Tiny Stickers Pasted on Fruits

The Story of Tiny Stickers Pasted on Fruits

Sticker pasted on fruits is a usual sight in the market. We usually believe that fruits pasted with stickers are really of high quality.

We seldom care to read what is actually written on the stickers. But if we do, we will find that such stickers convey words like ‘Premium’, ‘Tested OK’. ‘Best Quality ‘ or some such words.

We pay a higher price to buy such fruits. But actually, pasting a sticker on the skin of fruits is a clever ploy of traders to hoodwink the unsuspecting buyers and make an undue profit. 

Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSI) regulates all edible products sold in India. However, many of us may not be aware that FSSI has asked the fruit traders in India to stop pasting the stickers on fruits. 

Let us find the reason behind it. The suspect is the unseen glue at the back of a sticker.

What is the supply chain of fruit with a sticker on it?

  1. The glue maker supplies adhesive to the sticker manufacturer. 
  2. He, in turn, uses the adhesive to manufacture stickers and sell them to the fruit trader.
  3. The fruit trader sticks those stickers on fruits and sells the fruits to the retailer. 
  4. Then customer buys those fruits.

The adhesive is not a food product. Therefore FSSI has no control over the glue maker. He is free to use the cheapest chemicals to make the adhesive profitably.

The fruit trader buys the stickers at a dirt low price and firmly pastes those on each piece of fruit.

It is difficult to remove the glue even after vigorous wash when stuck on the fruit body. Eventually, the adhesive penetrates the porous fruit skin and contaminates the fruit’s pulp. When consumed, this may cause a health hazard.

Sometimes we buy imported fruits. Even those too have stickers.

I do not know what quality control US Food and Drug Administration exercises on the adhesive manufacturers. But one has to learn to read those stickers. This knowledge will help the buyer to exactly understand what he is buying.

The following are the numbers printed on their stickers and what they convey:

  • If the sticker has a 4 digit number and the first digit is 3 or 4 (i.e. 4285), it conveys that the fruit has been sprayed with pesticides. It must be washed properly before consuming. (In the Indian market, we notice that grapes are covered with white powder. That powder is nothing but dried pesticides like DDT. But nobody warns us about it.)
  • If the total number of the digit is 5 (i.e. 93421) and the first digit is 9, it signifies that the fruit is organic. It is supposed to be the best for human consumption.
  • If that number has 5 digits and starts with 8 (i.e. 87396), it says that this fruit is genetically modified. It is the most dangerous of all fruits.
  • So far, we have talked about the significance of the first digit of the fruit sticker. It could be an eye-opener to know that each fruit has a specific code number, as per the international standard. For example:
  1. 4167 is for a small delicious apple.
  2. 4166 is for a large red delicious apple.
  3. 4173 is for a Gala apple.
  4. 4129 is for a Fuji apple.
  5. 4011 is for a standard yellow banana.

To know more about it, one can look up https://www.megabakeenergybar.com.au/cracking-the-fruit-sticker-code/ and other informative sites.

Now, coming back to the Indian scenario, the local stickers fixed on fruit are misleading and hazardous.

Despite FSSI instructions, we still find such stickers on fruit are finding their way to the market and cheating the customers.

Fruit traders have mimicked the system of pasting a sticker on a fruit. But instead of being informative, those stickers wrongfully entice the buyers to buy those fruits at a higher price. 

Please be careful.

A Situational Comedy in Flight

A Situational Comedy in Flight back in 1975

Work in the IAF is a serious affair. Fighter aircraft are unforgiving brutes that demand the highest precision and accuracy.

The Smallest error may lead to tragic accidents. As a result of accident,  this expensive inventory of the IAF gets depleted, and sometimes invaluable lives are lost. Yet there are occasions when a tragedy is luckily averted. Then the whole thing turn into a comedy.

I will relate such a story today, which happened decades back in 1975. 

The aircraft involved were two Russian made Sukhoi fighter aircraft, code named SU7. Flying them were two young fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force. SU7s had since been phased-out of the IAF many years back.

Russian made Sukhoi fighter aircraft, code named SU7

The pilots involved too must have retired. We do not know where they are and how are they now. Yet the story remains funny for all times.

Two SU7s fell due for a major overhaul at Air Force Station Ambala. Only Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) near Nasik was authorised to undertake major overhauls. Therefore those two SU7s had to be flown to Nasik.  It was a routine flight.

Two young and enthusiastic SU7 pilots were selected for this task. The distance from Ambala to Nasik was around 1450 km. SU7s could not fly that distance without refuelling, even with additional tanks (Drop Tanks) filled with fuel.

Therefore, it was decided that the pair of planes would have a refuelling halt at Jodhpur on the way.

Somehow the take-off time for the said aircraft got delayed, and the Pilots had barely enough time to reach Nasik before the sunset.

Nasik those days did not have a night landing facility. Thus, in all urgency, the young pilots became airborne.

When the pilots landed at Jodhpur, the Sun God had already started descending towards the West. So naturally, the Pilots were in a tearing hurry to get airborne again.

Pilot No.2 in the formation was the main character of this episode. He was standing next to the technician who was refuelling his aircraft and urging him to hurry up.

The technician needed sufficient time to fill the drop tank up to its total capacity. But the young Pilot was breathing down his neck and asking him to hurry up. Being thus goaded, the technician hastily removed the refuelling hose even  before the fuel had stopped flowing.

As a result, the Pilot standing next to him got thoroughly drenched with highly volatile ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel).

