ENGLISH Composition
 

Model Essays


Competiti ve Examinat ions

Subroto Mukerji, M.A.

Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,


And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson ~ Locksley Hall

"Why do English Literature specialists try to analyze every written work? I wish they could accept the fact that imagination doesn't have a meaning."


“Men are idolaters, and want something to look at and kiss and hug, or throw themselves down before; they always did, they always will; and if you don't make it of wood, you must make it of words.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet, novelist, essayist, and physician (1809-1894)


The author asserts his moral right over the ownership of the contents this book, they being his personal intellectual property. No part of the book may be copied, Xeroxed, quoted, or otherwise reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

Preface 1. Bandoo 2. Baadal 3. Marathon Running 4. Avenging Satan 5. Miracle on Echo Mountain 6. Escape to Ranikhet 7. Vanished Wilderness 8. Last of the Curlews 9. A Freshman in Stephania 10. Vij 11. Vij, Arjun, Major; IC – 17575 12. A Farewell to Arms 13. Return to Mars 14. El Tomāso 15. Nainital 16. Return to Khairna 17. Bhimtal and Bhakti Deva


18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

Birth of a Big B Carl and His Cosmos The ‘New Age’ and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Fulfilment The Importance of Individuality 23. Dissecting Art and Literature 24. Ethics and Success 25. It’s OK to be Happy! 26. Dealing with Deadlines 27. Meetings can be Fun! 28. Putting Work in Perspective 29. Energy Crisis…or Ennui? 30. ‘He Disagreed With Something That Ate Him’ 31. The ‘Rat Race’ 32. The Fastest Wheels on Earth 33. Rolls-Royce ~ The Phantom Zone 34. Goddess of Ice ~ The Story of the World’s Highest Peak 35. New Thunder in the Skies 36. The Value of Originality 37. The Modern Work Environment 38. India in Transition 39. The Crisis of Indian Education 40. The Last Frontier NOTES & QUESTIONS

Competitive examinations today are a means of separating the wheat from the chaff. While most aspirants are well prepared to face their elective subjects, the compulsory papers – General English, English Essay and General Knowledge – often prove to be their undoing. This is because the 'spread' of the educational curriculum seriously restricts the amount of time a student can spare for general reading—the bedrock on which the ability to write well is founded. It is this fact that motivated me to compile this collection of prose drawn from my own writings and carefully selected to appeal to as wide a crosssection of aspirants as possible. In this age of abbreviated texting, email, and Twitter, students scramble to score high marks in their academic disciplines but often neglect grammar, punctuation and sentence construction. They do not methodically pursue – either by accident or design – a course of action that will develop their ability to write lucidly, expressively and effectively. Yet, it is here that they can outdo their peers, for they are otherwise evenly matched in terms of proficiency in elective subjects. This book, in showing the way to acquiring better writing skills, will give them the ability to pull ahead of the competition. It is said that a poor teacher tells, a better teacher explains, a good teacher demonstrates and a superior teacher inspires. All four points have been kept in mind while selecting every chapter of this book. By goading, exhorting, tantalizing and, hopefully, inspiring those seriously committed to improving their writing skills, I have

6 challenged them to make the effort needed to surpass their previous best performance. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said, a mind once stretched by an idea never returns to its original dimensions. This is precisely what this book sets out to do. Exposure to fiction increases the ability to visualize, analyse and describe not only one’s own thoughts and experiences, but also those of others. Non-fiction, on the other hand, adds to one’s information base and develops critical and reasoning ability. This strengthens the ability to relate to – and describe – affairs encompassing a much wider agenda. This is the logic on the basis of which the contents of this book have been chosen. The spectrum of topics gradually widens from personal to impersonal experience, the treatment changing subtly from descriptive to analytic. Since the content and setting of some of the compositions in this book may lie beyond the average reader’s experience, the student is challenged to exert his imagination in order to cope. It is the effort involved in lifting progressively heavier weights that increases muscle power. The mental exercise involved in reading and absorbing the contents of this book will do the same for the student’s intellect. They should read consciously, jotting down unfamiliar words; they can be looked up in a dictionary later. Practice in using these words will ensure that they become a permanent part of their vocabulary. Comprehension and composition skills go hand in hand, which is why this book ought to help readers to improve both these skills. ‘Practice maketh perfect’ is an old adage, implying that one’s gains are directly proportional to the efforts expended. No pain, no gain. It’s never too early to make a start, so why not resolve to start today? It is easier to write about personal experiences than abstract concepts such as ‘Freedom’ or ‘Ethics’. This is why schoolchildren are introduced to the art of composition by being asked to compose essays on topics such as ‘My Class Picnic’ or ‘My Visit to the Zoo’. The ability to successfully describe personal experiences gives the confidence to tackle larger experiences involving family, community, national and finally universal theatres of experience. This is the schema on which this book is organized. Before we approach any topic, we must have three arrows in our quiver— information, opinion and expression. Young people today need to have these in equal measure, for theirs is a highly competitive environment. No topic can confound those who have them in their arsenal. All they now need is sustained effort to reach the goal, fuelled by passionate commitment to the task and the zeal to maintain the pace. Moreover, the raw material of life, as captured in this book, just might make for interesting reading…and learning. It is up to the reader to make the most of it. I’d like to make a passing reference here to what, in my opinion, comprises the English language. Actually, there’s no such thing. Today's English is a magnificent, constantly evolving pot pourri – a smorgasbord of words from so many languages and cultures – that bears little resemblance to the English used by, say, 14th century writer Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of Canterbury Tales. Anyone who has tried reading Chaucer knows that he makes very little sense to a 21st century reader. The language has changed much over the last hundred years, and greatly over the last six hundred years. This is a good thing, because it means it is adapting, evolving and growing like any other living organism. No wonder English is today the vehicle of communication. And whereas in the past, knowledge of English meant absorbing the ethos and cultural idiom of England, the globalisation of English has liberated it from its geographical confines. This process of ‘democratisation’ has made it far more accessible to the average reader. The ability to think, create and communicate sets man apart from other creatures. Effective communication – whether through verbal or written means – is so vital a quality

7 in the world we live in that we ignore it only at our peril. Sadly, the very pressures that have thrown up the need for good communication have given rise to a sort of shorthand that – aided and abetted by modern means of thought transfer such as e-mail and its variants such as e-chat (messenger) and SMS – has undermined its efficacy. Brevity is no longer the soul of wit: it has become its nemesis. For those who are apt to sneer at what they misguidedly refer to as ‘flowery’ English (which is but an attempt to justify their own inability to articulate meaningfully), let me propose that good, clean, fault-free language is in no way an enfeebling affectation. Rather, accuracy adds to its overall effectiveness. Nowhere is it laid down that effective written communication cannot be aesthetically appealing. The beauty and simplicity of any artifact enhances its impact, much like the clean lines of an ocean-going yacht or an etching by Albrecht Dürer…or even Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘freedom at midnight’ speech. In fact, ideas delivered by means of a few well-chosen words can often leave an afterglow as satisfying as the thrill of reading good poetry. The ability to communicate effectively does not come cheap. Nothing that’s worthwhile in life does. We have to constantly work at it. That means reading and writing —the more the better. Acquaintance with the works of the masters of English prose will take one a long way: what we put into something is what we get out of it. It is only the lucky few in English Literature courses who get to sample the vast variety of material on offer. Science students cannot afford to earmark much time for general reading, burdened as they are with a time-consuming curriculum. Yet, books by scientists of the likes of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking show us that no particular academic discipline has a monopoly over wit or powerful expression. The latter’s A Brief History of Time is as gripping a book as any piece of fiction! That brings us to another commonly perceived hurdle: the paucity of time. Though there are still twenty-four hours in a day, the time available for performing a multitude of ever-expanding functions is constantly shrinking. This usually translates into quantity overwhelming quality—a phenomenon not confined to education alone; the barrage of information that bombards the average citizen makes selectivity difficult. The ability to write effectively is an acquired skill, so I hope the contents of this volume will inspire students to consciously strive to improve the quality of their output. It is possible to blend beauty and utility. Exposure to the work of others can define the quality of one’s own output and, hopefully, inspire the reader to improve on it. Over fifty years of voracious reading and occasional bouts of writing gave me the audacity to attempt this daunting task. The more I thought about writing this book, the more the idea appealed to me, if only for the purpose of sharing my hard-earned insights with a new generation under tremendous pressure to perform. Insights give rise to ideas, emotions and conclusions— the ore that yields both prose as well as poetry. I realized that – trapped within my memories, like a Jurassic fly preserved in ancient amber – lay a world that no longer existed. Perhaps enshrining part of it in a book was as good a way as any of presenting that world to young people who are about to take a bow before a larger audience. Readers may find that the book contains a vast amount of material spanning an array of disciplines that could trigger their urge to explore various channels of communication. It might also lead them to question my analyses and conclusions. In doing so, they will be compelled to don their thinking caps, thereby laying the foundations of individual response. The questions at the end of the book are meant to do just this. They are the precursor of more exercises that student groups may design to hone their skills further.

8 My emotional involvement with my subject may serve to help readers to unshackle themselves from conventional and unexciting writing styles that fail to impress an examiner. Nothing outstanding is ever achieved without the vital ingredient of passion. The contents of this book may serve to ignite an answering response from readers. If that happens, half the battle is won. Passion and zeal are highly infectious. I hope those that are thus affected will pass the ‘malady’ on to others. I want readers to appreciate that we now live in a very different age—the Age of Information. It is the harbinger of the Age of Knowledge, which will in turn herald the advent of the Age of Wisdom. We are all unique, as individuals. Most of us live in universes of our own making, shaped by individual circumstances and exposure. That’s the beauty of it. But only when we tap that unique inner universe do we achieve what academics refer to as ‘market differentiation’—the uniqueness that adds value to our output. I hope readers will find the contents of this book entertaining, uplifting, challenging and inspiring enough to give vent to their innate creativity and individuality. I wish them many hours of happy reading, and all success in their endeavours.   

Chapter 1 Bandoo
The ‘sixties were a watershed in human history. It was the time of John F. Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, early space exploration and a changing India. Society was in transition. A whole new generation gap was in the making, and we were the post-war teenage kids who were busy fashioning it, delighting in scandalizing our parents by worshiping new gods on the block of the likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, with their distinctive brands of pop and rock-‘n-roll music and outlandish dress codes. If Dads’ trousers had cuffs that stretched the tape to 18 or 20 inches, ours had to be tight-at-the-hip, twelve inches at the cuffs, calf-and-ankle hugging blue jeans. Fathers still wore their hair brushed back, like Humphrey Bogart or Ashok Kumar. We rebelled by adding an embellishment called ‘The Puff’. Of course, Elvis and Cliff had started the craze, but they were merely pointing the way as far as we were concerned. Sherwoodians took that over-cultivated forelock and turned it into an art form. The major compulsion behind The Puff was, of course, peer pressure, but like all fads, no one noticed any overt need to conform. Like every new generation, we thought we knew a good thing when we saw one. Taking the pioneering efforts of Elvis and Cliff as mere harbingers of things to come, we unleashed all our creativity on our forelocks. Living as we did in the foothills of the Himalayas, we did not have to look far for inspiration, for there was Mount Kailash, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, or even Everest! We were surrounded by working models to base our designs on. Looking further for inspiration, some found it in the Weisshorn, the Matterhorn, or perhaps, I suspect, even Mount Kilimanjaro or Fujiyama.

9 There were about three hundred boys in Dixon Wing, the senior section of the school, and competition as to who had the best Puff was fierce. Absolutely unstated, of course but it was there; we were all participants in the Great Puff Derby, and each one of us meant to win. It was like the English custom of sincerely wishing one’s opponents all the best before a football match, and, shortly after the start of the game, proceeding to take the rival team apart by fair means or foul. As far as Puffs were concerned—at least those in the championship class—there were no fair means. ‘Anything goes’ was the rule. There was K.M Pant who, it was rumoured, put his locks in a curler before he went to sleep, in the darkness after ‘lights out’. Or Roger Boezalt, who was said to favour two strips of garden hose, rubber bands, and clothesline clips to achieve his stunning effects. Ken Rice was a model-airplane freak and suspicion fell on his airplane glue: nothing else could explain that breathtaking, gravity-defying pinnacle of perfection that soared up from his narrow, cunning forehead. For the densely packed runners in the middle of the field, however, the answer was Brilliantine. Firmly positioned between the coconut oil of the Deep South and the hair gel of the late 1990s, Brilliantine was a strongly-scented green pomade with a viscosity that made heavy-duty engine grease look like runny peanut butter. It was applied to wet hair which, after being ‘styled’ was allowed to dry. It set hard within minutes, and was capable of holding the biggest of puffs together by its sheer tenacity under extreme conditions, such as dancing the (forbidden) Twist. Needless to say, Brilliantine was a best seller because no self-professed swinger would be caught dead without his magnificent puff. All Saints High School girls wouldn’t look twice at a guy whose puff was substandard. The downside to using Brilliantine was that not only was it fairly certain that it sank into the brain and left the user somewhat soft in the head for the rest of his life (as you’ll no doubt conclude after you’ve read this chapter), it also attracted the unwelcome attentions of sundry winged pests such as hornets, bees, and the common horsefly. But it was a small price to pay: no girl would dream of dancing with a guy who dared to turn up minus his puff! In those days, dancing was not the series of disjointed gyrations that go by that name today. Ballroom dancing involved (barring the banned ‘Twist’) holding one’s partner’s right hand with one’s left hand, while one’s right hand curled lightly around her waist as one took a series of predetermined steps around the floor. I feel a little sorry for the guys today, hopping up and down to the monotonous throb of Indipop as if there are scorpions running loose inside their shirts (and maybe someone put thumb-tacks in their shoes). They don’t know what they’re missing. Their partners shake and contort their bodies like they’ve got a bad case of St. Vitus’ dance, or it could be that someone put itching powder in their clothes and they are too well bred to scratch in public. All good things must pass, however, as the Romans of the Empire came to know only too well, but I must confess that when the blow actually fell, it took us all by surprise. For one fine day, ‘Lew’ (our principal, Rev. R.C. Llewelyn) decided that West Point had a point in prescribing short hairstyles for gentleman cadets. He banned puffs, just like that. Puffs banned! It was like the end of the world for us! Some unkind souls expressed the opinion that since Lew was practically bald, he couldn’t stand the sight of our proud puffs any more. A second opinion that merited serious consideration was that he’d invested heavily in the shares of ‘California Poppy’, the hair oil that had ruled the roost until Brilliantine came on the scene and put it out of business. Another market-savvy operator suggested that he had entered into a partnership with Bandoo, the school barber. This sounded logical. Till now, Bandoo was merely a vassal who, under the terms of his contract, received a fixed sum of money to shear as many heads as were sent to the

10 hair-cutting room every Thursday by the Prefect-on-Duty. But now, newly empowered and contract re-negotiated on a piece-rate basis, he became a tyrant whose excesses knew no bounds. He metamorphosed into a wily predator who lurked near the dining room door after teatime, either tapping a gleaming puff as it moved past him under full sail or merely caught the eye of the P-o-D (Prefect on Duty) and shook his head mournfully, whereupon the said P-o-D jotted down the condemned prisoner’s roll number and called out to him to report at the hair-cut room at such-and-such a time. Either way, the results were the same. The victim sat sullenly on a stool and moments later, stared dejectedly at the guillotined remains of his meticulously nurtured puff that had joined the debris of other, similar works of art on the floor at his feet. It was a demoralising experience. It is not surprising that a pall of gloom hung over the school. Something had to be done fast. It was the dark night of the soul for senior Sherwoodians. Social life had taken a beating, and self-confidence and morale had sunk to a new low. The credit for coming up with the answer went to Brian McMahon. It doesn’t surprise me that he went on to become the successful businessman he is today in Sydney. It was an ingenious solution, somewhat expensive but eminently practical. It was, like all neat solutions, a thing of stunning simplicity, being based on the time-tested American belief of ‘if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.’ We would make it financially significant to Bandoo to cooperate with us. Yes, it was proposed to harness the power of Mammon to exploit the love for lucre that dwells deep in the heart of every human being. It was common knowledge that Bandoo was a man of fastidious tastes: his cap was of the finest wool, his kurta-pajamas were tailored from the choicest silks, and his large feet were shod in what was then Bata’s flagship model, the caterpillar-soled ‘Ambassador’ Deluxe. He would be an easy target for our scheme. It was obligatory for every one of us to enter the plot, for in unity and mass response alone lay its effectiveness. All we had to do was to go and have a haircut in Bandoo’s saloon in town every now and then. It is unavoidable, at this stage of my narrative, to fill you in on certain financial and administrative details of life at the POW camp…I mean, at school. Since it was obligatory for a person—even in the Auschwitz known to the outside world by the misleading name of Sherwood (with all its connotations of swashbuckling outlaws shooting King John’s deer with bows and arrows in a forest on the outskirts of Nottingham)—to have some cash-in-hand, the bursar, Mr. Duckett, or his Accountant Mr. Rekhari, doled out pocket money to us every Friday. The amount varied as per entitlement, starting at Re.1/- for juniors (who, though heavy investors in edible foodstuffs such as roasted peanuts or confectionary ranging from Parry’s sweets to pastries, found this sum quite adequate for their simple needs), to Rs. 4/50 for seniors, who might wish to ride a horse, eat ice-cream at Sakley’s, relish some malai-chops at Prem Restaurant, or even buy a Max Brand or Zane Grey cowboy novel from ‘Moddies’ (the still-going-strong Modern Book Depot). The fall-back position was ‘Bank Money’ (extra money sent direct to the Principal by parents), doled out by Lew himself, perched gravely behind his ledger. He made the debit entries and struck the fresh balances after he had interrogated you and provided he was satisfied with your reasons for wanting to draw on this reserve. He always handed over money with the utmost reluctance, whether it was five rupees or ten (quite a substantial withdrawal in those days and one likely to make a noticeable dent in one’s bank balance), all the while propounding the virtues of frugality / simplicity and the necessity of spending money wisely (we went and did the exact opposite in the outside world!). Quite understandably, most Sherwoodians are bad with cash and

11 investments (not counting, of course, the 47 shrewdly businesslike Patels from East Africa who were in school at the time). Special permission was needed to go down to town, which was otherwise out of bounds, as was Bisht Bhawan (old man Bisht served a marvellous omelette-on-toast), or anywhere else outside the school’s somewhat porous boundaries. Town leave was granted class-wise (both sections simultaneously, for there were only two sections per class), and was no doubt eagerly awaited by the town’s entrepreneurs. Nainital’s sales graphs peaked on town-leave days—the five main residential schools played a vital role in its economy, especially during the off-season monsoon months. Descending to the town, one’s first stop, depending on the level of one’s blood sugar (typically low and in urgent need of replenishment), was usually Prem Restaurant, a house of delicacies serving the afore-mentioned malai chops that vied for attention with ras-malais, and laddoos. Suitably fortified, one then proceeded to The Modern Book Depot, affectionately known as Moddie’s. The reason for the popularity of this major drain of resources was its bookshelves, groaning under the weight of all the cowboy books a schoolboy could possibly want, and it’s knee-level troughs awash with comics. The next step, till now a laissez faire decision, became a de rigueur stop at Bandoo’s as per the recently passed General Resolution. Bandoo’s saloon was a simple affair in those days, just a couple of adjustable (wooden) barber’s chairs, a bench for those in the queue, and mirrors. But the walls were plastered with framed charts displaying pictures of gentlemen in stylish haircuts…and they all sported massive puffs! As one took one’s seat, all one had to do was point to the type of puff desired and leave the rest to Bandoo. It was a very different Bandoo we met here. Polite to the point of obsequiousness and anxious to please, he was a toothless tiger in his own den, and instead of the standard two minutes he normally took to shear one’s carefully nurtured crop in school, it now took him over ten minutes of careful snipping before he was ready to seek one’s approval. As one paid him the standard fee of Rs.1/50, one added a tip of 8 annas (that’s 50 paise by conversion, but, in case you want to ascertain its buying power today, you need to multiply that by 40) to bring the total damages to Rs.2/-. Shortly after we had launched our offensive, Bandoo’s eyesight started failing…at least when he came up to school. No longer could he see the big puffs he had earlier spotted with such deadly accuracy. With a solemn air tinged with deep disappointment, he crouched beside the door at teatime, rubbing his hands apparently in an agony of inner turmoil as he ‘failed’ to sight a single target. Still, to keep up appearances, he would ask some regulars up to the cutting room for a little cosmetic trimming and a touch of the razor on side-burns. Lew was too busy to notice that puffs were back, having got hooked on his latest fad (Morse Code), proficiency in which became important if one wanted him to hand over one’s bank money without undue fuss, or for permission to play your favorite record on his electric record player. Chanakya alias Kautilya always maintained that it was better to sidestep a powerful foe by giving him what he wanted, if that gave you what you wanted, too. Today, Management gurus refer to this strategy as a ‘Win-Win’ situation. Our entente cordiale with Bandoo did more than merely neutralize that arch-enemy of puffs: it preserved our hair styles, salvaged our self-esteem and social life, and…made him rich. He opened an extension counter in Talli Tal, diversified into a fruit shop manned by his younger brother, and—if rumour is to believed—married again. He was looking years younger when I last saw him, sleek and well groomed, and had bought himself a scooter, which was a very coveted item in those days.

12 The puffs themselves…what happened to them? Why, haven’t you ever heard of The Beatles?

Chapter 2

Horses are practically history today. The internal combustion engine has seen to that. Yet Man’s own history would have been very different had the horse never existed. The same applies to the English language. We would have had to struggle along without a little horsing around sans a jot of horse sense, deprived of a chance to indulge in a spot of horse trading, kicking up our heels or keeping the bit firmly between our own teeth. We would never have felt hungry enough to eat a horse, nor felt as strong as one after eating a hearty meal. Would we ever have had to contend with a dark horse? Would there have been horse latitudes, horse radishes, or horseflies, I wonder? We could never have accused anyone of talking horse-shit! Could anyone have unhorsed an opponent at the polls, tourneys having gone out of vogue? Nay (neigh?), we would also have to shut the stable doors after some other four-legged beast had bolted. The author of the Encyclopædia Britannica article on this noble animal is obviously fond of his subject. From Eohippus—“Dawn Horse”—to modern equestrian sports, he misses nothing. He gloats over the different breeds, from Thoroughbreds and Pintos, to Roans to Palominos. He omits to mention, however, the most famous Palomino in history: Gene Autry’s steed Champion, all gold and power and beauty. It is a privilege to ride a truly great horse. They are rare. Baadal was one such, a heavily-muscled, midnight-black stallion about sixteen hands high who used to come up to Nainital about four decades ago. It cost seven rupees (a small fortune in those halcyon days) to ride Baadal from town to Sherwood College, nestling just below Dorothy’s Seat on the Ayarpatta Ridge. The money apart, one never got a chance to do so. He was popular. Then one day, by some stroke of good fortune, I happened to be at the right place with the right change and at the right time. Mounting a big horse is not an easy task for a small boy, but I made it a prestige issue to clamber into the saddle on my own. The groom refused to give me a quirt: Baadal needed no urging, his look implied. He carefully recounted the currency as we moved off.

13 Baadal ambled along, and though his reluctance to move quickly on the steep inclines was quite understandable, his refusal to get into his stride on the level stretches had me puzzled. No amount of rein-slapping, dug-in heels or war-whoops could induce him to engage third gear. I finally came to the conclusion that I’d been swindled. Baadal had outlived the legend and was headed for the glue factory. Horses are extraordinarily intelligent beings. Even as the thought flashed through my mind, he glanced around at me through the corner of his eye. Then he erupted. I hung on tightly, shocked out of my wits at the sudden acceleration. From canter, he went to full gallop, and time seemed to stop. I had never ridden such a fast horse before. I was scared, mortally afraid. Then, as if in response to some telepathic communication from fast horse to small boy, I relaxed, and fell into mental stride with the big black beast. Horse and rider became as one. It was an elemental feeling of union with a force of nature, very hard to describe. It transcended euphoria but was not delirium. A shiver ran down my spine as I felt this tremendous force respond to every nudge of my knees; in fact, Baadal seemed to anticipate what I wanted of him. I found myself entering a zone of no vibration, where the jerks and jolts encountered in trot and canter did not exist, cancelled out by the evenly balanced movements of this running machine. In later years, I realized that the same thing happens inside an eight-cylinder engine, this cessation of vibration being the reason why Mongol riders at full gallop could shoot accurately from their recurved bows. I was leaning smoothly into the curves, urging him on. We went faster and faster and faster. Never had the familiar track looked like this, as Baadal reeled it in, fast forward. The firs and pines on either side of us had dissolved into a greenish mist. There was a deep booming in my ears. It seemed to pace us, a tidal wave of sound that followed us, rolling. For the first time in my life, I experienced first-hand what the term ‘thundering hooves’ really meant. There was just the blurred track, that strange booming thunder… and the whistling wind. Nothing else. It was extraordinary, this glimpse of another reality and, as you can see, I still haven’t got over it. Even as I type these words, goose pimples have come up on my forearms. Baadal, my magnificent friend, I remember you vividly.


Chapter 3 Marathon Running
Chander Rana joined Sherwood two classes above me, in 1960. It took time to size up new boys, but he was quite plainly a pushover—a soft target. He was flabby and large for his age. ‘Sloppy’ was the word that teachers usually applied to him disparagingly. His hair was too long by Sherwood standards, he always smelled of eau-de-cologne, and he was a little too pleasant and easy-going to have a comfortable time in a tough residential school where one got bullied if the tough guys got wind of easy prey. Sure enough, he proved to be hopelessly inadequate at games, having little more than a nodding acquaintance with any of the three major sports. The years of easy living at home were there for all to see. He resembled nothing more strongly than the soft underbelly of a fish. In course of time, the bullies lost interest in him as newer, fresher, targets appeared at school the following year. Chander Rana dropped down the hit list to mere ‘curiosity’ status, a fallback position, a substitute to be targeted in case of emergency. Right from the first day of his second term, everyone noticed one odd thing about him; his ‘games kit’ – as our out-of-uniform clothes were referred to – was an outlandish garment entirely outside our experience. The normal dress for ‘games’, as specified by the school but not too-rigidly enforced, was a lace-up T-shirt (called a ‘House vest’) in one’s House colors, and navy-blue shorts (called ‘half-pants’ in the school prospectus). The colors made it easy to identify which House a boy came from, for sundry administrative, control, and supervision purposes. The odd man out was Chander Rana. He chose to wear the weird suit of no particular shape that had a short zip-up top with a collar. It comprised a full-sleeved upper garment with elasticated cuffs and waist, much like Navy diver wear before they are bolted into their diving suits. The lower garment was a baggy affair elasticated at waist and ankles. The material was apparently a heavy nylon, which, in the 1960s was a modern wonder fabric jointly developed by scientists in New York and London (and hence the name, derived from the identifying abbreviations of the two great cities of the world). Chander Rana, out of uniform, was hardly ever seen in anything other than this bizarre dress which was, of course, a tracksuit as we know it today. In 1960, we were seeing one for the first time. No one at Sherwood had ever seen anything like it before, leave alone knowing its name. In time, we got used to seeing him in it. He even swam in it, the suit billowing out and possibly adding buoyancy to his flabby, joyously buoyant

15 lighter-than-water body. But more often than not he was seen to wander off on his own after tea, to resurface, red-faced and sweaty, in the shower-rooms. The two hours or so between tea and dinner were the only time in the day when we were left to ourselves. Boys usually made a beeline for the tennis courts or to the playing fields straight after tea, hastily snatching up strategically positioned tennis rackets or other equipment. It was a strictly ‘first come, first served’ system. No one had either the time or the inclination to keep track of another’s movements, leave alone Chander Rana’s. Since he never missed roll call at the assembly before dinner, his absence during the evening recess went unremarked if not wholly unnoticed. Besides, some of the more daring seniors were known to sneak off, AWOL, to town during this time, or even to rendezvous at Bisht Bhawan. Teachers or boys who kept too close a watch on people’s movements were likely to become unpopular, and there was an unwritten law against prying too keenly into another’s engagements. 1960 stands out in my memory for several reasons, one of them being the first Steve Reeves movie I ever saw. He was (arguably) the handsomest bodybuilder of all time, a multiple Mr. Universe titleholder. Possessed of classic good looks and a physique of Grecian symmetry, he was the discus thrower of the famous Athenian statue come to life. To see him in the movie ‘The Giant of Marathon’ was a truly thrilling experience. Hollywood rewrote history to ensure that Pheidipedes (Steve Reeves) not only survived the 26 mile, 385 yard run from the Plain of Marathon to Athens to convey the glad tidings of victory in a crucial battle with the Persians, but went on to drive them away, emerging victorious over the enemy as well his lady’s heart. The gym saw an unprecedented burst of activity after the screening of this movie in Milman Hall. Even I, who usually preferred tennis or a Henry Rider Haggard book, couldn’t resist going to the gym for a stint on the parallel bars now and then. The Sherwood ‘marathon’, though hardly in the same league as the New York or Boston marathons, was the last event in the school athletics calendar, and was held after the rainy season finally ended in September. It wasn’t run over the Olympic Marathon distance, of course. That would have been asking too much of schoolboys. The entire sports and athletic structure, as far as participants were concerned, was designed to test, but not best, a boy. It was not a class or age-based system, for this could give an unfair advantage to larger, stronger boys. Instead, all eligible boys were grouped into ‘Divisions’. The Division one was allocated was determined by a mathematical formula based on age, height, weight, and class, with each Division as an independent unit with its own record books, roll-call lists, events, etc. ‘Marathon’ distances varied from 6½ kilometers for seniors, to about a kilometer for the juniors. Ordinarily, these distances were not at all daunting for schoolboys who spent nine months of the year at 7,000 feet, fully acclimatized to operate at peak efficiency. But fiercely competitive running, over a winding, looping course of steep climbs and slopes was something entirely different. It was a brutal test of stamina and determination. That year, the Senior Marathon Prize was a fifty-fifty chance between Prasad, a darkly handsome daredevil and Surjit Singh, a Flying Sikh. The possible outcome was the subject of much conjecture; Prasad was big and powerful but not known for his stamina, while Singh was wiry, fleet-footed and was an excellent middle-distance runner. The fact that they belonged to Houses locked in rivalry for the Top House award, which went to the House with the best all-round performance (again calculated on a points system), made the ensuing confrontation all the more eagerly awaited.

16 The Senior event was the last one, run late in the evening, and the crowds had swelled with all erstwhile contestants now free to join in as spectators. Excitement ran high, as this event would decide which of the two rival Houses won the Top House award. After an appreciable wait, tension increased as shouts from spectators lower down the valley reached our ears. This was a sign that the pack leaders had come into view. Quite probably, a fiercely fought battle was in progress between the panting rivals to see who would be the first to traverse the last level stretch, before climbing the steep slope to the tape. This was the most crucial stage of the marathon, for this was the place where carefully conserved energy was unleashed to gain a lead before the dash to the tape. Who had ever heard of anyone overtaking on a steep stretch? As the clamour got closer and closer, we laid little bets among ourselves whether Singh would win or whether Prasad, his bulk notwithstanding, would best him to the trophy. And there he was, struggling round the last bend of the slope, an obviously exhausted and winded Surjit Singh, with Prasad at his elbow, equally tired. So keenly were we watching the titanic struggle between the two rivals that we failed to notice the lumbering, sloppy figure till he caught up with them, and, to our shocked disbelief, proceeded to lope past them with ridiculous ease. With an apologetic grin on his pink face, Chander Rana moved away from them to breast the tape a full three seconds before Singh and Prasad stumbled across it in a photofinish. He wasn’t looking particularly tired, though the shapeless garment he wore was soaked with perspiration. No one could accuse him of the being the stereotype of the ideal athlete. He never said a word, just toweled himself dry and went over to the refreshments stand. Explanations were superfluous. No one wins a marathon without months of practice. He had to position himself in the school. This was his quiet, non-violent reply to all the taunts, jibes, and bullying. It was a reply that knocked the breath from our lungs. Right from Day One, and probably during the winter vacations as well, Chander Rana had been running a marathon every day. His outward appearance didn’t change too much, and even if he looked a bit leaner, well, who didn’t lose weight on school food? But inside, where it really mattered, he was now too strong for the best marathoners in school. Chander Rana taught me a lesson I’ll carry with me as long as I live—there’s no mountain so tall it can’t be climbed. If you want something badly enough, and if you are willing to give it your best shot, sacrificing many things along the way, the prize will be yours, rest assured. Much talent, much effort goes waste in people’s lives because they don’t give of their best, because they don’t want the prize if it means letting go of a lot of other things. Like Arjun, the celebrated marksman of the Mahabharata, only those archers hit the bulls-eye who cannot see the whole fish hanging from the branch high above, but only its eye.


Chapter 4
Avenging Satan
He was a handsome devil, was Johnny. Of course, no one called him ‘Johnny’ to his face; at least none of the boys did. Mr. Malcolm Johnson—‘Johnny’ to us (behind his back, naturally)—was the popular but very demanding swimming instructor, an ex-Indian Navy Chief Petty Officer, all whipcord and muscle who still held the Indian Navy 800meter freestyle swimming record. He stood about five eleven in his socks, and there wasn’t an ounce of flab on him. If you can visualise a cross between Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, and Stephen Boyd (the Roman centurion, Messala, of ‘Ben Hur’ fame), you’ve pictured Johnny. It was a treat to watch him do his handstand dive from the top board. He’d walk up to the edge, crouch on hands and knees the way a 100 meter sprinter settles in his blocks, then the next second he’d flip up on his hands, gripping the carpeted lip of the board, body poised vertically, then slowly let go, just like (future) Olympic champion Greg Louganis. Half a second later, his arms would cleave the still surface of the pool and the rest of him, in a welter of bubbles, would slip into the depths with scarcely a ripple. It was a tough act to follow. Even Chris Sarstedt (who, come to think of it, was a dead ringer for Boris Becker) couldn’t quite match Johnny’s best, although his 2½ somersaults-with-corkscrew dive was certainly as good, if not better. Navin Kapoor, however, remained the undisputed king of the swallow dive, the only dive he knew, true, but one he had mastered. Satan was Johnny’s jet-black Alsatian, a canine version of his master. This magnificent brute was strictly a one-man dog. Inmates of a remote boarding school are apt to pine for the pets they leave behind at home, and often ‘adopt’ their teachers’ dogs. Sherwoodians were no different. But Satan was a lone wolf who never succumbed to the overtures of his numerous admirers, shying away nimbly from the occasional pat. This is not to say that he was anti-social; he moved around among us freely, always stood-by on guard duty near the pool during swimming classes, and escorted Johnny all over the place. When his master walked him down the Mall on weekends, the sight was a trafficstopper. In an attempt to upstage the Satan-Johnny act, Thapa, our PT instructor, got himself a pair of Bull Terriers, but it didn’t have the desired effect. Satan remained Top Dog, and well he knew it.

18 It was decidedly politic to be in the good books of Thapa and Johnny, two tough disciplinarians whose displeasure, once incurred, was difficult to neutralize. In order to do that, to stay ahead of the game as it were, one had to be proficient at one of three things: swimming, gymnastics, or shooting. The last item, though no longer on the Sherwood curriculum, went down the best of all, for it may be said that these two former navy men had none of the habits that landlubbers usually associate with the merry boys who sail the briny. They kept away from the local bars and were happily domesticated (their soft-hearted spouses often filling in as surrogate mothers to many of the home-sick kids who missed the mothering that day-scholars take for granted). Unknown to all but a very select bunch of Nimrods amongst us (if the secret may now be told, as the passage of forty-five years has rendered the revelation inconsequential), and to a few local sportsmen, our two outdoor-minded teachers were avid hunters. But they hunted for the pot or the trophy, not for the fur market. They were sportsmen, first and last. Those were days when firearms were uncommon in India. The American cult of the gun had not infiltrated the Indian psyche through the backdoor of Bollywood. Rifle toting goons of the Bihar-East Uttar Pradesh belt had yet to retro-evolve (if one had to coin a word to describe the situation) from homo sapiens. Normally, only officers of the armed forces, whose livelihood involved familiarity with firearms, upper-echelon bureaucrats and zamindar families kept weapons, usually for (as per the standard response to the relevant question on the shooting license application form in vogue even today) ‘sport and self defense’. The dacoits of Rohilkhand and the ravines of the Chambal river valley (such as the gangs of Man Singh, and his son Subedar Singh) were obviously well armed. The rest of the weapon-owning pie chart was filled by senior game wardens (rarely encountered) and by sundry poachers. I’m afraid Johnny, Thapa, and a select band of ‘outlaws’ of Sherwood ‘forest’ fell within the last category. Looking back at my own life, with all its dizzy variety and challenges, I don’t think taking on an assignment as a swimming or PT instructor at a residential school, no matter how exclusive, in a sleepy little hill-station like Nainital could really have been a very exciting proposition. True, there was the Founder’s Day PT display, the annual Lake swim, and excursions involving the mountaineering and rock-climbing clubs, but for a pair of vigorous men who had seen the world on a navy ticket, it could have become just a shade boring after a while. But there was a silver lining to the cloud. The Kumaon hills, in the early sixties, as hard as it is to believe in these days of anxious conversation about conservation, abounded in game. The hunter, depending upon his tastes and hardware, could choose from wild pig, hog deer, the kakar or barking deer, the occasional antelope, leopard, the rare (even then) tiger, and game birds such as pheasant and the magnificent jungle fowl, whose long, multi-colored tail feathers put those of the barnyard variety to shame. Thapa and Johnny had both acquired weapons during their naval stints, they must have known that the Himalayan foothills teemed with game, and the lethal potential of two military-canteen quotas of rum packed the punch needed to win friends and influence people among the local forest gendarmerie. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was this very combination of factors that tilted the scales heavily towards their choice of Sherwood as the school to join after their honourable discharge from the Indian Navy. As they took over their duties, we were unaware, till much later, that during the selfintroductions and the process of getting to know our new teachers, we were being subjected to a subtle screening. Questions about hobbies, air guns, and gun-slinging Dads

19 and uncles were innocently insinuated into the conversation. Unknown to us, we were being filed under two categories: shooters and non-shooters. In no way did this influence on-the-job assessments, but off the field, matters took a different course. As an extension of the getting-to-know-each-other process, some were invariably asked over to their cottages, where, after being sworn to silence, secret caches of arms were lovingly unwrapped for inspection. Our schoolboy fantasies had come to life: there were BSA .22 double-spring air-rifles (it is a licensable weapon today, deemed ‘lethal’), standard .22 rifles firing the ubiquitous Long Rifle center-fire cartridge, .12 bore DBBL (double barrel, breech loading) shotguns, and the piéce de résistânce, Johnny’s treasured .30 Springfield rifle, which, at the time I write of was a state-of-the-art, super-accurate firearm favoured by the US army and even many professional sharpshooters. And thus began our (often nocturnal) tramps in the woods with the two marksmen. Suffice it to say that as the days became weeks, we were gradually weaned from air guns to fire arms, always under the watchful eye of our instructors in their new role. Besides, our digression has served the purpose of providing an excuse for revealing Satan’s secret identity. No, he wasn’t Superdog; he was simply the best hunting dog I ever had the chance to shoot over. I know, I know, Alsatians are police dogs, guard dogs, watchdogs, seeing-eye dogs, sniffer dogs, and even circus dogs. Classic bird dogs are retrievers, usually Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Spaniels and even Terriers, with Dachshunds, Beagles, and Corgi bringing up the rear, bred as they are for rooting out smaller game like rabbits. And game dogs can run from Afghan hounds to Salukis. The trouble was that Satan didn’t know all this, so he just did what his master felt a gun dog should do. He didn’t exactly stiffen into a classic point the way a thoroughbred gundog does; he just sort of tensed and froze, looking pointedly at the spot he felt was a potential one. His nose quivered, his tail wagged slowly from side to side, and he was capable of making the gundog bloomer of looking back over his shoulder at his shooter. In the field, it made no practical difference; we weren’t at a dog show or a pointing contest. Satan found game, you bagged it, he ran over, located it and brought it back (if portable). It was that simple, and it worked. His nose was about the best in the business. He could smell a pheasant a mile away, and lead you in the general direction. He even had an in-built sense of discipline. He never chased a mongoose or a squirrel while on gun duty. On the rare occasions that the scent turned out to be cold or even false, his dignity under pressure was impressive. You never felt like laughing at his blunder, or joking about it. He became an intrinsic part of our hunting trips, and his contribution towards the bag was undeniable. In short, he was hot stuff. Johnny had been keen on a leopard skin for quite some time (we joked among ourselves that he probably wanted to fashion a circus strongman outfit for himself). Whatever the reason, he told us to keep a sharp lookout for sign of a leopard. When Hari Singh, the lab assistant, whispered to Reverend Bentinck, our Headmaster that he and his son had noticed the fresh pugmarks of a large male leopard around the lower tennis courts, the news was immediately conveyed to the principal. As a result, early morning tennis practice was banned, and the lower courts declared ‘out of bounds’ till further instructions. There was a chorus of groans from several quarters, but anyone on the lookout for it would have noticed the gleam in Johnny’s eyes. That leopard’s number had already come up... but, tragically, in a very different way from what we’d anticipated. The next day, a noticeably subdued Johnny addressed the senior school at the breakfast roll call. It appeared Satan was missing. He had been let out for his late-evening

20 visit to his favourite clump of bushes, and had failed to return. As the cottages of Thapa and Johnny were perched on the hill at the foot of which the land had been deforested and leveled to make the tennis courts, we feared the worst. The same anxiety was mirrored in Johnny’s grey eyes that were now chips of flint, sniper’s eyes in which I had never before seen the slightest emotion. Classes X and XI were divided into search parties of ten boys each, and I was one of the dejected bands that went in search of Satan, looking up into the trees as we went along. Not because we expected an ambush, but because that was where we would find Satan. And sure enough, before lunch, one of the Patels from Nairobi (I forget which one) had spotted, high up in an oak tree, what appeared to be a black pelt. Readers will excuse me if I skip the grisly details of the recovery of the leopard’s meal. The spotted guldar, or forest leopard (much larger and fiercer than the tendua or plains leopard), in a tragic reversal of roles in the wild, is a cat for which dogs are a delicacy. For them, any dog – no matter how large or ferocious – is easy prey (with the possible exception of the Tibetan Mastiff that has been known, in pairs, to keep bear and even tigers at bay, so perhaps they are the grand exception to this rule). After the curtain rang down on the little burial ceremony, a hard-eyed Johnny went about preparing for reprisal. He and Thapa vanished for two days, with a small goat in tow. They were back on the third day without the goat and with dark stubble on their cheeks. There was a shapeless bundle strapped to Johnny’s back. Wordlessly, he flung the bulging canvas sack to the ground. A rank odour wafted from it, and on further examination it was found to contain the freshly skinned pelt of a large male leopard. A tiny bullet hole was visible just behind the left ear. Johnny had a far-away look in his gimlet eyes, and an icy smile played around his pale, cruel lips. We fought over the privilege of dismantling and cleaning the .30 Springfield, but it turned out to be a light job. It had fired only one round, the one in the breech. The magazine was still full.


Chapter 5
Miracle on Echo Mountain
Though our school was in the hills, we knew nothing of mountaineering. We just scrambled about on the rocky crags all around us, and it is a wonder that there was not a single serious mishap. Familiarity with the rugged terrain around us had bred in us a jaunty insouciance, an innocent over-confidence that compensated for lack of formal training. Even that shortcoming was sought to be remedied by Rev. Llewelyn, our principal, when, in the early sixties, he invited Hari Dang and Brig. Gyan Singh, both famous Everesters, to join our Founder’s Day celebrations. The former was invited as the Chief Guest, while the latter was to preside over the function. The upshot of it all was that our PT and swimming instructors, Thapa and Johnny (two very tough, hard-boiled retired Chief Petty Officers of the Indian Navy) attended a training course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Manali, and started a mountaineering club which would initially dispense training in rock-climbing and, if that got off well, progress to medium-altitude (upto 20,000 feet) mountain climbing as well. Starting with a four-week toughening-up course (which included push-ups on fingertips, deep knee bends, and behind-the-neck pull-ups on the high bar), we went on to learn the basics of climbing a rocky face. One portion of the hillside facing the main playing field had been reinforced with granite blocks buttressing the main causeway, which sloped down from the senior school, higher up the hill. It was on this forbidding nearvertical surface that we cut our climbing teeth. Morale was low; it was one thing to do push-ups and attend lectures on handholds and toeholds. It was quite a different matter when, climbing rope around the waist, one actually came belly-to-belly with cold, unsympathetic rock. Within two weeks, the initial thirty members had dwindled to fifteen souls, skinned elbows, bruised knees and all. We kept at it. It was surprising how quickly the rock became a friend whose every niche, every little crevice was unconsciously memorized. In a month, we were scrambling up (and rappelling down) it as many times as a bored-looking (read ‘proud’) instructor could stand it. Then came the acid test of Echo Mountain. It was all shale, deceptive and treacherous. Those of us privileged few who had poached ghooral, the sure-footed wild mountain goat that lived on its steep slopes (on

22 what, one often wondered: there was little vegetation) with Thapa and his lovely twopiece .22 Browning single-shot rifle, knew it intimately. We feared it, but taking a ghooral with the Browning was like sneaking off to a strip-tease joint in the middle of a Scripture class; our boarding-school lives were so hard and hermit-like. The poaching was a delicious secret that remained within our little band of schoolboy snipers. I have never fired a sweeter weapon (and that includes the elegant .22 rifles from Brno, Czechoslovakia, that the NRA was selling to members in the early seventies, in Delhi, for the ridiculously low price of Rs.100.00 each) than that Browning. Sliding about on the steep, flaky slopes, we tried, usually in vain, to sneak up on a ghooral ram and get close enough (which meant, roughly, about seventy yards) to snap off a shot. As this meant silent stalking, a near impossibility on the shale, and as the wind was rarely in our favour, it called for a feast whenever a ghooral was actually bagged. I daresay Thapa did much better alone, but hunting is more fun with companions. Johnny, the proud owner of a .30 Springfield rifle, looked down his nose at this ‘plinking’, preferring to go for leopards, barasingha, and the occasional kakar (barking deer). He never accompanied us unless he had jungle fowl on his menu, at which times he carried a shotgun. So when it was time to tackle Echo Mountain (obviously named for the echo one received in return for a yell from a promontory in the school’s immediate vicinity aptly named ‘Land’s End’), we were not too nervous. A little climbing and rappelling was all that was planned, and exposure to the uncertain footing was sure to pay off on the moraine we would encounter en route to the Pindari Glacier, the next item on the practical training agenda. A teacher called William Gardner, who had showed remarkable talent and stamina despite his rather slight physique and less-than-average height had from time to time accompanied us. He was a bachelor with a stentorian voice and an authoritative manner, and he wielded the ruler on palms with sufficient force and accuracy to entitle him to a grudging respect during assembly and roll call. Nevertheless, he was hard working and dedicated to his calling, and none could say that he was not popular. It was with satisfaction that we noted that, of late, he had started paying more than ordinary attention to Ruth Shepherd. This pretty, statuesque brunette, who taught English in the junior school, had been escorted around for several months now by one of the senior schoolteachers, Walter Luther. Until Gardner quietly entered his name in the lists, we had thought it was a smooth run-up to the wedding cake for Mr. Luther, what with the clear field he had. The sudden change in the romantic equation was cause for much conjecture, and budding bookies, sensing a killing, opened accounts for those sportsmen wishing to try and supplement the meagre pocket money allowed by ‘Lew’, as Rev. Llewelyn, our Principal, was affectionately called. Apparently, the two rivals decided on different tactics to impress the object of their attentions. While Luther stuck to dramatics (where he invariably cast himself in the romantic lead in the school play, opposite Miss Shepherd, which gave him ample opportunity to soulfully discharge fusillades of romantic monologue at her), Gardener, apparently desperate to make up for lost time, decided to narrow the gap by taking the road less travelled. Thus, on the fateful Sunday of our tryst with the mountain of shale, he led one of the teams chosen for training. Luther was inconspicuous by his absence, but there was a surprise spectator in the crowd that observed the teams at a distance through binoculars (10x30 Carl Zeiss binoculars, reluctantly loaned by George Thompson, the eccentric, bird-watching music teacher). Although she tried her best to make it look as if she was merely going along for the fun of it, Ruth Shepherd was more than a little nervous (I was told later). Besides, as the only lady in the crowd, she stood out like a beacon in her gay floral print dress.

23 Three teams had already rappelled down a cliff face and had climbed back when, as per the draw of lots, Gardner and his team got their chance. One by one, the members cautiously rappelled down, then groped their way back up the 200-foot face (beyond this, it was a considered a little unsafe for such a bunch of greenhorns; the cliff fell away, in progressive swoops, to the floor of the valley 2000 feet below). Gardner started off splendidly. He rappelled down with an assurance that belied the scanty practice he had put in, and then, squaring his shoulders, he started the climb back, expertly belayed by Thapa and backed up by the beefy Alan Gill and two other large boys. Gardner’s climb showed a fluidity that had us marveling; he must have sensed it, because he increased his pace, putting weight on hand and toeholds even before testing them. On shale, it was not something to do, rope or no rope. Perhaps thoughts of a certain someone in a colourful dress urged him to push his limits. And to the amazement of all, the small, lithe man was clambering up without a single backslide of loose rock. Just as we were heaving a collective sigh of relief, he was gone. The shale gave way, his foot slipped, the rope snapped (probably cut by a razor-sharp edge of shale), and off he went, sliding down the steep slope. He had time to shout, “Don’t tell …” before he went off the first of the ledges. He fell through fifty feet of air, bounced off a rock, then he was sliding, bouncing, towards the final drop into the distant, hazy valley below. Johnny launched himself. He ran down that slope we had so warily negotiated. He ran lightly, easily, like a gazelle, without a single misstep or hesitation. The force of gravity seemed to have gone on vacation. Years later, a Japanese climber called Yuichiro Miura skied down Mount Everest, a feat never again repeated by any man. I remember considering it a remarkable effort, but was not over-impressed. It couldn’t be otherwise: I had seen, with my own two eyes, a sight I’ll never forget. Was it only adrenaline? Was Johnny a superman? I still ponder over it. Suffice it to say that as we held our breaths, refusing to believe that two of our teachers were to die that day, he bounded down that impossible slope to certain death. He never took a false step, and he never took his eyes off Gardner, whom he reached, by a superhuman effort just as he was about to go off the edge. The distant valley floor yawned in dismay. The rest was routine: ropes, rescue party, stretcher, and the long haul back. Johnny never spoke; he seemed to be far away, his thoughts were directed inward, and we left him alone. As soon as the sweating party of stretcher-bearers reached the easy stretch on the path to school, Ruth Shepherd was at Gardner’s side in a flash. He was conscious now, and she held his hand while they simply uttered each others’ names over and over again, all the way back to the infirmary. To me, it sounded as if two people, ostensibly taking each other’s names, were actually chanting a mantra. It was a monosyllabic prayer if I ever heard one. The scene was so touching that few could trust themselves to speak, and our eyes were damp. He was spared for her, and, in the nature of true miracles, it so transpired that there was not a single fracture in his body (I remembered him bouncing off those boulders and thinking that few bones in his slim body would survive the cruel impacts). Johnny never spoke of what had happened; indeed, he did not seem to remember doing anything. I had been one of a privileged few to witness divine intervention, for there was no other explanation for the phenomenon of a man who fell 1,000 feet and suffered only lacerations, cuts, and bruises. I like to think that, in Johnny, the Great Trekmaster found the ideal instrument. Johnny never quite grasped the full import of what he had done; it was as if his memory of the incident had been erased. But he consented to be the best man at the grand wedding

24 that took place in the school chapel, looking decidedly uncomfortable in a navy serge suit, with a rose at his lapel. He was a man of the outdoors, and I think the whole thing was an ordeal for him. Now and then, if anyone cared to observe closely, his hand stole to his hip pocket, to return to his mouth to cover a ‘yawn’. Any telltale glint of metal within the shadows of his large fist could be ascribed to reflections off the medals that gleamed on his broad chest, and the distinct aroma of the Scottish highlands that haloed him was indulgently overlooked as being quite in keeping with the ‘spirit’ of the grand occasion.

Chapter 6 Escape to Ranikhet
It was in 1959 that I first went to Ranikhet. My parents had not been able to take their customary thirty days’ vacation at Nainital in June that year, as Father had some pressing official engagements. However, his eldest brother, Basu Deva Mukerji, who was like a godfather to me, had surprised me by coming up to Nainital. Being a sitting judge of the Allahabad High Court, his high office had immediately entitled him to reservations at the exclusive enclave of Sleepy Hollow, with its lovely, English-style cottages in a sylvan setting. He had clout and he used it. He was especially pleased that there was ample space to reverse and park his pride and joy, a cream-and-chocolate 6-cylinder 1955 Oldsmobile that he drove himself: he was a car buff, outdoor enthusiast, golfer, and gun nut all rolled into one. (He had shot into prominence when, in spite of death threats, he had awarded Tehsildar Singh, the son of India’s infamous dacoit, Man Singh, the death sentence). I still remember the .45 Colt automatic – a chunk of cold blue steel reeking of grease and cordite – which he once let me hold after removing the loaded magazine. It was heavy for a small boy, and I had to use both hands to keep it from slipping through my fingers to the carpet. It was the first handgun I ever held, and it was my great good fortune that it happened to be this legendary weapon. Only much later did I realize why he carried it on his person whenever he went left the house. It was a great surprise (and a crushing disappointment) that my parents were not coming up from the plains, as promised. But what I did not know was that a wise friend, shrewdly guessing the loneliness of a boy who had not seen kith or kin for four months, had adroitly rearranged his busy schedule to spend a week in the Kumaon hills. For friend he was to me, and I am proud to call him such. The forty years difference in our ages did not separate my uncle and I; they but served to bring us closer. A boy he was at heart, and a boy he remained till his last breath, full of sunshine and laughter despite the burden of his gloomy profession, a man of so vast a scholarship, so blazing an intellect, that many an academic—unbalanced by the weight of his own overripe learning—fell silent before the sweep and profundity of his erudition, and his shockingly intimate knowledge of another’s subject.

25 Yet he was a simple soul, effortlessly able to empathize with the poor and the downtrodden. Softhearted, generous to a fault, playful yet disciplined, devout, selfeffacing and humble, Basu Deva Mukerji was cast in the mold of the rishis of old, perhaps that of Bharadwaj himself, who was our kul-guru. I was too young then to appreciate, as I now do, the man’s greatness. He was just fun with a capital ‘F’ as far as I was concerned. I still marvel at the perspicacity, the rare humanity, which made him stand in for my parents (no doubt seriously upsetting his busy schedule) lest I feel a sense of abandonment during the most festive time of the year for Sherwoodians. One thing I knew for certain, when I received his phone call asking me to spend the Founders’ Day holidays with him: this was going to be a very special week in my life. As the gleaming Oldsmobile with the whitewall tires and fluttering pennants, with just the two of us in it, pulled away from Panditji’s dhaba and whispered up the steep slope to Ranikhet, I hugged myself in excitement. The sky was an impossible blue, the air was cold and ozone-fresh, and the trees were mostly conifers instead of the deciduous variety that was found at lower altitudes. The sun seemed to smile happily on an enchanted landscape eternally moored in a time when all was green and unspoilt. As the car drew up before the circuit house, the staff lined up with garlands and bouquets, to our intense embarrassment, and after the ritual was over, to our great relief, we were escorted to a spacious first-floor suite. The view was magnificent, and so was the five-course lunch that followed. Chefs at circuit houses belonged to the now-extinct Indian variety of cooks called khansamas, and the mughlai dishes they conjured up were an unbelievable treat for a boy from a residential school with its spartan kitchen and unappetizing, bulk-cooked fare. But in the afternoon, out came the black steel trunk, which disgorged bulky files tied with red tape, the covers emblazoned with the Ashokan three-lion motif. I knew it was work-time for him, and stole away to play in the lawns. Tea meant half-a-dozen different kinds of pastries, and I never enjoyed confectionery more, sitting with him as he recounted folk tales of the Ranikhet hills. Ranikhet is situated at the foot of a range of jagged Himalayan peaks which include such well known ones as Nanda Devi and Trishul (or Trident, because it’s actually three peaks in one.) There were legends of ageless saints who meditated in the caves in the higher mountains, and I listened with rapt attention, for he was a great raconteur. Then it was work for him again, and as the rich aroma of ‘Three Nuns’ tobacco wafted from his pipe, I took up an Enid Blyton book. I remember it was a ‘Secret Seven’ adventure. And thus the days passed happily. Ranikhet has a beautiful golf course, one of the highest in the world, and he was raring to have a go at it. It was sheer heaven to be outside the suffocating classroom, trailing his caddy, all the time reveling in the bracing mountain air on an alpine meadow of clover and turf. But all good things must end, and finally it was time to say goodbye to Ranikhet. At teatime, that last evening of our all-too-brief vacation, he told me he had a gift for me, and that he would collect me from my room at ten o’clock that night. This came as a big surprise, since he always insisted that little boys should be in bed by half-past nine. I was almost asleep when, on the dot at ten, he hauled me out of bed, got me into my dressing gown, and cautioning me to complete silence, stole back into his room. I noticed with surprise that all the lights were switched off and the room was pitch dark. With the help of the faint starlight that came through the glazed windows, tightly shut against the frigid air, we groped our way to the French window, where he motioned me to take up my position. He obviously wanted me to see something. My skin crawled: what was it going to be? A ghost? (I was very scared of ghosts, never having seen one!)

26 He seemed to be pointing in the direction of the huge oak tree that spread its canopy of branches about twenty-five feet from the window. As time dragged on, I got sleepier and sleepier. It was an effort just to keep my eyes open. I tried reading the time on the radium dial of my wristwatch, but its luminescence had dimmed. I remember guessing that it must have been approaching midnight. Then he was shaking me awake gently, and pointing at one of the branches outside the window. I thought I detected a movement, a shapeless patch of darkness even darker than the dark night. It was definitely something…but what? Then his hand crept to the window, and I realized he held the six-cell torch he always carried in the car. A moment later, a shaft of light spotlighted the mysterious nocturnal visitor. A memory of green eyes, a snarl of white fangs, a polished coat of gleaming ebony, then the jet-black panther was gone. One moment he was snarling his resentment at the intrusion, the next instant the branch was vacant, swaying as if in an unseen breeze. There was nothing else to be seen. We stood there in the dark a full minute, savouring the experience, how rare, I never really knew till I was a grown man. Black panthers are a rarity, like albinos, but whereas the latter never survive because their pale color militates against their survival in a world where camouflage is king, the black has an edge in the darkness where panthers do most of their hunting. Yet, given that, they are very rare. It is a wonder that they do not proliferate. Perhaps their rarity is a sign that, in Nature’s eyes, they are an unprogrammed aberration, and can only be tolerated in minute doses. I was left with a gift I treasure, the sighting of a rare carnivore probably on the edge of extinction. A wonderful, versatile man went out of his way to give it to me, leaving me with a visual legacy I can only share with you through the poor medium of words. I have a hoard of memories of my eldest uncle, but this is one I treasure above all. Wherever that great soul now roams, I am sure it is a place where there are good roads, fast cars, 18-hole golf courses, aromatic tobacco, fine food and dear friends. There will be merriment and endeavour, jocularity and discipline, justice tempered with mercy, and an ambience of wonder at the marvels of Creation. I am sure that The Happy Hunting Grounds appreciate having him around, as much as he enjoys being there.


