Bringing Up Our Daughter Nidhi

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On 20 March 1991, we were blessed with our daughter and we named her “Nidhi” and she was a treasure in the real sense.  She was christened “Susan” after my mother, in accordance with the customs of the Syrian Orthodox Christians of Kerala.

After my tenure as a Brigade Major and prior to my joining the Technical Staff Course at Pune, there was a three months gap and hence in September 1995, I moved to our parent regiment – 75 Medium Regiment, then located at Udhampur.  Marina, who was running a small business then and our daughter who was attending pre-school were stationed at Delhi.  During the Dushera holidays, Nidhi wanted to visit me and spend a week with me and so she was put on the Air India (then Indian Airlines) flight to Jammu as an unaccompanied minor.  Marina was not scared at all to send her all alone as Nidhi was pretty confident and Marina was pretty sure that Nidhi could handle herself well.  She felt butterflies in her stomach only after seeing her off with the airline ground-staff.

I was waiting at the Jammu airport and when Nidhi came out I asked her as to how the flight was and she said that she had put up an ‘about to cry’ face and the air hostess got scared and stuffed her with lots of chocolates and cookies.  I was then staying in the single officers’ accommodation in the regimental premises and we dined in the Officers’ Mess.

How to keep a four year old daughter busy all day was the intriguing question that came to my mind.  Two people in the regiment came to my rescue.  The first was the Religious Teacher, who would take Nidhi to the Regimental Mandir and narrate all the Hindu mythological stories to her.  The next was the (RHM) Regimental Havildar Major (Sergeant Major) Sengole, who would take Nidhi around the unit with him.  She enjoyed watching the gunners carryout their gun drill practices on the Bofors Guns, the chef in the kitchen rolling out ‘Rotis’ in hundreds for the men, the drill at the Quarter Guard, men maintaining their rifles in the armoury, vehicles being repaired in the workshop, etc.

A word about RHM Sengole.  He is six feet tall, dark and well built soldier with an imposing personality who hailed from Madurai in Tamil Nadu.  As a Sepoy, he was the Light Machine Gun (LMG) handler when I was a young Lieutenant performing the duties of Gun Position Officer (GPO).  When he became a Naik (Corporal) he was the Commanding Officer’s stick orderly when any VIP visited and when he was promoted to a Havildar (Sergeant) he was special guard commander – all because of his blood red eyes and the moustache he had painstakingly grown, which would easily put forest brigand Veerappan to shame.  Sengole was initially a bit surprised to see a four year old girl smiling at him as all kids were literally scared at the sight of him.  He once confided that even his twins were also scared of him when he visited them during his vacations.  The secret was that after having spent over a decade with Sengole, I knew how soft at heart and calm this God-fearing and fearful looking person was.

Having grown up in a family of four sons and educated at the Military School and later at the Military Academies and having served all the while in a male only environment of the Indian Army, the only issue I had was to comb and set Nidhi’s hair.  She had long and thick tresses and when I tried to run the comb through, I realised how difficult it was to even get the comb down the thick growth.  That was when Mrs Jadeja, wife of Captain Vikram Jadeja, who was our Battery Second-in-Command, came to my rescue.  I would dispatch Nidhi to her house whenever she wanted her hair  done and she could also play with their two lovely daughters Rachna and Archana.

After a few days Nidhi walked up to me and asked “What is the difference between a Gola (गोला) and Goli (गोली)?”  I had no answer and she said that the Gola is as big as what she is and is fired from the Bofors Gun and Goli as big as her middle finger and is fired from a rifle.  After spending two weeks with me, she went back to Delhi, again as an unaccompanied minor with an ‘about-to-cry’ face.  That was my first experience of single-parenting.

Marina migrated to Canada in February 2002 and I moved to take over command of 125 (Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment which was then operationally deployed in the Rajasthan Sector.  The children were sent to Kottayam, Kerala, to live with their grandparents and study there.  Nidhi immediately picked up Malayalam and started to read and write the language as Malayalam was the third language for her as part of the Grade 5 curriculum.

The children along with my mother moved in with me to Devlali, Maharashtra, as the regiment had moved back to its permanent location after the operational commitments.  There started my second round as a single parent.  Nidhi immediately readjusted to the military environment and she had continued with her fluency in Hindi language.  Our son Nikhil, then in Kindergarten, had completely forgotten Hindi and his brains were reformatted to Malayalam.

