Archive for January, 2015

The humble Indian Railways …

Posted on January 29, 2015. Filed under: Business, Indian Thought |

They are a 161 years old – 16 April 1853. That’s a long time ago!

The trains got toilets after Indian Railways completed about 50 years! Back then, passengers had to wait till the next station to answer the call of nature! Thank Okhil Chandra for making Indian Railways do the needful. He wrote the letter to Indian Railways and finally, there were toilets in 1909!

Back in the old days, elephants were used to position the carriages.

Before Automatic Point System was installed, hundreds of guards lost their hands and fingers trying to fix it manually. Every time a train got delayed and we complained, an Indian Railways employee probably lost his limbs for us.

If the tracks of Indian railways were to be laid out, they would circle the earth almost 1.5 time.

A massively successful organization – running 11,000 trains. Indian Railways transports almost 2.5 crore passengers daily That’s nearly the total population of New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania put together!

The Rail Museum in Delhi is the largest in Asia. It has working and non-working models both.

The Indian Railways website gets close to 12 Lac hits per minute Hourly traffic on IRTC.com is more than annual traffic of some of the most popular websites. It can support almost 5 million threads at one time. But, we’ve got more people than that.

Loco-pilots (train drivers) are paid more than an average software engineer Salaries are the tune of Rs. 1 Lakh per month and more. No loco-pilot has abandoned the train even in the face of certain death.

The longest running train covers a distance of 4273 km between Dibrugarh and Kanyakumari: It’s called the Vivek Express

The longest tunnel in the country is 11.215 kilometers long! It is the Pir Panjal Railway tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir.

A train covers a distance of 528 km without a single stop. It’s Trivandrum – H. Nizamuddin Rajdhani Express.

Lucknow is the busiest junction in the nation: 64 trains come in and move out, every day

The slowest train goes uphill at the speed of 10 kilometers per hour. You can jump off the train, light up a smoke, take a few drags and climb on the train again. It’s the Mettupalayam – Ooty Nilgiri Passenger train.

Most unreliable train in Indian Railways is Guwahati-Trivandrum Express It is late on an average by ten to twelve hours. Gosh!

The shortest distance covered between two successive stations is 3 kilometers It’s between the Nagpur and Ajni station.

The station with the longest name is Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta. And it’s sometimes spelled with ‘Sri’ prefixed. Quite a mouthful. The station with the smallest name is called ‘IB ’: It’s in Odisha

 The railway station of Navapur is built in two states; half in Maharashtran and half is in Gujarat

Indian Railways has a mascot – Bholu, the Guard Elephant



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Common Expressions – their Story ….

Posted on January 25, 2015. Filed under: Searching for Success |

A SHOT OF WHISKEY – In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a “shot” of whiskey.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS – American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges. The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

BUYING THE FARM – This is synonymous with dying. During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you “bought the farm” for your survivors.

IRON CLAD CONTRACT – This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

PASSING THE BUCK/THE BUCK STOPS HERE –  Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it as common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn’t want to deal he would “pass the buck” to the next player. If that player accepted then “the buck stopped there”.

RIFF RAFF – The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. Riverboats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts which were considered cheap. The steering oar on the rafts was called a “riff” and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class.

COBWEB – The Old English word for “spider” was “cob”.

SHIP STATE ROOMS – Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms.

SLEEP TIGHT – Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night’s sleep.

SHOWBOAT – These were floating theaters built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat. These played small towns along the Mississippi River. Unlike the boat shown in the movie “Showboat” these did not have an engine. They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of the party is “showboating”.

OVER A BARREL – In the days before CPR a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel you are in deep trouble.

BARGE IN – Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they “barged in”.

HOGWASH – Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off were considered useless “hog wash”.

CURFEW – The word “curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu”, which means “cover the fire”. It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted into Middle English as “curfeu”, which later became the modern “curfew”. In the early American colonies homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called-a “curfew”.

BARRELS OF OIL – When the first oil wells were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid so they used water barrels. That is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

HOT OFF THE PRESS – As the paper goes through the rotary printing press friction causes it to heat up. Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press it is hot. The expression means to get immediate information.

FALLEN OFF THE WAGON – The wagon in this American expression refers to the water wagons used to sprinkle water on the streets to keep the dust down. During the times of Prohibition in the 19th century, men often climbed onto these wagons and took an oath they would give up alcohol and drink only water. This gave rise to the expression to be on the water cart/wagon; it was later shortened to on the wagon. When these individuals broke their pledge and started hitting the bottle again, they were said to have fallen off the wagon.

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Shashi Tharoor – that maverick politician with ‘problems’ of his own – on OROP

Posted on January 15, 2015. Filed under: From a Services Career, Great Writing, Personalities |