Chapter 7 Vanished Wilderness
Who knows where it came from or where it went. It flowed from time immemorial, a thing alive, aloof from the rest of Creation. It hacked its way past jagged mountain ramparts in their perennial mantles of white, slicing through the lower valleys. A bluewhite fury, it wore down everything it came up against, rushed past, or ran over, as it hurled itself like a writhing snake at the plains far below. It watched, unmoved, as eons came and went, as creatures on its banks lived, died, or drifted away, a torrent self-sufficient, answerable only unto itself. From time to time, the man-things came to its banks, living off it. It cared not, for it had enough for all, a bounty it shared readily with those who dared to try and snatch sustenance from it. Occasionally, one of them fell in and was swept away to his death. It gave life and took it away, cold, remote, detached, uncaring in its wild beauty. It mirrored the rich tapestry of existence around it, alone and proud, content to be but itself —invulnerable, emotionless … eternal. As the car topped the rise and halted at the crest of the ridge, the boy sucked in his breath with a hiss. After the dust and mud of the hour-long drive, the sight was breathtaking: an unspoilt valley, heavily wooded, and probably teeming with game. The river was a thing of wonder, winding and snaking, battering itself against rocks the size of pavilions, a splash of royal blue such as he had never glimpsed before. It was a thing of creamy rapids and boisterous riffles punctuated by deep, deceptively-still pools where the water seemed to catch its breath before plunging into yet another stretch of white water. Never before in his young life had he seen so marvelous a thing. He had come across deep, contemplative lakes, cheeky little mountain torrents, submissive streams, sleepy, lotus-filled ponds. But this…this was something altogether different. He sprinted down to the golden beach, revelling in the sound of the virgin sands crunching under his ‘hunter’ boots. The pool was a thing of beauty and mystery, deep and alluring, cloaking its denizens with a reflection of the azure skies above. Eighty yards across the expanse of smooth, blue-green, glassy water, myriad rock pigeons fluttered about clumsily on the sheer rocky cliffs where a few hardy plants clung in audacious defiance. With trembling hands he assembled the old cane rod and fitting a spool reel, ran

28 the line through the rod-guides and wrapped a ball of dough around the hook. Then he peeled off about twenty rod-lengths of line, and whirling the baited hook with its twoounce lead sinker round and round over his head like a bolas, allowed it to slip from his hand and sail away gracefully, to cleave the water’s oily-smooth surface thirty yards away. The line tightens as the bait hits the bottom, rolling with the current, and it has not come to a stop when the rod jerks in his hands like a thing alive and the reel screams in panic as line streaks off it. The tip of the rod is whipping with the sheer violence of the passage of the line through the tungsten-carbide line guides; the rod bends in a graceful arc as the boy rears back in the age-old technique of the mandatory strike against the fish’s bite. The tortured shriek of the racheted reel is a symphony to his ears, and he glances down apprehensively as he sees the last of the hundred yards of nylon monofilament line swish away and the mooga braided-silk backing line from Kanto Brothers, Bowbazar Street, Calcutta come into view. He is still a boy, and the rod is heavy and very hard on his arms now. The whirling handles of the reel are an indistinct blur. He is careful to keep his hand away from them, for one touch of his fingers will be enough to snap the line. It curves away to the right, away from the cliff face, then scythes back as the big fish runs this way and that to dislodge the thing caught in its mouth. The tall man in the sola hat now comes to his rescue, knowing the boy is in trouble, leaning back against the arcing rod, and now the fish shows the first signs of tiring, allowing about twenty yards of line to be recovered before it makes another mad dash for freedom. The rushes get shorter and shorter, and at last the fish shows itself, a long shadow in the depths, struggling valiantly, trying to throw the hook. Drawn reluctantly to the surface, its dorsal fin cuts the water like a knife as it cruises in the shallows, turning over on its side now and then as its strength fails it. Fifteen minutes later, it is gasping on the bank, a sleek, thirty-pound mahaseer, all golden green and silver, and the boy thinks he has never seen such a lovely thing in his life. He loves that fish, for to him it epitomizes the wonder of it all. The next Sunday, they do not cross the river, but follow its left bank in the jeep, climbing into a ridge where the machine has to go in first gear, engine straining against the acclivity. As it drops into a deep rut, he braces himself against the jerk, but to his utter surprise the jeep sails through it unperturbed, its unique suspension, so hard on the spine on asphalt roads, at last in its element, its springs designed for just such terrain. The boy looks longingly at the controls, but it will some years before he will be old enough to drive. He watches closely, yearning, learning, filing everything away in his mind for the future…the racing change into a lower gear, the heel-and-toe technique as the jeep plunges into gullies then up a spur, the powerful engine roaring in triumph. Dense jungle on either side, dark, silent, expectant…a leopard, startled into breaking cover, bounds across the track. There are birds everywhere; the air is redolent with the scent of exotic flowers. A profusion of butterflies, like a colorful veil carelessly thrown over the vegetation, adds a touch of the surreal. It is a fantasyland, far away in time, a land none has ever seen before. The track descends sharply, and the jeep crawls down it cautiously till the path starts leveling off. Now there is blue among the trees, and he knows they are with the river again. The forest thins away as the jeep comes up against its most formidable opponent, the small, football-sized boulders that were once the riverbed. A halt for changeover to 4-wheel drive, then the jeep creeps along over the rocks, rolling over them one tire at a time, ‘walking’ over them, plunging luxuriously on its deliciously deep, velvety springs, drawing ever closer to the current murmuring to itself across the ages.

29 There is an old abandoned fishing lodge, here at Buxar, where men have come years ago and left for distant shores leaving behind a few chairs and books no one wants. Mouldy, covered with the dust of years, but books! The boy, wondering, picks one up…it is one he has often wanted to read but never could find, Col. A.J. St. John Macdonald’s timeless classic ‘Circumventing the Mahaseer’. They are all there, Isaac Walton’s ‘The Compleat Angler’, the first known treatise on fishing, which is classified as literature, Skene Dhu’s ‘The Mighty Mahaseer’, Capt. Conway’s ‘Sunlit Waters’, Thomas’ delightful and authoritative ‘The Rod in India’. What manner of men were they, those ghosts of the past, to have left such a fortune behind? Is it their legacy to a future generation? For any soul hardy and daring enough to come here, to the river, to this utterly wild and desolate spot, unafraid of the dangers and the things that live here, must surely be one of them, one who will realize the worth of these treasures, reading them, absorbing their lore, and leaving them here for those who follow. Men who love the wilderness, who live in the wilderness, are men of a different breed, a dissimilar species, loving wild things, clouds, birds, the dew on the open grass, a deer in the forest, a ripple in the river, a duck rising smoothly into the blue, even loving the most vicious animal of all…Man…loving everything, every man, every woman, so deeply, so completely, so compassionately, loving the all in a way that other, civilized men and women can never understand. What man in his right mind will venture into this rugged country, teeming with game and predators, unarmed and conspicuous, in search of the elusive thing called…called what? What do you call that thing which fills your heart till it’s fit to burst with the sheer grandeur of it, that feeling that you are one with all creation, all things come together in an insanely logical unity; for a moment the obscurest of scriptures makes absolute sense, there is a feel of the Absolute, the selflessness of it all is paramount, poetry comes alive, there is a pattern, never before glimpsed, an underlying purpose that is lost in the selfishness of urban life, the preoccupation with the self… unmindful of the Self. As the days become weeks and then years, he explores the terrain, here treading in the footsteps of forgotten legend Anil Deva Mukerji, hunter, tracker, woodsman and conservationist non pareil, there lying on the rocks watching the crocodiles frolicking in the shallows, from the very spot, over the pool that bears his name, where the great F.J. Champion photographed them in the ’thirties. A squadron of three very large Mahaseer is chasing yearlings, streamlined streaks of silver in the deep water, but so clear is it that it seems they fly through air. One of them comes lunging right through the surface, preceded by a spray of young in a tearing hurry to get away from the marauder. Thwarted, he hangs in the air, slowly shaking his head from side to side, peering up at the sky in surprise, then falls back into the pool with a thunderous splash. The young man watches, fascinated, camera and fishing rod forgotten. There is not a soul within a hundred square miles. Men are at work in stuffy little offices elsewhere (where is elsewhere? Is it is preferable to this? Then why do they stay there, in that ‘elsewhere’ till the day they die, kowtowing to false gods, eating cold, stale food from little tin boxes, their pale skins untouched by rain or wind or sun. What manner of men would give up all this for that?). He knows that one day he may have to join them, those tin soldiers, but for now he stocks up on memories—those that are worth keeping—for memories are made of this. He goes to Garjia, where an obstinate sliver of quartzite has resisted erosion and has split the river instead. It is a lone knife-edge of rock towering over the twin streams that flow around it, topped by scanty vegetation, a rock climber’s delight. He visits placid Tumaria, where the river widens out and branches into numerous shallow channels that a

30 man can easily wade through. He remembers a deep, oily run with steep gravelly banks, where his partner hooked a big fish that sulked for an hour at the bottom before it was ‘pumped’ up to the surface. Or a stretch of boulder-filled rapids that a sow crosses, a wild piglet firmly grasping her tail in its mouth…and its siblings similarly attached in tandem one to the other, strung together like so many sausages. She powers her way through the fast current like a motorboat, her little family tossing in her wake, to emerge triumphant on the other side with her team still attached to her and intact. In all the days he spends on the river, he never meets another soul. And all around him is the jungle, companionably silent, never complaining, never demanding anything but understanding and respect. He remembers the nameless place that he reached by wading through a fast, chesthigh current. The beach is golden, and the rapids are perfect for casting his line and lure, but after a hundred yards, he halts, his senses at full alert. The breeze has brought with it the scent of tiger, once smelt, never forgotten, a scent men know instinctively from caveman times. Slowly, without making any quick movements, he looks around; in a clump of bushes fifty yards away, the motionless horns of a cow can be seen at ground level. A tiger’s kill, concealed in the vegetation! And the big cat must also be there, watching unseen. Slowly, he turns and walks back the way he has come, wondering if he is mistaken but not willing to take unnecessary chances. The tall man in the sola hat is approaching, and the youth lets him walk down the beach, determined to stop him if he gets to the point where he himself had caught the tiger smell. But he needn’t have worried; the tall man stops at the very same spot, wrinkling his nose uncertainly, then motions that they should retrace their steps. The king of the jungle does not take kindly to being interrupted at the dinner table. I hope you enjoyed this episode because the real thing’s long gone. That unique unspoilt wilderness has vanished forever, a victim to man’s insatiable hunger for for energy, for hydro-electric power. The waters of an earth dam at Kalagarh have inundated thousands of acres of jungle, including my favorite fishing spots, now buried under a deep reservoir that has backed all the way up the valley. Tourist resorts have sprung up along its banks, and since wild creatures don’t particularly care for the music of Elton John, Gurdas Mann, Mika, The Beatles, or Britney Spears, whether on tape or CD, they have long since departed. Motorboats plough across placid, soulless deeps that give no hint of the vanished glory of Champion’s Pool or the raging rapids of Buxar, and the waters have long since carried away with it the books I’d admired, just as the current of life has swept away their authors. They had made an earthen dam over it, the fools, not knowing that, in the entire span of its existence, nothing had ever managed to hold it in check for long. Beneath the earth’s surface, deep within its crust, it sensed the first of a series of convulsions that would get progressively stronger and more violent as the over-burdened tectonic plates shifted uneasily against each other. Soon, the pressures would reach levels where the plates would slide one over the other, tearing rock the size of cities off each other, releasing energy equivalent to hundreds of atom bombs. The dam would explode like a paper bag, and trillions of acrefeet of water, billions of tons of it, would smash their way far into the plains, carrying towns and villages before it like so many corks bobbing on the surface of a millrace.

31 Then things would return to normal, as they always did, and it would be its old self again, running with the lay of the land as it had done from time immemorial.

Aqua currit et debet currere ut currere solebat

Chapter 8 Last of the Curlews
Guns have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, though it is impolitic to say so in these times of mindless violence and international terrorism. Reading all those cowboy comics, seeing all those cowboy, war and safari movies in school, those unforgettable outings with Thapa and Johnny, the legend of Anil Deva Mukerji, and, of course, my trigger-happy cousin… I suppose they all had a lot to do with it. Father was keen on guns, too, in a very quiet sort of way. He had been an emergency commission officer, and had done well in the weapons course at the Infantry School, Mhow (today known as the ‘College of Combat’, in the erstwhile Central Provinces, now called Madhya Pradesh). From popguns I graduated to airguns, Dianas Model 1 to 16, moving up to a Model 35, more or less in step with my cousin, about two years older than me and just as enthusiastic about weaponry. My eldest uncle had once let me hold his big Colt .45 automatic, and I was hooked on handguns for keeps, once even briefly owning an Arminius .32 revolver. As our lives periodically came together and drifted apart again, my cousin and I kept in touch, keeping our mutual interest alive. We met for a significantly long period when it was time for our upanayan ceremony, which was jointly celebrated at our ancestral home, Madhu Mandir, Allahabad. We had to spend three days in near-total darkness in a small room on the first floor, shaven-headed brahmacharis in ochre robes, and to while away the long hours we caught up with each other’s lives. When we were boys at Allahabad, I remember, one of my father’s brothers-in-law, Rajen Chatterji used to drive up frequently from Jabalpur in his Packard. Then he and my uncles would go off duck shooting. There was a .12 bore in the house (apart from a Model 99 .22 Savage, with its Winchester-like under-lever action), relics of my late uncle ‘Doctor Bob’ (Bhava Deva) a keen hunter who had died a bachelor. Piles of ducks would mean a summons for our on-call khansama Raj Kumar, all 5’1” of him. What a wizard he was. I can never forget his puddings. In due course, dekchis full of aromatic minced duck with herbs would materialize, and table manners would perish in the meleé. After the upanayan ceremony, my uncle Brahma Deva drove the three of us down to Seohara. Like all males of the clan, he was fond of driving, and he tackled the 130-mile (208 kilometers) trip single-handed. On the way, I remember, he shot a couple of partridge in one of the fields we drove past in Bijnor district. When he had gone to England for his ICS training, he had ordered a fine .12 bore shotgun, tailored to his own

32 measurements, and it fitted his son to a ‘T’, for though the lad was about two inches taller than his father, their upper bodies were of identical dimensions. The older man was uncommonly sturdy, wide of shoulder, long of arm and blessed with an iron constitution. I remember Brahma Deva Mukerji’s irritation at the salutes he got from sundry peasantry trudging in the dust alongside the road. “Hangover of the Raj!” he kept muttering to himself shamefacedly, as if he had failed somewhere. He felt affronted by obsequiousness in his countrymen. An ICS officer of British times, he was a fearless patriot who gave the British his service but his loyalty to the nation. His books on Community Development were considered classics of their time. A member of the ‘Steel Frame’, he belonged to an age when, if there was a confrontation, a difference over a policy matter, between the Secretary of a government Department and the Minister, the Minister it was that backed down, as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had always maintained he should. The situation today…you read the newspapers, you should know! On the back seat of the Fiat, as it sped towards Seohara, was an old air-rifle that belonged to Khokan, Sushital Banerji’s brother-in-law. It was of Czechoslovakian make and of indeterminate vintage. The two us had always wanted this weapon as small boys, having often witnessed its amazing power and accuracy, and since Sushital Banerji refused to let his son Amitav (known even in the Foreign Service by his pet name, Bhootoo) have the air-rifle, it had finally come down to the two of us. Alas! It was in poor condition now, for Khokan had used it so well that the spring had become as weak as a Diana Model 1’s. My cousin and I had gone to Jama Masjid in Delhi and located a length of spring about 2 inches long and of exactly the same diameter as that of the original spring. Then we had taken the weapon apart and, after considerable effort, had succeeded in inserting this spring as an extension to the existing one. It was astonishing, the way that old gun revived; in fact, it became so powerful that its flatter trajectory compelled us to hammer the rear sight down in a bid to sight it in properly. It was a full-size air-rifle, but it fired the smaller .177 slugs, not .the larger, heavier .22 slugs. This made it even more powerful, giving it phenomenal killing range, but the lighter pellet had a tendency to drift in a crosswind in outdoor shooting, making it mandatory to suck a forefinger and test the breeze to judge the windage needed to compensate for drift, before squeezing the trigger. This air-rifle gave us the range necessary to pot snipes. Shooting snipe on the wing is something few shotgunners ever master, for these small birds, found on the banks of ponds and cattle wallows are incredibly fast fliers, with a darting, dodging flight any fighter pilot would give his eye-teeth to emulate in a dog-fight. We had to be – and were – content to pot them on the ground, incidentally a big no-no in sporting circles. But we were using an ancient air-rifle of uncertain accuracy, so I guess that evened things out. The snipe, bobbing and dipping as they walked along with an occasional glance around, had far keener vision than we had. Though it was not quite as good as that of the English woodcock with its 360º field of vision, the snipe were so sharp-eyed that we had to crawl on our bellies to get close enough for a shot. Even in these early years, it was clear who was boss in the shooting department and who took charge when it came to fishing, for he had the Dad with the gun and I was the one, who, though passably accomplished with gun, was always subordinate in the hunt. When it came to fishing, however, the roles were reversed; my father was the angler, and it was I who took charge. Besides, he was the older one, and seniority counts for something. But the field is no respecter of pecking orders or reputations, and gives all a fighting chance. Mine came the day we spotted the curlew.

33 We had met an old poacher in the fields, and he showed us, his fellow poachers, his bag of tricks. And pretty ingenious was the contraption he carried in his innocuouslooking sling bag. It was simply a square wooden frame, easily folded and tucked away in the bag, with holes drilled through the wood at brief intervals, like in the frame of a tennis racquet. Draw-nooses of catgut were tied in each hole. After he set the frame up at an appropriate location and expanded the drawnooses (called ‘phandhas’ in Hindi), he reached deeper into his bag and brought out a male partridge in a small wooden cage. This he placed in the center of the frame, and motioned us to follow him to the cover of a clump of bushes from where we could keep an eye on the trap, for that was what this rig was all about. Partridge have a call that has lots in common with a big burp that has formed deep in your gut after you’ve gulped an aerated soft drink—neither of them can be held down for long. No matter how delicate the situation, they are going to erupt, often without warning. The male in the cage, in unfamiliar territory, decides to stake his claim to it and calls loudly, challengingly. When the nearest territory-conscious, aggressive male hears this, he comes over quickly to investigate and drive off the intruder. He charges the interloper, only to get entangled in the drawnooses; the harder he struggles, the worse it gets. The rest I leave to your imagination. I am seething internally at this nasty bag of tricks, and the poacher, sensing this, tells us of a water hole nearby where, he says, there are lots of ‘burra chaha’ (‘big snipe’, meaning curlew). There’s only one, and he’s very skittish, moving fast on the ground, big but very jittery. On our bellies on the ground, barely concealed by a small mound of earth, I lay claim to the shot: it’s my turn. Reluctantly, my cousin hands over the air-rifle. The biggest potting chance of our sniping years…and the greenhorn gets to take the shot. Too bad, that’s life. Over thirty yards, and he seems to sense that someone somewhere is drawing a bead on him. He moves ahead nervously, picking up speed. My cousin is whispering fiercely in my ear “Drill him! Drill him!” That’s easier said than done, there’s a slight breeze and the target is gathering speed, a moving shot, I have to ‘lead’— shoot slightly ahead of the speeding target. Now even I’m getting cold feet—35 yards at least. I lead as best I can and squeeze the trigger. He’s down! My cousin leaps to his feet jubilantly and runs for it. I roll over, look up at the blue sky and think…that curlew’s number came up today…why? Why didn’t I miss? It would have made no difference. Someone up there has given all of us numbers; when one’s number comes up…that’s it. From that day, my enthusiasm for killing begins to wane. I start thinking in terms of shooting with a camera, like A.D. Mukerji and his eight millimeter, spring-wound Beaulieu movie camera, the jerky frames showing a tiger charging the camera, then a brief gap, then the tiger, rolling over and over, stone dead, shot through the heart. Mine will be 35 mm frames, no killing, just the subject frozen on celluloid forever. A decade in the future, a mustachioed rally driver from the Gulf will make my dream come true. More than once, in the preceding years, I read a story called ‘Last of the Curlews’ by Fred Bodsworth; it was a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books selection. More than once does the story stay my finger on the trigger. Like the time Uncle Brahma Deva, then Secretary (Ministry of Fertilizers), Government of India, visits Nangal Fertilizers. After taking in a VIP conducted-tour of Bhakra Nangal Dam, walking through miles of instrumentation and turbines and other gizmos inside the endless, labyrinthine corridors at the heart of this temple of modern India, as Jawaharlal Nehru called it (the massive concrete wall of the dam is pushed back eight feet by the force of the water at the highwater mark, we are told), my cousin and I turn down, with unmannerly haste, an offer

34 from his Dad to accompany him to inspect Nangal Fertilizers; us for some fresh air and shooting! The Rajah of Nangal has a big shoot lined up for us two. The invitation has come that morning—instigated by whom, I wonder. When we arrive at the haveli, a big band— drums, tubas, saxophones, trombones, everything—opens up. What a racket! We are profusely garlanded. Some shoot! Anything in fur or feathers must be in the next district by now. One smart Rajah we’ve got here. I have a heated pow-wow with my cousin. Poor fellow, the killing madness is on him, he doesn’t see through the ruse. “We’re here, and we’re going shooting!” he says pugnaciously. I give in. “OK, fine, it’s a nice day for a funeral, might as well take a little walk round the place.” The route covers about twenty kilometers. We are each handed a .12 bore, and six No.6 shells, four No.4’s, two LG and SG cartridges, and one cylindrical lethal ball cartridge each. ‘Take anything from quail to elephant’, the ammunition pouch seems to be telling us. Two trackers and two hunting dogs have been allocated to us. As we enter the jungles, my worst fears are confirmed; there is sign everywhere. Even a greenhorn can see that till not so long ago the place was teeming with life: jungle fowl, partridge, jackal, chital, chinkara—it’s all there in the dust, it’s like an open book, but he refuses to see it. Now we are in scrub jungle, with small hillocks and ridges, and ravines that would get the nod from the choosiest drygulcher—that’s ‘ambusher’ to you, mate. I slow down, slip an SG in the left (choke) barrel, and an LG in the right. This is leopard country; we could be jumped by one anytime, and I don’t want birdshot in my gun when that happens. Ten kilometers have been covered and my cousin hasn’t fired a single shot. I slow down, and tell him to take both the dogs and trackers and go ahead. I’ll just stay here by this big rock at the edge of the clearing and enjoy the scenery. He barely hears me and rushes off, ever the impatient one. An hour passes, and away to the east I hear a commotion, the sound of a shot. I slip off the safety catch. Something is rushing down the hillock towards me, I can’t see what it is but it’s cutting a swath through the low bushes and tall grasses, something coming downhill very fast, something not small. Leopard! The gun comes up to my shoulder, index and middle fingers curled around front and rear triggers of this DBBL, the way I’ve been taught by Johnny, drawing a bead at the spot where the creature will emerge into the clearing I’m standing in. Something bursts into view, running across my line of fire, right to left, I have it square in my sights, it’s running flat out, a gray-brown streak, belly to the ground. I follow it in the .12 bore’s rudimentary gunsights, I can easily drop it. It’s so sweet; it’s a doe, going like a bat out of hell. I wish I had that camera… I slip on the safety catch, put the gun down. My cousin’s now coming downhill, he’s running behind the baying hounds and trackers, and all of them panting like steam engines. “Did you see it? Where’d it go? I took a shot at a deer, missed…against the light…it was running your way…?” he looks at me accusingly. They’ll never know, they don’t bother to read sign, the story’s written there, on the ground. “Yeah, saw that scrawny doe. What do you want to shoot that for? It’s a buck you should be looking at, Deerslayer. In any case, it went off at right angles…over that other hillock” I point in the wrong direction. He groans “Not uphill again! I quit, I’m bushed, been running with this gun for miles…why didn’t you shoot it?” he asks the question that he’s been dying to ask. It would have meant my being one-up on him. But I’m not the type that has to be one-up on people. I guess I lack the ‘killer instinct’.

35 “I did,” I admit “here!” I tap my head, then break open the gun and pocket the shells as we turn back for home. I need to hang up my gun…for good. When the camera comes… And what about that story I told you about, the one that got under my skin and changed the way I looked at hunting, the book called Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth? Sorry, can’t get hold of the book, but may I give you a synopsis? Here it comes, keep some tissues handy…. Last of the Curlews There is a theory among naturalists that says that when an animal or bird population has decreased to an abnormally low level, the species loses the will to live and slides into extinction. But this would have been news to the pair of Eskimo Curlews, which were migrating south to escape the fatal winter cold of the Artic Circle where they had summered. As they flew on, totally engrossed in each other, they should be pardoned for failing to notice anything amiss. But it was a fact that, among all the other sky-filling clouds of birds of the shore and the estuary that moved south with them to sunnier climes, among all the Redshank, Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Garganey, Ruff, Pectoral Sandpiper, Richard's Pipit, and a dozen others, they were the only Eskimo curlews. True, there were many Black-necked and Stone Curlew on the mudflats, but none with the distinctive height, long, curved bill, and whistling ‘threeeeeet’ call of the Eskimo. They were birds that paired off for life, harbingers of Life and Happiness, riding the scented air-currents to a happier tomorrow. They moved into the vast, sun-warmed continent, rich with food and promise. Five thousand feet above the earth, the big male started circling out of the sky towards the freshly plowed field below. Calling to him anxiously, his little mate also began losing height, ‘threeeeting’ her love. Among the furrows, they forgot about the abundant food for a while: they had been in the air for hours, and they moved to each other in their immense love and contentment. Lost in themselves, they failed to notice the man get down from the tractor with the ‘stick’ in his hand, failed to see him creep up within range, only shuddered to the thunder that erupted out of a blue sky, and metal rain that tore up the earth around them once, twice. There were no swifter birds than them: they darted into the air, and rapidly gained height, their shocked senses and hammering hearts forcing the pace. The male was the more powerful of the two, and he was out-flying his little mate. Every now and then, he would look back impatiently and whistle his urgency to her. He wanted to get far away from this bad place. But she was falling back, and now he noticed a stain spreading slowly across her breast. She threeted back to him helplessly, then she was going down, down…and he peeled off and dived after her as she tumbled out of control and landed heavily on the grass. A paroxysm of pain shook her, and she opened her eyes and looked all her love to him; all the tremendous adoration and deep commitment of a lifetime went into that gaze. Slowly, reluctantly, filling her senses with him, she closed her eyes. The male called to her till the evening, nudging her, but she ignored him, would not respond to his entreaties. It was only when the ants came that instinct told him it was over. Then, like all wild things, he moved off. Who knows whether he felt grief? Aren’t happiness and sorrow emotions only humans understand?

36 He flew on amidst the sky-filling clouds of birds, but they were traveling in opposite directions. They went towards the future. He was the last of the Eskimo Curlews, and primal memory told him that countless quintillions of his kind had lived on the Earth before him, and now they called to him. He flew back to them, back to the past where they waited for him; where she, too, waited. A dirge rang out in the blood of the last of the curlews as he winged his way swiftly across the eternal airways to a land that time forgot. Is it any wonder that I hung up my gun?

Chapter 9

A Freshman in Stephania
“You will be mercilessly ragged,” Dr. B.N. Ganguly, Delhi University’s Vice Chancellor is warning me. “So what?” I reply. My retort is unintentionally rude, a result of bravado at the coming ordeal with all its promised horrors. I bid my parents good-bye. As the black ambassador with Bailey at the wheel rolls away, I am reminded of another day, way back in March, 1957,when I bade them goodbye in similar fashion as I prepared to settle down to life at Sherwood. I was only eight then: I am over sixteen now, nearly a man, but the old lump returns, unbidden, to my throat. To divert my mind, I unpack and settle down in my little cubbyhole at St. Stephen’s College. There is thunderous knocking at the door. “All freshers to line up in the lawn outside.” The ferocious bellow comes from a bull-necked, tousle-haired goon with wide gaps between his tombstone teeth. A mean bruiser, if ever I saw one. He reminds me of Ernest Borgnine. His belly looks soft, though; ‘a hard, low punch, straight-armed, to the solar plexus, full bodyweight behind the blow, then dance away, jabbing with the left, in case he has the wind left to follow. Alternatively, you can try a left uppercut if he folds— remember to bend your knees as the glove comes up, then snap them straight just before impact, to add body-weight; remain focused on his chin’…Thapa’s voice rings in my ears. But no, this is not the boxing ring at Sherwood, it cannot be done; this is a ritual, going back to pre-historic times when the young, would-be warriors are ‘blooded’. I join the queue of sacrificial lambs. (‘Borgnine’ is later to be revealed as Vik Atal, one of the jolliest blokes around. It’s just as well as I didn’t try anything funny, though; he is as tough as they come. He’d probably have taken me out in seconds. Besides, it’s just not done). An hour of reciting, and acting out his favorite nursery rhymes, follows. I guffaw at the antics I see all around me. The bruiser is not amused. He complains loudly, in a martyred tone, that this is one hell of a fresh Fresher. No matter how rough the ragging gets, I just can’t help enjoying it; it shows, to his consternation. I seem to be a first for him. He’s determined to sort me out. When the others are through, he selects ten of us, myself among them, and marches us off to his room (in Rudra South block, I think it

37 was). Calisthenics follow: routine stuff for a Sherwoodian, but some of the guys don’t see much point in endless deep-knee bends while clutching one’s ears in a crossover hold. We are told to lie down on the floor, one atop the other. The pile of bodies is unstable, as heaving chests labour for air. Fresher pressure, our tormentor gleefully calls it. I am second from the bottom. Between the hard floor and me is a slight frame, bespectacled and of scholarly mien. I feel sorry for him. The world knows him later as Dr. Arvind Narain Das (Gold Medallist in B.A. (History Hons.), a genuine intellectual and prominent Leftist thinker/ writer and the author of many scholarly works including The Republic of Bihar (Penguin). 1 Two cricketing types hi-jack us from Borgnine. From frying pan to fire! One is a thickset, gray-eyed fellow with wiry forearms who reminds me of Charles Bronson. The other is a slim, Hugh Grant-type with a comma over his right eye, like Bond in Dr. No. He would have been handsome had he not pasted that bored, cynical expression on his face (it’s a façade, I see later—he is the legendary Michael Dalvi. His partner is the equally famous Pradeep ‘Bablu’ Bhide, both opening batsman of a class St. Stephen’s rarely sees). The lawns are flooded ankle-deep; the deadly duo make us ‘swim’ two lengths of a pool—naturally, the smart fellow who decided to do the Dolphin finished miles ahead of the rest—he just stretched out, then dragged his knees his up to his chest, then stretched out again—and so on. Funniest sight is Giddy (James Gideon), doing the crawl: he thrashes about for half-an-hour at exactly the same spot. We are bedraggled, grass-stained, thoroughly soaked. The two heartless hooligans march us off to where they’ve lost their hearts—Miranda House. Here, at the boundary wall, we present impromptu versions of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene—on the road. Judging by the cheers and the titters from the jam-packed windows, the performance is highly appreciated by a knowledgeable audience. Traffic crawls. Shakespeare seems to be highly popular with the Kingsway Camp dadas, turned out in full strength. Now we have two audiences trying to outdo each other in cheers, jeers, catcalls, and wolf-whistles. Things are getting slightly out of control; we are marched off in the pairs, holding our partners up close and personal. The applause is deafening. We are mere cannon fodder; we have but served our purpose. Body language (at our cost) has done what words have failed to do. (The deadly duo connects unerringly, later on). We are now marched off to the College café and treated to a gargantuan meal of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and mince chops. Introductions follow, the signal that our battered bunch has earned the right to live in Stephania, as far as the going concern of Mike & Bablu is concerned. Henceforth, we are invited to resort to nicknames when addressing them, equals in a land where we are more equal than the vast, unwashed multitudes of the outside world. It is a never-never land that, once left, we will never, never again encounter, though we will search for it all our lives. A word about the café. The St. Stephen’s café, at first glance, looks somewhat rundown and frayed at the edges (remember, I speak of forty years ago). It is situated indoors. Two spring-loaded wire-mesh doors (which later prove to be portals to a paradise of rare gastronomic delights) afford ingress to a large room (about 25’x 25’), with a split-counter on the left leading to the alchemist’s alcove (the kitchen). There are about a dozen tables with four or five cane chairs set at each, and there is no music or carpeting. It is well ventilated, however, so smoke is not a problem. There are ceiling fans whirring away overhead, and the walls and ceiling are whitewashed. That’s all. It is a man’s kind of place.

Arvind passed away suddenly in August 2000, leaving his many friends shell-shocked.

38 But first-time visitors learn that appearances can be very deceptive. For in this hallowed place are available the best scrambled-eggs-on-buttered-toast, mince chops, and shikanji (sweet-lime) in the world. The wizards responsible for these wonders are known to the faithful as Dolly and Shelley (although it is rumoured that their secret identities are Daulat Singh and Shailendra Singh). They never reveal their secrets, handed down from sorcerer to sorcerer. For decades, foreign powers have sent agents/moles to steal the magic recipes. They return empty-handed, including one Zia ul Haq, who, in spite of graduating from Stephania, fails to lay his hands on the secret formula. His frustration ultimately turns to belligerence. It’s a case of tortured taste buds. We, the cognoscenti, understand. Becoming President of Pakistan does not offer a way out, as Zia learnt to his dismay. It is common currency that Ian Fleming thought up Blades for Bond and his boss, ‘M’ (and P.G. Wodehouse invented the Drone’s Club for the Last of the Woosters) after sampling the atmosphere and fare of the café we had just left. We know for a certainty that the outside world, large though it is, will never be able to satisfy our palates, at least as far as the items we have just gorged on are concerned. They will remain a mirage to tantalize and madden our spouses, whose culinary skills will be put to the ultimate test and found wanting. Breakfast, it is said, is the time when the Stephanian, married and addicted to scrambled-eggs-on-toast, is on his shortest fuse. Ambrosia, alas, is only available on Olympus… not in Eden. Under the shade of the large, leafy Neem tree outside the café sits Sukhia (he has been there for as long as anyone can remember). He is a Barfi and samosa specialist, and that’s all he stocks. The quantity is limited, but the quality is not. After sampling Sukhia’s wares, from which the aroma of homemade ghee wafts like a cloud, attracting swarms of bees (a sure sign of purity, Agmark or no), one becomes rather suspicious of other mithai-wallahs. One complainant, unhappy about the shrinking size of the Barfis, is silenced by the acerbic observation that he himself is but an etiolated, effete version of his father… a grand gentleman who was never heard complaining. Just thinking about Sukhia’s offerings, not merely the edible variety, makes me salivate, even after all these years. Ominous news: the annual ‘Miss Fresher’ contest is scheduled for the coming Saturday. But before that, one has to be blessed by the ‘Blacksmith’. This mysterious deity turns out to be the huge water-cooler opposite the notice board. The exact reasons for this nomenclature are lost in antiquity. Suffice it to say that every Fresher has to make obeisance before, and swear fealty to, this icon. Then he has to recite the Blacksmith’s Song; recite, because the score has been misplaced ages ago, and no Stephanian, not even venerable Khushwant Singh or the brothers Bharat Ram Charat Ram, can recollect the tune. I once even asked Dr. Karni Singh of Bikaner, ace marksman and Olympian, but he couldn’t recollect any tune, either. The lyrics compensate, in large measure, for the lost music. They are full of earthy wisdom, imparting deep insights into certain aspects of general anatomy. They provide the wet-behind-the-ears Fresher a vivid glimpse into a murky world of human predilections even as they inspire research into an esoteric area of mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, certain laws of the land, common to civilized societies, come in the way of my reproducing them here. In any case, I do not wish to be drummed out of the Old Stephanians’ Society for committing a breach of faith. Like the Rosicrucians, I am only allowed to externalize the mantra on select occasions (viz., Stephanian gettogethers), linking arms with my fellows and hollering it at the top of my baritone. The

39 magic chant, it is said, has the power to rejuvenate, to roll back the years as it were. It works. The Blacksmith is the logo on the masthead of the college fortnightly, Kooler Talk, aka KT. KT claims to cover ‘all the talk that’s kool to print’. It is a trendsetter, a breeding ground of many future writers and journalists. The captions and headlines are often decades ahead of their time: even the snappy bold-print of today’s newspapers is hard-pressed to match the best of KT. It is unique, presented in cryptic idiom for a select audience, not unlike The New Yorker or The Field (both of which are available in the reading room, rubbing shoulders with Punch, TIME, The New Statesman, National Geographic and The Economist). Illustrious names have figured on the editorial page; I can remember Arvind Das’s name on it vividly. As a wit that wagged full-time, only one Doraiswamy (passed out, unfortunately, before I joined) – better known as ‘Doray’ – is said to equal Arvind’s stature as Editor of KT. A trio pounces on me in the reading room and hauls me away. One is Yashwant Sahai (son of Ram Sahai, IAS, an old friend of Dad’s from his army days). His fellow inquisitors are a sardarji who is an ex- Sherwoodian a year my senior, who therefore grins and takes a back seat. The other is one who finally reveals himself as Deepak Dhawan, only the D’s and P’s come out as ‘Fr’s’ on account of some acoustical aberration; my interpretation of his name, therefore, is highly confusing. The last of the threesome is a short, barrel-chested, rubicund roundhead with sparse brown hair and an infectious grin. He finds out I am a Sherwoodian like his sardarji friend. I am grilled mercilessly about C.S Bedi’s (for that is the sardarji’s name) school record. Fortunately, it is quite outstanding, so I have little difficulty in remembering. Besides, he was my House Captain. In an inspired moment, I even recollect the full version—Chiranjiv Singh—a rare occurrence, since only surnames are used in Sherwood. My ex-chief grins proudly at my tormenters, and pulls them off me. I have got myself a staunch ally from the past. He lets it be known that I am an old friend. The ragging begins to abate The barrel-chested one is Lawrence Rydquist (“Just call me Larry”), a rock-hard boxer-type from St. Xavier’s, Hazaribagh. He is an irrepressible jokester, who loves it when the joke’s on him (which it often is: no one can resist kidding Larry. If I were a girl, I’d probably describe him as ‘cute’). One thing I notice is that ragging is a fantastic icebreaker; we come to know each other intimately, even to the point of often remembering, for the rest of our lives, which school the other fellow went to. Snobbish? I don’t think so; merely someone else’s personal details, long remembered, and very flattering to a friend…a bond-enhancer if ever there was one. Stephania, I discover, is a tiny country in the clouds where everyone knows everyone else well nigh inside out. A burly figure with a powerful, metallic voice marches me off to his room in Allnutt South. The shelves groan under the weight of myriad classics. He obviously has a profound knowledge of Shakespeare; I am grilled on Laertes and Ophelia, Lear and Mercutio. I have to recite the Seven Ages of Man. The burly figure nods without comment at my fumbling attempts to match the range and daunting sweep of the questions flung at me. He seems to be a throwback to some senator of Roman times, a patrician type born to sway the masses. I, a mere stripling of a freshman, am awed. He starts looking bored, asks me to name any ‘difficult’ word I can think of. If he doesn’t know the meaning, I am off the hook. I come up with “Hector”. His eyes twinkle (relief? amused pride?). He insists it’s a proper noun, a character from Ovid. “From Homer, Sir”, I correct him. “Ah, yes, Homer. The Iliad, of course.” That twinkle again: he is toying with me. “But what does it mean, fresher? It has no meaning.”

40 “It has, Sir,” I protest, “it means ‘to bully’ ”. He asks me to look it up for him from the dictionary on the shelf. I locate the word and present the evidence. He reads it with satisfaction. “Bully for you, Fresher. Good going.” He is genuinely appreciative. (But why the pride in my performance? Simply because, I see in a flash of prescience, he is a born leader and motivator). “By the way, call me Kapil, as in ‘Kapil Sibal’”, he says, as he shakes my hand, the signal that the ragging session is over. I have just met Stephania’s legendary orator, Shakespearean actor non pareil, and a great gentleman. No production of the justly-famous Shakespeare Society of St. Stephen’s College is ever complete without him; he is Hamlet, he Julius Caesar, he is King Lear, he is Romeo, he is Henry II, he is a hundred characters from other plays like ‘Rhinoceros’; he is history come to life in living literature. In a word, he is unforgettable. In time, he becomes the leading lawyer of India’s Supreme Court of Justice, the first Indian non-parliamentarian to address both Houses of Parliament, to finally himself sit in the Upper House and go on to a cabinet post. He achieves fame and fortune through sheer merit and honest toil, quietly accepting the respon-sibal-ities he was pre-destined to carry across his massive shoulders. A fine Indian it was my privilege to have met in my formative years. How can I possibly take the names of all the great men with whom I had the privilege of breaking bread with in Stephania? Today, if I recount their names, it will seem as if I, an unknown Stephanian, am attempting to shine in their reflected glory by mentioning illustrious names in my little book. But I have mentioned so many who, great men all, are not in the public eye, that I do these stalwarts an injustice by omitting to mention them merely because they are already newsworthy. How about Suman Dubey, tall, serious, bearded, very fit as per the requirement of his hobby, mountaineering. A brilliant student, who plays a key role in the Ministry of Finance and Planning Commission? Or Siddharth Kak, film-maker and theatre personality extraordinary? Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, fresh-faced and energetic, keeps a very low profile despite being the Indian squash racquets champion (1969) and undoubtedly one of the all-time greats of the game, who has become a legend thorough his social service organization in Tilonia, a remote little village in Rajasthan that he has transformed by his pioneering efforts. And how about Roshan Seth, famous thespian? Mighty Manjit Singh, now a top gun in the Audits & Accounts Department? Rajeev Sethi, India’s Czar of Culture, always in the dailies whenever avant-garde is news? Maybe Rana Talwar, sharpshooter turned Banking mogul? Top bureaucrat Ajit Jadhav? Kabir Bedi? Shakti Maira? Charan Das Arha? Gobinder ‘Goofy’ Singh? Kiran Rai? Nirupam Sen? Naren Belliappa? Badal Roy? Nirmal Andrews? Shiv Shankar Menon? Cricketers like Ashok Gandotra, and cousins Jeevan and Sheel Mehra? Stage personalities Suraj and Chander Rai? If I let my mind freewheel any more I’ll run out of paper. The corridors of power, the media, the creative arts are where you find the best of Stephania; no matter where you go, you are bound to bump into a Stephanian! Ragging is banned in Delhi’s colleges today. In recent years, the influx of undesirable elements into the university has given it a bad name. Excesses, in the name of, and under the guise of, ragging, have had serious repercussions of a law-and-order nature. Ragging, too, apparently, therefore, carried within itself the seeds of its own demise: it just needed the right socio-economic conditions to ignite the fuse (see “A Farewell to Arms.”). With its passing, a whole new generation will step out into life after an insipid, uninspiring experience of passively joining an institution, studying for examinations, and passing out, without ever having known the euphoria of close friendship and intimacy, the stuff that esprit de corps is fashioned from.

41 It was not elitism, it was not a bourgeois tradition, it was simply a great way for young people, who would otherwise have remained closed doors to each other, to function effectively as a group and make the most of college life. It helped forge lasting bonds that served them well throughout life, the sap of the ‘Old Boy’ network that sustained and supported the ever-growing edifice. It was a golden opportunity for developing inter-personal skills that enabled one to better endure, and perhaps cope with, the inanities and pettiness that life in the great, big world outside would be found to be brimming with. If the other name of Stephania was Utopia, ragging served the useful purpose of helping one keep firmly in touch with terra firma. No ‘five-pointer’ (five points are the highest possible marks in the inversely-structured marks-sheet system of the Indian School Certificate Examination) ever got shorter shrift than the one Stephania gave him. It chastened the proud and uplifted the meek and the modest. It taught one how to stiffen the spine in the face of apparently hostile elements, to laugh at oneself and at life, and perhaps inspired solutions that enabled one to win over an opponent. It smoothed-out the rough edges, buffed by a hoary tradition driven by peer-pressure. Many an intractable rough-diamond departed as an exquisite brilliant whose fine-cut facets reflected the fire that burned brightly within. It also served to raise lasting mental memorials to friends never seen, met, or heard from again. Young people today, I fancy, are much the poorer for its passing.


Chapter 10 VIJ
Mussoorie! That’s where we were going, our motorcycle ‘gang of four’. I was in second year at college, and spent weekends at my uncle’s government accommodation (a lovely, spacious bungalow on Purana Qila Road, New Delhi). Our friend Suresh revealed that he had been selected for the Class I Central Services, and wanted to check out the Academy at Mussoorie. Since we knew one or two persons already under training there, arranging accommodation at Mussoorie would not be a problem. Then Suresh remembered he had a class-fellow called Vij who was undergoing training as a cadet in the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. Dehra Dun thus became the first stage of the expedition, the base camp for the final assault on Mussoorie. Driving up to Dehra Dun and Mussoorie has lost much of its glitter today. In recent years, I had often driven up in my little Maruti…and hadn’t enjoyed the journey half as much as I should have. There seemed to be an inordinately large number of heavy vehicles traveling in either direction with sundry Paul Reveres at the wheel, possessed of urgent information of national import. Caution had not only been thrown to the winds, it had apparently been struck from the lexicon. The car carried all the family I had, and I didn’t relish the way people risked your life on the road. I had always felt that if one must risk a life, it should be one’s own and not those of others. A whole new generation of illtrained drivers, with the road sense and manners of a mentally retarded buffalo, had seemingly appeared overnight and changed the equation for keeps. But in 1967, all that was a generation away. The Rajdoot motorcycle had recently been launched in India, in collaboration with Cekop of Poland. It was an inexpensive, ruggedly basic machine from the House of Escorts, and it was an overnight success. The Japanese invasion was almost two decades away. For now, the Rajdoot was the best value for money, and the university crowd did not shy away from it. Marketing manoeuvres precipitated by the entry of up-market foreign makes had not forced it into its current ‘Doodhwala’ image, aiming it pointedly at the rural market (where it went on to re-invent itself in the most brilliant product re-positioning exercise I’ve ever seen in India). I had no motorcycle in college, there being a tacit understanding with Dad that I’d get one from him the day I got a job (he gave it to me five months before that event, a new, dark-green, 250 cc ‘Jawa’—the precursor of today’s eclipsed ‘YEZDI’), which was

43 perfectly acceptable to me. My cousin was two years older and more insistent, and his father could absorb the impact of supporting a college-going son, motorbike and all. Even in those relatively cheap times, it nevertheless involved what was, in value-of-money terms, a not inconsiderable financial outlay. But he was a large-hearted gentleman, and took it without blinking. I think he loved his son much more than he ever cared to admit. Actions spoke louder than words for Brahma Deva Mukerji, ICS. It was on an almostnew and shiny Rajdoot, therefore, that we set off for Dehra Dun. Forty-odd years later, I cannot recall the exact details of the journey. Suffice it to say that it was simply glorious. I had always been mad about motorcycles, ever since, as a three-year old, I had started riding on the petrol tank of Dad’s classic bike, the nowlegendary 250 cc 4-stroke, single cylinder BSA. I still recall with joy the deep, staccato exhaust beat that emerged from the gleaming, pipette-shaped, heavy-chromed silencer, the individual, well-spaced notes blending into a thunderous roar as Dad opened up the throttle on Thornhill Road. Alas! The single-cylinder, 2-stroke Rajdoot engine had an uneven, tinny beat, hardly conveying the impression of robust construction, but it was capable of carrying two people in comfort (the floating-arm suspension was outstanding) at a steady 60 kph all day. Stopping occasionally at roadside dhabas for tea and snacks, we entered Dehra Dun as dusk was falling. The other Rajdoot belonged to Suresh, who had another friend as his pillion rider. From the fact that we were immediately directed to Vij’s quarters by the helpful guards, readers will understand what relaxed, laid-back days those were. In spite of two wars with our neighbors, paranoid security-consciousness had yet to take root. Here were four scruffy-looking civilians on dusty motorcycles, clad in jeans and jackets, and all the guards could think of was that we looked like we could do with a hot bath and a square meal. Our dishevelled appearance was our entry permit. No awkward questions were asked of us, no papers had to be produced for scrutiny by some officious popinjay, no cooling of heels in some spartan visitor’s room. My opinion of the Indian Army, already high, shot through the ceiling. We were told to look for ‘Karen Coy’. Who was this coy Karen, I wondered, already feeling every bit the civvy that I was. She sounded nice. Bad luck! ‘She’ turned out to be ‘K’ Company’, better known as ‘Karen Coy’, ‘Coy’ being army abbreviation for ‘Company’, a group of soldiers! We stood outside barracks occupied by maybe half-a dozen cadets. One stood out from the rest by virtue of his extraordinary physique. To call him ‘husky’ would be a gross understatement. He was not tall, barely 5 feet 8 inches in his shoes, but he looked shorter. Incredibly wide shoulders bulged with solid muscle; his deltoids were like cannonballs. The deepest chest I’ve ever seen in a man, with massive pectorals worthy of the greatest gladiator, and arms like pythons. A trim waist with a clear-cut six-pack rippling in washboard array topped slim swivel hips. The shorts (all he wore) exposed muscular legs. Yet it was not a gym-made body. It was an obviously natural physique, a gift from Mars himself. Its bulk and definition didn’t register, so perfect was the symmetry of it. There was nothing of the oily, clumsy pahalwan about him. And hence it did not put one off; the overall effect was pleasing to the eye, to put it mildly. The best part of it was that he was quite unselfconscious, totally unaware of his Olympian build that separated him from his fellows, cadets all. I soon learned that he enjoyed testing and punishing his powerful body much like a boy with his new bicycle; he pushed it to its limits just for laughs, to see how far it could go. He would take a telephone directory and rip it in half, or he’d blow and blow into a football bladder until it

44 burst. Some lungpower! I’ve seen him tighten a regulation army web-belt, Brasso-ed, Blanco-ed and everything, around his waist, then expand his stomach till the poor belt could take no more and exploded in defeat. Then he would collapse weakly onto his camp cot, and laugh and laugh till the tears ran down his cheeks. I was feeling sorry for the Pakistanis already. If this account of Vij’s mad feats of strength conveys the impression that, physique notwithstanding, he was mentally challenged, I have inadvertently done him an injustice. IMA cadets are selected after successfully competing in an All-India examination against hundreds of thousands of aspirants. He set aside time for studies, and was near the top of his class (the IMA has a rigorous academic syllabus, and cadets who are all-rounders get the plum postings). He read quite a lot, and even wrote articles for some army publication or the other. He was a keen photographer, I learnt, when he showed me his treasured Contax. He was to become, one day, a Command diver and boxer. He always seemed to be suffering from an overdose of glucose. His energy had earned him the nickname of ‘Speedy’, a sobriquet that embarrassed him no end (nicknames in the army are a status symbol, a practice inherited from the British, and often stick for life). He was hugely popular; it was obvious from the way his mates accommodated us by immediately vacating the barracks for our group. Later, I was to learn with deep regret that, in the ’71 operations, many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. The next morning, we were rudely woken by reveille at 5 am, an hour when no selfrespecting civvy would rise. In the army, not leaping out of your bunk at reveille meant you were dead meat. The sergeant major bawled us out before he realized that these scrawny specimens weren’t part of his bunch. What the hell, we thought, once up, might as well go through the whole routine. It was a bad decision; cold water shower, followed by rope climbing (Thapa’s and Johnny’s rigorous discipline and training stood me in good stead), then rounded off by a two-mile run (the school marathon fondly remembered). This entitled one to another shower, and breakfast in the mess—as much porridge, as many eggs, toasts, and lashings of butter as one could put away. Burp !! Ooops !! Then on to Mussoorie by taxi, Vij in grey mufti, a grey Fedora jammed firmly on his close-cropped, bullet-shaped skull. The IAS academy, ‘Whispering Windows’, a round of the scenic spots…then back to Dehra Dun. I never saw Vij take a drop of alcohol, ever. He had no use for stimulants. The Glucon-D factory inside him injected raw energy into his bloodstream 24 hours a day. His face was always ruddy, flushed with the heady experience of being alive. He consumed liters of orange juice every day. It was his only weakness. He shunned cigarettes but did not sermonize if you happened to like a puff or two. He simply enjoyed being Gentleman Cadet Vij, Arjun, of Karen Coy. Unaffected, fun loving, vigorous, a keen sportsman, serious about a career in the army (his first and only love; he never married), fond of (and knowledgeable about) firearms, Vij was that rare commodity—a man’s man. It was time to go. We mounted our bikes and took off on the road back to Delhi. I glanced back at the IMA gate just before the bend in the road. He was still there, lustily waving the Fedora. Then he was lost to view, and the years swallowed him up.


Chapter 11 Vij, Arjun; Major; IC - 17575
Late autumn, 1971. I am enjoying an evening stroll in Connaught Place. Traffic, scanty and sedate, flows in both directions around the central park. Walking around the Inner Circle is such a delight; no hawkers, no pavement encroachments, very few beggars. Fountains play over coloured lights, the shop windows are full of goodies, and soft music comes from somewhere. Couples stroll hand in hand, lost in each other. I am a bachelor, about twenty-two, footloose and fancy free. My wallet bulges with currency notes. Dr. Charat Ram is an exacting taskmaster, a brilliant man who drives his team (and himself) relentlessly…but we are handsomely compensated. I am drawing a princely salary of a thousand rupees a month. Petrol costs less than a rupee a litre, and my Jawa motorcycle is giving me 40 kilometers per liter, no matter how hard I flog it. Mileage is passé; performance is everything. ‘Gold Armour’ shirts cost sixty rupees each (I make it a point to have half-a-dozen in stock), a top-of-the-line Zodiac tie costs thirty rupees, a high-quality Zodiac belt, forty. Senson’s on Janpath charges sixty hard earned rupees for tailoring a pair of form-fitting men’s trousers. It’s worth every paisa; they do a fantastic job. The best calf-leather boots come for three hundred rupees; a lavish dinner for two at Volga or York’s can set one back all of sixty rupees. The mutton lunch at Bankura, Janpath, goes for 5/50, the chicken one for 7/50. It is a balanced meal and the servings are generous. In spite of a hearty appetite, I can barely manage to eat everything on my plate (I hate wasting food). A packet of India Kings, advertised as ITC’s premium brand, sells for Rs.7/50. Wills Navy Cut cigarettes, always a reliable index of inflation – a rival to petrol as such – is eighty paise a pack of ten (up from 67 paise in my college days). Gillette razor blades come for two rupees a packet of five. A rear shock absorber for the bike means an outlay of over seventy INR. My small bachelor apartment in Hauz Khas (fully furnished) exacts a dreadful toll of one hundred and fifty rupees every month (roll up your eyes in horror!), paid on the first day of the following month. My office is in Himalaya House, the only multi-storied building on Kasturba Gandhi Marg (formerly called Curzon Road). Surya Kiran follows shortly, along with the American Library and The Hindustan Times building. They spring up before my eyes. Gone are the sleepy, sprawling bungalows, with the lovely gardens

46 and lawns we so admired from our windows on the 12th floor. Demand and supply, “make ’em an offer they can’t refuse.” Delhi’s skyline begins to change. Parking space, there for you to take, is going to become a problem soon. Fortunately, Himalaya House has basement parking for people who work there. A leisurely fifteen minutes’ drive through moderate traffic gets me to work. I enjoy driving in Delhi. The flow of traffic is smooth, disciplined. The cops are a benevolent bunch of sleepyheads who often look the other way, more embarrassed than you are at a slight infringement of a traffic rule. It’s easy to crash red lights, but few bother. There is no hurry, no panic, and no road rage, no drivers at the wheels of imported limousines jabbering away into their mobile phones as they weave from one lane to another. The old rich of Delhi are still around, a highly educated, cultured, sober and dignified lot who love the city. The rise of a hitherto unknown class of carpetbaggers has yet to make its presence felt in any significant way. There aren’t too many cars: mostly cyclists and a thin stream of two-wheelers. Come Friday night, I never miss an English movie. Chanakya is my favorite cinema hall, not far from ‘home’, although the newly renovated Plaza and Odeon are giving it competition. But I have to admit that Chanakya’s décor is superb, and so is the selection of movies. A ticket in the Dress Circle costs about six rupees, and there aren’t that many takers. Rivoli is small, low profile, but often steals a march over competitors on account of its penchant for offbeat, different films, which usually click well with its small target audience. Dress Circle tickets can cost about five rupees per head. The seats aren’t too comfortable, but they are adequate, as are the sound and décor. I don’t see too many Hindi movies (‘phillums’, as I call them), but occasionally even a Plaza can succumb to the pressure of the Great God of the Box Office – audience demand – and screen a ‘Sholay’ or a ‘Guide’. One rarely ventures as far as Golcha, though the smaller halls in Delhi are no mystery to me. Coming back to CP, (as christened by laconic Stephanians; the name has stuck, I notice, and is definitely in currency today, even with auto-rickshaw drivers, the acid-test of public acceptance of place names: ‘Rajiv Gandhi Chowk’ has failed to take off among the hoi polloi), I am taking the air, literally. It is sweet-scented, untainted with any carcinogenic automobile exhaust emissions (there are few cars or bikes; those things cost a lot of money) and thoroughly oxygenated, thanks to the garden in the well-maintained Central Park, where a cozy little outdoor restaurant, Rambles, occupies pride of place. It’s very peaceful, hardly crowded (as I said, there is not all that much cash in circulation), and serves good food at very reasonable rates. The little coloured lights in the knee-high hedgerows trimming the winding pathway around it give it a fairyland atmosphere. It happens to be one of my regular haunts. That’s where I’ll be having dinner tonight. Apart from a rudimentary breakfast (of Glucose biscuits, and two raw eggs with cornflakes and sugar poured into a bottle of DMS milk and shaken vigorously), I eat out all the time. I’m a happy bachelor, remember? I do not drink tea or coffee, rarely try soft drinks or ice cream, and never touch alcohol. I call cigarettes ‘one-way tickets on the road to nowhere.’ I’m not really health conscious, though I workout regularly at home. I think it’s because I think I’m internally stable. Youth, health, and raw physical power: these ephemeral things are in season in my body, surge through it. I have no use for stimulants; I’m always high…on life. Perhaps it’s because I am content, happy in my total and complete freedom. The job in the Shriram Group Corporate Headquarters is very satisfying. I am the second officer to the Personnel and HRD manager. There is ample scope to be creative. Argument and fresh/loud-thinking is not only encouraged but mandatory; it is regarded as

47 a sign of constant self (as well as corporate) re-appraisal. The Boss wants everyone to point out flaws in the system, but we’d better have suggestions to remedy them as well. Regular and handsome ad hoc increments come my way; they are a sign of acceptance and the Boss’s satisfaction with work output. Some of my colleagues need a raise too; I decline an increment (idealistic fool!) and recommend my friend Mohan for it instead, as well as a promotion. He is senior to me, and I have learnt much from him. I owe him. We become close friends. He’s been calling me over to join him in Canada for the last twenty-five years, but I go my merry way, alone and carefree. Friends from college days call me ‘The Outsider’, from the Albert Camus book of the same name. Unconsciously, I have adopted the Arjun Vij way of life. Only (major) difference is, I am a civilian. So, as I was saying, I was taking the air in CP, strolling along without a care in the world. Late shoppers on their way home to dinner and bed hurried past me. One particular figure registered on my idling brain about two seconds after he had passed. I recalled an impression of a man somewhat shorter than me but with an impressive width of shoulder. In fact, so impressive were the shoulders that I remember they were distorting an outsized camel colored jacket with upturned collar and slash pockets. No one was this wide—except… “Vij!” I yelled at the retreating back. The figure spun around, catlike in a halfcrouch, and peered back at me vigilantly. We closed. He walked lightly, springily, balanced on the balls of his feet, like an athlete about to take a running start. I hoped he wouldn’t start running at me, he’d run me over! One hand was half extended in cautious greeting, just as likely to shake my hand as to flip me over his shoulder. The slitted eyes scanned my face with no sign of recognition; I was taller and brawnier since we had last met, and I was dressed in a steel-gray pin-stripe office suit and tie. His clipped moustache, brushed vigorously upwards commando-style, bristled with aggression. But when I introduced myself, he broke into roars of laughter. He pummelled my back (it hurt for days afterwards) and kept asking me how I’d spotted him in a crowd. He was really keen to know this. He thought I had fantastic eyesight…for a civilian (it was his ultimate compliment). As I said in an earlier episode, he was completely unaware of his outstanding physical appearance. He kept telling me how fit I looked (sure, about as fit as a Somalian refugee, next to him). A man built like Arjun is easy to remember. No one can make an XXL size American GI jacket look like it shrank at the cleaners in quite the way he can. Spotting him in a crowd is no big deal. We went over to Rambles. It was like dining with action hero Jean Claude Van Damme, who bore a strong facial resemblance to Vij. In fact, come to think of it, Van Damme is a poor man’s Arjun Vij—a pale, under-nourished version of the original. Over dinner, he filled me in on all that happened in the intervening years. He’d passed out with high grades and got the infantry outfit of his choice, the 8th battalion of the legendary Rajputana Rifles (the Raj Rif, as it’s better known, is the scourge of unfriendly neighbouring countries). He showed me his dog tags: they read “Vij, Arjun; Major; IC17575”. I was sharing a table with the youngest Major in the entire Indian Army! 17575 was his highly-prized Indian Commission number. Name, rank and serial number: these were the only three pieces of information he was supposed to reveal to the enemy, in case of capture (fat chance of that happening!). We talked and talked; we exchanged information about kith and kin (both his [elder] brothers were in the army, doing extremely well). He was keen to know where my cousin was (he was very much in Delhi). We exchanged hunting and fishing yarns and gun-lore, two old friends chewing the cud. The office was far away. I envied him his border

48 postings, in a land of ice and snow, where fish and game abounded, enabling him to use the imported fishing tackle sold in the military canteen. He’d shot bear and mountain goat with the standard army issue 7.62 mm SLR (‘Self-Loading Rifle’) or the sten machinecarbine set to single shot (he always referred to weaponry by their full, official names, uttered with pride and reverence). Man, the army was a great vacation as far as he was concerned. (Yes, in peacetime, thought I, a mere civilian). Those of you who have seen a 70’s movie called ‘Patton’ may remember what Reichfeldmarschal von Runstedt says of the brilliant, controversial American General (played by George C. Scott), while trying to understand his psyche and anticipate his future battle tactics: “Patton is a medieval warrior, lost in modern times: a magnificent anachronism”. I could not have described Arjun Vij better. He loved the sound of the war bugle, a warrior born to combat. He ate, lived, and slept war, strategy, weaponry, and tactics. Mars had not given him that magnificent body for nothing. Yet Diana also inspired him, wily huntress that she is. There was a streak of originality in him. Anyone on the lookout for a brainwashed assembly-line soldier would be disappointed in Arjun. I knew he had a great future in the Indian Army, for daring unconventionality is the bedrock from which springs innovative genius. I went over to the Raj Rif regimental center on Saturday afternoon. The sentry noted my bike’s registration number and waved me through; he had been briefed to do just that. Vij was ready with a jug of orange juice and burgers. He informed me I was leaving the Jawa behind, and taking his brand-new Bajaj scooter instead (I got my bike back three weeks later; the tires were bald). He’d acquired a Holland & Holland .375 magnum rifle, a potent big game weapon. We planned to try it out on the shooting range. Personally, I thought it was a waste of money; the game suitable for this fearsome piece of ordnance was either protected by law, or very hard to reach. I was delighted with the .45 Colt, however. Handguns were always my first love. Proud of his new pistol (and, no doubt, on account of a sudden rush of glucose in his veins), he raised the Colt and fired it skywards through the open window. He grinned, knowing I’d disapprove of such un-civilian-like conduct. Contritely, he handed it to over to me. My eager fingers closed around the cold butt and turning, I fired two rounds. The detonations boomed and echoed deafeningly off the walls. No one came to enquire about the burst of gunfire. It would have been like asking why the band was playing in a dance hall. This was the Army, after all. Guns had a way of getting fired. One day, we all went duck hunting again, and I finally saw the Holland & Holland in action…but that is another story.


