Monday, 23 June 2014

Hindi Hain Hum..

Circa 1974. I was a subaltern, with barely a few months unit service, posted at Delhi Cantt. The Defence Minister was to visit a few station units, and a `Coordinating Conference’ had been called at Area HQ. About a dozen or so officers sat around the Conference Table, freshly sharpened pencils poised over scratch pads, looking appropriately solemn.

Being a subaltern and, therefore, to be only seen and not heard, I tried to slink into my chair and appear invisible. Two years at the IMA had made me a self confessed expert at appearing raptly attentive, even while flitting in and out of a day dreaming haze.

Mentally, I was already at `The Cellar’ disco at Connaught Place (how many of you Delhi-ites remember the joint?), jiving away the collective blues of a subaltern posted to the nation’s capital.

Suddenly, I felt a jab in my midriff. Apparently, I had been caught napping. Years of experience had taught me that the best way to get out of such a fix was to stand up confidently and ask a question, thereby implying that one was very much `with it’.

The problem was that I hadn’t the faintest idea of what the current discussion was about. Having vaguely heard the acronym `RM’ being bandied about, I decided I was on firm ground. RM, I knew stood for Radio Mechanic, and since that was a Signals trade, it was right up my alley.

“Sir,” I began expansively, “About this RM. Am I required to depute him from my unit, or will Delhi Area Signal Company handle it?”

There was pin drop silence. Apparently, the RM they had been referring to was `Raksha Mantri’ or Defence Minister! The silence was broken by loud guffaws. Among the twenty seven thousand six hundred and seventy three times (give or take) that I’ve made an ass of myself in life, this one rates pretty high!

Luckily for me, General Eustace D’Souza of the Maratha Light Infantry, the then GOC Delhi Area, was endowed with a keen sense of humour, so I got off with little apart from the egg on my face.

“Why the @&*$ would anyone say `Raksha Mantri’ and not `Defence Minister’ when talking in Queen’s English?” I muttered under my breath.

An aside here. Another encounter I had with Gen D’Souza bears recounting .

I received a mail from Area HQ, asking me to explain the circumstances under which one of my Signalmen had contacted malaria. I was flummoxed. Everyone knows how one contacts malaria, I reasoned, so why on earth was I being asked to explain the etiology of the disease to Area HQ?

Of course I learned later that the Army considers the contacting of malaria a cognizable offence. The logic being that malaria could be prevented through the simple expedient of rolling down one’s sleeves at sundown, and/or dowsing the oneself with a smelly and foul concoction called`DMP Oil’. So if you got malaria, you hadn’t taken due care, ergo you were to blame!

That wisdom, of course, came much later. My reply to the Area HQ was a terse `The exact circumstances under which No so-and-so Signalman Deepa contacted malaria cannot be ascertained. However, it is presumed he was bitten by a female anopheles mosquito!’ There, I told myself, that should show them!

It was only Gen D’Souza’s sense of humour and amiable nature that let me get away with that one!

But back to my language problem. Somebody the other day said he was impressed at the Rashtrapati’s address to the joint houses of Parliament. To my mind, this – like the `Raksha Mantri’ of 1974, was not only incorrect syntax, but sounded extremely silly!

It was Shobhaa De who started this obnoxious practice at Stardust by giving stars vernacular sobriquets – Yogita Bali, I remember, was called `asli ghee’, and so on.

Prime Minister Modi has now stirred a hornet’s nest by asking his ministers and bureaucrats to tweet in Hindi. That is fine with me. One can either say `Rashtrapati ka desh ke naam sandesh’ or `President’s address to the nation’ – but, like the East and the West, the twain shouldn’t  ever meet!

No idea what we are in for, lingo wise. Meanwhile, I’m brushing up my Hindi, and should the Thackeray’s star be on the rise, improving one’s Marathi may not be such a bad idea too!

Achche din aa gaye hain, janaab!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Father's Day - The Flip Side...

Last Father’s Day, I had written a sentimental, rather meandering `letter’ to my kids under the title `Father’s Day Musings’. Of all my posts, this received the largest feedback – mostly from my friends and course mates, people like me, in the same boat, who empathized deeply. Been there, done that..

People whom I didn’t even know wrote in, one saying that it had moved him and his wife to tears as they read it together. For those who missed it, or would like to give it a re-visit (as I just did), it is available at

This post is a bit different. It’s not about kids, but about us dads, on the wrong side of sixty, old, grumpy and cantankerous. That ring a bell somewhere?

Vinita Dawra Nangia’s blog (`How Not To Become An Old Grumpy’) in last Sunday’s `Times of India’ talks of the IMS, `Irritable Male Syndrome’, that afflicts every man once he crosses 60.

Men naturally become grumpy, Vinita contends, because it’s in their DNA! Quoting the American psychotherapist Jed Diamond, she assures us that IMS is as prevalent, and actually much deadlier than the female PMS!

To me, it was a double whammy. Being a Puri, and therefore already a hopeless case of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), to now be saddled with IMS in addition was scary, to say the least.

I decided to check. Who better to ask than my first born.

“Do you think,” I asked Puja, “that I’ve become grumpy as I’ve grown older?” I emphasized the word in as nasty an intone I could manage, while trying to sound noncommittal.

“Not at all, Pa” she assured me sweetly, and before my Cheshire Cat grin could spread any wider, she added “You’ve always been grumpy!”

Vinita’s reasoning is simple. When working, men are, or think they are, in control. Once they retire into ignominy, that sense of control is lost. Ergo, they become grumpy. Bristling hedgehogs, radiating irritability and impossible to handle as they grow older!

And how do your kids deal with the new you? Not a problem in my case, as Puja so delicately brought out. Or wait - how did we deal with our fathers?

Take the case of course mate Pramod Kulkarni and his better half Ashvini. They had both their fathers living with them for, I kid you not, almost 25 years. Well past their eighties, the `oldies’ must have made the proverbial `odd couple’, and, one would have thought, driven Pramod and Ashvini up the wall! 25 years, phew!

“We played good cop, bad cop” Pramod explained. “While Ashvini pampered them, I was the strict disciplinarian!”

Both passed away in quick succession recently, and Pramod and Ashvini were devastated.

“Is there no sense of freedom, or relief?” I asked Ashvini tentatively.

 “Not at all, it was so lovely!” she gushed, “It was just like raising children all over again!”

I don’t know much about paap-punya, but I’m sure Pramod and Ashvini have earned enough punya to assure them a great place in the hereafter.

Puja lives half way across the world. We miss her bubbly presence. She talks to us daily using Face Time (Thank you, Steve Jobs!). Her American friends are appalled. They barely speak to their parents, if at all.

Thank God for Indian tradition!