Book Review : Golf and Life : by Veteran Major General Anil Sengar

Congratulations to the author for a well researched book – fusing golf and leadership seamlessly.  The book is worth a read, even for someone like me who hardly ever stepped into a golf course. If you have not stepped on to a Golf Course or does not understand the Golf jargon, this book is for you!!

The catchphrase of the book – ‘The Past is in Your Head and the Future is in Your Hands’ – showcases what the book is all about.

The author has used his distinctive narrative style to lead the reader through the 18 Holes of a Golf Course – the Life Course – all accompanied by a tinge of humour and at places sarcasm too.  Owning a set of Golf Clubs, a membership to a Golf Club, or merely playing golf does not make one a golfer – far from being a good golfer.  It is all about hard work, dedication and endless hours spent at the Golf Course. All to achieve that ever-elusive perfection.

The journey of life – how to deal with different situations and people – and what one can contribute to the society is well brought out.  At every instance, the author delves into the need to ensure that one equips well with the best quality tools.  There is no point in blaming the tools in hand.  A poor artist ends up blaming his brush. What one achieves in life is all because of equipping correctly, planning well, and practising a lot.  The author has chronicled this journey of life through the actions of an enthusiastic golfer Kay El who wants to achieve success, but not through hard work alone.  One comes across many Kay Els in life, and one has also become a Kay El on many occasions.

The need to be fair – whether on the Golf Course or on the Course of Life – is well enunciated throughout the book.  One quote that sums up this aspect which all readers would like to follow is ‘Anything that threatens your peaceful sleep, peace of mind and reputation, as a man of trust and credibility is not worth any wealth or reward.’

Leadership is all about being truthful to oneself, especially while no one is watching or umpiring.  General Sengar has explained this aspect of being self-disciplined well. 

The Mantra in this book is all about finding a cause and dedicating wholesomely for it and is sure to achieve success.

Worth a read and strongly recommended for anyone in a leadership role; also for anyone aspiring to be a leader or a golfer or both.

The book costing ₹395 is available @ https://notionpress.com/read/golf-and-life and on amazon.in @ https://www.amazon.in/dp/B09QQKNMT2/

Corrupted Dosa

Recently read a post ‘Online delivery of Masala Dosas is a food ‘hate-crime’. North India must apologise. Its indeed a hate crime!!!  Even the paper thin Dosa is a hate crime the North Indians must tender an apology for!!!

A Dosa is a thin pancake like a crepe originating from South India, made from a fermented batter of lentils and rice.

The paper-thin Dosa is the corrupted form of Dosa.  In my childhood Amma made Dosa on a ten-inch dia stone girdle.  It was thick – the least it was five times thicker lighter and spongier than its paper-thin cousin. These Dosas were characterised by the holes left by the steam evaporating on cooking from the batter.

I joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in 1971 at the age of nine where Dosa was served twice a week – Sunday breakfast and Thursday diner.  The Sunday Dosa was with Sambar and Chutney, but the Thursday Dinner was the best – rarest of rarest combination – Dosa with Chicken Masala Curry – one of the best combinations I have had in my life.  Here too it was the thick and fluffy Dosa which combined well with the gravy.

My introduction to the paper-thin Dosa was at the National Defence Academy.  It never tasted anywhere near what I had at home or at school.  It was too crispy for my liking.  I called it the ‘Corrupt version of the poor Dosa.’  Though corrupt, it was lapped up by the North Indians and the South Indians too followed suit and the thick and original Dosa disappeared from most South Indian restaurants and homes.  Some restaurants now serve it as ‘Set Dosa.’

I recall an incident narrated by Veteran Colonel MA Mathai.  After marriage, on settling in their first military abode in 1985, he and his wife Sainu decided to invite all officers of their Regiment for a Dosa Brunch.  In the morning Sainu made Dosas the way her mother made them – thick and stout.  Neither Captain Mathai nor the officers were too happy about it.

After our marriage, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra in 1989.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the following Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  I asked for my most relished combination with Dosa – chicken masala curry.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the thick Dosa made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala curry was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

During our Pan-India tour as part of the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1990, at Jabalpur Railway Station, our coach was stationed adjacent to the main platform.  After the industrial visits, while I was strolling on the railway platform in the evening, I came across tow young men from Kerala selling Dosas. They narrated their story as to how they came to Jabalpur and established their business. 

The two unemployed high-school graduate lads landed at Jabalpur on the recommendation of a close relative who was employed with the Ordnance Factory.  They searched for a job and joined the restaurant on the railway platform as dishwashers.  Few months into their work, the restaurant owner was impressed with their dedication and asked them “Can you make Dosas?  There is a lot of demand for it.  There are no good Dosa vends in town.” They took the bait. 

The two men travelled to Kerala to return with a heavy grinder, girdles and other utensils needed to make Dosa.  They commenced their Dosa selling in the restaurant and soon the place became a favourite haunt of the powerful, wealthy and influential people of Jabalpur.  The restaurant owner now came out with a new business model for them.  “You sell your Dosas here and all the money is yours?”

Too tempting an offer to reject!!  They again took the bait.  They sold hundreds of Dosas every evening, collected the cash, went back to their home to soak the rice and lentil overnight.  Next morning, they ground the rice and lentil and fermented it till evening.  In the evening, they established their girdle on the platform, in front of the restaurant.  People came in droves to buy Dosas.  Many sent their tiffin carriers for home delivery. 

The biggest question in their minds was “Why did the owner allow us to sell Dosas and take all the money?”

A month into the new venture, they gathered enough courage to ask the question to the restaurant owner.  “Customers who buy Dosas from you buy coffee too.  I sell over a hundred coffee every evening and I make a Rupee on every coffee. “

The restaurant owner did not kill the geese that laid golden eggs for him, he nurtured them!!!!

Learning and Studying

Two words – studying and learning – have always been interchangeable for me until I joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1982.  That was when I commenced applying the knowledge I had gained – especially in trigonometry and physics – while calculating various ballistic parameters for the long range guns.

Studying was the formal education I received at school and at the Academy where I gained knowledge – the basics – which stood as the foundation for all my learning.  Learning was all about applying the knowledge in many situations and there were many  errors, mistakes, commissions and omissions. I learned more with every passing experience.  While learning, there was always a chance of failure – I won some and lost many.

Let us examine the definitions of the two words:-

  • To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. Learning is absorbing the information, testing its validity to the point of being able to understand the information.
  • To Study – to read, memorise facts, attend school, etc, in order to learn about a subject.  Studying is the act of gathering the information and poring over it, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

One studies to learn.  Many a times one studies a lot, but learns hardly anything.  One tends to forget what one studied, especially when the aim was only to score a few marks in an examination.  Here there is neither any addition to one’s knowledge nor development of any skills.

Studying is pushing and learning is pulling. The content is pushed to the students and learners pull the content what they want to learn.  In order to increase one’s English vocabulary, reading the dictionary alone will not suffice.  It is mere studying. Reading a book and referring to a dictionary is the ideal way as one learns more from the context the word is used than from its dictionary meaning. One may study English grammar for days, but without getting into real communication – both speaking and writing – it’s hardly of any use and one is learning neither the language nor the grammar. We learn the alphabets of a language by-heart, we learn to associate these alphabets to form words to read and write. We learn grammar, but study literature.

In mathematics there are only two digits – 0 and 1 – the rest are all combinations of these. There is only one mathematical operation – addition – subtraction is addition of a negative number, multiplication is continuous addition and division is addition of fractions. If a child learns this basic fact, rest will follow.

Doctors while at medical school memorise all Latin medical terms, and by constant usage familiarise with these terms. They apply their knowledge and learn to diagnose and also carryout a procedure or a surgery.

To be successful in any profession today, studying and earning a degree is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a Lieutenant  in the Army, but  the selection criteria is more about leadership qualities, empathy, problem solving ability, etc.  In today’s digital world with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, these skills are more important than the marks scored and degrees earned.

