Movie Screening at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar

Nostalgia struck me when I read a Facebook post by a very senior alumni of our school about the movie – The Guns of Navarone.  It was the second English movie I watched in my life.  The first English movie was Mackenna’s Gold.  The next English movie was Where Eagles Dare.

When I joined the school in 1971, I knew only Malayalam and English was all alien.  The ‘scary’ scenes in all these movies ensured that I closed my eyes and slept off in 15 minutes.  I later watched all these classics.

A movie was screened every Saturday, Tamil, Hindi, English and occasionally a Malayalm movie.  The swimming pool doubled up as an open-air movie theatre with the viewers sitting on the stadium steps, and the screen placed on the opposite side of the swimming pool.  Later, the old Senior Cadets’ Mess was converted into a movie theatre.  The cadets had early dinner on Saturday at 7 PM and the screening commenced at 8 PM – after it became dark.

Mr P Gurumoorthy with our classmate Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal – Vice Chief of Naval Staff (Roll No 870)

Mr P Gurumoorthy, our Mathematics Teacher, an expert in local liaison, was responsible for procuring the movie and the late Mr PT Cherian, our Physics Teacher was responsible for the screening.  To read more about Mr PT Cherian, please click here.

Mr Gurumoorthy was better known as the Naval Officer in the National Cadets Corps.  The sight of him in his crisp white Naval uniform was the main motivating factor for many of our friends choosing to opt for the Indian Navy at the National Defence Academy.  He was instrumental in I choosing the Indian Navy as my first option, but the medical authorities decided that I was fit for the Army only.

 

The projector used then was RCA Photophone 35mm which used a carbon arc to throw the image of the celluloid film on to the big screen.  Today’s digital screening had not come in.  The movies came in reels – each reel 1000 feet long, running for about ten minutes.  The Indian movies were generally of 16 reels, running for about two and a half  hours and English movies about 10 to 12 reels, of about 90 minutes to two hours.  The reels of a movie were enclosed in steel boxes and were physically transported from theatre to theatre, often by bus or train. 

To reduce cost of production and keeping in mind commercial viability, a Tamil movie was released in about 25 cities/ towns of Tamil Nadu.  Theatres in Udumalpet (Udumalaippettai,) the closest town to Amaravathi Nagar – about 25 km away – hardly ever received a new release Tamil movie.  It featured in the ‘Second-Run’ towns – that meant that a Tamil movie was screened a month or two after its release.  English and Hindi movies came mostly six months to year, many much later, after their release. 

English and Hindi movies ran as morning shows on Saturdays and Sundays at Udumalpet theatres.  After the Saturday’s morning show, the reels were despatched by bus to Amaravathi Nagar and was screened in the evening.  Sunday morning, the first bus carried the reels back to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to screen their Sunday morning show.

Tamil movies were screened in Udumalpet theatres as regular shows – matinee (3 to 5:30 PM), first show (6 to 8:30 PM) and second show (9:30 PM to midnight.)  Now how to get those reels to far away Amaravathi Nagar on a Saturday evening when the movie was playing its regular shows?

Illustration by Sherrin Koduvath

After the movie played its first five reels, it was loaded into the bus on its last trip at 7 PM from Udumalpet and the bus reached Amaravathi Nagar a few minutes before 8 PM.  As the swimming pool was very close to the bus-stand, the screening commenced immediately thereafter.

Mr Menon on his Bullet Motorcycle, stationed at the theatre in Udumalpet, carried the next six reels at 8 PM and reached Amaravathi Nagar by 8:30 PM.  He returned with the reels played till then to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to commence their second show.  Then he carried the last six reels to Amaravathi Nagar and returned them after screening. What an idea Sir Ji!!!!  

How was any delay in this clock-work precise operation covered?  Mr Gurumoorthy had an answer.  The local theatre had bits and pieces of song and dance sequences and fight scenes, cut out from reels of Hindi and English movies.  These were screened to keep the viewers engaged, as Mr Menon raced to the theatre with fresh reels.

Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556) reminisces:-Prior to 1969, the school had only a 16 mm projector. The movies were all ‘black and white’ English movies. Maybe, there were no Tamil and Hindi movies available in that format.

That time, Chera, Chola, Pandya and Bharathi Houses dined in the longish shed. Bigger strength Pallava and Valluvar Houses dined in the Boxing Arena. On Saturdays, if a movie was to be screened, we had to pick up our chairs after lunch and deposit them on the lawn that existed between the two sheds. The mess staff took out the dining tables and made seating arrangement for viewing the movie. Dinner was served outside.

90% of 5th and 6th Graders fell asleep as soon as the movie started. For one, we were tired, and the other, we could not understand the language.  Subtitles and close captioning were not heard of or seen. The film strips often broke or Mr Cherian had to change the spool with the help of his lab assistant Manuel. He switched on a lamp he had on his switch board, and wake us from the slumber. After the movie was over, we were woken up and sleep walked back to the dorms.

Sometime in 1969, a 35 mm projector was installed in the swimming pool and the first movie to be screened was Sivaji Ganesan & Jayalalitha starrer ‘Enga Mama’ – remake of Hindi Film Brahmachari) The students sat on the bleachers, while the Staff sat on the top arena. We started watching movies in Eastman color. Since it was an outdoor pool, the movie screening was dependent on weather. Some evenings the movie show was cancelled even while we were eating our early dinner of tomato rice and kaajaa. There have been occasions we had to scoot half way through the movie, due to unexpected showers.

Apparently, around 1974, the movie screening moved back to the good old ‘longish’ shed, but with a proper projection room and 180 degree change in the viewing direction – with the stage now becoming the balcony.

Some of the daring 11th Graders (senior most then) sometimes sneaked off to Udumalpet on a Saturday evening, watch a movie, sleep in the bus stand and return on Sunday morning. Not many attempted this risky business, anyway.’ 

Veteran General PM Hariz (Roll No 579) writes:-Whilst watching 16 mm movies like No Man is an Island – a 1962 war film about the exploits of George Ray Tweed, a US Navy radioman who avoided capture and execution by the Japanese during World War II;  Sinbad the Sailor – a 1947 fantasy film about the daredevil sailor Sinbad, who embarks on a voyage across the Seven Seas to find the lost riches of Alexander the Great; etc, changing of reels took some time.  This dead time was for the singing talents to pelt a few numbers.  I vividly recollect Om Prakash (Roll No 285)- our short hockey wizard – singing ‘Asman sey aaya farishta’ and using the reel cover as the dhol (drum.)

Movie watching at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar will forever linger in the minds of all its alumni.

Early Summer Flowers : 2021

We all love to see colourful blossoms in our garden. These blooms are meant to attract pollinators. This completes the Mother Nature’s cycle of sex and reproduction. Insects, the major pollinators, their activity in our garden picks up in late June, July and early August and as a result she has planned things nicely: this is the most intense flowering period in the garden. Perennials that flower for the longest period of time and attract the greatest number of insects.
Hydrangeas come in various shades of blues, vibrant pinks, frosty whites, lavender, and rose—sometimes all blooming on the same plant! The colour of the blooms depend largely on the pH value of the soil – Acidic soils with a pH of less than 5.5 produce blue flowers; soils with a pH greater than 5.5 produce pink flowers. White flowers are not affected by pH.
Smooth hydrangeas are among the most popular hydrangeas that are white such as ‘Annabelle,’ ‘Incredi-ball,’ and ‘Invincibelle Wee White.’
The Daisy gets its name from the Sun. Daisy is a feminine given name that comes from the day’s eye. They are known for blooms that are flat and disc-shaped, with petals that form rays projecting outward from a central hub.
Daisies are composite flowers composed of 15 to 30 white ray petals surrounding a centre consisting of bright yellow disk, though other colour combinations are common.
Shasta Daisies bear all-white daisy petals, yellow disk florets, and contrasting glossy, dark green leaves. It was bred by American horticulturist Luther Burbank and named it after the snow-capped Mount Shasta, in California.

