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Sainik School Chronicles: Light-hearted scoops from life in the greatest institution I have ever been a part of.

 

Necessary background knowledge: In order to develop English-speaking skills of the junior cadets in our school, a system named as ‘Spoken cards’ was followed by the senior, appointed cadets. There would be about five spoken cards distributed among the juniors and those who hold them can pass them on to others whom they hear speaking in Malayalam. At some specified times of a day, all the Spoken card holders would meet the senior appointments who would then put them through a rigorous punishment session. Over time, the Spoken cards got their nick-name: ‘Joker cards’. Many of the batches that have studied in the school do not even know the original name of these Joker cards.

 

***********

Tempo (nick name) was among those eight-standard students who found it really hard to talk in English. He had studied in a Malayalam-medium school earlier and it was very difficult for him to learn subjects in English, let alone speak to friends in it, and that too in a fully residential system. His life became miserable after the Joker card system had been introduced.

 

One of those days, he was already in possession of four of the five joker cards in his house and had just completed his punishment routine along with Sabu (surname) who had the remaining one. He had been standing in the queue to the bathroom for the morning wash when Pushya (half the name) got in and kickstarted his singing-cum-bathing routine. After a minute or so, Tempo banged at the door a couple of times. Pushya stopped his song for a moment and then resumed. He banged on it again. “Who is it?”  He did not answer but banged on it once more. This time Pushya shouted out at him. Still he did not answer but continued banging.  Pushya opened the door a bit, looked out and saw Tempo. “@$!*#$%*” He shouted some obscenities and was about to close the door back when Tempo held out one of his Joker cards to him. Unfortunately, when it came to bad words, Pushya was yet to learn many in English. He looked at Tempo in disbelief and roared, “I will take this one but will make sure that I would pass this back only to you and by the end of the day today, you would take punishments for all the Joker cards in the house.”  Tempo was busy enjoying his relief to listen to him with respect. “Bet..?”, challenged Pushya. “Bet..?” again. This time he nodded affirmatively and then joined the queue to the next bathroom. The song had stopped but the bath would certainly take longer. And he knew how to win the bet: All he needs to do is to just keep his mouth shut till the evening.

 

**********

That afternoon, everyone was working in the gardens prior to the ‘Cleanliness’ inspection. Tempo was in charge of whitewashing the bricks and painting the tree-trunk bottoms. Now, unlike many of us, Tempo was a very sincere boy when it comes to carrying out his duties. Whenever possible, he even goes beyond their call. That particular evening was one of Tempo’s high-spirited ones, maybe because the number of Joker cards with him had come to a week-low figure of three. After inspecting a specific tree, he decided that mere painting would not serve the purpose and that it would be much better if it also looked symmetrical. He took a moment to visualize the intended structure of the tree, and planned his scheme. As the first step, he started to climb on a low-standing branch to cut an adjacent one down. First, he jumped up and caught hold of the branch. Then, stepping on the trunk, he began to move his legs up, step by step.

 

Sabu was watching Tempo keenly from the front garden, taking a break from his grass-slashing duties. The day was disappointing for him; it was more than a day since he had got the Joker card and till then, he could not pass it on. Tempo was not even opening his mouth. Sabu’s back was already paining with the front-rolls on the previous day. Moreover, if he was to take the punishments that day, he would have no spare vests for the next day morning P.T. That meant he would have to wash his clothes sometime after midnight and then dry them below the fans before dawn the next day, as the evening punishments would also mean no time for washing them then. Painting duties today meant fewer buckets available in the house to store water for the night. The tank was already drained for cleaning. Dirty vest would lead to more punishments and a possible restriction from the Games session. His head was beginning to ache.

 

Coming back to Tempo’s climb, that one taught him that there are two ways how a branch of a tree could break. First: ‘break.’ Second: ‘breeaaaaaaaaaaaakkk.’ The second kind is the one which gives you sufficient indications that it would break soon and gives ample time for you to move out of danger. Unfortunately, he encountered the first kind that day. The branch broke off suddenly without any warning, before he could pull his body up there. He fell down; bottom first, hands and legs up. “Ammaaeee…” he called out in pain. (Amma is the word for ‘Mother’ in Malayalam, as in many other languages). Sabu was the first person who came running to him.

