Indian media is filled with headlines of Aryan Khan’s (son of Bollywood Star Sharukh Khan) arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India on a cruise ship on October 3, 2021. Many media houses are celebrating the event with all pomp and glory throwing in bits and pieces of Masala (spice) – some even went berserk – especially those active on the social-media.
Can you justify such media glare and media trial?
Sashi Tharoor summed it up very well through his tweet “I am no fan of recreational drugs and haven’t ever tried any, but I am repelled by the ghoulish epicaricacy displayed by those now witch-hunting Sharukh Khan on his son’s arrest. Have some empathy, folks. The public glare is bad enough; no need to gleefully rub a 23yr old’s face in it.”
I needed a dictionary to understand his tweet – ghoulish (ugly and unpleasant, or frightening) epicaricacy (deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others.) That is Tharoorian English for you!!
I too am not a fan of recreational drugs and never tried it. The smell of marijuana smoke puts me off – though I have been a cigarette smoker for over four decades. But the way the NCB, Indian media and the judiciary have conducted themselves in dealing with the case – I am no fan of that too. It is absurd – may be I have lived in Canada for 18 years where a similar case would have been dealt with differently.
This prompted me to delve into the Canadian laws on Cannabis. In our Province of Ontario, one must be 19 and older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational Cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in Ontario. The law stipulates that one can smoke and vape Cannabis in private residences, many outdoor public places (sidewalks and parks,) designated smoking guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns, etc.
After the law was implemented in October 2019, I found a drastic decrease in the odor of Marijuana smoke while on my walks, especially at park corners. It appeared that it was Cool no more.
The law also permits a person to possess a maximum of 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried cannabis in public at any time. I also realised that I can grow four Cannabis plants at our home for recreational purpose.
My mind raced back to 1980’s – a Television interview of a Tribal Chieftain from Kerala, India. In the early 1970’s when Mrs Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, she visited the tribal area accompanied by Mr K Karunakaran, then Home Minister of Kerala State. The Tribal Chieftain was fortunate to have had an audience with Mrs Gandhi. She asked him as to what she could do for the welfare of his people and the Chieftain did not ask for a school, not a hospital and not a proper road to his land – he did not ask for drinking water facilities and not for electricity – but he promptly asked “Our people should be allowed to grow two Cannabis plants per household.”
Mrs Gandhi smiled and Mr Karunakaran nodded. The Chieftain claimed that thereafter the Police and the State Excise Department accepted it as an unwritten law and never ever bothered them.
Sepoy Vaishakh H, an Indian army soldier from Kerala, who made the ultimate sacrifice during an encounter with terrorists on October 11, 2021. His mortal remains arrived in Kerala on October 13 and was cremated on October 14 amidst heavy rain with full military honours. Sepoy Vaishakh was among the five Army personnel who died in a gunfight with terrorists during an operation in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on October 11.
The operation was launched in a village close to Dera Ki Gali (DKG) in Surankote (Jammu & Kashmir) in the early hours following intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists who had infiltrated from across the Line of Control (LoC).
Prior to the funeral, his body was kept at his childhood LP school in Kudavattoor village and then at his home for public viewing. A huge crowd, including those who had no connection with the soldier, turned up to pay their last respects.
Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal, who was representing the state government, Mavelikkara MP Kodikunnil Suresh and state Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani and several senior government and Army officials were also present at the soldier’s home to pay their last respects.
Please spare a moment and take a look at the coffin.
Recently there has been many reports on the media about suicides by young university students and young adults. Some media houses, and some social media activists have gone on an overdrive to report such incidents with all its fury.
Evidence suggests that the media can influence societal attitudes and beliefs to various social issues. This influence is especially strong for mental health issues, particularly suicide. Canadian newspaper coverage of the popular fictional Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, wherein the lead character dies by suicide in the final episode, generally adhered to core best practice media recommendations, and sensitively discussed suicide from various angles, prompting productive discussion and dialogue about youth suicide. These findings suggest that the media can be an ally in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of important public health issues such as suicide.
J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga all figure among celebrities who have contemplated suicide but found help and stepped back from the brink. U.S. study found a 10 percent increase in suicide mortality after the 2014 death of Robin Williams, American actor and comedian, which was partially attributed to inappropriate media coverage. Similar increases in suicide mortality were witnessed in Canada and Australia after the death of this well-known celebrity.
This phenomenon is known as ‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat suicide.’ Research has found that media coverage with details as to how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone vulnerable to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.
Greater the coverage of a suicide story higher the chances of finding a copycat.
WHO statistics indicate that more than 700 000 people die world over by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies. 77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.
While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTQ2S+) persons; and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.
Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at every level – school, university, community, family – to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. World Health Organisation’s (WHO)’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends:-
limit access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
foster socio-emotional life skills in adolescents;
early identify, assess, manage and follow up anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviours.,
interact with the media for responsible reporting of suicide;
Is there a need to regulate such reporting?
In Canada, Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) provides suicide prevention and support to the people of Canada. The have laid down best practices and recommendations geared to media and other organisations with suggested guidelines and practices on how to report and comment on suicide activities, whether in the media, social media sites or internal communiques. They recommend:-
Health reporters, not crime reporters, are best positioned to cover suicides.
Reports should generally avoid details of suicide methods, especially when unusual or novel methods are involved.
Emergency resource links should be included in all articles that deal with suicide.
Specific for social-media:
Providing information and resources to people who make suicide-related queries or posts;
Including panic buttons that allow for rapid access to crisis services/hotlines;
Providing mechanisms for users to report if they are concerned about someone with the possibility for rapid intervention; and
Moderating forums that frequently include suicide-related postings and making sure to remove inappropriate posts.
Ongoing collaboration between journalists and mental health professionals, acknowledging scientific evidence and the autonomy of journalists;
All journalism schools include teaching of how to report responsibly and respectfully on the topic of suicide, including attention to issues related to ethics and social justice;
Media training for mental health professionals who are likely to be called on to comment on suicide in the press; and
Education for policy-makers and other prominent figures who may be asked to comment publicly on the topic of suicide.
The Austrian journalists recently altered the way they reported about suicide. Studies of that experience showed that after the changes, there was a significant reduction in suicide deaths across the country. Since then many other countries have put out recommendations.
A new fraud has been unearthed in Kerala, India regarding sale of antiquity. Monson, a self claimed antique dealer, was recently arrested in Kerala, India for cheating and forgery. He boasted of high-profile connections in Kerala, which included political leaders, senior police officers and celebrities. Monson tricked investors into believing that he got over 26 million Rupees from selling antiques to royal families in the Middle East. He boasted that his collection included the staff of Moses, two out of the 30 silver coins taken by Judas and the throne of Tipu Sultan.
His home in Kochi, where the fake antiques and artifacts were kept, used to be allegedly frequented by senior police officers. One of the pictures doing the rounds is of former DGP Behera and ADGP Abraham during one such visit. Behera is seen sitting on a throne from Monson’s collection. He is flanked by the ADGP holding a sword.
Shawn Greenalg defrauded both the British Museum and Christie’s in 2003 with an ancient Egyptian statue of the granddaughter of King Tutankhamen, as 3,300 years old. The Bolton Museum purchased the piece that same year, but shortly after it went on display in 2004 it was discovered to be a fake. It turned out to have been be made by Shawn Greenalgh in his parents’ shed. Greenalgh and his parents made and sold forgeries for more than 17 years, earning more than a million dollars running their scheme.
Among the most famous antiquity frauds in the world is the Shroud of Turin, considered one of the holy relics by Catholics, who believe the cloth was Jesus’ burial shroud and bears the image of his face. A carbon-dating testing of 1988 revealed that the fibers in the linen cloth were not from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
In September 2020, New York Police arrested Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan who compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold, by fabricating the provenance of those antiquities, and concealing their true history.
There are many high profile cases of antiquity frauds reported from all over the world. If the British Museum and Christie’s could be defrauded, anyone else could also be. In this case it was the senior Police officers of Kerala who were made to believe the authenticity of the fake antiques. If the police could be defrauded so easily, where do the common-folk go?
It prompted me to research into the rules and regulations laid down by the Government of India vide The Antiquities And Art Treasures Act of 1972. The act defines antiquity as:-
Any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship;
Any article, object or thing detached from a building or cave;
Any article, object or thing illustrative of science, art, crafts, literature, religion, customs, morals or politics in bygone ages;
Any article, object or thing of historical interest;
Any article, object or thing declared by the Central Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, to be an antiquity for the purposes of this Act, which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years;
Any manuscript, record or other document which is of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value and which has been in existence for not less than seventy-five years.
The act stipulates that it no person shall, himself or by any other person on his behalf, carry on the business of selling or offering to sell any antiquity without a valid licence from the Archeological Survey of India.
The acts specifies that every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity shall register such antiquity. Whenever any person transfers the ownership, control or possession of any antiquity, such transfer must be intimated to the registering officer.
There is no dearth of rules, but if the people responsible to implement them are not aware of the rules, where does the poor rule hide?
Unseen characters have been used since the beginning of theatre with the ancient Greek tragedians, such as Laius in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Jason’s bride in Euripides’ Medea. Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another classical example of an unseen character.
In the Malayalam movie Paka which was showcased in the recently concluded Toronto Film Festival, there is a Granny whose disgruntled mutterings are pivotal to the movie all through. Only her toes are shown, with her lying on her bed. Her two grandsons live with her until one of her sons, uncle of the two grandsons, returns from jail.
In the Tamil movie ‘Ethir Neechal,’ directed by K Balachander, the Coughing Grandfather only his cough is heard all through the movie. The Grandfather is never shown. The other movie I watched where a body part of a main character is shown is in Inspector Gadget, a 1983 animated film where the villain Dr Claw’s right hand is shown all through the film.
