Nikhil’s Poems


Here are some poems Nikhil wrote as part of Grade 10 English Assignments.

Order and Chaos
Discipline is the greatest strength
Restraint the greatest virtue
Control is the highest aspiration
Order the only truth
Order is what everyone seeks
Order: a utopian fruit
Disorder is the natural state
Anarchy is the final end
Lawless is the nature of the world
Into chaos we all descend
Chaos is past, present and future
Chaos we can achieve

I am defenseless, I must surrender
I am under your enchantments
You speak and I hear Venus’ voice
You laugh at my inept replies
The philosophers deride
Those who lose to passion
Yet my soul knows what I don’t
I cannot deny this
You are perfect as the rose is perfect
In this game I am green as grass
You are the light which kisses my world
But soon you must be gone
You will move on
Leave me incomplete
I must simply trudge on thereafter
From one heartbreak to the next
In grief to grief, from dust to dust

Time Travel
I used to serve
obeying other’s commands
Now I have tasted command
I can never obey again
I used to plan
deciding on my future
I now live in the moment
planning as i go
I used to consume knowledge
to prove achievement
I now seek wisdom
for the sake of it
I used to fear failure
and facing disappointment
I now fear obscurity
dying not remembered
I used to believe
I knew what I wanted
I now know
I must be willing to change
I used to watch TV
so I could be entertained

I now use what I saw
to entertain others
I was once blind
Stumbling for the truth
But now I see

Bottom of the Bottle
Her love so fierce she couldn’t contain it
She expected to be happy so long
Letters of love so many were writ
Her love a great flag flapping
She could not have known the a lurking
For in the shadows he works
The tiger’s name was her love’s drinking
One of life’s horrid quirks
She forgave his smelling everyday like booze
He said he was sober yet she could tell
She thought life’s game in which I can’t lose
Now she’s in a hell wet not hot
When she has a child her greatest terror
Is he’ll follow his father and commit his error

Walking Tours


Exploring Canada is real time consuming and over the past two summers we decided to explore Ottawa, the Capital City and Quebec City, the capital of Quebec Province. At both these places, we undertook walking tours of extremely different nature.

On 31 December 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the Capital of Canada being midway between Toronto and Quebec City and less prone to political mobs being a small city. Ottawa is the fourth largest city in Canada and is the most educated city with minimum unemployment. Ottawa with Gatineau, Quebec, on the West together form the National Capital Region (NCR). In effect half of it French speaking and the other half mostly English speaking.

Every city in the world offers an amazingly rich history filled with scandal, scariness and intrigue. There are many a haunted buildings, places of worships, cemetery etc that one can find in any city. While in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, we ran into The Haunted Walk, a walking tour company that conducts “The Haunted Walk Tour”, a walking tour around the city which commenced at 9 PM and ended by 10:30 PM for the reasonable rate of $15 per head.

The hostess was Margo, a middle-aged lady, cloaked in black cape and carrying a lantern, gathered all the 15 participants near the Parliament building and briefed us about the tour and the safety aspects. She began with the haunting tale of the graveyard under our feet and continued across the street, under the canal, to Lisgar High School and all around the City spinning tales of long ago ghosts and even some personal tales. The fireworks from the Parliament building provided a perfect backdrop for all her ghost stories.

Margo conducted us on the tour visiting important landmarks of Ottawa and with each place she had some hunting story to narrate, which she did perfectly, with complete “effects”. She did not use any props or any hysteric sounds as one anticipated. The tales involved the Lisgar High School, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel, the Confederation Park and the Rideau Canal. It was the good old fashioned story telling with the stories apparently researched and edited beforehand. Leaving alone the ghost stories, the tour quite informative and useful in discovering the streets of Ottawa.

Then we moved to the Quebec City. The crown jewel of French Canada, Québec City is one of North America’s oldest and most magnificent settlements. Its picturesque Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is more than a glimmer of Old Europe in its classic bistros, sidewalk cafes and manicured squares.