 

Sabu reached across to Tempo and helped him up. Then, with a very satisfied smile, took the Joker card from his pocket and dropped it in his friend’s. Tempo was furious like never before. He already had three of the five cards and then this additional one; that too for just crying out an exclamation. Does an exclamation have a language? Surely, it did not. He wanted Sabu to take the card back but he would not budge. The argument between them got fiercer. Soon, everyone surrounded them. Many of them did not know what the whole issue was about. Seeing the crowd around them, Tempo decided to seek their support. It was all the more difficult for him to convey things in English as he was emotionally charged. With great difficulty he started explaining what had happened:

 

“See all…
uhh..? (..pause..)

One man climbing…

Uhhh…? (..pause..)

Up and down..

Uhh..? (..pause..)

Falling down… (..no pause..)

Calling mother… (..no pause..)

Giving Joker card…

Is it fair, is it fair..???”

 

Many did not understand what he was trying to tell. So he explained again with the help of some accompanying actions:

“One man climbing

Up and down… (pointing to the tree and acting out the climb with his hands)

Falling down… (pointing to the soiled backside of his vest)

Calling mother…

Giving Joker card…

Is it fair, is it fair..???”

 

Now, some seniors turned serious. ‘Calling mother..?’ they asked… (‘Calling mother’ could also mean calling bad words, especially if the phrase is translated to Malayalam.) Tempo quickly realized that there might be something wrong. So he made himself clear: “Calling Mother… Ammaeeee..” (again…!)

 

*******

 

Later, Pushya thanked the Gods that he was part of the crowd that gathered there because that was how he won the bet.

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A Melancholy from Moscow

October 27, 1957:

For the first time, her voice was broadcast on the radio. She was heard across the continents and many could not even believe what they were told about her. The rest of the world listened with awe while most of her countrymen cheered for her. She was their showcase, their pride, and the symbol of their supremacy. The whole world would now regard her as a marvel. By then, it was proven that she had got what it takes to achieve the glory that no man had ever been able to until then. Many were apprehensive whether she would be able to live in these new heights that she would scale or whether she would be able to withstand the pressure, the stress, and the hardships that would come along. As a matter of fact, she had not chosen her destiny; the men beside her chose it for her. She became the chosen one in return for her loyalty and trust in them. And for her, the path to there was never a bed of roses.

She had been loyal to them all along. She obeyed them, went through all the tortures for them. For her, what really mattered was their love and caring that she got in return. For the men beside her, it was the places where she would go, and the glory that she would bring them. She was their key to their own greatness. The triumph would be theirs. By then, the plans to follow her way had already been meticulously charted out, even before she was found from the streets.

 

Until a few months ago, she was just another one in the streets of Moscow who truly lived a dog’s life. Stray and hungry, frail and cold, she roamed around for food and shelter every day. Besides the streets, the metro stations were the only place where she felt safe. It was the only retreat she knew where she could endure the unforgiving winters of Moscow. She knew nothing that is beyond the streets and the stations. She used to see thousands of people every day. Some of them noticed her, most did not. A few times, she had seen that tinkle in some eyes while they watched her. Mostly they were of the little kids, those who were hand-held and led away by their parents. She was very fond of kids but never had the courage to go near any of them.  She was an outcast and scared. She never knew how life would be outside the streets and had learnt that once she kept a distance from the people around her, life became less vulnerable to any harm from them. She longed for their company but had to content with just watching them without attracting attention. She seldom made any noise and slept in the shadows. But somehow, she always had the feeling that one day someone would come for her, to take her with them to their homes and make her part of a family. It took almost three years for that day to come.

