Sacramento: The Capital of California

During our summer vacation of 2022, we visited our niece Deepti and her family at Sacramento.  While touring California in 2008, I believed that either Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego could be the capital of California.  That time Sacramento did not find a place in our destinations.

The city derives its name from its location near the confluence of the American and Sacramento River.  The word Sacramento signifies Sacrament or Lord’s Supper. Sacramento came into prominence during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855).  Then it was a hastily built city with wooden structures covered with canvas.
The California State Legislature officially moved to Sacramento in 1854 and at the 1879 Constitutional Convention, Sacramento was named the permanent State Capital. With its new status and strategic location, the city quickly prospered. Sacramento became a major distribution and transportation point as the western end for both the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad.

A series of devastating fires prompted a group of citizens to establish the first volunteer fire department in the western United States. Sacramento Fire Department was established and became the first paid professional fire department west of the Mississippi.

The Firehouse No 3 in Sacramento was built in 1893. The existing structure remains the oldest Fire House in California, dating from 1853. When restored in 1959 for occupancy and use as a restaurant and bar, every effort was made to preserve as much as possible of the original building.
During the Gold Rush, Pioneer Square, a two-storied brick building housed Professor LA Lauriet’s Assay Office. If a miner stuck gold, Lauriet determined the authenticity of the gold. The miner could then save it, gamble with it, or spend it at a saloon.
The City’s waterfront location made it extremely vulnerable to flooding. After three seasons of severe flooding, thousands of cubic yards of soil were brought in to raise the entire city one storey. The original street level can still be seen throughout Old Sacramento under boardwalks and in some basements, as in the image above. The street level of Old Sacramento was raised in the 1860s and ’70s as much as 14 feet.
The B.F. Hastings Bank Building was erected in 1853, after the fire of November 2, 1852. This historic site was a banking house and it housed the State Supreme Court and the offices of the State Attorney General and the State Librarian. It also contained the offices of Wells, Fargo & Co., the Alta California Telegraph Company and the Pony Express.
River City Saloon was one of the original houses of ill repute owned by Johanna Heigle. Shortly after that it became Parker French’s Saloon. This saloon was also known as an unruly place at times. During Prohibition, it was continually raided as it insisted it was only serving alcohol for medicinal reasons. In 2007, the saloon was remodeled to its original grandeur and renamed the River City Saloon.
This is all that remains of the original Union Hotel built in 1855 and replacing the Verandah Hotel that occupied the site from 1852 until 1855. The Union Hotel was the social, political and business center of Sacramento until 1870. It housed the headquarters of the stagecoach lines and steamboat lines.
Livingston Low Baker & Robert Muirhead Hamilton came to California in 1849 with the hope of finding gold. Mining for gold was hard work with little rewards, so Baker & Hamilton started selling general supplies, tools and provisions to the miners. In 1850 the pair opened their first store in Sacramento concentrating on agricultural equipment and general merchandise.
The Hall, Luhrs & Company was a wholesale grocery business that operated from 1885 to 1906. It is the largest brick building in Old Sacramento.
In 1855, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins formed a partnership and opened Huntigton & Hopkins hardware store. The store was demolished and reconstructed at this site in 1970 because of the construction of the Interstate 5 Freeway. The inside of the store is typical of a hardware store of the mid-19th century in that Huntington used the second floor of his original building as his living quarters. In 1861 they conceived a plan for linking the East Coast and the West by a railroad. Thus, the Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated on June 28, 1861.
Built as wholesale and import house by four German immigrants who arrived in 1849 on the ship Lady Adams and started a wholesale business under that name. This is the only building to survive fire of 1852 as it was built with bricks. It was raised to its present level in 1865. In recent years it has been used as a lodging house.
The Mechanics Exchange Hotel catered to that segment of the Sacramento population. It served those connected with the iron works, mills, and railroad activities during the gold rush. In 1854, it was known as the Mechanics’ Saloon and Ball Alley. In 1860, owners replaced it with a brick building. They raised the buildings and added a third story when the city elevated the streets.
Old Town Sacramento brings to life the Wild West we’re used to in Hollywood movies. Many of the streets and buildings, dating from the 1800’s tell the story of gold rush miners, merchants, and madams.

When most cities around the world moved ahead with the times, Sacramento city preserved old buildings which are historically significant and aesthetically appealing.  These buildings have been put to good use for businesses and offices and they also attract a lot of tourists year around.

Human Instruments

Can you ever imagine that the survey of the Trans-Himalayan Region was done mostly on foot? That a human being walked all the way through the Himalayas, while counting each step he took to calculate the distances between places.

Reading a 36-page document by Dr Kapil Raj, When Human Travellers Become Instruments: The Indo-British Exploration of Central Asia in the Nineteenth Century, I was fascinated by the ability of the human body and mind to find methods to overcome any difficult situation.

British India in the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny went into mapping and stabilising its surrounding territories. The British needed to bring the Trans-Himalayan region into the ambit of British trade, followed by military intervention. The first step was to map the area of the Kashmir Kingdom, some surrounding areas under the Chinese Empire and some areas in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Captain Thomas George Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers was entrusted with the task of mapping Kashmir. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1849, arrived in India in 1851, and joined the Great Trigonometrical Survey. The Great Trigonometrical Survey was a project which aimed to survey the entire Indian subcontinent which was begun in 1802 by William Lambton. Under his successor, George Everest, the project was made the responsibility of the Survey of India.

After the survey of Kashmir, Montgomerie had to survey and map Tibet, an autonomous region. Tibetans were very suspicious of the Europeans. Thus, he had to enroll the services of locals who could travel as part of trade caravans to Tibet.  Even if he found locals for the task, how could they be trained to use conventional surveying techniques and instruments?

Captain Montgomerie trained the natives, drilled them night and day for weeks, to take a stride of exactly 31.5 inches whatever the terrain or incline. At 63360 inches to a mile, every 2,000 such paces marked a mile.

As his first ‘human instrument’, Montgomerie nominated Mahomed-i-Hameed, aka Moonshee who reached Leh on 4 July 1863 after meticulously mapping his route from Kashmir. On 24 August Hameed, disguised as a merchant and accompanied by two servants and a pony-load of merchandise, joined a caravan heading for Yarkand, a major oasis city on the trade route between China, India, and Central Asia.

The party arrived at Yarkand on 30 September. Hameed had precisely traced the entire route, carefully noting all that he had observed, especially the vegetation and human dwellings. He drew a map of the city and the region and transcribed the history of the region as narrated by locals.

On 27 March 1864 the party commenced their return journey to Leh, but Hameed died en route, after eating poisonous rhubarb, according to his companions. Montgomerie’s assistant, William Johnson, was the first to reach the scene of the tragedy. Hameed’s entourage had meanwhile made off with his most saleable belongings. Fortunately, no one had touched his notes.  Armed with Hameed’s notes, Montgomerie sailed for England on 20 February 1865 after thirteen years in India. Using this leisure, he drew a map of the route between Leh and Yarkand.

This new mission was entrusted to two Kumaoni Bhotiya cousins, schoolteacher Nain Singh, and Mani Singh, the patwari, the village record-keeper. They had already taken part in topographical surveys and were familiar with geodesic and astronomical instruments and could handle any hurdles in crossing the frontier from Kumaon. 

Disguised as Lamas, they carried a prayer wheel and a rosary, perfectly normal adjuncts for the pilgrimage to the holy city of Lhasa. The prayer wheel concealed a small compass, and other miniature survey instruments. Rudraksh Rosary helped count paces, one bead for every hundred paces. The Buddhist rosary has 108 coral beads; those of the cousins only had a hundred, every tenth bead being much larger than the others. A complete round of the Rosary represented exactly 10,000 paces or five miles.

After months of rigorous drilling in the use of the sextant, compass and other survey instruments and techniques, Nain Singh and Mani Singh left for Tibet in March 1864 and returned to DehraDun on 27 October 1866. They were turned back at the Tibeto-Kumaoni border, so they tried to enter Tibet through Nepal, all the while charting the route they followed. Despite the advantage of their origin, they had to adopt different guises and resort to devious ploys for entering Tibet: passing off as merchants with the survey instruments cleverly hidden in their wares, or even as healers curing people of minor ailments! 

During a two-and-a-half-year expedition, Nain Singh walked 1,200 miles at a steadily maintained pace. He counted 2.5 million paces on his rosary! He not only succeeded in pinpointing the location of Lhasa, but also measuring the distance between several important Tibetan cities, thirty-one stations in all. He also mapped the 700-mile upper-course of the Tsangpo River from its source to Lhasa and reported that Tsangpo and the Brahmaputra were the same river.

Nain Singh also gave a detailed account of Tibet’s general climatic conditions, demographics, its cities and monasteries, army, agricultural production, economy, the state of its roads, transportation, communications, and most importantly, Tibet’s trade with China and Kashmir. . The Royal Geographical Society awarded Nain Singh a gold watch in 1868 and the Victoria gold medal in 1875.

Kishen Singh, alias AK, a cousin of Nain Singh, travelled across the Tibetan plains and the Kunlun Mountains between 1878 and 1882. In Lhasa, AK was delayed for over a year waiting for his caravan to leave. He was robbed twice, and even imprisoned by the Mongolians!  He was freed by a Tibetan merchant who forced him. to ride a horse, which prevented him from counting his strides. Undeterred and innovative, he got round the problem by measuring the length of the horse’s pace and counting each time the right foreleg hit the ground. When he returned to British India in 1882, he had travelled 2,800 miles and counted an incredible 5.5 million paces!

This confidence in natives to record and narrate facts so vital for the survival of the British Empire is especially surprising when one remembers that geography in the nineteenth century consisted not only in taking topographical readings but also in collecting cultural, ethnolographic, political, and commercial information.

Though the survey instruments used then have long become museum pieces, these measurements are accurate and still the basis on which the maps are made in times of GoogleEarth, GPS, and satellite,

Back to School

Back-to-School period usually starts and ends in August before the school year starts in Canada, United States, and Europe. In Australia and New Zealand – being in the Southern Hemisphere, this occurs in February, after their summer break.

In merchandising, Back-to-School is the period in which students and their parents purchase school supplies and clothes for the coming school year.  At many Canadian Malls, Back-to-School sales are held for school supplies, children and young adults’ clothing, office supplies, back-packs, laptop computers and so on. 

Labour Day, which falls on the first Monday of September, a holiday in Canada and the US, marks the end of Back-to-School shopping. Labour Day also marks the unofficial end of summer, though Fall (Autumn) begins only on September 22 – Fall Equinox. The day after Labour Day – first Tuesday of September – marks the beginning of a new school year.

Back-to-School shopping tradition caught on in North America as women flocked to colleges and universities in the early twentieth century.  These young women were trend setters for new fashions. Many clothing stores started special lines to cater to college going women. Every September, college these women shopped for their clothing needs and the stores obliged by setting up discounted sales. 

