My Green Uniform

The drive from the airport had never felt so long. My green uniform had never weighed me down, my beret had never felt so heavy. The cab came to a halt outside that white door that I knew so well. While walking up to the door, I went back two days in time.

“USS Stennis, this is Lightning 1, Scooter. We are 59 miles Southwest of Bravo Seven. Holding Flight Level 250, speed 635 knots. Lightning 2, Redwood, is 0.5 miles out, 9 o’clock. Out.”
“Lightning 1 and 2, USS Stennis November Juliet Charlie Sierra, roger. Descend to Flight Level 200, speed 595 knots. You are 104 miles Northwest of Stennis. Turn left to 170, and expect next heading shortly.”
“USS Stennis, Lightning 2, Redwood. Descending to Flight Level 200, speed down to 595 knots. Turning left heading 170, Lightning 1 and 2.”

Ending the radio call, Redwood turned around and looked at me. Speaking into the radio, he said, “Well, Bill, one last routine patrol over the Bering Sea. In two days, a new life awaits. Amanda is a really good place to settle isn’t it?”
“Yeah, of course, Jeff. It’s small, calm and is one close-knit neighbourhood. The school district is well recommended, and it’ll be great for Britt and Max. And Columbus is just an hour away. We can get the best of both worlds.”
“Let’s get these babies around for one last time.”

The Alaskan skies were cloudy, as one would expect on an afternoon in August. Flying over storm clouds was breathtakingly beautiful, every time. Below the clouds, rain and sleet lashed on the coasts of Alaska; above the clouds, there was a region of absolute calm, and light winds. The dark clouds, in their abstract shapes and unique patterns, looked like places one could only dream of.

Our radar screens were empty except for a couple of commercial jetliners flying above us, and all flight parameters were normal. Jeff’s voice came into my headset. “Remember that time over Spratly? Where those Chinese fighters chased us for 200 miles?”
I laughed and replied, “Yeah, and we were flying at half our maximum speed.”
“Oh and the time when those German fellas were trying to outdo us at RIAT? They got a good taste of our afterburners.”
“What about that time when those drunk Aussies tried to convince us that cricket was better than baseball?”
“Who in their right minds plants three sticks of wood on the ground?”
“Well, we can blame the Brits for that.”

Cruising at 20000 feet, so many memories floated past me, in my seventeen years as a fighter pilot. My training times at West Point, my first flight, my first combat injury, extended stays in so many different countries, and how can I forget my first failed attempt to land on an aircraft carrier. I recalled becoming friends with Jeff, long talks in our bunks, goofing around in bars and rec rooms, Jeff’s marriage to Shanice, watching toddler Max run around the house, meeting Linda, our first date, driving to Vegas at 2 A.M. to get married, the first time I took Brittany in my arms and surprising them on Christmas Eve. Now we were going to start a whole new chapter in our lives, and we’d finally be with our families, and be neighbours.  

“Lightning 1 and 2, USS Stennis, descend to 10000 feet, speed 540 knots. You are 64 miles East of Stennis. Turn left heading 270.”
“USS Stennis, Lightning 1, Scooter. Descending to 10000 feet, speed down to 540 knots. Turn left heading 270, Lightning 1 and 2.”

We pulled into a dive, and flew into the clouds. The winds were howling, rain and ice splattered on my windshield. It felt like I was looking into the void. Everything around me was black, except for the tiny light on Jeff’s aircraft. The lower we descended, the stronger the winds became. The turbulence made it nearly impossible to hold the aircraft still.

“Lightning 1 and 2, USS Stennis, you have two Fulcrums at your 6 o’clock position, 5 miles. Increase speed to 600 knots.”
“USS Stennis, Lightning 2, Redwood. Speed up to 600 knots.”

Whilst we were fighting the wind, we had failed to notice two Russian Mig-35 “Fulcrum” fighter aircraft appear out of nowhere. From the worry in the controller’s voice, it seemed that they were onto something. We increased our speed, and our pursuers did the same. The controller made repeated calls to the aircraft to identify themselves, but no such transmission was received.

The storm worsened. The winds were pushing us off our course; our fuel reserves depleting fast. The aircraft carrier, USS John C. Stennis, was in sight. We decreased our speed for landing, the Fulcrums slowed down as well. It was a very risky ploy, attempting to land while being pursued, but it had to be done.

