An Enjoyable Road Trip to North California

We were out on the road for 3 days , covering about 800 miles with two night halts at Fort Bragg from 6th Oct to 8th Oct to explore the Northern part of California. The scenic beauty of this part of California – mountains  with thick foliage interspersed with  a number  vineyards and wineries  between and the rugged Pacific Ocean on the western side dotted with many beaches , provides a great panorama of the nature . There are many lakes , two major rivers – the American river and the Russian river [ name connected with the Russians who worked for the American – Russian Company here way back in 1800 ] providing irrigation and adventure sports in this sector. The Redwoods Forest area is a major attraction to unwind and enjoy the nature in its purest form . Two major towns – Fort Bragg and Eureka on the Ocean front are rich with history and provides some very good restaurants and hotels for stay . While Fort Bragg  in the Mendocino County has its origin before the American Civil war as a military  garrison , Eureka in  the Humboldt County caters for the timber trade from the Redwood Forests and later with the Gold Rush during the 1850 and beyond. There are many tourist attractions near these port cities. On the way , we can also enjoy the scenic beauty of two small townships – Petaluma and Santa Rosa – mainly catering to the farming community of this area.

We started from San Francisco in the forenoon , passed through the Golden Gate Bridge and traveled through Route 101 to Petaluma where we had lunch . We had to take a diversion before reaching Petaluma due to a traffic jam and this provided us with a good drive through some farm lands enjoying the village scenes on the way.  After a good lunch at Cafe Zazzle ,with sea foods and salads , we proceeded to the Bodega Bay and got back to Route 101 via Guerneville in the Russian river valley of Sonoma County. Here again, we could witness some rustic village life with many farms and vineyards around . However, the prolonged drought conditions in California was visible in the mountain slopes all around and  chance of forest fires are more now in this part of the countryside.

Back on Route 101 , we proceeded to Willits and from there cut across via a winding road for 30 miles to reach Fort Bragg on Route 1. We stayed for the night at the beautiful Ocean View Lodge which offered an uninterrupted view of the ocean . At night , we had dinner at the Tap Room of the famous North Coast Brewing Company and tasted some of their popular beer. In the morning , we took off to Eureka and beyond to get a good feel of the Redwoods Forest . The best part of this tour was the drive through the famous Avenue of the Giants , the road going through the forest reserve with very tall redwood trees on both sides with a rich foliage all around. It was a memorable experience !

We got back to Fort Bragg for the night halt at the Holiday Inn Express . On the third day, we visited the beautiful McKerricher  State park overlooking the ocean and got back to San Francisco by late evening. What was noteworthy during our stay in Fort Bragg was the community spirit displayed everywhere during our interactions. During our breakfast in the David’s Deli  , we found the entire hotel staff and the guests present there joining the birthday celebrations of a veteran dining there.

Before I could publish this post , a great tragedy happened in the North Bay area centered around Santa Rosa and Napa Valley where Forest Fire created havoc for 48 hours on the 9th and 10 th of October , causing 21 deaths, complete damage to 2000 properties and displacing more than 20,000 people.About 23,000 acres of farm land and vine yards got in the fire. The situation is still serious when I write this post!

US and China – Defining Relationship of 21st Century

” America has no permanent friends or enemies , only permanent interests ”   – Henry Kissinger

The nonagenarian master strategist and American diplomat Henry Kissinger spoke at the Columbia University on 26th September at the US-China University Presidents and Think Tank Forum.He described the US- China relations as the ‘ defining ‘ relationship of the 21st Century and suggested that from a rational day-to-day working relationship , this should raise to a conceptual level for ‘ Global Peace and Human Progress’ .Kissinger should know as it was he who initiated this relationship way back in June 1971 , when he traveled on a secret mission via Romania and Pakistan to meet up with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong at the behest of President Nixon ,ending  China’s isolation for 30 years from the western world.