Every student is excited about the new academic year they are entering.  The first day of school is one of the most important day in the academic year as they show off their latest clothing and discussing as to what about their escapades during the summer holidays. Gossips too are as important.

There is an inherent discomfort at the bottom of the stomach of each student on the first day at school. About 2.5% of school children suffer from acute fear of going to school and this fear is called Didaskaleinophobia– derived from Greek Didasko meaning to teach and Phobos meaning fear. Equivalent Latin term is Scholionophobia.

Am I competing with Mr Tharoor?? No way!!!

It is a North American tradition to gift an apple to the teacher by the students on the first day of school when school opened in September as it coincided with the ripening of apples in North America. This tradition of gifting apples to teachers dates to the 16th century when parents in Denmark and Sweden often gifted teachers with baskets of apples and other food to help compensate for their low wages. Tradition of bringing apples to teachers carried on even after schools were modernised.

In the 1920s, apple polishing was used as a slang for trying to curry favour to the teacher. Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell sang in 1939:-

 “An apple for the teacher that seems the thing to do because I want to learn about romance from you.

An apple for the teacher to show I’m meek and mild If you insist on saying that I’m just a problem child.

An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don’t know your lesson in arithmetic.

We have other words that mean the same thing. We also call this type of person a kiss-up, toady or boot-licker. Another popular one is teacher’s pet.

It is an apple-polisher’s dream to become the teacher’s pet – much to the anger of fellow classmates.”

Nothing much has changed to this day. We were all mortally scared on our first day of school. Our stomachs were churning. We all went through it and so did our children. Now it is the turn of our grandchildren.

The only change is that today Apple denotes not the fruit for the young generations.

On assuming command of our Regiment in June 2002, I gifted an umbrella to all school going children of our Regiment when the schools opened. Please Click Here to read about it. At that time, I was unaware of the Back-to-School traditions.

In 2003, I ordered our Religious Teacher [Regimental Chaplin- a Hindu Pundit] to prepare a packet for each school going children of the Regiment with necessary school supplies and gift the same to the children. Our Religious Teacher was a bit reluctant initially, having never heard of such a practice during his two decades of military service. On completion of the assigned task, he reported, “Sir, this is the apt method to spend the Mandir Fund. It will inspire all our children to put in their best at school.”

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (21 Apr 1926 – 08 Sep 2022)

While driving through the town, I found a man outside his home, bringing the Canadian Flag to half mast. I checked the news feed and learnt that Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, dead at 96.

The British Monarch remains the constitutional head of state of Canada and the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, no matter who holds the role. Hence, the succession from the Queen to her eldest son Charles is automatic.

After Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne on 6 Feb 1952, fifteen Canadian Prime Ministers have been in office. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest for any British monarch and the second longest recorded for any monarch of a sovereign country. (Longest reigning monarch was Louis XIV of France, who reigned from 14th May 1643 until 1st September 1715 —72 years and 110 days.)

In the past four decades since I learnt about her, she matured into her senior years with josh and cheer.  Her dress sense and choice of colours befitted her royal status and it always stood out.  Who will ever miss her signature Launer handbag she always carried?  She reportedly owned more than 200 of them!

The contents of her handbag was no different from what normal women carry with them. It mostly contained a mirror, lipstick, mint lozenges, and her reading glasses.

It is said that the Queen used her handbags to signal to her staff to help her wriggle out of difficult situations. If she shifted the handbag on her left arm (where she normally carried it) to her right arm, it indicated that it was time to wrap up.  If she placed her handbag on the floor, it signaled to her staff that she needed to be saved from an uncomfortable conversation.  If she placed her handbag on the dinner table, it meant  that she wanted to end the event in the next five minutes.

Prince Charles was appointed Field Marshal of the British Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in June 2012. His appointment to the honorary five-star ranks recognised his support for the Queen as Commander-in-Chief.

In Canada’s system of government, the power to govern is vested in the Crown but is entrusted to the government to exercise on behalf and in the interest of the people. The Crown reminds the government of the day that the source of the power to govern rests elsewhere and that it is only given to them for a limited duration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a befitting tribute to Canada’s longest-reigning Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, calling her a person of ‘wisdom, compassion and warmth.’

The Crown in Canada was first established by the kings of France in the sixteenth century. Organised as a royal province of France, both French and British kings and queens have reigned over Canada since 1534. Under Canada’s sovereigns, the country has evolved from a French colony to an independent nation.

From 2009, Prince Charles holds the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Canadian Army & Air Force and Vice-Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy.  The Queen and other members of the Canadian Royal Family hold honorary positions in various branches and regiments embodying the historical relationship of the Crown with the Canadian armed forces.

From 2015, in New Zealand, like in UK, he is the Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy and Marshal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Charles’s official coronation won’t take place immediately following a period of mourning for the Queen.  A coronation is not necessary to become king—Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.  After Queen Elizabeth’s accession on February 6, 1952, her coronation took place on June 2, 1953, over a year later.

Charles, whose regal name is King Charles III, is set to travel to London with Camilla, who is now the Queen Consort, to oversee the preparations for the funeral

The Guardian in 2017 reported that in the event of the Queen’s death, her funeral would take place nine days after her passing. Hence, it might be held on Saturday September 17. The funeral ceremony will commence at 9 AM, when Big Ben will chime with a muffled hammer. The funeral cortege will arrive at the at Westminster Abbey where she will be laid to rest.

(Images Courtesy Pixabay.com)

Selections @ Devlali

Those were the days when Selections ruled the roost at School of Artillery Devlali.  It was obvious skimming at the highest level of the Regiment of Artillery.

When we passed out of Indian Military Academy in 1982, we were forced to return our Blue Patrols for mere Rs 100 – all because the Artillery version had a red stripe on the trousers’ side which was half an inch thicker than what was provided by Kapoor & Co at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. While officers commissioned to all other arms/ services retained their Blue Patrols, we the Gunners had to return them to Kapoor & Co.

On joining Young Officers Course at School of Artillery, Devlali, every student officer had to get a new pair of Blue Patrol and winter ceremonial uniform or Service Dress (SD) stitched – costing over a thousand rupees those days- only from Selections.  The reasons – obvious. A Second Lieutenant’s pay was less than a thousand rupees a month then.

Service Dress is the style of khaki serge dress uniform introduced by the British Army for use in the field from the early 1902, following the experiences of a number of imperial wars and conflicts, including the Second Boer War. The uniform was originally issued as a field uniform, later designated as SD. Variant of this uniform continues to be worn today, although only in a formal role, as No. 2 Pattern dress by the British Army. Indian Army too continued with a similar winter SD for the officers until 1990s. Today the Indian Army officers wear a similar uniform designated as Dress No. 5SD.

No. 1 Dress , sometimes referred to as ‘blues’ or ‘blue patrol,’ is a universal ceremonial uniform which is almost consistent throughout the British Army. For most regiments and corps, this No. 1 dress consists of a dark blue tunic and trousers. Different units are distinguished by the colouring of the cap, piping on the tunic and of the welts or stripes on the trousers, as well as badges and in certain Cavalry Regiments by the colour of the collar.

Indian Army Blue Patrol consists of a ‘bandgala’ tunic and a trouser. The shoulder pips are embroidered along with ranks on the coat except for armoured corps officers who wear a chain mail along with their ranks on the shoulders.

Veteran Colonel SP Mudholkar

It was not until 1980 when Second Lieutenant SP Mudholkar filed a case in Bombay High Court against the forceful inclusion of a private firm in the Offices’ Mess Bills.  In those days, Mess Bills of various messes at School of Artillery had a serial dedicated to Selections.  You can well imagine as to the patronage Selections enjoyed from the highest levels of the Regiment of Artillery – mostly occupied by officers belonging to the Khlan.

By the time we went to Devlali to attend our Young Officers’ Course, Blue Patrol and SD procurement was done away with – thanks to the orders of Bombay High Court.  But Selections appeared on the Mess Bills – luckily for us it remained at zero value.

Three years later, Lieutenant General Sood who was Commandant, School of Artillery, was appointed the Director General of Artillery – and away went Selections.  The ‘baby’ of the erstwhile higher-ups of Regiment of Artillery was thrown out with the tub, water, soap, and loofah to land in Devlali market. 

Ever Been Penniless?

Have you ever been in a situation when you were penniless? Without a dime in your pocket! Without a credit card with you!

If it was not for those humans who understood your situation and helped you, you will never understand the value of a good neighbour. Such ordinary citizens make you feel that the world is worth living.  You too must have faced similar situations. You too must have turned into a good Samaritan.

About a decade ago, Mississauga Transit, Toronto Transit and all other city transits in Canada accepted cash.  The passenger had to put the correct change for the ticket value into the fare box placed adjacent to the driver.  Today, they do not accept cash.   They work on Presto Card.

After the cash was deposited, the driver issued a Transfer Ticket in case the passenger had to undertake further bus journey.  The Transfer Ticket was valid for two hours from the time of issue. Nowadays, the Presto Card keeps track of all transfers.

On that afternoon, I had an appointment with our family physician and our son Nikhil had to be at the city’s swimming pool where he worked as a lifeguard, to attend a reorientation training. I asked Nikhil to drop me off at the physician’s office and take the car and drive to the swimming pool.  I was to ride the transit bus for my return trip.

As I stepped into the bus and searched for my wallet, I realised that I had left it at home. There I was – standing penniless and embarrassed.  The driver, a young lady, smiled at me. She must have realised my dilemma. Is it that she had come across similar situations earlier?

I apologetically said “Sorry! I do not have my wallet on me.”

Not a problem. Come in,” she said with a smiling face and handed me the Transfer Ticket.

Thank you. I can walk home from the stop where you will drop me,” I thanked her.

Recently while driving to work to audit one of the pharmacies of our company, I drove into the drive-through outlet of Tim Hortons and ordered my favourite Medium Coffee Double-Double.

Tim Hortons Inc., commonly referred to by Canadians as Tim’s or Timmies, is a Canadian multinational fast food restaurant chain. They serve coffee, doughnuts, and other fast-food items. In 1964, Tim Horton, a National Hockey League Legend, opened his first store in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Today, it is Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain, with over 5000 restaurants in 15 countries.

Double Double, a Canadian classic coffee brewed at all Tim Hortons restaurants is coffee with two shots of cream and two shots of sugar. It gives the right creaminess and sweetness to the coffee and is the most common coffee ordered at the Tim Hortons. The two magic words ‘Double-Double,’ from being a vernacular expression is now part of a bonafide vocabulary in the Canadian Oxford dictionary.

After placing my order for coffee at the ordering station, I pulled up to pick-up window.  That was when I relised that I neither had my wallet nor there was a penny in any of the car’s cervices. I was literally Penniless.

I sheepishly said to the girl at the window, “Sorry!  I neither have my wallet nor a penny on me.

She smiled at me and said “That’s OK.  You can have your coffee.”

I cannot take it as I have no money to pay.  You can give it to the next customer,” I said.