For many, studying is associated with reading.  It may be true as one grows into an adult, acquiring knowledge and understanding various concepts. Babies are constantly learning, but are neither studying nor reading. Learning occurs at random too – with one’s observations and correlating the same with the knowledge already gained. Listening to someone well experienced in the field, one learns a lot.  It can be from a new experience, or from what one reads, analyses and perceives.

Studying at school (including home schooling) is vital because it teaches students essential life values. More than studying or learning, it is more about developing social skills and being a team player. Many students realised it during the pandemic.  

School gives the students  the basics –  alphabets, numbers, sounds, arithmetic skills and social skills. It develops problem-solving skills in students.  Expertise of the teacher helps  students understand and gain knowledge. Schools also help develop many hidden talents in students. It guides and motivates students to bring the best out of them. It is also an avenue to interact with other people. It is a place to meet new friends and colleagues. School enhances social skills with students  dealing with different kinds of people.

Owl, Reading, Book, Bird, Study, Animal, Line Art

Learning never exhausts the mind – Leonardo da Vinci

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you -B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere – A Chinese Proverb

A Washroom Abashment

This morning, I walked to the Square 1 Mall, a five minute walk from our home, for my hour long walk.  The Square 1 Mall opens at 6 am, not for shoppers, but for the cleaning staff and for the salespersons to set up their stores.  The aisles are nearly empty where it is always warm at +25°C with music and it never rains or snows.  The ground is even and level and there is no chance of slipping and falling.  Morning walkers, mostly senior citizens use the facility.

Square 1 Mall is the largest shopping centre in Ontario and the second largest shopping centre in Canada. It has over 2,200,000 square feet (200,000 m2) of retail space, with more than 360 stores and services.

As I entered the mall, the girl at the Santa-Photo Centre which comes up every Christmas Holidays, was setting up the place.  This is where families take their Photo-with-Santa while they shop at the mall.  Is there a better way to remember the holidays than having your picture taken with Santa

Nearing completion of my walk, I felt an urgent need to empty my bladder, to wet the white porcelain throne in the washroom.  I was lost in my thoughts as I entered one of the many washrooms in the mall.  I went through the front door and turned left to the men’s washroom.

There it was, a spic and span, freshly cleaned washroom welcomed me in.  I was a bit surprised to find the washroom a bit  too spacious for a Canadian public washroom.  Was it that it catered for turning of a wheelchair bound user? I presumed. The grab bars confirmed that the cubicle was meant for a differently-abled person.  Still there was something amiss!

As I completed the nature’s call and turned I saw the sanitary waste bin – a container that allows safe disposal of sanitary waste in washrooms. If washroom users continuously flush items that  shouldn’t go down the toilet, it is bound to cause drain blockages and plumbing issues.  Providing toilet paper and soap are essential in every washroom environment, but personal hygiene disposal units must be provided too.

It is a women’s washroom!!  Reality dawned on me.  When I entered, I saw only the last three letters of the signage.  English language and its spellings can be real tricky! Not my fault!!!! I justified.

Why couldn’t there be Gender Neutral Washrooms?? A mother taking her son or a father taking his daughter to a washroom, where will they go?

Toronto Police Headquarters, The Royal Ontario Museum and many schools provide gender neutral washrooms. Four of the family washrooms in Square 1 Mall are gender neutral.

Slowly I stepped out and walked to the entrance of the washroom.  Luckily for me I was the only one.  I adjusted my mask to cover my entire face and walked out with my right leg first.  Why with my right leg?  Please click here to read the reason.

The Time magazine should have declared the Mask and not Musk as the person of the year 2021???

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Before we usher in 2022, me must examine the Terms and Conditions that come with it!!!!

2021 was one of the most challenging year for most of us. Let us be thankful that we are happy and safe and all set to enter into 2022.

Atmospheric River

Canada’s West Coast- British Columbia – was battered with heavy rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding and landslides in November 2021. It is believed to have been caused by more than one Atmospheric Rivers (AR.)

The term AR was coined in 1998 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Yong Zhu and Richard Newell, though ARs did play havoc earlier too. Until then AR was mostly referred to as tropical plume, tropical connection, moisture plume, water vapor surge, cloud burst and cloud band.

An AR is no river in the sky as the name suggests, but is a weather phenomenon.  It is a narrow corridor of highly saturated moisture in the atmosphere that stretches to 1600 km long and about 600 km wide.  Water an AR carries can be roughly compared to about 25 times carried by any major river like the Ganges or the Mississippi.

AR is born in the tropical ocean regions near the equator, and as it travels away from the equator, the warm air mass gets saturated with water vapour.  As the AR makes its landfall, water vapour condenses into precipitation, resulting in heavy rain or snow.

ARs originate form eight oceanic regions around the world, some closer to continental coasts than others. One of those regions is just off North America’s western coast and can produce between one to two dozen ARs per year. ARs from the Indian Ocean caused havoc in Australia and in India, especially Kerala, Uttarakhand, Bengal in the recent years.

Has climate change caused the ARs to be lethal?

Scientists and climatologists believe that the frequency of ARs may reduce by 10% in the years to come, but they may increase in size by about 25%. This would result in ARs dumping more water on the land as years pass by.  Global warming will cause the air in the AR  to become warmer and warmer the air, more water vapour it carries. When the AR makes landfall, it will release more rain or snow than the previous one. 

What caused flooding and land-slides in British Columbia?

The summer season in 2021 in British Columbia saw more than 1,600 fires charring nearly 8,700 square km of forest land.  These forest fires bake the soil, making them more hydrophobic or making them to repel water.  The coniferous trees in Canadian forests, when they burn, release a waxy compound that bind the forest soil, making it more hydrophobic. The water-repelling layer is typically found at or a few cm below the ground surface and is commonly covered by a layer of burned soil or ash. 

When the ARs dumped heavy volume of water in areas burned during the 2021 wildfires, the runoff from these burned grounds was greater and more rapid because of the hydrophobicity of the soil.  Burning down of the trees and vegetation binding the soil on the mountain slopes resulted in the soil becoming loose, causing many land-slides.

Let us now look at the mythological aspects.

The Abrahamic religions narrate the flood story of Noah’s Ark where the God became angry with the sins of mankind. He told his faithful servant, Noah, to build an ark large enough for his family and two of every creature on earth. God delivered the promised deluge, lasting 40 days, that killed everyone and everything on earth except the population of the ark.  After the flood, the ark came to rest on a mountain top, indicating that the depth of the water was higher than the mountains.

As per Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the Gods, was displeased with the humans. Zeus told Deucalion to construct an ark for himself and his wife. After nine days of flooding, the world was destroyed, and the ark rested on top of Mount Parnassus.

Hindu mythology too refers to such a flood. Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish appeared to Manu and told Manu that the world would be destroyed in a great flood. Manu built a boat and tied it to the fish. The fish guided Manu’s boat through the floods to the top of a mountain.

The Chinese too have many stories and myths about floods, Gods, dragons, and spirits. Like other flood stories, there are only a handful of survivors.

Could these floods have been caused by an AR? Some say it might have been caused by tsunamis or by comets or asteroids hitting  the earth.

Flood stories are universal and is part of all religions and mythology where the God sent flood to destroy the sinners as punishment..  Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim hypothesised that dreams of the flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders!!

Are the Gods unhappy with the humanity that the next flood is near? Are we to pay for our sins of not caring for Mother Nature?

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Bible : Genesis 6:5

Rest In Peace Mrs Mercy Mathai

PTC
Mrs Mercy Mathai and Mr Mathai on extreme left with Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Photo taken in 1969, courtesy  Mr Steve Rosson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as a Voluntary Service Overseas teacher from England.    The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.

Facebook this morning brought the sad news from Veteran Colonel Sajan Moideen about the demise of Mrs Mercy Mathai, our Matron at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu. 

Death cannot take away Mrs Mercy, she will always remain alive in our hearts.  Many cadets like me, owe their little domestic skills to her.  I feel lucky because I was one among her many wards, helped and developed by her, during our formative days at school. I pray he is in the good place now, watching us from the right side of the Creator.

