Saturday, September 4, 2021

Career in the Forces: What's your Lucky Number

 

Defence forces have always been an attraction as a career option. Apart from the lure of wearing the uniform, it is the pride and faith of the Nation that makes it so. In the 60s, the master guides and magazines, then available, always had a suggested question wherein the candidate would be asked, why the Forces and not the Police, the winning answer invariably was the pride of joining the Forces to fight for the country, leaving policing to lesser mortals.

Let’s see, how those who join the Army progress in their career (Situation in the Navy and Air Force would be more or less similar).  Here are some statistics that are useful. NDA is without doubt the premier institution for training of those desirous of making it as officers in the three services. Entrance exams for NDA are conducted by the UPSC where candidates in huge numbers apply. In 2020 for example, for a Course with a capacity of 300, around 5.3 lakhs applied out of which 2.4 lakhs appeared for the exam. The figures are staggering. No wonder then that entry into the NDA is considered as one of the most competitive.

After such a competitive exam and selection, one would expect that the career progression would be smooth over the years with experience gained while serving in various areas of the country like the other All India Services.  But is it so?

The Army structure can be best compared to a pyramid with a huge base. Lieutenants, captains, majors and  lieutenant colonels, who constitute almost 85 per cent of the officer cadre, are at the base, promotions to these ranks are generally assured based on years of service.  Selections to higher ranks in the 15th or 16th year, kick in from colonel level which is the first select rank. Unfortunately, 50 to 60 percent officers miss the chance to be promoted at the very first step of the selection ladder mainly due to lack of vacancies, not capability and relative merit. Selection to higher ranks is even tougher as the rate of missing out continues.

So what makes one eligible and not another?

Selections are made through selection boards, some call them rejection boards. The inputs to these Boards are performance on courses, honours and awards, disciplinary record and last but the most important, with about 90 percentage weightage is the Annual Confidential Report in which the officers performance and potential for higher ranks is assessed by his superiors up the chain. Every year or more often, the reporting officers award single digit figurative assessment for various attributes of the officer being reported upon, with a highest of 9. These gradings in numbers are awarded for a plethora of attributes some seemingly mundane, others vital. Figurative assessments are based on individual reporting officers who all have their own perceptions on what an officer has demonstrated or has the potential to. Many factors come into play in this, as every assessing officer too has his likes and dislikes, favourites, loyalties and the like. While some are known to be very liberal, some realistic, some are stingy. For example, a very good and capable officer may be rated favourably by a reporting officer while another officer with similar qualifications and attributes may not be awarded similarly by a stingy reporting officer. Therein lies the catch.

With promotions being vacancy and relative merit based in a batch, its all in the numbers that the officer gets in his ACRs. If reports are to be believed, some aren’t approved since their merit is often decided in the second decimal place amongst their batch. Even in cases where all things like courses, postings, tenures etc being equal in an officers profile and record of service, it all boils down to what’s the lucky number that your boss fancies. A lower grading specially in critical years will mar any chances of promotion to higher rank(s) for ever, once awarded its rather difficult to get it set aside.

And why is rank that important? In the Armed Forces, pay and allowances, perks and authority are naturally related to the rank and position held. Unlike the civvy street of the Govt, there’s no NFU or auto upgradation of pay/status with a batch. While the Armed Forces personnel are allowed to carry their ranks by the Constitution even after they retire from active service, while in service or even after retirement, allotment of guest rooms, seating arrangements, entitlement of facilities like canteen institutes etc are all governed by the all-important rank.  And for that the boss’s favourite number must tally with your lucky number (9 or as close to it as possible) else, its goodbye to higher ranks even if one is capable.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lesson in Punctuality

 

In February 1965, I was a student in Sainik School Satara, a boarding School, in class 8. 


Every evening, we used to have a roll call where important orders/updates used to be passed. on one such day, for some reason only 28 students were on time out of more than 200. Apart from a "moral lecture", as a punishment, it was announced that we won't get to see the next movie, a weekly feature. And the movie was Kabuliwala, we had just read the famous story in our English class and kept hoping, nay were almost sure that since most of us were late, the authorities would relent, punish us in some other manner but  would let us see the movie.

But came the day and only those 28 who were on time were allowed to see it, rest of us had go without it. My classmate, Atul Lakhe, who has preserved a large number of photos and other memorabilia of the School days has kindly shared this entry that he made in his diary of the day




That one incident taught me the importance of punctuality and more importantly the need to persist with a decision taken, else people might take you for granted. 

