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Book Review – India’s Most Fearless

Published September 26, 2017 by vishalvkale

A BOOK LONG OVERDUE
India’s Most Fearless is a book that has been long overdue – a book dealing with the stories of some of India’s decorated Armed Forces Personnel. We are a nation that for some reason lacks the literary habit of documenting the exploits of the heroes who defend our borders and our people; not only that, we lack a habit of covering the stories of these heroes, these brave soldiers once the immediate relevancy of the situation fades, and the passage of time brings fresh memories to the fore. Therefore, it is great to see a rising tendency of documenting these heroes; the current book is the second book in that genre, with the first being The Brave -Paramvir Chakra Stories, the story of our Paramvir Chakra vijetas.


THE AIR FORCE AND THE NAVY
The other great part of this book is the equal prominence it gives to the three arms of the Forces : The Army, The Air Force, and The Navy. It is this which makes this book a must read, and not just for aficionados, civilians, but also for just about every Indian citizen who can read. For what is perhaps the first time, we get to read of the doings of our Naval Forces and our Air Force.  As a matter of fact, having read a news article on the IAF during Kargil as well as Gen Malik’s book on the war, there is a need to bring out the IAF side of the story and their contributions, if feasible under law.
The authors, or their advisors, or the forces, or whomsoever it was that gave this idea-  perhaps all of the above – deserve a standing ovation from all for this. The Air and Naval wings get the much-needed coverage, which brings out a full picture of the extent, scope and range of heroism on display; it also serves to put the required depth and understanding of the word  “Bravery”, as well as take us into at least some of the nuances of these wings of our Armed Forces.
WHY IS THIS BOOK DIFFERENT
How do you review a book that is centered on true stories of bravery, courage, sacrifice of the people we have entrusted with protecting us? You certainly cant analyse the content, not beyond a point; civilians don’t have the depth perception and understanding, domain expertise to pass judgement. In that light, I make no comment whatsoever on the content – I am not qualified. The question this review tries to answer is why should a reader read this book, what value it adds, and what extra does it possess? What is it that makes this different? I have raised one such point above.
The next point in this book is the coverage of the Air and Naval wings helps us appreciate the nature and context of these wings, a subject which we aren’t too aware of for various reasons. The difficulties of mounting operations in these wings, and the hardships and challenges they face in the conduct of their activities, the level of mental acuity, quick response and agility required, and the aspect of physical toughness required for even a sailer or a pilot is brought out well enough in these stories. You are left in admiration at all these qualities displayed by each officer in question in the stories, and how they saved the situation under the most trying of circumstances – Yemen evacuation, or be it near-crashes.
THE ARMY
Coming to the Army, what can I say – when I am reading the true and full story of a couple of events that are still fresh in memory- the two Surgical Strikes in Myanmar and Pakistan in the past 2 years? Here you will find their stories; but there is more. Oh, much, much more : and it isn’t all about war and fighting. As we saw above, here too, we see stories that help us understand what makes a soldier a soldier, and that it isn’t war alone that carries risks or requires toughness. This is the book that will drive home the hard point that our Armed Forces are required to be tough every day, every night, 24*7*365. Try doing that on your job, any job. Is this true? Being an Army Colonel’s Son, I know that for a fact. If you believe toughness and hardship is only in battle, read this book.
ABOVE ALL – THE FAMILIES
But above all of this; above the stories, above the courage – which by the way is of a mind-numbing variety; you will scarcely be able to believe what these heroes pulled off – rises the Armed Forces Family and their strength. Again, knowing my mom, I know this to be true. The stories of the families, their courage, their fortitude bring a tear to the eyes. You are left with no doubt in your mind that the real strength of these brave men comes from their families. A quiet and silent thanks is due to every single Army Air Force and Naval family… this book is a tribute to them, and my personal thanks to the author Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh for bringing this out in this tour-de-force.
CONCLUSION

Even in their deaths, these heroes end up teaching us something. In their courage, those who survived teach us something. The families teach us something. And I don’t mean patriotism, Jingoism or whatever. Being tough is essential – but each and every single one of these stunning stories is a tribute to the capability of the human mind, human spirit and what it can achieve if it can be trained to keep its cool, keep calm, as that brings out the toughest responses to any situation. Reading this book is like an adrenaline shot, as it teaches you the merit of calmness and reasoned response! 