When we, 30 of us from Kerala, joined the school in grade 5, at the age of nine in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam, we were welcomed in at our dorm – the Feeder House – by Mrs Mercy.  We were all happy that our Matron – Mrs Mercy – spoke Malayalam.  Everyone of us will vouch that she was a mother to each one of us.  Her love for each cadet and her devotion to duty made up for our mother’s care and love that hardly anyone felt home-sick.

Most of us, until we joined school, hardly ever wore shoes.  It was Mrs Mercy who taught us how to wear the socks and shoes and the biggest bugbear for us was tying the shoelaces.  In the Cadets’ Mess, she with Mrs Sheila Cherian taught us table manners – how to sit on a dining table, how to use the cutlery.

Making our bed in the morning was the first ritual of the day and it was Mrs Mercy who taught us how to execute the task with the counterpane covering the bed to protect it from dust. 

Counterpane – the first complicated English word in our vocabulary – is a fifteenth century word meaning a quilt, coverlet, or outer covering of a bed.  I have heard only cadets from our school and students from some public schools at Ooty (Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu) use this word.  I never heard it later while in service with the Indian Army.

She taught us many domestic skills like threading a needle, stitching a button, darning our socks, etc.  We had to put the dirty linen and clothes in our pillowcase and place them at the designated place and after three days we picked them up washed and pressed.  No one ever missed any of  their garments.  How she managed it still remains a mystery.

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Mrs Mercy was very strict with us regarding personal hygiene.  She taught us how to brush our teeth, how to bathe, how to flush the toilet, etc.  She ensured that we clipped our nails – for the defaulters, she clipped them.

She ensured that we wrote a letter home every Sunday – the only means of communication then – and she posted them on Monday.  When parents came to visit their sons, she made them confident that their son was in good care. 

She was a great leader with exceptional organisational abilities.  For our House Day, she made sure that each one of us participated in the cultural show.  For many of us appeared on stage, it was our first stage experience.  While others sang, danced and acted in skits, the likes of me without a tinge of musical or dramatic skills became trees on stage.

How can one forget the birthday bash she organised for our House Captain PM Hariz, who is now a Veteran General?  Many of her wards served the Armed Forces of India and many served as doctors, engineers, lawyers and bureaucrats.

Rest in Peace Mrs Mercy Mathai – there are many like I missing our mother – who ensured that our dorm was a home away from home.

Running Away From Studies

We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam.  English, Hindi and Tamil were alien to us.  First language and medium of education at our school was English.  We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Tamil or Hindi as our second and third languages.

Tamil as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward.  Tamil poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language.  As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam.  Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass.  It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.

Tamil was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram.  We commenced with grade 1 Tamil textbook in grade 5.  The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Tamil textbook.

We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies.  Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.

Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.

Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?

The truth is that I ran away from studies.  The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11.  We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam.  What a relief!!!.

We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal.  On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us.  We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.)  This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.

Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics.  How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Tamil?

I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Tamil as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.

At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!

Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received  modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then.  In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them.  This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.

My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots.  It continued and will continue for ever. 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.

Aircraft on a Highway

On November 16, 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Purvanchal Expressway in Uttar Pradesh after landing on the highway airstrip in an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130 Hercules plane.  Kudos to the IAF for executing such a mission.  The 3.2 km long airstrip has been constructed on the expressway to facilitate emergency landing by fighter aircraft.  IAF carried out a few trial landings on the strip prior to the mission with the Prime Minister on board. The questions that came to my mind were:-

  • Is it safe to execute such missions with the Prime Minister on board?
  • What was the intended aim from the military/ strategic point of view?

Who can answer my queries the best other than Veteran Wing Commander Avinash Chikte of the IAF, our senior at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron?  He is former fighter pilot and now a commercial airline pilot. He is the author of two books and many blog posts.  He answered my questions. Please read his blog about the incident @ https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/purvanchal-expressway-why-some-highways-are-built-like-runways-554391.html

Why did these questions erupt in my mind?

While in our Grade 11 at school, on November 4, 1977,  a VIP flight on the Tupolev-124, the Russian-made aircraft which was christened as Pushpaka by the IAF, crash landed at Jorhat in Eastern India with the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai on board.  The Prime Minister was accompanied by his son Sri Kanti Bhai Desai, the director of Intelligence Bureau Sri John Lobo and the Chief Minister of Arunachal Sri PK Thungan.

The aircraft was carrying 11 crew and nine passengers. Five of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured. The Prime Minister was  unscathed. The plane went down nose first – a  deliberate act by the crew in the cockpit in the front part of the aircraft – to ensure they took the main impact of the crash, saving the VIP passengers.

Mr Desai is accredited as the first non-Congress Party Prime Minister of India, but he was the brunt of many teenage jokes at our school. The jokes revolved around his bizarre drinking habit and being born on the Leap Day – February 29, 1896. Babies born on the Leap Day are referred to as Leaplings, Leapers, or Leapsters. The Leap Year must be evenly divisible by 4. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year unless the year is also divisible by 400.- Year 2000 is a leap years, but 1900 and 2100 are not.

The list of Indian senior politicians who survived such crash landings may interest the readers.

Babu Jagjivan Ram was seriously injured in a BOAC airline crash in Iran shortly before Independence. Babu was lucky to survive the accident in which several people were killed, but was unlucky that he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947.

Sardar Patel too had a miraculous escape.  The aircraft carrying him to Jaipur to to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan, force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949.  Although the aircraft was completely damaged, the skill of the IAF pilot ensured that no one was injured.

Other prominent Indian politicians who did not survive an aviation accident are Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia.  Many Chief Ministers of various Indian states had miraculous escapes – mostly helicopter accidents – with former Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis surviving five of them. 

Recent Canadian Incident

A small plane on a training mission was forced to make an emergency landing on a Canadian highway in Toronto on October 27, 2021at 11 AM.   The instructor-pilot declared May Day after running into mechanical issues and realising that he would not make it back to the airport. The pilot with his trainee managed to land the plane safely on the highway.

Canadian highways have two aprons on either side. The one on the right is marked with a continuous white line and can be used to stop the vehicles in an emergency. The one on the left is marked with a continuous yellow line and is meant for the emergency services vehicles like police cruisers, ambulance and fire-trucks. This lane was used by the aircraft to make the emergency landing.
By 2 PM, the plane took a ride on a flatbed truck to clear the highway, ending one of the rare Canadian highway incident in recent history

Designing a Bathroom for the Differently-Abled

Speaking to my Guru from the National Defence Academy days – Veteran General Raj Mehta – the need for designing a bathroom for his wife with reduced mobility came up.  The discussion we had is summarised here. 

Most of our friends – we over 60 years of age – with our mobility in and around our homes reducing with each passing year, will need a walker, a stick or a wheelchair to move. Are our homes designed for it?

How to make wood floors less slippery | Life Is An Episode

The floors of the home got to be non-slippery and the doors curb-less to facilitate movement with a walker/ wheelchair. 

Our discussion zoomed in to the bathroom, the most important space at any age – especially during old age. The bathroom needs special care and precision in furnishing choices and solutions.

Dimensions.  The bathroom must be large enough to enable ease of movement. It should accommodate two persons as one may need assistance.  Hence it must offer 2 meter free space on every side.

Door.  There should be no curb at the bottom of the door frame protruding out from the floor.  The door must open inwards and not outwards.  It may also be a sliding door which disappears in the wall, or a folding door with a vertically-positioned handle to optimize space even more. The door must be made of material, strong enough to withstand the blows from a wheelchair.  The door should be a minimum of 34” wide for wheelchair users. Install lever style door handles that are easier to use than doorknobs.

Floor.  Must be non- tripping and non-slipping. Fast drying and anti-slip materials should be preferred, without steps, large grout lines or uneven joints. Make sure there are no loose bath mats on the floor. Bath mats are an obstacle for people on a wheelchair and a tripping hazard.

