Military Ethics and Politics in Canada


The House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously on May 14, 2019 to apologise to Vice Admiral Mark Norman, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, for his legal ordeal  with a resolution that “ The House recognize Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for his decades of loyal service to Canada, express regret for the personal and professional hardships he endured as a result of his failed prosecution and apologise to him and his family for what they experienced during their legal conflict with the government.”

What was remarkable was that the resolution was moved by a member of the opposition Conservative party and passed by the house duly supported by the ruling Liberal party whose government was mainly responsible for the Admiral’s ordeals. Indeed, it was an unmistakable sign of a healthy democracy. The passage of such a resolution was a tacit admission of error on the part of the Liberal government, however much one may argue that the investigation and subsequent procedure is carried out by independent agencies.

However, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a hard time saying sorry to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.  He refused to apologise when asked directly to do so by Conservative Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer.  Trudeau’s response was to blame Stephen Harper, his Conservative predecessor, for awarding a defence contract, in which the admiral allegedly had an interest.

Scheer pointed out the double standard and launched a vicious attack on the Prime minister for his willingness to spend untold millions of Canadian tax payers’ money for prosecuting a righteous public servant, Vice Admiral Norman who was a national hero.

When the resolution was put to vote, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already left the chamber and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was absent.  In an election year this will surely have its political consequences.

In stark contrast to the passage of this apology resolution, I was reminded of the several instances of senior officers of the Indian defence forces being convicted by court martial and cashiered/ dismissed from service in disgrace. In quite a few instances the higher courts of appeal have rejected the court martial verdicts and restored the lost honour of these officers. However, there was not a single case of an apology from anyone, not even the concerned service Headquarters to the individual.

At the time when charges were pressed against Vice Admiral Mark Norman, he was the Vice Chief of the Canadian Defence Forces, the Number 2 man in the military hierarchy. For a western democracy, it was perhaps a rare incident of such nature.

What was the case against Vice Admiral Mark Norman?

The Canadian Navy urgently needed a supply ship as HMCS Protecteur, Canadian Navy’s only supply ship was engulfed in a blaze in February 2014, rendering it unserviceable.  The ship had to be towed by a US Naval ship to Pearl Harbour.  The Conservative government in power then placed an order with Quebec-based shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada Inc (Davie) to convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel at a cost of $668-million.

Prior to the award of the contract, the Conservative Government changed the federal procurement rules to allow a single vendor contract without competition, which was questioned by the incoming Liberals. The Conservative Defence Minister defended the decision to amend the rules to facilitate the single vendor deal, as the Canadian Navy wanted a Supply Ship urgently and the normal process would involve 30 to 36 months.

In November 2015, the new Liberal Government apparently took a decision to pause and review the deal. The information was leaked to James Cudmore, then a CBC reporter. Following the leak, there was a public outrage in Quebec. The liberal Government then backtracked and quickly approved the deal.  However, furious with the leak, the Government ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to investigate the matter.

In January 2017, Vice Admiral Mark Norman was suspended from service and more than a year later subsequent to raids at his residence, the RCMP charged Vice Admiral Mark Norman with breach of trust, alleging that he leaked cabinet secrets to both an executive at Davie and to a journalist.   In its court brief, it was alleged that Norman ‘knowingly and deliberately’ leaked this information and breached cabinet secrecy on 12 separate occasions between October 2014 to November 2015.

Norman vehemently denied any wrong doing pleaded not guilty to the charges and said that he acted with integrity, ethically and “in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of Canada.”

Government’s case against Norman unexpectedly began to collapse in March 2019, partly under the weight of information from several former Conservative cabinet ministers and staffers. The new evidence, gathered by Norman’s lawyers and presented to the court on March 28 included some documents which were not uncovered during the investigation, something Norman’s lead defence lawyer blamed on government obstruction. The independence of the investigation carried out by the RCMP also comes into question.


The case took a turn on its head the moment Liberal MP Andrew Leslie announced his retirement from the federal Liberal caucus and expressed his wish to testify for the defence in Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s trial.  His testimony would have been politically embarrassing for the government, coming from the ruling party MP.  It was a political ‘hara-kiri’ for Leslie who said that he will not be running for re-election in 2019.

Who is Liberal MP Andrew Leslie?  Why was he defending Vice-Admiral Mark Norman?


Veteran Lieutenant General Andrew Brooke Leslie served Canadian Army for over three decades.   He was an artillery officer commissioned in 1981 and rose to the top of the hierarchy to be appointed as Chief of the Land Staff in Jun 2006.  He retired in September 2011 and was elected MP of Liberal Party in 2015. Prior to his retirement, he was assigned the task of making a ‘transformation report‘ of the Canadian Defence Forces. On this task Admiral Mark Norman was his deputy and part of the team that submitted the report. So Admiral Mark Norman was a subordinate well known to the General.

