Nehru – Gandhi Family

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Feroze Gandhi is a Parsi (not a Muslim as some claim), a politician and a journalist who served as the publisher of the National Herald and the Navjivan newspapers from Lucknow. His father was not any Khan, but Faredoon Jehangir from Bombay.

In 1930, Feroze met Kamala Nehru and Indira among the women demonstrators picketing outside Ewing Christian College, Allahabad. Kamala fainted with the heat of the sun and Feroze went to comfort her. The next day, he abandoned his studies to join the Indian independence movement. He was imprisoned in the same year, along with Lal Bahadur Shastri and lodged in Faizabad Jail for nineteen months.

Feroze first proposed to Indira in 1933, but she and her mother rejected it, saying that she was too young, only 16. He grew close to the Nehru family, especially to Indira’s mother Kamala Nehru, helping arrange her trip to Europe when her condition worsened in April 1935, and visiting her at the TB sanitarium in Europe, where he was at her bedside when she died. Kamala Nehru was so impressed by the conduct of Feroze that on her death-bed, she insisted on Indira marrying Feroze. In the following years, Indira and Feroze grew closer to each other and they married in March 1942 according to Hindu rituals.

The saree that Indira wore for the marriage was a khadi sari that Nehru wove and is pink, not red. It was worn by Indira on her wedding day, then by Sonia on her wedding day in 1968, and then by Priyanka too when she got married in 1996.  Red is generally the bridal colour in India and the Gandhis to choose the more low- key pink and leave the fiery red, a symbol of simplicity and tradition.

Feroze Gandhi won independent India’s first general elections in 1952, from Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Indira came down from Delhi and worked as his campaign organizer. Feroze soon became a prominent force in his own right, criticizing the government of his father-in-law and beginning a fight against corruption. In 1957, he was re-elected from Rae Bareli. In the parliament in 1958, he raised the Haridas Mundhra scandal involving the government controlled LIC insurance company. This was a huge embarrassment to the clean image of Nehru’s government and eventually led to the resignation of the Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari.

This story was narrated to me by Ms Bimla Behn, who used to be the hostess of Teen-Murthy Bhawan when Nehru was the PM.   Further I had spoken to Mr Sharma, the caretaker of Teen-Murthi Bhawan from Nehru’s days. Our unit was responsible for VVIP security when Mrs Gandhi’s body was lying in state in Teen-Murthy Bhawan for viewing,  during the first week of November 1984, after her assassination on 31 October and there I met Bimla Behn and Sharma.

They further spoke to me in detail about the relationship between Nehru, Feroze and Indira and the role played by MO Mathai who was Nehru’s secretary. The rise of Mathai (a typical Syrian Christian like me, from the Central Travancore) from being a helper to the cook of Teen-Murthy Bhawan to be the PM’s secretary is another volume.

The aspect that Feroze and Indira lived separately after the birth of Sanjay is somewhat correct as by that time Mathai had succeeded in driving a wedge between Nehru and Feroze. Feroze was part of the fiery young Turks with Chandrasekhar (later PM) and Mohan Dharia and they opposed a lot of Nehru’s policies in the Parliament and party forums. So Feroze avoided any contact with Nehru, but used to enter the Teen-Murthy Bhawan from the Right Flank and go upstairs where Indira lived. This was narrated by Bimla Behn.

Bimla Behn further said that after the death of Nehru, Indira was appointed the communication minster in the Shastri’s cabinet. In those days she always suffered from common cold and a runny nose. If you observe the photographs of those years, one can always see Indira clutching a kerchief in her hand. That was when Indira came in contact with Dhirendra Brahmachari who advised yoga as a cure for her runny nose. She practiced yoga regularly and was rid of the problem.

Regarding the death of Sanjay, I had interacted with the President of the Delhi Flying Club in 1984 – (he was related to one of our unit officer). The aircraft was imported as CKD (Complete Knock-Down) kit and it came in boxes. A week before the fateful day, Sanjay ordered the President of the Flying Club to get the plane assembled. After assembly, even though it was not test-flown and certified by DGCA, Sanjay insisted on flying it. Some mal-function resulted in the accident and Sanjay Gandhi died instantly from head wounds from the air crash on 23 June 1980 near Safdarjung Airport.

So please do not get carried away by any propaganda taking rounds in the social media.

 

The Desert Fox

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A Ballad composed by Nikhil as part of Grade 10 English curriculum, Based on the North African Campaign of World War II)

The third hunter Monty he comes from the East
He has finally defeated the beast
Unaccustomed to desert sands and rocks
He has now whipped the desert fox
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The first hunter let the fox come to him
He waited with patience, his outlook grim
The fox in a flurry of speed and dash
Attacked the hunter in a move considered rash
The fox had beat hunter the first
But underestimated the hunter’s king’s thirst
So the king sent in bold hunter the second
The sands of the desert with blood would now redden
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The second hunter set traps and snare
The fox would die if an attack he dare
Though when the fox came the traps did fail
The second hunter oh did he go pale
The king’s patience was now truly wearing thin
He removed the second hunter for defeat is a sin
He then sent a hunter he long hated
His relation with the king quite complicated
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The third hunter not as dashing as his prey
He chose a position well sited in which to stay
He held his ground well near the sea
He gathered around him a vast hunter army
Once he gathered more hunters than needed
He attacked the weary fox who retreated
All we shocked that fox had lost
Then all were shocked at the cost
Several hunters maimed and so much expense
So many tools broken it makes no more sense
It makes one wonder who was the better
The defeated fox or his bankrupt hunters
The desert fox he tested the king’s patience
He lead the king’s hunters a merry dance
Once moving swift across deserts running tall
He should have feared Monty his final downfall

 

Why So Much Corruption In India?

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Have you ever tried to find an answer to this question? How come that we are forced to pay bribes or approach a middle-man to get our basic government documents like a driving license or passport made? How come in Canada or US one does not have to pay a bribe for such documentation? How come these basic documents are provided to you with one visit to the office concerned in Canada or US? Why is that despite having all the necessary documents and qualifications, you still have to make many a rounds to the offices to get the job done?

Our political/ social/ religious leaders always blame it on the enormity of Indian population.   Anyone with knowledge of automated computerised systems knows that if one person’s documents can be done, then a million of such documents can also be done. It appears that no one wants to correct the system. The politician fears the loss of his vote bank and all other leaders fear the loss of money the corrupt system brings.

What makes the officials corrupt? The salary the government officials receive anywhere in the world is pretty high compared to the common-man’s standard of living in that country. Salaries (and pension) paid are adequate enough to maintain a decent standard of living for a family and does cater for all the basic essentials of food, housing, education etc. Then why is the greed or need for the extra money?

Let us examine a person’s life in both India and North America and analyse as to what are the causes for less corruption in North America.

A child goes to school and that’s where they are trained to be valuable citizens. Most important role in this training is played by the teachers in developing the mind-set of these children and they imbibe good values from them. The teachers’ selection and appointment in North America has its own high standards where as in India we are all well aware of the hefty bribes paid to get the post. In most of the private schools, mostly run by the religious institutions, they sign for a monthly salary of few thousands and take home actually a fourth of it. Here merit and teaching ability are of least concern and only their paying capacity is considered. How can you ever expect such teachers to develop a good value system in their students?

In North American society, children after their high-school education tend to look after themselves and graduate by taking loans and/or doing part-time jobs. In India,  parents cater for all these needs and it continues even after their children have got married. Donation/ capitation fees/ normal fees for medical and engineering graduation are pretty high in India and everyone wants their children to be either an engineer or a doctor. When I retired after 25 years of service in 2004, my total pension emoluments was about Rs 30 Lakh (3 Million) and that was the amount needed in case our daughter was to take up medical education in a private medical college at that time anywhere in India. This clearly shows that most of the parents of such students have resorted to some illegal method of getting extra money, either by corrupt practices while serving or have evaded taxes and duties while selling their properties by under-valuation etc. Everyone connected with these professional education institutions – the political leadership, the administration, the courts etc are all well aware of this reality.

Why can’t it be made mandatory for all those parents seeking admissions for their children in these medical and engineering colleges to prove their sources of income? It will never come through as most of these institutions are owned by either the political leaders or by religious groups. Neither the politician nor the God can be made uncomfortable by passing such laws. The politicians do not want to mess up with their vote banks and never antagonise the Gods.

After graduation, everyone looks to get a government job and there too a lot of money changes hand in many places. In some cases it is either recommendation or money and in many cases it’s the merit. Where is this money coming from and where is it being used? Could be to pay for someone’s medical or engineering admission and the cycle continues. The only way out is to make the selection and appointment of all government post as transparent as possible. Only problem is that the looser is still either the politician or the God. So that can never be expected.

Now comes the costliest of all events – marriage. In North America, the bride and the groom have to arrange for their marriage expenses and sometimes parents chip in. The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known, may be to make up for the money spent on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – possibilities are endless. Still the money gets back into the same system and the cycle continues. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

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

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

 

Education and Punishment

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The rape of a first class student in school premises on July 17, 2014 in Bangalore added one more to the long list of child abuse cases, many of which remains unnoticed. It has brought back light on one of the worst perils that our country is facing today – child sexual abuse. It is a pity that most of such abusers are either close relatives or teachers of the children. In this case too, it was the physical education teacher. Most Principals let loose these physical education teachers (goons) on to the children to ‘discipline’ them, especially during assemblies or sports or cultural events. These teachers mostly end up misusing the ‘authority’ vested in them by the Principal and in many cases resulting into physical, sexual and mental abuse to the children. Majority of such physical education teachers have no qualification to be one.

Joshi Philip, our family friend, invited me to attend the prize distribution ceremony at their daughter’s primary school. Ann Maria, their daughter, a Grade 2 student, that day had the annual prize distribution ceremony at the end of the academic year. I accompanied Joshi to the school and at the reception we signed-in and were given a round yellow sticker which said “A Proud Parent”. I stuck it above my shirt’s pocket, close to my heart, as anyone will feel proud of it rather than hanging a visitor badge around the neck.

We entered the gymnasium where the award ceremony was to take place. Every primary school here has at least two such gymnasiums and we used to boast about the one we had at the National Defence Academy. We did not have one in the Sainik School. The gymnasium is a hardwood floored hall which serves as a basket ball court, assembly area, an auditorium and a lunch room or a cafeteria. At the end of the gymnasium was a stage where all the award winners were seated. The students marched in class wise with their teachers leading them and the students sat on the wooden floor while the teachers occupied their positions at the end near the wall. As expected of little children from Kindergarten to Grade2, they were talking and then the Principal appeared on the stage and raised her right arm. All children became silent and she said “eyes and ears towards me please” and introduced the two Masters of the Ceremony (MC) who were Grade 5 students.

The prize distribution ceremony went on beginning with the Kindergarten and any time when the children became noisy, the Principal would appear with her right hand raised and everyone became silent. During the entire proceedings not even a single teacher moved from their positions. At the end of the ceremony the Principal came on stage to thank everyone and to congratulate the prize winners and at the end wanted the children to do their usual “Silent Cheer”. I had no clue what it was. It was all the body and face expression of a cheer but done without a sound and was impressive and unique.

On leaving the school I realised that the self-discipline inculcated in these children will make them better citizens of the country and they do not need any “policing” to implement any laws or regulations.

Looking back to my Sainik School days, we mostly had the Principal and the Headmaster from the Education branches of the three services, and most of them one felt were the least ‘educated’. This was further reconfirmed during my training at the Academies and service tenures. Most of the Education Corps officers are masters in some discipline or the other and today we have many officers from the Arms and Services holding masters degree by virtue of undergoing the Staff College or the Long Gunnery or the Engineering degree courses. Some even hold Doctorates too. Academically these officers are many times better than their Education Corps counterparts.