Grab Bars. These must be fitted firmly on to the wall in strategic locations to ensure that people using a space have something to grip onto for supporting their body weight. They help to prevent the user from slipping and also assist the user to move more easily without help from others. Grab bars, preferably circular, should have an outside diameter measuring 1.25 to 2 inches. They must be free from any sharp or abrasive elements, must not rotate, and should sustain at least 250 pounds (114 kg) of force. There should be a space or gap of at least 1 inch between the wall and the grab bar.

Washbasin.  The consideration here is that a differently-abled person approaches the sink with the wheelchair and therefore must have the space to assume the most comfortable position at the sink. Adequate space must be left under the sink. The sink must ideally be placed with 34” maximum rim height with a 27” clearance for knees. The handles of the faucets must be long enough to make it is easier to reach and turn on the jet of water.  The mirror should be broad and positioned in such a way that the person can have it at their height. Fix grab bars to maneuver around the sink.

Bath.  An accessible bath needs to be 30” x 48” for mobility devices in front of each plumbing fixture and room to turn around in a wheelchair. Using a rolling shower seat or fixed shower seat at the height of 17” to 19” is a good idea. A small stool or plastic chair can allow the bather to sit while taking a shower and can be removed for users who don’t use the seat to shower. The opening to the shower is level with the floor and is sloped down to the drain. The shower should be about 60” wide for someone in a wheelchair to be able to turn around in or for an accompanying assistant. A minimum of two grab bars are recommended in the shower area. The controls to turn on the shower must ideally be near grab bars.  Place items such as hair care, bathing products, soap, washcloth, etc, so they are easily reachable and do not fall on to the floor. Towel shelves or hooks should be installed within easy reach for drying off before exiting the shower to prevent wet floors.

Toilet.  The toilet must be 17”to 19” high. A higher toilet seat makes it easier to lower, stand, or transfer from a wheelchair/walker to the toilet. Thicker toilet seats can be used to add height to existing toilet. Installing a bidet may allow for more privacy and good hygiene.  Install at least one grab bar to one side of the toilet at the distance of 18” to nearest wall or fixture. The toilet must ideally be between two support bars that are 36” apart.

Lighting.  Even lighting that avoids shadows and glares is preferred.  Using natural light as much as possible is ideal.  Easy to operate light switches must be placed at a lower height for a wheelchair user.  Motion detector lights are preferred for individuals who have trouble accessing light switches.

Wc Mark, Toilet, Handicapped, Logo, Symbol

All walks, halls, corridors, aisles and other passageways at home should be wide enough to allow ease of movement for a person on a wheelchair. The minimum clear width of an accessible route required is 36″ (915 mm) except at doors.

Modern bathroom design that blends attractive look, clever solutions, safe building materials and easy access are great for differently-abled people. The comfortable and functional layout enhance modern bathroom design for them.

“If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever gonna be equal in the community?” – Judith Huemann – American disability rights activist. 

100 Years of The Red Poppy

French lady, Madame Anna Guérin, is accredited as ‘The Poppy Lady,’ who was inspired by John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields.’ She distributed the Red Poppy on Armistice Day to raise money for Veterans’ needs and to remember those who had given their lives during the First World War.  In July of 1921 the Great War Veterans Association adopted the Poppy as the flower of Remembrance – and begun a glorious tradition of pinning the Red Poppy during the Remembrance Week.

At 11 AM on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent after more than four years of World War I when the Germans called for an armistice to secure a peace settlement. They accepted allied terms of an unconditional surrender.

Thus the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance and became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war. The allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their dead soldiers.

On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new Cenotaph in London. The silence was proposed by Australian journalist Edward Honey, who was working in Fleet Street. At about the same time, a South African statesman made a similar proposal to the British Cabinet, which endorsed it.

The tradition of Remembrance Day evolved out of Armistice Day. The initial Armistice Day began at Buckingham Palace, with the King hosting a banquet honoring the French president. Later, during World War II, many countries changed the name of the holiday. The US chose Veterans Day.

Remembrance Day in Canada, known as ‘Jour du Souvenir,’ remains a statutory holiday in six of the 10 provinces. The Armistice Day Act, which was held throughout the 1920s, declared that Canada’s Thanksgiving would also be observed on Armistice Day — the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell. The government, in 1931, officially changed the date to November 11. The name also changed to Remembrance Day.

Canada has declared that the date is of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace, particularly the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and all conflicts since then in which members of the Canadian Armed Forces have participated.

Some Canadian facts on the Remembrance Week:-

  • 118,000 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice during times of war and conflict.
  • 82% of Canadians still find the annual tribute important.
  • 54% of Canadians feel today’s youth do a great job of honouring veterans.
  • 46% Canadians think young people understand the sacrifices of those who have died in conflict.
  • 91% believe Canada should do more to honour its veterans.

Movember and Men’s Health

The word ‘Movember‘ is derived from the combination of the word ‘Mo, which is the Australian-English abbreviated form for ‘Mustache‘ and ‘November,’ as the event takes place every year during the month of November. This involves growing of mustaches in order to raise awareness of different men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health challenges.

Using the mustache as a catalyst, Movember encourages men to invest in their own health by more openly talking about their health concerns and more proactively seeking necessary medical care. The idea is to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed.  Participants of Movember are called ‘Mo Bros’ and the women who support are called ‘Mo Sistas.

The idea of Movember originated in 1999, when a group of men from Adelaide, Australia decided to grow their mustaches for charity during the month of November and the Movember Foundation came into existence. The goal and motto of the foundation is to ‘change the face of men’s health.’ The movement has gone global and today is well supported in New Zealand, the US, Canada, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Ireland.

The Movember Foundation aims to prevent men dying too young from a range of health issues including prostate and testicular cancer, mental health and suicide. Their efforts have impacts on a global scale and have funded more than 1,200 men’s health projects around the globe.

Globally, men die on average 5 years earlier than women, and for reasons that are largely preventable. The world loses a man to suicide every minute of every day.  The reason for the poor state of men’s health are numerous and complex and include:-

  • Lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues men face
  • Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re feeling
  • Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physically or mentally well
  • Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their health 
  • Stigmas surrounding mental health

Canadian statistics indicate that:-

  • 1 in 9 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime
  • Testicular cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young Canadian men
  • In 2019, over 3,050 men died by suicide, nearly 60 men per week
  • In Canada, 3 out of 4 deaths by suicide are men
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian males aged 15–44 years

Here are some fun-facts to tickle your mustache!!!

  • The King of Hearts is the only king in a deck of cards without a mustache. 
  • Noblemen in the Victorian era ate soup with special ‘mustache spoons’ equipped with small barriers to protect their mustaches.  
  • Ram Singh Chauhan holds the Guinness world record with a mustache that spans 14 feet long.
  • There are between 10,000 and 20,000 hairs on a man’s face, and the average mustache has 600.
  • The average man spends six months of his life shaving and mustache grooming. 
  • The average man will touch his mustache upwards of 750 times per day, averaging 31.25 times per hour.

Will you participate in Movember?  Will you educate your peers, friends and family about men’s health issues?

Cannabis – Marijuana

Indian media is filled with headlines of Aryan Khan’s  (son of Bollywood Star Sharukh Khan) arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India on a cruise ship on October 3, 2021.  Many media houses are celebrating the event with all pomp and glory throwing in bits and pieces of Masala (spice) – some even went berserk – especially those active on the social-media.

Can you justify such media glare and media trial?

Sashi Tharoor summed it up very well through his tweet “I am no fan of recreational drugs and haven’t ever tried any, but I am repelled by the ghoulish epicaricacy displayed by those now witch-hunting Sharukh Khan on his son’s arrest. Have some empathy, folks. The public glare is bad enough; no need to gleefully rub a 23yr old’s face in it.”

I needed a dictionary to understand his tweet – ghoulish (ugly and unpleasant, or frightening) epicaricacy (deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others.)  That is Tharoorian English for you!!