The regiment was real well oiled machinery and Late Colonel Suresh Babu was the Second-in-Command, who along with the other officers ran the regiment exceptionally well and was the best unit in town.  The soldiers in the regiment were totally self-disciplined and needed no supervision or ‘spoon feeding’.  It appeared that all they needed was directions with clean and trustworthy leadership.  This ensured that I could spend more time with the children as I had to spend under 10 hours a week in the regiment, and I had mastered the art of total delegation.

Preparing Nidhi for the life ahead in Canada, I wanted to make her totally independent.  She had to polish her shoes, press her school uniform and make her bed.  My helper Naik Santhosh would always help her out after ensuring my absence.  Nidhi had to cycle to and fro her school.  Our home was situated on a hillock and hence going to school on a cycle was bit easy, but the return trip on a warm afternoon was bit difficult.  She would at times call up the regiment to say that the cycle is punctured or the chain had come off and the men in the regiment would gladly send her a truck to pick her up and the cycle and drop off at the home.  One day Nidhi asked me as to whether I was commanding a regiment or not.  I enquired as to from where that doubt had arisen.  “All the kids in the class say that you are not the Commanding Officer, otherwise I would have been dropped off to school in the Commanding Officer’s Vehicle” she said.  I kept mum for a minute and told her that for the entire world I may not be commanding a regiment, but you know the truth.

That was the days when I got a jolt of my life.  Nidhi had attained puberty and as a dad who had all along lived in a male only world had no clue as to how to deal with the situation.  I immediately rushed to my mother for some tips and was in for a rude shock when she said she too had lived in a man’s world for the past fifty years – with my dad and four sons – and she had never dealt with such a situation and had fully forgotten how it was when she was a teenager.  I called up my wife and she spoke to Nidhi and gave all the motherly advise and how to cope with the changes.

The children joined their mother in Canada in 2004 and Nidhi went to join the school in Grade 8.  She was the fastest among all to adapt to the Canadian culture and environment (even faster than her mom who had spent two years in Canada by then).  During her Grade 9, she bagged a plum role in the high school musical drama “Leader of the Pack” which involved rendering four solo songs and six group songs with over 16 costume changes.  Nidhi kept up with her linguistic skills in Hindi and Malayalam, but Nikhil who joined in Grade 1 has fully reformatted his brains to the Canadian English mode, overwriting all the Hindi and Malayalam.

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Nidhi came out with flying colours from her high school and is currently doing her Bachelor of Sciences degree and is currently working with an event management company in Toronto.  I pray to God to ensure her success in life.

Eyesore at Military Funerals

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The Siachen Glacier region in the Eastern Karakoram Range of Himalayan Mountains has been the site of intermittent conflict between India and Pakistan for several decades. The area has come to be known as the world’s highest battlefield. Although Siachen means land of wild roses but in reality this place is barren and icy cold. It has minus 14 to minus 34 degrees temperature in summer and minus fifty degrees in winter season and at these temperatures almost everything with life, and the things that sustain life simply collapses. India controls two thirds of the glaciated area and the balance has been encroached by Pakistan.

On 03 February 2016, ten brave soldiers of 19 Madras Regiment were trapped under a mass of snow after an avalanche hit the Sonam Post, situated at 19,000 feet on the Siachen Glacier. Nine brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice in defence of their motherland that day.

Lance Naik Hanumanthappa survived the massive avalanche for six days. He was found during the post-disaster avalanche rescue operations by the Indian Army, six days after the disaster.   He was rescued from 35 feet beneath the snow in minus 45°Celsius temperature. His health was critical but survival news gave a chance to family members and the nation to celebrate, but the celebration was short-lived as he eventually died at the Army Hospital due to multiple organ failure on 11 February 2016

Under almost 30 feet of ice, all that Lance Naik Hanumanthappa had going for him was a small air pocket and a lot of grit. Outside, a group of well-trained Army men, two dogs, a small team of medical professionals and military pilots carried out a relentless, almost death-defying rescue act under the most inhospitable conditions the world can ever imagine. The rescue of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa personified the triumph of the indomitable spirit of human resilience against all odds, including the might of Mother Nature, and the determination of man to never give up on his fellow men.

The nation paid (their) homage to these brave-hearts and military funerals with all respects was conducted at the hometowns of these martyrs.

Military funerals are solemn affairs and everyone in attendance, with the exception of the immediate family, remain standing for the duration as a mark of respect to the departed soul. Everyone including non-military personnel attending the funeral are expected to wear respectable mourning attire. As per the Flag Code of India, the Indian National Flag is draped on the caskets of the military martyrs with the saffron towards the head of the coffin. The Flag is folded and with the uniform of the martyr, is handed over to the next of kin after the ceremony.

