During childhood days, our village in Kerala had a public library, housed on the upper floor of the Post Office building. The library had a good collection of books, periodicals and newspapers. The library used to be bustling with activity in the evening. Students and youth came there to borrow books, many came to read newspapers and periodicals and above all, it had a radio connected to a public address system which beamed the news from All India Radio. Those were the days when most households did not own a radio and Television had not become a reality. Our village with its literate masses needed something to read as a source of information and entertainment and the library provided it. My brothers used to borrow the books from library and our grandmother who lived with us then used to read them after everyone went to school.  Now my mother, a grandma, watches the tear-jerking serials on the TV after everyone leaves the home to school or to work.

During my recent trip home, I found the library totally deserted. The reading habit seems to have died down. How can you expect children overloaded with assignments, tuition and above all entrance coaching to find time to read? Various tear-jerking serials have occupied the free time of housewives and senior citizens, which in those days was spend reading.

Sainik School Amaravathinagar, our school, also had a well stocked library. I started using the library only from my Grade 8 onward as I was not all that proficient in English till then. At that time Mr Stephen, our librarian had taken over. Untill then the librarian was a clerk or an administrative staff member who hardly had any clue about the real duties of a librarian.

Mr Stephen with an ever smiling pleasing personality was a graduate in Library Sciences. He was the first person to encourage many of us to use the facility of the library and also explain to us the wealth of information available there. He always used to remind us as to how lucky we were to have such a library which he said many colleges and universities in India did not have.

Other than being the librarian, Mr Stephen used to actively participate in all extra-curricular activities. One could always see him in the gymnasium helping students, playing all games with the students and also participating in adventure activities like trekking and rock-climbing. This helped him develop a special rapport with the students. I spend some of my free time in the library and also whenever I was made an ‘outstanding’ student in the classes, I straight away moved into the library.  Mr Stephen exactly knew what would have happened in the class, but never asked me a question and let me into the library.

On migration to Canada, we settled down in the city of Mississauga. The City runs  Mississauga Library System. It is one of the largest public library systems in Canada with over 300,000 registered users. There are 18 locations, including a multi-floor Central Library with material allocated by subject areas. Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or owns property in Mississauga can obtain a Library Card required to borrow materials.

All the library branches I visited were always full of customers, especially students and seniors. The library system has a large collection of books, DVDs, video tapes etc in 22 languages including Hindi, Thamizh and Punjabi. The excellent catalogue system followed by the library can be accessed online from the home. One can place a hold on a material through the online system. The moment the material arrives the customer is intimated by email or over the phone. In case a desired items not in the Library’s catalogue, it may be obtained through inter-library loan.

In case the library branch one visited does not have a desired material, but is available in another branch, the same is transferred to the library if you request for a hold. All materials borrowed from any branch of the library can be returned at any branch. The catalogue system caters for it.

The Library offers access to downloadable eBooks and audio books. One can download these to a computer or a mobile device.  One can also sign up to receive sample chapters from new books and newsletters about new books and authors.

Library staff are always available to help the customer to find information and choose materials. The Library offers extensive information on occupations, educational planning, career planning, training and job search strategies.

An extensive collection of fine, old and rare materials, dealing with the history of Mississauga City is available for in-library use at the Mississauga Central Library and includes scrapbooks, local archives, and a large collection of photographs. Genealogical materials are available through Ancestry at all Library locations. The Historic Images Gallery brings together the image collections of multiple institutions providing centralized access and is searchable online.

eResources provide access to reference eBooks, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly journals, book reviews and more. Search over 30 eResources covering a wide variety of topics including health, business, world news, literature, sports, arts, and entertainment. With a valid Mississauga Library card, you can do your research from home, school or office.

Children’s Dial-A-Story can be called as often as you want, any time of the day to listen to a new preschool story each week in the comfort of your home.

Public access to the Internet and Microsoft Office is available at all Library locations. One can book a session to use a Library computer with a valid Library card. Photocopiers are available at all Library locations at a minimal payment. Copying is subject to copyright laws.

Large Print Books are available from all library locations and rotate from library to library. In partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Braille Books are provided via mail.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”   – Sidney Sheldon
Post Script :- My book ‘Suit, Boot and Tie‘ now finds a place with Mississauga Library System.
Search Results for suit boot (

Fair & Lovely

Washington Post published a survey by the World Value Survey, which measured social attitudes of people in different countries. The survey asked citizens what types of people they will refuse to live next to, and counted how many chose the option ‘people of a different race’ as a percentage for each country. Jordan came out as the country with the highest proportion of ‘intolerant’ people with 51.4% and India with 43.5%.


Look at the Fair & Lovely ad in India and it will prove one aspect of intolerance for the dark complexioned, especially among the fairer sex. The ad shows a miraculous change in the complexion of a girl from being dark skinned to very fair. The effect in the ad must have been achieved by the ‘digital touch-up’ and also by the effective use of light during photography.

Manufactured by Hindustan Lever, Indian arm of international giant Unilever, Fair & Lovely claims to offer dramatic change to fair complexion in just six weeks.  The packing of the cream displays one face six times, in an ever-whitening progression, and includes ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of a woman who presumably used the product.

Do you think Unilever will ever market or package this product in US/Canada the way they do in India?

As per Indian laws, since Fair & Lovely is not categorised as a pharmaceutical product, Hindustan Lever is not bound to prove efficacy of the product. In India, litigation for not achieving advertised effect or social effect of the advertisement will take a long time and may not get the desired judgement.