I too am not a fan of recreational drugs and never tried it.  The smell of marijuana smoke puts me off – though I have been a cigarette smoker for over four decades.  But the way the NCB, Indian media and the judiciary have conducted themselves in dealing with the case – I am no fan of that too.  It is absurd – may be I have lived in Canada for 18 years where a similar case would have been dealt with differently. 

This prompted me to delve into the Canadian laws on Cannabis.  In our Province of Ontario, one must be 19 and older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational Cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in our province – Ontario. The law stipulates that one can smoke and vape Cannabis in private residences, many outdoor public places (sidewalks and parks,) designated smoking guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns, etc. 

After the law was implemented in October 2019, I found a drastic decrease in the odor of Marijuana smoke while on my walks, especially at park corners. It appeared that it was Cool no more.

The law also permits a person to possess a maximum of 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried cannabis  in public at any time.  I also realised that I can grow four Cannabis plants at our home for recreational purpose.  

My mind raced back to 1980’s – a Television interview of a Tribal Chieftain from Kerala, India.  In the early 1970’s when Mrs Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, she visited the tribal area accompanied by Mr K Karunakaran, then Home Minister of Kerala State.  The Tribal Chieftain was fortunate to have had an audience with Mrs Gandhi.  She asked him as to what she could do for the welfare of his people and the Chieftain did not ask for a school, not a hospital and not a proper road to his land – he did not ask for  drinking water facilities and  not for electricity – but he promptly asked “Our people should be allowed to grow two Cannabis plants per household.”

Mrs Gandhi smiled and Mr Karunakaran nodded.  The Chieftain claimed that thereafter the Police and the  State Excise Department accepted it as an unwritten law and never ever bothered them.

Honouring A Fallen Soldier

Sepoy Vaishakh H, an Indian army soldier from Kerala, who made the ultimate sacrifice during an encounter with terrorists on October 11, 2021.  His mortal remains arrived in Kerala on October 13 and  was cremated on October 14 amidst heavy rain with full military honours.  Sepoy Vaishakh was among the five Army personnel who died in a gunfight with terrorists during an operation in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on October 11.

The operation was launched in a village close to Dera Ki Gali (DKG) in Surankote (Jammu & Kashmir) in the early hours following intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists who had infiltrated from across the Line of Control (LoC).

Prior to the funeral, his body was kept at his childhood LP school in Kudavattoor village and then at his home for public viewing. A huge crowd, including those who had no connection with the soldier, turned up to pay their last respects.

Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal, who was representing the state government, Mavelikkara MP Kodikunnil Suresh and state Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani and several senior government and Army officials were also present at the soldier’s home to pay their last respects.

Please spare a moment and take a look at the coffin. 

A fallen soldier deserves much more than this!!!!

Suicide Reporting by Media

Recently there has been many  reports on the media about suicides by young university students and young adults.  Some media houses, and some social media activists have gone on an overdrive to report such incidents with all its fury. 

Evidence suggests that the media can influence societal attitudes and beliefs to various social issues. This influence is especially strong for mental health issues, particularly suicide. Canadian newspaper coverage of the popular fictional Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, wherein the lead character dies by suicide in the final episode, generally adhered to core best practice media recommendations, and sensitively discussed suicide from various angles, prompting productive discussion and dialogue about youth suicide. These findings suggest that the media can be an ally in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of important public health issues such as suicide.

J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga all figure among celebrities who have contemplated suicide but found help and stepped back from the brink. U.S. study found a 10 percent increase in suicide mortality after the 2014 death of Robin Williams, American actor and comedian, which was partially attributed to inappropriate media coverage. Similar increases in suicide mortality were witnessed in Canada and Australia after the death of this well-known celebrity.

This phenomenon is known as ‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat suicide.’  Research has found that media coverage with details as to how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone vulnerable to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.

Greater the coverage of a suicide story higher the chances of finding a copycat.

WHO statistics indicate that more than 700 000 people die world over by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.  Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.  77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.  Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTQ2S+) persons; and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at every level – school, university, community, family – to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. World Health Organisation’s (WHO)’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends:-

  • limit access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
  • foster socio-emotional life skills in adolescents;
  • early identify, assess, manage and follow up anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviours.,
  • interact with the media for responsible reporting of suicide;

Is there a need to regulate such reporting?

In Canada, Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) provides suicide prevention and support to the people of Canada. They have laid down best practices and recommendations geared to media and other organisations with suggested guidelines and practices on how to report and comment on suicide activities, whether in the media, social media sites or internal communiques.  They recommend:-

  • Health reporters, not crime reporters, are best positioned to cover suicides.
  • Reports should generally avoid details of suicide methods, especially when unusual or novel methods are involved.
  • Emergency resource links should be included in all articles that deal with suicide.

Specific for social-media:

  • Providing information and resources to people who make suicide-related queries or posts;
  • Including panic buttons that allow for rapid access to crisis services/hotlines;
  • Providing mechanisms for users to report if they are concerned about someone with the possibility for rapid intervention; and
  • Moderating forums that frequently include suicide-related postings and making sure to remove inappropriate posts.

CSPS Recommends

  • Ongoing collaboration between journalists and mental health professionals, acknowledging scientific evidence and the autonomy of journalists;
  • All journalism schools include teaching of how to report responsibly and respectfully on the topic of suicide, including attention to issues related to ethics and social justice;
  • Media training for mental health professionals who are likely to be called on to comment on suicide in the press; and
  • Education for policy-makers and other prominent figures who may be asked to comment publicly on the topic of suicide.

The Austrian journalists recently altered the way they reported about suicide. Studies of that experience showed that after the changes, there was a significant reduction in suicide deaths across the country. Since then many other countries have put out recommendations. 

Antiquity Fraud

A new fraud has been unearthed in Kerala, India regarding sale of antiquity.  Monson, a self claimed antique dealer, was recently arrested in Kerala, India for cheating and forgery.  He boasted of high-profile connections in Kerala, which included political leaders, senior police officers and celebrities.  Monson tricked investors into believing that he got over 26 million Rupees from selling antiques to royal families in the Middle East.  He boasted that his collection included the staff of Moses, two out of the 30 silver coins taken by Judas and the throne of Tipu Sultan.

His home in Kochi, where the fake antiques and artifacts were kept, used to be allegedly frequented by senior police officers. One of the pictures doing the rounds is of former DGP Behera and ADGP Abraham during one such visit. Behera is seen sitting on a throne from Monson’s collection. He is flanked by the ADGP holding a sword.

Shawn Greenalg defrauded both the British Museum and Christie’s in 2003 with an ancient Egyptian statue of the granddaughter of King Tutankhamen, as 3,300 years old. The Bolton Museum purchased the piece that same year, but shortly after it went on display in 2004 it was discovered to be a fake. It turned out to have been be made by Shawn Greenalgh in his parents’ shed. Greenalgh and his parents made and sold forgeries for more than 17 years, earning more than a million dollars running their scheme.

Among the most famous antiquity frauds in the world is the Shroud of Turin, considered one of the holy relics by Catholics, who believe the cloth was Jesus’ burial shroud and bears the image of his face. A carbon-dating testing of 1988 revealed that the fibers in the linen cloth were not from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In September 2020, New York Police arrested Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan who compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold, by fabricating the provenance of those antiquities, and concealing their true history.

There are many high profile cases of antiquity frauds reported from all over the world.  If the British Museum and Christie’s  could be defrauded, anyone else could also be.  In this case it was the senior Police officers of Kerala who were made to believe the authenticity of the fake antiques.  If the police could be defrauded so easily, where do the common-folk go?

It prompted me to research into the rules and regulations laid down by the Government of India vide  The Antiquities And Art Treasures Act of 1972.  The act defines antiquity as:-

  • Any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship;
  • Any article, object or thing detached from a building or cave;
  • Any article, object or thing illustrative of science, art, crafts, literature, religion, customs, morals or politics in bygone ages;
  • Any article, object or thing of historical interest;
  • Any article, object or thing declared by the Central Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, to be an antiquity for the purposes of this Act, which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years;
  • Any manuscript, record or other document which is of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value and which has been in existence for not less than seventy-five years.