I recall an incident in 1975 , when I was undergoing the prestigious staff course at the Defense Services Staff College [DSSC] , Wellington , Nilgiris , India . The then US Ambassador to India William B Saxbe was a guest speaker and one of my colleague asked him an awkward question –  ” Sir , US treated China as an untouchable till 1971 , and suddenly , we find that President Nixon sent his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly to China to meet up with Premier Zhou Enlai – How do you explain this incident in the context of morality in International politics? ” – The Ambassador did not like this question and avoided a direct answer initially . But later on , he stated that it was in the strategic interest of the US to have opened this so-called Track 2 diplomacy in 1971.

Rest is history now as the above initiative was soon followed up with the Nixon – Zhou Enlai summit in Beijing in 1972 and a new chapter began in the US- China relationship , though formal diplomatic ties came about only in 1979 because of the US stand on Formosa – now Taiwan. This major break through paved the way for a ‘détente ‘ with USSR later and helped both the countries to enter trade relations for mutual benefit . However , in the eyes of the US , China remains a potential adversary but an economic partner , in spite of the poor human rights records of China and the status of the largest foreign creditor of the US ! .

In the present North Korean crisis , the US – China relationship assumes a great significance and a summit meeting between President Donald Trump and the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is on the cards soon. Experts believe that this meeting can pavé the way to diffuse the tension and bring North Korea to the negotiation table to settle the Nuclear Issue.

A Visit to Sausalito City , California

During last week-end , we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to visit the beautiful Sausalito city ,about 10 miles from San Francisco . This place has a rich history, originally occupied by the coastal Miwoks , later with the Spanish occupation of the Bay Area and the independence of Mexico.The development of the area was initiated by William A Richardson who arrived in California in 1822. The place initially named  Rancho Saucelito –  meant a small cluster of willows , with a  fresh water spring.

Before the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, Sausalito was an important ferry connecting the North and South across the Bay. Interestingly , many people still use the ferry to reach their work place in San Francisco regularly . The present city is part of the Marin County spread across an area of 2.26 sq miles [0.49 in water] with 7000 plus population.

An important tourist attraction of Sausalito is the enclave of houseboats , now permanently anchored to the water front on the Richardson Bay . These got built by artist squatters after World War Two , initially to avoid taxes . Those days, there was a thriving ship building industry in Sausalito. The city has a beautiful coast line on the Bay on one side and a hill-side opposite to the Bay .

Being a tourist attraction very close to San Francisco , there are many good restaurants with Mexican , Italian and American cuisine . We spotted an Indian Restaurant named Avatar’s which is famous for their Indian – Mexican fusion food. We were in for a very pleasant surprise for lunch when Mr Ashok Kumar greeted us and suggested a mysterious assortment of Punjabi and Mexican food ,ending with his main attraction – namely a dessert called Avatar’s Dream. The food and hospitality were excellent and it was definitely a great place in Sausalito.

East Meets West – A Duet by Dr Zakir Hussain with Joshua Redman at San Francisco

We felt very glad when my son Raghu told me that he has reserved seats for us to attend a Duet by Dr Zakir Hussain , the Maestro with Joshua Redman ,the Saxophone giant on 17 September organized by SF-JAZZ Center at the Miner Auditorium , San Francisco. It was the third time that me and my wife were attending a live performance by the Maestro [ see link to my blog of 2010 below] but the very first time outside India in a fusion music duet . We gathered from the souvenir issued by the organizers that these two great artists collaborated and performed earlier during this year when the JAZZ Center honored Dr Zakir Hussain with the SF-JAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award.

The program commenced at 7 PM sharp to a full house. Joshua Redman started the proceedings with a solo and Zakir Hussain warmed up to Joshua’s tenor and soprano saxophone with his own beats with the ensemble of percussion instruments with great dexterity . The many duets as well as solo renderings which followed for almost two hours took the audience to a zone of bliss unparalleled in the realms of instrumental music. While Redman is young and  a great performer , Dr Hussain whom we heard first time in 1994 still retains his great skills and age has not in any way slowed him down. What caught our attention was the sincere humility and mutual appreciation demonstrated by both artists during and after the performance. [ See the photo taken at the end of the program ] . Overall , another great evening to cherish !