The Pilot screamed at him. But the damage was already done. Unfortunately,  there was no spare set of flying clothing in the aircraft. The fuel started evaporating from the Pilot’s clothes, and he was feeling slightly cold.

He knew that he should not be anywhere near a naked flame, and that was all about it. He quickly jumped into the cockpit and took off. . It was a routine flight. Therefore, the speed of this pair of aircraft was set at a leisurely pace.

Halfway through to Nasik, Pilot no2 started feeling a strange tingling sensation between his thighs. He looked down and could not detect smoke or fire there.

Unperturbed, he flew on. But with time, the tingling sensation increased by minutes, and soon, it became almost unbearable. Pilots do not panic easily.

Therefore, he tried to analyse the cause of his agony. He concluded that by then, the gravity had pulled down the ATF on his flying overall to the place where it hurts a man most.

The chemical mixed with ATF for increased volatility was the causing the unwelcome sensation on the vulnerable point.

The Pilot radioed to the lead pilot of aircraft no 1, flying ahead of him, to speed up. But the situation was so unusual that the lead pilot could not grasp the urgency and continued flying at the same speed.

The agony of the second Pilot became so intense that in his desperation, he needed to do something before he lost his family jewels. So he engaged the afterburner and overtook the lead aircraft in supersonic speed.

Soon he vanished like a spec in the sky. The Pilot’s landing on the runway of Nasik runway was just short of a crash landing, and he brought his aircraft in the shortest possible time.

Immediately he pulled the lever and, the canopy flew open. In a great hurry, the Pilot put his foot on the plane’s wing and jumped on the tarmac with a thud.

The Pilot had no time for anyone to come and assist him. He tore off and threw his flying overall, the vest and even his brief. He was standing next to his plane Full-Monty and enjoying the relief.

The technicians who had come over to attend to him were totally perplexed. Looking at him, they could not comprehend what the trouble with him was. They sent a message on their walky-talky to get an ambulance fast. The ambulance was parked just under the air traffic control building.

The medical crew hopped into the ambulance, and it drove like an arrow. The ambulance came to a screeching halt next to the Pilot.

Now it was the turn for the Pilot to gape. He saw a lady doctor approaching him. His two palms were all that he had for a  cover.

But all was well that ended well. The Pilot had not suffered any serious injury.

The incident became a station joke.

Pilot number 2 had to treat all the pilots in the station with beer and snacks in the officers’ mess that evening.

Untold Stories of Men in Uniform
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Operation Balakot: 26/02/2019

Operation Balalkot Part 5

At 01.00 am on 26 Feb 2019, the atmosphere in the crew room of Air Force Station was tense. All 12 fighter pilots, fully dressed in combat flying gear, were waiting for the word “scramble”.

However, none of the pilots was in a mood to chat. Instead, they were mentally rehearsing, over and over, their respective roles in the operation. They had practised hard over the simulator. That night they were to prove themselves in the actual test. 

They were about to fly their planes to mount the attack on Balakot, across the Line of Control. They all knew that their tension would ease once they take-off because there would be no time for it.

This was a live operation that would take place after nearly 50 years. They were the lucky few selected to participate in the airstrike. Therefore, they had to succeed in the mission. It was a matter of their personal pride and honour of the country. 

Precisely at 01.13 am, the order to scramble came, and they rushed to their respective fighter plane. 12 fully armed Mirage 2000 fighters were parked side by side on the airfield apron. Technician teams were ready and waiting to help the pilots climb up the ladders to the cockpits and get the engines started.

Then, one by one, all 12 Mirage 2000 fighter planes proceeded to the runway and took off at 01.15 am. The fighter planes were flying to Balakot to face the challenge. 

The shortest route to Balakot was to fly along the Indo-Pak borders over M.P, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab to reach J & K and then cross the LOC. But if they had followed this predictable route, the Pakistani Air Borne Radar and Control Aircraft (AWACS) would have instantly spotted them.

Then, it would have a swarm of their fighter planes ready and waiting to offer the Indian fighter planes a fiery welcome over the airspace of Pakistan. Therefore, the route that night was planned differently.

The Mirage fighter planes first headed approximately 300 km to  North-East instead of North-West and reached the airspace overhead Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.

An air to air refuelling tanker aircraft of the IAF was already airborne and positioned to meet them. The Mirage 2000 planes got their fuel tanks filled to capacity from the tanker aircraft. Two mirages at a time got connected with the pipeline let out from the tanker aircraft and got refuelled in flight. Then the fighters regrouped and flew to their destination. The actual challenging part had just started. 

To avoid detection by the roving eye of the Pakistani AWACS, the Mirages flew under cover of the mighty Himalayas.

In the dead of night, they must have streaked at a low altitude over Haridwar, Dehradun, Shimla, Dharamshala, Udhampur and emerged over Srinagar.

From there, Balakot was just at an air distance of a few minutes of flying. But when they were preparing to cross the LOC, Pakistan’s Swedish made Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft (AWACS) must have detected them.

Within minutes Pakistani Air Force (PAF) launched two F- 16 Fighter jets to intercept the Indian Mirages. It was a critical moment for all concerned on the Indian side.

India’s side had been doing its homework diligently for the last few days to meet such a contingency. Before the day of the actual operation, the IAF had planted a story in the media that India might be preparing to attack Bahawalpur.

The Headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) was located at Bahawalpur. It sounded logical, to say the least, and Pakistan had taken the bait. Looking at the F – 16 jets coming closer to the group of Mirage 2000 fighters, the IAF ordered four Jaguar Aircraft from an airbase in Haryana to fly aggressively towards Bahawalpur.