Like the Dr Claw, the Granny of Paka is arrogant, malicious, ruthless, sinister, short-tempered and sadistic. The Granny is the one injecting venom of revenge into her grandsons. She does not want to change and does not even want any light or fresh air entering her room. She chastises her grandson who tries to open the window of her room. After her death, the grandson opens the very same window to let in light and fresh air into the room.
The other movie I remember where a main character’s legs were shown was in Charlie’s Angels, where the villain and the master mind’s legs are shown at the very end. In Paka, the Granny’s toes are only shown all through.
I wanted to meet Nithin Lukose, the director and script writer of the movie after the premier show, but Nithin couldn’t make it to Toronto due to the pandemic protocols.
Mariakutty, aged 83 years. who enacted the role of the Granny mesmerised the viewers with her voice alone. She happens to the Grandmother of the Director Nithin. The story is loosely based on the stories the Granny narrated to a young Nithin. In fact Mariakutty relived her life in the movie, through her voice.
Filmmaker Nithin Lukose’s debut directorial venture Paka (River of Blood) premiered at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and I was fortunate enough to watch it – thanks to our friend Mr Suresh Nellikode.
Paka is a tale of a river where the spilled blood of two warring families flow – akin to the rivers and streams in many Indian villages, where hatred, jealousy, bitterness and blood flowed with the water. At times the waters carried a corpse or a severed limb. The warring factions can be well described as the Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata, where there is no winner. Interlace it with a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ like romance between two lovers from the warring sides, it’s a complete story to narrate.
Paka is set in Wayanad, Kerala, is a gripping and fast paced story of revenge which gets inherited over three generations. The irony is that the acidity of revenge increases with each passing generation. The modern generation, the educated and worldly aware one, appears most acidic.
The movie ends with one side discarding all the weapons of revenge in the very same river and the other side diving deeper into vengeance, hatred and revenge.
Though natural sounds have been used all through the movie, the score composed by Faizal Ahmed adds value to the climax. Camera work of Srikant Kabothu brings out the natural beauty of the hilly terrain and the tropical forests of Wayanad. Arunima Shanker’s editing is crisp and it ensures a fast pace for the movie. The only flaw is in non-synchronisation of sounds of the band and chenda melam (ensemble of drums) during the church festival.
The cast needs a special mention as most actors were common people from the villages of Wayanad, who faced the camera for the first time. Basil Paulose and Vinitha Koshy have done a great job as the lead pair and the debutantes Athul John as Paachi, Jose Kizhakkan as Kocheppu, Joseph Manikkal as Varkey have exceeded expectations of raw newcomers.
The film has short and crisp dialogues and comes with English subtitles. This will facilitate better understanding of the movie by all.
The word Paka in Russian is an informal way to say goodbye. Russians often say paka paka meaning bye bye!. The very same word Paka in Malayalam denotes hatred. Paka is a village in southeastern Estonia. In Japanese Paka means a hooded jacket. The Maoris of New Zealand use the word to denote a white man. In Swahili, Paka means a cat and in the computing world its an acronym for Password Authenticated Key Agreement. What a contronym!!! A dichotomy among languages!
Kudos Nithin Lukose for an excellent movie. Paka deserves its selection for the TIFF this year and is a must watch for all.
Upon completion of the Artillery Young Officers Course we, the Second Lieutenants, were appointed as the Gun Position Officers (GPO) in our Regiments. The GPO is the commander of the gun group and is responsible for the reconnaissance and deployment of the six guns of the battery in a gun position. With the help of his Technical Assistants at the Command Post, he is responsible for calculating and passing the technical parameters of bearing and elevation for the guns to engage targets miles away.
Deployment of a battery of six guns to engage targets in depth commences by reconnaissance (recce) of the allotted Gun Area. The map coordinates of the Gun Area is passed to the GPO with any restrictions on movement or administration, which may require the reconnaissance and deployment of the guns to be carried out at night.
On reaching the allotted Gun Area, the GPO recces the area on his vehicle to find a place suitable to deploy his six guns. When the GPO finds a suitable area, he alights from his vehicle to carry out detailed recce on foot to mark the placement of each of the six guns and the Command Post.
The moment the GPO alights from his vehicle, the driver drives the vehicle to an area which offers maximum cover, mainly to avoid detection from air. The LMG detachment – a Gunner and his assistant – appear in front of the GPO and the GPO deploys the LMG for protection of the Recce Party – both from air and ground attack.
The LMG detachment travels in the Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major’s (BHM) vehicle. BHM is an appointment given to one of the senior Havildars of the Battery. He is responsible for all aspects of duty and discipline of the NCOs and soldiers in that Battery. During the deployment of the Battery, he assists the GPO.
The LMG Gunner is generally the ‘Detail Master’ of the Battery. He is the understudy of the BHM and is the soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the BHM and his most important task is to prepare the Parade State of the Battery the evening before, to be handed over to the Regimental Havildar Major, who compiles the Regimental Parade State after receiving the same from all Batteries.
The assistant LMG Gunner is a tradesman – the Tailor or the Janitor – who generally does not have any combat duties.
After the deployment of the LMG detachment, the GPO carries out his recce, decides on the platforms for his six guns and the Command Post and gives out orders to his party. The Gunners now prepare the their gun platforms and the Technical Assistants prepare the technical parameters. During all these actions, everyone is expected to run and walking or slouching is a taboo, until the guns arrive and deploy.
After the guns are deployed and when the GPO confirms that the guns are correctly positioned and all technical parameters are correctly set on the guns, he gives a ‘Ready Report’ indicating that his guns are ready to engage targets.
Immediately on giving the Ready Report, there appeared Gunner Mathukutty, our LMG Gunner, with a steaming cup of tea. That tea was the one I earned by my sweat. By the end of the deployment, with all the running around – especially in the Rajasthan deserts – I was drenched in sweat. The tea tasted too good to describe and it always enthused me and removed any tiredness.
During our training exercises, we had many such deployments, at times about eight in a day. Every time the Ready Report was given, Gunner Mathukutty served me the very same tasty cup of tea. I wanted to know as to how Gunner Mathukutty prepared the tea, when he was the LMG Gunner.
During one of the deployments, I kept a close watch on Gunner Mathukutty. He jumped out of the BHM’s vehicle with the LMG, followed by his assistant who had the stove and kettle. After I showed him the position of the LMG, they deployed the LMG there. While I recced the gun platforms, they both recced for a covered position to prepare the magical tea.
After a fortnight of training, we had our final exercise which in artillery parlance is called the ‘Practise Camp.’ This exercise involves many tactical deployments of the battery culminating into a final deployment in the firing ranges. After the final deployment is live firing to engage target as per the tactical settings.
On the final day of our exercise, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of our Division visited us in our Gun Area. I briefed him in detail about the deployment and the tactical scenario. He appeared satisfied by my briefing, but wasn’t all too happy about my LMG. True Infantry General that he was, he said “Your LMG is not deployed correctly. It needs to move 20 meter to the left.”
Captain Raj Mehta, our Tactics Instructor at the National Defence Academy (now a Veteran Major General) had taught us all the nuances of section tactics, especially the deployment of LMG. He had drilled it in us to such details that all of us will deploy the LMG at its apt position even in our sleep.
‘I deployed it in less than ten seconds,’ I thought. It could well be that the General did not realise that the LMG was deployed for both air and ground attack. I still do not know as to how Gunner Mathukutty could have identified the flying aircraft to be hostile. In case he sighted any aircraft in our vicinity, friend or foe, he might have ended up emptying the entire magazine of his LMG by firing at the aircraft.
The above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.
We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.
For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other.
Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?
It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level. It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.
It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.
The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.
It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely. Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week? I always knew you will come before.” All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”
It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu. Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s. I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group. While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.”
I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada. I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.
In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home. While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?” “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.
My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”
My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday. How can he be home in 45 minutes?”
After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even before I could say anything. “It was because of the blaring traffic horns. I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed you were in a taxi home.”
Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune. On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week. On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans. There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.“
My eldest brother, now the head of the family, advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”
On July 29, a notification on my cellphone read ‘Today is the World ORS Day.’ When there is a Left Handers’ Day (August 13,) a Sandwich Day (November 3,) a Puppy Day (March 23,) and also a Nothing Day (January 16;) I wasn’t surprised to find an ORS day!
ORS Day is observed each year on July 29 to emphasise the importance of ORS as an affordable and highly impactful healthcare method to treat dehydration and diarrhea. This year too it was celebrated, but without much fanfare, throughout the world. I have failed to find the significance of the date – July 29 – connecting to ORS. Hence I decided to dwell a bit deep.
For more than 25 years WHO and UNICEF have recommended a single formulation of glucose-based ORS to treat or prevent dehydration from diarrhoea and cholera for all ages. ORS has been used worldwide and has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal diseases.
ORS is an oral powder–containing mixture of glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium citrate. After dissolving in requisite volume of water, it is used for the prevention and treatment of dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.
ORS and zinc are recommended by the WHO and UNICEF to be used collectively to ensure the effective treatment of diarrhea. ORS replaces the essential fluids and salts lost through diarrhea. Zinc decreases the duration and severity of an episode and reduces the risk of recurrence in the immediate short term.
Captain Robert Allan Phillips (1906–1976) of the US Navy in 1946 first successfully tried oral glucose saline on two cholera patients. As a Navy Lieutenant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II, Phillips developed a field method for the rapid assessment of fluid loss in wounded servicemen. Captain Phillips embarked on cholera studies during the 1947 Egyptian cholera epidemic and developed highly effectives methods of intravenous rehydration. Later he developed a of glucose-based oral rehydration therapy.