Blanket-Flower, the daisy-like flowers of rich reds and yellows in circular concentration, blooms throughout the summer.
Named after the Native Indian’s blankets – the colour the flowers resemble, attracts humming birds and butterflies.
Cone-flowers are popular perennials, come in glorious shades of pink, orange, yellow, and red.
Purple cone-flower (Echinacea Purpurea), is most common, there are other varieties too.
It’s from herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. and are found only in eastern and central North America.
Snapdragons have tall spikes of brightly coloured flowers that bloom profusely in cooler weather. Most are intensely coloured and real standouts in our garden. Snapdragon flowers start blooming at the bottom of the stalk and work their way up, making for a long period of bloom.
Numerous varieties of snapdragon exist with dwarf, intermediate and tall flowering stems that provide a range of colors to work with in the garden.
Snapdragons are available in most colours except blue. There are approximately 40 different species of snapdragons, and they are from the family Plantaginaceae, the family of plantains.
The origin of snapdragons is uncertain but it is believed to have been from countries such as Spain and Italy. Snapdragon may reach up to 3 feet or as short as 6 inches. They are also known as ‘dragon flowers’, and the Latin name ‘Antirrhinum’ means ‘counterfeiting nose’ or ‘like a snout’.
The common name derives from the shape of the individual flower heads, which resemble the snout of a dragon, and which even open and close in a snapping motion, as often happens when pollinators open the jaws to reach the pollen.
Snapdragons come in different variations of pink, purple, lavender, white, yellow, orange or burgundy. They are the perfect flowers for the spring and summer seasons since they are usually available at around this time of year!
Lilies (lilium,) come in many colours and types, from exotic-looking stargazer lilies with painted petals speckled in both light and dark dots, to elegant white lilies that sparkle with pure white petals and red stamens.
All lilies comprises large, brilliantly coloured triangular petals that open wide and curl back to reveal delicate stamen in the center of the bloom. They produce intoxicating fragrance.
The lily is ranked as the fourth most popular flower across the world. The blooms open at various times, most lilies live one to two weeks. They come in various colours – white, yellow, pink, red and orange.
White lily signifies, modesty and virginity while Red lilies symbolise passion.
Orange lily stands for passion
Yellow lilies symbolise thankfulness and desire for enjoyment.
Tiger lily, named for its orange with brown spots, in Buddhism represents mercy and compassion
Pink lilies symbolise prosperity and abundance.
Lilies are social plants, growing best in groups of three to five.
Lilies have one of the longest in-vase life spans of any cut bloom, to keep them longer is to clear out the pollen from their centers. This will also prevent staining on the petals.
Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves. Rabindranath Tagore

Train Them Young

Teach the kids to do all chores at home – you will be a proud parent because you will gift a son or a daughter who can do the dishes, cut the veggies and clean toilets to your future daughter/ son-in-law.  

You must have come across a kid tearing a shop upside-down for being refused a toy; a kid holding the parents to ransom for some gizmo in the electronic shop; threatening the parents with dire consequence for not buying a motorcycle; screaming their guts out as the child could not get a window seat on an airplane or bus; and so on.  These are entitled kids, and they grow into entitled adults.  That kid in his entire life did no chores at home other than disturbing the cushions on the couch.

An entitled kid expects food on the table; to be provided with snacks and drinks at their beck and call; the choice of food  to be more like a restaurant menu; someone else or the household help will make their beds, clean up their mess, not follow any time schedules – even to eat or sleep.

Most of us did not enjoy doing chores around our homes. I certainly did not. We were in a Sainik (Military) School from age nine and we had no choice, but to do everything – making our beds,  polishing our shoes, keeping the dorms and the area around clean – the list was endless. We all grew up totally unentitled.

When should kids start taking on household chores?

The latest study says as early as two years old. They should begin with age-appropriate tasks, under parental or senior sibling’s observation – clearing up toys, arranging their books, wearing clothes, etc.  A child is not born with all the skills to do all of these chores right away, so a little guidance and encouragement is necessary.  This will ensure that your child grows unentitled and will not develop into an entitled adult.  No parents want to raise entitled kids.

A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs.  Making children do chores at home and making them participate in all family activities is the responsibility of parents. Let your kids feel like they are part of this family team and they have to pitch in! Doing chores together help kids feel connected to the family.

Chores teach kids to take care of themselves and do basic activities like clean, cook and maintain the space around them, etc. Giving kids simple responsibilities around the home will inculcate self-reliance and responsibility. It also gives a small much needed breather to the parents.  Kids are not born perfectionist; hence expect them to whine and take too long to complete the task.  It will never be up to your expectations, but they will soon be there with a little encouragement and guidance from you.  Many a times, you will end up doing it all over, take it that it’s the best training your kid can get.  Ultimately, isn’t it so much easier to do it ourselves! Remember – Everything begins at home.

Children will never learn these by mere observation – They got to do it themselves.  Parents have to show the way and also explain to them how to do it.  They must also thank them for their effort and also tell them as to how their participation in the chore helped the household.  It will teach the child the importance of helping others

Have you ever written a note to the school teacher explaining a reason for the kid not completing an assignment like the dog chewed on the completed work, the hard-disk of the computer got accidentally formatted, the laptop computer crashed?  You have robbed your child of an opportunity to be responsible and advocate for themselves at school.  It’s a sure way of setting them up for failure, which none of us want.  We want to see them scaling greater heights, turn into valuable citizens and proud members of the society.  That needs a lot of hard work – both from the parent and the child.  It isn’t that easy.

When we do things for them all the time, it hinders their development and keeps them from succeeding on their own.  It ends up as a message to our children that we don’t believe in their abilities. If you develop your child to be an entitled teen/ adult, they will expect their spouse, their roommate, or you to do everything for them.  If your kid hasn’t consistently done chores, it’s never too late to start, particularly if you’re really open with them about why you’re making the change and what your new expectations are.

Experts also recommend linking a new chore with a future behavior — telling a teen that they’re learning how to help with dinner so they can make meals when they go to college, or when they’re cooking for their partner or spouse later.

Kids are never happy for being reminded about their chores.  Even parents are never too happy doing things around the house. They are very likely to nag when asked to do a chore.  It should never be used as a tool to discipline the kids.  You must be flexible and allow the child to chose what chore they want to do. 

Reward your kids when they do their chores and appreciate them for their efforts.  Ensure that the rearwards you’re comfortable with. Plan the reward in advance and always be consistent.

Prepare the Child for the Path – not the Path for the Child.

Roses 2021

Roses bloomed in our garden with the onset of summer.
With the summer setting in Canada with the Summer Solstice on 20 June, 2021, the roses in our garden came to full bloom.
For hundreds of years the rose has been widely recognised as a symbol of love, sympathy or sorrow.
The world’s oldest living rose is believed to be 1,000 years old. It grows on the wall of the Cathedral of Hildesheim in Germany and its presence is documented since A.D. 815.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, is associated with his attire of pinning a fresh red rose to his coat every day. He made it a point to wear a rose as a remainder of his life with his wife Kamala, who passed away in 1938 after a prolonged illness.
Roses are said to be the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
The rose is one among the only three flowers mentioned in the Bible. The others are lilies and camphire – akin to henna.
Rose is England’s National Flower and the United States’ national flower since 1986.
George Washington, the first president of USA, was also the first US rose breeder.
Roses have been a beautiful symbol of celebration in all cultures. Nothing expresses personal sentiments better than roses, and they’re always in style.
Ancient Romans cultivated the flowers to decorate buildings and furniture, and even laid rose petal carpets.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, roses are the oldest species of plant to be grown as decoration.
Roses are edible. Their petals can be used to make jams, syrups, and rosewater.
About 100 million roses – mainly red – are grown for Valentine’s Day each year.
The other popular rose holidays in Canada are Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Colour of the rose depends on the species. Roses can be found in different shades of white, yellow, pink, orange and red colors.
Red roses are a symbol for love and affection.
Pink roses convey poetic romance and gentleness.
White rose symbolised innocence and purity, which is how it became associated with weddings and bridal bouquets.
Peach coloured roses signal modesty.
Orange coloured Roses imply fascination.
The colour yellow conveys happy thoughts and a positive feelings of warmth. Though yellow roses signifies friendship, the color once signified the negative traits of jealousy and greed.
There are neither any black roses nor blue roses.
What might sometimes be referred to as a black rose is actually a dark red rose.
Roses do not bloom hurriedly; for beauty, like any masterpiece, takes time to blossom. – Matshona Dhliwayo (Canadian Philosopher, Entrepreneur, and Author)

Memories of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar Band

A recall by Veteran Commander Nanda Kumar Parrat (Roll No 322)

 I joined SSA in January 1965 in grade 5, age 9. The School Band members, especially in their ceremonial dress of Blood Red and Steel Grey (School Colours) with White anklets and gloves were a sight to behold for a nine year old.

When the school commenced in 1962, Mr Patrick was the Band Master. Then, we had just a Base Drum, Cymbal, Bugle, Side Drums and an innocuous looking triangular instrument called…obviously…the Triangle. Wikipedia…definition…an Idiophone-type of musical instrument in the percussion family.

Mr Guddu Shaib, a Veteran Pipe Major from the Madras Regiment, joined our school in 1966 and introduced bagpipes for the very first time.

As it happened, from 1965 – 1970, a Senior of mine was the SOLE player of this very light innocuous looking Triangle.

Everyone who was in school during those six to seven years, remember only THAT cadet as playing the Triangle….and  NO ONE ELSE.

About 40 years later I met the Triangle player, now an Indian Navy Veteran, and suddenly I realised that it was a real feat and mystery that no other cadet ever got to play the Triangle while he was in school (all of 7 years.) As it was the lightest and easiest instrument in the band to play and to merit the extra ration of milk, etc., there were hordes of others trying for that particular instrument, but never made it. 