“Unidentified aircraft, this is USS John C. Stennis. This is your final call to respond. We will open fire, I repeat, we will open fire. This is your final call to respond.”
“Jeff, you align for the runway. The Sparrows will get a clear shot that way.”
“Roger. See you in the hangar, pal.”

I pulled off to the left, and I heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. The Sparrows had opened fire. I looked back and saw the Fulcrums break off from their formation. One of them took a hit, and went down. The other was on my tail.

“Lightning 2, cleared to land.”
Jeff was aligned to land, and he had slowed down. I circled over the ship, trying to shake off my pursuer. All off a sudden, it took a steep dive, towards the left. The Sparrows opened fire, but it kept flying through the sky lit up by the exploding shells. What happened next, is still a blur.

My pursuer opened fire at Lightning 2, and it exploded, about five hundred feet from the ship. The my engine sounded distant; the radio transmissions, incoherent. My hands were numb over the control yoke, my eyes taking instrument readings like a robot. Before I could change my course, the Fulcrum took a hit and went up in flames. I managed to bring down my landing gear, and turned around, preparing to land.

“Lightning 1, do you copy? You are cleared to land.”
“Cleared to land, Lightning 1.”

I managed to land, for one last time. I climbed out, and walked across the rain-washed deck. Many deck crew and air crew, said comforting words and embraced me. I didn’t talk to a single soul, I didn’t consume a single morsel of food and I didn’t get a single wink of sleep.

The moment kept playing in my head, in a loop. It felt like a part of me had been separated and cast into oblivion. It seemed like forever when gave me that last thumbs-up, that last grin and those last words. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t here. We’d been through everything together. I thought of Shanice and Max. And then, it hit me. I would be the Casualty Notification Officer, and I’d have to break the news to them.


I knocked at the door of Shanice’s house. I hadn’t mustered up the courage to tell Linda, let alone Shanice. My years of training and experience had never prepared me for something like this. I heard Max shout, “I’ll get the door, Mom!” My mind went blank. Max opened the door and shouted in glee, “Mom, its Uncle Bill! He’s back!” I tried to smile at him, and ruffled his hair. Max was a fine twelve year old. His brown hair, pointy nose and green eyes, resembled Jeff a lot. Shanice came to the doorway with a wide smile, and noticed my green uniform. A look of horror as sudden replaced her smile, and her eyes became moist. She gasped, “No!” and ran into the house. I was barely holding back tears, myself.

Max hadn’t understood what was going on. I told him, choking up, “Let’s go inside, bud. We need to talk.”
We went into their living room, and I sat Max down on the sofa. “What’s going on, Uncle Bill? Why is Mum crying?”
I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t know what to say.
“Uncle Bill, where is Dad?”
“Max, two days ago, we flew our last mission. Two Russian planes gave us a chase. We killed off both, but Jeff…”
I couldn’t go on any longer. I broke into tears. Max was absolutely still. I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes anymore.
“Dad’s dead?”

I must’ve nodded, because Max ran out of the room. I could hear Shanice sobbing in the dining room.

I got up, and saw a picture of Jeff and myself on the mantelpiece. It was taken back when we were cadets at West Point. I looked at his smiling face, and a single tear fell on my green uniform. And I said, “I’m sorry, Jeff. I’m so sorry.”



We are all going to die.

Oh wow, such a gloomy start to such a positive title. Well done.

No, but it is true, might as well just get the daunting truth out of the way. I met someone who changed my life. Or at least the way I look at things in general. We are all going to die. This corporeal anatomy is subject to decay, might as well make the moments our heart beats count.

Writing this isn’t what I ever intended to do after how things have been playing (rather falling) in my life, but one might have worse things to be sorry for or crib about. With this persisting state of mind, it isn’t an aberration (because it has been done by many before me in moments of enlightenment) to be talking of why it is important to be a fighter. Of course, irony will smile cheek to cheek as I hammer words onto my screen, but hey, trying is step one, right?