Québec City is 400 years old. It boasts four centuries of history marked by encounters with the First Nations, battles between the French and English, terrible epidemics, four centuries during which Québec has grown into the city forging a character of its own built around a thriving culture, economic success, urban transformation, neighborhood life, and the French language.

Quebec City’s rich cultural heritage isn’t just in its architecture and historical leanings; it is in the food too. The Walking Tour was the Culinary Tour, which lasted over two hours, walking through the historic cobblestone laneways within and just outside of the old walled city, which dates back to 1535, when Frenchman Jacques Cartier established the original fort. During the tour we sipped many samples of wine, tasted various types of cheese, savoured the pastries, tasted various chocolates made from Maple syrup, etc.

Jacques Cartier was sent on an expedition by Francis I, King of France, and he arrived at Quebec in 1534, taking possession of lands. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain made landfall on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River at a spot that the Aboriginals called Kébec.   From here the New France in Canada expanded rapidly between 1660 and 1713. During the Seven Years’ War, the army of General Wolfe laid siege to Québec, and culminated in the defeat of the French General Montcalm in 1759. Four years later, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the King of France ceded to the British crown “Canada and all its dependencies.” From then on the Province of Quebec has maintained its French culture and language and thus Canada has two official languages – English and French.

Robert, our tour guide explained all the details about the stories behind the dishes and also the influences of Amerindian, British and French cuisines in the Quebec cooking. The foodie stops included three restaurants, two treat shops, a liquor store and an old grocery. On the way, we passed the oldest Anglican cathedral outside Britain – built in 1804 — and still using human bell ringers every Sunday.

In all these cities there were cycling tours too, but what impresses the most is the “Bixi” (Bike Taxi). Bixi is a network of 800 bicycles and 80 stations located throughout the city, to provide residents and visitors with an additional transportation option for getting around town, making active transportation simple, fast, and fun. The system includes a fleet of specially designed, heavy-duty, durable bicycles that are locked into a network of docking stations. Bixi is available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, except during inclement weather conditions that might make the system unsafe. The station network provides twice as many docking points as bicycles, assuring that an available dock to return the bicycle is always nearby. To rent a cycle, you got to purchase the tickets online or from the kiosks, unlock the cycle from the dock using the code provided, ride the cycle and return it at any station by docking it.

After undertaking these tours, I was sure that in India we can offer many such tours and even many more, in any city at any time. It may not be feasible to arrange a walking tour, but a “rickshaw” or “auto-rickshaw” tour is always feasible.

Honouring a Veteran


This photograph is from an Anzac Parade for the veterans of the Indian Armed Forces in Sydney. The marching contingent of Indian Veterans was received with cheers and the applause from the enthusiastic spectators lining the streets braving the wet and cold weather. The Indian banner stood high and proud, ably and graciously carried by a scout. Joined by their families and friends, the retired officers from Army, Air Force and Navy marched in unison, their suits adorned with their service medals. While they matched step with step, ‘stomachs-in, chest-out’ as instilled during their training days, the different berets symbolised the Corps or the Arm they represented.

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

A few weeks back there was a post on the Facebook where the author was unduly perturbed that India and its Asian neighbours did not figure in the top 25 patriotic countries, across the world, listed in the study of New York-based International Social Survey Program (ISSP). The study throws up interesting points like erstwhile colonies of the British and Spanish ranking higher than both Great Britain and Spain, respectively. According to the study, the most patriotic countries were the US and Venezuela, which were tied-up for the number one slot. The author was apparently more concerned about the ” holier than thou attitude” of Uncle Sam and that the conclusion has no rational basis other than their whims and fancies and prejudices.

