moonch

VANITY

 

First  published in April 2006 :

This little story has come down to me by word of mouth. I heard it from an elder many decades ago, when I was not even a teenager. I shared it with my friends nearly ten years ago. Some recent events have caused me to revive it and post it on our website once again. I believe that a very potent, and yet subtle message is embedded in it. My younger colleagues in the military as well as the veterans need to remember that those who do not wear uniform are not as dumb as we think.

VANITY

This folk tale pertains to the pre-First World War era. Before 1919, the Indian army was  officered exclusively by British and the highest rank attainable by native Indians was Subedar. There were no cars; therefore, a well-bred stallion was the ultimate status symbol for a person of substance.

To distinguish him from another soldier with the same rank and name, the people of the village referred to the hero of this story as “Moochh wale Subedar Jang Bahadur Khan Sahib” They soon learnt to save some time by abbreviating this to “Moochh Sahib” I intend to go one step further and call him just Khan.

Khan had neither inherited a lot of land nor saved much money. But people seldom realized that, especially when they saw him astride his majestic Persian horse. His very carefully crafted mustache gave him a regal look, and so the British rulers invariably treated him with the utmost respect. In fact he was invariably given a seat on the dais whenever a ‘gora’ sahib came to address the people. In the evening of his life, his favorite pastime was to make a round of the village on his horse, and just make his presence felt. At dusk and dawn, he looked regal, and over the years, there were many in the village, who were in awe of him.

 man on horse

 

 

A die hard warrior, Khan had a healthy contempt for traders and businessmen. It was his firm belief that whilst the soldiers and the farmers ‘earned’ their bread, the shopkeepers and the merchants lived off the sweat and toil of those who worked on the fields and risked their lives in battle. He believed that the merchants were like blood sucking leeches, who earned ‘dirty’ money though vile and graft. He called it ‘haraam ki kamai’. As far as he was concerned, each one of them was a ‘haraami’ which literally means a bastard. However, what was known to very few people was that ‘Moochh Sahib’ was forever on the prowl, himself, for opportunities to earn an extra rupee to maintain his extravagant way of life. His pension fell well short of his monthly expenditure.

Iqbal, the only other character of this story, ran a grocery shop, but it was common knowledge that his real profits came out of trading in unconventional items. He had friends in Lahore and Amritsar who gave him tips on what was selling there and at what price. As he toured the cluster of villages, he went about buying saleable items whenever a window of opportunity opened. A slightly built and unassuming man, he rode a pony which was more a donkey than a mule. One rarely noticed him in a gathering, except when he took out his money bag, which was forever bulging with coins. The merchant went about his business without ever raising his voice, even when things went wrong and he had got into a bad bargain. He knew how to cut his losses. There were no B-schools at that time but he had learnt all that is now taught in management institutes. It was not easy to cheat him. People often said that it was easier to milk a male buffalo than to extract a paisa out of him. This wise old man with a silver gray beard was always dressed in expensive silk robes. He also went around the village and was said to be in search for an opportunity, 24X7. Here is what he looked like:

 man on mule

 

Our story begins on a rainy day. Khan was returning from his daily round of the fields. It began to drizzle. He took shelter under a shed and soon, a small crowd formed around him. He began to narrate his exploits on the battlefields, and was regaling his audience with his account of an ambush. He was under specific instructions from his commanding officer to capture the enemy alive. They had left their horses well behind and laid a trap. When the enemy patrol entered the ‘killing zone’ they pounced upon them and even when one of them attacked Khan with a bayonet, he did not hit back, for fear of killing the wretched man. He showed the battle scar which he had acquired in that action. Iqbal had also joined in that day, and he was courteously listening to the story. Moochh Sahib noticed him and decided to take a dig on his favorite butt of the jokes. He said, “This is how we earn our bread, Iqbal dost, and not the way you make your money, buying here and selling there. If you were in that battle field, your underwear would be wet and your turban would fall off, as you bolted from the scene.”

“Our job is also very challenging, Khan Sahib,” the merchant said meekly, “We take a lot of financial risk, when we buy. If the stuff does not sell, we lose money, and if we do that once too often, we go broke…Tell me, if it was so easy to do trading or business, why would anyone join the army or toil on the fields? Why don’t all the retired soldiers open shops and earn pots of money?”

The discussion degenerated into banter of sorts, with each side holding out on to their respective points of view, and challenging the other to switch roles. The veteran was on the offensive all the way. As a final move, he dared him to buy anything from him and make money out of the transaction. He threw a tough one, “Can you buy my horse? I will give it to you for half its market price, if you like” And most of the audience knew he was taking a dig at the merchant, because it was common knowledge that the animal would run back to its master at the very first opportunity. Iqbal did not have the agility to even mount that beast.

Iqbal was quiet, but he stunned everyone, when he said, “No. I cannot buy your horse. But there is something which I can buy off you. Will you sell me your moustache?”

There was shocked silence all around. And then Khan roared, “My moustache? What will you do with that?”