Indian media is now trying to establish itself and is in the process of maturing. At this stage, to most the revenue matters and hence are ready to air ‘irresponsible’ news, discussions, advertisements, etc for ensuring better Target Rating Point (TRP) and raking in a few more bucks. Responsibility for ensuring that advertising is truthful is a shared responsibility among advertisers, agencies, and the media. The best regulation is self-regulation and one can expect it from the Indian media houses in the times to come.

Fair & Lovely is the largest selling skin whitening cream in the world, and was first launched in India in 1975. It held a commanding 50-70 % share of the skin whitening market in India. The product is marketed by Unilever in 40 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with India being the largest single market. One can see them in the shelves of many Indian grocery stores in Canada too.

Our children, both schooled in Canada, their friends with complexions ranging from the darkest to the fairest, have been dismayed with the Fair & Lovely’s television commercials aired on the Indian channels. The ad typically contains the message of a dark complexioned depressed woman, becoming fairer and getting a job or a husband. It also depicts the women becoming happier and more confident after the change of her complexion. The question from our children was as to how come no one is suing them in India for racialism.

The discussion further went on to belief in India that the skin colour is very powerful unlike in North America where the emphasis on a deep and glowing tan. The majority of Indian society still feels that a lighter color skin tone reflects a higher status and is more attractive. This gets further strengthened with the bride searching ads put up by Indian men mostly seeking out fair skinned women. Hence the target market for Fair & Lovely is predominantly young women aged 18-35.

As expected, the discussion moved on to their cousin Anita, an engineering graduate, now working with an IT firm in Trivandrum, Kerala. Anita is a dark complexioned girl and she is well aware of that. Heard her saying to her mother that it was not her fault that she was born with a darker skin.

Our daughter Nidhi always felt that Anita was trying to appear fair and hence was using all unhealthy products. This had a telling effect on her skin. Nidhi, during her visit to India in February 2014, decided to give a few tips to Anita about carrying herself confidently and beautifully with her natural complexion. She had seen many of her dark complexioned friends using cosmetic products and procedures to look beautiful.

The first lesson Nidhi gave Anita was that being dark complexioned is also beautiful and hence there is no need to look fair. Then she took Anita to the local cosmetic store and based on the ingredients, selected cosmetics which suited her skin tone and ensuring that it had no bleaching agent. It was followed by a lesson on how to apply the cosmetics and makeup tips to enhance her facial features.

In June 2014, I got a call from Anita, then a student at the Engineering College and she said that she wanted to run for the post of the Chairperson of the College Union. I felt that she had become really confident and appeared to have come out of the ‘complexion problem’. She won the students election and became  the Chairperson.

Fire! Fire! Fire!


Fire! Fire! Fire!” with our exchange operator screaming at the top of his voice; woke me up from deep slumber. Our regiment was located in the higher reaches of Sikkim on 12 December 1997 when this incident occurred. The area was covered with about four feet of frozen solid snow with the temperature touching minus 20 degrees Celsius.

I paid a visit to the dentist in the evening as my wisdom tooth was troubling me and I was under immense pain. The dentist decided that the best way out was extraction and hence administered local anesthesia on my gums and did the extraction. He advised me to take rest for a day or two. I reached my room and I had a splitting headache as a result of the anesthesia. I decided to go to sleep and hit the bed.

At dusk, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel PK Ramachandran, wanted to talk to me and called up the Regimental Telephone Exchange to connect the call. The exchange operator had tried the call many times but as I was in deep slumber, I did not answer the call. The exchange operator came to my room and saw me in deep slumber and informed the CO about my status. Our CO being a thorough gentleman, advised the operator to let me enjoy my sleep and to put through the call the moment I woke up.

At about 9 PM, the exchange operator noticed smoke and flames in the building I was sleeping. He came rushing into my room screaming and woke me up. He said that my room was on fire. By that time about five soldiers also came in. I ordered everyone to clear off and not get any burn injuries. The soldiers led by the exchange operator were salvaging my desktop PC, the TV and the VCR.

I stepped out of the room engulfed in flames wearing my sandals. Luckily my Identity Card was safe as it was in my uniform shirt’s pocket as I had slept off without changing my uniform. The fire started because the officer staying in the neighbouring room had forgotten to turn off his kerosene based room heating system – Bukhari. As I stood outside in the biting cold, I could see the entire building up in flames. The soldiers were in the act of salvaging everything from the adjacent buildings.

That was when we realised that the water tankers in the regiment were empty as the orders were to keep the tankers empty to prevent them from freezing. The solid frozen snow was of no use to douse the fire as it could not be lifted off the ground. The order was passed immediately that all water tankers will be kept three-fourth full every night to meet such eventualities.   Our CO came to me and asked as to how I felt and I replied that the only thing I could do was to enjoy the warmth the fire was providing on a freezing night.

Next morning the soldiers scouted through the ashes and Subedar (Warrant Officer) Balakishan came out with all my medals (given by the government in recognition of bravery, honour and sacrifice) and a photograph which was intact despite the raging fire. It was our marriage photograph dated 16 April 1989. I immediately said that “What God has united no raging fire, storm or hail can ever separate.

An Orthodox Syrian Christian wedding follows similar procedures as done by other Orthodox faiths like Greek, Slavic, and Egyptian. It begins with the Betrothal service where the Priest blesses the rings of the Bride and Groom, then places them on the ring fingers of their right hands. In the Bible, the right hand is the preferred hand, indicating good. The Betrothal dramatises the free decision made by the Bride and Groom, and is symbolized by the giving of rings.

