What Qualities Define a Leader?
Today, for the first time ever, Naina went to nursery school in uniform. She looked adorable in her bright blue pinafore over a white and blue pinstripe shirt, socks and black school shoes. Last night Sangeeta was talking about how excited Akshay would have been, and how we would all have been treated to Nainu’s smiling pictures on the family whatsapp. When I see Naina in the morning, am instantly transported to Akshay-Neha’s first day at school. The image was so bright, it seemed as if they were Naina’s age just a few years ago! I tell Naina, ‘you know Nainu, when your papa was small like you, he couldn’t say uniform…he would call it ‘niniform’. She smiles cutely, her eyes lighting up with amusement. Almost immediately, she repeats the sentence to Sangy and Birendar bhaiya(our gardener), exactly as I had spoken, but replaces the words ‘your papa’ with ‘Akshay’. We all smile and chat about her clear understanding of relationships. Life goes on, as it must.
Two weeks ago, Student volunteers from PES-IT (a well-known engineering college in Bengaluru) invited us, as a ‘martyr family’, to a 3 day event in honour of Akshay and nine other martyrs. Organized by students and encouraged by the institution, ‘Samarpana’ has been an annual event to felicitate families of soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice for their country. As I sat with a young volunteer who was being very sweet in keeping me company, we exchanged the usual pleasantries. In response to her ‘we are honoured to have you here’, I asked her about her course, hostel facilities, food and so on. As I was admiring the bright ventilated building space that was also green and well maintained, she asked a very simple question. ‘What do your children do ….how many children do you have…? Caught off guard, I tried answering…. and failed miserably.
Although I felt terrible for the young girl who kept saying ‘I am so sorry….you were in a good mood when you came and I did this to you….’, I could not rein in my tears for many minutes. Then, with great effort, I managed to regain composure and reassure her that it wasn’t her fault in any way. That this has been happening to me very often, actually almost every day….
Once home after the honour ceremony, I did look for answers on ‘how to cope with sudden breakdown’ and the internet gave me an explanation that said: “It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.” — Colette, the French writer, identified “triggers” as skillfully as a modern-day psychologist and she is right. Human emotion is strongly linked to memory. And memory cannot be schooled or programmed selectively to trigger only joy.
In the recent news headlines on TV and print, we have been bombarded with ‘breaking news’ on ‘elections’ and ‘the security situation in Kashmir’. In the social media, I happen to see a disturbing video. A young officer obviously hit by bullets has fallen to the ground. Flat on his back, surrounded by forest foliage, even as he is probably dying, conscious of his duty and responsibility, he is talking to the men under his command. What strikes hardest is his composure despite being grievously injured; issuing clear orders on what the other soldiers should do next. The conversation in Hindi goes like this:
Injured Officer: make sure every injured soldier gets first aid. Then get yourselves out safely. Get every man out. Tell the headquarters they have to immediately send help. There is no shortage of ammunition- keep firing single shots to keep the enemy engaged. Do not move ahead and make sure there is no panic or cross firing. Tell Delta one…’ at this stage he pauses and his voice becomes feeble as he continues, ‘that the command is now in his hands’. The voices of a few concerned soldiers are heard comforting the officer with, ‘yes Sir. Please don’t speak any more now. Don’t worry. We will make sure we take our injured out with us’.
Yet the injured young officer, probably realizing time is short continues talking to his men; ‘And if you hear a helicopter, light a small fire so they see the smoke and land. Then shift the injured.
The video ends with the voice of a soldier once again pleading with the officer, ‘…Sir don’t speak anymore…don’t worry at all…’ and then someone else is heard saying ‘…it is getting very late …..’. My heart stopped at the possibility of what may have happened next. Did it become too late? Or did the injured officer and soldiers make it out alive?
I try to push away the painful stab in the stomach but it returns faithfully every day. The same words continue to ring in the ears. ‘I am sorry to tell you maam, that we have lost Major Akshay.’
Who are these young men who in the face of death, consciously place the safety of others uppermost? Why do they make sure they do their duty and fulfill their responsibilities at any cost? While bleeding and in obvious trauma, how do they stay calm….and positive….thinking only about getting their colleagues out safely? Not a mention of their own pain….not a word about missing their families…no trace of selfishness….. fear kept under tight control…..these young people don’t even belong to that state and yet, they are out there, defending us as best as they can.
Why are our family members hurt and killed in Kashmir? Is the army responsible for the mess that the state of J&K is in? The army has been called in by the government because their so called leaders have failed to do what they have been elected for. For decades, they have failed us all. While they have lived with power, prestige and luxury, they have taken no responsibility for the seething discontent in the valley. They have ‘governed’ so poorly and passed the buck to such an extent, that the situation has now come to this. Do these political masters have anyone from their family in the army? Or even a son or daughter among those pelting stones at the security forces? No wonder lives lost mean little to them. They and their families are always safe, thanks to the security provided to them. What they have ‘succeeded’ in doing very effectively is to shift the blame for their failures on to our soldiers who die defending them. Loud voices siding with separatists and terrorists also find favour with most of our TV news channels as they, day in and day out, debate ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’.
