The General Who Turned the Tide at Kargil in 1999

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Our classmates from the 1979 Batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, along with their family, were invited by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, Commandant National Defence Academy (NDA) for a get together at the NDA. On 23 December 2015, during breakfast at the Army Training Area of the NDA, our classmate, Veteran Colonel AC Cherian from 16 Punjab briefed everyone about the army tactical training being imparted to the cadets at the NDA. The civilian classmates and their ladies, primed with the briefing on army training, wanted a brief on the Kargil War of 1999. They appeared to associate the army training with the Kargil War as it was beamed live into their drawing rooms. They seemed mesmerised by the “Dil Maange More” (The Heart Wants More) war-cry by Param Vir Chakra recipient, Captain Vikram Batra during the war. Cherian immediately pushed me forward and said “Reji will brief you on Kargil War”.

Collecting my wits after the surprise task thrown at me, I begun by saying that I was serving at the Army Headquarters during the war and my brief talk would be based on the information I gained during interactions with the officers who participated in the war, various presentations I attended and my reading on the subject. I also said that the only association I had with the Kargil War was that I served under Veteran Lieutenant General Mohinder Puri, PVSM, UYSM, the architect of the Kargil War Victory, when he moved in as our boss at the Army Headquarters after the war. Everyone listened attentively to my talk of about 15 minutes and at the end there were many interesting questions raised, especially by the teenagers present. It proved a point that the nation still values the heroism, valour, bravery and sacrifices of our soldiers during the Kargil War.

On return to Canada after three weeks, I sat down to write my experiences during the event for my blog. While researching about NDA, I chanced to hit upon a link to the book “Kargil – Turning the Tide” by General Puri. I immediately downloaded it and read the 200 page book.

The book is a first-hand account of the war by the General who commanded the 8 Infantry Division in the war. It follows a logical pattern and discusses the historical events – from the genesis of the Kashmir imbroglio- leading up to the Kargil War of 1999. The book also covers in detail the hitherto unknown facet of the Kargil War: the withdrawal of the enemy and restoration of the sanctity of the Line of Control (LC) upon declaration of the cease fire.

The terrain analysis of the region and how it affected the conduct of the operations has been narrated in a simple and easy to understand form. I recommend the readers to familiarise with the terrain analysis prior to reading the chapters on the conduct of the battle.

Similarly, while reading the accounts of various operations during the war, I recommend the readers to study the map of the operations and make a mental picture and correlate it with their reading. In case you are reading it on your computer or PDA, I would recommend you to open another window with the map and correlate as you read. Adding a chapter with explanations of various military symbols used on the maps would have surely helped better assimilation.

The book, more than being an authoritative account on the Kargil War from a military history and military doctrine point of view, I saw it more as a book on leadership. Of the many Generals under whom I have served in the Indian Army, General Mohinder Puri is clearly one of the few whom I have admired as a leader and a thoroughbred professional. Over the years this respect and admiration have grown into a genuine fondness. I recommend this book as a must read for all officers and cadets of our armed forces.

General Puri, as I know him, is a very humane and compassionate General who would always give a lot of leeway to his subordinates. I have always seen him with a smiling face and a pleasant attitude. In the book he has brought out an instance when he did lose his cool. I wondered as to how he would have looked in that frame of mind and in spite of my best efforts, failed to juxtapose an expression of anger on the image of his face.

After he lost his cool, the General realised that he needed to see the problem from his subordinate’s point of view and apologised to him. He later reiterates that commanders at all levels have to have the conviction to stand up for their point of view, especially when it comes to the safety and well-being of their troops.

General Puri could easily assess the strengths and weaknesses of each of his subordinates and task them such that they would deliver the optimum results. Various anecdotes during the battles clearly bring this out. He is forceful where required, but has a keen ear for the inputs and suggestions of his subordinates before he takes a critical decision. It is generally believed that a democratic leadership style in a military leader is not ideal, particularly in combat situations and at times may even be disastrous. Gen Mohinder Puri is perhaps an exception in this regard.

The General brings out a lesson that every leader has to take counsel of one’s fears and proceed with the task with a positive frame of mind. He further states that a military leader must be sensitive to casualties and must be prepared for it and that there should be no undue haste in progressing any operations.

The General throughout the book gives credit where due to all his subordinates, his superior officers and also to his wife Prita and daughter Ayesha. It brings out a lesson that it is imperative for a good leader to give credit to all those who helped him achieve glory. Further, the coverage of the operations of his neighbouring formation, 3 Infantry Division, in the book cements this trait of the General.