Basically, Jaguar is a ground attack aircraft. Therefore, the Pakistani AWACS now assumed that the attack would occur on Bahawalpur and flew towards that area. The AWACS ordered the F-16 jets also to divert to Bahawalpur.

Thus the IAF could avert the immediate threat of interception at the nick of the moment. PAF forces were lured to approximately 490 miles (788 km) south of Balakot. The IAF Jaguars never crossed the LOC.

The Mirage 2000 jet fighters crossed over the LOC unopposed without air resistance by the PAF. Each participating pilot’s job was clearly cut out and practised diligently. But at this stage, nature posed a problem.

It was an unavoidable act of God. The airspace over the target was enveloped entirely under cover of thick fog. No one could possibly do anything about it. 

The Mirages on Bomber role released all the SMART Bombs as planned. Five bombs out of six had hit the target accurately following the pre-fed GPS Data on their onboard computers.

All the Mirage 2000 fighters carried out their allotted task. It was time for them to return to India. Unfortunately, not a single Crystal Maze Missile was fired. The reason probably was that these missiles required manual guidance at the last stage of the flight by the pilot firing them. Since there was zero visibility over the target area, the pilots would not be able to track the missiles visually and guide them manually. 

The Fighters on escort duty stayed back in Pakistani airspace until all other aircraft safely crossed over the LOC. The entire operation in the Pakistani airspace took only 21 minutes.

Finally, when the PAF realised what had happened, all the Mirage 2000 planes had landed back in India.

 Far away in Delhi, Air Marshal Hari Kumar from Headquarters WAC called Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa and spoke just one word. The code-word was “Bandar”.

The CAS immediately understood that Operation Balakot had been successful, and all the fighter aircraft and pilots had landed back in India safely. He was waiting to hear this news. He must have been a happy man that night.

Operation Balakot clearly demonstrated the importance of meticulous planning and maintaining utmost secrecy. Admittedly, the Crystal Maze Missiles could not be fired as planned due to hostile weather conditions.

Therefore, the IAF could not get the video recording of its targets being successfully hit. This failure allowed the opponents to go on a denial mode.

After the operation, the world was divided. Half said the operation failed, while the other half said it succeeded.

Without going into controversy, one can safely conclude that the principal aim of Operation Balakot had been definitely achieved. The point had been driven home that India can retaliate in full measure if anyone tries to hurt our country. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

DISCLAIMER

When I read about Operation Balakot, I felt really proud as a veteran officer of the IAF and an Indian citizen. So I went through every report that I possibly could about the operation from various articles published in the public domains, i.e., Google and Youtube. But unfortunately, I do not have any first-hand knowledge or insider’s story about the operation since I had retired from the IAF some 23 years before Pulwama Terror Strike took place.

 I am also aware of factual inaccuracies in whatever reports I read in different print media. For example, some articles said that 40 CRPF Jawans lost their lives in the Pulwama terror attack, whereas some other reports put that figure as 44. I have arbitrarily assumed that the figure was 44. Unfortunately, I had no way to verify the accuracy of these reports.

Therefore, I request the readers to read my 5 part blog on Balakot Operation as a story of an audacious attack on militants and not as a part of accurate Military History. I have only tried to put together an exciting account by putting stray pieces of published information in sequential order. I hope the readers will admire the excellent job done by the then Operation planners of the IAF and the courage of the pilots who finally delivered the result.

Finally, I believe that the PAF is a competent force. But like in a game of sports, in a battle also one side wins, and the other side loses. Many factors influence winning or losing. I have no intention to show PAF in a poor light. I just related the story, the way it happened to the best of my understanding.

Deciding Upon The Weapon Mix

Operation Balakot Part 4: Deciding upon the Weapon Mix by Indian Forces

Underestimating the opponent is one grave mistake that no one should make in a battle. It is a known fact that the Pakistani Air Force is a competent fighting force.

In 2019 they had F-16 jets, which were known as the top of the line fighter jets all over the world. Our mainstay was Mig 21s which was of old vintage.

Pulwama terror strike took place on 14 February 2019. On 15 February 2019, while paying homage to martyrs, the Indian Prime Minister declared,

“Sacrifice of our brave soldiers will not go in vain….. Those behind the attack would pay a ‘heavy price’..”

The Prime Minister asserted that the security forces had been permitted to choose the time, place, intensity and nature of their response to the Pulwama terror attack.

It would have been naïve to think that Pakistan would not be prepared for hostilities to flare up. Success for India hung in a heart-thumping balance. India had to rely on Secrecy, weapon mix and tactics heavily.

Indian side decided to use the best weapons they had. They had no alternative to success.

Balakot Camp had resort-like structures for accommodating trainees. Dormitories with the tin roof could accommodate 300 to 500 trainee terrorists at a time.

From the tell-tale electronic signature of mobile phones, an estimated 350 trainees were probably present in Balakot Camp in the last week of February 2019. Therefore, one needed a weapon to hit a maximum number of trainees terrorists without much collateral damage.

 The IAF found Mirage 2000 as the best-suited weapon for the purpose. These fighters had the range of 1850 km to fly to Balakot Camp and return with ease.

Mirage 2000

Moreover, these jets could fire Israeli made ‘SPICE’ (Smart, Precise Impact & Cost-Effective) bombs. Therefore, these bombs were considered ideal for the operation.