Then why post such officers to the Military/Sainik Schools? Many of them behave no better than the physical education teachers of the Bangalore incident. Most are incapable of moulding and motivating the students to join the defence services and are pretty ordinary in teaching. Any officer in the Indian Army can conduct a better class than these Education officers. The only qualification these Education officers boast of is their Bachelor of Education (B Ed) degree. Most of the Haviladrs (Sergeants) who have attended any courses of instruction in various military training establishments (where they are luckily not trained by the Education officers) will beat them hollow in the art of teaching. Then why not even do away with the Education Corps, considering the education standards of the present recruits into the army.

Shooting in US Gurudwara

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Most of you must have followed the unfortunate shooting of some Sikhs in a Gurudwara in USA on 05 August 2012. What was most striking about the episode was the conduct of the Sikh community in USA. They conducted themselves with dignity and honour. Their conduct has shamed many Americans. I had read many American papers and watched the TV coverage of the date. All communities including Christians, Muslims, Jews etc not only condemned the killings but came out openly in support of a very mature and religious community. Even the mother of the assailant was apologizing to the Sikhs openly.

In all this tragedy the conduct of our Sikh friends had been exemplary. Not one angry word, no burning of buses, no abuse, and no vulgar display of sorrow. Listening to the family members of the victims was so satisfying. No whining. I felt proud of being an Indian in sharing their sorrow.

In North America you do not protest by burning buses, abuses, vulgar display of sorrow, etc because they are all criminal offences as also the case in India. Here legal action would be initiated in case of such incidence and the court would take serious view of it, sometimes based on media video footage. Once your name is in the offenders list, finding a job, a house, a car etc would become difficult as everything is connected to your Social Security Number. May be with Aadhar, in India also things will change.

A few years back, in a protest by thousands of members of Toronto’s Tamil community, blocked and shut down the Gardiner Expressway for five hours. They were demanding the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka in wake of the civil war. This mode of protest was condemned by everyone in Canada. This protest took away any sympathies the Srilankan Tamils had in the minds of any Canadian.

US President Barak Obama insisted that American flags in the capital and at all government buildings throughout the nation be flown at half-mast in honour of the victims of the Gurudwara massacre. May be a token gesture some may claim, will not bring back the dead or justice may not done etc.

Recently there was carnage in Assam and did the Nation ever mourn the dead or fly the National Flags at half-mast? Some sceptics may say that in that case the national flag will mostly remain at half-mast. Is it that we have become so insensitive to such happenings?

In Kerala we saw the protests by a political party when a district level leader was arrested. We saw how the state was held to ransom by a handful of misguided elements. The damage to public property was huge so was the inconvenience to the public in general. May be its true that in a Democracy we get what we deserve and not what we desire.

We need to learn from the way the US as a nation mourned the death of its citizens and how the media and the public reacted to the massacre. The media did not show the deployment of the police forces in and around the Gurudwara so that the attacker(s) if any left would not make use of it. Compare it with what happened in Mumbai (26/11) and also the media frenzy during the recent Assam carnage which may have contributed to worsening the situation. The US media did not show any dead-bodies or dear and near ones of those killed wailing, thereby reducing the pressure on others. Even though there is no media censorship or guidelines, responsible reporting is done by the media. In India, the whole incident would have been sensationalised by the irresponsible media, as was the case in Assam, resulting in worsening the crisis.

 

Skydiving

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In the summer of 2009 we decided to visit Chicago for a week for sight-seeing and to meet my old Sainik School classmate Marur Mouli.  Mouli had his desk next to me in the class at the especially reserved place for the abstract thinkers – the last row. We were real outstanding students in Maths that we spend most of the Math period standing outside the class where we continued discussing our teenage ‘philosophies’ of life. We both qualified the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Mouli was found medically unfit after the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview. He had opted for the Air Force and the medicos said that he had an open sacrum – the last-vertebra in the spine. I thought they would have declared him unfit for an open mouth and not an open sacrum. Never seen Mouli quiet and would even speak while sleeping.

Mouli was a great artist in the true sense. Good at every form of art – drawing, painting, caricature, singing, playing all the instruments available in the school’s band section, acting (his playing the Pied Piper of Hamelin is still etched in my memory), debating etc. When I left school to join the NDA, I realised that Mouli was a bit dejected and in order to raise his morale I said to him “Better things are awaiting you. Better cheer up”. I never realised what I told him until he once called me while I India to say that he saw “the better thing” after a long struggle and that he was working as a graphic designer for Apple Macintosh In 1989 he had taken up a job as a lecturer in graphic design with the Art Institute of Chicago.

During the boat cruise in the Chicago River, we came across an advertisement for skydiving and all of us decided to try our hand at it the next day. Skydiving is inherently a dangerous activity, given the unknown variables of man, nature, and machine. We reached the Chicagoland Skydiving Center located in an air-strip which was a clearing in the cornfields of Hinckley, Illinois. We reached the Center by noon and we saw a 200 Series DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft parked next to a shed which housed the office. The receptionist, a young lady, said that the minimum age for skydiving was 18 and hence Nikhil being 12 years cannot undertake the skydiving. Nikhil said that he will come back on turning 18 and wanted me also not to jump that day. So Marina and Nidhi decided to take the jump and the receptionist got all the paperwork done.

There was one man mowing the grass in the strip cleared in the cornfield and another man picking up the garbage and cleaning the washrooms and the sheds. At 12:30 PM. About 15 men came in their pickups and most appeared to be construction workers from what they were wearing. They were the instructors and after a 30 minute orientation and kitting up, they boarded the aircraft with two instructors each – one the tandem and the other the cameraman.

The man moving the grass by then had refuelled the aircraft and was seen inspecting the aircraft as he was the flight engineer. The man picking up the garbage took to the pilot seat and the young receptionist was the co-pilot. The aircraft took off and climbed to 18,000 feet and dropped the jumpers and landed back. The flight engineer, the pilot and the co-pilot – all went back to do what they were doing before the takeoff.

The freefall was for a minute and a half on a tandem with one instructor while the other was video-graphing the fall. They were taken through many manoeuvres by the instructor during the free fall. Since the jumper was in front of the skydive instructor with own altimeter and ripcord, they had the sensation of skydiving on their own. After the ripcord was pulled, the instructor offered guidance as they flew the parachute together and landed.

The greatest advantage of skydiving in the State of Illinois is that it is not mandatory to wear a helmet (even on motorcycles), but the safety goggles is a must to protect the eyes. Thus the videos come out much better without the helmet on.

After seeing as to how the Skydiving Center operated, I had to see-off a family friend from the Toronto Airport by the New Delhi flight of Air India. As we reached there, a bus pulled up carrying the cabin crew and they moved to one corner. After five minutes the co-pilot and the flight engineer arrived by a car and took position in another corner. After another five minutes the captain arrived in another car and stood in the middle. In case of all the other international carriers, all the crew and the captain all come by the same bus and move into the aircraft as a team. Now I realised why Air India is running in perpetual loss.

Family Prayer

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Morning and evening family prayer has been a ritual followed in our family as far as I can recollect. Our father would lead the prayer real loud (could be because he was a Headmaster and our grandfather who was also a Headmaster, prayed much louder) and we all would follow suit. As a child I never understood the meaning of whatever I said during the prayers and also what was the intention of such an act. I always perceived it as a punishment our father meted out to all his children for their unruly behaviour. I actually realised the value and importance of it only after I joined the Indian Army.  (Please CLICK HERE read my blog on Soldier Gods)

The family evening prayer used to begin at 9 PM with our mother singing a hymn followed by one of the children reading a passage from the bible. The actual prayer would commence after that and it used to last about five minutes. At the end of it everyone was expected to observe a minute or two of silent prayer. I never knew what to pray for most times, but I also sat silently. During the lent, we had special prayers and the duration extended for another five more minutes.

With advent of the Television beaming out many tear jerking serials, our parents by then retired from teaching, also got addicted to many of them. In Kerala due to power shortage we have half an hour power-cut on weekdays in the evening. The timing of the power-cut used to change every month and now the evening prayer time was dictated by the power-cut, as that was the time our parents could not watch any serial.

The morning prayers were a nightmare for me as our father would wake us all up by 5:30 AM and he would begin the prayer with us in chorus. I always felt that the morning prayers were much longer than the evening prayers. After the prayers, we had to brush our teeth and get cracking with the household chores. Our father would distribute each one of us a task and later our eldest brother when he turned a teen took over the responsibility. By that time our father would have gone to milk the cows and clean up the cowshed.

My main chore when I came on vacation was to draw water out of the well in the courtyard using the pulley-rope-bucket system. In those days we did not have the pumping facility. This was the toughest chore among all and as I was away most of the year at school, my brothers wanted a relief and I did not mind it. Drawing of water would begin by 6 AM and would end only by 9 AM as water was needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing and also for the animals in the shed. Last requirement of water was for my mother to bathe before setting out to the school and by that time everyone else would have left home for their schools/ university. This water drawing chore continued till I turned a teen as by that time a pump set was installed with pipes to distribute water to the kitchen, bathrooms and to the cowshed. During our last visit home, I wanted to show our son the pulley-rope-bucket system, but I could not find it anywhere.

Behind our house lived Vasu and Chellamma with their two daughters and son. Vasu was a daily wage earning farm hand and Chellamma made a living out of rearing cows and goats and selling milk to the neighbourhood. One day Shankara Panikkan (Please read my blog on Shankara Panickan by CLICKING HERE) died at about 5 AM. We all went to Panikkan’s home to console the family. By about 7 AM Chellamma came running to  Panikkan’s home saying that she did not wake up early in the morning as George Sir (our father) did not pray that morning as we all were at Panikkan’s home.

That was when we realised that the loud morning prayers at our home also served as a wake-up call for the neighbourhood (It would have surely woken up the God Almighty too).

 

Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Long Live Mother India)

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After the Nirbhaya rape case most people of India were outraged and triggered protests demanding tougher laws to punish rapists. The parliament quickly passed the necessary laws, but mere bringing in of legislative changes will not likely to have an impact on the social causes of such incidents.

As recommended by Justice Verma Committee, the executive, the legislature as well as the judiciary -all must respect women’s rights and must treat them in a non-discriminatory manner. In India, sexism begins at conception with parents’ preference for male children, especially if their first child was a girl. Girls suffer for the sake of their brothers. Boys tend to get more food, a better education, and more of the family estate. This has resulted in a skewed male to female ratio – Kerala having 1000 males to 1084 females the best and Delhi having 1000 males to 866 females the worst – among all Indian states as per 2011 census. So the reasons for such actions by Delhi men are obivious.

To compound the matters, we have our political leaders, rather than condemning such atrocities against women, make immature and uncalled for statements, supporting the miscreants. We have religious and spiritual leaders who exploit women and commit rape on their submissive devotes, and some even do not spare young boys.

The Indian society does not allow communication and inter-mingling of both sexes even in schools and at religious places. The boys and girls even in many co-educational schools are made to sit separately. In places of worship they are segregated and some religions do not believe in allowing the females into their places of worship. Even in North America, many places of worship of people of Indian origin follow this very strictly – as if to protect their cultural values. If these people have their way, they will never hesitate to pull a curtain to separate the sexes. Even in front of the Gods, the sexes are not treated equally. The godmen and their cronies ensure this.

Due to this segregation, many young boys conceive that a mere touch or a caress or a pinch or a poke would give them immense pleasure (mental orgasms). The pity is that some grownup men also feel the same, despite being married with children. This has resulted in the kind of ‘street harassment’ of women in India receive and the terror women face when commuting between their homes and their universities or jobs, threatening women for daring to leave their private spheres. Its a form of control over women’s ambitions and lives and such a culture is widespread and gets encouragement with tacit approval by the religions. This gives men permission to use women as the target for any excess anger or frustrations they might have.

In cities like Mumbai and Bangaluru, where boys and girls study, work, play and commute together, the incidents of ‘street harassment’ and incidence of terrorising women are the least. In the developed nations, there exist police forces which will swing into action the moment any such incidences are reported. There are systems in place to provide social support, shelter, counseling and care for the victim. India needs to develop such social security infrastructure to ensure that the women are safe on the streets or any public place.