A Performance that takes you to a Zone of Bliss – Ustad Zakir Hussain –  

A Drive to Pescadero , California

We went on a week-end drive on 16 September to Pescadero , 45 miles away from San Francisco  through State Route 1 . The old state highway passes through some sparsely populated places and many beautiful beaches on the way , the Half Moon Beach , the most notable  among them. The drive took us about 75 minutes and the week-end traffic was normal.

Pescadero is a very small hamlet , part of San Mateo County , extending 4 square miles , population around 650 only ,living in about 200 households – mainly a farming community. The place is only 2 miles away from the Pascadero Beach on Route 1 ,14 miles south of the Half Moon Beach. The climate is wet and cool in Winter and mostly dry in Summer . There are many farms and lumber mills around with some good camping places.

The history of Pescadero dates back to 1833 as part of the MIssion Santa Cruz pasture. The place is also connected with the Wells Fargo Stage Coaches legend .An article in the Wells Fargo messenger states that a stage-coach salvaged and refurbished from the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon which wrecked at the nearby Pigeon Point in 1853 carried passengers and freight for 40 years on the Pescadero road for the Wells Fargo Company. Intel co-founder Gordon.E Moore also resided here till the age of 10 and his childhood home Lunasea still stands there.

The high point of our visit to Pescadero was our sumptuous lunch at the well-known Duarte’s Tavern with some choice white wine , sea food delicacies like jumbo fried prawns with artichoke and rice , artichoke soup and some very good pies . An enjoyable experience away from the city looking at the rustic countryside and farm lands on one side and the many beaches on the ocean front.

The American Dream

The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods …

Yesterday, while on a morning walk through Duboce Park in our neighborhood in San Francisco, we noticed the above message attributed to Harvey Milk, former Mayor of the City, on the wall of a school at the end of the park. The park itself is a microcosm of American social life where we find veterans, youngsters and their pet dogs enjoying a sunny day with plenty of open space to walk around, play and dream! I noticed with interest, the attention to detail, when I saw a water faucet specially designed for our canine friends.

We love San Francisco, where the old quaint Spanish style mansions and Mexican cuisine co-exist with the new-found prosperity of the Silicon Valley and Bay Area nearby. Wealth has multiplied many times over thanks to the IT Revolution but the City still retains its old world charm. A walk around the Alamo Park or the PanHandle over to the Golden Gate Park up to the Pacific Ocean is a great experience.

The expression -American Dream- is attributed to the famous historian James Truslow Adams who wrote in 1931 explaining the concept:

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstance of birth.”

Earlier in 1925 , F Scott Fitzgerald had used a variety of literary devices in the Great Gatsby to portray the essence of the American Dream. Going forward, till the second world war or till the beginning of the cold war, the American Dream represented the national ethos of the US – a set of ideals to live by, rooted in democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.

In fact, the American Dream is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The basic idea of the dream came about from the first experiences of the immigrants from Europe to the New World and from the concept of the shifting frontiers in the early stages. Subsequently, Martin Luther King Jr based his Civil Rights Movement in the African- American quest for the American Dream.

The post world war prosperity for the US brought about an expanded meaning for the American Dream into four different attributes, namely Dream of Abundance, Democracy of Goods, Freedom of Choice and Novelty. While this itself was OK, the unintended consequences were the social divide, class wars and a quest by the political leadership to practice hegemony over the rest of the world. What followed the Cold War was an expression of this want to spread the ‘Area of Influence’ across the globe, reminding one of the 19th Century British Empire where Sun never Set.

The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Arab – Israel Conflict, the Palestinian problem, the Break Up of USSR, The Middle East problems, the Afghanistan War which also resulted in the 9/11 Disaster and the recent North Korean Nuclear Stand Off etc. are mainly attributed to the hegemony of the US in the garb of spreading democracy across the world. The UN has become a lame duck global institution mainly thanks to the Veto Power enjoyed by the US and a selected few. The old NATO and Warsaw Pact stand-off is now being replaced gradually by a new polarization against the US and its allies in the form of a possible Russia – China – Iran coalition to check mate the growing US influence in economic and political terms.