But at the last, The Entire Indian Army, Air Force and Navy deserves a note of thanks for their cooperation in allowing these stories to be published, so that we can all learn from the deed of our Brave men, so that we can all appreciate our protectors all the more… 
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War Memorial, Southern Command – Indian Army

Published March 24, 2017 by vishalvkale

WAR MEMORIAL – INDIAN ARMY
SOUTHERN COMMAND, PUNE
This is, to me, as well as to any number of other Indians, a pilgrimage site; a visit to a War Memorial of the Indian Army. One of these is located at Pune, Southern Command. I ended up spending 3 hours almost over there, as well as taking home a superb Souvenir from the Souvenir Shop – a lovely Indian Army Coffee Mug, something I shall treasure for a very long time!
Words are superfluous here; please enjoy and feel the enclosed photographs, set in the superbly scenic well maintained greens… just this once, no prose. I have no words in my mind or my heart; it is just too full with emotion even now, two hours later. I cannot describe my feelings as I carefully went through the entire range of the displays, which are both open-air as well as in a Museum. Best of all, these contain original photographs from Armed Forces Missions and Wars… these photpgraphs and the displays speak for themselves… some pictures speak louder than words…





Pay Commission And The Armed Forces – A Layman’s Introspection

Published August 15, 2016 by vishalvkale

PAY COMMISSION AND THE ARMED FORCES
This is a topic I came across when I got a Whatsapp forward of an NDTV Discussion on the 7th Pay Commission and its impact on the Armed Forces – given in the Video clip below. This was a discussion anchored by Barkha Dutt, and featured an Ex Army Chief, A former Finance Secretary, A Senior Retired Police Officer, several other middle level Armed Forces Officers and political representatives of two parties. A very high quality discussion, this featured decently presented pros and cons form both sides of the debate very fairly, and yet, the contents were worrisome.
The debate, or dissatisfaction of the Armed Forces {as per the media video above}, is around the 7th Pay Commission Recommendations in terms of some allowances – Hardship Allowance, for example in comparison to the other services, and parity with other services, among other things. Yet another vital point raised was the apparent absence of representation of the Armed Forces in the commission. Some recommendations are, to be quite frank, even from a layman’s perspective, very strange indeed; add to that the views of the civilian bureaucrats, and it creates a rather mildly troubling scenario
I am trying to choose my words with caution, given my lack of expertise in this area; I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Service Salaries and Service Rules of either The Armed Forces or any other Government Service; that discussion – debating the minutiae involved is beyond the scope of my blog and my knowledge. Neither is that the point of the article I am writing; these matters are complex, requiring specialized knowledge of a high order. Naturally, these are not amenable to public debate in social media, at least; that said, matters arising from this debate, tangential in some ways, and yet extremely vital and disturbing need the public consideration.
When a Former Army Chief uses the words “Blatant Discrimination”, and “Injustice” in reference to the Armed Forces treatment – on whatever parameter – it is time the public takes note of this. The points raised by the Ex Chief in this debate are hard-hitting, and specific; they need to be addressed. I am sure this is happening at Government levels, but given that these are public statements, we should take note of them, and be informed
Furthermore, when 18 Ex-Chiefs write to the Prime Minister, in regard to any matter whatever under the sun, and the said public authority does not respond, it is one thing; that matter might be under consideration, requiring silence on the part of his office. But when an Ex-Chief laments the lack of response from the same august office in response to the letter, and in the same discussion notes this has never happened before, {or words to that effect} , this is frankly disturbing. We aren’t talking of one or two Ex-Chiefs; we are talking of a whole bunch of them – no less than 18 in number.