His respect for humanity and also for the enemy who inflicted heavy casualties on his soldiers is evident in the book. He describes the dead Pakistani soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) whom his Division buried as the gallant men who laid down their lives for their motherland. He further comments about Capt Kamal Sher, a Pakistani officer killed during the war as a soldier who fought most gallantly and was appropriately given the highest gallantry award by his country. He does not fail to give credit to the enemy for their skill in camouflage and concealment and their exceptional fire-control.

The book covers in great detail the planning and conduct of tactical battles with a micro perspective. The accounts of the operations for the capture of Tololing and Tiger Hill (which became household names, thanks to the media) and many other such battles, told the story of human endeavour, perseverance, grit and determination. The General describes the anatomy of a herculean challenge, the nuances of close quarter, hand to hand battles fought in challenging and hostile environment of extreme rugged high altitude terrain, inclement weather and an entrenched enemy.  The narrative gives an idea of the values associated with the honour of one’s ‘paltan’ (battalion), the army and the nation and what it means to fight for these values. It covered the emotions of soldiers who were stepping into an arduous task knowing very well that there may be no return. It tells the story of fortitude, of agony and ecstasy, of raw courage and exemplary leadership, particularly at the junior level.

From a macro perspective, the general describes in great detail, constraints of undertaking the task of evicting the enemy from our positions, while sticking to the political directive of not crossing the LC. It was strategic constraint which severely affected tactical operations. As the gaps in defenses were tactically impenetrable, the only remaining option was invariably frontal assaults leading to much increased level of casualties. One wonders if this political directive was sound and sensible. If our political leadership/bureaucracy had had some experience in matters military, possibly such a directive would not have been issued to the military. Did the decision makers fully understand the consequences? Had the Ministry of Defence (MoD) been adequately staffed with defense experts, would there have been a difference? Was this decision under international pressure? What purpose did it serve? Was it simply fear of escalation? Falling prey to nuclear bluff? These are indeed unanswered questions. The General however makes it amply clear that while the decision did gain some strategic brownie points, it did severely affect planning of operations and resulted in greater casualties.

The book also brings out the need of the Indian Air Force to reorient their training to operate in high-altitude areas, especially keeping in mind the need for such limited scale operations. One hopes that the Indian Air force has learnt the lessons from the Kargil War.

The General has taken a lot of effort to bring out the role played by the Arms and Services of his Division.  Since the operations in Kargil were Infantry predominant, the book has a separate chapter on Infantry Operations, which immediately precedes the chapter on Supporting Arms and Services.  The role played by the Engineers, Signals, Army Service Corps, Army Medical Corps, Ordnance and Aviation has been given due recognition and credit in achieving the victory.

As a Gunner Officer, I am very much impressed and also envious about the methodology used by the General in employment of Artillery, especially using the Bofors Gun in direct firing mode. I suggest that the General’s account of Artillery in the book be appended to the book on Tactical Handling of Artillery, issued to all officers at the School of Artillery.

The role played by the Media, especially Ms Barkha Dutt, in bringing the battle into the living rooms across the globe has been acknowledged in the book. The media coverage ensured that the countrymen were aware of the battles of Tololing and Tiger Hill. It also ensured that the fallen soldiers were duly honoured when their mortal remains reached their villages. The book also emphasises the need for better synergy between the armed forces and the media and the need for an institutionalised interaction between the two, both during war and peace.

I sign off with an anecdote. One day Marina wanted to go for a movie with the children and hence planned to drop me off at the office and take the car. She drove me to the foyer of our office building and stopped and at that moment I saw General Puri’s car stopping behind ours. I jumped out of the car and signaled Marina to drive off and I waited with a sheepish face. General Puri alighted from the car and with his ever smiling face said “Lucky Man – Lady Chauffeur Driven” and walked off.

‘Many Laughs and a Few Tears’ Without Any Tears

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Our classmate, Chef Vijay Bhaskar, Le Meridian Hotel, Bengaluru, had a surprise guest. It was Veteran Brigadier AN Suryanarayanan, our Commanding Officer when I joined our regiment as a Second Lieutenant in January 1983. He handed Bhaskar a book authored by him ‘Many Laughs and a Few Tears’ for me. As the title suggests, the book is a fallout of humour in a soldier, especially when the going gets tough.

Yes, the book brings in laughs and it ensures that you end up reading it with no tears, but with lot of respect for the Indian Army and the author. The book from a soldier, well known for his elephantine memory and eye for details, is a great recall of various events in his life. The author has in fact put in his life and soul into his writing and for the reader, it is really captivating.

The well illustrated book elegantly portrays the journey of a soldier from his home at Tiruchirappalli to his retirement abode at Bengaluru, even though the book does not follow any pattern. Many soldiers would be able to correlate with all the incidents and all others would enjoy reading it.

