Glacier Bay – Where the Birth of the World is Continuing

In the morning of 31 July after breakfast we played cards in the Card Room as the ship cruised its way into the Glacier Bay.  Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve contains some of the world’s most impressive tidewater glaciers. The bay has experienced at least four major glacial advances and four major retreats and serves as an outdoor research laboratory.  Glacier Bay has more than 50 named glaciers, as well as two major arms: East Arm and West Arm. The cruise ships head up the West Arm, towards the Margerie Glacier as it is the most impressive glacier, which is advancing three to four meter a day and calves frequently.

The glaciers in Glacier Bay are remnants of a general ice advance—the Little Ice Age—that began about 4,000 years ago. This advance is not comparable to continental glaciation that occurred during the Wisconsin Ice Age.  By about 1750, the Little Ice Age reached its maximum stage and a general recession of glaciers began.  200 years ago the Glacier Bay was covered by the Grand Pacific Glacier, which was more than 1,200 meter thick and about 30 km wide. Since then the ice has been retreating with the Glacier Bay  now having 20 separate glaciers, of which 11 are tidewater glaciers including Margerie Glacier that calve into the bay.

Margerie Glacier is named after French geologist and geographer Emmanuel de Margerie who visited the area in 1913.  The Glacier Bay was completely covered by ice in 1794 when Captain George Vancouver, a British officer of the Royal Navy, best known for his expedition which explored and charted North America’s North-Western Pacific Coast region was stopped by a wall of ice 32 km wide and 1,200 m high.  The ice wall has since retreated from the mouth of the bay and is only a remnant of the massive glacier seen by Vancouver.   Today, the ice flows have been recorded at Margerie Glacier at 610 meter per year or about 1.75 meter per day.

Like a river, the glacier flows down the mountain  choosing the path of least resistance. As it moves,  it swallows rocks into its lower layers. These  acquired rocks grind away at the bedrock, carving deep valleys in the  mountainside over the years.

When the ice reaches lower, warmer elevations, it begins to melt. Eventually the loss through melting is greater than the supply of ice flowing down the  mountain. Noe the glacier ceases to make further  progress, though the body of ice is still moving  down the mountains.  The length of time it takes for a snowflake that falls in the mountains to emerge at the end, or terminus of a glacier varies, depending on the speed at which the glacier is flowing. The ice visible at the face of the park’s glaciers today  is about 200 years old.

As we entered the Glacier Bay we first sighted the South Marble Island. This small island is the sunbathing spot of the gigantic Sea Lions. They lay on the rocks  with the dominant males sitting with their back arched and head erect.

Then came up the ‘Gloomy Knob’, a well rounded, dome shaped granite feature.  Surely it would have been smoothened by the glacial activities over the years.  The grass growing on the rocks formed the grazing pasture for the Mountain Goats.

After we passed the Gloomy Knob, a boat belonging to the US National Park Services came alongside our ship.  The Rangers from the boat boarded the ship through the rope-ladders provided by the ship’s crew.

These Rangers, lead by Ms Highsmith, the Warden,  conducted classes about the Glacier Bay, its ecology, geology, about the original inhabitants, etc.  She brought out as to how the current conservation effort has been a great success as they included the local inhabitants into it, respecting their beliefs, traditions and customs.

Our ship then moved closer to the Margerie Glacier, nearly a mile away to facilitate us to view the spectacle of calving.  Cows have calves, glaciers calve icebergs, which are chunks of ice that break off glaciers and fall into water. This is caused in the glaciers of the Glacier Bay due to the forward motion of the glacier and the erosive action of the salt water of the Pacific Ocean, the tidal waves and the wind.

As we stood on the deck watching the Margerie Glacier, it calved five times, each time bringing down a heavy volume of ice, falling into water with a thunderous sound.  It was a great natural spectacle showcasing the fury of the nature.

As our ship steamed off from the Glacier Bay, we all enjoyed a swim in the top deck swimming pool.

Next : Skagway – Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush

Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier

Our Ship sailed through the night after casting off from Whittier.  We had early breakfast and set out to explore the ship.

In the Mid-Ship was the lavishly decorated and well laid out Shopping Arcade with stores selling everything from Scotch Whisky to Jewellery.

The Shopping Arcade covered four floors, very done up with chandeliers, artwork, murals and et all.

