The Determining Fire
Late on 15th night, I read a news piece about 500 trained women personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being the first women contingent to be deployed in high-altitude posts along the India-China border. I was thrilled.
However, I’m also sure many may have asked, ‘would they be able to handle it’; or, ‘can they meet the grueling job expectations? Especially given the conditions, where even their physically stronger male counterparts sometimes find it tough’?
Well, there are capable people, okay ones, and damn good ones, both men and women. On the corporate side, I’ve seen a fair share of men and women who’re below average at their jobs, and those who are really exceptional too.
What makes some truly exceptional, I have come to learn, has a lot to do with the distance they’ve covered, and the resistance they’ve overcome, to get to where they are. Often, it’s also what drives them to go even further.
We all know that both distance and resistance are overcome by sacrifices. Sacrifice being the screening fire. Those who have been through it, come through on the other side with something extra. All they then need to do, is fight complacency.
An incident comes to mind. My office building has good security. Friends, clients and acquaintances who have come to meet me there have always mentioned it. From visitors needing to register at the reception, a picture taken, a gate pass issued, security at the turnstiles, and acknowledgement on the gate pass from the office you’re visiting.
As I entered the building sometime last year, I realized I’d forgotten my access card. A male and female security personnel were at the turnstiles. Many of them are on rotational shifts, and I’m not a particularly regular face there, so they don’t always remember me.
Now anyone working in India knows how we deal with things like forgotten access cards. Many people even know how to deal with breaking laws and rules the same way. Saying it’s a one-time mistake, it happens, everyone else is doing it, and so on.
Anyway, I walked right to the turnstile, and told the chap to let me pass, telling him which floor I worked on. And that he could call and check with my office. He agreed without any hesitation, and was just about to swipe his card to let me pass, when the lady security personnel who was quietly watching us, stopped him. She politely expressed her reluctance to allow it, requested me to go to the reception and get a guest pass.
By this time, I was beaming with admiration. Because, funny as it is, in our country, it is rare that someone sticks to a rule, a law, a process; and not because they’re scared or feel pressured, but because they understand them and their responsibility towards enforcing them. And this lady wasn’t the least bit scared or confused. I know the difference.
In many situations, people bypass such rules or even the law with a little pat on the shoulder, a little bribe here, a nonchalant ‘chalta hai yaar’ there, and so on. But not this lady.She was polite, but was in no uncertain terms, following the procedure, and simply expected me to too.
How often do we stop at a red signal light when the streets are empty? And if we do, how often do we still jump the light if someone behind us honks, or other cars drive past without waiting? How frequently does name-dropping happen, or do we feel entitled without having earned something? How often do we throw our weight on people who stand no chance of defending against it? Do waiters, security, small shop employees, and peons among others, come to mind?
The lady security personnel is one of those concerningly rare individuals we have in our country today, who isn’t afraid, or doesn’t feel awkward about being fully responsible for what she’s been entrusted with. Now all we need are more such people. Many, many more.
The ITBP women, as indicated by the news itself, are the first women contingent ever. Which means there’s a mountain of ice and glass they’ve already overcome to be where they are today. It is also why would they be just as strong, if not far stronger, and more effective than their male counterparts who’ve been guarding that region till date.
Allan Massie said, “Do you know what a soldier is, young man? He’s the chap who makes it possible for civilized folk to despise war.”
Last night I watched a movie called ‘Holiday‘. An action thriller about a soldier on vacation who uncovers a dangerous plot.
I noticed something rather shameful with the crowd at the theatre during the last 3 odd minutes of the movie. And it was more offensive than the people who speak or scratch their haunches when the national anthem is playing. The last scene showed soldiers on their way back from vacation. The scene has families and loved ones spending a few emotion-filled moments with the soldiers before they leave for another long, trying stint away from home, to guard the country.
During this bit, over 60% of the people at the theatre got up and started leaving. You might argue that it is a movie after all. Or that it was past 1:30 am, or even that the climax scene was done. But aren’t we the same people who buy into, and believe the absurdity that is sold to us in the name of Bollywood? Then is this representation of reality so unimportant that we choose to ignore it?
I read some articles a few months ago, that might give some perspective to this. Some random American citizens were at a burger joint, when they noticed a few soldiers standing in line behind them. They got to the counter and paid for their order. They then handed some money and instructed the person at the counter that it was towards everything the soldiers ordered. And that if the money fell short, to let them know and they’d pay the balance as well.
Then there was another story of how someone left some money and a note on the car of a soldier, thanking them for serving their country, and asking them to take their loved one to a nice restaurant with the money, saying it was just a small token of their gratitude. While these don’t seem like fictional stories, surely they might sound a little dramatic, or like we Indians say, ‘filmy’. Citizens in the US have always acknowledged the futility of sending their soldiers to fight unnecessary wars, and they are grateful and acknowledge this huge sacrifice soldiers make for them, and sometimes try to express this gratitude in their own small ways.
We Indians are aware of the tainted reputation of some cricketers and even some cricketing events, but yet will watch the game with undeterred reverence and willful ignorance, but a few minutes that offer a glimpse into the lives of the very people whose sacrifice enables us to enjoy these trivial and meaningless luxuries, and we get easily bored and leave.
This attitude of educated fellow Indians begs me to wonder what exactly our soldiers are sacrificing their lives to guard. A thankless, money and pleasure-seeking race of self-centered robots?
“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.” ~ Pericles
We don’t defend our freedom in any way, at least let us learn to respect it.