The general idea is to mope around or sulk when sad because life is devoid of bubbles of happiness. I am sorry you traveled the road not taken and I am sorry thorns along the way burst those bubbles, but hold your horses just for one second. Do you feel it? Now you can breathe better. All the forced boisterous joyous smiles and laughter is simply tiring. It is constricting as our grins extend from one side of the face to another and our windpipe becomes thinner and thinner. So when that bubble is burst, we can finally breathe. Maybe the filth and stench of the decaying failures, or maybe the finality of an end to murky unrealistic dreams, or maybe the fresh bouncing spring leaves of endless possibilities which our tinted bubbles wouldn’t let us see earlier. The moping and sulking is also done to gain infamous attention, which may be otherwise be impossible for some to get (remember: spotlights can be blinding). It is done because “what’s wrong, are you okay?” sends gushing coolness of Adam’s ale to the love parched soul. Say it again. Ask me again. It feels good. My general response will be “Nothing, I’m fine” but please for god’s sake, ask me again. Don’t stop. The uncanny ability a moping face has to overturn the brusque nature of unmoving personalities is purely magical.

But that’s the general idea. Fighters aren’t sadness conformists. They emulate even in the toughest of times. Yes, everything is going downhill. Yes, your plan has gone haywire. Yes, you’re clinging onto shreds of what used to make you happy. Yes, you’re denying the fact that it isn’t the same, yes it is true, SO TRUE that you’re hiding, avoiding, unready to face the fact that maybe just maybe this is all failing and you’re stuck in a whirlwind of memories, hopes, aspirations with Beethoven’s Fur Elise increasing rapidly in pitch and tempo, palms sweating, undecided mind pulling and tugging at comfort and running away from it at the same time, an exploding heart jumping from one open road to the next and then scurrying back to its own cage. And then it all collapses in the pitch-black taste of ashes on your burnt tongue.

But fighters aren’t sadness conformists. Fortitude peeks into their eyes, blinding at first like sun rays streaming playfully between leaves. A sideways glance and a head out of the ashes is all it takes to have your breath sucked in by its beauty. And like dust flakes dancing and floating an elegant ballet in the falling sunlight, fortitude shimmies and sinks deep into the fighter’s soul. And like a phoenix, it rises from the ashes and soars into the sky.

We’ve been so busy looking ahead for control, we have forgotten to look down at our own hands holding the leash of our lives. Over the years of negligence, it has become invisible to perfidious eyes. Our charlatan soul fools us into believing everything is rainbows and sunshine. It cheats us into clinging onto false happiness when the gut is screaming: IT IS NOT. And true valour comes from accepting it is not. The harder the denial, the longer the persistence. Learn to celebrate the lowest points of lives. Learn to let the leash loose if not let it go. And it is important to be a fighter because every human whether happy or unhappy deserves or feel and realise and understand the emotions which fix and unfix us, guide us and throw us off track. We DESERVE to say “hm well, this is what this feels like, nice”. Being denied from sadness, or happiness or guilt or disgust or envy or pride or any other feeling in the world, makes us less human and more mechanical. Choosing to feel just ONE way might be in our hands but it isn’t always the easiest or healthiest thing to do. It isn’t prudent to say “no I will not deal with this emotion right now, I made a box of steel and I will fill it till it needs to be dealt with”. And say it is a one-way box and you’re filling it up with unresolved thoughts. And say you’re standing right over it just as the top comes flying off and you’re hit right across the face with the flying piece of steel and years of trauma and disturbed, knee-weakening memories. The human body has no switch. Don’t try to make one.

The inner child within us is dying a little every day. Life seeping out and nerves drying up into crackled lifeless pipes. We don’t see children fighting and swearing to never speak again, no, they’re back to playing in minutes. That’s a little technique to embrace life. Fight with it, but love it just the same. Why is it important to be a fighter? Because life isn’t just the view from a section of a four- sectioned window hidden behind curtains, it is an untameable multitude of things and limiting ourselves in the way of abstaining from feeling it’s full power is injustice to this human life and a fighter and only a fighter…gains and understands the ability and power to face life head on and feel every little spray of paint it decorates our souls with. It is important to be a fighter for us. For our individual selves and hey, if you don’t feel the need to be one, don’t be one. If that is what works for you, then maybe you already are one without realising it. For those of you struggling just remember one thing. You might feel like something is worth your whole life. And it might feel like it at the moment. But tides change so give everything some time. Sometimes: it is not worth it. And when you realise it, learn to accept it. Learning to accepting it is a step to becoming a fighter. Human mind doesn’t want to change its course of things. It doesn’t want a grand new plan when an existing one is right there. Chuck it away. It’s punctured with splinters. Let it go. Just let it go. Drop it. All those complex feelings and justifications and running away and avoidance or sad songs or basking in a cold hard persona in the name of solitude. Drop it. It won’t seem worth it in a few years. Caress what you have. I have time and again made the mistake of pushing away my now in search of a future. I have seen things fall apart and I have seen myself rise back up. And so, I say, what we have now, is in our hands, shape it, mold it, embrace it, love it. Whatever in the world you want. Being afraid might be natural but sometimes it isn’t an option. And everything in this universe comes down to one thing: how willing you are.