Our company’s motto is ‘Always Fresh. Always Tim Hortons.’  If you do not pick it up, we got to drain it out,” she said.

I picked up the coffee and drove ahead.

Two weeks later, I pulled into the parking lot of the same restaurant and walked in and ordered my coffee.  “Two weeks ago, I did not pay for my coffee.  I want to pay for it now,” I said.

We cannot accept it now as our accounts are closed everydayIf you insist, you can donate the money for the Tim Hortons Camp Day,” the girl at the counter said.

Since 1974, Tim Hortons have worked with more than 300,000 young people, using camp experiences to develop social and emotional skills and learning and innovation skills. These camps aim to equip the youth with the skills and opportunities needed to thrive, pursue their education, find meaningful jobs, enrich their communities, and lead fulfilling lives.  Tims Camps programmes run year-round in the community, at school and at seven camps across North America.

I thanked the girl at the counter and Tim Hortons in my mind as I placed a $2 coin in the Camp Day donation box.

I substantiated my belief that these ordinary citizens make the world worth living.

On returning home, I activated Google Pay on my cellphone.

Disc Identity

Mortal remains of Lance Naik Chandra Shekhar of 19 Kumaon Regiment, who died in Siachen in May 1984 was found in an old bunker on August 13, 2022. 

He was part of a team that was tasked to capture Point 5965 in the glacier. This was one of the earliest actions by the Indian Army as part of Operation Meghdoot to occupy Siachen Glacier. The team, while halting for the night, was caught in an avalanche in which 18 soldiers led by Second Lieutenant PS Pundir, were killed.  Chandra Shekhar’s body was discovered on August 13 at an elevation of over 16,000 feet. It was identified with the help of a disc with the army number found on the skeletal remains. 

This incident goes to prove the necessity and functionality of the Disc Identity used by soldiers world over.

The Identity Discs bear the personal number, name, regiment, religion and blood group of the soldier and serve the twin purpose as both a recorded evidence of a soldier’s death in action as well as for the eventual recognition of the body, in case there is a need. When there are a large number of fatal casualties over a short duration, it serves a purpose of keeping a record of death.

On a philosophical note, the Discs remind every soldier that martyrdom is just around the corner. However, at the practical level, it has a specific purpose.

It must be sounding a bit eerie to the uninitiated.

These discs hanging close to the soldiers’ chests, remind them as to who they are. It gives the soldier facing death, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, the confidence that He will not be forgotten. Some spouses of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq wore their soldier-spouse’s discs as a  reminder of their true love and commitment.

In the Indian Army we had to wear these Identity Discs while on operations and during various training exercises.  Actually, there are two discs – an oval disc with holes punched on either end and a round one with a single hole.  Our soldiers wore the oval disc on their left wrist and the round one around their neck.  On inquiry they said that it is to ensure that one disc will remain with the body even if the hand shears off.  The logic did not appeal to me at all, but I could not find any instructions regarding the proper way of wearing the discs. Surely we were not fighting a battle with swords to have either our heads or hands to shear off. I had no difficulty wearing the round disc around my neck, but the oval disc around my wrist was always a worry.  I lost them during most training exercises and had to get a new one made every time.  Obviously there was something amiss – I thought.

When we joined the Regiment, the Armourer had a punching set for punching the blank Identity Disc issued to soldiers with their particulars.  Of late, the soldiers got them engraved by the unit contractor who used the engraving tool he used to engrave steel vessels.

In 1988, I had to appear for a promotion examination in which ‘Military Administration’ was a subject.  Disposal of the mortal remains of a soldier killed in action was an issue on which I often had many questions.  Our Battery Commander was Major VN Singh, a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran.  He was well known for his knowledge and meticulous military administration skills and had just been posted to our Regiment after a stint as an administration and logistics staff officer of an infantry brigade.  I approached him and he clarified the mystery and explained to me the procedure and the proper way of wearing Identity Discs.

The oval disc, through one hole a cord 24 inches long  is passed through and the chain is worn around the neck.  Using a small cord of about six inches, the round disc is attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc.  In case of death in war, the round disc is removed to identify the dead and the oval disc is left on the body for identifying it whenever the body is recovered.  The round disc along with the soldier’s personal belongings is despatched to the Depot Regiment of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

Identity Discs of the Indian Army owe its origin to the British Army.  The first British ‘Disc Identity’ was introduced in 1907.  It was a single identity disc, fitted with a cord to be worn around the neck underneath the clothing.  The single-disc led to many postmortem problems in identification of the dead in that the disc was being removed for administrative purposes, leaving the body devoid of identification.

In May 1916 the second disc was introduced – octagonal in shape – known as “Disc, Identity, No.1, Green,” with the original disc becoming “Disc, Identity, No.2, Red.” The No.1 disc was to be attached to the long cord around the neck, with the No.2 being threaded on a 6 inch cord from this disc. No.1 Disc was intended to remain on the body whereas No.2 Disc was to be removed for administration.

US Army Identity Discs consist of two discs. One disc is on a 24 inch chain and the other is attached to the main chain by a four inch chain.

There is an interesting history to the US Army Discs. During WWII the discs were rectangular shaped with round ends and a notch at one end with name and details stamped by a machine. It was rumoured that the notch was put on the disc so that the disc could be placed in a dead soldier’s mouth and would hold it open so that the gasses would escape and prevent the body from bloating. In reality, the stamping machine required a notch to hold the blank disc in place while it was stamped. During the Vietnam War, new stamping machines were used and the notch was eliminated. Soldiers realised that the clinging of the metal discs gave away their location. Hence rubber covers were provided to keep the discs silent.

During the Vietnam War, some American soldiers tied one disc to their bootlaces. They believed that it could facilitate identification in case their body was dismembered.

Canadian soldiers’ Identity Disc is scored by a horizontal groove so that the lower portion may be detached. If the wearer becomes a fatal casualty, the lower portion of the disc shall be detached and returned to the Headquarters with the soldier’s personal documents. The chain and upper section of the disc shall not be removed from the body.

In the case of Lance Naik Chandra Sekhar, the Identity Disc helped identify his skeletal remains.  In future, Identity Discs may become more symbolic as technology advances in the days of DNA sampling to identify deceased soldiers.

In Canada and USA, some military spouses and fiancés wear their partner’s Identity Discs as a symbol of love towards their partner deployed in a far away land. Some Veterans post retirement continue to wear their Discs.

Having had a look at the Identity Discs worn by soldiers, isn’t it high time, Indian Army designed a meaningful Identity Disc worthy of being worn by the soldiers with pride – and even their spouses?

Jerricans

An object that fascinated me while in military service was the Jerrican.  This 20 Litre can was used for storage of fuel and lubricants and at times for water.  As a young officer in 1984, it was the time of Operation Meghdoot when India gained dominance in Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. In the glacier, kerosene is the lifeline and was delivered in jerrycans by helicopters to various posts. The cost of each jerrycan with its precious contents can well be calculated with each helicopter sortie ferrying about 10 jerrycans. It must be the costliest fuel in the world!!

Jerricans get their name from the Germans who invented them. The original steel fuel cans (Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, in German for Armed Forces Unit Canister) were a huge improvement over the square cans used by Allied Forces.  These jerrycans were easier to carry, easier to pour and more durable.

The term ‘Jerry,’ is a slang term for Germans used by Allied forces. In preparation for the war, the Germans had thousands of jerricans in stock and they effectively used them during the war. In 1942 the British Army in North Africa captured some of these cans from the Germans. These cans were sent to England, where they were soon reverse-engineered and put into production. 

In preparation for the war, Hitler came up with a novel idea of holding a design competition for the slickest can for carriage of fuel and water.  Hitler realised the need to keep his men and machines effectively lubricated and hydrated.  He also knew how critical a smoother, more efficient way to move fuel and water would be to win the war.

Vinzenz Grünvogel, chief engineer with the firm Müller of Schwelm, is credited with devising the winning can.  This simple looking can has more to the design than meets the eye.  Developed under the utmost secrecy, the jerrycan featured flat sides that were rectangular in shape and was made in two halves that were welded together like an automobile fuel tank.

It had three handles, which allowed it to be easily passed from one man to another.  The handles were designed in a way of enabling four empty cans to be carried by one person using the outside handles, or two full cans using the middle handle.

An air chamber at the top ensured buoyancy and a short spout which was secured by a snap cover and could be popped open for pouring, eliminating the need for a funnel. A gasket made the mouth leak-proof.  An air-breathing tube from the spout to the air space facilitated easy and smooth pouring.

The design ensured that it was easy to make, easy to handle, easy to stack, easy to transport, durable, and efficient. 20 liters capacity made it easy to calculate bulk amounts.

The two flat sides of the can were stamped with a large X shape, providing better strength and ability to weather changing temperatures, along with the gas volume fluctuations that came with them.  It facilitated up to five jerrycans to be stacked in a row.

The Allied forces used containers nicknamed flimsies. It was made of light-gauge sheet metal pieces poorly welded together. They were a hassle to carry and ruptured quite easily.  The flimsies required a wrench to open, a spout to pour and a funnel to receive the liquid.

There is an Indian connection to the jerrycans landing in Washington. Paul Pleiss, an American engineer who worked in Berlin, persuaded his German colleague to join him on a vacation trip overland to India by car. As they prepared to leave on their journey, they realised that they had no provision for emergency water. The German engineer took three jerrycans stored at Tempelhof Airport and mounted them on the underside of the car.

When the two were halfway across to India, Field Marshal Goering sent a plane to take the German engineer back home. Before departing, the engineer gave Pleiss complete specifications for the jerrycan’s manufacture. Pleiss continued alone to Calcutta where he put the car in storage and returned to Philadelphia.

Back in the US, Pleiss told military officials about the container, but without a sample can, he could stir no interest.  The risk involved in having the cans removed from the car and shipped from Calcutta seemed too great, so he eventually had the complete vehicle shipped.  It arrived in New York in the summer of 1940 with the three jerrycans intact. Pleiss immediately sent one of the cans to Washington. The War Department looked at it but unwisely decided that an updated version of their container would be good enough.

As the Americans did not listen to Pleiss, the British showed keen interest as they were scavenging all the jerrycans they could.  Pleiss got the second of his three jerrycans flown to London. The British immediately reverse engineered the jerrycan and commenced production on a war footing.

Meanwhile, the US was using flimsies with slight modifications to the previous versions, but they still leaked and exploded and required a wrench to open and a funnel to pour.

It was reported that 40 percent of fuel was lost in transport because of the cans. It raised an alarm and the flimsies were scrapped as the US conceded production to Britain, which by 1944 had set up many factories manufacturing jerrycans out in the tens of millions.

In 1944, President Roosevelt stated that “without these cans it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace, which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Benjamin Franklin included a version of this proverb, preceded by the words, A little neglect may breed great mischief, in Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1758.