Chapter 12 A Farewell to Arms
1971. War! scream the newspaper headlines. India and Pakistan were at it again, hammer and tongs. It is popular fiction that the British divided India and left the two halves to fight each other at the slightest pretext. Nothing could be further from the truth. Partition was promoted by ambitious and holier-than-thou politicians keen to expand their area of operations by playing the communal card (it is still the ultimate trump card in the hands of paranoid Pakistani politicians). Our erstwhile rulers were glad to withdraw from a colony that had become a headache. Weakened as Britain was after World War II, she dropped the reins with relief into the eager hands of the sub-continent’s new leaders. It was probably a case of frying pan to fire for both halves of a once-undivided, potentially very powerful country…a common enough experience for many newly independent countries of the erstwhile British Empire. The Indian capital is now like a city under siege. All of a sudden, everyone is very public-spirited. There’s nothing like a common threat to unite enemies, citizens and neighbours—synonyms in a city as impersonal as Delhi. People cross the street to discuss the situation with neighbours they haven’t glanced at, leave alone spoken to, since they moved in. Neighbourhood vigilante groups allocate night patrolling among themselves, armed with hockey sticks and iron rods. There is paranoia about paratroopers dropping from the skies: anyone showing a light brighter than a candle in his house is pilloried till profuse apologies are offered. Blackouts are the order of the night. Windows are either boarded up or glazing is painted black. Black paint is only available in the black market. How appropriate. Upper halves of all vehicle headlights are painted black. Shortage of paint leads to a flourishing cottage industry selling black half-moon paper stickers for vehicle lights. Black days and nights indeed. Good for blackguards. In any case, use of headlights is banned. Only pilot lights can be used; since street lighting is switched off, this means travel in near total darkness. The common man is severely affected. Life is thrown out of gear. I live in North Delhi, and after work, decide to drop in on my cousin who shares lodgings with another colleague in a comfortable two-bedroom chummery in CP belonging to National & Grindlay’s Bank. The phone rings; it is our cousin, Anand. He is leaving for Lucknow by some night train, and intends

50 to have dinner with us; the New Delhi railway station is less than two kilometers away. With the blackout in force, he doesn’t want to take any chances. No point in missing a train just because some fool of a taxi driver is unwilling to drive in the dark. He knows there is an official car which our cousin shares with his colleague. Anand arrives at 6.45 sharp. He likes to travel with a fully topped-up tank. Disaster! Three refills later, my cousin’s colleague telephones to say that he is taking his fiancee out to dinner and won’t be able to relinquish the car. Esprit de corps enables the cousin to take the blow like a man. Anand is unconcerned: it is his host’s privilege to arrange transportation to the station. My cousin decides that my bike will have to stand-in for the car. Anand doesn’t mind: he knows we are seasoned bikers. One for the road: then, lugging his overnighter, he gropes his way down the stairs to the parking lot. I am stone cold sober, not having partaken of the liquid refreshments, but for my cousin it is now a matter of honour to drop cousin Anand…which he proceeds to do with admirable success. They are back an hour or so later. Their clothes are much the worse for wear; one or two large rips are visible in their trousers. Scratches and bruises need first aid. The liquid dinner now does double duty, adding a whole new dimension to the term ‘double scotch.’ It turns out to be excellent medication: the abrasions heal quickly. My motorbike does not. Ramming into a traffic island does not fall within the scope of ‘routine maintenance for motorcycles’ as recommended by the manufacturer. The machine is a near total. My cousin now has three liabilities on his hands: an injured Anand (who phones Lucknow to say that he is unaccountably held up in Delhi for a few days), insurance/workshop wrangles over repairs for the bike (he manfully assumes full responsibility for this), and, lastly, the undersigned. I am unable to commute from my flat to office…and move in with my cousin and his batch-mate. Vij! In the hullabaloo, we’d forgotten all about our chum in the army. Calls to the Raj Rif Center only elicited the information that the unit was ‘away’. The party could be contacted by post c/o 56 APO. So Vij had gone to war. It struck me that I might not see him again. It was a depressing thought, but half-an-ounce of lead, traveling at 2,500 fps, could cut him down. Knowing him, I knew he’d probably try something unusual. His beloved Raj Rif, the Regimental honour, came before everything else. There were two other Vij’s, the eldest a Lt. Colonel, to hold aloft the flag of the Vij family of ‘Riverside’, 10, Hastings Road, Allahabad. Major Mahesh Vij was the most thoroughly professional soldier I have ever met. Temperamentally very different from Arjun, the youngest of the three Vij brothers, Mahesh, the ‘middleman’, was an ice-cold, calculating, textbook strategist (he enjoyed a brilliant career in the army, retiring as a General). Nevertheless, two spare Vij’s or no, I did not think Arjun was expendable. The war had come very close to home. Victory for Indian arms! But of Arjun Vij, Major, IC-17575, there was no news. Several weeks passed. None of my letters had been answered. It was apparent from casualty/wounded/ MIA lists that the Raj Rif had, as usual, done an outstanding job, but had suffered casualties. There is no such thing as ‘heavy losses’: the death of even one soldier is a heavy loss. I braced myself for the worst. Finally, the call came, at the office. It was a terse verbal communication that I should report to ward number such-and-such, MH (army abbreviation for ‘Military Hospital’). He was alive! That evening, my cousin, his wife and I drove down to the MH in the Delhi cantonment area. Alive? I never saw anyone more alive. If Vij, Arjun, Major, had to be described in just one word, that word would have to be ‘vital’. He exuded rude health. If anything, he was w-i-d-e-r; the giant shoulders bulged with muscle as if he had secreted cannonballs under

51 the thin fabric of the T-shirt. The glucose factory, too, appeared to be operating at full capacity. It was bitterly cold, and we were swaddled in layers of woollens under our overcoats. Arjun was wearing a flimsy, cream-colored cotton T-shirt and white shorts. He explained that he had been fighting somewhere very high and very cold. The Delhi winter, severe as it was that year, was balmy, springtime stuff for him right now. In fact, he was feeling a bit warm. Did anyone mind if he switched on the ceiling fan? We hastened to assure him that we most certainly did. He really could not feel the cold. Boy, he must have gone to the North Pole. (Readers can guess for themselves where, and why, Arjun’s outfit had been engaged). His right foot was in plaster. The card clipped to the rail of the steel hospital bed cryptically said of the nature of the injury, “GSW; RA”. Mystified, I sought clarification from a nurse. “That stands for ‘Gun Shot Wound; Right Ankle’. It’s nothing”, she reassured me. Later, Major Sharma told me what had transpired. The outfit had been ambushed in deep snow. They had taken losses; Arjun had circled the ambushers under covering fire, making a difficult climb without any back up. Armed with his sten machine-carbine in his right hand, and his trusty .45 Colt in his left fist, he had opened fire, running across the enemy position as he went. The element of surprise neutralized the enemy’s positional advantage; our boys took the opportunity to regroup and assault the enemy post. There was hand-to-hand fighting. Both of Arjun’s guns were blazing. Then the stengun (sorry, sten machine-carbine) ran out of ammunition. As he stopped for a second to fit another magazine, a heavy machinegun bullet passed through his right ankle. Blood pumped in a double-spray as Arjun went down, but there was also an answering twin stream of lead from his chattering guns. Many an enemy soldier would return home zipped up in a body bag. Apparently, the field doctors wanted to amputate. Army sawbones are very good at that sort of thing; it saves the government costly surgery and hospital expenses later on. (This penchant for short cuts perhaps explains why doctors, retiring from the Services, find it such heavy going on Civvy Street. The public instinctively feels they will resort to rough-and-ready methods. They survive because of investments made during their long, secure careers, and on their generous pensions. If I am wrong, I beg to be corrected). Death often follows; the shock of amputation can prove fatal. Arjun was fully conscious; he absolutely forbade it. What he needed badly was blood; that was made available when relief helicopters could fly in. He survived the long journey to a base hospital. Then he was flown into Delhi. He was in line for a medal. Arjun was on a high, as usual. It had been a great caper as far as he was concerned. I am sure, where he fell, the enemy dead were piled the highest. Surgery followed surgery, as the army physicians tried their best to repair the shattered joint. But the ankle is a very delicate, intricate assembly of load-bearing bones. The wounds heal, but the joint is never quite the same again. In course of time, Arjun was moving around with only a walking cast and single crutch. That was when the MH authorities decided he could have visitors. He never called before that because, firstly, he did not think he merited any special attention. Besides, though he never showed or mentioned it, I think he felt deeply about his comrades—those that never returned. It is not uncommon for soldiers surviving a war to feel a sense of guilt that they made it back while their buddies bought it. I also think he wanted to spare us the sight of him bed-ridden and badly injured, in pain. My sister-in-law could only gape at Arjun; urban sophisticate as she was, men like the ‘Mad Major’ were completely beyond her experience. “Did you see those shoulders?” was all she could gasp on our way back to the car. I wonder what she would have said if she had met Matthew Jacob, our belligerent

52 para-commando friend stationed at Agra, he of the bar-room brawls and point-blankrange shootouts?! One thing I’ll say for Arjun; no man ever tried harder to heal himself. He walked, he swam, he jogged; he surpassed the physiotherapist’s expectations. I think he was terrified that the army would think he was unfit for active duty, and relegate him to a desk job. That was when he started accompanying us on duck shoots. He didn’t have a .12 bore shotgun but that didn’t stop him from lugging the .375 Holland & Holland along. On one occasion, a flight of crafty ducks descended on a small pond that was surrounded by hillocks. There being no cover of any sort, it was impossible to get close enough to put them up in the air and shoot. They could spot us well before we could get within range to take our chances, and fly off. Those ducks sure had one smart Major in charge of their outfit. Our Major did not like being outmanoeuvered. He worked the boltaction of his big-game rifle, took careful aim, and fired the cannon. The sound, within the natural amphitheatre formed by the hillocks, was deafening; it echoed and re-echoed. All the ducks flew off, quacking at us in derision. Something passed close by my head at very high velocity, whistling shrilly; Heavens! I thought; that’s the first time ducks ever shot back at me! Strange, I always seem to get shot at whenever I go duck shooting. I realized the ricochet had probably missed my head by inches. I don’t think even a standard NATO helmet would have stopped the ricochet of such a heavy bullet at that close range. Vij knew that, too. Better than any of us, he realized what had just happened, or rather, had not happened. He put the gun away, sadly. I think that was the last shot the Holland & Holland fired in his hands on active duty. Vanishing wildlife and a tide of conservation had mothballed that magnificent weapon before its appointed time. Is it not true that everything carries within it the seeds of its own destruction? Big game rifles had hunted big game – and themselves – out of existence. The human body gradually runs down and stops working on the commands received from in-house genetic timers. The British Empire had spawned for itself a host of problems that brought it crashing down. Within half a century of the end of the Second World War, Britain is under siege from immigrants who have emigrated from its erstwhile colonies. Hardworking, ambitious, thrifty, possessed of sober and regular habits, these Asian British citizens are, slowly but surely, driving the original inhabitants of the British Isles to the wall. Reprisals, like the ones in mid-2001, with a definite racial bias, will only fuel the desire to beat the English at their own game: shop-keeping. Napoleon’s words are well on the way to being vindicated. British shopkeepers bow before the superior buying power of naturalized Asian British citizens, already alarmingly prosperous, infiltrating into the British Parliament, nobility, and other top-most echelons of society. Time-honoured British institutions such as Rolls-Royce, Sheffield, Manchester, the Trent shipyards, the Welsh coalmines, the Royal Air Force and the onceproud Royal Navy, are in foreign hands, defunct or pitifully shrunk. Only Big Ben ticks on, unfazed, into yet another century. The wheel is coming full circle. One can understand the British need for its decadent, parasitical, and redundant Royal Family; it serves as a last rallying point for ye olde English sentiments. As long as there are Royals at Windsor Castle, it seems St. George is still on England’s side. Till when, one wonders? England is sinking under the sheer weight of numbers of her erstwhile subjects. The reverse tide threatens the English way of life. Is England under assimilation? Or is she doing the assimilating? If so, why? How does she gain? Only time will tell. Latter-day

53 Edward Gibbons’ of Asiatic origin are already, perhaps, sharpening their quills to write the history of the rise and fall of another empire.

Chapter 13 Return to Mars
Those of you who have read the chapter called ‘A Farewell to Arms’ must be wondering why the episode peters out reminiscing about a post-war Britain. Why not, I ask truculently? Why shouldn’t it? Didn’t it start off with how the British left a partitioned country behind, and how the two halves keep fighting each other, remaining weak, poor, burdened with debt, and yet, enthusiastic shoppers for a plethora of weaponry on the world market. It is a pathetic, puerile race to keep up with each other, while vast populations struggle to survive amidst galloping inflation. Kickbacks from weapons suppliers, transmitted through dealers such as Adnan Khashoggi, who was then the reigning arms dealer, are now rumoured to be an important source of income in certain quarters. Swiss banks groan under the debt burden of interest payments on deposits lying in un-numbered deposit accounts, where, it is common knowledge, vast sums of hard currency have been stashed away. Indian ‘arms dealers’ are mere fronts for the Big Names in the shadowy world of cross-country weapons dealing, a multi-billion dollar industry. These individuals live in extravagant splendour a medieval plenipotentiary would have envied. A soldier’s life is far from all this sordid squalor. I now reluctantly admit that I chickened out when I saw the climax of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ approaching and tried to divert the reader’s attention from the looming denouement. In any case, I rationalised, the reader must have guessed the inevitable outcome from the title itself. There was hardly any point in overkill. But the fact is that I did not have the guts to face the truth: a little piece of flying lead had wrecked the career of a warrior. Had Vij, Arjun; Major; IC-17575 fought in an earlier era, his wound would have been dismissed as routine battle damage; he would have been allowed to rest, recuperate, retrain, and resume active service. It was said of Samudragupta that he bore the scars of dozens of grievous wounds on his powerful body. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rana Sangha, and Guru Gobind Singh had been seriously wounded many times, but they had recovered and fought on. But these were modern times, and a modern army has modern criteria for deciding what is usable and what is to be discarded. Arjun was in a quandary. While he got back into sports and sweated it out at physiotherapy, he played all the cards he had and waited for the outcome of his pre-

54 emptive appeals. His Medical Report was up before the Board. He shuffled the papers on his desk and wistfully dreamed of another caper. He could be very pushy when he wanted to be, and he was very pushy now. He harangued all and sundry, he wrote long letters to his erstwhile Field Commanders, he pulled all the strings he could reach. He did not want to sit at a desk at headquarters while his friends went off to the next war. He was a soldier born to combat, a warrior who suffered peacetime only because it was a necessary (but barely tolerable) anti-thesis to war. Peacetime (for Arjun) was a routine break meant for brushing up on weaponry, attending Advanced Courses at the College of Combat, Mhow, and perhaps even gaining admittance to a program/workshop at the prestigious Defence Service Staff College at Wellington, in the Nilgiris. The thought of being put out to pasture in the prime of life was unbearable. He didn’t qualify. The Board decided that he was no longer fit for active service, and he was ‘de-categorized’ from ‘Category Aye One’ to ‘Category C.’ The Indian Army was regretful but firm. Vij, Arjun, Major, was henceforth to be allocated only staff duties. He would have to mind the stables while other knights rode off to battle. He concealed his disappointment well. He carried on as if nothing had happened. It was peacetime, after all. Soldiers make the most of it. Arjun did that, for once...in his own inimitable way. After he’d returned my Jawa with hardly any rubber left on the tires (it took him a little more than a fortnight to do that!), I had sold it to one Vinay Shukla. I was tired of it (pun unintended). With Aditya Patankar straddling a Jawa, it was something else; but I was no Patankar. The Jawa did not come alive when I rode it. It wasn’t the machine: it was me. Anyway, I bought a Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ motorcycle [UPN 3722], a 350 cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke job. This was more like it. Powerful, stable, forgiving of driver errors, highly flexible in traffic, adaptable to any terrain, and perfect for my height, weight, and build, the indefatigable Bullet was (and still remains) my dream bike. ‘Made Like a Gun’ reads the legend on the teardrop petrol tank. That it is. It is a contemporary of such legendary British motorcycles as AJS, Ariel, BSA, Matchless, Norton, Sunbeam, and Triumph. The Second World War, and the combined military might of Japan and Nazi Germany was unable to kill the British motorcycle industry, enduring and virtually unassailable as it then was. If anything, the War gave it a shot in the arm. Today, it lies in an unmarked grave. The Japanese invasion, led by Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha succeeded in finishing it off. The notorious British insularity and its concomitant – resistance to change – were no longer passports to survival. Shrinking markets necessitate aggressive export strategies. Innovation, adaptability, and economy are the watchwords. They were costly lessons for British industry. Fundamental research is all very well, but more fundamental than that, for the sake of commercial viability, is consumer-oriented research coupled with new approaches to marketing and human resources management. Far from its original home in distant England, the Indian version of the Enfield Bullet soldiers on bravely: a living fossil, a throwback to the good old days when massive power came in as low as (by today’s standards) 2,200 rpm, and deep, majestic exhaust beats, music to a biker’s ears, could be counted individually, a happy by-product of the single cylinder design with its long piston stroke producing the generous low-end torque. It is a trip down memory lane, a blast from the past, a nostalgic reminder of the glorious age of Empire. The Brits are, naturally, crazy about it; they import it to their foggy little isle by the score, shelling out bagfulls of hard currency for the gleaming machines. It rides alone, unchallenged in its class, the only 350 cc motorcycle in India. (A 500 cc stable-mate has since been added, with modest success).

55 Whatever the Brits can do, our homegrown Sardarjis can do even better. No selfrespecting Sardarji will be caught without one in his stable, even if it has to share garage space with a BMW, to name but one famous Sardarji weakness (which is not mere hyperbole; it happens). Please note that a Sardarji knows a good thing when he sees one – be it Baingan da bharta, Birmingham, butter chicken, bhangra or a Bullet – and goes for it unabashedly. His endorsement is the ultimate Seal of Approval, not that the Bullet needs one. No fat-cat cricketer or rock star endorses it; it needs no marketing props. It stands alone, invincible in its sheer unrepeatability. Vij sees my bike and falls for it. He is off and running, in the original Arjun Vij way. There is a ten-year waiting list for a Bullet, in Delhi. In 1972, it is a status symbol. I had circumvented the queue by buying my bike from (The Chenab Motorcycle Store, Station Road) Moradabad. This is because Moradabad is the nearest large town to where Dad is posted (he looks after a large distillery for K.K. Birla, a leading Industrialist of the country). The purchase is perfectly legitimate; the address on my driving license is careof my Dad. Bullets don’t sell that well in UP, thirty-five years ago; 6,700 rupees is a daunting price tag. Vij takes another route; he falls back on the good old Army and its fabled quota. A flood of letters, shamelessly citing his Category ‘C’ and his GSW (RA) injury, issues forth under his signature. The argument put forward is that in the Bajaj scooter that he owns, the right foot operates the brake pedal. Vij has a right foot, true, but it is so badly war-damaged as to have resulted in his de-categorization. Ergo, the Bajaj is declared persona non grata. It must go. The only replacement available in India is the Bullet, where the brake pedal is on the left. The words ‘available in India’ scare the living daylights out of the authorities; they know the lengths to which the Mad Major is capable of going, in order to get what he wants. If he fails, it shall not be for want of trying. Foreign exchange is scarce. Visions of the mountainous paperwork that will be involved in obtaining clearance for importing a motorcycle for this wounded warrior hover before the eyes of the sluggish babus of the Ministry. They loathe unnecessary correspondence, obviously; Vij gets his approval in a record-breaking time of thirty-eight days. Hauz Khas is a sleepy little colony where I stay after my cousin shifts to Madras (that’s Chennai today). The peace of a lazy Sunday morning is rudely shattered by a ferocious roar. Heads crane from windows to see what the commotion is all about. The hideous din emanates from a truncated Enfield exhaust. Pointless calling that poor, Bobbitised, chrome-plated tube a ‘silencer’: it is anything but that. It is attached to a gleaming new Bullet that is parked outside my gate. A man with the shoulders of a Titan sits astride it. It seems to be an arsenal-on-wheels: dummy shells from Oerlikon ‘pom-pom’ antiaircraft guns and heavy machine-guns are welded to every visible part of the frame, the mudguards, and even atop the headlight. The brass gleams, the handiwork of some beleaguered batman. The bike makes an unmistakable statement: it belongs to an armyman, said army-man man is a gun-nut, and that nut has a screw loose. He is armed, dangerous, and ruthless. To the denizens of this placid neighbourhood, the ogre of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fame has arrived, scenting human blood, all Fi, Fi, Fo and Fum. And he has come for my blood, obviously, on account of misdemeanours unknown. Heads are quickly withdrawn; doors and windows are rapidly shut and bolted. The populace waits with delicious anticipation for the sound of gunfire, for my blood to be spilt, for the wail of police sirens and ambulances. They are disappointed. They only hear roars of delighted laughter (at my surprise); then the ear-splitting clatter fades away as the

56 bike carries us off to some unknown destination. Later, people treat me with wary respect. I keep dangerous company; therefore, I, too, must be dangerous! My own Bullet now resembles me closely, at least to my own eyes: sedate, docile, a mere beast of burden. It is not a war-horse for warriors en route to Valhalla. As he mends physically, Arjun regroups internally. Outwardly he is still his old irrepressible self but inside, he is engaged in quietly marshalling his inner resources to cope with the changed circumstances. He is in no hurry. Although his world has changed forever, he still has the comfortable, well-paid job with all the perks. As he goes about adjusting to the future, he begins to let his hair down, metaphorically speaking—the wiry hair is cropped, as always, close to the skull (so that an opponent cannot use it against you by pulling or leveraging it, he explains with a grin). He seems to realize that he has to re-focus. There is nothing of the resigned martyr about him, however. He continues to extract every drop of joy from life. The term joie de vivre springs to mind unbidden. His reading habits change. His shelf now has books on Zen, mysticism and martial arts, rubbing shoulders with Gun Digest, Unarmed Combat, and Shooter’s Bible. I notice the names of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lobsang Rampa, and Eric Van Lustbader. That is when I notice that the chopping edges of his hands have developed bone-hard calluses. Ju-Jitsu, and later, judo and karate, (‘kara’ meaning ‘empty’ and ‘te’ meaning ‘hand’, ‘the art of fighting with the empty hand’, he explains) had always been part of an infantryman’s curriculum. Arjun picks up Taekwondo as well. When Vij comes across anything potentially lethal, he pulls out all the stops. He moves up rapidly through the black belts, becoming a fourth Dan. Some Category ‘C’ guy! One day, I ask him how it is that a hand of flesh and blood can break all those layers of tiles and whatnot one reads about in the magazines. He patiently explains that there are lines of force in Nature: align yourself with them and you harness them. A despairing look, as that of one trying to explain the Binomial Theorem to a child of six, flits across his Grecian features. He makes a pile of ten bricks between two arms of adjacent chairs, sturdy, oaken, army chairs. He strips down to the waist, bows low before the construction, then assumes strike-mode, cutting arm raised. He seems to be lost in thought. Suddenly, faster than the eye can follow, his hand has cleaved the bricks as though they were so many cream-crackers. He insists that it is not his hand that has broken the bricks; the Force did that. His hand merely served to channel it, like a lightning conductor does with a bolt of lightning, like a conductor’s baton directs an orchestra through a recital. He did not touch the bricks, which had parted by the time his hand got to them. It all sounds like fantastic gibberish to me. I try to break one brick. Even today, my right wrist still warns me of impending thunderstorms by the dull ache it generates hours before the event, a legacy of my ineptitude at bare-handed brick breaking. Wherever the line of force is, I can neither see nor sense it. I guess it needs the Third Eye. In order to maintain coherence in the story, I am now compelled to skip ahead a few years. I am now in-charge of a medium-sized branch of a bank. Arjun opens his account there. Even after I am transferred, I keep getting reports about his doings. The branch manager who succeeds me is an old friend; he hits it off well with Arjun, and one day, in the course of conversation, they are discussing the higher reaches of martial arts. He does not believe Arjun when he says that there are over 300 ways of killing a man without leaving a trace as to the cause of death, or that it is possible to take the spirit out from a man’s body and then return it. The banker is hardly possessed of a virile imagination; he is unable to fully appreciate what sort of man he is dealing with. He returns to consciousness on the office carpet: his

57 staff huddles around him, scared speechless. He last remembers Arjun responding to his dare by pressing gently with thumb and forefinger on certain blood vessels and nerves on his neck. He remembers exiting his body…. then nothing. Arjun is now a Dan of the seventh grade. It is a level beyond the physical aspects of sport. In fact, it is no longer a sport: it is a quest for the Great Mystery, for the meaning of life. A Dan of the ninth level is a Maestro. He is a master of the universe; he has torn the Veil aside to understand what is. He encounters another Reality far removed from the mundane world of everyday life beyond which few men go. Rumours continue to filter through about Arjun. He is now a Sensei, a Grandmaster. A chain of institutions engaged in training people in the martial arts functions under his direct control across the entire length and breadth of South-East Asia. He is selling better coal in Newcastle. In the latter day breeding ground of unarmed combat techniques, he, a foreigner, towers above them all, as revered as any Great Khan of Mongol times. Then the curtain falls. No further news gets through. I know he has passed beyond the pale of ordinary men. I bid farewell to my friend in my mind, in my heart, knowing that the message gets through. I cannot take his road, cannot follow him. It is not for the likes of me. Arjun always belonged to Mars, and the God of War has re-assigned his Satrap to another mission. Wherever he is, I know Arjun has attained fulfilment, has successfully carried out his brief. Mars winks at me redly from the night sky, relieved that I understand. I salute you, Sensei. Till we meet again, then.


Chapter 14 El Tomāso
October 1976. My father, my wife, and I went to the cantonment area, Patiala, where Durga Puja was being celebrated. I don’t know whether you are aware of it or not, but this is the time of year when all Bengalis are non compos mentis. Long insulated from the baleful effects of this temporary loss of sanity on account of the Sherwood academic year, which ends in November, and the considerable distance from Bengal, I am revealed as a true-blue Bengali by the enormous quantities of rossogollas I can put away at a sitting. Nor am I as immune to the malady as the non-empiricist would imagine. A certain vague restlessness, a naked wanderlust, always hits me hard around this time. I remember remarking to my wife that Señor Tomās said he would come to India around the end of September, but there is no further news from him, although he has kept in touch with me all these years, after he left us at Solan for Kuwait almost three years ago. Señor Tomās, better known as El Tomāso, was my neighbor in Hauz Khas. It was the daily sight of his Bullet that goaded me into buying one, and thereafter we became fast friends. He stayed as a paying guest with a hardy Punjabi family next door that bathed in cold water in the depths of the severe Delhi winter. Ergo, he also perforce had to take cold-water showers, something that was anathema to the warm south in him, for he is from sunny Kerala. I gave him the duplicate key to my little apartment, so he could use it as a getaway, with its geyser-equipped bathroom, anytime he liked. Tomās never forgot this small token of my regard for him. He was growing out of his job with Ericsson India, and wanted to go abroad—there was an uncle in the BKME (Bank of Kuwait and the Middle East) who had promised to sponsor him provided he managed an appointment letter from Ericsson, Kuwait. So one fine day, Tomās resigned his job and joined my parents and I in Solan (Himachal Pradesh), my first posting as a Probationary Officer with the State Bank. We were delighted to have him! About three months passed happily, with Tomās well adjusted to the situation. But one day, he bared his heart to my father (this came out much later), revealing his distress at the prolonged visit and wondering why the long-promised NOC (‘No-objection Certificate’) has still not come from Kuwait. My father, who was a

59 good palmist, told him not to worry. His NOC was due any day now; thereafter, he would be an NRI forever. A couple of days later, Tomās came running into the house, found that Dad had gone to the fruit market, located him there and showed him the NOC that had come that very day poste restante. That afternoon, he left for Delhi and a new life with LM Ericsson Telefonatibolaget, P.O. Box 5979, Safat, Kuwait. I bade him a sad farewell, knowing that the chances of seeing him again were bleak. The late Lars Magnus Ericsson had, about a century ago, set up a small radio repair shop in Sweden that had grown into a global communications behemoth which had taken my best friend away from me. As we returned from the Durga Puja mela at the cantonment area in Patiala, we saw a long, dusty, shark-like shape with thick radial tires in front of the house. Arabic numerals were barely visible on the mud-caked registration plate of the low-slung sports car. I rang the bell and Mother opened it. There was joy on her face. “Guess who’s here!” she chortled gleefully. It was Tomās! I hugged my dear friend whom I’d never thought to see again. He was my partner in many a hair-raising, high-speed Bullet trip over remote mountain roads. His driving skills are simply phenomenal. I am barely good, but Tomās is outstanding, a born rally driver. Anything with a motor and wheels becomes a controlled sub-sonic missile in his hands. Yes, that’s the 6-cylinder Datsun 260 Z Sports 2+2 he’d sent me photographs of, the ones with the new TV tower in Kuwait and the huge oil tankers navigating the Gulf, in the background. With him were a young, newly married English couple, André and Doreen Winter, very keen on computers, cars, rallying, and photography. M/S Andor Microsystems are computerizing the Bank of Kuwait. André had a bag full of photo equipment and lenses, from a 300mm telephoto to a 16 mm full-frame fish-eye lens, to go with the Asahi-Pentax ‘Spotmatic F’ body. I wondered whether Tomās had remembered to bring me the small camera I needed: the cameras then available in India were crude, unsophisticated museum pieces. I needn’t have worried; he had remembered to bring my camera. But what a camera! It was the new Minolta single-lens reflex, the XE-1, produced after Minolta Camera Company signed their collaboration agreement with Ernst Leitz GmbH, Wetzlar, West Germany, manufacturers of the legendary Leica cameras. Details of its hi-tech features would fill this page: Copal-Leitz electronic shutter, twin metal Leitz shutter curtains with vertical travel, infinitely variable shutter speeds on ‘Auto’ from 30 seconds to 1,000th of a second, aperture-priority automatic exposure, through-the-lens (TTL) metering with Minolta’s patented averaging exposure system reading a weighted Minolta average of the entire scene, multiple exposure capability, self timer, low-battery LED, comprehensive viewfinder readout, depth-of-field preview, ±2 stops exposure compensation on Auto, auto-exposure memory lock, optional full manual override, M90 (Manual, 1/90th second) setting for manual/flash shooting even without batteries, Minolta’s patented bayonet mount accepting a mind-boggling array of Rokkor lenses…it Minolta goes on and on and on: and all in the expensive matt-black professional finish. Bulging in a distinctly masculine manner at the front end was a huge chunk of glass weighing 14 ounces: the fabulous 58 mm, f1.2 MC Noct-Rokkor lens, excellent for flashless, ‘available light’ picture taking. There was even a 200 mm f4.5 Tele-Rokkor telephoto lens, and a 2X tele-extender, all in individual, original Minolta cases! I was speechless. I’d lost my tongue. Besides, there was a large obstruction in my throat. No sound issued forth, no matter how hard I tried. I’d asked for a pebble: the man had brought me the whole goddam mountain. In one fell swoop, he had given me the equipment I needed to be a serious photographer.

60 Ever since I had a tonsillectomy in 1955, I’d been using the Model T of cameras, a ‘Baby Brownie’ box camera giving eight exposures per spool of No. 127 film. It was a gift from my cousin Otima (‘Iron Lady’ Otima Bordia, IAS, elder daughter of Mr. Justice Basu Deva Mukerji—see ‘Escape to Ranikhet’). It had cost her all of nineteen rupees of desperately-saved pocket money, and represented a considerable investment in those days. Through all my boyhood and young manhood, it had stayed with me, faithfully recording fishing trips and outings. After twenty years of hard use, however, the Bakelite body had started chipping, and ingress of light into the chamber meant that its useful life was over. Amazingly, the lens and shutter were still in perfect condition, a tribute to Eastman Kodak’s commitment to quality. Seeing my interest in photography, an indigent but indulgent maternal uncle had sent me many books on the subject. These I had pored over, absorbing technical know-how as well as tips on better photography. I drooled over the pictures of cameras, especially the single-lens reflexes with their instant-return mirrors, TTL metering, and lens interchangeability that made this type of 35 mm beast the most versatile of all picturetaking instruments. I read and re-read many other books I bought, but alas! I was a cameraman sans camera. Now, thanks to El Tomāso, the long wait was over. Fitted with the 200 mm telelens, the camera felt familiar in my hands, a gun that did not kill or maim, freezing images on film forever. 36 rounds, single shot or rapid-fire, up close in macro or as distant as the stars, I could now ‘shoot’ anything visible to the eye…or beyond. The mustachioed rally driver from the Gulf had made my dream come true. The trio had driven overland all the way from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, through Afghanistan and into India. Tomās over-flew Pakistan, as he did not manage a visa from the Pakis, rejoining the party at Amritsar. I remembered that only five years earlier, the Indian Armed Forces had given the Pakistan army a sound drubbing in the 1971 war (see ‘A Farewell to Arms’), and the memories still rankled across the border. As we tucked into a hearty dinner, we made plans. It was decided that we would drive down to Delhi, then on to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and return to Delhi. Then we would fly to Srinagar, in Kashmir. I baulked at this: I could not impose any further, although Tomās insisted that he would take care of the tickets. The Kuwaiti Dinar was then valued at an exchange rate of Rs.13/- to a Dinar, and Tomās was apparently flush with Indian Rupees. Still, I could take advantage of his generosity no further. I put up Rs.5,000/-, which was all I could spare, and which sum I pressed into Tomās’s reluctant hands. That’s all I paid for the camera and probably the best holiday I ever had. In return, I got priceless memories that would last a lifetime. The next day, I took ten days leave and we were off in the 260 Z. High-Speed cruising, at least of this variety, was something new to me. 150 kilometers an hour on the speedometer and climbing steadily, yet I had total control, thanks to the low center of gravity, wide Bridgestone radials and Girling disc brakes on all four wheels. The Grand Trunk road never felt like this before. Could Sher Shah Suri, who made this road, ever have imagined that one day, people would travel on it at such fantastic speeds? The NISSAN Datsun glides, floats; whatever the condition of the road surface might be, it’s no concern of ours. Tinted glasses, power steering, genuine leather bucket seats, 6-track quadraphonic music from the cartridge player, silent airconditioning—the works! The shock-absorbing, soundproofing qualities of this famous rally car were legendary. At 175 kilometers an hour (that’s well over 100 miles an hour—the ton! At last!), one cannot hear any exterior noise inside the luxurious passenger compartment.

61 The high-frequency triple horns can only be felt (through the co-pilot’s footrest, or the driver’s foot-pedals), not heard. You know they are working from the way traffic veers sharply to the left, giving me room to overtake. A quick declutch, a mere tap on the tubby gear lever to shift down to fourth, a slight jab of the right foot, and the engine snarls as the car surges forward eagerly, pressing us violently back, deep into the aromatic leather. Everything fades away dizzyingly in the rear-view mirror. Then slip back into top, and the muted, superbly responsive engine hurls the streamlined projectile at nearly 180 kilometers an hour (112.5 mph) ventre à terre towards Delhi, which now seems disappointingly close as the odometer reels in the distance rapidly. Agra! I cannot find the words to express the wonder that life was for me then. My heart overflowed with love, happiness, and bonhomie, and my body seemed to be bursting with physical power. Every breath I took seemed to invigorate me even further, as I reveled in the magic of youth. My wife of seven months and I had never seen the Taj Mahal. We were now gazing at it for the first time, and that too in the company of dear friends. After seeing the mausoleum, we wandered about the grounds the whole afternoon. I was not prepared for the sheer grandeur, the breathtaking immensity, of this poem in marble. No photograph of this monument to eternal love can ever hope to do it justice. It was a fantasy world; the very air seemed to whisper of an ancient love that lives on beyond the grave. The best description of the Taj Mahal that I’ve come across is expressed in poetic, not architectural language: “A teardrop on the cheek of time.” I empathized with Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan – whose name means ‘Emperor of the World’ – but nothing in the world could ever restore to him his lost love, Mumtaz. Her death must have made him realize that he, too, was mortal, and that nothing lasts forever…except love. The monument was, perhaps, his way of telling us that love endures even after the body, evanescent and ephemeral, is gone. That moonlit night at the Taj, I often pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. There were hardly any people around, and André put the Pentax on a tripod and took many long exposures with the fish-eye lens. We felt very close to our wives. Poor Señor Tomās. Then unmarried, he was very fidgety, trapped between two young couples on their second honeymoon. The restlessness would increase further in Kashmir! The Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir was distinguished IAS officer Sushital Banerjee, my paternal cousin. When we alighted from the plane and I phoned my sisterin-law Ranu, that beautiful and capable lady at once sent a car to fetch us. It was a Sunday, and I found my cousin was home. He was very happy to see me and my friends: my Dad (his maternal uncle) was his boyhood hero and he would spend hours giving him the massage disciples traditionally give to their gurus, pressing his bulging biceps, muscular back and brawny legs after his workout or game. He was seeing my wife for the first time (he sent me a magnificent 18-carat gold Sheaffer’s pen set as a wedding present, but pressing duties came in the way of his attending the reception at Madhu Mandir, Allahabad); he remarked that if such a lovely lady could not tame and domesticate me, nobody ever would. (Did she? I often wonder.) The lady in question blushed at the neat compliment from this extraordinarily handsome and charismatic man who exuded power and authority. Sushital regrets that, on account of government regulations, he cannot have André and Doreen as guests in his official residence, but he’ll arrange something even better. That evening, the couple was settled in ‘Armstrong’, a Category ‘A’ houseboat moored on the Dal Lake, with its own dedicated shikara (similar to a Venetian gondola, except

62 that it is paddled, not poled). I have rarely seen such luxury; a lavishly equipped kitchen, two plush bedrooms, a magnificent drawing room littered with genuine antiques, engaging bric-a-brac, and Persian carpets. There are flowers everywhere, even on the balconies. It is a floating palace! There is no air-conditioning—all you need to do is to open the window! It is verily a paradise on earth, this vale of Kashmir, tailor-made for romance. I envied the young English couple, and guiltily wished that we, too, had a houseboat! But that’s being ungrateful—we were very well looked after. We occupied a lovely suite in the West Wing of the huge house on The Bundh. André was most impressed by the armed guards at the gate, and the magnificent Chinar trees in the beautiful garden. Trips were arranged for us to see Sonamarg, Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Chashmeshahi et al. From Gulmarg, we took horses to Khillanmarg and on to Alpatthar, beyond the tree line and even beyond the snowline. André had difficulty breathing, and asked me what height we were at—he paled under his tan when he learnt he was at 12,000 feet! That’s over a thousand feet higher than Ben Nevis, I pointed out, the highest peak in the British Isles! No wonder the Englishman had trouble finding enough oxygen to breathe. Doreen, my wife and I were not affected by the height: we must have highlander blood in us. André is a throwback to Viking forebears; burly, and with a bushy, reddish beard, he could pass off as Eric the Red himself. A last snowball fight, then we galloped downhill to Gulmarg and drove back to Srinagar. One evening, we even got to meet Sheikh Abdullah, the ‘Lion of Kashmir’, a giant of a man in every sense of the term, with his leonine countenance and his massive, six-and-a-half-foot frame—a match for J. Kenneth Galbraith, former US Ambassador to India. Another evening, Lakshmi Kant Jha, the well-known ex-bureaucrat, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and now the Governor of J&K, drops by. He is an old family friend, married to beautiful Mekhala, whose own house was not far from Madhu Mandir. Somewhere in the middle of all this, El Tomāso had borrowed the Minolta and skipped to Trivandrum (now Tiruvananthapuram); he just couldn’t take any more. (A few months later, he too, got married…to Anila, a typical southern bellé with a smooth, dusky complexion and classic features). There was a last minute glitch: Indian Airlines informed us over the phone that we did not have ‘OK’ tickets, so on the proposed day of our departure, there are no seats available on the plane for any of us! Sushitalda steps in quietly and asks for the Station Officer or some such official who is in-charge of the airport. A few terse remarks are addressed to that worthy. Half an hour later, we learn that a special flight has been ‘arranged’ to accommodate the sudden demand for seats on the busy Srinagar-Delhi route. Thus did we return to Delhi on schedule. In India, as everywhere else, it pays to know the powers that be.
In January 1980, Sushital Banerjee, Defence Secretary to the Government of India, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was only 53. The gun carriage that transported his mortal remains to the electric crematorium was followed by a motorcade of mourners over four miles long. His friends and admirers, from all walks of life, were legion. Memento mori


Chapter 15 Nainital
I wonder if you’ve seen a movie called ‘The Last Valley’, featuring Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, two of my favorite movie stars. ‘The Hundred Years War’ is on, and the fugitive, Vogel, (Omar Sharif’s character) is on the run, trying to escape the conquering army’s advance as it sweeps all before it. At the end of his tether, gasping, he tops a rise, parts some bushes…to behold a scene of such bucolic simplicity that he rubs his eyes in disbelief. The entire country has been ravaged by war, a war that is already longer than most men can remember, but here, in this last valley, the outside world has not intruded; it is a Shangri La, trapped in Time, where things are as they’d always been. Now for a quick switch to India, 1809, somewhere in the Kumaon hills. An Englishman, pursuing a stag, fights his way through rhododendron and bramble bushes to behold a stunning sight: a mile-long, kidney-shaped, turquoise-blue lake mirroring the heavily wooded mountains that surround it stretches before his astonished eyes. That is the myth of how this most beautiful of hill stations was discovered. I like the sound of it and I’m keeping it. In the years that followed, it became the summer capital of the United Provinces, and the Who’s Who of that erstwhile province descended upon it in the summer. My father went there for the first time in 1914, the year he was born, the year the Great War erupted in Europe and engulfed the globe. He was only four months old then, so I came to know of it from his elder sister, who also added that – one year – he fell off the khirni tree in the vast orchard behind the house at Allahabad and broke his leg, as a result of which the annual family trip had to postponed for three weeks. She says it without any residual rancour, only amusement, a mother to him as much as to her two sons, Sushital and Shambhunath. I first went up to Nainital when I was about two years old. I cannot remember that visit, but photographs don’t lie. And then came 1957, and I found myself in a new Dodge ‘Kingsway’ taxi, one of two-dozen identical cars bought that very year by the U.P. Tourism Department. When we reached Bhowali, long after Bhimtal had passed, Father had the driver stop the car. All through the 20-mile drive, my parents wondered why I didn’t puke; they probably felt it was very unsporting of me to hold back such an exciting and important event. Little men in big cars going uphill must puke, it seemed.

64 It is a fact that I never feel giddy even on the dizziest of hairpin bends, something that was very useful in later years when I was addicted to high-speed runs over the hairiest of mountain roads on the Enfield Bullet. But I was very concerned about them; they looked like they were going to lose their breakfast any moment now. So I made things easier for them by dutifully climbing out of the taxi at Bhowali, near the TB sanatorium, and going through an elaborately faked puke, which did wonders for their morale. Jeolikote is where the fruits start, meaning the markets are full of hill fruits and vegetables, and I remember munching on plums and apricots as the road turned left at the Nainital-Almora turnpike and commenced the steep final run-up to Nainital. It was March, and it was cold! Here and there, in the shadows of buildings or in the lee of hillsides, packed ice, remnants of the winter’s snowfall, still resisted the warmer weather. A chilly breeze was coming off the lake as we set off on foot up the hill to Sherwood, and as I climbed away from freedom, I wondered what the next nine months held for me, for I was venturing into a new life, away from my parents for the first time. It was only half-an-hour after they’d handed me over to the kindly matron at Horseman Wing (the junior school) that the enormity of it all began to sink in, and I’m afraid I blubbered, a big boy of eight, to ease my pent-up feelings. Despite all the wonders that Nainital has on offer, the lake itself is the piéce de résistânce. Yet, there’s Cheena Peak (I believe they’ve gone and renamed it ‘Naina’ Peak, which is fine by me since that’s the name I gave my beautiful daughter), Land’s End, Snow View, Laria Kanta, Khurpa Tal (where the Mahaseer are so shy and the water so clear that even 4-lb nylon line is visible), Sat Tal, Naukuchia Tal (then wild and unkempt, the only real competitor to Nainital itself, I always felt, where there were actually wild ducks in the autumn), the Church of St. John in the Wilderness (with its fascinating old cemetery where forgotten Englishmen and women lie mouldering in neglected graves, surrounded by the largest rock monitor lizards I’ve ever seen), and Gurney House (an old, badly-designed cottage en route to Sherwood where Jim Corbett lived for a few years—it’s sole claim to fame). There’s also Kilbury, Ayarpatta, Ranibagh (where we usually went for the annual choir picnic), and many temples. In Malli tal, which is the upper end of the town both geographically as well as metaphorically, is the fascinating Burra Bazar that now stocks goods from all over the world, for people believe in spending money on things instead of enjoying themselves in the great outdoors, which costs so little but which gives so much. Father said that in his boyhood it wasn’t a patch on Civil Lines, the Connaught Place of Allahabad, what to speak of Calcutta’s markets that rivalled, in their heyday, the best of Europe. This oncegreat city, now renamed ‘Kolkata’ in the onrushing tide of parochialism that is fragmenting the nation, was once the capital of India, ‘The Jewel in the Crown’. My grandfather was a collector; not a district official, but a man who collected things —pocket watches, pens, pencils, books, pen-knives, and God knows what else—but a hot favourite was walking sticks. And in Malli Tal was a shop that had his exclusive custom, affectionately known to the family, even today, as ‘Lathi wallah’s. Of course, its real name is Laxmi Chand and Sons, the biggest departmental store in Nainital, but when Father first saw it, it was just a little shop that sold walking sticks to tourists. Old Laxmi Chand is no more, having been gathered to his ancestors half a century ago, and as far as I know so have both his sons, but these polished, handsome, dignified men were always extra-courteous to any member of our family. The elder son told me, when I last dropped in to see him about twenty years ago, how my grandfather had entrusted their father with the task of locating and buying for him a house at Nainital, and had even advanced a sum of twenty thousand rupees for the purpose. “Alas!” he said “it

65 was not to be, for your grandfather died suddenly, still in his fifties, in 1935, thereby missing not only the delight of buying his dream house in the hills, but also the news that his fourth son, Brahma Deva, had been selected for the I.C.S.” I stood at the place, by the Naina Devi temple, where fishing machan No. 1 starts, and where, one drizzly day in June, 1968, we had been in the middle of the biggest Mahaseer ‘bite’ that I’ve ever experienced at Nainital. It was our day, the day appointed by the gods that our cups should run over. I bait a hook with a live-minnow bait, a mahaseer takes it in a reel-scorching, rod-whipping run. No sooner have I landed it than Father’s reel lets off a scream of protest as a big fish runs for mid-lake. As soon as we’ve managed to land that, I have to run back to my rod that is threatening to get away from under the rock I’ve pinned it under, the reel wailing as line is stripped from it by some ravenous fish. A small mountain of mahaseers is piling up on the shore behind us. Kishori Lal, ace angler and local champion, is puzzled; he places his rod two inches away from mine, but still it’s my rod that gets the fish. He switches to live-bait, the fish start taking our atta-baited hooks. Humiliated, destroyed, but eager to try and fathom our secret, he examines our gear, our atta, even our can of minnows. When nothing turns up, he humbly asks me if he is using the right hook: it’s fine, it’s a No. 9 Mustaad (Oslo, Norway – India has still not got around to mastering the art of making fish-hooks!), no problem—except one—he’s not catching any fish! It was weird, wonderful. It happened only once more: on the Ramganga, at the great rapids beyond Buxar. It was a pleasant day, May 1969. We have fished this stretch of rather violent whitewater before, with fair to middling success. A repeat is all we are looking for. The gods decide to give us a surprise. Some distance away, Tika Ram has got his Bar-B-Q going, and the smell of a double-omelette, herb-flavored kababs and puris is wafting to my nostrils. It’s about time I had some breakfast, I’m famished; chhota hazri was at sun-up, when we left Seohara, about 6 am. It’s almost 10 am now, and I need revictualling. No way the gods are going to allow that. The green, solid-fiberglass ‘Atlas’ (made in France) rod leaps in my hands, and the fish is off downriver, cleverly turning his body sideways, using it like a sail to harness the water’s force to best me. I start running with the fish, the rod whipping in my hands, a live thing, the reel screeching in agony. Back half-an-hour later, I gesture Mother away, no, I’m not hungry, lemme fish, will ya? Go up to Father to report: 14 pounds. He turns to say something, his reel interrupts with a blood-curdling scream, I get the shock of my life. He’s running with it, it’s a big one. I cast out; something closely related to Godzilla rips off about thirty yards of 7-kg line in two seconds before snapping it like sewing thread. Father is back; he’s panting slightly but there is a triumphant gleam in his eyes, the one he always has when he outsmashes me in badminton or pockets that impossible, screw-back in-off at billiards. That’s a neat 20-pounder he’s towing, its tail dragging in the sand. The fish pile up, but they take our tackle apart in the process. Finally, at 3.30 pm, the ‘bite’ ends. Our heads are spinning; we have caught nine prime mahaseer (score: 4-5; Father wins) in 5½ hours, lost a lot of line, almost all the spoons and spinners, we’ve never had so many break-offs before. Has someone upriver poured glucose and ganja into the water? The fish had gone berserk! The jeep will somehow have to hold this lot. Lunch at last! Nainital had given us a foretaste of things to come. Father was a man of few words (as men of action invariably are—which explains why I am so full of words), but he often stood at some points on the lakeside or in the surrounding hills, and said he had once stood on this or that spot with his father. So when I first took my son Rahul to Nainital with me, I went and stood with him at those same old places. And as I stood there, with

66 the sound of the temple bells pealing softly in the background, I thought of that other father and his son who had stood at this very spot all those many years ago. And as my son and I looked out over the rippled surface of the great lake, I felt as if they were also with us just then, and we – four generations of us – stood there in silent harmony, gazing out over the lake we all loved so much. It had a succession of administrators who obviously had no feel for the place. One introduced mirror carp in the lake. The mirror carp, a fast growing, fast multiplying bottom feeder muddied the waters by its habit of constantly grubbing about in the shallows. It was a bad choice for a lake full of mahaseer, a species that lives a cleaner sort of existence and thrives only in clear, well-oxygenated water. Besides, the mirror carp wasn’t a game fish, coming in like a tame donkey to the landing net. Another dignitary had decided that there should be no weeds in the lake, thereby overturning a natural law. Deprived of their food and natural cover, the lovely, pinkish minnows with that endearing spot on the tail were decimated in no time. The mahaseer population staggered at this sudden depletion of one of their principal food sources, and declined in numbers sympathetically. The weed-beds were also their egg-laying fields, providing the fry with not only their food—microorganisms and crustaceans—but also shelter. Oxygen levels in the lake plummeted as the weeds were cleared, and in the ensuing winter, when cold, oxygen-less water brought the fish to the surface for warmth, they perished in vast numbers. Pollutants from the hundreds of hotels poured into the lake, but the authorities stood by and twiddled their thumbs helplessly. Suddenly, sighting or catching a mahaseer in Nainital Lake had become a rarity. I thought of the vast, carefree shoals that had once patrolled the shoreline, and wished I could find a viable alternative to the bumbling babus that have, in their abysmal ignorance, tampered with nature and wreaked such havoc on habitats and eco-systems. But one never knows: there might be some sort of titanic upheaval, some cataclysmic catastrophe that will rid us of them forever. Nature never forgets. I remember the time we were trolling off the St. Joseph’s jetty, and about six feet of line hesitantly left the reel. There were three Australians in the water, and as we warned them that we had baited hooks out, the line curved right into the midst of them. It was comical to see the looks on their faces as they up-ended immediately and dived down, and I wish I’d hooked one of them in the pants for swimming in a fishing zone. There was a five-pounder at the end of the line, however, so all’s well that ends well. Another time, we had trolled the lake and having caught nothing, told the boatman to head for the Boat House Club, that was the nearest to Grand Hotel. I had put out about fifty yards of line in a desperate attempt to ensure stealth by keeping maximum distance between bait and boat. As the boatman headed out into mid-lake and made an abrupt right-angle turn, the line became slack and must have sunk deeper than it usually did, and as the boat pulled away, the steel rod, held lightly in my left hand, thudded hard onto the gunwale, the line drew taut, and the reel started screaming its head off. I was disgusted; I thought I’d snagged the mooring cable of one of the buoys. But as line continued to melt off the reel, I struck back, lifting the quivering, arcing rod and just hanging on. It was a fish! The long, mad dashes finally petered out when the line was close to machan No.1, and after getting the boat turned around, we went right back there. A few more short runs later it came in to net, a golden, 9 pound mahaseer that had fought like a fifteen pounder. Unless something is done fast, Nainital Lake is doomed…one administrator even had the rocks painted in bright hues, and the sober white sails of the yachts have taken to

67 wearing loud colored stripes. Giant hoardings dot the once-green hillsides, and an aerial ropeway disfigures the skyline as it takes armchair sightseers to Cheena (sorry, ‘Naina’) Peak. If poisoned Lake Erie in the Great Lakes system of North America can be cleaned up, so can this much smaller expanse of water. Poor, aging Nainital has started looking cheap – a painted tart – and I go there no more. I wish to remember her as she was.

Chapter 16 Return to Khairna
The motor road from Nainital to Ranikhet, at its lowest point, leaps over the river Kosi over a narrow bridge. Unwary drivers, misjudging the slope, find themselves scrambling to engage a lower gear as the car gains sudden, unwelcome downhill momentum. Brakes alone aren’t enough, and it is only now that they remember an old tip on hill driving: go down in the same gear as the one you would climb in. Concentrating on maintaining control over the vehicle, they reach the other side unaware that they’ve missed the beauty of Khairna, with its sandy beaches and the wide, blue pool under the bridge. On the other side is Garam Pani. The cognoscenti always stopped here, for Panditji’s dhaba was worth a halt. It was a rude affair, but one barely noticed the rough benches and tables of rough-hewn pine planks. In fact, come to think of it, today it would cost a lot of money and resourcefulness to recreate the ambience of the place. No one bothered with all that, however, in those halcyon days when people believed more in the product than in its packaging, designer-wear foppery and culinary chicanery had yet to be born, and people who went in for good, old-fashioned traditional Indian cooking knew where to go for it. Panditji was the last of the great pahari restaurateurs, if one may apply so grandiose a term to a simple man who believed in giving people the best he was capable of. He stood for an old-fashioned belief in ‘quality before all else’ that a new world, fifty years later, is rediscovering all over again in the battle for survival in a globalised marketplace. The mouth-watering aroma of pure vegetarian cooking in desi ghee that emanated from the cooking vessels simmering on the wood stoves invariably brought on a raging appetite, no matter how recent had been your last meal. Panditji’s puris were a treat; large, round, the steam still trapped in the thin, translucent dough fried a golden brown so that you punctured them carefully before tucking in, lest you scalded your fingers. Framed tributes (no doubt unsolicited, for wheedling letters out of customers was not only unnecessary but quite alien to his noble spirit), flyblown and smoke-stained, from personages of the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Gobind Ballabh Pant, and C.D. Deshmukh testified to the fact that Panditji’s cooking was universally held in high esteem. Today, millions of dollars are paid to prominent personalities for

68 ‘sponsoring’ a product….an indirect admission, if I may say so, that the material is of dubious quality, or that the quality of the merchandise cannot otherwise support the fancy price-tag. Panditji’s sole testimonial was a happy, well-fed customer, and the word-of-mouth publicity of an ecstatic clientele had made his dhaba famous throughout Kumaon and Garhwal. After a repast they wouldn’t forget in a hurry, people got back into their cars, and engines whining in second gear, took on the ascent to Ranikhet. Those of you who have yet to visit Ranikhet, know ye that, like most of Garhwal and Kumaon, it is despoiled. But since I was, as a boy, so impressed with its scenic beauty (which my father scoffed at : “you should have seen it as it was when I was a boy”), perhaps you’d better take yourself off there this summer before the Department of Tourism, in its (as usual) misplaced enthusiasm, misplaces Ranikhet altogether! Garam Pani was popular in those days for two reasons other than Panditji’s dhaba. Firstly, it was a most popular campsite for expeditions trekking to the Nanda Devi ranges of the Garhwal Himalayas. The sandy beaches in the sheltered valley offered ideal conditions for pitching tents, running water, cold, pure (yes, pure) and crystal clear, was right on one’s doorstep, and there were heavily forested slopes on either side which attracted a variety of fauna. Secondly, the Kosi was very popular with anglers, for in its waters were sometimes caught mahaseer weighing well over fifty pounds. The Mahaseer (Barbus Tor) is a sleek, streamlined game fish for which India is justifiably famous. If you don’t believe me, read the chapter named ‘The Fish of my Dreams’ in Jim Corbett’s ‘Maneaters of Kumaon’. Or you can refer to the chapter ‘Fishing interlude’ (which must have given Corbett a much-needed break) in his equally thrilling book ‘The Man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag’. All this writer can do after such heavy evidence has already been presented is to heartily endorse Corbett’s enthusiasm about the fighting qualities of this large-hearted fish. Mahaseer can grow to incredible size. I have read that, in theory, a fish will grow till it dies. In practice, natural causes prevent that from happening. I had never seen a mahaseer larger than fourteen pounds, which is pretty impressive from a small boy’s point of view. Khairna would change that forever. I was in Class X the year Dad decided to give Khairna a good try. This was after he had caught the river angling fever, whetted and abetted by his experiences on the Ramganga, in Corbett National Park. His enthusiasm was infectious, so much so that Mom, myself, Tika Ram the bearer, and Bailey, our driver, all caught fishing fever. This has been already described in ‘Vanished Wilderness’, so I will move on to the morning when Dad and I were casting our lines in the deep, oily pool under the Khairna bridge. Mom had not descended the slope to the beach yet, as she was making sure that Tika Ram and Bailey brought down all the gear from the car. I glanced up to see her signaling me frantically; she wanted me up there, that much was clear. A little impatiently, for I had rod in hand and interruptions were unwelcome, I dropped my tackle and joined her on the road that ran parallel to the river, and about a hundred above it. She pointed speechlessly at the river below. About fifty yards from where Dad and I had been flogging the river, mahaseer of five pounds and above (some probably going up to twenty pounds) were hugging the shoreline, the way minnows do when predatory mahaseer pursue them

69 into ankle-deep water. My first reaction was that I was probably dreaming. What I was seeing was just not possible, and that too in broad daylight. My disbelief turned to stupefaction when I saw the cause for all the panic. In the middle of the river, just below the surface, three large shapes were clearly visible from this height. The angle of view was perfect, for there was no surface glare. The water was as clear as glass. Three giant mahaseer appeared to hang in mid-air, so transparent was the medium. I would have been proud to land and show-off any of the fish crowding the shallows (indeed, almost scrambling out of the water onto dry land). But compared to the huge, submarine-like shapes that had surfaced in mid-stream, they were mere fry, not worth a second glance. What upheaval upriver had dislodged these leviathans and persuaded them to swim down-river so close to the haunts of man, I’ll never know. It could be dynamiting that usually accompanies road-building activity in the hills. Far too often, the river is dynamited as well. It is so shockingly easy to kill men with a well-placed stick of high explosive. Fish are no exception. The larger a fish is, the more the surface area it has to absorb the shock of an underwater explosion (or a brief discharge of high-voltage electricity, another standard poaching technique) and big fish are the first casualties. This is the reason why one has to trek to inaccessible stretches of river to get a chance of hooking and landing a really large mahaseer. The blaster (or electrocuter) gets to collect very little of his unfair bag. The swift current carries away most of the dead or dying fish, and perhaps only five percent of the booty is scooped up. It was a wonder these huge fish had escaped the ambush that must have been set up for them, for the locals, starved for protein, readily connive with road-building contractors to blast river waters in return for meat and money. I have never believed I saw Johnny run down the side of Echo Mountain to rescue Gardner. And I still find it hard to believe I saw those huge mahaseer, each fish at least thirty times the size of the terrified ‘little’ mahaseer that lined the riverbanks. It does not need much mathematical ability to estimate that each of the behemoths would have weighed well over a hundred pounds. Few will believe that figure, because even I, who saw it, can hardly bring myself to believe it, either. For many minutes, I took mental 35mm footage of the incredible scene, before the titans gradually faded as they expelled air from their float bladders and sank into the murky depths. Gradually, the commotion subsided and all the fish were gone. The river now looked as it always did, flowing innocently without the slightest trace of its finned occupants. Dad, who gave up casting his line after about an hour of fruitless activity, refused to initially believe the reason for not raising a single bite. But Mom backed me up, as did Bailey and Tika Ram. Years later, I got into wildlife photography, which involved heavy dependence on telephoto lenses. I wish I’d had just one SLR and a 200 mm telelens in my hands that day to record the incredible. It was not a lucky place for me, as fishing spots go. I never caught anything more than a two-pounder at Khairna (why, I’ve never been able to figure out. The same bait, tackle, and technique as those so successfully deployed at Kalagarh drew a virtual blank). It was not as if there weren’t any fish; the incident just related, the dishes from Panditji’s dhaba washed under the bridge, and the presence of a family of otters meant there was plenty of fish in the river. On one of our school ‘Outward Bound’ expeditions, Robin Taylor landed a 22 pound Mahaseer at night by

70 the feeble glow of a hurricane lantern. He had an artificial leg, but that didn’t stop him from fishing, no Sir. That plucky lad showed us you can get what you want if you want it badly enough. I loved to watch the river otters. They gamboled in the water, showing off their skills and occasionally clambering out clumsily to lie about on the rocks, or stand up on their hind legs to peer at us. These lovable creatures were apparently on the hit list of the Fisheries Department (reason: they ate fish, a big turnoff for the fishloving Fisheries boys). On the reverse of every fishing license were orders to all licensees, to ‘shoot as many others (sic) as possible.’ I felt like 007, with my license to kill. A handsome reward was offered for every pelt. It seems that the Fisheries staff clubbed all animal life (apart from fish) into one broad, omnibus category. Civil war among anglers was thus officially (if fortuitously) endorsed, aided, and abetted. Fortunately, fishermen, having parted with a goodly quantum of shekels for the aforesaid license, were usually too busy trying to recover their investment by catching fish to go about perforating each other’s pelts, or even those of innocent otters for that matter. I must confess, though, that on the odd occasion when the company of one of those garrulous, ‘see-my-new-rod-from-America’ types was forced upon me, I was sorely tempted to implement the DFO’s instructions. As everywhere, the passing years have taken their toll. The river now runs brown and sluggish, its surface flecked with the white foam of detergents used in the villages upriver. Garbage lies rotting in the sun on the once sparkling beaches where we had picnicked. I wouldn’t want to eat a fish caught in that particular stretch of the Kosi, for the water looks like it contains heavy metals and pesticides. The otter have long departed, and of kingfishers there is no trace. Trekkers still camp briefly on the rocks beside the pool, probably unaware of its vanished glory. Panditji has gone to his ancestors, and taken his dhaba’s reputation with him. The Khairna of today is not the one that lives on in my memories. It was once a magic place for a small boy, and when I run into him in the corridors of my mind, I allow him to take me by the hand and lead me back to his Khairna.