Like in case of most soldiers, Appa (Dad) is the hero. Most soldierly and leadership qualities along with value systems have been embedded by the Dad. The author has brought out this aspect and has emphasised the need for good parenting to make good citizens. Further, the author has described through various anecdotes as to how he parented his two daughters to be valuable citizens.

The life in the Army is very unpredictable and it throws up many an opportunity for the soldier’s spouse to show her mettle. It also throws up many an interesting and comical situations and the anecdotes in the book are testimonies to them. I for one always wondered as to how these ladies, mostly from a civilian background with hardly any exposure to the Army, cope up with such stress.

The most obvious stresses on a military wife is when her husband is deployed on active duty in the field areas, during war and while moving on posting from one end of the country to another.  They are mostly worried about their husband’s safety while shouldering a large share of family responsibilities on their own.   They look forward to any communication they receive from their husbands in the form of phone calls and letters. Various reminiscences (with a humorous touch) brings out as to how the direct impact of war affects an active duty soldier and his immediate family members.

Most military narrators often come out with the clichéd tales about the ‘Good Old Days’ without realising that that it was not so ‘Good’. In this book, the author does not mince his words in bringing out the dire financial position of the army officers of the seventies and eighties. The account of the ‘failed mixie’ and ‘scooter without petrol’ aptly brings it out. It may be difficult for the present generation of army officers, armed with the best cars on offer, the best cell-phones, computers and modern home appliances to visualise it.

The author, well known for his mental mathematical skills and his mastery over the English language, has given an insight as to how he developed these soft skills. His recount of his childhood will surely bring in a lot of nostalgia. The author has recognised the role played by them – from the teachers to the postman – in making his childhood a memorable one.

The book is self published and all the money from the book goes towards helping a charity. Anyone buying this book will surely cherish it and would contribute to a great cause of educating a needy child.

 

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Canada : New Immigration Regulations – New Challenges

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Recently, I have been receiving many a queries regarding immigration to Canada and also regarding the Student Visas.  Hence I am posting the very same article I posted on 15 February 2015.  There has been no major change in the Canadian immigration policies despite the new Liberal Party government taking office.

Canada has the most educated and qualified truck and cab drivers and security guards in the world. Many of them are immigrants who hold postgraduate degrees in Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering, Management and Law.  These are the ones who could not qualify through the strict licensing regimes of Canada in their disciplines. They are well qualified and many held important job positions back home, but are less conversant with the demands of their profession in Canada. Many who qualified through the licensing procedure had either succeeded in erasing their (bad or wrong) experiences back home or have worked hard and learnt the Canadian requirements of their profession.

Canada’s education system produces enough highly educated and trained professionals to fill the entry level positions in engineering and applied sciences. There are some openings available in the Healthcare field like doctors, pharmacists and nurses, but the effort required to obtain a license is pretty herculean. The Canadian labour markets demand skilled trades (plumbers, electricians, and truck drivers), retail sector workers, and obviously caregivers to look after the very young and the very old. The engineers and doctors who immigrated in the past 20 years learned this bitter lesson after they landed in Canada.

Over the past 20 years, there are many cases of Canadian immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia who claim to have been duped into immigrating to Canada. They found it extremely hard to find a job in any field, let alone pursue careers in which they were qualified back home. In fact, recent immigrants are the new face of urban poverty in Canada.

These immigrants themselves are to be blamed for their present status. Most of them applied for immigration to Canada without adequate research about their job prospects, licensing procedures, requirement of tests like IELTS, TOFEL, etc.  Many in the healthcare field landed without exploring the licensing requirements to practice in Canada. They are the most vocal group among the disgruntled immigrants.

The Canadian government also shares the blame for the archaic point system it used to qualify applicants for immigration. Even when Canada faced serious shortages for truck drivers (the most common profession among immigrant Canadian males), the government was busy admitting doctors and engineers. Instead of prioritising younger applicants, the system brought in middle-aged workers, who were educated, but not necessarily skilled for Canadian needs. In addition, they were set in their ways and found it hard to change habits and work ethics.

For many students who arrived in Canada, it was a sure-shot thing for foreign student to graduate with a degree or a diploma, obtain a job and apply for permanent residency. The new immigration regulations have changed this sure-shot occurrence into a game of chance.

Today, most immigrant students take huge loans to finance their studies in Canada in hope for a permanent residency later. Most of them were lured by the big promises their agents made and also paid a hefty sum as commission to these agents.  The catch here is that a student can only apply for residency and for those jobs for which no Canadian worker is available.  The employer has to prove this by advertising in two local newspapers and then certify that no suitable Canadian is available for the job.