The Marriage Ceremony begins immediately thereafter culminating in the crowning. It begins with the priest placing a crown on the groom’s head while reciting the crown blessing thrice. Then the crowning ceremony of the bride follows in the similar way. The Greek and Slavic Orthodox use crowns made from olive leaves and the Syrian Orthodox use a gold chain as a symbolic crown. The crowning is a sign of victory, just as athletes were crowned in ancient times at their triumphs. In this instance, the Bride and Groom are crowned on account of their growth as mature Christians, prepared for the responsibilities of a Christian marriage.

This is followed by a series of petitions and prayers with special reference to well known couples of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Sarah. An epistle excerpt of Saint Paul is read, exhorting husband and wife to unconditional love and support of one another. Then an excerpt from the Gospel of Saint John is read, relating to the wedding at Cana when Christ performed the first of His miracles and blessed the institution of marriage.

The differences in the marriage ceremony between other Orthodox faiths and Kerala’s Syrian Orthodox faith begin here. The groom ties the ‘Minnu’ around the bride’s neck – tying the knot. This has been adopted from the Hindu traditions. the ‘Thali’ used in a Kerala Hindu marriage was in the shape of a leaf of the sacred banyan tree and Christians modified the Thali by superimposing a cross on the leaf and called it a ‘Minnu’. The Minnu is suspended on seven threads drawn out of the Manthrakodi. The seven strands represent the bride, the bridegroom, the couple’s parents and the Church.

The groom then places the ‘Manthrakodi’, a sari presented by the bridegroom and his family, which is draped over the bride’s head, symbolizing the groom’s pledge to protect, care for and cherish his wife The Manthrakodi is the adaptation from the earlier Kerala Hindu Nair traditions of ‘Pudavakoda’ where the marriage was a contract and handing over clothes for the bride indicated entry into a contracted marriage. At this point, the bride’s relative, who has been standing behind her, yields her place to a female member of the groom’s family as a sign that the bride is welcomed into her new family.

The ceremony ends with a benediction and prayer. The Priest uses the Bible to uncouple the hands of the Bride and Groom signifying that only God can come between them. It is always the priest who will preside over the actual marriage ceremony that is the tying of the Minnu. If a bishop is present, he will only bless the Minnu. This tradition may have emerged from the old Travancore Christian Marriage Acts wherein only the priest had the magisterial power to conduct a marriage.

Even though our marriage was not conducted in the presence of Fire God (Agni), our wedding photograph lived through an Agni Pareeksha (Trial by Fire).



In 1971, after the anti-Hindi agitation that raged through Thamizh Nadu, I joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar in the state then known as Madras.   The school almost resembled any British Military School as all the military words of command were in English like “Attention” and “Stand-at-Ease”. There I started to learn Thamizh and also English and Hindi.

Thamizh is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world and the script has only 18 consonants unlike Devnagari script which has about 37 consonants. When Devnagari script has क, ख, ग, घ (ka, kha, ga, gha), Thamizh has only க (ka) and similarly for the other corresponding consonants. All the other South Indian languages namely Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu follow their own script similar to the Devnagari script. Further these three languages unlike Thamizh, have a lot of Sanskrit vocabulary. Hence learning of Hindi or any Devnagari script based language becomes difficult for a Thamizh in comparison to the people from the other states.

After the anti-Hindi agitation in Thamizh Nadu, the Official Languages Act was amended in 1967 by the Indian Government to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current bilingualism and use of English in education in India. This bilingualism has helped the Indians to a great extent in ensuring acceptance all over the world.

Hindi as a national language was not accepted all over India due to the implementation issues. The Hindi Pundits coined many a difficult terms to replace commonly used English terms. Many of the terms coined were not even accepted by the Hindi speaking population. Lot of money and efforts were pumped in by the government for the enhanced use of Hindi as an official language, but it never had any results other than a few Members of Parliament making a foreign sojourn to study the use of Hindi in some country or the other and the practise still continues.

To further make the matter worse, all forms were printed in both Hindi and English and so also all the government publications. This resulted in higher production costs without serving any purpose. While serving in the Indian Army, I recommended all my subordinates to read and understand the pamphlet ‘Glossary of Military Terms’. The pamphlet was printed in Hindi on the left page and English on the right. I also used to advise them to read the Hindi side whenever they got bored – the Hindi equivalents were hilarious and many a times grossly incorrect.

In our school the English department was headed by Mr KG Warrier and the Thamizh department by Mr M Selvaraj. Both of them were strong linguists and always ensured that they spoke the language with purity in that when they spoke, they always used only one language. Both had excellent communication skills and were near perfect in their pronunciations. Both of them never taught me at school, but I had extensively interacted with them during various extra-curricular activities.


(Mr KG Warrier with our Class-mate AP Sunil Kumar at Kottakkal.  The photo is of 2013 when Mr Warrier turned 90)

Mr KG Warrier hails from the family of world renowned Ayurveda Physicians of Kottakkal in Kerala. He is currently enjoying his retired life at Kottakkal. He is staying with his daughter, Rathi. The Warrier community connected to the Vaidya Sala stay at ‘Kailasa Mandiram’ in the Vaidya Sala premises at Kottakkal, Malappuram District, Kerala.

His specialty was that he dressed in his starched and pressed cotton pants and shirt, wear a felt hat and hold a pipe in his hands. I was always intrigued as to how he managed to maintain the crease of his pants perfect even at the end of the day.

