Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur

Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur

Bhojpur main

 

On the auspicious day of Mahashivratri, I decided to restart my blog with an article on the old Bhojeshwar Temple that houses the largest Shiv Ling in India. I visited this temple a couple of days ago and was awestruck by the simplicity in the design and the architecture that in fact enhanced the grandeur of the monolith Shiv Ling in the sanctum. This marvel is located at about half an hour’s drive south from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Built by Raja Bhoja I in the eleventh century (A.D. 1010-55[1]) the temple stood on the banks of a manmade lake created by the same ruler by damming of Betwa and Kaliasot Rivers. It is estimated that the lake covered an area of 250 square miles as it stretched from “Dumkheda, near Bhopal city, to Amoha in the south, and from Chaplasar in the east to Barkhedi in the west.” [2] Map given below shows the location of these places, the first having been swallowed by the city of Bhopal. Ostensibly, Sultan Hoshung Shah breached the dams in the fifteenth century and thus the lake is not to be seen today.

Bhojpur Lake

Map Source: C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), p. 309, archive.org.

 

 

To reach the sanctum of the temple one has to climb a flight of stone steps to the platform that leads to the temple. This large rectangular platform on the western side of the temple has two small raised platforms covered with chhatris (Gazebo). One has a small marble Shiv-ling and the other has the sculpture of a serpent. Both these are worshipped by devotees who visit this temple. Besides the two chhatri-adorned platforms, there is a third raised but uncovered platform which has a Shiv-ling and serpent figures atop it and on the western side a small alcove houses a deity of Mahadev.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has set up barricades in the area between the three joined platforms and the main entrance of the temple thus preventing devotees from performing the parikrama (circumambulation) of the marble Shiv-Ling. The main temple itself is at an elevation from the platform and there exists old slabs of stones as stairs, which are both small and quite low from the threshold of the entrance for use of devotees. The ASI has installed two flights of stairs at the entrance for people to conveniently enter and exit the sanctum. Also, ASI should be commended for building a ramp to enable the feeble and the disabled to reach the sanctum without having to climb the large stone steps to the platform.

Standing at the threshold of the sanctum the view is to behold. The Shiv-Ling is set on a large platform which is situated much below the level of the threshold. Stone steps lead to the base of the Shiv-ling where devotees worship the Lingam with flowers and fruits. The single square sanctum has a high ceiling with a dome in the centre. According to Wikipedia, sections of the roof were missing until the beginning of the twenty first century when they were covered by fibreglass. It has been contended that the temple construction was abandoned midway leaving many features incomplete. Archaeologist K. K. Muhammed successfully completed the creation and installation of a missing pillar by sourcing the right kind of stone and by employing trained stone artisans. He also holds the view that a mathematical error by the medieval architect resulted in the collapsing of the roof that caused the abandonment of construction of the temple.[3]

The entrance of the temple is both extremely broad and high, very unlike Hindu temple architecture. Probably the entrance was made so big so as to allow the shifting of the monolith Lingam into the sanctum. Prof. Kirit Mankodi terms the temple intriguing because of several peculiar features. This west facing temple lacks a mandapa (a pillared outer hall for devotees) and instead of a shikhara (a tall spire), which is a standard for Hindu temple structure, this temple has a samvarna (a dome shaped) roof. He echoes the view of Shri Krishna Deva and Prof Dhaky who surmise that this temple was a commemorative temple in memory of a departed person. [4]

The gigantic Lingam and the pedestal on which it sits occupy the whole space between the four pillars on each corner of the room. The space between the pillars and the walls adjacent to them is pretty narrow hardly allowing two people to pass through. However, in a single file devotees can easily complete circumambulation of the Lingam if they wish to.

