TALKING TO MYSELF…

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When a sailor retires from a lifetime at sea, he is said to ‘swallow the anchor’. This phrase is also commonly used to refer to those to those retiring from the Navy. So, after almost forty years of a great life in whites, I am preparing to swallow mine. It has been my experience that while many veterans swallow the anchor without even a hint of a burp; for some others, it gets inextricably stuck in their throats and manifests in several undesirable symptoms.

Reflecting upon my experiences of this ‘Stuck Anchor Syndrome’ and my impending transition from a long tryst with the Armed Forces to a life of enjoyable anonymity in just a few days, I felt a need to talk to myself. About the ‘dharma’ of a veteran, about the expectations from a veteran and about the philosophy of being a veteran. My own version of a prep school that will ready me to shed the uniform with dignity and responsibility.

Our nation respects its armed forces for their service and sacrifices and by extension, respects its veterans in equal measure. I think this respect and dignity must always be upheld by mature and responsible behaviour. Regrettably, this has not always been so. Perhaps, out of misplaced apprehensions, poor advice and miscalculation, veterans have taken to the streets, made brownie shows of returning medals and the like – all of which run contrary to the public perception of a military veteran and have damaged their reputation. Fortunately, such instances are rare.

So, as I talk to myself, several thoughts come to mind. Firstly, I must learn to let go. It may seem difficult after four decades of military life but let go I must. There is so much more out there to do and experience beyond trying to cling to the apron strings of the past. Is it because I am incapable of anything else? Or am I a frog that yearns to dive back into its well for comfort? Surely not. So I will be non-interfering and support the new generation in running the show, as we did while in the Service. If they seek my advice, I will give it readily and cheer them on from the sidewalk.

Secondly, I must understand that Change today is much more rapid than in yesteryears.  Today’s India that is breaking shackles of the past and reducing external dependence. Obviously, some people do not like this India-centric approach. It is also an age of cultural revivalism, rejection of colonial mindsets and embracing of Indian tradition. The armed forces will and must Indianise. I will not lament the demise of ‘loyal toasts’ at five-course dinners, gripe over the disappearance of the St George’s Cross from the Indian Naval Ensign or work up a sweat at the replacement of old English hymns with Indian tunes at Beating Retreat ceremonies.

Thirdly, I must resist the temptation to be a ‘defence expert’. This requires much more investment than a routine life spent in the armed forces. It requires being current, studying subjects thoroughly, having clarity of thought, understanding the overarching national security imperatives and of course, being articulate and convincing. You can count such people on one hand. Many ‘defence experts’ who appear on TV would find themselves out of their depth in a rain-water puddle. There are yet others who think screaming, shouting and frothing in the mouth with indignation is good form. Shallowness of knowledge and histrionics are seen through with ease, even by a mildly discerning audience. Leave frothing in the mouth to race horses.

Fourthly, I must throw out the phrase ‘in our days’ from my lexicon. My days are up. Today’s leadership bears full responsibility for what happens during their watch. And I may not understand the current environment as well as them; and neither am I privy to decision-making inputs that prompt a certain course of action. I must have faith in tomorrow’s leadership just as total faith was reposed in our generation when we steered affairs in uniform. And I will try to avoid alluding to a suggestion that ‘morals are in steep decline’. I have heard this nonsense for forty years. Plunders, loots, land grab and abductions have taken place all through history – only the characters and modus operandi have changed with time. The vast majority is honest and upright – the armed forces cannot be any other way if we have to lead troops into battle. The Services will endure, despite an occasional aberration here and there.

Finally, I must make myself useful in some way. Even in retirement, I  realise that I will continue to remain exceptionally endowed with skills, talent, experience, maturity and a respectable pension to be of help to society. Besides, I will most definitely revel in the joys that evaded me while in Service. I hope to travel, play, socialise, nurture suppressed talents, attend marriages, births and funerals, cook a meal, read, write, garden – whatever brings me joy.

I met an erstwhile senior colleague and veteran over lunch a few months ago who told me he was doing really fun stuff and attending a full-time MBA programme. Seeing my perplexed expression, he quickly explained that MBA stood for Marriages, Birthdays and Anniversaries. Further he also said, he was part time into BJP – Barthan, Jhadu and Pochha; and quite enjoying the experience.

Why do I get this feeling that I am looking at great times ahead?

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