SPICE Bombs

Once a SMART bomb is dropped from a certain altitude over a pre-determined location, the bomb’s onboard computer takes over. Based on data already stored in the memory chip, the bomb finds the target and hits it with precision.

A SMART bomb first drills through the roof and then bursts indoors, throwing shrapnel and splinters all around. Thus without causing much damage to a building, the bomb can create a maximum number of casualties in a dormitory.

In addition to SPICE Bombs, the armament of Mirage 2000 also includes Crystal Maze AGM 142 missiles. GPS coordinates are fed into the onboard computer of these missiles as well. But unlike SMART bombs, the pilot of Mirage 2000 has to follow the Crystal

Crystal Maze AGM 142 Missile

Maze missile visually and guide it manually onto the target at the last stage of its flight.

These missiles have various unique advantages:

  1. A Mirage 2000 pilot could fire a SMART bomb from a safe distance of 80km.
  2. These could cause more significant structural damage than the SMART bombs.
  3. These missiles can transmit live video footage of hitting the target just before the impact. 

Real-time videos such as these would provide undeniable proof of the operation’s success. 

Because of their multi-role capability, the IAF decided to use 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets to participate in the Balakot operation.

India had planned to arm three fighters with six SMART bombs and an unknown number of crystal maze missiles. An adequate number of Mirage 2000 fighters were to fly along with the bombers as protectors. Their role would be to engage Pakistani fighter aircraft in case of interception.

In addition, the IAF tasked two Mirage 2000 to activate Electronic Warfare System to jam Pakistani Radars at the time of operation.

Thus only Mirage 2000 fighters were to be deployed in different roles. Those made up the entire task force for the Balakot operation.

The IAF kept a large panel of supporting aircraft available for any contingency to support the attacking group of Mirage 2000 planes.

Firstly, the IAF held all the operational units on high alert to tackle any retaliation by the PAF. They were to wait for a call on the ground.

India arranged Netra, Israeli made Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft to remain airborne within Indian borders at the time of operation.

Israeli made Phalcon AWACS

AWACS would look for Pakistani fighter aircraft and provide an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Centre. The AWACS could locate any PDF aircraft the moment of their take-off and pass it on to the Mirage Pilots escorting the bombers.

In addition, the IAF readied IAI Heron UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in some close-by bases. These are long-range medium-altitude armed drones. These would be pressed into action if needed.

IAI Heron UAVs ( Long Range Medium Altitude Armed Drone)

Finally, the controlling Air Marshal ordered Ilyushin II -78 Aerial Refuelling aircraft to participate. These airborne fuel tankers were to fly for inflight refuelling Mirage 2000 fighters.

Ilyushin II-78 Aerial Refuelling Aircraft ( Refuelling Mirage 2000)

These were the array of weapons that India deployed for Operation Balakot.

Secrecy: The Top Most Concern in War Planning

Operation Balakot Part 3

(Secrecy – the top most concern in war Planning)

The Element of surprise is one of the cardinal principles of war. Surprise is achieved by maintaining complete secrecy before an operation.

In olden times people used to say, “walls have ears”. Nowadays, with tremendous advancement of technology, “The wind and Sky, too, have ears”.

The side which fails to keep its secret, however powerful, is doomed to lose in war. It is not only the spoken words; the opponents closely monitor actions of one another around the clock to understand the respective opponent’s intentions.

Siachen

Let me give a live example. Most of us have heard of Siachen. It is a glacier with all major passes going through it. This barren, bleak, snow-covered glacier is vital for both Pakistan and India for strategic purposes.

Since 1977 Pakistan had an eye on Siachen to physically occupy it. But they adopted a discreet method. They started sending foreign Mountaineering Expeditions in that area, some Army elements used to accompany them to survey the area. India was completely unaware of their evil design.

In 1977 an American Map accidentally fell in the hands of Colonel Narender’ Bull’ Malik. In that map, the Siachen area was shown under the occupation of Pakistan. This alerted the Army Headquarters.

Arrangements were made to send Col Malik on a secret mission to survey that area. Col Malik hand-picked a team of officers and men for the expedition. He kept the aim of the mission secret. But he did mention to his team members that they would cross the line of control (LOC). 

Soon enough, Mrs Malik overheard ladies discussing the expedition and exclaiming how risky it would be. The secret was out in the open.

In any case, Col Malik and his team went to Siachen and found evidence left by some Pakistani soldiers who must have climbed to Siachen along with Japanese mountaineers. 

When Col Mailk reported his findings, Army Headquarters planned to occupy Siachen. The operation was code-named, Operation “Meghdoot”.

Eight months in a year, Siachen remains covered under snow with an average temperature varying between -30 to -50 degrees Celsius.

Indian Army did not have suitable snow clothing to work in that temperature. Meanwhile, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) submitted an intelligence report stating that the Pakistani Army was urgently buying Snow Clothing in huge quantities from the Scandinavian countries.

Indian Army Headquarters understood that the Pakistani Army was planning to come and occupy the Siachen glacier sooner than later. Indian Army decided to capture that area before the Pakistani Army could.

The race against time began. Getting snow clothing proved difficult for India since the market was already emptied out by the Pakistani Army. Yet the Indian Army kept trying hard to procure them.

Knowing that people from East or West Punjab would never want to move out of home without celebrating this important festival, the operation date was fixed on 13 April 1984, the Vaishakhi day.

The winter clothing arrived on 12 April 1984 evening. Immediately, a team comprising 30 high-altitude fighters proceeded by helicopter early next morning under the leadership of the then Captain Sanjay Kulkarni.