While the political establishment is concentrating on an equitable and desirable “World Order” as perceived by them and looking out for both economic and military measures to achieve them, the Millennials and the young Gen. Z [iGen] couldn’t care less for these initiatives at a huge cost to the US and they want a US which can address their concerns, looking inwards for a domestic ‘new order’.

Has the American Dream suffered in the bargain? I believe so because while the spirit is clear when one goes around the US now, there are visible cracks in the form of income disparities, jobs not easily available with unemployment at 5%, an apathy to established social norms and intolerance raising its ugly head in isolated incidents in the form of shoot outs and religious profiling. Social media bears abundant testimony to this shift in attitudes and at times gives expression to the underlying chasm affecting the American Dream.

A Visit to the National September 11 Memorial in New York



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I visited the National September 11 Memorial on 2 September along with my family. It was a very poignant moment in our lives, standing at the edge of the two large pools with voids in the center where the Twin Towers existed, symbolizing the economic power of USA until the greatest tragedy and disaster of a size never experienced by the humanity before, shattered everything in a matter of minutes on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001. 2996 lives lost, many more injured, business and normal public life coming to a halt, with no trading in Wall Street for two weeks and no flights to the US permitted for 10 days. Estimated Cost of the Relief Operation pegged at $10 Billion, with trillions of dollars lost in business opportunities and stepped up anti-terrorism Operations in the Middle East from where “THE EVIL”  ostensibly operated.

The international credentials of the US took a severe beating, a prohibitive cost for playing the role of a “global policeman” trying to influence the outcome of international affairs, with the lofty aim of upholding human values and democratic traditions. While the ‘Cold War’ days had a method in madness, there were no rules followed by the rogue nations deploying terrorists. The Middle East Crisis and the preferential status given to Israel made many enemies for the US, some of them face less. While many analysts point out serious flaws in the co-ordination of intelligence agencies with the national security agencies during the run up to the event, no one in the establishment in their wildest of dreams could imagine such a dastardly act devoid of any human emotions!

The Memorial is designed with utmost care, taking into account the sensibilities of those who laid down their lives in the horrific attacks of February 1993 and September 11, 2001. The Memorial recognizes the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and the compassion of all who supported the nation in the darkest hours. The sacred memories residing with the dependents and the global character of the victims irrespective of religion ,country or color of the skin is respected by the Memorial in every minute details. The endless pools with the water streaming into the voids in the center depicts the ‘eternal hope’ of humanity against such acts in future and the names of the deceased etched on the bronze sidewall will always remind a visitor about the supreme sacrifice made by those working in the twin towers at that hour and those fire fighters who lost their life trying to rescue those trapped inside the buildings. The memorial and the museum also depicts the history and many stories connected with the edifice as a tribute to the martyrs.

“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance”.

Mission Statement of the Memorial

Onam Festival – Down Memory Lane

Today is Onam Day – the day when Keralites all over the world celebrate the harvest festival irrespective of religion, cast or social status.The festival normally falls between mid August and mid September every year ,generally corresponding to the harvest season in Kerala, India. Malayalees await this season with a lot of anticipation and plan various cultural and sports activities for about two weeks . There are snake boat races in many lakes/rivers during the season . Families do the rituals of floral decoration in their courtyard , prepare for the SADYA [ grand feast ] on the Onam day , at times for four days continuously ,wear new dresses , and go out for shopping and movies together.

Looking back for almost three-quarters of a century , I remember in my early child hood , Onam was mainly celebrated by Hindu families , with the legend of Demon King Mahabali associated with Vamana , one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who defeated King Mahabali in battle. Vamana tricks King Mahabali into asking for 3 things , by which he banishes the king to ” Pathalam ” [ the nether world ] with a condition that the King can visit his kingdom once a year to meet his people. Onam coincides with such visits when the people put up their best to impress Mahabali that the prosperity which he left is in tact!.