The typical Indian Jugaad (जुगाड़) by Dr Dilip Mahalanabis – a paediatrician and a clinical scientist working with Johns Hopkins University Center for Medical Research and Training (JHCMRT) – who treated multitudes of Bangladeshi refugees who were suffering from diarrhea with rehydration salt sachets or ORS. He has not received any recognition, either from the international community or from the Indian government.
Oxford Dictionary defines Jugaad as ‘A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.’ In effect, there is no real word in English that captures the essence of the real Jugaad.
In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India as per UNHCR. This was the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century. The refugees were severely malnourished, especially the children and the Indian government took all efforts to take care of the refugees, despite meager support from the international community.
After walking long distances on foot to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army, this starved and frightened mass of people sought refuge in India. A cholera outbreak in the refugee camps badly affected the already exhausted and starved refugees. The monsoon was in full fury, and for the refugees living in tents and other make shift arrangements, it was hell. It is estimated that about 30% of the refugees died from cholera and diarrhea.
This called for a huge amount of intravenous fluids and coupled with problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, effective treatment was near impossible. Dr Mahalanabis suggested use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation. He recommended an electrolyte solution with glucose which could prevent fatal dehydration.
The ORS recipe he used consisted of 22 gm glucose, 3.5 gm table salt and 2.5 gm baking soda per liter of water. This is the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, that saved the day for many refugees and they lived to narrate the horrors they faced.
He organised two teams for cholera therapy including oral rehydration. Both teams worked along the border between India and Bangladesh. He established a treatment centre at the sub-divisional hospital in Bongaon with 16 beds. He organised a continuous shuttle of vehicles on the 80 km run from Calcutta to Bongaon, carrying personnel, medication, food and supplies to the centre. The reserves of intravenous saline-lactate solution stocked originally for cholera research soon depleted. He had to now used Juggad to make ORS.
To make the ORS, glucose-and salt packets were prepared in Calcutta; first in the JHCMRT library room. Each of the three components of the mixture were carefully weighed by separate technicians and poured into a small polyethylene bag in an assembly-line fashion. Another technician inserted a descriptive label with instructions for dissolving in water; then he sealed one end of the bag with a hot iron. In the field, the dry powder was added to clean drinking water and dispensed from drums directly into the patients’ cups. The cost was calculated to be 11 Indian paise, (about 1.5 US cents) then per liter of fluid.
Later in 1978 during the cholera epidemic in Manipur, ORS was extensively used, especially in children with diarrhea and cholera. The WHO in 1978 launched the global diarrhea diseases control program with ORS. In 1979 WHO approved ORS.
Today, ORS is included in WHO’s Essential Medicines List, and Priority Medicines for mothers and children. ORS is also listed as a lifesaving commodity identified and targeted for scale-up and access by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.
India faced a dire financial situation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war and taking care of the refugees. To shore up some money, the Government of India applied Jugaad and imposed the Refugee Relief Tax (RRT) throughout the country that came into force on November 15, 1971. It meant a separate five paisa stamp to be affixed on all postal articles to show payment of the tax.
The post offices immediately applied Jugaad and came up with hand-stamps marked ‘Refugee Relief Tax Prepaid in Cash’ on all postal stationery. On December 1, 1971 the new five paisa stamp, showing an image of a refugee family fleeing persecution was released. RRT was repealed in effect from April 1, 1973.
India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.
There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling. Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.
Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets. One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.
With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers. Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.
RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980. The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.
2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component. This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible.
Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component. During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol
Agility Run – The Speed Component. This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.
Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component. This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol.
Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component. The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.
RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.) As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.
Standing Long Jump
Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation
The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.
FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:
Escape to cover.
Pickets and wire carry.
Picking and digging.
Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.
The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).
The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:
A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.
The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:
Sandbag Lift: 30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
Loaded Shuttles: Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
Rushes: Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
Sandbag Drag: Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.
Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?
It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it.
In the Netherlands, Germany and eastern Europe the myth is that the storks nesting on the roof of a household were believed to bring good luck — and the possibility of new birth — to the family living below.
Marina broke the news of her pregnancy to our daughter, “There is a little baby growing in my belly and we will have a baby in March.”
“How did the baby get into your belly and how old is the baby now?” asked inquisitive five year old Nidhi.
“The God placed the baby in my belly and is three months old,” replied Marina.
“I did not see the God in our home, but Dad came home four months back from his military post in Sikkim. Whatever it is, I want a sister and not a brother as boys are bullies,” said an innocent Nidhi.
How to break the news of a sibling’s arrival to a child?
Young children are not geared to handle a lot of information about conception and child birth. Hence, breaking such a news got to be straight and simple and be ready to answer the questions that may follow. Never pre-empt the child with your explanations, wait for the child’s questions. If the child is not asking any questions, then it is not n his/her mind. If the child asks more questions, then by all means go into more detail.
A good method is to make your explanation into a story on the lines that Mom and Dad make a baby, the baby grows inside Mom’s belly, and the baby comes out when fully developed after ten months. Always ask a few probing questions to determine your child’s level of understanding of pregnancy is all about. This will help you to choose your words. You can begin with the fusion of the sperm and an egg in the way fruit grows from a seed. You can also explain as to how the child develops, its movements, how it feeds, how it sleeps, etc. If your child is school-going, you can ask a few questions to find out what they already know about where babies come from and then follow their lead. Ensure that you use accurate anatomical language like womb or uterus instead of belly, etc.
Here comes the importance of using accurate anatomical terms for our body parts, especially the private parts.
Most of us grew up with funny sounding names for our private parts – tuckus, tush, peepee, peekki and son on. Our parents do it for the sake of propriety and also they wanted to save themselves from embarrassment. Imagine a kid screaming in a busy shopping mall “My penis hurts!” or “My vagina is itching!!”
It is neither an embarrassment nor a stigma. It becomes so only if you visualise it to be so. The proper names for their genitals – penis, testicles, vagina, vulva are taught in Canada in Grade 1 as per the new sexual health education curriculum. By giving alternative names for our private body parts, we are doing a lot of disservice to our kids. It has to begin at home and our kids should not be surprised at school. A study found that kids who easily understood to the terms were the ones who used the proper names for their body parts at home with their parents.
It helps children develop a healthy, more positive body image, instead of feeling that their genitals are something shameful or bad. It also facilitates the children to understand their bodies better and will prompt them to ask questions about sexual development. Teaching kids the proper terms for their body parts enhances their awareness of their body, positive body image, self-esteem and confidence.
Kids who are comfortable talking about their bodies are more likely to be able to disclose when something worrisome or uncomfortable is happening to them. They can explain confidently to the doctors about their problems like itching or pain in their private parts. They can also inform their parents when someone touched them inappropriately.
Child-sex predators are less likely to pick confident, informed kids who obviously talk openly with their parents about their bodies, and who are aware that other people touching their private parts must be stopped and any attempt reported to the parents immediately.
A study found that even though kids in pre-school learn the proper names for their body parts, only kids with parents who used the right terms caught on. So, do not leave this important task to the teachers. You can begin using proper terminology when changing diapers, bathing the child, or at any other time that the subject might come up.
Sex education must begin at home and it has to be age-appropriate. You may seek the assistance of your pediatrician. Many of us are uncomfortable with the use of anatomically correct terminology; hence it is important to practice before you talk with your kids. If they sense that you are uncomfortable, it will never sink in. Every question from your child about his or her body must be answered as appropriate to the child’s age, as accurately and honestly as possible. Never make it a big deal!!!
For me, my first sex education teacher was my Amma and to read more about it, Please Click Here.
These are two well illustrated books I recommend for parents and grandparents. The books will help you answer young children’s delightful, thoughtful, and often non-stop questions about their own bodies and about how girls’ and boys’ bodies are the same and are different—questions that are seemingly simple, but often not easy to answer.
When our Amaravian Colonel Reji koduvath Roll No 931 of SSA, wanted me to share my experience with Vice Chief of Naval staff Vice Admiral G Ashok kumar, an Amaravian I readily accepted heart of hearts, though I didn’t give a positive nod to him on the spot. How can a teacher say ‘No’ when he is asked to say about his student in the past during his formative years in Sainik School, Amaravathinagar. As I am an ardent lover of Reji’s prolific pen who is an author of two books in addition to many blogs penned by him about Masters of SSA.
Since over lapping memories for the past more than four decades give pressure to my thoughts, joining with my age, minute details of our Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar had escaped from my memory.
In the year 1971 Ashok kumar Roll No 870 joined as a raw-clay along with other students like 892 Brigadier T Thomas, Colonel Reji Koduvath and many others. In the process of moulding the cadets through well–designed activities, he made a remarkable lead and made himself fit physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally for joining the National Defence Academy and other walks of civil life.
Blue colour epaulets with single golden stripes adorned Ashok’sshoulders when he was in eleventh standard as he was made Vice Captain of Chera House by selection and not by election. He was a front line cadet both in scholastic and co-scholastic areas. He lead the Chera House under the guidance of his House Master Mr MV Somasundaram, a nonagenarian, now living in Chennai, ably assisting his House Captain, marched forward majestically towards achieving the target of hugging the covetable Cock-House trophy and to give honour to his House symbol Bow and Arrow.
As all Sainikiens are groomed to become all rounders, he enthusiastically participated in all activities. If my memory track is in the right direction, he was a good basket ball player, a fine tune piper in the school band, ably guided by the Band Master Mr Goodu Sahib. His most liked area is on the stage. He is blessed with the gift of the gap and with his eloquent tongue he enjoyed and made the audience enjoy with elocution and extempore speech competitions also conducted in the school intra-murally.