India has a long history of treating women as property. Sati, an extinct tradition of wives being burned alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres and dowry killings are a few examples. All these because the women are not treated equally in the society.

The offerings from the temples or the Holy Communion are given first to men and then to the women. In the Syrian Orthodox Churches, prior to giving the communion, the priest says “…വിശ്വാസികളായ ദാസീ ദാസന്മാർക്ക് നൽകപ്പെടുന്നു (…visvasikalaya dasee dasanmarkku nalkappedunnu)” (being given to female and male devotees) and gives the holy communion first to all the male devotees.

Some political leaders and holy men are blaming the recent Delhi rape on women not wearing overcoats or sarees, women riding the bus, women using mobile phones, women wearing skirts, women going out with men who are not relatives, co-educational schools, moral character, being out late, fast food, the poison of western culture, and the stars being in adverse positions – the list goes on and on..

The only Indian society that treats women with respect is the Armed Forces. The General or any senior officer will always rise from their seats to receive a lady walking in – the lady may be a Sepoy’s wife of a Lieutenant’s wife. The only place in India where the ladies are served first – whether at formal or informal or at-home functions – is in the armed forces. Even in the military’s religious places of worship, women are offered ‘prasad’ or holy communion first. Officer on duty or the Captain of the Indian Navy ships will salute all ladies entering or leaving the ship irrespective of their social or military hierarchy. The ladies are always respected at home and outside by the defence service personal and the sexual discrimination is minimal in this society. That may be reason why we have defence service officers’ daughters performing extremely well in the society like Moushumi Chatterji, Sushmita Sen, Preity Zinta, Anushka Sharma, Celina Jaitly (Bollywood), Revathy (Malayalam/Tamil Film), Renuka Chowdhary (Member of Parliament) – the list is endless.

In many Indian homes, women are expected to remain indoors and are never permitted to participate in any discussions or decision making process at home. They hardly have any say in their lives, their marriage, their education and their careers. Every aspect of the woman’s life is dictated by the males.

Sexual harassment of women – especially children (both boys and girls)– in Indian homes is well known. Many are afraid to even tell their mothers about the harassment they were subjected to, fearing social rebuttal. Many families hide such incidents fearing that no prospective groom will ever turn up for their daughter. To further complicate the situation, its a well known fact that the perpetrators of such sexual harassment are close relatives of the victim. There is an urgent need to educate children about sexual harassment and the steps to be taken to avoid it and actions to be taken in case one is subjected to it.

It must be made legally binding on school teachers, medical professionals and others who interact with the children to report cases of sexual abuse. Suppressing or hiding such facts must be made a criminal offence as is prevalent in many developed countries like Canada and US. The police must be mandated to register an FIR and the cases must be investigated as being recommended by the Justice Verma committee.

Until stricter laws are passed in the parliament, we will continue to hear of rape, sexual harassment and ill-treatment of women in India. Merely referring to India as “Bharat Mata (Mother India)” does not ensure respect to the women. The need of the hour is for a social and religious awakening to ensure equal status for women.

Adaptation

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“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment” so said Charles Darwin in his Theory of Evolution.

Our dog, Maximus Koduvath, turned six this year and I thought he had mellowed down a lot in comparison to his “puppy” days. He plays and runs around in the backyard and luckily does not dig up the lawn. He only digs up area not covered with the grass.

In the backyard of the house we have a kitchen garden where we grow vegetables in summer months. We grow them organically using the compost from the city’s recycling centre as manure. The children help me in collecting the compost and spreading it and are treated with a doughnut and coffee. Thanks to Colonel Balaji, an old classmate, both at Saink School and National Defence Academy, who has taken to farming in his native village in Tamil Nadu after hanging up his boots, who advised me to spray a mixture of Neem Oil, liquid soap, chilli powder and turmeric powder on to the plants as a pesticide/fungicide. It has really improved the yield of the vegetables and the blooms on all the flowering plants in the front garden.

I had put up a 30 inch high wire mesh to separate the vegetable cultivation from the lawn. Many friends thought that it was to keep away the raccoons, skunks and rabbits (these are the common visitors to all Canadian home gardens). I would tell our friends that we live a stone’s throw away from the City Hall where our Mayor sits (our Mayor is a 93 year old iron lady, Ms Hazel McCallion, who presides over the city with total commitment and enthusiasm) and Ms Hazel has placed the area around the city centre as “out of bounds” for all animals.

Some enquired the reason for such a low fence and my theory, based on the equestrian training at the National Defence Academy, was that any animal, unlike humans, needs a running space to run and jump over any obstacle. Hence Maximus will not be in a position to jump across with the limited space in the lawn. In case he manages to jump across, he will not be able to get out and hence will never try again to jump in. The 30 inch height of the fence facilitated my easy entry and exit into the garden.

This year I decided to apply some bone-meal to all the vegetable plants to facilitate better yield. Maximus got attracted to the smell of the bones and he jumped across the fence and licked off some of the bone-meal after digging down. Now he could not extricate himself out of the fenced area as he did not have running space to execute a jump. He started to bark and I had to lift him over the fence. I shouted at Maximus for uprooting a few plants in his search for the bone-meal and as usual he retreated into his cage in the family room. Yes, my theory was well proved.

This drill of Maximus jumping over the fence and I extricating him out from there continued for three days and every time I got angry with him, he would retreat to his cage.

A few days later I saw Maximus in the vegetable garden and on seeing me, he came up to the fence and lifted his both front legs together over the fence and before they could land on the ground, he managed to lift off the rear legs and crossed over the fence with ease. The Darwin’s theory of evolution dawned on me and I realised that Maximus had adapted to the environment and my theory lay in the dust-bin.

Next year I need to raise the height of the fence and also build a gate there – another self-help project for the year ahead.

 

How did You Manage it

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Our father, a primary school headmaster, always believed that it would be better to have the children born in March (Pisceans) as it would ensure that the child when joining school does not have to waste a few months. Nowadays it is mandatory that the child must be six years (in our school days it was five) old on the first day of school. There had been many instances when the parents wanted the child to begin school early, especially those who missed the age barrier by a few days or a month or two. In the good old days, the parents and the headmaster could mutually agree to enter in records a suitable date of birth to ensure entry into school. This resulted many of our generation (including my wife Marina) ending up with two dates of birth – one the actual day they were born and the other the “official” one. All four of us brothers were actually born Pisceans and we never had this problem of two dates to remember.

On taking over command of the unit, I went full steam automating the administrative functions in the unit and the first priority was to automate the records of the men under command and thus ensuring that all their necessary documentation were up to date, they receive all their pay and allowances and they are fully qualified for promotion to the next rank. The very first step was data capture from the existing manual records. After most data were transferred to the digital media, I called up each individual soldier for an interview to fill in the gaps. As we were deployed in the operational area at that time, this interviews went on till late at night. More than collecting the data, it helped me to a great extent to know the men better as I was totally new to the unit.

First use of the data captured was to make the weekly Regimental Order look more colourful. Not only that it was printed using a colour printer, the contents were also changed to be colourful. The routine stuff of Duty Officers, punishments etc were all printed in black and the goodies in colour. The goodies included wishes on festivals, compliments for achievements of the men and a special wish from the Commanding Officer (CO) on the soldier’s birthdays. With the data captured, I could easily print out the list of men celebrating their birthdays in the week ahead.

On analysing the data of the unit, I realised that about 20% of the men were born on the first day of the year (01/01) and about 30% born on the first day of the month, especially March, April and May. I concluded that like our father, their school headmasters also would have done the trick.

Case of Marina and her sibling is even better – they all have one “official” birthday – 25 May. The trick was that their grandfather was the headmaster of the primary school and he had taken some liking to that date, like most headmasters of that time.  That is why many in our generation would have their official birthdays in and around 25 May. Now in case I got to get them all for our daughter’s wedding in Canada and when I apply for their Visas, the Canadian Immigration will have a lot of questions and also a lot to analyse.

During my bachelor days, on a vacation home, along with our father, we went to attend a baptism in the family. In those days we had a Bajaj scooter at home and we took off. Being the month of June, the monsoon was in full fury and we had to stop enroute and take shelter in a tea-shop. I ordered two cups of tea and our father said “that is why I always say you should plan your children to be born in March”. I immediately asked him “How did you manage?” and he gave out his characteristic sly smile.

Years rolled by and in 1997, we were blessed with our son Nikhil on 16 March. At that time we were located at Pune as I was attending the Technical Staff Officers Course. As customary of the Orthodox Syrian Christians, the baptism had to be done after two months and our son had to take on our father’s name and our father had to be the God Father. During the baptism ceremony, it is the God Father who carries the child to the church and also say the pledges for the child. The entire family congregated at Pune for the occasion. After the ceremony got over, our father asked me “How did you manage?” and I too passed a sly smile. (Our daughter Nidhi was born on 20 March 1991 and I was born on 13 March 1962).

The secret is that both our children were due on 13 March, my birthday, but the gynecologist decided to delay their arrivals.

Leadership and Bible

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(Based on Chapter 10 of the Gospel According to St John)
During our summer vacations while in school, we used to attend Vacation Bible School for 10 days. Every year the theme would be on one of the parables Jesus spoke. The theme for the summer after my Grade 6 was the ‘Good Shepherd’ parable as described in Chapter 10 of the Gospel According to St John.

At that young age of eleven, the parable had a great impact and over the years I must have read it umpteen times and every time I read it, I interpreted it differently. The variations in my interpretations were caused by the varied experience one had serving the Army and the difficult situations one faced. I can now confidently say that the interpretations ‘matured’ with each passing day and with the experiences I gained.

The entire interpretations given below are solely personal and have no theological or religious connotations. I have selected verses 1 to 5 and 11 to 14 and have purposely omitted verses 6 to 10. I have clubbed a few verses being interconnected.

Verse 1.   Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
Verse 2.   The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

The leader got to face the team he leads from the front. He got to face up to each member of the team and must avoid the tendency to ‘sneak in’ from the side or the back. This applies more in case the team is facing an adverse or difficult situation.

The leader got to be confident and this confidence is the resultant of professional knowledge and integrity. Any leader with good intentions will always be accepted and such leaders would always enter from the main door.

Verse 3.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

The team has to understand the voice of the leader and there by the leader’s intentions. The team will understand these only in case the leader is willing to communicate effectively with his team members.

Further, one has to know each member of the team and in case you know them well, you will always call them by their names. That could be the reason why in the armed forces everyone wears a name-tag. Earlier the Indian Railway staff and the State Transport staff used to wear their name-tags. In Canada, anyone who comes in personal contact with the customers is always seen wearing their name-tags. Who does not want to be addressed by their names than the “shoo – shooo” one often uses in the Indian Restaurants and public offices.

Leading from the front is the most important aspect of leadership. No one likes back-seat driving, even if the back-seat driver is the spouse or children.

Verse 4.   When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

The necessity for the leader to take the entire team together and lead them from the front is the essence of this verse. Here again the importance of the team knowing the leader is stressed.

Verse 5.   But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

In case the leader fails to communicate well with his team and make his intentions clear, will become a stranger. The team would never accept a stranger and would never be confident to follow a stranger.

Verse 11.   I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Verse 12.   The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
Verse 13.   The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

The above three verses apply in literal sense to military leadership, where the call of duty takes one into life and death situations. This also applies to all leaders; the only difference could be that one does not have to lay down one’s life, but at times may have to pay for with his status, money etc.

Any leader who works for self-glorification and physical rewards is the hired hand. The famous saying that ‘in case you work you get more work else you get your pay‘ applies here. Such a person does not ‘own’ the team and is bothered more about his self-interest. They would be the first to sacrifice a team member in case something goes wrong. Often heard these ‘hired hands’ saying “I briefed him in detail about the task, but he goofed it up”. They never realise that their voices were not recognised by the team (sheep) as the briefing must have been ineffective or the leader did not know the ability of each team member (sheep) as to what they can deliver.

The hired hands would always vanish from the scene when something goes wrong and will only surface to gobble up all the credit for the effort of the rudderless team to overcome the adverse situation.