“That is my business. You name your price, and if it suits me, I will buy it just now!”

It was Khan’s turn to ponder. After a long pause, he decided to quote an atrocious price, to get the better of his adversary. “All right. I will sell it. Will you give me one hundred rupees for it?”

“I suspect you think I am joking. Artificial moustaches are used by theater actors, and yours is a rare salt-and-pepper growth. I know an artisan who will be able to shape it into a very aesthetic piece of make-up. It can easily fetch Rs 25 during the forthcoming Ram Lila days in Amritsar or Lahore. I am prepared to pay you twenty rupees, in coins.”

What followed was a bit of hard bargaining. The merchant inched up rupee by rupee to Rs 25 while our warrior came down to Rs 50 rather fast, when he realized that the offer was serious and then slowly lowered his demand to forty rupees. The deadlock was broken by Iqbal, when he said, “Now, here is my final offer. I will give you thirty, providing that you can simultaneously give me a copy of your photograph in uniform.”

Khan did suspect a trap in this, but the bid was rather tempting. He decided to take the risk. After all, the moustache could be re-grown in a few weeks, and so he decided to clinch the deal, before the trader changed his mind. “Agreed, I will give you my photograph. But I want the money just now, in silver coins.”

There was another surprise in store for the audience. Iqbal produced thirty silver rupees and said, “Here is the money. But I cannot take your moustache today, because the artisan who is to shape it has to come from Sargodha. I will therefore request you to make your commitment in writing”

A scribe was summoned and the sale deed was prepared. It said, onbehalf of the soldier, “Received a sum of Rupees thirty, towards the price of my moustache which now becomes the property of Iqbal. He may take it in part or whole at any time during the next one month. I will have no right to shape or trim it from this day.” The paper was signed and duly attested by five witnesses.

Our hero could hardly believe his luck. What he had in his pocket was enough money to buy at least two tolas (about 25 grams) of gold or a decent piece of land. It was a windfall, and what was even more gratifying was that he had got it out of Iqbal, whose primary creed was money. Riding on cloud nine, he reached home. But even before he could break the news to his ‘Begum’ she already knew about it.

“Mian ji, what have you gone and done?” She exclaimed, and then told him about a liveried messenger who had come from the district headquarters. A recruitment rally was scheduled, and the Commissioner Sahib wanted Khan to accompany his entourage. She said, “I am sure Iqbal knows about it and he will take your moustache on the very day when the Sahib comes. He will use the photograph to prove that it is yours to tarnish your image amongst the soldiers in the cantonments…or a brown Sahib may take your moustache to England and desecrate it…”

She had taken the wind out of his sails. He went to bed with a heavy heart, not knowing how to handle the situation. But when the day broke, he rose with a solution. The Muslim clergy was already annoyed with him for celebrating festivals, like Diwali and Gurpurabs with the infidels. Now, here was an opportunity to prove that he was true to his faith. He spread a word around that he had decided to go for the Haj and as a preparation for the pilgrimage, he had decided to grow a beard and shave his moustache in accordance with the tradition. He then traveled all the way to the district headquarters and told the Commissioner Sahib, through his minions that when they came to their village, his moustache would not be a part of his face. To his surprise, he found that no one was particularly disturbed to hear that. How a retired Subedar kept or shaped his facial hair was of no concern to the British Empire. Reassured and relieved, our veteran returned home, fully prepared for the D-day. From here on, safe custody of those silver coins wash is only real worry, while he scouted around for a good piece of land. The visit of the Sahib was no longer a matter of disquiet or anxiety for the Khan family, and when the day of reckoning arrived, they were fully prepared for Iqbal to knock at their door to claim his ‘pound of flesh’.

It was quite a large group of people who turned up at their Haveli when the sun rose on that fateful day. Apart from the barber, there was a craftsman and a helper, who were there to shape the make-up ‘objet d’art’. Our veteran was armed with a small mirror to continuously see his face and ensure that the job was done neatly. And indeed, it was performed with meticulous precision. The left half of the moustache vanished in less than ten minutes. But as soon as that was done, the person who was bonding the strands of hair on the make-up material shouted, “Please stop. I have run out of glue. It seems it spilled out of the bottle on the way.”

Iqbal asked the barber to stop the proceedings. And what followed can at best be described as chaos and confusion. The all-important craftsman insisted that he could not accept any more strands of hair until the glue came from the town and Khan was in a hurry to dress upfor the event of the day. The soldier flew into a rage, while the merchant maintained his cool. At that point of time all that Moochh Sahib wanted was to have the other half of his lip cleaned at any cost, but the ‘Shylock’ of the moment reminded him that he had no right to shave any part of his moustache without the permission of the buyer, and as a final act, Iqbal flashed a copy of the sale deed.

In sheer desperation, the soldier screamed, “Is there nothing that I can do now?”