The reason suddenly flashed to me after 40 years…the Triangle player was the only one to fit into the ceremonial dress which was specially stitched for him in Grade 5 (1964). No other cadet could fit into that small size uniform. That’s how he managed to stave off any attempts of others to play the Triangle for seven long years. Some people are lucky early in life.

Reveille with Bugle

Cadets playing bugle were detailed to sound morning Reveille at our school. It went like this, ‘Taa da Taa da Tat Tat Tat Taa’. We had this song in the same tune, ‘Chaar-lie, Chaar-lie, get up for tea’. At least we then believed….the song line…One Senior used to climb the roof of the dormitory at 0530 hrs to ostensibly increase the range of the sound of the bugle.

Retreat…. Sounds of Last Post

During the Annual School Day, sounding the Retreat, was a sombre occasion and the last act after Prize distribution, VIP speech, etc. Whereas, the Last Post sounded sentimental in itself, the apparent ‘Echo’ played by our cadet buglers from below the distant hill (firing range) made one’s hair stand on end.It is already dusk ..sun already behind the hills…the Last Post…wow.. Totally memorable even after 50 years…… The ECHO …still echoes in my heart.

This image came from the archives of Abe Jacob Abraham (Roll No 114,) as a Cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar in 1964, sounding the Reveille with Veteran Colonel Ravi Nair (Roll No 131) on his right. 

Colonel Nair recalls: “Most memorable phase of life.  Waking up the School for the day.  An onerous task indeed, which Abe and I did dutifully for the entire tenure in school. After the Reveille, rush to the Mess to have a glass of glucose concentrate and two eggs as compensation to lung power!!

Dr KT John (Roll No 84) writes from Melbourne, Australia: “I have played the bugle with you and Abe, Ravi, both for waking people and also for the lowering of the flag at dusk.

Remember playing the Reveille with Jaideep GC (Roll No 55) echoing, which used to wake up most of Amaravathi Nagar, including the donkeys, who occasionally joined in the chorus. Oh! what wonderful times.”

Veteran Colonel Jayath Pooviah recalls: “Later it devolved upon me to carry out this task…. Only I stumbled up that hill in my pajamas and woke up with the school while blowing that bugle... Never got that drink after!!

This image is of Mr Patrick, who was the Band Master until 1965, playing the pipe during the Dinner Night, after the dessert course. After he played the pipe, a toast (generally a tot of rum) was given to him by the Principal, a Lieutenant Colonel then. Later, Mr Guddu Sahib being a tee-totaler, the toast contained fruit juice only.

Joining the BAND Wagon by Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556)

In 1967, Pallava and Valluvar Houses were housed in the two storey buildings. Raghavan was the school vice captain. He lived in one of the side rooms along with our House Captain Muthukumar. Every morning Raghavan emerged from his room to blow the Reveille which echoed throughout the Amaravathi Valley.

Each week, Mr Guddu Sahib detailed a buglar to blow the Reveille in the morning and one for the Retreat in the evening. The retreat time was normally 15 minutes before the school ‘fall-in’ for Prep. Most of us running to be in time for the Prep cursed the Retreat. You had to freeze in whatever pose you heard it. The trail that ran behind the MI Room was full of human statues when the buglar blew the Retreat and the flag came down.

There were lots of misconceptions. ‘Blowing a bugle while sitting down, made your balls big,’ was one of them. Not everyone could blow the bugle, even though quite few could blow their own trumpets. Bugle was easy to carry, as compared other equipment, except the Triangle and Cymbals.

The dreaded instrument was the Base Drum, which needed strong shoulders and height. VP Misra (Roll No 179) and R Gnana Prakasam (Roll No 630) were made for Base Drum. Normally, the band used two side drums. The unwieldy kettle drums came out only on occasions. I still can’t recollect how Mr Guddu Sahib mustered those many side drummers.

Mr Guddu sahib’s favorite instrument was the bagpipe. We learnt to play the pipe in stages. Initially, just the chanter. Then we graduated to playing the pipe with the drones blocked. Finally, the pipe with all three drones. Each of the guys in the band, had their own favorite tunes. Mr Guddu Sahib cajoled and convinced the members to play the number he chose.

Sometime in 1969 or 1970, the band was present for an event in Udumalpet (Free Eye Camp.) State Ministers Sadiq Basha and Mathialagan were the guests of honour. When the event finished, the two misters came to the band stand and congratulated Mr Guddu Sahib, who reminisced about the accolades as long as we were at school.

Veteran Captain R Gnana Prakasam writes:

Wow …what nostalgic memories ..I have to confess that I never had any music sense and my motivation to join Band was only Extra Diet..Band Milk. My enormous appetite could be satiated by Band Milk and extras. I played cymbals and base drum. We really had lots of privileges like skipping PT and going out of school for some performances. Best sportsmen from our batch were in School Band. Rajarajan was the favourite of Gudddu Sahib as he was versatile in many instruments. He was our No 1 Bagpiper.

Can you recognise these septuagenarians and correlate with the archived photos above?

Reading Music

Veteran Lieutenant General P M Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone.  We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.

 

 

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band.  He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987.  Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band.  Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.

Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from  the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966.  His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master.  He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968.  The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us.  Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes.  I just could not make any sense of them.

Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the  performance.  He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.

On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments  practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.

Other than teaching us how to play the instruments,  he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;)  how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them.  During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.

Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it.  Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.

Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the  muscle memory and coordination of the cadets.  Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.

Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7.  They were taught to read music and perform.  Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.

Not all can read music though many enjoy it.  Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians  who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music.  Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.

Why should you learn to read music?

Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition.  It helps you to remember the music you are playing.  With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.

It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster.  Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying.  The act of practicing  and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.

Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles.  It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group.  You can create your own musical compositions too.

It’s never too late to learn anything.  So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.

Pinks and Peonies 2021

June marks the end of the Tulip season in our garden. June is the month of Pinks and Peonies. The pink colour stands out on the lush green background of the lawn.
Neon Star- characatarised by their fragrant fluorescent pink blooms, used as edging plants in our garden. The vibrant pink flowers cover the evergreen, blue-grey foliage.
Rock Soapwort is a vigorous, low creeping plant,. Plants form a low mound of bright-green leaves, smothered by starry bright-pink flowers.
Clematis is one of the showiest vines you can grow. With many types of shapes and colours, these plants dress up any kind of structure they climb.
Lonicera Keckrottii, named after German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528 – 1586)- commonly called gold-flame honeysuckle, this creeper features extremely fragrant rose pink flowers with yellow interiors. Here it forms a screen for our front sit-out.
Thyme flowers are typically lavender-colored and edible. They grow at the top of the stems in a sphere-shape with elongated vertical spikes.
Foxgloves are eye-catching tall, slender flowering plants with flowers in clusters of tubular shaped blooms in colors of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple.
Dianthus, also called pinks, is treasured for its grass-like, blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as pollinating insects.
Peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.
Marco Polo described Peonies, when he first saw them, as: ‘Roses as big as cabbages.’
They are also the 12th anniversary flower – because the peony symbolises honour, fortune, and a happy relationship.. It is the state flower of Indiana.
Peonies are native to China. They are highly valued there, and are often referred to as the “king of flowers”. They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning ‘most beautiful.’ Chinese have an annual celebration to honor the Peony – the Luoyang Peony Festival.
They are regarded as a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. Which are important things for your future life! That is why you find them in all the marriage bouquets in North America. Pink: is most romantic form of Peony, making it the ideal color for wedding bouquets and table arrangements.
Peonies come in every color except for blue. Pink, and white, are the most popular colours. The Peony features five or more large outer petals called guard petals. At the center of the Peony are the yellow stamens or modified stamens.
Deep Red: is most prized in China and Japan, and has the strongest ties to honour and respect. It’s also the most symbolic of wealth and prosperity in those cultures.
White or Very Pale Pink: symbolise bashfulness, making it a good choice for communicating your regret over embarrassing yourself or someone else. Ideal for those times when you’ve said or done something wrong and want to apologise. Who can hold a grudge when a beautiful bouquet of white peonies shows up at their door??
June 20, 2021 – Summer Solstice – marks the beginning of Canadian Summer. It is the time when the roses come to full bloom.

Iron Box (തേപ്പു പെട്ടി) Theppu Petti

During our young days, we had an iron box – Theppu Petti – heated by burning coconut shells to embers.  The iron box was not made of iron, but brass, weighing over five kilograms.  It had a cover over a hollow cavity with holes on either side, looking more like our eyes.  These eye-lets acted as air-vents to keep the embers glowing.

A metallic flap attached at the back covered the cavity. On top of the cover was a teak handle, hand-carved  to fit the operator’s hand.  The ‘Delta’ shaped base, called the sole, facilitated easy gliding of the Theppu Petti over the cloth under it.  The sole was heated to about 200°C by the burning embers. 

Theppu Petti is the predecessor to the modern electric steam iron.  The electric iron was invented in 1882 by New Yorker Henry W Seely. His iron weighed almost seven kilograms and took a long time to warm up.  Irons gradually became smaller until they resembled the type we have in our homes today.

