Friday, October 05, 2007

Rule No.1

"You know sometimes I think there should be a rule of war saying you have to see someone up close and get to know 'em before it's ok to shoot 'em" - Colonel Sherman T. Potter

I recently read a news item, which reported that an army Major had died in an encounter with militants in Kashmir. Although I've been reading such news items for 2 decades and thought "yeah! so whats new?" and moved on to the sports column, something about this news registered in my mind. The Major was newly married, had a heavily pregnant wife when he died, and came from a family of Army people. I thought, 'what a classic reminder of the true stories from the Param Veer Chakra series'. He went out to save his friend and both died. Father, wife, un-born son, sister, friend, and the nation - every dimension of a person's relationship with the world is in picture. Isn't this as bad as it gets for everybody involved? Luckily, I chanced upon this rather heart-breaking post thanks to desipundit. This is a post by a cousin of the above-mentioned Army Major. Reading the post actually moved me incredibly. After reading the post, I clicked the links provided in the 'updates' column against my will and ended up feeling really sad. The Hindu, has a photo of the Major's sister, which if you see in the context of the post and the overall background is really heart-breaking. This news in rediff is equally moving.

It, instantly made me think of something very simple, yet profound statement that Hawkeye hears from his Commanding Officer in M*A*S*H;

"Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war and rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is doctors can't change rule number one." - Lt. Colonel Henry Blake

Obviously, I don't have the stature, intention and interest to make a maudlin post advising other people about the sacrifices people should be making for their country. The reason why I post this blog is nothing more than the "profound" - 'I have a blogger account, so I can and I want to'. The existential question here is; Why do I want to? I want to because I don't get this situation. Does anybody else get it? I struggle to comprehend, what I see as, the purity of the "patriotism" dimension here. This is the maximum any person can do to say "Hey! I am patriotic". This is why I am so conflicted? Are they really saying so? If they aren't then is that real patriotism? I feel an urge to treat this differently than the other cases of patriotism, I usually ignore. I don't attend Independence day parties (I don't shun them either but don't make it a point to go) or write blog posts on independence day. Mainly because I see the people who participate in this as fake. A fake who waves the flag while speeding in his car in Devon street on Aug 15, is no different from a fake who organizes an India Bhangra Independence day dance night. I think waving Indian flag in cricket matches as fake patriotism and writing blog posts for I-Day as fake. I just do. I don't think such people are fake in their enjoyment but fake in their expression of patriotism. Not just because it is futile, it is, or meaningless, which it is, or a waste of time, it definitely is, but it compares very badly to the purity I just described above. Yeah, not all can/want to/are able to lay down their lives for their country. But should that mean they should start doing all the other stuff? In short, should they do 'anything' to celeberate patriotism? Or are we settling for a low bar?

While I am clear about the fake'ness of the things I mentioned about, I am confused about incidents like the death of the Army Major. In that it is very pure. Sacred, almost. In that, I feel very sad for the person who died, his wife, his parents and his cousin. The cause that he died for; how am I or anybody in the country impacted by his death? Was his death futile? Did he die to keep anyone safe? If so - can anybody who wants to do something, anything after reading the news - but have no clue if/how to react to it - do something, anything? Is there a good way to say 'thank you' or repay the debt somehow? Writing a post in a silly blog definitely falls under 'anything'. But it is also as fake as anything I can think of. So anything is bad. If I get into a drivel about patriotism, which is the easiest thing to do here, then I would be no different from the various puke'able people who post on Discussion Lists, Rediff comments section and forums about how great a country India is.

Advocating peace is a low-hanging fruit that is so easy to pluck. However, I have always thought pro-war and anti-pacifism as common sense and this incident didn't change my mind. Humans will fight with each other no matter what, it is our nature, it will make us fight. We will fight in spite of ourselves. So war is fine. The contradiction of fighting to achieve peace is valid and justified. So lets cross-out boring patriotism lectures and pacifism. On the whole I feel any conversation on patriotism at the juncture by regular people is immature and does grave injustice to the Major and his family. I am at least not dumb enough to know that. While I can conclude that blogging, paying money for Kargil effort, talking at length about the greatness of India to the white man, saying 50,000 times 'mera bharath mahaan', waving flag in cricket matches, celebrating Independence day is all fake and distracts us from really doing something meaningful - I do not know what the meaningful thing is. I suspect that I will not find that meaningful answer during my life time.