There is” The trader said, with complete authority, You can buy your moustache back

Khan heaved a sigh of relief. He yelled at his wife and asked her to bring the bag containing the coins. “You win! Take your money back, and annul this damned deed. It is truly said that it is impossible to extract money out of you!”

There was a long pause. A small crowd had gathered, and the sun had risen high. The time for arrival of the visitors was approaching, leaving very little time for bargaining.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Iqbal said, in a polite but firm tone, “You may indeed buy your moustache back. But the price has gone up. Today, you have to pay Rs fifty if you wish to re-purchase your moustache”

Please scroll down to see how Khan Sahib looked at that point of time. The story teller did not tell us what happened after the last sentence had been spoken. To my mind there were three possibilities. I invite you to make a guess and let me know.

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half moustache

This is how his face appeared, when he looked into the mirror. As I said, there were three possibilities:

  1. Khan Sahib paid up the money sought by the trader and the matter ended.

  2. The trader accepted what was given to him, and decided to live in peace with the veteran.

  3. There was a big fight. The crowd got divided into two: some supporting the soldier, while the others sided with the trader. Finally, the Sarpanch had to be called…

*

A Tailpiece

It is said that when a war begins, truth is the first casualty. True. My experience has been that when peace returns, we are inundated with countless stories of valour. When the soldiers get back, they regale audiences with their exploits. And if they come back as victors, they are boisterous to the point of becoming “I” specialists. They will make you believe that those who do not wear uniform and face the bullet are no better than gender-less people, who wear bangles to hide their identity.

However, no one can be a soldier all his life, and when they ‘hang up their boots’ they have to live like every one else. The transition is not easy, and ever so often ex-servicemen make a mess of their lives. They make a cardinal  error when they try to enter the traders’ territory. They forget that ‘they have no business to be in business!’ 

These days, there is a battle on. My friends in uniform and the fellow veterans have chosen to lock horns with those who govern this  country, but have never seen the battle-field. I thought I would re-publish this little tale, to remind our comrades, that they must never under-estimate the adversary. We must abide by the dictums enunciated by Chanakya and Machiavelli. 

 

 

 

  1. Dr BV Prabhu says:

    Sir

    My day is incomplete without remembering you. Yesterday, I was there in MDC & I was telling new manager & GET coordinator (like prasad) about you, Prasad & Anupal.
    I am currently working with New Horizon College of Engineering, Bangalore as HOD automobile. All my faculties are familiar with you though they have not seen you (through my experience sharing).

    Pradyumna is studying BE MECH in Bangalore. Currently, exams are going on. Once he returns to Hosur, I will send our photo.

    I have read half moustache story. I recollected that you had told me the same earlier. Enjoyed it again. Clock tower – repair was also a good one.

    Thanks for wonderful writing & sharing.

    Regards / Dr. BV Prabhu

  2. LAwrence Jacob says:

    Sir,
    An eye opening article. Thanks for sharing.
    Lawrence

  3. colls says:

    Since birth
    I have Hitler’s
    mouschhhhhhh
    half already cut

    checks my
    EGO CANCER
    from spreading
    thanks ji

  4. Dear Sir, Thank you indeed on ridiculing the creed of soldiers and projecting them as dumb idiots. If that was your intention I suggest you do a reality check. The very recent state of affairs in the state of Tamil Nadu very aptly elucidates who is making a dumb ass out of whom. I submit good soldiers never retire or die, they just fade away to rise again when the nation needs them. Please be little sensitive towards those protesting for OROP, maybe you can opt to live their lives for just a year before you draw your conclusions. Those who had to leave the army as Majors and as below officer rank have suffered tremendously because of skewed service conditions and hence the remuneration and pensions . I do agree that the protest appears to be politically motivated and should have been initiated way back rather than now, and PM Modi should have been given a little more time, but the cause is not misplaced. I admire Modi for displaying such patience. I personally believe that he understands the hardships that the soldiers go through and will give them their due. Your point w.r.t soldiers finally coming back into civil life after their tenure is over is well taken, but please understand no one who has a sharp wit or possesses street smartness will opt for a profession where your freedom of thought, speech and even the way you want to lead your life is axed, and mind you most armies (even of the most advanced countries in the world, operate on these principals). An individual is recruited at an average age of 19 or 20 and trained in a manner that sets you into a mould, which only expects 200% compliance – good, bad or ugly and by the time you are done you know no other way of life. Therefore the pension, to let you lead your residual life in a quite dignified manner, as your temperament by then is of no use to the civil world. Other than that India is the only country in which the soldiers do not get to voice their opinion on what they should be paid. The IAS dominated bureaucracy has repeatedly struck at the status of the Armed Forces Officers and Men in terms of parity and w.e.f III CPC onwards India is the only country where the soldiers have been paid less than the civilian counterparts. The VII CPC Report is pure smug and lie, given a chance I can drill holes into it. So sir, whilst you have in a subtle manner hinted at total lack of intelligence on part of the soldiers and declared them as unfit for existence in a world laden with shrewdness, I suggest you speak to the surviours of Uttrakhand floods, the Gujarat Earthquake, the Assam floods, the Vizag Tornado, the most recent Chennai floods, the floods in Leh, the 26/11 and the story is never ending…………………..I certainly do hope that you do remember this story when a soldier comes saving you and your kin and narrate it to him whilst he is doing his duty.