A few days before leaving school to join the National Defence Academy I met Mr KG Warrier and he asked me in Thamizh as to when I was joining the academy and how the preparations were progressing. My answer was in the usual ‘mixed language’ of Thamizh, Malyalam and English. To this he said “உனக்கு தமிழும் தெரியாது, மலையாளவும் தெரியாது, ஆங்கிலவும் தெரியாது. உனக்கு என்ன தெரியும்? (You do not know Thamizh or Malayalam or English. What do you know?)”.

I still recollect a few words of advice Mr KG Warrier had given us.  He said that everyone should always carry and use three books – a Dictionary, an Atlas and a Wren & Martin Grammar book.  At the beginning of each year at the school, these were the first set of three books we were issued with.  Later on during my army service I did carry these three books.  Nowadays with the power of the internet with browsing tools like the Google, most information is at one’s fingertips and these three books have become almost extinct.

Mr M Selvaraj was well known for his voice and his oratory skills which were showcased during all the cultural programmes at the school. His orations in both Thamizh and English will be remembered by all his students. I was very curious as to how he managed to handle the two languages independently and so effectively. During my final year in school, I did manage to summon enough courage and asked Mr M Selvaraj about the secret.

Mr M Selvaraj said that when he joined the school he had very little grasp of English having done his Masters degree in Thamizh. Major MMR Menon, then Headmaster of the school had advised him that to be a successful teacher in a school like this, mastery over English would go a long way. So with reluctance he approached Mr KG Warrier, but was surprised when Mr KG Warrier accepted to be his Guru and thus he started to learn English. He ended the chat by saying “the English I speak is all what Mr KG Warrier and Ms Sheela Cherian had taught me like any student who graduated under these great teachers.

Mr M Selvaraj left our school in 1987 to be the first Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Mahe. After establishing the school, he moved as the Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Pondichery and now leads a retired life in Trichy.

After leaving the school, I always tried to complete a sentence in one language and many a times I did fail. After joining the army, I picked up Hindi. Luckily for me, I served mostly with the Brahmin soldiers from North India and that helped me improve my Hindi to a great extent. Now with Hindi also joining the bandwagon of languages in my mind, maintaining purity of language became near impossible.

Hats-off to all those Thamizh news readers in any television channels, they speak pure Thamizh only and would use another language vocabulary only in case it is unavoidable.


Walk for Water


A friend invited me to participate in a charity walk of 5 km on 29 August 2014, through a picturesque trail in the city to raise awareness about the problem of safe drinking water faced by millions worldwide and also to raise money. The Walk for Water was in support of Water Missions International’s response to the global water crisis through sustainable safe water and sanitation solutions around the world. Safe water is the source of life. It is the foundation for health, education and viable economies. The global safe water crisis is much more than just a lack of safe water. Providing those people with access to safe water gives them an opportunity  to go to school, work and play free from the stress of dirty, disease-filled water.

There were posters put up all along the path depicting the problems faced by people all over the world. There were posters saying how lucky the Canadians are as they have the Great Lakes and thousands of smaller lakes with clean potable water. Canadians are blessed with clean municipal water supply all through the day year around.

This prompted me to study the municipal water supply system in our City of Mississauga, which comes under the Peel Region.

water66aaLake Ontario is the source for the Peel Drinking Water System. As the lake water enters the intake, located about 2 km from the lake-shore, it is chlorinated. The chlorine kills bacteria and prevents mussels from growing in the intake pipe and obstructing the flow. As the water enters the treatment facility, it passes through travelling screens. The screens prevent items such as fish, sticks and aquatic plants from entering the treatment facility and damaging equipment. Water is then treated by means any one of the following treatments based on the age of the plant.

  • Conventional treatment.-
    • Alum, a coagulant is added to the water. The rapid mixer thoroughly mixes the coagulant with the water to help form sticky particles from the suspended particles in the water.
    • Slow mixing that helps the sticky particles collide with each other, forming larger and heavier particles called floc.
    • Floc particles are removed from the water by inclined plate settlers or the water is slowed down in large tanks to allow particles to settle to the bottom.
    • Removes remaining particles and chlorine-resistant bacteria and reduces the levels of compounds that can cause tastes and odours.
    • The water travels down by gravity through layers of granular activated carbon, sand and gravel.
  • Ozone Biologically Activated Carbon Contactor and Membrane Filtration (OBM) Treatment.
    • Ozone gas is bubbled through the water in the Ozone Contactors. Ozone kills bacteria and also helps to break down substances that cause tastes and odours so that they can be removed easily.
    • BACC Filters: These specially designed contactors remove the biodegradable organic matter produced by the activity of the ozone process. This removal process keeps the water stable after treatment by minimizing re-growth of bacteria in the distribution system.
    • Membrane Filters:   These are specially designed water filters with very small pores that the water is pulled through. The membrane filters remove microorganisms and producing water with very little turbidity.
  • The modern state-of-the-art Membrane Filtration, Ultraviolet Light, and Granular Activated Carbon Contactor (MUG) treatment.
    • Membrane Filtration.   Raw water is pulled through state-of-the-art Ultra Filtration Membranes with pores small enough to filter out particles and many microorganisms.
    • UV Light.   Filtered water then passes through UV Light Units, which inactivate microorganisms. These units also reduce taste and odour in the water by Advanced Oxidation. The Advanced Oxidation process uses hydrogen peroxide and a higher intensity of UV light to oxidize (break apart) compounds that cause unpleasant taste and odour. The Advanced Oxidation system is used seasonally, when taste and odour problems are at their peak due to lake and temperature conditions.
    • Granular Activated Carbon Contactor (GACC).   The water then flows down through a matrix of carbon granules into GACC. They eliminate any residual hydrogen peroxide from the Advanced Oxidation process.