To maintain secrecy, Captain Kulkarni was strictly ordered to maintain complete radio silence. During the operation, one soldier succumbed to high altitude illness. 

Radio silence was broken just for a few seconds to ask the base to make arrangements to take back the body. But that was enough. In the next one hour, the Pakistani Army Helicopter was circling overhead the Indian team’s location.

The secrecy was compromised. However, with tremendous grit and courage, the Indian Army occupied all the crucial points of Siachen. When the Pakistani Army tried to climb up the glacier, they were repulsed.

Here we see that the Indian Army failed to keep their intention secret by allowing the team members to know the destination by Col’ Bull’ Malik and Capt Sanjay Kulkarni by ordering to break radio silence despite clear instructions.

The Pakistani Army, on the other hand, did not try to camouflage their buying spree of snow clothing. This divulged their intention to the Indian Army.

These real-life examples would drive home the importance of keeping the plan of action totally secret from the opponent party if one wants to succeed in a war. 

In operation Balakot, no efforts were spared to keep the planning totally secret. It was ensured that the Chief of Air Staff, AOC-in-C WAC, and only two more senior officers knew the plan’s full details. 

But practically, it was almost impossible to maintain the secrecy and prepare for the mission simultaneously; because many people had to be involved in the preparation.

A flurry of activities before the operation would definitely alert the opponent in no time. Considering all aspects, Mirage 2000 Multirole Fighter Jets were chosen to spearhead the mission.

However, Mirage 2000 base was at Air Force Station Gwalior, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Central Air Command.

The IAF needed 12 fully serviceable and armed Mirage 2000 fighter jets. It was required to ensure these were available without raising an eyebrow. 

An ingenious plan was devised. The Directorate of Air Staff Inspection (DASI) is an official inspecting body of the IAF.

Inspectors posted with DASI assess the tactical and operational levels of Aircraft used in the IAF to ascertain if they can meet war-time requirements. They also inspect and rate the performance of the IAF pilots and squadrons.

The Chief of Air Staff, within his prerogative, ordered an instant surprise check of the Mirage 2000 squadron at Gwalior. He also instructed the Directorate that some best pilots were needed to be tested on simulators only.

The subject of their test would be ‘night flying skill in mountainous terrain’. This way, nothing would look like abnormal activity. Even the Air Officer Commanding of the Air Force Station Gwalior got the impression that the whole exercise of DASI Inspection was nothing unusual.

As soon as DASI inspection ended, Air Marshal Hari Kumar air-dashed to Gwalior in the garb of attending a farewell party. His mission was to brief the pilots adjudged the best of all by DASI.

Later, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa threw a farewell party for the retiring AOC-in-C on 25 February 2015, just to maintain the façade of total normalcy.

The party had ended around 10.30 pm. At 01.15a.m on 26 February 2019, Mirage 2000 fighter planes took off one by one from the runway of Air Force Station.

After three and half hours later, at 3.45 am, they were pounding Balakot Camp with smart bombs at 0345 a.m. 

                                                                                                              ….to be continued 

Valentines Day Special

We find Excuses to Celebrate, Who cares for the reason?, a Valentine Story

Today my WhatsApp is filled with good wishes for Valentine’s Day. Young lovers are exchanging red roses, chocolates and lately Teddy Bears.

I did not know about St Valentine. So I decided to find out. Who else will tell me all about it instantly except Google brother. I approached him.

I found many versions of the celebration of this day.

The most favourable version told that St. Valentine was a Roman priest who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus about 270 during the persecution of Christians.

Emperor Claudius II Gothicus was an expansionist and annexed many kingdoms by fighting and defeating those kings. He had ordered that all able-bodied bachelor males join his armed forces compulsorily. He spared married people from this compulsion.

St Valentine helped many young lovers by converting them to Christianity and getting them married. The Emperor was angry when he was told about it. He arrested St Valentine and beheaded him.

Since then, his execution day has been traditionally celebrated as the day of betrothal or a solemn promise of marriage.

Another version said that there were many Valentines (like we have Swamy’s), and none were associated with romance.

One such Valentini was arrested by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. The Emperor had kept him under the safe custody of a trusted Aristocrat. But he made the mistake of allowing Valentini under arrest to talk.

So Valentini convinced the Aristocrat himself to convert to Christianity with long religious conversations. But he wanted proof of authenticity of what Valentini told him. So the Aristocrat asked Valentini to cure his blind foster daughter.

With some miracle, Valentini cured the girl, and then the entire family of the Aristocrat got converted. On hearing about the conversion, the Emperor came to know about it, he executed them, including Valentini.

One woman somehow stole the torso of Valentini and buried him. Later on, the burial ground, St Valentine’s Church, came up, and the day of his beheading started being celebrated as Valentine’s Day.

Later, some people romantically connected St. Valentine with the blind girl he had cured.  

I started thinking about these kinds of celebrations. I admit that all of us, including non-Christians, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25 January every year; we exchange “Merry Christmas” greetings to all and Sunday.

The main focus remains on merrymaking, eating cakes and Turkey and having a Holiday. But if we are so happy with Jesus Christ birth, we should better mourn his Crucifixion as well.

Lent

Christians are supposed to prepare their hearts by observing penance for 40 days before Easter Saturdays. This period is called Lent.

During Lent, they eat very simple and bland food. On Good Friday, they observe fast. All these are voluntarily done to repent for sins.