The iron box did its job of pressing a piece of cloth to remove creases using a combination of a hard surface, and heat and pressure that pressed on the fibres of the clothes, stretching and flattening them.

Using a Theppu Petti to iron a piece of cloth, the operation commenced with placing the monstrous looking object on a metallic ring on the table.  The metallic ring protected the table from getting burnt.  The ironing table back then was nowhere akin to the modern ironing boards, but was a multi-purpose large table (mostly the dining or study table) covered with an old blanket and a bed sheet. 

Four or five coconut shell-halves were placed in the hollow cavity of the Theppu Petti and burnt to embers, which took about 15 minutes.  These embers emitted constant heat for a long time and maintained a near constant temperature.  Kerala households had a large stock of coconut shells and burning them in the iron box were their primary use.  Some used charcoal in place of the coconut shells.

When we were young, our father ironed our clothes until our eldest brother turned ten.  Then he took over the operation and did the job with panache.  When our youngest brother turned ten, the mantle was passed on to him and he became such an expert that he would put any professional cleaner to shame.  Now it is a ritual for him on Sundays to collect the white shirts and black pants of my elder brother, an advocate, and press the entire stock for a week.  He presses all my clothes while I was home and also for the entire household.

തേപ്പ്  – Theppu is a modern Malayalam word which means ‘ironed’. As slang, it refers to a girl  who dumps their lover when they see a better prospect.  The word, though sexist, finds its way into modern Malayalam movies and social-media trolls. 

While serving with the Indian Army in Maharashtra, a Priest from our  Syrian Orthodox church visited me.  His wife hailed from our village and her family was well known to ours.  I invited him for lunch and after that took him to the shopping centre at the Cantonment as he wanted a heavy electric iron box to press his long white cassock.  He couldn’t find a heavy iron box in the market as the modern one’s were light.  He presumed that the Cantonment’s shopping centre would have it as the soldiers always had to press their thick uniforms.

During my next visit home, I narrated the incident to Amma and she passed her characteristic sly smile, which meant there was more to it.  I prodded her and she reminisced the days of 1957 when she was just married and they moved into a small rented one-room house next to the school where Amma was teaching. 

They hardly had any utensils, leave alone an iron box, which was the last priority.  My Dad taught at the school in town and had to bus about 12 kilometer either way, thus had to leave early.  The first Sunday, he ironed the clothes required for my mother and him using an iron box which he borrowed from the home of a senior revenue official who lived across the street.  The next Sunday his request for the iron box was turned down claiming that it was under repair.  Next evening my father walked in with an iron box and that today lies in the attic of our ancestral house.

What is the connection with this old iron box and the Priest,” I asked.

Amma took a long deep breath and said “This Priest is married to the daughter of that revenue official.

That Little Thorthu (തോർത്ത്)

Malayalis are people hailing from Kerala – The God’s Own Country -are often called Mallus because the word Malayali is quite a tongue-twister and difficult to pronounce for many across the globe.  They speak Malayalam, a language spoken by more than 38 million people who  live in the state of Kerala and Lakshadweep. Many in India refer to Mallus as Madrasis or even Malabaris, which any Mallu worth his name will despise.  You call him a ‘Thampi’ and he is sure to spit fire at you!

Malayalam, the eighth most spoken language in India, is believed to have originated from Tamil, with a heavy influence of Sanskrit.  It became an independent language with its own script by AD 9th century.  

There is a little known item of cloth that a Malayali is identified with.  It is not the Mundu or the Lungi; but a 5’x3′ white piece of cloth called Thorthu; a light bath towel,  which you will find in  every Malayali’s wardrobe.  We have a dozen of them in our Canadian home too.  It is universal – one size fits all; used by people of all ages, sex and religion.

Thorthu has a one centimeter thick border at both ends called Kara, which is generally black, blue or red.  This handy Indian cotton towel is known in North India , it is called the Gamcha, and in Tamil Nadu as  Thundu.

The white coloured Thorthu has been around for generations. The warp and weft of this cloth  is made of very fine cotton fibre.  These hand woven towels are super absorbent, light weight, soft on skin, and quick drying.  In Kerala the relative humidity is around 70% through the year and any thick towel will take its own time to dry out.  Then there is the fear of fungus or mildew developing on a wet cloth.

A Mallu uses the Thorthu for rituals, journeys, pilgrimages, functions, traditional events, political rallies, etc.  It is all because the Thorthu takes up less space, can be washed easily with hands, and dries quickly.

In every Kerala household, the Thorthu has an important place, so did in our home too.  Our father always got the new Thorthu and dare not – no one could ever even touch it.  The next one was Amma’s and for all four sons, we had the older ones, but was always on first-come-first-served basis.  If one got late for the morning bath, he ended up with a wet Thorthu.  

Though the primary use of a Thorthu is to dry one’s self after one’s bath, it has many uses left to the imagination of the user.

To bathe in the pond or river, use it to cover your family treasures and after the bath, hand squeeze the Thorthu and dry yourself.
You will find many children enjoying catching those little fish using a Thorthu.

On your way home, if you intent to climb a coconut tree to bring down some tender coconuts, it comes handy. Tie the two ends and it helps you grip the trunk while you make your way to the treetop.
You will come across four men enjoying their cards game, sitting under a coconut tree. The card table is a Thorthu spread on the ground.
You will most likely meet a fish monger, who will proudly have a white Thorthu around his/her shoulder. It is used as a hand towel and how they manage to keep it white everyday is still a secret.
You will see men and women working in the fields and they use the Thorthu as a headgear to beat the hot sun.
You will come across ladies- young or old – draping a Thorthu over their blouse, covering their chest.
In the kitchen, the Thorthu comes handy as a napkin, a hand towel and also as a mitten while handling hot cooking utensils. The Thorthu also serves as a sieve and also is used to cover the cooked food.
Women after a bath will tie their hair in a Thorthu to facilitate faster drying in the humid Kerala weather.
Thorthu has its use in the traditional medicine of Kerala – Ayurveda – especially as the cover for a Kizhi – a fomentation therapy done using a warm poultice containing herbs, herbal powders, rice or sand and massaged on the whole body to enhance, purify or rejuvenate the body.
You will find a Malayali using his Thorthu in many ways. Only you got to look for it.

Colonel Parimi Venkata Ramakrishna, the Lone Traveller

Floral Clock, Niagara

During this tough Covid time, I was in for a shock this evening – news of the demise of Colonel PV Ramakrishna, known amongst us – his friends – as Ramki.  He was from the  technical graduate entry and was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers with us on 24 December 1982.  He is survived by his daughters – Ms Neharika and Major Vimala. May the God Almighty give them the strength to bear the loss.

He was widowed soon after he hung his boots.  He then took to travelling across the globe and he landed at Toronto in August 2015 and stayed with us for ten days.  We explored the Niagara escarpment, the flower-pot islands, Toronto city, Montreal, Blue Mountains, African Lion Safari and so on.

With Nikhil at the Niagara Falls

As I write this eulogy, I’m still reeling from the tragic death of Ramki, we are shocked, scared and angered at the unfairness and senselessness of the Virus that took him from us. Well meaning people will tell us that it is all part of God’s plan, or that this was just Ramki’s time to go, that he is in a better place. While God certainly knows his plan, we do not. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and as difficult and painful as it is, we must accept that Ramki is with his Creator.

Ramki was a traveler and an adventurer. He was a person who loved to learn about and experience new places and other cultures. He carefully researched each of his journeys, , taking new and unexpected.

Flower-Pot Island – Tobermory

Ramki was an outstanding father who was very proud of his daughters and their achievements.  Whenever we spoke, he always had something to mention about both Neharika and Vimala.  He said in his last conversation with me last year to me “My greatest assets and treasures are my daughters and I have allowed them freedom to grow up to be worthwhile ladies and they have come out in flying colours always.  You have given much more freedom to your children and they will surely achieve greater heights.”

Rest in Peace Ramki – You can continue with your travel in the other world.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan

When I opened my Whatsapp this morning, I was in for a shock; a most unexpected one.  It was the untimely demise of Colonel Sandeep Dhawan due to Covid. May God give the family courage and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan was commissioned into 17 GRENADIERS on 24 Dec 1982, and commanded  battalion in the same regiment from 2002 to 2005. He also served a brief stint with 9n. He had served as a Staff Officer with the  Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters.  He was also an Instructor at Infantry School, Mhow and a United Nations Military Observer in Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1995-96. He was Team leader of Indian Army Training Teams, Lesotho (Africa). He married  Anshu in May 1990 and has two daughters, Akarshita and Nikita.

13651, Koduvath Reji, this is Sandeep, H/61,” was the salutary call I received three months back. I wasn’t surprised by Sandeep’s ability to recall all our National Defence Academy (NDA) identity numbers, even after 33 years.  He was a proud father calling me about his daughter Nikita’s application to University of Toronto for a PhD in machine learning.