While appearing as defence witness, Leslie would have no specific knowledge about the allegations that led to the charge against Norman, but would have insight into how the case was treated by the Liberal government, both during the investigation and throughout the pretrial phase. The Admiral’s legal defence had often often made the accusation of political interference which may well get substantiated by the General’s testimony. Also, knowing the nuances of the procurement process and probably having faced frustrations similar to the problem of procuring a supply ship may well state in testimony that the Conservative Government decision to amend the procurement rules was well justified.  All these would surely have been politically embarrassing for the government.

The General acted like a General to defend the honour and well being of his subordinate, a comrade in arms, even at the cost of his political future. This is a classic case of military loyalty to the organisation and ultimately to the Canadian nation in a larger sense.  Notice that there was a personal cost involved and therefore becomes all the more praiseworthy

At the end of it, the government was forced to drop all charges against Vice Admiral Mark Norman.  What caused the prosecution to drop the charge is not yet known.  It is obvious that for the conviction to stand, the aspect of personal gain and damage to public interest would both require to be proved. There is no indication of any available evidence towards this.  In the face of mounting public statements from then Conservative cabinet ministers and staffers that the Admiral’s recommendations for single vendor deal with Davies was made only in the best interests of the Canadian Navy, the prosecution was probably left with no alternative but to drop the charges.

The Canadian public will come to know of the reasons that prompted the state to drop the charges only if Norman ever files a civil lawsuit against the government for the ordeal that he faced.  Norman said he has an ‘important story’ to tell Canadians, which he will be sharing in the coming days.

On being exonerated of all charges, Vice Admiral Mark Norman said “I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of CanadaThe alarming and protracted bias of perceived guilt across the senior levels of government has been quite damaging and the emotional and financial impacts of the entire ordeal have taken a toll.”  Like a true soldier he did not blame anyone for his ordeal and was preparing to get back to work immediately.

Meanwhile, the supply ship that Vice Admiral Norman fought for, MV Asterix (It is not christened HMCS as the ship is only leased by the Canadian Navy.  It is not commissioned by the Navy and is manned by Naval and civilian crew), has been in service for more than a year, refuelling Royal Canadian Navy ships around the world. Many in the Canadian Navy say that conversion of the Asterix from a merchant vessel to a Naval supply ship is a rare example of a defence project that was delivered on time and on budget.

So, in the face of a decision which apparently went right all the way, pressing charges against a man who recommended the course of action probably seemed meaningless.  Was it simply a case of a political squabble between the Liberals and the Conservatives into which a man in uniform was unwittingly drawn? We shall probably never know!

Colonel Kizhakayil Kotiath Arun, Sena Medal


Cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) were divided into four houses named after four Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. .  I was in Pandya House.  Reminiscing through the good old Sainik School days, a thought came to my mind about my many visits to Chera House dormitory in my Grade 11 days (1978), walking through the back alley of Chola House  dorm.

The most prominent object that would catch my eyes was the wheel of a trolley that lay unmoved in the Chola House back alley.  It was black cast-iron wheels, surely weighing over 80 kilos, from  one of the trolleys used during the construction of Amaravathi Dam.  It had a solid axle with two wheels, akin to the wheels of a railway wagon, but a bit smaller.  It obviously resembled the ‘Barbell with Plates’ used by champion weightlifters.   I used to try moving it and many a time realised that it has not moved an inch since  1975.

These trolleys used during construction of the dam found their resting place behind the old Cadets’ Mess, now the Gymnasium and Cinema Hall on completion of the dam.  The Gymnasium building was the workshop during dam construction days, hence these trolleys were abandoned there.

How did this barbell find its way to the back alley of Chera House dorm?

It was brought in by Veteran Commander Ponnar and his friends who managed to pick up the trolley-wheel from their ‘graveyard’ behind the gym and carried it over a kilometer long trail and brought it to its current resting place in the back alley of Chera House.

The toughest senior cadet I came across during my Cadet days at Sainik School Amaravathinagar was Cadet  KK Arun of 1975 Batch.  He was tall and well built, quiet and unassuming, always with a smile on his face.  I realised he too was a Malayalee who found his moorings at Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu like me.  I hardly ever interacted with him – he was too senior and I belonged to a different House – the Pandyas.

It was a matter of pride, sense of achievement and a dream  for any Cadet at Sainik School to be selected to join the National Defence Academy (NDA).  It involved passing a written examination with a qualifying rate less than a percentile or two.  Then was the five day Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and then a stringent medical examination.  Cadets of the graduating  year (Grade 11 then) used to work out mentally and physically to qualify through this rigorous and grueling procedure.

Cadet KK Arun too had set his aim to join the NDA.  He found the weights and exercises at the gym and the morning Physical Training (PT) inadequate to stress and strain all his muscles.  One often found Cadet KK Arun lifting it with ‘Clean and Jerk’ or a ‘snatch’  in the evenings after the Games Parade.  Whenever I walked past this ‘Barbell’ during my NDA preparation days in 1978, the idea to lift it germinated in my mind.  Obviously, I could only lift it from a side, that too with both my hands. I always had a ‘Hero Worship’ for Arun as to how come he could lift this monster many a times at my age.