Chapter 17 Bhimtal & Bhakti Deva
Nainital was undoubtedly the prettiest of all the lakes in the Kumaon hills. Her sister lakes, the remaining six, were also-rans, at least in the times I write of. I confess I am firmly mired in the sixties and seventies of the last century—the Golden Era of my life, when I was 'The Boss'…and I have my wife's permission to say so! This stage of my life looks recent enough to me, but I daresay it is positively antediluvian to most of my readers, many of whom will probably be of much later vintage. Notwithstanding Nainital's grandeur there were times when, as a boarder at Sherwood College in the 50's and 60's, I felt a strong urge to see the other lakes in the system. Nainital was spellbinding, true, but if there were seven lakes in all, wasn’t it necessary, one felt, to have a dekko at the other six? The school authorities obviously felt it was not their job to double as a travel and tourism agency, and apart from one sanctioned trip to Bhimtal, the other lakes would have remained a mystery to most of us, at least to me, if I hadn’t had a father who loved fishing and sight-seeing, spurred on by a mother who obviously shared his enthusiasm for the outdoors. She was not the hand-lotion or sunscreen type, being blessed with a complexion that didn’t take a beating in the sun, fair as she was; it was something to do with the inherent properties of her skin. Getting to Bhimtal was fun; it lay at the end of a branch off the main Kathgodam-Nainital road, a lovely road that looped down hillsides covered with bushes that bore tiny, colorful, aromatic flowers whose name I cannot now remember. But I never enjoyed a trip more than the one I made with a school ‘Outward Bound’ party to Bhimtal, the ‘sanctioned’ trip I’ve mentioned above, trekking there over hill and dale, following a beeline, through fields of sweet mulberries and orchards laden with juicy pear, a smaller version of the regular-sized variety peculiar to these hills, and a hot favorite with visitors. I cannot quite recollect when it was that I first went to Bhimtal, obviously named after one of the heroes of the Mahabharata. There wasn’t anything particularly heroic about the lake, though, it being considerably smaller and shallower

72 than its elder sister, but it had, and by all reports still has, one outstanding feature: there is an island in the middle. It’s a real island, too, unlike the island on Khajjiar Lake on a branch leading off the main road to Dalhousie, in Himachal Pradesh. Khajjiar Island used to be just a floating island comprised of some branches and matted vegetation that had clumped together, attracted soil and, accumulating its own detritus over time to become a sort of floating botanical wonder, since deceased. The island of Bhimtal is a real island and, being directly opposite the place where the boats are moored, not more than fifty yards offshore, it is the first place tourists think of going to. Two or three local entrepreneurs have read tourist minds well, for they have set up stalls selling hot pakoras, and if you’ve been there you’ll probably agree with me when I say the mixed pakoras are out of this world. The island is where one fishes from; the traditional bottom-fishing of Nainital doesn’t come off that well at Bhimtal except here, on the island. Guess what the bait is; well it’s not atta, but it’s your time to waste, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Okay, give up? Here, the bait is pakoras…and goolars! The pakoras we’ve already covered, and they are universal bait, for neither man nor beast nor fish can resist them. But goolars? There are two goolar trees on the island, and every time I’ve seen them they’ve been heavy with their fruit, which is a sort of fig, some dropping into the water from overhanging branches, or rolling down the steeply sloping sides of the island and into the drink. They say that in the depths of the jungles of Madhya Pradesh there are ‘Mahua’ trees, famous for their heavy-scented flowers and their sweet, juicy fruit that the fish of the Narmada River and its tributaries are addicted to, especially because the ripe fruit is already well on the way to fermenting by the time it finds its way into the swirling waters. It’s not only the fish and the bears that love them, however; the local ‘gond’ tribals prize them because of the intoxicating wine that they distil from the fermented fruit. Availability of food determines eating habits, and fish are no exception (neither are Bongs, most of whom cannot live without fish being a major constituent of their diet). The mahaseer fish of Bhimtal, smaller than those generally found in Nainital, love to eat the floating goolars and the local anglers cast out hooks baited with the fruit in the fly-casting style, swishing a long line back and forth in the air before allowing it to plop onto surface, waiting for a fish to strike the floating bait. We lacked the long, ultra-flexible ringal rods so necessary for this, so we preferred to go trolling with minnows brought for the purpose from Nainital. Since we always released the survivors in the lake before returning to Nainital, I am hopeful that the descendants of some of these plucky little fellows have adapted to their new environment, for at 4,000 feet (1,210 meters) a.s.l., Bhimtal is much lower and far warmer than Nainital, which is at a height of 6,000 feet (1940 meters) above sea level. Fifty years ago, Nainital was so cold – even in June – that one had to wear a fullsleeved pullover during the day, even out in the sun on the lake. But when I went there last in the early eighties, I couldn’t manage anything more than a thin T-shirt during the day. Global warming, I guess. I can very well imagine what Bhimtal must be like nowadays in June. I noticed that the boatmen of Bhimtal gave the ‘Talli Tal’ end of it a wide berth—no matter how much we urged them to go a bit closer to shore, they kept a very healthy distance from it. As it later transpired, the handsome manor house on the slopes belonged to the Maharaja of Jind, and boatmen had been given clear instructions to stay away from the shore, because it was the Raja’s private machān!

73 Like everything else about Bhimtal, even the boats are shabbier, beat-up versions of their rich cousins skimming across the rippled surface of the bigger lake, 2,400 feet higher up. A lad always sits in the stern here, where there is just enough space to accommodate him, behind the backrest of the main bench seat. You wonder what he’s doing there till you see him dip into the water slowly welling up from under the floorboards with a tin can, and you realize he’s pumping out the bilges—in other words, he plays a major role in flotation, bailing away to offset the water that gradually leaks into the tired old boat. This is even more conspicuous at Naukuchia Tal (‘nau’ meaning ‘nine’ and ‘kuchia’ meaning ‘corners’), the lake with nine corners. It is said that if, by ill chance, anyone sees all nine corners of the lake simultaneously, his number’s come up. I didn’t even try! It was such a lovely unspoilt lake, thick with weeds, and there were many wild ducks that enjoyed the rich food in it. There are fish, but small and shy—it seems the more exposed to man they are, the bolder they get. The fish of Khurpa Tal are the most skittish of all; I don’t think it has anything more a few mahaseer and raselas (the rasela is a sort of local trout, but almost extinct now in Nainital, killed off by the habitat-destroying mirror carp). Nal Damyanti Tal is a pair of ponds so small that one can almost hop across them, and Sukha Tal has no fish, for the simple reason that it has no water; it’s as dry than a bone! And Sat Tal I can’t remember, so we’ll have to let it pass. I always thought that Naukuchia Tal had the potential to become a great tourist and angling paradise, second only to Nainital, and I hear some hotels have now sprung up there (when I saw it, there were none). I hope the settlers have taken pains to try and preserve its peaceful, untouched beauty. But going by experience, I somehow doubt it. Since there’s no beach worth speaking of—the jungle comes right up to the lake’s edge, and our jeep had a tough time getting there—we try trolling. The weeds are so thick our lines and hooks keep getting snagged, and then there are what, for want of a better name I shall continue to refer to as ‘boats’. The ‘boats’ of Naukuchia should long ago have been given a decent burial, instead of which they are kept alive by artificial means; they lay a distant third in the Great Kumaon Pecking Order of Boats. The kid in the stern is a busy fellow indeed, barely managing to stay ahead of the game, and can’t afford to swat a fly that settles on his nose, for I tell you, if he stops bailing for even a second, the boat is headed for the bottom. For the first time, our enthusiasm for trolling is conspicuous by its absence. There’s nowhere one can have a bite to eat, and it’s a good thing we have food enough for five; the boatman joins us for lunch. It’s a happy place; I liked it very much. After the landslide of the 1880’s had filled up a not insignificant portion of the Mallital end of Nainital lake, the local residents realized that Providence had livbed up to its name—the town now had something it had always lacked: a large, flat area where sporting tournaments or fetes could be organized and where a helicopter could offload a VIP. It was no coincidence that the large and imposing Municipal Office building came up directly opposite it. It was customary, in those days, for large crowds to gather here, taking in the evening air and enjoying the music of the PAC band that struck up the latest hits such as the theme from ‘Come September’. It was faintly reassuring to see the old regulars here, year after year, but it was with surprise that – I think it was 1962 – I spotted my youngest uncle, Bhakti

74 Deva, chatting with some people on the flats. He had actually been posted at Nainital early in his career, when he was an RTO (Regional Transport Officer), and was well known to the local officials (which, come to think of it, explains the spanking-new Dodge ‘Kingsway’ in which my parents and I drove up from Kathgodam, that cold Ides of March, 1957 when I first reported at Sherwood). He had to come up for a few days on official work, and had I not spotted him, it was unlikely that he would have located us, for father had switched from Hotel Metropole and uncle Bhakti couldn’t possibly have known that we were now staying at the Grand (owned by Col. Pande, a hearty, cigar-smoking ex-army officer, and now, after his passing, by his son, a professionally-qualified hotelier). Be that as it may, it was fun meeting up with Uncle Bhakti. We decided to drive down to Bhimtal the next day, which was a Sunday. It was a great outing, made memorable by the ride in his huge Dodge station-wagon (something that was then the equivalent of today’s Mitsubishi Pajero). If you can recall a tall, wide-shouldered, balding, lantern-jawed bit-part actor in Hollywood movies called Harry James, metallic voice and all, who gets to portray heavy-weights like Air Commodores or Planetary Councilors and delivers meaty one-liners (‘633 Squadron’—“A squadron never dies, Major!”, and ‘Superman I’—“Jor-el! Be reasonable!”), then you’ve visualized Bhakti Deva Mukerji. He’s the man who muffed a chance to blow my head off (he never lived it down), thereby indirectly contributing in no small measure to the decimation of large numbers of birds, mammals, and fish in years to come. My third-eldest uncle (the second one was Bhu Deva, a Judge in Sikar, Rajputana), ‘Doctor Bob’ Bhava Deva, had died a bachelor, leaving behind appreciable quantities of medical supplies, a vast store of ammunition, a .22 Savage rifle and a .12 bore shotgun. The latter had been appropriated by Bhakti Deva, who probably wished to step into his brother’s shoes, hunting-wise. The said gun had accompanied him on a trip to Seohara the year before, since he was aware that the region had several jheels (shallow marshes)…and jheels had ducks! That was about as far as his knowledge extended on the subject, but we didn’t know that then, assuming that as man and gun had got better acquainted, nature would have taken its course. And thus my parents happily allowed me to accompany him and Puttan, his loyal Man Friday, on a duck shoot. And sure enough, we spotted a large jheel off the Bijnor road and it seemed to be chock full of ducks. Here, carried away by my enthusiasm, I broke a golden rule (for the simple reason that I didn’t know of it then)—I walked in front of the man with the gun, so confident was I that no uncle of mine would plug me in the back. Besides, he looked every inch the hunter (!), with his Kangol golf cap, threepiece suit and brogues which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Piccadilly. The gold caps of two fountain pens gleamed in the top pocket of his jacket, and two inkstained fingers were curled in impatient anticipation around the triggers of the gun as we set off down a narrow, slippery embankment that led us as close to the ducks as we could possibly go. Visions of a Dodge station wagon full of mallards filled my overheated mind. There was a swishing sound behind me, followed by unseasonal thunder at my back. Something like an express train went whooshing past my head, far too close for comfort. I was under fire! I ducked, having been born with a strong aversion to being potted. And that was the duck-shoot in a word, if that’s what you’re looking for…uncle Bhakti shot, and I ducked. That was all I got by way of ducks that

75 day. I goggled at the sight before me…no, not the uncle who had muffed his chance at an entry in the history books, but at the sky! It had turned overcast, as thousands upon countless thousands of ducks took to the air. The collective thunder of their wing-beats drowned out my uncle’s sheepish apologies. Darkness at Noon—Bhakti Deva had outKoestlered Koestler! It is my observation that when a man has had his feet shoot out from under him, thereby landing violently on a tender portion of his anatomy and simultaneously discharging both barrels of his gun a trifle prematurely in the process, he is often unable to give of his best by way of polite conversation. So was it with uncle Bhakti at this given moment. Fascinated as I was by his trembling hands, which I took as a tell-tale sign of his deep disappointment at having failed to make a trophy out of me, I managed to tear my eyes away from the juicy spectacle behind to gaze at the one in front…the one in the sky, the likes of which I have never seen again. In retrospect, uncle Bhakti was a conservationist par excellence, a karmic role he accepted with poor grace. For he never managed to actually hit anything, and gave Indian waterfowl, entirely gratis I may add, a solid foundation in the art of spotting early on in the proceedings, and taking fast evasive action against, the sneaky sort of men who crawl up on them with loaded smoke-sticks in their hands and roast duck on their minds.


Chapter 18 Birth of a Big B
India, 1867: perched precariously on a hillside, high up in the Kumaon hills near Kaladhungi, which means, in the local dialect, ‘black stones’, a Miss Bradbury started a co-ed school that, in 1869 became the ‘Diocesan Boys School’. Targeting Englishmen serving in the United Provinces of British India, it provided quality education on the English pattern to their offspring. By virtue of its remote location, the salubrious climate and sylvan surroundings, and the prospect of scholarly success that focused solitude often brings in its wake, the school floundered through a bad patch when its prime property was acquired by the government to build Government House. This disaster was followed by several more, including epidemics, and it was down to only 32 boys before it struggled to its feet again at the present site. Its major patrons included English administrators and the wealthy merchants of the region. Since it offered education leading to a High School degree and even beyond, right up to the Intermediate level, a higher educational qualification, the school was renamed ‘Sherwood College’. In the late 1880's, a disastrous landslide caused immense loss of life and carried half the hillside down into Nainital Lake far below, damaging the buildings so badly that, in the interests of safety and future growth, the school was reestablished at a spot close to Ayarpatta. Transplanted at the site of a series of rolling hillocks below Dorothy’s Seat – a minor promontory with a small memorial for an English lady who found it an ideal spot for her haunting water-colors of Kumaon – the school prospered. The relocation turned out to be blessing in disguise. It was now far more accessible from the town of Nainital, though still a thousand feet above it, and the terrain made future expansion, though somewhat daunting, a distinct possibility. India, 1958: June 6th, the day following the school’s Founder’s Day, was the high point of the school’s annual activities. And the crowning event that everyone, parents, distinguished guests, and students, awaited with the keenest anticipation, was the Annual Play. It is significant that, in a school dominated by the English idiom and the ‘pukka sahib’ atmosphere, there were actually two plays that were presented, one in English and the other in Hindi. The school governing body, the Diocese of Lucknow, a Protestant organization with a liberal and progressive outlook, moved with the times and Hindi was the wave of the future. Conspicuous by its

77 absence at Sherwood was the scorn that many Christian-run outfits reserved for the national language. It was a land of equal opportunity. Even the school motto ‘Mereat Quisque Palmam’ – 'Let each one merit his prize' – reflected this philosophy. The governing body, aware of the importance of a large assembly hallcum-stage to the social and cultural life of the community that comprised a residential school of six hundred students, had designed and constructed ‘Milman Hall’, so named after the Principal who had pioneered the program. It could seat about six hundred people, and at the far end of it was a commodious stage with adjoining green rooms, a couple of rest rooms, utilities, and an elaborate sound control center. The Hindi play that year of 1958, when I was in Class 5, was a stage adaptation of an excerpt from Victor Hugo’s novel ‘Les Miserables’. Not many of us had heard of this Victor Hugo, and demand for the book was high in the library. We discovered that the book was about the indignities and injustices that the poor always face, especially as those prevailing in the post ‘Reign of Terror’ Paris of A Tale of Two Cities fame. The poor of Paris were a miserable, hunted lot, and none exemplified this better than the main character, Jean Valjean. Having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, Valjean was forever stigmatized by a society that never forgave crime, no matter how petty. It was a harsh and cruel time where the term ‘extenuating circumstances’ was unknown. Always on the run after his release from jail, Valjean finds to his horror that, no matter where he goes, he is stalked by the implacable Inspector Javert who hounds him constantly, hoping to catch him red-handed and put him behind bars once again. Desperate, embittered, Valjean becomes a shadow of his former self, starting at the slightest sound and expecting to find the heavy hand of the law on his laid on his shoulder at any moment. Paranoid, his faith in humanity and God demolished, he is now little more than a hunted animal. One evening, starving and penniless, Valjean is given sanctuary by a provincial bishop. The tall, calm man of God treats him with all the consideration due to a fellow human being in distress. But to the cynical and distrustful Valjean, he is yet another beast in human form who will surely exploit him sooner or later. But as the evening wears on, and the bishop invites him to share his humble supper, the first stirrings of doubt arise in Valjean’s mind. Is this man for real? Can it be that there still survives on this planet a man who can be called human? The bishop is the last of a line of aristocratic forebears of a once-proud family. Impoverished, a simple man of the cloth, the bishop shows Valjean his room for the night, pointing out the magnificent pair of silver candlesticks that are the last of his once-proud heritage. They mean more to the bishop than their intrinsic value would indicate (for they are indeed valuable); they are to him a symbol of a vanished glory of which he, too, is a part, no matter how indigent and insignificant. His eyes grow misty as he fondles them, the token relics of a lost way of life long consumed in the fires of Revolution. For the tall, dignified old man, they are an anchor that links him to life itself, such as it is. The bishop retires for the night, but Valjean cannot tear his eyes away from the gleaming silver; it is a fortune gathering dust on the mantelpiece. It is obvious that he is torn between his newly awakened respect and regard for a fellow man, and the need to secure his own future. He is already branded as a thief; why not be one, then? But no, this man has taken him in from the cold, dark night, has treated him like an equal, given him a meal and a real bed to sleep in. He cannot betray his trust. But what does the good bishop know about life in the cruel, pitiless world

78 outside this protected backwater of a suburban parish, where the poor are criminals because they have no money? The silver will make him, Jean Valjean, rich. He will be secure; the bishop will not starve just because his silver candlesticks are gone: he cannot eat them. Valjean loses the battle with his conscience. Thrusting the heavy silver into a sack, he makes a hasty departure through one of the French windows. The last Act opens on the bishop entering the spare bedroom in the morning to greet his guest, to find he has departed during the night with his precious candlesticks. Initially upset and dismayed, he comes to terms with his loss, rationalizing that the poor man needs them more than he does. As a true Christian, he feels he should rejoice in his brother’s good fortune. He kneels and prays to his God to deliver him from the bondage of ties to material possessions. It is the most moving part of the play, an old, defeated man surrendering to his God, putting himself confidently in His hands, praying for a higher perspective on life and the strength to sever all ties with the contaminating human craving for mundane possessions. There is urgent knocking at the door; it is Inspector Javert, with Valjean and his booty in custody. He reveals that the bishop’s silver is too well known to be disposed of so easily, a fact that has made the arrest easy. The bishop tells a disbelieving Javert that the silver candlesticks were gifted by him to Jean Valjean. A frustrated Inspector Javert takes his leave while a stunned Valjean kneels contritely at the bishop’s feet. The bishop's mercy and humanity have transformed Valjean from an animal into a man; it is obviously a turning point in both their lives. Let us take a quick look at the two principal actors in the drama onstage. The part of the convict Valjean is played by darkly handsome, stockily muscular Ramesh Yadav, a final year student with a lethal uppercut in the boxing ring. His pride shattered, his confidence in humanity destroyed by his cruel experiences, Valjean has been completely dehumanized by society. The bishop’s rôle has gone to Yadav’s batch-mate, a tall, slim youth with a pensive air and poetic eyes. The voice is outstanding in its clarity and resonance, quite unusual coming as it does from that willowy frame. Uncannily convincing in portraying the bishop, he is painfully aware of the stark reality of his obvious penury. Clinging to the last shreds of his sense of identity, he treasures the great silver candlesticks: they are the tangible link between him and the vanished glory that is his inheritance. The name of this slim youth, according to the hand-made programmes so eagerly sought today by souvenir hunters, is Amitabh Bachchan. In a powerful portrayal of a gentleman sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of poverty and helpless to do anything about it, he turns in a performance that stirs the audience. It is his obvious relief and exultation at his newfound vision of a higher calling that drives home the point of the story. In his humility and compassion for another, he finally realizes that he has transformed his own life as well as that of another’s. Ramesh Yadav's powerful portrayal of Valjean underscores Bachchan’s prodigious talent. No one is surprised when the coveted award for ‘Best Actor’ goes to him. Every phenomenon has to be born sometime, someplace. But what is unique about the birth of the Big B is that it lay palpable in the air of Milman Hall long after the play was over…for years afterwards, in fact, long before the unknown advertising executive from Allahabad with the impeccable bloodlines exploded onto the screen in ‘Zanjeer’, long before his unforgettable appearance as Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee opposite reigning matineé idol Rajesh Khanna in ‘Anand’. It lingers in my

79 memory, though I was but a boy of nine then, the play that was called ‘Aur Subah Ho Gayee’. I had been one of the fortunate few who had witnessed the birth of a legend, on that little stage tucked away in a secluded residential school in the Kumaon hills. Something very rare had unfolded before my eyes that summer evening in 1958, of which I was reminded strongly once again when I saw ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’. There was the bishop once again, this time in a comic rôle. In time, the shock waves of his entry into Indian cinema would spread far and wide. Today, though nearing seventy years of age, Amitabh Bachchan continues to straddle the Indian cinematic world like a colossus—a phenomenon unlike anything that it has ever seen. 

Chapter 19 Carl and His Cosmos
"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." ~ Arthur C. Clarke

We are creatures of the boundless Universe. From the cosmos do we come, and to the cosmos do we return; to Alpha and Omega do we, in truth, belong. One of the advantages of philosophy, religion, introspection, and meditation is that we are sometimes able to see this fact a little more clearly. I always tell people who ask me what religion is to read Carl Sagan. Few so-called religious men could make one understand what Man is or what his place in the universe is, better than this self-confessed atheist. He moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Carl Sagan and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—two very different people: one, an atheistic cosmologist the other, a Jesuit priest-geologist. Yet, if one stands back and looks at them, they could be soul mates, driven by the same force. Indeed, nothing better illustrates the intrinsic unity, the oneness of all things in the Cosmos than this close resemblance between the two buried under trivial inconsequentialities. No duality, only a terribly final singularity, as the Bhagavad Gita explains so well. A good way of understanding the compulsions of Carl Sagan’s life-long affair with the cosmos would be to look at the great spiral galaxy in Andromeda. Part of our Local Group of 30 galaxies, this breathtaking cosmic spectacle is estimated to be 200,000 light years in diameter. To an astronomer, it is tantalizingly close…a mere 2.2 million light years away from our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It would take a ray of light, travelling at its usual speed of 186,000 miles per second only 2,200,000 years to reach Earth, a distance of 13 thousand quadrillion miles! It is our nearest galactic neighbor in an everexpanding universe that may contain considerably more than the 125 billion galaxies posited by astrophysicists monitoring the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. But we may never know for a certainty: as the universe expands and galaxies recede from us at velocities approaching that of light, we will not see them, as their light would never reach us. Galaxies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages, and may range from dwarf galaxies of fifty million stars to giants like Messier 87 (also known as Virgo A, a gigantic elliptical galaxy some sixty million light-years from Earth), which may be comprised of

80 up to three trillion stars, as compared to ‘only’ four hundred billion in our (barred spiral) Milky Way galaxy. A dim idea of the immense size of Carl’s cosmic playground begins to form. This was his home turf for about forty years as physicist, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and teacher. It takes a special sort of person to function simultaneously in all these roles. Quite apart from the rigorous academic grounding and discipline required, the mind must be trained to register the mind-boggling scales involved, and to realize that, as one peers into the sky, one is actually looking back at a distant past, to things as they were billions of Earth years ago. Cosmological problems need to be re-examined, a priori, in the light of latest discoveries, theoretical models constructed, and conclusions reached. The universe is a big place: the cosmologist usually decides his area of area of interest and proceeds to single-mindedly devote the rest of his life to it. Carl Sagan developed a wide-angle vision that accommodated the whole picture. He focused narrow, moved the field around rapidly, and thought w-i-d-e. He was born Carl Edward Sagan in Brooklyn, N.Y. on November 9, 1934. After a self-confessed ‘unremarkable’ school experience, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics (in 1955 and 1956 respectively) from the University of Chicago, following them up with a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics (in 1960) from the same institution. Before coming to Cornell in 1968, where he became a full professor in 1971, he taught at Harvard University. It was perhaps due to his penchant for teaching that this yearning to share his excitement with others developed into a best-selling book, and landmark television series, both called simply ‘Cosmos’. It is not an easy feat for a cosmologist to step down from the stars and speak of them to ordinary men. To convey the excitement of events that happened far, far away and long, long ago, in an engaging and comprehensible manner, is not a task for the faint-hearted. Few have succeeded. Carl Sagan did…beyond his wildest dreams. The book’s publisher had planned an initial print run of 10,000, with a total print-job estimated at 50,000 copies. It sold in millions! Cosmos (1980) is the best-selling science book ever published in English, staying on The New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks. It became the most watched series (it was seen by more than 500 million people in 60 countries) in television history, capturing the public imagination and winning Emmy and Peabody awards. A television audience is critical and notoriously fickle, apt to quickly switch channels at the first onset of ennui. Carl’s audiences clamoured for more, hypnotized by his soft, relaxed delivery, smooth narration, command over the facts and superb visuals. His sincerity and obvious love for his subject were infectious. He became an overnight celebrity to a global audience as, starting with the ‘Big Bang’ (estimated to have happened about 14 billion years ago), he showed how huge clouds of hydrogen, drawn together by gravitational forces, condensed into stars, and how those stars created in themselves the heavier elements, only to spew them billions of miles into space when they exploded. Over eons, the matter thus created condensed and re-condensed into galactic and planetary systems. He portrayed the march of astronomy as Man came to understand the solar system, and the uniqueness of the insignificant little ‘pale blue dot’ we live on (he persuaded NASA, launching Voyager I, to get the cameras to look back and photograph Earth from beyond Neptune, millions of miles out in space against the dark bleakness of the void). “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”, he wrote in ‘Reflections on a mote of dust’. “In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said

81 that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits (italics courtesy the author) than this distant image of our tiny world”, he cautioned. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space appeared on best-seller lists all over the world and was selected as one of the "notable books of 1995" by The New York Times. He showed how rare was the home-planet which Man treated so shabbily. Equally rare was the life that had evolved on it. ‘The Dragons of Eden (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978, presented his views on human evolution. He was convinced that there was intelligent life elsewhere in universe, but was definitely not the first astronomer-philosopher to venture such speculations. As early as 95 BC, Lucretius of Rome wrote "...since infinite space stretches out on all sides, it can be in no way considered that this is the only heaven and earth created... ...we must realize that there are other worlds in other parts of the universe, with races of different men and different animals... ...don't be frightened by the novelty of an idea...” Not to be undone, the sixteenth-century philosopher Bruno observed "... …there is not merely one world, one earth, one sun, but as many worlds as we see bright lights around us (in infinite space)... it is impossible that a rational being... can imagine these innumerable worlds...destitute of similar or even superior inhabitants..." However, despite the endless attempts through the platform of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project, not a shred of acceptable evidence could be found for life elsewhere other than on Earth. “The significance of a finding that there are other beings who share this universe with us would be absolutely phenomenal, it would be an epochal event in human history”, he once said wistfully. The failure all the more aroused his reverence for terrestrial life, and made him a vocal anti-nuclear war protagonist. He coined and popularized the term ‘nuclear winter’…the after-effects of a light-absorbing, post-nuclear-war cloud that would terminate photosynthesis, and ultimately, all life on Earth. “The flip-side of not finding life on another planet is appreciating life on Earth” he emphasized. His book Contact, and the motion picture of the same name (completed after his death under his wife’s supervision) based on the book, negotiates this subject. Now the world's foremost science popularizer, he reached out to people everywhere through the media. He was catholic in his tastes and his books cover not merely (!) science but his views on a wide range of subjects. Broca’s Brain and Billions and Billions are compilations of articles and lectures that skip from football, chess, and the possibility of life on Mars to global warming, international relations, and abortion. He steadfastly maintained his belief that we can transform our own lives: “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers”, he felt. Carl Sagan always thought of man’s origins in cosmological terms. “Starstuff, calling to starstuff…across ten billion years!” were the most goose-bump-raising words in Cosmos, predicting Man’s drift to the outer planets en route to the stars. Sagan began researching the origins of life in the 1950s and went on to play a leading role in NASA’s interplanetary missions, designing experiments for the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo space probes. Focusing on planetary research, he predicted the greenhouse effect on the super-heated Venusian surface, the chilly Martian surface that Mars probes confirmed, and the presence of large bodies of water on Titan, Saturn's moon, where, he felt, life may flourish. "We have looked close-up at dozens of new worlds. Worlds we never saw before,” he said. “And unless we are so stupid as to destroy

82 ourselves, we are going to be moving out to space in the next century (italics courtesy the author). And if I'm fortunate enough to have played a part in the first preliminary reconnaissance in the solar system, that's a terrifically exciting thing." "We have swept through all of the planets in the solar system, from Mercury to Neptune, in a historic 20 (to) 30 year age of spacecraft discovery," Sagan once said. As Man ventures out into the cosmos, the extent of Carl’s contribution to cosmology and impact on human society will continue to unravel itself. But the years of toil had taken their toll on his personal life, wrecking two marriages. Then, when he was in his 47th year, he met and married Ann Druyan. The fairytale romance lasted 15 years, till his death. Definitely his soul mate, she collaborated with him on many of his book and other projects. Ann Druyan wrote later that their obviously deep commitment to each other imposed a kind of ‘oppressive tyranny’ on other team members whose own relationships were hardly in the same league. Then the fragile bubble burst. Carl was diagnosed as suffering from myelodysplasia, a form of anemia also known as preleukemia syndrome that obliged him to undergo several bone-marrow transplants from his sister. As the disease gradually dragged him down, Sagan continued to cling to his dream of Man drifting to the stars. "We will look for the boundary between the solar system and the interstellar medium and then we'll voyage on forever in the dark between the stars”, (italics courtesy the author), he said. Prophetic words, indeed. He maintained his innocent atheism, however, even in the face of death. Some people were sceptical of this attitude: "Many of them have asked me”, he explained, “how it is possible to face death without the certainty of an afterlife. I can only say that it hasn't been a problem. With reservations about 'feeble souls,' I share the view of a hero of mine, Albert Einstein: 'I cannot conceive of a god who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I--nor would I want to--conceive of an individual that survives his physical death. Let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egotism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.' " This revolutionary (what else do we expect from Einstein, one of the greatest of human minds ever to look afresh at everything from evolution to cosmology?) assertion has prompted New Age philosophers such as Neale Donald Walsch to re-examine the concept of a vindictive, vengeful God. In the epilogue of Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death on the Brink of the Millennium, Ann Druyan later wrote: "Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last-minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife." She rejoiced that many people had written to say that Carl's example had inspired them "to work for science and reason, against the forces of superstition and fundamentalism. These thoughts comfort me and …allow me to feel, without resorting to the supernatural, that Carl lives." A grateful society had showered him with recognition. They are almost too numerous to list. They include the NASA Apollo Achievement Award for his significant role in NASA’s Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Galileo expeditions to other planets, two NASA Medals for Distinguished Public Service, and NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement award. Among his other awards have been: the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award of the American Astronautical Society; the Explorers Club 75th Anniversary Award; the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation and the Masursky Award of the American Astronomical Society.

83 He also received the prestigious Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences, "for distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare." He was chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, president of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For twelve long years, he edited Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. It is remarkable that he still found time to teach at Cornell. He received 22 honorary degrees from American educational institutions for his contributions to science, literature, education and the preservation of the environment. Many awards accrued to him for his work on the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, reversing the nuclear arms race, and the origin of life on Earth. He cofounded The Planetary Society, the largest space-interest group in the world with over 100,000 members. The society supports major research programs in the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the investigation of near-Earth asteroids and several unique projects including the development of robotic exploration of Mars. He was also Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the legendary JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in California. He was Contributing Editor of Parade magazine, which published many of his articles about science and about the rare form of cancer he had to fight. Right till the end, Carl Sagan maintained his atheistic integrity. He lived and died the first sentence of Cosmos, the book: “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” (Now please read the Bhagavad Gita, verse 7, chapter VII, and verse 4 chapter IX…or “The ‘New Age’ and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin” coming up next in this volume). For though he professed to be an atheist, it can also be maintained that, in celebrating Creation, he probably ended up celebrating the Creator...in a far better, more completely honest way than many a self-professed theist. It is a measure of his humility and not arrogance that he was content to marvel at the product, eschewing the presumption of genuflecting to its Maker: he was perfectly happy with his cosmic toy. On December 20, 1996 at Seattle, Washington, USA, with anxious messages pouring in from all over the globe, holding his true love’s hand, Carl fell back into the Cosmos he sprang from. Starstuff returned to starstuff, rejoining the mainstream of the Greater Scheme of Things. There comes a time for a blessed few, When the veil parts, and anew The soul, unfettered, roams afar, In the playground of the stars.


Chapter 20 The ‘New Age’ and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods, then they will surely become worms.” ~ Henry Miller, ‘The Colossus of Maroussi.’

Most of us are so absorbed in the dismal details of daily existence that we usually miss the larger picture, hurrying through life without seeing the wood for the trees. There does not seem to be any plausible explanation for our existence, for the apparently brutal randomness of the giant puzzle. We remain untouched by the magic of Creation, the spellbinding wonder of it all. My days in the field fortuitously brought me closer to Nature, which many call God. Not that I became a ‘godly’ person; far from it. But the little insights that came to dwell in me unconsciously, helped me, I think, to sense a Greater Hand at work, a Greater Scheme of Things operating behind the apparently unintelligible, illogical and haphazard chain of events that we call ‘life’. In my small world, I realized time and again that surrender to that larger purpose always brought forth a corresponding response. I have no doubts that as realization grows in us that we are, at bottom, not body but spirit, we will see that there is a purpose to life. I have intuitively felt for a long time that such an epiphany – quite accessible to all – was designed to enable Man to evolve to a state of consciousness that brought him to the stage where he merged with what perhaps we know as ‘God’. It is this stress upon spiritual evolution to a state of, and unity with, Godhead, that is common to all religions, whether Judaism, the Christian faith, Islam, or Hinduism. The latter, far from being a pantheistic religion, is first and foremost a monotheistic faith. One has only to read relevant passages from the Bhagavad Gita to appreciate this. In the Bible and the Holy Qu’ran, we read that Jehovah, God, Allah insists that ‘Thou shall have no other gods but me.’ Now observe what the Gita says: “There is nothing whatsoever higher than Me, O Dhananjaya. All this is strung on Me, as rows of gems on a string.”…verse 7, chapter VII.


Or consider this: “At the end of many births, the man of wisdom takes refuge in Me, realizing that Vasudeva is all that is. Rare indeed is that great soul.” …verse 19, ibid. Or this: “And whatever is the seed of all beings, that am I, O Arjuna. There is no being, whether moving or unmoving that can exist without Me.”…verse 39, chapter X. Or this: “All this universe is pervaded by Me in My unmanifested form; all beings exist in Me, but I do not abide in them” …verse 4 chapter IX. Or this (I could go on and on, for the Gita is like that, endless revelation): “I am the Self, O Gudakesa, seated in the hearts of all beings. I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings.”...verse 20 chapter X. It was a year senior in College who first told me of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and urged me to read him. Of course, I didn’t…we usually avoid reading something we are strongly urged to read; at least, I’m like that, cussed as I am. I like to feel my way to a book intuitively, even stumble across it serendipitously rather than be goaded into reading it. I must have missed many great books because of this unfortunate tendency of mine. But at the same time, I also have a sneaking suspicion that a great book is lying in wait for me on the path ahead; it will come to me when I am ready for it. And so it was with Paramhansa Yogananda’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’: urged to read it ever since college days, it was fated that I finally buy a copy (from a second-hand bookshop) in the closing year of the 20th century. And then I remembered Teilhard…and connected. Nature, apparently seized of the tragedy of Man’s lamentable short-sightedness, occasionally relents. Born are men who, while assiduously pursuing their vocation, have the gift of another vision, enabling them to pierce the mundane and intuit a Greater Scheme operating behind the apparently chaotic disorder of the cosmos. They are men of a different breed, marching to the beat of another drummer, for whom the ordinary little things dovetail into a larger vision of Reality that enables them to transcend the illogic of the Human Predicament and see in it a credible, logical symmetry. Such a man was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard, born in France on May 1, 1881, was the son of a gentleman farmer, and joined the Jesuit order when he was 18. He was ordained a priest in 1911, and chose to serve through World War I as a stretcher-bearer instead of taking up the safer, but perfectly acceptable, duties of regimental chaplain. His valour under enemy fire earned him the highest military decoration France can offer, the coveted ‘Legion of Honour’. It was already clear that Teilhard was cast in a different mould. After the war, his early interest in geology progressed from paleontology to paleoanthropology, in a striking parallel to Charles Darwin. Marooned in China (where his interests in paleontology and geology had drawn him repeatedly since 1923) during the World War II years of 1939 to 1945, a virtual prisoner, he astonished the world by the major role he played in the discovery of ‘Beijing Man’, (sinanthropus pekinensis), the fossil remains of a hominid carbon-dated to be about 350,000 years old, now reclassified within the homo erectus group of Early Man.

86 Education, it has been said, is what remains after learning has been forgotten. But Teilhard, a true empiricist, exercised his considerable erudition as he went about his seminary, geological, and paleontological activities. The ancient rocks, and fossilremains of early men took on new meaning as he visualized the march of the eons. As his fertile brain absorbed the coded messages from the remote past, he scientifically interpreted their relevance to the present, and extrapolated the process into the future. He saw the Earth, and Man, in the throes of a continuous, logical procession of change and evolution. From protoplasm to predator to the ‘Parousia’ (or second coming of Christ), he saw Man, in his mind’s eye, become a proto-god, a creature endowed with consciousness moving towards super-consciousness, towards an ‘Omega’ point, and a climactic union with the ultimate source of intelligence, or God. There came to him revelations of strange new dimensions. He stepped through, as it were, into a new universe whose presence few suspected. He perceived that men, usually seeing themselves as single, isolated entities, were possessed of joint-consciousness. The constituent cells, i.e., human beings, united to form a single, sentient whole, a Human Being, as it were. And this Human Being was itself part of a greater entity, a mere cell functioning within the order of a larger organic, thinking entity, planet Earth, whereof Human Being was itself but a small component. His vision of the ‘Noosphere’ (from the Greek noo, for mind) as a sentient membrane covering the planet was almost biological. It postulated a globe with a brain, and, by extension, that the globe was itself a living, thinking being with feelings, attitudes and a destiny. Teilhard wrote that the Noosphere "results from the combined action of two curvatures— the roundness of the earth and the cosmic convergence of the mind." Astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin often recalled that as he saw the Earth from orbit, a lovely blue-white pearl sharply contrasted against the dead blackness of deep space, he knew it was alive! This mystical experience changed Aldrin’s view on life. Teilhard’s pre-space-age vision encompassed both scientific and theological perspectives. He felt that a merger of physics and metaphysics would provide the answers to the mystery of life and its ultimate purpose, for they were but parts of a whole, and not mutually exclusive. Everything, from rocks to people, took on a holistic importance for him as they all moved inexorably towards a common ultimate destiny, propelled by a growing consciousness. And it was the evolution of consciousness that brought about over-all evolution. In other words, thought impinged upon physical reality and transformed it, indeed transcended it. Over a period of thirty years, from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, Teilhard crafted a number of inspired works (The Divine Millieu and The Phenomenon of Man were his major works) that, unconsciously or otherwise, served as the foundation for a new philosophy, (r)evolutionary in its grand sweep, that finds increasing favour in modern times. Teilhard, along with his Russian contemporary Vladimir Vernadsky, resurrected the ancient Gaia hypothesis (later enlarged by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis). The legend of Gaia, or the Earth Mother, had lain dormant for centuries. The reverence of the ancients takes on a new meaning under Teilhard’s facile pen, and in this he is not alone; poets (usually the first prophets) like Tennyson, John Donne, and Walt Whitman had also seen the larger picture. Julian Huxley, universally acclaimed as the founder of modern evolutionary synthesis, acknowledges his debt to Teilhard when he says that he “...effected a threefold synthesis…of the material and physical world with the world of the mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one...".

87 Teilhard's vision, far ahead of his time, is becoming increasingly relevant with each passing day. As Man destroys his environment, we remember the old legend of the Native Americans, who believed that when the Earth and all its creatures are dying, the ‘Warriors of the Rainbow’, Rainbow Warriors, would come to the rescue. (How appropriately have the environmental activist organisation Greenpeace named their flagship!). Along with his Indian contemporaries, Sri Aurobindo and Paramhansa Yogananda, Teilhard’s message rekindles faith in the mental and spiritual evolution of humankind, in an age characterized by blatant consumerism and spiritual bankruptcy. Teilhard approaches his work with the sword of scientific discipline in one hand, and in the other a trident of knowledge, religious insight reinforced by deep meditation, and inspiration. The resultant blend has a unique flavour ….he insists that “All around us, to right and left, in front and behind, above and below, we have only to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances in order to see the divine welling up and showing through. But it is not only close to us, in front of us, that the divine presence has revealed itself. It has sprung up universally, and we find ourselves so surrounded and transfixed by it, that there is no room left to fall down and adore it, even within ourselves.” He knows that the cosmos is pervaded by the Divine Being, indeed, is that Being…a Dancing Shiva. So should not the constantly evolving human machine tend to discard its dependence on the ecosphere that supplies it with nourishment (and Paramhansa Yogananda mentions several persons who have done so) and progress to a higher level of existence, more akin to thought, to pure energy: a notional state? Exactly what matter now appears to be, in the ultimate analysis! 20th century breakthroughs in particle physics appear to support what the great philosophers intuited. Spectacular discoveries made by physicists have shattered our older perceptions of what constitutes matter and space-time. Basic concepts pertaining to reality now lie in ruins. Post-Newtonian insights at the sub-atomic, speed-of-light level unveiled by Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, are deeply disconcerting. Matter, apparently solid, is composed of sub-atomic particles such as electrons, which under observation only display ‘a tendency’ to exist somewhere along a path—a tenuous existence neither real nor unreal! It is impossible to record both its position and momentum simultaneously…and each experiment is uniquely colored by the observer’s own methodology. Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle makes this abundantly clear. Moreover, matter, including light, exhibits the characteristics of a wave as well as a particle! Things are always in motion, even though seeming0ly at rest. It is almost as if what we see depends on what we think we will see! Space-Time is a relative concept, bent by gravitational forces, and Time itself flows both backwards and forwards! The natural order is nothing if not viewed holistically, a four-dimensional, constantly shifting, changing, and evolving deeply inter-related process in which everything impacts on – and is part of – everything else. Later discoveries merely confirm the paradoxical duality of existence: the inevitable interaction of complementary opposites like good and evil, heat and cold, which the great masters of Zen, Sufism, Tao and Vedanta appear to have demolished (only to speak thereafter in riddles, overwhelmed by the sheer impossibility of explaining the inexplicable and the unthinkable within the limitations inherent in speech). In a very real sense, Teilhard may be considered to be one of this select band who, like Sir James Jeans (The Mysterious Universe), saw that ‘the universe seemed more like a great thought than a great machine’. The only way Man can escape the

88 painfully imperfect condition of paradoxical duality is by evolving to a stage that takes him outside it; in other words, by merging with the Infinite. This, incidentally, is what the Bhagavad Gita and many other scriptures also maintain. This was the ‘Omega’ point Teilhard postulated, the culmination of evolutionary processes designed to refine Man to the point where he merges with his Creator. Predictably, the Catholic Church of his day frowned upon Teilhard’s work. The Vatican saw him as a threat. It disallowed the publication of his religious writings, (all his books had to be published posthumously), he was forbidden to lecture or teach on religious subjects, and he was banished from France (he went to China). But his invigorating ideas were widely circulated by the underground route. He became a cult figure for a younger, freethinking section of the clergy, paving the way for a neo-renewal within the Catholic Church. Teilhard’s prescience encompassed a marvel of modern technology, one that took his concept of the Noosphere to an amazing vindication: it anticipated the Internet, that complex electronic web of communication that now girdles the Earth. In its nodal-neural construction, nothing could better illustrate the concept of a planet with a brain comprising an infinite number of smaller, component brains, and possessed of intelligence greater than the sum of the parts. Annihilating as it does all barriers of time and distance in joining human brains together, evolving towards a never-before, allencompassing repository of the entire fund of human knowledge, the Internet of the Noosphere, with all its deeper implications, still lies in the future. No less a personality than Marshall McLuhan, the definitive prophet of the media’s impact on the 20th century ‘global village’ (‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’, ‘Understanding Media’) owed much to Teilhard’s philosophy. Artificial Intelligence aficionados take the idea of the Noosphere further. They see the ‘tangential energy’ Teilhard speaks of, trying to emerge in new, non-tangible, virtual life forms. As John Perry Barlow says, "Teilhard's work…. can easily be summed up in a few words …the point of all evolution up to this stage is the creation of a collective organism of Mind." According to Teilhard, this invisible virtual life has been with us since the beginning. The Net shows us what virtual life really is. It is not the binary 0s and 1s, argues Barlow; virtual life exists in "the space between (italics courtesy the author) the 0s and the 1s. It's the pattern of information that is relevant. Invisible life is composed of those life forms emerging in the space between things. Cyberspace helps us see these forms by taking us past the mechanical barrier." Teilhard died on April 10, 1955, in New York City. Philosophers, writers, and holistic ‘New Age’ thinkers, including Norman Vincent Peale, Jose Siva, Wayne Dyer, John Gray, Fritjof Capra, and Gary Zukav, to name but a few, owe much to his path breaking work. Each has added to the edifice by introducing constructions stemming from his particular field of speciality and metaphysical predilections. In a very real sense, Teilhard was their spiritual ancestor. Ralph Abraham, a co-founder of chaos theory and co-author of The Web Empowerment Book, a World Wide Web primer, feels "Teilhard de Chardin gets too little credit for the quality of his insights." In revealing to our conscious mind some hidden paths to an apparently more fulfilling and durable reality, perhaps lying buried deep in the unconscious, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin may have substantially reinforced the recrudescent human collective consciousness. In thus playing his appointed role in Man’s upward journey along an evolutionary path to Aurobindo’s ‘Superconsciousness’, Omega point, and beyond, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was an early herald of the coming of the

89 Greater Man, whether as a carbon-based life form or as a notional being transcending the limitations of space, time, and matter.

Chapter 21 Fulfilment
Fulfilment, to my mind, is a condition that obtains when a person (in the context of human accomplishment), has achieved his potential in every way: material, i.e., on both physical as well as non-physical planes. Here, ‘potential’ would mean the capacity of that particular individual, given his or her mental development, intellect, and circumstances, to achieve that highest level of attainment as is possible within these overriding parameters. Tied to this, and very important in the context, is the level of his need to achieve that personal high-water mark. It is true that almost each and every person has a certain picture in his mind that represents the ultimate state that he or she wants to achieve in life. This may be clearly visualized, it may even be articulated or set out in writing, or it may be an unvoiced, nebulous thought hidden at the back of the mind. Some may break it down into a clear set of priorities: independence, wealth, family, relationships, status, job satisfaction, and so on. Others seem to know instinctively what does or does not fall within the list of do’s and don’ts. Individual value-systems, based either on experience or, as is often the case, idealistic view-points selected on a subjective interpretation of second-hand experience, will usually play a key role in the choices that are made. In the search for fulfilment, much depends on the temperament and motivations that determine that individual’s actions based on his beliefs. Who can tell another what his or her priorities in life should be? There are probably as many priorities as there are people. The Great Masters, through the legacy of their experiences, have left us their wisdom, for us to interpret and apply as well as we can. But their thoughts do not always find favour with the masses. “Love thy fellow man,” they advise—and we are ready the next moment to butcher our brothers. “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” they warn—but has that stopped people from doing it? “Do not judge, lest ye, too, be Judged”, cautions the Bible. Yet we spend major portions of the day judging our fellow men. Are moral precepts of any value? And if so, why? What have they got to do with us, many will ask? ‘I do what I think will give me the most satisfaction, and the devil take the hindmost’, some might say. Then there’s the desperation of poverty: Observe the following dialogue from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion:


‘PICKERING’: “Have you no morals, man?” ‘DOOLITTLE’: “Can’t afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me.” The fact is that hewing to a moral code of conduct can uplift one’s vision of one’s own potential and bring us closer to achieving them. A sinner who truly repents his misdeeds and speaks the truth has the makings of a man who will seek the Truth—and this is the starting point of all fulfilment, for the search for fulfilment is the search for Truth, and that includes the Truth about oneself. So important is truth and honesty as a long-term policy that even Business Schools have adopted and adapted these principles into their curricula, regularly offering courses in Business Ethics. Far from the days when it was perceived as a handicap, ethics in the commercial sphere have come to be seen as the cornerstone of a lasting success in the material world. Seemingly paradoxically, honesty and fair dealing have been proved to be profitable ways of doing business, as opposed to short cuts to make short-term gains. Is spiritual development, then, the ultimate priority to set oneself in the quest for selffulfilment? So it seems, for two reasons: firstly, the spiritually-developed or inclined person is normally highly quality-conscious and conscientious, in the sense that he or she is driven by his conscience to give of his best, as a matter of principle. He draws his inspiration from Higher sources, and the results, dedicated to these Sources are, under the circumstances, invariably higher in quality as well. Quality is a concomitant of commitment, and the two often add up to material gains as well. Spiritual and material well being frequently go hand in hand. Secondly, the search for higher truths and values leads one to the question of the ultimate goal of life…and we all know that life is not body: when life departs, the body turns to dust. The spirit within, the higher thing, is the real man, and it is greater than material man. Is it so surprising, then, to choose to give a higher priority to that thing within? And to do that is to add to its growth, its evolution, which, as all scriptures seem to be telling us, is the purpose of life, the goal of attainment of, and merger with, Godhead. The evolution of the soul leads to everlasting life, to heaven, to paradise, nirvana, call it what you will, it means the same thing: self-fulfilment in the truest sense of the word. The viewpoint of the ancient philosophers, that thought comprises, and transcends, matter, seems to be vindicated by the renewed onslaught of modern science on the frontiers of human knowledge. The dividing line between matter and thought becomes hazier and hazier, as man explores the ultimate building blocks of things. Beyond a certain point, it becomes apparent that though the tiny constituent particles of the atom are in constant motion, their velocity and direction cannot both be simultaneously recorded. Either we have velocity pure and simple, or we have direction…but indeterminate velocity! And the most surprising thing is that the results of experiments are colored—influenced as it were—by the observer’s own priorities or objectives! If one gives it a little thought, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that thought is matter! Sir James Jeans said as much when he observed that the universe seems more like a great thought than a great machine. So which is more important, thought or matter? Does this mean that by mere thought we can transform our lives, add richness, direction, and value to it…and thereby fulfilment ourselves? Perhaps, for our thoughts are what we really are. We are essentially immaterial, beings of thought, belonging on a plane of reality beyond the material existence of our physical bodies. We are what we think all day long, for our thoughts empower our actions and attitudes. Who ever looked

91 upon a rose, or contemplated a lotus, with murder welling up in his heart? Which man constantly thought of love and peace and ended up becoming a Genghis Khan? Good thoughts lead to good deeds. That may, perhaps, be an oversimplification, but I don’t think so. The meaning is clear. What we think is what we do. What we habitually think is what will befall us. Is it any wonder that Caesar said that he wanted about him men who were fat, fat men being perceived as intrinsically jolly; jocularity can be levity that is often elevating. Humor, I’m sure, is a gift of the Gods, and Man is the probably the only creature who has it in full measure. An elevated mind possesses a power that eludes it under ordinary circumstances. Mental elevation is the sine qua non of all creative activity. Seen in the context of his long struggle up the steep path of evolution, from beastman to Homo sapiens, Man will surely, at some distant point in the future snap the chains of his bondage to the material sphere, conquering his own nature. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Truth, purity, and unselfishness—wherever these are present, there is no power, below or above the sun, to crush the possessor thereof. Equipped with these, one individual is able to face the whole universe in opposition.” But it is in an ambience bereft of these very things that we have seen 20th century man achieve enormous breakthroughs on the material sphere…without attendant gains on the spiritual plane. Unbridled hedonism, unchecked consumerism, the fleeting distractions of the digital world, a global decay of moral values and scruples, these have ushered in an age of unchecked materialism, spiritual impoverishment, cynicism, war, and destruction on a scale never before witnessed—all in the absence of Truth, purity, and unselfishness. We live in an age where the higher sensibilities are at a discount. It was not always thus. The men of old, the ancients, lived in simpler times when the spirit was paramount. While they toiled, and went about the ordinary business of living their simple everyday lives, their spirits soared to distant realms. We live in richer yet poorer times, where men are obsessed by the compulsion to acquire material wealth…to the exclusion of all else. Money is mistaken for fulfilment; it has become the ultimate yardstick of human worth. It is rarely seen as a by-product of higher thoughts, values and actions, a resource to be held in sacred trust. In a society where justice and honour are bought and sold, men and women stand reduced to open-market commodities. But as the momentum of materialism wanes, as men realize the futility of acquiring wealth for wealth’s sake, they yearn for real meaning in their lives…and find it in things of the spirit, of the mind. The Higher Values inevitably assert themselves, time and again in history. Babylons and Roman Empires come and go. The New Society that is even now in the process of emerging from the ashes of war, hatred and materialism, will focus on things that, built on a platform of enlightened material growth, are essentially nonmaterial in nature. The decay of crass materialism is inevitable; it cannot survive much longer. Neither can the Old Society. It, too, is subject to Darwinian laws. It is unfortunate that the standards of this very warped and sick Old Society have become the reference points of our lives. ‘What will my father think? What will my brothers say? What if my family finds out? What will people say?’, we always ask ourselves. It is time we did our thinking for ourselves. Distorted values rule our lives. We forget that the very people or institutions whose approbation we crave are the very ones who constitute this malformed society. We have allowed ourselves to become conditioned, moulded into educated idiots: mindless robots controlled by a society itself mindless. We are trying to get somewhere on a train that has no destination. We have purchased one-way tickets on the road to nowhere.

92 It is an age where kitsch is king, where the raunchy, the raucous, and the rappers reign. It is the age of that 21st century wonder, unmusical music. Sound prevails, not music. It is the carnal stamping ground of Eminem, Daler Mehndi, Govinda, Hugh Hefner, Madonna, and Britney Spears. Insensitivity is at a premium. It is cool to grab the finer emotions and hold them underwater until they breathe no more. Poets and bards are mocked; many promising ones have been starved out of existence. The ones who survived did so because they were the best, like Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Their words rang chords in too many starving, impoverished souls. In this wasteland of the human spirit, there can never be another Shakespeare or Tagore. Their peerless genes lie dormant in a hostile environment, waiting for rain to fall again in the desert. Times to come will refer to our age as the ‘The Dark Ages of the Human Spirit.’ But the Light is inextinguishable. When a finer, more sensitive, more discerning age dawns, it will again flare into blinding effulgence. It will be a long winter, but spring will come. Our thoughts, inspired by Truth, or the sight of Beauty (which are about the same thing), can produce Art—as any painter, poet, penman, or philosopher knows only too well. Which is why the reverse is also true: Art is elevating. It sets up vibrations in our minds—focused on the piece of art—in tune with the piece of art itself. Is it any wonder, then, that the music of Handel, Vivaldi, or Mozart can inspire us to surpass ourselves? This is the essence of inspiration: the setting up of vibrations within our inner beings by a manifestation of Truth, a vibration in harmony with, in sympathy with…in symphony with… the Truth! It is also true that we empower that which we habitually think about; if our thoughts are focused on defeat, ugliness, and betrayal, that is what we shall see in our lives. If we habitually dwell upon Beauty and Truth and Goodness, those are the things that we shall find in our lives…“The Kingdom of God is within you”, says the Bible. “Lift up yourself by the Self, do not debase yourself; for you are yourself your friend, yourself your foe”, says the Bhagavada Gita. It is up to us to choose our priorities, for they are milestones on the road to self-fulfilment, with the help of the Light. Inside every man is that great Light, more often glimpsed in another than one’s own self. It is something hard to conceal, for Light always breaks through, annihilating darkness. Sometimes glimpsed in another, divine soul, it becomes a source of boundless joy, which that other person himself or herself can sometimes fail to understand. For the Light is like that, shining out and away from itself, bathing others in sunshine. Many carriers of the Torch often fail to see why they transform others; they light another’s torch without always understanding their own role in the metamorphosis. The Light and the Truth are the ultimate source of inspiration and the hope of all aspirations, an ancient thing that lies buried deep in our subconscious mind, beyond the mists of time. It dares a man to attempt the impossible, then gives him sustenance to do it. It connects him to worlds unknown, to the past and to the future, to the very source of things. He surpasses himself but not his Self, for that is the Self’s true nature: unsurpassed, unconditional love, infinite inspiration. But there is need for caution. The light is not always easy to find. It lies buried at the very core of one’s existence, a place few know how to reach. It is easily extinguished by over-indulgence in the grossly material, its antithesis. Unconditional love and selfless devotion to the Light are usually the keys to finding it. Paradoxically, therefore, to find this great light within ourselves, we are compelled to look outside ourselves. Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa are but two examples. When we succeed in doing that, our priorities come into sharper focus: dimly, at first, we begin to see a clearer picture of

93 what real fulfilment can mean, something far beyond that dream of an ideal job, that house in the suburbs, or that latest model of car. As we take the responsibility for ourselves upon our own shoulders, we realize that we have a higher duty…to search for Truth, for “Truth is victorious, never untruth. Truth is the way; Truth is the goal of life. Reached by the sages who are free from self-will.” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6). Perhaps this is what self-fulfilment really means: freedom from self-Will, in other words, to lose the self in the Self, to recognize the interdependence, the inter-relatedness of all things in Creation, a flash of insight shared by men like Thoreau, Emerson, Fritjof Capra, the Zen masters, and the sages of India. It enables one to merge with a higher cosmic consciousness and to submerge the illusion of one’s individual will to the Higher Will. If so, the priorities we set ourselves should ultimately be decided by the criterion of Truth, which, like nothing else, tells us what we really are in the scheme of Life. As Ludwig von Mises said, “The criterion of Truth is that it works even if nobody is prepared to acknowledge it.” And how do we find the Truth, in case we have failed to encounter it in our lives? Perhaps Abdu’l-Baha’s words will help: “The shining path of the truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.” Through discussion, self-enquiry, introspection, meditation, or the mystical route of Bhakti can the way to Truth and Fulfilment be sometimes revealed. I personally prefer the way of adoration of The Force, in whichever form I find it, whether in an inanimate object, a living being, or a great idea. But whatever road one takes to the Truth and self-fulfilment, it promises to be something very different from the simplistic ‘achievement of potential’ line the management gurus like to hand us.