 

On that day, she was rounded up along with several others like her. Everyone among them, but the females, were left free. They were then taken in a huge truck to some place not very far away. The new place was a huge building complex heavily protected by electric fences and even armed guards. For the next several weeks, that would be her new home. She did not enjoy her new life. She missed the crowds and the streets. As days passed, many of those who came with her went missing. Soon, only three of them were left. A small group of people started taking care of her. They would give her food and a house of her own too, inside the same building. The food tasted awful. She did not like it. She did not like the house either and did not want to be confined. She realized that her life was no more in her control. But she started liking her caretakers. They used to talk to her although she did not initially understand what they mean. They had even given her a name: “Kudryavka” which means ‘the little, curly-haired one’. She would never get tired of being with them. They used to do a lot of things to her, many of which had hurt her so much. They pricked her body with needles and injected drugs to her. She was soon moved to a smaller house and sometimes shut in for long hours and even days. They stopped giving her anything solid to eat. Then, they put wires around her. She tried to adjust with things but often it became very hard for her. She whined loudly, banged on the doors of her house with no avail. But they always came back for her. And when they came and hugged her, she felt it was worth the wait and she hoped she never would have to go back to the house again.

However, the worse was yet to come. She was moved to an even smaller compartment where she could either stand on her limbs or lie down with no provision to even turn around. She was chained like a wild animal so that her movements were restricted. More needles and wires were inserted to her body. Then came the most horrifying part: she was shut in for weeks at a stretch. Some kind of jelly was placed near her as food twice in a day. Something had been happening to her. Often, everything in the compartment turned strange. She felt stressed, nauseous, and disoriented. Her body was strained and weak. After three weeks, long after she had left all hopes, the door opened and the men walked in. All the wires and the harness were taken out of her and iodine was applied on her skin. After some time, she was allowed to move more freely. It seemed like the good days were back again. 

 

October 30, 1957:

One of the men was taking her out of the building. It was the first time she had been out of there in many weeks. A car took them to the man’s home. The maid opened the door for them and they were let in. Cautiously she stepped in and found herself in front of two little children. That turned out to be the best day of her whole life. She played with the kids the whole evening and they just adored her. She had never run so much and so fast in the past. The only other thing that went faster was that day. Back in the building, everyone was happy to see her. The next few hours were still better. Everyone treated her so well. They took extra care to attend to her keeping aside all the other works. It felt like heaven.

 

October 31, 1957:

The two assistants were specially assigned to take care of her. They came and took her to a different room. They sponged her with spirit and groomed her. It was when they started pinning in wires that she went quiet. It began to dawn on her that they were putting her through it once again. Is it for this that she had been given all this care? Perhaps this time it is just for a while. Perhaps they were just playing games with her. One by one, everyone came to her and patted her. Some of them hugged her. After a while, she was taken to a new cabin. There was a small cabinet for her similar to the one that she had used a few days ago. After all the procedures were done, everyone went out. She looked at them with one last hope. When she found some tears in their eyes, she knew something is going to be different this time.

The door was shut tight. Now it was back to isolation. She stared at the door for long hours, expecting someone to come and open it. Minutes moved over to hours and even to days. At the end of the third day, she felt the cabin shake a bit and a mild roar of something like an engine. The lights in the cabin blinked for a second and then all of a sudden, there was a big jerk. Her skin tightened as there was a blast and she felt like thrown away by a strong force. Her heart beat rate rose very high and she was in tremendous pain. After some time, the temperature began to rise. She could not bear it anymore. The heat was almost cooking her raw and was getting worse. Before breathing her last, the last thing she hoped for was for her dear friends to come in and fetch her… Beneath her, the fortieth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution was being celebrated.

 

‘Laika  (as Kudreyvka was popularly known), the first dog or earthling in the space, was in her capsule which remained in orbit for a total of 162 days, circling the Earth 2570 times before burning up in the atmosphere on April 14, 1958.  To anyone watching the sky at that time, she made her final statement as a tiny falling star in the night.’