Our ship entered Yakutat Bay by 11 AM from the Gulf of Alaska.  It was a breathtaking sight to see large icebergs that had calved out of the giant glaciers floating around.

On to the East was  St Elias mountains ranges.  The mountains rises like a white pyramid to an elevation of about 6000 meter in one of the world’s most dramatic transitions from sea to summit.  The Fairweather mountain ranges lies on the Eastern side of the Bay.  These mountains are scarred by glacial activity from the Ice Ages to date.

As we sailed through the Bay, more ice bergs, both small and big, were sighted as we sailed into Disenchantment Bay.  This bay was  named Puerto del Desengano (bay of disenchantment in Spanish) by Alessandro Malaspina in 1792, when he felt ‘disenchanted’ that the bay was not the entrance to the North-West Passage.  He was in fact looking to sail through the Arctic Ocean to Europe through the North-West Passage.

Map courtesy of the US Geological Survey

As our ship entered Disenchantment Bay, we could see Hubbard Glacier from over 50 km. This massive glacier is a staggering 125 km  long, 10 km wide, and 400 meter deep. Its face is over 100 meter high, which is as high as a 30-40 story building.  Hubbard Glacier,  is one of the over 110,000 glaciers in Alaska and is North America’s largest tidewater glacier. Hubbard Glacier was named in 1890 in honour of Gardiner G. Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic Society.

A Tidewater Glacier is fed by the snow that flow out of the mountains and down to the sea.  The saltwater of the sea ‘eat’ into the thick ice-wall, causing it to break off .  This process is called ‘calving’.

Hubbard Glacier has been thickening and advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska, in stark contrast with most glaciers, which have thinned and retreated during the last century. This atypical behaviour is an important example of the calving glacier cycle in which glacier advance and retreat is controlled more by the mechanics of calving than by climate fluctuations. If Hubbard Glacier continues to advance, it will close the seaward entrance of Russell Fiord and create the largest glacier-dammed lake on the North American continent as it has done in 1986 and 2002. Hubbard Glacier remains an ongoing study of calving glacier dynamics for the scientific community.

In 2002 the advancing terminus of Hubbard Glacier created a glacier lake dam which turned Russell Fiord in to a lake for about two and a half months. Rising water in the newly formed lake altered local hydrology and was a threat to nearby communities. During the two and a half months that the channel was dammed, Russell Lake rose 20 meter. In 1986 a similar scenario resulted when the glacier caused dam raised the lake level 27 meter over the course of five months. Erosion of ice dam from saltwater eventually carved a new outlet channel and restored the fiord to its previous elevation in both cases.

Our ship after being in the Disenchantment Bay for over two hours turned around.  During this manoeuvre, the ship’s propellers churned out the glacial deposits brought down by the calving ice bergs and deposited on the ocean floor.

After spending another two hours in the Disenchantment Bay, our ship sailed for the Glacier Bay.  We all were really ‘enchanted’ by the natural beauty of the hills, the bay, the floating icebergs.  We were not at all ‘disenchanted’ as we were surely not looking for the North-West Passage to Europe.

As our ship sailed ahead from the Disenchantment Bay, we watched the Sun setting into the Pacific Ocean – It was 10:45 PM.

Next :  Glacier Bay – Where the Birth of the World is Continuing

Alaska – Here We Are

During the summer of 2017, we along with Stephens, our travel companions, booked Alaskan Cruise on Coral Princess luxury liner.  The cruise commenced from Whittier, Alaska, USA, sailing South-East and ending at Vancouver, British Columbia (BC),  Canada.

On 29 July 2017, we boarded the early morning Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver on the first leg of our Alaskan Cruise.  The flight duration was of about five hours, but the clock only moved by two hours because the clock had to be set back by three hours as the time zone of Vancouver is three hours behind Toronto.

The five hours flight was made more comfortable than the regular one as the aircraft, an Airbus 319 variant deployed was the special charter plane used to fly various teams of the National Hockey League (NHL).  The aircraft had only 60 seats, that too all First Class, with all the accessories like comforters, extra legroom, LCD screens, etc.  Thank you Air Canada.

After a two hour stopover at Vancouver, we flew to Anchorage, the largest Alaskan City.  We were impressed by the Military Lounge at the Anchorage Airport.  An effective way to project the power of a strong military, thus a strong nation, especially to  foreign tourists.  A country that respects its soldiers will always be powerful for sure.