Chapter 22 The Importance of Individuality
One of the surest ways of being at ease with the world is to be at ease with oneself. If I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. To quote Shakespeare one more time, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”. In other words, one of the best ways of not letting anyone down, of being at ease with oneself is not letting oneself down. By that, I mean one should follow one’s heart in choosing a career (I prefer to use the word ‘vocation’). There have been numerous instances of IIT graduates (these brilliant people now command job offers of around $100,000 a year) turning down lucrative on-campus offers to return to their roots to teach science to economically challenged schoolchildren, or by plunging into social service in an effort to uplift marginalized communities. Before it was too late, they stepped back, decided what they really wanted to do with their lives and didn’t look back. A few more such people and I’m going to start believing in the Goldman Sachs (BRICs) report about India joining the Big League within a few decades. Poor though they’ll remain, given the way the system works, these extraordinary individuals will be so ennobled by their choice that it will lighten their burden and make them feel richer than Croesus himself…especially when the outcomes of their efforts start manifesting themselves. As the ripples of their courage and powerful individuality spread in ever widening circles, their joy in having made the right choice will increase. Like millions of people, I rate Ayn Rand’s enduring classic The Fountainhead as one of the greatest novels of all time. As we all know, it’s about a man who is unwilling to compromise his individuality, no matter what the cost. While Howard Roark is the protagonist, his mentor, Henry Dana is the proto-Roark. One-time shoeshine boy-turnedbusiness tycoon and newspaper owner Gail Wynand is the failed Roark, but what really spices up the plot is the contrast between the two characters Peter Keating – the wouldbe-Roark, a conformist who lives to rue his decision to bow to convention – and the wily Ellsworth Toohey, the anti-Roark who is the master manipulator of public opinion. I can think of no better way of getting my initial point across – the one about being at ease with oneself by not letting oneself down – than by attempting a roundup about these

95 two diametrically opposite people, highlighting their inherent similarities and contrasts and the fundamental motivations that drive them. This is my only excuse for attempting to dissect a plot you probably know only too well. It’s my way of paying tribute to Ayn Rand and her enduring legacy—the Right to Creative Individuality. Here we go: Peter Keating is a first class graduate from ‘The Stanton University of Architecture’, a man well known for his selflessness, but for whom complaisance is the only virtue of life. The conservative Architectural Guild of America (Keating is their star product) refers to him as ‘the future of architecture’. As a child, Keating showed rich promise of becoming a successful painter, but he chose to crush his talent and pursue architecture in the belief that it offered greater reward by way of the empowerment, wealth and influence—things he craves above all else. Conforming to societal norms comes easily to Peter Keating. He quickly learns that mediocrity is a comfortable place to be. Keating shies away pusillanimously from the road less travelled, the rocky path of the creative artist that is paved with public denigration, summary rejection and financial ruin. He jettisons creativity in opting for the safer but infinitely dissatisfying route of compromise, rationalizing that it is eminently practical and sensible to abandon the fierce independence of the innovator if it means a ‘wasted’ life, a life full of nothing but (as he sees it) sacrifice, unrecognized toil, confrontation and relentless humiliation…all the things, in fact that Roark has to cope with. Keating tries to convince himself that his decision to opt for money, power and fame has been the right one…but in the dark night of the soul, the ghost of his throttled talent mocks him at every turn. Try as he might, he grapples unsuccessfully with the growing conviction that he has made a horrible mistake in abandoning his true calling, and that he has traded fulfilment for the tainted life of the pliant conformist. In doing so, he has betrayed himself… and like all who do so, he suffers the tortures of the damned. Consumed by shame and guilt, he shies away from facing the truth: that he is nothing but an incompetent architect kowtowing to a society that sponsors mediocre men like him. There is not a single building he can claim as being of his own design, for he has shamelessly plagiarized the works of the Masters who went before him. He has not lived his own life, but someone else’s. The Bhagavad Gita, as we’ve noted earlier, says that it is better to die in one’s own dharma than to flourish in another’s. Keating, unfortunately, appears not to have encountered the timeless wisdom contained in these stirring words. He is lauded for ‘designing’ a building that is nothing but a mishmash of the designs of others. It is therefore inevitable that his biggest professional triumph is his biggest failure. Having strangled his creativity, throttled his conscience and sold his soul, Faustus-like, to the Devil, Keating finally comes face to face with himself: and realizes that he no longer exists. All that’s left is the well-dressed corpse of what was once a man, the empty shell of what was once a human being capable of independent thought and original action. Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, on the other hand, is a much more complex character. Apparently unassailable in his niche as the arbiter of aesthetic achievement, he has cunningly positioned himself as the torchbearer of true art and architectural excellence. But though he has woven around himself the aura of the infallible aesthete, the epitome of inspired erudition, he is a confirmed cynic with a grudge against humanity. Saddled by

96 his deep sense of inferiority, driven by his desire to wreak vengeance on a world that has given him nothing by way of either form or talent, he cowers behind a facade of pseudoscholarship. His aim is to avenge himself…by doing everything in his considerable power to encourage and support mediocrity, which is his way of ensuring that original thought and creative genius—things placed beyond the pale of his own inborn mediocrity—are muzzled and suppressed. Nothing is more unsettling for the herd than genius, for—by demolishing their safe but boring social constructions, denying their inherited value systems and annihilating their fragile egos—genius contemptuously negates them. Bolstered by his brand image as a champion of democratic traditions and a man who sides with the masses, sanctimoniously proclaiming that ‘Vox Populi Vox Dei’ is the ultimate mantra behind his (motivated) pronouncements, his scathing media attacks on all who are bold enough to depart from the beaten path are enough to demolish their careers. He is well aware that nothing destroys better than derision. Compared to Peter Keating’s naïve yearning for approval, fame and wealth, Ellsworth Toohey emerges as an almost demoniac figure of calculated, conspiratorial conformity, a malformed psyche masquerading as a crusader whose life mission is to unmask what he says are poseurs and charlatans. Cleverly concealing his loathing for the wealthy and the powerful whom he courts assiduously—and in whom he finds ready collaborators (for plutocrats fear original thought as nothing else)—he harnesses their influence to promote his secret plan. Cynically sure that those whom he exploits are too stupid to see that he is actually working against their best interests, he proceeds with complete disregard for any standards of morality or ethics to realize his unholy agenda—the utter destruction of original, iconoclastic creativity. On the surface, Keating and Toohey are birds of a feather. But putting them in the same cage would be akin to pitting a sparrow against a hawk. Keating is a gentler soul, an invertebrate, inchoate human trapped in perpetual adolescence, hungrily seeking his teacher’s approbation and pining for her caress. He sees society—his penultimate teacher in the harsh school of Life—as one who will pet him only if he is a good boy, if he does what he is told, if he conforms. In order to emulate those he admires — men of wealth, position, power and influence, in his search for constant approval and approbation — Peter Keating ignores his childhood talent as a painter and half-heartedly plunges into the deep waters of architecture. Peter Keating’s motivations are pure primal-level Maslow: security and acceptance are his drivers. Uncomplicated, puerile and ingenuous, he makes a decision he lives to rue: betrayal of his Self for the sake of the mirage of financial and societal security. He fails to perceive that these are but by-products of human actualization, and in failing to achieve this most important feature of human existence, he fails as a human being. By ignoring the voice of his conscience and wasting his potential, Peter Keating finally grasps what his final teacher in the school of life – himself – is trying to teach him: he is the sculptor of his own destiny. In falling, however, Keating comes to terms with his defeat and acknowledges his error.

97 Toohey, on the other hand, is a harder nut to crack. Cynical, disingenuous, scheming, totally unprincipled, alarmingly resourceful and ruthlessly destructive, he emerges as by far the most formidable opponent of creative genius. Ironically, this is his sole claim to his own dubious genius: a malevolent, distorted genius implementing a unique and utterly diabolical strategy to annihilate genuine, original talent. That he succeeds to the extent he does is a telling commentary on society, and the countless Peter Keatings that it continues to nurture. No one wants to be anyone other than a Howard Roark, but it’s a tough act to follow. Success comes after innumerable trials and tribulations, but no matter: Roarks measure their ‘success’ by the unconventional yardstick of self-actualization. The rest is just inconsequential excess baggage. Too tough? Why not try it on for size? It might fit! All the best, my friend! Like everything else in life, inner peace and harmony is hard earned.

Chapter 23 Dissecting Art and Literature
O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention!
~ Shakespeare, Henry V, prologue to the play

When I was a boy, I always ended up dismantling (read ‘destroying’) my favourite toys. This was because I just had to find out why they worked as they did. At other times, I took them apart to try and repair them when they stopped working properly. Either way, the results were the usually the same: I couldn’t put them together again. Far from understanding how a toy’s innards meshed, I ended up with a pile of assorted components that soon found their way into the wastepaper basket. On the rare occasions when I actually figured out how the thingamajig functioned (and why it wasn’t doing so), I found that the solution had come to me in a flash of insight—inspiration quite independent of my act of tearing the toy down, part by part. Never did the answer come to me by any deductive process of cold-bloodedly analyzing the toy’s innards as I took down its train of clockwork components. Dissecting sundry specimens of insects, amphibians and mammals in the school laboratory made me queasy. It was not just the sight of livings thing chloroformed and reduced to their constituent parts that made my stomach churn. It was more of an inner conviction that I was looking for the right answers in all the wrong places. To cut up frogs to learn about their internal mechanisms was acceptable if you wanted to see how these simple creatures differed from others. Dismantling a frog merely to find out what a frog was… that seemed to me an exercise in absurdity. A frog was something much more than its parts. Taking it to pieces obscured rather than revealed its true nature. In other words, my childhood experiences with toys and assorted fauna had shown me that I lived in a personal universe that could not always be understood by separating and analyzing its component elements to see how it worked. That truth was more accessible when I felt around inside me for the answer I knew was already there. It gradually dawned on me – in a very nebulous sort of way – that I did not have the sort of mind that

98 reasons its way to answers. In my case, imagination superseded logic, which might explain my abysmal scores in math. In a science dominated school curriculum, this had a depressing effect on my scholastic grades. As a result, my IQ was popularly presumed to hover at a level somewhere between that of an amoeba and a fruit fly. Though I managed to get through school more by luck than logic, it was borne in on me forcefully that I had to steer clear of math and science if I wanted to keep body and soul together. I did not have the mental equipment needed to handle these subjects. I envied the 47-plus Patels from Mombasa and Nairobi. Merchants all, their math-oriented brains – worthy precursors to the electronic calculators of today – put them right at the top of the science-oriented culture that ruled the roost at school. They turned up their pimply noses at my essays, at my adding notch after notch to my gun in English, Scripture and GK. These were subjects far below their Pound Sterling-calibrated standards. ‘No’, they recited—gleefully, collectively and disdainfully— ‘Grammar, précis and parsing Aren’t worth a penny farthing!’ It was clear that I was destined for a humbler, ragamuffin world inhabited by lowlifes such as poets, writers and sculptors—people who rarely get to shave, bathe or eat. I sort of looked forward to it. No Walter Mitty really goes without the good things of life. It all depends on what one means by the term. Cracking (a – b) 2 didn’t do anything for me. A satisfying essay did. It probably meant I’d go hungry now and then. That was acceptable if it meant I could distance myself from numbers. By some diabolical quirk of fate (or a sudden, unaccountable lapse into insanity), I went and joined a bank. I now lived, breathed and slept numbers. Banks are best known as temples dedicated to the worship of Mammon, but they hardly inspired in me the sort of awe and reverence they elicited from my peers. On the contrary, the moment I entered a bank office, a wave of despair swept over me, as perhaps afflicts one who passes through the portals of Sing Sing, Alcatraz or Tihar. To me, banks were burial grounds for the finer sensibilities inherent in man. People seemed to be gathered there to waste each other’s time. At last I understood why James Thurber and P.G. Wodehouse2 departed in a tearing hurry after encounters with banks. I was much slower. It took me nearly twenty years to realise that my life was slipping through my fingers, and that it was time to switch tracks. No more adding, subtracting and analyzing. Enough was enough. It was time to grope my way back to myself. In the foregoing paragraphs, I was but building up a case for examining art and literature through the heart and not the head. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, ‘Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit’. He also said: ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’. In the same vein, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in Stray Birds: ‘A mind all logic is like a knife, all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it’. The creative are a relatively diffident and ambivalent lot. I envy the others the blind confidence with which they approach the challenges thrown up by life. I wonder if they realise what is involved in sitting at a desk, day in and day out, writing a book that no one may ever read. Imagine the depth of the occasional spell of despair, the stamina needed to keep going as the world moves from event to another…the fortitude of a Kiran Desai who wrote The Inheritance of Loss over a period of eight years, bolstered only by her self-belief. Or of a Charles Darwin, who sat and ruminated on his notes of his expedition

Both great humourists; the former wrote The World of Walter Mitty, a famous short story.

99 to the Galapagos Islands for twenty years before he published his findings and conclusions in his book on natural selection. Yet we presume to dissect and analyse art! Something that wells up from the soul – a shapeless bundle of thoughts and emotions, a nebulous cloud of plasma – and congeals on paper as the written word, cannot be understood by anything other than the heart. I think Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea falls in this category. So Spartan a use of language means it is a book aimed not at the mind but at the heart. A book like that isn’t read but felt. There are hundreds of books in this genre, books economical of construction, sparse of vocabulary and with terse descriptions. With no intention to single them out for special attention, I’d like to mention here four of my favourite books: James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice and two of Richard Bach’s works: Illusions and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I only have to mention Robert Louis Stevenson’s self-confessed way of writing to drive home the message. When someone asked how him how much he wrote daily and how he planned his books, Stevenson replied: ‘I really do not know. I write from one episode to another, and when I’ve finished a chapter, I look forward to how the story will unfold the following day. I have no idea what will happen next, and look forward to it eagerly’. In other words, he wrote the book as it came to him from ‘somewhere else’—a twilight zone where his book, complete and finished, waited for him to access it. W. Somerset Maugham had a very similar – though more methodical – modus operandi. He wrote 2000 words every day; he wrote them as well as he could and left them alone thereafter. Editing a book is one thing; editing out its spontaneity is something else. That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The next time we are tempted to critically analyse (not to be confused with explaining the nuances and possible motivations of the author) and dissect literature, let us not forget that art is not artifice. Far from being a mechanical construction assembled according to a blueprint, it is an upwelling of the writer’s soul. No one can analyse a soul or its efflorescence. The same is fundamentally true of painting. Painters may sketch the outlines of their works, but that in no way makes the finished piece a contrivance. In the case of a painting, an outline merely serves to capture the fleeting inspiration. More than lightning, inspiration never strikes twice. Writers keep pad and pencil by their beds to jot down ideas and stray words and sentences that can come to them at the oddest of times, sometimes even in the middle of the night. They are attuned to the working of their unconscious minds and recognize its importance in their creative efforts. Like writers, painters and sculptors also keep sketchbooks and pencils in their satchels. They never know when a scene, figure or object will entrance them, and they will wish to capture the essence of the image that their heart projects onto the canvas of their conscious mind. The emerging discipline of Emotional Intelligence (with Spiritual Intelligence already being mooted as being its successor) postulates that far from being just a muscular pump that is responsible for blood circulation, the heart is a sensitive organ that sees and feels. Poets, writers and other artists have known this for centuries. To counter the bad press that poets traditionally enjoy among the desensitized and unlettered multitudes, let me spring to their defence by quoting an epigram ascribed to either Alexander Pope or Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
“Sir, I admit your general rule, That every poet is a fool,

But you yourself may serve to show it, That every fool is not a poet.”

Who knows what agonies Vincent van Gogh suffered as he saw his genius derided by people who failed to recognize it. But did he scheme, contrive and design his paintings? Vincent van Gogh was a creative artist so far ahead of his time (as was Pablo Picasso) that even today we despair at replicating his unique vision. If Leonardo da Vinci made sketches and notes of his various works, we should not lose sight of the fact that he was a a polymath, a versatile genius—sculptor, inventor, painter, engineer, scientist and philosopher all rolled into one. He had a definite way of working, a system (including his ‘mirror writing’ notebooks) that spanned the mind-boggling gulfs between his various accomplishments. To support my stand, I quote from Shakespeare as he describes Marcus Brutus when he says of Caesar’s illegitimate son and murderer that ‘the elements were so mixed in him…’ If van Gogh painted what his heart saw – art sans artifice – his generation had neither the eyes nor the heart to tune in to his unique wavelength. To understand art is to understand the windsong of the stars; it is to listen to a melody of a happily untrammeled universe awash with gifts for those who care to hear it. Some call it inspiration. I think inspiration and creation are two sides of the same coin, and that intuition is essential to creativity. What does ‘intuition’ mean? And what exactly are coincidences, hunches, gut feelings, anyway? When it strikes, do we link into another dimension where there is no distance, time or space? Are there biological or physiological reasons that enable us to have these inexplicable experiences? There are. It’s an area in the brain, located in the right temporal lobe, although medical textbooks of today have little to say about it except that it stores, processes, and interprets memory. It is still too early – despite the enormous body of research that points conclusively to its role as a unique instrument – for medical science to accept its role as a receiver/transmitter for tuning into what Jung called the Collective Unconsciousness— the Universal Mind of the New Age philosophers. I am talking about an area of the human brain that more and more scientists are the calling The God Spot. Through this lobe we access the place where all knowledge (as many an inventor maintains), all memory resides, everything that ever happened, is happening, and everything that will ever happen in a finished, complete universe that science today acknowledges is no longer a myth created by mystics and philosophers. Unlike information, Time is not indispensable to a universe where, say the physicists, everything—every last atom and sub-atomic particle—is inextricably and eternally interlinked in a sequence of events that’s not a sequence at all but a one-off event! If you’ve read John Donne’s words about for whom the bell tolls and of no man being an island, you might see what that means. I don’t think I need to again recite Blake’s ‘To see a world in a grain of sand’ verse to get my point across. Sometimes, it’s the poets, rock-stars, philosophers, and mystics—heavily dependent on their right temporal lobes for ‘inspiration’ (read ‘the ability to access the Universal Mind’)—who understand, far better than most scientists, the basic, underlying unity of everything...peering unerringly into the future. Bob Dylan is one such creative artist. He says, " I don`t think the human mind can comprehend the past and the future. They are both just illusions that can manipulate you into thinking there`s some kind of change." “I

101 just write a song and I know it’s going to be all right. I don’t even know what it’s going to say,” he says. Wrote Arthur Miller, “I obey only my own instincts and intuition. I know nothing in advance. Often I put down things which I do not understand myself, secure in the knowledge that later they will become clear and meaningful to me. I have faith in the man who is writing, who is myself, the writer.” Tennyson (Locksley Hall) and Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass) are two more such individuals. It is no wonder, therefore, that when we access the Universal Mind through the good offices of the right temporal lobe, we encounter another reality beyond the limitations of space-time. Working through a different frame of reference to the one we normally operate from, we can use the right temporal lobe to access what we regard as the past, the present, and even the future. However, the compulsions and obligations of the workaday world we live in compel us to neglect the intuitive right lobe in favour of the more analytical, rational left temporal lobe. This ensures that the individual ‘I’ predominates (giving rise to the aggressive assertiveness that is so essential in coping with the individualised challenges that are constantly thrown up by a highly-competitive environment that is often erroneously described as ‘dog-eat-dog’, when it is just a vast field of opportunity that challenges our ability to cope creatively. This over-developed sense of the ‘I’ is also the undoing of modern societies, responsible as it is for spawning much of the ills of that plague men who have lost touch with the soothing sense of harmony and oneness with the universe and everything in it. As science and religion increasingly view each other as allies, as physics and metaphysics converge and rush to meet on common ground where they will see each other as means of interpreting a shared reality, we see the beginning of the end of the Dark Ages of the Soul. For as surely as Newtonian physics crumbled before the incontrovertible theories of Einstein, and as quantum theory unveils worlds at the sub-atomic level that question the very foundations of the older physics, man is beginning to re-remember an old truth: that the mind and the body are subtly linked, part and parcel of a universe that holds all the answers...if we but care to look. The key to looking, learning and responding, for a creative artist, is the Right Temporal lobe. It can be electrically stimulated, it can be kicked into responding by mind-bending drugs...but it can also be induced into action by meditation (which could mean nothing more than sitting quietly for about twenty minutes and fixing the mind at some neutral point, slowing down the frequency of brain waves to about the pre-sleep level of 8 to 10 cycles per second). Scepticism is both natural and healthy. It winnows the wheat from the chaff, and, when finally overcome by overwhelming evidence and conclusive repeatability, makes acceptance of new ideas and paradigms all the more welcome. Old habits and ways of thinking, however, die hard. Ulcers, for example, were always thought to be the result of stress until it was proved that a simple virus causes them, and that antibiotics can cure them. But even today, ulcers continue to be treated as though stress was the cause, by doctors who refuse to change their thinking.

102 The story of science – whether astronomy, cosmology, medicine, psychology, anthropology, or biology – is nothing if not a series of anecdotes about new ideas that were derided when first mooted, examined, experimented with, and ultimately accepted to the extent that they became commonplace. Ideas start as heresies, mellow into selfevident truths, and finally live on as superstitions. So it is with art. Picasso is a poster boy today. But when he first unveiled his Demoiselles de Avignon in 1903, it was met with stony silence. He quietly rolled it up and put it away. Thirty years later, when he showed it again, the critics were stunned. An awed Andre Breton said: ‘With this painting, we bid farewell to all the paintings of the past’. A new era had begun in painting. Doctors have long believed in their gut feelings. Many a CEO acts on his hunches before rationalizing them with analytical studies and market research (Akio Morita’s development and launch of the Walkman is a case in point—read his book ‘Made in Japan’). Intuition, according to top security and police officials, is often more valuable that body armour and guns. Any pilot knows the ‘feeling he has in his bones’ about a flight. So what are these signals, and where do they come from? How come they – and dreams, properly interpreted – are often so accurate? It’s the right temporal lobe at work. It is important to consider the role of coincidence in our lives, without becoming too nostalgic about Auric Goldfinger’s famous summing up in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, occasioned after his third clash with James Bond: ‘The first time it’s circumstance, the second time it’s happenstance...and the third time it’s enemy action!’ Scientists prefer to regard coincidence as a lazy man’s way of reacting to a set of circumstances. Some physicians like Dr Melvin Morse feel that ‘when you invoke coincidence, you have only one in a million chance of being right.’ Many children who have recovered from NDEs (Near Death Experiences) have gone on record as saying that “there are no coincidences.” There seems to be a deeper pattern underpinning the entire fabric of nature that we can access with the aid of – not our humdrum five senses – but the other ‘lost’ senses that tap into the Universal Mind with the help of the right temporal lobe. According to Dr. Melvin Morse, MD, the interconnectedness of life is real. This was one of Niels Bohr’s first major concepts. The founding father of quantum physics discovered that there is a marvellous interconnectedness between apparently unrelated subatomic events that scientists cannot explain. But the Zen masters smile gently…they have long known this. Physicist Wolfgang Pauli and psychologist Carl Jung developed the concept of synchonicity before Bohr proved it existed. The theory is that hidden patterns in life can be expressed by seemingly coincidental events, and that these patterns represent communication with a conscious, universal mind. Mandell, who continued Jung’s work, demonstrated not only that synchronicities have valid meaning, but occur at times of major shifts in our life patterns...births, deaths, falling in love, marriage, intense creative work, or even job changes. “This internal restructuring,” he stated, “produces external resonances...as if a burst of mental energy is propagated outward into the physical world.” Looks like what we call coincidence... or perhaps inspiration! Can you relate this to your now shifting concept of art as a creative medium? When the brain developed its current bicameral configuration about 200,000 years ago (says Dr. Morse), man had no need for the self-assertive ‘I’ so necessary in our competitive modern times. Primitive man, deeply attuned to nature, relied heavily on senses other than the conventional five we all have, to locate distant game, communicate telepathically, and even undertake migrations (across the land bridge from Asia into

103 North America, for example) that would be daunting even for modern men. Each member of the tribe knew her or his role in it. In India, we called it the four varnas. Individual functions were so clearly defined that the group functioned as a single unit, with the tribal chief—the repository of the common mind—working at achieving the common good. Written and verbal communication developed with the coming of civilisations (such as that of the Sumerians), based on agricultural advances that led to disposable food surpluses and therefore the formation of stable urban agglomerations. The use of the left lobe shot into greater prominence as the right lobe’s intuitive, remote seeing, extrasensory uses gradually fell into disuse. The ‘other’ senses we had been gifted with withered away, even as the Dark Ages saw large-scale persecutions of those who retained their powers; many of those who relied on intuition and precognition were condemned as ‘witches’ who ‘consulted the powers of darkness’. Man has always felt fearful of – or antagonistically inclined towards – things he doesn’t understand, taking them to be witchcraft and magic. The science of today would have been called magic in medieval times. We ourselves scarcely believe in a future where men will be half-man, half-machine. But Kevin Warwick of Reading University, U.K., the world’s first Cyborg, has ushered in a revolution that will see man shape his own evolution as he reaches for the stars from which he came, and to which he will ultimately return. I have seen too much science fiction come true in my fifty-plus years not to believe in this wholeheartedly. Left lobe usage (which has reached its zenith today) increased further in medieval times, as society gradually succumbed to forces of de-stratification. New theories and attitudes challenged the old, as use of the right temporal lobe declined even more. The great flowering of art and culture we know as The Renaissance may have been a despairing, defiant upsurge by the right temporal lobe – beginning to diminish in importance – as it linked to higher reaches of reality and triggered off a brilliant flowering of human capability…just as the Eastern mystics do. In fact, Eastern societies, more holistically oriented than the west, have always given due importance to ‘right brain’ activity. It hasn’t served them too well in the past, in ‘practical’, left-brain terms. But now, as the world shrinks and the global economy integrates, it is no coincidence that the greatest advances in research and electronics are coming from people of Indian and Japanese origin. ‘Intel outside, Patel inside’ is a wry comment on this phenomenon. The Goldman Sachs (BRICs) report tells us that within a couple of decades we’ll be within striking distance (in spite of the ineptitude and self-aggrandising tendencies of political systems) of the material standards of the west. Provided we avoid the pitfall of lapsing wholly into left lobe thinking, we will see a flourishing of a civilization that will herald the coming of the new Age of Enlightenment and the unfolding of what we today regard as miracles and mysteries beyond human comprehension. You can be sure that India will be in the thick of the action, telling the world where it is and where it’s going…in stunning, iconoclastic, right brain generated imagery. I would venture to say, then (and you are at liberty to disagree with me) that art is, at bottom, a combination of four things—purpose, serendipity, inspiration and intuitive foreknowledge. I feel that, in a very curious way, the four are one and the same, because of the intrinsically united nature of life…all things being inseparably, inscrutably and irretrievably linked in some so far inexpressible way. As such, ‘attunement’ – a term I use to describe this state of oneness with all things – brings discernment and foreknowledge, since barriers of space and time do not exist on

104 that higher plane of existence. In other words, art is really about connecting with the larger universe beyond optical vision, with a zone of eternal Truth, Light and Beauty that lies outside the reach of all but our higher senses. Whenever I perceive these three vital elements that form the crucial touchstone of timeless value, I know that all things are as much part of me as I am of everything else. I might have been rash in going way beyond art and creativity to things such as Quantum Mechanics and superluminal connectivity. In doing so, I have left myself open to attack from puritanical, left-brain critics for whom art is but a matter of planning and mechanical execution, but I had to. I felt strongly about a distant yet inner junction where physics and metaphysics converge – a place that, I feel, holds many of the answers to life’s conundrums – to try and peel away layers of humdrum, everyday reality to get at the ‘ghost in the machine’. My only excuse for highlighting the signposts on the road to mastery is, that that’s the way I see things. Besides, as is true of any creative medium, the technical stuff has to be got out the way before we can get down to brass tacks. We need the technical know-how all the time, but we also need to gently let go of it when it comes to art, otherwise it’ll only get in the way of self-expression and, yes—self creation. We grow with every outburst of creativity, as we do when we venture into other artistic fields. And to think that until people like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston really got into stride, society refused to accept photography as an artistic medium, even in the USA where it first came to flower. Ideally, technical knowledge should always be constantly and effortlessly accessible, hovering unobtrusively at the outer reaches of consciousness yet on instant recall, like a computer ROM. All well-embedded learning is like that. Having managed that, you have to go beyond art when it comes to successfully interpreting and communicating your worldview, which is essentially a process that has little to do with art per se. It was important for me to highlight this point. Once the mechanical portion is set aside…once the technicalities – the brushwork, the vocabulary, the grammar – become second nature, the real fun starts. There are worlds within worlds in this universe (as there are in ourselves, for we are all miniature macrocosms) some of which can ensnare the unwary explorer, trapping her in the bog of dissection and critical analysis, sometimes allowing her to escape only to plunge into the quicksand of seeking popular approval. One cannot please everyone, least of all an artilliterate public. An artist ploughs a lonely furrow. Some, like Satish Gujral (a la Beethoven) live in silent worlds of hearing impairment. Yet they excel. Their disability does not hamper them because their art comes through them and not to them. I am therefore compelled to believe that art is all about conveying our special way of looking at our world to other human beings, interpreting our very own reality for others to glimpse. Perhaps, the better we are able to do this, the better the chances of our efforts being appreciated, for phoniness and plagiarism will not sustain us for long. In the ultimate analysis, what matters is our ability to project our inner vision—realistic, imaginative or abstract images triggered by the freewheeling unconscious mind. I have only tried to highlight some of the mental and spiritual processes and inner realizations that assist in this process, to lay bare as it were, the overriding program. Really successful artists identify with – and interpret – great themes. They paint on a larger canvas; they taste deep of the bottomless well of life. Some choose to underscore misery and chaos, while others celebrate life, with all its pathos, romance, magic and timeless beauty…all equally valid representations of their individual visions.

105 These Masters live in another universe; they hear other pipers, they march to a different drummer. The curious thing is that all the great themes flow into One Great Theme…Life. Life is what the Masters seek to interpret, and well do they succeed in their efforts, wrenching our hearts while simultaneously instigating horripilation and bringing the blood to our faces with the exhilaration that comes of seeing the Truth through someone else’s eyes. A masterpiece is unmistakable, producing powerful neural pulses that it jolt us to the core of our being. Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one such work. Masters are great encouragers, too. Instead of only looking for faults, they are people who point out strengths and encourage us to excel. Like all successful people, they look for positive qualities. They see potential where others see failure. And they encourage success in others. True leaders, as Neale Donald Walsch says, do not have followers, because they are too busy setting up other leaders. True leaders – like all true Masters – serve. Mark Twain put it like this: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great.” Masters teach us to how to learn—the point at which the road to mastery begins; they help us find our own road to where we want to go. As we learn at the feet of the Masters and struggle to grow, initially by trying to replicate their efforts, we should be using our skills to develop our own ‘signature’, so that our images begin to show signs of a new maturity and a distinctive style…not being different from others just for the sake of being different, mind you, but different in spite of ourselves (for men usually prefer to go with the herd). It takes courage initially to step away from the beaten path, but those who take the road less travelled are always the ones who fulfil themselves. In encouraging us to shy away from tradition and to explore new worlds both visual as well as non-visual, including the abstract…even the submerged parts of our psyches, art helps us to realize and project our uniqueness as human beings negotiating the astoundingly diverse, desperately misunderstood and yet magnificent experience we call life. Whether it involves breaking fresh trails in aesthetic endeavour or the innocent joys of immortalizing a cornfield on canvas, it is a great way to circumvent time and project our thoughts and vision into a future that will know us better for the legacies we leave behind.
“Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees.” ~ Marcel Proust, Maxims


Chapter 24 Ethics and Success
Few concerns have so engaged the attentions of philosophers down the centuries as the quest for the mythical Higher Truth — an elusive absolute ethical standard that constitutes the decisive yardstick against which the rightness or otherwise of all human conduct can purportedly be measured. But whatever be its real nature, a critical study of philosophy and ethnology opens our eyes to the different (and often diametrically opposed) moral and ethical values adopted by various cultures over various periods of time. For example, the once ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘oh-so-very-propah’ British are today one of the most permissive of peoples. Same sex marriages are legal in the UK, and even knights like Elton John have wed their live-in boyfriends3. One observation that emerges from such study is that what holds good for one era does not necessarily hold good in another. What was acceptable in the Middle Ages or in Victorian times may not fill the bill any more. There are societal reasons for this apparent inconstancy in human affairs, occasioned by both location as well as by a host of other factors including religious beliefs. In time, even diametrically opposing customs attain the sanctity of custom as socially acceptable behaviour in their respective societies. It’s all a matter of perspective. Both Arab and Inuit might act differently yet still be ethically correct within the ambit of their particular societal norms. If they had ever happened to meet in olden times, confusion if not contusion would have been the inevitable outcome. Since I happen to have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita handy, please allow me to quote from it, in this context:

The controversial Academy Award-winning (2005) film Brokeback Mountain depicts a complex, emotional, sexual, and romantic relationship between two men in the American West from 1963 to 1983.

107 “One’s own dharma, though imperfect, is better than the dharma of another well discharged. Better death in one’s own dharma; the dharma of another is full of fear.” (Chapter II, 35) To plead that ethical conduct—whatever be the local interpretation—is inconducive to material success is to allege that all successful people have been unethical in their conduct. Such a position is patently untenable. The reason is simple: if only ‘unethical’ people were able to succeed in life, and – in a Darwinian extension thereof – were the sole survivors of such a system, then in course of time, society itself would collapse under the weight of suspicion, doubt and the collective outcome of actions judged as ‘unethical’, being seen to be inimical in both content and scope to the larger objectives of such a society. Since we’ve seen the exact opposite happen in history, with so many examples of ruthlessly despotic systems of governance that crashed, such as that of Pol Pot’s or Idi Amin’s, it compels us to conclude that what survives is, ipso facto, ethical. One only has to see the fate of WorldCom and Enron to realize this, in a business context. To ascertain the veracity of this hypothesis, it needs to be tested in live business situations to see if it holds water. The crux of the matter is whether commercial enterprises need to adhere to ethical ways of behaviour in order to survive. A study of one of the largest and most competitive industries, the motor car industry, brings to mind several instances where it has resorted to what is commonly seen as ethical behaviour. Several marques have withdrawn models from the market after design defects surfaced. Rather than risk a public outcry, these companies voluntarily recalled thousands of cars from owners who had no idea of the potential hazard. Though such moves entail heavy losses, they are seen as timely interventions that, if ignored, could have colossal repercussions in terms of their market reputations, not to mention having to suffer heavy fines resulting from lawsuits filed by irate buyers. Bridgestone, the Japanese tire manufacturer, was late in withdrawing tires supplied to Ford as original equipment for one of its SUV models: but an unusually large number of fatal and near-fatal accidents attracted attention to the defective tires, which were thereafter withdrawn but not before Bridgestone’s reputation as well its financial status had been badly tarnished. On 17th May 2006, the Times of India reported that 210,000 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado models had been recalled because a defect in the rear axle made it susceptible to snapping during high speed cornering. It was likely, said the report, that a rear wheel could come off during the mishap! Imagine the consequences if even 1% of the Prados broke their axles: 5,000 to 10,000 passengers could lose their lives. Contrast this with the Enron episode. With Founder Kenneth Lay dead, Skilling is likely to be sentenced to twenty years behind bars. The Chairman of Hyundai, Chung Mon-Koo has been arraigned for creating a slush fund of over a million dollars. These as well as other instances have convincingly demonstrated that—far from being a leading cause of bankruptcy—ethical conduct makes good business sense. In October 2006, SONY recalled nearly 10 million defective laptop batteries it had sold to OEMs like DELL and Lenovo—a decision that is likely to cost the already beleaguered company almost 500 million US dollars. But it has chosen to own up and cough up rather than risk losing its hard-won reputation for honesty, doubly precious to it now that its lead in many segments of the entertainment electronics market is eroded. It obviously feels it is a move that will result in positive repercussions in the long run. Then again, if what we refer to today as ‘despotisms’ had succeeded and thrived, better than have capitalistic systems that are the residual survivors, then such political

108 systems would have been accorded the sanction of history. Nothing succeeds like success. Eat or be eaten is the law of the jungle, and all the animals who can’t stand the heat had better stay out of the kitchen. In fact, they’ve already left. They are extinct. So are men who were ‘ethically’ out of step with the prevailing norm. Society invariably fails to recognize the ‘unique individuality’ of, say, cannibals such as the celluloid Hannibal Lector and drives them to the wall, putting them out of business permanently, as it were. They were unsuccessful precisely because they were ‘unethical’ in their thoughts and actions! To further obfuscate matters, we have a paradox here: if everyone acts ‘unethically’ then everyone is displaying perfectly ethical behaviour, since that is what that particular society has adopted as its acceptable standard of behaviour! Only actions that violate this code of conduct would be termed ‘unethical’, leading us to the unavoidable conclusion that what is ethical for one is what works for one. As in the Einsteinian relativistic model, change or variance from a laboratory norm is obvious only to an independent observer, i.e., one who stands outside the system and – unaffected by it – observes certain prevailing phenomena from which hypotheses can be postulated, and from which theories can finally emerge. In other words, it appears to be: (a) impossible to convincingly define an objective standard of ethical behaviour, and (b) clear to a member of a particular society that the prevailing ethical construction is that which his society finds acceptable and hence sanctions—by law, convention or moral rule. The very fact that that particular society— and some if not a predominantly large number of citizens—even exists, is itself proof that success and ethics can co-exist peacefully. If anything, lack of ethics is a surefire way to ensure the failure of an enterprise. To extrapolate this line of reasoning, unethical persons would be those who did not subscribe to the code of ethical conduct and were not considered fit to participate in a free manner. They would therefore be ‘restrained’ through artificial means involving legal action leading to incarceration (loss of liberty or freedom of unfettered movement) or even capital punishment (loss of life), depending on the degree of severity of prevailing laws. It is not surprising that the British rulers of pre-independence India labeled the much-honoured ‘Freedom Fighters’ – diehard revolutionaries who fought back against British imperialism – as ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘mutineers’. During the Reign of Terror that followed the storming of the Bastille and the overthrow of the French monarchy, the normal laws of French society were kept in abeyance by anarchic conditions that gave rise to several demagogic leaders (such as Marat and Robespierre) who fought amongst (and murdered) each other. In time, the conditions threw up a Bonaparte whose Côde Napoleôn again reinstated laws that prescribed norms of ethical behaviour. But since the needs and conditions of society had altered during the interregnum, this legal system was markedly different from the one that it replaced. For example, it was no longer considered right (i.e., ‘ethical’) to pack aristocrats into tumbrels and cart them off for mass guillotining sans a fair trial! Perhaps a truer version of ethical conduct will emerge from the next great upheaval of human society, when a new spirituality will reveal to men that all life is fundamentally one, and that another person is none other than oneself. While that New Society seems a distant dream, one day it will come to be. To paraphrase Victor Hugo, there’s no stopping a society whose time has come. Such unification of consciousness may lead to a resurrection of the basic teaching of all great masters, the Golden Rule of ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you’, or it may not. Perhaps the Holy Grail of ideal ethical conduct lies concealed within

109 this two thousand year-old message from the shores of the Sea of Galilee, patiently waiting for a New Society to rediscover and reinterpret it for yet another society to upgrade. And it could also be that as we evolve, our innate sense of ethics and fair play, inlaid with a heightened spirituality, will take us a little further up the eternal road to self mastery. Leaving such evolutionary musings aside for the moment, we can see that ethical conduct gives us a sense of self worth and self respect. In a quiet sort of way, listening to the voice of one’s own conscience is all we need to lead ethically sound lives. I am convinced that there is an immutable law in the universe – just as sound as Newton’s Second Law of Motion, the one about every action having an equal and opposite reaction – that, translated in terms of our actions here on this material plane, have eternal repercussions. It is equally true to say that another physical law, that energy is never lost but only changes form, would be seen in our lives as karma in action. Though meritorious deeds may not immediately produce any result, we must learn to be patient if we wish to see the results of our actions…though we shouldn’t be obsessed with results, since we lose focus on the work itself if we do so. Since this brings us to ‘results’ and the inescapable cause-and-effect analysis. I cannot think of any religious belief system or spiritual instruction that does not emphasize doing one’s duty as a good way of living. Please indulge me if I quote a few more verses from the Bhagavad-Gita, since for me it is the ultimate guide on how to ‘win’ on the battlefield of life: “Treating alike pain and pleasure, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage yourself in battle. Thus you will incur no sin.” (Chapter II, 38) Then again, Krishna’s advice to Arjun on a focused approach without thought of the outcome: “Seek to perform your duty; but lay not claim to its fruits. Be you not the producer of
the fruits of karma; neither shall you lean towards inaction. Perform action, O Dhananjaya, being fixed in yoga, renouncing attachments, and evenminded in success and failure; equilibrium is verily yoga. Motivated karma is, O Dhananjaya, is far inferior to that performed in the equanimity of mind; take refuge in the evenness of mind; wretched are the result-seekers. The one fixed in equanimity of mind frees oneself in this life from vice and virtue alike… The wise, imbued with evenness of mind, renouncing the fruits of their actions, freed from the fetters of births, verily go to the stainless state.” (Chapter II, 47 to 51)

Time and again, Krishna explains to Arjun the need to disconnect actions from results if he would enjoy even-mindedness and equanimity. In other words, we should focus on performing our duty to the best of our ability without thought of success, failure or reward, since that is the way to attain perfect peace of mind. If that isn’t a practicable formula for successful living, interpreted mutatis mutandis to fit a latter-day context, I don’t know what is.


Chapter 25 It’s OK to Be Happy!
I never cease to be amazed at the way some organizations tend to look askance at people who are happy at work. It’s almost as if they think that a happy person is a complacent worker, bereft of initiative and easy-going to boot. A serious (almost gloomy) expression must be worn, as if to signify that the person is under pressure, stretched by his or her work and is pulling out all the stops in order to cope. It is a sad fact of life that demonstrative (and contagious) unhappiness is at a premium in many an office. I once happened to work in a firm that had a harridan of a Vice President. This lady went about all day with a funereal expression that sent shivers down the spines of all the employees. To paraphrase Peter Benchley’s imagery in Jaws – about the progress of the Great White shark as she cruised in search of prey, where he says that a cone of fear emanated from the predator as the ocean emptied of life a mile ahead of her – a tangible pall of gloom preceded this martinet as she clumped her way down the hall. Even people who were normally bubbly and irrepressibly chirpy by nature lapsed into moody silence till she’d passed. It was debilitating to have to interact with this sad, embittered person. I am not one of those who subscribe to the theory that unrelenting sobriety and sombreness optimize work output. On the contrary, I am convinced that a tad of levity now and then serves to keep spirits high, thereby enhancing both morale and output. Even in the early 70s, when I joined the workforce, I couldn’t fail to notice that sobriety was the hallmark of the stuffy middle level managers; the flamboyant high fliers were men of a different breed, cracking jokes even as they dissected vital organizational problems, and were not averse to making a risqué remark if it was apt to the occasion. Seeing the bosses in such high spirits invariably boosted the morale of the junior executives. Even the

111 Chairman was known to crack a joke or two at Board meetings, especially at the expense of one of the departmental heads who was lagging behind on his targets. The logic behind (organizationally promoted) sombre atmosphere at the workplace is the unspoken assumption that a happy person is not a hard worker and is just having a good time at company expense. I’ve often been asked how my staff manages to produce so much work when they seem to be grinning and exchanging fatuous remarks all day. One Dy. GM in the bank where I used to work even went so far as to wonder aloud how discipline could at all be maintained. There was little else he could say, however, because our team invariably exceeded their targets. This Dy. GM belonged to the school of thought that believed that light-hearted and happy people were incapable of producing results. Not unsurprisingly, the branches under his direct control gave the poorest returns. Many bosses are conditioned to believe that relaxed and happy people lack motivation. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite is true. Happy people love what they do and aren’t afraid of showing it. One doesn’t need to consult Organizational Behaviour, Psychology and Emotional Intelligence textbooks to understand that highly motivated people are happy…or is it the other way round? They are good at what they do and they love their work, seeing it as a means of self-fulfilment (remember the apex of Dr. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid of human needs?). Such people follow the dictates of their conscience and try to do their best whatever the circumstances. Moreover, they benchmark their own efforts and continuously strive to surpass themselves. What is more, their positive efforts rub off on others. In time, there’s a hall full of happy, motivated people busy outdoing themselves. Now isn’t that good news for an employer? Their happiness makes them creative, innovative and resilient enough to take temporary setbacks or seemingly impossible deadlines in their stride. They may not always wear a smile on their faces, but inside, their hearts are singing. You can always spot these people at work…they are the ones who take on responsibility, show initiative, and are thankful for the opportunity to do what they love doing. They are quick learners, keen observers and good listeners. They rarely need to be shown a second time how to do something, and they are generally reluctant to compromise on quality. They have a sense of self worth, respect themselves and others, are willing to help those in need of guidance, and are always willing to share their knowledge and experience with others. In time, recognition and reward comes their way. It has to: it is a Newtonian thing. If we plant apple seeds, we get apple trees, not oaks or acacias. The Bhagawad Gita has said that action is our duty and privilege, but the rewards – whensoever they come – are not our concern. Thus does Krishna tell Arjun obliquely that it must come to pass; that they who sincerely perform their duty and focus wholeheartedly on it will always get their due. It is a fact that needs no elucidation to happy, cheerful, motivated workers, those whom the Hindus call karma yogis. Such people are worth their weight in gold. Most employers know this, and will do whatever they can to retain them. Unhappy people, on the other hand, are often hobbled by their own misery. They can find faults everywhere, but they cannot come up with solutions because they insist on putting the blame on others around them. Self centered and obsessed with their own ‘sorry’ lot, they are poor team players. They are always on the defensive and hence are usually very poor listeners and learners. Their whole day is spent ‘guarding their backs’,

112 and looking for ways in which they feel others are trying to trap them. Negative and pessimistic in approach, they rarely see the positive side to peoples’ natures. There is a saying that one fish is enough to muddy the entire water in a pond. It describes such people beautifully. Consumed by their own inadequacies, demotivated and depressed, they make it very hard for others to perform their functions. These unhappy, frustrated people feel victimized by others and their working conditions. Forgetting that a large percentage of the world’s population goes without the bare necessities of life, they make it a point to complain about each and every thing in the office. Organizations are better off without such employees, for they are serious hurdles to progress. Wallowing in perceived injustices, smarting from imaginary or real criticism (without bothering to find out why those criticisms came their way at all), dismayed that others are better able to cope with – and enjoy – their jobs, these stressed out, disillusioned and alienated people vitiate the entire system. As such, even if they do succeed, they do so in spite of their unhappiness and not because of it. As a matter of fact, if such persons could somehow learn to be happy, they would be even more successful. Once upon a lifetime, I had an amazing colleague who stood out from the rest of us. Invisible waves of happiness radiated powerfully from her in all directions. Abrim with an irrepressible joie de vivre, possessed of a scorching zest for life, inner serenity and well-being, feisty and full of energy, she was an energizer for her colleagues. Her aura enveloped her like a mantle of light, dispelling darkness and gloom. With a word of appreciation here, a pat of approval there, she invigorated the whole team and imbued it with the urge to outdo itself and live up to her expectations. A consummate motivator, supremely talented yet disarmingly modest about her own abilities, she ignited in many a sputtering lamp the flame that is capable of producing inspired work. One day, I asked her how she managed to be so happy all the time, given her heavy workload. Didn’t the little annoyances of life get her down occasionally? She replied with a story. Once upon a time, she said, there was a man who was in-charge of a retail store. He was so happy with his job and with life in general that he always insisted that if he were any happier, there’d be two of him! His salesmen were fanatically loyal to him; so addictive was his bonhomie that they followed him from job to job. They refused to work under anyone else. It so happened that at one store, it was his duty to lock up the shop at closing time. On one unfortunate occasion, he forgot to lock the shutters of the rear entrance. As he went back and re-opened the shop, two armed gunmen barged in, pulled out revolvers and demanded that he open the safe. He refused, and as they scuffled for the keys, one of the handguns went off, wounding him critically. The robbers shot him a few more times in panic before fleeing, leaving him lying on the floor, critically wounded. Hearing the sound of gunfire, the constable on duty came running, took in the situation at a glance and called for an ambulance. As it sped towards the hospital, siren wailing and lights flashing, the wounded man studied the scared expressions on the faces of the attendants: they all thought he wasn’t going to survive. As they medics wheeled him into the emergency operation theatre, he saw the same expressions on the faces of the nurses and the doctors on duty. They didn’t think he was going to pull through.

113 “Operate on me as if I was going to live, not as if I am going to die”, he implored them. “You see, I aim to live; I’m so happy I made it here”. The stunned doctors asked him if was allergic to anything, before giving him his shots. “Yes, one thing.” “What’s that?” they asked in unison. “Lead!” he answered, grinning from ear to ear. “Get those bullets out of me, will you please? I’d hate to walk around with all that lead inside me.” Needless to say, he lived. The doctors didn’t operate on him like a dying man; they treated him like a wounded man who was going to live. He was out of hospital before long, ever willing to show anyone who wanted to see them, the scars of that evening’s hold-up. “What’s the secret of your happiness?” they always asked him, awestruck. “It’s simple,” he’d tell all who’d listen. “Everyone has a choice to be happy, and a choice to be unhappy. I choose to be happy. That’s all.” My friend had made the same fundamental existential decision…she was determined to be happy and enjoy her life instead of complaining, taking setbacks and unhealthy attitudes in her stride. If we give happiness a chance, if we realize that it’s a better choice to be happy rather than sad, morose or depressed, we will soon see this reflected in our lives. People will be drawn to us, just as they ever are to my incredible, unforgettable friend. Work will acquire deeper spiritual meaning and significance; cynicism will fall away like dead skin; a sense of greater responsibility and involvement will infuse all that we do; and every day will become a glorious adventure, with endless opportunities for higher achievement and self-expression. Happiness, in the final analysis, is its own reward. This was her final gift to me…and I try to keep it in mind as I go about my duties. Wherever she is now, I am sure it is an oasis of happiness and purpose, peace and focused action. Neale Donald Walsch, internationally acclaimed author of the Conversations with God trilogy, maintains that the Creator placed us above even His angels, for He did not give them the ability to choose, as He gave us. Like Neale, I also suggest you choose to be happy and find your life purpose: the real reason why you’re here, on this planet. Choose to be happy instead of choosing to be unhappy. It can make all the difference. I’ve seen it work its timeless magic so many times in my life that I just have to believe in it myself.


Chapter 26 Dealing With Deadlines
Deadlines are a fact of life, usually dictated by business exigencies. Everyone runs into them sooner or later. It’s practically a way of life for newsmen, media people and press photographers. Deadlines can be daunting, but they can also be the source of immense satisfaction when they are met. It’s as if we are racing against ourselves, and that’s always an exhilarating experience. Having said that, I wonder why there are so many people out there who either go to pieces or just freeze when presented with a deadline. Enormous amounts of emotional energy and time are then devoted to bewailing the fact, agreeing with others that injustice has been done, or just plain brooding about the whole thing. If a deadline has been set, it’s better to take a deep breath and get on with the job rather than complaining loudly about it, or trying to find ways of dodging it altogether. This negative emotional reaction can only have negative results, no two ways about it. But it’s amazing how often we come across people who will do almost anything but get on with the given assignment. I have noticed that the people who set deadlines not only put their own reputation on the line, they’ve been there themselves. There’s no editor of a national daily that hasn’t faced the pressures of the daily deadline during his days as a cub reporter. Today, if he tells his news bureau chief he wants a story within two days, he knows it can be done; he’s done it in the past, so he knows what he’s talking about. Worst comes to worst, he’ll roll up his sleeves and do it himself. One thing the doomsday criers fail to understand is that deadlines are a great way to stretch oneself and to find out one’s own limits, like the diver who is keen on knowing how deep he can dive on a lungful of air. This need to occasionally probe the outer limits of one’s endurance need not necessarily be an experiment in masochism. On the contrary, it can lead to immense satisfaction – on successful completion of an assignment – that

115 one has developed the ability to do something that would probably have been beyond one’s capabilities not so long ago. In other words, a deadline can serve as a measure of personal growth. Instead, people feel threatened by the prospect of having to deliver on time. As professionals, we should ask constantly ourselves the question, ‘If I am not continuously improving and honing my skills, what am I doing here?’ What could, at first sight, seem to be a diabolical device to challenge one’s equipoise could well turn out to be a reinforcement of self-worth and a means to knowing oneself better. I had this unbelievable experience once in the bank while on deputation to Head Office. The Planning Manager, whose duty it was to prepare the Monthly Performance Report, had to suddenly proceed on leave, and without so much as a ‘by your leave’, the General Manager asked the Investments Manager, a grizzled veteran of twenty-five years, to get the job done in time for the next PRC Meeting…exactly five days away. The said Investments Manager went around loudly complaining that he didn’t have the time to do the work in addition to his own duties, that he had never done this kind of work, and how patently unjust it was on the GM’s part to fob off this task on him, that too on a deadline. When nearly two days had passed, he suddenly realized that time was running out. He scrambled to collect all the necessary data (discovering in the process that he had a team of dedicated and experienced staff to take care of the drudgery), and he soon found that the Head Clerk was perfectly capable of ensuring that data had come in from all zonal offices / Chief Manager’s branches and check that it had all been accounted for, slotted in the right places on the prescribed proformae and totaled up correctly. All that the Investment Manager had to do was to examine the variances over the previous month and add footnotes to explain them. It was easy. But even it hadn’t been, it was hard to explain why he had wasted two days doing little apart from griping about the deadline. What emerges from the above incident is the realization that it isn’t the deadline itself that is the source of stress; it’s our attitude to work that needs re-visiting. Like the diver and his deep dive, such challenges are rarely life threatening; but they are opportunities to discover our own boundaries. When we finally decide to take a deep breath and plunge in, we find to our surprise that we are capable of doing better than we thought we ever could. Deadlines can be highly motivating and growth inducing situations. Dodge them at your peril. It’s been my experience that those who go about grumbling about deadlines are not only consuming vast amounts of emotional energy, they are making a spectacle of themselves besides wasting precious time that could be devoted to getting the job under way. Ask any author and he’ll tell you that the most difficult part about a new book is the first blank page. Once the first paragraph has been penned, the job gains momentum and takes on a life of its own. Similarly, I would always suggest you take the bull by the horns and get on with the job pronto. If the deadline was unrealistic, the person who set it will learn a thing or two. But don’t bank on that; those who set deadlines have met such deadlines themselves in the past, and know what the assignment entails. It’s actually quite a compliment to be given a deadline; it means that someone above you feels that you have reached a stage where you are capable of delivering on an important, time-bound job. Look on it as a sign of recognition, a token of the boss’s faith in your ability to get the task done on time. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that you

116 occasionally set yourself up against a self-imposed deadline, just to keep in trim! As confidence in your innate abilities grows, you’ll lose your fear of deadlines, drilling deep down inside yourself to access the resources you’ve proved time and again are there for coping with just such situations.

Chapter 27 Meetings Can be Fun!
Over the years, I have observed a curious phenomenon. While young executives initially feel thrilled at attending meetings (it’s taken as a sign of having arrived), this elation evaporates as they work their way up the corporate totem pole. What was once regarded as a status symbol (‘Sorry, I can’t make it: I’ve got an important meeting to attend’) finally becomes a nuisance that has to be put up with. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to on the subject agrees that that’s the way it is: meetings are seen as major time wasters that come in the way of more important things that need to be done urgently. Although the nature of my work means that I don’t have to attend too many meetings any more, I have developed a way of coping with them that I’d like to share with you. Eckhart Tolle might have triggered this realization. It’s all about perspective. I was brought back to this attitude when, in 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi. I was posted in Punjab, but I was in Delhi to attend a meeting (what else?), and following the breakdown in normal life and public order, was unable to get back to my headquarters. Stranded in my hotel room, I was feeling sorry for myself and wishing I were home when, all of a sudden, an idea popped into my head. I rapidly fleshed out the concept, which finally became a document on relating to emergencies of just this kind and which later became an official circular relating to emergency arrangements for officers marooned outside their headquarters by natural or national emergencies. More then the circular, what I learned from the episode was that there’s always something to be extracted from a given situation provided one is alive to the various possibilities before one. I’ve taken that attitude with me into meetings by declaring to myself that here again was an opportunity – sent to me for some unknown reason – to learn something new. I

117 was not going to groan inwardly at the unwelcome interruption of my routine, choosing to see it as a chance to grow. I started looking at the pad and pencil, not as instruments to help me pass the time by doodling, but as a means to record my inspirations or insights that I was sure were there, waiting to be experienced. Then I attended a high level meeting chaired by the Managing Director himself, at the behest of my boss, the GM, who was going to be out of station on that day. In the beginning, I tested my writing speed by trying to take down the proceedings in longhand, scribbling furiously to keep up with the flow of conversation…jokes and all. Looking back over them, and even sharing them with my General Manager, was an interesting experience. He laughed heartily after reading my account. “It was just as if I’d actually attended that meeting”, he grinned. “But that Regional Manager has a point; I think he needs a little more support than he’s been getting so far.” My outlook towards meetings changed. If nothing else, a transcription could yield valuable clues on later dissection, something that the minutes of the meeting could never convey. Further possibilities for purposeful action could also await one who is willing to experiment. As an active participant, however, I had to overcome the tendency to agree with Parkinson, who once famously (and fatuously) defined a meeting thus: “There’s a sitting, there’s a report and the matter is allowed to drop”! Parkinson is nothing if not immensely witty, and this was his way of coping with the ennui he associated with meetings. I decided to take a different – if more prosaic – approach. I made up my mind to listen. Since there was no getting away from the fact that I had to attend meetings, I decided to be really there, and not allow my mind to wander. Eckhart Tolle talks about the Power of Now. I’ve long sensed that ‘Now’ is all I really have…so why shouldn’t I be there? There was the possibility of ‘escaping’ to the past, which was nothing now but a concept in my mind; or into the unborn future, which was an equally abstruse concept. Given this precious, irretrievable moment of Now, why should I wish to avoid it? It was up to me to use it, and not regret having missed it (and all the others) later on—a fairly sizeable chunk of my life wasted, and for what? I would be in that meeting, respecting others, listening to them and sharing whatever I could. The first thing I noticed after adopting this approach was that people knew I was there, in mind as well as in body. There was unspoken appreciation in the way they responded to my remarks; respect begets respect. When we listen with an open mind to someone, we win them over, for no one likes to speak to people who are not interested in listening to what they’ve got to say. Moreover, whenever I said something, they reciprocated by listening keenly to what I had to say. I also found that if I listened with rapt attention, I was sure to come away with at least one useful piece of learning. It was hardly plausible that so many well-placed and experienced people could sit together and fail to come up with something that was new to me. As a writer, it was important for me to capture these fleeting impressions and insights. I realized that I wasn’t wasting time, after all: I was tasting the wine of ideas that were either there or waiting to be squeezed out of the body of thoughts hovering overhead. Distilled over time, it was sure to yield enlightenment, as the trapped sunshine is squeezed out of grapes and bottled, to mature as Dom Perignon. Heady thoughts: but like champagne, I allowed them to circulate inside me as they washed away tired old attitudes and opened my eyes to the possibility of living more fully and meaningfully than I’d been living till now. Verbose or laconic, fluent or

118 inarticulate, every speaker had the ability to either reinforce some bit of hard-earned wisdom or to jog my mind to the awareness about an entirely new way of looking at something. No, I was no longer scared of meetings, or bored by them. The side benefits were greater respect and acceptance, requests for my business card, promises to keep in touch, to help with research and even to drop by if they wanted to discuss business. I’m trying to carry over this attitude into other things as well. The point is, if we’re in a particular situation, why not make the best of it, seeing it as a starting point of a fresh adventure. Why do we let things go stale? What mental complacence makes us lose our childish sense of wonder and interest in new things? If we can accept meetings – and everything else that comes our way – with thankfulness, we have won the day.