Many of these students were carried away by the often heard statement by these agents that Americans and Canadians do not study, they do not attend universities. etc.  To add to this, in many countries there is a false propaganda that their people are doing real well in US and Canada. Please refer my earlier blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/real-propaganda/

The parents of these students spread the ‘news’ around about the successful immigration of their wards to Canada and then about the job they are in and also claim that they did send a lot of money back. All these could be to improve their ward’s value in the marriage market. There are many students in Canada who married while being a student on a student visa and have brought in their partners too on a student visa. They make up a story that their residency application is nearly through and the only way to get their partner in is through student visa.

While the new regulations have added new challenges for foreign students in Canada, they have also improved the odds for highly-skilled professionals and trades.  Instead of a ‘first come, first serve’ basis, the new immigration regulations fast-tracks those prospects whose skills are more in demand in Canada.

As per the new system, prospective immigrants can file an online application and the Canadian government will draw names from this pool, based on the current needs of the labour market. This ensures that only those prospects who meet a certain criteria will be invited to submit a formal application for permanent residency, thus cutting the processing time and overload of applications. By prioritising those applicants whose skills are more in demand, the system improves the odds for new immigrants to succeed in Canada and not be a burden on the state.

Candidates applying for permanent residency would have a higher chance in case they can provide a job offer letter from a prospective employer in Canada.  Finding a job in Canada can take time and may be different from finding a job in one’s home country. Most employers look for Canadian experience and that can be achieved only by volunteering in a position in one’s field.  The students in Canada do so during their education by volunteering and also in the coop opportunity the university offers in conjunction with the businesses around.

Acceptance by the Canadian Government  for permanent residency in no way guarantees employment in one’s preferred profession or any other profession.  Most got to start all over by volunteering in their field, attending courses to upgrade their skills to be at par with the Canadian requirement and passing various regulatory and licensing examinations.

Even if one has the language skills in English or French needed to immigrate to Canada, those skills may not be strong enough to work in the preferred profession. Most professions and trades require one to be fluent in English or French and to have a strong knowledge of all work-related language.

Canadian employers often do not know how to assess education and work experience from other countries. They might prefer one with experience working in Canada. Getting that experience is one of the biggest challenges for newcomers.

Life in Canada of an immigrant will be different than in their home country. They may have to take a job with lower pay while one upgrades their skills or get experience working in Canada. This may result in change of financial status and life-style. Even if one earns a higher salary in Canada than one was earning in one’s home country, the cost of living in Canada may be higher than one is used to. All immigrants to Canada as a skilled worker, investor, entrepreneur or as a self-employed person, will have to provide proof that of sufficient funds to support the family after arrival in Canada.

Police Brutality Against an Indian Grandfather

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On 16 Jan 2016, A federal judge in the US acquitted Eric Parker, the policeman charged for assault on an Indian man.  The judge threw out the case against Eric Parker after his two previous trials ended in hung juries.  In the judge’s opinion,  evidence presented during the two trials did not eliminate the reasonable doubt that the policeman was guilty of a crime. Mr Parker had told jurors that Mr Patel’s actions and appearance were ‘in sequence’ with those of a burglar.  He added that Mr Patel tried walking away and wouldn’t answer questions when officers approached him, and that he was suspicious when the man reached for his pockets and when he pulled one of his hands free during a pat-down.

After President Barack Obama made two rather unfortunate speeches alleging religious discrimination in India, a Madison police officer seriously injured an Indian grandfather during a police stop on 06 February 2015. The incidents showed that the emperor is the one now without his clothes.

Sureshbhai Patel’s story is the reality of many South Asian immigrant families living in North America. His son Chirag Patel, immigrated from a small farming town in India and worked his way through and settled down and started a family in the suburbs of Madison, Alabama. Owning a home in the upscale area is the “American dream” most immigrants from India look to accomplish. After settling down in his new home, he invited his father to come to the US to look after his young son, hoping to mutually benefit from his stay. Thus Sureshbhai Patel began his life in the US.

On that morning, Sureshbhai Patel went out on a stroll in the locality of his son’s home. He was dressed in Indian clothes and as per reports, someone in the area called the police and informed that a skinny black man was walking on the street near his home, close to the garage. The caller said that he saw him yesterday too, walking very close to their home and that he lived in the area for the past four years and had never seen this man before. The caller added that he was about to go to work and was nervous to leave his wife alone while the man walked around outside. The caller said the Patel was acting suspiciously by looking into windows and going through the trash.

Two Police officers on patrol duty, trainer Parker and his trainee Andrew Slaughter, were immediately alerted. The officers reached the spot 8 AM. They approached Sureshbhai Patel, who walking and stopped him for questioning. As the officers were questioning Sureshbhai Patel, he repeatedly said “no English,” “walking,” and “India” as he pointed to his son’s house by repeating the house number. The officers claimed Patel put his hands in his pockets, which escalated into slamming him to the ground. The incident left Patel with a bloody face, and in need of cervical fusion surgery to fuse two vertebrae. Sureshbhai is on his way to recovery and regained feeling in his arms and legs.

