Army, Asrani and the “poore ghar ke badal daloonga” philosophy

Every wrong entry is henceforth to be treated as the correct one and all other documents showing the correct date shall be deemed as wrong.


BV Rao | February 3, 2012

“In the obituary to Homai Vyarawalla (January 30), her year of birth has been wrongly mentioned as 1949. The correct year of her birth is 1913. The error is regretted.”
- India Today, February 6, 2012

I was a bit amused by this needless correction in the feedback page of the latest issue of India Today. I think India Today should have put their foot down and forced Ms Vyarawalla’s family to agree to treat 1949 as her year of birth instead of 1913. Well, 1913 may indeed be the legally correct age but it is 1949 that is in cold print, for posterity, forever, there is no correcting that.

It would have saved India Today two-and-a-half column centimetres of valuable newsprint. Morally, ethically, factually and legally India Today may have done the right thing, but all of that is of no consequence, as our government has so tellingly demonstrated in the case of the date of birth of General V K Singh, chief of our army staff.

I now firmly believe that nobody in this country needs to apologise anymore for making wrong entries about dates and years of birth. We have to brazen it out, insist that the date we have is the right date and don’t let minor irritants such as facts and legally valid birth documents shake our abiding faith in the false.

Every wrong entry is henceforth to be treated as the correct one and all other documents showing the correct date shall be deemed as wrong. Yes, we have it by the authority of the defence ministry’s order that directs the adjutant general to change the General’s date of birth to 1950 in all files of the army because 36 years ago somebody made one wrong entry in one farthing file.

It is possible that the defence ministry has taken inspiration from the Quixotic Asrani who proclaimed ages ago in a commercial for light bulbs: “Poore ghar ke badal daaloonga!” A bulb goes phut in Asrani’s house and he is off to buy a replacement. He is so impressed with the Laxman Sylvania sales pitch that he decides to replace all the bulbs in his house, even the good ones. Similarly, the defence ministry. Because it has found one file that suits its whims, all files must be changed. “Saare files badal daalenge!”

It is like that Telugu proverb about thick-headed persons who insist on establishing facts on the basis of semi-truths. “My rabbit has three legs,” it says and, as a corollary what it means is “hence all rabbits have only three legs”! By similar illogic, my file is the right file.

So, India Today should have followed the cue. Though it was off the mark by an astonishing 36 years, it wouldn’t have hurt anybody to have Ms Vyarawalla’s date of birth changed. She had retired a long while ago from active photography so it wouldn’t have upset any known or pre-determined line of succession. Be it families or organisations, there are not many with the foresight to pick their next three CEOs six years ago, you see.  

But, the second largest army in the world is not just any other organisation. It is honour-bound to implement the pre-determined line of succession come hell or high water. It’s a matter of the honour of the past chief who ordained this succession line and the future of the coming chiefs. So what if the present chief has to suffer for it?

Of course, there are many of you out there who are thinking I must have lost it. For those of you I have this to say: Yes, there is a completely different, saner way of looking at all this, such as asking the government to follow India Today’s lead rather than the other way round. Asking it to say sorry to the good general and let things rest. But I’m not yet so completely out of my mind as to believe that adamant governments will ever eat humble pie. 

No, India Today doesn’t have to be sorry. It’s now right to insist on the wrong date of birth.

This column has also appeared on First Post.



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