Having spent more than 30 yrs in the Army, it was  further reinforced but when I joined a PSU after Army, punctuality became the biggest casualty, so much so that I had to change this habit since many a time, I would arrive on the appointed time only to find the preparations had yet to be completed. 

Punctuality remains one of our bigger weaknesses.

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

MEMORIES OF SAINIK SCHOOL SATARA


 

Joining the School

We had just moved to Satara from Mumbai  in 1961 and I had been admitted to New English School, when one fine day I was told that I would now be going to another School. Although I don't recall the exact date, as we proceeded in a Tonga to the School with a Steel Trunk and other items beyond Powai Naka which was virtually the limit of the city then, there was a sense of foreboding and disquiet surely. As we entered the School Gate, little did I know that the School would not only define and shape my career but completely overwhelm my lifestyle forever. The residents of the Wada we stayed in, weren't so optimistic though, many of them said I was being sent to a Remand Home, which was also in the area!

Foundation Day

I vividly recall the School foundation day, hopefully correctly, more so because that's the first time saw a Helicopter when it landed  where the then Parade Ground was, in the process the amount of dust it raised was mind boggling. That and the huge Brass bell which collapsed are ingrained in my mind. The then Defence Minister had arrived to inaugurate the School.

Initial Years

The reminiscences of living away from home for the first time are surprisingly rather vague. Living in those barracks which once housed Prisoners of war or so the stories went, must have been strange but don't recall feeling overly homesick or anything of the sort. We were probably just about 150 or so in the beginning, till the School expanded slightly in early 1962, and later almost doubled in 1965/66. I had joined in the 5th class. Most of us had come from Marathi/regional language  medium schools hence at the end of 6 months, almost all of us had to repeat the 5th class from January 1962. The academic year changed to January to December too. There were select few students who spent only 6 months in class 5, I came to know only very recently why but it doesn't  matter now.

The Initial Lot

The School had an interesting mix of students, overwhelmingly  Marathi but we also had a fair sprinkling particularly from Punjab, children of defence forces personnel from all over, I was one too, some from Southern/ Eastern India. That taught us, right from then,  about living life in a cosmopolitan environment. As days went by, we realised that there were students whose parents were famous and rich, some prominent politicians including Ministers too. Not that it mattered much as far as we or the School curriculum was concerned. But on visiting days or while returning from vacations, one could see some coming in fancy cars with loads of eats and stuff.  Even in our class we had our share of such students. Since we were the first students to get in, our induction was easy, hope it still is.

 Fun Times 

One of the pastimes  some of us used to indulge in, was recalling the School numbers and the student associated with them. even now, one can recall especially those up to School number 150 without going too wrong.  There were many games and sports we got to play in School but the one good habit picked up was getting up early, going for PT regularly. We used to enjoy those road walks and runs too,  especially during Monsoons, when we could go out of the School. Mainly due to the School but also NDA and Army later, this habit has stayed and the day doesn't begin well unless there's a strenuous walk or a round of Golf early morning. Since we joined the School in its infancy when the infrastructure was just coming up, we didn't have a swimming pool or the Gymnasium till both facilities came up towards  the final years of our Schooling. That meant that many of us couldn't learn to swim well.

In the initial stages, the school was a novelty in the sleepy town that Satara was. I recall that a boxing exhibition was organised in front of the Rajwada featuring students, probably locals were given preference. Uday Godbole and I had one of the earliest bouts, being in lowest weights, don't recall the result now but wonder if that show put off some locals from joining.

Later, we used to take part in or visit Science exhibitions in local Schools as also Republic Parades. If I am not too wrong, we also marched to a theatre to go and see Battle of the Bulge, also remember watching Hatari similarly, those were enjoyable outings. There used to be lots of sports fixtures with the Schools in Panchgani and it was always a pleasure to go there to witness the matches.

Nicknames

In Maharashtra, at least then, it wasn't common to have nicknames, the most popular probably was Bandya but when the School commenced, many of the fellow students were given nicknames like Gunda, Gabru, Laddoo etc most of them by Ghadge sir. These have stuck.