Arun joined NDA in 1975 and I followed suit in 1979 January.  We never met since our school days.  Arun remained a fitness freak throughout his Indian Army career.   He was an Instructor at the Commando Wing of Infantry School – an appointment any young officer will even trade his ‘girl friend’ for.

As a senior Major he landed in a coveted appointment – The Adjutant of NDA – an appointment any Cadet who passed out of NDA will sacrifice anything and everything for.  It was a reward for Major Arun’s soldierly qualities, his love for his soldiers, dedication to duty, physical fitness, gentlemanly qualities and so on.

Drill is the bedrock of discipline – thus goes an old saying and it is the Adjutant who meticulously oversees the Drill Training at NDA.  It culminates with  the Passing Out Parade (POP), a spectacular event which marks the  culmination event of another successful semester.  POP parade held at the Khetarpal Parade Ground comprises over one thousand cadets bidding farewell to their senior colleagues and will remain etched in the memory of anyone who has witnessed it.  Passing Out Cadets march past the Quarter Deck to the  haunting strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.  The Adjutant on his charger accompany the passing out cadets to their Final Steps.

This entire spectacle is the culmination of five months of rigorous drill training imparted by the Drill Instructors under the watchful eyes of the Adjutant.  It is purely an Adjutant’s show.  Please click here to read more about the Academy Drill Instructors.

Who will ever forget the ‘Josh Pep-talk’ delivered by the Adjutant prior to the commencement of POP, exhorting all cadets to put in their best to make it as spectacular as possible.  A young Officer on commissioning  to our Regiment narrated an anecdote.  He was trained by Major Arun at the NDA.  He said “While delivering the customary Pep-talk by the Adjutant, his Charger, a well built white horse, delivered an anal salute.  Major Arun immediately said ‘SORRY’ and continued.  That was our Adjutant, an epitome of decency.”  I felt very proud of our Alma Mater and did not miss the opportunity  to declare with pride in my voice “I attended the very same school from where Major Arun graduated.”

Major Arun served as a Commando Instructor.  He was a real ‘tough’ instructor and was well known for his teaching abilities with love for his students – A real GURU in all aspects.  Some even say the Nana Patekar’s Hindi movie ‘PRAHAR‘ (please click here for more about the movie) was inspired by him. He was awarded Sena Medal for gallantry.


He rose to the Rank of Colonel and commanded a Rajput Regiment.  There are many anecdotes from his army life worth mentioning.  He hung up his military boots and is now settled with his family at Greater NOIDA near Delhi.

I was lucky to come in contact with him, courtesy Colonel TM Natarajan, our batch mate from Sainik School.  It was a rewarding experience sharing our journey experiences and also relent that we two never met after leaving school.

Pongoes


On 13 January 1979 I joined the National Defence Academy, Pune India as an Army Cadet.  National Defence Academy is a Joint Services academy of Indian Armed Forces, where cadets of the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force train together.   This is to ensure jointmanship amongst the three services.

We, the Army Cadets, were often referred to as Pongoes or at times Grabbies, especially by the Naval fraternity – both officers and fellow cadets.  It often intrigued me as to from where these terms originated. In fact, I disliked it, like every other Army Cadet at the Academy.

The word Pongo is seemingly used in a somewhat derogatory sense evoking a sense of both stupidity and a bad smell, something like a ‘stinking moron’.  Although a bit derogatory, the word is often used by the Naval guys in a friendly manner when they refer to the Army guys. It is interesting to go into the etymology of the word.

Pongo is a British slang dating from the mid nineteenth century, meaning soldiers. The word itself stems from expressions used by comedians in theatres and music halls to get a cheap laugh. The two most common quotes were “where the army goes the pong goes”, or “when the wind blows the pong goes” – pong meaning smell. This quickly became pongoes meaning soldiers (plural) and pongo meaning an individual. Another possible explanation is that the soldiers were being likened to a large, hairy, smelly ape called a pongo. The expression is still in use today although not common, confined mainly to those who saw service in World War II or Korea or who did National Service in Britain while this was still compulsory.  (www.urbandictionary.com)

There is another explanation given in a blog post ‘Be Proud to be a Pongo’ at www.theobservationpost.com. During the Napoleonic wars, the British Army was based in Portugal from 1807-1814. The Portuguese word for bread is written pão (this could also be the origin of the Indian street bread – the Pav पाव), and pronounced pong. British soldiers coined the term pongo as there is a letter from a soldier complaining about the lack of pong. One of the distinctive differences in service between the sailors and soldiers of the time was that sailors lived on biscuit while, the army lived on bread. So a sailor meeting army soldiers, and hearing them complain about the quality or quantity of pong might reasonably refer to soldiers as pong-goes – meaning bread eaters.