It is true. We the Indians are the least patriotic. We do not have a national war memorial to date – India Gate was made by the British to pay respects to all the fallen soldiers of World War I. We do not fly the national flag at half mast when a soldier is martyred unlike US/Canada. We do not line up the streets to pay homage to a fallen soldier as their mortal remains pass through our city/village/town. Our airlines do not even bother to show any respect to the coffins of the soldiers and handle them as ordinary cargo. The Captain of the flight never announces that the mortal remains of a soldier is being carried by them. (Latest being Major Varadarajan’s case).

We do not commemorate any Remembrance Day to pay respect for a fallen soldier as in the case of most Commonwealth and Western Countries. Our National leaders or citizens never wear the flags pinned on them by the children on the Flag Day. How can we say that we are patriotic?

Every Indian cries when the ball hit Sachin Tendulkar’s chest, but none even stops to think about the bullets hitting our soldiers’ chests. We call out the Army every time the Indian Police Force fails, but all the promotions and pay is given to them and the Army is forgotten, especially during the pay commissions. We remember the Army only when a calamity strikes us or when a child falls into a bore well and forget about them immediately. Our Parliament passes bills to ensure better pension benefits for all its MPs – whether they did anything or not; whether they attended the sessions or not: but the same Government does not want to implement the One Rank One Pension scheme for its Soldiers. Now show me our patriotism other than during the cricket matches????

This weekend we went to watch baseball game at the Rogers Centre, Toronto between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rogers Centre is the home-ground of the Blue Jays. The atmosphere was as electric as the cricket matches of the Indian Premier League.

The stadium was fully wheel-chair accessible and there were ramps made so as to facilitate the wheel-chair bound fans to enjoy the game. Even the latest stadium in Pune is not wheel chair accessible, so forget about the rest.  The fans at the Rogers Centre fanned across all ages – children, teens, youth, seniors. One event during the two minute interval between the first innings really stood out.

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

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

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

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

General Salute at Niagara Falls

niagara banner 3

With its incredible power and beauty, Niagara Falls stands out as one of the natural wonders of the world. It should be visited at least once before you die. Located on the Niagara River, at the Canada-US International Boundary, Niagara Falls is comprised of three gorgeous waterfalls – the huge Horseshoe Falls that are situated in Canada, the American Falls which are just across the border in America and the Bridal Veil Falls.

The Niagara Falls is a sight to behold for all your senses. The thundering roar of the falls mixes with the sight of the water and rising mist, and the smell of the fresh, crisp air cooled by the torrent of water relentlessly spilling over the edge of the falls.

Niagara Falls is the second largest falls in the world based on the width. More than 6 million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow.  The waters in the river are owned partly by Canada and partly by the USA. The international border runs through the middle of the river. The verdant green colour of the water flowing over the Niagara Falls is a byproduct of the estimated 60 tonnes/minute of dissolved salts and rock flour (very finely ground rock) generated by the erosive force of the Niagara River itself.

Everyone visiting us always visit Niagara and having been there umpteen times, I have become an expert tourist guide and can take you through a thrilling experience at Niagara. Once I took acclaimed Malayalam music director Sharreth and his team of musicians to Niagara. When everyone went for a boat cruise to the falls, Sharreth stayed back and I did not know how to spend the next hour as I had no clue about music and had nothing much to discuss with him. So we strolled along the falls and suddenly I asked Sharreth to sing some Raga with the sound of the falling waters as a backdrop. A Raga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. He stopped, paused for a few minutes and said he got a Raga and he started singing it and I captured it using his cell phone. I handed over his cell phone and said you must be the first musician to sing a Raga like this and hence must treasure it.

A few years back we came to know that General Jambusarwalla and Mrs Hufreez Jambusarwalla were coming to the Niagara Falls, US side and we all decided to meet them there as they did not have a Canadian Visa. Our children were very excited to meet him as they had heard many an anecdotes and references about a great human being and a military leader from their dad. The General kept insisting that we should not undertake such an effort, but the decision had been made and we decided to comply with it.