Inside the temple on the southern wall, ruins of a balcony are visible (photos end of the para). In all probability, if completed this would have extended just over the Lingam to enable the king or other royalty to perform Hindu religious oblations of pouring milk and water on the Lingam as is done by devout Hindus over Shiv-Lings all over the country. Similarly, on the outside of the wall, one can see highly ornate remains of a balcony. Both the balconies are faux balconies as there are no approaches or exits to them. Since the superstructure could not be built, seemingly the stairs leading to these balconies remained unexecuted. The fact that these balconies exist on the inside and outside of the same wall and that to perform oblations on such a gigantic Lingam an elevated approach was necessary, it is highly plausible that the balconies were meant to be functional and would therefore have had stairs leading to them if the construction of the temple had been completed. The northern and eastern walls too have faux balconies on the outside but these truly seem to be faux balconies as on the inside of these walls there are no indications of balconies like that on the inside face of the southern wall. These balconies on the outside face of the northern and eastern walls may have been constructed to present a symmetrical design from the outside of the temple. Surprisingly, Kirit Mankodi has not mentioned the presence of an incomplete balcony projecting from the southern wall towards the lingam, and, therefore, has missed taking into consideration the possibility of the balconies on the outside and inside of the southern wall as being functional features of the final completed temple. If the balconies were meant to be used for rituals then would this temple still be called a commemorative one? Or as Mankodi states, built as a funerary temple?

Bhojpur Interior

in the above photo the incomplete balcony can be seen on the right wall, right behind the column in the foreground. Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.

Bhojpur inside balcony

This photo was taken from the floor of the sanctum. The broken beam located right below the balcony suggests that the balcony was intended to be extended further to reach the lingam. Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.

 

Several European travellers and officers of the East India Company who traversed these parts of central India in the nineteenth century have described this temple in their writings. In a travelogue of 1839, the author mentions that the Gosains of the temple ‘resided in a small court in front of the temple.’[5] In another description of 1847, it is said that the pedestal of the Lingam carried an inscription “achintya dhwaja” which meant ‘the sign of incomprehensible.’ The author also states that the temple possessed four pillars.[6]

A remarkable feature of this temple site is the finding of a large number of stone carvings in various stages of completion in the quarries nearby. Along with the carvings, stones pieces have been found that have plans and names of masons etched on them. These are crucial in augmenting our understanding of the mechanics of Hindu temple construction of the medieval period and before. Also, a ramp used to carry the pieces to the top part of the temple is found on the eastern side of the temple.

Louis Rousselet visited this temple site in the 1860s and has given a detailed description of the temple:

The temple is situated on a high mount, part of which has been converted into a terrace and it is reached by a dilapidated flight is steps, overlooked by the poor buildings of the convent; where, passing under a little doorway, we found ourselves at once before a great façade. A vast pointed gap, the archwork of which has partly disappeared, occupies the centre, leaving the interior of the sanctuary visible; and the façade is very remarkable from the marked contrast of is simplicity and mode of construction with the other monuments of India. Large monoliths not measuring less than from thirty to forty feet in height, standing side by side, form the exterior wall; both sides of which had no other ornament than two heads of monsters, of graceful design, from which issued a chain terminating in a bell. The chain and the bell are well known as being one of the favourite adjuncts of Jain architecture.

I have said that the walls had no other ornaments besides these sculptures, but a short time since they were decorated with statues taken from another ancient temple. A flight of a few steps leads to the threshold of the portal, and then descends again to the base of the sanctuary, which slopes downwards. There you face an altar of such gigantic proportions that it fills the entire temple. It covers, in fact, a surface of forty-four square yards; and this enormous mass composed of three superposed granite monoliths, is finished by elegant cornices.

A staircase, concealed so as not to injure the general effect, leads to the summit of the altar, in the centre of which stands a polished cylindrical stone post, perfectly rounded at its summit, and, at the corners of the hall, four superb monolithic columns support the roof of the temple. These columns are considered by the Indians as marvels of their national architecture; and they maintain that he who has never seen the Bhojepore-ka-khoumbas has seen nothing. It is, indeed, impossible to conceive a more graceful form combined with so imposing a mass. Each shaft, which rests on a pedestal two yards in height, is divided into three equal sections; the first and the second are octagon, and the third had twenty four sides, which has the effect of adding wonderfully to the perspective, and augmenting the apparent height of the columns; and the capital forms a graceful campanile, whence issue heavy consoles, supporting the extremities of the four massive architraves on which the roof rests. It is on this roof, a magnificent concentric Jain dome, that the architect appears to have bestowed all the ornamental riches of which he has been so sparing in the rest of the edifice. Each of the circles of the cupola is a continuous network of lace, flowers, fruits, and arabesques, in the midst of which sport innumerable figures of musicians and dancing girls.[7]

Doorway Closeup

Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018. This shows the bell on the chain sculpted on the doorway as described by Rousselet above. The chain and bell column was missing before the repairs as is visible in the photos below. Also, the closeup of the doorway clearly shows the broken part on the top and left jamb.