During World War II, this verse was framed and hung on the wall of the Anglo-American Supply Headquarters in London to remind everyone the importance of seemingly trivial repair
parts and inventory replenishment.

Reasonable Reasons

We attended the Junior Command Course at Mhow, India in 1993 and after the course went to our home at Kottayam, Kerala for a month’s vacation. In those days, we travelled on vacation by train and the journey took over 48 hours and two train changes at the most awkward hours of night.  You can imagine my plight with Marina and our two-year daughter Nidhi in tow, with paraphernalia of assorted baggage – in all sizes and shapes.

We reached home and my next ordeal was to get a return reservation from Kottayam to Delhi and onward to Jammu.  During summers, the seats in the trains from Kerala to anywhere in the country were lapped up the moment the reservation counters opened on the exact 60th day before the date of journey.  The only option for me was to contact our Member of Parliament, Mr Suresh Kurup, who always obliged with his emergency quota.  Mr. Kurup is well known for his soft corner and respect for all soldiers.

Armed with the allotment of Emergency Quota and my Warrant (Military form authorising travel by Indian Railways,) I reached Kottayam railway station.  At the reservation counter the booking clerk refused to book the seats – Why?  Our Regimental clerk had committed a grave sin!! He spelt KoTTayam with one T.

I contacted the Station Master and the Reservation Supervisor.  All expressed both sympathy and empathy a soldier deserved, but the cardinal sin of spelling KoTTayam with only one T, they could not condone.

While at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamizh Nadu, our nearest railway station (NRS) was Udumalaipettai – with one P and two Ts. In Thamizh and Hindi, it has two Ps, but in English only one – Any reasonable reasons?

 The town was known amongst the locals as (உடுமலை) Udumalai and all the buses boards read so.  The British called it Udumalpet and that too caught on, but no one ever used Udumalipettai, other than the Indian Railways and some Military clerk sitting in the remote border, preparing a warrant for a soldier from Udumalpet – counting the Ps and Ts.

When we filled our application for the National Defence Academy (NDA,) our teachers insisted that we spelt Udumalaipettai with the correct number of Ps and Ts as the Indian Railways insisted.

To return to the Regiment on time, the only option to me was to buy two tickets and claim the cost later from the Comptroller Defence Accounts (CDA.) I requested the Reservation Supervisor to block the seats until I either got a fresh warrant or bought the tickets by paying cash. He agreed saying that he got to finalise the reservation chart two days before the date of journey.  

I shot off a letter to our Adjutant, narrating my agony.  Major Ranjan Deb (now a Veteran Colonel,) an Aviator with an uncanny sense of humour was in chair and he despatched a soldier to Kottayam with a fresh warrant with two Ts for KoTTayam. Unfortunately, the soldier could reach Kottayam a day prior to my journey and by that time, I had to buy the tickets by paying cash.

On reaching the Regiment stationed in Jammu & Kashmir, I sent the forms for claiming the cost of the tickets to CDA, explaining the reasons as to why I had to buy the railway tickets by paying cash.  The reasons I stated appeared beyond reasonable doubt to the powers at the CDA, but how can they allow such a claim without raising any objection?  It will go against the ethos of the Accounts Department anywhere in India. 

My claim was approved in principle, but the CDA raised a query “How did the Officer and his wife make the onward journey from Jammu Tawi to Kottayam?”

Beyond reasonable doubt, Major Ranjan Deb promptly replied “By walking.”  In a week’s time my bank account was credited with full reimbursement for the cost of tickets.

Now let us fast forward to 2016.  Our family is in Canada – Marina, Nidhi, Nikhil and myself – all Canadian citizens. 

Nikhil decided to travel to Kolkata to serve in Mother Teresa’s Ashram for a month.  I said to him “If you find time, visit Veteran Colonel Ranjan Deb, our Regimental Officer who lives in Barrackpore.”  I had narrated many incidents about Colonel Deb, especially when he was our Battery Commander with 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) 

On a Wednesday, when Nikhil had a day off from Mother Theresa’s Ashram, he took a cab to Barrackpore.  Colonel Deb and Nikhil spend a day together and at the end of it Colonel Deb remarked “Reji, I spent a few hours with Nikhil. I was amazed at his all-round development at his age. No Indian student will be able to match up with Nikhil’s thought process. His education in Canada stands out distinctly. I am 63 and he is 19 years of age. I did not get bored for even a second of the six hrs we were together. Healthy engrossing discussion.

This is what is called Regimental spirit.  A kid, not born – why – not even planned while we served together, comes all the way from Canada to meet us – a Veteran Colonel and his wife.  What else can we ask for in life?  What other recognition do we need? He made our day!!”

JJ Murphy – Princely Rubber Planter

Natural Rubber, extracted from trees has had a long history with humanity.  Rubber trees are native to South America and the ancient tribes, called it ‘Caoutchoue,’ meaning a Crying Tree. They named it so because when an incision is made on the bark of the tree, the latex oozes out like a teardrop.

The South American tribes used the natural rubber latex for their shoes. They immersed their foot in latex, lifted their foot and waited until the latex dried.  This process was repeated until they achieved a thick sole.

When the European explorers returned home with pieces of rubber, they found that when they erased pencil lines on paper with what they brought home, it came off easily. As it could rub-it-off, the word Rubber was coined.

Referring to a tie-breaking game as a Rubber is common in a variety of sports and games from bridge, cricket to baseball. A three-game set in bridge is commonly referred to as a rubber. A rubber is mostly resolved through a tiebreaker.

Dead Rubber means a match in a series where the winner has been decided based on the previous matches.  The dead rubber match therefore has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost.

The term ‘Rubber Stamp’ originated in the Nineteenth Century when rubber stamps were used in the passage of bureaucratic papers of various kinds from one office to the other, often to show that an office had seen the document and approved it. It symbolised excessive bureaucracy and meant ‘To endorse or approve uncritically; to pass routinely or automatically.’

Rubber is an important tree for the world and its utilisation has increased many fold over the years.  It appears that the humanity is bound by rubber from birth to death.

Thailand is the largest producer of natural rubber in the world. India is one among the top ten rubber producing countries with Kerala accounting for over 75%.  The rubber Board of India is located at Kottayam, Kerala and the price of rubber in India is decided at the Kottayam market.

Rubber plant was brought to India by the British to augment production to meet ever increasing demand for rubber in Britain.   Hevea Brasiliensis – the rubber trees, native to Amazon rainforests, how did they find their way to Kerala, the God’s Own Country?

Rubber trees grow well in typical Amazonian conditions – temperature between 25°C to 35°C, high humidity of 75%, five to six hours of adequate sunlight, and about 200 to 300 cm of annual rainfall.  Kerala’s weather very well suits the requirements.

The British initiated rubber plantations in India, as early as 1873 at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, but the attempt failed. In 1902, Murphy Saippu, (Saheb in Malayalam,) known as JJ among his friends, John Joseph Murphy, an Irish man, established the first commercial rubber plantation in Kerala.

Murphy had enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, but without completing the course, he sailed to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to seek his fortune. He struck out on his own, though he belonged to a prominent Dublin family of shippers and bankers.  He was an adventurous colonialist, an avid racer, a social reformer and an educationalist. Murphy established the 1200-acre Murphy Estate, at Yendayar, about 60 km from Kottayam.

In those days, his estate was known for family quarters for the labourers with piped water and sanitation, hospitals with maternity wards, crèches at the workplace, schools for the children with midday meals, etc. He is believed to have even sent his workers’ children to Madras (Chennai) for higher education at his own expense. 1n 1952, he sold off his estate and lived there until his death in 1957.

One of Murphy’s passions was racing. He had a large stable and his horses brought him laurels from many courses in India, England and Ireland. The trophies were proudly displayed at his Yendayar bungalow.

He dominated the racing world for several years and won the C N Wadia Gold Cup at Bombay and the Governors cup at Madras. He raced his horse Old Orkney in England to win the Manchester November Handicap in 1927 and Goodwood Cup in 1929.

During World War II, when the entire country faced severe food shortage, the people of Yendayar were fortunate because Murphy ensured regular supplies of quality rice and other items at a great personal cost. Murphy’s philanthropy was legendary. No person who went to him with a genuine need had to return disappointed.

Murphy visited Ireland and UK for the last time in 1938 – 39. After he sold his estate in 1952, he lived at Yendayar until death on 09 May 1957. He was laid to rest at the cemetery of St Joseph’s Church, Yendayar.

KV Thomas Pottamkulam, in his article about Murphy titled ‘Princely Planter’ concludes that “I would like to think that if, instead of coming to India, he had emigrated to the United States, he might well have become the first Irish Catholic President decades before J F Kennedy.”

To extract the latex from a mature tree, a long curving, quarter inch deep groove is cut into the bark of the tree early in the morning. From this cut the latex oozes out into a container below where it gets collected. This latex is picked up four hours later from each tree and is processed to obtain natural rubber.

A rubber tree begins to yield latex when it is seven years old and is tapped for twenty years. After that, the tree is cut and sold as timber and a new set of trees are planted.

For the first five years after a new sapling is planted, they do inter-cropping by planting pineapple. It binds the soil and prevents soil erosion. It also brings in moolah for the farmer. The rubber growing areas of Kerala produces the best variety of pineapples in India.

After five years, the canopy of the tree grows large and prevents sunlight from reaching the ground. Now they plant a wild legume plant which binds the soil and acts as a mulch to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature and suppress weed growth.

Rubber Board of India established John Joseph Murphy Research Centre (JJMRC) in 2013 in his memory. It is the first of its kind integrated research and technology services hub, based in India’s first industrial park dedicated to rubber based industries. The centre is situated at Irapuram village in Ernakulam District. The park is a joint venture by the Rubber Board of India and the Government of Kerala.

When a Higher Secondary School was opened in Yendayar in 1982 with the support of local people, they did not forget the man who made Yendayar.  They named the school John Joseph Murphy Memorial Higher Secondary School.

Unfortunately, these are the only two memorials for a man who dedicated his life and changed the region’s economy and the people who lived there.

Parade State

While commanding our Regiment – 125 Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment, I attended office mostly on Friday afternoons.  That was when I signed those official documents which required the Commanding Officer’s (CO) signatures like the Daily Parade State.

I was a single parent CO with Marina having migrated to Canada. Bringing up our two primary school going children, feeding them, sending them to school, ensuring that they did their homework, making them take bath, etc – all fell on my shoulders.

For the uninitiated, Daily Parade State is a large table giving out details of soldiers and officers authorised and posted to the Regiment and their daily whereabouts. This report is compiled daily by the Regiment/ Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major (RHM/ BHM) the previous evening, showing the whereabouts of the soldiers as of the next morning at 8 AM.

Daily Parade State in the Regiment and Batteries is compiled by the Detail Master. He is the understudy to the RHM/ BHM and is a soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the RHM/ BHM.  Battery Detail Masters prepare the Parade State of the Battery in the evening and hand it over to the Regimental Detail Master, who compiles the Regimental Parade State.