This was obviously a case of police using excessive force. Some argued that the police officer had no cause to stop Patel on a public sidewalk and search him, which may be a bit farfetched, especially considering the security scenario around the world.

As usual the Indian media went full blast, criticising the American President and its police forces. Arnab Goswami (most vociferous Indian News anchor) was at his day’s best and his strained vocal cords and as if to pacify him, Alabama’s Governor Robert Bentley, apologized to the government of India for the actions of the Madison police officers. The Governor Bentley also ordered the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to launch a parallel investigation — the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already begun its own probe — into the ‘excessive force’ that left Sureshbhai Patel, 57, partially paralyzed.

“I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department on Sureshbhai Patel and for the injuries sustained by Mr. Patel. I sincerely hope that Mr. Patel continues to improve and that he will regain full use of his legs,” Bentley said in a letter to India’s general consul in Atlanta, Ajit Kumar. “Finally, and most important, please accept our sincere apology for this tragic incident to your government, Mr. Patel, and the citizens of India who reside and work in our state,” the letter went on.

What are the lessons for the people visiting on staying with their children and grandchildren in US or Canada?

During the morning hours, especially in the summer, there are many such grandparents taking a stroll in the area. The children by then would have left for their work and the grandchildren to the school. One of the best use of this free time is to take a walk, enjoying the nature’s beauty and breathing fresh air, on a sidewalk, that too without the fear of dirt or garbage on the path and feeling safe that there would be no vehicle to hit you or dogs to bite or bark at you.

While walking our dog in the morning, one has observed some newly arrived folks with a tendency to look deep into the houses in the neighbourhood, with an inquisitiveness to record the proceedings. Some stare at the women, especially at those women who are dressed to beat the summer heat. Some inspect the garbage cans placed outside the homes, as they see many articles which would have never been thrown back home (most would have been sold to the scavenger for a few bucks).

These actions are sure to set some alarm bells ringing and also some uncivilised reactions. This is mostly so as people value their privacy and are sensitive about any breaches of their privacy. These reactions are immediately labelled ‘racial’ and claims are made that these reactions were because of the skin colour.

This is where the children or grandchildren have a role to play in educating the parents or grandparents about the society and culture of US/Canada. They need to be briefed in detail about the behaviour expected, especially when on a stroll on the road or the park or while visiting the malls or shopping centres. The educated folks must do a detailed study about it (the Internet is the best source), prior to their arrival in US/Canada.

Exceptions Always Prove the Rule

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The phrase is derived from a legal principle of republican Rome: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (“the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted”), a concept first proposed by Cicero. This means a stated exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception.

Commenting on my previous blog “Education and Punishment”, many of our school mates referred to Wing Commander TB Srivastava, our Principal and Mr C Madhavan Nair (CMN), our Physical Education Instructor. They both are the exceptions to the blog.

Mr CMN was a retired Havildar (Sergeant) Major from the Indian Army, who joined the school from its inception. The day started with his Physical Training (PT) class early in the morning and in the evening it was the games. Most students remember him for his love for his students and always addressed them as “Mone (മോനേ)” in Malayalam meaning “My Son”. It caught on especially as majority of the students hailed from Tamil Nadu and thus spoke Tamil and not Malayalam.

The organisational capabilities and leadership skills of Mr CMN were on display when he conducted the “Massed PT” for the School Day, involving all students from grade 6 to 12. He trained everyone, coordinated all their movements from entry till exit and the choreography will surely put Chinni Prakash (movie choreographer) to shame. All these he achieved by motivating each student to put in his best and by blowing a few notes using his whistle. One has neither seen him losing his cool nor using any ‘difficult’ language to the students.

CMN Grndsmen

(Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Groundsmen – from the left – Mria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one)

As a Captain, I was entrusted with the task of marking the ground for an athletic meet. The effort I had to put in to mark the 400M track, especially the curves, that too with about 200 trained soldiers under command, reminded me of Mr CMN. With half a dozen illiterate groundsmen, he would execute the same task in six hours and I took two full days with 200 soldiers.

Mr CMN trained the students in swimming, diving and life saving (his core area while serving in the army) and also all the games – football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and boxing. His knowledge of each of these games was immense and would always refer all the in-school competition matches. His skill in refereeing to ensure fair play and sportsmanship was exceptional.

CMN with Family

(Mr C Madhavan Nair with his family)

His treatment to all his students as his ‘Sons’ must have been because he was a great father. His two daughters and son studied in the same school (senior to us) and that also would have added to his attachment to the school and the students, despite the low salary he earned.