Verse 14,   I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

You got to know the team (sheep). You got to know every team member in depth. You got to know the strengths and weaknesses of each. A good leader who knows his team will always project the strengths of his team members while covering up their weaknesses.

Once the leader knows the team, the team would have known the leader. In order to know the team, the leader got communicate, both formally and informally with the team members. Theses communications opens up the personality of the leader and based on it each team members makes an opinion or impression about the leader.

Everyone has to assume leadership sometime or the other; it may be at work, in your class, at home, during family or social events etc. Wishing all the leaders the grace of God to became a “Good Shepherd”.

What Do I Do Now?

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This is the question everyone asks me when I call-up anyone back home in India. When I say I am enjoying my retired life, the immediate reaction has been “You just cannot sit idle and must be up to something”. Hence I decided to pen down all the activities I indulge in throughout the day.

Saying good-bye to the army is very difficult, especially since one has enjoyed the best of times and it’s the Army which has made you what you are this day. One could not have asked for anything better from God and the system – otherwise from being a primary school teacher’s son, I would not have retired as a Colonel. All what I am today is the result of the education of Sainik School, NDA, IMA and various Military Institutions. In sheer physical terms – from a 22 kg nine year old boy to a 78 kg 42 year old – all credit must belong to the Indian Army. So it was a painful good-bye to the arms.

Looking back, thirteen years since I hung my boots, I have no regrets or complaints. God and the Army Headquarters (MS Branch) was always kind to me that I served 10 Yrs in Delhi (even though I had no interest in Delhi); five years on various courses and to top it, had only two years of High-Altitude postings. Again nothing to complain.

The army made me a computer aware man despite being a BA. It made me a leader and a man. I never ended up working in the Army – as I enjoyed every part of it. Thanks to God, all my colleagues, my superiors and mainly to the men who really made feel proud.

The journey out of the uniform had been different to what many of you experienced as I took the evening flight to Canada, the day I handed over command. I jettisoned into a new and unknown world, where my wife and children were waiting for me. As promised, my wife had a nice and big home and a car waiting for me and as she was earning a good salary as a pharmacist, I had no pressures at all. My first step was to amalgamate with the Canadian society.

To my dismay, I found that all my perceptions of the Western world were totally misplaced. No racism, no shunning being a brown skin, and a very friendly lot of people who valued human aspects of life. I spend my first six months learning to speak English the way Canadians do and I found all the people whom I spoke to at the malls or coffee-shops or in the bus, very patient and friendly trying to make out what I was trying to communicate. These communications helped a lot and also corrections from our children – got me into speaking Canadian-English.

After six months, I landed up with a job as a supervisor at a call-center and I enjoyed that too for a two year period – until our children demanded that I be home when they were there – they did not want to live in an empty home.   That’s it, I quit my job – to be a house husband. My wife who was doing a four-day week took to a five-day week as her 10 hours of extra work made up much more than what I earned in my 40 hour week and expenditure came down as I did not have to drive to work anymore.

Having taken over as the house-husband, I felt I was busier than any time before as I woke up first, made tea for all, made breakfast, packed lunch and fresh-fruit-juice and dropped off the children to school and saw-off my wife to work. Then were the chores – washing dishes, laundry, vacuum cleaning the house, walking the dog (a very difficult aspect in Canada- especially in winters), preparing lunch, gardening, grocery and the list goes on. By afternoon, I picked up the children – sometimes in the evening in case they had any after school activities like drama club, environmental club, debating club etc. Then was dropping them off to their extra-curricular activities by 5 PM – for swimming, tennis, golf, music, dance, or voluntary service at the community old-age home. Got everyone back to home by 6 or 7 PM and helped them with their assignments and study and then cooked dinner and we waited for my wife to return to enjoy a family dinner at 9 PM.

Now with both our children moving out of home to stay in Downtown Toronto, pursuing their job and university, my busy schedule came to a near end.  That was when I found time to read more and write more.  I took to photography as a new hobby as I realised I needed quality images for my blogs.  I now get busy only on the weekends when children come home, normally preceded with a text message listing out all the groceries and other stuff they need.

So the life has kept me busy and hence I presume in good health too. I never carried any baggage ever in my life. I never carried a brief-case to office as I never believed in carrying office to home or vice-versa.  I recall a conversation with an NCO who met me while on vacation last year who said that I was the only Commanding Officer he had seen coming to command a unit with four boxes and leaving with only two- Air-Canada only allows two pieces of baggage.

 

Remembrance Day

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Remembrance Day is observed in Canada and most of the Commonwealth nations, (barring some countries like India), on 11 Nov (11/11).  At 11 minutes past 11 o’clock, all the buses and trains will stop, the fire engines will sound their sirens for a minute as a mark of respect to all the fallen soldiers.   Remembrance Day (also known as Red Poppy Day,) is a memorial day observed since the end of World War I to remember the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

It is an irony that in India, we have no national war memorials. India Gate at Delhi was constructed by the British in memory of all the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the First World War. In India, we have days earmarked to remember and pay respects to anyone and everyone, but none to remember our veterans and soldiers who laid down their lives for the safety and honour of its citizens.

In India we remember our soldiers only at the time of war and forget them soon after. Our governments over the time have been unfair to the Armed forces and have brought down the status of the Army Chief after every war fought by the Indian Army – . After the 1947-1948 war, the service chiefs were made junior to the Judges of the Supreme Court. They were made junior to the Cabinet Secretary after the 1962 war and junior to the Attorney-General after the 1965 war. After the 1971 war, they were made junior to the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

The red poppy has become the emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor of the Canadian Army during World War I.   During the war, he was treating injured men – Canadians, British, Indians, French, and .Germans. The poem was written to vent the agony felt by McCrae after he had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain, for his young friend and former student, Lieutenant. Alexis Helmer caused by a bomb.

The Poem is:-

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In the poem McCrae describes about the poppies that bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war. The poem speaks of Flanders fields, but the subject is universal – the fear of the ones who sacrificed their ‘today’ for our ‘tomorrow’, that they will be forgotten, that their death would have been in vain. Remembrance, as symbolized by the Red Poppy, is our eternal answer which belies that fear.

An American teacher, Moina Michael, in November 1918, read McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. She immediately made a personal pledge to keep the faith and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and as an emblem for keeping the faith with all who died.

Two years later in 1920, during a visit to the United States, a French woman, Madame Guerin, learned of the custom. On her return to France, she decided to use handmade Poppies to raise money for the destitute children in war-torn areas of the country.  Following the example of Madame Guerin, The Royal Canadian Legion officially adopted the Poppy as its Flower of Remembrance.

Thanks to the millions of Canadians who wear the Legion’s lapel Poppy each November, in memory of thousands of their countrymen who died in battles (except many who emigrated from the Indian sub-continent). During the Remembrance week, all the flags fly at half-mast; all the buses have “Lest We Forget” signboards, most of the shops, restaurants and malls display banners and posters to honour the soldiers and veterans.

On the Sunday of the Remembrance Week I attended the Holy Mass at the Canadian Catholic Church and the Orthodox Syrian Christian Church.  In the Catholic Church anyone and everyone including the clergy, all were wearing the Red Poppy, whereas in the Syrian Christian Church none were wearing.  You all can guess the reasons.

Mississauga, the city we reside, a notification at the Municipal Transport (MiWay) on Remembrance Day read as follows “The City of Mississauga’s MiWay Transit is offering free service for Canadian Forces veterans and a companion on Remembrance Day, Friday, November 11. To obtain a free ride on Remembrance Day veterans must wear their uniforms, medals or other items that clearly identify them as veterans to our transit operators. Veterans are respectfully asked to identify their companion to the transit operator so that he or she may also ride free. All MiWay buses will observe a minute of silence at 11 a.m. on November 11 to recognize the sacrifice made by our veterans. Transit operators will stop their buses during this tribute.”

One always passes by the veterans and cadets selling the Red Poppy in the malls, bus terminals, subway/railway stations, during the Remembrance Week.   The money collected is used for veterans’ welfare by the government. The public support for the event is always overwhelming where ever they have Remembrance Day ceremonies. People turn up in large numbers. The media support is also tremendous. All news presenters, anchors, all wear the Red Poppy for the entire week. Have you seen any Indian news presenters or any media person ever wearing the Flag on the Flag Day (Indian equivalent of Red Poppy Day)?

Canadian Prime Minister and the entire cabinet, would appear on any media, wearing the Red Poppy. In India, on the Flag Day, children pin the flags on our President and the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, and for the next event you see them without the flags on their chests.

So, next time you see someone selling the Red Poppies or Flags, please pause and buy one and pin it with pride on your chest, to pay respect to those fallen soldiers all over the world who ensured your honour and safety and made sure that you live a life full of dignity.

 

University Vs College

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In North America, the Universities offer you graduation/ post graduation programmes; whereas colleges offer you diplomas. In order to attract many Indian students, the names of these diplomas are really impressive, but their value in some cases may not even be worth the paper on which the diploma certificate is printed.

Do not Get Carried Away by the Agents.         Most sensible advice, but least taken by any one immigrating to North America. The agents operating in India are there to make money and will promise you the moon. Please do not be carried away by their guarantees for a sure shot job – Trump or Trudeau cannot guarantee it – so how can an agent in India.

First Year – Use it to Settle Down and Learn to Communicate.     Indian students are not familiar with the social, cultural and education system of North America. Use the first year to settle down and learn to live and talk the way the locals do. “When in Rome, do what Romans do”. Second year onward, you can take up part time work.

Sufficient Funds.    To avoid working in the first year and to amalgamate with the society, $35,000 for the first year is recommended. This includes $15,000 for the tuition fee and the rest for living expenses.

Equip Well.   Get your entire wardrobe based on the fashions prevalent in North America. In case you wear clothes the Indian way, you may get branded as a Fresh Off the Boat (FOB). Make sure that you develop the habit of using perfumes and deodorants – your body odour is much worse than what you perceive it to be. Heard many complaining that the person sitting next to them walked away – its not because of any racial bias, but because of your body odour.

English is not Your Mother Tongue.     Many (including I), prior to immigration presumed that one’s standard of English is pretty high and one had a very impressive communication technique. In North America, written and spoken English has its own format and methodology. Letter writing follows a different format (refer to it on internet).

Communication Skills.      Written and oral communication skills are given lot of importance in the high school curriculum, compared to that of India. Most of the subjects are taught with application aspects in mind and is not ‘cramming’. An Indian student needs to compete with the local students (majority are much smarter than what you think you are). To make a test, write a letter to the editor or a small column or a snippet and try and get it published in any newspaper or magazine. In case you fail to do it, your written English needs improvement. Try your hand at a PowerPoint presentation for five minutes and see how much you can impress your friends. The course you are going to undertake will involve a lot of written and oral presentations.

Be Punctual.            You got to be on time for the class, for your submissions etc; otherwise you are sure to lose marks. Ensure on-time submission, even if the work may be incomplete and may not be of the standard you wished – this will fetch you some marks than getting none. Students here are trained in this aspect from high school.

Be Prepared for the Classes.      Unlike in India, the first class does not begin with introduction, but with the first chapter. Prepare and research based on the training programme given.

Master Statistics. MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel.In case one can master these, you will have a smoother learning. Improve your keyboarding skills.

Take all Tests.         If the university wants foreign applicants to demonstrate proficiency in English language by taking some test, such as TOEFL, comply with the conditions. Some universities may ask for GRE, GMAT, or LSAT tests. Ensure that you qualify in them prior to leaving India – its going to be pretty expensive in both time and money. These tests are an excellent opportunity for students to get a taste of the foreign universities. By demonstrating proficiency in these tests applicants can have their candidacy established more firmly because the university will have more confidence in your abilities after learning about your good scores in these tests.

