excerpts from the novel
   
  Given below are a few excerpts from Vinod Shankar Nair’s ‘Pride of Lions’. They are not in any particular order and will not give away the surprises of the story but they will give you an insight into the author’s writing style and content of the book. We have specifically left out vivid descriptions of battle sequences. For that, you will have to read the book itself.
   
  THE SAINT WARRIOR
  Manny was a personification of the ‘look’. His turban, moustache and beard covered most of his face but his eyes were inescapable. When he looked at people, they usually gave him their complete attention. His chiselled face had lines etched across it, the furrows on his forehead seemed as if someone had carved them with a knife. His dented cheeks and highlighted cheekbones made him extremely good-looking in a rugged John Wayne sort of way. Manny was a veteran of many battles. After twenty years in the Army as a fighting soldier, he had earned enough medals to make his uniform look like a mosaic but that was a small part of him. Sergeant Major Manny was a warrior by heritage and one of the finest at that. His lineage went back by three hundred years because he was a thoroughbred Nihang.

A Nihang is a Saint-Warrior. The very mention of ‘Nihangs’ used to strike fear in the hearts of Mughals over three hundred years ago. Since then, the Nihangs have managed toretain their sanctity.

‘Nihang’ is the Persian word for Crocodile and that’s how the terrified Mughals described their fighting style. Also known as Akalis, the Nihang is an order of the Sikh community that does not fear death, is beyond material possessions and exists only to do its duty. The term ‘Akali’ is derived from the Punjabi term ‘Akal Purukh’ which means ‘the Timeless One’ (God). ‘Akali’ therefore means ‘Servitor of the Timeless God’. They wear dark blue robes with their legs bare below the knees and blue and yellow turbans laced with steel discs. They usually carry spears, swords, daggers and shields.

It is said that the order was founded more than three hundred years ago by Guru Gobind Singhji himself as the fighting body of the Khalsa. He said that the Nihangs will be generous and follow strict adherence to dharma. When a Nihang wields his sword, it will give out sparks like fireworks. Renowned for their martial skills, the Nihangs are the vanguards of Sikhs, whose vocation in life is to be a warrior, protect and be at the forefront of battles.
Sikh history is populated with stories of the courage of the Akali order. The Akalis are known for their valor and their ability to hold on even when heavily outnumbered.

Manny could be in his Indian Army combat fatigues, a tuxedo or even dressed as an astronaut; it didn’t matter because there was no softening of his look or the kind of fear his gaze invoked.

   
  STAND FOR, NOT AGAINST
  “What’s wrong with standing against something that’s incorrect?” Ishra asked. Isn’t it okay to get angry and take a stand against poverty and corruption?”

“Yes Ishra but I suggest that we should stop being reactive and start being proactive. If you know what you stand for then you will automatically remove obstacles. Revolutions often start because they stand against injustice, tyranny, oppression but once they finish overthrowing the regime, they aren’t sure what they stand for. Take a long term non reactive view and decide what you believe in, it helps to keep things in perspective and not lose focus or get carried away with the tide. It helps if you know what you are standing for along withwhat you are standing against.

So instead of standing against poverty, corruption and terror, we will be better off standing for abundance, equal opportunity, transparency and accountability.”

   
  SANDY’S TIRADE
  Sandy spoke. “The project assigned to us is: ‘My Country, My Pride’.”
“Okay and?” Maggie egged him on.

He continued, “Ma’am we’ve found a lot of content on our country’s past that’s to be proud of. Many inventions, many firsts, a rich old culture, an advanced society and lots more that really makes us proud Ma’am.” “So what’s the problem Sandy?” Maggie asked. Sandy continued “Ma’am our past is awesome but it’s the present and future that’s got me stumped.”

“What do you mean?” Maggie persisted.
“Well Ma’am there are a few things that bother me: We have a crumbling infrastructure; leave alone supporting us, it is battling to simply exist! We have community, caste and religious divides everywhere. Most of India has restrictive, inhibiting lifestyles but strangely ours is the fastest growing population in the world - don’t you think there’s something’s missing there?