Are we all prepared to follow this custom as well? Similarly, Muslims keep Roza and Hindus have umpteen occasions to stay in fast. But people usually do not observe these restrictions.

In short, we love to find excuses to get a holiday, spend money and celebrate. But unfortunately, the commercial world takes full advantage of this to profit.

Pulwama Attack

We must remember those 44 Indian martyrs who laid down their lives on this date if we have hearts.

On 14 February 2019, at Pulwama J & K, a terrorist suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden SUV into vehicles carrying CRPF Jawans.

Can’t we light a lamp on our windows, remembering them? Do not we have time to show solidarity with those families whose lamp has been untimely put out forever?

Note: Blog is work of Personal Option of Author.

Operation Balakot: Part 2 (Selection of Target)

Operation Balakot Part 2 (to be Continued)

(Selection of Target)

The Government decision on 15 Feb 2019 to go for a military operation put Air Marshal Hari Kumar in an unprecedented situation. He was commissioned in the IAF on 14 Dec79 as a fighter pilot. After a distinguished career spanning almost 40 years, he was to retire on 28 Feb 2019.

He was ready to hang his boots after handing over charge of the Western Air Command to Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, PVSM, AVSM, VM & Bar[1]

Air Marshal Hari Kumar knew that the risks involved in the Operation envisaged were high. But the expectations of the government from the IAF were even higher.

Literally, in the last fortnight of his career, he had to deliver his best shot.

On the other hand, this unique opportunity to conduct an airstrike on the enemy country had come to the Indian Air Force after 48 years; since 1971 Bangladesh Operations.

All fighter pilots train throughout their service life and aspire to be a part of such an operation. There was no way to let the opportunity go out of hand. He accepted the challenge in the spirit of a true Air Warrior.

On 16 Feb 2019, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa personally went over to the Headquarters Western Air Command (HQ WAC) to convey the options given by the government and discuss the Operation with Air Marshal Hari Kumar. Everything was not clear as yet.

The two most experienced fighter pilots of the IAF had put their heads together to identify the best-suited target first.

 They had to choose between the two most important assets of Jaish-e-Mohammed – (1) JEM Headquarters at Bahawalpur and (2) The terrorist training camp at Balakot.

Weighing the pros and cons, they chose the training camp at Balakot, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, as the target.

Balakot is located around 190 km away from Islamabad. The area falls approximately 50 km inside Pakistan from the LOC.

The compelling reasons for choosing the School as the target were: 

  1. Balakot Training Camp housed a large number of trainee terrorists and their Ex-Army trainers. Though Pakistan had called it a Madrassa providing spiritual lessons to kids, in reality, no small kids were available there. Only adult boys got trained there for conducting the proxy war.
  2. It was located on a hilltop in a dense forest. Therefore, there was no possibility of collateral damage to the civilian population and properties.
  3. It was a non-military target by Pakistan’s own admission.
  4. The loss of a large group of potential Mujahedeen (Islamic Terrorists) would have a dampening effect on the future destructive activities of JEM.

The two senior-most officers agreed to keep their plan under the wrap of utmost secrecy. It was of supreme importance for the Operation’s success. Besides them, only two more senior officers were to know the whole picture.

 After some brainstorming, they decided to use the best resources and the most qualified pilots available with the IAF.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, was empowered to make the best pilots available, even if they were posted under different command headquarters. He could also marshal necessary resources from wherever in India they were available. 

A lot of intelligence reports on Balakot was already available with the HQ WAC. The intelligence provided by R &W (Research and Analysis wing under the Government of India) was very valuable. But Air Marshal Hari Kumar left no stones unturned to verify and re-verify the accuracy of the reports through the ISR Platform[2].

Finally, on 18 Feb 2019, the HQ WAC got even better intelligence on Balakot from the leadership. 

Considering the distance of Balakot from the LOC (Line of Control), the IAF emerged as the best option for the government to entrust the task.

Thus the target for the IAF was identified and fixed. Now there was no looking back.

 [1] VM & Bar: Awarded Vayu Sena Medal twice.

[2] ISR Platform: “ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) is the coordinated and integrated acquisition, processing and provision of timely, accurate, relevant, coherent and assured information and intelligence to support commander’s conduct of activities”.

Operation Balakot

Operation Balakot: What went on behind the Scene

On 25 Feb 2019 evening, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanwa PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC had hosted a farewell dinner for the retiring Air Marshal Chandrashekharan Hari Kumar, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM, ADC, AOC-in-C in the sprawling Akash Air Force Officers’ Mess, New Delhi.

The party was attended by eighty senior officers of the Indian Air Force. During the party, the Air Chief took Air Marshal Hari Kumar, aside to the lawn and told him, “The word is Bandar”. Air Marshal Hari Kumar said, “OK”. Then, they went back to the party.

The party ended a little after 10.30 pm. All the officers, including the Chief of the Air Staff, came out to the Portico to wave farewell to Mrs and Air Marshal Hari Kumar.

Two Senior Officers held the car doors open for the guests of honour to be seated in their gleaming black Ambassador car. In a few moments, the staff car glided out of the main gate of Akash Mess and headed to the AOC-in-C’s official residence.

As the car was negotiating the “Dhaula Kuan” round-about, Mrs Devika Kumar asked the Air Marshal, ‘what is the take-off time to go to Chandigarh tomorrow?’.

Air Marshal said that ‘I have an urgent meeting tomorrow. So you may have to go to Chandigarh alone. Do not worry. A staff officer will be there with you to take care of everything you may need for the trip’. 