Water treated by any of the three above processes is further treated prior to supply into the water supply system as under:

  • Chlorination for inactivation of bacteria/ disease causing organisms.
  • Fluoride  addition for better dental health and to protect teeth from cavities

The water is then supplied through the pipes, buried 10 feet below to prevent freezing in winter. The old ductile iron pipes (DIP) forming the water mains, running mostly below the municipal roads, are now being replaced with polyethylene encased DIP, which has a lifespan of up to 100 years.

Majority of the water main replacement projects are undertaken from March to October every year, in partnership with road and sewer renewal projects for improved cost effectiveness and minimized public inconvenience. This prompted a friend to remark that in Canada we have four seasons – winter, severe winter, winter and then construction.

How do they ensure water at the optimum pressure throughout?

A typical municipal water supply runs at between 50 and 100 psi (major appliances require at least 20 to 30 psi). Pumps at the water treatment plant pump water at about 100 psi and is connected to the main pipe lines. There are three water towers in the city which are also connected to the same pipeline. During low water usage hours, the tanks on the water towers get filled and they discharge into the pipeline when the pressure falls due to high usage during peak hours, thus maintaining the optimum pressure. There are no overhead tanks in the homes as the city guarantees 24 hours water supply at optimum pressure.

As the water in the pipelines is maintained under high pressure all throughout, there is hardly any chance of muddy water from the ground getting into the pipes. Mixing of dirty water or sewage is possible only when there is intermittent water supply and there is a crack in the pipe. The water in the pipe leaks into the soil around when under pressure. When the water supply is shut down, the pressure in the water pipes drop below the pressure of water in the soil, forcing the muddy water into the pipeline through the crack. When the water supply is restored, this muddy water in the pipes reaches the consumer.

How come the water in the water towers do not freeze in the cold Canadian winters?

They do freeze. They just don’t normally freeze solid. The central pipe that runs from ground level up into the bottom of the tank is called a riser. Many tank risers are wrapped with heat tape, covered with insulation and capped by an aluminum jacket. Ice forms on the surface of the tank, in many cases several feet thick. Normally, this ice layer floats on the surface as the water level rises and falls. Many times this ice remains stuck to the roof the tank and remains there.

This is why the City of Mississauga proclaims that the best drinking water is the municipal water.

For Want of a Nail


Our son Nikhil wanted me to buy a whistle – Fox 40 ‘Sport & Safety’ Classic Whistle- to be used for his life-guard training at the city’s swimming pool. I went to the store and was a bit surprised when I looked at the price-tag on the whistle – it costs $5. Thinking that I may not have zoomed on to the correct product, I looked carefully at the label to reconfirm it. Out of curiosity, on reaching home I “Googled” the product to see its characteristics and why a simple looking whistle cost me so much. As per the manufacturer, this whistle is easy to use, very loud that it can be heard over a mile away, is waterproof and unbreakable. Being made of plastic one does not have to worry about rust. It works even after it is wet because it does not have a ball in it.

Aren’t such whistles required by our soldiers, especially those deployed on flood relief duties?

During my service with the Indian Army, we have been called out to help the civil administration many a times. On many occasions we were placed on high-alert for flood-relief duties. There are many standard operating procedures (SOPs) in the units for flood-relief, but there is hardly any equipment available to execute the tasks. The army heavily relies on the ingenuity of the officers and soldiers to execute the task.

Watermanship is an important aspect of military training. It comes handy while on war crossing water bodies, rivers and other obstacles. It becomes more important when dealing with natural disasters like Uttarakhand or Kashmir. There is hardly any attention paid to this aspect of training.  Many of our soldiers are non-swimmers and hence training in personal safety while dealing with fast flowing currents, floatation devices, rescue equipment, etc become very important. There is hardly any rescue equipment worth its name authorised to any army unit, but they are always called out to deal with such situations.

The biggest deficiency the army has is that there is no boats authorised to the army and our men are not trained in operating the outboard motors. Only some men from the Engineers are trained on it or those hailing from areas like the backwaters of Kerala have some experience.

The army units are not even authorised life-jackets and the risk we are forcibly putting our men to without the life-jacket is well known to all. There is no High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) -clothing (e.g. vests, bibs or coveralls) that is worn to improve how well other people “see” them (their visibility). In any developed country, it is mandatory for anyone operating in these circumstances to wear them.

It is a pity to see our soldiers are without life-jackets and HVSA and all the personnel of the NDRF is fully geared. When will they equip all the soldiers of the Indian Army with these? Surely it does not cost much.

Hence it is suggested that all the army units (especially the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers and Signals) be scaled with inflatable boats, outboard motors (with about 50% as spare as the local boats will be much effective with one), ropes, winching equipment, harnesses, rope bridges, etc.

Further HVSA must be authorised as personal clothing for all ranks. This would be very useful for drivers, co-drivers and also passengers of military vehicles and also for anyone operating any plant or dozing equipment. This would also help while being deployed on aid to civil authorities for restoration of law and order.

It would be a pity that a soldier’s life is to be martyred because of our short-sightedness. No battle should ever be lost and we should never lose a soldier for want of a horseshoe nail (life-jacket).