As we are living in a nuclear family, if the parents don’t have girl child they need not worry, SSA will turn them to be beautiful girl in stage one- act plays. Yes, our Vice Admiral, G Ashok kumar, the then Sainikien is an example as he acted in a lady character, Komalambal, the mother of Ramanujam, world- wide great Indian Mathematician, in a skit entitled Ramanujam, written and directed by Mr Venkatesahamurthy, Maths Master. In addition to students, many Masters like Mr KM Koshy,Mr R Subramanan, Mr K.Ekambaram,Mr KP Nataraja Pillai, Mr King Kristo kumar, myself and the playwright Mr Venkateshamurthy himself enacted various roles.
Right from his joining the SSA Ashok had been a gentleman cadet, the way in which he was moving with his fellow mates, Masters, other staff members and the armed force officers were of exemplary manner and that he was loved by all. He is one of the proud sons of Alma mater SSA , and he has reached the second highest position in the Indian Navy. Normally intelligent people make a soft- pedaling towards intelligence; but our Admiral Ashok kumar is an exemption. If I say that his intelligence coupled with diligence has taken him to such a great height along with other covetable traits in him , it is not an encomium or a hyperbole but it is my heartfelt expression that comes from the bottom of my heart about our past student of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Vice Admiral and Vice Chief of Naval staff.
On behalf of all Amaravians – Defence officers, Masters, Staff members and the students of the past and present let me wish Vice Admiral Ashok kumar, his better half, Mrs Geetha, the woman behind him for his achievement and success, daughters Mrs Sruthi and Ms Sweta all the best. May God’s gracious blessings be showered on them.
The first time I met Ashok Uncle was when I was about 8-9 years old, when we had gone to Darjeeling and Gangtok on a family vacation. We were staying at the officers’ mess at Gangtok. Dad suddenly walked in with a smart energetic gentleman and introduced him as his classmate. They both were overjoyed to see each other. Little did I know back then that our association would stretch so long in our life. Because as an army kid you come across so many coursemates and uncles every now and then. But the strong bond that Sainik School Amaravati Nagar had forged held on stronger than anything.
Many years down the line, I kept on hearing about uncle and as luck could have it, both Ashok Uncle and my dad were posted at Mumbai at the same time. I used to hear that dad used to go meet uncle often despite him holding a prestigious and demanding position. Owing to the fact that I was elsewhere during that tenure I could not get a first hand glimpse of how Ashok Uncle handled his multitudes of roles with such aplomb.
When we went to NDA as a part of the Amaravians get together in 2015, I got to see Ashok Uncle’s cool side. He must have probably been the coolest of all commandants of NDA, his alma mater as well. Finally, in 2019 when we were at Delhi and Ashok Uncle was yhe Vice Chief of Naval Staff (VCNS,) I had probably maximum interaction with him compared to any of his batchmates kids. I am thoroughly convinced that he is the most chilled out person who is always high on energy and ever cheerful; that too while being the VCNS.
Not to forget Geeta Aunty is also retiring with uncle, who is also another one who needs to be mentioned for her cool demeanor. Perfect couple who are always youthful and full of life. I have never seen either of them stressed or tensed despite the numerous tasks and responsibilities at hand. He was kind enough to share few instances of how he had managed to wriggle out of tough spots while ensuring that no one’s ego was hurt and at the same time ensuring the outcome was the best possible one.
It is simply unbelievable. The quick thinking, speed of thought and execution is something I wish to emulate in my life as well. I think I have iterated enough number of times how cool uncle is but it just does not seem enough. It would be incomplete if I don’t mention his amazing singing skills. Oh what a wonderful entertainer he is!! Would have given so many singers in the industry a run for their money. Good for them that he ended up in the Indian Navy.
All the very best Ashok Uncle for your second innings. I’m sure the nation is missing out on an amazing chief of Indian Navy but hopefully he gets to serve in some or the other capacity because he still has enough fire in his belly. Also the nation needs such leaders. Good luck Ashok Uncle and Geeta Aunty. Lots of love yours truly Rohinth (Gucci as Aunty calls me.)
About Rohint Natarajan: – Born in Tiruppur to Veteran Brigadier TM Natarajan, an Amaravian of 79 batch and Mrs Sudha Natarajan. He travelled the length and breadth of the country as an Army Kid. An alumnus of almost 10 educational institutions across the country – Army public school Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi and Kolkata, Bhavans Secunderabad, Kendriya Vidyalaya , Avadi to name a few. A mechanical engineering graduate from SASTRA University, Thanjavur (completed in 2014.)
After a short stint in Tata Consultancy Services, joined the Central Reserve Police Force as Assistant Commandant in 2017 and served at the Indo Pak border in the Kutch Sector. Subsequently, cleared Civil Services Examination in 2018 and joined Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax.) Presently serving as assistant commissioner in Bangalore.
Interests include traveling, playing the guitar, sports and watching movies.
On the eve of retirement of my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004. We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil, pullback, pullout, retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere. Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.
Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your life. A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your blood runs Olive Green. The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.
Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations. During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being. As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.
At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of. Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.
This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on. Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about. Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.
As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining. One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.
You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait! You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife. You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.
At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed. In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire. It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying. Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service. It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.
Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.‘
Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:- ‘Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.
I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.
Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way. They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’
Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:-‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’
Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- “Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.
Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.
Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’
Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.‘
Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’
Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994. Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.
He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi. His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime… Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.‘
Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’
Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime. Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.
We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.
Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!! Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too. We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them : Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’
Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1. 3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else. Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor.’
‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’ : — Winston Churchill.
When we – thirty Mallus (a person from the Indian state of Kerala, especially one who speaks Malayalam) – joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (SSA) in 1971 in grade 5, it was our classmate – Cadet G Ashok Kumar – who acted as an interpreter. Our life was made easier as our House Captain was Veteran General PM Hariz, then in his 9th grade – who too was a Mallu. We knew only Malayalam with no knowledge of either Tamil or English. Ashok, a Mallu, his father served in Tamil Nadu Police, he studied in Tamil Nadu, but spoke Malayalam fluently. He was very empathetic towards us and did his interpretation with lot of passion and commitment. I fondly remember him teaching me how to slip a pillowcase over a pillow.
These qualities of Ashok stood with him throughout his life, especially as a Indian Navy Officer, rising to be a Vice Admiral and the Vice Chief of Naval Staff.
Admiral Ashok was commissioned into the Executive Branch of the Navy on 1 July 1982. He is a navigation specialist and served as a Navigation Officer of the Frigates INS Beas and INS Nilgiri, the Destroyer INS Ranvir and the Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. He attended the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC,) Wellington, the Higher Command Course at the Army War College, Mhow and the Expeditionary Operations course at Quantico, Virginia, USA.
He commanded Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kulish and INS Ranvir. He has also served as the Executive Officer of INS Brahmaputra. He served as the Defence Advisor (DA) at the High Commission of India in Singapore and the Chief Staff Officer (Operations) of the Western Naval Command.
Admiral Ashok has made each one of his classmates proud by his achievements. He displayed his love for us when he hosted us at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – while he was the Commandant – for a get-together on 22 and 23 December 2015. It was the most memorable part of the life of all our classmates and their families. To read more about it, Please click here.
Today, Admiral Ashok hangs his Naval Uniform after nearly four decades of dedicated service to the Indian Navy. How cool is that!! So began the journey we celebrate today, a career in which that nine-year-old cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar grew up to be a top Admiral of the prestigious Indian Navy.
For your next visit to Swati in the US, ensure that you and Geeta obtain a Canadian Visa and spend some time with us. Remember that the Niagara Falls is better viewed from the Canadian side. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Ashok, now is the time for you to sit back and not relax, but to demonstrate your deep love for Geeta. You can now afford to spent more time with her – without the excuse of office or duty. This is a God sent opportunity to express your gratitude to Geeta for all her love and dedication in bringing up your two daughters Sruti and Swati to be great ladies and valuable citizens.
On 24 July, Vice Admiral Ashok dedicated a Sea Harrier aircraft to his Alma Mater – a great act showcasing his love for his Alma Mater. Many of our classmates proudly accompanied Ashok on the solemn occasion.
Mr MV Somasundaram, Ashok’s House Master at Chera House about his protege:- ‘You are a seaman with gratitude to our School, the soil and source of a crusading career; Inhale the sweet fragrance of Sainik Flower, your formative alma mater; Keep navigating viewing the Pole star with a vision, rowing with a compass of rationalism; A splendid torch that would make your life bright and beautiful, With wishes to grow near the sky.‘ To read more about Mr MV Somasundaram, Please Click Here.