I assured Sandeep all support from our end and answered many a query about Nikita’s stay in Toronto, including the financial aspects.  We discussed all options threadbare. Sandeep had done his homework well and was a man who went into every little aspect. I promised him a ‘firm base’ at our home for Nikita, where she can walk in freely, and also my availability 24/7 as I am often at home. This was the usual and expected support I always ensure to extend to all our coursemates, military friends and their children.

We  had three more tele-conversations, all about Nikita and her stay here in Canada. I researched her professor and told Sandeep he was a tough nut to crack, though I was unimpressed by his student evaluations.

In one such conversation, Sandeep recommended the book ‘Angela’s Ashes.’  I promptly ordered it and was delivered to me last evening by Amazon.  I never realised what was in store for me!!!!!

We had planned to meet up at Toronto this fall when he came to drop off Nikita.  All this time, I had no idea he would be saying goodbye to us so soon.  Rest In Peace Buddy.

Daffodils & Tulips 2021

Our Garden – All set for the Spring.
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  By William Wordsworth)
As I walked through the tulips this May morning;
I was welcomed by the nature with its colourful awning;
It struck a gleaming chord in my mind;
My camera recorded it with a wind;
I watched every morning in quiet admiration;
The dew drops on soft petals my appreciation;
The tulip flowers in the cool breeze swayed,
It brought a cheer and my mind braid.
I love my tulips, they grace us and wilt away;
If only people too grace this world and fade away.


Canadian Volunteers Deliver Covid-19 Vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilisation effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

Thousands of Canadians, with a wide variety of experiences and expertise, have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country. The voluntary task force members were assembled by the federal government in late May and early June of last year. The task force then began to evaluate the scientific, technical and logistical merits of potential vaccine suppliers.  Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.

The next task for the volunteer force was vaccination. St John Ambulance was the leading organisation delivering training to those who signed up as volunteers . The only criteria is that the volunteer be between the age of 18 and 69, have at least two or more A-levels or equivalent, be at low risk of Covid-19 and be prepared to undergo a reference check. In October, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended the Government introduce a new national protocol to allow non-medics to administer the Covid vaccine. Then, thousands of volunteers with no medical background were also trained to administer the vaccine. The law facilitated more healthcare workers – such as paramedics, physiotherapists or student doctors and nurses, to vaccinate.

The volunteers were assigned the task of:

  • Supporting patients before or after their vaccination.
  • Providing reassurance.
  • Dealing with any medical emergencies.
  • React to any immediate adverse reactions.

Major General Dany Fortin, with nearly 30 years of military experience is responsible to oversee the herculean logistical effort to ensure vaccines reach  across the country and into the arms of millions of Canadians.  General Dany is one of the best operationally-experienced leaders.  Canadians could not have asked for somebody better; somebody who understands the leadership challenges, the planning challenges and the logistics challenges.  The effort has been underway for some months now, where they have been working out what they predict will be the supply line bottlenecks and difficulties.  Previous US President Donald Trump appointed four-star Army General Gustave F Perna to be the chief operations officer for that country’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ in May.

On 20 April, I was scheduled for my vaccination at University of Toronto  Mississauga (UTM) campus at 11:15.  I was advised to reach there only ten minutes before the scheduled time.  UTM joined forces with Trillium Health (our public health agency,) to open a mass vaccination clinic in the campus’s Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre on March 1.   It’s expected that the clinic could ultimately vaccinate up to half a million people.  UTM offered space and equipment, such as ultra-cold storage freezers, to support these critically important initiatives.

As I parked my car, there were volunteers – mostly university students, to guide us to the vaccination centre.  We were then requested to answer a questionnaire on the Trillium Health website using our cellphone.  Those not in possession of a cellphone were helped by the volunteers using their PDAs.

As we entered the centre, our temperature was recorded and there were about ten counters manned by volunteers who carried out necessary documentation in less than five minutes.  After that we were ushered into the gymnasium where I was administered the vaccine by a sexagenarian lady volunteer.

After the vaccine was administered, I thanked her and said “I did not realise that you did it so fast and that too with no pain.”

Over forty years of experience as a nurse, young man!  Our children and grandchildren are proud that I volunteered for this,” she replied with a smile.

We were then ushered into a waiting area with chairs placed maintaining social-distancing norm.  We had to wait for 30 minutes and at the end of it we were issued with our vaccination certificate bearing the Trillium logo of Ontario Ministry of Health

Veteran Plate


On social-media, a friend, an Indian, now settled in UK  commented  “For Indians the mode of transport is a status symbol. When my uncle became a S/Lt from a rating, the first thing he did was replace push bike for a scooter. In U.K. I have seen Lord Chancellor Hailsham and Prime Minister David Cameron riding bike to the Parliament.”

Indians carry the very same attitude it to the North American shores too – all riding BMW/ Mercedes/ Audi. You will hardly find Indians driving any other brand – even if their salaries are meager.

One Sunday, at the Malayalam Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada, a man told me “Why are you driving on a Honda? You can easily afford a BMW!

With Veteran General Hariz at Niagara

I’m comfortable driving a Honda, Why invest so much in a BMW?  The gasoline needed is the higher grade which is costlier and the cost of maintenance too is high,” I replied.

I was taken aback by his reply “If you want people to respect you in this church, then you must drive a BMW.

Remember – Jesus went to the church riding a poor donkey!!! No one should have valued him then!!!!

I said “My ‘VETERAN’ license plate is much more valuable than your BMW. There is many BMWs in the parking lot. Show me another car with a Veteran plate.”

Further thoughts from an Englishman at Sainik School

Once again my thanks to Reji for allowing me to use his blog as a vehicle for my reminiscences.

I was very touched to receive so many emails in response to my original piece and I hope that I have replied to all of them. The Amaravian community spreads far and wide and I had responses from the US, Singapore and various parts of the UK as well as, of course from, India.

Here are some further thoughts on looking at the photos again.

Here you see the famous bike that I learned to ride. I think that I look pretty good in that lunghi. I am sure I still have it folded up in a box in the loft along with a blue and white “hippy style” shoulder bag that I used on my travels. The chappals I think I bought from a street vendor somewhere. The soles were made from bits cut from old car tyres. One of my correspondents mentioned my banian (now that’s a word I had forgotten). To read more about the Banian and what it is called in North America, Please Click here (Reji)

The car parked outside the academic building was Maj Menon’s. An internet search tells me it was a Fiat 1100 Delight. Maj Bhoopal had one too but Col Thamburaj, as befitted his higher rank, had an Ambassador. A teacher called Soundarajan (?) had a motorbike but all the other staff had pedal bikes. Strange to think that all those teachers who were highly educated and had secure reasonably well paid jobs owned very little – perhaps just a bike and a radio.

If you want a laugh on the theme of Ambassador cars check out a great video clip by googling “the sculptor peugeot 206”.

The neighbours. Mr Mathai was on a visit home. He worked abroad, somewhere in the Gulf States I think, so Mrs Mathai was able to afford a few luxuries like a fridge. When it was time for me to get going in the afternoon Robin and Reena would come out into the front yard and shout at my window “Wake up Stephen Uncle. Wake up”.

The green kurta story. Here I am eating traditional style, although it doesn’t look like the mountain of rice is on a plantain leaf, at a festival – perhaps Pongal. A few days later I heard that A S Ram was quite put out that I had worn a kurta in Islam’s colour at a Hindu festival. I had no idea that was what I had done. I just liked the colour.

I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about the history of India and particularly the independence struggle and the horrors of Partition before coming to the school. Most of what I came to find out was from reading a sequence of novels by Paul Scott. The British Council Library in Madras sent out boxes of books. You had to choose from a printed list which just gave the titles and I was struck by “The Jewel in the Crown” and chose it. Luckily this was the first in the sequence and I then read all the others in what became known as “The Raj Quartet”. I also read “Train to Pakistan” by Kushwant Singh and I can see that book now on my bookshelves as I am typing this as well as “Kushwant Singh’s India”.

A S Ram was from north India so he had particularly strong feelings.

The white dhoti story. When I appeared in this outfit for another festival Mrs Mathai said “Look at Steve. Pukka”. I only needed a little “Nehru cap” and I could have been a real Congress wallah. Going round the picture from bottom left I think the first two guys worked in the office, then comes Nair one of the ex-army PT instructors, then Krishna Kutty I think, then on the front row Pakianathan, then Ram, the next face is familiar (Mr KM Koshy) but I can’t put a name to it, then Warrier, then me.

The march past. Many of the readers of this piece will be ex-military men so I hope you won’t feel offended when I say that I didn’t really agree with encouraging boys to concentrate on a career in the armed forces from such an early age and to this day I don’t really agree with boarding schools as I think that young children should be at home with their parents. Then again, I recognise that the school was a great springboard for many boys to have a fulfilling well paid career and all of those who got in touch with me obviously hold the school in high regard and have happy memories of their time there.