We are probably the most corrupt nation as of now; politicians, mafia-builder nexus, skyrocketing inflation. As if that isn’t enough, we still have archaic laws being implemented by a lethargic justice system that begins hearing cases twenty years after they’ve been filed and then go on for another twenty years before they conclude.

Our system is one that protects captured terrorists better than it does its own taxpaying public. I am of course referring to the way an Ajmal Kasab is guarded and fed while an Anna Hazare is thrown in prison. Speaking of terrorists, we are the favorite target for terrorists from across the world. No protection or cover.

What about terror and extradition? What’s our policy there? Our heads of state personally escorted captured terrorists to other countries! The US and Israel hunt down and eliminate even potential threats to their way of life no matter where in the world they maybe and we? Individuals known to have funded and masterminded blasts here openly live like kings a few kilometers beyond our borders and we do nothing!

That isn’t all, we have a nonexistent or chronically weak foreign policy. Whenever anything earth-shattering happens anywhere in the world like a war or a coup, India’s standard reaction is that ‘We are very concerned and monitoring the situation carefully. We hardly ever take a stand. How could I forget our internal problems that we are helpless against? Burgeoning population, dirt, no hygiene, no sanitation, no unemployment benefits, make what you can when you can but once you stop earning, there’s no one to protect or care for the old and poor. I don’t even need to mention the omnipresent brain drain. Any and everyone who’s educated and well off simply migrates to Europe, US or Canada and for good reason too! There are things people in most parts of the world can take for granted but not us, not here, here one needs acrobatic skills to simply cross the road...any road! Getting to the other side is a traumatic ordeal, every time I reach safely I say a silent prayer of gratitude…I could go on Ma’am.”

Maggie was speechless. She stared back, her mind digesting everything that Sandy had said…processing the information to come up with a good answer. The tough part was that everything Sandy had said was true and she agreed with him fully but she had picked this topic herself, she had made students prepare projects for years. The classroom, she and the topic remained the same, times had changed, thirty years had whizzed by without her realizing the changes that had crept in discretely everywhere. Students had become much smarter and more outspoken, with Sandy’s assault, the topic suddenly seemed obsolete, out of place and almost childish.

Maggie quickly considered her options; maybe she could back down and give them a new topic? No! Not at this point; it would make her appear foolish and set a bad precedent that would undermine her standing in the class, students would argue about everything and there would be no end to it! A confrontation with Sandy and Kim backed by Brij’s data would definitely end in her being trampled upon in front of all her students. She could feel her palms begin to sweat, she knew she had been cornered and needed to buy time, her throat felt parched. She had to find a way out without admitting defeat. She maintained her external composure; didn’t bat an eyelid, instead she looked around for respite but it was still Sandy who spoke again “Brij agrees with me, all the stats I have are his,” he said. To which Brij nodded sombrely, his eyes fixed on Maggie. Sandy ploughed on, “Kim disagrees with me; she says our present is a transient reality and our future is bright.”

Maggie felt a wave of relief as a load lifted off her shoulders; Kim’s disagreement was like a ray of hope for her, if Kim had agreed with Sandy and if Brij had joined them, Maggie knew she’d be outclassed. She cleared her choked throat and blurted “Go on…”

“The problem Ma’am, is that Kim has very little data to back her case. We can’t present a project based on gut feel or hope. We need facts to support every statement. For every single point in her favour, I’ve dug up ten other weaknesses to bury her.”

Just then the class bell rang. Maggie almost jumped with joy but her experience had taught her to be stoical. ‘Saved by the bell’ she thought. She quickly gathered her things and stood up.

   
  LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYES
  He ignored his exhaustion but knew he wouldn’t be able to go on much further; his body would eventually give up. He felt several emotions but quelled them all and tried his best to keep pace with *** who was now quite ahead of him. Almost like an answer to his prayers, he saw that *** and the two scouts leading the advance had stopped. *** gestured to the assault force and every single soldier became completely motionless. +++ could almost hear the silence. He was exhausted; his legs felt like rubber.

+++ knew something was afoot and followed ###. As he neared *** and the scouts, he could hear faint sounds but the sounds weren’t being made by *** or the scouts or even ###…it was someone else!