Wing Commander TB Srivastava was our Principal from 1972 to 1975. Another great teacher who brought in many changes to the school’s day-yo-day functioning and a great motivator. He was a cause for many of our school mates to join the Indian Air Force. The fruit of his effort was that our school won the Defence Minister’s trophy for sending the maximum number of cadets to the National Defence Academy (NDA) from all Sainik Schools.

The Principal would be seen participating in all activities the students indulged in – from morning PT to the evening dinner. He was a great orator, real good horseman, played all games pretty well and spoke with love and poise with the students. Unluckily we never had any other officer from the armed forces who came anywhere near Wing Commander TB Srivastava (many were real pathetic expressions of humanity) and that is why many of us do not even recall their names.

Hence the rule stands proved.

tb Wing Commander TB Srivastava

Writing Skills

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For the Canadian youth, armed with Cell phones, Blackberries and Ipods, texting has become the order of the day. The language skills have been relegated and new acronyms, shortcuts and smilies have taken over. Children are also not learning and enjoying social niceties like please, thank you, or it is a pleasure meeting you. They enjoy the anonymity of communicating through technology and tend to say things in text that they would never say face to face.

This phenomenon is not unique to our children. The parents are almost as guilty. They communicate with their children through text messaging. Parents mistakenly think that they are in better contact with their children when the children respond to their messages.

The use of shortcuts while texting hinders a child’s ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar. Free flow while writing is hampered, adversely affecting a child’s ability to write a paper, prepare a presentation or write an examination, resulting in poor grades.

The children are not confident enough to speak face-to-face, especially with adults. In many Indo-Canadian homes, I have observed that the children shy away and retreat to their rooms at home when someone comes calling on. The parents need to educate the children the need to come down and meet the guests and exchange a few pleasantries and then retreat to their rooms in case they have any work.

Hence there is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board – that is to write. May be letters to grand-parents and relatives back home or their friends. Another methodology to improve the writing skills is to encourage the child to maintain a journal. In the journal, they can write about anything and everything, like any incidence at school, about a TV programme they watched and so on. Encouraging the child to maintain a diary will surely improve writing skills.

When we joined Sainik School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) at the age of nine (Grade 5) in 1971, the only medium of communication with the parents was the most trusted Post-Card. So we started writing letters at that young age. It was a great fete I thought for a nine year old to write a short letter to his parents and siblings, describing as to how good he felt for being enrolled in a premier school and how good the food was. This was my first attempt at creative writing, not being guided as to what to write, not being corrected and marked by teachers. At the end of each letter writing session, I thought I did accomplish something. The language was Malayalam to start with, but gradually converted to English as I became better at it and could express ideas and thoughts properly. To begin with, the lines I scribbled on the postcard would go up and come down; how good I tried I could never make the letters follow a straight line.

Once we left home and returned to the school after the vacations, we used to write our status reports of our safe arrivals and post it on Monday and would reach home may be following Monday. That was the only time our parents would know that we reached the school safe. They had the trust and confidence in us that we would reach safely, despite change of three trains and bussing to Amaravathinagar. Compare it with today’s children in Canada– not of Grade 5, but even university students – the number of times the cell-phones would have gone-off, even for a trip of an hour. Has the technology made us to lose confidence in our children?  Is it that our parents, with the technology available then, could have only prayed to their Gods and may be that gave then the power not to panic or get pressurised?

Still remember the days I spent at a remote post in Kashmir, cut-off from rest of the world and the only link to civilization was radio and the letters. We used to get a lot of those “Forces Letter” which did not need any postage and that’s when I wrote letters to anyone and everyone, whose postal address I had. Some addresses were wrong and was dutifully returned by the Postal Department.

From our base, one could see the road winding down from the pass and the convoy used to take about two hours to reach the base camp. The convoy was always lead by the mail vehicle, could be that the driver was very experienced with the curves and dangers of the route, or could be that everyone wanted the mail to be the first to reach the base camp. Memories linger of our Soldiers and Officers literally “tracking” the convoy with an expectant gaze, until the convoy reached the base camp. Our Dispatch Rider who used to collect the Dispatches (letters), would be waiting outside the Field Post Office (FPO). Once the Dispatch Rider returned to the post and distributed the letters, the expressions of those who did and did not receive any “Dispatches” can well be guessed. The next half hour was an undeclared “Private” time for everyone. Mood of each Soldier who received their “Dispatches” would depend on the content of each “Dispatch”. This mood continued to be hidden under their smiles sometimes until he received his next “Dispatch”; sometimes until he went home on leave, sometimes for months to come. During the snow covered winter months (we used to get 10 to 15 feet of standing snow and the roads were closed), the truck was replaced by a helicopter which used to come once or twice a week carrying the same “Dispatches”. Rest of the story remained the same but for the difference that the “tracking” period reduced drastically to less than five minutes.