 

Nuggets

 

  • Dogs were the preferred animals for the experiments because scientists felt that dogs were better suited to endure long periods of inactivity. As part of their training, they were confined in small boxes for 15-20 days at a time. Stray dogs, rather than animals accustomed to living in a house, were chosen because the scientists felt they would be able to tolerate the extreme stresses of space flight better than other dogs. Female dogs were used because of their temperament and because the suit for the dogs in order to collect urine and faeces was equipped with a special device, designed to work only with females.
  • Sputnik-2 was reportedly launched to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and was developed in a very short span of time. Since there was no recovery procedure planned for it, Laika is the only creature in history knowingly sent into space to die.
  • Originally, it was uncertain how long Laika had survived in space, with initial estimates ranging from twenty-four hours to one week and the possible speculation that she had lived for as many as ten days. The method of Laika’s death was also unknown initially. Reports of Euthanasia, death due to cold, shortage of food and oxygen, etc, went on the rounds. However, in October of 2002, during a gathering of the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, it was revealed by Dr. Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biological Problems in Moscow, that after five to seven hours following the launch of Sputnik-2, no lifesigns were being received from Laika. By the fourth orbit, it was apparent that the little dog had passed away from overheating and stress, undoubtedly an exceedingly painful and distressful death.
  • Three dogs, Laika, Mushka, and Albina were trained for the Sputnik-2 voyage. Just nine days before the launch, Doctor Vladimir Yazdovsky chose Laika for the mission. Reportedly, she was placed in the satellite three days before her launch. “Laika was quiet and charming”, Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. He recalled that before heading to the launchpad, he took the dog home to play with his children.”I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live,” Yazdovsky said.

 

 

 

In Mid-August of 1947, the British colonial rule ended in the Indian subcontinent and two nations of India and Pakistan were split out of it. However, there were some 550-odd princely states remaining in the subcontinent which were not, in the true sense, a part of the British colony. They were given a choice to accede to India or Pakistan, or remain independent (Indian Independence Act 1947). The last option was more or less not feasible due to various practical hurdles1. Now, accessions to the two nations were also not left without any conditions. As Lord Mountbatten (first Governor General of independent India) put it, geographical compulsions meant that most of them should select India. It was also decided that only those provinces which shared a common border with Pakistan could accede to it. The ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was Maharaja Hari Singh Dogra, a Hindu. However, more than three quarters of his subjects were Muslims. The Maharaja was actually toying with the idea of remaining independent. He actually signed a ‘standstill’ agreement with Pakistan in order that services such as trade travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign any such agreement but both the nations wanted to acquire Kashmir and tried to advance their influence through their allies and supporters in the state.

The main political organization in Kashmir, the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah (father of Farooq Abdullah and Grandfather of Omar Abdullah, both of whom had taken over the reins of the NC subsequently) largely consisting of moderate Muslims preferred to accede to India. However, a large section of the Kashimiri people in areas like Poonch valley preferred Pakistan. They initiated a rebellion and the Maharaja employed forces to crush it. Those who support accession to Pakistan were of the view that in line with the purpose of division, Kashmir should belong to Pakistan. It was a Muslim-majority area and moreover, it has a common border with Pakistan. They felt that the King was acting against the interest of the people. Soon after, in October 1947, tribal forces from Pakistan, allegedly supported by their regular military forces, tried to invade Kashmir to liberate it and to join it with Pakistan. The Maharaja was incapable of resisting this and had to seek the help of India. In turn, India wanted the king to sign the Bill of Accession of Kashmir to India. On his signing, Indian troops were airlifted to Kashmir to attack the infiltrators. This Bill of Accession and how and when it was signed is a major point of dispute between India and Pakistan even now. Pakistan says that the time of the signing was fabricated by India and that the Indian troops had reached Kashmir before it was signed. They also advocate that since the King had fled Kashmir, he had no right to decide for its people. The original Bill of Accession document had never been made public. (Arguably) The bill mentions that the accession of Kashmir to India is temporary and the future relationship between them would be negotiated later, possibly through a plebiscite. (A referendum, ballot question, or plebiscite is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal.)