Our Regiment was then a cooperating unit with the School of Artillery, Devlali with a lot of station commitments and training commitments – called Range Detail.  Unlike at many Schools of Instructions of the Indian Army, at School of Artillery, the student officers/ soldiers do not draw the equipment or ammunition and they do not clean/ maintain the equipment.  It is the duty of the cooperating Regiments to provide the same.  The details of manpower and equipment to be provided along with administrative details like pitching of tents, preparation of the Observation Posts, etc are given out a week prior to the beginning of the month.  Thus, all soldiers are well aware of the commitments and duties.

We were always short of manpower as the soldiers had to avail their leave too. Our Section/ Platoon Commanders always managed the show – often with the radio operator or driver doubling up as radar operator or surveyor and so on.  Clerks were well utilised as radio operators and surveyors or to assist the chefs in the kitchen, so were the tradesmen. Even the Religious Teacher was not spared.

Failure or a short-fall of the Range Detail meant the CO being summoned by the General – the Commandant, School of Artillery.  Our RHM and BHMs ensured that all Range Details were executed well.  They had their own methodology to deal with shortcomings.  Whatever it was, I was never summoned by the General.

Every morning, the BHMs presented their Parade State to their Battery Commander while the RHM presented the same to the Adjutant and then to the Second-in-Command, finally to the CO. The Daily Parade state is an auditable document to account for ration drawn from the Supply Depot for the soldiers. Hence, it is mandatory for the CO to sign it.

Three months into command, RHM Kaptan Singh summoned all his courage and asked “Sir, how come you do not ask any question while you sign the Parade State?  You tell me to turn the pages and place my finger where you are to sign.  You do not even look at it.”

Why this question now?” I asked, knowing the answer well.

Your predecessor used to grill me for over ten minutes every morning about various figures in the Parade State like number of soldiers on leave, soldiers on various out-station duties, etc.  I know that you know about every soldier,” RHM Kaptan Singh explained.

Thank God!  You had to suffer this agony for only ten minutes; I had to over 30 minutes,’ I thought.

My mind raced back to my Battery Commander days.  Then also, I hardly paid any attention to the figures reflected on the Parade State, but our CO wasn’t so.  He believed that every figure reflected on the Parade State was the gospel truth.

He summoned each Battery Commander and questioned about the number of soldiers on leave or on out-station details, etc and I used to rattle out some numbers.  Then he summoned our BHM and asked the very same question.  What a pathetic example of command! 

Our BHM’s figures never tallied with mine and the 30-minute ordeal ended with our CO’s remark “You do not know what is happening in your Battery.”  This continued everyday, and my figures never matched our BHMs.  Other Battery Commanders matched their figures with their BHM’s in the morning prior to being summoned by our CO. Luckily for me, I moved out of the Regiment in two months for the Staff Course.

Now I had to justify my blind signing of the Parade State to RHM Kaptan Singh.

This document is a proverbial Elephant’s Teeth for show only. This Parade state was prepared by your Detail Master the previous evening giving out the likely state of all personnel of our Regiment including me the next morning.  He put in herculean efforts and with a lot of erasing and rewriting, managed to tally all the figures. If this is accurate, then your Detail Master must be a genius and hell of a Prediction Master.  Last evening, I did not know where I would be this morning.  Hence these figures can never be accurate. If it is accurate, then the Detail Master must be sitting on my chair. Do you want me to grill you on it now?”

RHM Kaptan Singh passed his characteristic smile, saluted, and walked away fully convinced.

Nightie

In Kerala, the nightie is everywhere with most working-class women in Kerala owning at least one.

Illustration by Avni Karthik. Age 10

How did Nighty, a boxy garment which doesn’t give any shape to the body, which does not enhance the body’s contours, which does not bring out the women’s curves became so popular?  Nighties’ predecessors – maxis and kaftans – did make their appearance in early seventies – mostly in movies.  It did not gain popularity among the masses.

Nightie came to Kerala with the Gulf boom of the 80’s, like many other fashion and material onsets.  It was a sure content of the suitcases of any Mallu returning from the Gulf.  He carried at least one for every female family member and relative.  It could well be the first invasion of the Western culture into Kerala.  Unlike the Western Nightie, it wasn’t a negligee worn by women to bed at night.

Nightie is universal – fits all size or age. It does not divide women on either caste or religious lines in its use. Nightie became popular also because of the humid weather of Kerala with relative humidity mostly over 70% all through the year – day or night.  It is a shapeless floor-sweeping garment made of thick cloth, with frills at all imaginable and unimaginable places, decorated with puffed sleeves.

To establish in the Indian society, the poor Nightie too endeared many a battle.  In 2013, a Chennai school asked the parents to stop students from wearing nighties for the morning school run.  In 2014, a women’s group in Gothivli village near Mumbai tried to impose a fine of Rs 500 on residents wearing nighties outside their homes, describing the garment as indecent. In both cases, the nightie won the battle.

In 2018, Thokalapalli, a village in coastal Andhra Pradesh, barred women from wearing nightie during the daytime. They ruled that women could wear nighties only at night and any violations will attract a fine of Rs 2000 and anybody who helped in bringing such violator to book would be rewarded with Rs 1000.

Kerala women preferred the nightie over the traditional Chatta-Mundu, lungi-blouse and saree as it is easy to wear, easy to wash and it never failed in its duty and never ended up in a wardrobe malfunction.

Draping a Thorthu over the upper torso depicted modesty for the modest and cultured, but Kerala women – smart as they are, discarded the Thorthu long ago.  A nightie can well be seen in Kerala as a sign of female liberation as well as a social leveller.

Today the Nightie is a national phenomenon with different names.  Nightie in Kerala, Gowns in Mumbai, Housecoats in Goa, and kaftan for the rich. The Nightie has gained international recognition with The New York Times running a story on the outfit under the headline Wear Your Nightie Out.

In the soldiers’ family quarters, the nightie made its presence felt. To begin with, it was introduced by the wives of the South Indian Class (SIC) soldiers especially the Mallus. It caught on and others followed suit. While on rounds of the Regimental Family Quarters, one could see the invasion of the nightie, irrespective of caste or creed!!!

Our mother discarded her saree for the Nightie when her grandchildren came into this world.  She very reluctantly wore the nightie as she had to run after the children, feed them and play with them.  At the end of the day she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.

In 2006, our mother came to Canada and lived with us for six months.  For her journey from Kochi to Toronto, she wore the saree.  Marina and children accompanied her and throughout the journey, it was very inconvenient and uncomfortable for her to visit the washroom in the aircraft.

On landing in Canada, I asked Marina to take her to the Shopping Mall and buy her two pairs of pants & top and skirt & top.  Our mother, stubborn that she was, said “Do you think I will ever wear it??”

After a week of acclimatisation, we planned a trip to Montreal – about eight hours of drive from Toronto.  Now I said “Amma, if you want to come along, you must discard the saree as it will be very convenient, else you will look like a sore thumb in the crowd.

With a lot of reluctance, she wore the pants & top.  After two hours of driving, we stopped at the restaurant for a coffee break.  Nidhi took Amma to the washroom and on returning to our table she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.”

I accompanied Amma on her return journey.  For the entire flight duration of travel from Kochi airport to home, she wore her skirt & top.  My brothers, sisters-in-law and grandchildren were all flabbergasted to see the Granny in a Western outfit.  One of the grandchildren remarked, “Until now Granny was All-India.  Now she is International.”

36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment

When I wrote about 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment, I would be failing in my duties if I did not write about its sibling unit – 36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment.

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) as a second Lieutenant in 1982, 36 (M) Medium was part of the same Artillery Brigade.  They were located at Meerut and we at Gurgaon. The young officers of both regiments bonded well in that we stayed with the young officers of 36 (M) Medium whenever we visited Meerut.  It was mostly for various competitions – both professional and sports.

The two Regiments competed vigorously on the field, but at the end of the day, we were friends again.  I still cherish the nicest memories of our association with 36 (M) Medium, especially Veteran Colonels Manu Satti, Atul Mishra, Mitra and Mukherjee. 

36 (M) Medium, well known among the Gunner fraternity as Chathis, meaning 36, is also known for most conversions an Indian Regiment has ever been through.  The Regiment was raised as 7/5 Maratha Light Infantry at Faizabad on October 10, 1940, by Lt Col AL Collingwood.

Like all Maratha Infantry Battalions, 36 (M) Medium too have the battle cry – Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai,, meaning ‘ Victory to Emperor Shivaji.’  This war cry is believed to have been conceived while the Marathas were fighting Italian forces in World War II in Gallabat, Sudan. It was in January 1941. An attack on an Italian garrison was not going as per plan with the Marathas on the verge of losing the battle. It was then that Captain Boomgart, the officer in charge, was advised to inspire the Marathas by reminding them of the Emperor Shivaji, the famous Maratha king who had the courage to stand against the Mughals’ misrule. Thus was coined the famous war cry, “Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai.”  Hearing the war cry, the Marathas lept forward with great aggression and overcame the Italian garrison.

Soon after raising, in 1942 the Regiment converted from an Infantry Battalion to 51 (M) Armoured Regiment. It was part of the 268 Indian Infantry Brigade which saw operations on the Japanese front during World War II.

During the war, in 1943, the Regiment became 8 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment and served under 44 Indian Armoured Division, in Burma.  The Regiment in 1944-45 was part of 33 Corps Troops and later participated in the Burmese operations in 1945 as part of 7 Indian Infantry Division.

At the end of 1945, 2 Indian Airborne Division was reorganised in preparation for the independence of India.  This resulted in Indianisation of the Division. All British soldiers moved into 6 (British) Independent Parachute Brigade, though it remained part of the 2 Indian Airborne Division. 36 (M) Parachute Anti-Tank Regiment (Royal Indian Artillery) joined the Division in 1946.

On Indian independence, the Regiment was rechristened as 36 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment of the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army.  In 1956, the Regiment converted to become 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment.

The Regiment saw action in the Tsangdhar-Zimithang and the Tawang – Sela Sectors in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.  62 Bravehearts of the Regiment laid down their lives during this war.

In 1965 the Regiment converted to 36 (M) Light Regiment, equipped with 120 mm Mortars and was deployed in the Dera Baba Nanak and Amritsar sectors. The Regiment participated in the operations to occupy areas up to the Icchogil Canal and in the Battle of Dograi.

Before the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Regiment reconverted to be 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment with Tampella 160 mm Mortars and participated in operations in the Shakargarh Bulge and Sialkot sectors.

In 1981, the Regiment was equipped with the Russian made M-46 130 mm Medium Gun and subsequently converted to the 155mm Bofors gun.

Coorgis

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – in 1982, we had Subedar Chinnappa, Subedar Bidappa, Havildar Muthanna, etc in the South Indian Class (SIC) Battery. These Coorgis (Kodava community) were great soldiers and outstanding hockey players.  By 1986, Coorgis stopped joining our Regiment and we did not have any Coorgi when I left the Regiment in 1997. It appeared that for the Coorgis, Indian Army was no more attractive.

Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is a rural district in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka.  It is the birthplace of Cauvery, a river that local Kodavas consider sacred. Located on the Western Ghats, Kodagu is also referred to as the Scotland of India for its salubrious weather. Kodagu is the most beautiful hill station of Karnataka and is well known for its coffee, especially Robusta variety.

Most of the Coorgi soldiers in our Regiment came from 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment. Until 1901, this Regiment was designated as the 11 Madras Infantry and in 1902, the Regiment was reorganised and the basis of recruitment changed from Tamil and Telugu to only Coorgi soldiers.

In 1903, the restructured Regiment was then renamed the 71 Coorg Rifles. The Regiment was disbanded in 1904 because of insufficient recruits. In 1942, Coorgis were again recruited into the newly raised 1st Coorg Battalion. In 1946, it was converted to 37 Coorg Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Indian Artillery.

Today, the 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is part of the Regiment of Artillery with their war cry “Cauvery Mata ki Jai.”

Up to 1970s, this Regiment was manned by soldiers from Coorg. Now this Regiment is manned by soldiers from the South Indian States with hardly any Coorgis – still the name persists.

I did come across a few officers in the Indian Army from Coorg, and they proved their metal as most became Generals.  Field Marshal K M Cariappa, the first Indian General and first Commander-in-Chief of India, first comes to my mind, followed by General Kodendera Subayya Thimayya. All the more because two Battalions of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) are named after them.

Lieutenant General PC Thimmaya, Lieutenant  General  CB Ponnappa and Lieutenant  General  CP Cariappa were all at the National Defence Academy and we trained together. 

A total of eleven officers from Kodagu became Lieutenant Generals in the Army so far. This apart, from twenty  Major Generals and four Air Marshals, which undoubtedly makes Kodagu, the Land of Generals.

Indian Hockey team too had many Coorgis, but now hardly anyone. Coorg produced more than 40 Hockey internationals and some of them like M P Ganesh and MM Somaiya captained the Indian team.

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment maintains many of the traditions of the Kodava community. On the Regiment’s raising day, officers and soldiers, regardless of their ethnicity, wear the traditional ‘Kupya Chele’, which consists of a traditional jacket and headgear. The officers wear Peeche Kathi (a traditional dagger.)  The ladies wear Kodava Podiya or Coorgi style saree.

The Coorg style of draping a sari involves tucking the pleats at the back of the waist, instead of the front. The end of the sari is brought below the left shoulder and secured over the right shoulder in a firm knot called ‘Molakattu.’

Peeche Kathi has a handle shaped like a parrot or peacock. The sheath may be made of pure silver, silver and wood, or silver/gold embedded with precious stones. The sheath is linked to an intricately designed long silver chain, which ends in an assortment of miniature replicas of Kodava weapons.

Unlike ‘Change of Baton’ followed by other artillery Regiments when a new the Commanding Officer takes over, a Peeche Kathi is handed over as a sign of change in command.  The residence of the Commanding Officer is called Mercara house, named after the Mercara town in Coorg

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is so closely affiliated with the Kodagu community that it is a tradition for the unit to take part in the annual hockey tournament in Kodagu.  For the Kodavas, the annual hockey tournament is very important it is part of their culture. In this tournament, various families of Kodagu compete against each other. The Regiment gives an award for the first goal scored in the tournament and it is a matter of pride for the people because the Regiment named after their community is taking keen interest.

Mess Tin

During an outdoor tactical training exercise at the National Defence Academy, Captain Raj Mehta (now a Veteran Major General) was our instructor.  It was all about section tactics in defence and we were expected to dig a three-man trench – four feet long and in depth and two feet wide.  With the pickaxes and shovels, it was near impossible to dig on the stony mountains of Pune.

In the evening when Captain Mehta came on his rounds, he found our progress real slow.  We blamed it on our blunt pickaxes and shovels and on the hard surface.  Captain Mehta, not too pleased said “When bullets fly, you will dig down with your mess tins! Why? You will do it with your bare hands and dig much deeper than this rat hole in minutes!!

Now what is this wonder tool called a Mess Tin?

A mess tin is an item of a soldier’s mess kit, designed to be used over a portable cooking apparatus. It’s a pair of rectangular-shaped tins of similar depth, one fits inside the other, both having extendable handles that are fixed to the tins by brackets. Mess tins were originally a military design but are also popular among civilian campers.

Mess tins are generally rectangular with rounded-off edges as the rounded edges make it easier to clean inside than sharp corners. Most mess tins are supplied as a set, with one slightly larger than the other, allowing them to nestle together for easy packing. This arrangement is also useful when using the tins for boiling, as the smaller tin can be used to hold the liquid, with the larger tin placed on top to act as a lid. It also uses space as efficiently as possible, especially as the space and weight are premium in a soldier’s haversack. The nesting mess tins in use with the British Indian Army during World War II, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the Indian and British Army.  

The word ‘mess’ in the 14th Century meant ‘a supply or provision of food for one meal.’ The word came from Old French ‘mes’ meaning ‘portion of food, course at dinner,’ and was spelt ‘mes.’ By the 16th Century the word was spelt ‘mess’ with its meaning evolving from ‘a company of persons eating together at the same table’ to the current meaning ‘a communal eating place (especially a military one.)’

In a book published in 1916 ‘Camps, Billets, Cooking, Ceremonial,’ written by an Officer of the British Army and edited by Captain E John Solano lays out rules regarding health and hygiene; water supply; the inspection of food; preserving food, milk, and water from contamination; personal cleanliness and sanitation in billets, camps, and bivouacs. This is the most comprehensive document I read about camping and how to use the mess tin.  I followed it post-retirement during various camping trips we undertook with our children. An extract from the book says:-

‘It is especially useful that men and cadets should know how to cook various articles of food in their service mess -tins, which are so designed that, besides serving as a cup or dish and plate to eat from, they can also be used to cook certain rations in the same manner as in the camp kettle of the field-kitchen.

Cooking in Mess Tins. – The capacity of the mess tin is 1 quart, and it will cook sufficient food for one person if the diet consists of meat and vegetables cooked together, as in the case of Irish stew or sea- pie. Variety in diet is both essential and desirable, and it can be obtained to some extent when cooking in mess -tins by dividing up the rations of, say, two men, so that one mess -tin is used for cooking their meat, and another mess -tin is used for cooking their vegetables. It will be possible in this manner to vary the food slightly, provided such dishes as meat puddings, plain stews, stewed steak, or curry and rice, are given.  When this is done, the front -rank men prepare the meat, and the rear-rank men prepare the vegetables.’

As Cadets at the Academy, the mess tins were our best companions during tactical exercises as we collected our meals in them, ate in them, brewed our tea in them, etc.  It was the most sacred place for the smokers to hide the cigarette packs during tactical exercises. 

Mess Tin may be from the World War but is still popular with campers for similar reasons.  It is unbreakable, light and occupies minimum space.  You can use them to cook and eat out of, and they can be cleaned easily.  You can barbecue, fry and cook in it. 

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Recently at the Yorkdale Mall, Toronto, I walked into a bathroom and I felt a bit uncomfortable, a bit embarrassed.  Something was out of sync.  It was a gender-neutral bathroom.  A young girl and a boy walking out eased my apprehensions a bit.  Reading a board, explaining the need for a gender-neutral bathroom calmed my nerves.

Have you ever thought about why bathrooms are gendered? Or what it would be like if you could not use gendered bathrooms?

Many trans-folks face harassment and are told that they were in the wrong facility, ridiculed, told to leave, verbally threatened, or gawked at and some were sexually assaulted for going to a gender segregated bathroom. This is an important aspect that limits day-to-day activities of trans-folks. Many avoid using public bathrooms, which can result in health conditions ranging from urinary tract infections to kidney problems.

This bathroom at the Yorkdale Mall looked akin to what it could have been in a sci-fi movie – with colourful lighting and modern sanitary fittings.  For a man used to ‘Men Only‘ bathroom, the main difference was the absence of a pee-pot. This bathroom has ten stalls with a commode. It was one of the best public bathrooms I ever walked into,

The mall has several gender-segregated bathrooms dedicated to serve men who prefer to relieve themselves in the company of other men and women-only washrooms for women who prefer to wait in a long line for their fellow woman to finish using the toilet and looking in the bathroom mirror disapprovingly.

How come that gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t that common around the world, even in developed and progressive nations? Gloria Steinem, American feminist journalist and social political activist said, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”

The core of this issue is transphobia coupled with social/ religious myths. Having gender-segregated washrooms have not deterred a predator in their tracks so also the peeping Toms.

Single-stall, accessible washrooms are a viable solution for businesses, schools, and municipalities. These bathrooms can be accessible to differently abled and marked as gender neutral, as was the case at the Yorkdale Mall.

Its that the men do not want to lose access to private male-only spaces. Its an inherent fear that integrating women into men’s bathroom space will result in a loss, not of privacy for women but of the privileged status of men-only spaces. Its no different in the militaries world over.

A US Army study concluded that there is a severe discomfort among men sharing toilet and team spaces with women. There is an increased women’s willingness to use such men-only spaces. There is an urgent need to address the underlying logic of sexism, not only in male-dominated professions but in all walks of life.

Just as inaccessible bathrooms act as a barrier for differently-abled people, segregated bathrooms are a barrier to trans-folks. To truly make society inclusive for trans-folks, gender-neutral bathrooms need to become a priority in all public spaces.

Toronto Police and members of the public, can now use a gender-neutral bathroom at the service’s headquarters. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) have installed gender-neutral bathrooms.  The Toronto District School Board and many other school boards in Ontario have rolled out similar washrooms in schools across the province.

These gender-neutral bathrooms has not only helped trans-folks, but also other customers who have conflicts over which bathroom to utilise due to the following circumstances – at least one or more with which many of us can identify with:

  • Dads with daughters.
  • Moms with sons.
  • Parents with differently-able children.
  • Adults with aging parents who may be mentally/physically differently-able.

It is a big step forward for welcoming trans-folks into greater society and fostering acceptance.  There is no need to distinguish between men and women bathrooms at all. The minds of the people must grow and not fall prey to theories that ‘Because God said so,’ ‘It’s unnatural,’ ‘It’s just wrong’ etc.

Aren’t the bathrooms at our homes Gender-Neutral??

Images courtesy Google

Peony 2022

Peony ows its name to Paeon, the Greek mythological physician to the gods, who extracted a milky liquid from the root of a plant to cure Pluto. Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine wanted to kill Paeon out of jealousy. Zeus, the Greek god of the sky saved him by turning him into a Peony.

Another myth links the name Peony to a nymph named Paeonia whose beauty attracted the attention of Apollo, the Greek Olympian deity. Out of spite, Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, turned her into a Peony. This legend is likely what led to the flower’s meaning of poor luck in the Victorian age.