On that day we drove from home, crossed the Canada-US border and reached the hotel where the couple was to check-in. We received them there, and on meeting us, the General said “What better can a retired General from the Indian Army ask for at the Niagara Falls than a General Salute from a Colonel and family”. We then had dinner, spoke for about two hours, and drove back home at midnight. The children were overwhelmed by the couple’s warmth and love and were really impressed.

While driving back, our son Nikhil said that the General was so down-to-earth and that he did not fit into the frame of a General which he had in mind. He was expecting a rigid, tall and a perfect military figure from what he had heard about him, but what he experienced was a simple human being full of energy, wit and humour, who came down to a kid’s level to converse with him. Nikhil summed up his final opinion with a statement – He is very “Napoleonic”.

“Great things in your life will mostly come in short packets. One got to look for them, identify them, explore them, imbibe them and learn from them” was my reply.


Wild Life and the Indian Army


Prior to the Second World War the Indian Army encouraged shikar (hunting) as a way to develop stalking and shooting skills, although this activity was controlled by game laws. When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became Prime Minister, his love for wildlife and nature caused the brakes to be applied, gently, to illegal hunting and cutting of trees. The Indian Wildlife Act was passed in 1972 and brakes applied strenuously. It was during this period that the military became increasingly conscious of their role in wildlife protection. All Cantonments became environmental friendly – banning use of plastic bags, tree plantation drive, water conservation, rain harvesting, etc.

There are many instances of Indian Army men saving wild life. Raising the bar on dedication towards the nation, the Indian Army personnel of Tenga Garrison in Arunachal Pradesh ‘literally’ went out of their way and rescued a bear cub from the clutches of poachers. A group of elephants were crossing the area when the young elephant fell into the water tank and got stuck near Silliguri in West Bengal.   Soldiers rescued the elephant using a bulldozer. The three-year-old elephant was only able to clamber out of the sunken pit when the dozer destroyed some of the tank’s surrounding wall.

During our Sikkim Tenure, we were located at about 10,000 feet above sea level near an Alpine Sanctuary. The region holds some of the most beautiful oak, rhododendron, and coniferous forests and alpine meadows. Leopard cats, black bears, and the endangered musk deer are found here, in addition to many rare high-altitude birds.

In this area we wore our woolen clothes throughout the year as the temperature would never go above 10 degrees Celsius and could come down to minus 30 degrees.   Most of the time it was either snowing or raining and “dry” days were a few. Lightning strikes were rampant and we were advised not to carry anything metallic on us resulting in us never wearing our metallic articles of the uniforms. The terrain was treacherous, with narrow winding roads moving up the mountains. Driving on these roads was very risky, especially on snowy and foggy days.

We all lived without our families and officers would get together in the evenings at the Officers’ Mess for dinner. Most winter evenings we used to be visited by our friends – a family of bears – father, the mother and three cubs in tow. They exactly knew where the store room of the mess was and the Mess Havildar (Sergeant) would throw a bag of atta (wheat flour) at them when they came calling on. These bears would carry this bag of atta and disappear into the shrubs and would come over few days later when this stock finished.

These bears came as a gift to us being handed over to our regiment from the regiment we relieved. The Indian Army is very concerned about the “Wild Life” and about the role required to be played to ensure conservation. Colonel PK Ramachandran (now a retired Major General), our Commanding Officer, had passed strict orders that these bears were to be treated as “Guests of Honour” and were made as “comfortable” as we could. We all felt happy about our contribution in preserving the wild life and we felt happier that at least someone could live with his family at this altitude also.

There was no reported instance of these bears ever attacking any army person in the garrison. They all appeared to be friendly and were very calm. Sometimes these bears would stand up and pose for photographs as if they could recognise a camera. We were all aware of the grizzly bears in North America attacking humans causing grievous injury, even death. We educated all our troops about the behaviours of the bears and the “Dos” and “Don’ts” were briefed to all by the Commanding Officer.

