had established a routine of spending our morning coffee hour in the balcony. Our balcony was a small space cluttered with a cloth stand, my unused golf set, old shoes, few cartons, a water cooler (or its backside) and two garden chairs. But in that one hour of coffee time, it was the place where everything under the Sun was discussed.

Black Twin Tail became the main character of our “balcony hour” around the same time as PM’s request to clap hands and light torches, in support of the Corona warriors. As we were looking for an ideal location in our balcony to place the diyas, there swooped the Twin Tail with another one in close pursuit. Normally, you would see a twin tail chasing a big bird, but this form of acrobatics or aerial manoeuvres between Twin Tails happen during courtship (no, it’s not my gyaan, it’s the Wikipedia speaking). That’s the time, when internet revealed that this smart guy is called a Black Drongo or Dicrurus Macrocercus.

The ongoing aerial combat seemed suicidal with the pair crashing into surfaces and attempting multi dimensional interplanar movements. Soon realising that they had a larger audience watching this public display of affection, the Drongos retired to one tall spindly tree, which so far had an inconsequential existence in the daily balcony panorama. The tree was rechristened the Drongo tree, once me and Reena realised that the black pair had a nest tucked away in a Y shaped branch far far up, close to the top.

Watching them flit around during morning coffee became an unmissable activity for both of us. Our son Parin started calling it our National Geographic channel in the Balcony! Our first observation was the Drongo’s offensive response towards bigger birds. The Drongo duo had declared the whole area ‘no fly zone’ and chased away those poor birds whose flight paths overflew the spindly Drongo tree. This included a crow who used to follow the same flight path despite such persistent nuisance. Many online articles call the Drongo as King Crow, because of this aggressive nature towards bigger birds.

Closer bird watching over the next week revealed that the Crow himself was building a nest on another tree to our extreme right. So, we had a left wing Drongo and a right wing Crow. Even as the Drongo duo battled all, the Crow continued building his nest. It was a laborious task for the crow as he/ she was seen struggling with even tiny twigs, though we assume that for a bird his size he should be able to lift heavy twigs. On and on he went, collecting broken twigs and threads from all places even as he was doggedly targeted by the D on his route in and route out. King Crow, indeed.

The crow was soon done and it seemed that the Drongos too had lost interest in airspace violations, as both the nests fell silent in terms of aerial activity. The D duo were seen to be keeping shifts, to sit on the eggs, whereas in the Crow’s case, it seemed to be a one sided affair. Within a week, there was frenzied activity in the D household. Both the parents were seen flying in with filled mouths to feed the newborn. A smooth arrangement of shared responsibility seemed to be in place – as one D fed the kids, the other one guarded the skies.

The kids were soon big enough to be seen above their nests. Even as India and the World battled Corona, these kids continued with their chirpy demands for more food from their condescending parents. The right wing Crow kept her watch as her mate was seen supplying necessities to the nest. To add to the melee, a new activity was spotted in the centre tree which had a stump to one side. From the sides of the stump popped up a cute greenish bird with a prominent red plume. Online inputs and reference to some bird watcher friends like Mongia, revealed his name as a Coppersmith Barbet. So, for our coffee hour, the activities were evenly spread; we had a left wing Drongo family, a centre aligned Coppersmith and a right wing Crow couple. The add-ons were few squirrels and chirpy parrots who followed no set pattern other than exploring flower pods all around.

Coppersmith Barbet

The day India breached the one lakh mark of Corona case, was a momentous day for the D parivar. As both the parents got busy food collecting, there came another bird…a shiny sliver of malefic intentions…google revealed his name as Shikra (Accipiter Badius) is known for his preying instincts, with some videos showing trained Shikras catching birds for their masters.

Well, the Shikra swooped in on to the Y cut nest with the clear aim of finishing off the tiny Drongo babies. His attempts to peck at them were fought back ferociously by the tiny ones, even as we tried helplessly to shout from the balcony. The tables soon turned against the Shikra, as a group of smaller birds including the Coppersmith launched a combined attack against this wily invader. As he made a hasty withdrawal, the male crow joined in to increase his speed of exit. It was a great example of community living and mutual coexistence wherein all of them got together to fight a common enemy.

The D parents soon returned and I am sure the tiny ones were rewarded with extra worms and butterflies that day, for their valour. The smaller birds continued with their pecking around barks for insects and the Drongos didn’t seem to mind..further reading on the subject revealed that the smaller birds prefer staying near a Drongo primarily for their own protection.

