JOSH Talks: Lessons on Team Building from the Army

I was invited to speak in the maiden JOSH talks event held in Kolkata on Jan 14th, 2018. With and audience over 500+, it was electrifying, energetic and enthusiastic. It was a wonderful experience to feel the ‘YOUth’ bubbling with energy!!!

A number of them walked up and wanted the talk for ‘keepsake’. It’ll be uploaded on FB and YouTube. Here goes the Script.

LESSONS ON TEAM BUILDING FROM THE ARMY

Tough times don’t last. Tough People do”.

Imagine the temperatures have further fallen and is presently hovering around 0°. Cold and shivering, you are sitting in a pitch-dark night waiting, waiting and waiting some more, where a minute seems like an hour. You are soldiers sitting in an ambush waiting for the terrorist to show up. Night after night hundreds of such teams of soldiers spend, such nights in the mountainous terrain of J&K. How do these teams operate and come out winners? Let me share some Lessons from the Army on Team Building.

After 20 years of service, The Selection Board approved me to Command ‘my’ infantry unit; roughly consisting of 1,000+ men. And shortly thereafter, we were deployed to combat terrorists in J&K sector.

Let me elaborate a little, for the uninitiated, what I meant by ‘my’ infantry unit. Infantry is the foot soldiers of the Army who capture ground, something, you would have seen in the Kargil war. I was commissioned and I commanded the same unit. The men of my unit are drawn from the Seven Sister States; which we club as the North East. These men have spent their early childhood in the jungles of Arunachal, Assam Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram.

These battle-hardened soldiers unflinchingly took me under their wings. My first fledgling steps in the uniform, in Lucknow, were spent with these men and they taught me lessons of life and warfare.

We’ve a tradition in our unit. The newly commissioned officer spends his initial two months with his troops in their barracks. Spending time dining with them, wining with them, playing with them, bathing with them, staying in the barracks. I had the opportunity to know these men from very close quarters. I was into all the ‘troop’ games; football, hockey, basketball, volleyball and even handball. Being from a boarding school helped.

After a month, the first pay parade. Those days the monthly pay of the soldiers, had to be physically distributed. In walks Sep Charliwan, a wonderful center half of our football team. I proudly announce, ‘Sir, Sep Charliwan. My Company Commander, my immediate boss, asks me, “And what is his Army Number?” Huh!!!! “Sir, I don’t know?” You better know. The next month pay parade, I announce, ‘Sir, Army Number 431000539 Sep Charliwan, reporting for his pay’. And what is his shoe size? KO!!!

Know your men. Know your men better than their mothers do; and love them as much, said Fd Marshal Slim addressing his officers in the Burma Campaign. I learnt my first lesson. If you don’t know your men, you are unfit to command them. You will not earn their respect. 500 years BC Sun Tzu wrote:

‘If you know the enemy, and know yourself, You will not fear the results of a hundred battle.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. None of us work in a silo. We have teams to work with. As a leader or even as a team member it is imperative that you know the team very well. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Strong camaraderie builds strong teams.

When I assumed Command, Sep Charliwan had risen in ranks and was a JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) now. And in one of our first operations, his sub unit, was tasked to go after some reported terrorists sighted. We sat down for planning, and Sub Charliwan, very politely tells me, “Saab iska planning hum karlega, aap sirf fire support dena from ‘X’ location”. Sub Charliwan and his team move up the treacherous mountain top. He splits his team, deploys a support team to cover their move and leads from the front, to hunt the reported terrorists. Chasing terrorists in the thick of jungles, may be slightly difficult to comprehend sitting in the confines of this auditorium. Rugged mountainous terrain with thick undergrowth. The visibility is restricted to 5-10 meters. It requires extreme physical fitness, mental robustness and stamina.

They reach a small opening and find the remains of a bonfire. The ember tells them that the terrorists have a lead of an hour odd. Trained in jungle craft, they start following the trail. After a while they are hot in pursuit. The terrorists see the soldiers and start fleeing. A downhill running terrorist, with his AK 47 on his shoulder, finger pressing the trigger and spraying bullets all around. Facing these oncoming bullets. Major challenge.

Sub Charliwan comes on air and tells me, “Saab one-two”. Those of you familiar with soccer will understand the term. The fleeing terrorist hit my ambush, we exchange fire, they change their direction and run right into the waiting arms of Sub Charliwan. Three terrorists neutralized with no casualties to self. A clean operation. Thanks to the planning and of course team work. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Lord Wellesley quipped, that The Battle of Waterloo was won in the playfields of Eton.

Well, The Battle of J&K jungles were surely won in the playfields of Lucknow.

Beware of entrance to a battle, but being in Bear’t the enemy beware of thee’. No soldier, wants to be a runners’ up in the battlefield. There are no runners up in War. I assure you, to face oncoming bullets is not a comfortable feeling at all. How do you train for that? How do you control your nerves?