We boarded the bus for Whittier where Coral Princess, our cruise liner was anchored.  The route between Anchorage and Whittier on the Portage Glacier Highway was very scenic.  The road ran parallel to the railway track, both hugging the coastline.  We passed through the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, known as Potter’s Marsh, a good place to spot migratory birds, water fowl and moose.

The road continued along the Turnagain Arm, a body of water featuring the world’s second highest tides at over 30 feet.  We passed through the Girdwood and Portage Glacier and the bus stopped at the entrance of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, also known as the Whittier Tunnel. It is highway and railway tunnel that passes under Maynard Mountain. At 13,300 ft (4,100 m), it is the second-longest highway tunnel and longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.

We alighted from the bus at the banks of a lake formed by the melting Portage Glacier.  As the tunnel is one-way and is also shared by the railway, there is a schedule for the traffic passing through it.  All the vehicles assembled in the staging area at the entrance of the tunnel.  At the scheduled time the convoy moved with the buses leading the way.  The buses being public transport are given preference over cars.

The Whittier Tunnel was constructed in 1941 to use Whittier as a rail port during World War II.  It is named after Anton Anderson (1892–1960), Chief Engineer of the Alaska Railroad Company and Mayor of City of Anchorage from 1956 to 1958.  The tunnel’s entrance portals are designed in an ‘A’ shape, with a large  door, which allows traffic in and out of the tunnel. The entrance portals are designed to withstand the force of an avalanche.

The ride through the 4 km tunnel was for about 15 minutes and surely there is light always at the other end of the tunnel.  As we emerged out of the tunnel at the  Whittier Port, Coral Princess, our cruise liner anchored there, came into our view for the first time.

Whittier came into prominence during World War II as it offered a shorter voyage into the Pacific Ocean and reduced exposure of ships to Japanese submarines.  It also reduced the risk of Japanese aircrafts  bombing the port facilities because of the high mountains around the port and bad weather for which Alaska is very famous for.  It pours all through the year and gets less than a month of bright sunshine every year.

We were escorted into our cabin E731 on the eight floor of the ship.  The cabin was very spacious and comfortable with a balcony facing the ocean.

Adjacent to the port was the small boats and fishing boat jetty and also the railway station where a train was waiting its schedule to cross through the tunnel.

The ship casted off at 8:30 PM and we all headed straight to our watering holes for our first drink on board.

How did Alaska become the fiftieth state of the United States of America, detached from the mainland USA with Canada in between?

Russians colonised Alaska in the 17th century and exploited the local resources like fur and gold.  When Crimean War broke out in 1853, Britain, France and Turkey stood against Russia. Russia could neither supply nor defend Alaska during the was as the sea routes were controlled by the allies’ ships. There was a fear that the British might blockade Alaska or even seize it.

Tensions between Moscow and London grew, while relations with the American authorities were warmer than ever. Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, believing the United States would off-set the designs of Russia’s greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Britain. The US Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, on March 30, 1867, US agreed to a Russian proposal to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million. The Senate approved the treaty of purchase on April 9, President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty on May 28, and Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867.

For three decades after its purchase the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military, naval, or Treasury rule or, at times, no visible rule at all. Seeking a way to impose US mining laws, the United States constituted a civil government in 1884. Major gold deposit was discovered in the Yukon (Canada) in 1896, and Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields. Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959.

Next – Hubbard Glacier at Yakutat Bay

To Sir Without Love

‘Sir’ is a term for addressing males who have been given certain honours or titles (such as knights and baronets) in Commonwealth Countries and is strictly governed by law and custom. The term is also commonly used as a respectful way to address a commissioned military officer – surely not civilians. Equivalent term in the feminine gender would be ‘madam’ and a young woman, girl, or unmarried woman may be addressed ‘miss’. A knighted woman or baronetess is a ‘Dame’ and a ‘Lady’ would be the wife of a knight or baronet.