Deforestation, poaching and human encroachment onto their living areas have forced these bears to move out of their natural habitats in search of food and water. During the winters in Sikkim, the upper reaches of the Great Himalayas are snow covered and these bears are forced to move to lower attitudes in search of food. In case they venture into human habitat they are sure to be chased away, hurt or sometimes even killed. Where else can they find a safe haven – with adequate protection, food and above all love in this inhospitable terrain – other than an Indian Army Camp!

Arts and Crafts


One could either take arts or crafts as a non-elective subject from Grade 8 to 10 at Sainik School Amaravathinagar. Half the class joined either of the two based on their aptitude and inclination. Generally the well built boys went for the crafts as it involved a lot of planeing, chiseling and cutting. In our class we had PV Sumon, who had the thinnest frame of all, but wanted to enroll for the crafts class. The crafts teacher was a bit reluctant, but agreed to accept him into his fold on the sheer insistence of Sumon. At the end of it all, Sumon turned out to be best student from out batch in crafts. In the arts class, which I too had joined, had Mouli Marur as the best student who ultimately ended up as a designer and creative director with expertise in digital graphics and later a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The arts and crafts were taught to us by two simple, dedicated and hardworking teachers. They had no Masters degree to boast of, but their love for what they taught and whom they taught made them stand out in the crowd of teachers at the school.

Late Mr AK Rama Varma (AKR): The Royal Artist


Mr AKR hailed from the Kochi Royalty and the art was in his blood. He taught us how to use colours to express one’s imagination, how to design various posters, book covers, cards etc. Even though I was not good at them, but the seeds Mr AKR had sowed were harvested much later by me with the advent of computers. I became a bit of an expert in making PowerPoint presentations by using the best colour layouts, designing covers and cards etc.

Mr AKR was a Kathakali (classical dance of Kerala, India) dancer too and he essayed various characters from the Mahabharata with grandeur during the various cultural shows staged in the school. He also doubled up as our swimming instructor and everyone remembers him mostly for the role he did as a drowning victim for Mr Nair’s life saving demonstrations at the swimming pool.

How can anyone in our class ever forget the beautiful and confident Vanaja Varma, the daughter of Mr AKR. Vanaja was a year junior and she holds the honour of being the first girl most of our classmates ever interacted with. Even to this date many of us have a special place for her in our hearts.

Mr KS Krishnan Kutty (KSK) : Man for All Seasons


Mr KSK spend most of his time, many days until midnight, in his crafts section, completing many projects he had undertaken in addition to his teaching. His wife Ms Valsala and children always complained that he was never home, that high was his level of commitment and dedication. He had to be there everywhere, to make a set for the drama to be staged, to make any model for any other department, to repair the school furniture, to make various boards etc.

He was an excellent crafts teacher who could make his students visualise their own woodwork projects, design them and execute them. Anyone could walk into the crafts section and ask for any assistance at any time and he would smilingly oblige.

He was the school hockey coach and was also assisting with the canoeing club. He designed and fabricated about a dozen canoes with locally available material at a very minimal cost and these canoes became the showpiece of the canoeing club.

Mr KSK must be the only crafts teacher in India to be bestowed with the President’s Best Teacher Award. It was given for his dedication to duty and his ability to inculcate good values in his students. We had the honour of hosting Mr KSK and Ms Valsala when they came to Delhi to receive the President’s award. Mr KSK was a loving father and his two sons studied in our school and the younger son Major Sareesh is today an Air Defence officer.

I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention about Ms Valsala. She was an energetic, well mannered and active lady who always carried herself with poise. She was an athletic champion in her school days and after marriage moved to Amaravathinagar from Kerala. When the school wanted to start a Kindergarten for the children in the area the then Principal did not even think twice before handing over the responsibility to her, even though there were many other graduate ladies in the school campus. With Mr KSK’s support, the Kindergarten became well known and students started to enrol from far away villages.