As per Appendix: Glossary of British military slang and expressions, an  Army soldier is referred to as Pongo meaning “Everywhere the army goes, the pong (stink) goes”; derived from the supposed inferior washing facilities in field compared to those on a navy vessel.

Pongo was also used by members of the Royal Navy or RAF.  Sailors noted the similarity of the sand-apes’ colour to the rough brown (khaki) uniform of the British Army.  They believed that a Pongo was an ape that when alarmed did not climb trees, but would dig holes and hide itself on the ground reminding the onlooker of infantrymen.  They said a pongo dug holes and filled it for no rhyme or reason.  However, the only mention of Pongo – the ape – I could find was in National Geographic website which refers to a new orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutanthe rarest great ape species on the planet – found in the high-altitude Sumatran forests.

The term Pongo comes from the days when soldiers were stationed on board ships to protect the Navy when sailing abroad. Usually the first to be sent ashore when the ship docked, soldiers would carry out all sorts of different tasks.  One important (the most important… surely) task being the setting up of a brewery. The main part of it still being called a pongo. Hence the nick-name given to the soldiers who would be sent to do the job “send the pongos ashore”. The name seems to have filtered down through the years and is used today by the Navy towards members of the Army.  (www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/Pongo)

Our childhood adventure series – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – in its fifth volume, Five Go Off in a Caravan (1946), has Pongo as a main character who is a circus chimpanzee.   In David Foster Wallace’s novel – Infinite Jest – refers to Checkpoint Pongo, a border post of the Concavity near Methuen, Massachusetts.

That is all about the poor Pongoes, but how did they get their nickname Grabbie?

It is said that the poorly fed soldiers on boarding a ship would scramble to the Galley – the ship’s kitchen – and would grab anything and everything edible

Here I would quote from The Sea Regiments published in The Navy and Army Illustrated MagazineOctober 1806, where it says ‘ The Marines, in a word, are a military force maintained by the Admiralty for service in the fleet.  “What’s the good of ‘aving leather-necked grabbies aboard ship?”  said an ordinary seaman once to a private of the Royal Marines.  “To keep you flat-footed, ginger-whiskered swamp rats from eating one another!” was the prompt and unexpected reply.’

Another reference to grabbies I found was from the book The Cameronians – A Concise History by Trevor Royle.   ‘Amongst the officers of my Regiment, nice fellows as they were, only a few cared for the Army as a profession.  All were proud belonging to splendidly drilled Light Infantry Battalion – drilled according to the practice of War in the Peninsula, before the introduction of the rifled musket.  They thought themselves to be socially superior to the ordinary Regiments of the Line, which were always spoken of as grabbies.’

In the book Seven Sailors by Commander Kenneth Edwards ‘The history of British Empire is rife with examples of devotion of British sailors to their brothers in army.  These reached their zenith at Dunkirk, not only among the matelots and the grabbies, but all the way down from the Admiral and staff to the over tired infantrymen.

Matelots, a Naval slang, refers to a sailor and originates from 19th century from French, variant of matenot, from Dutch mattenoot meaning ‘bed companion’, because sailors had to share hammocks in twos.

Whatever you call a soldier, especially an Infantry Soldier, Victory is still measured on foot.

 

Arequipa – The White City of Peru


After the wedding at Piura, Peru, we flew to Lima, early morning on January 06.  We were joined by Stephens, our travel companions.  The party consisted of Vijas, Ranga, Aravazhi with their better-halves and Mrs. Anita Chandramouli.  Our trip was organised by JourneYou, a travel company founded in 2011 by a team of travel professionals.  Their agent received us at Lima Airport and facilitated our check-in for the Arequipa flight. After an hour, we landed at Rodriguez Ballon International Airport at Arequipa.


Arequipa in Southern Peru is the second most populated city in Peru. It is considered one of the most fascinating areas in the country, due to its architecture, varied gastronomy, impressive landscapes, imposing volcanoes, and the deepest canyon in the world. The most prominent feature of the landscape of Arequipa is undoubtedly the majestic Misti volcano, which sits at 5,825m above sea level. ‘El Misti’ comes from the Quechua language (language of Incan Empire), meaning ‘The Gentleman.’

Prior to exiting Arequipa Airport, all our baggage was thoroughly scanned by Animal and Plant Health Service of Peru to detect if we were in possession of any fruit – a rare inspection, that too when flying within the country!  It is to ensure that no fruit flies, its larvae or eggs are brought into this region.  Passengers who were in possession of any fruit had to either consume it or discard it there.

Southern Peru has managed to eradicate fruit flies by means of the area-wide integrated application of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), a nuclear technology package developed by a joint division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  These pests used to cause annual losses of up to US$12 million to the farmers and fruit growers in Peru.