Chinese often refer to Peony as the ‘King of flowers.’ They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. The Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning ‘most beautiful.’

In the Eastern world, peonies were mainly used for their medicinal properties to relieve pain associated with childbirth.
Marco Polo described Peonies, when he first saw them, as: ‘Roses as big as cabbages,’ as the bowl-shaped Peony flowers can reach up to 10 inches in diameter.
Their stems are not strong enough to support the heavy blossoms, hence they need support.  Peony cages are placed in spring around the plant as they grow.
They are also the 12th anniversary flower – because the peony symbolises honour, fortune, and a happy relationship. It is the state flower of Indiana.

Peonies come in every color except for blue. The Peony features five or more large outer petals called guard petals. At the centre of the Peony are the yellow stamens or modified stamens.
Peonies are regarded as a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. That is why you find them in all the marriage bouquets in North America. Pink: is the most romantic form of Peony.
Pink, and white, are the most popular colours.
Deep Red is most prized in China and Japan and has the strongest ties to honour and respect and also wealth and prosperity.
White or Very Pale Pink symbolise bashfulness, ideal gift for those times when you’ve said or done something wrong and want to apologise.
Yellow Peony symbolises a of new beginning or a fresh start. An ideal gift as a housewarming gift, or to wish someone luck as they begin a new job.

Peonies of three types grow in our garden- Tree Peonies, Herbaceous Peonies and Itoh peonies.
Herbaceous peonies (also known as bush peonies) with long narrow thick green leaves, they die to the ground in Winter. They re-emerge in Spring when the snow melts.

Tree peonies are characterised by their woody stems. They defoliate in Fall, but the woody stems stay intact above the ground. They tend to bloom earlier and with larger flowers than the bush peony. Thus, they are in competition with the Tulips which are on their way out.
Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous peony and the tree peony.  These crosses have produced new, exciting colours.  The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies but die to the ground in the Winter.  Since they are recent introductions and are still in short supply, they command a high price.
Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous (or bush) peony and the tree peony. These crosses have produced new, exciting colours. The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies but die to the ground in the Winter. Since they are recent introductions and are still in short supply, they command a high price.

Itoh Peonies derive its name from Japanese horticulturist, Dr Toichi Itoh, who successfully created seven peony hybrids from a tree peony bred with a herbaceous peony. Dr Itoh passed away before seeing his creations bloom. Years later, American horticulturist Louis Smirnow bought some of these original Itoh peonies from Dr Itoh’s widow and continued Itoh’s work.

Irony is that these large beautiful flowers last only a week or ten days.

Senior Citizens with Children in Foreign Lands

A newspaper column contained woes of senior citizens in India, who are living alone with their children abroad on in some distant land.  It threw up a very pertinent question – ‘Should the (Indian) parent be selfish enough to refuse funding or discourage their children from settling abroad?

Some Indian parents assume that it is the responsibility of the children to take care of the parents in their old age. 

Parents brought up their children, hardly giving any developmental space to the child.  They used the children like sounding boards where they tried out all those they could not do.  It ended up with Engineers and Doctors without any consideration for the interest and passion of the child.  The parents tried to live that ideal life (which they themselves could not) through their children.

Parents ended up paying large sums of money for admission of their children and for their grandchildren from LKG onward.  The money was paid to the school, mostly owned by various religious institutions or god-men.  No receipt was given for this money, thus creating Holy Black Money, all in the name of God.  Praise the Lord!!  Halleluiah!!!

The same was repeated at every stage of education up to graduation or post graduation or even PhD.  Its all-Dad’s Money.

In developed countries (USA, Canada, etc,) the students fund their university education.  If the same is followed in India, not more than 40% students are likely to pursue graduation.  They bunk classes, have at least two subjects as supplementary per semester (as they did not qualify the semester exams) – all because its Dad’s Money.  If it is the children’s money like here in Canada, they will make every penny count.

In Canada, any supplementary will not entail promotion to next semester unlike in India where in the tenth semester they may be clearing their first semester supplementary.  The bigger catch is that the bank financing the education will not release the next tranche unless they know that the student is likely to graduate.  I suggested to many of my friends to ask their children to take student loan even if the parent could afford to pay.  In Canada, grades, marks, assessments, progress reports are confidential and are never disclosed to parents, hence difficult to keep track of the child’s progress.  In case the child is on student loan, the bank will keep track.  

Parents of Indian origin in Canada still carry their Love for their children and end up funding their children education.  Result is the same as in India.

Indian parents buy swanky motorcycles for their teenage children on the pretext that it will save them time which they can spend fruitfully on their studies. Does it happen? Children are often seen racing and stunt driving on their motorcycles, with scant regards to the rules of the road. Wearing helmets is often to ward off police fines than saving one’s head. The children, if they must, should buy their motorcycle with their own money and not with the Dad’s money.

Now comes the greatest of the greatest landmark event – MARRIAGE.

Indian immigrant families consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents even ‘import’ a Mail-Order Bride/ Groom from India.

Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating, and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their culture and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community and loss of face within the community.

Most wedding parties are attended by less than a hundred guests in North America, whereas it cannot be less than a thousand in India.  Again, it is all because of Dad’s Money.  In North America, the bride and the groom must arrange for their marriage expenses and sometimes parents chip in.

The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known including dowry and jewellery.  It may be to make up for the money spent on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – possibilities are endless. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

Next comes housing.  Everyone seems to be building a house bigger than their neighbour’s. It is never based on family needs, but in many cases only as a status symbol to show-off one’s mostly ill-gotten wealth. In North America, old parents down-size and move to smaller homes, or to a gated community, or to an old age home once their children move out for education or jobs. In India it is always up-sizing, even when one is on his death bed. Only social awareness can eliminate this problem.

Here is the ultimate – to get even with the Gods who must forgive and remit all sins in getting this wealth.  Huge offerings are made in the God’s houses to please Him. Most of the offerings are of no use to humanity like golden crowns, golden crosses studded with diamonds, chariots, elephants and even one’s hair. It is not understood as to which God is going to be pleased with these offerings. In North America, most old people donate all their wealth or part of it to charities, which could help the humanity and may be the Gods will always be better pleased with them.

Many of the seniors in India are restricted to their homes – the children respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute! They also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossips, look pretty and smart.

In most homes in India, the seniors have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America.

All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors but will be the first ones to raise shackles of cultural and social values.

Tulips 2022

Tulips are wildflowers native to central Asia but didn’t really become popular until reaching the Netherlands.
The word ‘tulip’ comes from ‘tülbend,’ a Turkish pronunciation of the Persian word ‘dulband,’ which means turban. 

Tulips are known for their bold colors and beautiful shape, and most varieties are indeed almost perfectly symmetrical.

The blooms have three petals and three sepals, but since the sepals are almost the same size and shape as the petals, tulips appear to have six petals to a bulb.

Generally, tulips symbolise love in general, but there is a different meaning based on the color tulip.

For love and romance, red tulips are the way to go.

If you want to convey an apology, white tulips are the flowers that you seek.

Orange Tulips represent sense of compassion, understanding, and sympathy.

Pink tulips symbolise happiness and confidence.

Purple tulips are associated with royalty.

Yellow tulips are great for cheer and happiness.

Although there are no true black flowers that occur in nature, because of their deep purple petals that almost look black.

True Blue is one of the few colours with Black that has remained absent from tulip’s impressive colour palette.

Tulips come in many solid colors, but there are striped ones, too.

The scientists discovered that the coloring was caused by a virus spread by aphids.

The flower is the symbol of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. A variety of tulip was named after Dr James Parkinson, the doctor for which the degenerative disease is named.

Currently tulips are the third most popular flower in the world, with roses coming in first and chrysanthemums coming in second. 

On Valentine’s Day the tulip is the second most gifted flower (after the rose) – obviously only Red.

Tulip blooms only last a week or two, and we await the tulips to bloom next year.

Old Age Security

An elderly couple who recently returned from the United States after visiting their daughter were allegedly murdered by their driver-cum-domestic aide with an accomplice and buried the bodies in their farmhouse. Police recovered jewellery and nine kg gold looted from them. It was a pre-planned murder.  The culprits believed that the couple had money stashed at their house from a recent real estate transaction.

This case indicates the vulnerability of the elderly, especially those living alone with their children abroad or at distant places within the country. The same vulnerability exists for those who visit home from foreign or distant lands.

Here are some tips, tried and tested by our family.  It is mostly for the elderly travelling from Canada/ USA. You may accept some, modify some or may reject all.

  • Visits back home should be minimised.  Return home only if it is unavoidable.
  • Travel light. – only one hand carry bag.  It will save you a lot of time checking in/ out at the airport and will reduce the physical effort in lugging the baggage around.  In your handbag, keep a pair or two of your dress – rest you can buy after reaching home.
  • Always carry adequate medications – to last you a month longer than your stay.
  • Never carry any gift for any of your relatives or friends.  Whatever you give, no one is satisfied.  I ask them for items not available back home and only available in this part of the world and that is nix.
  • Many have ancestral property back home and may prove to be a millstone around the neck.  Money spent for maintenance of a home in the property – with relatives and contractors ready to fleece the foreigner – it will be economical to stay at any of the 5-Star resort/ hotel
  • Try and dispose off all property back home – Your children are least likely to claim it or even visit it.
  • Dispose off all gold and jewellery – the money realised will be of some use to you or your children.
  • Never give access to your home to anyone.  He may have been serving you for ages.
  •  Never brag or show-off or even discuss your economic status or lifestyle with anyone – even the closest relatives.  Walls too have ears.
  • Never give out your travel plans – especially your absence from home. Keep your travel plans Top-Secret.
  • Always travel by public transport – else call for an auto/ taxi a few minutes before you set out.  Never hire the same driver (even if you may pay more) and never set a travel pattern. Your times of walks, visit to a place of worship, etc must be staggered. 
  • Avoid travelling at night. In case you got to, then use public transport.
  • Never flash your money. There are many prying eyes around you.
  • Never over-tip the food-delivery person or at restaurants/ bars/ hotels. Do not follow the North American standard of 20% of the billed amount. No one is going to ask you “Was there anything wrong with the service?”
  • Avoid designer wear or flashy clothes – a clear give-away.
  • Check your diet.  Eat sensibly and be careful about the water you drink.  Avoid milk and milk products as much as possible.  Drink boiled water and hot beverages.  Black coffee/ tea is ideal with least chance of contamination.
  • Report arrival to local police even if it is not mandated.  You must also verify the personal particulars with the personal documents of your domestic help, driver, etc whom you employ. In many murder cases of elderly, the culprit has been either the driver or the domestic help.
  • Install a Burglar Alarm and CCTV Cameras.  Use Infra-Red Cameras with night vision.  Keep the house illuminated – both from inside and outside.