Another month and the Drongo babies were hopping outside their nests onto nearby branches. A reluctant and scared baby was being persistently trained by the parent to let the fear go and hop around. After two weeks of some unavoidable travel, when we returned to our Natgeo balcony, we could see the babies attempting aerial manoeuvres like their parents as the proud patient parents led the way on unsuspecting butterflies and insects. What was more impressive was their night manoeuvres as darkness never seemed to limit their operational capabilities.

We had to move into a bigger ground floor house soon and it was bye bye time for all the Drongos, Crows and Coppersmiths. The crow nest seemed full with new babies and the Coppersmiths seemed busy in their deep deep furrow within the branch, as we packed up our nest to shift it to a bigger location.

Three months of hourly birdwatching was indeed a revelation that you don’t have to travel far to see Nature. It’s around you and only thing that we have to do is to slow down and absorb the happenings around us…. beautiful bountiful Nature and the harmonious coexistence of its inhabitants will be revealed in all its glory. A few odd Shikras, selfish human beings and the like are minor irritants when we see the enormosity of the natural canvas.

Hats off to the Creator….

A Tattoo with a Bullet

The Tattoo

24 May 99 was an even mix of happiness and gloom, as we bid farewell to our first aboriginal (*an officer who was commissioned into and commanded the same unit) Tiger Col (later Brigadier) Hareesh Pankan and welcomed Col (later Lieutenant General) Vinod Gulabrao Khandare as the 8th Commanding Officer. The new Tiger, another aboriginal, had been around as the GSO1 of the same Division where the Battalion was and all of us were in an upbeat mood.

The Adjutant soon announced Tiger’s familiarization program and the onus of conducting him in Bravo Company became mine as the traditional 2 Tiger was away sharpening his pencils for DSSC preparations. The incident of Lt Kalia’s patrol being ambushed in Kargil had already happened, and OP VIJAY was on.

The familiarization visit to all posts went on as per schedule, with the movements in open areas restricted to hours of darkness. Only those who have actually slid down the vertical slope or Rasta to Chattan Post under enemy fire can describe it, or should I say that some slopes are beyond description. It’s an 8 point contact, in which you are hanging on to dear life with all your body parts and hoping against hope that the moon doesn’t come out and make your life miserable by giving the enemy a highlighted target.

The visit to Serial 2 or Bravo company started from a Post called Dogra which was a sort of rest and recoup one, as it was echeloned behind and away from most of enemy’s direct fire. Only challenge to Dogra’s Class A status was Maid Post of Charlie company with it’s maize fields, piggery and hen coop. Dhaniram Sahab was Tiger of Maid due to his recurring medical problems.

Tiger breezed through Dogra on to Don Post, where his ex Signal buddy Pratap awaited as a fresh Subedar. Tea, pakoras, dinner and endless stories interspersed with briefing saw us crossing the midnight mark.

It was early hours of 03 June 99. Now was the trek to company headquarters at Camel, an imposing landmark with an equally imposing and flat Tabletop in between. The patch between Tabletop and Camel was open to enemy observation, but the obscured moon reduced chances of enemy detection. A downslope of 45 degrees led into an area called the India Gate, which further had a bifurcation. Left took you within metres of the enemy to two more of our posts (opposite one enemy post aptly named Kabristan) while the right track led to Camel.

The pace of advance was slow, as the Tiger was familiarizing with the landscape including umpteen minefields of varying vintage. Very soon, we were across Tabletop and onto the track, which had minefield fences to either side.

As the saying goes, you never get to hear the bullet meant for you. However what you get to experience is a series of actions in no particular order, with all of them happening within the next few seconds or microseconds. First feeling of foreboding came when the moon decided to shower his benevolence onto us, both for good and bad. It helped me in indicating the landmarks around to the new Tiger because Tabletop had the best panoramic view. But, it also aided the enemy in spotting us on a well lit shiny path. The next event was a flash on the enemy side, to which our reaction was to immediately duck down while alerting the Tiger’s party of a likely threat by pushing them down. Few seconds passed, nothing happened and we all heaved a sigh of relief to continue our movement hastily. However, an odd sensation in my calf made me feel that I had snicked it against the minefield which was conveyed to the Tiger who was immediately behind.

Tiger lent his cane, which so far was being used as a prodder for stones in the track, and I hobbled on to safety, promptly assisted by the Tiger himself. A quick swipe of the calf revealed some wetness, which led to the assumption that a bullet had grazed my calf. Stream of expletives kept tumbling out as it was anger at oneself for letting the enemy gain an upper hand. The pain came in later, when I was carried piggy back by my buddy to the nearest jeephead, which was 45 minutes away. Not wanting to give the enemy a moral victory, I remember pleading with Tiger not to declare it until the doctor felt it’s a serious wound! How wrong was I to assume that it was just a nick, from a lucky enemy sniper.