Arequipa is named the “White City” (Ciudad Blanca) due to the whiteness of the houses and buildings made using white ashlar, a volcanic stone abundantly found in the area. In the background of the photograph above is the Misti Volcano on the Left and Pichu Pichu Volcano (5,669m) to the Right.

On arrival at the Airport, we were greeted by our travel guide from JourneYou, who escorted us to our hotel.  After lunch we set out to explore the city with our travel guide.  Our first stop was Santa Catalina Monastery.


Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena was built in 1579 and it served as a cloister for Dominican nuns from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and it still houses a small religious community today. The complex is built from volcanic Sillar stone and is organized into cloisters, living quarters, a plaza, a gallery, and a chapel.  The Monastery was founded by Maria de Guzman, a rich widow, who only accepted nuns from the rich Spanish families. Traditionally, the second daughter of upper-class families entered a nunnery, supposedly to live in poverty and renounce the material world.  They had to pay a dowry on entry and they lived in luxury with servants or slaves.


In addition to the dowry, the nuns also had to bring 25 listed items which included a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. In the case of the wealthiest nuns, these included the finest English china and wonderful silk curtains and rugs.


The Orange Tree Cloister (Claustro los Naranjos) in the Monastery have three crosses set among the orange trees and these constitute the center of the Passion of the Christ ceremonies, a dramatic presentation of the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, carried out during Lent.


Apart from daily prayer and meals, the nuns took time to bake (mostly bread) which was then either eaten communally or sold to the public.  This photograph depicts what was once their kitchen with a stone water filter on the Right.


We then visited an old chapel, now converted into an art museum with over 400 restored paintings.


This is Calle Toledo, a long boulevard with a communal laundry at its end, where the nuns (probably their servants) washed their clothes in halved earthenware shell like basins.  The laundry area is surrounded by a colourful garden.  Water was diverted from the channel in the center to the washing pot by blocking it with the hand.  Everyone tried their hand at this.


Walking out from the convent through its lanes and by-lanes, we headed straight to the city-center.


When the city was founded in 1540, it all begun with the square – Plaza de Armas.  Surrounded by the Cathedral and various portals.  In the center is a fountain with a beautiful bronze statue of a soldier.


On the Northern side of the Square is the majestic Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, the most important Catholic church of the city.  Its construction started in 1540, the same year that the city of Arequipa was founded, built in ashlars (white volcanic stone) and brick vaults.  Throughout its history the church was destroyed many times by fire, earthquakes and volcanic explosions, restored after each destruction, the latest in 2001.


On January 6 Peruvians, just as many other Christians, commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men or Three Kings at Jesus’ manger bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  A large crowd had assembled at the Cathedral, with many occupying the roads  to celebrate the event.  Thus we decided not to get into the church.


Our next stop was Jesuit Church of Company, located on the South-East corner of the Square.  Its facade is an intricately carved masterpiece in ashlars.  The design of the church is Spanish, but the carvings in these stones are filled with relief and the motifs which are mostly Incan.  Construction of this church commenced in 1578, but was destroyed many times over due to various earthquakes.


Inside the church is the high altar which houses a painting of Mother Mary with child Jesus by Italian painter Bernardo Bitti, who had come to Peru in 1575.


On the either sides of the main alter there are two more beautiful altars, carved with gilded wood. It is called the “Altar of the Founders,” as it holds many images of several founders of the Jesuit order.

After the long and tiring walking tour of Arequipa city, we had dinner and returned to our hotel for a well deserved rest.

Elephant’s Teeth


Our home state Kerala in India which the tourism department very glibly calls ‘God’s own Country’, has always had an enduring love affair with elephants. Children romanticise the elephant with several fairy tales, nursery rhymes and moral lessons with an elephant as the main protagonist. The Indian elephant (Elephas Maximus Indicus) has been declared as the State Animal and the state emblem symbolises two elephants guarding the state  insignia –  the Shankh (conch shell) of Lord Padmanabha – and the national insignia – the famous Lion Capital.

It is estimated that Kerala has more than five hundred domesticated elephants.  They are used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples, and some churches and mosques also, and a few elephants work at timber yards.


For all the festivities in Kerala, Tuskers are in demand, obviously for their getup.  They are attired in all finery and caparisoned.  Nearly a hundred elephants are paraded during Thrissur Pooram (during the month of May), the largest annual temple festival in the state. Despite protests from several animal rights organisations and quite a few incidents resulting in human fatalities /serious injury, the love affair seems to continue.

Elephantine dentistry is of some interest. Elephants have a total of 26 teeth, their tusks counting for two. Unlike humans, elephants may erupt only two or three sets of molars at birth. When teeth that have erupted get worn out, another set will erupt behind the existing set. So perhaps it is impossible to find an elephant with all 26 teeth as they come out sequentially,  Each time they lose these teeth, the new ones that grow are larger, allowing them to chew even tougher vegetation like tree bark, palm leaves, roots, etc. A single molar in an adult elephant may weigh as much as a humungous 5 kg.