Chapter 28 Putting Work in Perspective
Whenever I feel I’m becoming a little too wrapped up in things happening around me, or when something is getting me down unduly, I look up at the night sky. Stars have long fascinated me, though I saw more of them in the boxing ring at Sherwood than ever I did through a telephoto lens or a telescope. Whenever I look up at a sky full of stars, I know I am going back in spacetime, peering into an immeasurably remote past that makes our diminutive solar system a newcomer by comparison. As Carl Sagan explains so wonderfully in his book (and TV series) Cosmos: starting with hydrogen and helium, all the heavy elements are created in the lifecycles of stars as they are born, age and perish in vast explosions called supernovae. The elements they manufacture within themselves by means of thermo-nuclear processes are spewed out over vast distances…to again condense into stars and planetary systems. If I feel close to the stars, therefore, I am not entirely surprised, for my body is but star stuff—made of infinitely old, interminably recycled atoms—yet potentially ever new. Nature, destructively creative as always, is constantly engaged in recycling the matter (or energy, if you will) of the universe in convulsions of cosmic proportions—the eternal Dance Of Shiva. For me, that’s soothing as well as encouraging. It means there was a lot going on before me, and there’s still going to be a heck of a lot of staff happening after this body has returned to the dust from which it sprang. It also drives home the point that the real me is something imperishable and indestructible…eternal. Confronted by such incontestable truths, it’s small wonder that our little worries, frustrations or squabbles tend to dwindle into insignificance when juxtaposed against the cosmic scale on which we operate. In other words, if I want to shed stress, I place whatever’s causing it before an infinitely larger backdrop. It pulls everything together so

119 much more logically, and matters fall into place with marvelous clarity, underscoring the point that everything is irrevocably interconnected and intrinsically one. This way of thinking was the outcome of one particular trek into a remote valley in Himachal Pradesh, way back in 1973. Nightfall found my partner and I at about 10,000 feet. We had stopped on a thickly forested hillside and, miles from civilization, we hastened to set up our small two-man nylon tent on a grassy knoll in the gloaming—the last of the rapidly dwindling twilight. A simple dinner of cream crackers and cheese, then we warmed ourselves before the roaring campfire on which a small kettle of coffee was brewing. It was early spring, I recall, and there was plenty of ice still packed in rocky fissures that didn’t get any direct sunlight, so pure water was not a problem. A steaming cup in my hands, I tilted back my jungle hat and looked up to see if I could spot the Big Dipper and Polaris (the Pole star)…and was dazzled. I’ll never forget that night under the stars. A canopy of brilliant pinpoints blazed down at me. I dumbly admired their glittering splendour. I’d never have guessed there were so many stars up there. City lights overpower them. The starlight ambled over to me across billions of years of spacetime. Even at 186,000 miles per second, it was woefully slow when it came to traversing the endless expanses of the cosmos. By the time the light had completed its journey across the void to reach my eyes, some of the stars that unleashed it had probably ceased to exist. I saw them, then, for what they were: part of a cosmic drama that had all happened too far away and too long ago for me to comprehend. Suddenly, all my petty ambitions, fears, needs and apprehensions seemed so trivial. The universe was a big place, I thought in wonder, but I also knew that though I was but a tiny part of it all, I was nevertheless an indispensable and immutable component of this incredibly beautiful and apparently infinitely large construction…as was everything else in it. I would hesitate to call it a mystical experience, but I have never been the same since. For one thing, I have relatively little of what people call ‘worldly ambition’, or any major desire to make money. A feeling crept up on me that life had more on offer than what was represented on the material plane. I found that much of my inborn fear of death had faded, leaving in its place a certainty that life was endless, and that it was about eternal transformation and revelation: an awakening and a glorious opportunity to evolve. In short, my worldview changed, that cold night in the mountains, far from human habitation and the pressures of everyday life. Since we are all fundamentally individual manifestations of universal energy–matter, there’s no escaping the conclusion that we are intrinsically interconnected to everything else. In other words, we are all One. John Donne expressed it powerfully when he wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me,

120 because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 4 Blake went even further; his following lines more clearly flesh out that larger vision I was talking about: “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”
~ William Blake, poet, engraver, and painter (1757-1827)

In our own way, we all have embedded in us this supreme knowledge, no matter what our religious or educational backgrounds are. It only needs quiet reflection to bring it to the surface. When we become aware that we are all brothers in a very real sense – whether from the standpoint of quantum physics or metaphysics – life becomes purposeful, and a new ambition stirs. It’s not your garden-variety self-centered ambition, but one that compels a better utilization of inborn capabilities or acquired abilities in the service of our fellow men, i.e., ourselves. Life is no longer a daily grind to earn one’s bread; it becomes an amazing adventure to discover our limits…limits to be repeatedly surpassed on the road to excellence. Mastery turns out to be an endless road that climbs higher and ever higher as it reaches for starry heights of perfection, heights that, once scaled, reveal further enchanting vistas that lie beyond. In short, life becomes a ticker tape of opportunity that scrolls away endlessly before us, an engraved invitation to participate in the never-ending quest for perfection…through all eternity. There is no destination in this our eternal pursuit of perfection, only direction—straight up, on and on…forever. I should think that given such an awakening within this wider panorama of evolutionary opportunity – whether it’s the fruit of introspection or revelation – it would make little sense to compete with, backbite, slander or despise one’s fellows and colleagues. Nor would it make much sense to lie, cheat, steal, shirk a full day’s work or simply put on an act of being busy when the boss is around. It is no longer an issue to try and impress others; it is more significant to try and surpass oneself. Outward appearances become less important as inner growth takes priority. One stops judging people, whether by external or internal qualities. We only learn to accept the myriad forms of the Higher Force. Impatience gives way to indulgent tolerance and trust. Stress disappears. Many management theories begin to seem flawed—hastily cobbled together ideas that would be amusing if they weren’t downright puerile. For instance, I am not convinced that altruism or enlightened team-work can be taught entirely from a standpoint of self-betterment by pulling with others, by a classroom process of programmed cognition, logical reasoning or by conditioning responses based on HR tools of performance appraisal, such as 360° feedback or assessment centres. That’s just a primitive ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ sort of elementary survival response.

From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII. Ernest Hemingway obviously got the title for his novel on the Spanish Civil War, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ from this passage.


What I’m talking about is re-cognition—an intuitive realization that we should first pull ourselves up to pull along with others, because the other is no one but one’s own self. You approach work as a marvelous opportunity to repay your debt to society; you stop working for the boss and work for yourself. As individual distinctions blur, the boss stands revealed as your own Self. If all matter and spirit is One, why should such an epiphany be too hard to accept? I am talking of re-cognition. By ‘re-cognition’, I mean cognition regained—relearning our true nature, that springs from – and tends toward – the divine. If spirituality means anything at all, it would be this striving to bring out the ‘spirit’, the divine in all of us, for do not all religions emphasize that we are more than mere matter? As might be seen, this would be a far more effective and permanent transformation than the one sought to be achieved in HR workshops…one that has life-changing consequences. It goes without saying, then, that spirituality does have a place at the workplace, and a very important one at that. If we do not function at work by remaining in constant touch with our true natures, by being in constant touch with our deepest and most fundamental beliefs, life becomes meaningless and we suffer the endless misery of a vapid, purposeless existence apart from suffering from the stress that is unavoidable when we choose to operate under dual – and starkly conflicting – standards of conduct. It seems to tear us in two. If, however, we try to see every day as a heaven-sent opportunity to come up to our highest expectations of ourselves – if we always bear in mind that we are here to fulfil ourselves, to do what is expected of us before moving up to a higher plane of existence – it is inevitable that we will have pleasant outcomes in our day-to-day experiences. It all depends on the frame of reference from which we operate: the higher the plane, the more outstanding the results. Whenever you come across sparkling performance, look for it and you’ll always find it: a higher frame of reference is invariably the guiding force, be it NR Narayana Murthy’s Infosys, Azim Premji’s Wipro, the Reliance phenomenon or the Tata Empire. It doesn’t matter by what name we call it: corporate social responsibility, enlightened corporate governance, or benign and ethical conduct towards all. A (March 18, 2006) report in the Times of India, quoting a foreign source, said that the most successful CEOs are also the most ruthless, that they bully, harass, intimidate, threaten, coerce and humiliate their underlings in order to get their way. This is Theory X of Douglas McGregor; this is Il Principe, Machiavelli’s Prince (modeled on Cesar Borgia, a ruthless, unscrupulous and treacherous medieval Italian petty tyrant whom Niccolo Machiavelli served for some time) all over again. Over the long run, we’ve seen that Theory Y (the opposite viewpoint) wins hands down every time. Though Theory X might triumph in the short-term, HR policies based on Theory Y never fail to energize the workforce. It’s what we Indians call Ramrajya. When we genuinely like and respect people, when we give them recognition and encouragement for leading by example, as so many Generals, Statesmen and successful businessmen have done (the name of George Washington comes immediately to mind), we find that people respond by taking ‘ownership’ of their work, giving fierce loyalty and by doing everything in their power to further company goals. This is simply because,

122 each in his own way, every born leader has the ability to arouse the sense of Oneness in his workforce. Today, Team building is given the highest priority, but I wish the HR theorists would adopt a broader – Theory Y-based approach – to the issue. Henry Ford always knew the importance of his human resources. “Take away, my factories”, he said, “take away my machines and all my resources; but leave me my men and in five years, I’ll build everything back bigger and better than it was before”. Perhaps what we call ‘charisma’ is another word for this inner spirituality manifesting itself, an infectious aura of inner freedom harnessed to achieving one’s highest potential. When we reconfigure our lives around a larger context, petty issues cease to bother us. We become more affable, more tolerant of our own faults as well as the shortcomings of others. We become more loving, compassionate and accommodating. Even if we have to perform distasteful official duties like reprimanding or retrenching a colleague, we do it more gently and with understanding. If we find ourselves on the receiving end, we see in it an opportunity for further growth and transformation. In other words, we can carry our values and inner growth to the workplace and find them just as relevant there as anywhere else. Since we are more focused, our results are also better and we achieve by default those very ambitions that we had abandoned. It is not a coincidence that most successful people are also the most spiritually advanced, no matter what notions you might entertain about the reasons for their success. If nothing else, spirituality at the workplace gives us peace. What more could one ask for?

Chapter 29

Energy Crisis…or Ennui?
Our energy levels are determined by the amount of nourishment and sleep we get, right? Wrong! Our energy levels are, to a great extent, governed by our attitude towards our work and life in general. I’m sure you’ve noticed that that when you’re excited about a project, a forthcoming seminar or even a trek to the Pindari glacier you’ve helped to organize, you are tireless even if you don’t get your usual quota of sleep. The attitudinal aspect, then, is crucial to one’s energy levels. Creative artists are known to work without food and rest for long periods when engaged on an important job. Michelangelo is said to have got by with minimal amounts of food or sleep as he painted his awe-inspiring murals on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican. Since we all know that we never feel tired when we are doing what we love doing, it’s all the more amazing that people spend so much time discussing how little sleep they have to manage with and how tired they are all the time. Again, this kind of thinking has the propensity of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (see the chapter on the ‘rat race’), for it’s a fact that what we think is true is what we get to experience. It’s probably our subconscious mind at work, taking our utterances at face value and going on to create that very reality. I once fidgeted uncomfortably aboard a flight to Bombay, being forced (by seating arrangements) to listen in (most reluctantly) on as enervating a conversation as one can

123 possibly hope not to overhear. The two protagonists spent the entire two hours of flight time bemoaning their busy schedules, the hectic sales tours that allowed them very little sleep, and how tired they always were. As far as they were concerned, life was a diabolical sentence to lifelong exhaustion; they were actually unsure about how they were going to go through the day without dozing off. Long ‘to do’ lists were reeled off and agonized over. They expected to be tired, and I’m sure they weren’t going to disappointed. As they talked, their voices grew heavy, their eyelids drooped and their shoulders sagged. In spite of myself, I began feeling tired and sleepy, too, as their droning voices and lugubrious tones worked themselves deep into my numbed brain. It took me some time to pull myself together, after the flight landed and I was on my way to my hotel. It didn’t need any great powers of imagination to visualize what a marvellous relationship they shared with their colleagues, and what stupendous results they were churning out for their organization. If they went around spreading the gospel of eternal tiredness all the time, I’m inclined to think that their management would soon tire of these tiresome people and retire them as quickly as possible! The biggest problem with anticipating tiredness is that it practically ensures it, tiredness feeding off itself as it were. If we are constantly anxious about whether we’re getting enough sleep, we not only worry ourselves into possible insomnia but we set ourselves up for hypochondria, perhaps slipping into the dangerous habit of taking tranquilizers in order to relax sufficiently to fall asleep. Being over conscious about the actual hours we sleep can make us too tense to sleep, a sure formula for insomnia. Perhaps the best way is to take whatever sleep one can manage with, relying on nature to take its course and ensure that we catnap whenever we can to replenish our energy levels. While it’s an unfortunate and undeniable fact that many of us sleep less than what is recommended, we all have our own requirement levels. There are as many people who can make do with six hours in the hay, as there are those that just cannot manage with less than eight hours. Moreover, modern urban lifestyles are, to a considerable extent, inimical to our inherited circadian rhythms; it’s become fashionable to make a fetish of spending a few after-office hours at bars, nightclubs and clubs, time that could well have been spent restfully at home, or curled up in a hotel room when on tour, reading a nice sleep-inducing book (hopefully not this one!). Though I’m sure no one would describe me as a spoilsport, I think we need to discriminate between health-giving rest and relaxation, and the dubious kind of ‘unwinding’ that’s available at rambunctious venues. You can hardly unwind before bedtime by winding yourself up! In the unlikely event of your thinking that I’m an epitome of perfection, I hasten to admit that I’ve gone through this routine myself before coming by these hard-earned realizations. No one who takes the punishing, self-flagellating route to perennial tiredness, both by virtue of internal attitudes and by way of blindly following a boisterous regime of so-called relaxation, can avoid coming to terms with his need for rest and sleep. Perhaps it’s best to tread a middle path, and slow down when our bodies issue unmistakable signals that sleep deprivation is nearing a critical level. But rather than keep count of the hours of sleep missed, it’s best to make do with what sleep you can manage, snatching some shut-eye whenever you get the chance. It’s amazing how just a brief

124 siesta can recharge a depleted energy reservoir. But the worst thing would be to anticipate tiredness, because that’s the best way of ensuring it. In the days when my work took me on frequent tours, I often found that I had to make do with curtailed sleep, often on account of the fact that I hadn’t got used to sleeping in hotel beds each with different varieties of lumpy mattresses. This was when I learned that it was best to be thankful for whatever sleep one was lucky enough to get, making up for lost time while on a train or flight. It became obvious that if I constantly dwelt on how tired I was going to feel with insufficient sleep, I was inviting trouble in the shape of deep fatigue. In the end, it got to the point where I eschewed discussing either how much sleep I’d lost or any tiredness I was likely to feel as a result thereof. It worked. Pushed to the back of my mind, it never came in the way of my making the best use of my time. Today, I can’t help but notice how much people’s bragging about their hectic touring and consequent lack of adequate rest is a part of the make believe status symbols denoting corporate success, along with its related symptoms of which, unfortunately, sleep deprivation is a prime topic of conversation. In case you are one of these misinformed people, try to choke off the tendency. I’m sure you’ll find much more interesting topics of conversation, you’ll never bore innocent bystanders, and you’ll shut unwanted tiredness out of your life for good.

Chapter 30

‘He disagreed with something that ate him’
That’s what the note pinned to Felix Leiter’s shirt said, after he’d been returned, barely alive, to James Bond in Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die. Leiter was Bond’s CIA counterpart and his best friend, and he was badly mauled when Mr. Big’s henchman "The Robber" had him thrown into a tank containing a shark. Leiter was, in fact, a very pleasant and agreeable man who just happened to officially disagree with the way the eminently disagreeable Mr. Big did business. As you know, disagreeing is very different from being disagreeable—a quality that can disrupt the working of many a team. Have you ever wondered what goes into making a team? Not just any team, but a team that consistently out-performs the rest? I’ve given the matter some thought over the years, having been on a few teams both on and off the field, and I’ve decided to isolate three factors that I consider to be of prime importance. Firstly, winning teams are mostly comprised of specialists who are tops in their area of specialisation. For instance, a bank branch that has a slightly conservative Deputy Manager who takes care of everyday matters with efficiency, sound job knowledge and tact will be an excellent foil for an innovative, extroverted Branch Manager who is good at canvassing business, while having to rely on the branch machinery to back him to the hilt by delivering on commitments made by him in the field.

125 There will occasionally be points of disagreement between the two, but they will be so well attuned to each other’s personalities that one will accommodate the other, yet will stick to his guns in case he is not convinced of the wisdom of another’s gameplan. Moreover, there will never be any ego hassles between them; each will be fully alive to the fact that his team-mate means well. For example, when his deputy advises utmost caution – and possibly exit – from a proposed course of action, his chief will give it serious consideration. This brings me to my second observation, viz., good team-mates know and appreciate each other’s strong points, and will bolster them while rendering strong support on the weaknesses. In other words, good teams are comprised of people who are bound together by strong personal ties that are based on joint commitment to organizational goals. I have never seen any team that shared this kind of rapport that did not excel against stiff competition. Moreover, everyone recognizes his or her responsibility to voice criticism when unconvinced about a proposed course of action. I’ve also noticed that there is tacit approval from the team leader to enlightened disagreement. It’s almost an unwritten law that while silence is tantamount to approval, continued silence amounts to disapproval. Enlightened dissent is, therefore, the third consideration. Good teams almost always have leaders who never discourage dissent, not because of any fetish about democratic traditions but because they know that a team must be fully committed to a proposed course of action if they are to win. Once in the thick of the action, there’s no room for hesitation. The team must be fully confident that the chosen course of action is the best one, no matter how difficult things may look en route to the goal. This gives purpose and thrust to action, leaving no room for second thoughts and fumbling with priorities because the die has been cast within a solid consensus. From the real-life saga of Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole, to Alistair Maclean’s fictional thriller, The Guns of Navarone, unhesitating allegiance to a leader usually brings success. Once the strategy has been finalized, all winning teams pull together in unison after they’ve worked out their differences and finalized their plans. Over the years, I confess that I’ve made some hasty judgements about people. Some, whom I initially took to be highly opinionated and arrogantly dismissive of other’s opinions, have turned out to be superb tacticians who knew full well the pulse of their teams (usually comprising highly strung, but also knowledgeable and highly talented individuals who routinely turned in virtuoso performances). This apart, they were so certain that the course of action they proposed to take was the correct one that they had no time for dissent. But it was also true that, on the odd occasion when they had a twinge or two of doubt, they tolerated and even encouraged dissent, and readily agreed to a change of strategy. Greatness is not always about ‘being as constant as the Northern Star’, begging Julius Caesar’s pardon. Constancy is not a virtue in this world of rapid change. In fact, it can prove to be a handicap. True greatness is the innate ability to see the need to change a viewpoint or course of action in the interests of organizational stability, without the ego getting in the way. There is no stigma attached to having a change of heart. It needs courage, integrity to admit that you were wrong. On the other hand, inflexibility is another name for stubbornness. Cussedness commands a premium only among mules.

126 Coming back to the theme of this chapter, I personally believe that disagreeableness is a sign of immaturity and lack of emotional intelligence, born of an egocentric worldview. If one considers that Earth is barely a speck of matter in the Milky Way galaxy, with its hundreds of billions of stars, and that our galaxy is one of over 125 billion known galaxies in an expanding universe, a self-centered outlook is patently ridiculous. Why, even on Earth, the mass of individual humans would appear – from outer space – to be but one single organic whole comprising individuated entities that are irretrievably linked together, as cells are joined together in a person’s body. If that be the case, then – like the separate cells that are the inseparable components of an individual person – we are but tiny parts of a greater whole collectively known as humanity. Within this collective organic entity, teams are but (hierarchically) large components in a larger organic entity that’s aptly called the ‘organization’, analogous to the organs in a person’s body. And while we can certainly retain healthy individual characteristics that contribute to the betterment of this greater entity, unhealthy and dissonant cells (individuals that do not see themselves as inseparable, i.e., do not consider themselves as crucial components of a greater entity) will tend to display some unhealthy characteristics within the context of concerted team working that will have a detrimental effect of the team’s performance. In other words, team members must see themselves as valuable, individual parts – but nevertheless just parts – of a single, smoothly functioning machine. If even one part begins to consider itself separate, and independent of the larger entity, it will begin to display aberrant attitudes and actions that will strike discordant notes, and disrupt the harmony of team working. I have always liked the cellular imagery in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book You’ll See It When You Believe It, and I like to think that Dr. Eric Berne’s I’m OK, You’re OK sort of supplements Dyer’s work, in as much as it talks of healthy relationships as seen from the viewpoint of well adjusted, well-knit ‘cells’ that participate in the achievement of organizational objectives. It’s when we step out of the Adult – Adult mode, say into the Child – Parent mode that problems can crop up in team functioning. This is bound to happen when we depart from stability of the Adult – Adult mode into other modes that are inconducive to organizational efficiency. It was once my good fortune to work on a team that had a very young but highly capable graphic designer who was responsible for all book cover designs. It was my responsibility to finalize cover designs as well as the blurbs and author bio-sketches that were featured on back covers. On one occasion – graphic designers being notorious for according ultra-low priority to text, an occupational hazard that all editors have to live with – she made a tiny but crucial typo that got past the proofreaders. When the snafu came to light, instead of shrugging her shoulders and proclaiming that it fell outside her area of responsibility (fear disguised as indifference…‘Child to Parent mode’), she readily participated in a friendly and constructive discussion on how to ensure that such a glitch never occurred again (it was decided that, in future, the blurb, etc., would be submitted as a Word document, and subjected to a spell-check program before going on to the proofreaders). An adult, constructive approach, if ever I saw one. It is hardly surprising that today, at the tender age of twenty-seven, this amazingly creative person who never takes herself seriously – emotionally mature, light-hearted and

127 immensely laborious – is now a key player in a very large organization employing an troop of graphic designers. Talent, ability and attitude have taken her to the top of her profession, and brought her immense happiness and success. Unfazed by success, intent on giving of her best to her team and to her organization, always in ‘learning’ mode and ever ready to acknowledge her ‘faults’, she is headed for starry vistas…simply because she always puts team objectives before personal goals. Could it be a coincidence that those sacrificed personal goals are well compensated for by a doting management? Is being agreeable and dedicated all that rewarding? Is it worthwhile counseling people who need to get their attitudinal act together? You decide.

Chapter 31 The ‘Rat Race’
If you’re one of those who’ve been hoodwinked into regarding – and describing – your life as a ‘rat race’, I suggest you delete the term permanently from your dictionary. It implies that you and everyone else are in constant and grinding competition, that you live and work in pathetic surroundings and circumstances, and that there’s so little to go around that you have to constantly contend with unhealthful and uncongenial surroundings in order to survive. In other words, the mental imagery is derogatory not only to yourself but to everyone around you. If that’s the picture you carry around inside your head about your life and work, sooner or later it’s going to be reflected in your output. There are two major problems associated with this sort of thinking. Firstly, it describes you as someone who’s got no time to appreciate the beauty of life around you: one who feels that even if you take the time off to do so, someone is going to steal a march over you and take away your slice of the cake. It portrays a world of shortages, constant tension about watching your back, and condemns you to live in an imaginary universe peopled by selfish, uncaring fellow rodents who (to mix metaphors) populate a ‘dog-eat-dog’ (another one I’d rather let go of) world of miasmic sewers and continuous, relentless competition—a race that no one wins and which everyone loses. That’s a pretty grim worldview.

128 Secondly, such beliefs have the propensity of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy—a chilling outcome, given the fact that we create what we think about. You begin to see yourself as a timid, scared individual plunged into this dark and hopeless world, constantly on the defensive and apt to be given the short end of the stick at every turn. It’s a fact that people who describe themselves as participants in ‘the rat race’ are indeed ultra hyper, uptight and easily flustered. It’s hardly the best way of doing a Walter Mitty. If you must live in a world of your own creation, I’d much rather you fantasized about being a Richard Branson, Vijay Mallya or Arundhati Roy…that can’t do too much harm! The fact is, when we belittle ourselves, others tend to do so as well, so it’s always advisable to strive for a good self-image: that of a healthy, reasonably talented, cheerful, successful and balanced person who has access to abundance through right thinking and self effort. No one tangles with a person who respects himself and also has ample respect for others. It’s great to run across people who refuse to look at life through anything other than rose-coloured lenses. A sense of personal well-being is contagious. I’ve met loads of people who, despite being in high-pressure, low-tolerance-for-failure jobs have exuded grace, charm and supreme confidence. It’s always a pleasure to meet such people. They never give you the impression that they have very little time to spare for you, that they’re actually doing you a favour by meeting you at all. They have a way of putting you at ease right away. They are the ones who have chosen not to buy into this self-destructive label, and it shows in their approach to life. They live in a more humorous, accepting sort of way that makes allowances for the oddities and unpredictability of life, and are still more than willing to go with the flow because there’s so much joy and beauty in it, so much scope for personal development and solid achievement. Since we as individuals see the world in entirely different and unique ways, much of our experience is internal, as perceived by our brains. As in quantum physics, the end result is greatly dependent on the observer’s experience. And since GIGO operates in the real world as well, if we see our existence as a miserable, lonely and hopeless one, so too will our real experience turn out to be. I’d much rather you cultivated the BIBO attitude: Beauty In, Beauty Out. Inner beauty is reflected in the exterior as well. People who have this ability to see that life is a miracle and a great privilege, cannot help but radiate it outwards, a là my friend in the chapter entitled ‘It’s OK to Be Happy’. Much of this optimism rubs off on others. People tend to support those who know what they’re doing and where they’re going. In other words, if we describe our day as a frantic rush to reach office, battling traffic and fuming at red lights before starting a mad round of meetings, tackling impossible deadlines and attending to insane office memoranda, always behind schedule while wasting precious time arguing with freaks who won’t see reason…if this the way we see things, then we have a very narrow and bleakly unimaginative take on life. It’s no wonder that the highest rate of urban suicides applies to the below-thirty age group: the most stressed-out (and possibly the most ambitious) ‘rat racers’ in the populace. Yet another person might go through the same experience and view it differently: a busy day with plenty of opportunities to get things done, to see things to their logical conclusions, to exercise ingenuity and resourcefulness – with a pinch of creativity thrown in for good measure – in solving day-to-day problems, to gently persuade others to appreciate what the company stands for and what it hopes to accomplish, and wind down

129 the day with the warm glow inside of a day well spent, and thankful of having had the chance to play a small role in it. See the difference? It was the same day, the same circumstances, identical burdens… but one saw the mud, the other the stars. It all depended on the person doing the thinking and experiencing: the observer. Outlook. A change in outlook is all that’s necessary. Gratitude. We have much to be thankful for. Acknowledge it silently to yourself, honestly and sincerely. It puts things in an entirely different slant. Understanding. Appreciate the compulsions and circumstances of others. Knowledge. Knowledge gives perspective, promotes healing, and leads to effective action born of love and confidence. See each day as a golden opportunity to increase your knowledge, grateful for the fact that there’s more than enough knowledge out there for a lifetime of learning. And thus the illusion – the blatant lie – of the ‘rat race’ is dispelled and shattered. Calm and benign purpose descends on you. Life takes on new meaning. Old, tired viewpoints fall away and the world emerges as a marvellous place, full of the promise of self-realization, and eternally endowed with wondrous gifts for those who seek them. There are more gifts than there are seekers, so there’s more than enough for everyone. Life is about abundance, glorious fulfilment and a chance to serve, to give back. It is a divinely ordained privilege that you are asked to receive, full of opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. Why turn it down by calling it a ‘rat race’? Why spoil everything by giving it a tag it hardly deserves. Tell yourself, “Never again!” You are Life itself. You are a divinely created miracle. Go out there and live the miracle.

Chapter 32 The Fastest Wheels on Earth
Speed is the real luxury of the Industrial Age. With the advent of the first motorized self-propelled vehicles driven by steam and, later, by gasoline, the days of the horse were numbered. The Model T mass-produced by Henry Ford sold in millions and unshackled America from animal-driven transport. It also liberated thousands of acres under grass fodder, indirectly expanding agriculture while putting the carthorse out of business. The earliest road cars sometimes caused public outcry because of their ‘speed’ and danger to pedestrians. At the time the first cars were introduced on London roads around the turn of the last century, it was mandatory to have a man walking ahead ringing a bell and waving a red flag! The maximum speed allowed in town was a blistering 4 miles per hour! As the benefits of motorized mobility became obvious, the demand for motorcars in developed countries rose sharply. Riding this tide of burgeoning demand came a new breed of engineer-entrepreneurs, in both Europe as well as the United States. By the first decade of the twentieth century, most of the electrical and mechanical problems had been ironed out, and it was left to the two World Wars to refine the automobile, and spin off dozens of variants. Since Man’s appetite for the good things of life is basically

130 insatiable, it was inevitable that everyone wanted a better, faster car than his neighbour. And the race track was the obvious place to start the hunt for a better car manufacturer. As in other fields of human activity, men competed on the racetrack for the laurels of victory and commercial success. But there was another breed of racers, a bunch of pioneers who looked even further. They were the men who wanted to build and drive a car that would be worthy of the epithet ‘The fastest car on Earth.’ The saga of the World Land Speed Record is an exhilarating account of the indomitable human spirit. It is a tale of trailblazing pathfinders who went further than any man had gone before, men who lived at the very edge of life, who reached blinding speeds that would sorely test the outer limits of their cars as well as their own courage. But behind the laurels and photographs are the unknown stories, the haunting spectres of shattered dreams, of vaulting ambitions, of incredible sacrifices in pursuit of a Holy Grail. In a way, therefore, it is also a story that foreshadows Man’s conquest of Nature, of the cosmos, and of himself. It is but a chapter in the million-year saga of a biped, constantly changing, evolving, and challenging the unknown. Some of the main acts in this gripping drama of speed, stretching across two centuries, are highlighted below. It is recorded that, in 1898, one Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris, France, set the first recorded land speed record. Covering exactly one kilometer in 57 seconds, he clocked 39.24 miles per hour. His objective had been to establish that automobiles were reliable; he sparked off something that, less than a century later, would see a car break the sound barrier! As the years passed, the record changed hands frequently, as drivers fought bitterly over it. In the year 1902, for example, we find the title changing hands four times. On Jan 12, 1904, one Mr. Henry Ford, driving a Ford car, clocked 91.37 miles per hour (146.19 kilometers per hour) to hold the record for fifteen days! Great rivalries surfaced in the pre-World War I years, which were ultimately dominated by a car which would have a major role to play in automobile history: the Mercedes Benz. After World War I, the Packards, Sunbeams, Delages and Fiats were finally pushed out of competition by the emergence of the first car specially built to break the land speed record: the legendary ‘Bluebird’, named for the play L'Oiseau bleu (“The Bluebird”), by Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck, and driven by Malcolm Campbell. A former WW I Royal Flying Corps pilot, Campbell had a redoubtable rival in Sir Henry Segrave driving Sunbeams and, later, the famous ‘Golden Arrow’. Campbell annexed the record with 146.16 miles per hour (235.22 km per hour) in 1924, only to lose it to Segrave’s Sunbeam in 1926. After his rival’s retirement, Campbell went from strength to strength, finally breaking the ‘impossible’ 300-mile-per-hour barrier on Sept. 3, 1935, with an officially timed 301.13 miles per hour (481.81kilometers an hour) at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA. Campbell held the record nine times, and was knighted in 1931. Barely three years later, John Cobb, in a Railton, pushed the record to 350.20 miles per hour (560.32 kilometers an hour), finally taking it up to 394.20 mph (630.72 kph) on September 16, 1947. The 400-mile-per-hour barrier had come up like an invisible wall. It was a wall that would endure for sixteen years.

131 It was only on August 5, 1963 that Craig Breedlove, in his ‘Spirit of America’ – a car powered by a General Electric J47 jet engine – clocked 407.45 mph (651.92 kph). The record has still to be ratified by the international authority. Then Donald Campbell, Sir Malcolm’s son, taking up where his father had left off, achieved 403.1 mile/h (649 km/h) on July 17, 1964, at Lake Eyre Salt Flats, Australia, driving a jet-powered ‘Bluebird’. He set a speed record for Class A land vehicles (unlimited size, four wheels). The age of powered wheels had given way to the jet age, where cars were practically grounded jet fighters minus wings. The ‘Unlimited’ Division of the Federation International de L'Automobile (FIA), the world governing body for motor sport and land speed records, had been born. But in typical land-speed-record fashion, Tom Green, in a J46 jet enginepowered car, the ‘Wingfoot Express’, topped it the very next year with 413.199 mph.

The Wingfoot Express and Tom Green, the driver (left), with Walt Arfons, the owner.

Then, as if out of nowhere, came Art Arfons, in his General Electric G79 jet enginepowered ‘Green Monster’ to take the title on 5th October, 1964 at 434.22 mph. Thus began one of the great rivalries which had given the record so many boosts in the past. Craig Breedlove, who had been furiously rebuilding and upgrading his car with the same GE engine, the G79, snatched the title back barely eight days later, at 468.719 miles per hour. Almost exactly a year later, he smashed the 500-mph barrier, clocking an average of 526.277 mph. (Land speed record attempts are run twice, up and down over a measured mile, both runs needing to be done within an hour to qualify, on the basis of the average time of the two runs.) Not to be outdone, Arfons reclaimed it 12 days later with a 10-mph margin. Five days later, Breedlove annexed it again at 555.127 miles an hour! Undaunted, Arfons again snatched it at 576.553! Truly challenged, Breedlove was inspired to surpass himself. A week later, he became the first man to go faster than 600 miles an hour, taking the title at an average speed of 600.601 miles an hour—a unique triple-demolition of the 400 mph, 500 mph, and 600 mph barriers.


(Centre) - SPIRIT OF AMERICA First man to break the 400, 500 & 600mph barriers on land!

Five years later, a man who was addicted to speed to the extent that he would even ride centrifuges for the sheer thrill of it, built a liquid nitrogen-fuelled rocket car he called the ‘Blue Flame’. On 23rd October 1970, Gary Gabelich took it to 622.407 miles per hour, covering the measured mile faster than any human before him. He was killed soon afterwards in a motorcycle accident, and the record rusted against his name for thirteen years. Then, in 1983 Richard Noble of the U.K. drove his Thrust 2 to a new record of 633.468 mph on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA. Again, this record stood unchallenged in the record books for well nigh fourteen years. As the atmosphere near the 700 mile-per-hour mark got more and more rarified, the gaps between successful attempts to smash the record widened. Finally, on October 15, 1997, Noble – now a prosperous businessman who owned the new Thrust SSC (supersonic car) – located an ex-Royal Air Force pilot, Sqn. Leader Andy Green to drive it. Green was perfect for the job. Accustomed to supersonic speeds and the paralysing effects of multiple G-forces, Sqn. Ldr. Green lived up to expectations by becoming the first man to ‘pilot’ a land-running vehicle to return a two-way average of 763.035 mph – Mach 1.020! It was history in the making, the birth of a new era. The sound barrier—so long a challenge (and still not easy without afterburners) in the air— had been broken on the ground! And there the record rests, while challengers bring themselves up to readiness to go even beyond. Craig Breedlove is readying ‘Spirit of America’ for an 800 mile-per-hour run. The two J-79 jet engines have been thoroughly cleaned, and work on the chassis (longer and wider by 31” and 24” respectively), steering assembly, wheels, and 1,000mph-capable tires (carbon fiber strands wound onto the rims) is making steady progress. Recovering from a shoulder operation, Breedlove hopes to make a run soon. The team hopes to raise the two million dollars necessary for making the attempt. In a land of hundreds of dollar billionaires, many of whom would pay for the privilege of bringing the title back to the United States, that may not be a problem. Due to topological and other reasons, the Black Rock desert, Nevada, appears to have become an unattractive venue. Breedlove feels the Alvord Desert in Oregon is a major possibility. The surface is much harder than Black Rock, which translates into lower rolling resistance and shorter times to reach top speed. Data from previous runs shows that the car can reach 800 mph without running out of track. Another serious contender for the title is the North American Eagle, basically a USbuilt F-104 Starfighter with a GE-79 jet engine. Ed Shadle hopes to take it initially to about 800 miles per hour as soon funding is arranged.

133 Meanwhile, Australian Rosco McGlashen is doing test runs at Lake Gairdner in Australia in the Aussie Invader III. We are told the car has exceeded 400 mph in test runs. It could well turn out to be dark horse, given a more powerful engine and better aerodynamics. But by the looks of things, it is presently a straight contest between ‘The Spirit of America’ and the ‘Thrust SSC’. The world awaits another chapter, the 800 mile-per-hourplus era, in the unending saga of the Land Speed Record. But never underestimate the men from Down-Under: the record could well end up in Canberra!

Chapter 33


It was midnight, the witching hour, when spirits are said to be abroad. The great car wafted down the mile-long tunnel that the massive twin headlamps bored for it through the blackness. Little hamlets came up and were gone a blink later; they slept on, blissfully unaware that history had just passed. Apart from the brief illumination of the lights, only the barest suggestion of a whisper and the swirling turbulence of its wake betrayed the car’s wraithlike passage. Inside, the passengers dozed, floating, as if on a cloud, cocooned in the soporific luxury of deep, soft, hand-tooled leather seats. The hypnotic ticking of the dashboard clock was all that was to be heard in the sepulchral silence of the interior. Silhouetted in the glare beyond the lamps, the little seraph on the verge of flight stood poised in eternal

134 ecstasy on the gleaming radiator. The giant touring car effortlessly consumed the night… silent, a phantasm. A hundred miles of road vanished beneath its wheels every hour as it hurtled towards motoring history. Who can say that men did not dream this dream? For a motorcar was created that brought this vision to fruition, proof that before things appear on the material plane, they first come into existence in a phantom zone of thought, of ideas, lying deep within the uncharted territory of the subconscious mind. All things are fundamentally mind-stuff, denizens of a spirit world, turned into reality by conscious will. A Rolls-Royce is precisely that, a wish materialized, like the Taj Mahal. Even as one reverently touches the elegant bodywork (or rather, ‘coachwork’, the quaint Edwardian term favoured at Crewe), one is almost afraid that one’s hand will pass through the apparition, that it will fade, the way a dream does with the cock’s crow at daybreak. The aura of the machine, the legend that surrounds it, is fairly overwhelming. The two men who conjured up this phantom from the fifth dimension, this palpable dream-come-true, first met in 1904. In retrospect, one could almost say that they were incomplete halves of a whole, fated to meet when the time was ripe. They were, superficially, a study in contrasts, products of vastly different backgrounds. The Hon’ble Charles Stewart Rolls was born to affluence, scion of an aristocratic family, the upper crust of Edwardian England. The third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock, educated at Eton and Cambridge, he was meant to live the life of ease and sophistication reserved for those of noble birth. Frederick Henry Royce came from the working class, the son of a humble miller from Alwalton. No silver spoon graced his mouth at birth; at the age of ten he was selling newspapers, and then joined duty as a railway apprentice in Peterborough. Determined, even at that tender age, to make something of himself, he learnt the basics of engineering, algebra, electrical theory and practice, and some foreign languages. Rolls had a technical streak in him, too. He graduated with Mechanical Engineering and Applied Sciences from Cambridge, and, the nascent motorcar industry having captured his fancy, bought a French 3¾ horsepower Peugeot while on a trip abroad with his father. It was the first car Cambridge had ever seen. His enthusiasm led him to enter and win several motoring competitions, notable among his early triumphs being the 1,000-mile reliability trial sponsored by Sir Alfred Harmsworth. A gold medal was specially struck to commemorate his convincing win. Thus emboldened, he went on to break the world land speed record at Phoenix Park, Dublin, clocking 93 miles per hour! At this time, he was probably the foremost racing car driver in England. An enthusiastic aviator, he was the first man in history to make a non-stop return air-crossing of the English Channel. Like Charles Rolls, his future partner also received a fine education. Life herself taught Henry Royce, and the alma mater of this self-made man was the University of Adversity. His ambition took him from a 55 pence-per-week job to a better one with a firm in London dealing in electric lighting. From there, it was a short step to his own firm making electrical light fittings, cranes and dynamos (in partnership with one A.E. Claremont). Barely in his early twenties, the turn of the century saw him well established in business, with an expanding order book. At an age when the sons of the wealthy classes were settling down to a life of ease and frivolity, Royce was already a seasoned manufacturer.

135 It is not generally realized that the similarities between the two men outweighed their dissimilarities. Both had a passion for quality, directed forcefully towards motorcars. Rolls had gone into business, after college, as a distributor of fine cars selected personally by him. His formidable racing and practical repairing skills set him apart from the average motor enthusiast. He nursed two major ambitions: to promote a product that would become a generic name, as Chubb was for safes. And to promote a car of English make that was as good as, or better than, the foreign marques he dealt in. Rolls was totally dissatisfied with the prevailing quality and reliability of English cars. British manufacturers, to him, were pig-headedly insular in their resistance to Continental innovations. Meanwhile, Claude Johnson (irreverently known as ‘the hyphen in Rolls-Royce’) had joined him as partner of C.S. Rolls and Company. Johnson’s forte was organizing racing events, and his marketing skills were largely responsible for the rapid and profitable growth (that Rolls never lived to see after his premature death in a flying accident) of the company, counterbalancing Royce’s preoccupation with production matters. Two men, Rolls and Royce, who had made the most of their bloodlines: skilled, determined, purposeful, and possessed by a (common) vision! Destiny had set the stage; now Time waited to take his cue. When a shareholder, Henry Edmunds by name brought Henry Royce and his twincylinder car to his notice, Rolls was understandably reluctant to make the effort of meeting Royce and seeing his car. He was unaware that Royce had once bought a French Decauville, but piqued by its starting, overheating, vibration, and other problems, had determined to manufacture a car on his own. Three prototypes rolled out, and turned in quite satisfactory performance. When the historic meeting finally took place at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, on 4th May 1904, Rolls was impressed with the ease of starting and over-all dependability of Royce’s maiden effort. He wrote afterwards that Royce "was the man I have been looking for for years”. The car that so impressed Rolls had a 1,800 cc two-cylinder four-stroke engine that breathed through a French-design Krebs carburetor with an idling governor to obviate rough idling or engine cut-out. Close tolerances derived from precision machining, generous lubrication, and efficient exhaust silencing gave the car a solid, reliable feel. An agreement was inked that gave Rolls the exclusive rights to distribute the products of the Royce works, which then were a 10 HP car, a 10 HP chassis and engine, a 15 HP chassis, a 20 HP car and a 30 HP 6-cylinder engine. Exhibited at the Paris Salon in early December 1904, the cars caused quite a stir. Their mutual confidence in each other confirmed, the two companies, on December 23rd, two days before Christmas, signed a contract that, inter alia, specified that the enterprise, and its products, would henceforth be known as ‘Rolls-Royce’. The legend had been born. On 12th July 1910, Charles Stewart Rolls died prematurely in a tragic flying accident at Bournemouth, the first British pilot to thus perish. Royce soldiered on at the head of the company, right up to his death on 22nd April 1933, imprinting his unique personality and quality criteria on Rolls-Royce motorcars. The ‘Silver Ghost’ (1907-1925) was the car that shot the newborn company to widespread fame and fortune. Originally only called the 40/50 HP, in the prosaic manner of manufacturers, it was Claude Johnson who unwittingly made a place for himself in Rolls-Royce history by so referring to his personal aluminium-paint finished machine. The name stuck. Only four Silver Ghosts could be turned out every week, even when, in 1907, the new Nightingale Road, Derby, works commenced production. With its 6-

136 cylinder, 7,428 cc (1909) engine, pressed steel chassis with tubular cross-members, 4 forward speeds, and an 84 mile-per-hour top speed, it outclassed many other famous makes to take the 1913 Alpine Rally, a grueling test of skill and endurance. In fact, in a half-century of great cars including Armstrong-Siddeley, Bugatti, Duesenberg, Handley-Page, Hispano Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Maybach Zeppelin and Panhard Levassor, the Rolls-Royce reigned supreme, the embodiment of luxury, refinement, reliability…. the ultimate status symbol. With the outbreak of World War I, Rolls-Royce adapted to fall in demand by supplying the Silver Ghost with 4 tons of armour. After the war, having seen action even in the unforgiving terrain of the North African desert (with Col. T.E. Lawrence of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom fame), they returned to London roads. Coachwork having replaced armour, the old ladies sallied forth gallantly, none the worse for an experience that had destroyed lesser cars! Fully 6,173 examples of this wondrous motorcar were built between 1906 and 1925, vied for by the rich and the powerful, who saw in it an extension of themselves. The Silver Ghost epitomized splendour, luxury, and the pinnacle of perfection. More than any car in history, it enshrined an ideal. The winged lady on the bonnet, ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’ summed it all up, the most recognizable of all car mascots. The Silver Ghost continues to haunt us, reincarnated time and again for nearly a century. Some of these avatars were the Rolls-Royce Phantom I [1925-1929 (Derby) and (1926-1931 (Springfield); the Phantom II: (1929-1935); the Phantom III (1936-1939); the Silver Wraith (1947-1959); the Silver Dawn (1949-1955); the Phantom IV (19501956); the Silver Cloud III (1962-1966); the Phantom V (1959-1968); the Phantom VI (1968-1991); the Silver Shadow II (1977-1980); the Silver Spirit III (1994-1996); the Silver Seraph (introduced 1998), and the Rolls-Royce (New) Corniche (introduced January 2000). The Bentleys – from a second line of cars tracing their lineage to Walter Owens Bentley’s justly famous company, which Rolls-Royce bought in 1936 – grew progressively like their elder cousins. Sportier, but with Rolls-Royce engineering and other inputs, the marque is prominent in endurance racing such as the grueling Le Mans 24-hour race. And thus the Rolls-Royce – the ultimate symbol of Man’s refusal to compromise on quality – moved majestically from history into legend. Every time one of these definitive statements of workmanship from a bygone era whispers past, proudly displaying the entwined R’s and the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ on the radiator, it serves to remind us of the words of Henry Royce: "Whatsoever is rightly done, however humble, is noble". It matters little if Rolls-Royce has changed hands; as long as the new men at the wheel dream the same dreams as dreamt by Rolls and Royce, as long as they continue to hear the muted flutter of the same spectral wings, the legend will never die.


Chapter 34

Goddess of Ice
The Story of the World’s Highest Peak
“It is a world of ancient snow, It is the frigid, lifeless North, Where all is ice and glacial blow, Where only men possessed go forth.”

About 50 million years ago, two continental plates collided. Crumpling like foil under the pressure of titanic forces beyond human comprehension, the tortured rock reared skywards, extending talons that clawed almost ten kilometers into the blue. One majestic massif dwarfed the rest… Shrouded in mist and legend, she had stood inviolate for millennia, the highest point on Earth. It was said that the Gods themselves lived on the summit; mortals attempting to scale it would never return. Tibetans knew her by the name of Chomolangma (Goddess of the Skies), while the Nepalese revered her sacred name of Sagarmatha

138 (Mother Goddess of the Universe). There were other challenging peaks in the world: the Alpine Matterhorn and Weisshorn, twin daggers of ice stabbing vertically into an azure sky, and plenty of formidable peaks over 25,000 feet in the mighty Himalayas that beckon to the climber, peaks of the likes of Nanda Devi, K2 (‘the magic mountain’), Kanchenjunga (from the Tibetan Kangchen Dzo-nga — ‘Abode of the Gods’), and the dreaded Annapurna (that cost Maurice Herzog many fingers and toes—amputated after severe frost-bite—before yielding to his assault). There are even sheer rock faces like El Kapitan, a terrifying monolith in Yosemite National Park, USA. Climbers spend the night vertically suspended over thousands of feet of space, their sleeping bags dangling from a piton. But there is only one Mount Everest. The mountain was christened 'Mount Everest' in 1865 by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India in honour of his predecessor; Sir George Everest. It overshadows every peak on Earth, pinnacling to 29,400 feet (8848 metres). Experienced climbers say it is not the most difficult peak to conquer: there are many that are technically far more challenging. Yet the lure of Everest is unique. The Wimbledon of mountaineering, it taunted a whole generation of climbers: aloof, invincible, the ultimate trial of their strength and skill and stamina. Everest was a dazzling goddess: irresistible and unattainable. It represented a combination of two elements: the incendiary, immortal beauty of Helen of Troy…and the fatal allure of Circe. It was – and will always remain – the Holy Grail of mountain climbing. The quest for the peak is a saga of heroism, sacrifice, and tragedy. Reconnoitered in 1921, the subsequent seven Everest attempts on the peak via the North Col and North Ridge from the Tibet side ended in failure, the 1934 assault taking the lives of famous climber George Mallory and that of his partner Andrew Irvine. Their bodies were finally found more than sixty years later. Attempts ceased temporarily, following the outbreak of World War II. The war's end saw a Tibet with its borders closed, whereas Nepal, previously inaccessible, had now liberalized entry. Everest expeditions, after 1951, started from the Nepal side, via the Khumbu Icefall, the Western Cwm, over the Geneva Spur to the South Col, and up the Southeast Ridge. What these early climbers were unable to cope with, when gauging the effort involved in climbing Everest, was the enormous quantum of logistical inputs that need to go into an assault attempt, and of the degree of preparation required, both in physical as well as mental terms, to reach the summit. The effort needed for the latter was daunting, and quite incomprehensible to the average unmeditative European mind. Fitness of mind and body was crucial, as were adequate equipment and supplies. It redounds to the courage and sheer ability of the early climbers, that even without the benefit of modern equipment, they did what they felt they had to do. Indispensable to every expedition are the high-altitude porters, iron men of the mountains…the legendary Sherpas, led by a ‘Sirdar’, or chief. Their unflagging stamina, and ability to carry heavy loads at altitudes where the plainsman cannot find enough oxygen in the air to breathe, can shame the fittest mountaineer. Displaying the same abilities at lower heights are the amazing Bhutias, ferrying burdens often exceeding three times their own body-weight.

139 An Everest attempt is a supreme test of patience…the obvious origin of the term ‘Himalayan patience’. Himalayan peaks are not just an overnight drive away. They are remote, inaccessible. After airplane and bus, one has to walk or rather – to use the old Boer word – trek. Acclimatizing all the way, carrying all their supplies, the party moves through lower foothills to fir-clad mountains, which, in turn, give way to breathtaking high-altitude alpine meadows. Leaving the tree-line behind, the scenery finally becomes truly Himalayan beyond the snow-line, a rugged land of rock, ice, and snow. Dominating the horizon, the icy, mist-shrouded peaks touch the clouds, beckoning in ageless silence. Nowhere has this slow, tortuous progress towards the goal been better described than by Col. (later ‘Sir’) John Hunt in his timeless classic, The Ascent of Everest, graphically describing in lyrical prose the first conquest of the peak by his team-members, Tenzing the quintessential Sherpa and the redoubtable New Zealander, Edmund Hillary. Pausing to make offerings at wayside shrines, camping and getting used to working as a team, the expedition finds itself at last at the foot of the Everest complex, where nestles the hoary Thyangboche monastery. There is said to be preserved here the scalp of a Yeti: Hillary saw the relic, but did not know what to make of it. Chris Bonnington is one major Everester who is open-minded on the subject, having sighted tracks that could never belong to a Himalayan bear, and once even glimpsed a shaggy figure or two. (The mystery of the Yeti remains unsolved, like the enigmatic Bigfoot of North America.) Welcomed by the serene lamas, revelling in Buddhist lore and butter tea, the team finalizes assault plans: crossing the enervating moraine, negotiating the dreaded Khumbu Icefall, hurdling the deadly crevasses that can swallow a man without a trace, before unleashing the assault. An assault on a mountain like Everest is like launching a seven-stage rocket, for usually that many stages (or ‘camps’) are needed to take an ever-diminishing team higher and higher, in steady upward progression, till at last, only one or two pairs of climbers are left to take the peak. The ordeal of traversing the lonely Lhotse Face (probable inspiration for the celluloid Mallory’s climb in the Hollywood motion picture The Guns of Navarone), gasping up the spur, each step a torture for screaming lungs, the endless trudge along the ridge with legs turned to lead, the summit coming into sight (or, sometimes, hidden in mist), the last struggle to the top, to the highest point on Earth, euphoria and the panorama of the Himalayas the priceless reward. Above, there is nothing; it has all been climbed, aught left for a mere mortal to contend with but one blind eternity unrolling into another…elation and despair overlap. Oxygen starvation? Narcosis of the Peak? Pulling themselves together, they make their offerings to the Goddess, take pictures, and return to base camp, memories forever locked away in the chemical banks of their brains. In 1953, John Hunt’s team put Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, and Edmund Hilary, on the summit. Conquered at last, the Goddess unbent; over 600 people have since reached it. But well over a hundred persons have lost their lives on Everest, the principal causes being falls into crevasses – the Khumbu Icefall itself has taken 19 lives – hypothermia, avalanches, or oxygen-deficiency. On the subject of the latter hazard, Mallory himself, as far back as the 1920’s, had argued: “…the climber does best to rely on his natural abilities, which warn him whether he is overstepping the bounds of his strength. With artificial aids, he exposes himself to the possibility of sudden collapse if the apparatus

140 fails." But climbing Everest without oxygen was unthinkable. While equipment, including oxygen-breathing apparatus, grew lighter, more compact and more efficient, conditioning and acclimatization were given supreme importance. The medical fraternity – quite justifiably – categorically dismissed the idea of a man ever reaching the peak without oxygen. There is a large body of evidence that indicates that oxygen in the air decreases as altitude increases. Human physiognomy finds it hard to extract enough oxygen from the air at rarified altitudes, and deeper, faster breathing only results in the ingestion of unacceptably high levels of carbon dioxide, which produces substances in the bloodstream inimical to the body’s chemistry. This oxygen deficiency known as ‘hypoxia’ causes greatly impaired judgment, blurred vision, erratic memory, and poor coordination. Brain damage and death are almost certain. A man named Reinhold Messner, and his partner Peter Habeler, were not convinced. Messner had gained fame after some spectacular Alpine rock climbs. In 1974, he and Habeler had caused a sensation by scaling the Matterhorn and Eigerwand faces in record times. In 1975, they climbed Gasherbrum, without using supplemental oxygen. But when, in 1978, they declared their intentions of climbing Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen, they were dismissed as madmen. The demands Everest made on the human body were all too well known. Even Edmund Hillary had gone on record as having stated that oxygen levels at the peak were barely sufficient to support a body at rest: no strenuous exertion was possible without serious repercussions. Undeterred, Messner and Habeler decided to join the Austrian Everest Expedition into the Western Cwm (pronounced ‘coom’), and launch individual attempts on the summit. The March of 1978 found the teams at Base Camp, researching the Khumbu Icefall, establishing Camps I-V and readying for their climb. Messner and Habeler's first attempt, which began on April 21, was a complete fiasco. Habeler got food poisoning from a contaminated tin of sardines, and Messner pressed on with two Sherpas only to return, weak and exhausted after two days spent hopelessly trapped in a blizzard. Even Messner later admitted that at this stage, he was overcome with a sudden feeling that it was "impossible and senseless" to pursue the goal. But a return to good weather, and the tonic of rest and recuperation, brought the old resolve surging back. Messner and Habeler decided to make one more bid for the summit. While Habeler was thinking about using oxygen this time, Messner refused to climb with anyone using it. Habeler had to relent, and the two continued as a team. Their attempt got underway on May 6. Beyond Camp III (7200 meters) were altitudes where they could expect to feel the effects of hypoxia. They decided to take two cylinders of oxygen up to Camp IV in case of an emergency, and resolved that they would turn back if either of them showed marked loss of coordination or speech. The next day, Habeler had a headache and double vision on the way to the South Col (7986 meters), which they reached in three and a half hours. They camped there, dozing, often waking up struggling for air, drinking copious draughts of tea in the hope that it would assist in rehydration and offset the effects of the rarified atmosphere. On May 8 at 3 am, they got up and dressed (it took them two hours to do so!) and, despite uncertain weather conditions, decided to press on, using hand signals to

141 communicate. They stuck to the rocky ridges, as negotiating the deep snow was too slow and exhausting. They reached Camp V (8500 meters) in four hours, and after half an hour’s rest, they pressed on to the South Summit, only 260 vertical meters away. Fighting a deep, never-before-experienced exhaustion, leaning on their ice axes or even lying down in an effort to take in life-giving air, gasping for breath, they stumbled though an experience that no man had ever encountered before. Beyond the South Summit, they pressed on doggedly, roped together. They had but 88.12 vertical meters to go, but the peak seemed light-years away. Messner felt in himself a surge of defiant apathy. At 8800 meters, no longer roped together, collapsing every 10 to 15 feet in the snow, Messner recorded that, "breathing becomes such a serious business we scarcely have strength to go on." Though Messner felt that his mind was dead, in actual fact it had taken control of his failing body—his mental training and inner determination were all he had left now. On the afternoon of May 8, 1978, Messner and Habeler did the impossible – they reached the summit of Everest without oxygen. It was a hallucinatory, mystical experience for Messner: "In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single narrow gasping lung, floating over the mists and summits." They got back to the South Col in less than two hours: it had taken them eight hours to climb up to it that morning. Exulting in their fantastic achievement, they were in Base Camp two days later. Messner and Habeler pushed back two frontiers that day, that of human achievement and the other, of knowledge (of the frontiers of human physiognomy.) Their achievement stunned the medical fraternity, uncovering as it did some of the clues to a better understanding of the powerful links between the mind and the body. In 1980, Messner repeated the impossible—he climbed Everest again without oxygen, still the only man on Earth to have done so. This time, he did it differently—he did it alone! Wiry, slight of build, hardly cast in a heroic image, Messner had discovered the secret of mountaineering, indeed of Life itself: Mountains exist only in the mind, and in the mind are they first vanquished. In his imagination, he had already climbed Everest without oxygen; his mind had accepted the fact—and that made all the difference.


Chapter 35

New Thunder in the Skies
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Not even a stable democracy like India can afford to ignore the compulsions of defence spending, notwithstanding its huge external debt, practically uncontrollable population growth, plunging GDP, and pressures of growing economic disparities. The seven ‘P’s of enlightened self-defence – perceptions, pacts, preparedness, propaganda, pragmatism, prudence, and political will – need to be examined in the context of the two basic sources of threats to a nation’s security, internal and external. Threats to internal security are often moored in the past, and have to be approached with a sense of history, hindsight, and a large measure of foresight. A strong and stable government at the helm is a sine qua non. External situations adversely affecting a country’s present as well as future security also cry out for mature governance. A sense of continuity in foreign policy has always been an asset to nations. Those interested in stable and friendly relations with neighbouring countries as well as the larger comity of nations have followed straight-line methods of foreign policy management. However, the opposite is also true, as alliances shift dramatically in the sub-continent. Countries realign their affections so as to better harmonize with national aspirations, and the brutal realities of a new global order. China and Pakistan have grown very close,

143 while the Bush administration is delicately steering a course that takes the US ever further from Pakistan. Seen in this context, the recently signed agreement between India and Russia to collaborate in the production of fifth-generation weapons systems is a partnership that works to the advantage of both. After the metamorphosis that Russia experienced in the closing years of the 20th century, economic and other considerations make it difficult for it pursue its weapons development programs with the earlier vigour. Scarce funds are often commandeered to meet the exigencies of the moment. This is just when the results of Russian research, already arguably at par with, if not superior to, other Western countries, were really coming into their own. The multiplier effect of decades of space programs, and research initiatives which had fuelled major breakthroughs had brought the Russian munitions industry to an enviable stage of development. To maintain the pace now, and to recover investment costs and turn a profit, it was imperative to do a major strategic review. On the other hand, the Indian weapons development programs were still of relatively recent vintage and, despite valiant efforts, the expected spin-off from its fledgling space and basic research programs was yet to materialize. Sophisticated armaments were invariably bought-out, sometimes with follow-up assembly and limited production arrangements. Warplanes and MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) for instance, invariably involve long gestation periods before coming into full production, and are therefore very expensive to design, tool-up for, test, and manufacture, even for a country. Yet, in the ultimate analysis, they are but consumer items, with widespread appeal, profit margins, and built-in obsolescence. They have to be the best in order to succeed, both in domestic as well for future export arenas. And the investment must now produce returns: ROI is never a foul word in market-driven economies. Very-high-technology, metallurgical and electronic requirements have placed these items beyond the designreach of most countries, including India. For now, the collaboration route is still the only avenue available to India on the road to independently produced and developed weapons systems, capable of meeting 21st century parameters. The recent understanding inked between Russia and India, for collaboration in the production of fifth generation fighter aircraft, and other strategic complements such as sophisticated air-to-surface missiles and advanced early warning systems, should not, therefore, come as a surprise. It is an open secret that the backbone of the Indian Air Force, the aging MiG-21, is having difficulty even in remaining airworthy. It is now practically unsupported, with spares from the erstwhile Soviet Union having diminished to a trickle. There have been over seventy MiG-21 crashes in the last three years, as reported in the Indian media. The twin-engined Jaguars have proved reliable, but they, too, are now aged and, in any case, they were far too few in number to make much of an impression, as were the precious and sparingly used Dassault Mirages (refer the Kargil conflict, when they were called in for air support duties as a last resort.) Besides, Dassault itself hasn’t really been able to offer any significant upgradations, as a result of which the legendary Mirage, too, is getting a bit long in the tooth. Pakistan, realizing that its F-16s were no longer capable of matching the next generation of MiG or Sukhoi fighter aircraft, acquired significant numbers of Mirages, another reason why India now feels increasingly uncomfortable using this expensive French warplane. It thus becomes apparent that a thorough fighter inventory overhaul was overdue in the sub-continent. And since it is always better to use weapons which an opponent has little practical knowledge of, India was as locked onto the Soviet arsenal as Pakistan was onto its US suppliers.