  5. Respected sirs,

    1. I happened to visit your website an hour ago to read the folklore, ‘Vanity’. It was forwarded to me by our IMA batch-mates’ yahoo group, ‘doondec78’. The story is written in a very lucid style and it made a very interesting reading. Somehow the moral of the story seems rather far fetched and its connection to present OROP andolan is tenuous one.

    2. Firstly, I talk about vanity. Vanity is a universal characteristic found in all human beings. In a varying extent, all human beings are vain. Shakesspeare made his famous statement about vanity of women. Nirad C Choudhury wrote a voluminous book, “Culture in vanity bag’’. Norman Dixon delved greatly into vanity of soldiers in his book, “Psychology of military incompetence”. In which profession do we find people without vanity? We find vanity among politicians, industrial and business class, academicians, sportsmen, bureaucrats, judiciary, legal profession, police, film personalities and even among so called selfless social workers and among sadhus. You name the profession and you find it full of vain people. I think, vanity or in other words, an exaggerated idea about one’s own abilities, virtues and achievements, is what makes people strive hard to succeed in their chosen fields. The problem is what is the accepted dose of vanity? How to differentiate between vanity, ego, jealousy, pride and self respect? I feel, it is the people in uniform, when they hang their boots, mature into having a justified pride about their jobs well done, during their younger days. Most of them hold a philosophical view about life in general. Most of them look at others’ vain behaviour with a smile and a chuckle. A study showed that after WWII, when most universities opened their doors for veterans to pursue study, large number had chosen philosophy for their study. Most had seen the wanton destruction of life and ravaging of earth, and wanted to find the deeper meaning and purpose of their existence on this earth. So, even if the story’s one of the characters is a fouji man portrayed in the backdrop of WW I milieu, I sympathize with ‘Khan’. Had the initial part about his spend thrift nature and vainglorious ways been omitted from the story, it would still have been equally captivating story. I feel it was added only for the desired effect.

    3. Secondly, the moral of the story, could have been equally appropriate if the devious and deceptive ways adopted of business people were highlighted and how they play a game of ‘profit’ even with gullible foujis. It all depends on what one wants to prove! Here Iquote two sentences. The first is, “Business is the skill of taking money from other man’s pocket, without resorting to violence.” The other one is, “Behind every fortune, there is a crime.” I see a huge number of ex foujis being successful in business, industry, service sector, self employed work and even in social, political and co-operative fields. MBA is a recent phenomenon which began in late 60s. Who was running business before that? It was the forces officers, who ran the business conglometates. Good year is the celebrated example of it. The company was facing a massive recession and slump after WWII. It was the group of three officers who managed the company and within three years, they wiped out the losses and brought it in a healthy state. So let us not underestimate and run down the entrepreneurial skills of retired foujis. There is of course, a small number of foujis who waste their lives, but that number is much less than in other professions. Even foujis who decided to lead a quiet, retired life, have been leading more fulsome, wholesome and meaningful life, than many people from other professions.

    4. Thirdly, connecting this story with the OROP andolan to partially and minimally compensate the enormous financial loss and consequent hardships faced by veterans since 1973. It is an effort to establish quite teneous relationship between the two. After having cheated by succesive govts for 42 years, after having shown immense patience by veterans if they do andolan in a peaceful, non-destructive and disciplined manner, what is wrong in it? It would be great injustice to andolak foujis to attribute them a greed of money as a motive. It is the andolan for restoring the honour and status of foujis vis a vis their civilian counterparts. Our honour, status and the standing has been systematically decimated during last four decades. How can Andolaks be compared with the ‘khan’ of this story? I earnestly feel, we all ex-foujis must give at least passive support, if not active participation in OROP andolan. In case, if some feel that the present method is not proper, they should suggest an alternative method and provide the leadership to the alternative method. Sitting quiet upon the issues of injustice would be a display of defeatist attitude.

    5. Lastly, Please note that, I have only expressed my feelings and thoughts on this story ‘Vanity’ and its connection to OROP issue. I hold the general saab and other contributors with respect. There is no intention whatsoever to hurt any body.

    With warm regards.
    Major Prakash patil (Retd)

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Prakash,
      I see your point. In fact, you have added a new dimension to the discussion. I wish to thank you for that.
      However, I want to stress that this story was written in the lighter vein. In our childhood, folks recounted it to ‘deflate’ men who carried a chip on their shoulder.
      Regards,
      Surjit

      • Thank you, Sir, for appreciating my rather long comment upon the story, ‘Vanity’. I liked the story, which was at once hilarious and meaningful. I wrote such long comment only because, I liked the way you are running this web site, that is full of wisdom and maturity and readers’ dignified responses. Reading this only one page of the website gave me insight into your sharing of profound message in a light and easygoing manner. In my comment, I only tried to add a yet another angle of looking at this story and the moral. Thanks once again, sir, for appreciating my musings.
        With warm regards

        Prakash.