The act stipulates that it no person shall, himself or by any other person on his behalf, carry on the business of selling or offering to sell any antiquity without a valid licence from the Archeological Survey of India.

The acts specifies that every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity shall register such antiquity.  Whenever any person transfers the ownership, control or possession of any antiquity, such transfer must be intimated to the registering officer.

There is no dearth of rules, but if the people responsible to implement them are not aware of the rules, where does the poor rule hide?

The Unseen Granny

Nithin Lukose with his Grandmother Mariakutty

Unseen characters have been used since the beginning of theatre with the ancient Greek tragedians, such as Laius in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Jason’s bride in Euripides’ Medea.  Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another classical example of an unseen character.

In the Malayalam movie Paka which was showcased in the recently concluded Toronto Film Festival, there is a Granny whose disgruntled  mutterings are pivotal to the movie all through.  Only her toes are shown, with her lying on her bed.  Her two grandsons live with her until one of her sons, uncle of the two grandsons, returns from jail. 

In the Tamil movie ‘Ethir Neechal,’ directed by K Balachander, the Coughing Grandfather only his cough is heard all through the movie. The Grandfather is never shown. The other movie I watched where a body part of a main character is shown is in Inspector Gadget, a 1983 animated film where the villain Dr Claw’s right hand is shown all through the film. 

Like the Dr Claw, the Granny of Paka is arrogant, malicious, ruthless, sinister, short-tempered and sadistic.  The Granny is the one injecting venom of revenge into her grandsons.  She does not want to change and does not even want any light or fresh air entering her room.  She chastises her grandson who tries to open the window of her room.  After her death, the grandson opens the very same window to let in light and fresh air into the room.

The other movie I remember where a main character’s legs were shown was in Charlie’s Angels, where the villain and the master mind’s legs are shown at the very end.  In Paka, the Granny’s toes are only shown all through.

I wanted to meet Nithin Lukose, the director and script writer of the movie after the premier show, but Nithin couldn’t make it to Toronto due to the pandemic protocols.

Mariakutty, aged 83 years.  who enacted the role of the Granny mesmerised the  viewers with her voice alone.  She happens to the Grandmother of the Director Nithin.  The story is loosely based on the stories the Granny narrated to a young Nithin.  In fact Mariakutty relived her life in the movie, through her voice.

Movie Review : Paka

Filmmaker Nithin Lukose’s debut directorial venture  Paka (River of Blood) premiered at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and I was fortunate enough to watch it – thanks to our friend Mr Suresh Nellikode. 

Paka is a tale of a river where the spilled blood of two warring families flow – akin to the rivers and streams in many Indian villages, where hatred, jealousy, bitterness and blood flowed with the water.  At times the waters carried a corpse or a severed limb.  The warring factions can be well described as the Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata, where there is no winner.  Interlace it with a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ like romance between two lovers from the warring sides, it’s a complete story to narrate. 

Paka is set in Wayanad, Kerala, is a gripping and fast paced story of revenge which gets inherited over three generations.  The irony is that the acidity of revenge increases with each passing generation.  The modern generation, the educated and worldly aware one, appears most acidic.

The movie ends with one side discarding all the weapons of revenge in the very same river and the other side diving deeper into vengeance, hatred and revenge.

Though natural sounds have been used all through the movie, the score composed by Faizal Ahmed adds value to the climax.  Camera work of Srikant Kabothu brings out the natural beauty of the hilly terrain and the tropical forests of Wayanad.  Arunima Shanker’s editing is crisp and it ensures a fast pace for the movie.   The only flaw is in non-synchronisation of sounds of the band and chenda melam (ensemble of drums)  during the church festival.

The cast needs a special mention as most actors were common people from the villages of Wayanad, who faced the camera for the first time.  Basil Paulose and Vinitha Koshy have done a great job as the lead pair and the debutantes Athul John as Paachi, Jose Kizhakkan as Kocheppu, Joseph Manikkal as Varkey  have exceeded expectations of raw newcomers. 

The film has short with crisp dialogues and comes with English subtitles.  This will facilitate better understanding of the movie by all.

The word Paka in Russian is an informal way to say goodbye.  Russians often say paka paka  meaning bye bye!.  The very same word Paka in Malayalam denotes hatred. Paka  is a village in southeastern Estonia. In Japanese Paka means a hooded jacket.  The Maoris of New Zealand use the word to denote a white man.  In Swahili, Paka means a cat and in the computing world its an acronym for Password Authenticated Key Agreement.    What a contronym!!!  A dichotomy among languages!   

Kudos Nithin Lukose for an excellent movie.  Paka deserves its selection for the TIFF this year and is a must watch for all.

Light Machine Gun (LMG)

Upon completion of the Artillery Young Officers Course we, the Second Lieutenants, were appointed as the Gun Position Officers (GPO) in our Regiments. The GPO is the commander of the gun group and is responsible for the reconnaissance  and deployment of the six guns of the battery in a gun position.  With the help of his Technical Assistants at the Command Post, he is responsible for calculating and passing the technical parameters of bearing and elevation for the guns to engage targets miles away.

Deployment of a battery of six guns to engage targets in depth commences by reconnaissance (recce)   of the allotted Gun Area.  The map coordinates of the Gun Area is passed to the GPO with any restrictions on movement or administration.

On reaching the allotted Gun Area, the GPO recces the area on his vehicle to find a place suitable to deploy his six guns. When the GPO finds a suitable area, he alights from his vehicle to carry out detailed recce on foot to mark the placement of each of the six guns and the Command Post.

The moment the GPO alights from his vehicle, the driver drives the vehicle to an area which offers maximum cover, to avoid detection from air.  The LMG detachment – a Gunner and his assistant – appear in front of the GPO and the GPO deploys the LMG for protection of the Recce Party – both from air and ground attack.

The LMG detachment travels in the Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major’s (BHM) vehicle. BHM is an appointment given to one of the senior Havildars of the Battery. He is responsible for all aspects of duty and discipline of the NCOs and soldiers in that Battery. During the deployment of the Battery, he assists the GPO.

The LMG Gunner is generally the ‘Detail Master’ of the Battery. He is the understudy to the BHM and is the soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the BHM and his most important task is to prepare the Parade State of the Battery the evening before, to be handed over to the Regimental Havildar Major, who compiles the Regimental Parade State after receiving the same from all Batteries.

The assistant LMG Gunner is a tradesman – the Tailor or the Janitor – who generally does not have any specific combat duties.

After the deployment of the LMG detachment, the GPO carries out his recce, decides on the platforms for his six guns and the Command Post and gives out orders to his party.  The Gunners now prepare the their gun platforms and the Technical Assistants prepare the technical parameters.  During all these actions, everyone is expected to run and walking or slouching is a taboo, until the guns arrive and deploy.

After the guns are deployed and when the GPO confirms that the guns are correctly positioned and all technical parameters are correctly set on the guns, he gives a ‘Ready Report’ indicating that his guns are ready to engage targets.

Immediately on giving the Ready Report, there appeared Gunner Mathukutty, our LMG Gunner, with a steaming cup of tea.  That tea was the one I earned by my sweat.  By the end of the deployment, with all the running around – especially in the Rajasthan deserts – I was drenched in sweat.  The tea tasted too good to describe and it always enthused me and removed any tiredness.

During our training exercises, we had many such deployments, at times about eight in a day.  Every time the Ready Report was given, Gunner Mathukutty served me the very same tasty cup of tea.  I wanted to know as to how Gunner Mathukutty prepared the tea, when he was the LMG Gunner.

During one of the deployments, I kept a close watch on Gunner Mathukutty.  He jumped out of the BHM’s vehicle with the LMG, followed by his assistant who had the stove and kettle.  After I showed him the position of the LMG, they deployed the LMG there.  While I recced the gun platforms, they both recced for a covered position to prepare the magical tea. 