Let me share some secrets.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” On hearing a shot, your muscle memory takes over. You have trained so hard, you have trained so much that without thinking you ‘Dash – Down – Crawl – Observe – Fire’. We Just Do it! The harder you train, the better you get. This training is like meditation. You train and train and then you train some more. You train hard, because you know that some day it is this training that will save your life. It is the difference between life and death. People call it ‘Deliberate Practice’. Geoff Colvin/ Anders Ericsson/ Malcolm Gladwell all spoke about it in their books. It’s an old Army Saying: ‘The more you sweat in Peace, the less you bleed in War’. Training is the difference between amateurs and professionals.

After every two and half years in field, the unit moves to a peace location. The major part of this tenure is dedicated to training. Be it firing in the field firing ranges, to other operations of war. We train and train. The competitions are designed to support this training. Best Mortar platoon, MMG detachment, best firer, and so on. The sports competitions are held to build and improve camaraderie among each other. Training as a team lies at the crux of our success.

But then Murphy’s law says, ‘Anything that can go wrong, will’. I am sure, that no one in this gathering here believes that everything could be hunky dory and all the planning and training will avert any mishap/ disaster from happening. Always remember, ‘You plan for three options and the enemy will adopt the fourth’. No plan survives contact. So, while planning, do make contingency plans but avoid over planning. We had our fair share of accidents and failures. The ability to turn a failure on its head is an acme of a leader.

In one of our operations, we suffered a fatal casualty. This was my lowest moment of my command. We were in the thick of jungles and the road head was two hours. Transporting the martyr to the road head and then to our base was a challenge. I had to make a decision. The regulations state that the ‘Last Post’ of a martyr in operational area can be sounded in situ. In that location itself. While the ‘father’ in me said, I would like to see my son.

I took a decision to fly him home, some 3,000 kms. Remember, the martyr has to be embalmed lest decay sets in. Transferring him to Delhi, and another flight to Guwahati. And move 500 kms by road from Guwahati to Aizawl. It was an administrative nightmare but worth it. As the martyr entered Aizawl, the entire town had lined up to pay homage to the soldier. The local administration, the media and the local representatives. A huge procession reached his village and the soldier was laid to rest in the church and a memorial constructed.

The accompanying JCO brought back a letter from the father of the martyr. “Sir, I thank you profusely for sending across my son. I’ll remain ever grateful to you for this act. In his letters, my son has been writing about the unit a lot. My younger son is thirteen years old, please tell me when can he enrol and join the unit to continue the half-finished task of his brother?” On receiving the letter, I sobbed.

Recently, our unit was celebrating its Golden Jubilee and I was attending the momentous occasion. To my surprise, I meet the parents of the martyr, who had traveled all the way from Mizoram. They were profuse in their gratitude and proudly introduced me to their younger son, now a soldier in the unit.

Regard your soldier’s as your children and they’ll follow you in the deepest valley. Look on them as your own beloved son and they’ll stand by you even unto death. Failure will happen. Face them and turn it around. Every adversity provides an opportunity.

The soldiers goes to Battle for ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan’.

Naam, the name of the unit, the izzat of the unit. We build a culture within our organizations where the individuals have a stake. You all have heard of the terrorist attack on Taj Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008 and read about the acts of bravery of its employees. When the chips are down, when we are facing bullets the one thing that constantly reminds us to do the right thing and why we are doing what we are doing is Naam. The izzat of the unit that you are serving.

Namak, the salt of the country they have had. A soldier cannot even think that he could do anything, anything at all that will belittle his country or countrymen. We are conditioned to think ‘Country First’. The Arthur Andersons, Enron and Satyam are issues which reflect poorly on the Country. What is the image we would like to portray of our Country? You all are the brand ambassadors of our Country. Each one of you sitting here is a soldier out of uniform. Protect your motherland. Nurture it. Nourish it. Love it and be proud of it.

Remember: ‘Koi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai’.

Nishaan, the standard or the colours of the regiment. The colours goes to battle with the unit. It rallies troops around it and raises their morale. It gives each one of us an identity. To keep the ‘nishan’ flying high, always and every time. Build a legacy for others to follow. Great institutions are made with legacies. What is the legacy you are leaving behind?

Zindagi mein ek aisa junoon rakho, jiske lie apni jaan dene ke lie taiyaar ho!

You will have a rallying point and this will motivate and guide you of your actions always and every time. People call it passion. Some call it purpose. Find your purpose and you’ll find meaning and will be self-motivated to achieve it.

A soldier knows that he is the last bastion to protect his motherland. This is the ethos drilled in the rank and file, right from the officer down to the soldier. Each one of them ready to shout, ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’!

Jai Hind. Jai Hind.

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It’s OK to be Ignorant ..

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Not to Know is Bad. Not to Wish to Know is worse. – African Proverb

Really? We have a fear of appearing stupid. So we try to act like we know what we’re doing. This is more so at work, even when we don’t have a clue. The Noah’s Ark was made by amateurs; The Titanic by professionals.