And life has a way of changing things around. So yes. I met someone three days ago who told me everything which has inspired me to write. And this feels like no assignment, it feels like an announcement, perhaps to life, perhaps to myself: I am a fighter in making.


The Interview

Name: Nivedita Singh


Degree: Journalism (DU-2016)

Job profile: Previously worked as a news reporter at Times Now

Category: General

Mr. Shah, HR head of Miracle handshakes, was studying her CV quite closely and was almost scowling. He looked up from his desk and asked sternly, “So you want to join our start-up?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Will you be able to manage this large project on your own?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But you haven’t done any research work before. Are you sure you want this job?”

“Yes, sir.”

Then he asked Nivedita some general questions about mining bases, following which, she was dismissed.


It was slightly raining outside. Small droplets spattered on her file as she stepped out of the old building. The interview had barely lasted for five minutes and she was convinced that her interviewer hadn’t looked very happy. However, she was confident enough that they would hire her since she was more qualified than her contemporaries.

Six weeks had passed. Still, there was no mail in her inbox. Neither was there any phone call from the NGO. By now, her confidence was on the verge of getting shattered. So, she herself contacted Mr. Shah’s office and was called in at 4 o’ clock that evening.


The clock seemed to be ticking away very slowly that day. Nivedita had been sitting in the office for over an hour. Mr. Shah was called for an emergency meeting, so she was asked to come the following day. But she was adamant and decided to wait.

She was counting the number of lines on a painting hung immaculately above Mr. Shah’s chair, when the door creaked open. He was wearing a grumpy expression. Nivedita suspected that his meeting hadn’t gone well and was convinced of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was just about to leave.

“It’s okay. Have a sit, please. Apologies for being late, but a meeting was scheduled at the last minute and…”, he went on to explain his encounter with the board and their decision on his project proposal. Nivedita listened quite intently since she had no other choice.

When he had finished, he took a deep breath and asked with a tone of indifference, “So, Ms. Singh, how may I help you?”

“I needed to talk about my job application”, said Nivedita, a bit anxiously. She was beginning to sweat and already there were butterflies inside her stomach.

“Oh yeah! About that. Actually, the thing is you, um…you are overqualified for this job”, he cleared his throat and continued, “We don’t want you to waste your talent here.”

Nivedita’s face had drooped slightly. “But-but I don’t-…”, she stammered haplessly.

Mr. Shah removed his glasses and looked thoughtfully at her. After a while, he said, “You seem to be a very good journalist and I appreciate your efforts to help the children of the miners in Chandrapur. But this shall be our last meeting. I am very sorry.” But he didn’t look very apologetic.

She was left speechless.


Her previous job was unsatisfying and she wanted more from a career point of view. There was no such thing as authentic news these days. She was forced to report on cases based on what people wanted to see, and not on what they, as a news media should make people aware. It seemed the truth was lost somewhere amidst the hyped up stories and reckless explanations. This was the reason why she had left.

The NGO had offered quite a good job prospect. Although the compensation was not quite appealing, she was willing to work in a field that respected her views and gave her the necessary platform to implement them. Now, all this seemed paltry. She felt stupid for leaving such a coveted job and instead applying at an NGO, which wasn’t even properly established.

Under qualification could have been an issue but how could over qualification possibly be? Seething with anger, she blamed her luck. She had taken a risk and it didn’t work out. But what now? Seeing that most of the job applications had failed her expectations, it was difficult to find anything that was willing to concede to her demands.