 

If we ignore Rousselet’s incorrect ascription of certain features to Jain temples, such as the bell on chain which is an inalienable aspect of a Hindu temple as well, his description of the temple augments our understanding of the temple architecture as well as corroborates other descriptions. From the description given above and from the mention in the 1839 travelogue of Gosains residing in front of the temple, it is clear that the convent which housed the Gosains of the temple existed on the platform that today stands barren except for the three raised platforms mentioned earlier. Since Rousselet calls the convent structures as ‘poor buildings,’ it indicates that the convent structure was not temporary in nature but was possibly made of stone. Thus, when were these convent structures removed, by whom, and why?

Interesting to note is that these travellers noted a saying common among the local people about Raja Bhoj’s contribution to our rich cultural heritage:

Muchalpoor ka baolee our [aur] Bhojpoor ka Kumbh

Udayapoor ka Dehura (was built by one man)[8]

‘Kumbh” here refers to the imposing tall pillars of the Bhojeshwar Temple.

Even more interesting is the description written in the early twentieth century. In an article written in 1914, the courtyard in front of the temple is described as nothing but a long and narrow “collection of mud and rubble.” This narrow courtyard extended to enclose some small “huts used by the local Mahant and his chelas.” Interestingly, in this description the author mentions the existence of four pillars within the temple.[9] Thus, the destruction of the pillar gets pushed to sometime after 1914.

As to the reasons for this temple’s incomplete state, the finding of finished statues lying in the quarries indicates an abrupt abandonment of the site while the temple was still under construction. Archaeologists conjecture several reasons – such as flooding, earthquake, mathematical error, or war- for its abandonment. On seeing the temple, especially the doorway which clearly looks broken at places rather than being left incomplete as can be inferred from the rather jagged edge on the top of the doorway, I got a sense that the temple faced deliberate destruction. Whether the destruction took place while the temple was still under construction or after it was abandoned, is not clear. Nevertheless, if one studies the photographs of the temple taken before the renovation (given below), the roof does not look caved in but rather broken with force. Since Luard theorises that Sultan Hoshung Shah deliberately breached the dam out of “wantonness” it is highly possible that the Bhojeshwar temple too faced his “wanton” wrath which resulted in the damage visible to many travellers until the repairs were made recently.

The following two photos were taken before renovation of the temple as is seen from the extensively damaged roof. In the second photo one can see that the left column of the doorway which should have the chain and bell sculpture is missing.

Bhojeshwar Temple before repairs 2

Source: http://www.shunya.net/Pictures/NorthIndia/Bhojpur/Bhojpur.htm

Bhojeshwar Temple before repairs 1

Source: http://www.shunya.net/Pictures/NorthIndia/Bhojpur/Bhojpur.htm

Bhojpur2

Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018

Bhojpur Dome inside

Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.

Bhojpur Statues

Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.

[1] M. N. Deshpande, “The Siva Temple at Bhojpur: Application of Samarangansutradhara,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, Vols. 54-55/1979-80 (Combined) (New Series), ed. Devangana Desai (Bombay: 1983), pp. 35-39. Hathitrust

[2] C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), pp. 309-316, archive.org.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhojeshwar_Temple

[4] ,Kirit Mankodi, Scholar-Emperor and the Funerary Temple, Eleventh Century Bhojpur from academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/11335214/Scholar-emperor_and_a_Funerary_Temple_Eleventh_Century_Bhojpur

[5] “March between Mhow and Saugor, 1838,” The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VIII January to December 1839 (Calcutta: Bishop’s College Press, 1840), pp. 802-822, Google Books.

[6] J. D. Cunningham, “Notes on the Antiquities of the Districts within the Bhopal Agency &c,” The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XVI Part II July to December 1847 (Calcutta: 1847), pp. 739-744, Google Books. Cunningham was the Political Agent at Bhopal.

[7] Louis Rousselet, India and its Native Princes: Travels in Central India and the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal, New Edition (London: Bickers & Sons, 1882), 471-472, Google Books.