The problem, therefore isn’t about appearing stupid. The problem is BEING stupid. The great Noble Laureate Albert Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the Universe.”

Ignorance is the absence of knowledge. It can be fixed. Stupidity on the other hand, is not even knowing what you don’t know. Go get some knowledge, fill the void, and the problem is solved. I oft repeat: Knowledge is the ONE key to Confidence. Therefore, Research, Read, Absorb, Test, Validate .. Do what ever it takes to seek knowledge. That is YOUr only salvation. That is YOUr only redemption. That is YOUr only deliverance.

If YOU are ignorant, as the Wright Brothers were, you don’t understand why birds fly and humans cannot. So, YOU study the elements of aerodynamics, wind resistance, acceleration, lift, drag, thrust and fill the void with knowledge. The Result?

The development of the airplane, from propellers to jets to the man on the moon. Airlines, airports, runways, ATCs, flight attendants, baggage handlers, metal detectors, air sickness bags, to miniature liquor bottles. A whole new industry; in fact the largest industry in the history of the world. BUT if YOU are stupid, you flap your arms and crash to earth.

Remember, Ignorance is temporary, Stupidity is forever. The choice is YOUrs.

Ignorance-rollover

Knowledge is Power!!!

THINK !!!

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Our Capacity to ‘THINK’ makes us Humans

It has become a ‘fashion statement’ to sham India for all its shortcomings. Poverty, corruption, Women Safety and so forth.

Remember, India has Poverty, India is NOT poor. It has corruption as an issue, India is NOT corrupt. When you have a challenge, you can address it. You need see it clearly. A number of YOU tell me about the issues that we have. Yes, we have issues. And so does the rest of the world. When we have an issue, we need to sit down, workout a strategy to address it. And remember, nobody from any other part of the world can take it up as a cause. Its our problem – we have to solve it. Period. Koi Mr. India nahin ane wala hai, Mein hi Mr. India Hoon!!!

And of course remember, “Koi Desh Perfect nahin hota; usse Perfect banana padta hai”. It is in our interest that we work towards making our Great Nation, Greater!!!

Don’t work against it … Work for it. So what do we do? WE THE People …. The YOUth.

Keep a tab. YOU may not enter politics, BUT keep a tab on the activities of the politicians. Make your vote count. Vote. Make a conscious choice. Make a difference.

Take onus of your actions. THINK before you do something even as mundane as watching a movie. Because, inadvertently, YOU are sending the film makers a message.

YOUr watching an item number, tells the movie makers this is what YOU want. Titillation. What do they do? They give YOU more. If the women are being ‘itemised’, can we blame anyone else? NO. We told them that this is acceptable and WE WANT MORE. They’ll dish out more. 5 years/ 10 years down the line, if YOUr daughter is unsafe on the roads .. YOU have perpetuated the crime. Women Safety is in YOUr hands. Yes, even watching a movie which dishes out item numbers, and YOU watching it is perpetrating crime against women.

WOMAN-SAFE

Make India Safe for Women

Think! This is YOUr pre-frontal cortex of the brain. The Thinking brain. Use it. For every little action of YOUrs there is a repercussion. YOU pay a price.

Think.

On this Independence Day take a pledge … TO THINK!

Indispensability

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Are you Indispensable??

Sometime when you are feeling important, sometime when your ego is in bloom,

Sometime when you take it for granted you are the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that you are going would leave an unfillable hole.

Just follow these instructions and see how it humbles your soul,

Take a bucket fill it with water, put your hand in it upto your wrist

Pull it out and the hole that is remaining in the measure of how much you are being missed.

You can stir up the water galore but stop and you will find in a minute that it looks quite the same as before.

The marvel in this quaint example is do the best that you can ….

… Be proud of yourself but remember there is no indispensable man.

So, YOUre Preparing for Upcoming Interview(s)

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The Art of Ambush: How do you lure the Interviewer to ask YOU, what you want to answer?

 

Having been Global Head, Hiring, I’ve probably interviewed close to 10,000 people and conducted 5,000 group discussions. And here you’re biting your nails to ‘crack’ your interview. Let me see if I can come up with some basics YOU need to know, to enable to come out a winner. Since these tips may not be entirely covered in one blog, I’ll cover them over a couple of blogs. So keep reading and await the next!!

I relate the process of an interview as an Ambush; a military operation, where you lure the enemy, into an innocent looking piece of ground and kill him. Your answers should seem innocent, but leading them (he or her) to ask you the next question related to the one where you dropped off! Simple?

Int (Interviewer): So are you proficient in Java?

You: No sir? (You killed; 1-0). Alternatively, No sir, Java was not part of our syllabus. However, outside my syllabus, I found keen interest in DBMS and pursued a short course too.

In: Aha! What did you learn in DBMS? (Int killed; 0-1).