Like most mammals, elephants have teeth called incisors, which eventually become tusks as they grow into full-grown adults. Male Asian elephants have long tusks (hence called Tuskers), but for the females, the incisors barely protrude out. In the African species both males and females develop tusks.   As the tusks are made of ivory, wild Asian male elephants become a target for merciless poaching. The tusks are used as an offensive and defensive weapon in both intra-species and inter-species fights, for lifting weighs and for stripping bark of trees to be used as food. Elephants are also known to dig for water in dry river beds using their tusks, trunk and feet. Besides all this the tusks also serve to protect the sensitive trunk which is a multi-utility organ of great significance.

Perhaps the mistaken belief that the elephant’s tusk is not of much use to the animal, has given rise to the Hindi idiom ‘हाथी के दांत दिखाने के और, खाने के और – Hathi ke dant dekhane ke aur khane ke aur’. Literally translated it means, ‘Elephant has two set of teeth – one to show off and the other to chew with’. Figuratively it means that what is obvious may not be the truth.

I must narrate a story which brings out the full implication of this Hindi idiom. In January 2004, our Regiment located at Devlali, Maharashtra, was allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power.


The Cooking System consists of four kettles used to prepare food items such as lentils, vegetables and meat. Each kettle has a capacity of about 60 litres.  About the lower two-thirds of each kettle is surrounded by a jacket that is offset from the main kettle body to provide space for steam to circulate and heat the contents of the kettle.

The kettles are permanently mounted on a pedestal and have a hinged lid or cover. They also have a tube at the bottom of the kettle with a faucet at the outer end for drawing liquids (used for cleaning the kettle) and a steam inlet connection, a steam outlet connection, and a safety valve.  They also have a handle on the side facilitating tilting the kettle to pour contents into a service container.  Kettles are made of corrosion-resistant steel.  At one end is the Steam Generator which generates steam for the system by heating water using normal cooking gas.  There are steel pipes that carry steam from the steam generator to the kettles.

Great! I visited five regimental kitchens in the station who already had the system installed.  Everywhere the system appeared hardly ever used. On inquiry the chefs revealed that the system was used for cooking only when there was any visit or inspection by a senior officer.  Their reason was that it consumed too much cooking gas, much more than the authorised quantity they could draw from the Supply Depot.  The Steam Cooking System was branded a ‘Gas Guzzler.’ Obviously it was only an elephant’s teeth to show off, with little or no utility.

After a lot of research, I realised that the equipment really had a lot of utility value if correctly used. I visited our Regimental Kitchen, summoned all the Chefs and announced the impending installation of the Steam Jacketed Cooking System.  During my interaction, I explained the following results of my research: –

  • Better Food Quality in Better Hygienic Conditions. Standard cook pots used in military kitchens over an open burner heat its contents from the bottom where as this heats from all sides, providing a gentle, uniform heat that allows you to cook with minimal labour. It also reduces the risk of burning or overcooking your product.
  • Better Productivity.   This system cooks faster as two thirds of the cooking surface comes into contact with the food being cooked at a much lower temperature, compared to cook pots that use a much higher temperature only at the bottom of the pot.
  • Less Labour.   As the system does not require constant monitoring, stirring, it will save on labour.  The kettles of the system are extremely quick and easy to clean.
  • Safety.   A standard 40 Litre cook pot partially filled will weigh more than 30 kg, creating a significant risk to the chefs when moving them manually.  Transferring product inside a stock pot of any size can be potentially very dangerous, whereas tilting the kettles of the new system allow for safe, hassle free extraction of its contents.
  • Energy Efficient.  This system uses on average 35% less energy than cook pots on an open burner whilst also keeping kitchens cooler.

I tried explaining to the chefs about conserving gas using the principle of latent heat of steam, that is water as it boils at 100° C absorbs heat without changing its temperature.  The heat absorbed is called latent heat.  Hence, by turning down the gas supply to the steam generator after the water has commenced to boil, one can conserve gas.

All my scientific explanation was a little too much for the chefs to digest.  They still held on to their belief that it was a gas guzzler and hence could not be employed for regular cooking.

I now called up the manufacturer to inquire as to whether they had an Electric Steam Generator, which they confirmed, but it costs about Rs 15,000 and so I decided to foot the bill from regimental funds and accordingly and placed an order for the item.

Prior to installation of the steam cooking system, the kitchen had to be modified and work was initiated with the Military Engineering Service (MES).  The Garrison Engineer, a young Major, was surprised to find a request for a three phase electric connection in the kitchen, much different from similar work he had executed in the station.  He paid a visit to the Regiment to study the requirement projected and our Quartermaster took him around.  He was generally impressed by various equipment the kitchen had – flour kneading machine, potato peeling machine, freezers, coolers, power washer, microwave ovens and so on.  He was also shown our near paperless office functioning on an automated computer network where every soldier could update his records and also carryout day-to-day administration tasks. Probably he had an irresistible urge to chip in.