  6. Kunwar Mithlesh says:

    Dear Sir,

    Greetings…..

    Well said, probabably this piece of writing may help veterans to deal with un uniform brothers.. I enjoyed reading..

    Thanks and regards,

    Mithlesh

  7. Soorkhan says:

    Surjit Bhaijan,
    I have finally learnt to address you correctly.

    An excellent analysis & presentation with the supporting story.

    I received a forwarded copy from General Mullah Malik. He very kindly spends a good deal of his time and compiling and forwarding information through the media. He is one of our very highly regarded NDA course mate, who is active to the core, well versed and participates in all our gatherings.

    In response to your last email, I will gather my wits and God willing will do the needful as per your advice,

    Deep regards.

    Soorkhan

    • colls says:

      remember me surkh i am urs truly collies

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Vir ji,
      Let me try another version of ‘Bhai jaan’ This also recognizes your valour!!!
      No one can match your adjectives!
      Now please do not delay. Record the events which led you to Besteck, and tell us all about the nomadic people of that land, who drink horse milk!
      Surjit

  8. Percy says:

    Another / 4th possibility
    Khan keeps the shaved and glued bit and puts it on his face and leaves to meet the sahibs

  9. Ghansham Singh Ahluwalia says:

    Good story and quite funny too. The Sarpanch suggested that Khan puts on the shaved moustache with glue, which he does but it falls off on the way and Khan is left with half moustache and makes a fun of himself.
    The funny part is that when he reaches the Sahibs ,he is left with half moustache.

  10. S K BHANDARI says:

    Just got the link from Brig Gangadharan. Read the “Moochh Shaib”. It real beautiful. My “MOOCHH” is also for sale where do I search for the BUYER. Excellent work. Keep going. Regards and have a wonderful SUNDAY!!!

  11. Kulbir Suri says:

    Thanks, Surjit. I enjoyed reading the story. I will surely keep a tab on the website.

    Regards,

    Kulbir

  12. D P S rawat says:

    Khan would have paid the money
    asked by the trader, shaved the other half
    and gone to meet the gora sahib.
    This is what the trader do, they are interested
    in their profit only. However the trader taught
    a good lesson to the haughty Khan.
    Thanks for the interesting and educative story

  13. Surrinder Nakai says:

    Frankly, Gen Sahib, these days my medical problems keep me away from indulgence in intellectual pursuits. I’m forced to spend less and less time on the PC. Since you have specifically asked for it, I’ve tried to marshal my thoughts in the context of this wonderful story (I’m sure this isn’t a real life instance).

    Without doubt the folklore,in its present form once again successfully goes to confirm the myth thatmilitary service nothing but inflates egos. Soldiers are often regarded as flaunting images far beyond their myopicvision and limited reach. The outcome isthat in stories/ anecdotes flamboyant military personnel are invariablyprojected as incapable of measuring up to their civilian counterparts both instature and in guile. Finally suchdeliberate charade ends up not only belittling but also to a large extent inridiculing the persona of a soldier. To my mind, this practice goes far beyond a witty retort.

    This is precisely the case with Moochh Sahib.

    Moochh Sahib is no doubt an above average intellectual exercise in journalistic endeavor. On the opposing side, the style does convey the impression of the contents being contrived at places to suite objective of the writing. Smooth reading for the uninitiated.

    I shall however continue to explore with interest your esteemed Blog as my PC time improves. Best regards.

  14. Lalit Dutta says:

    Surjit
    Why is it that most of the attachments to your mails do not open ? Would you like to try some other format ?
    Lalit

  15. Maj Gen Vijay Krishna says:

    I endorse ur sentiments in totality . I think the concerned Veterans r carrying things too far . We were also taught not to keep hitting a brick wall . Rgds , Vijay

  16. Srimurti Saraswati says:

    Very interesting!

  17. Anil Sunita says:

    Very Absorbing & brought out the desired effect on the present scenario.

  18. Niloufer Bilimoria says:

    well timed! thank you

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Ma’am,
      Thanks.
      I have been wanting to ask you whether you are related to Gen Bilimoria. He was our Army Commander in 1990-91. His son, Karan was a budding businessman those days.
      Regards.
      Surjit

  19. Tulsi Bhandari says:

    Thank you so much sir, for this story, so well conceived and so relevant for the veterans.

    I send my best wishes and regards to you.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Tulsi,
      Thanks.
      We are waiting for a contribution from your pen…or rather, keyboard!
      Do please embellish it with some pictures.
      Surjit Uncle

  20. Parminder Singh says:

    SS,

    Fantastic.Your power of narration and superb control on the language is unmatchable.Thanks for sharing.