Getting Documentation Done.    Get all documentations done prior to leaving India (else you will lose time and money). Most admission committees have not heard of the university from where you have graduated. Even if one is the top student in one’s graduating class, the admission committees have no way of finding an equivalence of your performance. Most universities want the university from where you studied to send them the transcripts of your marks and sometimes the syllabus followed. You can imagine how difficult this can be (I had a tough time getting my wife’s transcripts sent).

Remember, Bachelors is 16 years of Education.      In North America, Europe, and Australia, a Bachelors degree is awarded after 16-years of formal education. You may be better off completing a post-graduate degree in India (16 years of formal education) before applying for a graduate degree abroad.

Know the Deadlines.         Most graduate programs abroad begin in September. Often admission deadlines for foreign students are in March or April. Applicants should ensure that complete applications with reference letters, transcripts, and other supporting materials reach the university well before the deadline. Applying sooner always increases one’s chances for admissions.

Search for the University that wants You.       While you as an aspiring student are nervously applying to universities abroad, administrators at many universities are also nervously waiting for applications to arrive. Remember not every department in every foreign university is fortunate to have thousands of applications. Sometimes some departments in very well-known universities are struggling to attract graduate students and hence are keen to greet all applicants with interest. The challenge for the applicant is to try to determine what departments or universities are eager to have additional students. Avoid applying to Ivy League universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, and other similar universities, which attract applications from the top talent in not just the United States, but from all over the world. There is no shortage of decent, not necessarily top-quality, universities in the Western world. In the United States alone there are roughly 5,500 universities or institutes of higher learning where approximately 14 million students are currently enrolled. As a smart aspiring student, you should be able to use the Internet effectively to develop a list of second-tier universities that offer specializations in your interest. From that list of prospects, you should initiate a dialogue with admission officers to determine information about acceptance rates. If the department of your interest accepts only 5% of the applicants, you may want to expand your search to other institutions where your odds have to be much higher than mere 5%.

Know who to Contact at the University.          Never send the same letter of interest to every professor in the same department. If you send an email to every listed faculty member on the department’s website expressing your keenness to join their research team, you are most likely not to get a response at all. You should do research to determine who is the right person to receive your inquiry instead of sending mass emails.

Wishing all the aspirants of a North American Degree all the best.

ALCOHOL KERALA

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Every year after the Onam, the media in Kerala comes up with an area-wise score card – not of marks scored in exams by the students but is of the money raked in by the Beverages Corporation.   Kerala has overtaken traditionally hard-drinking states like Punjab and Haryana and we boast of the highest per capita consumption in India – over eight litres per person a year. Also, in a strange twist of taste, brandy is the preferred drink in Kerala in a country where brandy outsells every other liquor.   This comes from a stupid notion that the doctors prescribe brandy and is good for health. May be in little quantity it may help you, but not in the volumes Malayalees drink.

A Malayalee, whether in Canada or back home, on hearing that I retired from the Indian Army, is more interested to know about the “quota” (of liquor) I get, rather than appreciating me for the two decades I served the nation in the most inhospitable terrains and in the most risky situations.

The judgements by various courts and the closure of many bars by the state government has added to the chaos in Kerala.  It got further complicated with many an allegations of bribes and scandals associated with various political leaders of the state.

This has again proved that the legislature and executive never rise to the occasion to ensure that necessary laws are passed and are implemented.   Will the public cooperate with the government to ensure that alcoholism does not become a menace, not that it already has become a menace?

Let us study a few alcohol related cases and laws as applied in Canada.

  • In the case of Lum v. McLintock (1997 B.C. Supreme Court), a patron spent an afternoon at the bar of a golf club where he was a regular customer. He became very intoxicated. The server knew the patron, knew that he was driving, knew that he was intoxicated and even walked him out to his car. The patron drove off and hit a cyclist causing serious injuries. The conduct of the server was found to have been exceptionally negligent and the licensee was apportioned 30% of the blame (with the 60% to the patron and 10% to the plaintiff cyclist).
  • In the case of Francescucci v. Gilker (1996, Ontario Court of Appeal), a patron had become extremely intoxicated at a restaurant. Staff members picked him up, carried him out to his car, put him in it, and threw the keys on his lap. He drove away a short while later and injured someone in an accident. At trial, the jury apportioned 78% of the blame to the restaurant and 22% to the patron. The Court found that the restaurants conduct was deliberate and reckless.

The lesson to take from these cases is that the poorer the job a licensee does of living up to its duty to prevent harm resulting from over-service, the greater the percentage of fault that will be assigned to the licensee in the event someone is injured.

In Ontario, the province I reside, it’s a law that If you plan to work in the industry as a Bartender, Server, Manager, you must be certified by law and undergo a training program designed to educate servers, bartenders, managers and other staff members as to what their responsibilities and obligations are under the law, as well as recognize the signs of intoxication and implement intervention strategies for aggressive customers..

Most people know that it’s not wise to serve alcohol to someone who is obviously drunk. But many aren’t aware that they may be sued and held liable. Even at parties at your home and if you serve alcohol, its imperative of you to ensure that your guests who had alcohol beyond the permissible limit are seen off in a cab or the designated driver has had no alcohol. Never permit your guest to carry their drinks off for the road.

The laws regarding conveying liquor in vehicle is that no person shall drive or have the care or control of a motor vehicle, whether it is in motion or not, if it is carrying any liquor that is readily available to any person in the vehicle, even if the liquor  is packed in baggage that is fastened closed or otherwise.

It’s a proven fact that more North-Americans have died as a result of accidents caused by drunk drivers than in the First World War, Second World War, Korean War and Vietnam War combined. The case in Kerala or in India can’t be any different.

Though the Kerala government is committed to introduce prohibition in the state step by step, the liquor industry says the step would make their business nonviable, the tourism industry feels that it will drive away tourists from the state.

The government is also concerned about its loss of revenue. Liquor is contributing a major share of its tax revenue as the government has been increasing the tax on the booze as part of its policy to curb the consumption. Alcohol helps in giving Kerala’s economy a good high – shockingly, more than 40% of revenues for its annual budget come from booze.

Toddy, the traditional beverage of Malayali that even played a role in promoting tourism in Alappuzha district, has of late courted trouble. The Kerala High Court wondered why the state should not ban it, considering the complaints regarding it being mixed with intoxicants. While no one can dispute the intention behind the ruling, can a ban on toddy really halt the rising alcoholism among people in the state?

Considering this, it is absurd to expect a ban on toddy to make any significant impact on the drinking habits of Keralites, say those fighting to save the traditional occupation of the toddy tappers. It is not the tapper who adds illicit spirit to the toddy, but the contractor who operates hand in glove with the excise department.

The Kerala Agricultural University has developed a technology to extract non-alcoholic ‘Neera’ from coconut trees. The coconut inflorescence sap in its purest form is not alcoholic and contains several ingredients that are good for health, but as it quickly ferments and turns alcohol.  The method is to arrest the fermentation using organic methods. Tapping Neera could also fetch farmer bigger returns than toddy and a farmer can earn up to Rs 1500 in place of Rs 250 for every coconut tree used for toddy tapping.

The religions unknowingly also plays a part in this chaos. The gospel readings in church masses of how Jesus converted water to wine are given as a justification for many like me to consume alcohol. May be, it was the first miracle of Jesus as recorded in the Bible; it may be worthwhile to remove it from the gospel reading. The Hindu mythology speaks of “Som Ras” believed to have been created Lord Brahma. May be that Islam bans use of alcohol.

Recent Malayalam movies have shown the super-star heroes drinking on any occasion – sad, happy or otherwise and then they come out with a statutory warning about the dangers of alcohol. In comparison, I have hardly seen an English movie depicting the hero in an intoxicated state.

Strict enforcement and stricter punishments are only the way out. Unlike in North America, where many are afraid to take on to the wheel after a drink, mainly because of the fear of a police ticket, the fines and likely suspension of license. Life without a driving license is the most difficult for the North American barring the people who live in the metros. Further, the moment you get charged, the vehicle insurance premiums shoot up, where as in India, it remains the same even in case you are held liable for a death on the roads caused due to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Body Odour

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An Indian Army colleague had opined that the Westerner may sound helpful when brown skin is alone in open, but they detest even one occupying a table next to them in a posh hotel and socially too. well placed whites do not prefer a brownie at their residences; probably that is how we get the taste of Indian caste system universally. Another friend found no one occupying the vacant seat next to him in the bus and the Westerners were standing and traveling. It was not that every one in the bus was racial, may be a few were.

Many of us fail to realise that it is our body odour that drives the Westerners away – an idea many Indian friends would never accept. Many call me a half-white for this or ‘whitewashed’. You need to call a spade a spade. In case one takes it in a positive spirit, then read on.

It would be totally incorrect to say that all Indians emanate a bad body odour.   In case anyone has a body odour, then the reasons could be as given below. If you are travelling abroad or meeting with foreigners, it would be prudent to take some actions as given in the tips below, even if you feel that you do not have any body odour.

  •     Biological Reasons.   India is a very hot country. Due to its hot climate, Indian people have been biologically evolved to have more densely concentrated sweat glands. This allowed them to sweat more in order to cool down their body temperature in the midst of very hot weather. In addition, many Indians also have longer body hair, which helped to retain the sweat to help cool down their body. Typically, sweats do not have any smell. They produces odour only upon reaction with bacteria growing on the body. Essentially, the body odour is the smell of the bacteria growing on a body and the bacteria multiplies rapidly in the presence of sweat. Due to more densely concentrated sweat glands as compared to other people, Indians have a higher tendency to produce more densely concentrated sweats, which in turn causes the reaction with bacteria to increase. This increase in multiplication of bacteria causes Indians to have a higher tendency to produce a particular body odour.
  • Hygiene Reasons.   Compared to developed nations, India generally has a poorer standard of hygiene and practice. This caused bacteria to populate and multiply easily around and to grow easily in the body of many Indians. Thus, the tendency for bacteria to react with sweat increases causing many Indians to produce a particular body odour.
  •    Diet Reasons.   Many Indians eat curry, many other spices, onions, salted fish etc as part of their regular diet practice. These diet practice can influence the sweat samples and its reaction with bacteria, causing the body to radiate the odour.

Home Cures and Suggestions

  •  Maintain high levels of personal hygiene, to have baths more frequently using a scrubber and anti-bacterial soap to clean the skin.
  • Dry yourself well after baths and use antibacterial and anti-fungal powder.
  • Wearing clean clothes and making sure they are washed well to get rid of the odour. Never repeat unwashed clothes.
  • Use deodorants and antiperspirants but they may cause skin irritation

A blind spot for smells.   Strange as it may seem, many people with bad body odour are unaware that they smell. Scientific research has shown that some people cannot detect certain molecules. Their nostrils may be able to register the smell of garlic or curry, but not the smell emanating from their armpits.

How to reduce body odour?

  • Wash with soap daily, particularly your armpits, groin and feet where there are many sweat producing glands. Washing removes sweat and reduces the numbers of bacteria that act upon it.
  • Some people have more sweat and oil producing glands than others. If you sweat a lot, you may need to shower two or three times a day.
  • The use of antiperspirants and deodorants should be routine. It’s worth trying a few because they have different active ingredients, and you’ll find some work better than others.
  • Deodorants work by masking the smell of sweat with fragrance, while antiperspirants reduce the amount of sweat your body produces. Roll-ons tend to be more effective for heavy sweating.
  • Another useful trick is to shave your armpits. Armpit hair provides a greater surface area for sweat to adhere to and gives the bacteria a fertile breeding ground.
  • It is also essential to wash clothes thoroughly, particularly clothing that comes into contact with sweaty areas such as socks, underwear and shirts.
  • Never wear previous day’s clothes. However clean your body is, the clothes will retain the smell of yesterday’s sweat.
  • Ensure that your clothes are stored well in a closet and will not adsorb the smell of masala from the kitchen.
  • Ensure that you have a separate set of clothing to be worn while cooking. Never wear these clothes outside.