She was shocked hearing her husband’s response. She dreamt of establishing a School for Special Children of the IAF personnel for a long time.

That school was completed just before the time of AOC-in-C’s retirement. Therefore, she was invited to go to Chandigarh with her husband to inaugurate the school on 26 Feb 2019. It was a firm commitment made weeks back.

She failed to comprehend how her husband had the heart to refuse to honour that commitment. She grumbled within. She mentally admitted that she could not understand these Air Force guys even after spending more than three decades in the IAF with her husband. Mrs Devilka Kumar did not talk to her husband for the rest of the journey home. She was pretty upset with him.

However, that night Mrs Devika Kumar was totally unaware of what was going on in her husband’s mind.

 Here we need to take a flashback to understand the situation. On 29 Sep 2016, Operation Surgical Strike was conducted by the Indian Army very successfully.

Yet, Pakistan would not learn a lesson and continued troubling India with sporadic terror strikes every now and then. But they crossed their limit with impunity on 14 Feb2019. 44 Indian Central Reserve Police (CRPF) personnel were brutally killed by a Kashmiri separatist youth named Adil Ahmed Dar.

He rammed his explosive-laden SUV into a large convoy of vehicles carrying CRPF personnel and blew himself up in the bargain. With that horrible blast, dismembered dead bodies were seen strewn all around.

Pakistan based Islamic terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for this cowardly act.

To add insult to injury, Fawad Chaudhry, a Pakistani Minister in Imran Khan’s Government, made a statement in Pakistani Parliament. He said with great bravado that they had entered India and killed their armed police personnel without resistance.

He hailed the heinous act as a ‘Major Achievement’ of Imran Khan’. That was the last straw for the Indian public. They were seething with anger and hankering for retaliatory action. 

On 15 Feb 2019, the Prime Minister called for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) emergency meeting.

This was to correctly assess the security situation in J & K in the light of the grave terrorist attack of the event and decide upon the future course of action for India. The then Defence Minister attended the meeting among other members of the CCS.

On the same day, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanwa was briefed about India’s choices for retaliatory action. 

No one wanted India to take a step that could trigger a full-scale war. Yet there was no denying that India had to make it amply clear to Pakistan that it would not tolerate terrorist activities on her soil anymore.

So it was a challenging task to ascertain the right balanced course of action.

 Here, it is pertinent to mention that the Pakistani Military Commanders call the shots and decide upon when and how to take military action.

Later, they keep the Pakistani Government in the loop. In India, the job of the Armed Forces is to maintain defence preparedness for any eventuality. But the final trigger for action has to be pulled by the Government of India to order the Armed Forces to go ahead. Going for Military Action is subject to a political decision in this country.

In the present case, the Government order to take Military Action came on 15 Feb 2019. As they say in the military parlance, “the flag went up”.

   …….(To be Continued)

Note:

This blog is being written to commemorate the third anniversary of Operation Balakot which took place in the early hours of 26 Feb 2019.

Arduous planning went into the execution of the operation which culminated into a spectacular success. General public may not be aware of what all went on behind the scene.  Preparation for Operation Balakot is a long story.

Therefore, it is being published in parts. All information stated here have been collected form open media through painstaking research. No military secret has been divulged in this blog. A complete bibliography will be given at the end of the last part of this story. 

  1. PVSM: Param Vishisht Seva Medal.
  2. AVSM: Ati Vishsihist Seva Medal.
  3. YSM: Yudh Seva Medal.
  4. VM: Vayu Sena Medal
  5. ADC: Aide-de-Camp
  6. VSM: Vishisht Seva Medal
  7. AOC-in-C: Air Officer Commanding in Chief.
  8. Bandar: Monkey
  9. SUV: Sport Utility Vehicle

Thanatophobia

The word Thanatophobia is a combination of two Greek words. ‘Thanatos’ is the name of the Greek God of Death. ‘Phobos’ is the word for ‘fear’ in the Greek language. Therefore, Thanatophobia means ‘Fear of Death or dying process”. This is a mental condition.

People who suffer Thanatophobia worry excessively about death and the act of dying. Their obsession comes in the way of their everyday life.

Such anxiety disorder may lead to the following physical symptoms: (a) Excessive Sweating, (b) Breathing difficulties, (c) Palpitation, (d) Nausea and headache, (e) Fatigue and insomnia.

Apparently, such mental ailment originates from ‘Extreme Fear’. The common fears are:

  1. Fear of Unknown.
  2. Fear of Pain and Illness in the process of dying.
  3. Fear of loss of control, wealth, business etc.
  4. Fear of parting with dependent relatives.

Thanatophobia may occur at any age due to some traumatic experience of witnessing someone dying. Fear of death is a normal emotion. But if such fear or anxiety persists for more than six months and hampers day to day life, it turns into a mania.

More than men, women may fear the death of a loved one. They may become anxious about the consequences of such a tragedy.

Undergoing Psychiatric or Psychological treatment by doctors may be considered as the last resort to recover from Thanatophobia. But one may try to overcome this anxiety disorder by getting counselled by:

1. Close elderly relatives,

2. Religious teachers, 

3. By involving themselves in some constructive work or,

4. By gradually exposing themselves to the object of fear itself.

During the war, Army men face death very closely. Then, how do they conquer their fear of death?

First, before going for a dangerous operation, they are inspired to mentally accept that the possibility of their returning alive is slim. So instead, they are encouraged to write their ‘will’ or pen down their last letters to their dear ones, bidding farewell. Thus they temporarily rid themselves of their worldly attachments.