I remember my father who was a lawyer used to invite his non – Hindu colleagues to lunch on the Onam Day and we used to enjoy such celebrations. All of us from the household used to serve food to our guests in plantain leaves – a 20 plus course Lunch with at least four  ‘Payasam” [dessert ] . We also used to engage in games like ‘Head Ball ‘ using a leather ball , play in swings , and watch teams of players performing ‘ Tiger and Hunter ‘ games visiting households. Most of the Joint families in those days owned large tracts of farm  land which the farmers tilled. The farmers used to bring ” tributes ” to the landlord , mostly a set of vegetables or fruits and the landlord gave them money or new clothes as return gifts.

Today , Onam has transcended to a festival at the state level with the provincial government leading it from the front organizing many cultural events. People of all beliefs without exception take part in Onam celebrations all over the world wherever Keralites reside  . The colorful festival has now taken a new meaning of societal integration demonstrating the rich traditions of the past to the younger generation.

Here is wishing HAPPY ONAM to all.

A Long Walk along the Line of Control [LC] in Kashmir

I served as the Logistics staff officer in the rank of Major  during the mid 70’s in a Brigade HQ close to the Line of Control [LC ] in Kashmir for 3 years. I got this job courtesy my qualifying in a 10 month long staff course in 1975 at the Defense Services Staff College [DSSC] at Wellington, South India. At Wellington, we were 300 officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force including about 60 officers from friendly foreign countries, all selected through a competitive examination. Thus, we were a privileged lot in many respects. During our training, we were exposed to many facets of military strategy, military history and international affairs as well as a detailed study on staff duties in field and peace conditions. We also participated in a number of war games practicing various scenarios simulated with  imaginary enemy threats both in the plains and mountains.

It was during the DSSC training, that I got exposed to the concepts of LAC [Line of Actual Control] referring to the de-facto international border between India and China after the 1962 war and the CFL [Cease Fire Line] between India and Pakistan in Kashmir after the 1947-48 war which got modified based on the Shimla Agreement of 1972 after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. We also learned about the Durand Line marking the border between Afghanistan and British India [later with Pakistan], the McMahon Line between India and China decided about unilaterally by Britain in 1917, which became the border between India and China in the North East, and the Radcliff Line delineating the International border between India and Pakistan after the partition.

What was noteworthy about all these demarcation exercises was either natural water shed principles [where water flows to each side from a hilly feature] or based on ground realities at a point when hostilities were halted by both sides. In both the cases, lines were drawn first on maps and adjusted marginally for tactical reasons without scant regard to the people and their ethnic background  affected by the delineation. This resulted in frequent border violations and negotiated truce following such incidents. At the Brigade level, we had flag meetings with Pakistan Army representatives when such issues came up. This is what we normally refer to as a No War – No Peace Scenario obtaining in our artificially created borders.

As per the Standard Operating Procedure [SOP] of our Brigade, the Commanding Officer of the Battalions along with his subordinate commanders, the staff officers of the Brigade were required to familiarize on the ground with the LC as a detailed knowledge of the lay of the ground astride the LC is essential in ensuring its defense. Soon after joining duty, I set out on my tour of the LC in a small team with adequate security escorts. I covered the entire LC in 3 days walking about 6 hours  during the day, spending the night at forward posts. What I experienced amply illustrated the points I mentioned above – Villages divided arbitrarily between Indian controlled area and Pakistan controlled area on the LC, at times, water available on one side of the LC, large minefields laid on both sides marked with barbed wire etc. In one case, we saw an abandoned house with one window on the Indian side and another on the Pakistan side with LC going in between.  We also noticed live mines on the hill-side  drifted to the road side, making it very dangerous to walk without precautions [walking only on the beaten path]. Many a times, during local festivals or at a marriage ceremony, people cross over the LC at great discomfort to the border  security forces but mostly with tacit understanding of the local commanders.

The porous nature of the LC has now become an advantage for Pakistan  trained infiltrators and terrorists to cross over to the Indian side to engage in subversive activities. We now live with this scenario for the last 70 years without a permanent political solution to the problem. As and when a solution is found, many adjustments will have to be made to correct the aberrations on the ground to make sure durable Peace between both the countries. I can only hope that this happens in my lifetime!