There are ‘n’ number of such techniques which YOU can master which will help you come out a winner. How does the interviewer know they’re hiring the right candidate (whether the aspirant will be a good fit in ‘their’ organization). They tend to hire an ‘A Player’. No, haven’t heard of such a term? Here’s a rundown on how workers are grouped into 3 categories:

  • A-players: the top 10% of people. They work hard, go over and above, are well liked and respected and typically move “up the ranks” fast.
  • B-players: the 80% of people. They do the 9–5 thing, do their job well and are generally the “good, not great” people.
  • C-players: the bottom 10%. They do just enough to scrape through, don’t volunteer to take on new projects, like (and cause) conflict and have little to no personal accountability or responsibility. (GE issues this bottom 10% with pink slips each year after appraisals. Believes in Survival of the Fittest).

So obviously you want to hire A-players, right? Therefore, once you profile these workers you’ll get an insight into commonalities between them and what ‘makes them tick’; what are their personality traits. Invariably, without exception these people display:

1. Promotions in the Previous Role. They are great at what they do and managers notice this and offer them greater responsibility and eventually a challenging role. Look at their LinkedIn profile and see if, at any of their previous companies, they’ve been promoted. A fresher would have donned roles with responsibilities; being a Class Representative, Organized events etc.

2. Leading Independent Projects. They like to take on more responsibility. They had a previous manager who was so confident in their abilities that they were given a large or important project to run on their own. Works independently without supervision.

3. Their Role/Job would be completely different: As they love challenges, they generally don’t change companies so much as they change roles — because they like the challenge of constantly learning new things and being in new situations. They love to wear different hats and gain immense experience working across different spectrums.

4. Ask them about changes/ improvements/ challenges in YOUr Organization: Since they do research of the company before an interview. They try to understand your strategy, what’s going well and even what’s not. They clearly articulate what they like about your organization and provide constructive feedback on something you might want to change. At times, the interviewer may ask for solutions too, for the challenges being faced in the organization. How would you make an entry into the rural market of NE region?

5. Confident and yet not Boastful. There is a fine line. These players have a great track record and you want someone who talks a lot about being on great teams and having great managers and mentors. Listen to his NOT constantly saying “I this, I that”, generally, giving credit to his team and his colleagues.

6. Committed to Continous Learning: They love learning new skills. Ask them what they learned in their previous role. Ask which book they’re currently reading. Ask what they plan to learn in the next 6–12 months and how they’ll go about doing that. They invariably have a route chart of their personal & professional growth. For freshers, it’s imperative that they read books; besides knowledge, it’s a great conversation starter. And don’t bluff.

Int: So are you are a prolific reader?

You: Yes sir. (Int killed; 0-1).

Int: Aha! Which is the latest book you read?

You: Sir, Tale of Two Cities.

Int: Was that part of your syllabus in class VI?

You: Yes, sir. (You killed; 500-0)

7. And they ask YOU question at the end of the session. Most of the aspirants are too nervous to seek clarity, seek information or even continue the interviewing process; too stressed to be in their presence. A great interview is always a conversation and never one-sided. Look at the quantity and quality of questions they ask YOU. They care about the team they’ll be on, their manager and where you want to take your company moving forward.

Int: So, do you have any Qs for me?

You: No sir? (You killed; 1-0). Alternatively, Sir (or ma’am) what are the learning opportunities for a fresher? Or, what are the chances that a fresher will be deployed working with the new technology that you’ve developed? (Reflecting your knowledge of the organization).(Int killed; 0-50).

 

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Hiring is a mix of Art & Science

 

Remember, hiring is a healthy mix of art and science. There’s a lot more to it than asking just questions. Then there are the basic Qs which YOU could prepare now. Something like, Yes so and so, tell me something about yourself? And, please for heaven’s sake, don’t start with “Sir, myself so and so …” (Just walk out of the room; You killed; 1000-0). This is the classic ‘Tumhara naam kya hai Basanti”.

Int: Hmm, Sir I’m a 4th-year student of ***** (of course you are! That’s why we are here right? OH! you think I’m dumb and I don’t know this, is it?) And then in the next 2-3 minutes give him verbatim things written on your CV/ resume – which, incidentally is open in front of him (Some gall you’ve; first you assume they’re dumb and now you top it; telling them, they’re blind too). (You killed; 500-0).

Alternatively, Sir/ Ma’am, and go ahead and sell your skill sets. How? Come on buddy, not so fast. Till we meet again. (Int killed; 0-500).

 

Another Brick in the Wall

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God, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing

A very recent incident on the campus of an IT firm in Pune, bring back to fore the vulnerability of the female employee, even at an MNC. Sad. Sad. Sad. The sad part is that such incidents keep re-occurring and we, society as a whole, have become numb to such happenings. It has become just a number. And this will be repeated over and over and over again. She leaves behind her family members, who would be devastated. And the saddest part is this could be avoided. This and such like incidents can be avoided.