Thus, India and Pakistan fought a war in Kashmir through 1948. The issue was internationalized when India approached the UN to mediate. Soon, UN mediated a ceasefire in the region. Indian troops were forcing Pakistani rebels to retreat when this happened. This is why many pro-Indians believe that it was a ‘Himalayan blunder’ by Nehru to have referred it to the UN at that time. The ceasefire line became the Line of Control (This name was adopted, however, following the Simla agreement in 1972). The UN resolution implied holding of a plebiscite after the withdrawal of the troops. Till date, no referendum was done and both the nations blames the actions of each other as its cause; Pakistan blames India for not implementing the provisions of the resolution while India maintains that this could not be done when Pakistan supports the infiltration and militancy in the state.

The Kashmir issue assumed further significance in the world politics when certain sects from within and outside the nations recognized the strategic importance of Kashmir’s location. For e.g., cold water politics played an important role in the advent of International interest in Kashmir, when India grew closer to the USSR and Pakistan to the West. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the opposition US had to it gave Pakistan a larger role to play in Afghanistan. The Aghan issue impacted almost the entire Islamic world and an Islamic Warrior Front was formed to gain the control of Afghanistan. This front (Mujahedeen) even involved outsiders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Philippines and even Chechnya. They, together with the Pakistan military even succeeded in helping the Taliban gain control of many parts in Afghanistan. These new developments redefined the strategic importance of the State of Pakistan. Moreover, geographically, Kashmir-less Pakistan has a disadvantage against India if things boil down to a military encounter or a war, most of the major Pakistan cities are very near to the border as compared to the Indian cities which are much far away and protected much better. There was also an effort to create a Islamic Superstate including the regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a free Kashmir. This was when the Kashmir accession got the next shot of strategic prominence. Many of the mujahedeen from the Afghan began to take interest in Indian-administered Kashmir. Within Pakistan, militant fundamentalist organizations were openly active in recruiting volunteers to fight in Kashmir. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Laskar-e-Toiba were the biggest among them. The Mujahedeen regularly crossed into Indian-administered Kashmir and carried out armed attacks against what they perceived as Indian occupation forces.

In any case, it is indisputable that both India and Pakistan had shown no intent of foregoing the territories under their control. Both the nations can be rightly accused of worsening the situation by their actions; be it the improper management of the Military forces and Governance in the valley by India, the sponsoring of militant outfits in Kashmir and supporting other anti-Indian movements (like the struggle for Khalistan) within India by Pakistan. More wars were fought between the countries in and outside Kashmir. In due course, the matter became one of national pride for both nations. Post cold-war, the issue caught more international attention when both the countries went nuclear.

As of now, India claims that the whole of Kashmir is legally an integral part of its territory and provides as proof, the Accession bill passed by an elected Kashmir Assembly in 1954 whereby it was declared an independent part of India. Pakistan refutes this claim pointing out that Kashmiris from the Pakistan-occupied regions were not represented in the assembly.

Unknown to many in today’s generation, there are several other emotional issues that added fire to the dispute between the countries. Jawahar Lal Nehru himself belonged to the Kashmiri Pandits who had been an integral part of Indian intellectual and political elite. They strongly advocated that Kashmir should belong to India. On the other hand, Pakistan also had a powerful lobby of Kashmiris supporting it, especially those in the regions of Punjab (in Pakistan) where they have settled soon after the partition2. The great (British-) Indian poet and thinker Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal who was among the first to dream about a Muslim Homeland himself is a Kashmiri. He is regarded as Paksitan’s national poet. (Interestingly, one of the most popular patriotic songs of India, Sare Jahan se Acha, was written and first sung by the same man)

The other relevant issue that is relatively unknown to the public is regarding the sharing of water. The economic and political implications are largely affected by this factor too. A large area of Indian agricultural areas and almost the entire agricultural sector of Pakistan is largely dependent on the waters of the rivers that originate in and around Kashmir. It is interesting to note that in spite of no consensus in other areas, both the nations have more or less settled the water sharing issues, mainly by the Indus Water treaty signed in 1960. As per this, the three eastern rivers Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas were awarded to India and Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan. Over the subsequent years, India and Pakistan have built dams and barrages over these rivers and these play an important role in the economies of both the nations. Both the nations are wary about the future of these if the status quo of Kashmir is realigned.