What’s that feeling of being shot at or what did you feel, many have asked me over the years. At that point of time, there was zero feeling, not even pain, just a realisation that I might miss the action which was planned soon. Then followed anger, bubbling anger, the way you feel when you lose a race with a traditional rival or when you are beaten in a videogame by a known kaddu (nincompoop).

Did I save the Tiger, many asked? Did I, me too wondered. Maybe, if we had not abruptly stopped and pushed down others, the bullet would have found it’s way on to a more prized target – a CO who had just taken over command on active LC. What would have been the first and second order effects of such an action- only hindsight can help us wonder of such grave probabilities. So, under those circumstances, the field Captain was more affordable vis-a -vis a new Colonel and CO of 850 men, and I guess fate timed it well.

From the road head, a jeep took me on a bouncy trip to the nearest hospital which was another 45 minutes. Our unit Doctor, a Bengali Moshoi met our party at the halfway mark; asked me to move my toes, confirmed that it was a gun shot wound, and told me that I was lucky. You can imagine the scene : 0200 hours in the morning, lying on a stretcher fixed to the side seat of a Jonga, with a pulsating leg, and being told by a jovial Bong that you are lucky..who would believe him. Later (after 2/3 months) I realized that he was referring to the bullet missing the nerve, which would have left me with a lifelong limp or trailing foot. Lucky indeed!

That night saw me moving from Field Hospital to the General Hospital and finally entering the Operation Theatre at 0500 hours or so in the morning. Somewhere in between was a Malayali driver, to whom I presumably told not to convey this news home, as I was worried about the effect on my widowed mom and young sister. Frankly, I don’t remember any of that, what I remember is the bumpy ride to those hospitals and the soothing surroundings of the hospital room as my eye lids got heavy.

The morning of 04 June was seconds and minutes of excruciating pain as the pain of open wound and a cracked shin bone hit me with full force. Only a smiling Major in the next bed with an amputated leg from a drifted mine could give me an insight into the quantum of pain, and made my wound seem miniscule. His cleaning sessions used to be howling matches as the raw nerve ends could not be suppressed with any pain killer. Again, I was lucky!

Well, life just moved on. Even as OP VIJAY went on and many of my coursemates like Capt Vikram Batra went on recapturing peaks with ‘Dil Maange More’, I was on a rearward loop shunting from Jammu to Chandigarh to Kerala. Toughest part was informing my mom about my injury, which was managed over a landline to my young sister who was mature beyond her age. Love of unit personnel, near family, Sainik School types and many newfound hardcore nationalists aided me in that trip. Many autographs, TV interviews, telephonic interactions, and such acts followed and my mom and sister took some time to adjust to this new popularity. I even flagged off a Solidarity rally at my sister’s Kendriya Vidyalaya at Pangode. Often I was reminded of the adage, Gods and soldiers we adore, in times of danger and never before (and after, too!).

The recuperation path was a steep one as the plaster had to come off first which was followed by painful physiotherapy sessions. The sense of missing out all the action, is something which is indescribable, especially when you have spent your life training for it. A shock came in after one month at the Bangalore Command Hospital when they refused to send me back with my crutches as the Battalion was in active field. I had to use the influences of the same Tiger who gave his willingness to keep me in his team, even as a cripple.

So, back to the LC I landed back, in a few months, with a slight limp and unwieldy leg. Tiger placed me as the Assistant Lion or Assistant Adjutant and even started a series of basketball games to get me back on track. Very soon, those games at Base became major stress busters for all team members of Fab14 and a strength builder for me, the erstwhile cripple.

They say, the Battalion is your family and it stays your family till the last breath. Good or bad, it carries you and it’s finally the Officers that make or break such an outfit. Within few months of that gun shot and a compound comminuted fracture, I was declared Shape One and fit for action. 03 June 1999 was just another date as many other important dates were etched by the gallant actions of Team 14. The second COAS Citation which came later, was an endorsement of our achievements.

What have remained with me, of that day and the days that followed are the memories of love and brotherhood of my extended family. And yes, an ugly tattoo etched by that sniper bullet remains on my right shin, to remind me of the lessons learnt from that experience.

Hence the title, a Tattoo by a Bullet….

Badri Vishal Lal ki Jai

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