The MNC has done everything it was required to do. All the precautions were in place. The CCTV in the right place with the right angles. Access to the GDC restricted to only authorized personnel. Regular verification of the employees working in the GDC. A background check of the employees. Due diligence by the client. The authentication process in place. Regular checks of persons whom the work has been outsourced. Police verification. And some would say, what else can we do? Really? If that is the question that comes to your mind you have been bitten by the immune bug!! Your thinking processes are NOT working.

People need to understand that all the security cams are devices which help after the incident. All the processes that we put in place are good. BUT, but they are all passive measures. What are the active measures that are taken for prevention of such crimes?

We, as a society, need to foremost prevent such incidents from occurring. There are five stakeholders involved in this; let us quickly see what is the responsibility of each one of them.

1. Women/ lady/ girl: It becomes incumbent on our part to be aware of the situation in and around us; ALL THE TIME. A police document produced post-interview of a number of rapists speak of a victim’s profile (potential victims): a. Someone looking underconfident and walking around looking down (shoulders sagging, brooding, in her own thoughts). b. Someone NOT aware of the surroundings, what is happening around (unplug YOUR ear plugs NOW). c. Someone who has long hair (it helps them to get a better hold of the victim). d. Someone going through their purse (looking for keys/ anything) while moving in the public place.

Ladies: FOREMOST be aware of what is happening around YOU. TIP NO 1. HAVE A BUDDY. (This life-saving tip will always stand you in good stead). Today, I’m alive after facing action (and bullets) is thanks to my buddy. Have a workplace buddy. Have a society buddy. Have a running buddy. Have a train buddy. Have as many buddies for your different activities. Basically, YOU are never alone. Buddies look after each other and save lives. The perpetrators of such heinous crimes are taken aback (think twice) before initiating any action seeing two people. The Buddy system of the Armed Forces is instrumental in saving lives and fighting the common enemy together. 

2. The role of the other four stakeholders in my subsequent posts. The Men, The Government, The Society and last but not the least The Family.

Await my other active measures for WOmen SAFety (WOSAF) that I impart to organizations/ institutions. I dream to make this a better place for women to live.

My mission is to make our Planet a better place for women to Live . Laugh . Love .

 

International Women’s Day

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Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are Free at last!!!

On March 08th, 2017, we celebrate another International Women’s Day. The usual round of seminars, talks and hullabaloo will draw our attention towards the ‘breaking of the glass ceiling/ plight/ atrocities/ conditions and various other issues related to Women.

I’ve been addressing (and speaking) on issues related to Women Safety and the Situation Control measures that each women can take. There would be instances when you’re in an unfavourable position; how do you come out of it unscathed? How do you retain initiative? How do you handle the post-incident trauma? Has the situation improved over the last decade? Does one need to learn martial arts to deal with such hooligans?

I repeat some tenets of WOSAF (Women Safety) and SITCON (Situation Control):

  • YOUr strength emanates from YOUr attitude. Don’t display any Fear.
  • Offence is the only form of Defence (this is what I’ve learnt in my 25 years in the uniform). Here the perpetrators of the heinous crimes are seeking power. Its imposition of their will. Meek submission does not keep you safe.
  • Women are gifted with sixth sense. This innate ability has been honed over ages of protecting the family in the cave. This has wired their peripheral vision to near 180 degrees. They can sense danger. Be alert and trust your senses. If something doesn’t seem right; chances are they are NOT.
  • BUT for your sixth sense to perform there are certain criteria; UNPLUG and be aware of your surroundings. YOU cannot be listening to music or be on the mobile phone in a public area. YOU’ve to be looking around, present a picture of assurance (no nonsense attitude) and stride with confidence.
  • It’s only in reel life a man/women can stand up to 8-10 goons aka Shenshah! In real life escape and run is a good idea. The route out and route in should be planned in advance. Thus avoiding back lanes, unlit areas, lonely parks enroute and avoid bars/ pubs/ hooch shops in the locality.
  • ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers must be on your speed dial. Have some additional emergency numbers too. There are a number of apps available in the open market these days for your smart phone.
  • Be aware of the laws; especially against ‘Self-Defence’. For the working women, knowledge of Vishaka Guidelines is imperative. Acid attack survivors and their rights.

If at all there would be one, just one advice I would give, it would be parents teach your sons better. The government initiative “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” is laudable BUT I would rather have it read: “Beta Padhao, Beti Bachao”.

Happy Birthday, Small Brother

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1962 .. God gifted the cutest baby to the Sengupta family, a baby brother to 4 siblings … he was the most loved by one and all.

1972 .. in Military School boarding and the entire family missed the adorable little brother. His friends could not get enough of him, it seems.

1982 .. An Indian Army Officer, that made his family extremely proud. Commissioned into infantry and his men swore by him.

1992 .. married to his sweetheart from TOI matrimonials & a proud father. Doted on his family.