Mr M Selvaraj, Ashok’s Tamil teacher recalls:- சாதாரணக் குடும்பத்தில் பிறந்தவரும் சரித்திர நாயகனாகத் திகழலாம் என்பதற்கு நீயே நல்லதோர் எடுத்துக் காட்டு. உன் மார்பை அலங்கரிக்கும் பதக்கங்களே உனது கடற்படைச் சாதனைகளைப் பறைசாற்றும் படைத்துறை இசைமுரசு. உன்னத சேவைப் பதக்கம், உயரிய சேவைப் பதக்கம், சிறந்த சேவைப் பதக்கம் முதலான விருதுகளே உன் கடற்படைச் சேவைக்கு அங்கீகாரம் அளிக்கும் நற்சான்றிதழ்கள். அன்று (1978 ) அமராவதிநகர் சைனிக் பள்ளியின் சேரர் இல்லத் துணைத் தலைவனாய்ப் பணியாற்றினாய் இன்று (2021) இந்தியக் கப்பற்படையின் துணைத்தலைவராய் விளங்குகிறாய். குடியரசுத் தலைவர் பெருமகனார் அப்துல்கலாம் அவர்கள் சொன்னவாறு அப்போதே கனவு கண்டாயோ? உச்சம் தொட்ட உன்னைக்கண்டு உன்னை ஈன்றெடுத்த பெற்றோர்கள் மட்டும் அல்லாமல் சைனிக் பள்ளியாம் நற்றாயும், சைனிக் குடும்பத்தைச் சேர்ந்த அத்தனைப்பேரும் அகமகிழ்ந்து ஆனந்தக் கண்ணீர் அல்லாவா விடுகிறோம், அன்புச் செல்வனே துணை அட்மிரல் அசோக் குமாரே. தாயக மண்ணில் மட்டும் அல்லாமல், அயலக மண்ணிலும் நம் நாட்டின் பெருமையை நிலைநாட்டிய உனக்கு எங்கள் வீர வணக்கம். கனிவையும், கண்டிப்பையும் காட்ட வேண்டிய இடத்தில் காட்டி, கடற்படை வீரர்களுக்கு நல்லதோர் வழிகாட்டியாய், முன்கள வீரனாய் விளங்குகின்றவன் அல்லவோ நீ. இன்முகமும், இன்சொல்லும் உனக்கு இறைவன் அளித்த அருட்கொடை..கடற்படை ஆயுதங்களோடு இந்த இரண்டு பிரம்மாஸ்திரங்களையும் கொண்டு அல்லவா அனைவர் நெஞ்சங் களையும் வென்று மகிழ்கிறாய். ஓய்வுக்கு ஒய்வு கொடுத்த ஓய்வறியாக் கடற்படை வீரன் நீ. ஒய்வு பெற்ற பின்னும் நீ ஓய்வெடுக்கவா போகின்றாய். இல்லை, இல்லை.தேனீயாய்ச் சுறுசுறுப்பாக என்றும் இருப்பாய் என்று எங்களுக்குத் தெரியும். இதுவரை நாடுகாக்கும் நற்பணியாற்றினாய். இனி, வீடு நலம்பெற அன்பு மனைவி இல்லற நாயகி திருமதி கீதா, அருமைச் செல்வங்களாம் ஸ்ருதி, ஸ்வேதி இவர்களுடன் பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு மகிழ்வுடனும், நலமுடனும் வாழ்க என எல்லாம் வல்ல இறைவன் அருள் வேண்டுகிறோம்.
You are an exemplary example to prove that ordinary common man’s offspring also can shine like a historical legend. The medals that adore your chest are the proclaiming Military band. Param Vishist Seva Medal, Ati Visit Seva Medal, Seva Medal are the right recognition for your outstanding service in Indian Navy. In 1978 you were Vice Captain of Chera House in Sainik School and now in 2021 you are the Vice Chief of the Indian Navy. As our great soul Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said, did you dream to reach this height at that time itself? You have reached the zenith in your career. Seeing you, not only your biological parents but also benign mother – SSA and all members of SSA family shed blissful tears out of extreme happiness. Do you know,our dear Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar? You have impressed the people to know the greatness of our country not only in our mother soil, but in other alien soil also. A Royal Salute to you, our dear. Where you have to show your senility you did show and where you have to show gentility you did show and you stood as a forefront warrior, you are an ideal guide to all your fellow warriors. Aren’t you? Smiling face and soft-spoken words are God’s precious gift to you. Along with the Navy weapons, with these two ‘Brammasthrams’ you have conquered the hearts of all people and make them feel happy. You are an outstanding soldier in Indian Navy who gave rest to rest and you are a work alcoholic. Are you going to take rest after retirement? Never, never. We know that you will be as active as a honeybee as you had been hither to. So far you have put in your very best without any reservation for the Homeland. Now it is time for you to look after your family. We pray to the God Almighty to bless you to have a happy retired life with Mrs Geetha madam, the woman behind you for your success, your affectionate daughters Mrs Sruti and Ms Swati. To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.
Veteran General PM Hariz writes:-‘It’s been a pleasure knowing Ashok all these years. Apart from our association at Amaravathi Nagar, we served together as instructors at DSSC, Wellington, just prior to his posting as DA to Singapore; and since then have been always in touch with each other. As the Commandant NDA, I had a standing Invitation to visit him; unfortunately could not make it due to exigencies of service. We were indeed very proud when he was appointed as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff; when Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, another Amaravian was the Vice Chief of Army Staff. I took the liberty of telling both of them that they needed to get a photograph of them together …. And they obliged! I had then posted this in the Amaravian Alumni Association FaceBook Group. It was indeed a very unique and proud moment for all Amaravians. After my retirement, he was kind enough to visit us at Kovai on his way to DSSC to deliver a lecture.
Ashok has been actively involved in chasing issues on behalf of the School too, both at the Service HQs and at the State Govt level. Recently, when the present Principal was steering the release of funds from the State Govt, Ashok got the Defence Secretary to speak to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to assist in resolution of the issue. My wife and I had the pleasure of attending his daughter’s wedding at Delhi in Nov 19. Admiral Ashok, an officer and a gentleman has been a shining example of an officer in the armed forces, worthy of emulation. We wish him and his family the very best in the second innings.’
Veteran General Devraj Anbu recalls:- ‘Two Amaravians in the corridor of South Block housing the Ministry of Defence was an envy for everyone. Ashok and self did capitalise to a great extent. Ashok’s tri- service experience gave a great head start in his tenure as Vice Chief. His vast experience, ability to articulate and persuasiveness resulted many a time in deciding very delicate and important issues in favour of the Navy. Many a time he navigated his way through complex and thorny issues to Navy’s great advantage. He was at his best during deliberations in Vice Chiefs’ meetings. Having known Ashok from Chera House days in school, I took the liberty of enjoying his hospitality when he was in Singapore. I cannot forget the way he looked after me from the time I landed there to my departure. Every moment I spent with Ashok’s family is etched in my mind. He has done this for everyone who has come across him .. a great quality that endeared him to everyone.’
Chef Vijaya Baskaran, Vice President, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA,) looking back at the VII International Chefs conference organised by IFCA in 2017 at Delhi writes:- ‘I recall with pride my classmate Admiral Ashok Kumar, addressing over 800 of the finest Chefs, he commenced by saying “What will a Naval officer talk to reputed Chefs about? Both the Chefs and Navy personnel wear whites and work in challenging conditions. Armed forces march on their stomach or ships sail on their stomachs and the most important reason – I was invited by my classmate and I could not refuse. Such is our brotherly bonding.“ The 45 minutes of his talk was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the delegate chefs; such was the power of his words. I am sure many chefs will try to influence their children to enroll in the Indian Navy after such a motivating talk. The aftermath of his powerful speech was that there was a long queue of chefs waiting to click a picture with Admiral Ashok.’
Veteran Commander Daniel Reginald, Indian Navy, our classmate remembers fondly:– ‘Having landed up in the Navy three years junior to Ashok and in a service where even one day seniority matters, I enjoyed the privilege of getting treated at par as a classmate by Ashok, despite our seniority differences. We missed being in the same station most of the time (except for a short period at Naval Headquarters) and I finally caught up with him after taking premature retirement and when he was posted as Flag Officer Sea Training and Chief of Staff Southern Naval Command, Kochi. The bond and friendship we share growing up together in Amaravathi Nagar breaks all the seniority differences, and Ashok is such an approachable person. I had the full liberty to call him up any time and seek his help and guidance in the high positions he held, and I regret not visiting him enough whilst I was in the service. Friends and forever and will catch up with him, post his retirement. Wishing Ashok, Geeta and their two lovely daughters- Sruti and Swati – Godspeed, following winds in their anchorage.’
Veteran Commander MP Joseph, Indian Navy, two years our senior at School reminisces:-‘Ashok was always seen smiling, even when things were not looking very good, a classic example of being bestowed with the stellar quality of sense of humour, he could laugh at himself, rather than complain – a very important quality in a military leader.‘
As we look back on Admiral Ashok’s career of service to our country, I think everyone will agree with me in saying, it was much cooler even than what we all – his nine-year-old classmates at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar – could’ve imagined.
Veteran Commander N Balasubramanian, our classmate recalls:- ‘It has been a 50 year association with Ashok since joining Sainik School in July 71. We were in the same section in School, thereafter we were coursemates in NDA too and there also we were in the same class following it up with the Indian Navy being in the Executive Branch. We also did 51st staff course together. I was also fortunate to know his wonderful family well and have spent some memorable time with them in our younger days.
Ashok and Geetha have always been warm and large hearted. Though I left Navy in 2007, have enjoyed like many other coursemates, colleague and even strangers their hospitality all along even when he was DA in Singapore.
I had a contribution to him in choosing the Navy, as I suggested to him to give Navy as first choice when we were choosing Service while appearing for NDA, as I was in the Naval wing and he in the Airforce wing in NCC. It proved good for the Navy. Also Geetha rose up to be President Naval Wives Welfare Association (NWWA).
Over the years, I have found Ashok to be down to earth, cheerful, affectionate, humble and helpful to all. He is a thorough family man and a very devoted son. I am confident that more challenging assignments will come his way considering his wide exposure and experience. On behalf of my family and many classmates and coursemates I take this opportunity to wish Ashok, Geetha, Shruti and Swati all the very best, good luck and god speed.‘
Alex Manappurathu, Ashok’s Chera House mate writes:– ‘I remember Ashok being a strong Sivaji Ganesan fan. A movie buff to the core. During school vacations he claimed to go to movie halls every day (and saw multiple movies per day!), and at end of the vacation, returned to school with repertoire of stories to be narrated to his eager classmates.
Cut to the present, having heard him at our Alma mater recently at the Sea harrier dedication ceremony, he was coaxing the students and teachers, connecting the dots of his school days and his naval career to drive home certain points. Makes me wonder if it was this story telling sessions of his school days that honed his oratory skills!