This is not a matter for blame-gaming; neither is it one for hypernationalism and fervent patriotism. This is a matter of silent contemplation, of a deep introspection. The reason for that is that the statements above, disturbing as they are, point not to the political class, but straight to us, the people of India. Yes, the same people who go hyperbolic in arguments, conversations, Social Media and the like on nationalism and the praiseworthy deeds of the Indian Armed Forces. This includes I, My And Myself, as I too have been sharing Indian Army Deeds on my Facebook page quite regularly.
I say this because of two reasons : one, the political class is due to us, due to our votes, our opinions, and our ambitions. It responds to the people and what they value. While it is beyond debate that the political class, despite the weaknesses, has tried to do their best – their hands are tied by the conflicting demands on the exchequer in a resource-scarce economy. In such a scenario, balancing the scales of the spending is not a task for weak hearts. We can’t just up and blame the political class; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it responds to the public, howsoever much may anyone deny it.
If we want the political class to give more to the Armed Forces- then that “more” is going to have to come from somewhere else. That means, some other areas will have to sacrifice; it is for us, as a people, through our voice and opinion, to determine the percentages to each demand – and this is expressed through our elected representatives. Similarly, if the issues of disparity etc expressed are to be addressed – it might just require additional spends on the budget. Where is that money going to come from? It has to come from some other head!
That is the entire point – we accept that The Armed Forces are pretty damned important, they protect us and so on and so forth; but do we, through our deeds – as opposed to statements and Social Media comments – express this sentiment? Are we, as a people, prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of the betterment of the Armed Forces? Are we prepared to sacrifice something for these people – the ones who readily give their lives for us? You can even extend that argument for the Paramilitary and other security forces, some of whom sure could do with more!
This is important, as it is only when the political class realizes that The Armed Forces are on priority no 1 for the Indian People, or at least among the top, will a fundamental change in approach come about. And that won’t happen unless we really understand what they go through and the sacrifices these brave soldiers do in order that we can be safe. Further, there has to be a far greater realization of the working conditions, demands and the career problems faced by these brave people. Rather than give armchair comments from the complete safety of our laptops, desktops and sofa sets, we should try and understand what these people go through.
I say this because of some rather stunning comments I heard in discussions around The Armed Forces by civilians which have surprised me and frankly shocked me; the insensitivity shown towards the Armed Forces is quite shocking, as is the complete lack of understanding of their requirements, their problems and the conditions under which they operate. Excuse me, these people are willing to die for the country – are you willing to do that? Are you even capable enough of such a tall order? Do you have that inherent capability? It is far harder a task than going to a foreign land to work, or working in the safe protected environs of most civilian jobs, perhaps even all!
Take the example in the discussion – how can you equate a posting to the North East for some classes of bureaucrats with a frontline high-altitude posting in the Armed Forces? It is, on the face of it, ridiculous! And yet, that is what has transpired as I understand from the discussion – correct me if I am wrong. How did this come about? Clearly because of the factors listed above – given that the bureaucrats arose from within us, they didn’t drop down from Mars! Would this have transpired had there been a better understanding of the reality among the educated civilian classes, from which the public servants arise?
But we, the people – are interested not in these things, by and large – but in going to foreign lands to earn, migrate and quit the nation;  or to do a cushy peaceful  job that guarantees our safety. We are the armchair  brigade – self included. There is nothing wrong in that – each individual has own desires and ambitions; and is entitled to self-fulfillment. But that does not mean you ignore the justified needs of the people who lay down their lives for you; or that you are not prepared to sacrifice – should the need arise – for their sakes, just as they have done a million times over since 1947!