Punctuality and Discipline

One incident I vividly recall is when most of us were, for some reason or the other, late for the evening roll call in February 1965,  which used to be held near the Dining Hall. Just 28 were on time. As a punishment, it was announced that we won't get to see the next movie which was a weekly feature. And the movie was Kabuliwala, we had just read the famous story in our English class and kept hoping, nay were almost sure that since most of us were late, the authorities would relent and that we would get to see the movie. But came the day and we were still not allowed to see it. That one incident taught us the importance of punctuality and more importantly the need to persist with a decision taken, else people might take you for granted. Army life further reinforced this but when a joined a PSU after Army, punctuality became the biggest casualty, so much so that I had to change this habit since many a time, I would arrive on the appointed time only to find the preparations had yet to be completed. Punctuality remains one of our bigger weaknesses. Atul Lakhe, my classmate used to maintain a diary, extract of which he was kind enough to share with me

Art

For some reason, in spite of an excellent teacher like Late Mr Kukkal, I just could not pick up the art of drawing/painting. Somehow used to manage to pass. It was probably in 8th class, that we were asked to paint a Kabbaddi match scene. For me, drawing one person used to be difficult, here I had to draw very many in different poses. I approached Ajit Magar, my classmate to help me out since he was good in drawing (also singing by the way), and he promised to help. But as the date of submission approached, somehow things didn't work out and I had nothing to show for my efforts. I somehow managed to create something and submitted it. When the result was announced, turned out I had got a Zero, it was that bad. Luckily, it wasn't a mandatory subject and didn't affect the promotion to the next standard. And from the next session, one had to choose between Art or Craft which was carpentry, my choice automatically went to Carpentry. There with another classmate Amar Patil, we created a model of the Obstacle Course which had just come up. That was quite well liked. Till date, haven't tried my hand at drawing or painting, in fact one of the reasons for not opting for Biology was because I was told that one would have to draw a frog!! Not that it mattered, since I went on to join NDA.

Expansion of the School

Since the School had come up in old barracks, we saw great activity in creating the present day dormitories, Main Building, the Dining Hall etc. It was great fun watching all this coming up, climbing up the trees and then jumping on to the sand that would be stored close by for the construction. When the foundation stone for the Dahanukar Auditorium was laid, we watched in awe as the local artist painted the whole stone one evening. The intake of the students almost doubled and the School went to have three more houses. That also meant that now it wasn't really possible to know everyone.

Delhi Party

Sometime in 1964, from being a local student I went on to become part of the Delhi Party since my father got posted to Lucknow. The Delhi Party was only for the vacations when all of us would go under the supervision of one of our teachers by ST bus to Pune, then onwards to Mumbai by a special bogie and then by one of the trains (was it Punjab Mail?) where I would drop off at Jhansi to continue to Lucknow. Return journey was similarly undertaken in the reverse order. Till then my coming and going used to be to home in Satara, hence this was a big change for me, kind of liberating. Remember finishing off almost the complete pocket money on the journey on eats etc between Pune & Mumbai apart from the mandatory halt at Shirwal on the bus journey to Pune when we would get down and buy  Parle peppermints.

Academics

Apart from the hitch in 5th Class, the move through the School session was quite easy. We had an excellent, dedicated set of teachers who took great care in helping us through the syllabus. Although its almost impossible now to remember everyone now, recall with fondness and gratitude Ms Sapre, the strict Maths teacher, Mr G Devasahayam, the English teacher who was fond of calling everyone by their full names eg Deebak Keshav Khar (he was probably a Malyali hence the pronunciation). At that time, the West Asian countries had just discovered oil and getting rich and he used to tell stories about them and the Americans which we used to hear in awe and bewilderment. Mr R P S Chouhan replaced him. Then there was Mr P C Sharma who taught us Hindi and had an unusual punishment of keeping pencils between fingers and squeezing the hand if we misbehaved in class. Also recall Mr Kapoor, was he, who taught Physics for some time. Mr Kirtikar was a Naval NCC officer to boot and although he never taught us, remember his smart appearance at NCC in his uniform and singing the song Life in the Navy....And there was Mr Asnare also smart in his NCC uniform and our additional Maths Teacher. I was rather fond of the subject and used to enjoy the classes. Then There was our House Master, Mr Babar and Mr Deshmukh in Shivaji and Mr Pandit in Karve. Mr Pandit used to be a good cricketer too, its he who coaxed me to write for the School journal which is how I had an article on Mihir Sen a swimmer of repute who had just swum 7 different Seas then. Throughout School I was the only Kher, till Mr V G Kher joined as a teacher, no relation of mine though. There was Mr Marathe too, one of the few to own a bike Motor Cycle then. And then we all remember Mr Ghadge and the two Jadhavs who were PT instructors, Gadge sir was much more than just that, he was the one who could control the students, taught us nuances of PT, games, boxing etc and probably knew everyone by name and idiosyncrasies. A tough but popular teacher, there's a lesson in that, if you are good, people will remember you even if you are strict.