    PS

  21. Commodore Bibhu Mohanti says:

    Thanks for this piece which is just in present day context of OROP.Let all faujis in next life become Iqbals?

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Bibhu,
      Not the next life…I see that we have changed a lot in this incarnation itself!
      Sixty years ago, when we joined the ‘fauj’ it was bad manners to talk about money. You had to stand a round of drinks, if you violated this unwritten law.
      And today, in the military circles, the only topic of conversation is the pay commission! Our lads will make the likes of Iqbal run away!
      Surjit

  22. Harikumar Krishnannair says:

    Thank you Sir
    regards
    Hari

  23. M J Mohan says:

    Great.A timely advice to all those defence guys who think others are fools!!

    MJM

  24. S B Akali says:

    Gen Surjit Singh Ji,

    Sat Sri Akal!

    Sir, Thanks for your wonderful articles.

    Your style of writing is so simple and yet so effective that it touches ones heart. It has appeal for one and all – young and not so young, ladies and gentlemen. The best part is that it always carries a very subtle but unambiguous message for its readers.

    Please keep writing (and sharing your ‘pieces’). In fact I would suggest that you compile an anthology of your articles, if not done so far. It would be a bouquet of sorts to be treasured by all who have been reading your articles.

    With love and regards,

    SB Akali

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Surinder Bir,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Yes. At the advice of friends, I compiled all my pieces and hosted them on a website, ‘amolak.in’. Its full form is ‘guftagu@amolak.in’
      Later, some other friends joined in. As on date, nearly a dozen writers contribute. We even have a small editorial team. The articles are divided into ten segments, and you can view them on the homepage.
      It gives me great pleasure to invite you to contribute. Please note that we like to use a lot of pictures to embellish the text. It is said, “a picture tells a thousand words!”
      Where are you settled?
      Surjit
      PS
      As I close this message, your very pleasant face with the trade mark smile is in front of my eyes. God bless you.

  25. Raja Bhattacharjee says:

    Sir,

    Excellent piece of sanity in a maddening world.

    We are, at the end of the day, civilians in uniform.
    Our day in the uniform would surely come to an end at some point.
    A freezing soldier in Siachen needs to be paid well, but his name cannot be blindly invoked by thousands in the hinterland.
    On the other hand, however, the freezing soldier is the product of a complex pyramid of training and infrastructure, really the Tiger on top of the food chain…if you don’t take care of the food chain, you would never have the soldier who happily freezes in Siachen. Nor the one willing to die in battle. The fact that we haven’t fought a battle for some time perhaps indicates that the ecosystem is robust enough to dissuade those who wish to dismember this nation, traders and all.
    For consideration please.
    With warm regards,
    Raja

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Raja,

      Thanks.

      When are we going to receive a piece from you?

      You have a majestic name, and we will give your piece a regal welcome!

      Surjit​

  26. Mirza Yawar Baig says:

    The story is good General sahib but I wish you had quoted others than Chanakya and Machiavelli. We don’t need their kind of politics today. We need the opposite. We need compassion and honor and justice. Not Machiavellian guile or Chanakyan deceit. There is too much of that in the world today as it is. That is what led to the lies which the great General Colin Powell (the great blot on the face of the warrior class everywhere) stood before the UN Security Council and spoke with a straight face. And those lies led to the invasion and destruction of Iraq (and the birth of ISIS) and the deaths of over a million people, more than 500,000 of them children under the age of 10 to which the even greater (than Colin Powell) Madelaine Albright, when asked by the interviewer on ABC TV if their deaths were worth it (whatever the US got out of the war), said with a straight face, ‘Yes it was worth it.’

    Why? Because they were not white? Because they were Muslim?

    Well, sorry to say, all choices have price tags. All action causes reaction. And we are seeing that.

    Nobody likes to see their children slaughtered or their wives and daughters raped and their country looted and themselves made homeless for no reason other than that they lived there. When you invade other nations and loot them, you are a thief, a highway robber and a bandit. You can’t hide behind a uniform and call it soldiering. It is not soldiering at all. It is dishonorable and shameful in the extreme.

    What makes the likes of Colin Powell, Madelaine Albright and her boss George Bush or his puppy Tony Blair and all their ilk any better than the leaders of ISIS? The fact that they are white? Colin Powell is also white inside as he does the white man’s bidding in a black man’s skin.

    Shameful in the extreme.

    As I said, we need justice, compassion and honor. Not Machiavellian or Chanakyan ideology.

    Please forgive my impertinence (lack of Adab). You are my elder and I salute you.