Best wishes to you all,

Steve Rosson

steverosson@aol.com

Women in the Indian Defence Forces


Regarding employment of women in the Indian Defence Forces, there have been many views expressed.  I have tried to analyse it based on the reasons why Canadian women leave the Defence Forces.

Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include  combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.)  Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.

By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.

A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

  • Army
    • Officer 16.50%
    • NCM   12.80%
    • Total    13.50%
  • Navy
    • Officer 22.40%
    • NCM   19.80%
    • Total    20.60%
  • Air Force
    • Officer  21.00%
    • NCM    19.2%
    • Total     19.80%

Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan.  Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.

The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so.  DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”

In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.

Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.

She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further ­compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.

Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force

  • Family Separation                         27.4 %
  • Return to School                           25.4 %
  • Stay at Home and Raise Family    19.9%
  • More Challenging Work               18.4%
  • Conflict with Spouse Career         18.4%

Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.

US military’s  attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:

  • lack of clear roles and careers paths
  • differential treatment they received
  • difficulty in combining career and family.

The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.

Movie Review : Joji : Malayalam


JOJI – Malayalam  Movie set in Covid time – inspired by Macbeth, is a simple story set in a Syrian Orthodox Christian family of Kottayam, told without any frills.  Dileesh the director has done an excellent work, so are all the characters.  Technically also the movie is brilliant. Justin Varghese’s music is apt for each occasion and every time a new symphony plays, it is a reminder about the Shakespearean tragedy lurking around.

The family background and the name of the protagonist are same as my novel ‘Son of a Gunner,’ and there end  the commonalities.  The movie tells the story of a hardworking father who made a fortune through his dedication and business acumen in rubber plantation and harnessed his riches.  His adamant nature and his treatment of  his three sons are typical of such people.  The natures of his three sons follow a typical Syrian Christian lineage of the day.

The eldest son is the one most attached to his father, who toiled  hard with his father for the well being of the family.  He is the least educated – could be that the father could not afford to send his to college during his time.  He is a ‘ruffian’ with coarse language, speaks his mind out and the least greedy while dividing the family riches.  He is physically tough – the result of his hard work in his youth and dresses in simple mundu and shirt.  These qualities must have resulted in a broken marriage  and he is depicted as a divorcee, living with his son in the ancestral home.

The second son is better educated, and runs the rubber procurement business.  He is less attached to his father and is also greedy.  His scheming wife proves  an ideal companion.  His dress sense is better than his elder brother’s, so is his language, but physically he is no match.  He is very diplomatic and flows well with the requirement of the society.

In a Syrian Orthodox family, the youngest son inherits the ancestral house, based on the premise that he is most likely to outlive his parents.  He is responsible to take care of the parents in their old-age and also organise family events and get-togethers.

The youngest son grew up when the family’s fortunes were good.  He neither witnessed any hardships nor he worked towards enhancing the family’s riches.  He had the best of times and the best education  his  father could afford.  Richness of the family ensured that he developed  many vices and turned lazy.  He is depicted as an engineering degree dropout.  He does not even pick up a bottle from the fridge to drink, he wants his sister-in-law to serve him.  He is up-to-date with technology and also his dress sense.

Though physically the weakest, he is the most intelligent among the three sons and is also the most scheming.  His attitude is that the ancestral house belongs to him and the rest are parasites.  He also wants to inherit all the riches the earliest and wants his father dead.   He aptly called the ‘useless’ by his father and the oppressive nature of the father turns him into a beast.

The eldest son is the least greedy, the second  is greedier and the youngest greediest.  The level of greediness is inversely proportional  to their efforts towards the family riches.  This is a reality and is very evident with many court cases – both civil and criminal – in Indian courts – all for wealth inherited from the parents.

It is all about ‘Dad’s Money‘ ‘തന്തേടെ കാശ്’  ‘बाप का पैसा’ – one of the root cause of most evils in Indian society. 

The movie is worth a watch and is available on Amazon Prime.

Book Review : Mojo in a Mango Tree by Vikram Cotah

Kudos to Vikram, the author, for bringing out a wonderful book based on life lessons. The book is replete with life experiences and ‘interesting’ anecdotes- many where someone has gone an extra mile.  The aspects covered deals with the hospitality industry, but is applicable to all professions and also in everyday life.  The hotel industry, like any other profession, renders many an opportunity to go that extra mile and a good leader/ employee must seek it out.  The leaders and employers have to grant that ‘extra’ to an employee who goes that extra mile to encourage others to follow.  Empowering the employees will go a long way. In most organisations, red tape is the biggest hindrance to achieving the extra mile.   It is all about maturing relationships and enjoying the trust of the customers and subordinates.

The history of hotel industry enunciated in the book is educative and informative.  Consumers evolve and the industry got to be in sync, but the need for a good service culture will remain forever.  Emotions and gastronomy will add value to the guests’ experience.  There is never a second-chance in hospitality as there are no runners-up in a war.

It is all about kindness, compassion and empathy.   Get out of your comfort zone, explore the world and recoup your energy.  A guest is never a room number;  so are your employees and subordinates.  You need a thick skin dealing with complaints and worries and learn to say ‘No’ with a ‘Yes.’  One who manages  crisis  better will always succeed as you are sure to face many.  Feedbacks are more important than compliments.

The author  brings out many life lessons.  Happiness is being positive.  Plan your day well.  Have a dream, set your aims and achieve your goals.  Create a bucket list the earliest and keep ticking them off – Do these consistently – in small measures. Smile is the best weapon in your life.

Success and failures  are integral to life.  Failures provide you opportunities to become  smarter.  Branding is very important today and I have tested and tasted all the elements charted in the book. Life cycle of a hotel from inception applies well to all businesses. Why?  Even true for a soldier.

The reader will appreciate and also identify easily with some well brought out instance like giving out perfumes to the hotel staff – a  novel and a much required need in the Indian context.  Changing the lobby mat with ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Evening’ – I never thought of.  Wall panels to make selfies look great – need of the day.

Learning is a lifelong process.  I ran away from studies to join the Army – neither did I stop running nor studying thereafter.

‘Leaders of the future will need to balance technology quotient and emotional quotient.  This will be the Extra Quotient of the future.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry


The story of the triumphal entry  appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before.

This day is celebrated by Christians world over as Palm Sunday.  The Friday that follows is the ‘Good Friday‘ – the day Jesus was crucified and the Sunday, the Easter Sunday – marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Passion Week.

Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this journey would end in his sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. As Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus. The palm branch represented goodness and victory and was symbolic of the final victory.

The crowds shouted, “Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV)

The date of the first observance of Palm Sunday is uncertain. A detailed description of a palm processional celebration was recorded as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem. The ceremony was not introduced into the West until much later in the 9th century.

Many churches, distribute palm leaves to the congregation on Palm Sunday to commemorate the Triumphal Entry.  The worshipers take home the venerated palm leaf and display it near a cross or crucifix, or place it in their Bible until the next year’s season of Lent. Some churches collect baskets to gather the old palm leaves to be burned for  Ash Wednesday.

Why did he ride on a donkey?

Mathew 21 says ‘1. …Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.’

In those days in that land, horses were owed by the nobility and donkeys by the lower society – often animals of burden used by the potters, washer-men, load or water carriers, etc.  No one owning a donkey  would have had the courage to refuse or fight against the noble looking disciples.  Irony of the narration in all the Gospels is that none speaks about returning the donkey to its owner.

Riding a donkey or a horse that has never been rode upon is a very difficult task.  The animal did not have a saddle, hence the disciples removed their cloaks and spread it on the animal’s back to act as a saddle.  Still it is a very difficult ride – Ask anyone who ever rode a bare-back horse!!  When we were cadets at the National Defence Academy, during horse-riding classes, bare-back riding (without a saddle, but with a blanket,) was the most dreaded one.

Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a stallion, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ came not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.

All the prophets before Jesus were military Generals and they all must have rode on a horse, dressed in complete nobility, carrying a sword.  Here came Jesus, on lowly donkey, with neither any military ceremonial uniform nor a sword.  He came with a smile on his face and heart pouring out with his Godly love.

Now compare Jesus triumphant entry with that of our Bishops – riding on a luxury sedan with a flag flying on their cars, dressed in all gold and finery!!!!!

An Englishman at Sainik School 1969-70

by Steve Rosson 
My thanks to Reji for allowing me to post these memories on his blog.

As I neared the end of my university course in 1969 I was accepted by Voluntary Service Overseas to work for a year or so in the developing world.

It was in August of that year, a few days short of my 22nd birthday, that I arrived at Sainik School to teach English.

I had flown from London Heathrow (my first time on a plane) to Bombay (as was) and then on to Madras (as was). After a few days of orientation I took the overnight train to Coimbatore to be met by Major Bhoopal (the Registrar), Paul (the volunteer I was replacing) and Driver Menon (with his splendid moustache). We piled into the school jeep and, after Bhoopal had done a few bits and bobs of shopping, we set off on the seemingly endless journey to the school. Route planning software tells me that the drive should take two hours today so maybe the roads were worse then or maybe I was just very tired.