How to deal with an employee or friend with body odour.   An employee of Indian origin, who recently migrated, joined my wife’s work place and he had a severe body odour and the other staff embers (many of Indian origin) could not stand the smell. The tips I gave her to deal with the situation are:

  • The best approach is to think about how you’d want it handled it if it were you and have a short, to-the-point conversation with each of them (separately), likely at the end of the day so they don’t need to sit there feeling self-conscious for hours afterward.
  • Be honest, direct, and as kind as possible. You can even admit that you’re nervous about bringing it up. Start by mentioning that their work has been good and then say something like, “I want to discuss something that’s awkward, and I hope I don’t offend you. You’ve had a noticeable body odour lately. It might be a need to use a deodorant or an antiperspirant or a perfume . This is the kind of thing that people often don’t realize about themselves, so I wanted to bring it to your attention.”
  • Likely, the employee will be embarrassed. But he is combative, explain that he needs to come to work clean because of the impact on the pharmacy. You might also suggest a visit to a doctor to find out if there might be a medical reason.
  • Be direct, be straight, be as concise as you can without sounding like a bastard. Most people try to add as much verbal padding as possible when they are trying to tell someone something that’s bad news, embarrassing, etc. Just cut to the chase and get to the point, make the moment only as long as it needs to be.

Importance of Music in School Curriculum

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On the social media there was a post with a video of a school band performing during the interval of a basketball match. The caption said “When will we have such performances from our school bands in India”. It took my memories back to school days when we thought that music was not our cup of tea and joining the school band was a sheer waste of time as it did not provide any extra marks and did cut into one’s free time.  Mr Gudu Saheb, our Band Master tried his level best to teach me the notes of music, but they all looked to me like a few designs all coming to eat me up.  That was it, I gave up not to even look back at it.  Having realised my school folly as one grew up; it was too late to learn music at that belated stage.   Now the only option available was to ensure that our children learned music at their young age.

Why the school bands in India do not have such good standards and such good performances when compared to those in North America? The main reason could be attributed to our notion that it does not bring in marks. In North American schools, band or music is part of the curriculum and it brings marks with it.

As band/music is part of the North American school curriculum, the music teachers are graduates in music and some are post-graduates. Our son’s music teacher in Grade 10 was a post graduate in English and music and that year he taught Nikhil both the subjects. During a meeting with him I asked him as to how he got into the two.  He said music was his passion and English was his interest and hence studied both. In India, the band is trained by an ex-bandmaster from the Army or from the police and has no formal qualification in music. The qualification of music teachers back home leaves a lot desired, even though plenty of talent with graduate and post-graduate qualifications in music are available. Music does not form part of the School Board Exams and is limited to performances in Youth Festivals in most schools in India. The reality TV competitions have encouraged parents to impart music training to their children.

Unlike in North America, where the time spent for rehearsing and performing a band routine is counted towards community service hours required for graduation, in India no such advantages is accrued by the children. The most they get for a performance in India may be a T-shirt or a meal.

Music helps to bring out the best in young people. It nourishes self-esteem and keeps them engaged. Promoting music in schools provides students with interests that take up considerable time and energy outside the academic activities. Students become involved in extracurricular activities and by being busy with music-related activities helps to keep students away from getting involved in the kinds of negative activities that lead to serious problems, such as drugs and alcohol.

Musical training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention, and even the ability to convey emotions vocally. Children who have had music lessons tend to have a larger vocabulary and better reading ability than those who haven’t had any musical training.

Music education helps in a child’s overall development intellectually, socially and emotionally. Music offers creative challenges and aesthetic appreciation as well as self-expression and self-discovery opportunities.   Music education fosters emotional maturity, as students learn to set and achieve personal goals. Time management, self-assessment, the ability to accept criticism and performance skills are all important attributes students learn through music education.

Music education plays a big part leading to personal development, such as self-discipline, dedication, teamwork, self-confidence and practice. All these values and the behaviours that demonstrate them are necessary to be a well-rounded person in all realms of life. Although these values are taught through other disciplines in various ways, the importance of learning them through music education in schools is that they translate into other disciplines so naturally. Students who enjoy music can easily transfer the habits learned to pursue their music to academic subjects.

Scientists have also discovered that learning to read music or play a musical instrument develops higher thinking skills. This means that children who learn music in schools are better problem-solvers and are better at analysis and overall critical thinking, because studying or playing music uses the same part of the brain that is used in mathematical thinking.  Music education can help promote better math students.

The importance of music in schools is that it fosters the kind of discipline that contributes to the development of personality traits and characteristics that bring one success in all of life’s endeavors. Music education helps develop overall intelligence, which translates to success in academic subjects in school. Music education also opens doors socially and culturally.  All these factors lead to success in life.

HORN PLEASE

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A few weeks back, I rented a chain-saw from the store to cut a tree. Along with the chain-saw came the ear protection mufflers. On inquiry with the store man, he said that it was mandatory that the ear mufflers be issued with the equipment whose noise levels were higher than the prescribed limit, but it is up to the user to use it or not. My mind raced back to my young officer days in the Indian Army. It was considered not manly enough to wear the ear plugs while firing the heavy caliber guns. As usual, after every firing practice session, one heard a thousand bees buzzing in the ears for the next few days. We all got used to this sound as we got used to the firing, without realising that we were getting into a world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss. The effects of it still continue and I have a hard time listening to whispers or low noises.

Recently I called up an old friend in India and he must have been on the road, I could make out from the ear piercing horn sounds of horns of the vehicles coming through my ears. A sound I missed for the good.

While driving our SUV, this SUV has been with us for the past seven years, our 14 year old son wanted to know where the horn was and how it sounded. I tried to blow the horn and pressed very hard in the middle of the steering wheel and nothing was heard. On reaching home, I pressed real hard applying all the force my body could place and the horn made a feeble noise, when compared to the screeching noises I heard over the phone. I now realised that I had never used the horn in my seven years of Canadian driving and may be that the springs in the center of the steering wheel might have been jammed.

My mind went back to an article which appeared a few years ago in a newspaper here by an old man who had been to Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, as a medical tourist for a knee replacement surgery. He describes his taxi ride from the airport to the hospital, a 20 km drive which took an hour, with the driver honking twice as many times as what he had done in fifty years of driving in Canada.

Out here in North America, honking is considered indecent. It is done to alert some erring driver who has done some action that might have lead to an accident and you really want to abuse him with all your might. Else its only to attract the other driver’s attention to some thing serious like a not fully closed car door, deflated tyre etc which may lead to a fatality.

While driving in India, one always honked, required on not, or may be that was the only way to get ahead in the confusion that existed on our roads. For some it was a practice set out by the driving instructors in driving schools.

Can you for once imagine the noise pollution being created by the honking of the horn? May be its pretty irritating for me here as I have not been used to hearing this high pitched noise out here.

The rules that lay down the pitch, tone and volume of the horns may be same in India keeping with the world standards, as most car manufacturers provide you with a ‘weak’ horn and the noisy ones are add-ons.   May be in India to drive, the shrillness and volume of the horn may depict the size of your vehicle. That’s why the trucks have their horns sounding like an elephant trumpet.

Air-horns even though illegal is fitted on most of the buses and trucks in India. These shrill horns posed a direct threat to road safety as they embolden drivers to drive more rashly and negligently. Road rage incidents go up as it gives drivers a false self-confidence as they believe they can shove through the traffic and scare away pedestrians. Many bus and truck drivers use it as an effective tool to clear the road.

World Health Organisation in its report has stated that prolonged or excessive exposure to noise, whether in the community or at work, can cause serious permanent medical conditions like hypertension and ischemic heart disease. Noise can adversely affect performance, for instance reading, attentiveness, problem solving and memory. Use of air horn may cause severe physiological and psychological impacts on the pedestrians: Deafness is the last stop of noise and can damage the eardrum.

The Indian Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 specifies that all vehicles can be fitted with an electric horn or other devices, specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards for use by the driver of the vehicle and capable of giving audible and sufficient warning of the approach or position of the vehicle. The rules further specifies that no motor vehicle shall be fitted with any multi-toned horn or with any other sound-producing device giving an unduly harsh, shrill, loud or alarming noise except ambulance or fire-fighting or police vehicles. These rules are often broken and the police merely hear these shrill horns, many not realising the damage it has done to them, that they are welcome into my world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

May be that we in India are pretty used to this honking and it may be very difficult to drive on the roads, shared by hawkers, cycles, animals, pedestrians etc with all the potholes and with the density of traffic, without honking. At least you can try and limit the number of honks.

If everyone can reduce one honk a day, may be we will achieve less noise pollution on our roads in India.

Paying Homage to A Fallen Soldier

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During the Democratic National convention for the US Presidential Election of 2012, Elaine Brye, a “Military Mom” introduced the American First Lady Michelle Obama. Elaine is a “Military Mom” as of her five kids, one each is serving in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines.. Will this ever happen in India in the near future? Many a times the President of India remains seated while the widow/parent of a posthumous recipient of Paravam Vir Chakra is standing while her husband’s/ son’s citation is read prior to presenting the award,   No secret that America is the world leader.

A few years back, after an attack on NATO troops in Afghanistan, all the national flags in Canada and US were observed flying at half-mast, paying respect to the fallen soldiers. There were announcements on the media to fly the flags at half-mast and all citizens did it out of sheer respect for that unknown fallen soldier.

Some may claim that death is part of the job in the armed forces and there is no need to go into mourning every time for a fallen soldier. Please remember what French Nobel laureate Albert Camus said “Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood: never”.The least we can all do is to pay our respect to the fallen soldier and what better way than flying our Tri-Colour at half-mast. It does not cost anything, but surely enhance our national esteem and pride.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, the General who lead the Indian Army during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict, and a hero of the young of that time, died at Ootty in June 2008. Only the Minister of State for Defence represented the Central Government at the funeral. The reason given – Field Marshal being a new appointment created after 1971 war – did not find a place in the warrant of precedence. While Manekshaw was in the hospital in Apr 2007, the Defence Secretary handed him over a cheque of Rs11.6 million in back wages from the time he assumed the rank of Field Marshal in 1973. Even though on his death bed, Manekshaw in his usual humorous way asked the Defence Secretary whether he would have to pay taxes on this. Manekshaw being a true soldier, never made any claims to his unpaid salaries and never came on the media to make it into any issue. What a shame – this can happen only in India.

One always wondered as to why we did not see the Tri-colour on Indian streets, atop homes, in the shopping malls etc like the Red Maple Leaf flag in Canada or the Stars and Stripes in the US. Our constitution was amended to cater for flying of the National Tri-Colour by one and all – (Courtesy Sushmita Sen and Sachin Tendulkar and Naveen Jundal). Have you ever seen the Indian Tri-Color fluttering in the schools, government offices, or at homes in India? Its pertinent to point out that the Indian Army units and Indian Naval Ships always fly the Tri-Colour, all Indian Air Force aircrafts have the Tri-Colour painted on them. It is sad to note that our national carrier has the Tri-Color painted very insignificantly, compared to the logo. If we do not fly the Tri-Colour, then there is no need to fly it at half mast for the fallen soldier.

May be the Common Man is still not aware of this aspect of flying the Tri-Colour, may be schools are not educating the students about the importance of flying the Tri-Colour, may be that out text books have not been amended. The reasons may be many, but the solution is simple – educate the common man, make him aware and teach him to develop national pride.

Recently I attended a Dolphin show at Los Angeles, and behold, the show begun by paying homage to all NATO fallen soldiers. Further they made all serving soldiers and veterans and their family members to rise in their stands, so that the crowds could pay their respects. The crowd spontaneously rose on their feet with a loud applause.

Why can’t we have such acts? I am sure that the Indian common man is much more patriotic and emotionally charged towards any national issues than anyone around the world. This aspect has been demonstrated time and again by the common man– during any aggression on our borders, national calamities and during the cricket matches.

Someone needs to tap this potential of the common man. Who else other than the visual, audio and print media who can do a better job? Even if ten percent of media time and newsprint wasted to discuss the issue of the political murders could have been used to highlight the sacrifices of our soldiers; we would have achieved wonders.