[8] “March between Mhow and Saugor, 1838,” The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VIII January to December 1839 (Calcutta: Bishop’s College Press, 1840), pp. 813-814, Google Books.

[9] C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), pp. 309.

Call Centres: Transform them or just do away with them

Call centres have become so common that these days they are the only way through which customers can get in touch with companies whose product or services they purchase or use. So in marketing terms the most important interface between customers and companies, for after sales services, are these call-centres.

I have no clue about how foreign countries are serviced by the much-hyped Indian run call centres located here in India. I do hope they are better, if not; hopefully improvements are being made by smart and clued on call centre honchos and that too, on a war-footing. If they are not doing so then the tide of call centres shifting to quality conscious countries (read Philippines) will soon turn into a tsunami. Insofar the quality of call centres servicing the Indian citizens is concerned, they are absolutely pathetic. Here I talk from my ten years experience as a customer who has been trying to get in touch with varied companies for equally varied products for after-sales services. It has been a very frustrating, exasperating and infuriating ten years on the phone. More so, when the executives sitting on the other end of the phone line, with their heads perpetually squashed between two sides of the headsets, are either abysmally ill-trained and ill-informed or are intellectually ill-equipped to handle increasing numbers of aware customers (thanks to Google).

Take for example calling a customer call centre of a major telephone and mobile service provider. Nothing can be more annoying than being told to follow certain steps of trouble-shooting of a troubling modem- steps that any moron would do before calling customer service centre. The conversation goes like this-

Self: Hello

Before I even finish saying ‘hello’

Customer Service Executive (herewith CSE) rants off: Good evening. This is xyz of abc company customer service centre. How may I help you?

If you, the reader, have had the good opportunity of having seen and heard a cassette deck play, then the CSE’s rant would be similar to a cassette on play with fast forward button pressed. (How I wish I could record my complaint on a cassette and replay it on the complaint call with FF pressed- that would be some payback or playback (sic)!)

Coming back to the call and the ‘speedy’ executive, I definitely would have missed hearing the name of the executive in that burst of words. And that is the first step to entanglement. If you don’t register the name you can never be able to effectively substantiate a detailed complaint to a higher authority in the future. This, in case, your problem doesn’t get resolved in the first call (chances are it never will be in the first call).

Self: May I know your name again.

CSE: xjefeyjjwfqjz

(I miss it again)

Self: You will have to spell it out.

CSE: X—y—z—HowCanIHelpYou?

Self: Thank you. I need to register a complaint about the…

CSE: IWantToVerfiyYourContactDetailsFirst?OnWhoseNameIsTheConnection?

(By now one can decipher a few words and the brain helps creating the likeliest sentence with those words- and brain is right 99% percent of the times)

Self: Mr. K. L. M

CSE: TheAddressIs213ShantiGardensSector10Noida.Isthatcorrect? (Suddenly he changes the language to Hindi)

Self: Yes…if you could…

CSE: PhoneNumberis34124234?(Hindi again)

Self: I have selected 1 for English. Why are you conversing in Hindi with me?

CSE: Asuvidha ke liye khed hai (Translation: Sorry for the inconvenience)

Self: English, please!

CSE: Isthisnumber34124234? (He rattles off)

(Finally, back in English! My detest for the phrase- Sorry for the inconvenience- grows every time it is uttered)

Self:Yes.CanYouNowPleaseTakeDownTheComplaint?

CSE: MayIKnowYourName?

Self: YouDontHavetoKnowMyName.JustRegister…

CSE: ButItIsCompanyPolicy…

Self:OkMrsKLM.TheComplaintIsRegardingMyBroadbandInternetConnection.ItIsNotWorkingProperly.Many websites are not opening instead I get a message saying “Google cannot find the website”

(I slow down to ensure my complaint is understood clearly, and for you I have spaced the CSE’s sentences to help you read better, though he continues at the same speed)

CSE: Madam, Sorry for the inconvenience you are facing. Are the lights on the modem blinking? The yellow one?

Self: Yes it is. Like I said some websites that I have been accessing for many years are not opening since yesterday while other sites are opening. So the modem seems fine. There seems to be a problem with the connection.