The art of letter writing may be dead and buried and with it the writing skills of our young generation. Many cannot sit and write a page, with logical thoughts and cannot describe on paper a situation, an event or an experience. Leave alone spelling and grammatical mistakes, even the main idea does not reach the target person. With this reluctance to write, many do not maintain any journals or diaries. Letters, journals and diaries are one of best and cost effective method to develop creative writing skills and you will feel the same sense of achievement what I felt when I wrote those letters at the age of nine.

Challenges in Parenting Faced by Indian Immigrants In North America

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Background

A nursing student, 22 year old daughter of parents who had immigrated to the US from Kerala, was reported missing by her parents on February 24, 2014. She was last heard from by her mother who talked to her, on the phone.  The daughter claimed to be in the library at the university campus, where as the police investigation revealed that she made the call from a fitness center.

The parents were in for a rude shock when they learned from police that their daughter, who was a nursing student, had not attended classes since May 2013.  All along, her parents believed that she was going to school, and her mother who was under the impression that her daughter was on track to follow in her footsteps. She had been living at home and telling her parents she was attending school all through the fall and winter. The father’s credit card was even charged $6,072 for the Fall 2013 semester. I had heard from our daughter about of a few students who enroll in courses using the parent’s credit card and later cancelling their enrollment and taking the money.

The parents had not been seeing their daughter’s progress card and when her father asked to see the report card, she said there was something wrong with the computer. The mother had noticed that that her daughter wasn’t bringing home college text books. On inquiry, she said that she was doing online reading. In hindsight, how could a mother, who is also a nurse by profession ever accept such an excuse.

On March 11, 2014, the police found her dead body in her car and as per the police, the cause of death appeared to be suicide, due to inhalation of a noxious substance.

Reality Check

This case study reveals the challenges in parenting faced especially by parents emigrating from India. This brings out the need for positive parent-child interactions, especially at teen and adolescence levels. Each age and stage of growth presents unique joys and challenges, and the teen and adolescence years are certainly no exception. In fact, parenting during these years will always present unique situations as a result of the physical, social and emotional changes taking place in your child’s life. The parents have a great deal of influence on the behavior of their adolescents.

Characteristically, a majority of Indian immigrant parents’ relationships with their children are formal and vertical with regard to age and gender. Communication and authority flow downward consistent with a hierarchical order of position and status. Indian parents accept as their duty the care of their children, and children’s reciprocated duty is to unquestionably respect and honour their parents. In this context, parents expect children to accede to parental wishes and to behave in ways that reflect well upon the family, and many times the community. A majority of Indian immigrant parents rely on the inculcation of guilt and shame to keep children, regardless of age, focused on the importance of family obligations and to behave in ways that do not ‘bring shame’ to the family. Anything and everything the child does is castigated with the often heard remark that ‘its against our culture’.

For a majority of Indian immigrant parents in America, the desire for children to succeed educationally and economically is a very high (only doctors and engineers please). Accordingly, children’s exceptional academic performance is often viewed by parents as an honour to them. Those children, who experience academic difficulties, often feel they have failed because of their inability to fulfill parental expectations. The children often feel driven in their desire to please their parents and succeed educationally, occupationally and financially. However doing so, disregards their own developmental needs, resulting in increased stress levels. Sometimes children even experience mental breakdowns.