Nowadays many veterans are carrying out presentations, shows and talks across the country – from corporate boardrooms to educational institutions. It’s high time at least the veterans begin by paying respect to our fallen heroes and soldiers, like the presenter at the Los Angeles Dolphin show. May be for all you know, this presenter may also be a US veteran.

The cinema industry has contributed enormously towards educating the masses about various national, social and political issues. Some movies did justice in bringing forth the sacrifices and services rendered by our soldiers.

I conclude with the patriotic song from the movie Hakeekat करचलेहमफ़िदाजान-ओ-तनसाथियों,अबतुम्हारेहवालेवतनसाथियों (Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan sathiyon, ab tumhare hawale watan sathiyon) (Thus did we set off friends, having sacrificed life & limb, The freedom now, of this land, Is but within your hands).

Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo (Oh Dear, Please Go Slow)

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Our Regiment in November 2002 moved to Devlali from our operational location (I assumed command in the operational location).  After the Regiment settled down, as was customary, our Second-in-Command (2IC) requested me to take a round of the Regiment.  We started with the office complex and headed straight of the Administrative Branch office.  On the entrance, as with the case of the Regiment I had served earlier, the sign read “Out of Bounds for All Ranks”.  I refused to enter the office as the Commanding Officer (CO) also was part of all ranks.  I ordered the sign to be removed with the reason that the Administrative office is to ensure proper administration of all ranks and everyone has the right to visit and the right to entry.  After visiting the other Regimental institutions, we came back to the office complex and by then the sign at the entrance had vanished.

On entering the office, there were about six clerks seated and a few Olive Green coloured cupboards placed there to hold documents.  As usual, like most cupboards in all the army units, the front of the cupboard had a white cross with the stenciling on the top that read “Remove First in Case of Fire”.  My query to the head clerk was as to which one I should remove first, as all the six cupboards had the same stenciling.  The white cross mark indicates that the cupboard held Secret documents, where as all Secret documents are in the custody of the CO.  All cupboards were ordered to be painted olive green, obliterating all the markings.

That was when I realised that I had developed a penchant dislike for all the clerks.  The mere sight of them put me off.  I tried to reason out with all logic and compassion and tried to look deep in me for the development of such hatred.

It all begun as a Second Lieutenant (2Lt) when I joined our Regiment, our senior officers advised me to handle the clerks with a ‘kid-glove‘.  I could not fathom the reason as I thought everyone in the Regiment was a soldier first and then a clerk or a gunner or a radio operator.  It could have been because in those days, most officers like me were handicapped in that one had to depend on the clerks to produce any document type written on the Remington typewriters.  When any junior officer approached the clerks for assistance they always came out with the same excuse – The Battery Commander (BC) or CO had given him an urgent task and hence one had to wait.

As the years passed by, I realised that the clerks were mostly the root cause of all the rumours that went around the Regiment discrediting the officers.  Some even claimed that they were better qualified than their CO or BC as they were Masters (some even claimed they were double Masters [MAMA]) where as the officers were graduates.  Once I told off a clerk that in case he was worth even half the value of the paper on which his degrees were printed, he would not have joined the Army as a clerk.  They were always a hindrance in communication between officers and soldiers and some even charged commission for the work they did for the soldiers.

Once as a BC – a Major in 1995, I had produced a Court of Inquiry (C of I) printed on the computer.  The CO was not impressed with it as I had not submitted a manuscript copy.  He called me to ask as to why I did not submit a manuscript copy as the C of I had to be in writing.  I reasoned out with him using the definition of writing as per Indian laws which said making of any mark or impression is to be considered as writing.  I further explained to him that in High Court and Supreme Court, the evidence is always type written by the steno as dictated by the judge.  In this case I had typed it and all pages have been initialed by all members of the court and the witness whose statement had been recorded.  Not being impressed by my justifications, the CO summoned the Head Clerk who ruled that in case all the pages were initialed, there was no need for a manuscript.

The CO then asked me as to why the witnesses were not duly warned prior to making the statement.   I said as C of I is not an evidence, there is no need to warn as in the case of recording Summary of Evidence.  That was when I remembered the case when a C of I was instituted to ascertain the circumstances under which I beat up a senior police official in Delhi when I was a 2Lt.  I refused to be warned and as usual, the Presiding Officer of the C of I summoned his Head Clerk and I was really impressed by his ruling that officers are not warned and the warning applies to Other  Ranks only.

This ‘Blind Belief’ in the head-clerk and not trusting an officer upset me on both the occasions.  Had the superior officers consulted the Head Clerk in my absence, I would not have felt so bad and it would not have scarred my mind.

On taking over the Regiment , I ordered the curtailment of the practice of addressing clerks as “Babu Ji”.  The same applied to “Pundit ji”.  Luckily we did not have a “Master Ji”.  This could be carry forward of addressing them from the uneducated belt of India.  In Kerala, babu is addressed as ‘Gumasthan‘, pundit as ‘Poojari‘ and master as ‘Aashan’.  I ordered that the suffix of ‘Ji‘ for all these VIPs be done away with.

After the Regiment reached Devlali, due to the heavy commitment being a cooperating units of School of Artillery, we were always short of manpower.  I ordered that all clerks will assemble with the Regiment at 7 AM and in case of any shortfall of manpower, the Regimental Havildar Major (RHM) could utilise the clerks, as the CO never gave then any tasks and they were all soldiers of the same status – Group Y.  The RHM employed them for everything from assisting the chef in the kitchen to assisting the radar detachments at the field firing ranges.

The RHM was the happiest as once he said that earlier when he went to the office, no clerk was ever respectful to  him.  Even a recruit clerk would show him eyes and now he gets a VIP treatment as the clerks are mortally scared that they would be teamed with the telephone line laying party.  The line laying party is the first to set out on any outdoor exercise and the last to come back after reeling in all lines after the exercise.

Fountain Pen

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May be, I am from an old school, wherein the importance of handwriting was stressed as the most essential quality a primary student had to develop.  So we had the writing book, two lined and four lined for Malayalam and English.  I cannot count as to how many times I got castigated by Ms Murphy, our English teacher, for my illegible hand.  In order to develop writing skills in our son, I decided to procure a fountain pen for him.  To my surprise I found none available in the Toronto Area.  Some arts shops carried calligraphy pens, but not the good old fountain pen.  Then I requested my brother to procure half a dozen of them from Kerala and send it with a friend of ours visiting Kerala.

Fountain pens are nowadays used mainly by Urdu and Chinese language writers.  In these languages, calligraphy plays an important role as the strokes and their thickness may alter the meaning of the words.  Then why use a costly fountain pen when 100 pens for $2 deal on disposable ballpoint pens are there in the market and when we are mostly writing in English language?

Many of the people using fountain pens today grew up doing so. Fountain pens used to be on the list of required school supplies. Those writers may simply be accustomed to using fountain pens or enjoy the nostalgic feeling that comes with it. Using a fountain pen may remind people of simpler times, when good handwriting skills were praised, rather than how many words per minute you can type.

A student using a fountain pen may attract comments from his friends like “a grandpa’s times pen”; “why are you using a stone-age tool?” or “Hey, that’s really cool”.  In a sea of laptops, ipads, and tablets, a student using an actual pen, let alone a fountain pen, can be shocking, and on some occasions, very much appreciated.   Our son says that at school he stands out real cool as he is the only one using a fountain pen.

There are also technical advantages of using a fountain pen. The liquid ink flow requires less pressure when writing which reduces cramping and overall discomfort when writing. Fountain pens are great for those with weak wrists or hands, and carpal tunnel. The quality and variety of fountain pens is also very attractive. Fountain pens, if well maintained, can last for decades.

When you write with a pen rather than typing it on a computer, the writings last as there is no “Backspace”  or “Delete” button.  Whatever one wrote remains on paper and can be referred to later, even though one did not like what one wrote at that time.  May be in a different context or situation it may come handy.  Think your creation which you wiped off on a computer screen with the delete button.  At many times, you cannot recover it.

Fountain pens may be more expensive than a pack of ballpoint pens, but they last for a lifetime, making them much more ‘eco-friendly’ than your usual disposable pens. There is also more variety when it comes to fountain pens. They can be tailored to suit the needs of their user. Left-handed options, pen styles, nib sizes, and the vast spectrum of ink colors allow users to customize their pen to fit their unique personal style.  In addition to their unique design, fountain pens offer a larger range of writing styles. Depending on nib, hold, and angle of the pen, writing styles can be altered and changed accordingly.

So why, with all these advantages are people still buying disposable pens? . Fountain pens need careful maintenance in order to prevent leaking and promote long lasting use. Refilling your fountain pen can be messy and tedious.  This task would be a great exercise for children in enhancing their concentration and delicate handling. Taking fountain pens on airplanes can be risky because the air pressure changes at high altitude may cause ink explosions, and unless you like to unintentionally dye your clothes, most people view this as an inconvenience.

Fountain pens will surely improve the handwriting of the person using it, it also make you feel different and your creativity will surely be better than using a ball-point pen or typing out on a computer screen,  Why don’t you try it for once and see the difference.

After the Argentina – Netherlands Semi-Final – FIFA World Cup 2014

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The penalty shoot out decided the finalist after nearly two hours of play and it was past 6 PM here. Our dog Maximus was getting restless as the time for his evening walk had already passed.  I took out a plastic bag, leashed Maximus and off we went on our regular walking trail to the city center.

The city center of Mississauga (Canada) has Celebration Square in front of the City Hall (Office of the Mayor), where many community events like musical shows, yoga classes, aerobics, demonstration of city’s upcoming projects like the light rail etc are held in the summer evenings.  All FIFA World Cup matches are projected on two huge screens on either sides of the stage and being vacation time for schools, many parents and children congregate there to enjoy the matches (stadium effect).  In winter it gets converted into a skating rink.  The Celebration Square is about five minutes walk from our home.

I expected that the crowd would have vanished by the time we reached the Celebration Square as it was fifteen minutes after it was decided that Argentina will meet Germany in the final.  To my surprise I found a gathering of about 250 people of all ages in front of the stage.  The Sergeant from the City’s Paramedics was conducting a lecture cum demonstration on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).  We stood there to watch the proceedings.

There were school kids and adults practicing CPR on manikins (one shared between two or three) provided by the St John’s Ambulance team.  The staff and volunteers from the St John’s Ambulance were assisting the participants to practice CPR on their manikins. There were many little kids who might have had no interest in CPR, gathered around Maximus and started petting him and playing around with him while their parents and siblings practised CPR.

My mind went back to my days as a Team Leader in the call center I worked after landing in Canada.  All team leaders are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid as per the company policy and I also had to attend the class.  I presumed I had some knowledge about it, but after the class I felt ashamed about my shallow knowledge of CPR was (after commanding a unit of the Indian Army) and that I did not know the use of a defibrillator, which are placed at all public places in the city like offices, malls, movie halls, swimming pools, etc.

Our children have undergone training on CPR and First Aid at their schools.  Our son working as a life guard and swimming instructor with the city had to qualify the third level of CPR and First Aid.  My wife Marina, being a Pharmacist also had to qualify in CPR and First Aid.  They have to re-qualify every two years to maintain the validity of their certification.

The final match of any Regimental or Formation level tournament is attended by all ranks, their wives and children.  After the prize distribution we generally have a “High Tea”.  It would be good idea to have a fifteen minute class on such subjects after the game.

Human life is very precious and a very small action or effort can save a life provided you have knowledge of how to administer CPR and First Aid.

Pet Emergency

mxMaintaining a pet in Canada/USA is a serious matter and needs lot of effort and care by the pet owners.  The Municipal laws requires that all dogs and cats owned must be licensed and wearing a tag.  Licensing helps prevent against rabies outbreaks by requiring a certificate of vaccination for all dogs over the age of 4 months.  All the animals must be neutered/spayed prior to licensing in order to ensure population control.  By licensing your dog or cat, Animal Services will make every effort to reunite you with your pet if it gets lost.   There is a normally a limit laid down for the maximum numbers of pets that you can own.