In Kottayam, Kerala, there is a girls’ school called Baker Memorial Girls High School. The school was established by Amelia Dorothea Baker (1820-1904) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Miss Baker married John Johnson, another CMS missionary, who passed away in 1846. Miss Baker remained in-charge of the school in Kottayam till 1855. Her two sisters married CMS missionaries and three daughters of her brother Henry Baker Jr became teachers at the very same school. (Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H Anderson, Page 336)

The school today stands as a memorial to celebrate the efforts of the three generations of missionaries who dedicated their lives for the empowerment of the women of Kottayam through education. The common folk of Kottayam until my student days called it as Miss Baker School. Remember, it was during the British Raj and everyone addressed the founder headmistress of the school, very respectfully, as ‘Miss Baker’. Today, could any student in the very same school address their teacher ‘Miss Anita?’ I have often heard them addressing their teacher as Anita Miss (I could never make out as to what Miss Anita ‘missed’!)

On joining Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in Grade 5 in 1971, our first Class-Master was Mr MJ Raman, our Mathematics teacher. We were about 25 of us from Kerala and only one could understand English and the rest 24 of us knew only Malayalam. In the first class Mr Raman issued us all the books, stationary, etc and briefed us in English and surely I did not get much of what he said.

We then had an English class by Mr KG Warrier. He asked us something like “Who asked you to do it?” in his Oxford accent and the boy who knew a bit of English promptly replied “Raman Sir told us to do it.” Mr Warrier now said “I know that Dr CV Raman was knighted, but did not know that Mr MJ Raman was also knighted. You all will address your teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames.” Those words were imprinted on our young minds and through all these decades until now, we have always revered our teachers but invariably addressed them as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’, orally and in writing. Culturally, in Kerala as well as the rest of India, these modes of address have undergone a ‘mutation’. Today, it would be sacrilege for a college student to address his professor as ‘Mister Singh’

Please Click Here to read Blog-Posts about our teachers at Sainik School Amatavathi Nagar https://rejinces.net/category/sainik-school/

In Canadian high schools, students mostly address their teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames. In the universities, some professors during their introduction class would specify their requirement. Some want to be addressed in the traditional manner and many with their first names or even shortened first names.

While interacting with an Indian immigrant teacher in Canada, he said he felt uncomfortable when the students addressed him as ‘Mr George.’ He had taught in a college in India for over two decades and everyone addressed his as ‘Sir’ and he felt that the Canadian students are disrespecting their teachers by not addressing them as ‘Sir.’

Addressing male teachers as ‘Sir’ and all females irrespective of marital status as ‘Miss’ shows a massive status disparity and sexism of previous years. According to Times Educational Supplement, ‘Sir’ was first used in Sixteenth Century classrooms when male teachers of a lower social standing were attempting to reinforce their authority among largely upper-class boys. ‘Miss’ (surely not anywhere near the status of ‘Sir’) is largely a Victorian era creation when women were pressurised to give up work after they married, with a number of schools only hiring single female teachers.

In the Dutch education system, children address teachers by their first name, using ‘juf’ or ‘juffrouw’ as a title for a female and ‘meester’ for a male teacher. Australians address their teachers as Mr/Mrs/Ms and surname. Sometimes if a teacher has a long or difficult-to-pronounce name, it is shortened to Mr PK, etc.

In Finland, it’s first names or even nick-names with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society there is very informal. French kids use the terms ‘maîtresse’ and ‘maître’ for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply ‘teacher’. German students address teachers by using ‘Herr/Frau’ and surname, using ‘Sie’ as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, Koennen Sie…).

How do you wish to address your teachers? How do you wish your children addressed their teachers?

Teenage Binge Drinking

Our friend Joseph Kurian (Joe) while cleaning up his daughter Meera’s room found a bottle of Cognac. He wanted to know how to handle the situation.  His fear, the usual one with all North American parents of teens – ‘Going against an 18 year old in America is like threading a mine field with no metal detectors.’

It is very common for kids high school kids to consume alcohol.  I found many of my scotch bottles near empty  a few times.  I knew our son had done the job.  He recently asked me as to why I never asked him about it.  My reply was “Had it been your Dad, he would have poured water to maintain the level, ending up screwing the scotch.  Thank God! You did not do it.”

Nikhil said “From where can High-School kids get alcohol?  Obviously they got to take it from their dad’s bar.  Else they have to take help of an adult to procure it from a store that calls for money.  So the easiest way out is always resorted to by the teens and our parties cannot go ahead without alcohol.”