After a fortnight of training, we had our final exercise which in artillery parlance is called the ‘Practise Camp.’  This exercise involves many tactical deployments of the battery culminating into a final deployment in the firing ranges.  After the final deployment is live firing to engage target as per the tactical settings.

On the final day of our exercise, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of our Division visited us in our Gun Area.  I briefed him in detail about the deployment and the tactical scenario.  He appeared satisfied by my briefing, but wasn’t all too happy about my LMG.  True Infantry General that he was, he said “Your LMG is not deployed correctly.  It needs to move 20 meter to the left.”

Captain Raj Mehta, our Tactics Instructor at the National Defence Academy (now a Veteran Major General) had taught us all the nuances of section tactics, especially the deployment of LMG.  He had drilled it in us to such details that all of us will deploy the LMG at its apt position even in our sleep.

‘I deployed it in less than ten seconds,’ I thought.  It could well be that the General did not realise that the LMG was deployed  for both air and ground attack.  I still do not know as to how Gunner Mathukutty could have identified the flying aircraft to be hostile.  In case he sighted any aircraft in our vicinity, friend or foe, he might have ended up emptying the entire magazine of his LMG by firing at the aircraft.

Homecoming

The above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.

We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.

For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other. 

Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?

It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level.  It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.

It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.

The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.

It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely.  Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week?  I always knew you will come before.”  All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”

It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu.  Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s.  I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group.  While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.” 

I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada.  I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.

In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home.  While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?”  “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.

My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”

My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday.  How can he be home in 45 minutes?”

After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even  before I could say anything.  “It was because of the blaring traffic horns.  I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed  you were in a taxi home.”

Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune.  On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week.  On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans.  There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.

My eldest brother, now the head of the family,  advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”

Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)

On July 29, a notification on my cellphone read ‘Today is the World ORS Day.’ When there is a Left Handers’ Day (August 13,) a Sandwich Day (November 3,) a Puppy Day (March 23,) and also a Nothing Day (January 16;) I wasn’t surprised to find an ORS day!

ORS Day is observed each year on July 29 to emphasise the importance of ORS as an affordable and highly impactful healthcare method to treat dehydration and diarrhea. This year too it was celebrated, but without much fanfare, throughout the world.  I have failed to find the significance of the date – July 29 – connecting to ORS. Hence I decided to dwell a bit deep.

For more than 25 years WHO and UNICEF have recommended a single formulation of glucose-based ORS to treat or prevent dehydration from diarrhoea and cholera for all ages.  ORS has been used worldwide and has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal diseases.

ORS is an oral powder–containing mixture of glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium citrate. After dissolving in requisite volume of water, it is used for the prevention and treatment of dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.

ORS and zinc are recommended by the WHO and UNICEF to be used collectively to ensure the effective treatment of diarrhea. ORS replaces the essential fluids and salts lost through diarrhea.  Zinc decreases the duration and severity of an episode and reduces the risk of recurrence in the immediate short term.

Captain Robert Allan Phillips (1906–1976) of the US Navy in 1946 first successfully tried oral glucose saline on two cholera patients. As a Navy Lieutenant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II, Phillips developed a field method for the rapid assessment of fluid loss in wounded servicemen.  Captain Phillips embarked on cholera studies during the 1947 Egyptian cholera epidemic and developed highly effectives methods of intravenous rehydration. Later he developed a of glucose-based oral rehydration therapy.

The typical Indian Jugaad  (जुगाड़) by Dr Dilip Mahalanabis – a paediatrician and a clinical scientist working with Johns Hopkins University Center for Medical Research and Training (JHCMRT) – who treated multitudes of Bangladeshi refugees who were suffering from diarrhea with rehydration salt sachets or ORS.  He has not received any recognition, either from the international community or from the Indian government.

Oxford Dictionary defines Jugaad as ‘A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.’  In effect, there is no real word in English that captures the essence of the real Jugaad

In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India as per UNHCR.  This was the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.  The refugees were severely malnourished, especially the children and the Indian government took all efforts to take care of the refugees, despite meager support from the international community.

After walking long distances on foot to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army, this starved and frightened mass of people sought refuge in India. A cholera outbreak in the refugee camps badly affected the already exhausted and starved refugees.  The monsoon was in full fury, and for the refugees living in tents and other make shift arrangements, it was hell.  It is estimated that about 30% of the refugees died from cholera and diarrhea.

This called for a huge amount of intravenous fluids and coupled with problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, effective treatment was near impossible.  Dr Mahalanabis suggested use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation.  He recommended an electrolyte solution with glucose which could prevent fatal dehydration.

The ORS recipe he used consisted of 22 gm glucose, 3.5 gm table salt and 2.5 gm baking soda per liter of water. This is the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, that saved the day for many refugees and they lived to narrate the horrors they faced.

He organised two teams for cholera therapy including oral rehydration. Both teams worked along the border between India and Bangladesh.  He established a treatment centre at the sub-divisional hospital in Bongaon with 16 beds.  He organised  a continuous shuttle of vehicles on the 80 km run from Calcutta to Bongaon, carrying personnel, medication, food and supplies to the centre.  The reserves of intravenous saline-lactate solution stocked originally for cholera research soon depleted.   He had to now used Juggad to make ORS.

To make the ORS, glucose-and salt packets were prepared in Calcutta; first in the JHCMRT library room. Each of the three components of the mixture were carefully weighed by separate technicians and poured into a small polyethylene bag in an assembly-line fashion. Another technician inserted a descriptive label with instructions for dissolving in water; then he sealed one end of the bag with a hot iron. In the field, the dry powder was added to clean drinking water and dispensed from drums directly into the patients’ cups.  The cost was calculated to be 11 Indian paise, (about 1.5 US cents) then per liter of fluid.

Later in 1978 during the cholera epidemic in Manipur, ORS was extensively used, especially in children with diarrhea and cholera. The WHO in 1978 launched the global diarrhea diseases control program with ORS.  In 1979 WHO approved ORS.

Today, ORS is included in WHO’s Essential Medicines List, and Priority Medicines for mothers and children. ORS is also listed as a lifesaving commodity identified and targeted for scale-up and access by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.

India faced a dire financial situation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war and taking care of the refugees.  To shore up some money, the Government of India applied Jugaad and imposed the Refugee Relief Tax (RRT) throughout the country that came into force on November 15, 1971. It meant a separate five paisa stamp to be affixed on all postal articles to show payment of the tax.

The post offices immediately applied Jugaad and came up with hand-stamps marked ‘Refugee Relief Tax Prepaid in Cash’ on all postal stationery.  On December 1, 1971 the new five paisa stamp, showing an image of a refugee family fleeing persecution was released. RRT was repealed in effect from April 1, 1973.

Women at the National Defence Academy (NDA)

India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.

There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling.  Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.

Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets.  One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.

With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers.  Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.

RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980.  The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.

2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component.   This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible. 

Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component.  During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol

Agility Run – The Speed Component.  This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled. 

Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component.   This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol. 

Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component.  The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.

RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.)  As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.

 Male Female
 Pass100%Pass100%
Push-ups28771438
Sit-ups3510035100
Agility Run17.8 sec15.2 sec19.4 sec16.2 sec
Standing Long Jump195 cm277 cm146 cm229 cm
2.4km Run10:347:5812:129:05

Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation

The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.

FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:

  • Escape to cover.
  • Pickets and wire carry.
  • Sandbag fortification.
  • Picking and digging.
  • Vehicle extrication.
  • Stretcher carry.

Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.

The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).

The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:

  • A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
  • An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
  • An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.

The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:

  • Sandbag Lift:   30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
  • Loaded Shuttles:  Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
  • Rushes:  Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
  • Sandbag Drag:  Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
  • If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.

Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?

It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it. 