On the other hand, one among the brave young soldier-leaders who took pride in serving our nation and our people, was our adorable son Akshay. Sangeeta’s beloved husband, Neha’s ‘best ever’ brother, Naina’s ‘hero’ father, the apple of his grandparents ageing eyes, the ‘bro’ admired by his cousins and Pradish, Beena and Ravindrans ‘second son’, and everyone’s ever-smiling, happy-to-help, always-there-for-you friend. He is no longer around for any of us because he believed protecting co-citizens was his responsibility. No cost was too high. He made us very proud. We hope he somehow knows we have taken strength from him and will do the best we can whenever called upon to do so.
I look up at Akshay’s pictures on our walls and my eyes play their tricks, bringing him back to life. There he is smiling at me…eyes twinkling….no trace of the anguish we are all going through without him. Soldiers are painted as strong and powerful and yet, what I recollect is how gentle and caring Akshay would be with all of us. How he never let me and Girish carry a heavy bag; how he would slow down his scooter when Neha said speed scared her; how his eyes followed Sangeeta, waiting to see her smile; how he held little Naina, like she was a delicate flower……. Akshay’s gentleness extended even to those he did not personally know. Once, when a drunk stranger tried to break into our home late at night, all Akshay did was firmly push the young man out, believing he had lost his way and meant no harm. When a bus banged into his new car, not only was he polite to the bus-driver, he agreed not to register a police case because the driver would lose his new job. Criticizing, hitting, accusing…. or throwing stones and running away, was never part of Akshay’s way of life.
The TV is on even as I write this piece. The image of a young man tied to an army jeep in the Kashmir valley is being aired again and again. We are told a young officer did so to ensure safe passage of security personnel and election duty staff who were surrounded by a dangerous mob of hundreds of stone pelters. While political leaders can get away with acts like hitting an airline employee 25 times with a ‘chappal’, fight dirty to usurp a dead CM’s ‘legacy’, steal, cheat and even commit rape and murder without being held accountable, this young officers’ timely action to save lives is ‘unacceptable’! Doesn’t ‘The End Justifies the Means’ philosophy hold good in this case? What did the young commander do to be berated in this manner? With little time to spare and limited resources on hand, he did his duty. He did not shun his responsibility when called upon to protect a group of pro-government citizens from hundreds of stone pelters positioned to maim and kill.
Didn’t we see earlier videos of such stone pelters shielding terrorists and preventing the evacuation of injured soldiers? Didn’t we read about how terrorists got away and an officer and two jawans died because ‘misguided youth’ did not allow them to be taken to hospital? Thanks to the outcry over ‘excessive use of force’, the anti-nationals now know they can heckle armed CRPF men without fear of retaliation. This must stop. We ordinary citizens have a duty too. We must at the very least make our voices heard over the din if we believe we should support our soldiers. Our braves need the backing of an entire nation to keep India safe.
In doing what he did, the young officer saved many lives on both sides of the divide. Isn’t that what we as a nation want? Although an enquiry has been ordered ‘against the QRT Commander’, I was glad to see the Attorney General of India (Mukul Rohtangi) give the officer a pat on the back for doing what he did under the circumstances. In my personal opinion, for whatever it is worth, the officer should be awarded for exceptional leadership because his ‘out of the box solution’ and quick action successfully saved trapped co-citizens while preventing collateral damage. Maybe, just maybe there is still time for the likes of Omar, Mehbooba, Digvijay, Arvind, Yechury, Yedyurappa etc. to try and improve their own ‘leadership qualities?’
Akshay is now openly smiling his approval. I smile at the thought of him smiling.
In seeking to learn more, I found these unusual quotes. We will be happy to read some of your favorite ones as well.
Quotes on Leadership
Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.
Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.
Robin S. Sharma
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
John C. Maxwell
Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.
A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.
Arnold H. Glasow
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
John Quincy Adams
As always, we as a family draw hope and strength from Akshay’s extraordinary life and we are very grateful to all of you for being with us.
Please do post your comments. Thank you.
P.S. It is painful and frustrating to see that no acceptable solutions to the Kashmir problem have been put forth by the powers that govern our country and the state of J&K. Individuals like Major Gaurav Arya have given their opinion on a comprehensive way forward. Do read and react to THE IRON IN OUR SOUL April 13, 2017 on: https://majorgauravarya.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/the-iron-in-our-soul/
To see the video on the bond between a young injured officer and his men, go to: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=%E2%80%AA%23%E2%80%8EGenerallySaying%E2%80%AC