CSE: Madam, Please switch off and on your Modem

Self: I have done that already. In fact that’s what I have been doing since many years whenever I have a problem with connectivity. This time it isn’t working.

CSE: Madam, I am helping you. Please switch off and on the modem.

Self: I have already done it three or four times before calling for help!
CSE: Madam, I am troubleshooting.

Self: I have already done it. Why don’t you listen to me???

CSE: Madam, if you don’t follow the steps we will not be able to resolve the problem.

Self: Gosh! Are you able to understand me?? I have done it three times since morning and have left the modem switched off for two minutes before starting again. This is what I was told last year by your tech team when I had a similar problem but this time the problem remains! Kindly don’t read the script in your hand without understanding the problem.

CSE: No, Madam, I don’t have any script.

Self: That’s worse!

CSE: Excuse me, Madam.

Self: Never mind. Just register the complaint. And I request you to kindly call me on this 1223456666 number since the one with you will not be available.

(My spouse was travelling and since it was his number which was mentioned in the customer care, I decided to give my number)

CSE: Madam, there is outage in your area so it will take four fours to be resolved.

Self: Huh! Outage? How can there be an outage when I can visit some sites?

CSE: Madam, it will take four hours. Technicians are working on it.

Self: How can it be an outage?? If there is an outage I won’t be able to access any websites. Outages don’t allow selective websites to work- IF THERE IS AN OUTAGE ALL WEBSITES WILL BE INACCESSIBLE!

CSE: Madam, Sorry for the inconvenience. But you said many websites are not accessible.

Self: How does it MATTER if I said many or few. The FACT IS THAT SOME WEBSITES ARE ACCESSIBLE AND THAT CONFIRMS THERE IS NO OUTAGE!! CAN YOU PLEASE register a complaint and send a technician HOME!

CSE: Yes Madam, let me talk to the tech team and I will let you know. I will put you on hold for the time being.

Self: Go on!

(and so I listen to the Company jingles, repeated again and again, in a loop, till my ears cry out for help)

CSE: Sorry to keep you on hold, Madam. Your complaint will be resolved within 8 working hours.

Self: So by tomorrow morning?

CSE: We work 8am to 8pm. Your complaint will be resolved by 11 tomorrow morning.

Self: Thanks. But that makes it more than 8 working hours. It is 2pm now, so till 8pm it is 6 hours and then 8am to 11am tomorrow is 3 hours, which adds up to 9 hours. I request you to resolve it by 10am.

CSE: Madam, I can’t confirm that it will happen by 10am.

Self: But you said 8 working hours!

CSE: Madam, it will be done by 11am.

Self: One minute xyz. First you wanted to do the troubleshooting which I had already done and it hadn’t worked, but you insisted. Second, you suddenly hit me with an outage excuse and said it will be rectified in four hours. Third, you said your company resolves complaints in 8 working hours but you are insisting on making it 9 hours! What am I to believe??

CSE: Sorry for the inconvenience, Madam. It is our Company Policy. Your complaint will be resolved by 11am tomorrow.

I nearly broke my finger while cancelling the call in frustration, and more frustrating was that I forgot the most important thing- the complaint registration number! It only dawned on me after my blood had come down to a cool temperature of about 100 degree Fahrenheit(still warm by normal standards)  How the heck would I follow up on the complaint without it? So I called back. And the circus begins again. But this time I get to know that all I had requested in the first call were not registered at all! Like the change in contact number.

What happened next was that when I called back in about half an hour and found my way to a customer executive through pressing a long number of number keys- Select 1 for English, 2 for Hindi; For Broadband Select 1, for Special offers select 2, To go back to the Main Menu Select 4 and so on. To select talking to a customer care executive and not to a machine, you have to navigate through enough selections before you find one that will connect you to a human being on the other end. I wonder what is less stressful- talking to a human customer executive or just listening to a robotic/recorded voice and following instructions.

There is so much to share that I digress easily and frequently. Apologies. So when I got through to the CSE the second time I hear beeps on the call indicating there is a call waiting for me. I ignore it and continue to give priority to my internet problems. My cell starts ringing just then. I see that the call is from my spouse. So I put this fellow on hold and take my spouse’s call. And what do you know! I hear my spouse blurt out angrily . “I am in a meeting. Why is abc Company calling me again and again? Haven’t you told them not to call me? Please get them off my back for now. I am sorry I can’t take anyone’s call now. Thanks. Their Tech team said they will come tomorrow by 12 noon.” And he cuts the call abruptly.