+++ hastened his pace, a vein on the side of his head pulsing with anticipation. As he came closer he could finally see what *** and the rest were looking at; it was an enemy team and they were laying mines. There were at least nine of them working silently but feverishly, one of them was standing tall and overseeing the hasty operation; the rest were on the ground on all fours laying and concealing mines. +++ figured that the one standing must be the one in charge, probably an officer. He was about six feet tall and unlike the others he wore a jap-cap instead of a helmet. He was fair and extremely handsome. He watched over his men and occasionally scanned the area around him with quick economical movements…he showed no signs of pressure.

+++ was captivated, he couldn’t peel his eyes off the man and he continued to stare open-mouthed as the man went about his business with calculated precision. +++ would have continued staring completely fascinated the way a normal person would stare at a film star or a high ranking politician but the young man paused as if he sensed something, he turned as if in slow motion toward the hidden Indians and locked his eyes directly with +++.

+++ froze…he knew he had been spotted. He wanted to become invisible but couldn’t move a muscle. The young man was as fast as lightning. Without taking his eyes off +++, he moved smoothly, brought out his automatic pistol and pointed it straight at his target…his intent was clear but +++ remained paralyzed despite knowing that death was imminent.

   
  MOMENT OF TRUTH Sikh Mool Mantar and Sikh Anthem
  Slowly, his shaking reduced as he felt himself being enveloped by an inexplicable calm. Then, in a surreal manner, he heard his grandfather’s voice clearly as if he were standing six inches away. His doting grandfather was a deeply pious man who had read out to +++ from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji for years during his childhood. It was almost a decade since he had passed away and +++ missed him sorely.

He distinctly heard his grandfather recite the Sikh Mool Mantar exactly as he had countless times before. The Mool Mantar begins the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and defines the basic belief of the Sikhs.
‘Ek Onkar Sat Naam Karta Purakh Nir Bhau Nir Vair Akaal Moorat Ajooni Saibhang Gur Parsaad’
“What does that mean?” Kim asked.

  Indu responded, “It has several implications but here’s a simplified translation for you:
 
Ek Onkar : There is only One God
Sat Naam : Truth is his name
Karta Purakh : He is the creator
Nir Bhau : He is without fear
Nir Vair : He is without hate
Akaal Moorat : He is immortal, without form
Ajooni : He is beyond birth and death
Saibhang : He is self-illuminated
Gur Parsaad : He is realized by the kindness of the true Guru.
   
  +++ opened his eyes slightly now and saw that the mayhem was still on. The situation hadn’t changed at all. They were still pinned to the ground but what had changed was his grandfather’s tone as he now recited the Sikh anthem written by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

‘Deh Shiva bar mohe ihai shubh karman the kabhu na taroo, Na daroo ar siyoo jab jah laroon. Nischai kar apni jeet karoo. Ar Sikh hao apne hi mun ko eh lalch hou guna tau uchroo jab aav ki audh nidhann banay aut he rann me tab joojh maroo.’

  And before you ask, here is the translation :
 
Deh Shiva bar mohe ihai : Grant me this boon O God
Shubh karman the kabhu na taro : May I never refrain from the righteous acts
Na daroo ar siyoo jab jah laroon : May I fight without fear all foes in life’s battles
Nischai kar apni jeet karoo : With confident courage claiming the victory
Ar Sikh hao apne hi mum ko : May thy glory be grained in my mind
Eh lalch hou guna tau uchroo : and my highest ambition be singing thy praises
Jab aav ki audh nidhann nanay : When this mortal life comes to end
Aut he rann me tab joojh maroo : May I die fighting with limitless courage
   
 

Now there was palpable change, it originated from within but slowly worked its way outward. +++’s fear was chased away by courage and determination, his eyes focused. A new power surged through his being; he knew the risks involved but he knew that this was what he had been born for.
His entire life was merely preparation toward this defining moment…it was now or never.
He gripped his rifle tightly and prepared himself.