The laws also specify that while on any private or public property, you got to pick up after your pet and the dog must be kept on a leash no more than two metre long and you must be holding onto the leash.   The owner of a dog is liable for a bite on another person or animal.   If your dog is continuously barking or whining and disturbing your neighbours, you can be fined under the Noise Bylaw.

There are many veterinary clinics dotting the city and there is a pet emergency hospital providing services 24 hours.  The Canadian government provides medical cover for all the citizens, but not for your pets and hence every visit to the veterinarian will ease a few hundred dollars.

The veterinary clinics will maintain all health records of the pets and the pharmacy will maintain all the medications dispensed.  To facilitate searching the database for the pet’s record, it is practice to give the pet also a last name, which is your family name.  Hence our dog is named Maximus Koduvath.  In case the pharmacy pulls up records of Koduvaths, the dog’s name will also popup.  Why not? He is also a member of the family.

Once Maximus ingested some poison and had to be taken to the pet emergency hospital.  We called up the hospital and the moment we reached there with Maximus, there were two attendants waiting with a stretcher to roll him in.  They carried out a stomach wash and the entire event made me poorer by $400.

While waiting for Maximus at the hospital, there was an elderly couple also sitting there.  I got into a conversation with them and they told me that their ten year dog had developed some kidney complications and is being operated upon.  I casually asked them about the cost of the procedure and behold – they were expecting anything to the tune of $6000 upwards.

Due to constant pestering by the children for a dog (we got Maximus because of the same), a friend of ours settled the deal with the children for a cat, being less costly and easy to maintain.  It takes much less effort to maintain a cat as unlike a dog, one does not have to take the cat for a walk in the morning and evening (a pretty difficult task during the freezing Canadian winter).  One day a car ran over the cat, and the car driver called the Animal Services and they immediately dispatched a blue-cross ambulance, which picked up the injured cat and moved it to the pet emergency.  The Animal Services called up the owner (based on the information retrieved using the license tag) and informed him about the condition of the animal and the hospital where it was.

The owner rushed to the hospital and he was informed that the cat needed urgent life saving surgery which would cost a minimum of $3000.  The owner thought if it was back home he would have buried the cat by now and would never cost him a penny.  He did not want to part with $3000, that too for a cat.  He wanted a cheaper option and the hospital offered to carryout euthanasia and would cost him $500.  He immediately settled for the second option and made the payment and drove back home.

Say Thank You

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During my visit to India in 2012, I traveled from Thiruanathapuram to Kollam in Kerala on the State Transport bus.  The ticket was for Rs 9 and I handed over a Rs 10 currency note to the conductor.  I requested the conductor to drop me off at a particular stop and when the bus reached my stop, the conductor stopped the bus and nodded me to get off.  I went to the conductor and he put his hand into to his bag, may be to return Re 1 which he owed me.  I said “Thank You” for his service of dropping me off at the correct stop.  The driver gave a flabbergasted look –  Is it that he never expected someone to thank him for a such service?

After landing in Canada, one day I asked our son to make me a cup of coffee, which he did immediately.  He brought it to my table and I took a sip, continuing to read the book I was immersed in.  Our son waited for a few seconds and said “Welcome”.  It really knocked me down.  Then our son said – “What does it cost you to say THANK YOU?”.

I learnt this value from the Canadian society, as they always express their gratitude for any little service or help one does for someone else, even if it may not be from the bottom of one’s heart. Canadians are well known for their courteous behaviour.  Modern Canadian children are usually permitted to be relatively outspoken and independent from a young age.  They may speak to adults, even teachers or parents, in the same casual style they use for friends. The same is mostly true for employer-employee relations, and maintaining a friendly workplace where everyone acts as if they are on the same level.

I for one hardly ever thanked anyone during my days working in India; mainly subordinates for any help they rendered.  I hardly appreciated anyone for any work done by them.  We are very poor at appreciating our children and subordinates – may be thinking that it will spoil them.  It does not cost anything; but may make a day for the person who gets appreciated.  Everyone wants to be appreciated.

When our son graduated from Grade 8 (Middle School, they have a graduation ceremony –  to instill in the students that they are going to High School next and got to be more serious about it and that the fun time is over.  He was the valedictorian and after he gave his valedictory address all the “Canadian” parents stood up and gave a standing ovation and all parents from our sub-continent kept slitting.  We even ration appreciation for a small kid.

This ‘rationing’ approach to appreciation for our children, I feel has come from the society back home.  Recently my wife confessed that she realised how incorrect she was in bringing up our daughter when back home; how she used to castigate our daughter for the 8% marks she lost in her test, rather than appreciating her for the 92% she scored.  This may be the result of my wife’s upbringing back home that one must get 100% in all tests, whether the child has interest in that subject or the child is capable of achieving it.

Many children had to hide their interests in non-academic activities like poem writing, story writing, arts, sports etc because the parents never encouraged any distractions from their academic goals.  Any inclination to a non-academic activity was severely condemned and brutally nipped in the bud.  Had the parents and children followed the academic model in North America, we would have surely produced many a greats in all fields of life.

The major impediment back home is the way the marks of all tests are announced publicly in the class and to make the situation worse, the teachers tend to pass unwarranted comments along with it.  This is further complicated by the boastful parents who would announce to the world as to how their child scored so high marks and what the scores of other children were.  In the Canadian schools, test results are never displayed or announced and are kept confidential.

Attending the Parent-Teacher interviews used to be very scary back home as one would often hear only complaints about our wards and hardly any words of appreciation.  The Parent-Teacher interviews in Canada, one experienced the opposite.  It was more of a celebration of the hard work and achievement of the child and it always begun with “Your son is doing real well …”

The Canadians are stereotyped as being  excessively, or even absurdly polite, even if not entirely warranted.  They never miss an opportunity to appreciate or compliment while Canadians deal with one another.  Mrs Lalita George, wife of Late Colonel Raju George, while on her visit to Niagara, was really taken aback when a girl at a ticket counter appreciated the hand-bag she was carrying.  The girl asked her about he source and when informed that it was from India, she expressed her dream of visiting India after her graduation.

On receiving the progress report of our son, I (may be because of my upbringing back home), enquired from my son as to how others in their class had performed.  He said that it was indecent to ask others in the class what their grades were and in case I had to see the class performance, the mean and median for each subject is given in the report card.  That was when I realized the application of those statistical terms we were taught in school.

Every year for Christmas, I fly to India to spend a few days with my mother.  On arrival in India, the first person one mostly deals with is the Immigration authority at the counter.  Almost all the countries I have been, these immigration authorities are mostly pleasant and very courteous.  The interaction with them generally culminates with “Welcome to (their country)”.  Anyone who has ever passed through the Indian Immigration counters will always have the opposite story to narrate.  I often felt that the Ministry of External Affairs has imparted special training to all those who man the immigration counters, to be putting up with such morose faces and least courteous conversation.  The final look they give you while returning the documents almost conveys ‘Why the hell are you back?’

So please think it over and make small efforts at your level – it may make a difference to someone and it does not cost you anything.

 

Koduvath the Meat Basket

A typical Syrian Christian family history will forcefully trace its roots to the to the 31 Brahmin families supposed to have been converted to Christianity by St Thomas, one among Jesus’ 12 disciples or to Pakalomattom family, even though no documentary evidence exists to prove the connection.

While all ten disciples moved Westward to spread the message of Christ and establish churches, only St Thomas was sent Eastward (East must be a punishment posting then also).  This could be because St Thomas was known as the Doubting Thomas who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other disciples (Judas had committed suicide by then), until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross (from this originated the English idiom of “Doubting Thomas” as a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience).

In the earlier days, the Syrian Christian  priests could only be ordained from the Pakalomattom family (an effect of the Hindu caste system prevalent then).   The Portuguese after landing in Kerala realised that the princely priesthood of the Pakalomattom family had to be broken to have a hold on the local Christians and so ordained priests from other rival families.

Vasco da Gama landed in Kerala in 1498 and was surprised to find local Christians, involved in spice trade.  In those days the Christians followed most customs of the local Hindus (some of it even continues today) and used Syriac as the liturgical language because of the association with Persia due to the spice trade.  Hence the Portuguese called the local Christians as Syrian Christians and the Christians they converted as Latin Christians as they used Latin as their liturgical language.  By 1660 they weaned away 84 of the 116 churches who aligned with Rome and became the Syro Malabar Catholic Church and the rest thirty-two churches and their congregations formed the Syrian Orthodox Church.  The purported aim of the Portuguese was to wean away the local traders, mainly Christians, away from the Muslim Arab traders.

It would be foolish on my part to do the same mistake others did and hence would limit to the details I had obtained by way of many discussions I had with our grandfather (he lived to the age of 104 and died in 2002).  Surely some of these would have been his figment of imagination and he also must have added enough spice to make it interesting for a hyper-active young boy.

In the nineteenth century Koduvath Easo (in those days the family name preceded the christen name) came with his daughter Eli and occupied Malamelkavu (in Malayalam meaning hillock with a temple on top), in Kolladu village, about eight kilometers from Kottayam and settled there.  Nothing is known about the other family members and from where Koduvath Easo came.  Thomas married Eli and moved into Koduvath family as the Adopted Son (Jamai जमाई) (DathuPuthran ദത്തുപുത്രൻ).  From then on it is said that the ladies of the family have been more dominating and I can see it in today’s generation in form of our daughter and her cousin sisters.   Thomas and Eli had nine sons and two daughters with our grandfather being the eleventh.  The nine sons and their further generations continue to live in and around Malamelkavu and some moved out in search of better jobs and opportunities.

The family belongs to the parish of St George Syrian Orthodox Church, Puthuppally (ex-Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy’s family also belongs to the same church).  Kolladu village is located West of Puthuppally village and is separated by a river.  Crossing the river up to 70’s was by means of a ferry, now by a bridge.   The annual festival of the church is celebrated in first week of May and is like the annual festivals of the Hindu temples in Kerala.   Vechoottu (a ceremonial feast), adya choroonu (a ritual in which children get their first rice feeding by priests) etc. are some of the rituals associated with the festival.  Later  Raza, the grand festival procession taken out with the holy golden cross from the church, accompanied by “chenda melam” (drums of Kerala) and caparisoned elephants.  The Raza is received by every household which falls on its route, irrespective of their religion, with a lighted lamp.   In the evening the entire church is illuminated with lamps like any Hindu temples of Kerala.

The main offering to the church on the annual festival is fowl (preferably a rooster) as St George the patron saint of the church was a soldier and is believed to enjoy chicken.  In the earlier days the fowls offered were slaughtered on the church premises and the chicken curry was served as “Prasad” to the devotees.  This cruel practice was terminated by the 70’s being cruelty to animals.

I had heard a myth about the fowl slaughtering at the church from my grandfather.  In the earlier days, there was a Kali (Hindu Goddess) temple situated atop the hill adjacent to the church.  The fowls were offered there also on the annual festival day of the temple, which coincided with the festival day of the church.  One day both St George and Kali came together in a dream of the village chieftain and they came to a compromise that the fowls are to be slaughtered at the church and meat prepared there (St George enjoyed the meat), but the blood had to be collected and offered to Kali in the evening (Kali seemed to be interested only in blood) and that way only a few birds had to be sacrificed.

The next day the Holy Mass is offered at the church.  At the end of the festivity, the “chicken prasad” is distributed to the devotees at the East and West gates of the church.  The chicken pieces are carried to the gates in bamboo baskets.  The teenagers from the Koduvath family now come into action and they snatch the chicken baskets and run as a relay race handing over the basket from one to another and swim across the river.  The prasad thus snatched is distributed among the family members.  This practice continued for some years and all our family members, whether barristers, teachers, government officials of those days were all nicknamed ‘Irachi Kotta ഇറച്ചിക്കൊട്ട’ (in Malayalam meaning Meat Basket) and many of us still carry the same nickname, especially while studying in schools and colleges in Kottayam.