Now I am hopping mad. I go back to that CSE call and blast them for calling my spouse when I had expressly told them to call me on the number I gave last time. The CSE starts by the same old, almost obnoxiously overused statement.

CSE: Sorry for the inconvenience, Madam The contact number on my screen is 987654321.

(The old number which I had requested to be changed but it wasn’t– and I hit the roof! That did it!)

I was a raging bull with the bull riding my tongue. I explained in a scream about what I had requested and blasted him for delaying the time from 11am to 12 noon while throwing the 8-hour-resolution promise out of the window. And what did I get to hear as a reply? Any guesses?

“Sorry for the inconvenience, madam.”

Is that all they have been taught about handling customers? Further, lack of communication and coordination between departments creates more problems. Also, there should be a way through which a customer can be assured of changes made in his or her contact details since numerous times even after informing of change details are not updated. I think a simple text message would solve this problem.

Unless the call centre companies bring in drastic changes in customer handling techniques (quite unlikely), keeping in mind the changing customer profiles (read knowledgeable since computers are no longer a new technology and neither are they rocket science), the telecommunication company will have a growing number of very disgruntled customers.

Why I said quite unlikely about drastic changes happening in training of CSE’s and their handling of customers is because most senior executives and honchos stick to the norm or tweak the norm a bit in order to validate their designation and contribution to the company. There are very few leaders who think out of the box and there are even fewer leaders (forget leaders who think out of the box) in a call centre service industry- an industry considered the least important. I say that through my own experiences with call centres. Like I said in the beginning of this write-up – call centres are the only INTERFACE with the customers of the company after sales have been achieved! If this isn’t important for companies then, I think, this is the beginning of the end of the company.  Either dismantle this incompetent structure or revamp it with great vigour!

And finally to companies who have hired third party companies to handle their customers, or they run their own, my advice would be to do stringent and frequent quality checks on your call centres. And if this write-up pinched you- the companies- in any way – Sorry, for the inconvenience!

Call Centre

P.S– The technicians who turned up the next day rectified the problem immediately. I continue to be a customer of the telecommunications company thanks to these people.

Time to Resurrect “Jai Jawan”

Amar Jawan

State of the Union speech is delivered by the President of United States every year in January. This year Mr. Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech. The content of the speech would have held no importance to an Indian citizen if he was to watch it, but what would have impressed him, apart from Mr Obama’s style of delivery, would be the fact that the whole House stood and applauded and appreciated in unison, Republicans and Democrats putting their differences aside, when the President mentioned the services and sacrifices of the Armed Forces of the USA in his speech. This appreciation and respect for the Armed Forces is extended whenever and wherever soldiers are likely to be in attendance in an event, regardless in private or official capacity, throughout the USA. While flying between cities, the Captains of each flight proudly announce the presence of any soldier on-board, and even at the Sea World in Orlando, before Shamu goes on to display his skills, the host first extends his admiration and respect to the American soldiers present in the audience which is followed by huge round of applause by the audience.

And here, in my country, rarely has the Government or its politicians shown any appreciation or respect to our soldiers, except during wars. Our soldiers who have fought five wars since independence; who continue to fight insurgency on our borders; who live in the harshest of conditions to protect us from our adventurous neighbours; and, who are called in to help during floods, earthquakes and riots are treated with arrogance and disdain by our political and bureaucratic class, and with indifference by the society at large.

One Bihar politician had the audacity to say that soldiers join the army to die only when he was asked why no member of the ruling party in the state was present at the airport to receive the bodies of slain soldiers. And then you have a District Magistrate in Aligarh lashing out at the families of dead soldiers for asking for compensation. According to him it is only in India that families of soldiers demand compensation while families of American soldiers never do. Mr District Magistrate should understand that no citizen of India trusts the Indian government or the bureaucracy to give them what is due because there are many in the system willing to siphon off money to fill their own coffers than to pay the full amount, or not give at all, to the aggrieved families. While in the USA, the government is trusted that it will do its duty to take care, with full respect and honour, of its injured soldiers and the families of those dead.