    Yawar

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Mirza ji,
      The pain in your words is palpable…I feel it with the same intensity. But I do not know what to do to mitigate it.
      We are all victims of the deeds and words of our ancestors. They committed grave and unforgivable mistakes. We have to bear the consequences.
      However, I have great faith in the goodness which our people have inherited. The Indian culture has great resilience, and time is a great healer. All we need to do is to listen to Mir Taqi Mir and Bulle Shah. And this bitterness will blow over…
      Insha Allah, sanity will be restored. Look around and see how France and Germany have patched up. They have an open border and a common currency. Now remember the bitter war they fought just a few decades ago!
      Surjit

      • Mirza Yawar Baig says:

        Very true Sir. Very true. We can’t lose hope and must continue to do our best. Many thanks for your kind responses. Very heartening.
        Yawar

  27. S J Singh says:

    In the last hundred years, nearly every thing has changed. Technology has revolutionized life. Yet, the basic human traits have remained unchanged.
    Stories of this kind have a message for all of us, and must be revived at periodic intervals, to educate us.
    Thanks
    SJ

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Thanks.
      Society needs all constituents for functioning. Trading is not easy. I know of a few soldiers burn their fingers!
      Surjit

  28. Neeraj Varshney says:

    A wonderful tale told in an inimitable style. But it is full of lessons.
    1. Each person in a society is important, whether he is a trader or a soldier, a farmer or a fighter pilot.
    2. All soldiers grow from the society. A degenerate society will produce corrupt professionals in all spheres. It is the eco system which matters.
    3. If there were no traders, no resources, no people, then that state, country or area does not need soldiering. All soldiers must remember that. We are required to protect the motherland and the people in it, only if they are worth something. Mongols were only attacking others to gain wealth and resources.
    4. For a soldier to earn his bread, have his stallion and his “moustache” there must be lots of Iqbals to pay taxes and earn their wealth.
    5. Yes, soldiering is a very tough job, unique in its way but end of the day, a soldier or a pilot is required only if we have aircrafts. All the soldier’s demands can be met, if they are justified.
    6. Sometimes, greed lands you in situations which are inextricable. Therefore, soldiers must seek only as much as is rightfully theirs and not more.

    A wonderful message in the tale. Vanity goeth before a fall.

    • Neeraj, your remark ‘All the soldier’s demands can be met, if they are justified’ somehow gives me the impression that you are implying about the One Rank One Pension issue for which we the veterans have been interacting with the Government and sitting on hunger-strike at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Your comment ‘if they are justified’ shows that probably to ‘you feel the demand is not justified’.

      I wonder if you are aware of the 7th Pay Commission Report which has been recently submitted by the Justice Mathur. He has lowered the status of the Defence Forces even lower than the Forest Service and remarked that they are not so important that they should get equal pay as civilians and words to that effect. As per his report the most ridiculous allowance is for Siachen/flying/submarine which will get Rs.31500 and for a Joint Secretary posted to the north eastern part of India –a chair-borne job- Rs,54810. By the way all three conditions like Siachen/flying/submarine are listed among the most dangerous professions in the world. A ‘chair-borne job’ can never ever be the most dangerous job unless of course you believe that during an earthquake the roof might fall on his head.

      Even otherwise there have been very nasty comments from the educated members of the society ‘they are eating free food’; ‘do we need them because we have not had a major war since long’ and many more like that. All this without regards to how a soldier lives and dies.

      Sincerely, I feel sometime that India does not need any Defence Forces of the caliber –the largest voluntary army in the world even today- which helped the British win the First and the Second World Wars besides throwing out Pakistani raiders from the periphery of Srinagar airfield to the other side of the mountains. It was only Nehru who stopped us from pushing out completely. I wonder why?

      If the Defence Forces are such a pain in the neck, why do we have them? Because of Kashmir dispute and the border areas along the Himalayas which China claims. Therefore, I suggest that we remove the ulcer of these disputes by giving those areas to the enemy. Since we would not have any issue with anyone we can disband the Armed Forces and auction all the vast Defence Estates. We will save lots and lots of money and be rich again like we were rich before the English came. Full Circle.

      Now you will ask who will defend us? Give contract to Pakistan for the western side, China
      for the north, Bangladesh for the East and Sri Lanka for the South. Then we can sit back and have a big party and enjoy life with reduced taxes and plenty of gold ornaments at weddings and whatever else we may dream of.

      By the way the Gipsies of Europe are Indians because they claim that they came from Bharat Maa. How did they land up there? Many of the several lakhs of people who were taken away by raiders as spoils of war and slaves, some of them survived and were sold off in those slave markets. That is why the Sulaiman Mountains between India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan came to called Hindu Kush –the death trap of the Hindus. Have we leant a lesson? No!!!

      • Neeraj Varshney says:

        Sir,
        Not for a moment do I think that the Indian soldier is unjustified in his demands. He must get the best, if he has to deliver.
        The point I was trying to make is that this nation probably does not deserve a top quality Armed Forces. It is an old dictum, “Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys”. It is up to the nation to decide whether they want to pay an IFS officer more than a Military Officer. If they wish to wait for a war, to see the results, so be it. Organisations and species mutate their DNA after a fairly long period of time. Decisions taken by one set of people, and the results of that decision reflect as pluses and minuses after a few decades.By then decision makers are retired or dead.
        In case, the country and its government feels soldiering can be run like other government departments, let them ruin this noble institution. Let them fiddle, while Rome burns. The price this nation will have to pay in future will not be a concern for Mr Mathur and Mr Vivek Rae.