Concerns of Indian Immigrant Parents in North America

  • Fear of Losing Children to the American Culture.     Most Indian parents migrate with the hope of making it good with the many opportunities North America offers to them and their children. However, they fear that their children, especially those who entered adolescence or young adulthood subsequent to emigrating and those born in the US, are becoming ‘Americans’ and abandoning the family’s cultural values. They often perceive children’s separation and individualisation from the family, and practice of the behavioral standards and customs of the American culture as a rejection of the parents and their values. Most of these parents fail to realise that the present young Indian society has changed and have adapted to the American culture of dating, live-in relationships, drugs, pubs, etc, (mostly kept under wraps). In their attempts to preserve their cultural values, many Indian parents often idealise their native country/ culture, and enforce stricter and more rigid rules (than those back home) for their children’s behaviours as a means of exerting and regaining greater control of them. Some Indian parents often demand that children minimize their activities like dating based on personal choice, partying, using contraceptives, marrying for love vs  accepting an arranged marriage, or reject the culture outright. Indian children often perceive the identification with the parental native culture to be a disadvantage to making it big in the American society.
  • Loss of Authority Over Children.           Indian parents become aware of two very painful post-immigration facts of life: that there are vastly different rules for parenting children, and the new rules significantly lessen their general authority over their children. Many parents complain that the children do not listen to them and some are even scared of saying anything to their children. Parents also lament the ‘permissiveness’ of the American society that condones children’s rights to challenge parental values and authority and often observe that raising children in America is same as ‘living with foreigners.’
  • Disciplining Children.       Many Indian parents feel restrained in their authority to discipline their children ‘appropriately’ consistent with the usual and acceptable modes of disciplining children back in India. Many Indian parents used disciplinary practices that’ by American standards, are considered harsh and even abusive . For these parents, parenting in America requires accommodation to new value systems, rules, and expectations.  As a result, Indian parents overwhelmingly tend to be cautious in disciplining their children because of their unfamiliarity with other disciplinary methods and fear of breaking the law.
  • Loss of Authority to Select Children’s Mate.  Indian immigrant families represent a kaleidoscope of religions and cultures and consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Notwithstanding the decline in the practice, however, many Indian immigrant parents continue to endorse arranged marriages. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents may even ‘import’ a potential spouse from India.  Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their values and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community. They also reference the progressively increasing divorce rate among younger Indian immigrants and worry about their children’s ability to ‘make a good marriage’.
  • Loss of Face Within the Community.    Within the Indian community, parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviors and are criticized for their failing as parents, because children’s behaviors reflect negatively upon parents. They believe that it is the paramount duty of their children to enhance family pride by honouring their parents through their culturally appropriate behaviors and outstanding accomplishments. Consequently, when children behave out-of-culture, parents invariably complain that such behaviors dishonour them as ‘Indian Parents’ and devalue their standing as ‘Indians’ within the community.
  • Religious Institutions.       Indian parents seems to prove the adage of ‘being more loyal to the king than the king themselves’ when it comes to their religious matters. They force their children to attend religious ceremonies, mostly without explaining the details of the ceremony and its significance in real life. The religious teachers employed by these institutions are fresh off the boat from India and do not connect to the American society and the stresses the children undergo here.   They ensure to instill a feeling of ‘guilt and shame’ in the Indian parents for not strictly adhering to the religious practices and the ‘sin’ they are committing by not protecting their children from the ‘hazards’ of the ‘evil’ American society. Their sermons are mostly archaic and have no place in the modern society. Luckily these sermons are in their dialects or in ‘Hinglish/ Punglish/ Manglish’, which luckily these children do not understand. These religious heads will talk non-stop on the evils of the American society, but wants you to part with your dollars liberally at any instant.

The Way Ahead

  • Monitor and Supervise your Child:       Children want parents who listen and try to understand, set good examples, and offer guidance. A delicate balance of allowing your child freedom while still exercising a level of parental control is key to your child achieving independence.
  • Monitor Your Child’s Activities.  Show a constant and genuine interest in your child’s life.  Know where your child is at all times. Ask where they are going after school, when they will be home, and which friends they will be with. Parents who actively monitor and guide their children tend to have adolescents who experience positive relationships with peers and who are less likely to use drugs.
  • Check-in Regularly.           Talk to your child after school to ask about their day. If your child is scheduled to be at a friend’s house, call the friend’s parent to confirm the arrangement. Be involved without being overbearing. Your child may protest your monitoring behavior, but setting boundaries and sticking to them will show your child that you love them.
  • Parent in an Authoritative Style.Parent with warmth and respect, avoiding the tendency to be overly controlling or overly lenient. Authoritative parents are warm but firm. They encourage their children to be independent, but as parents, they manage to keep limits and controls on their child’s actions. Authoritative parents openly discuss family rules with their children, which allows the children to express their views. Authoritative parents are nurturing, while providing the rules, guidelines, and standards that children need.
  • Encourage Your Children to Bring Home their Friends.     This will ensure that you meet your child’s friends and know the company he/ she keeps. Interact with your child to find out the activities and conversations that took place during their outing. This is easier said than done as you have to earn the confidence of your child, especially by not reacting to those uncomfortable issues that may crop up. This will provide some insight into the activity pattern of your child outside the school hours.
  • Eat Dinner Together.      Eating dinner or at least a meal together as a family provides an ideal opportunity to interact with your children. Talk to your child about their day, their friends, and current events. It also shows that you care enough to take time to listen and learn about their interests. Research finds that teens who eat dinner with a parent five or more times during the week are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, get into fights and engage in sexual activity.
  • College and University Students to Study with Education Loan.    The children must utilise the facility of the liberal educational loans, especially those funded by the governments. It not only satisfies the financial need to proceed with higher education but helps in saving income tax also while repayment. Tax benefits on education loan end up reducing overall cost of the loan. Most student loans offer lower interest rates, deferred payment options and a repayment grace period following graduation. This will ensure that the children are better focused on their education. It can also act as a monitoring tool for the parents as the next tranche of the loan would not be released unless the student has scored adequate marks and have the requisite attendance. In case the parents are financially sound, they can assist the child to repay the loan in full or in part on graduation.