Today the couple has settled down in their native village near Kochi, Kerala after Mr KSK’s retirement from school.

Your dedication and hard work will always enable you to achieve your goals.

Suit, Boot & Tie

During our childhood the suit, boot and tie were associated with the English, the higher officials and the movie stars. We as children were mostly dressed in shorts and shirts and sometimes with rubber slippers. Most of the time we walked barefoot – to beat the water and mud splashing on to our clothes from the slippers and at many a times due to the fear of losing the slippers. May be we always forgot our slippers home as it proved to be an impediment to faster running and climbing trees. Wearing a suit and the boot always remained a distant dream.

On joining Sainik School at the age of nine, we had to wear the shoes at all times and it took me a lot of effort and time to get used to my feet being covered with the socks and the shoes. Then we were all measured by the tailors and after three months we all got our suits. A dream came true to most of my friends and me. We all wore our coats with the school insignia with a lot of pride during the winter months. In the next letter I shot off home, I wrote as to how different (smart) I looked in my coat. At that time one never realised that this piece of dress was going to be on me for a long time to come – over thirty years.

On my first vacation home I realised as what this change had done to me. I could not step out on to the courtyard of our home or walk along the paddy fields or climb trees barefooted as my soles had gone soft due to constant wearing of socks and shoes. That is when I realized that the socks and shoe had also become an integral part of me rather than being a piece of dress.

This trend with the clothes continued at different stages of my military career, at the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy and with the army unit I was commissioned into. Every where the tailors measured me and I got a new suit every time. While attending various courses in the army in different parts of the country, one realised that each military station had a set of tailors waiting to measure you and provide you with a new suit. Most of these military stations were established by the British Army and had the best climate and picturesque sceneries. Some of these tailors stitched the suits and would put Armanis to shame, as they and their forefathers had been in this business of suit making from the era of the British Army.   They were ready to finance you and would accept post-dated cheques for over a year to make good your bill. Those were the days when credit cards and credit ratings were non-existent. These tailors had a system in place and the only credit check they needed was your credibility as an Indian Army officer.   The customer service they provided was exemplary compared to any standards of today. They seemed to know all the officers of our units as they also had made suits from them. They would alter or repair your suits at no cost which were send through other officers of the unit who went for the course. May be it would be an interesting research subject for the management students like the “Dabbawallahs of Mumbai”.

Wearing a suit was mandatory for us in the army for many a formal occasions. The dictum for us was that it is safer to be formally dressed in an informal occasion than being informally dressed for a formal occasion. A tie was always a saviour that at many a times it converted an informal attire into a formal one. To help me overcome this dilemma, my driver was always handy. He always carried a set of ties during the summers and a suit during the winters. While being driven, I could comfortably switch from informal attire into a formal one in minutes. On retiring from the army, I thought it was time for me to shed my formal attires and become comfortable in the informal dresses. When I took my flight to Canada, my baggage did not have any suits or ties.

On landing in Canada in the summer, I was happy to find that most men were casually dressed in their shorts and sandals and I too followed the dress code. My neck and feet must have enjoyed the wimp of fresh Canadian air. The few men I found dressed in their suits were the real-estate agents or insurance agents. The offices I went for my initial documentation all had people dressed in semi-formal clothes or work clothes and not in their suits.

On Sunday, I went to attend the Holy Mass at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Toronto and I found many men dressed in their Sunday’s best suits. The curiosity in me made me to ask a young man as to why he is wearing a suit to the church. He said as to where else will he ever wear a suit other than to the church. He narrated as to how he got two suits stitched. Based on the advice he got from a few friends that it would be much cheaper to get the suits in India than in Canada, he got two stitched. He said he came to Canada with the impression that every one wore suits, but after landing, he realised that he needed working-overalls and safety boots and not the suits. Now where else will he wear the two suits he got stitched other than to the church on Sundays.