Continued insurgency and border skirmishes, apart from the wars, in the last 65 years have taken a huge toll on the Armed Forces. Staying away from families and beloved ones for months on end; demoralised by the insensitive and careless government and administration, both central and state; despondency over nepotism and sycophancy, a fallout of a corrupt and inept governance, that ails the services has made many leave the services early, and frayed their nerves enough to turn the guns to target their own colleagues and seniors. Minister of Defence Mr A. K. Anthony had admitted in 2012 that military personnel who took pre-mature retirement numbered 11,760 in the preceding year, and in the current year, i.e. 2012, the data till December 1 showed that 10,822 had put in their papers.1 These figures are not enough to raise an alarm yet, but enough to give a wakeup call to our Government to take charge of the situation. The question is whether the Government will pay heed to the wakeup call before the alarm bells go off.

The Government has sat on files concerning the Armed Forces for years together-be it upgrade of weapons and equipment, salaries, housing etc.- case in point one-rank-one-pension demand by ex-servicemen. In the last many years not a single encouraging step has been taken to boost the morale of the Armed Services. The little that has been done seems to be done by a reluctant Government unwilling to treat these people fairly who have protected our borders with bravery and pride, but a Government willing to deride and disparage any genuine demand made by them. Ex-Chief of the Army, Gen. V.K. Singh when addressing a rally of ex-servicemen in September last year blamed the bureaucracy for holding up files even after the Minister of Defence had cleared many welfare schemes for the personnel.2 Do we infer that the bureaucracy is more powerful than the Minister? Is it not the responsibility of the Minister to ensure officers under him do their work?

After years of neglect from the Indian political class, and the consequential diminishing of respect and honour for the Jawan in the Indian society, the soldiers will eagerly support anyone willing to even establish a War Memorial to boost their morale and esteem in this thankless and neglectful society. Obviously, Mr. Narendra Modi, an astute politician that he is, has struck the right chord amongst the servicemen.

If only the series of Governments since our independence had paid wee bit interest in the welfare of our soldiers, spared some time to lift up their spirits and morale, risen above political, selfish and egotistical gains and honoured our men in uniform in every which way, or at least appreciated their sacrifice at every forum possible, directed and ensured the administration at the local level to take special care of the family of every soldier –in service or retired or dead- residing there. All these actions would have made a soldier proud and a citizen prouder of its Jawans and would have drawn many people to the Forces. But alas, the politicians and the people of this nation have failed and forgotten the Jawan. All that is left is mere tokenism.The lyrics of ay mere watan ke logon hold more importance now than ever before to bring back “Jai Jawan” to its rightful place.

In the year 2012 Mr A.K. Antony, the Defence Minister, in his reply to a question on shortage of manpower in the armed forces said that the Indian military faced a shortage of 66,699 personnel in the Army, Air force and the Navy combined.3 The Defence Minister gave reasons like difficult service conditions, perceived high risks, lucrative alternative career avenues etc for the shortage, but he forgot to mention how working in the armed forces is perceived so poorly in eyes of the society at large, and that it most probably is one of the main reasons for citizens not wanting to join the Forces. This perception is because we, as a nation, take the soldiers and their lives for granted and their welfare comes way below in the Government’s list of priorities, even below ordinances that protect criminal MPs and clearances of 300% hike in the salary and 100% increase in allowances to MPs.4

Patriotism intensifies with symbolism, and our armed forces are one of the central symbols after the national flag and the lion capital because they are living icons of bravery, discipline and, most importantly, secularism. The way we treat this brave mass of citizens will decide how patriotic our future generations will be and how much pride they will take in our nation.

The lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade sums up the unappreciated role of “mute” soldiers aptly, even though written in 1854 it still holds true in 21st century India.

