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Posted at: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM; last updated: Jun 18, 2017, 12:30 PM (IST)
Harish Khare
KAFFEEKLATSCH
Harish Khare

Walking with the martyrs

Harish Khare
Early this week, I was in Kasauli. On Monday, I did a rather long hike from Gandhi Gram to Dagshai. A part of the walk was through an enchanting forest. Dagshai is a typical cantonment town, neat and clean, with an aura of serious business at work. 

All along the road from Anech to Dagshai, the cantonment board has very thoughtfully put up photographs of the brave men who have been awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest honour the nation bestows on its soldiers. It was like walking with the martyrs. 

And what an effect these heroes produce in a trekker! A major here, a lance naik there, a naib subedar, a grenadier, a captain over here, — all intrepid men who exhibited supreme valour and bravery to defend our unity and integrity. These were heroes from the 1962, 1965, 1971, Kargil wars and other battles our armed forces were called up to fight. A sense of humility and admiration overwhelms. There is a realisation that our national identity is unconsciously shaped and sharpened by tales of supreme sacrifice and bravery by each of these names — be it a Shaitan Singh, or an Abdul Hamid or a Yogendra Singh Yadav. 

The following day, I participated in a ‘Strategic Studies Seminar’ at the Kasauli Club. It is an annual dialogue organised by a very intellectually driven ex-fauji, Lt-General Kamal Davar (retd). I had three distinguished officers as fellow-panelists, as well as there were very many knowledgeable people among the select audience. It was a great honour to meet so many distinguished men and women.

The fauji biradari remains engaged with matters of national security; the nation — and the government, hopefully— gain from their vast experience and knowledge. Some of them had even handed me brief notes on the security scenario. Such earnestness, such concern.

Much of what my fellow-panelists had to say must remain unwritten, as the dialogue was conducted under what is called the Chatham House Rule (no publicity, frank discussion).

I was the only non-military person in the gathering, and there is nothing secret about what I had to say. 

My basic contention was that national security was too serious a matter to be decided upon by the passions and noises generated in the television studios. 

I remain unconvinced of the need and the desirability of so many generals, admirals and air marshals allowing themselves to be enlisted as studio warriors. Somewhat bluntly, I argued that these retired generals neither add to the army’s image, nor bring any honour to the armed forces nor educate the nation. The electronic medium does not allow a panelist — however distinguished a soldier he may have been — to remain dignified; he is invited to serve the purpose of the medium.

If these retired generals were not creating enough noise on their own, we now have a Chief of the Army Staff who is prone to be garrulous, inviting unbecoming comments from second-rung politicians.

A very, very unhappy and unhealthy impression is gaining ground that the fauji biradari is needlessly allowing itself to get sucked into the politicians’ quarrels. And, now even serving officers feel encouraged — or, are probably being encouraged — to join the public argument. All these years, the working proposition was that it was the job of the politicians to defend the officers, whether in uniform or civvies. This very useful and very desirable tradition is being gradually dispensed with. Someone needs to put a stop to this new trend.  

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EVERONE — from former cabinet ministers to my local chemist — wants to know who would be our next President. They feel disappointed when told that only one and a half people in this country know as to who would be the ruling party’s candidate. 

My own preference would be Amitabh Bachchan. He is of the right age; still has the bearing and his baritone voice. He has what the writers describe as ‘presence,’ — someone who will stand out in a room full of personalities. He has a familiarity with the camera, a large following on Twitter/Facebook; he has a very photogenic and beautiful daughter-in-law. His parents were distinguished achievers. He has a good command over English and Hindi. A good dancer, a good comedian, knows the power of the pause and has diction. 

And, Bachchan has a natural gift for selling things. He has probably sold every single consumer product to come into market these last two decades. Besides, he helped sell Gujarat and, in the process, has helped respectify Narendra Modi. 

The ruling establishment, in fact, owes him a favour.

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HIS name is Bond. Ruskin Bond. And single-handedly, he has entertained and enchanted generation after generation of children with ‘Indian’ stories. His stories were a healthy supplement to all those ‘western’ writers —Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, AA Milne, etc — that middle-class educated Indians gave their children to read. 

Now, Mr Bond has written his autobiography. It is suggestively entitled, Lone Fox Dancing. The title conveys a loneliness of his early life. All the skills of an adroit and gifted storyteller are on display. He offers a glimpse of the difficulties of life in the Uttarakhand hills — as also of the difficulties and travails of a writer trying to make a living; and, how he coped with bouts of despondency and desperation of loneliness. 

Bond is able to convey the mysterious equation the hills demand of those who choose to come close. In his case, the hills sparked creativity. He writes that “the changing seasons of Mussoorie determined the rhythm of my life and writing.” Winters in the hills are always bitter, but then he would look out “for the white-capped redstart that would perch on the bare branches of the pear tree in the garden and whistle cheerfully at me, giving the opening lines of a poem.” 

This is a tale of a very personal journey. But there is a remarkable paragraph that reveals the pull and attraction India had for those who choose to make it their home: 

“‘Home’— that was the magnet. Not the ‘home’ of my mother and stepfather, but the larger home that was India, where I could even feel free to be a failure. The Land of Regrets, someone had called India; but for me it was a land of acceptance. For hadn’t I, a mixed-up colonial castaway, an accident of history, found acceptance on the streets and in the tea-shops and the wayside haunts of Dehra?” 

And, in this almost entirely personalised account of one writer’s life, there is a stunningly profound political insight:

“We called the dachshund Hitler. In Europe, the real Hitler was still ranting, waving his arms about, threatening to take over the world as demagogues are wont to do; but he had shot his bolt and retribution was fast catching up with him. Strange, how the human race can elevate the vilest of men to positions of all-powerful tyranny and then take an equal pleasure in dragging them down into the dust. Even good men can be destroyed if they excite the envy of their fellows.” 

What a masterly summation of a bloody century!

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AT the Kasauli conclave, a senior serving Army officer made a most astounding — and, a most pleasing — revelation: he does not own a mobile phone. Nor was he entangled with the social media instruments. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram. 

And, the officer contended that because of this decision to shun the smartphone slavery, he had a very positive disposition on life and his work. He suggested that because of this distance, his decisions and responses were sound. He is a wonderfully sane man, defying the mobile industry-driven values and attitudes.

One of these days, we will need to share a cup of coffee.

kaffeeklatsch@tribuneindia.com

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