2002 .. A glorious service in the Army culminating in command of his battalion, fulfilling his duties & responsibilities towards his Nation, his regiment and his unit … He was honoured with ‘Vishist Seva Medal’ for his duties towards his country. He won accolades, medals, laurels and most importantly the hearts of thousands of his men he commanded – his ‘jawans’ brothers-in-arms …

2012 .. a guide and inspiration to thousands of YOUth of our Country. For him ‘Country First’ was his DNA .. He is a proud Indian, a doting father, a loving and caring husband, an adorable brother, a genuine friend and most importantly a good human being. Colonel Prabir Sengupta, VSM … 2017 – wishing you a very happy birthday .. a world of happiness and may you continue to blaze a trail of glory.

This note was penned by my sister on January 2017. Touched and obliged. Mission 600 million.

 

 

 

 

Live a LYF

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma Phaleshou Kada Chana ! Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani !!

Srimad Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47

Nobel Prize winning author and iconic realist Ernest Hemingway defines courage in his memorable Spanish Civil War novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ as ‘grace under pressure’. Had he added ‘untrammeled genius’ to this definition, he could well have been describing Capt JK ‘Chotu’ Sengupta. An amazing Cavalry officer-turned-entrepreneur-cum-social worker, Chotu (called ‘Jojo’ by family) became ‘profoundly blind’ in medical parlance after a Cobra Missile hit his Centurion tank turret during Sep 1965 Indo-Pak War. Though 100 percent blind; that blindness was a career turnaround for Jojo because he used it with grit to light up the countless lives he touched; all with Hemingway’s understanding of courage as ‘grace under pressure’. Respecting courage in all forms – across uniforms and gender.

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Capt Jayanta ‘Jojo’ Kumar Sengupta aka Jojo

What can You Say?

The unforgettable opening lines of Erich Segal’s Love Story come rushing in when Chotu Sengupta is remembered. What can you say about a brave, outstanding Cavalry officer who died at 70? That at 22, he was blinded by exploding binocular glass splinters caused by a missile hit during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. That he was a topper in all he did. That he was handsome, personable, perceptive, blessed with a family that doted on him. That he made blindness seem like a weapon which could be used for societal good. That he proved that when fate closes doors, the human spirit opens windows for achieving world class excellence in any work one chooses to do. That he loved life, helped children of lesser God cope with the travails of life with confidence, panache, that he also loved Rabindra Sangeet, reading, educating, sharing, fine dining, dressing with sartorial elegance. That the only battle he ever lost was surrendering with half smile to insidious lung cancer. May be there is no need to say more, instead, simply salute his memory at a time when the 50th anniversary of the war that him is being commemorated.

Early Genius

On Honour Boards and in the Army LIst, Jojo was called Jayanta Kumar Sengupta. Names don’t matter really as long as we get the point: ‘Honour’ figured prominently in his life because this officer and gentleman was special.

Born on 17 October 1942, Chotu was the second son of Amar Prasad, a corporate executive and Namita Sengupta. He left Huddard High School after making it to the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehra Dun, where his genius blossomed. He was adjudged ‘Best Cadet’ and also stood 1st in the All-India UPSC order of merit for National Defence Academy (NDA). He won the Gold Medal for the 22nd course at NDA and again the Gold Medal at IMA, passing out tops with the 31st course.

Commissioned into India’s oldest Cavalry Regiment, The 16th Cavalry, in December 1962, Chotu was awarded the Silver Centurion trophy for the best Young Officer (YO) at Ahmadnagar. When the 1965 Indo-Pak War started, he was attending a Gunnery course at ‘Nagar. Soon enough, attendees were rushed off to war but his peers knew he’d have topped except that destiny had a higher form of life and living in store.

A Cobra Missile Hit: A Hard Knock by Destiny

US based veteran Lt Col Kartar Singh Sidhu-Brar, Chotu’s wartime CO, recalls that Chotu rejoined the Regiment past mid-September; family recall placing his arrival as 17 September. The Colonel recalls that Chotu ‘had a very special place in our hearts and those who knew him’. He recalls Chotu cheerfully roughing it out in the haystacks of village Arjanpur (near Amritsar) where the Regiment was deployed there during Op Ablaze. Pakistan launched Op Grand Slam in Chhamb and the Regiment was moved for the Sialkot Sector – a new area.

The Regiment entered Pakistan at 0630 hours 08 September opposite Ramgarh, Samba, as the right leading Regiment of 1 Armoured Brigade with The Poona Horse on its left. First contact was established with Pakistani armour within hours with mixed results on display. The official record of the MoD published in 2011 shows the Regiment as having shot 14 Pakistani tanks and 4 RCL jeeps but suffering losses too along with two officers who died; one of whom, Maj MAR Sheikh, was posthumously awarded the VrC and the other, 2/Lt Vinay Kaistha (another Silver Centurion) a M-in-D.

On arrival on 17 September, Chotu was appointed troop leader in B Squadron under Maj ‘Morris’ Ravindran. The squadron was then located near Bhure Shah located 2 km northwest of Alhar RS on the Sialkot-Chawinda BG railway line. Pakistani 22 Cav (Pattons) was tasked to hold the ‘Black Line’ – the railway line from Gunna Khurd to Bhure Shah. It was Wajahat Task Force, an adhoc jeep-mounted Cobra Missile set up deployed alongside.