At the culmination of his round, the Garrison Engineer came to my office and said “You need to have a dedicated power supply to your Regiment with so many gadgets functioning.  I request you to take up a work for a dedicated power line from the power house located two kilometers from the Regiment.  I will ensure that it is executed immediately. I must chip in with my bit to facilitate the automation in your unit.”

By the time the Steam Cooking System was setup in the kitchen, the Garrison Engineer had laid the new power line with an caveat to his power house staff that this line should be connected to the same feeder that connects the General’s Residence and power on this line will never be switched off without his express permission.

We changed our routine cooking to the new system. Now we had both Steam generators functional in the kitchen, one working on electricity and the other on gas.  This ensured uninterrupted cooking and saving on gas. I was gratified and pleasantly surprised at the remark of our Havildar (Sergeant) Chef “With the installation of the Steam Cooking System, life spans of all our chefs have enhanced by a minimum of ten years.

Thus the elephant now began to chew with the set of teeth that were meant only to show off.

Banning Cell Phones in Schools


Ontario is banning cell phones in classrooms during instructional time, starting next academic session – September 2019.  Education Minister Lisa Thompson said “Ontario’s students need to be able to focus on their learning — not their cell phones. By banning cell phone use that distracts from learning, we are helping students to focus on acquiring the foundational skills they need, like reading, writing and math.”

The cell phone combined with internet technology has undoubtedly revolutionised our lives in myriad ways. Perhaps there is hardly any facet of life untouched by this revolution. Increasingly, it has become difficult to be active members of our present day societies without the use of cell phones. Like all technologies that have revolutionised human life and behaviour, the cell phone too has its pros and cons. Along with its all too obvious beneficial uses, the cell phones have a number of disruptive influences particularly on children.

Research indicates that in developed countries, a majority of middle school children own cell phones. While some children own their first cell phones when they are 11, nearly 50-60 % of all children own cell phones by the age of 13. In many cases it is the parents who are instigators of the first cell phone purchase. For many families the safety factor along with an enhanced sense of being connected is the major motivator for children being cell phone owners at a tender age. Children from higher income groups tend to own a cell phone earlier than those from lower income groups. Both parents and schools resort to various methods to regulate the use of cell phones to a greater or less degree.

In developing nations, the problem seems to be less acute as it is only a small percentage of well to do children who own cell phones in middle school and majority of children even in high schools still do not own cell phones. While parents of children who own cell phones attempt some sort of regulation on their use, most schools simply adopt a policy of banning these devices within school premises. Just as school uniforms do, such a policy serves as a great leveler between the haves and the have nots. So the dynamics in the developing world seem to be quite different from those in the developed world.

Is the ban proposal a case of resistance to change? During our schooldays too, many such scientific gadgets that enhanced learning were banned and the bans were later withdrawn. It commenced with the slide rule, then it was the calculator. During our children’s schooldays it was the turn of the scientific calculator to be followed by the laptop and then the notepad computers. While it has to be admitted that the revolutionising impact of the cell phone is far different from that of the slide rule or scientific calculator, particularly on the social and behavioural planes, the bottom line is that it is still a new technology that must be incorporated into the learning process sooner or later.

Cell phones help improve Digital literacy, a critical aspect of young students learning. It will also help them to effectively participate in the workforce. The cell phones provide a link between students and their parents, which has an important role to play in ensuring their safety. Evidence indicates parents want this type of access. Students with special needs, such as managing diabetes, and other medical and physiological conditions may be required to access various apps during school(s) hours. Rather than banning cell phones all out, we need to find ways to educate the students to use their phones effectively and efficiently. Banning cell phones will likely lead to underground and hidden use by teens. Rather than reducing cyber-bullying, banning cell phones altogether may show an increase in cyber-bullying.

We know about the 3Rs of learning – reading, writing, and arithmetic. We now need to include ‘research’, thus making it 4Rs. Schools need to educate both the teachers and students about safely negotiating the virtual environment. This means all schools need to develop policies around the use of cell phones during school hours.

A 2015 study by the London School of Economics investigated the impact of restricting  Cell phone use in schools of four cities in England on student productivity. The results  indicated an improvement in student performance of 6.41% in schools that have  introduced a cell phone ban. These findings did not discount the possibility that  cell phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured. The study  found that cell phone bans have very different effects on different types of students. It  improved outcomes for the low-achieving students (14.23%), and had no significant  impact on high achievers. It showed that low-achieving students are more likely to be  distracted by the presence of cell phones, while high achievers can focus in the  classroom regardless of whether phones are present.

Another study was published in the Journal of Communication Education, Ohio University, based on impact of cell phone usage during class lecture, on student learning. Participants in three different study groups (control, low-distraction, and high- distraction) watched a video lecture, took notes on that lecture, and took two assessment tests after watching the lecture. Students who were not using their  cell phones wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored better on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their cell phones.