Someone had blunder’d;

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

 

 Source:

  1. News article – Indian Military facing Manpower Shortage, Deccan Herald, December 10, 2012. Viewed on 29 January 2014  (http://www.deccanherald.com/pages.php?id=297621)
  2. News article by Sat Singh– Parties urged to meet, one rank one pension demand, Hindustan Times website, September 1, 2013. Viewed on 30 January 2014 (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/parties-urged-to-meet-one-rank-one-pension-demand/article1-1116048.aspx)
  3. News article – Indian Military facing Manpower Shortage, Deccan Herald, December 10, 2012. Viewed on 29 January 2014  (http://www.deccanherald.com/pages.php?id=297621)
  4. News article- 300% Salary Hike, but some MPs want more, NDTV website, August 20, 2010. Viewed on 29 January 2014 (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/300-salary-hike-but-some-mps-want-more-45822)

 

 

Youth and Alcohol

Time we changed our legal drinking age, seriously. Every pub that I have visited in the previous years, I have witnessed young professionals walking into the pub after office hours or later in the evening and consuming alcohol. Not only do they gulp down cocktails like there is no tomorrow but I noticed most taking shots of other spirits which inevitably means they were mixing drinks. Most of these young professional, regrettably, don’t look above the legal drinking age of 25 years.

My contention is that young people qualify with an undergraduate degree by the age of 20-21 and are employed thereafter. So before they reach the legally permissible drinking age they would have had worked for at least four years. It would be impossible to believe that each one of those young professionals will wait till his or her 25th birthday to enjoy a drinking binge with their colleagues – and colleagues obviously would be their age group. However, our government is in the make-believe world where on one hand they trust an 18 year old youth (that is the legal age limit, de facto it is even less) to smoke responsibly and vote, and yet on the other hand considers a glass of alcohol in a youth’s hand before he turns 25 a crime.

By that age a youth would have smoked cigarettes, tried recreational drugs, had gutka or chewed tobacco for 10 years (taking age 15 as the starting year*), which is far more harmful than drinking, is what I believe; he or she would had sex for 8 years (taking 17 years as average age when Indians become sexually active), not only exposing themselves to all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases, but also indulging in kinky experiments after watching freely and easily available porn on the net; he would be husband for 4 years and she a wife for 7 years and some would be changing nappies and bringing up another human life; he or she would have earned on an average 6 lakh rupees by then, invested in a car, equities or even a house; he or she would have gambled away thousands rupees (in Casinos of Goa); he or she would have driven a vehicle for 7 years, weaving through terrible lawless traffic and managed to survive themselves and others through that; and, yet he or she can’t be allowed to consume alcohol. I really wonder why not when they are allowed most other dangerous stuff without any strictures!

I neither support drinking of alcohol nor am I against it. My belief is that once you are an adult, as declared by the government, your life is how you play it out. My only consideration is that one should not do things that can harm others, even your close kith and kin. Be responsible for your behaviour and be prepared to take criticism or even punishment for stepping out of decency, if you do. My suggestion to the Government would be to stop wasting time and energy into implementing the 25 yr (or 21 in many states) legal drinking age but rather work in bringing all permissions to the base age of 18 years (5 states and Union Territories have 18 years as the legal drinking age and are managing fine) and employing the whole government machinery to come down heavily and efficiently on all forms of alcohol abuse, which is the root cause of problems.

My earnest request to all anti-liquor campaigners is that to not read this article as my support for alcoholism. I extend the argument that alcohol consumption should be treated like all other vices since every vice is equally harmful. As a society we never could and never will be able to stop vices completely. Personal freedom in a controlled environment is better than personal freedom wrested illegally.

 

My Thoughts

I have been a passive and a mute citizen of my country- India. Day after day I would read appalling headlines, experience my countrymen’s total disregard to laws and rules, watch arrogance and sarcasm at display by people in power- be it policemen, netas, babus or even the so called aam admi and the not-so- khaas admi and get very angry and agitated.   Unfortunately, I would seethe for some time but then get busy with my daily chores and responsibilities and do nothing about it.

Many a times I took pictures with my handy mobile camera of vehicles and people flouting laws and rules and disregarding basic human courtesy, promising myself to post the same on the Facebook account of Police Department or to send letters to newspapers or to vent my anger in long descriptive articles. But I couldn’t or didn’t.

To begin 2014 I have decided to put my thoughts into writing, and, hopefully, enable my fellow citizens to think and reflect about their actions and deeds and help bring about some positive change. Even an iota of change will make India so much better.

All the posts will be my thoughts and any mention of names or terms, which might not be appreciated or approved, will be unintentional and inadvertent. These articles should be taken as purely constructive criticism of our people and society. I am a proud and patriotic Indian and only want India to shine in all aspects.