144 The Bush administration’s recent lack of enthusiasm for Pakistan’s priorities has driven that country into a Chinese embrace. And China, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan, is known to be adept at securing intermediate-level technology and then going forward with their own developmental programs—a process known as ‘reverse engineering’. With a good alternative for sourcing munitions, Pakistan will not be left out in the cold, as its relations with the US rapidly deteriorate. China, ever interested in any means of encircling India, finds in Pakistan the ally it has always wanted: an internally unstable country run by a military dictatorship ever keen to buy the latest arms, and willing to beggar itself in the process of matching India product for product. Ever since the first jet-fighter battles that ever took place, in the skies over Korea, where the relatively-unknown MiG-15 (NATO code name ‘Fagot’) savaged the vaunted F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres, NATO countries had developed a healthy respect for Russian aviation. Every subsequent product of the lethal A.I.Mikoyan/M.I.Gurevich combination was given a special code name, and its every operational parameter was carefully studied and incorporated into the training schedules of US fighter pilots. The ‘Fishbed’ (MiG-21) was followed by ‘Flagon’ (Su-21), ‘Flogger’ (MiG-23, 27), ‘Foxbat’ (MiG-25), ‘Fulcrum’ (MiG-25), and ‘Foxhound’ (MiG-31), to name but a handful. Supplies of the basic ‘Flanker’ (Sukhoi-30 Mark I) are trickling into India, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is gearing up to (initially) manufacture about a dozen of them a year. An aircraft like the Flanker has the capacity to significantly alter regional power equations. Dogfight tactics, ground support, avionics upgrades, pilot retraining, and a host of other counter measures will have to be initiated by potential adversaries. What is it that’s so different about this aircraft? The multi-role, all-weather fighter family with the NATO code name ‘Flanker’ was developed in 1977 by the Sukhoi Experimental Design Bureau in Moscow, and includes the Su-27UB, Su33, Su-32FN, Su-35, and Su-37. The cockpit is fitted with four liquid crystal displays for tactical and navigation data, onboard system monitors, and operating conditions control panel. The pilot has a short-travel side control stick instead of a central stick, an avionics control handle and strain-gauging (pressure-to-throttle) engine thrust controls. Indian versions will probably be two-seaters, with provision for a co-pilot. In order to really appreciate the multi-role (interception, ground attack, or reconnaissance) capabilities of the Su-30/37 (and it is possible that India has been able to press its advantage by getting the latest version), with the latest AL-41F turbofan engines, 8000 kilograms of armaments et al, it is important to recollect that speed without maneuverability is of little or no use in actual combat situations. Supersonic capability necessitates reduced wing surfaces, and at low level flying this translates into extremely hazardous low-lift at low speeds. If somehow the engine thrust (propelling it to over 45,000 feet in a minute’s worth of screaming vertical climb) could be directionally adjustable – to aid the aeroframe’s aerodynamics in generating the crucial lift – it would compensate for the poor response from the controls as seen in conventional aircraft at lower altitudes. The revolutionary Vector Thrust Control engine, with its swiveling nozzle, does precisely that.

145 It supplies engine thrust at +15° to –15°, on the vertical plane. When one remembers that there are two engines, each able to swivel independently of the other, the reasons for the aircraft’s incredible maneuverability, even at near-zero speeds with unlimited angleof-attack options, is explained. The thrust vector controls are operable manually or automatically, being fully integrated with the overall digital flight control system. It allows the pilot to induce, and recover from, seemingly impossible stalls and spins, which would be sure disaster for an aircraft with conventional engines.

The high-technology swivel-nozzle AL-41 engine.

The new feature of the hypermanoeuvrable Sukhoi fighter is the two-dimensional thrust vector control engines.

The aircraft is fitted with a multi-function, forward-looking, pulse Doppler phased array radar.

There is also a rear-looking NIIP NO-12 radar and optronic fire control and surveillance system.


The aircraft (seen upside down) is capable of extreme manoeuvrability that no modern aircraft can quite match.

The AL-41F engine allows supersonic cruise speed without using the after-burner, something not possible for conventional supersonic aircraft. Afterburners increase fuel consumption nearly three-fold in burning all oxygen (about 20%) out of the air in regular turbo-jet combustion chambers. The materials used in the AL-41F engine allow higher combustion temperatures and hence, more efficient use of the fuel-air mixture, enabling better fuel consumption with non-after-burner supersonic flight and lower infrared and radar signatures. The aircraft is fitted with a multi-function pulse Doppler phased array radar capable of multichannel management of guided weapons released on upto 15 targets simultaneously, enabling such ‘smart’ bombs to find their designated targets efficiently. Command-center duties for a squadron of attacking airplanes are also envisaged. Rearfacing NIIP NO-12 radar and optronic fire control and surveillance system are matched with integrated on-board systems for terrain data management including mapping. At the Farnborough (UK) ’96 Airshow, the aircraft demonstrated its ability for sustained flight in a direction opposite to which its nose was pointing, to rotate the nose through 360 degrees, and even to recover from a tail slide by rolling out of it on an entirely different plane. Such manoeuvres, hitherto considered impossible, would give the plane an enormous advantage in combat situations. The Su-37 can carry up to 14 air-toair missiles, air-to-surface missiles, bombs, rockets, as well as ECM (electronic countermeasures) surface missiles, bombs, rockets and the ECM pod. The aircraft is fitted with one GSh-301 30 millimeter cannon with 1,500-rounds/minute capabilities. Optionals include Vympel R-73E short-range infrared homing air-to-air missiles with RVV-AE long-range air-to-air missiles with active radar guidance. R-73E (NATO codename AA-11 Archer) is an all-aspect close combat missile capable of engaging targets in tail chase or head-on mode at altitudes between 0.02 and 20 km even in 12 gload situations (extreme chase-generated centrifugal forces). The Vympel RVV-AE (AA12 Adder) air-to-air missile can intercept targets travelling at speeds up to 3,600 kilometers per hour, at altitudes up to 25,000 meters. Air-to-surface missiles such as the Kh-25 short-range missile and Kh-29 with a 317 kg penetrating warhead are other

147 options available. So is a helmet-mounted sight, a recent feature on top fighter aircraft that enhances the threat to aerial targets. The high accuracy and jamming immunity of the system interfaced with the onboard radar make it possible to detect and engage targets at ranges up to 50 kilometers away. The Flanker is a superior warplane, intended to stay operational upto 2015 at least. It is rugged, the engine is modular and easily serviceable, and only the F-22 ‘Raptor,’ America's most advanced tactical fighter, from Lockheed Martin and Boeing, comes anywhere close to matching its performance. But most importantly, the AL-41F engine has a smaller version, the AL-55, which is excellent for incorporation in an advanced jet trainer. There is no substitute for well-trained pilots fully conversant with all aspects of handling their craft. The weapons systems of the future, as in the past, will only be as good as the men who operate them. While India and Russia translate intentions to action, it is almost certain that on-going joint research and development, transfer of technology, and an adequate flow of spares will be crucial to the spirit of the collaboration arrangement between them. No wonder the IAF blew the much-vaunted USAF figuratively out of the skies in the recently conducted air exercises. Three cheers for the IAF…and for the Sukhoi!

Chapter 36 The Value of Originality
A wag once remarked that we are the sum total of all the books we’ve read, the places we’ve visited, the movies we’ve seen, and the friends we’ve made. That could prove to be a pretty dangerous situation, with disgraced Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan having admitted to ‘internalizing’ thirteen portions of Megan F. McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings—an admission that is going to liberate a lot of skeletons from cupboards. Even more worrisome are the implications, given the near-identical, globalized – I’m getting a tad weary of this word – culture that’s sweeping the planet, since GenNext

148 might well evolve into a colony of copycat clones. For all I know, Ecclesiastes might be literally true when it says that there’s nothing new under the sun, but that’s probably apposite only against the backdrop of eternity. Earth is too small a place in space-time to condone ‘internalizations’ of the Kaavya variety on the strength of a cosmic truth alone. Between you and me, such ‘internalizations’ have been around for donkey’s years. As the old (and no longer funny) joke goes, when one copies portions of a book or two, it’s called larceny, but when material is lifted from many books, it’s called research. The whole process of copy-pasting doesn’t gel with me, since I fail to understand how one could yield to the urge to write a book, and then succumb to a sudden compulsion to ‘borrow’ what others have written. It’s self contradictory. Surely we can – in order to do the almost mandatory ‘literature review’ – paraphrase what others have so far said on a particular subject, and then proceed to say what we’ve got to say. That’s the very reason why we start to write a book in the first place…isn’t it? Isn’t it…? I wonder why there’s this deafening silence. Hullo? Anybody out there…? I have come to the depressing conclusion that gone are the days, generally speaking, when a scholar would immerse himself in his subject for two or three decades. Then, his labours having ripened into knowledge and perhaps wisdom, he would fulfil his prime purpose by devotedly penning erudite commentaries, essays and full-length books. Read with the standard textbooks, such valuable analyses would lead to invaluable intellectual stimulation and set off a chain reaction of further insights, critiques and yet more learned treatises. Thus did knowledge progress in an unbroken chain from one generation to another. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, for example, had this amazing generational gurushishya parampara or teacher–pupil tradition, but each stood on the strength of his own merit in spite of distinctive (and usually diametrically opposite) viewpoints. In other words, the moment you make something sacrosanct, it ossifies, and further progress is stymied. Today, few of us care to challenge the established paradigm—something a genuine teacher would give his eyeteeth for. It could be a sign of cerebral stagnation: one of the reasons why we usually look to the West for iconoclastic stimulation. Suitably legitimized by quoting from imported examples of scholastic secession, native researchers gleefully proceed to weave their indigenized versions around the captive texts. This is indeed disappointing, because a true teacher is unfilled if he fails to produce more teachers (just as leaders are said to fail if they cannot produce more leaders). Call it lack of sufficient incentive (by way of recognition or remuneration); blame it on intellectual lethargy; dump the onus on hectic teaching schedules that leave little time to ponder over incongruous aspects of one’s subject; shift culpability to the prevailing discount on creativity, or ascribe it to aversion to sticking one’s neck out, it all boils down to the same thing. There is an appalling shortage of authors driven by an original viewpoint or who have the ability to express themselves lucidly—writers with the nerve and verve to give individualized expression to their thoughts. This is all the more surprising because as individuals, we are all as unique and unrepeatable as snowflakes. What, then, prompts us to abandon our native genius in favour of lifting from one another? Childhood conditioning could be the reason why we prefer hackneyed formulae, and have no problems with our conscience in hijacking film or book themes from the West. As examples, I mention Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya, a reconditioned version of ET, the Extraterrestrial, or Gulzar’s Mausam, a cosmetically overhauled plot lifted straight from A.J. Cronin’s best-selling novel The Judas Tree.

149 Is it a disquieting indication that the educational system subtly discourages originality and lateral thinking? Is it because the liberal system of education – known to encourage free thinking, assimilation of a wider spectrum of knowledge and internal processing thereof in response to the dictates of one’s distinctive DNA – has fallen into disfavour in these times of rigid specialization and industrial emphasis on infallible repeatability? Could it be possible that academia looks askance at those who have a refreshingly original point of view? Are we so market driven that we are compelled to sustain mediocrity? There are disturbing indications that in the twilight zone where a medley of thoughts are re-engineered into printed matter, East and West have not only met but merged, Rudyard Kipling notwithstanding. Opal Mehta’s demise is but a glaring example of this phenomenon. I suspect there will shortly be scores of other casualties, given the rise of the book packaging industry exemplified by outfits like Alloy Entertainment. Original thought and research is becoming a bit too rare for comfort. However, scanty evidence that it still survives keeps us going. For instance, unless I’m gravely mistaken, C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel were first off the mark on the Core Competence of the Corporation with their seminal article in the May-June 1990 issue of the Harvard Business Review, possibly inspired by David McClelland’s article in American Psychologist (1973) entitled Testing for Competence Rather Than for Intelligence…who might have also inspired Richard E. Boyatzis’ The Competent Manager. These are all prime examples of ideation along logical pathways, heartening indications that knowledge is expanding across disciplinary boundaries. Examples of prescient originality they may not be, of the sort that Marshall McLuhan is justifiably renowned for, but at least they display evidence of considerable ratiocination and intelligent extrapolation of ideas. Barring a handful of embattled outposts, the overall lassitude evident in our academia tempts one to believe that there’s something about foreign latitudes that engenders creative outbursts: C.K. Prahalad and the late Sumantra Ghoshal are just two instances of people of Indian origin blossoming on foreign soil. Perhaps it’s because western climes are, on the whole, less intolerant of individual expression. Willingness to consider another’s point of view, however, is a double-edged sword: it lionizes new stuff but lambastes carbon copies. Hopefully, the straws in the wind are pointing to a newer direction for Indian business writing. Meanwhile, there’s panic in the ranks of the plagiarists: the grapevine says that a prominent international Book Prize Committee is instituting an award for the Best ReEngineered Book of the Year. Mike Hammer and Jim Champy5 are said to be the main sponsors. Not many, it seems, are interested in winning what is likely to be called The Little Brown Opal Cup, a trophy that will be accompanied by 100 reams of A4 size photocopy paper.


Authors of Re-engineering the Corporation.


Chapter 37 The Modern Work Environment

151 Over the last thirty years or so, sweeping changes have taken place in offices. The most obvious one is that there is less paper around. The computer has reduced the need for filing away office copies of each and every document typed…and emails can be stored in ‘soft’ form without the need to retain printouts. There are companies—like Siemens, I believe—where the concept of the ‘paperless office’ has come to stay. One can well imagine the beneficial impact this will have on the world’s forests, where a large percentage of trees are used to manufacture paper. Conspicuous by their absence are typists, those formerly indispensable members of an office team. Now there are specialist mutants of this once ubiquitous breed, such as DTP operators, Flash animators and web designers. The humble typist has become extinct. When I joined the Shriram Group in 1971, trying to imagine an office without typists would have been like trying to visualize a hospital without doctors. The first thing I noticed after I’d got my bearings on the job was that those officers who had the best typists got the plum jobs…or was it the other way around? Everything went through the typist, and an officer’s efficiency was only as good as the quality of typing in his department. Typists were an over-worked but pampered lot. A newly recruited officer’s training began with learning the basics of punching, filing, and record keeping. Instant recall needed a good memory and an even better filing system. But officers never typed! Today, only officers (such as they are) type—mostly emails! An officer was only as good as his initiative, his drafting, his proofreading, and his man-management. Innovation was encouraged, indeed mandatory! Efficiency was the watchword, and fast decision makers scored. Officialese was still terse and businesslike, but capital letters, paragraphing, and punctuation were vital elements to good written communication. No one ever blamed a typist for ‘typos’—typographical errors. Officerlike qualities included motivating typists to give of their best. ‘Follow-up’ and ‘feedback’ were the principal mantras. The Boss’s steno, Manmohan Gupta, was superb at taking dictation and returning error-free material. I rarely saw him use eraser or erasing fluid. Within six months, I had more or less commandeered him. A year down the line, as my Boss’s understudy, I shifted some of my routine work to him. One day, he baulked. He wanted to know why he should do my work. I told him that I had already got the hang of it and felt it was time he should take it over from me, as I myself had taken over some of the Boss’s functions. Delegation. It was the key to growth. Of course, (I said) Mr. Gupta, talented as he was, could revert to being just an ordinary stenographer anytime he liked. But if he aspired to promotion (as Office Assistant), it was an opportunity he should welcome. I wanted him to learn the work well enough to one day take my place as second man to the influential HRD & Personnel Manager. How else was I going to move up if I didn’t create a replacement for myself? Indispensability has been the graveyard of many a career. And he should, in turn (I hinted) train one of the typists who aspired to become stenos and learning shorthand from him, to take his place. The message sank home. Sharma, Mr. Gupta’s protégé, became a stand-in steno, while Manmohan Gupta not only took over most of my routine work but also enrolled at the Institute of Company Secretaries. Pushing forty, he suddenly realized that, for the first time in his life, an officer was willing to train him to take over his job. Today, he is also an ICWA, apart from a registered Company Secretary, and after a successful career and retirement still functions in an advisory capacity in a large organisation. He was my first challenge (and success) in personal growth and motivation, and the source of immense satisfaction for me. I saw that it was possible to motivate a co-worker

152 to surpass himself and, unleashing his dormant potential, reach heights of achievement he had never dreamt he was capable of. But the major credit for personal achievements goes to the culture and impeccable systems of that great organisation where I worked and which made the dreams of ordinary men and women come true. There were outstanding men on the Board of that company who had joined as peons, and I never forgot that. In later years, it was my good fortune to motivate many a clerk, godown-keeper and peon to become an officer and rise to the post of Branch Manager in the bank. I also remember with affection and admiration the great bosses I worked for—incredibly creative, hard-working, dedicated yet fun-loving men (which includes Ashok Soota, CEO od MindTree and till not so very long ago CEO of WIPRO). They continue to be my role models. Interested as I am in organizational structures and hierarchies within systems, it takes time to adjust to the fact that organization charts have flattened. Vertical has given way to horizontal, laying me low in the process! In an MNC I worked in, there were only two discernible levels—workers and managers! It was an interesting experience. I am comfortable within a vertically structured system, not very relevant in the multi-tasking, multi-reporting relationships favoured today. Technology often transforms social conventions, I found. This is especially true of American companies operating in India. I worked in one for a coupe of years and found the veneer unsettling until I realized that beneath the façade the old systems and though processes were alive and kicking. People young enough to be my kids would call me by my first name! They dressed the way I did when I went hunting. They even call the Boss by his first name! I was flabbergasted at first. It is comfortable, predictable, manageable, for me to report to one or two persons at most. I like the idea of vertical structures (within limits) and as an ex-personnel department hand I can see the advantages of it. Web-based organizations have been largely responsible for this innovative compression of the Christmas tree-like organization chart of old into two-tiered bogeys. I am left to conclude that organizations themselves have changed in a not-so-subtle manner. One-to-one working relationships, something I’m used to and which I love, have been diluted by LAN systems and intercoms. People sit around all day and look at screens. This is what we did after we got home and switched on the telly! The imperatives of the market-place and the tyranny of the bottom-line have joined hands to mellow the old Person-to-Person equations that were so crucial in the past. Friendships are superficial and transitory. Our generation accepted colleagues as friends for life. I am fortunate that I get a large share of the old-style ‘personalized’ supervisory style I cherish. No amount of cold-blooded emails can replace a chat over coffee with the boss or a colleague to get things moving. It is time well spent, for face-to-face plainspeak is worth a million bytes. Almost everything was done manually when I was a beginner. There were no computers or electronic calculators to take the drudgery out of writing, counting and accounting. True, there were large, heavy mechanical FACIT calculating machines in the Accounts Department, but fortunately I had no need for them. All organisation charts, graphs, tables and statements were either made by hand or typed. Here again, a maestro like Manmohan Gupta was worth his weight in gold, for the Chairman, Dr. Charat Ram, had a penchant not only for accuracy but for elaborate presentation. We had heard that things called electronic calculators were on the anvil, but it was only in 1975 that I saw my first one, a small model that ran off two AAA batteries (then unavailable in India. Alkalines, Lithiums and rechargeable NiCads were a decade away). Two years later, Señor El Tomâso – the mustachioed rally driver from Kuwait – brought

153 me my first LED-screen CASIO pocket calculator, powered by two AA cells. I promptly gifted it to Dad. It speeded up his work (his project reports needed lengthy and complicated calculations). Then in his mid-sixties, Father went berserk over the gizmo; it accompanied him wherever he went. There was no STD…Subscriber Trunk Dialling. A ‘Lightning’ priority call was the fastest (but prohibitively expensive) way to get a trunk call through quickly. A ‘lightning’ call was supposed to mature in two minutes…and I used the facility several times in the bank…but it rarely came through on time. You waited, sweated, and you paid eight times the cost of an ‘O for Ordinary’ call, and later explained to the RM, in a brief, carefully worded Office Memorandum, the compulsions that necessitated the call. The AGM/GM okayed it (if all went well, and the matter was condoned). Otherwise, its cost was liable to be deducted from salary. Telephones were a pain. So was telex. This was a gadget that was a hybrid product of a typewriter and a telephone. The telex operator dialed a number through the Telex exchange and proceeded to type out the message, which scrolled out of its jaws on a roll of paper, on the receiver’s machine as well as yours. It was a bit like a chat room of today; and telex operators had their own ‘shorthand’, abbreviated language to save time, paper, and cost. The ‘tks & rgds’ I type today on my emails dates back to the time-honoured signoff of the telex operator ‘ok tks rgds’ followed by the cryptic signature. Even TTs and LCs came over telex, duly coded/encrypted. Halcyon days, gone forever: the nostalgia still blooms strong in my nostrils, the romance of a bygone era we’ll never see again. The excitement of using these ‘modern’ communication aids can never return. There was no such thing as a facsimile photocopying machine, what is generally referred to as a photocopier. (Today, we have 5-in-1’s that are fax machine, scanner, photocopier, printer and telephone all rolled into one). All communications that had to be circularized—which incorporates about 30% of a bank’s functioning at the Regional and Head Office level—had to be cyclostyled, an excruciatingly boring, messy, and lengthy solution. Shourie and Gestetner were big players in the duplicator market. One got the matter typed out on a ‘stencil’ sheet, which was a wax-coated tissue paper with light cardboard backing, the perforations on the wax serving as entry points for the ink as it passed through the rollers of the machine. Crude, smudged copies emerged at the other end. Years would pass before Chester Carlson and his revolutionary Xerox machine materialized in India…and many more years would pass before someone stumbled upon the idea of mating a telephone with a photocopier to invent the fax machine we take for granted today. Letters—the backbone of communications—went by Indian Post. There were no courier services then. Sea mail gave way to airmail. But it was only with the coming of fax, mobile phones, cable TV and, of course, the Internet that the age of instant communications—foreseen by Arthur C. Clarke—dawned. The world shrank to the global village Marshall McLuhan had written about in ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’. Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘noosphere’, the globe with a network of nerves stretched on a membrane that represented the collective brain of mankind, is already visible in the prototype WorldWideWeb, the precursor of electronic and cyber intelligence whose ultimate reach we can only speculate on. Global handheld telephony was a costly experiment—in the ill-fated Iridium Corporation—a wonderful but unviable convenience that will never be acceptable till a cheaper, more technically and economically practicable substitute can be found. Meanwhile, newer technologies in mobile telephony like CDMA, WAP, GPRS, and Bluetooth have paved the way for a series of innovations including the new cellphones

154 that enable one to take digital pictures and transmit them instantly over the Internet! Laptops and palmtops are already passé. Soon, everything related to communications and entertainment will be worn on the wrist. But instant transportation? Teleportation is science fiction today…but tomorrow, who knows? I have seen too much science fiction come true in my lifetime to snigger at even the wildest idea. Mobile phones have outgrown the original concept and become versatile multi-function tools. They are so much more than a phone that the term itself has become redundant. GPS replaces maps or a sense of direction by taking us to that select new restaurant in another city, and brings us unerringly home despite traffic snarls and detours. Numerous other features may include an address/phone book, digital camera, photo/movie album and player, games, applications, dual mode/SIM capability, while Internet and 3G capability opens up a host of other possibilities. No wonder that today, the loss of a mobile phone is considered a major disaster. Machines that do the impossible—machines that think—are coming. The Manmachines—the cyborgs and the androids—are on their way. The world is changing faster than many can adapt to. The boot is on the other foot now, for Man himself is now hard-pressed to adapt. But adapt he must, perhaps even evolve, to keep up with his own creations that threaten to overwhelm him. Whether all this ‘progress’ is a good thing, I cannot say. It will take the perspective of another century to judge its impact. Man will continue to reinvent his future as long as he is Man…for the stars beckon, and he must answer their call.

Chapter 38


India in Transition
“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” ~ Albert Einstein, ‘Out of My Later Years’

How many people, I wonder, are given the privilege of looking back at, and writing about, the times they’ve lived through? For this opportunity, again, I acknowledge my debt to my Timeless Muse, who made me conscious of my eligibility for doing so. The calendar says I’ve been around for over five and a half decades, but what’s that got to do with me? For some odd reason, I don’t feel old! For five years now, however, I’ve noticed that there’s silver in my hair, but I don’t mind that at all, it’s something I’ve always wanted. Jet-black hair can become boring after fifty years. Hair! When I look around me, I’m surprised to find that most of my classmates don’t have any hair left on their heads. Shiv Shankar Menon, our current Foreign Secretary, is a case in point. I ought to be grateful, I keep telling myself. I’m no Foreign Secretary, but then, I’m not anybody’s secretary, either! My wife grumbles that it’s ridiculous, a fiftyplus man minus middle-age spread and cigar (a la Chandan Seth, India’s cigar baron) that such men are said to favour. She always wanted to get married to a man who smoked cigars, played golf and sported a bald pate! Too bad I can’t oblige—I detest cigars, suffer from abundant hair growth and don’t know the difference between a birdie and an eagle. Such are the minor disappointments of life! But if my ‘lost independence’ hasn’t managed to change me too much, sixty years of independence have definitely changed the nation. I feel independence has spawned indiscipline. Perhaps it is the inevitable over-reaction to liberation from bondage, but there is no moderating factor left. The old stalwarts are gone, leaving an uneasy vacuum. History teaches us that the times throw up the man, as they produced a Napoleon, a Gandhi, or a Mao. We deserve the politicians who have succeeded the greats. As Bertrand Russell said, “Politics deserves a better name than it has, and has a better name than it deserves.” It is an age of compromises, of coalition governments whose components are uncomfortable with each other. Have we gone from frying pan to fire? The British felt they were superior to any other race on earth, but this was an innocent belief in themselves and in their destiny, howsoever mistaken, fostered by five centuries of conquest, naval supremacy, and colonial rule. They made Indians walk on the bridle path known as the Lower Mall in Nainital, reserving the Upper Mall for themselves. Dogs and Indians weren’t allowed into First Class railway compartments, and it was a rare coloured man, perhaps a Maharajah or a senior bureaucrat, who was allowed to join their clubs. They were elitist, few of them preferring to mix closely with their subjects. Yet they knew the problems the country faced, and their administration, if sometimes autocratic and biased, was balanced by their dedication to their work and their enthusiasm for perfection. I personally believe that they were impartial and encouraged men of merit. A whole new ruling class has replaced the white men who left in 1947. Cast in a demagogic mould, barring a few notable exceptions, they live in a rarified atmosphere the common man never gets to see, in the sort of luxury the British might have envied. The British looted the country, transferring the wealth of India to the Crown. But they did much to bring the benefits of modern civilization to India, let us not forget that. The new rulers are nothing to write home about. They opulent lifestyles lead them to occupy bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi, where the going market rate of houses is the neighbourhood of rupees one hundred crores. The age of the patriotic, enlightened industrialist or businessman of the likes of J.R.D. Tata and Jamnalal Bajaj has passed. As

156 Gandhi said, India is a rich country full of poor people. Now, they are even poorer, with the dilution of age-old cultural and moral values. To top it all, Gandhi-ism has metamorphosed into something called Gandhigiri. What next? Everything and everyone is said to have a price. If the newspapers are to be believed, one can even wriggle out of an arraignment for crime and murder if one has the money or the clout—both of which apparently confer immunity from the legal process unless, of course, there is a public hue-and-cry about miscarriage of justice such as witnessed in the Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattoo and Nitish Katara cases. The masses are mesmerised by the prospect of democracy and a government “Of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Honest Abe said. Democracy, a product of the ancient Greek city-states that were small enough to hold a national referendum in a town square, is still to prove itself as a reliable transplant in a huge country like India, with its mind-boggling diversity. Nevertheless, it has the innate resilience to work here, mutatis mutandis. But only if it is treated with respect and manned by patriots, in keeping with the spirit of the Indian Constitution and the Directive Principles of State Policy. Otherwise it can become the instrument of a thraldom worse than any foreign rule. “Power tends to corrupt”, said John Emerich Edward Dalberg (Lord Acton, historian, 1834-1902), “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The evils of corruption, nepotism, and cynical self-service must be cleansed from the nation’s bloodstream. Contempt for due process of law, and erosion in public morality is what we must now combat. India’s wealth (and character) continues to be undermined by county-wide scams. Tehelka-type sting operations or Kargil coffin-type deals are only the tip of the iceberg. Such a canker has spread through the circulatory system of the nation that one sometimes despairs if ever will come the avatar who will be able to clean the Augean stables. Perhaps his name is Charles Darwin. The nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, and criminals is out in the open thanks to sting operations, but one doesn’t find anybody blushing. Public memory being proverbially short, the concerned individuals remain in circulation, wreaking immense damage on the system from within. Scandals surface with monotonous regularity, and scapegoats are inevitably found. But it is difficult to understand why the meritorious, the honest, and the upright, those who have principles and minds of their own, are often given short shrift. To encourage mediocrity in high office is to sow the seeds of the nation’s downfall. Hitler lost the only real chance of resistance to the snowballing Allied forces when he ordered Reichfeldmarschal Erwin Rommel to be eliminated. Who knows how many upright, fearless officers have been asked to take the cup of hemlock? Regionalism and factionalism are chloroforming the sense of national pride. Few are heard insisting that India’s interest must come first, not petty issues that divert the mind, inflame sectarian and parochial passions, and fragment the country (like the infamous Mandal issue). Is it any wonder, then, that Indians have lost a sense of their Indian-ness, a feeling that they are all citizens of one nation? It is seen to revive when our countrymen go abroad, when they encounter the infectious nationalistic fervor of, say, an American or a Frenchman. That the Indian masses—poor, hungry, ill-educated units of vote-banks—are coming of age is hardly a wonder, since we all know what Abraham Lincoln said, “ You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” India is a land of a patient, long-suffering people, but they have started to come awake. Confused by the influx of foreign values and culture, crushed by inflation that has decimated his savings, the common man is in a belligerent mood.

157 Money has become the lingua franca of our times, spawning a new caste system based on lucre alone. The obsequious face of rural India that my uncle Brahma Deva Mukerji, ICS, noticed with dismay has vanished. In its place is an aggressive, classless egalitarianism, the ‘my money is as good as yours’ mindset of a people who do not remember what it means to bow under a foreign yoke. The well-bred ‘aap’ form of address has been replaced by a universal ‘tum’ in the marketplace. Independence is sliding towards indiscipline. Let us hope that unfair means of fighting elections such as such as booth-capturing, and ballot-box tampering will become a thing of the past with the introduction of electronic voting booths. How far this will succeed in the bhojpuri badlands, now ruled by neo-feudal overlords and their muscle-bound henchmen, without the High Commands of political parties denying them tickets to contest elections is a moot point. Ultimately, it is a question of the national interest over self-interest. I find little in the past record, however, for much optimism here. Yet, in spite of everything, the ship of India has sailed far. I will not quote economists or reel off masses of statistical data to make my point, for my point concerns the common man. He has changed everywhere except in Laxman’s inimitable cartoons. No rustic youngster would be caught dead in a dhoti or pajamas. A boy from the chawls of Bombay, who goes under the screen name of Govinda, has ensured that every penniless village lad can wear Levi’s and dream of dating his master’s daughter. Shashi Kapoor, an impoverished young scion of a once-wealthy family, becomes a chauffeur to his former classmate and reluctantly woos her when she throws herself at him (Waqt). Govinda’s own rise to fame and fortune is a parable of modern India, albeit the interpretation can differ from person to person. On one hand, it seems to signify that talent and merit will always succeed. On the other hand, it seems to say that all men are equal, but those who are crude and risqué are even more so. To my mind, the opium of the masses has been subsumed by the mindless fare dished out by Bollywood. The aping of Hollywood actors and their mannerisms by the younger generation is still understandable if not condonable, for perhaps the educated Indian is as good as his or her counterpart anywhere in the world and, as such, is entitled to the global lexicon and idiom common to youth everywhere. Youth culture is a powerful force. Fully fifty percent of Indians alive today are under twenty-five years of age. But for the majority of poor, half-educated Indians with little or no hope either by way of career or personal happiness, it is either sheer mercy or utter cruelty to put dreams of advancement into their heads. Time will teach them the hard truth that they are not the chosen ones, and many will turn, in their frustration, to a life of drugs and crime. Their only chance is the democratisation of education, a process that can be accelerated by the infusion of large doses of political will and private sector funds. The first thing a common man needs is a bicycle. A good English bicycle (there was no domestic bicycle industry then) had cost my father Rs. 20/- when he was a college student. A decent cycle today costs around Rs.1,600/-. The next step up is a scooter. These machines used to cost about Rs. 3,000/- when I was in college (if you had the connections to get one out of turn, for the waiting list was about ten years, the foundation of Bajaj Auto’s pre-eminence in two-wheelers). Today, they cost around Rs. 40,000/- and go a-begging in showrooms. When my father was in college, Rs.7,000/- cash down meant one could leave the showroom at the wheel of a brand-new six-cylinder Buick! In 1983, when the Maruti was introduced, it sold for Rs.45,000/-. Today, it costs over Rs.2,00,000/-, and after ‘liberalization’ a Ford ‘Ikon’ car or a Mitsubishi Lancer sells for nearly Rs.7,00,000! A

158 Volkswagen-Skoda Octavia or Hyundai Sonata goes for about Rs.13 lacs, and a Merc ‘S’ Class for about Rs. 75 lacs! If India wants to keep on receiving foreign inflows (FDI) and step up the pace of economic development, what does it need to do next? What can be done to reduce inflation and unemployment? Push up the GDP? Introduce practicable old-age security/ welfare measures, drawing on taxes levied on conspicuous consumption? How long will it take for India to have Social Security, as in U.S.A.? How much longer will the poor and the old and the abandoned have to suffer? When will the millions of India’s rural children get a fair deal? Educated Indians must ask themselves such questions if they are to see which way the country is going. I am from the old bricks-and-mortar economy, and I can remember a time when one opened a tap and water gushed out, pure water that one could drink sans an Aquaguard filter, not water from some water-sewage mix-up somewhere up the pipeline. One flicked on a switch…and there was light! We took it all for granted. Things worked. The term ‘load-shedding’ had not been coined then. There was no such thing as a power cut. There were few villages in India that had electricity then; now, quite a large number of rural areas are electrified…but there isn’t enough electric power to go around, not even in the capital city of India! In some sort of cruel Parkinsonian joke, excess capacity is absorbed as soon as it is created. The gap between demand and supply will keep increasing with India’s population explosion, now comfortably over the billion mark. As people increase in numbers, resources shrink in relative terms. There is less and less of everything: scruples, broad-mindedness, vision, honesty, principles, fresh air, water, electricity, housing, roads (it is estimated that 50,000 billion rupees are needed just to bring the national road transportation network up to scratch), food, and jobs. Disparities in income continue to widen as inflation soars and GDP falters. If it is not already too late, draconian measures are needed to control population growth, or our nation will collapse under the sheer weight of its own numbers. Do we have the general will to undertake unpopular but essential programs? I have always felt that education was the key to India’s woes. But I am unconvinced that we have taken adequate steps to take education to the masses. Unfortunately, no amount of legislation can educate an entire country. At the subsistence level, children are harnessed in the daily task of survival: they fetch water, tend the cattle or poultry, look after smaller children, supplement the family income by begging, shine shoes, work as child labor in roadside dhabas and dangerous factory environments, or are plunged into things far removed from the idyllic world of children’s story books. Few children of the poor or lower classes have a ‘normal’, happy childhood, being beset early by adult issues that should never have intruded to shatter their innocence. At this rate, we will turn into a society of neurotics and psychopaths, as the poor outnumber the relatively better off. The newly introduced laws must have teeth and a wide enough gape to crunch the vast numbers of industries that run only on children’s labour, such as the fireworks industry. When will these underprivileged children get a break? Will the new laws produce the desired effect? They must, if juvenile crime is to be curbed. The educational system has lost much of its shine. It has to be remembered that the educational curriculum, as well as the system itself, is based on the legacy left by the British, who founded it to promote their own interests, viz., to turn out an intelligentsia who, having absorbed something of their culture, thought like them or at least appreciated their viewpoint. It was designed to produce the army of bureaucratic civil servants from the indigenous populace, who were to be the mainstay of the administration.

159 Sixty years down the line, it has lost much of its relevance. The system hardly teaches children the ability to think or to earn their livelihood. Still, there are indications that despite the blunders of the past, steps are afoot to make education more socially relevant. The tremendous competition for government jobs was always a daunting factor, and a first-generation literate is usually at a distinct disadvantage without parental guidance and a family ambience that fosters the right climate for academic pursuit. Many students tend to opt only for those courses that facilitate entry into their family businesses. For the tough, ambitious, glib-talking type, however, politics remains a quick and easy road to fame and fortune. There is a silver lining: it is significant that in recent times, the average age of politicians seems to be falling. Fairly young men and women hold important portfolios incommensurate with their merit or potential. This is an encouraging trend. Educated youth in politics is better than having its opposite. The rapid urbanization of the villages surrounding the metros has brought new wealth to rustic and formerly marginalized segments of the population, as prices of suburban land have soared out of sight. This has created new social tensions, as values and cultures have collided. The neo-rich are resentful that their wealth doesn’t always open doors to social acceptance. Again, politics presents a way out, but a political career is becoming an increasingly risky affair as the bullet beats many an aspirant to the ballot. Life is the cheapest commodity in India. Business tends to be a dynastic process, and an education was thought to be largely irrelevant till fairly recently. Happily, the norm today is usually a B.Com. or Engineering degree followed by an MBA. Meanwhile, the numbers of unemployed graduates and post-graduates swell into astronomical figures. They have had to re-educate themselves to fit into other vocations, or learn on their feet as they went along. Many have compromised in order to survive, becoming bus conductors or timekeepers or whatever, sinking into despairing obscurity with an irrelevant education under them to ‘cushion’ the impact. Thus do we continue to squander our precious monetary and human resources. Given that a drastic overhaul of the educational system is overdue, I propose that the liberal system of education, charming though it is, be taken down. It has served long enough, and it has done its job. But now it must give way to 21st century priorities. India needs an educational system that helps raise national productivity. Don’t we know what we are heading for? We ought to be teaching young people useful things like personal hygiene, civic sense, computer science, good manners (inter-personal skills to raise the emotional quotient), a foreign language, yoga, business ethics, meditation for self-growth and stress-relief, principles of accounts and commerce, and a trade or skill that will make self-reliant persons, able to make a saleable contribution to society from Day One. Do I give up on India? No way! I am convinced that India, the real India—not the India we see in the newspapers—has a vital contribution to make to the world. In an age of crass materialism and spiritual decay, when the West is reeling under its own excesses, India can show the way to lasting peace and a freedom that flows from the true brotherhood of man. When all the fads have died away, the eternal principles, embedded in every religion, will be found to have been distilled down in India—a panacea not only offering abiding relief to suffering humanity but also to light the way to human fulfilment. Practical, pragmatic, and universal in scope, the wisdom that has allowed this ancient land to absorb all invaders and integrate them into itself will enable it to revitalize the world and play its appointed role in showing a bitter, strife-torn, and despairing humanity the way to peace and self-realization. But India has to first manage her own

160 transformation. As that day dawns, men will recall the words of the great bard, who wrote thus in his immortal work, Gitanjali:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depths of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action; Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Chapter 39


The Crisis of Indian Education
More than fifty years ago, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act which, over the next four years, pumped a then mammoth sum of one billion US Dollars into science education. Flowing into the mainstream of US higher education and NASA, the funds triggered a burst of creative scientific output the likes of which the US economy had never seen. The massive transfusion of money triggered an efflorescence that forever changed the way Americans lived, thought and worked. The spin-off of these innovations circled the globe and continues to transform life styles while constantly driving power shifts on the planet. But in beleaguered India, hobbled by financial woes for much of the sixty years since Independence, such a transformation was the stuff of dreams. The crushing burden of more pressing issues – water, power, public health, abject poverty, agricultural reforms, the need for self reliance, foreign exchange shortfalls, stagnant employment, and woefully inadequate defence – drained our meagre resources. Everyone knew that education – primary, secondary and university – needed a thorough overhaul. Though much has been achieved, most of the accolades are reserved for only a few islands of excellence, viz., the IIMs, IITs, and a handful of select public schools. This is a poignant reminder of the pathetic mediocrity of the remainder. Bringing the educational system up to scratch is a Herculean task, and while its achievements are not inconsiderable, a midcourse correction is clearly overdue. Education is like butter in India: the more you spread it around, the thinner the layer. Typical of what now passes for democracy in our country, education gives the impression of being driven more by populism than a sense of mission. Yet, to make an appreciable dent in the system, all we really need are: (a) more money (b) probity (c) good textbooks, and (d) good teachers. Taking money and probity as givens (!), let’s focus on (c) and (d). For starters, why are good teachers so thin on the ground? By ‘good teachers’ I mean those that are competent and committed. I only have to recall my teachers at Sherwood to Devine what those words mean. Good textbooks, in my opinion, are those that follow the syllabus closely but not slavishly, convey the facts simply and clearly, attempt to identify the underpinnings on which events are based, and which stimulate readers’ interest by inserting illuminative little sidelights that round out the narrative, serve as memory pegs, and enhance general knowledge. Yet despite the heavily subsidised textbooks produced by NCERT, why is it that children from fairly good schools in Delhi or even ‘B’ or ‘C’ class cities and towns are so poorly educated as to be well nigh uneducated (as opposed to illiterate)? I have had post-graduates in English Literature on my team who have never heard of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, who are blissfully unaware that the plural and singular forms of ‘deer’ are the same…people who mix up tenses in the same sentence, who do not know who Stephen Hawking is! What sort of future can such unfortunates look forward to? When will the government de-recognise institutions that spew forth such sub-standard products? Good command over English is undeniably a passport to better jobs and status. But we also need teachers who are not only proficient in English but are all-rounders, if we are to stem the rot. The country’s image in the international arena will be (and is being) severely tarnished as the standard of education provided by our schools declines from day to day. This is the scenario prevailing in the UK today. A recent research study has

162 revealed that the already dismal English and math skills of British schoolchildren are plummeting further. Children of Asian origin are beating them hands down. It is my experience that the average product of an average Indian school has little more than nodding acquaintance with the English language and science, while his level of general awareness, which we often call General Knowledge, is abysmal. If the holder of a Master’s degree in English is unaware that the plural of sheep is not sheeps, if a graduate proofreader promptly changes ‘harried’ to ‘hurried’ out of context, then it shows that teachers are not doing their jobs, that students have not developed an appreciation of the language or the ethos it springs from. The point about poor teacher attendance has often been raised. Sadly, far too many teachers in government schools are also lazy, incompetent, venial or just plain over-ambitious, as evidenced by the coaching centres and teaching shops that have mushroomed all over the country. It is high time we realised that we are already caught in a vicious circle. Poor education murders talent and downsizes people, so they rarely achieve their potential. This is a great disservice to a nation that is predominantly youthful. Since semi-educated (but nevertheless ‘qualified’) persons are generally unemployable, their frustration often finds outlet in anti-social activities. Crime is on the upswing, especially in metros, despite what Delhi Police Commissioner Dadhwal says. Poorly educated people who drift into teaching or into the publishing industry invariably end up producing diluted versions of themselves. This further pollutes the quality of the educational environment. With democratisation of education around the corner, courtesy the Right to Education Bill, things are all set to go into a nosedive it will be hard to pull out of. Why is there such a dearth of good textbooks? Official patronage of NCERT extends to Class X and XII examination papers being based on NCERT textbooks. In one fell swoop, the government succeeds in cornering a monopoly on the parameters of what should be (and what should not be), given in a textbook. But in a democratic country that prides itself on freedom of thought and expression, no one – least of all the government – has the right to lay down what a textbook should contain. The syllabus is enough. Once that has been released, question papers should not based on the content of any particular set of textbooks (with specific reference to NCERT’s esteemed publications). Knowledge is an umbrella term for a collection of facts, their treatment and subsequent analysis. But there cannot be any Ten Commandments etched on tablets of stone in this regard. Hats off to Ashok Ganguly, ex-Chairman CBSE, for emphasising HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) as opposed to the MOTS (More Of The Same) trend of yesteryear. A level playing field would ensure that teachers and publishers of school textbooks operate in a starkly Darwinistic milieu that favours quality, and where shoddy products go to the wall. Thinly spread out education (that too of a variety that had hardly deserves the moniker), and poor monetary rewards for authors and others who opt for educationcentric jobs such as those offered by the publishing industry, practically ensure that high quality products never materialise. Populist measures and official patronage of monoliths that not-so-subtly determine what constitutes educational veracity are bound to exacerbate a situation where poor compensation structures fail to attract talent to the business of propagating the 3 R’s. Still, two cheers for education! Soon, every Indian between the ages of 6 and 14 will have the right to be ‘educated’. But if we don’t get our act together fast, that selfsame education won’t enable us to even write home about it. 


The Final Frontier
“Those who know that the day of Brahma lasts a thousand Yugas, and that His night lasts a thousand Yugas, they are the knowers of day and night”… ~ Bhagwad Gita, VIII, 17 "We will look for the boundary between the solar system and the interstellar medium, and then we'll voyage on forever in the dark between the stars.” ~ Carl Sagan

We stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century, looking back over nearly fifty centuries of recorded human history. Propelled by unprecedented material and technological advancements, Man finds himself facing the challenges of new, uncharted frontiers. For the first time, he looks up at the stars, and knows that they are within his reach. He stands on the threshold of colonizing the planets, and anticipates galactic travel. He also stands on the brink of inner space, within clutching distance of an understanding, at long last, of who, or what he is, and where he is going. We would be guilty of blind arrogance if we felt we knew everything about our own origins, the inner compulsions that drive us, or even anything much about how, why, and where we are really headed. In other words, Man in the so-called ‘Age of Information’ still has much to learn about his true self. But swept off his feet by the runaway pace of technological change, he may find himself increasingly unwilling (or unable) to devote much time to such vital issues...an ominous portent. For the majority of mankind, the struggle for existence is becoming more and more rigorous. No sooner have we managed to cope with change than everything changes even more. Constant adaptation is needed, and at increasingly faster intervals. As Max Planck put it, it is not so much that we shall fail to cope with change; the real danger is that we shall fail to realize that a New Age has dawned, and that we shall have to think and act in completely new, hitherto unprecedented ways – ‘heretical’ by the standards of preceding times – if we are going to move on to the next stage of our evolution. Fortunately, in some quarters at least — not always the more affluent ones — there is a realization that fundamental questions need to be addressed relentlessly, in spite of pressures of day-to-day matters. Material security creates opportunities both for spiritual upliftment as well as moral decline. Many have made — and many more are in the process of making — a momentous choice: that of harnessing affluence to explore the frontiers of human understanding and evolution in the broadest sense. This chapter may serve to incite speculation upon these issues from physical, philosophical and metaphysical standpoints, in an attempt to unearth the truth about Man’s origins, and to see whether they shed any light on the possible course of his journey of creation to face his ultimate destiny...Himself. For that is what lies at the root of his perpetual wanderlust, a driving force as powerful – whether felt consciously or unconsciously – as any which he has ever been subject to, right from his origin as a simple unicellular animal flagellating in the primordial soup, to his coming hegemony over the cosmos. Avoiding, as best we can, dogmatic or conventional approaches, we must quickly go over some of the more interesting developments in our area of concern, especially over

164 the latter half of the last century, before attempting a speculative excursion of discovery into the unknown realms of the distant past and future. Many scientists and independent thinkers have scanned past and present, and arrived at individualistic, meaningful interpretation of the Greater Scheme of Things that operates in nature. It is entirely possible that somewhere among this vast cornucopia of material, we shall find some clue as where we are headed…and why. As sentient human beings, we owe it to ourselves to gain a sense of our own destiny, if only to resolve to preserve our heritage on an increasingly beleaguered planet. Man is probably Man’s favourite subject—a symptom of his perpetual androcentricism. But why is Man so obsessed with himself? That is a question which needs to be addressed if we are to try and get a better understanding of the purpose of life. Man remains a mystery to himself, Freud, Jung, Desmond Morris, George Bernard Shaw, and all the anthropologists notwithstanding. Are insights into Man’s true nature the keys to a greater discovery above and beyond ourselves? Some of the random thoughts jotted down here may catalyse further thought, or spark off controversy concerning the vital question of human evolution and destiny. It is impossible to over-emphasize the debt we owe to writers, thinkers, and scientists who have gone before us. Their path-breaking efforts and hard earned – and often even more hard defended —insights are undoubtedly part of the bedrock on which our present advancement is based. We can repay only a small amount of the obligation that we have incurred, by making our own sally into the vast and mysterious territory that these early pioneers have boldly explored. We need to examine the age-old questions about the true nature of Man, his origins, the influences which have shaped him and which continue to change him and his world. In doing so, we need to answer these and newer questions, in the light of recent findings backed by extrapolation and the fruits of intuitive reasoning. What differentiated Early Man from his forebears so forcefully was his ability to use tools. With the development of bi-pedal gait came the freedom to use the hands for purposes other than locomotion and food gathering. Besides, the posture offered as little exposure as possible to the sun’s energy-sapping rays, and the crown of wooly hair proved good insulation against the radiation. Not only did the hands become immediately ‘idle’ but became, as tools of idle curiosity, the means with which to explore the world around him. They became more refined, more supple and sensitive, the better to grasp weapons of war, to engage in primitive agriculture, to hunt for food, or to caress. The changeover to a predominantly meat diet heralded the emergence of Cro-Magnon Man after Neanderthal Man (so named after the discovery of his remains in the Neanderthal in Germany). The generous burst of rich proteins provided the nourishment necessary for rapid development of his brain. The average Neanderthal male had a cranial capacity of over 1,600 cc, more than that of Homo sapiens! Our remote ancestors were far from the stupid, bestial prototypes portrayed in comic books and pulp science fiction. The indications semaphored by recent paleoanthropological and paleoarchaeological discoveries are that these intelligent, efficient hunters caused serious imbalances in animal populations, and brought about the extinction of many species. It seems man has changed very little in this respect, at least, over the millennia. With larger, more efficient brains, skilled hands, and increasingly complex social structures came the one development more significant than all the others… consciousness. The emergence of consciousness led inexorably to sophisticated

165 communication, effectively distancing Early Man from other terran life forms and catapulting him into the fast track of evolutionary development. It was this new ability, which, perhaps more than all the others, hastened his evolutionary development and put him firmly on the road to the stars. In a larger sense, therefore, the real history of man reads concurrently with, and probably is, the history of the development of human consciousness and its concomitant factor, communication. We cannot dwell at any length on the fascinating annals of communication: the limitations of this book will not permit it. Still, we may be pardoned if we pause briefly to consider the emergence of developments which act as signposts on the highway of Man’s transition from a primitive nomadic hunter-gather to his transformation into a sentient being on the threshold of galactic travel… with the cosmos beyond beckoning alluringly! Experience has taught us not to underestimate the intelligence and ingenuity of Early Men: starting with nothing, battling the elements and wild animals, they shaped their lives in a savage world and gradually tamed it, with only prehensile hands and a new, more powerful brain to show them the way. If unceremoniously thrust into a similar situation today, how many Homo sapiens (even with the benefit of hindsight, and their ‘modern’ knowledge of things—edifices built on the hard earned experiences and sacrifices of the first men), would be able to cope with the lethal hazards they found around them? Our remote ancestors were pioneers… daring and innovative pathfinders. It is to them that we owe everything we have today, and we deny our ancestry and our debt if we adopt a superior attitude, if we regard them as stupid savages, an embarrassing interlude to be classified as a distinct species and thereby comfortably distanced from us. It would not be at all surprising to discover that a Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal man – resurrected today through some Spielbergian legerdemain and educated decently – could run rings around us in every sphere of activity, from the bourses, to boardroom, to the boxing ring. Early Man might well have been bigger, better, and smarter than us because he had to be that way to survive. Without the benefit of modern technology and powerful weapons, he tamed his fiercely hostile environment, overcame predators more fearsome than any we have had to contend with in our history, and carved a life for himself against overwhelming odds. Of particular interest to us would be the mysteries in his biological and mental makeup, and the question of his further evolution. In speculating on these areas, we may examine suggestions that could answer the final question: what is Man’s ultimate destiny? For an ultimate destiny he certainly has, in the nature of all things, and it is more closely linked to the universal one than is, perhaps, usually appreciated. This is a New Age and a new millennium. Like past ages, it is a curious mixture of the pagan and the divine. Preoccupation with baser things rubs shoulders with deeper truths, and hedonism co-exists with asceticism. But what sets this New Age apart from its predecessors is the increasing willingness of men to open their minds to fresh ideas, either from the East or from the West, to feel the complementarity – a oneness – of the two worlds, and to abandon the superior insularity that was the hallmark of Edwardian times, of men like Kipling, who felt the twain would never meet. But meet they have, and meet they further shall, as men come to a greater realisation of their unity, of a oneness at a hitherto unknown level of spirit and matter. Here, as we shall see, Western science, stunned by its own discoveries at the fundamental states of matter, has, wittingly or unwittingly, taken the lead in ushering in a New Renaissance.

166 It marks a distinct departure from the Newtonian model of a mechanistic universe, which conditioned and hobbled Western Thought. It leads on to a gradual, if reluctant acceptance, that the Eastern mystics were not only on the right track but had, in a way difficult for the Western mind to grasp, intuitively stumbled across the truth about the final nature of things. Abandoning eschatological doctrines, we must look back over a century of achievement the likes of which Man has never before witnessed. The combined effect of breakthroughs in every field of science begins to point towards a distant point of convergence, a place where everything appears to be headed and where everything really belongs. As we explore these new discoveries, and couple them with the deeper insights that have come to the minds of men, we may be able to focus on that point of convergence and try to extract from it its true meaning. It promises to be a journey of adventure: and who knows, along the way we may discover the truth, not only about things but also about our own selves and our larger common destiny.

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CHAPTER 1 Teenagers and adolescents typically rebel against the established order of things which seems old-fashioned and out-of-date to every successive generation. In doing so, they meet with stiff resistance from elders. The imagery of the school authorities and the boys at loggerheads over the wave of new hairstyles, dance forms and social codes illustrates this point. Heavily influenced (as all teenagers are) by Pop stars and other iconic teenage role models, the youngsters in this boarding school are dismayed that their principal has banned their elaborate forelocks. They devise an ingenious plan to salvage their social standing and save their precious creations. They decide to persuade the school barber that it will be financially beneficial for him not to lop off their precious puffs. In return for his cooperation, they promise to patronise his saloon en masse. Though it is an expensive proposition, the boys see it as being worth every penny. The scheme works successfully because the barber also benefits from the arrangement. He manages to go through the motions of doing his duty, while lavishing his full attention on the boys when they get their hair cut in his private saloon. The boys are happy, the barber gets rich and the eccentric principal is too engrossed in his new hobby to notice that anything is amiss. QUESTIONS 1. What motivates teenagers to adopt fashions that are symbolic of their rebellion against the established order of things? Is it a good thing? Put forth an argument either for or against this tendency. 2. What was the psychology behind the plan adopted by the boys to circumvent the decision to ban their elaborate hairstyles? What induced the school barber to fall in with their scheme? Do you thing it was ethical on his part to do so? Why? 3. Why did the plan work? What would have sabotaged it? 4. Is it the fundamental right of schoolboys to dress as they wish? Does it erode discipline to challenge established dress codes? 5. Is rebellion necessarily a bad thing? Give points in support of and against the motion. 6. Why did the puffs implicitly disappear? What does the author mean when he makes a reference to The Beatles? 7. From the author’s remarks about some of the social activities he notices in the teenagers of his time, would you say he approves of the changes that have taken place? Why? Which remarks reveal his attitude to the prevailing situation? 8. What would you have done if you were the principal of this school? 9. What do you understand by the term entente cordiale? 10. Why did the principal hand over ‘bank money’ so reluctantly?



The horse has undoubtedly played a key role in history. It is fascinating to study the evolution of this magnificent animal that was indispensable to progress. With the coming of the motor car, however, it lost much of its importance in civilized parts of the world. Today, it is used in equestrian events such a show-jumping, polo and the races. In spite of that, however, the atavistic thrill in riding a fast powerful horse is to be felt to be believed. The author describes one such encounter as a boy. The exhilaration of riding a truly great is a memory that lasts a lifetime. As horse and rider become a single entity, it is quite apparent that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. If speed is the real luxury of life in the 20th century, the horse gave a glimpse of things to come to our forefathers.

QUESTIONS 1. What led to the decline of the horse as a means of transportation? What were the after-effects on society? 2. Is it a good thing that horses gave way to motorized vehicles? Do you think it was a change for the better…or did we lose something infinitely precious in the process? If so, what? 3. Put forth an argument either for or against bringing back horse-drawn transport. 4. What does the author mean when he says: “Baadal had outlived the legend and was headed for the glue factory”? 5. What does the author mean when he says: ‘It was an elemental feeling of union with a force of nature’? What is he referring to? 6. What is the author trying to say when he writes that he found himself “entering a zone of no vibration”? How can a rider get to experience such a state? 7. What the source of the tidal wave of sound that followed him, rolling? How was it caused? 8. Given the chance, would you do some research into how and where the horse evolved?

CHAPTER 3 When an easygoing, rather plump teenager joins a tough boarding school, he is mercilessly bullied. Unable to come up with a suitable answer to this institutionalized form of minor violence against a stranger who does not conform to preconceived notions of normality, the boy Chander Rana persists in going his own way. His unusual games clothes mark him out for special attention. When the athletics season starts, no one spares him a second glance. His absences during playtime are barely noticed, and are probably taken as retreats to secret haunts to escape

169 the attentions of bullies. But he leaves everyone with a lesson in non-violent retaliation they’ll never forget.

QUESTIONS 1. What is a bully? Do you think it is a sign of inadequacy? 2. What is a ‘stereotype’? Was Steve Reeves a role model for the schoolboys? Why? 3. What are the negative effects of having such iconic heroes? In what ways does this sort of hero-worship affect those who are far such classic perfection? 4. What were the after-effects on bullying on Chander Rana? Did he take it lying down? 5. Why is Nylon so named? Is it a popular material today? Why? 6. What is the essential message of this stirring tale of courage in the face of forces too strong to contend with openly? 7. Do you think Chander Rana enjoyed his spectacular revenge against those who had bullied him or who looked down on him? Why?

CHAPTER 4 When two tough ex-chief Petty Officers, late of the Indian Navy join a school as PT and swimming instructors, no one suspects their secret motivations. It is not a bad job, but it cannot be said to be very exciting, either. But as the days and weeks pass, a hidden agenda gradually begins to surface. Drawn into a world they’d never before experienced, a select band of adventurous schoolboys are secretly taught jungle craft and the rudiments of hunting. Satan always accompanies them. He is the swimming instructor’s pet—a jet black Alsatian who makes each hunt a memorable occasion. When he disappears, the school is devastated. As Satan’s pitiful remains are finally located, his master silently swears to avenge him. He goes in search for the spotted devil responsible for his pet’s untimely end, armed with a weapon of legendary power and accuracy. Accompanied by his colleague the PT instructor, he takes along a goat to tempt the cruel predator. After three days in the jungle, they return with tangible evidence of the fateful showdown. But – as the bleak expression in the hunter’s eyes says so eloquently – revenge is always a hollow victory. QUESTIONS 1. What could two relatively young and adventurous former sailors possibly hope to accomplish in a small residential school tucked away in a sleepy hill-station? 2. What were these two really after? How did they draw some of the schoolboys into their secret circle?

170 3. What are gendarmerie? How were they placated…and why? 4. In how many ways is a dog useful on a hunting trip? Dogs make wonderful pets, but in what other ways are they useful to society? 5. Why does the writer take it upon himself to describe the hunter’s ‘faraway look’ and the ‘icy smile’ that played around his ‘pale, cruel’ lips? In doing so, what is he trying to convey? 6. What, in your opinion, makes a dog such easy prey for a leopard? Which breed of dog might actually be able to hold its own against a leopard?

CHAPTER 5 Seeing the schoolboys scrambling around on the crags around the school gives the principal an idea. Always hooked on some fad or the either, he now decides to put mountain climbing on a formal footing (no pun intended) by sending his PT and swimming instructors for training before inviting two famous Everesters to lead the Founder’s Day celebrations. Under the watchful eyes of their instructors, a small group of boys soon masters the basics of rock-climbing before facing their first test—a climb on Echo Mountain. Some of them are familiar with this hill because of the ghooral (the mountain goat) they have often tracked across its slippery, treacherous shale slopes, but rappelling down a steep, dangerous cliff-face is no picnic; a mistake can prove fatal. The air is full of mystery, romance and adventure, as batch after batch goes through the drill. Then tragedy strikes…and the onlookers behold a miracle. Echo Mountain does succeed in separating the men from the boys—but in a way no one ever expected. QUESTIONS 1. Why did the principal send the PT and swimming instructors for training to HMI? And why did he follow that up with inviting two famous mountaineers to attend the Annual Day celebrations as honoured guests? 2. Why is shale described as being treacherous? What is there in its origins and structure that makes it so? 3. What explanation do you have for Gardner escaping from injuries or even death, after falling from such a great height and bouncing off rocks? 4. How did Johnny run down the mountainside in apparent defiance of gravity? What do you suppose was the underlying cause of this amazing feat? 5. Is there any such thing as a miracle? Do you think Man has mastered all the secrets of nature? Do you think it is possible to find a link between materialism and spirituality? 6. Why do you think Johnny was so reticent about the incident afterwards?