Three months had passed. After having scrolled through most of the job sites on the net, Nivedita gave up. Journalism was not for everyone, she felt.

The next morning, she went to bring the newspaper and bumped into Jay, her ex-colleague. They greeted each other, “Hey!”


“So what brings you here?”, asked Nivedita.

“I shifted just a week back. There’s this start-up called Miracle Handshakes. They have given me a job offer. The mines in Chandrapur are facing a serious situation. They …”

She didn’t need to listen to rest of his conversation. It was as clear as ever. Jay had applied in the reserved category. Thus, it was much easier for him to get that job. Now, she understood the scowl on Mr. Shah’s face. She was qualified enough but the ‘category’ on her CV had posed a substantial problem.

Cancelling out all kinds of reservations, she fell in the category that had only 15 out of 100 seats left. Nivedita knew that she wasn’t the preferred candidate despite being one of the best in her class.

Walking back home, she wondered what mattered more. Whether it was one’s skills or the family’s caste? Reserved seats were fine but there must be some logic to it, shouldn’t it?


We have progressed way beyond what we had imagined a few decades back. However, it has encouraged the concept of reservation to swell rather than result in its elimination. Sadly, this is just another example of how the media industry has failed to make people think rationally.

Paradise on Earth?

The question one asks is, why is there no peace in Kashmir?

Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India, thought that he was leaving a new world in August 1947. The British empire had decided to leave the Indian subcontinent once and for all, and Mountbatten was given the task of leaving it in the best conditions possible. It is true that as Indians, we have a lot to thank for to the British, especially Mountbatten. They introduced the telegram, the railways and the first ever manufacturing unit based on the assembly line model. Many historians even argue that Mountbatten was probably the best ever viceroy India had the chance to be under, from an economic point of view.

The state of British India, nothing less than the best of the colonies of the Commonwealth, had to be split into two sovereign states, India and Pakistan. While traveling from Delhi to Karachi to mediate the discussions among the future leaders of these states, it would have occurred to Mountbatten as to how little the things had really changed on the ground. British India had seen countless waves of nationalist struggle among the people, the two World Wars, a violent transfer of power from the Mughals to the British and millions of deaths. The recent wave of Hindu-Muslim struggles across the country had led to the killing of many more; and even then, there were a lot of unanswered questions between the leaders of these supposed ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ states. The whole nationalist struggle, where people stood united against the British Raj, seemed to slowly turn into a farce now, when people were ready to kill on the basis of religion first, and nationality later.

The British Raj had to adopt a very unorganised approach to governing the Indian subcontinent. In some areas, they had to give zamindars a huge chunk of power to get the most from a measly peasant. In the areas where the British had set up manufacturing units, they had to give due attention to the conditions of the workers and the well-being of the people. While they left some cities to die of plague, such as Surat, they had to leave no stone unturned in cities such as Lutyens’ Delhi (Edwin Lutyens was the principal architect hired by the British Raj to redesign some parts of Delhi) where the majority of the British people, and their Indian servants, lived. The ruling power had allowed for hundreds of princely states with varying degrees of autonomy to exist across the subcontinent and a fuzzy India-Afghanistan border. Such a loose policy could not be inherited by the two new states, who were intent upon a very rigid border with clear rulings on who was allowed to live on either side of it. To absorb more and more of land into their nation before the border was finalised in Karachi, the two states relied upon a spectrum of policies which included getting letters of accession from local chieftains, establishing their rule over unruled territories and the all-time favourite, sending troops to root out opposition of their land. This led to a supposed peaceful separation of India and Pakistan to turn to a violent one, and the conditions have remained unchanged to this day.

As citizens of India, we only see Kashmir in two ways. Either the military, as the right arm of the government is right, or the people, who supposedly suffer ill treatment at the hands of the military, are right. The truth is, Kashmir is in a state of grey as opposed to the black and white we see on the TV while sitting comfortably at home. There have been many issues which are stopping the complete integration of Kashmir into India. The government has focussed primarily on strengthening control over the area, while using the articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution to great effect. The myth that most of us believe is that article 370 aims to undermine the individual sovereignty of a resident of Kashmir. Article 370 only talks about the ‘special’ status given to Kashmir, and how the state of Kashmir does not have to concur with the Indian government on matters such as marriage and land ownership. Activists all over India are hell bent on getting article 370, and subsequently article 35A removed from the Constitution.