Sure, this is a dreamy article; an article that calls for public introspection, internal soul-searching. I do not blame the political class, scream at them, or find fault with them; and the reason  is that, so far as I am aware, no peaceful permanent change has ever been triggered without a dream at the core of the change, a dream that initially sounded foolish, immature and impractical. If I can influence even one reader to introspect – my task has been done. But this introspection is required for all of us – we, who wear our patriotism on our sleeves, and yet spit on the road, bribe, urinate in public, ignore the needs of the poor, and so on and so forth…

We The People… And The Armed Forces

Published December 6, 2015 by vishalvkale

I normally prefer to pen my own articles, with original content. I further regard Whatsapp forwards with a very leery eye, and consider them worthless. But, just this once, I am breaking both my self-made rules.The below article was received by my from a retired soldier, someone I know well; and struck me to the core of my being. After reading it, my only feeling was of immense shame at the way we treat our soldiers.

I have not tried to verify the facts as stated in this article; I am not competent enough to get into the intricacies of Defence Pay Systems and Procedures; I know nothing of those matters. I do know this – I, for one, would have absolutely no problems if Defence Personnel were paid much more. Further, as regards the statements of comparison with Civilian cadres-  I repeat- I am not competent to analyse. But, to me, it seems logical the there should be parity at the very least, or greater pay given the soldiers face bullets and risk to life. But again, these are intricate matters, and my knowledge is highly limited. The point of this article is solely driving home the attitude of we, the people…  
Naked n harsh truth …   read on patiently …..
7th cpc has written much in its report but very {edited} n  conveniently  did not mention that in US and UK, soldiers get their pensions at the rate of 75% of their salary. Also when the US & European nations deploy their soldiers in war like situation or disaster relief operations  they do not pay income tax.
I wish 7th cpc had realized that in our country in kargil war, officers and JCOs paid the income tax, same is the case for J&K and NE insurgency. Here income tax is also charged from the last salary of a martyr, which is nothing short of national shame. I wish these facts should have been included. Instead the 7th cpc doles out three extra increments to IAS IPS n IFS.  A soldier gets 31500/– for serving in Siachen but a central cadre officer gets 50000/ to 70000/- for serving in so called difficult area such as Shillong, Imphal and Guwahati @ 30% of their salary (Inspite of the acknowledgement made by 7th cpc that most difficult area to serve with no parallel is Siachen).
During Uttrakhand Disaster relief operations, three DCs were literally not available during the critical days of disaster. Same was the case with SDMs and tehsildars.  The SDM who was deputed to go to Kedarnath emerged only after five days of relief operations in vogue. DC prefered to park himself inside the Joshimath Camp so that public can’t reach him.  When DC was forced to at least go and see the condition on ground, the gentleman did not get down from the helicopter fearing that he might not be allowed by public to board the helicopter. DC uttarkashi did not feel safe to visit and see the conditions of pilgrims at Gangotri and Harsil. The pilgrims kept asking “where is the administration, if the army has to do everything why is government spending national wealth on them”. That is the condition of our so called elite.
It is sad that the  public of India does not even know why a soldier defy the logic and conventions? Why does he risk his life? In-spite of the fact that there is no written rule where a soldier is supposed to die while performing his duty, yet he does so. It is ethos, tradition and character of soldiers that prompt them to do so. Second factor is  because he knows he is not a government servant, he is an elite and serves the nation. He also knows that he is the last bastion and pillar on which the nation is dependent upon. Every other department has failed and can fail, but nation can still recover. But if the soldiers fails, the nation will fail. No other government agency can redeem it. It is elitism that separates soldiers from the rest.
Unfortunately over a period of time the elitism has been killed and soldier is repeatedly told he is a government servant that too semi skilled.
Whereas soldering is most complex, technical and skilful job which is unparalleled.  It is an old saying that the day a soldier starts behaving like a government servant it is the beginning of erosion of foundation of a nation. 
To quote the examples of US/ UK  and other countries – When the body of a martyr is brought back to US,  the captain of the aircraft makes an announcement prior to take off  “we are privileged to fly back martyr  xxxx on his last journey back home”. On arrival of the body of the martyr on US soil and his native place, water canon salute is given. Entire crew  lines up on tarmac to pay last respect. The CEO or the highest authority of the air port receives the body along with the Guard. All passenger stand in line till body is moved out. But alas here …. when the body of Maj varadarajan was being flown from Srinagar to Chennai, the Captain was requested by an officer accompanying the body to announce that Maj Vardarajan is on board on his last journey back home. The captain of the aircraft refused to announce that  saying it will send a kind of bad feeling and omen to people flying and thus he will not do so.
The body of martyr soldiers are taken out from the cargo gate which is indeed an insult. And we continue to accept it without highlighting it.
It is only Mr Chandrashekher MP Rajya Sabha from Bangalore who is fighting a lone battle on this front
We need to introspect and make the nation aware. Profession of soldiering is not a routine government job. It is different.
We all have  heard in the news today that Doctors did not turn up in Chennai, the government staff did not turn up for discharging their duties…… But soldiers did their best whole day. Is it that there lives are not precious? 
Plz  think and share to create an awakening in the nation.
Plz  think and share to create an awakening in the nation.
The captain of the aircraft refused to announce that  saying it will send a kind of bad feeling and omen to people flying and thus he will not do so.
The body of martyr soldiers are taken out from the cargo gate which is indeed an insult. And we continue to accept it without highlighting it.
I, sir, am shocked, disgusted and plain stumped… I feel disgusted and want to puke. Is this true? If the above incident is true, I am deeply pained; Major Varadarajan – or any of the other martyrs – don’t deserve this. This is callousness in the extreme. We are alive and safe today precisely because of brave people like him. And we cant even do the smallest gesture of respect?
Or is it the opinion of people here that sharing stories of bravery on Whatsapp, liking on Facebook, crying ourselves hoarse on social media is sufficient? Not by a long shot, it isn’t.