As we approached the school Bhoopal suggested that Paul should take me to meet some of the other teachers at “the cafeteria”. I had visions of a sleek, modern establishment with chrome fittings and bright neon lighting so imagine my surprise when I entered a windowless room with rudimentary lighting, a cement floor and mismatched chairs and tables. I got even more of a surprise when I was introduced to Swami, the proprietor, in his dhoti, beads and full Brahmin tilaka. I grew to really like this place, however, and I was to spend many hours there chatting with friends on the staff, drinking coffee, eating masala dosai and being served by Swami and his waiter Rajamini.

My home for the next fifteen months was to be a small three roomed house in a row of four. The windows were barred and shuttered (no glass) and the door was secured by a huge padlock. In truth I only really used the bedroom and the toilet at the back. The bedroom was furnished with what I presume was an army issue bed and wardrobe made of olive green steel and a desk and chair. I had no need of a kitchen as I took all my meals in the mess except when I was invited to the houses of other staff members. The school had very thoughtfully installed a western style toilet for me. Flushing this involved filling a bucket of water from my storage drum in the room next to the toilet. The dam supplied water twice a day for an hour so water had to be stored. My one luxury was an immersion heater about a foot long that I clipped onto a bucket full of water and then plugged in. After about half an hour the water was warm enough for me to “take bath” as I learnt to say.

I said that was my home. Really it was just my house. The school was my home.

The first thing I had to do was to learn to ride a bike in order to get around the campus. The boys found it absolutely hilarious that someone of my age had never learnt to ride a bike and watching me wobble around the place for the next couple of weeks brought them more hilarity. A couple of the senior students were deputed to teach me and eventually I got the hang of it.

I soon got used to the routine. I was woken early by a mess waiter who brought me a mug of “bed tea” from the vast urns that were being taken to the boys’ dormitories. Then it was off to the mess for breakfast. The mess was a large hall a bit like an aircraft hangar with long tables and benches. As I was attached to Pandya House I sat at the top of their table with the House Captain and his deputy. Most of the other teachers ate at home.

I soon got used to Indian food although I do remember the first time I was given idli sambar for breakfast I just could not manage the spicy sambar and asked for an omelette instead. The omelette arrived a few minutes later ….. with green chillies in it!

Then it was off to the academic block to teach. The classrooms were arranged around four sides of a sort of courtyard of rough ground where the daily assembly was held complete with a rousing rendition of the national anthem. I still have the words and music of “Jana, Gana, Mana” rattling around in my head even after fifty years.

I can not imagine I was much good as a teacher. I had no training and my degree was in English Literature and here I was trying to teach youngsters who were all working in their second language even though it was an English medium school. I think we progressed pretty much page by page through the textbook and all the lessons were fairly formal but that was probably how the school liked it. Discipline was never an issue as the boys were all incredibly well behaved but I was horrified to see on a number of occasions boys being made to crawl across the stony courtyard on their elbows and knees as a punishment for some misdemeanour. Remember that the daily uniform was short sleeved shirts and short trousers.

Lunch in the mess was followed by an afternoon nap and then games at the extensive sports fields. Football, volleyball and basketball predominated but I was truly astonished one day when I saw with what ease and alacrity the senior boys tackled the assault course. I can not remember ever seeing the swimming pool with water in it.

Then it was back home to “take bath” and then the evening meal in the mess unless I had been invited out. After that home to mark books, read or listen to my small radio which could pick up, usually with much interference, Radio Ceylon which played British pop music and the BBC World Service for news. I sometimes wandered over to the Pandya House dormitory to chat to the boys but not as often as I wish I had done.

I did get regular invitations to dinner from other staff members and sometimes I was rather uncomfortable when the man and I were served by his wife who then went back to the kitchen to eat her meal. I never knew whether this was shyness or the fact that she had no English or it was just tradition. This was not the case, though, when dinner was with Colonel Thamburaj, the Principal, and his wife or with Major Menon, the Headmaster, and his wife. With them, too, you could usually rely on a good supply of alcohol.
PTC
(Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai. Late Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Mr Steve in the middle. The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.)

I was most comfortable when socialising with the other residents of my row of houses. At one end there was Sheila Murphy, then me, then Mrs Mathai and her two children and then Cherian. We were sometimes joined by Ranganathan the mess manager. A few years ago I was pleased to hear that Sheila and Cherian had married.


There were plenty of other social functions organised like the House Days and at Diwali and Pongal. I always loved the huge buffets that were laid on and one of my favourite foods was the large potato cakes. I never could get on, though, with the custom that nobody could leave before the chief guest. I was often ready for my bed hours before that.

Some other random memories include watching a flock of about 100 sheep go past my house being driven by a little boy with no clothes on, sitting on my verandah and watching A K R Varma with his Groucho Marx moustache riding past on his bike ringing his bell furiously and waving to me, eating my first ever mango at Venki’s house and then my first ever papaya at Mrs Mathai’s, the dhobi wallah squatting on my bedroom floor and listing the clothes he was taking away to wash “one kurta, one jibba, one pant, one half-pant”, the frogs croaking after the monsoon, Balan the tailor making trousers for me that fitted perfectly without him even measuring me, a hike in the Animalai Hills with the mess waiters carrying all the gear so that we could have a brew-up en route, a school trip to Mysore and Bangalore, Sports Day with its “Olympic style” march past complete with flags and the band in their red tunics, the view of Idli Malai across the sports fields, learning to eat rice with my hand whilst sitting on the floor. All happy memories.

Of course, I wasn’t always happy. Sometimes I felt lonely and sometimes I felt homesick but I look back at my time at the school with great fondness and I have always been grateful for the immense kindness that was shown to me, a young man a long way from home, by all the staff and students.

If anyone would like to contact me please email steverosson@aol.com.

 

Special Aircraft for the Indian Cricket Team


During our trip to Alaska, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver.  We boarded the early morning Air Canada flight from Toronto.  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 58 seats, that too all First Class, with all the accessories like comforters, extra legroom, LCD screens, and a private jet-like experience.  Thank you Air Canada.  They neither charged us any premium nor extra for the additional comfort and services rendered on our Economy Class ticket.

Former India cricket captain Kapil Dev has suggested the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to buy an airplane for the Indian cricket team in order to reduce travel time and resulting fatigue in an already busy schedule. He had made a similar suggestion to the BCCI a few years ago too.  With the T20 Indian Premier League (IPL) also going great guns, BCCI is making good money.  By owning a plane, could be in partnership with any of the leading carriers, it will save a lot of time and make life easier for Team India and also for various IPL teams.

In the middle of the aircraft were four seats on either side with a large table.  It must be for the team management, the captain, the coach, the physio to hold any meetings in flight to work out strategy for the next game or to evaluate the team’s performance in their previous game.

VIRAL; The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping on airport floor goes viral | Latest News, Sports , viral, The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping
With a busy schedule ahead, both at home and at international locations, Team India is in for spending a lot of time in air.  The effect of jet-lag travelling across the globe takes a fair share of energy that too sitting in a cramped position, especially after playing a physically and mentally tiring match.  Why, even the practice sessions of today takes the toll.

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It could also be feasible for various IPL teams to own their own aircrafts in collaboration with various domestic carriers.  The aircraft could be used on the domestic circuit when the IPL is not in session.  It will be a great draw with the cricket crazy Indian public, to be sitting on a seat usually occupied by their cricketing hero.  Obviously, such seats will go at a premium.  The aircraft can also be chartered for corporate events, tourism packages, pilgrimage and also for weddings.

It would not only generate extra moolah for the airline, but would also help in with their publicity.

Kapil Dev’s suggestion must be taken up by BCCI  and all the IPL franchisees, at least to make  the players enjoy a better and comfortable flight in future.  This becomes all too important in the current pandemic days.

Mr Damodaran’s Treatment

(Lieutenant AK Parrat and Commander NK Parrat)

After reading my blogpost on Mr KP Damodaran, our Compounder at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Veteran Commander NK Parrat, reminisced about the medical treatment of Cadets by Mr KP Damodaran.

Commander Parrat was in 11th Grade, senior most in school, when we joined in 5th Grade in 1971.  He then Joined the National Defence Academy (48 Course) and was commissioned into the Indian Navy (IN.)  His claim to fame, both at the School and at the Academy,  was his swimming and basketball skills.  He later became a Clearance Diver in the Navy.  He came out with flying colours and was cleared for 100 meter deepsea diving in a Diving and Salvage Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), Panama City, Florida, USA.

Commander NK Parrat’s father, Late Lieutenant AK Parrat served the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and was transferred to IN on India’s independence.  Lieutenant AK Parrat specialised in air-radio and was posted at INS Hansa, which was then located at Coimbatore.  Thus Commander NK Parrat joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar.