171 7. In a pair of binoculars specified as 10 x 30, which number stands for the magnification and which stands for the angle of view? Why is this information important to a potential buyer? 8. What is ‘rappelling’? Is it the same as ‘belaying’? 9. Why do you think Johnny was uncomfortable indoors? 10. What is a ‘greenhorn’? Does ‘Nimrod’ convey the same meaning? How did the two words originate? CHAPTER 6 Empathizing with a lonely schoolboy whose parents will not be able to come to Nainital for the summer vacations, a perspicacious uncle decides to stand in for them. In the process, he gives the boy the holiday of a lifetime. He decides to drive up to Ranikhet, where they stay in the lavishly appointed Circuit House, and play golf daily at one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. The stunning scenery of that picturesque hill station is indelibly etched in the boy’s memory, as is the sight of a certain nocturnal visitor…one of the rarest sights in nature. QUESTIONS 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Why did the boy’s uncle like to stay at Sleepy Hollow? After which novel …by which author…is this exclusive group of cottages named? What does the writer mean by the word ‘clout’, when he says: ‘He had clout and he used it’? What make of car did the boy’s uncle drive? Where is this car made? What are pennants? What does the three-headed lion symbolize? To whom did the symbol belong to originally? What was the animal they glimpsed momentarily in the beam of the flashlight? What are the ‘Happy Hunting Grounds’? Amongst which peoples did the term originate?

CHAPTER 7 Not very far from the edge of civilization lies an undisturbed paradise few care to explore. But the tall man in the sola hat takes the boy with him when he sets out to explore this rough country. The breathtaking, unspoilt beauty of the terrain makes a deep impression on the lad; never before has he seen anything remotely like this. As he grows to manhood, he grabs every opportunity to plunge into this virgin wilderness on his own.

172 Gradually, an appreciation of the underlying truth behind the façade begins to seep into his brain, bringing with it an almost mystic insight into the unreality of the physical world and the omniscience and omnipresence of the Creator who made it. This awesome stronghold of nature is lost to men when a hydroelectric project comes up—but can a river ever be dammed for long? Can we visualize that Angkor Wat, buried deep in the Cambodian jungle, was once the heart of an advanced civilization that flourished eight centuries ago? Nature can be tested, but it cannot long be bested… QUESTIONS 1. What was so compelling about the river that the boy became so enamoured of it? 2. Which river do you think is the one in the story? Will it help matters if you know that it runs through Corbett National Park? 3. What were his initial impressions of the terrain on the other side of the river? Why was the jeep so successful in negotiating this difficult terrain? 4. What premonition comes to him as he lies watching the squadron of mahaseers in Champion’s Pool? What does he mean when he alludes to ‘tin soldiers’? 5. What does ‘kow-towing to false gods’ mean? 6. Why have the wild creatures moved away? 7. Who was the famous hunter of man-eaters, enthusiastic angler and ardent conservationist after whom this wildlife preserve is named? Which is his most famous book? 8. What are tectonic plates? CHAPTER 8 Guns have a bad press today, but it was not always thus. The ethics of killing for the pot (i.e., to eat) was always a moot point in a land that believed in ahimsa and the sanctity of all life…and yet a land where neighbour might shed his neighbour’s blood on the flimsiest of pretexts. Without trying to take any moralistic stand, the writer describes his own thrill at owning and using finely crafted weapons…and the day his world changed in the course of a hunt. Accompanying his uncle and uncle to an official trip to the Bhakra Dam, the boys find themselves at Nangal. Here the local princeling invites them to a hunt that promises to be an exciting one till their wily host welcomes the visitors with a loud burst of music from a raucous band. With his guests duly honoured (and effectively neutralized—his game has fled from the din to the next district, disturbed by the hideous cacophony), he can afford to skip hunting and take a siesta. The hunt proves to be a turning point for the boy; his conscience has already been churned after reading a book called Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth— a book that promotes conservation.

173 QUESTIONS 1. Why was the boy so interested in guns? Is such an interest per se a bad thing? 2. Why has India achieved such pre-eminence in shooting in the international arena, throwing up crop after crop of ace marksmen? Is it because of government support or private funding? 3. Is a love for weapons inborn or acquired? Is rifle shooting as simple as it looks? Why? 4. What is the major difference between a gun and a rifle? 5. Why do game birds normally have such keen eyes and elusive flight pattern? Is a curlew edible? 6. Why is an air-rifle so called? Have the Americans developed an alternative to hand-cocked air-guns? How do they work? 7. After he sickens of killing game, what does the boy dream of? 8. Who makes his dream come true? How? 9. Why do you suppose such a large percentage of hunters turn into ardent conservationists? Is there any inherent contradiction in this apparent volte-face?

CHAPTER 9 Straight out of boarding school, a fresh-cheeked boy joins college and has to contend with the terrors of ragging—a rite of passage that all freshmen had to undergo. Though he resists at first, the humour of the situation begins to tell on him—something that not all of his baffled seniors are able to appreciate. Far from terrifying him, ragging stimulates his funny bone and wins him many friends, some of whom now occupy high positions. As the hoary traditions of the college assert themselves, passive adjustment gives way to an active sense of involvement with his college’s proud heritage. Going beyond the pseudo-mystic rituals and jargon, he begins to understand that they are merely means for crafting a unique culture…and relationships so powerful that they often last a lifetime. QUESTIONS 1. Why does Delhi University Pro-Vice Chancellor Dr. B.N. Ganguly warn him about the impending ragging? Why is his response so brusque? 2. How does ragging affect him? 3. What are the pleasant surprises involved at the end of the process of ragging? Do you think such happy outcomes would be the norm today? Why?

174 4. What is it about the college café that is so unique? What is the author trying to convey by the tongue-in-cheek reference to General Zia ul Haq’s wish to get hold of its secrets? 5. What does the author mean when he says: “Ambrosia, alas, is only available on Olympus… not in Eden”, in the context of scrambled-eggs-on-toast? 6. What is it that makes us much the poorer for its passing? Why?

CHAPTER 10 A decision to drive up to Mussoorie on motorcycles with friends leads to a brief stopover at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun…and a chance meeting with a cadet who has all the hallmarks of a warrior. The college undergraduate and the enormously energetic fledging soldier recognize each other as denizens of diametrically opposite worlds—a factor that draws them into an unlikely friendship. After a whirlwind tour of Mussoorie with cadet Vij, the three civilians drive back to Delhi, bidding goodbye to one with whom they have had a short but meaningful sojourn. They part company, saddened by the realization that that they may never meet again.

QUESTIONS 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Why has driving up to Dehradun and Mussoorie lost much of its charm in recent years? What does a serviceman understand by the term ‘mufti? What is ‘reveille’? What does the incident show about the spirit of cadets as well as soldiers? Are they generous people, willing to share their belongings with others? Is the atmosphere so created conducive to building long-term relationships and esprit de corps? Does this prove valuable in service? Why? Would you describe the cadet as a person unsuitable for military service? Give reasons in support of your answer.

175 CHAPTER 11 A nostalgic, first person account of New Delhi in the early 1970’s, this episode describes a city at peace with itself. Pollution, scarcities of every description including those involving parking space, water and electricity are yet to mar the urban experience. Traffic is moderate, money has value and things like road rage are far in the future. Connaught Place is still the stylishly restrained commercial hub of a city that has yet to earn the dubious tag of ‘metropolis’. The old rich are alive and well, albeit still living their lowkey lives; a brash new class of entrepreneurs who transform the social fabric as well as the urban landscape with their conspicuous consumption is nowhere in sight. When the writer spots an extraordinarily well-built man while taking the air one peaceful evening at CP, he reacts belatedly to the image that registers on his idling brain. His hunch is correct: it is none other than former IMA cadet Arjun Vij, now the youngest Major in the entire Indian Army. As they delightedly swap notes to bridge the gap in the years since they last met at the IMA, Dehradun, the two renew their friendship—an easy camaraderie that is as much based on their vast dissimilarities as on their common interests.

QUESTIONS 1. Would you say the Delhi of the early 1970’s was a place worth living in? Why? 2. What do you understand by the term ‘inflation’? How much would a thousand rupees be worth today, in terms of purchasing power? 3. What is an Indian Commission number? What purpose do you feel it serves? 4. A soldier who happens to be taken prisoner in wartime is supposed to reveal only three items of information to enemy interrogators. What are they? 5. Why do the two friends have such healthy respect and admiration for each other? Are long-lasting friendships possible between people from such vastly different occupations? Why? 6. “Daring unconventionality is the bedrock from which springs innovative genius”. Comment.

CHAPTER 12 Delhi in December 1971 resembles a city under siege. On account of the war that has broken out between India and Pakistan, the city is under the strict blackout regulations routinely imposed in wartime to thwart enemy bombers. Citizen patrolling is a paranoid city’s panicky response to rumours that enemy paratroopers can strike anytime. It’s business as usual, however, in an entrepreneurial city where time is money. But the writer’s cousin drives his motorcycle into a traffic island, damaging it so badly that he has to move in with him. The banker lives in Connaught Place. His flat is close to the

176 office where the writer works, so the hors de combat motorbike is for the time being unnecessary. In the confusion, it takes a little time to register that Arjun Vij is unavailable; he has obviously gone to war. Afraid for his friend, the writer spends many anxious days awaiting news of his whereabouts. But when they finally meet, it is at the Military Hospital. Vij has been wounded in the ankle and is under treatment. As he recuperates and struggles to return to a normal life, the irrepressible soldier even goes duck hunting— almost making a casualty of the writer. But his precious rifle itself is already a relic. It is designed to hunt big game, but ironically, big game has been so over-hunted by just such high-powered rifles that hunting has been banned. Now, such weapons are mere conversation pieces, destined to stand forgotten in glass display cabinets. The episode tapers off philosophizing about all things containing the seeds of their own destruction, which includes a post-colonial era Britain.

QUESTIONS 1. Why does the writer compare US General George S. Patton to Arjun Vij? Why does he feel that Vij, too, is ‘a medieval warrior lost in modern times; a magnificent anachronism’? 2. Do you agree with the author’s contention that all things contain the seeds of their own destruction? What reasoning can you put forward in support of your stand? 3. Does Vij fit the stereotype of a combat soldier? What makes you think so? 4. Why is Britain in decline after World War II? What are the symptoms of economic decline, as cited by the writer? Do you agree with him? Why? 5. Who was Edward Gibbons? What is he famous for? 6. What ‘reverse assimilation’ is the writer referring to? Is the British monarchy on its last legs? What makes you think so?

CHAPTER 13 The writer is unable to reconcile himself to fact that Major Vij’s war wound has rendered him unfit for active service. Few things can be worse for an infantry soldier than being relegated to staff duties. Still, as he adjusts to the realities of his situation, the officer prefers not to sulk but to approach life in a constructive manner and make the most of it. A medal is inadequate compensation for a soldier who has shown exemplary courage and resourcefulness under heavy enemy attack, but Arjun Vij is not one to complain. He proceeds to develop his mind, exploring arcane martial arts secrets and training himself in Taekwondo and Karate. In time, he rises to the level of a sensei, becoming a revered grandmaster who runs martial arts schools in Southeast Asia. Mars, the God of War was always his master, and the writer surmises that he has recalled his sensei for another mission, for Arjun Vij can no longer be traced.

177 QUESTIONS 1. In your opinion, was the Partition of pre-1947 India the outcome of political forces or the ploy of a weakened Britain to cripple a potentially powerful nation by cutting it in two? Could there be any other historical reasons for this balkanisation of the sub-continent? 2. Why was Major Vij decategorised and relegated to staff duties? What would have happened had he fought in medieval times? 3. Does the fate of the world-beating British motorcycle industry serve as a vignette representing the fate of British industry as a whole? Why did it allow the Japanese manufacturers to crush them? 4. Does Arjun Vij’s fetish of the new motorcycle reflect his state of mind after his medical recategorisation? Or is he just looking for an outlet for his abundant energy and need for a new adventure every now and then? 5. What do you think the writer means when he says: “Arjun always belonged to Mars, and the God of War has re-assigned his Satrap to another mission”? 6. Do you think that the government has done a lot to rehabilitate soldiers who have been wounded in action and rendered dysfunctional? Name some of the schemes that you know about.

CHAPTER 14 The writer gets a pleasant surprise when a friend who had immigrated to the Gulf returns to India on a visit. Apart from the sheer pleasure of driving one of the world’s best rally cars, the writer enjoys a wonderful but all too short holiday in Agra before proceeding to Kashmir. Nothing has prepared him for the scenic beauty and grandeur of this ‘paradise on earth’. Visiting the major tourist spots, using a highly sophisticated camera and basking in the care and attention of his sister-in-law, the writer nevertheless has a rude shock when he finds that his party’s plane tickets are not ‘confirmed’ for the return passage, meaning they have no reservations. His cousin sorts the problem out quickly, thus bringing the curtain down on a memorable chapter of his life. QUESTONS 1. A friend thought to have permanently settled abroad drives to India from Kuwait in a fabulous rally car to give the writer and his wife a holiday of a lifetime. Why was his friend so eager to return to India? 2. Do you think Ericsson is a well-known brand name in India today? Why? What is the name of their formidable Finnish competitors who enjoy supremacy in the Indian mobile phone handset market?

178 3. Why did Tomās bring the author such a sophisticated camera, when he’d only asked for a basic compact camera? 4. The Kodak Company of Rochester, USA is a well-known brand in India. Who founded the company? Where did the founder get the name ‘Kodak’ from? 5. What was Kashmir like when the writer visited it in 1976? What is it like today? Why has it changed? 6. Which Mughul emperor described Kashmir in the following words: “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!”? Do you agree? 7. Of all the scenic spots of the Vale of Kashmir, which appeals to you the most? Why? CHAPTER 15 Tucked away at a height of 6000 feet in the ruggedly beautiful Kumaon hills (today’s Uttarakhand), Nainital is universally acknowledged as being one of the best hill stations in the world. The writer’s long association with this cosy little town nestling in the Himalayan foothills allows him to share some of the lore surrounding this magical lake town, and the welcome respite it offers from the blistering summer heat of the plains. Having studied in a boarding school perched on a hill overlooking the magnificent lake, the writer has a fair amount of information about its history and culture. He has looked on helplessly as the town has been shamelessly commercialised over the years—a process that has robbed it of much of its quaint, old-world charm. A succession of insensitive, illinformed and unduly ambitious administrators has ensured that the lake has suffered staggering ecological damage, while artificial embellishments in the name of modernisation have degraded its stunning natural beauty. QUESTIONS 1. Why do you think Nainital has enjoyed such spectacular success as a premier hill station? 2. What is the reason for the lake becoming a prime example of ecological neglect? 3. Is it necessary to train government officials and local administrators on various aspects relating to conserving a region’s ecology…something that is often at variance with district development plans? 4. Can development co-exist peacefully with ecological concerns? 5. Is sustainable development a contradiction in terms? 6. Did the British government have any appreciation for preserving the natural beauty and flora and fauna of a region? Give reasons in support of your viewpoint. 7. Once a lake’s ecological balance has been upset, can it be restored? In particular, is this possible in the case of Nainital, where sewage is allowed to flow into the lake untreated? 8. Does conservation mean total protection for a species that is otherwise quite viable as a living organism but has become a hapless victim of over-exploitation? 9. Is it possible to harvest and conserve at the same time? Give examples drawn from anywhere in the world to support your argument.

179 CHAPTER 16 Fifty years ago, when the Kumaon hills were an unpolluted wonder of virgin forests and crystal clear rivers, a small boy accompanies his outdoors-loving parents on a picnic he will never forget. Under the bridge spanning the river Kosi, there is a deep, deceptively pool where he has a glimpse of three huge fish whose presence has panicked their smaller cousins. Though they don't catch any fish to boast of, he enjoys watching the otters as they frolic about comically. Much has changed now, and Panditji's dhaba is not the same without him, for he has joined his ancestors. The Kosi is polluted and of otters there is no sign. The memory of that magical day haunts the grown man even as he realizes sadly that the Khairna he knew survives only in his memories. QUESTIONS 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. What made Khairna so special a place to the boy? What was so remarkable about Garam Pani? Why were the smaller Mahseer crowding the shallows and not swimming away? Can you guess why the three gigantic Mahseer fish had made their appearance? What does the writer mean when he says that the Fisheries Department officially (if fortuitously) endorsed civil war among anglers? Why does the writer say that the Fisheries staff clubbed all animal life (apart from fish) into one broad, omnibus category? What are poachers? Name two illegal ways of fishing? What does the writer mean when he says that 'when I run into him in the corridors of my mind, I allow him to take me by the hand and lead me back to his Khairna.'?

CHAPTER 17 There are seven lakes in the Kumaon hills, and the Sherwoodian is keen to see the other six. The school authorities obviously do not see themselves as an adjunct of the Department of Tourism, and it is a stroke of luck that his parents take him to see all of them. Bhimtal is 2000 feet lower than Nainital and has an island where fishing and snacks are both unique. Naukuchia Tal is lovely…an unspoilt gem, wild, wooded and choked with weeds. But the sight of wild ducks coming in to land more than compensates for the leaky boats and absence of an eatery. He spots his uncle Bhakti Deva who has come up to Nainital on some official business, and the next day they enjoy a picnic at Bhimtal. On another occasion, the boy accompanies his Uncle Bhakti on a duck shoot…one that comes to a remarkable conclusion. The boy learns a lesson in duck shooting and survives to tell the tale. Though hardly cast in the mould of a shikari, Uncle Bhakti, a typical senior bureaucrat of the post-Independence era, obviously shares the family passion for the outdoors.

180 QUESTIONS 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Write the names of the lakes in the Kumaon Hills as given in the chapter. According to you, which three lakes were the writer's favourites? Why? What are bilges? What was the little boy in the stern of the boats doing? Why did the Bhimtal boatmen give the lower end of the lake a wide berth? When and how were 'The Flats' in Nainital formed? Describe Uncle Bhakti Deva. What does the writer mean by 'unseasonal thunder'? What does the writer mean by ' Darkness at Noon—Bhakti Deva had outKoestlered Koestler!'? 9. Explain, in your own words, what actually happened at the duck shoot. 10. What is a conservationist? CHAPTER 18 The Diocesan Boys School came into being in 1867, later metamorphosing into Sherwood College. Located at a height of about 7000' below Dorothy's Seat, the school has earned for itself the name as one of the world's finest residential schools. Its unshakeable faith in old world values and attention to character development, it has turned out some of the finest specimens of Indian youth, many of whom have gone on to excel in the armed forces, civil services and the arts. With its insistence on turning out 'complete' individuals, it tries to ensure that students are given a chance to excel in a wide range of activities, and it is not a coincidence that a few Sherwoodians have managed to earn fame and fortune as successful actors. The school firmly believes that rewards must first be earned, hence the school motto – Mereat Quisque Palmam – 'Let each one merit his prize'. In the Annual Hindi Play staged the day following Founder's Day – 6th June 1958 – two fledgling actors certainly live up to that beloved motto. Aur Subah Ho Gayee – a short Hindi adaptation from an episode in Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables – lays the foundations of a phenomenal career that will change the face of Indian cinema forever. QUESTIONS 1. What was the name of the novel by Victor Hugo, an excerpt of which was adapted for the Hindi play called Aur Subah Ho Gayee? 2. Who were the principal characters of the play? 3. In which era is the story based? 4. What is the motto of Sherwood College? What does it mean? 5. Why did the Bishop tell the police that he had given Valjean the candlesticks? 6. What was the outcome of the bishop's denial that Valjean had stolen the candlesticks? 7. Do you happen to know what fate ultimately befell Inspector Javert, in the book?


CHAPTER 19 Astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, space exploration visionary, teacher at Cornell and Harvard, writer and science populariser non-pareil, Carl Sagan was a legend in his own lifetime. Few men have had the drive, talent, humility and desire to serve humanity as he had. Perhaps his self-professed atheism had something to do with his love for his fellow men and the planet he affectionately referred to as ‘the pale blue dot’. If one scans his list of achievements, one is hard pressed to believe that a single individual could accomplish so much in a single lifetime. Carl’s is a very tough act to follow. Emulating him will take some doing! More than anything else, Carl lit a flame of reverence for Planet Earth that has driven us to try and boost its dwindling fortunes. A grateful planet heaped hundreds of awards and honours on him, but all he really wanted to do was to increase our appreciation of the immensity, the ineffable wonder and the beauty of all creation…and to inspire man to save the earth and himself from complete and utter devastation. QUESTIONS 1. Would you agree with the author that Carl Sagan’s greatest service to mankind was his efforts to create an awareness of how unique our planet is, and how shabbily we treat it? 2. What is the underlying message of Cosmos? Does it succeed in its objective of showing the unity origins of all matter in the universe, the evolution of life from the humblest of beginnings…and the direction that life is heading? 3. Did the search for extra-terrestrial life through SETI bear fruit? What do you think is the reason why conventional messaging techniques cannot succeed? 4. He tried to make exploration of the solar system through various probes as effective as possible. He felt such efforts were ultimately aimed at enabling man to reach the stars. Do you think this will ever happen? Why? 5. Will Carl’s legacy become more valuable with the passage of time? Or will it lose its relevance in course of time?

CHAPTER 20 It is hard to visualise a battlefield hero, a Legion of Honor awardee and a seasoned geologist who led archaeological expeditions and discovered a hitherto unknown extinct proto-human species (sinanthropus pekinensis), a Jesuit priest whose open espousal of Darwin’s theory of evolution gets him into serious trouble with the Catholic Church. But Teilhard de Chardin was just such a versatile man.


Imbued with scientific knowledge and intuitive capacity, he was able to view a wide canvas of evolution starting from the humblest unicellular organisms and extending into a distant future where a web of knowledge would cocoon the earth. The Noosphere was his vision of what we call the WorldWideWeb—a sort of artificial brain with the potential of becoming the ultimate repository of all human knowledge. It is ironic that while Carl Sagan, an atheist, indirectly ends up revering the Creator in the process of studying His creation, a Jesuit priest called Teilhard de Chardin ends up revering Creation in the process of pursuing his priestly calling. The lives of these two very different men are complementary—two sides of the same coin—and hint at the possibility of a viable meeting ground between science and religion. QUESTIONS 1. Would you call Teilhard de Chardin a scientific priest or a priestly scientist? In other words, was he predominantly a priest or a scientist? Support your answer with cogent reasoning and hard facts. 2. Trained as he was as a scientist, what do think persuaded Teilhard to couple his scientific observations to his theology? Do you think that he came to the conclusion that the only logical explanation for the fossil evidence was that life evolved on earth slowly, over æons of time. Why do you think the Church was displeased with his research and writings, and banned his books? 3. What was Teilhard’s unique contribution to evolutionary thought? Do you think it could have been his firm conviction that man was evolving into a super-being blessed with super-consciousness? 4. Does artificial intelligence theory owe anything to Teilhard? How so, if at all? 5. Many writers feel that New Age thinkers owe a great debt to Teilhard, and that he anticipates them in many ways. Do you feel this is true? Why? 6. Seeing that he revives the ancient Gaia theory, which is generally perceived as a ‘pagan’ doctrine that says the Earth is a Mother and is alive, do you think this was concomitant with his theological training? Or do you feel he succeeded in synthesizing one with the other?

CHAPTER 21 The quest for personal fulfilment usually depends on one’s perceptions of one’s potential, goals and life priorities. In turn, these are usually based on one’s personal value systems or notions of rights and wrongs. How all these things are decided is a complex process involving spiritual quest, application of ethical means to realize one’s goals and the power of thought as a means of personal transformation.

183 This is not as easy as it sounds; there are innumerable pulls and pressures of material and existentialist nature that can affect the outcome. With exposure to the vast panorama of life, avenues for fulfilment go on expanding. But whatever road one takes to Truth and self-fulfilment, it promises to be something very different from the simplistic ‘achievement of potential’ line the management gurus like to hand us. QUESTIONS 1. Given the conflicting pulls and pressures on an individual, do you think it is possible to fully realize one’s potential? Isn’t it better to be more practical and realistic by striking a compromise between ends and means? 2. Gauging one’s own potential is an unreliable exercise, and depending on other’s opinions is even more suspect. In such a scenario, how is fulfilment at all possible? 3. What is the point at which one feels one has realized one’s potential? Or is realization an endless process that never ends? 4. How far can ‘spiritual attainment’ take us on the road to self-realization—perhaps another term for realizing one’s potential? 5. What do you think is the ultimate form of fulfilment? How can it be achieved?

CHAPTER 22 Being at ease with the world means being at ease with oneself. That translates into not letting oneself down by choosing one’s career – one’s vocation – in accordance with one’s innate gifts and one’s conscience. Blending free choice with individuality is a good route to self-fulfilment—something we’ve already covered in the previous chapter. An outstanding (albeit fictional) example is The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s best-selling book about a man who refuses to compromise his individuality in the face of lucrative shortterm gains. Peter Keating is a man who ‘sells his soul to the Devil’, and in doing so loses his only chance for happiness. The chapter revives memories of the book’s principal characters: martyred Henry Dana, a proto Roark who suffered the ostracism of a society that puts a premium on mediocrity; a man who starts off as an individualist but loses his way (Gail Wynand, the ‘failed’ Roark); Ellsworth Toohey, the (anti-Roark, and) mortal enemy of the book’s main protagonist, Howard Roark. Then there is Roark himself—a man who prefers annihilation to compromise. Intentionally exaggerated to drive home the point effectively, the plot succeeds in convincingly arguing the case for giving oneself the right to assert one’s unique qualities and to thus achieve immense peace and happiness. The book’s central message is that ‘success’ is measured in terms of self-actualization.



1. In a world that encourages assembly-line products as well as people, how far can one succeed in asserting one’s individuality? Do you feel everyone has the ability to demonstrate his or her uniqueness—if at all there is such a thing? 2. Given the practical considerations of survival in a highly competitive world, is it not better to ‘fit in’ and align oneself with the ‘system’? Would it not be impractical and unrealistic to rebel against a society that ‘burns geniuses at the stake’? Why do you think unconventional people are unpopular at first? What gains them acceptance and then a following? 3. If the mass of humanity suffers from a herd mentality, wouldn’t it be more sensible to rebel against the established order of things? Is that a good thing? Put forth an argument either for or against this hypothetical situation. 4. Why, then, does the world often end up acknowledging the importance of individuality? Give real life examples (Picasso is one; Salvador Dali is another. Both are breakaway painters, and both were Spaniards) to support your case. 5. Individuality just for the heck of it can often irritate people profoundly. How does one avoid being targeted when surrounded by such spurious examples? 6. What mental preparation – if at all – is required to maintain one’s individual integrity in the face of pressure to conform? Is non-conformism equivalent to demonstrating one’s individuality, as so many youngsters seem to think? 7. In a sense, doesn’t mass effort at trying to be individualistic in approach amount to conformism? If everyone is consciously trying to be different, doesn’t it look as if they are – in forcing themselves to be different – trying to ape each other? CHAPTER 23 The writer is unable to fathom how dismantling artifacts, whether they are clockwork toys or cadavers, can fundamentally improve one's insights into art. Art is not artifact— something he realizes despite (or perhaps because of) his ineptitude at math and science. His right brain way of working is out of step with an environment dominated by coldly analytical, figure-work oriented left-brain thinking, being better attuned to working intuitively. Accessing the right brain – not difficult when one knows how – integrates our vision and opens up vast new universes of experience that push back the frontiers of human knowledge. As man evolves, striving to reach a point of convergence between physics and metaphysics, art and literature play as great a role as science and math, since many fundamental truths are easier to reach via the intuitive route. Art and literature play as vital a role in human progress as do the sciences, which is why it is inadvisable to dissect them beyond a point. A civilization is known by what it bequeaths to posterity. QUESTIONS 1. What is the significance in the writer’s account of dismantling toys, and dissections done in the biology class? What does it have to do with art? 2. What does the writer mean when he says that art is not artifact? What is the point he is trying to get across?

185 3. “Something that wells up from the soul – a shapeless bundle of thoughts and emotions, a nebulous cloud of plasma … congeals on paper as the written word, cannot be understood by anything other than the heart”. Elucidate. 4. “Ideas start as heresies, mellow into self-evident truths, and finally live on as superstitions. So it is with art.” Explain in depth. 5. What do writers, painters and sculptors have in common? Why is it necessary to treat them at par? 6. “Inspiration and creation are two sides of the same coin”. Explain. 7. What is there about the right temporal lobe of the brain that is so special? How does one activate it, and to what effect? 8. What is the Goldman Sachs (BRICs) report about? What are its main features, and its major implications for India? 9. Do you agree with the writer when he says: “Art is, at bottom, a combination of four things—purpose, serendipity, inspiration and intuitive foreknowledge”? Give detailed reasoning in support of your answer. 10. How is art at all useful? What could be the reason for its popularity…and significance? CHAPTER 24 If we study the ethical systems of various cultures, the first thing we notice is that there are significant regional variations in notions as to what is right and what is wrong. This is especially apparent when social codes are examined. It seems that the definition of ethically acceptable behaviour may differ according to place or era. Despite this, philosophers and teachers of every description have sought for – and often proclaimed – a Higher Moral Truth (which again shows variance on a case-to-case basis). Hence, the definition of what constitutes success is bound to show variations over space and time. There is considerable unanimity on the point that ethics and success don’t mix. It could be that since the concepts themselves (of what constitutes ‘ethics’ and ‘success’) are apparently not absolute principles, it is bound to be a contentious issue. Under the circumstances (the author submits), the concept and degree of success is directly linked to whether an individual’s behaviour is deemed ethical or otherwise. For example, if cannibalism is deemed as right (or ethical) behaviour, a person rejecting cannibalism as bad would likely be eaten. In other words, success (by whatever definition) is ipso facto ethical. As Socrates maintained even as he drank the cup of hemlock, he deserved to be eliminated since his decision not to conform to the laws of the society he lived in was ‘unethical’. In other words, he was not successful because he was unethical. Perhaps it is best to discard the concept of success altogether and just focus on doing our duty. QUESTIONS 1. Would you say that a place is worth living in if its concept of what constitutes success – or that of right and wrong – tally with yours? From the point of practicality, it might be a judicious decision to move away, but does it amount to compromise to stay on if your concept of ethical conduct does not tally with that

186 of your neighbours? Is there any Higher Moral Truth that transcends variations in time and space? What keeps us from knowing and following absolute truths? Do you agree with what Socrates seems to be telling us—that successful behaviour depends on how far one’s actions are in accordance with societal norms? How would you define normal, acceptable behaviour? Can we really make value judgements about the norms prevailing in other cultures? Why or why not? Explain with examples. When two cultures collide, what are the first differences that come to light? Are we very tolerant about what we refer to as a ‘permissive’ society such as the UK, where same sex marriages such as Sir Elton John's are becoming commonplace? Nevertheless, we find it hard to justify some of the features of our own culture, which we regard as perfectly acceptable but which the developed (western) countries fail to appreciate. Support your arguments with examples and cogent reasoning. Would you accept the writer’s suggestion that “perhaps it is best to discard the concept of success altogether and just focus on doing our duty”? Why?

2. 3. 4.


CHAPTER 25 Happiness at work has been traditionally viewed as a symptom of inefficiency on the job. A jovial, cordial attitude was regarded as typical of a relaxed, easy-going person who was more serous about his lunch than his work output. A grim, frowning countenance was thought to belong to a seriously result-oriented person, whereas a cheerful, smiling face was often taken as a sign of complacency. This unfortunate way of interpreting facial expressions and body language is giving way to the understanding that visibly happy employees are productive people. Gone are the days when bosses maintained a stiff upper lip in the office; times have changed. They loosen the knots of their ties, indulge in wry humour and are even known to crack a joke occasionally. With levity boosting productivity, grinning faces might well have dislodged grim faces from boardrooms. QUESTIONS 1. What could be the logic behind confusing grim and prim with work…and grin and spin with shirk? Why have employers’ perceptions changed so much over the last decade? 2. Is it true that we have a choice about whether to be happy or depressed? Is life a series of choices? 3. How do we account for the fact that so many people are unhappy? Why don‘t they just decide to be happy and be happy? 4. Is life a discovery or a process of creation? If the latter, what are things we need to create our own realities?

187 5. Is there really such a thing as self-determination? Can we really lay claim to being master of our fate…captain of our ship? 6. Is happiness something that comes to us or something we choose to bring into our lives? 7. Is money the principal ingredient of happiness? Argue both for and against the motion. 8. Why are the world’s richest men – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – giving their money away by the millions? What motivates them? Will you feel happy to give large chunks of your hard-earned money away? Why or why not? 9. What, in your opinion, is the secret of happiness? CHAPTER 26 Deadlines can be daunting, but they can also be the source of immense satisfaction when they are met. Many people either go to pieces or freeze when presented with a deadline. Enormous amounts of time and energy are wasted in cribbing about the extra burden, when the best thing to do is to get on with the job. Deadlines are a great way to stretch oneself and to find out one’s own limits. In other words, a deadline can serve as a measure of personal growth. Instead, people feel threatened by the prospect of having to deliver on time. It isn’t the deadline itself that is the source of stress; it’s our attitude to work that needs re-visiting. The author suggests that it is best to take the bull by the horns, i.e., get on with the job. It’s actually quite a compliment to be given a deadline; it means that someone above you feels that you have reached a stage where you are capable of delivering on an important, time-bound job. It could be seen as a sign of recognition, a token of the boss’s faith in your ability to get the task done on time. QUESTIONS 1. Deadlines are one of the realities of any job. They are also one of the joys of life. Do you agree? 2. What is the best way to face a deadline? Describe your response to a very tight deadline. What do you think your reaction conveys to an outside observer? 3. Do you feel deadlines are engines of growth or obstacles to quality, inasmuch as they lay stress only on timely completion, rather than quality or effectiveness? 4. Is a deadline a sign of confidence in your qualities or merely a sign of poor planning that leaves you saddled with an avoidable burden? 5. Do you feel that it is one’s attitude towards how one faces life’s challenges that makes all the difference between success and failure? 6. ‘If deadlines are a sign of poor planning, failure to meet them is a sign of poor motivation’. Do you agree? Give cogent arguments in support of your answer.

188 CHAPTER 27 Executives gradually come to regard meetings – initially seen as symbols of a rise in status – as boring and apparently time-wasting exercises. But one day, stranded in Delhi in the aftermath of a political assassination, the writer finds that a useful idea has popped into head as he kills time in his hotel room. He soon realizes that if one lives in the present creatively – Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of NOW’ – one can use time effectively. Carrying this learning into meetings, he finds he can invariably benefit if he keeps his ears open and participates actively in the discussions. As time passes, he also finds that the more attention he gives, the more attention he gets and the more he learns. His personal contacts widen, and he acquires a wide database in the form of gratified coparticipants. From time-wasting exercises, meetings become rare opportunities to grow. QUESTIONS 1. Why are meetings universally regarded as futile exercises that only result in loss of time? What can be done to change this misconception? 2. No less a person than C. Northcote Parkinson – commonly regarded as the P.G. Wodehouse of management commentators on account of his witty fusillades against business shibboleths – has had many a dig at meetings. Can you recollect any other broadsides he fires at the corporate jungle? How would you defend yourself if accused by Parkinson of organizing a sitting where there is a report and the matter is allowed to drop’? 3. Why does the writer refer to Eckhart Tolle’s book? What is there in the book that is relevant to the issue of getting the maximum mileage out of meetings? 4. How do you react in meetings? Do you find them dull, as most other people do? Do you go home leaving a pad full of doodles on the meeting table? Or is your notebook PC brimming with ideas that you try to develop and deploy creatively? 5. Can the time spent attending boring meetings be better utilized by getting on with the more important things that need your urgent intervention? 6. Can a change in attitudes make a difference in the way you perceive meetings? What sort of attitude would you call it? 7. Even if the meeting becomes excruciatingly boring, there are many branches of learning that you can either tap or test, during meetings. Studying body language is one; gauging EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is another. Can you suggest any more additions to this list? 8. Can the world get by without meetings? Can you envision a scenario where people did not need to get together, in order to share their thoughts and exchange views? How would they do this? (This question is a challenge the right half of your brain—the one responsible for intuition, creativity and brainstorming, so go as far out on a limb as you possibly can).

189 CHAPTER 28 On a trek into the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, the writer has a life-changing experience. Looking up at the night sky ablaze with millions of stars, he realises that before the awesome spectacle of the heavens, his personal fears, ambitions and priorities are utterly trivial and unimportant. In this eternal panorama, there is only one sensible option…to evolve—a timeless process of self-realization where death is a meaningless concept and man has the potential to rise as high as he thinks he can. Outward appearances become less important as inner growth takes priority. Impatience gives way to indulgent tolerance and trust. Stress disappears. Many management theories begin to look flawed—hastily cobbled together ideas. It seems clear that team-work cannot be taught entirely from a standpoint of self-betterment by pulling with others, by a classroom process of programmed cognition—a primitive ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ sort of elementary survival response. Sensing the commonality of all things, he sees that ethics and spirituality do matter at the workplace. Material success and spiritual advancement are no longer contradictory. QUESTIONS 1. Can realisation of our insignificance in the universe cause a major shift in thinking and outlook? Why do you suppose the sight of myriad stars in the sky awakened a sense of awe and reverence in the writer? 2. Do you sometimes get the feeling about the intrinsic unity of all things? Is such a feeling rare in men? What is a possible outcome of such a revelation? 3. One’s personal problems, priorities and progress may appear petty against the backdrop of the cosmos, but do they lose their importance altogether? Or is there a shift in awareness towards a more holistic approach to life and work? Elaborate on these issues. 4. How can such an inner realignment affect our performance in the work sphere? Sketch out the possible ramifications of this inner renewal, and its downstream effects. 5. How does this affect the traditional approaches to motivation and team-work? Are such strategies seen as flawed or incomplete? What is the missing factor? 6. What effect can spirituality have on relations with others, especially colleagues?

CHAPTER 29 Anticipating something is halfway down the road to wish fulfilment, and tiredness is no exception. So instead of constantly dwelling on how tired one is on account of a gruelling schedule and lack of sufficient sleep, the writer feels it is better to operate from a platform of enthusiasm. Attitudinal change is all that is needed to overcome this obsession with perceived sleep deficit.

190 Enthusiasm is a powerful weapon against boredom and tiredness. True, sleep deprivation can start telling on one’s performance; concentration wavers and energy levels drop. But listening to one’s body’s signals – and catnapping whenever possible, perhaps during travel – can help make up for lost sleep. In any case, instead of keeping count of the lost hours spent with the Sandman, the writer feels it might be wiser to make up for the deficit whenever possible. In any case, one should never succumb to the temptation of bragging about one’s exhaustion due to a ‘hectic schedule’—an inverted snobbery indicative of a desire to show-off one’s status and importance in the organisation. QUESTIONS 1. 2. Why does the writer imply that bragging about tiredness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Incidentally, explain the term ‘self fulfilling prophecy’? Is it likely to be true that sleep deprivation can be wished away? Is it possible to go without what one thinks is one’s ‘normal’ quota of rest when is fired up with enthusiasm about something? If you were a die-hard soccer fan, would you feel enervated or invigorated as you closely followed match after match—often broadcast during the night or wee hours of the morning? Who is ‘the Sandman’? Does he have anything to do with sleep? How do you feel when you’ve had a short but deeply restful nap? Does it do wonders for your energy levels? Why is modern medical science veering around once again to the idea that a Spanish custom called the siesta is healthy one? What is a siesta? Is it true that we get to experience what we think and talk about all day? In other words, if we constantly complain (read ‘brag’) about how hard we have to work, how little sleep we get and how tired we are as a consequence, what effect is it likely to have on us? Support your response with examples, either real or imaginary. What is so unusual about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican? By the way, where on earth is the Vatican? Who was Michelangelo? Can you recollect the name of a recent best-selling novel in which the Vatican figures prominently? Do you remember the name of the author of the book?

3. 4. 5.

6. 7.

CHAPTER 30 Good teamwork needs three basic ingredients in order to succeed: specialists who pull together in spite of differences of opinion, enlightened dissent, and mutual accommodation in the interest of achieving team goals. In this context, disagreement is seen as something very different from disagreeableness. The ability to get along with others is a vital quality that binds a team together. Then again, snap judgements can be wrong: many an apparently self-centered and opinionated person may later turn out to be extremely sensitive to the pulse of the team. Constancy is no longer a very desirable quality: these times of rapid change need leaders who can keep one step ahead of change. There is nothing wrong with changing one’s

191 mind; in fact, it needs courage and integrity to admit that one is off the mark. On the other hand, inflexibility is another name for stubbornness...a sign of emotional immaturity. All the cellular components of a larger entity have to work in unison and harmony for the good of the whole.

QUESTIONS 1. What is the difference between disagreement and disagreeableness? Which one is a personal proclivity and which is an occasional operational outcome? 2. What are three basic ingredients of good teamwork? Why are these so important to the team’s success? Illustrate your answer with convincing examples of good and bad teamwork. 3. The writer opines that disagreeableness is a sign of immaturity and lack of emotional intelligence born of an egocentric worldview. Do you agree? Why? 4. Can leaders who make snap judgements about team members be successful? Why? 5. What would you say is a very important quality for today’s leaders? Can you give cogent reasons to support your decision? 6. What are postulated by Eric Berne as the three attitudes we adopt in our interactions with others? Which one is the best? Why? 7. Does the cellular imagery adopted by New Age thinkers (which often finds support from management theorists) appeal to you? Explain why.

CHAPTER 31 The idea that we are – quite against our will – caught up in a ‘rat race’ for survival can be a most unappealing mental construction to many people. A rat race implies a world of shortages, not one of abundance where there is enough for all. It impoverishes the human spirit and saps the will to achieve. Such a vision of a dog-eat-dog world needs to be banished from one’s consciousness, if only for the mental expansion that accompanies such a makeover. It is surprising how many people subscribe to such a depressing worldview. Competition is a bogey only for those who do not choose to harness their innate creativity to achieve market differentiation—something we have read about in earlier chapters. In fact, life is a glorious opportunity to celebrate one’s uniqueness…and those who miss the call are the unlucky ones of the earth. Since thought leads to action, we can begin to change of outward circumstances when we change our inner world.

192 QUESTIONS 1. Is life mere survival or a glorious opportunity for self-actualisation? Why do men degrade the quality of their life experience by speaking of it in derogatory terms? 2. Easy though it is to rail against one’s circumstances, is it not a far better solution to see life as endless opportunity… not unending misery? How can we move in this direction? Give a convincing action plan for achieving your goals. 3. Is competition something to be welcomed or dreaded? Why? 4. If it is true that adversity can sometimes bring out the best in us, what essential ingredient is needed to overcome the obstacles to personal progress? Embellish your response by citing real-life instances. 5. “Life is a glorious opportunity to celebrate one’s uniqueness…and those who miss the call are the unlucky ones of the earth.” Elucidate. 6. What is meant by ‘market differentiation’? How does one achieve this? 7. What are the four stages of personal transformation? Explain the significance of each stage.

CHAPTER 32 Speed is the real luxury of the Industrial Age. The insatiable appetite for citius, altius, fortius has compelled men to make better cars that go faster than any cars that have gone before. The competition to build the world’s fastest car has seen many classic tussles and amazing innovations as men stretched out their hands to distant horizons even as they tested the outer limits of their ingenuity, courage and endurance. Every generation threw up a new breed of heroes in the ceaseless quest to build the f-a-s-t-e-s-t wheels on earth. No sooner had men started to reconcile themselves to the fact that the outermost limits had been reached, that along came a new challenger who raised the bar even further. We have to thank these intrepid pioneers for the superfast, supersafe cars we drive today. Today, Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC holds the world land speed record—at Mach 1.02, it is a faster-than-sound record…on the ground!

QUESTIONS 1. Could Karl Benz or Gottleib Daimler – concurrent inventors of the motorcar – have ever dreamt that one day a car would break the sound barrier on the ground? Why are men compelled to test the frontiers of speed? A philosophical response should be tempered with hard facts. 2. What were the major social transformations that followed in the wake of one of the most liberating inventions in history? How did it affect land use, cropping patterns and farm livestock?

193 3. Who would you rate as the person who played a major role in effecting this social upheaval, forever changing man’s relationship to barriers of time and distance? 4. Which was the first car built to take on the land speed record that was powered by a jet engine? What was it called and who made it? Who invented the jet engine? 5. Why are salt flats such as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah considered ideal for world land speed record attempts? A subsidiary of General Motors Corporation of Detroit, Michigan makes a premium car that it promotes as a ‘wide track? Can you name the brand of car? A hint: it is the name of a Red Indian chief! 6. Two Campbells, father and son, have written their names all over the world record books. Can you name them? 7. The grandson turned away from the sport that took his father’s life and became a naturalist. Can you remember how and where his father was killed? Which record was he out to break? 8. Can you name this famous grandson and the branch of science in which he excelled, just like all the Campbells before him? What is the name of his legendary Indian counterpart? Why is this science considered so important today? 9. What does the writer mean when he refers to citius, altius, fortius? What do these words have to do with the world land speed record? CHAPTER 33 The Rolls-Royce saga began at a meeting at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, on 4 th May 1904, cementing a partnership that would create the world’s most famous luxury car. Epitomised by the Silver Ghost, a silent apparition whose speed, reliability and comfort became watchwords of the motorcar industry, the Rolls-Royce became a name to conjure with—a phantom from the fifth dimension. It became known as the car in which, at 100 miles an hour, the only sound audible in the plush interior was the ticking of the dashboard clock. The aura surrounding the machine is well nigh palpable. There is much about a Rolls-Royce that evokes extreme imagery. The legend was born of parents so outwardly dissimilar yet to profoundly alike as to lead one to believe that the partnership was preordained. For almost a century, Rolls-Royce has maintained its hegemony, beating off competition from such great marques as Armstrong-Siddeley, Bugatti, Duesenberg, Handley-Page, Hispano Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Maybach Zeppelin and Panhard Levassor. Every time one of these definitive statements of workmanship from a bygone era whispers past, proudly displaying the entwined R’s and the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ on the radiator, it serves to remind us of the words of Henry Royce: "Whatsoever is rightly done, however humble, is noble". QUESTIONS 1. Who were the founders of Rolls-Royce? What made them so similar in outlook and approach despite their vastly different backgrounds?

194 2. Which university did Henry Royce attend? Where did he learn engineering? What do you think made him a successful manufacturer? Would you say his approach to life was an unrealistic and opportunistic one? 3. What is the guiding principle behind Rolls-Royce’s enduring success? Is Henry Royce’s mantra universally applicable? Is such fastidious attention to quality desirable across a range of products and manufacturing disciplines? 4. In today’s use-and-throw world of instant coffee and instant nirvana, is the RollsRoyce an unviable proposition, doomed to extinction? 5. What is it that fosters hope that the legend of Rolls-Royce will endure? What is the great lesson that we can imbibe from the saga of this matchless machine?

CHAPTER 34 Mount Everest is the Holy Grail of mountaineering—the highest peak on earth. Inviolate for millennia, the Goddess defied the frantic attempts of generations of talented climbers even as it consumed many of them. It was only in 1953 that an expedition led by John Hunt put two men on the summit—New Zealander Edmund Hillary and the quintessential sherpa, Tenzing. Enshrined in lyrical prose, the story of the conquest of earth’s highest peak is immortalized in Sir John’s book The Ascent of Everest. This epic saga of human endurance and the triumph of the human will over the fury of the elements is one of the most inspiring tales ever written. When asked why he climbed mountains, Mallory is said to have replied: “Because they are there”. Apocryphal though the story may be, Mallory’s response is typical of the strong, silent men – men like Reinhold Messner – who risk their lives to defy the odds in attempting the ‘impossible’. Still the only man to have climbed Everest twice without oxygen (the last time alone), Messner is regarded as the greatest mountaineer who ever lived. He has climbed all the 14 peaks on earth that are over 8000 metres in height. Though vanquished repeatedly, Everest endures as the ultimate test of climbing skill—a siren that beckons to yet another generation of men to dice with death in an unforgiving, gelid world of eternal snow. QUESTIONS 1. What manner of men are these, these intrepid climbers who attempt the impossible? What is it in them that makes them stake their very lives to climb what is essentially a pinnacle of ice-covered rock? 2. What is the siren song that Everest sings, luring men to their deaths in search of the dubious distinction of enduring incredible physical punishment to reach the highest place on the planet? Just what is it about this mountain that exerts such a hypnotic power over the minds of men? 3. Is the lure of Everest just another name for man’s need to overpower the elements? Is it the sporting expression of an atavistic urge to best nature, long after the need to do so has gone? Give your views on the rationale behind the need to prove oneself against impossible odds.

195 4. Is challenge an intoxicating brew that makes life worthwhile…or is a safe, stable but boring existence preferable? What would you do, given the chance for lifelong security and comfort, if given the choice to participate in a great adventure? Why? 5. Would you say that it is mere egoism that drives men to climb the world’s highest mountains? Or could it be dissatisfaction with a surfeit of safety and boring security that lures them out of their cosy existences? Discuss. 6. Why are Sherpas – the iron men of the mountains – indispensable to any Everest expedition? Who is the most famous of them all? What makes Sherpas invaluable at high altitudes?

CHAPTER 35 The Indian Air Force found itself having to cope with an aging fleet of MiGs, including the outstanding MiG 25—the legendary Mach-3 plane code-named Foxbat by a demoralised NATO that had seen its most advanced warplanes bested by this aircraft. The IAF had covered itself with glory in many operations, but now the search for a viable alternative was heating up. One airplane merged as the unanimous choice, in spite of a weakened Russia that often reneged on agreements to supply spares and updates. The multi-role, all-weather fighter interceptor called the Sukhoi 30 Mark I (and its variants) is unique inasmuch as the twin swivelling nozzles of the AL-41 engine give it unmatched manoeuvrability, especially at low speeds and at low latitudes where conventional aircraft just cannot generate enough lift to remain airborne. The variable vector technology means the aircraft can hover at one place for short periods of time and even fly in a direction opposite to that in which its nose is pointing. In other words, it can fly backwards! It can recover from what would normally be uncontrollable stalls, zooming off at a tangent after pulling out of the stall. The heads-up helmet mounted display, the terrific firepower at the pilot’s fingertips and the superior onboard radar make this fighter plane a favourite with IAF pilots. QUESTIONS 1. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. Comment. 2. Why does the writer claim that the Sukhoi-30 have the power to change power equations on the sub-continent? Do you think that sufficient numbers of this warplane can indeed do that? What do you think our unfriendly neighbouring countries will do to balance the equation? Is there any NATO aircraft that can neutralize the Sukhoi-30? 3. “Threats to internal security are often moored in the past, and have to be approached with a sense of history, hindsight, and a large measure of foresight.” Do you agree? What else do you feel is necessary to maintain India’s territorial integrity?

196 4. Why has airpower assumed such crucial dimensions in the power equations on the Indian sub-continent? Historically speaking, when did air superiority assume crucial importance, and in which war? 5. The Battle of Britain was the last stand of an embattled island against an enemy with vastly superior airpower. Winston Churchill said of the indomitable RAF pilots that “Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few? Is this ever likely to happen in the event of another war on the Indian sub-continent? 6. Whatever be the technically advanced features of a warplane, do you agree that in the final analysis it is the quality of the pilots that ultimately make all the difference? How do IAF pilots rate against the world’s best? What is their biggest handicap?

CHAPTER 36 Given the fact that no two individuals are alike, it is indeed surprising that originality is a rara avis – rare bird – in most spheres of human activity. The lame excuse given by Kaavya Vishwanathan – author of the half-a-million dollar advance, stillborn book called How Opal Mehta Got a Life that she unconsciously internalized several portions of Megan F. McCafferty’s books – never did hold water. It is no longer funny that copying from one or two books is called larceny, but lifting material from several books is called research. No longer do scholars devote a major part of their lives to reading, teaching and thinking before fulfilling themselves by writing books that showcase their life work. Academic advancement involves challenging established paradigms, but we see little evidence of that in India. For whatever reasons, most Indian scholars are content to churn out indigenized versions of best-selling books from the west. This may be because there is no premium on originality and fresh thinking so well encouraged by the dying liberal system of education. Indeed, harsh realities of the market-place could be responsible for the sort of conditioning that leads us to expect – and accept – only replicas of ourselves— assembly line clones bereft of original features. But in the west, where individualized expression is tolerated well, originality is welcome, no matter that it lambastes copycats on the follow through. QUESTIONS 1. Why does the writer feel that lack of originality is surprising? Are we designed as identical copies of each other? Why, then, do we not revel in our uniqueness? 2. “A true teacher is unfilled if he fails to produce more teachers”. What is the writer trying to say when he thus laments the near-disappearance of the guru–shishya parampara—the teacher–pupil relationship so important in ancient cultures? Why was such a tradition crucial to the advancement of knowledge? 3. “Could it be possible that academia looks askance at those who have a refreshingly original point of view? Are we so market driven that we are compelled to sustain mediocrity?” Comment.

197 4. If there is a premium on mediocrity, are the symptoms thereof visible in academia alone? Or do they pervade the entire fabric of our society? What has brought about a situation where original thinking and creativity is generally discouraged? Is this a good thing for a civilization? Support your response with adequate analysis covering various aspects of modern life. 5. What are the writer’s views on personal fulfilment? When does he say a teacher or a leader is successful in discharging his larger responsibility? 6. What could be the reasons for intellectual stagnation? Is such stagnation symptomatic of a dying society? Explore the various implications of the malady. 7. Are prize-winning books really original? Kiran Desai, the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, openly admits that having spent her life in her mother’s shadow and sharing as she does her informational, emotional and anecdotal database, she feels her mother deserves the prize just as much as she does. Is it not significant that the ‘original’ (Kiran’s author mother Anita Desai) was nominated three times for the Booker Prize but never won it?

CHAPTER 37 It’s a craven new world (with apologies to Aldous Huxley) that does things the easy way, this 21st century world of ours! It’s not just in cars that we find the influx of automatic transmission. The office scenario has changed beyond recognition. Receptionists-cumDTP operators have replaced typists; computerized office systems have sent the heavy, clumsy office machines of the past to the rubbish dump. Almost everything is battery or electricity dependent. The world is at our fingertips thanks to multi-functional gadgets that can no longer be called mobile phones. Although good old-fashioned motivation is still alive and kicking, man-to-man equations are getting increasingly harder to maintain because of SMS, email, Yahoo! Messenger and the fact that people stare at computer screens all day. Letters are becoming rare, evoking a knee-jerk response from Post Offices that are busy evolving into retail outlets. Organisation structures have democratically flattened out, flattening the writer in the process. This transformation has reached a stage where we are hard pressed to keep up; the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Androids lies just beyond the horizon. QUESTIONS 1. Is the quality of life in the 21st century better than those in preceding ones? Is it a fact that every generation feels it got a better deal, the ensuing nostalgia being laced with a certain amount of regret at ‘the way things are now’? Comment. 2. Is mechanization of the degree that is just around the corner good for our sense of identity? Is Big Brother here? (This is a reference to the totalitarian regime depicted in George Orwell’s chilling novel 1984). 3. Does the Age of Information (Technology) foreshadow a grim world where every citizen will be relegated to a number? Are civil liberty and the very future of Fundamental Rights in peril? Give examples to support your response.

198 4. Is it better to simply cope with developments than try to proactively change things to make them the way we want them to be? How would you go about doing this? What are the democratic processes that may enable this? 5. In an age of automation, why is that handmade things that are uniquely different are so highly prized? Order a tailored suit and you’ll find out soon enough. Yet there was a time not so long ago when machine-made products commanded a premium. What do you make of this? 6. Where will the process end? Where do you think it will all end up? Try and project your mind into the distant future and try to see, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson does in Locksley Hall:
“For I dip’t into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that would be. Saw the Heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails, Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales.”

Discuss the words that Tennyson used so presciently all of 150 years ago. CHAPTER 38 Post-Independence India sixty years from that fateful 15th of August 1947 is a mindboggling study in contrasts. Independence – mistaken as the right to indiscipline – has come as a mixed blessing…as democracies have noted from the days of the ancient citystates. The times throw up the rulers, and politicians are known to change their stripes… and their party affiliations. The common man is mesmerised by the illusion of progress even as inflation makes his life harder and more unmanageable. The masses – the poor, the marginalised and the down-trodden – have lost the illusion that the vote is their guarantee to a fair deal, as so effectively conveyed in RK Laxman’s cartoons. Displaying all the classic symptoms of an evolving democracy, India is muddling through a process of realignment in both internal as well as foreign affairs. In a changing world, this is not an easy task though it must be admitted that we have muddled less than others. The covert struggle between the three pillars of democracy goes on, with the battle swinging this way and that. It is the Indian diaspora that has put India on the world map. To them we owe the inflow of FDI, and to them do we also owe our renewed fetish for all things western—not all of them good. Education needs an overhaul if it is to keep its promise of personal emancipation, but all said and done, the Ship of State has sailed far. QUESTIONS 1. Do you agree with the writer’s remarks about the state of our democracy? Is India a country where Fundamental Rights – as guaranteed under the Constitution – are safe? 2. What are the Four Pillars of Democracy? What is the Forth Estate? Why is its role in an evolving democracy so important? 3. Do governments tolerate a free press? How would you compare press freedom in, say, the United States of America with that obtaining in India? Do you find any improvement in this respect over the last decade?

199 4. 5. 6. Why is education such an important force in social upliftment and national development? What is the scope for improving our system of education? Is ecological balance given short shrift in the heady process of industrial development? What safeguards are in place to ensure this? Is inflation out of control in India today, especially when we have before us the example of Namibia where it is around 1000%? What anti-inflationary measures are still needed? Do you think India’s economic ‘miracle’ is running out of steam? Give adequate facts to support your responses. Why has the writer ‘not given up on India’? Do you agree with his views? Why? Has the moral fabric of the nation been weakened in the last two decades or so? Why? What would you do if you had the power to change things for the better?

7. 8.

CHAPTER 39 While Western countries – most of them enriched by the wealth siphoned off from its former colonies – have invested heavily in education for decades, India has had to fight an uphill battle against poverty, starvation and lack of basic amenities. Education was not a priority in those desperate early years of our Independence, but now the time has come for drastic overhaul. Educational reform means funds, probity, good textbooks and good teachers. Focusing on the last two translates into the need for a modern syllabus which lends itself to generous but not slavish interpretation. Competent government agencies should take the lead in a messianic and not a monopolistically opportunistic manner. Moving away from a system dominated by rote learning, to a system that encourages higher order thinking skills is a step in the right direction. Unless we encourage children to think, to understand underlying causes and link them to symptoms, and to ask the right questions, we will never rid ourselves of a Macaulayan mindset that puts a premium on memorizing texts instead of gaining insights into processes and problem solving. In the final analysis, a clear distinction must be made between merely passing examinations and acquiring an education… entirely different things! QUESTIONS 1. Why has the West gained such a lead in education? Are westerners inherently more intelligent, or is it because they have been able to install better educational systems, standards and institutions? 2. What are the main reasons why we are producing educated but unemployable people? 3. What do we need to do to reform our educational system, which seems to have fallen into a rut? 4. What, in your opinion, is more important: memorising facts … or the ability to ask the right questions, to identify processes and to analyse data? Why? 5. What must the government do to ensure a level playing field in educational publishing, to see that the condescendingly paternalistic monopoly of certain of its agencies is replaced by a less rigid control of educational content, if not curricula? 6. What, in your opinion, is the difference between qualifications and education?

200 7. What is the hallmark of an educated person? 8. Do you feel ethics and values have any role to play in educational reform?

CHAPTER 40 Millennia of evolution have brought man to the point where the cosmos glitters at his feet…yet he still has much to learn about himself. A new age is in the offing, but the danger lies in the fact that we may fail to recognize it for what it is: an evolutionary crossroads that may lead us to either our elevation or our extinction. Powerful forces are at work that can push us either way. There is a very real chance that we will miss the boat. Man has always puzzled over his origins; now even the theory of evolution is challenged by the Scientologists’ views about extra-terrestrial origins of terran lifeforms. Early Man has left faint evidence of a startling evolutionary jump in the not-so-distant past, a sudden leap that took him from beast-man to sentient being in so short a span of time that it is equal to a mere wink in geological terms. The present age has brought it all to a head: poised at the brink of inter-galactic travel, Man rummages through the rubble of his past in an attempt to learn who he is, where he came from, and where he is going. The time is not far off when he shall crack the puzzle and embark on a voyage back to the future…a voyage to a remote past – future that hibernates in his unconscious mind—a secret hidden in the womb of time itself. QUESTIONS 1. What is the ‘Final Frontier’ described by the writer? Do you think man is on the verge of another evolutionary jump, perhaps one of his own making? Is the technology to achieve this falling into place? By what name do we call it today, this ground-breaking research into the innermost structure of our DNA? 2. If evolution is a process of ‘the survival of the fittest’, who then are the weak that will ‘go to the wall’? What makes you think that? 3. What do you make of NASA’s frantic search for an earth-like earth planet …one that will support terran lifeforms? Have any such planets been located so far? 4. In your opinion, is inter-galactic travel a possibility in the next two hundred years? What makes you say that? How do you rate man’s progress in space exploration and extra-terran activity? Extrapolating the same, do you find anything to support the claim of inter-galactic travel becoming a reality one day? 5. How does Man’s reaching for the stars tie in with his quest for his own origins and true identity? Can you speculate on these issues, citing fictional as well as non-fictional sources to support your argument? 6. What lies buried in our unconscious mind? Is it atavistic memory of a time when we were something other than what we are today? Is such a thing possible? 7. What do you make of researchers of the likes of Erich von Daniken, who has unearthed a huge body of evidence to show that Earth had several visits from extra-terrestrials in the remote past and who left unmistakable traces of their sojourn?

201 8. Is a synthesis between physics and metaphysics possible? Why is it that when particle physicists and Zen masters try to describe their separate realities, they lapse into identical Zen koans or riddles, which seems to indicate their inability to convey this knowledge by means of the inadequate vehicle of language? 

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