Then, finally, when they make up their minds, they entirely focus only on their task ahead.

Sometimes, an overwhelming sense of responsibility helps overcome the fear of death. I have seen ailing and aged grandfathers ‘Willing’ themselves to remain alive fearlessly to bring up young children left behind by their sons or daughters who suffered untimely death.

Many super-powerful people are known to have the irresistible desire to become immortal. They cannot let go of their power, position, wealth and influence.  They tend to go out of their way in their attempt to be remembered by generations to come.

Many detailed Autobiographies giving the account of their achievements have been written; only to be lost in oblivion. Magnificent towers have been constructed commemorating victories. But with time, those have dilapidated and turned into rubbles. The only eternal fact of everyone’s life is death at the end. Death is the greatest leveller.

Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of United China, had built the Great Wall of China. He was affected by Thanatophobia when he was barely 14 years old. At that young age he ordered his own Mausoleum to be built.

As he grew, his fear of death also grew and so did the size of his mausoleum. Ultimately the inner city of his mausoleum admeasured 2,5Kms and the outer was a circle of 6.3 Km wide.

When Mercury was discovered, people believed that it had magical properties. By then the Emperor Qi Shi Huang’s health had started declining as he was aging. At that point, the Emperor became obsessed with retaining eternal youth and remaining immortal.

He sent out men in all directions to find an Elixir for him. His court physician convinced him that Mercury purportedly had the magical power to provide the same.

Unfortunately, the Emperor expired prematurely by consuming an ‘Immortality Elixir’ made out of liquid mercury. Mercury poisoning killed him. Yet a large quantity of liquid mercury was kept in his tomb after his sudden death.

Is Immortality worth it? After having lived a full life, lingering on may be uninteresting or even painful. No one wants to hang around to witness the death of his near and dear ones like his own children.

When an immortal person sees the demise of everyone he knows, he may feel like committing suicide. But Alas! An immortal person cannot even do that!

A person who is totally satisfied with life never regrets dying when it is his time to go.

Logistics and HR Management of the ‘Mahabharat’

Logistics and Human Resource Management of the War of Kurukshetra

In the year 1960, when I was a young teenager, I had read the complete Mahabharata in Bengali language. Now, I remember nothing more than the mere broad outlines of the story.

However, today as a retired Logistician of the IAF, some down-to-earth questions related to the logistics and HR management of the war arose in my mind. So I sought the answers in Google instead of delving deep into scriptures and pedantic articles. Please let me share with you, what I found.

How many soldiers participated in the war of Kurukshetra?

The five Pandavas, who had just returned from exile, garnered resources from their allies. The Kauravas were 100 brothers themselves. Then they had their army supported by the Armies of their allies.

Lord Krishna offered them his Narayani Sena of Yadav clan. Thus, A total of 39,46,600 men fought the war of Kurukshetra.

Kurukshetra is spread over 1530 Sq.Km area with the population of 964655 (Census of 2011). When 3946600 fighters converged with horses and elephants to fight the war in this limited area, what elbow room did each have to fight?

           On average, a simple calculation shows that, each soldier had 3.93 sq metres to fight.

What was the food arrangement for these fighters, and who fed them for 18 days? 

Rice cooked with meat was the staple diet arranged for the soldiers. The King of         Udupi had taken the responsibility of supplying food for soldiers on both sides. In addition, Akshay Patra (in exhaustible vessel) given to Yudhishthira  by Lord Surya, helped to maintain an uninterrupted supply of food.  

How many men survived the War? 

Only 17,712 men, Including 12 foremost warriors, survived the war. Therefore the total count of the dead was 39,18,880. Their bodies were handed over to their respective families for cremation.

What was the fate of the wives of the people who died?

When many grieving widows requested Lord Krishna to send them to heaven to be with their husbands, he accepted their request.

On his advice, they drowned themselves in the holy water of the Ganges, washed off their sins and went to heave.

For others, Queen Draupadi with the Kaurava -widows created a Women’s Council to help the war-widows earn a decent living and lead a dignified life.

Mahabharata

Why the Kauravs lost the war despite having greater resources?

Duryodhana was the Supreme Commander on the Kauravs’ side. He was responsible for the defeat. He could not establish a clear chain of command. This lead to much confusion. Fighters seemed to fight on their own accord.

Duryodhana had deep mistrust on some of his best leaders like Bhishma. Therefore, he did not give free hand to those senior leaders to lead the soldiers, as they would have otherwise.

Some of Duryodhan’s acts and decisions seemed to be stupid. The Pandavas, on the other side, were more organised and disciplined.

To make up for their weaker strength, they used superior war-tactics, often as advised by Lord Krishna.

Pandava with Lord Krishna

Is Mahabharata an epic or a part of Indian history?

The British termed Mahabharata an epic. However, since 1950, archaeologists have unearthed many strong evidences to suspect that the Kauravas and the Pandavas lived and ruled ancient India in 2000BC.

Indraprastha was situated where Purana Kila of New Delhi stands today. Hastinapur was in the Doab area of Uttar Pradesh 96 km North-East of Delhi on NH 34. But nothing conclusive has been declared so far on the subject

Disclaimer: The above piece has been compiled on the basis of some relevant sites available in Google. Even the pictures have been collected from Google.

Bibliography:

Indiayug.com/what-happened-after-the-mahabharata-war-interesting

Tateguru.com/Mahabharata-war-ledger

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurukshetra_War#Pandava_Army

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