Late Captain Pratap Singh, Maha Veer Chakra – My Hero

In August 1987, our regiment, 75 Medium Regiment was about to move out from Delhi to the Kashmir Valley. Captain Pratap Singh, being posted on compassionate grounds and having spent two years, the time had come for return to his parent regiment as per the norms in the Army. Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party to the Kashmir Valley.

Captain Pratap called me up to say that he had walked up to our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh and had requested him that he liked to continue with our regiment and wanted his parent regiment to be changed to 75 Medium. He also said that he had enjoyed the two years he served with our Regiment and that he had developed a special attachment to the soldiers and officers. Colonel Mahaveer accepted Captain Pratap’s request and contacted the Army Headquarters and thus Captain Pratap’s parent regiment was changed to 75 Medium Regiment, and he moved with the regiment to the Kashmir Valley in November 1987.

Our Regiment was to induct its first Observation Post team in Siachen Glacier in March 1988. The choice was between Captain Pratap and I. Colonel Mahaveer briefed us in December 1987 to select our team and also to prepare and train for the impending task. At that time the Brigade Headquarters wanted an officer to be attached with them as an administrative staff officer for six months and so Colonel Mahaveer said, “One of you will go to the Siachen Glacier and the other to the Brigade Headquarters.”

Siachen Glacier, one of the world’s largest glaciers, is situated North of Leh. This land, the world’s highest battleground located at about 5,750 m (18,875 ft), will test human endurance against the rigours of high altitude and turbulent terrain. Ever since Indian forces occupied the Siachen Glacier in 1984, both India and Pakistan have fought intermittent artillery duels and many attempts were made by Pakistan to capture the territory. In winter, temperatures here can plummet to minus 70 degrees Celsius and winds of up to 160 km an hour can come without warning. Over the past several years, soldiers have seen amputation of limbs lost to frostbite and death by pulmonary edema. Many soldiers have lost their lives to avalanches or falling into crevasses during patrols. According to some estimates, 90% of the casualties in Siachen have been due to weather and altitude, rather than actual fighting.

Captain Pratap, a Short-Service officer, commissioned in September 1983, had not opted for a permanent commission and had decided to take release from the army after serving five years. Armed with his application for release from the army, Captain Pratap walked into Colonel Mahaveer’s office in January 1988 and told him that he wanted release from the army and hence wanted to participate in an operation prior to his release. He managed to convince Colonel Mahaveer that he would take on the duties in the Siachen Glacier in March. Thus, Captain Pratap started with his training for the operations and I moved to the Brigade Headquarters.

On 27 May 1988, Brigadier DS Chowdhary, our Brigade Commander called me to his office to break the news that Captain Pratap had laid down his life while performing his duties. Immediately I called up Colonel Mahaveer to break the sad news and he did not utter a word. I rushed to the regiment and straight went into Colonel Mahveer’s office and that was the only time I ever saw tears in his eyes.

On 26 January 1989, the nation recognised the supreme sacrifice made by Captain Pratap Singh and decorated him with Maha Veer Chakra (MVC). The citation for the award read as under: –

“Captain Pratap Singh was deployed as an observation post officer Siachen area in April 1985.

The adversary made repeated attempts to retake a key post vital for our defences of Siachen, without success. Their last attempt to take a post was on 09 May 1988, when they fixed four ropes and a ladder-system on the ice-wall below the post for the purposes. This attack was successfully beaten back by our forces. The ropes and the ladder-system fixed by the adversary, however, remained in position, making it possible for them to use it again in their fresh attempts to take the post. It was imperative that the fixed ropes were cut, and the ladder unfixed to prevent fresh attempts. On the 18 May 1988, Second-Lieutenant Ashok Choudhary was able to reach and cut four of the ropes. On the 26May 1988, it was decided to cut the remaining two ropes and unfix the ladder. Captain Pratap Singh undertook this mission with the help of a jawan, descending the ice wall. On reaching the location, Captain Pratap Singh found a large quantity of ammunition and grenades lying at the head of the ropes. While examining the same, a grenade booby-trapped him, severely wounding his right arm and chest. Despite being badly wounded the brave officer crawled forward to the fixed ropes and cut them with his knife. Then he unfixed the ladder system and let it fall down the ice wall. Then the gallant officer inched back to his own rope to come up the ice wall to return to the post but collapsed due to his severe wounds and made the supreme sacrifice of his life for the nation.

Captain Pratap Singh thus displayed conspicuous gallantry in eliminating a great threat to a key post of our vital defence of Siachen Glacier at the cost of his life.”

Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) Chennai honoured its alumni and this valiant soldier by naming the Pipping Lawns where the newly commissioned officers wear their first pips as Pratap Pipping Lawns.

After over 25 years, Captain Pratap Singh, MVC, continues to be my hero and always has a special place in my heart.

Late Captain Pratap Singh, Mahaveer Chakra – My Friend

During our recent visit to India, we stayed Colonel Pradeep and Dr Sridevi at Devlali and their house was located in Pratap Enclave.  The enclave was named after Late Captain Pratap Singh, MVC and at the main gate of the enclave there was a board with his photo and a brief write-up about his heroism.

