If you were to search the net for “ragged shots”, you might land up viewing some teenager in torn jeans having vodka shots in a downtown bar. Well, this phrase is far away from such a google-search result and probably unknown to many in the military as well.
Lemme then take you back to an old military tradition wherein a ceremonial farewell salute is given to a departed soldier by collective firing of rifle-shots by an assembly of troops. This firing is considered a solemn drill and needs to be executed with absolute precision timing and unison so that the emergent gunshot sound appears to come from one single rifle. Contrarily, If the troops have not been trained well, the resultant popping sound appears ragged and kind of clumsy. This is what is termed as a “ragged shot” and does not at all behove the occasion.
I touch upon this genealogy to lead to an interesting anecdote about a retired Army General who had quite a reputation in the army during his serving days for being an extreme stickler for quality and discipline. The General had fallen ill and been quite unwell for some time with a terminal affliction. He was admitted in the local military hospital and was literally on his deathbed with the merciful extension coming by the day.
During a courtesy visit by an Army dignitary who had come to enquire about his health, the ailing General in his extremely frail condition remarked “I have one last wish Commander.”
“Oh! Please tell me Sir” replied the Commander coming closer to hear him better.
“Can you please ensure that there are no ragged shots during my funeral?” requested the General in a faint voice.
“Yes of course Sir!” the Commander reassured him. “But I am sure that your condition is on the upswing, isn’t it Doc?”, he sought validation from the oncologist by the bedside.
The Commander had once upon a time served under the General and was naturally stunned, bemused and overwhelmed with admiration by the unusual request. It was unquestionably a statement about how the old man had lived his life.
Continuing with his polite conversation, he smilingly queried in a complimenting way, “Pardon me for asking General Vijay but please tell me how did you become such a perfectionist with an unparalleled penchant for excellence?”
“Now that you ask”, he shuffled in his bed, “Nurse Rinkita, can you please help me to sit down?”, he asked for a bit of help to get into a more comfortable posture.
“Like most of us in the military, I also picked up my basic lessons in this regard from my compulsory bed-making in the morning. No shortcuts, no deviations and no non-conformities from the rule book.”
“However, I find one incident hard to forget. I was a young officer in my late twenties holidaying in Japan with my newly-wedded wife. We were galivanting in Tokyo when a tourist guide suggested that we should visit the local Centre for Cultural Affairs to get a flavour of all things native. Off we trudged across for a very enjoyable day at the centre where we experienced the famous Tea ceremony with our first cup of green tea. Next on the line was an experience of wearing a royal kimono.”
He continued with unexplained vigour, “Although the kimono looks like just a fancy gown from the outside, it requires expert and professional hands to take you through the entire tying process for managing the internal knots. For this purpose, two old ladies from the nearby locality had been hired by the centre as part-time helpers.”
“We were shunted inside a rather big changing room where these two ladies helped us to change and very painstakingly went through the procedure of tying all the knots. Frankly, I was getting a bit impatient and restless with the elaborateness of their effort as all I wanted was to take a quick picture for remembrance with the Kimono thrown over my shoulder.”
So I said to my host cum translator, “Why do we need to go through this whole travesty (I didn’t want to sound rude by calling it a charade) when I could have clicked a photograph just like that? Moreover, how would anyone know that these knots have not been tied correctly or for that matter tied at all?”
To which he smiled and translated my words to the ladies who beamed shyly and replied in Japanese.
The host translated, “They are saying, there is a right way of doing everything. If we deviate, we will not be able to differentiate between right and wrong. And yes, if we take a shortcut, you will not come to know but we will always know.”
“I guess it was a gentle but stark lesson in integrity of work for me which negated all the jugaad theories I was brought up in. I could now see how the Japanese quality culture had been ingrained right from their grassroot level.”
“I came back after visiting a few more countries and now I could clearly fathom the differential. Earlier what I used to accept as normal and sometimes even praiseworthy was far from it. Incompetence became the new ‘frustration’ for me. As an engineer, I was aware that there was no dearth of standards and specifications. Besides the attitude part, it was the rigour in execution and quality which was lacking. Most people knew not otherwise. So there were no extra marks for doing it right and no guillotine for violations.”
“I knew that the best I could do was to sort out my sphere of influence rather than righting all the wrongs that I could now see. And that is how yours truly became a pain in the neck for many around him. Most people aligned, some would not, but I guess the structures we built still stand firm.”
“They surely do along with your famous resolve Sir” replied the Commander.
By now the patient was visibly drained out. The doctor gently indicated to the Commander that it was time to say goodbye which he did with a long-held hug.
Not unexpectedly, General Vijay passed away peacefully in the early morning hours.
The salutary gunshot salute during the funeral was impeccably smart and spot on. One single sound of “Phatt” and not “Phatrrrr”. The solemn crowd dispersed and a relieved Parade Commander went back to his car and dished out the Commander’s note from his pocket to read it one more time:
“God help you if there is a ragged shot today afternoon!”
First published at seekmediation.com on 24/09/22
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