There is a part about the Major's father saying (the newspaper quotes it) "I will advise my yet-to-be-born grandson that he should also join the Army". This is really quite a thing to say and I suspect a very profound thing to say. Requires tremendous maturity, understanding of life and poise. But help me understand a sense of proportion here because I don't want to understate or get carried away. How big is the sacrifice by the Major, his father, and his wife? Is the sacrifice made as part of a career choice? Kuppan's father made him an engineer, Suppan's father made him a car mechanic and the Major's father made him an Army Major? Who made the sacrifice? The parent? Or is it a sacrifice made by an authority higher up, who decided to send the Major to this encounter? Like Kuppan's manager sent him on an on site assignment to World Trade Center, Suppan's shop owner sent him to ride a brake'less car and the Major's commander sent him to an encounter. What is the motivation for sacrifice; survival, satisfaction, money? Did the Major believe in the geopolitical equations of nations and ideologies surrounding the causes and so went to war. Or was he a tool for a very responsible government who are spending people's lives as carefully as they spending people's money? Which brings us to another MASH quote, the one where Henry Blake is worried after having sent Hawkeye to the battle front line;

Frank: Are you worried about them?
Henry: I sent them, remember Frank? Their commanding officer? Back home my biggest decisions are whether or not have my own bowling ball made and do I get the cat fixed. Sending people to the front's just not my speed.

How about work satisfaction, visibility or financial benefits as a cause to make a sacrifice. I realize, that I can never make a comparison that cannot be contradicted and there are always exceptions, counters, anti-counters to anything I say. I also realize that this is a topic, which is hard to be sensible about. But I'll try to make a comparison among the thousands that are possible. Let me begin with the obvious. Army Majors get paid, what - 15000 a month ? For risking lives, working 24/7 and living in pathetic conditions, not seeing their family for unknown lengths of time. For what cause? For a cause that he/she is not sure about and a cause that most Gen X kids are cynical about. Tanjore Big Temple Gurukkal gets Rs. 1750 (plus Rs 1000 tips) every month for working all the time in a sweaty hole, getting yelled at by irate and impatient worshippers (who demand excellent QoS in exchange Rs 10 they are about to dish out), doing archaic rituals that only irritates people. For what cause? A cause that even he is not sure about and a cause almost everybody doubts. What is the motivation for the Gurukkal to sincerely do 'all' the steps in a 1000 step ritual, when nobody even understands what they do and will not notice if they skip a step. What is the motivation for an Army major to wipe out every militant, survey and scan every rock, hill and mound in unknown corners of Himalayas? When nobody even understands what they do and will not notice if they skip a step.

If both the Gurukkal and the Major encourage their children to again pursue the army/gurukkal career, then what am I missing here? Kuppan, the tachnology professional, does overtime for a weekend, does some work that appears in WSJ, and promptly files for extra pay/free dinner and comp off for doing extra time, for a cause that people believe improves the economy. Kuppan also encourages his child to not get slotted as an 'engineer' and encourages them to pursue something else. Should Kuppan feel guilty, really? Is there a scientific explanation for the career choices of Kuppan, Major, Suppan, and Gurukkal's parents? Is there a rationale which explains the reason why the individuals themselves think "car mechanic career is better than kovil gurukkal" or "I dont have the courage/ability to fight in the army, software is good I get more money?" I suspect I will never find an answer to this.

On the subject of science, it is ironic to see a man killed through a combination of science and religion. Killed because of religion and killed effectively and quickly because of science, with a puncture to his liver by a contraption that required a lot of scientific research to invent. I go back to another quote from MASH, a series which really researched and beat the topic 'war and death' to death. I am glad I saw MASH as much as I did (each episode around 30 times). It has answered my questions much better than many others. Hawkeye sums up the contributions of science working against that of doctors, a summing up that is not entirely irrelevant to Major's situation;

"Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He's got a 50-50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That's what it's all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns, and bombs, and anti-personnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie"


Deepa said...

Thanks for the links. Good one.

Sowmya said...

I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.

life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life.

The key to accepting responsibility for our life is to accept the fact that our choices,and the priority of choices are leading us inexorably to either success or failure, however we define those terms.

Babu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Babu said...

Very thot provoking indeed....but there is always a simple answer to profound question.....
"Something is better than nothing"
By something I refer to your definition of fake'ness, it may be a start to the real thing eventually, be not.

Sports and Political view is what remaining off our patriotism today.

Mash had some classic quotes aiyeeee...

"Choices we make dictates the life we lead"
- Danny De Vito (Renaissance's Man)

Anonymous said...

why is shane warne one of the labels?

Nilu said...

athavathu, fake is wrong-a?

Anonymous said...


The reason why a gurukal or an army officer will ask his son to become is one is due to what we call in corporate jargon Job satisfaction.

For many individuals what they do as profession matter most and provide them with a purpose of life...

Army men take guarding their nation as purpose of life...

On the fake patriotism. Absolutely with you.

My view of patriotism for those not in armed force is simple (especially in India) your taxes, follow the law, do not spit on the road...and similar such simple things...may not sound being patriotic...but my view is it will matter and have an impactand contribute positively to the sacrifices made by the men of armed forces


freespirit said...

Hawkeye, thank you for linking to my post and making more people around the world aware of my brother's sacrifice. I went through a series of emotions the last few days...everything from anger to frustration to this terrible emptiness, knowing I will never see my bhai again.

I am realistic enough to know that after a few weeks, no one will be talking about Major Dinesh Raghuraman because there is a good chance there will soon be another soldier who will lay down his life fighting the enemy.