Disclaimer and opinion

The content above may not be 100% factual, impartial, or unbiased. Unfortunately, I could not discuss this issue in first person to Nehru, Jinnah, Maharaja Hari Singh, Lord Mountbatten, or even to Omar Abdullah. Instead, I have depended almost entirely on the Internet for collecting the data and content. I had referred the notifications of both the Governments in their websites for collecting details about the various treaties and also the published articles by Politologen (journal published by the Swedish Political Science Association), IEER, etc., besides a host of other sources and books by renowned authors. As with many of the controversies, the available information is more of the respective interpretations of the authors which may or may not be very close to the actual truth.

Contrary to the appearence and nature of contents, this article is not intended to be a lesson on facts or figures or treaties or even the truth. Neither is it meant to support or oppose the claims of Pakistan, India, Kashmiri Muslims, Hindus, or any particular sect. This is to invite your attention so as to develop increased awareness about the issue. It is a plea to the people concerned to have a more accommodative view about the opinions and views from the men on the other side. That would be essential if we need to look forward for a workable solution to the crisis. It is also essential that national pride, nationalism, fundamentalism, or religion should not cloud the vision to an amicable settlement. The think-tanks, peace groups, and visionaries across the world have proposed various solutions for the issue. Invariably, it involves provisions similar to those adopted in various settlements that were reached elsewhere in the world: Demilitarization of the region, consensus on an International border along the lines of LoC, making it porous like in the case of US-Canada border, rehabilitation of the displaced communities, increased interaction between the people and confidence-buidling measures on either sides, more autonomy and a governing arrangement similar to the case of Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland, so on and so forth. None of this is possible without abandoning the combative mindset and ultra-nationalist postures of the two nations.

To quote Owen Bennett Jones from his book, “Pakistan: Eye of the Storm”: Ever since 1947, the views of the Kashmiris have been obscured by the dispute between India and Pakistan. With the insurgency over a decade old, most Kashmiris are sick of the conflict and are desperate for a peaceful settlement. But for both India and Pakistan, the symbolic importance of the Kashmir dispute means that they will inevitably follow their own perceived national interests rather than those of the Kashmiri people. If the Kashmiris had been conducting a straightforward fight for independence in the same way as the Chechens or East Timorese, they would have had a greater chance of success. The tragedy of Kashmir is that the voices of the Kashmiri people themselves have been drowned out by the nationalists and ideologues in Islamabad and Delhi.

Footnotes and trivia

  1. The two other princely states which were initially undecided were Hyderabad and Junagadh. The last Nizam of Hyderbad initially declared it to be a part of Pakistan but the British government did not allow this. Later, he announced his intention to become independent. Some people of the state rebelled against the Nizam. The communist/Telangana peasant struggle, Razakaar attacks, etc., followed and finally Operation Polo by Indian forces in Spetember 1948 absorbed Hyderabad to India.The Nawab of Junagadh chose to accede to Pakistan arguing that it adjoined Pakistan by sea (It is a coastal district of the present Gujarat). Again, these led to tensions and conflicts, particularly from the states like Mangrol and Babariawad which were under the suzerainty of Junagadh. The rulers of these states acceded to India. Later, the Nawab fled to Pakistan and the situation in the state became worse. The court and the Dewan of the state, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and grandfather of Benazir Bhutto) invited India to mediate. Pakistan objected to this and also claimed that if Kashmir with a Muslim majority can be acceded to India by the will of the Hindu ruler, the same rule should be followed for Junagadh too, which was a Hindu-majority area but ruled by the Muslim Nawab. However, a plebiscite was conducted in February 1948, which went almost unanimously in favor of accession to India. Junagadh became a part of the Indian state of Saurashtra and then the Bombay state which was later split into Maharashtra and Gujarat.   

  2. Even the name Pakistan has close relations with Kashmir. In fact the name of the country, Pakistan is an acronym. This was developed by a group of students at Cambridge University in their pamphlet in 1933 called Now or Never. They came up with the term Pakstan (later, Pakistan) composed of letters taken from the names of the following regions: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan. It also means the land of the Paks, the spiritually pure and clean.