New Year’s Resolutions, it is said, are made to be broken. There’s something about a new dawn that inspires the earnestness of yearned-for virtue in most of us, and we solemnly pledge to do this and that in the course of the New Year which we never thought ourselves capable of fulfilling in the old. And then, as the New Year turns less new, we tend to regret those rash resolutions, modify them, ignore them, or most of all, simply forget them.
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Our new government didn’t wait for the New Year to make something of a habit of breaking its promises, To some degree, this is unsurprising in most democracies: after all, as New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously pointed out more than two decades ago, “you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose”.
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Extravagant campaign promises tend to look much more difficult to fulfill when faced with the reality of government.
What am I going on about? Very simple: it is the pledge to ensure “One Rank One Pension” for our retired military personnel, who currently suffer gross injustice through the provision of pensions that have not been indexed to inflation, so that a Brigadier who retired twenty years ago gets a lower pension than a Captain who leaves the force this year.
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This entirely reasonable demand – made by people who have risked their lives to protect our borders, our nation, and us – was acceded to by the UPA government, echoed by the NDA, and announced again by the new regime after its ascension to power. 
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The demand has not been fulfilled. Not one soldier has received an enhanced pension; meanwhile leaks in the newspapers “reveal” that the Finance Ministry has had a change of heart, saying that justice to our men in uniform would “cost too much”.
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It seems the Comptroller of Defense Accounts has estimated that the cost of One Rank One Pension could be as high as 9,300 crore. It may sound a lot, but the estimated budget for Mr Modi’s much-vaunted statue of Sardar Patel is 1,500 crore, which puts this sum in perspective.
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It is true I have a soft corner for our armed forces. I believe they embody the best of what India can be, but so rarely is: they are motivated, professional, meritocratic, competent, reliable, free of caste and religious prejudice, and they take risks the rest of us would not dare to. Yet we treat them in a disgracefully cavalier fashion.
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During my UN peace-keeping years, when I dealt with a large number of senior military officers and issues from around the world, I was appalled to see how poorly our professional officers were valued by our self-regarding bureaucracy.
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A full Colonel with over 25 years of service behind him is ranked by our babus below a Director in protocol terms.
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I have suffered through peacekeeping seminars in which a knowledgeable Indian military officer had to defer to a callow bureaucrat in discussions on military matters.
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At a time when post-Cold War peacekeeping called for serious levels of military expertise at the UN Headquarters in New York, India remained the only Permanent Mission to the UN (of any major peace-keeping contributor) not to post a military adviser. Our diplomats believed they knew it all themselves.
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This attitude extends to conditions of service across the board. A Joint Secretary, with nineteen years of professional experience, is deemed the equivalent of a Major-General, who not only has thirty years but has commanded men and materiel, made life-and-death decisions and protected our nation.
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We pay pensions to a lot more Joint Secretaries than Major-Generals (only 0.8% of army officers ever attain Major General rank). Yet we are now quibbling about the cost.
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Who are the people we are cheating here by pinching pennies? Some 20 lakh ex-servicemen and four lakh widows. It is time to ask the Government of Messrs Modi and Jaitley: gentlemen, have you no shame?
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As far back as 2003, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense recommended One Rank One Pension, calling it “a debt” the nation had to pay. It is a debt our Government must honour. Not to do so is an act of dishonor. It dishonors the nation and the flag these men have fought to defend. And it thoroughly discredits those who would treat the well-being of our jawans and officers as one more election promise to be lightly cast aside.


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1947/48 War – Battle of Zoji La (1 Nov 48) …

Posted on January 9, 2015. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

Prior to taking over his command in Kashmir, Gen KS Thimayya, DSO, had walked into the then Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Gopi Chand Bhargava”s invite at Jalandhar, where he came across Mr Serbjeet Singh – an adventurer, film maker and painter. Taking an immediate liking, Thimaya invited him to fly with him to Kashmir the very next day.

Mr Serbjeet Singh also accompanied Gen Thimayya on the very first flight to Leh on 24 May 1948, which was piloted by the legendary Baba Mehar Singh, who flew his vintage Dakota without map and accessories and with rudimentary equipment, eventually landing on the make shift ALG on the dry river bed of the Indus River.

Parts of the following documentary were shot on location during the Battle of Zoji La and the liberation of Ladakh by Serbjeet Singh, Fortunately, Karamjit Singh, his son, has retrieved footage from the original film and supplementing it with aerial photography, he has created an authoritative DVD – “THE LIBERATION OF LADAKH”.

There are vintage visuals and voice recordings of Lieut General K M Cariappa, exhorting his Commanders on the battle-field and of course Major General K S Thimayya, DSO, who can be heard through most of it – specially when describing his troops with gems like “this is a supreme vindication of upright manhood.”

Also seen are Lt Gen Shrinagesh, Brig HL Atal and the Stuarts of 7 Cav under Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’ who later commanded the First Armored Division in the 1965 War.

Unfortunately Google Maps and modern technology may not have been available then and the quality of the terrain photography is unfortunately not that classy. With modern methods this can be indeed made into a great film. Any volunteers???

Vintage History.

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Lesson for Life …

Posted on January 3, 2015. Filed under: Guide Posts, Light plus Weighty |

The guy opened his wife’s underwear drawer and picked up a silk paper wrapped package: He unwrapped the box and stared at both the silk paper and the box.
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‘She got this the first time we went to New York , 8 or 9 years ago. She had never put it on – was saving it for a special occasion.

Well, guess this was it. He got near the bed and placed the gift box next to the other clothing he was taking to the funeral house – as his wife had just died.

He turned and said:  ‘Never save something for a special occasion. Every day in your life is a special occasion’.

I think those words changed my life. Now I read more and clean less.
I sit on the porch without worrying about anything.
I spend more time with my family, and less at work.
I understood that life should be a source of experience to be lived up to, not survived through.
I no longer keep anything.
I use crystal glasses every day.
I’ll wear new clothes to go to the supermarket, if I feel like it.
I don’t save my special perfume for special occasions, I use it whenever I want to.

The words ‘Someday….’ and ‘ One Day…’ are fading away from my dictionary. If it’s worth seeing, listening or doing, I want to see, listen or do it now….

I don’t know what my friend’s wife would have done if she knew she wouldn’t be there the next morning – this nobody can tell.

I think she might have called her relatives and closest friends. ………………
She might call old friends to make peace over past quarrels………………………….
I’d like to think she would go out for Chinese, her favorite food……………………………
It’s these small things that I would regret not doing, if I knew my time had come..

Each day, each hour, each minute, is special. Live for today. Tomorrow is promised to no-one.

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2014 in review

Posted on January 1, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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