On 21 September morning, Chotu had taken a well concealed position in a sugarcane field with his tank. He was standing on his commander seat, looking out of his cupola for enemy tanks by using his high-magnification periscope (some reports suggest he was conducting Artillery Shoot) when his tank sustained a Cobra Missile hit on the turret fired from Bhure Shah. The metal splinters smashed the periscope’s lens, the glass shards penetrating his eyes, blinding him and ripping up his face, fracturing his jaw and left arm. Capt (later Col) ‘Wendy’ Dewan was close by when Chotu was hit. Blood streaming from eyes and face. Wendy remembers that Braveheart Chotu was calmness personified; ‘I can’t see but “I’m fine”. How are the boys and the tank?’ The tank being serviceable, Chatu was placed on blankets on the tank deck and brought to headquarters as Gen Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’ MVC**, GOC 1 Armoured Division landed. He straightaway ordered his helicopter pilot to fly Chotu to the Udhampur MH.

All else Failed but for Chotu’s Spirit

Shifted to Army Base Hospital in Delhi, Chotu was visited by PM Lal Bahadur Shastri who found him cheerful and optimistic despite his bandaged eyes. He was shifted to INS Ashwini and later to top-ranked Walter Reed Hospital in USA but his optic nerve was severed and that meant ‘100 percent blindness’. The Army sent him to London to St Dunstan’s – a world famous medical centre for war-wounded soldiers rehabilitation and mobility training. Chotu learnt Braille and typing there, powered by his remarkable optimis, humility, wit and sense of humour and his zest for life and live. In 1967, he was boarded out from the Army on medical ground with 100 percent disability.

For anyone else that would have been the end but this was no ordinary man. In a rare interview, Chotu avoided speaking about himself, always about others. He smilingly recalled that ‘there was no emotional setback following the mishap. Indeed, my family and the Army were strong sources of support’. He added that his St Dunstan’s stay where soldiers blinded in war are trained was a godsend for him. It was a new beginning and he made it count. ‘I met a lot of Britishers with similar disability. Seeing them go about their work inspired me a lot’. The standards he later set are in actual fact the stuff legends are made of.

A Genius Reborn

Focussing on winning the ‘Battle of Life’, this unassuming, genuine real-life hero attracted people like a magnet to his persona. Nothing deterred, Chotu took up a dealership with Tata Oil Mills. In 1972, he was allotted a LPG dealership in Siliguri and relocated there from Calcutta with infectious positivity.

In 1977, Chotu got married to Ms Rita Biswas, a teacher driven by passion and remarkable self-starting traits. The duo were like minded in visionary goals, compassionate and compelling and together that made magic.  Jojo is on record paying his wife a handsome, heart-felt tribute for the manner in which she brought greater focus, happiness and harmony in his life. Blessed with twin daughters, Sreemoyee and Sreerupa and younger son Bibek, the careers of the trio were on song well before their beloved father, friend and role-model moved on. The lost him on August 31, 2013 but are living out his dreams with rare nobility, success and character.

Jojo kept the Honour Board ticking. He did his BA from North Bengal University obtaining the expected ‘First-class-First’ rating, by now his DNA. He also routinely won the ‘Best Dealer’ Award from the Tata Oil Mills for a number of years. As an LPG dealer at Siliguri, his consumers remember with awe how he had memorized about 8,000 subscriber names, consumer numbers and addresses, compelling people to call up ‘Joy Da’ to verify their details instantaneously when seeking gas refills or terminations/ transfers of LPG connections.

Reaching Out to Help Disadvantaged Society

Having stabilized his family’s future, Chotu went through a transformation in 1990, taking up social work on a big scale. By 1998, he, Rita and friends had founded The Prerana Educational Centre. Flourishing today, it has 145 physically challenged students on its rolls. Earlier, in 1990, Chotu had also founded the North Bengal Council for the Disabled (NBCD) to run the centre. Apart from Prerana, he also reached towards the rural handicapped under the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program. Since 1998, about 700 villages around Siliguri have been covered to help rural disabled cope. Chotu ensured that the CBR became a WHO certified initiative which today benefits 3,000 people.

The Children Follow Dad’s Lead

In 2003, Sreerupa got married to Maj Gopal Mitra, SM (Retd). By itself, this news should not be a reason for specific mention in a Braveheart tribute but for one compelling fact – Maj Mitra having been totally blinded in a terrorist encounter in Kupwara, Kashmir, in 2000.