So, does article 370 promote the separatist movements that have ravaged the state for many years now? The article only aims to give more strength to the Kashmiri citizen who feels deeply about the vulnerability of his identity and assets in the state of Kashmir. The article also allows for the President to rule in times of tension, ensuring that this independence does not lead to a misuse of power by the legislators in Kashmir who follow a separate Constitution altogether. Separatist movements only flourish when the people feel disconnected from a source of legislative power. People argue that they are left at the mercy of the separatists based on the fact that the Indian government has declared a ‘ceasefire’ in the valley, which is completely wrong. The whole idea of a ‘ceasefire’ is born from the pens of a few deranged sources of news in the valley who only aim to sensationalise their news at the cost of genuineness. What the government has ordered is a ‘launch of operations’. This means only one thing. The military will not take action if they see a separatist minding his own work, but if he resorts to any violent action, be it shooting anything from stones to rockets, he will be beaten down. Through the policy, the government aims to give these separatists a chance at redemption, a chance to mend their ways. The whole idea of a ceasefire is aimed at showing the government weak against the separatists, and this is the same reason why the government would never call for a ‘ceasefire’, it would amount to a political suicide.

The real reason as to why Pakistan needs Kashmir is simple. It needs to validate and act upon its two-nation theory based on religion. That is a principle reason as to why India has always taken, and will always take a strong stand in the Kashmir issue. From the time when Maharaja Hari Singh requested the assistance of the Indian Armed Forces to fend off the threat against Pakistan, India has been committed to integrating Pakistan as one of its own. Till 1971, the Pakistanis believed that they could annex Kashmir through a land assault on Indian soil, however, the Kargil War made it absolutely certain that Pakistan could never defeat the Indian Army in combat. Since then, Pakistan has followed a diverse approach with three aspects to it. Firstly, the premier intelligence agency, ISI, funds and gathers intelligence from local separatist groups operating in the valley, secondly, to counter India’s military prowess, Pakistan has indulged in trade deals with its neighbours, the latest one being the China-Pakistan trade route, to gain money and weapons, and lastly, by spreading its propaganda through mass media and the numerous madrasas which are integral to the Muslim way of life. Pakistan had to nullify India’s nuclear weapons advantage, and it knew the only one willing to help was China. The Pakistan China Trade Corridor is just another means of exchange of illegal goods among the two countries, as many UN reports have noted.

The boundary between the countries is a matter of international debate (thanks to another British masterpiece by Sir Cyril Radcliffe). The globally recognised boundary has been the one demarcated by the 1949 UN Ceasefire Agreement. However, the de facto border has been the Line of Control (LoC) since 1972. The boundary passes through a spectrum of mountain passes, making it easy to cross over. Even after an increased amount of patrolling along the borders, there is no dearth of militants in the valley who have come from Pakistan. Added to the militants, religious fanatics roam the valley, plastering walls with Islamic texts ordering people to follow the Muslim dress code, and encouraging the youth to pelt stones at encounter sites to impugn the authority of the armed forces of India. All this is done in the name of ‘religious freedom’, wherein the fanatics portray the government as the one oppressing the Muslims. Religion has been used to incite fear in the valley, which has led to the closure of cinemas and bars among other places where the youth may meet. Slogans such as “Islam hamara maqsad hai, Quran hamara dastur hai, jehad hamara Rasta hai” (Islam is our objective, Q’uran is our constitution, Jehad is our way of our life) and “Dil mein rakho Allah ka khauf; Hath mein rakho Kalashnikov” (With fear of Allah ruling your hearts, wield a Kalashnikov) have ensured that the peace seeking population of the state has left their homes for a better place.

The question one asks is, will there ever be peace in Kashmir?

I do not know the answer. All I have tried to do is elucidate the reasons as to why we are wrong when we blame our government for encouraging instability in the Kashmir valley. I believe that we are moving forward towards peace, and if we can eliminate the religious cynicism that exists in the valley, we might even reach a peaceful juncture one day.


Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,

Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.

(If there is a paradise on earth,

It is this, it is this, it is this)