Lieutenant Pratap Singh arrived on posting to our regiment, 75 Medium Regiment in January 1985 when we were located at Delhi.  A few months prior he had lost his elder brother Late Squadron Leader Gaj Singh of the Indian Air Force in an air crash in Rajasthan.  Lieutenant Pratap had come on a posting on compassionate grounds to take care of his aging parents who lived at Basai Darapur village, near Punjabi Bagh, New Delhi.  At that time, his elder brother Colonel Ran Singh was serving with an Air Defence Regiment of the Indian Army.  Captain Khazan Singh, father of Lieutenant Pratap was a World War II veteran.

Ever smiling Lieutenant Pratap joined our regiment and in no time got amalgamated with the regiment.  He was a good sportsman and a great leader and won the admiration of all the soldiers.  Despite all the problems he faced, he always looked cheerful and was cool as a cucumber at all times.

Lieutenant Kaushik, Pratap and self, we became the ‘trouble shooting trio’ of the regiment, who could be sent on any missions anywhere.  As Lieutenant Kaushik was married, Pratap and I generally took on all out-station tasks – mostly going to Meerut to participate in sports competitions with the Brigade.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh, our Commanding Officer (CO), took utmost care of all of us as his sons and had a major role in developing us into good human beings and leaders.

Lieutenant Pratap and self being bachelor boys dined in the Officers’ Mess.  The mess and the bachelors’ accommodation were located in Sector 14, Gurgaon and some of the married officers also lived there.  The Regiment was about 10 km away and we all used to travel to and fro the Regiment in one vehicle.  Every day at 1:30 PM we all would assemble in the Adjutant’s office for our travel back to Officers’ Mess.  Captain Rahul Gowardhan (now a retired Colonel) was our Adjutant (assistant to the Commanding Officer) and once he was busy closing up for the day and he accidentally tore off an important sheet of paper assuming it to be trash.  The Lieutenants were all immediately tasked to assemble all the torn pieces of paper and solve the jigsaw puzzle to retrieve the original document.  After that whenever we assembled at the Adjutant’s office for our return journey, Pratap would pick up all the torn papers from the wastepaper basket and start solving the jigsaw puzzles with us until one day Captain Gowardhan asked us as to what we were doing.  Pratap said, “we do not know when you will tell us to recover a document, so why not utilise the time”.

Captain Desh Raj (now a retired Colonel) was a great sportsman and appointed himself as the commander of the bachelors (he always considered himself as a youngster).  He would mostly accompany us and always guided us in our day-to-day duties and also joined us in most of our adventures.  Then we had Late Colonel Avinash Chandra, affectionately called by all of us as ‘Guruji‘ as he always had something to contribute about anything and everything.  He was always forthcoming to save us from all our misdeeds and also resolve many difficult situations.

Every day at 1 PM, the Mess Havildar (Sergeant) used to ring up the office to find out whether Pratap and I were coming to the Mess for lunch.  The aim was to decide on the quantity of food to be prepared as we both were in our early twenties and were famous in the Regiment for our gluttony.  Hats off to Mrs Chandra, Mrs Desh Raj, Mrs Gowardhan and Mrs Kaushik for standing to our gluttony whenever we landed at their homes, especially at mid-night.  All the ladies welcomed us and served us excellent dinners.

Major Mohan Krishnan, a 1971 war veteran, was our Second-in-Command and was a simple and jovial person.  Once he called Pratap and me to his office and admonished us about our late night at the Officers’ Mess.  He ordered that for dinner, one had to reach the Mess by 9 PM and the Mess had to be closed by 10 PM.  After a few days we reached around 9:10 PM and the Mess Havildar expressed his inability to serve us dinner as we were late.  We decided to go for the movie in the town and we landed back at the Mess at 1 AM.  Now Pratap told the Mess Havildar, “the Second-in-Command has only stipulated the time for closing the Mess, but he has not laid down any timing for the opening; hence now serve us breakfast as a new day has dawned.”  That was the end of the Mess closing timing.

We both got promoted to the rank of Captains and were appointed Observation Post (OP) Officers.  Our duty in war was to direct the artillery fire to the target.  The guns fire from about 10 km behind and it is the duty of the OP officer to direct the fire on to the target.  In case the shells do not land on the target, a correction is ordered in terms of “Go Left/ Right” or “Add/Drop.”  During our operational training with live artillery firing, Captain Pratap very often confused between Right and Left and many a times ended up giving the opposite corrections.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh our CO came up with a solution – with a marker pen he wrote ‘LEFT’ on the inside of his left wrist and ‘RIGHT‘ on the right wrist. He told Pratap to look at it prior to ordering a correction and the simple trick worked.  At the end of the day, I even advised Pratap to tattoo it on his wrists, never realising what was in store…….

Bishnois and Khojis of Rajasthan


Rajasthan, the land of kings and royalty, has been a mesmerising experience for me during my stay in India. The Western desert state of the Indian Union is vibrant, and exotic where tradition and royal glory meet in a riot of colors against the vast backdrop of sand and desert. It has an unusual diversity in its entire forms- people, customs, culture, costumes, music, manners, dialects and cuisine.. The landscape is dotted with invincible forts, magnificent palace havelis, rich culture and heritage, beauty and natural resources. It is a land rich in music, Dance, Art & Craft and Adventure, a land that never ceases to intrigue & enchant.

We in the Indian Army, visited Rajasthan mainly during operational deployments on the border, artillery field firing practices and various tactical exercises. One has seen the state progressing and developing in all fields – education, social matters, communication infrastructure, industrial output, exploitation of natural resources, etc. However two features will ever remain in my memory.