Physiologic changes of ageing, chronic illness, increased use of medications, and sensory or cognitive changes place the ageing population at increased risk for injury. On top of these, physical security must also be looked into.

Daffodils 2022

This year the weather played truant with temperatures reaching over 200 Celsius in March, followed by sub-zero temperatures and snow mid April. The plants did well to survive through the roller-coaster weather to bloom well.

We welcome Spring with the Daffodils blooming. They are the first flower to bloom in our garden with Hyacinths.

Hyacinths are spring-blooming bulbs with richly colored flowers and an incredible fragrance.

Daffodil – genus Narcissus, refer to the trumpet-shaped springtime blooms. Daffodil is the national flower of Wales.
Golden yellow daffodils are an iconic spring flower.  They also come in various combinations of white, pink and orange, with or without yellow, in intense and pastel shades

The Romans believed that the daffodil sap healed wounds, but daffodil sap contains sharp crystals to deter animals from eating the flower. This irritates the skin rather than healing.
Greek myth has it that nymph Echo fell in love with a Greek named Narcissus, who told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken. Nemesis, the God of Revenge, heard the sad story and lured Narcissus to a pool. He was so distracted by his handsome reflection that he fell in the pool and drowned. Afterwards he turned into the flower.
Daffodils symbolise friendship and new beginnings. They are one of the first signs of Spring and are also strongly associated with Easter because of this reason. 

In England they are also known as Lent Lilies.

In China, the daffodil symbolises good fortune and they are the official Chinese New Year symbol.
In Japan, the daffodil means joy and in France they are a sign of hope.

Smart Alec

On our very first day at the National Defence Academy, Captain Sajjan Singh Batti, our Divisional Officer addressed us on 12 January 1979.  One sentence of that address still hangs in my mind – “All those from the Military/ Sainik Schools, don’t presume that you are ‘Smart Alecs’ and know all the tricks of the trade.

That was the first time I heard the phrase ‘Smart Alec.’  From the context I made out its meaning to be a person trying to outsmart the system and get away with it.

Recently I researched into the etymology of Smart Alec.

Oxford English Dictionary defines a Smart Alec as ‘a person who behaves as if they know everything and likes to show people this in an annoying way.’

If Oxford defines so, what does Cambridge define it as – ‘someone who tries to appear smart or who answers questions in a funny way that annoys other people.’

Mariam Webster Dictionary In my view gives a better definition ‘obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness.’

One must have come across many Smart Alecs and one must have turned into a Smart Alec in some situation.  Generally Smart Alecs are known to be boastful, appear very friendly, giving out ‘expert advice’ on anything and everything under the sun.  When the Smart Alec becomes a quite person, scheming his plans, keeping his cards close to his chest, he becomes dangerous.

Did you know that Smart Alec was a real man – a New York pimp named Alexander Hoag, who operated in connivance with his prostitute wife Melinda?  The same is chronicled in ‘Studies in Slang’ by Missouri University professor Gerald Cohen.

In the 1840s, Alexander Hoag with his wife Melinda devised a ploy to hustle men Melinda enticed and brought to her apartment.  Melinda made her victim remove and hang his clothes. Alexander who hid behind a secret panel entered the room and disappeared with all the valuables in the victim’s dress pockets.

After some time, Alexander banged on the door, and Melinda made her customer believe that her husband had returned early from some trip and was at the door. The victim grabbed his clothes and bolted out of the room through the window.

When her customers complained to the New York Police, Alexander bought out two corrupt police officers with an agreement to split the booty.  The police soon discovered Alexander was cheating them out of their share by this new tactic and arrested Alexander and Melinda.

Investigators of New York Police were dumbfounded by the smartness of Alexander’s operations that they started referring to him as Smart Alec.  Then it became a police slang for a criminal who was too smart for his own good, or whose cockiness led to his arrest. Its first known printed use was in an 1862 Nevada newspaper article, used the term to refer to a ‘know-it-all’ convict.

The term ‘Smart Alec’ got prominence in the early 20th century but became part of everyday speech as a slang only around 1950.  A porn film Smart Aleck was released in 1951, justifying the slang’s origin to a pimp and a prostitute.

A Smart Alec has come out with an application for a smartwatch and aptly named it Smart Alec.  The application it claims will control the level of stress the wearer endures.
Smart Alec Workbooks are available for young children up to grade 5 in almost all subjects.  These workbooks are marketed as books developed by teachers in collaboration with administrators, designed to reinforce fundamental skills taught at each grade level.  A real Smart Alec at work!
What do you call a woman with the Smart Alec traits?
Call her Smart Alexa! Now you realise why Amazon christened its Smart Virtual Assistant as Alexa???

Koel the Brood Parasite

Mrs Hema Ramachandran, wife of Veteran General PK Ramachandran, posted this image on her Facebook of a Koel (Eudynamys Scolopaceus) who visits her garden. 

I was reminded of our grandfather who narrated to us young children as to how the Koel laid her eggs in a House Crow’s (Corvus Splendens) nest.  His narration was to teach us to be industrious as a crow and not be lazy and cunning as a Koel.

When we were in Grade 10 at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Mr Paul Sathya Kumar (MPSK) taught us Biology.  He explained various tactics in the bird/ animal/ plant kingdom to prove the survival of the fittest theory, and one such case was that of a smart Koel who laid her eggs in a crow’s nest.

The Koel is known as a brood parasite – a species that imposes the cost of rearing its offspring onto another species – the host (House Crow) – by laying its eggs in the hosts’ nests.

Is Koel Lazy?  Is she more industrious than the crow?  Is she crafty and cunning?

In Sanskrit and Telugu language it is called as Kokila, Tamil, Kannada , Malayalam –കുയിൽ, குயில்  (Kuyil), Hindi-कोयल  (Koel.)  Many good female singers are referred to as Koel or Kuyil.  Does the female Koel sing?  No! It is the mating call of the male bird to woo the female bird. 

For almost nine months of the year, the Koel is seldom seen because it neither sings nor calls except in the breeding season – April to July.  It is difficult to spot a Koel due to its shy nature and secretive behaviour.  They mostly remain hidden inside leafy foliage and go undetected, by and large.

In their breeding period, birds mate, lay eggs, rear their offspring and protect them. In India, birds usually breed in summer because their chicks will have enough food in the following monsoon.

Koel is a case of mimicry in the bird kingdom.  Its eggs resemble those of the crow in pattern and colour.  The ground colour of the crow eggs presents different shades of bluish green while that of the Koel is olive green. Eggs of both host and parasite have similar brown markings in the form of blotches, specks, and streaks, which are more densely distributed towards the broader end. Although eggs of Koel are smaller in size, they exhibit remarkable mimicry with crow eggs.

To ensure a higher chance of clutch formation (clutch is the number of eggs laid,) the Koel cleverly lays an egg in the crow’s nest when the mother/father crow is not around and then throws away one of the crow’s eggs.  

That means the crows can count and the mother crow is unaware of the replacement.

Another reason as to why the Koel leaves its egg in the crow’s nest is that the Koel is a vegetarian. Newborn chicks need a lot of protein to grow, and the crows will feed them non-veg protein.

This is a survival instinct and is basically inherent in the genes of organisms in nature.  It further proves Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest.

There are other examples of brood parasites in the bird kingdom. The egg of the common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx Varius) mimics that of its host species, the Jungle Babbler (Turdoides Striata) in size and colour. Such mimicry is thought to have evolved to prevent the host from rejecting any eggs.

Host birds respond to brood parasites using different defence strategies. They attack the parasite outright at times, and at others issue warning calls, hide the nest, look for and remove the parasite’s eggs and aggressively defend their territories.  I have often spotted female Koels being chased by crows even outside the nest when they spot each other.

A Koel is so crafty that to increase the chance of survival of its eggs, she lays her eggs in different nests.  Remember the adage – ‘Never put all your eggs in the same basket!‘  When the Koel visits a crow’s nest, it also punctures or breaks eggs irrespective of the species so that her offspring isn’t starved of food even during a shortage.  The Koel is too smart to ensure that the clutch size is optimum so that the crow can feed and take care of its chicks. 

If a host happens to see a parasite laying an egg in its nest or recognises an intruding egg, it will abandon the nest or reject the egg.

Incubation period of the Koel’s egg is about 12 to 13 days and the crow’s 16 to 17 days.  Thus, the Koel chicks emerge a few days before the first crow chick hatches.  The poor crow hatches the eggs, feeds the Koel chick, and brings it to adulthood to hear the bird coo differently.

The Koel chick keeps chirping continuously. So, the mother crow feeds it more thinking that the chick is still hungry and not yet fed enough.  The Koel chicks grow rapidly and become healthier than the crow chicks.  They develop feathers and wings earlier than crow chicks and fly out earlier.

Isn’t the Koel industrious, crafty and cunning than the crow??

Book Review: The Old Man & She by Veteran Avinash Chikte

Can you fall in love at 60?  Why not?? We got to be in love at all stages of our life – with someone or the other, to make our existence meaningful.  At 60, it is more for companionship, after the children have flown to greater heights.

This is the essence of this book – The Old Man & She! – by Veteran Indian Air Force Officer Avinash Chikte.  We trained at the National Defence Academy and he was a year senior – 59th Course – E Squadron.

The book tells the story of Liz and Ravi – she’s 55 and he’s 60. The story confirms that love can begin at any age and stage and there is no place today for cultural or religious barriers.  The author has explored the tornadoes that go through the minds of people in a relationship – that too across religions, cultures, and race.  I have experienced it and I vouch for the authenticity of most situations well crafted in this book.

A good read, and a feel-good book for those who have an open mind, and are not moored by the chains of religion, caste, and race.

Here is the Author for you.

You can buy the book by clicking the link:

In India –  The Old Man & She! (Ebook) – Avinash Chikte

In other countries – https://books2read.com/theoldmanandshe

Hurricane Hazel @ 101

Ms Hazel McCallion, 101 years old, has been reappointed to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sits as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate ‘MAYOR1’. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and would make any listener think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of ‘Hurricane’ Hazel suited her to the tee.

Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.

In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.

Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.

Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.

Mayor McCallion was born in Port Daniel of Quebec on February 14, 1921 and educated in Quebec City and Montreal. She then began her career in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm, and was transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the local office. Mayor McCallion remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

Hazel was married to Sam McCallion on September 29, 1951. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville. She still resides in Streetsville and believes that one got to have a life filled with purpose and meaning and living her life in a Christian-like manner helped to motivate her and keep her energized. She does everything around the house herself like cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. She likes to be self sufficient and thinks that housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep her humble.

Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.

Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors”.

On her 100th birthday she said “My mom or dad couldn’t afford to send me to college or university. So I had to do it without that additional education. It’s the people you meet along the way, there’s always people to help you along the way if you’re willing to accept the help.”

In December 2014, Mayor McCallion stepped-down and people of the city remain ever grateful to her. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.

After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor, on September 23, 2014 Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfill them.”

Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.