        Soldiers must get their due in every society. But will they in India? Never. Why? Because we have not seen mass killings in wars like the Europeans have seen in World War I & II. That’s why they value their soldiers and freedom more than Indians do. They are willing to pay a price for it. We want it free and subsidised.

        The fault, my dear Sir, is not in soldiers but in their stars that they opted for this career :-)

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Neeraj,
      There is learning at every step!
      When I was commanding 509, I learnt the art of walking on the tight rope. One of the best lessons I imbibed there was to NEVER OVER-REACT. I got it from a senior, whom we used to call, ‘THANDA GHARA’ (a cool pitcher)
      Surjit

  29. Rashmi Oberoi says:

    The tailpiece sums it up beautifully Uncle. But once a soldier always a soldier… And my highest respects and regard to them. Transition in any phase of life is never easy and needs to be taken very positively and maturely. Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  30. GURDEEP SINGH says:

    After reading the story, though I agree with the tailpiece written but my sympathy is still with Khan. One can not compare the contribution and the difficulty level of the soldier with a trader….The trader may be taking risk with his money but he will be still alive even if he loose his money and work on it to get it back. The soldier, however, is risking his life as well as of his colleagues.

    Although, one has to accept the harsh realities after transition into civil world, we can not deny the fact, that everyone would like to bask in the glory of their past and its not true for soldiers but for anyone and everyone. We all like to brag about our expolits and its a common human nature…..

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Gurdeep ji,
      Indeed. We all brag at the end of the day. I see some civil servants talk endlessly about their achievements.
      The only set of people who are humble are the university professors. They are the only ones who seem to realize that learning never really ends!
      Surjit

  31. Joseph Thomas, remember a pilot will remain a pilot always and he can fly any day as long as his perceptional senses are intact. A none pilot or a person not trained to handle an aircraft will never be able to fly if the aircraft has to land back in one piece. In the same way a Doctor will be an able Doctor but his assistant, the compounder, will never be able to doctor anyone unless the patient wants to arrange his or her funeral at the earliest.

    I know there has always been an undercurrent of resentment against the pilot community of the Indian Air Force with even people from the education branch saying ‘why should he or she get a flying pay’.

    Next thing you will say is that we don’t need pilots because we can have pilotless drones. But remember even the drones have to be flown from the ground. That is why the Pilot Aptitude Test is very important. Not everyone is blessed with the capability of multitasking like fighter pilots are. Even among the pilot community of the IAF there seems to be a small degree of resentment from the transport and helicopter stream against fighter pilots. But what are the essential attributes which are looked into when flight cadets get segregated at the Air Force Academy into the three streams? It’s a time tried out system.

    I remember some of my course mates who opted for the fighter stream at the height of the 1962 Emergency. (We were all lined up in front of Almherst block in Jodhpur and were asked to decide the stream we were keen to go. The first batch of 20 pilots was going to UK for helicopter training.) Those who could not make it during the stipulated hours of fighter training at Hakimpet were later sent to the transport stream instead. It was nothing else: they did not show any sign of that inherent dash that is essential for going through a multi-mission combat scenario when a fighter pilot has to do several things -multitasking- at a fast pace in order to survive during war.

    Recently there was a study conducted in the US which showed that fighter pilots were the best at multitasking.

    • Joseph Thomas says:

      Tejwant,
      All pilots, whether bomber, transport, helicopter or fighter, have the same wing. So, the discussion about fighter pilots is not relevant.

      If you want to make a distinction between pilots and other aircrew, it can be done by having different designs of wings. Indian Navy gives a full wing to Observers, though of a different design than that of pilots. Ditto for the US Air Force.

      The “half wing” is limited to the former British empire. This is one tradition that we should change.

      • Just because the Navy or the US Air Force or any other Air Force has a different wing is not must that IAF must follow them. The Indian Air Force has a proud tradition and it’s not necessary to change it.

        • Joseph Thomas says:

          Tejwant, agreed that the Indian Air Force has a proud tradition. But, in this case, it is a mere copy of the British Air Force tradition. It is time to think for ourselves.

          I rest my case.

          • Surjit Singh says:

            Thomas and Tejwant ji,
            I think we need a full length piece on this subject!
            In the army they started awarding a wing to the ‘missile pilots’
            The old first generation anti-tank missiles needed considerable skill to guide the projectile to its target, and the wing had to be earned, through a lot of training on the simulator.
            In the third generation, the missile is ‘Fire and Forget’ It needs very little skill to launch it. However, our boys are still sporting the ‘wings’
            Vanity, I suppose!
            Surjit

  32. Joseph Thomas says:

    Good story.

    The photograph shows how our non-pilot aircrew look. The “Half Wing” was started by the British air force a century back and continues to this day. Have you ever seen a bird fly with one wing ? It’s high time we introduced a full wing for all our aircrew.

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