In the past few years whenever I have met folks known to him, it was very clear that all of them spoke of him in very high esteem. Some statements from them … “Made me realise persuasion is the way to get things done, and not Danda (stick.)” “He had done so much for me, this is is least I could do.” “Well accepted personality, gets along with every one.” “Learned so much from him.”
With his strong interpersonal skills, wishing him a very happy and productive second innings too after he hangs his naval uniform.’
Here we are…43 years from this day, I met TD Joseph (Joe) at the National Defence Academy (NDA)- he as an Air Force Cadet and I as an Army Cadet. Until then, we both did not know each other and that we hailed from the same village – Ayarkunnam, Kottayam, Kerala. He graduated from the Mayo College, Ajmer, Rajasthan and I from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu. Today, I cannot believe the day has finally come for Joe to hang up this uniform and retire.
Often our vacations home coincided and we met either at the fish vendor’s stall in the village market or at the coconut oil mill. You were the ‘son of the soil’ and I have an anecdote to narrate. My eldest brother, while on a trip to the village market, was hailed by a young man pulling a പിടി വണ്ടി (Pidi Vandi – hand cart). laden with bags of fertilizers, with his father pushing from behind. It took my brother a minute to recognise the person. Behold! it was you – a young Flight Lieutenant.
Joe, by your compassionate and fearless leadership, you have put smiles on all the officers and airmen who served under your command. I witnessed it in while I visited you at Shillong in 2017. You were real passionate about everyone’s well-being.
You are a born leader and have been blessed to be able to lead others. You have the power to influence others and you did it very well You always worked towards the betterment of others and never for self-gratification. You surely did enjoy your time with the Indian Air Force and you will undoubtedly miss the camaraderie and the privilege of leading such wonderful human beings.
Sophie was always by your side, and you touched the skies with glory in her company. You both raised two thoroughbred gentlemen sons – Abhishek and Ivan, with Ann Maria now joining your team. Sophie has been your supporting pillar over all those years and you credit her for that. It was very evident during the days you both spent with us in Canada in June 2016.
Sophie has been a perfect Air Force wife, inspiring others and representing the ladies fraternity. With her love and caring, you have flown safely all these years.
Joe was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in December 1982. He was the winner of the Nawanagar Sword of Honour and President’s Plaque for standing first in Order of Merit in his batch of pilots. He has flown over 3800 hours on various fighter and trainer aircraft.
He is a Category A Qualified Flying Instructor and was an Air Force Examiner. He commanded a Fighter Squadron in the Eastern Sector, the Flying Instructors’ School at Chennai and a major Air Base in the Western Sector. He was a senior faculty with the National Defence College, New Delhi the Air Defence Commander in the South Western Sector and Eastern Sector.
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul recounts:- ‘… and a most inspiring Malayalam address to the audience, on the occasion of Onam, all of which went over my head. Loved his golf, and had a mean handicap. When a Sikh C-in-C was retiring, we made him ‘renew his vows’, at a party. Joe was the ‘priest’ who conducted the ceremony, and as in everything else he did, was technically flawless, including his sense of comic timing. Had the audience in splits!!!
As in sailing any sea, one has to take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes, in a Headquarters, when somebody senior got on your nerves, one deftly manoeuvred the boat into Joe’s office, where a cuppa tea, a beatific smile, and a few words of wisdom, were instrumental in inspiring you to take the boat out again.’
Veteran Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani pens :- ‘Joe known since the last four decades, a handsome, smart and erudite officer with impeccable language and diction has been a simpleton at heart. Rarely does one find the combination of an intellectual, hard working, meticulous and sincere professional who is a simpleton at heart, bears no malice towards anyone and makes an effort to keep in touch with friends. I followed him for the RCDS course in London, UK and his briefing to me was immaculate and precise.
Sophie aka Nirmala has been a pillar of support to Joe, in all his endeavours while carrying out her responsibilities on the social front for the welfare of the extended Air Force family. Fun loving and charming, she has been sought after by seniors and subordinates while being a caring and loving friend to her peers. We wish both Joe and Sophie Good luck, Godspeed and Happy Landings as they begin their Second Innings, which I am sure will be better than the first. Wishing you both many birdies and pars with an odd eagle thrown in to keep you going. Lots of love from Golu & Rekha’
Veteran Air Vice Marshal Michael Fernandez says:- ‘Joe is a super guy, and I mean it truly. Known him ever since NDA, got to know him better when we spent the next decade together. Always ready to help and extend a hand whenever he saw someone in need. Ably complemented by Sophie who I am sure has been his crutch though he is the youngest looking coursemate we have. Hope Sophie remembers the reason she stopped speaking to me for around three months. Looking back, I’m sure she will remember that episode “happily.” Professionally second to none, Joe, possibly, must be one of the few coursemates who has published a professional book. Vaneeta and I wish them all the very best in their life ahead.‘
Veteran Captain Ramesh Babu (Indian Navy) recalls:- ‘Joe was an ideal Cadet at the Academy, excelling in everything that the curriculum prescribed. He followed rules, studied hard, played well, marched smartly and made lifelong bonds with friends, which make up the essence of Academy life. As Malayalees, we shared a special bond and the poor guy often had to put up with my pranks. Together, the two of us smashed over the nets when volleyball got introduced at NDA. The special bond we made at the Academy continues, now encompassing our families.‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall writes:- ‘Our dear Joe, as I saw him during three years of stay in Bravo Squadron during NDA days, has been a perfect gentleman – always cool, silent, and soft spoken and ever smiling. He has been a passionate basketball player. Joe, the fighter pilot, by dint of his caliber, professional acumen and perseverance rose to don the most coveted rank of Air Marshal and achieved numerous accolades and decorations in his illustrious career spanning over four decades. It’s been a matter of great pride for ‘Braves’ to have been associated with him and remember the old bonding. I recall a very brief conversation with you at Braves get-together at Gangtok few years ago wherein I was touched by simplicity and contentment with life when you talked about your humble beginnings and that what God blessed you with Sophie and adorable and successful sons. At this memorable moment, we wish you all the very best in life ahead..’
Veteran Lieutenant Colonel Tejinder Padda recollects : ‘Hi TD! Heartiest Congratulations on completion of an absolutely awesome tenure with the IAF. Started getting to know you from the time you joined NDA as Cadet TD Joseph and got to know you more when you rose to the pinnacle and became the Air Marshal TD Joseph. There has been hardly any change in you ever since: cool, always smiling, suave, having a good word for everyone and everything, essentially a towering personality. Though happy to note one major change- you’ve grown up to become rather naughty in preparation for your retired life, I presume!
In NDA I remember your full of josh cross country running, awesome Basket Ball game and not to forget the Green Horn Camp josh run… when you were literally caught with your ‘dungarees down. A fantastic person that you are, may you have a super retirement and get to spend more time with Sophie and the family and get to fulfil all your bucket list. Good luck to you.’
Veteran Colonel Nilesh Lal reminisces:- ‘Joe was good in cross country and he came in fifth in our first term. TD ( Tulsi Das ) for want of a better name (as TD was unpronounceable) was a genial, unassuming & affable person who steered clear of any controversy & was always on the right side of law ; managing that in NDA required some dexterity & manoeuvring skills & guess that is what ensured that Joe mastered his flying skills subsequently. Post NDA we briefly interacted while he was flying in the western sector and I have a vivid memory of Joe proudly introducing his Flying Bird .Proud to know that Joe is the last of the lot from Bravo 61 still in uniform and wishing him the very Best going forward.‘
Nostalgia struck me when I read a Facebook post by a very senior alumni of our school about the movie – The Guns of Navarone. It was the second English movie I watched in my life. The first English movie was Mackenna’s Gold. The next English movie was Where Eagles Dare.
When I joined the school in 1971, I knew only Malayalam and English was all alien. The ‘scary’ scenes in all these movies ensured that I closed my eyes and slept off in 15 minutes. I later watched all these classics.
A movie was screened every Saturday, Tamil, Hindi, English and occasionally a Malayalm movie. The swimming pool doubled up as an open-air movie theatre with the viewers sitting on the stadium steps, and the screen placed on the opposite side of the swimming pool. Later, the old Senior Cadets’ Mess was converted into a movie theatre. The cadets had early dinner on Saturday at 7 PM and the screening commenced at 8 PM – after it became dark.
Mr Gurumoorthy was better known as the Naval Officer in the National Cadets Corps. The sight of him in his crisp white Naval uniform was the main motivating factor for many of our friends choosing to opt for the Indian Navy at the National Defence Academy. He was instrumental in I choosing the Indian Navy as my first option, but the medical authorities decided that I was fit for the Army only.
The projector used then was RCA Photophone 35mm which used a carbon arc to throw the image of the celluloid film on to the big screen. Today’s digital screening had not come in. The movies came in reels – each reel 1000 feet long, running for about ten minutes. The Indian movies were generally of 16 reels, running for about two and a half hours and English movies about 10 to 12 reels, of about 90 minutes to two hours. The reels of a movie were enclosed in steel boxes and were physically transported from theatre to theatre, often by bus or train.
To reduce cost of production and keeping in mind commercial viability, a Tamil movie was released in about 25 cities/ towns of Tamil Nadu. Theatres in Udumalpet (Udumalaippettai,) the closest town to Amaravathi Nagar – about 25 km away – hardly ever received a new release Tamil movie. It featured in the ‘Second-Run’ towns – that meant that a Tamil movie was screened a month or two after its release. English and Hindi movies came mostly six months to year, many much later, after their release.