With the liberation of Goa in December 1961 from the Portuguese, INS Hansa moved to Dabolim, Goa and Lieutenant AK Parrat was posted to Kochi, Kerala.  He now offered his son Commander NK Parrat, then in grade 6,  that he could move to Sainik School, Kazhakkoottam, Kerala.  Commander NK Parrat refused on the plea “I do not want to be new boy again!

AK Parrat knew Mr Damodaran from their RIN days and instantly a special relationship was established.  Mr Damodaran was well known as he had actively participated in the Bombay Mutiny, a revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946.

Lieutenant Percy S Gourgey, RIN, in his book, ‘The Indian Naval Report of 1946,′ has chronicled the events of the revolt.  The sailors were infuriated by the statements of Commander F M King, RIN, of HMIS Talwar, when he addressed the Indian sailors as ‘sons of coolies and bitches.’  Later, around 20,000 sailors stationed at Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands joined the revolt.

The revolt began with a demand for better food and working conditions, but turned into demand for independence from British rule.  They also demanded the release of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language, revision of pay and allowances to be at par with  the sailors in the Royal Navy, etc.

That was a bit on the history of the Bombay Mutiny.

How did Mr Damodaran earn a place in the heart of all the cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar?

It was all due to his dedication and love for the cadets.  He had many a magic potions which could cure all diseases and injuries the cadets suffered.

On returning from the sports field after a hard day’s play and leaving behind the epidermal layer on the ground, all Cadets straight went to the MI Room for an appointment with Mr Damodaran.

He cleaned the wound with savlon solution, applied a gauze over the wound and painted it with a layer of ‘Tincture Benzoin.’ It burned as the tincture was applied, but was a sure cure for all superficial skin wounds. After the superficial wound was cleaned with savlon, a gauze was placed on the wound and Tincture Benzoin was painted over it.  It burned as it was applied, but the adhesive nature of the medication ensured that it stuck to the wound and did not need bandaging.  On healing, the gauze fell off by itself.

Many cadets suffered from fungal infections of the skin, ringworm, athlete’s foot, scabies, etc – all because we played in the dirt, many a times bare-footed.  Gentian Violet, an antiseptic dye was used to treat these cases.  The cadet who suffered from the infection stood out as the dye remained on the skin for over a week.  It was a sure way to mark out those ‘Unhygienic Cadets.’

There were two magic potions compounded by Mr Damodaran – Soda-Sal (Sodium Salicylate) and Sodium-bicarbonate.  Soda-Sal is a  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent for relieving pain and reducing fever. Sodium-bicarbonate was the antacid.  Mr Damodaran had them in two labeled bell-shaped jars and was dispensed lavishly to cadets for any ailments.

We had the awful smelling IG Paint (Ichthammol Glycerin), also called black ointment or black drawing salve, a remedy for many skin disorders and inflammation. It is made from sulfonated shale oil and combined with other ingredients, like lanolin or petroleum.  For any sprains, this ‘stinking’ paint was lavishly applied.

The most uncomfortable potion was the Mandl’s Paint, used as throat paint for the treatment of pharyngitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and sore throat. Due to high viscous nature, it retains the drug for longer time on affected part of the throat.  The agony was that he inserted into the mouth a cotton swab attached to a foot-long stick to paint the patient’s throat.  It left a severe after-taste, but it cured all those medical conditions in a few days – without any antibiotics.

Most of the medicines listed above have been discontinued today due to their harmful side-effects.  It was with Mr Damodaran’s loving care that we cadets of the days trained and graduated from the school without any serious medical conditions.

To read more about our Compounder and his magic APC, Please Click Here.

A Stitching Lesson

At Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu, we had an MI Room (Medical Inspection Room) – the refuge for the tired souls – both physical and mental.  The boss out there was Mr KP Damodaran who  can well be described as a Nursing Assistant by profession, whom everyone called a Compounder, but always acted as a Doctor.

Forever for any medical condition, worth it or not, he prescribed a combination of APC with sodium-bicarbonate, a pink coloured magic potion, an awful tasting mixture, compounded by our Compounder Mr Damodaran, a Veteran from the Royal Indian Navy who saw action during World War II.

I was admitted for mumps in the isolation ward for 21 days while in grade 7. During one of his daily rounds, Mr Damodaran saw me reading the history book. As he turned the pages, it was about the Viceroys and Governor Generals of British India – Lord Wavell and Mountbatten. Mr Damodaran said “I’ve met both Lord Wavell and Lord Mountbatten during World War II.  Lord Wavell’s sketch in this book least resembles his personality.” 

What was the magic tablet APC? It was a combination tablet containing aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. In those days (early 70’s), it was perceived to be a magic drug – a solution for most diseases and medical conditions. It disappeared in 1983 because of harmful side effects of phenacetin.

Sodium-bicarbonate is a mixture of  Sodium-bicarbonate with sugar and salt.  It was used as an antacid to treat heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach as Sodium-bicarbonate is a very quick-acting antacid.

When we were in grade 11 in 1978, we were the senior-most in school. During a movie show on a Saturday night, a bench we were seated broke and a piece cut through the thigh of Palanivel, our classmate. Everyone else were engrossed in watching the movie, but I saw Palani bleeding and writhing in pain. I helped him walk to the MI Room and there was Mr Damodaran.

Palani was immediately administered a dose of Tetanus Toxoid (TT) and the next step was to suture his six inch long gash. Mr Damodaran switched on the steriliser and after five minutes asked me “put on the gloves and take out the suturing thread and a needle with a tong.” I did as ordered.

Then came a surprise ordeal for me.  Mr Damodaran had a failing eyesight and he asked me “Please thread the needle.”  Unfortunately for us, Mr Damodaran’s spectacles broke a few days before and to get a new one he had to travel to Udumalpet, the closest town, about 24 km away.  That could be feasible only the next day being a Sunday.

His next command was a bigger surprise – “now start stitching.”  He instructed each step and I put six sutures through Palani’s skin.  Palani must still be carrying the scar on his thigh today.

How could I execute such a mission?

When we were in Grade 2 & 3, we had stitching classes by Annamma Teacher, who also taught us Malayalam.  On a piece of cloth we began with hemming, then running stitch, cross stitch and then stitch English Alphabets, a flower and a leaf.  It came in handy that day.

Annamma Teacher remains etched in my memory as she was very compassionate to the young kids and was an epitome of dedication.  She was always dressed in her spotlessly white ‘Chatta, Mundu and Kavani,‘ the traditional Syrian Christian women’s attire.  Chatta is more like a jacket, while the mundu (dhoti), unlike the one worn by a man, is elegance personified, especially at the back, where it is neatly pleated and folded into a fan-like ‘njori‘.  Both Chatta and Mundu are pure cotton, Kavani, generally off-white with hand sewn embroidery is made of a thinner material and is draped across the body.

During our younger days, Chatta, Mundu and Kavani was the most common wear for the ladies, especially while attending the Sunday Mass and also during social and religious occasions. Chatta consists of two pieces of cloth cut into T shape and hand stitched prior to the arrival of sewing machines.  My grandmother said that they used to cut the cloth into two Ts with a kitchen knife as the scissors were not in vogue then and hand sew them.

Muslim women of Kerala in those days wore a white Mundu called ‘Kachimundu’ with blue and purple borders. The Muslim women’s Mundu do not have the fan-like Njori at the back. The head covering ‘Thattam‘ is better known as ‘Patturumala.’ The torso is covered by a long blouse with full sleeves. This type of dress is known as Kachi and Thattam.


Difficulty in maintaining the white outfit spotlessly white and availability of cheaper, easy to wear and maintain sarees resulted in the saree becoming the common wear for the Syrian Christian ladies.  Modern day wedding planners have revived the Chatta, Mundu and Kavani by showcasing it by asking a few relatives of their client to dress up so.


Annamma Teacher’s son, Veteran Colonel OM Kuriakose and her grandson Lieutenant Colonel Anish Kuriakose – both father and son are from The Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army.

Pen Pushers


My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that  I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard  Staff College and/ or  Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit.  A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome.  This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.

When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College.  You tell us to read five pages daily and write one.  When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer.  In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”

To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun.  We have one Staff College qualified  BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.

My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture?  Who will conduct the demonstration?  Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?

The answer was obvious!  They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”

I concluded “You can select what you want to do.  So, you better qualify the entrance exam for  both.  It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two.  Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.

When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.)  He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams.  A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.

Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through.  The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.  Look at me!  I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”

His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want  to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously.  I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed.  I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”

For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery,  survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on.  Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?

Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied.  With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”

LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days.  Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.

On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight.   I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam.  He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight.  I am sure  you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify.   Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”

Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans.  Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.

As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”

I dashed to the CO’s office.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify.  All the best.  Do well in life.”

He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.

While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time?  Why did he wish me well in life?  Above all, why did he hug meWhy did he have to see me off?

Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered.  (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.

About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.

Indian Army Water Bottle


Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.


My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.


This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,


These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.


In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.


The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.