The Tirupati man and understanding strategic deterrence

The COVID-19 lockdown ruminations continue.  There are some concepts in the world of international power play that are difficult to comprehend, even for us normal adults

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The COVID-19 lockdown ruminations continue.  There are some concepts in the world of international power play that are difficult to comprehend, even for us normal adults. But it is, however, necessary for every child in aspirational India to do so, as the country increasingly finds itself drawn into the power equations of the 21st century. One such concept is that of strategic deterrence.

I was trying to explain this to my twin five-year-old granddaughters, preparing them for India’s leadership in the new world order that will emerge post lockdown. I could see at the very outset that It was going to be a difficult task.

“Why should countries fight with each other?,” asked one little twin. “It’s not a nice thing,” echoed her twin sister.  “Because”, I explained,”resources are limited, and every country wants more for themselves. And then there are historical conflicts for countries to resolve, which leads them to confrontation. There is also a historic opportunity that presents itself for India after the lockdown.” I felt foolish referring to a ‘historic opportunity’ with  the images of migrants walking home on my mind but pressed on earnestly towards explaining deterrence.

“But, sharing is caring", amma told us, and "fighting is not nice,” they  piped together in a tone of finality and dashed off to a corner of the house where they were setting up the latest version of their play-kitchen. Their territorial ambitions and understanding of global power politics were clearly defined by the attitudes of generations of mothers and grandmothers. The innocence of childhood!

But I was determined that this generation alpha, the most transformational generation according to the all-knowing wikipedia, will not be found wanting in their responsibilities to the new order. So new strategies had to be thrashed out.

I have been blessed with a single white hair on the ridge of my nose, which I have been tending to with great care since my retirement, as my protest against the rules of  the service, that I complied with for over 32 years. The latter required one to take written permission from the authorities, before any form of facial hair could take loving shape on a countenance. This hair on my nose, curls up in singular splendour, and in my momentary flights of wild imagination, I envision myself as Samson, the great Nazirite hero of early biblical times, with his flowing locks that gave him his immense strength, except, that all I had was this glorious hair, that curled up on the ridge of my nose.

Now, the dangerous duo, of ‘sharing is caring’ fame, had made it their main purpose in life to do away with their grandfather’s famous hair, and often was the time, I woke up during my afternoon nap, to see the twins scampering away with their mother’s oversize pair of scissors. My siesta, which I had begun to look forward to, was threatened, my pleasant dreams of Samson and his exploits, compromised, and I began to live in terror, of waking up with the solitary lock gone.

And then it came to me, counter terror with terror. Deterrence. Strategic deterrence, if you please. And in the process, prepare them for their responsibilities as generation A, the task I had set myself in the first place.

So that evening at story time, ensconced in my favourite sofa, with the twins settled into each shoulder, I began to tell them the story of Lord Balaji, aka Venkateshwara, amongst the seven hills in the temple town of Tirumala, Tirupati.

Wise sage Bhrigu, wanted to evaluate who amongst the Holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) was the greatest. He was not satisfied with the response of Lord Brahma and Lord  Shiva, so he went to Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu and kicked him on his chest, to wake him from his sleep.

“That’s not nice,” piped up a twin.

Goddess Lakshmi, who was residing in Vishnu’s chest, felt insulted and left Vaikuntha and came down to Earth. Lord Vishnu, feeling sad and dejected, went in search of  Lakshmi, who had, in the meantime,  taken birth as Padmavathi in a king’s family. Lord Vishnu lived on an anthill, closeby and started meditating. He was fed every day with milk by Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma who had descended to the earth as a cow and her calf.

In due course, Lord Vishnu met Padmavathi  and got married to her in the Tirumala hills. They stayed on in a magnificent temple that was built there which became their abode. This is the Lord Venkateshwara (Balaji) Temple on the seventh peak of the Tirumala hills.

The Lord had taken a huge loan from Kuber, the God of Wealth, for his marriage and so people visit the temple and donate their wealth, to help the Lord pay back his loan.

The story had all the elements of a potboiler, gods, celestial beings, intrigue, loss and sadness, romance and eventual joy. The twins were goggle-eyed and lost in the turns and twists that formed part of this celestial tale.

And then one of them (the smarter one), asked “What about those who have no wealth to give?”

“Their grandfathers take them to Lord Balaji’s Temple in Tirupati, and donate their hair, which is all they possess, to the Lord,” I said in a dramatic whisper.

Now these girls, as is the wont of little girls, love their locks, insisting on their grandmother oiling and combing them in a different fashion every day. The loss of their hair was the ultimate counter-terror threat.

And so we came to a state of peace, no cutting of the hair on the nose, no visit to Tirupati for donating hair.

Deterrence, Strategic deterrence if you please.  All explained through a mythological story.

And I earned a new sobriquet, ‘The Tirupati Man’.

But sometimes, as I wander around a darkened house during the silent hours of the night, I wonder at an innocent child’s remedy for all our ills: Sharing is caring.

Worth internalizing -  isn’t it?

(The author, a retired Indian Navy officer, can be contacted at viswanathanpk@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal)

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