After his high school graduation party, they had after-party and after-after-party at other friend’s homes and we picked him up next morning at 11 AM.  Marina asked him as to how the party was and he said “Most kids did not know how to drink.  They threw up all over and many girls ended up crying.  At the end I realised that every girl was out to stab every other girl in the back – Oh! These Girls are really complicated.  We boys are much simpler. My group did not have any problem as I had taught them how to drink.”

“What have you learned?” Marina asked.

Nikhil explained that “You take a glass of water, take a bite before drinking.  Take time with the first drink – Do not gulp it down.  Take a bite, drink a  glass of water, take a stroll through the party hall, dance for a song, release the pressure in the washroom if needed and the ritual continues for the entire night.”

Now Marina asked “Who taught you this?”

“Dad” came the instant answer.

Marina vented everything on to me to which Nikhil said “You do not teach swimming to a kid by standing on the ground.  You got to put him in Water.”

Now Joe  has to put Meera in Water and help her tread it.  She needs an instructor, a coach to tread this ‘water’ and surely there is a need for a lifeguard.  Who else can do this better than the Dad?  All rolled into one.

Teens have been experimenting with alcohol.  During teenage the kids are more vulnerable to addiction as the pleasure center of the brain matures much before the decision making part.  Most of these teens give up on alcohol as they grow up as the ‘thrill’ dies down.  Kids who have their first drink at age 14 or younger are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try alcohol until the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA).

It is interesting to note that 19 countries do not lay down any MLDA like  Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Indonesia, etc.

Countries where MLDA is between 16 and 17 are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, etc.

MLDA is between 18 and 19 in  Australia, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vatican City, etc.

It is capped at 20 in Iceland, Japan, Paraguay, Thailand and Uzbekistan and is at 21 in USA, Sri Lanka etc.

In 16 countries it is illegal to consume alcohol; at any age – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In India MLDA is between 18 and 25.  It varies by state. In New Delhi, MLDA is 25, while in Goa it is 18.  For sure, no one implements it and there is no one to monitor it.  Most of our nephews and nieces in India, Canada and US said they had alcohol during their high school days.

Binge drinking, that is consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, may cause teens to pass out, feel sick, or behave abnormally.  As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, drinking too much, too fast, slows bodily functions, resulting in the drinker to lose consciousness.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher, relative or friend, one has an important role to play.  Kids from families where alcohol dependency or abuse is more appear to keep away from it.    Preserving family rituals, such as keeping established daily routines and celebrating holidays, also can make a difference in steering kids clear of alcohol abuse.

The need of the hour is to openly communicate with the teens about alcohol.  Many are not sure as to when to commence talking about it.  The teens are always confused as to what to drink and when to commence.  Mostly it is a group activity ending up in a ‘show-off’ scenario.  The parents need to set the stage early by letting the teens know that they can talk to you about anything, without the heavens coming down.

Our nephew Jojy, an engineering graduate commented that had the situation like Meera’s happened to his sister at home, he cannot imagine the resultant actions.  Marina often speaks to our kids about her father and my younger brother who went in for alcohol de-addiction programmes.  She also speaks about her and my experiences with drinking.

It is very important for the parents to set a practical MLDA at home.  The ultimate is communication with the children and in awkward situation, take a deep breath, think about your own teenage days and express your feelings in a positive way, without any finger pointing or pontification.

Please read my earlier Blog Post ‘Importance of Parent-Child Communication’ by clicking here.

Teenage binge drinking is resorted to by many teens, but never deal with it lightly.  It is ultimately your open communication and knowing your kid will pay rich dividends in all such matters.

My conversation with Joe ended with a note ‘Meera seems to be very classy – she got a costly Cognac bottle.  Next would be a condom! So, start preparing for that.  We will cross the bridge when it comes.  I do not want to preempt you with my dose of advise.’

 

 

Legendary Lungi

Legendary Lungi

For me, undoubtedly most comfortable evening home wear has always been the down to earth ‘Lungi’.  It is extremely comfortable and is an all season wear.  It is unisex – wearable by both men and women.  It is easy to wear without any hassles of zips, buttons or laces.  One got to  just tie at the waist.  Tying a Lungi at the waist is surely not any rocket science, but to ensure that it remains there is surely an art by itself.  Lungi surely provides free movement for the lower limbs and also air circulation, especially  ideal for the hot and humid climate of Kerala.