Appearing for NDA

As we progressed in School, it was time to appear for the NDA entrance exam. We had been keenly watching our seniors going into NDA and that in any case was the goal of the School as well as for most of us. Passing the written test wasn't much of a problem but there were a few "smart ones" who otherwise brilliant, managed to fail the UPSC test itself to avoid going through the process. We were well coached for the written and even better for the SSB where the Principal Late Col Puri used to personally aided by the teachers supervise our group discussions and tasks. All that preparation helped and many from our class got through  in the first or second attempt, I qualified in the second and last attempt. Unaware initially, the repetition in class 5 in 1961 had left me with only 2 chances, while many had 5 or lesser. While preparations for NDA were on in right earnest, our medical and physical conditions were also being looked at, many of us were underweight. We were then put on a special diet which consisted of boiled potatoes among other things which didn't lead to much increase in weight. However,  we managed to clear the medical as well, though still underweight, the Drs faith in my ability to gain weight later has been fully vindicated as I now try to lose weight without much success.  It was only later that dietary research claimed that it was fried, not boiled,  potatoes which increased weight!! Oh, chips and burgers would have been so very welcome in the School diet then.

The Reading Habit

The School had a well appointed library which I made good use of.  Mr Karhade was always very helpful in the library. Magazines like Life.. English and Marathi books, all fascinated me, the reading habit continues to this day. These days, Social Media, Internet, TV, OTT and Kindle etc have probably led to reduced interest in the published word but for old timers like me, turning the page still retains its charm. this is one habit I hope I continue to nurture.

School Leaving

Ours was the first batch to complete their entire schooling from 5th to 11th, those were Senior Cambridge days, in December 1968. Many of our classmates had left the school earlier days due to various reasons but most did to join NDA after successfully completing 10th in June 1968. It was left to very few of us to complete the Schooling. Having cleared the SSB, awaiting the Merit list, many didn't take the Senior Cambridge very seriously, in retrospect that wasn't  the right thing to do but we were feeling self assured that after leaving School we would join NDA in January 1969. Remember, many including me just waiting for the cup of coffee provided to  help us keep awake for late night studies and then  promptly going back to the dormitories to sleep. Those were such carefree days. After appearing for the exams, we left School, exact date eludes me though. Remember singing the song  in chorus Savere Wali Gadi Se Chale Jayenge during the last dinner that we had in the School.

Looking Back

A we left School, little did we realise then that the bonds developed during that period would remain strong forever, most of us are still in touch with each other. Everything that we learnt in School be it academics, physical fitness, sports, public speaking and social etiquettes  has helped in living a meaningful  life and making a mark in the Society we live in. Our dedicated teaching and associated staff, matrons, ward boys and mess staff deserve our gratitude. The Batch was most fortunate to be with only one Principal all thru their schooling, special mention must be made of the late Col & Mrs Puri who deserve our special gratitude, their love, care and dedication helped us adjust through the various phases of  life that we as young boys of 9 or 10 went through till we left School. I have the fondest memories of the School even now. The uniform I wore for the first time in School in 1961, continued to change colours till I retired from the Army in 2003.

Post script

Wanted to end on that note but must mention that we were fortunate to be in the School on Boxing Finals Day as guests in December 2018 as we gathered in Satara and celebrated the Golden Jubilee of School leaving. The School management deserves our thanks for that too.



The Sushant Singh Rajput Case; Media Overly Involved

 Ever since the death of Sushant Singh Rajput on 14 June 2020, the news media has gone overboard in pursuing the case, often viciously and with bias. Some channels have even assigned SITs and carry out virtual prosecution and pronouncements in their daily prime time shows. But is that what they are meant to do?? Isn't it their responsibility to acquaint the readers/viewers of the other version as well and then leave it for their intelligence to arrive at conclusions. But with TRPs counting for revenue, the loudes and crudest often gets all the TRPs, others just follow. 

Here are a few issues that need to be borne in  mind while looking at this case.

Sushant was a good actor, not outstanding. Aayushman Khurana, Rajkumar...are equally good. Don't think he was a threat to the Khans of Bollywood who in any case are past their prime. No one can make a superstar out of a nobody, it's the people who make them. Yes, some can be given chances again and again, to make a mark but unless public approves, it doesn't happen.

Sushant and his family are being portrayed as virtuous but details emerging from WhatsApp messages show a different picture.