   
  KILL ZONE
  Singh was heavy and not easy to move; an enemy soldier saw +++ and Singh as a slow, easy target and aimed at them. His first bullet hit the ground about three feet away from +++. He adjusted his sights and fired again. The second round shattered a rock a few inches away from Singh. +++ knew it was a matter of seconds before he would be hit too but he didn’t give up, he wasn’t about to let Singh bleed to death on the mountainside. Another shot rang out, it didn’t hit +++ directly but went through his tunic and he felt it singe his stomach. The pain he felt was similar to that of being branded by a hot iron, he felt wetness spread around his battle fatigues along with the pain. He knew he was bleeding but he held on and continued to slip and struggle. The enemy soldier corrected his aim, this time he had +++ clearly in his sights. He smiled in anticipation as he slowly increased pressure on his rifle trigger.
   
  INSANITY OR GENIUS? OR BOTH?
  Lt. Col W looked turned his head back to see Captain +++ who sat stretched out in a chair. His eyes were covered by his combat hat. He saw W turn around and doffed his hat mildly in response. ‘I wonder if his is a case of all show and no go,’ W thought to himself. He wasn’t comfortable with +++ for several reasons. +++ had joined the unit recently from his Sri Lankan tenure and didn’t know all the troops personally. So he had yet to earn his respect and establish his place among them. Besides, +++ was from the ‘Specfore’ (Special Forces). W had encountered his kind before. They were normally mavericks and unpredictable wildcards…no one could say what they would do next or what they were capable of. +++ was a Kavvach operative, that made him a shade wilder than the usual Specfore types. W didn’t like unpredictability; he was a disciplinarian who felt secure within systems and templates.
   
  DEATH OF A HERO
  Slowly he felt his body keel backwards from his kneeling position and he fell on his back with his feet tucked under him. All he could see now was the vast expanse of the sky. Not as many stars as any other night because tonight the air was almost opaque. He tried to turn his head to see where his severed arm lay but he couldn’t move. Unmindful of the battle that raged on, blissfully carefree winds kissed his face and lovingly played with his hair, his mouth seemed to be filling with liquid…probably blood and bile.

He could hear himself gurgle and cough as he choked. He saw +++ standing next to him, looking somewhere else. Now he couldn’t hear anything anymore, even his pain was overcome by numbness. He thought of his parents and was saddened that he would never get to say good bye properly to them, he wanted them to know how much he loved them. No sounds now, in the silence he saw +++’s rifle muzzle flashing in the direction of his men. +++ began to stride away but before that, without a pause or looking, his rifle pointed directly at the valorous Captain’s forehead; he died a soldier’s death. +++ moved on without batting an eyelid.

   
  RISE ABOVE AND BEYOND LOGIC
  “Logic is essential to us and our decision-making process, it an integral rung of our intelligence but it isn’t the final step. Human beings are blessed with gifts such as humour, honour and artistic creativity that reside in a zone beyond logic, arithmetic and computing. Using these gifts takes us forward in leaps and bounds. Arithmetic is a great base to start constructing your thoughts and assumptions from but beyond that, I’d say it’s meant for mobile phones, computers and calculators. Let’s take another example. Let’s say love for our mother, it defies logic and can push a person to any extreme.”

Indu continued, “Your mother may not be the fittest, prettiest, richest or the best cook you know but despite all her flaws and shortcomings you still love her the most. You don’t need statistics to convince you to love your parents, siblings or even your friends. That’s rising beyond computing. Loyalty, honour and friendship too are beyond logic and so is love and patriotism.
Your country is also your mother, she has given you birth, nurtured and provided all you have. You don’t need certifications or laurels to love her and feel for her; you just do.
Achievements should add to your joy but lack of achievements should not take away self-respect. I am not condoning corruption, communalism or any of our other shortcomings.
We should identify our areas of improvement and get to work on them but it still has nothing to do with pride, dignity and self respect.

You don’t choose to love your parents based on their bank balances, you simply do! Self-confidence and faith are along the same lines. You don’t need to ride in a fancy car to increase your faith or confidence. If you have faith, you have faith. If you are a confident person, then you simply are regardless of what you wear or what you possess. Confidence that comes from wearing a branded watch or carrying a fancy handbag or wearing a label is not confidence, that’s false security and peer or social pressure that must be done away with.”

    Copyright © 2012 Vinod Shankar Nair.All rights reserved.
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