A Lungi is a cotton sheet about 2 meter in length and about a meter and a half in breadth and is characterised  by its floral or window-curtain patterns.  By design, surely one-size-fits-all, both males and females and surely does not have any caste creed or religion.  The only variation is that Muslims of Kerala wear it right to left, whereas others wear it  left to right.  It is very difficult for a normal eye to make out this subtle difference.  Lungi is worn in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Thailand. ‘Mundu’ is its white cousin and is worn mostly outdoors  in Kerala- to church, family functions and even to office.

While serving in the Indian Army, I wore a Lungi to bed, even in remote border posts – at altitudes above 10,000 feet when the mercury dipped to nearly 30 degrees below the freezing mark.  I wore it while serving in the North in Kashmir, in the West in the deserts of Rajasthan and in the humid jungles of Eastern India. It surely had no combat or camouflaged design or pattern as it was not an Army ‘issue’ item and surely did not figure in the ‘Dress Regulations for the Army.’

Once on my trip home on vacation from Sikkim, I called on Colonel Baby Mathew who was commanding an Artillery Regiment located near the airport from where I was to board the flight home.  On reaching the main gate of his regiment, the sentry on guard saluted me smartly and said “Our CO (Commanding Officer) is waiting at his residence for your arrival” and he then gave directions to the driver about the route.  On entering Colonel Mathew’s residence I heard his voice saying “Head straight to my bedroom.”  There was Colonel Mathew, sitting on his bed, adorned in his favourite Lungi.  He ordered me to change into my Lungi and join him for a hot lunch of Kappa (Kasava or Tapioca) and fish curry – a Kerala Christian favourite.  While partaking the meal, Colonel Mathew said “I have placed my residence out of bounds for all ranks for the next 24 hours” – meaning no one to come near his house until I was there.  Obviously the Commanding Officer did not want his command to see him and his friend in their Lungi.

In June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  The entire Indian Army had moved into their operational locations after the attack on the Indian Parliament building by terrorists believed to have come in from Pakistan.  The Indian Railways ensured that our Regiment, like all the other units of the Indian Army, were transported to their operational locations at super-high priority in two days.  The Military Special trains moved at speeds greater than that of many express trains and were accorded the highest priority.

The move back to Devlali from Rajasthan was the opposite.  An Army which did not even fire a single bullet, an army which did not fight a war surely  had no priorities in anyone’s mind.  The Military Special trains stopped at every possible station, even to give way to the goods trains.  Now we were the lowest priority in the eyes of the Indian Railways.  The onward move executed in less than two days now was sure to take a week.

On the day of our train’s move from Jodhpur (Rajasthan), the soldiers loaded all the vehicles and equipment on the train.  After accomplishing the task, the Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) Thangaswamy had a roll-call to ensure everyone was present and also to brief the soldiers about the return journey.  As I looked out of my railway coach’s window, I saw the entire regiment standing.  I had a brain wave – “Why carry all the soldiers on the train?  About a hundred of them is all what I require, mainly to ensure the security and safety of the train and the equipment.  Why not the rest of the soldiers be send on leave as many had not met their families for a prolonged time due to the operational commitments?  Also, less of a trouble for the chefs to cook meals on a running train and less of administrative issues.”  I stepped out of my coach wearing my Lungi and a shirt and ordered Subedar Major Thangaswamy to only keep about a hundred soldiers and disperse the rest on leave for a week to rejoin at Devlali.  Everyone’s face suddenly brightened up but with that I was christened “Lungi CO”.

After moving to Canada, on a warm and sunny summer morning, I was watering the garden wearing my all time favourite Lungi.  There appeared our neighbour, Mr Win of Chinese descent and on seeing me wearing a colourful and comfortable costume enquired “Reji, what skirt are you wearing- looks really colourful.” -That was it! I discarded my favourite Lungi forever.

Jonah the Musical

On 01 July 2017, we along with Stephens, our travel companions, set out early morning to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA.  After eight hours of car ride from Toronto, we reached our hotel and checked-in by about 10 AM.

Lancaster is nicknamed the Garden Spot of America or Pennsylvania Dutch Country and located in South Central Pennsylvania.  The county is home to America’s oldest Amish settlement, where thousands still lead the age old lifestyle – without motor cars, without modern gadgets like cell phones, computers etc – but with their horse buggies, ploughs pulled by mules, homes without electricity etc.  It is called Dutch Country as most Amish settlers are of German (Deutsch) descend and have nothing to do with the present Netherlands.  It is called the Garden Spot because of the well drained plain farmlands which support agriculture, the mainstay of the Amish people.