Commissioned into 15 Mahar, this St Xavier’s Kolkata, Honours graduate suffered total visual impairment. He thereafter underwent extensive reconstructive surgery but his military career was over. Nothing daunted, this young gallantry award winner. He underwent several reorientation courses, ending up with is being the first ‘visually impaired’ student to top a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai post graduate course. Mitra then pursued MSc in Development Management at London School of Economics (LSE) with outstanding grades. After several career advancements, he is now with UN Children’s Emergency Fund as Programme Specialist for Disability. Sreerupa completed her Masters from LSE, London and now works at the UN along with her husband Gopal. Her twin, Sreemoyee completed her Masters in Early Years Education from the famous Institute of Education, London and now teaches at Neev School, Bangalore.

Chotu’s son, Bibek, is a top-notch financial expert. Chotu’s sister-in-law, Nalini Sengupta, runs the famous Vidya Valley School, Pune, where Chotu was on the Founding Governing Board. Ms Rita carries on her shared legacy with Jojo and has ensured that the Institutions they started together remain vibrant and blooming.

The Never Say Die Spirit

Suffering for almost a year from lung cancer, Capt Sengupta passed away at Command Hospital Pune on 31 August 2013. He requested the astonished doctors for a shift to an ordinary Officers Ward to be more accessible to his family and friends. He faced death with the same calm and equanimity as he faced the Cobra Missile or his total blindness. There was respectful silence as their tribute for a Braveheart who, though small in size, had set sky-high standards of bravery in adversity and in conduct becoming an officer and a gentleman of impeccable class of the rarest kind.

What can you say for such a man who lived and died in a manner that one hopes future generations will take inspiration from? Nothing more than joining the author in respectful salutes for a man who though, ‘profoundly blind’ taught us to see life in all its vibrant colours; live a professional and socially responsible, cheerful, fulfilling, selfless life.

The tribute has been the work of a very fine Cavalry Officer:  Maj Gen Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM (Retd), another fine soldier, whom I was fortunate to interact with during my service in the uniform.

Another Day, Another time

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November 18, 1962! Another Day, another time. The winters had set in. It was icy cold and the snow covered peaks sent down breeze that penetrates to your very bone. The night temperatures dropped to low single digits. It was icy cold on the peaks around Chushul. Our adversaries from China decided to unfold a devious plan. The wanted to annex the entire Leh/ Ladakh sector. The entered from Rezang La and they encountered 13 Kumaon led by a tiger Major Shaitan Singh (MSS). The battle was fought at an altitude of 18,000 feet in Ladakh.120 soldiers of the Indian Army pitched against 5,000 soldiers of the Chinese Army. The Chinese also had artillery support. The brave 120 soldiers were bereft of artillery support.

This is the story of unparalleled valour, raw courage and victory buried in the overall defeat in 1962. Even to this day, my heart fills with immense pride regaling the saga of the battle. Rezang La (a pass in the mountain range), Gurung Hill and Spanggur Gap. Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon was at Rezang La. MSS was a Rajput commanding an Ahir company. Around 4 in the morning the scouts alerted MSS about advancing troops through the gullies not in ones or twos but in hundreds, heading for the peak.

MSS told his men to remain alert but not to open fire until he gave the command. As the Chinese troops advanced, the light machine guns opened fire with menacing accuracy. The first wave retreated. But the Chinese were numerically far superior. Before dawn the second wave advanced. This too was beaten back. By now at least 100 Chinese troops lay dead or injured but even before the Indian soldiers could replenish their stocks and reload the machine guns, at Number 3 Platoon Post Chinese soldiers kept advancing wave after wave. MSS and his boys kept firing even though they were under constant barrage of artillery fire. There was no way of replenishing ammunition.

MSS had two options: a. Fight to the last man, last bullet or b. Abandon Post.

His soldiers were tired and bleeding. But their morale was high. They chose option A. Not a single soldier abandoned post. Not a single man fled the battle. But 120 men against 5,000? Isn’t that very heavily skewed? Yes, it was and yet each man fought till the last bullet.

Individual gallantry apart, there were innumerable stories during the battle. The wrestler who crushed two chinese soldiers head with his bare hands. Another flung himself on two Chinese soldiers as they were climbing the peak – and took them down along with him. MSS did not want to be captured. He was mortally wounded. He ordered his jawans to hide his body behind boulders. One of his buddies unslung his rifle, used the sling to tie MSS’s body to his and rolled down the hill, all this while MSS breathed his last. His body was hidden. Only six of the 120 soldiers survived.  Five were taken as Prisoners of War (POWs). One slipped back and narrated the story. MSS was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (Posthumously).

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Major Shaitan Singh, PVC

As the folklore goes, the Chinese stopped at Rezang La to count their dead and tend to the injured. They lost their will to move forward and retreated. The battlefield was covered in snow. In 1963, when the snow melted and a new battalion returned to Rezang La, they found the brave soldiers of 13 Kumaon still in their trenches, frozen, fingers on their triggers.

This was bravery beyond the call of duty, in the line of fire. 114 bodies were cremated with full military honours in 1963 at those icy heights. Bravery that continues to inspire generation of soldiers. At Rezang La are etched the lines:

“How can a man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his father and the Temples of his Gods.”