English and Hindi movies ran as morning shows on Saturdays and Sundays at Udumalpet theatres. After the Saturday’s morning show, the reels were despatched by bus to Amaravathi Nagar and was screened in the evening. Sunday morning, the first bus carried the reels back to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to screen their Sunday morning show.
Tamil movies were screened in Udumalpet theatres as regular shows – matinee (3 to 5:30 PM), first show (6 to 8:30 PM) and second show (9:30 PM to midnight.) Now how to get those reels to far away Amaravathi Nagar on a Saturday evening when the movie was playing its regular shows?
After the movie played its first five reels, it was loaded into the bus on its last trip at 7 PM from Udumalpet and the bus reached Amaravathi Nagar a few minutes before 8 PM. As the swimming pool was very close to the bus-stand, the screening commenced immediately thereafter.
Mr Menon on his Bullet Motorcycle, stationed at the theatre in Udumalpet, carried the next six reels at 8 PM and reached Amaravathi Nagar by 8:30 PM. He returned with the reels played till then to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to commence their second show. Then he carried the last six reels to Amaravathi Nagar and returned them after screening. What an idea Sir Ji!!!!
How was any delay in this clock-work precise operation covered? Mr Gurumoorthy had an answer. The local theatre had bits and pieces of song and dance sequences and fight scenes, cut out from reels of Hindi and English movies. These were screened to keep the viewers engaged, as Mr Menon raced to the theatre with fresh reels.
Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556) reminisces:- ‘Prior to 1969, the school had only a 16 mm projector. The movies were all ‘black and white’ English movies. Maybe, there were no Tamil and Hindi movies available in that format.
That time, Chera, Chola, Pandya and Bharathi Houses dined in the longish shed. Bigger strength Pallava and Valluvar Houses dined in the Boxing Arena. On Saturdays, if a movie was to be screened, we had to pick up our chairs after lunch and deposit them on the lawn that existed between the two sheds. The mess staff took out the dining tables and made seating arrangement for viewing the movie. Dinner was served outside.
90% of 5th and 6th Graders fell asleep as soon as the movie started. For one, we were tired, and the other, we could not understand the language. Subtitles and close captioning were not heard of or seen. The film strips often broke or Mr Cherian had to change the spool with the help of his lab assistant Manuel. He switched on a lamp he had on his switch board, and wake us from the slumber. After the movie was over, we were woken up and sleep walked back to the dorms.
Sometime in 1969, a 35 mm projector was installed in the swimming pool and the first movie to be screened was Sivaji Ganesan & Jayalalitha starrer ‘Enga Mama’ – remake of Hindi Film Brahmachari) The students sat on the bleachers, while the Staff sat on the top arena. We started watching movies in Eastman color. Since it was an outdoor pool, the movie screening was dependent on weather. Some evenings the movie show was cancelled even while we were eating our early dinner of tomato rice and kaajaa. There have been occasions we had to scoot half way through the movie, due to unexpected showers.
Apparently, around 1974, the movie screening moved back to the good old ‘longish’ shed, but with a proper projection room and 180 degree change in the viewing direction – with the stage now becoming the balcony.
Some of the daring 11th Graders (senior most then) sometimes sneaked off to Udumalpet on a Saturday evening, watch a movie, sleep in the bus stand and return on Sunday morning. Not many attempted this risky business, anyway.’
Veteran General PM Hariz (Roll No 579) writes:- ‘Whilst watching 16 mm movies like No Man is an Island – a 1962 war film about the exploits of George Ray Tweed, a US Navy radioman who avoided capture and execution by the Japanese during World War II; Sinbad the Sailor – a 1947 fantasy film about the daredevil sailor Sinbad, who embarks on a voyage across the Seven Seas to find the lost riches of Alexander the Great; etc, changing of reels took some time. This dead time was for the singing talents to pelt a few numbers. I vividly recollect Om Prakash (Roll No 285)- our short hockey wizard – singing ‘Asman sey aaya farishta’ and using the reel cover as the dhol (drum.)‘
Movie watching at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar will forever linger in the minds of all its alumni.
Teach the kids to do all chores at home – you will be a proud parent because you will gift a son or a daughter who can do the dishes, cut the veggies and clean toilets to your future daughter/ son-in-law.
You must have come across a kid tearing a shop upside-down for being refused a toy; a kid holding the parents to ransom for some gizmo in the electronic shop; threatening the parents with dire consequence for not buying a motorcycle; screaming their guts out as the child could not get a window seat on an airplane or bus; and so on. These are entitled kids, and they grow into entitled adults. That kid in his entire life did no chores at home other than disturbing the cushions on the couch.
An entitled kid expects food on the table; to be provided with snacks and drinks at their beck and call; the choice of food to be more like a restaurant menu; someone else or the household help will make their beds, clean up their mess, not follow any time schedules – even to eat or sleep.
Most of us did not enjoy doing chores around our homes. I certainly did not. We were in a Sainik (Military) School from age nine and we had no choice, but to do everything – making our beds, polishing our shoes, keeping the dorms and the area around clean – the list was endless. We all grew up totally unentitled.
When should kids start taking on household chores?
The latest study says as early as two years old. They should begin with age-appropriate tasks, under parental or senior sibling’s observation – clearing up toys, arranging their books, wearing clothes, etc. A child is not born with all the skills to do all of these chores right away, so a little guidance and encouragement is necessary. This will ensure that your child grows unentitled and will not develop into an entitled adult. No parents want to raise entitled kids.
A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs. Making children do chores at home and making them participate in all family activities is the responsibility of parents. Let your kids feel like they are part of this family team and they have to pitch in! Doing chores together help kids feel connected to the family.
Chores teach kids to take care of themselves and do basic activities like clean, cook and maintain the space around them, etc. Giving kids simple responsibilities around the home will inculcate self-reliance and responsibility. It also gives a small much needed breather to the parents. Kids are not born perfectionist; hence expect them to whine and take too long to complete the task. It will never be up to your expectations, but they will soon be there with a little encouragement and guidance from you. Many a times, you will end up doing it all over, take it that it’s the best training your kid can get. Ultimately, isn’t it so much easier to do it ourselves! Remember – Everything begins at home.
Children will never learn these by mere observation – They got to do it themselves. Parents have to show the way and also explain to them how to do it. They must also thank them for their effort and also tell them as to how their participation in the chore helped the household. It will teach the child the importance of helping others
Have you ever written a note to the school teacher explaining a reason for the kid not completing an assignment like the dog chewed on the completed work, the hard-disk of the computer got accidentally formatted, the laptop computer crashed? You have robbed your child of an opportunity to be responsible and advocate for themselves at school. It’s a sure way of setting them up for failure, which none of us want. We want to see them scaling greater heights, turn into valuable citizens and proud members of the society. That needs a lot of hard work – both from the parent and the child. It isn’t that easy.
When we do things for them all the time, it hinders their development and keeps them from succeeding on their own. It ends up as a message to our children that we don’t believe in their abilities. If you develop your child to be an entitled teen/ adult, they will expect their spouse, their roommate, or you to do everything for them. If your kid hasn’t consistently done chores, it’s never too late to start, particularly if you’re really open with them about why you’re making the change and what your new expectations are.
Experts also recommend linking a new chore with a future behaviour — telling a teen that they’re learning how to help with dinner so they can make meals when they go to college, or when they’re cooking for their partner or spouse later.
Kids are never happy for being reminded about their chores. Even parents are never too happy doing things around the house. They are very likely to nag when asked to do a chore. It should never be used as a tool to discipline the kids. You must be flexible and allow the child to chose what chore they want to do.
Reward your kids when they do their chores and appreciate them for their efforts. Ensure that the rearwards you’re comfortable with. Plan the reward in advance and always be consistent.
Prepare the Child for the Path – not the Path for the Child.
A recall by Veteran Commander Nanda Kumar Parrat(Roll No 322)
I joined SSA in January 1965 in grade 5, age 9. The School Band members, especially in their ceremonial dress of Blood Red and Steel Grey (School Colours) with White anklets and gloves were a sight to behold for a nine year old.
Mr Guddu Shaib, a Veteran Pipe Major from the Madras Regiment, joined our school in 1966 and introduced bagpipes for the very first time.
As it happened, from 1965 – 1970, a Senior of mine was the SOLE player of this very light innocuous looking Triangle.
Everyone who was in school during those six to seven years, remember only THAT cadet as playing the Triangle….and NO ONE ELSE.
About 40 years later I met the Triangle player, now an Indian Navy Veteran, and suddenly I realised that it was a real feat and mystery that no other cadet ever got to play the Triangle while he was in school (all of 7 years.) As it was the lightest and easiest instrument in the band to play and to merit the extra ration of milk, etc., there were hordes of others trying for that particular instrument, but never made it.
The reason suddenly flashed to me after 40 years…the Triangle player was the only one to fit into the ceremonial dress which was specially stitched for him in Grade 5 (1964). No other cadet could fit into that small size uniform. That’s how he managed to stave off any attempts of others to play the Triangle for seven long years. Some people are lucky early in life.
Reveille with Bugle
Cadets playing bugle were detailed to sound morning Reveille at our school. It went like this, ‘Taa da Taa da Tat Tat Tat Taa’. We had this song in the same tune, ‘Chaar-lie, Chaar-lie, get up for tea’. At least we then believed….the song line…One Senior used to climb the roof of the dormitory at 0530 hrs to ostensibly increase the range of the sound of the bugle.
Retreat…. Sounds of Last Post
During the Annual School Day, sounding the Retreat, was a sombre occasion and the last act after Prize distribution, VIP speech, etc. Whereas, the Last Post sounded sentimental in itself, the apparent ‘Echo’ played by our cadet buglers from below the distant hill (firing range) made one’s hair stand on end.It is already dusk ..sun already behind the hills…the Last Post…wow.. Totally memorable even after 50 years…… The ECHO …still echoes in my heart.