Research published by the University of Chicago found that even if cell phones are turned off, turned face down or put away, their mere presence reduces people cognitive capacity. The paper called the phenomenon “cell phone induced brain drain”.

University of Illinois conducted a study that examined students’ cell phone and Internet use and its relationship to their mental health. The study assessed two forms of escapism amongst students: one that arises from boredom and one used as a way to avoid negative emotional situations.

What are the likely drawbacks of students using cell phones?

  • It surely reduces face-to-face communication. Teenagers tend to message or  text, avoiding a more challenging conversation.
  • Smartphone apps, games and messages prompt dopamine release, creating addiction. Mere presence of a phone in the backpack can distract a student even though the student may not even be checking it.
  • It tends to reduce working memory capacity, mental mathematical ability, logical analysis and fluid intelligence.
  • It has surely reduced the students’ ability to cope with uncertainty and stress. In other words it reduces tolerance for ambiguity. Research shows being uncomfortable with uncertainty is associated with students feeling distracted and tense during difficult examinations or tests. The more uncomfortable young people are with uncertainty, the higher the number of co-occurring psychological problems they report experiencing. Smartphone use is associated with the current epidemic of anxiety and depression.

How can cell phones help in enhancing the learning process?

  • Students tend to carryout research using their cell phones off-campus, later in life in their higher education, and in their professional and workplace learning.
  • In case students want to investigate, collect data, receive personalised and immediate feedback, record media, create, compose, or communicate with peers, in and beyond the classroom, then using cell phones is ideal.
  • Cell phones allow students to learn at a place, time and pace of their choosing, for example, on excursions, or when working on group projects or assignments with friends in more informal spaces like home, while travelling, etc.

Banning cell phones in schools is not the solution as it is important to educate children to live well in the era in which they are growing up. Students must be taught how to use technology to learn, communicate, and work with ideas. Modern technology provides new learning opportunities and the ability for students to develop skills they will need for future careers. The ability to copy what is written on the blackboard or what is dictated by the teacher into a note book is not a particularly useful skill that will help learning in the modern age nor is it what prospective employers are looking for.

An outright ban on cell phone use will hardly ever yield the results intended. Students will always find a way to smuggle it in, even if banned. That said, there is also an overarching need to perhaps severely regulate its use during classes.

Is there a need to regulate the minimum age for ownership of cell phones?

The rules formulated must be implementable at school level without hindering learning and development while at the same time minimise the disruptive effects on tender minds at the social and psychological plane.

Is it worthwhile to ban cell phones in schools? Will the ban be later overturned?

Indian Cricket Team Honours Soldiers


Settling down this morning (08 March 2019) with a cup of tea in hand, I switched on the television to watch India-Australia One Day Cricket match at Ranchi.  the Australian innings had been completed and  highlights showing many blemishes in the field by India was being shown to the discomfort of any Indian fan with Sunil Gavaskar making a snide remark that the best fielder was the wickets standing at the bowler’s end.

Wait a minute! The Indian players were wearing  disruptive pattern Indian Army caps with the BCCI logo in front and the manufacture’s Nike logo at the back.  I scurried through the internet to catch the news about the new headgear Indian players were wearing.

It was Lieutenant Colonel MS Dhoni, a legend from Ranchi, the wicket keeper, who came up with the novel idea.  He handed over the cap to Virat kohli, the Indian Captain, and also to all team members and support staff before the start of the match.  Captain Kohli at the toss said “This is a special cap, it’s a tribute to the Armed forces. We’re all donating our match fees of this game to the National Defence Fund. I urge everyone in the country to do the same, donate to the families of our armed forces.”

This must be the first time the Indian Cricket team must have shown such a gesture to the soldiers.  Obviously, it had complete support from BCCI.


English Cricket Team that played a test match at Rajkot (November 9-13, 2016) were seen wearing the Red Poppy in honour of fallen soldiers to commemorate Remembrance Day (11 November).  Will the Indian Cricket Team ever do so for the Armed Forces Flag Day (07 December)?

Few years ago, we watched a baseball game at Toronto between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rogers Centre is the home-ground of the Blue Jays. The atmosphere was as electric as that of any cricket matches of the Indian Premier League.

During the  innings interval, a sixty year old Veteran from the Canadian Army who was a Captain and had served in many UN assignments was called on to the centre and the Team Management of the Blue Jays presented him with a team shirt with his name printed at the back and with the team captain’s signature in the front. The entire stadium stood up to give the veteran a standing ovation – no one instructed anyone to do it, but was spontaneous. This is what is called patriotism.

Our son then said that during all the matches, a veteran from the armed forces or the police forces, who is a registered fan of the Blue Jays, is honoured this way.

Can we ever expect such a gesture at Mohali from the Kings XI Punjab or at Chennai from the Chennai Super Kings? Why one veteran, we can always honour a dozen at every match.

Will this ever happen in any Indian city? Will this remain a distant dream?