From Military Service to Corporate Jobs – The Indian Experience


Today , I read about a commitment by Starbucks to hire military veterans  and their family members publicly stated as a branding exercise !. What a noble way of recognizing the contributions made by the Armed Forces of USA ! . I am also aware that the US Government and the Industry gives utmost priority to employ Military Veterans in Civilian jobs after their engagement with the Forces. In the UK , there is a Govt sponsored Career Transition Partnership [CTP ] to connect military veterans with the Civil Industry.

Hiring veterans from the military is a good business , according to a research through in – depth interviews with individuals representing 69 companies across the US , by Margaret C Harrell and Nancy Berglass from the Center for a New American Security . Advantages as per this report for hiring military veterans are –

Leadership and Teamwork skills , Character , Structure and Discipline , Expertise , Decision skills in a dynamic high risk environment , Proven success and Loyalty .

Back home in India , in spite of  a full fledged Resettlement Directorate functioning with the Ministry of Defense , and various appeals made from time to time , only a very small percentage of the Armed Forces  veterans who retire at a comparatively younger age get a second career in the civil .  Of late , there are many isolated initiatives by many agencies to conduct training programs and orientation programs but these are yet to create an impact because of the lack of willingness of the Corporate World to come out with a process to enable this. There is also no stated policy or commitment from the Government to facilitate this transition.

The general public and the Corporate World know only about the primary role of the Armed Forces – defending the nation against any external aggression. Therefore , the only skills that they generally attribute to the military officers and soldiers is in the domain of security jobs and at times general administration.  In today’s  hi -tech and most complex military environment , the men [ and now women ] in arms , possess  very high degree of expertise in many fields of technology and engineering which can be gainfully utilized by the corporate organizations. In addition, the excellent managerial and people skills of the officers  who have been tested in high pressure situations with an ability to taking responsibility for their actions and getting things done first time , can be exploited by the society at large . They are quick to learn , picking up new skills and can adapt to new circumstances with ease.

I had read a paper on this titled ‘ Share our Brain Ware ‘ in the first Army – Industry partnership seminar organized by the CII [ Confederation of Indian Industry ] at New Delhi in 1995 while I was serving as a Dean of the Management Training Wing at the Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering at Secunderabad . It was well received by the participants and some follow up action was initiated to get the details of skills and expertise from the Army sources for dissemination to CII member organizations. We also had successful Army / Navy / Air Force Officers who made a mark at Chairman / MD of public sector undertakings and other large organizations addressing the gathering.

I claim to have succeeded in my transition to the civil on my retirement from the Army after 30 years of service. What helped me was the following credentials –

A degree in engineering , my exposure to the discipline of management through various courses in premier Army institutions , a MBA from the Indore University obtained while in Army Service , my 3 year tenure as an Assistant Military Secretary at  the Personnel Branch at the Army HQ dealing with career planning and placement of senior officers in command appointments and my tenures as Managing Director  of an Army Base Repair facility manned mainly civilians who are governed by the factories act , followed by my tenure as Dean at the MCEME .

I had a successful civil career spanning 10 years with the IT Industry , working with a global IT Company  as Head of Operations and later as Corporate Head for Knowledge and Learning for their Indian Arm. I also worked for another 10 years as the Executive Director of HYSEA – Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association [www.hysea.in] , the only state level association in India for IT Companies .

I am not an exception – there are many more such profiles in the Armed Forces – with Army , Navy and the Air Force looking for a suitable break with the Industry . A few years back , the Indian Institutes of Management came out with a 6 months training program especially packaged for the officers of the Armed Forces . This was a welcome step but I remember many of those who qualified in those program , reaching out to me at Hyderabad for referring them to someone known to me. Therefore , there is a dire need to institutionalize this transition and I am sure the corporate world will benefit immensely from the well honed skills of the Military Veterans and at the same time fulfill a societal obligation they have to the nation. I sincerely hope the noble example I quoted in the beginning from the US will motivate the Indian Industry to take note and come forward to address this issue .