Also, CBI and ED have yet to make a breakthrough in the alleged murder and siphoning of 15 Cr. In fact the theory of 15 Cr has been well demolished by a news channel just last evening.

Every fiercely competitive  profession like Bollywood industry/politician pulls down those who are likely to be a threat. Even the  CJI of SC has said it happens even with judges as well when their names come up for consideration as HC judges.

As regards drugs cartel, is it a secret. So far only the lower rung people have been nabbed, lets see if the real lords are nabbed.

There's also no doubt that media has botched up this case with its relentless pursuit. The goal post has shifted from nepotism to ED, to Rhea as murderer when she wasn't even present at home on 14th June to drug cartel....

The hounding of Rhea, showing her daily movements from home to authorities LIVE, her photos in fashionable clothes during discussions, revealing Source based information on Qs being asked and her answers all show that the media isn't being impartial. some channels have even run Hashtags like #ArrestRhea.

Media needs to pull its act and hello, aren't regulatory authorities out there somewhere??

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Problem in Kashmir Valley

I feel, the reactions to the Pulwama incident have been over the top by and large, hyped by the media and possibly due to the enormity of the tragedy & the looming Elections.
This was a terrorist attack in which terrorists got lucky with such a newsmaking target. The terrorist organisation will be the beneficiary.
Although, AFSPA is still operational in J&K, the Forces feel constrained by the Courts which ultimately decide on cases. Protests and restrictions on the use of pellets are also a burden but Forces have to act within the framework. Although, Politicians keep asking for repeal of AFSPA, as a routine, such appeals need to be ignored.
So long as the population is alienated, not much can be achieved. Kashmiris have always felt alienated due to a number of reasons. In terrorist affected areas, carrot & stick is always the better policy. This Govt, thinks they can browbeat Kashmiris by eliminating terrorists but for every terrorist eliminated, many more join. Have been studying this since late 80s, whenever, the State appears to be gaining control, one odd incident changes the equation.
Have always felt that, so long as any particular religion dominates in the Valley, there can never be peace. But who will have the gumption to repeal 370?
There's no doubt that Pakistan actively aids and abets terrorism in the Valley, having failed elsewhere.
India should tackle Pakistan by exploiting the Indus Water Treaty and the inherent faultlines in Pakistan's regions. Nothing seems to be going in that direction

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Finally, A Hole in One

What could be so very difficult putting a golf ball of the diameter of 1.68 inches into a hole of 4.25 inches diameter on a manicured green grass surface? Well, ask a golfer whether amateur or professional and you could be listening to stories all day.

Now translate that to putting that ball into the hole over a distance 160 yards with a few trees and bunkers thrown in and you will get the idea that this indeed is a miracle which happens to a select few.

I have been golfing for a real long time, although without any formal training and enjoy my thrice a week outings to the Course in the mornings in Pune. 23 December 2015 was one such day. The four ball I played in wasn't  having a particularly great day at the Course although on other days we do play fairly well.

As we arrived at the 15th hole, leaving all the rather difficult holes behind, we did hope for a change in fortunes. I picked up a 6 iron as I normally do for this hole and hit a good shot. It was nice to see the ball soaring high over the trees and begin its descent. On its descent the ball dropped almost vertically hit the base of the trunk of a tree close to the green and could not be seen from the tee. That was good enough, since on many occasions in the past, the ball was found lying close by in the grassy area. As I walked to the area where the ball should have been, I just could not locate the ball. Two of the caddies were standing in the same area but both said that they didn't know where the ball went. After the mandatory search, losing a ball on the fairway is a terrible thing for a golfer, for a few minutes, I gave up and played another ball as a provisional ball and chipped it on to the green. I awaited my turn to putt as another golfer was putting being further away from the pin. Since his putt came close to the hole, the three of us almost unanimously said Given and his ball was picked up. Now it was my turn, and I putted, again very close, almost 2 inches, from the pin and the same Given comment prompted me to pick up my ball. As I was doing this, I couldn't help but notice that a ball was already lying in the cup and as I said this, I picked up the ball in the cup and was thoroughly surprised to see that the ball had my initials on it and in fact was the very ball that I had teed off with. Suddenly, the atmosphere was electrified and everyone was congratulating me for a hole in one while I was thanking my stars having found the ball till it began to sink in that the miracle of a Hole In One had finally happened to me.





The Golfing Gods had finally showered their mercy on me and I got my Hole In One. I do hope that this is just the beginning although I am very happy with this one and will forever treasure it.