What I want to clarify is that my uncle never expected Dinesh to take after him. Dinesh grew up in Chandigarh and Delhi in the Defence quarters surrounded by soldiers. That's all he ever wanted to be. A Soldier. There was never any doubt in his mind, no question of any other option. A single minded focus. He was practical enough to know the risks and certainly not foolishly ideal.

I have had many conversations with him over the years where it was clear he knew exactly what he was getting into. I once asked him to come watch a movie with me called Border about these bollywood soldiers fighting on the border. He refused. He told me these filmi guys have no clue what it is like on the actual border. Its no where close to what is portrayed on the screen in some misguided attempt to in still patriotism.

Before I turn my comment into a full fledged post, let me just say that Dinesh knew that this was going to happen one of these days. When I think back,and reflect on all the conversations I had with him, i think in some strange way I believe he wanted to die in action and not of boring old natural causes.

I just want to say thank you once again. It helps to know that there are thousands of people out there who have said a little prayer for him.

George said...

What a waste of a life I'd say. No one cares in our country and thats the bottom line. Remember the story of Maj Kalia, who was tortured and killed to the point that every single bone in his body was broken and his face according to his brother was the size of a fist. This during the Kargil war. The army did nothing about it, the poor guys dad is filing a complaint with the human rights ( or something to that nature ) and is religiously following up with them, one reply that he got back from them was that they wanted to help him out but they were not getting any information from the Indian Army, can you imagine that !!

If this had been an IDF ( Israel ) soldier, they probably would have id'd everysingle m*****f****ng, pakistani soldier who laid a hand on him and done something worse to them and gotten away with it. Our country and we as citizens, need to value life as something invaluable regardless of religion and other leanings and then maybe we'll get somewhere. Until then all the progress that we make amounts to nothing.

Nilu said...

Why is this George boy so angry all the time?

Karthik Sriram said...

Sorry for the unrelated comment, but was going through your profile and saw P.G.W, the Master in your books! Now I know where your sense of humor comes from.....

From PGW fan to another,


Ramesh said...

Came to your blog after a long time. I am glad I did.
Patriotism - Saving the people of one's own country, country that one is born in or the citizen of or the place one's parents are from?

Are there geographical boundaries any more for the civilians?

Should the people staying in the USA go back to India if USA wages a war against India? - Any amount of work we do here helps USA better fight directly or indirectly.

In what way people of our country dearer to us than the people from other countries?
What Dinesh showed here is the pure sincerity at his work that he chose to satisfy his emotions and feelings. Saving the lives of people of his country is the only way of living life for him, there was no other way.

As long as we display the same kind of sincerity/commitment at what we are doing, we are patriotic too as long as what we chose to do is not taking lives.

It is absolutely not our nature to fight. I am sure you know this when/if you notice the true nature come out (when you read the freesprit's post)

Hawkeye said...




I use that line of thought, when I feel I have committed a mistake or when I amm suffering. I reenforce the fact that I am suffering because I made a wrong choice and so its all my fault. After you hit a certain level of maturity you are aware that its *your* choice and so you either make it yourself or seek guidance from competent people.

but stepback from the self-discipline of making concious choices.

If you look at yourself from a 3rdperson perspective, what you consider as self-discipline, right, wrong, ethical, moral, way of life, choices everything is influenced significantly on your environment variables. It takes quite a while for people to extricate themselves from parent-induced biases. I still see people hating some relative/friend just because their parents biased those people with a very old negative stories about that relative/friend. People rarely pause to think that parental bias may be influencing them.


"Something is better than nothing"

i agree. but the something has to be somewhere along the general direction of the subject-in-hand . it cant be at a tangent.


i dont know why blogger suggests a label as autofil and selects it even when i dont. i didnt itend for it to be there and have no clue how it got there.


fake is like tiffin as opposed to full-meals. pongal pidikaathu, whereas masala dosai pidikkum.


i mentioned job satisfaction as a possible reason.

/* My view of patriotism for those not in armed force is simple (especially in India) your taxes, follow the law, do not spit on the road...and similar such simple things...may not sound being patriotic... */

100% with you.

Hawkeye said...


Thanks for visiting my blog and acknowledging my post. I won't even claim that I am even in the ball park where I can pretend to understand what pain your family is going through or understand how your brother developed the courage to make his choices. because I dont. Anything I say further will trivialize the situation. So i'll stop.

I sent you a mail, expressing my condolences in private.

/* He told me these filmi guys have no clue what it is like on the actual border. Its no where close to what is portrayed on the screen in some misguided attempt to in still patriotism */

After seeing stupid actresses visiting military camps to encourage jawans. I am really glad to hear this.

Hawkeye said...


I just realized that I couldnt answer a single question you asked me :-)


/* It is absolutely not our nature to fight. */

you never know what part of our true nature surfaces at what time. today its true nature A and tomorrow is true nature B

What Kind of Book Would you like to Read said...

Confluence is indeed very thought provoking. I am sure now i have one more entry into my IE fav list :)

Raghab Nepal said...

very well written