This image came from the archives of Abe Jacob Abraham (Roll No 114,) as a Cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar in 1964, sounding the Reveille with Veteran Colonel Ravi Nair (Roll No 131) on his right.
Colonel Nair recalls: “Most memorable phase of life. Waking up the School for the day. An onerous task indeed, which Abe and I did dutifully for the entire tenure in school. After the Reveille, rush to the Mess to have a glass of glucose concentrate and two eggs as compensation to lung power!!“
Dr KT John (Roll No 84) writes from Melbourne, Australia: “I have played the bugle with you and Abe, Ravi, both for waking people and also for the lowering of the flag at dusk.
Remember playing the Reveille with Jaideep GC (Roll No 55) echoing, which used to wake up most of Amaravathi Nagar, including the donkeys, who occasionally joined in the chorus. Oh! what wonderful times.”
Veteran Colonel Jayath Pooviah recalls: “Later it devolved upon me to carry out this task…. Only I stumbled up that hill in my pajamas and woke up with the school while blowing that bugle... Never got that drink after!!“
Joining the BAND Wagon by Veteran Colonel T Ravi(Roll No 556)
In 1967, Pallava and Valluvar Houses were housed in the two storey buildings. Raghavan was the school vice captain. He lived in one of the side rooms along with our House Captain Muthukumar. Every morning Raghavan emerged from his room to blow the Reveille which echoed throughout the Amaravathi Valley.
Each week, Mr Guddu Sahib detailed a buglar to blow the Reveille in the morning and one for the Retreat in the evening. The retreat time was normally 15 minutes before the school ‘fall-in’ for Prep. Most of us running to be in time for the Prep cursed the Retreat. You had to freeze in whatever pose you heard it. The trail that ran behind the MI Room was full of human statues when the buglar blew the Retreat and the flag came down.
There were lots of misconceptions. ‘Blowing a bugle while sitting down, made your balls big,’ was one of them. Not everyone could blow the bugle, even though quite few could blow their own trumpets. Bugle was easy to carry, as compared other equipment, except the Triangle and Cymbals.
The dreaded instrument was the Base Drum, which needed strong shoulders and height. VP Misra (Roll No 179) and R Gnana Prakasam (Roll No 630) were made for Base Drum. Normally, the band used two side drums. The unwieldy kettle drums came out only on occasions. I still can’t recollect how Mr Guddu Sahib mustered those many side drummers.
Mr Guddu sahib’s favorite instrument was the bagpipe. We learnt to play the pipe in stages. Initially, just the chanter. Then we graduated to playing the pipe with the drones blocked. Finally, the pipe with all three drones. Each of the guys in the band, had their own favorite tunes. Mr Guddu Sahib cajoled and convinced the members to play the number he chose.
Sometime in 1969 or 1970, the band was present for an event in Udumalpet (Free Eye Camp.) State Ministers Sadiq Basha and Mathialagan were the guests of honour. When the event finished, the two misters came to the band stand and congratulated Mr Guddu Sahib, who reminisced about the accolades as long as we were at school.
Veteran Captain R Gnana Prakasam writes:
Wow …what nostalgic memories ..I have to confess that I never had any music sense and my motivation to join Band was only Extra Diet..Band Milk. My enormous appetite could be satiated by Band Milk and extras. I played cymbals and base drum. We really had lots of privileges like skipping PT and going out of school for some performances. Best sportsmen from our batch were in School Band. Rajarajan was the favourite of Gudddu Sahib as he was versatile in many instruments. He was our No 1 Bagpiper.
Veteran Lieutenant General PM Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone. We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.
(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))
We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band. He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987. Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band. Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.
Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966. His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master. He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968. The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.
(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))
He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us. Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes. I just could not make any sense of them.
Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the performance. He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.
On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.
Other than teaching us how to play the instruments, he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;) how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”
(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))
Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them. During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.
Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it. Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore. It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.
Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the muscle memory and coordination of the cadets. Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.
Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7. They were taught to read music and perform. Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.
Not all can read music though many enjoy it. Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.
Why should you learn to read music?
Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition. It helps you to remember the music you are playing. With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.
It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster. Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying. The act of practicing and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.
Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles. It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group. You can create your own musical compositions too.
It’s never too late to learn anything. So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.
During our young days, we had an iron box – Theppu Petti – heated by burning coconut shells to embers. The iron box was not made of iron, but brass, weighing over five kilograms. It had a cover over a hollow cavity with holes on either side, looking more like our eyes. These eye-lets acted as air-vents to keep the embers glowing.
A metallic flap attached at the back covered the cavity. On top of the cover was a teak handle, hand-carved to fit the operator’s hand. The ‘Delta’ shaped base, called the sole, facilitated easy gliding of the Theppu Petti over the cloth under it. The sole was heated to about 200°C by the burning embers.
Theppu Petti is the predecessor to the modern electric steam iron. The electric iron was invented in 1882 by New Yorker Henry W Seely. His iron weighed almost seven kilograms and took a long time to warm up. Irons gradually became smaller until they resembled the type we have in our homes today.
The iron box did its job of pressing a piece of cloth to remove creases using a combination of a hard surface, and heat and pressure that pressed on the fibres of the clothes, stretching and flattening them.
Using a Theppu Petti to iron a piece of cloth, the operation commenced with placing the monstrous looking object on a metallic ring on the table. The metallic ring protected the table from getting burnt. The ironing table back then was nowhere akin to the modern ironing boards, but was a multi-purpose large table (mostly the dining or study table) covered with an old blanket and a bed sheet.
Four or five coconut shell-halves were placed in the hollow cavity of the Theppu Petti and burnt to embers, which took about 15 minutes. These embers emitted constant heat for a long time and maintained a near constant temperature. Kerala households had a large stock of coconut shells and burning them in the iron box were their primary use. Some used charcoal in place of the coconut shells.
When we were young, our father ironed our clothes until our eldest brother turned ten. Then he took over the operation and did the job with panache. When our youngest brother turned ten, the mantle was passed on to him and he became such an expert that he would put any professional cleaner to shame. Now it is a ritual for him on Sundays to collect the white shirts and black pants of my elder brother, an advocate, and press the entire stock for a week. He presses all my clothes while I was home and also for the entire household.
തേപ്പ് – Theppu is a modern Malayalam word which means ‘ironed’. As slang, it refers to a girl who dumps their lover when they see a better prospect. The word, though sexist, finds its way into modern Malayalam movies and social-media trolls.
While serving with the Indian Army in Maharashtra, a Priest from our Syrian Orthodox church visited me. His wife hailed from our village and her family was well known to ours. I invited him for lunch and after that took him to the shopping centre at the Cantonment as he wanted a heavy electric iron box to press his long white cassock. He couldn’t find a heavy iron box in the market as the modern one’s were light. He presumed that the Cantonment’s shopping centre would have it as the soldiers always had to press their thick uniforms.
During my next visit home, I narrated the incident to Amma and she passed her characteristic sly smile, which meant there was more to it. I prodded her and she reminisced the days of 1957 when she was just married and they moved into a small rented one-room house next to the school where Amma was teaching.
They hardly had any utensils, leave alone an iron box, which was the last priority. My Dad taught at the school in town and had to bus about 12 kilometer either way, thus had to leave early. The first Sunday, he ironed the clothes required for my mother and him using an iron box which he borrowed from the home of a senior revenue official who lived across the street. The next Sunday his request for the iron box was turned down claiming that it was under repair. Next evening my father walked in with an iron box and that today lies in the attic of our ancestral house.
“What is the connection with this old iron box and the Priest,” I asked.
Amma took a long deep breath and said “This Priest is married to the daughter of that revenue official.“
Malayalis are people hailing from Kerala – The God’s Own Country -are often called Mallus because the word Malayali is quite a tongue-twister and difficult to pronounce for many across the globe. They speak Malayalam, a language spoken by more than 38 million people who live in the state of Kerala and Lakshadweep. Many in India refer to Mallus as Madrasis or even Malabaris, which any Mallu worth his name will despise. You call him a ‘Thampi’ and he is sure to spit fire at you!
Malayalam, the eighth most spoken language in India, is believed to have originated from Tamil, with a heavy influence of Sanskrit. It became an independent language with its own script by AD 9th century.
There is a little known item of cloth that a Malayali is identified with. It is not the Mundu or the Lungi; but a 5’x3′ white piece of cloth called Thorthu; a light bath towel, which you will find in every Malayali’s wardrobe. We have a dozen of them in our Canadian home too. It is universal – one size fits all; used by people of all ages, sex and religion.
Thorthu has a one centimeter thick border at both ends called Kara, which is generally black, blue or red. This handy Indian cotton towel is known in North India , it is called the Gamcha, and in Tamil Nadu as Thundu.
The white coloured Thorthu has been around for generations. The warp and weft of this cloth is made of very fine cotton fibre. These hand woven towels are super absorbent, light weight, soft on skin, and quick drying. In Kerala the relative humidity is around 70% through the year and any thick towel will take its own time to dry out. Then there is the fear of fungus or mildew developing on a wet cloth.
A Mallu uses the Thorthu for rituals, journeys, pilgrimages, functions, traditional events, political rallies, etc. It is all because the Thorthu takes up less space, can be washed easily with hands, and dries quickly.
In every Kerala household, the Thorthu has an important place, so did in our home too. Our father always got the new Thorthu and dare not – no one could ever even touch it. The next one was Amma’s and for all four sons, we had the older ones, but was always on first-come-first-served basis. If one got late for the morning bath, he ended up with a wet Thorthu.
Though the primary use of a Thorthu is to dry one’s self after one’s bath, it has many uses left to the imagination of the user.