It’s Natural, Biological and Not the Stork

In the Netherlands, Germany and eastern Europe the myth is that the storks nesting on the roof of a household were believed to bring good luck — and the possibility of new birth — to the family living below.

Marina broke the news of her pregnancy to our daughter, “There is a little baby growing in my belly and we will have a baby in March.”

How did the baby get into your belly and how old is the baby now?” asked inquisitive five year old Nidhi.

The God placed the baby in my belly and is three months old,” replied Marina.

I did not see the God in our home, but Dad came home four months back from his military post in Sikkim.  Whatever it is, I want a sister and not a brother as boys are bullies,” said an innocent Nidhi.

How to break the news of a sibling’s arrival to a child?

Young children are not geared to handle a lot of information about conception and child birth.  Hence, breaking such a news got to be straight and simple and be ready to answer the questions that may follow.  Never pre-empt the child with your explanations, wait for the child’s questions.  If the child is not asking any questions, then it is not n his/her mind.  If the child asks more questions, then by all means go into more detail.

A good method is to make your explanation into a story on the lines that Mom and Dad make a baby, the baby grows inside Mom’s belly, and the baby comes out when fully developed after ten months.  Always ask a few probing questions to determine your child’s level of understanding of pregnancy is all about.  This will help you to choose your words.  You can begin with the fusion of the sperm and an egg in the way fruit grows from a seed.  You can also explain as to how the child develops, its movements, how it feeds, how it sleeps, etc.  If your child is school-going, you can ask a few questions to find out what they already know about where babies come from and then follow their lead.  Ensure that you use accurate anatomical language like womb or uterus instead of belly, etc.

Here comes the importance of using accurate anatomical terms for our body parts, especially the private parts.

Most of us grew up with funny sounding names for our private parts – tuckus, tush, peepee, peekki and son on.  Our parents do it for the sake of propriety and also they wanted to save themselves from embarrassment.  Imagine a kid screaming in a busy shopping mall “My penis hurts!” or “My vagina is itching!!”

It is neither an embarrassment nor a stigma.  It becomes so only if you visualise it to be so.  The proper names for their genitals – penis, testicles, vagina, vulva are taught in Canada in Grade 1 as per the new sexual health education curriculum.  By giving alternative names for our private body parts, we are doing a lot of disservice to our kids.  It has to begin at home and our kids should not be surprised at school.  A study found that kids who easily understood to the terms were the ones who used the proper names for their body parts at home with their parents.

It helps children develop a healthy, more positive body image, instead of feeling that their genitals are something shameful or bad.  It also facilitates the children to understand their bodies better and will prompt them to ask questions about sexual development.  Teaching kids the proper terms for their body parts enhances their awareness of their body, positive body image, self-esteem and confidence.

Kids who are comfortable talking about their bodies are more likely to be able to disclose when something worrisome or uncomfortable is happening to them. They can explain confidently to the doctors about their problems like itching or pain in their private parts.  They can also inform their parents when someone touched them inappropriately. 

Child-sex predators are less likely to pick confident, informed kids who obviously talk openly with their parents about their bodies, and who are aware that other people touching their private parts must be stopped and any attempt reported to the parents immediately.

A study found that even though kids in pre-school learn the proper names for their body parts, only kids with parents who used the right terms caught on. So, do not leave this important task to the teachers. You can begin using proper terminology when changing diapers, bathing the child, or at any other time that the subject might come up.

Sex education must begin at home and it has to be age-appropriate.  You may seek the assistance of your pediatrician.  Many of us are uncomfortable with the use of anatomically correct terminology; hence it is important to practice before you talk with your kids.  If they sense that you are uncomfortable, it will never sink in.  Every question from your child about his or her body must be answered as appropriate to the child’s age, as accurately and honestly as possible. Never make it a big deal!!!

For me, my first sex education teacher was my Amma and to read more about it, Please Click Here.

These are two well illustrated books I recommend for parents and grandparents.  The books will help you answer young children’s delightful, thoughtful, and often non-stop questions about their own bodies and about how girls’ and boys’ bodies are the same and are different—questions that are seemingly simple, but often not easy to answer. 

Mr M Selvaraj on his Protege Veteran Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar

To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.

When our Amaravian Colonel Reji koduvath Roll No 931 of SSA, wanted me to share my experience with Vice Chief of Naval staff Vice Admiral G Ashok kumar, an Amaravian I readily accepted heart of hearts, though I didn’t give a positive nod to him on the spot. How can a teacher say ‘No’ when he is asked to say about his student in the past during his formative years in Sainik School, Amaravathinagar. As I am an ardent lover of Reji’s prolific pen who is an author of two books in addition to many blogs penned by him about Masters of SSA.

Since over lapping memories for the past more than four decades give pressure to my thoughts, joining with my age, minute details of our Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar had escaped from my memory.

In the year 1971 Ashok kumar Roll No 870 joined as a raw-clay along with other students like 892 Brigadier T Thomas, Colonel Reji Koduvath and many others. In the process of moulding the cadets through well–designed activities, he made a remarkable lead and made himself fit physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally for joining the National Defence Academy and other walks of civil life.

Blue colour epaulets with single golden stripes adorned Ashok’sshoulders when he was in eleventh standard as he was made Vice Captain of Chera House by selection and not by election. He was a front line cadet both in scholastic and co-scholastic areas. He lead the Chera House under the guidance of his House Master Mr MV Somasundaram, a nonagenarian, now living in Chennai, ably assisting his House Captain, marched forward majestically towards achieving the target of hugging the covetable Cock-House trophy and to give honour to his House symbol Bow and Arrow.

As all Sainikiens are groomed to become all rounders, he enthusiastically participated in all activities. If my memory track is in the right direction, he was a good basket ball player, a fine tune piper in the school band, ably guided by the Band Master Mr Goodu Sahib. His most liked area is on the stage. He is blessed with the gift of the gap and with his eloquent tongue he enjoyed and made the audience enjoy with elocution and extempore speech competitions also conducted in the school intra-murally.

Group Photo of the Play on Ramanujan- Extreme Left : Mr K Ekambaram as Ramanujan, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar as Komalambal (Mother of Ramanujan), Late Mr KM Koshy as Professor Hardy, Mr Venkatesha Murthy as Collector of Nellore, Mr M Selvaraj as Father of Ramajujan, Late Mr AKR Varma as the Postman, Mr R Subramanium as Professor EH Neville (Photo Courtesy Mr Venkatesha Murthy).

As we are living in a nuclear family, if the parents don’t have girl child they need not worry, SSA will turn them to be beautiful girl in stage one- act plays. Yes, our Vice Admiral, G Ashok kumar, the then Sainikien is an example as he acted in a lady character, Komalambal, the mother of Ramanujam, world- wide great Indian Mathematician, in a skit entitled Ramanujam, written and directed by Mr Venkatesahamurthy, Maths Master. In addition to students, many Masters like Mr KM Koshy,Mr R Subramanan, Mr K.Ekambaram,Mr KP Nataraja Pillai, Mr King Kristo kumar, myself and the playwright Mr Venkateshamurthy himself enacted various roles.

Right from his joining the SSA Ashok had been a gentleman cadet, the way in which he was moving with his fellow mates, Masters, other staff members and the armed force officers were of exemplary manner and that he was loved by all.
He is one of the proud sons of Alma mater SSA , and he has reached the second highest position in the Indian Navy. Normally intelligent people make a soft- pedaling towards intelligence; but our Admiral Ashok kumar is an exemption. If I say that his intelligence coupled with diligence has taken him to such a great height along with other covetable traits in him , it is not an encomium or a hyperbole but it is my heartfelt expression that comes from the bottom of my heart about our past student of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Vice Admiral and Vice Chief of Naval staff.

On behalf of all Amaravians – Defence officers, Masters, Staff members and the students of the past and present let me wish Vice Admiral Ashok kumar, his better half, Mrs Geetha, the woman behind him for his achievement and success, daughters Mrs Sruthi and Ms Sweta all the best. May God’s gracious blessings be showered on them.