While media and scholars have celebrated Indian women environmentalists and activists such as Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, you may not have herd of Imarti Devi and Begu Bai of Khejarli (Barmer District), the first proponent of Indian ecofeminism. They led a massive sacrifice for the protection of trees in February 1730 in Jodhpur. More than 300 Bishnoi men and women, sacrificed their lives to protect the trees from the soldiers of the king Abhay Singh of Jodhpur, who wanted to fell the trees to treat the lime stones for constructing his palace.  The dead were buried, not cremated and there is a temple at that site.

Bishnoi temple as it exist today,  commemorating the Khejarli massacre.

All of you must be familiar with the episode of, Salman Khan’s shikar of deer in Rajasthan. Salman Khan together with friends undertook a hunting excursion in Rajasthan. In doing so they rushed blackbucks until their exhaustion, shot endangered and strictly protected animals. The locals protested and the actor with his entire entourage was put behind the bars.

These people are the Bishnois of Rajasthan. They are seen as an example by the global environment community for their deep devotion to conservation of nature. The Bishnoi sect was founded by Lord Jambheshwar believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver, and is probably the only religion in the world that’s based on principles of conservation. Legend has it that Jambheshwar, born into the warrior clan of Rajputs but chose a different life. Instead of developing hunting skills, he learned to communicate with living beings. He came up with the 29 principles that would govern the lives of his many followers, who would be called Bishnois — derived from ‘bees’ and ‘noi’, which means 20 and nine.

Here are some of the unique Bishnoi practices that show how their lifestyles are in a complete fit with their environment: Bishnois do not cut trees; instead they use dried cow dung as fuel. They do not cremate their dead as Hindus normally do, because it involves the use of firewood; instead, they bury them. Agriculture is the mainstay of the people; they also carve wood during the time they are not busy on their fields. The required wood comes from trees that have fallen during storms. Each Bishnoi family creates a tank in their field to provide water for black bucks and antelopes in the arid summer months. They maintain groves for the animals to graze and birds to feed. Solar energy is used to extract underground water to irrigate the groves. The region where they live is a desert, and these groves help to recharge rain water in the aquifers in the desert.

Not only do the Bishnois protect the deer from poachers, they also allow them to graze freely on their farmlands. It’s the belief of every Bishnoi that the first right to the harvest goes to the deer. Many Bishnoi temples doubles up as rescue shelters and the priests take care of injured animals. Some of these go back into the wild after they recover, while others roam about in the compound.

Many Bishnois believe that their fore-fathers take rebirth as deer and that is why many are attached to these animals.   The Bishnoi women have deep maternal affection for the rescued fawns. It is not uncommon for a Bishnoi woman to breastfeed a newly born, orphaned fawns..

Adapting to the modern times, the Bishnois have become ‘active conservators’ pursuing poachers and capturing them to be handed them over to the forest authorities. They now have what they call the Tiger Force, a 1000-strong brigade committed to wildlife protection, spread across hundreds of villages. The Tiger Force came into the spotlight when they chased and caught Salman Khan and his gang red-handed with the blackbucks they had killed.

Prior to induction into Rajasthan, all troops of the Indian Army are made well aware of the sentimentality of the Bishnois to the wildlife and the trees. All out efforts are made by the Army to provide all assistance to the locals in their conservation efforts.


During one of my area familiarisation trips in the Rajasthan borders, I stopped at a Border Security Force Headquarters for lunch. There I met a frail and old man – may be in his late eighties. The company commander introduced him to me as a “Khoji”.- the tracker Every day at sunrise, the ‘khoji’, diligently examines a stretch of sand running alongside the wire- fencing border with Pakistan, for any tell tale signs of infiltration. The slightest indentation or disturbance in the sand raises the alarm for the tracker. It tells him whether any human or animal has crossed the three-tiered barbed wire fence.

He utilises his uncanny ability, which includes recognising the footprints of individuals camels, cows, goats or sheep from amongst hundreds of others to track them down, however far they may have strayed into the desert wasteland. One glance at a broken twig, a bent blade of dried grass or even the hint of a footprint in the sand are all that he requires to catch his “prey”. For the Khoji, eEach footprint has subtle but distinct differences which only a Khoji’s trained eye can spot.

He even predicts as to the type of animal that crossed, the weight on its back, the direction where the animal is headed to, and also the likely place it would have reached by then. The Khojis learn their craft as children by tracking camels, sheep and cattle which stray far from home in search of food across the vast desert. It’s instinctive and the ability to successfully pinpoint footprints increases with experience. And, unlike other professions in tribal, superstitious and caste-ridden Rajasthan, the Khoji’s do not belong to any one community. They also worship no deity or special Gods.

The Khoji’s are employed exclusively by the BSF which have around 100 of them in the desert districts of Rajasthan and neighbouring Gujarat state, where they monitor the 1,500 km long sandy stretch of border with Pakistan for smugglers and illegal aliens. An asset to each BSF battalion, their services are also called upon by the local police to track down criminals or missing livestock. They also organise tracking courses for BSF personnel.

Their rivals in Pakistan, known as Pugees, are similarly employed by the Ranger border guards. But over the past years, fencing and flood lighting of the Rajasthan border has greatly reduced the Khoji’s work load. Earlier, they not only tracked illegal immigrants and smugglers but also herds of cattle, camels and sheep which frequently strayed across the open border.

I was astonished by the capability of these Khojis and many a times we employed them to track down infiltrators which our modern radar systems and the supersensitive cameras of the drones could not identify, mainly due to the lie of the sand dunes in the deserts.