In the evening we watched the Biblical Stage Show – Jonah by  Sight & Sound Theatre, a Christian faith-based, company -complete with grandiose sets, costumes befitting the time period, music and songs, use of modern technology like GPS to move various props around the huge stage – it was amazing. The center stage was very wide, and they also had props and action the left stage and the right stage.  They used the aisles in the seating area too for the actors and animals to make their entry.  They lighted up the ceiling of the theatre to immerse the audience into the ambience of day, night, storm, underwater – it was a journey into a different world.

The cast was fantastic and everyone fitted into their roles and the story being told very well.  Kudos to the technical and arts team, the changes of the sets were flawless and smooth.  In minutes one was transported from a little town to a sea port, then to a ship bumping through the storm ravaged seas to an evil town.  The props were magnificent and huge -especially the ship covering almost half the stage.  The details have been really gone into designing the ship with all its sails, masts and the most amazing was the lower deck when the hull opens to show the inside of the ship.  Truly Fantastic!

It was real technical wizardry and art on display all through the two hour show.  They have made three dimensional ancient cities come live with people and animals.  A fleet of boats sailing across the stage, and a 50 foot ship being tossed up and down in a storm at sea is amazing.  After intermission, the entire theatre is transformed to an undersea world with schools of exotic fish swimming about, beautiful iridescent jellyfish floating above our heads, sharks prowling for prey, colourful clownfish and seahorses swimming around, and a giant whale swimming over our head.

The story of Jonah has been scripted very well with a fine touch of humour.  The story has been extended to fill two hours, but will never distract the audience even for a second.  The story dates back to about 700 years before Christ where in a boy, Jonah gets a prophecy from God about the victory of the king of the Israelites.  When it comes true, he is declared a prophet and everyone waits for more prophecies.  God does not appear to Jonah thereafter, but the people of Gath-Hepher erect a heroic statue of him.

One day God ordered Jonah to go to Nineveh to declare the city’s wickedness and impending destruction.  Jonah does not want to save the people of Nineveh as his father was killed by soldiers from Nineveh and he hates the city and its people.  This forces Jonah to flee.

He goes to Joppa, a seaport and embarks on a ship sailing to Tarshish.  A storm rages and the ship is battered and tossed around by it.  Jonah, realising that the storm is God send to curtail his journey to Tarshish, orders the Captain to throw him off the ship.  Thus the storm dies down.

Jonah falls into the deep sea and the audience are transported into a serenely beautiful undersea world.  Jonah is gulped down by a huge whale and he survives this encounter for three days.  He repents and prays to God for mercy.  Now God wants Jonah to help the people of Nineveh find redemption.  God ensures that Jonah is thrown out from the whale’s stomach to land in the City of Nineveh.  Jonah keeps avoiding the people of  Nineveh as he hates his father’ killers, but ultimately understands the idea of forgiveness and redemption and saves the people.

The music and the songs in the play were apt and spectacular, especially the powerful voice of the Queen of Nineveh.   The show was supported by about 25 stage technicians who run the show and the 48 actors who star in it.  They all have done a remarkable job bringing a story alive both as a spectacle and as a Biblical message.

Some history behind the Sight & Sound Theatre.  It was founded by Glenn Eshelman who painted landscapes as a boy. As he grew up, Glenn continued to pursue his artistic interests, eventually buying a camera to take reference photos for his paintings. After marrying Shirley, Glenn sold his artwork out of the trunk of his car to make a living. In 1964 he presented a scenic photography slide-show at a local church using a slide projector, a turntable for musical underscore and a microphone for narration. This was the first unofficial “Sight & Sound” show.  By the mid-1970’s, Glenn and Shirley took their slide-shows around the United States.  They formed the Living Waters Theatre in 1976, marking the birth of  Sight & Sound Theatres.

In January 1997, a devastating fire destroyed the theatre, but the couple rebuilt it in 18 months.  The new 2000-seat, state-of-the-art theater featured a massive, 300-foot panoramic stage that wrapped around the audience, with the ability to house sets four stories tall.  They have now further enhanced the theatre by incorporating the modern technological light & sound equipment and software, coupled with other technologies like GPS and digital communication.