A Military Funeral is an elaborate ceremony, mainly to pay respect to the sacrifices of the martyred soldier and also to celebrate the life of the soldier. One of the key differences in a military funeral is that the uniformed mourners salute the fallen soldier at the following different points during the solemn ceremony:-

  • When the hearse passes.
  • Whenever the casket is being moved (from the place of ceremony to the hearse and from the hearse to the gravesite)
  • During rifle volleys.
  • While the bugle plays the ‘last-post’ and the ‘rouse’.
  • While the casket is being lowered into the grave.

The non-military people and family of the departed soldier are expected not to salute, but remove hats and such other headwear and place it over their heart during the salute by the military personnel. If they are not wearing hats, they should just fold their hands in ‘Namaste’ or cover their heart with their right hand.

Having said so much about military funerals and the solemnity of the occasion, let me draw the reader’s attention to a common malaise observed during these ceremonies.

 

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The image above was taken at the Begumpet Airport on 15 February 2016 when the mortal remains of Martyr Sepoy Mushtaq Ahmad reached there and was received with full military honours. The body was later taken in a special ambulance to his native village in Kurnool district.

The deplorable eyesore in the image is obvious to all. The military personnel are all standing in attention, while the pall bearers carry the casket on to the waiting ambulance. The journalists and their photographers were jostling for space to get the best shot for their media house. They paid scant regard for the martyr, the sentiments of the family members and for the sensitivity of the soldiers standing guard and performing the drill of the military funeral. In all the military funerals that I have conducted or attended while in service, these ‘jurnos’ were invariably a serious hindrance to the smooth conduct of the solemn event. So, now you well understand why one cannot blame the former Chief of the Army Staff and now a current central minister, for having chosen to collectively tag the ’jurnos’ with a rather apt appellation, to much furore.

Amateur journalists often believe that their dharma of “the best coverage possible” takes precedence over everything else. They need to be educated about the need to care for peoples’ sentiments and the required respect for such solemn occasions.

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This is the image of the last rites of Martyr Lance Naik Sudheesh B at Kollam, Kerala. Here, the military funeral is being conducted in a very befitting manner. Obviously, the jurnos have kept away from the scene. The Army Officers responsible for the conduct of the funeral and the Kerala Police appear to have got their act together and kept them at a safe distance.

There is an urgent need to formulate a policy guideline for the journalists, newspapers and media houses about their actions and conduct during military funerals. The Information Ministry must initiate procedures to coordinate the efforts of various agencies for such occasions. The national broadcaster- DoorDarshan – must take on the live streaming of the event as they are best equipped for the job and also have better commentators on their rolls, as compared to the vernacular media. A single feed can be provided to all the other channels, as being done during the Republic Day Parade, thereby ensuring better quality transmission across the globe. The still images for the print media can always be provided by the military unit conducting the funeral. They can appoint an official photographer who will in turn provide the images to the various media houses.

One can only pray that in future there would be no such eyesores during similar solemn occasions.

 

Sympathy & Empathy

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Flying Officer MP Anil Kumar, fondly called MP by friends like us soared to the greatest heights to be with his creator, the God Almighty on 20 May 2014, at the age of 50 after battling cancer – chronic myeloid leukaemia. Marina and I, on our trip to India in February 2014, landed at Mumbai and we drove to Pune to meet MP.  At that time none of us knew that such a tragedy was awaiting MP.

MP was paralysed neck below due to a motorcycle accident on his way back after night flying on June 28, 1988. The accident confined him to a wheelchair for life, and became a permanent resident of Indian Army’s Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre at Khadki, Pune.

I had heard about the accident from my friends, but as I was busy with my own military career and could never visit him. I went to Pune in 1996 for a long course for 18 months and Colonel Raju George, a common friend and course mate of MP at the National Defence Academy, was posted at Pune. We decided to pay a visit to MP after attending the church services at Khadki – this weekly ritual continued until I was posted out from Pune.

Colonel Raju had briefed me not to show any sympathy and only be empathetic towards MP. I explained my predicament that I could never differentiate between ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ and that the word ’empathy’ I had heard many a times in all the beauty pageants, but never understood what it meant. Colonel Raju promptly confessed that his case was no different until he met MP. Colonel Raju did attribute it to the rigours of military life and training where we had time for neither ‘sympathy’ nor ’empathy’ and we had to move on.

On the appointed Sunday we arrived at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center carrying a few bars of chocolates – Col Raju, like a good army officer, had advised me to carry a few bars of chocolates as MP relished them. We entered the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center and MP was sitting on a wheelchair in the corridor. I saw the smiling face of the same MP who used to spend his Sundays in my cabin at the National Defence Academy in 1981. The smile I thought had remained intact despite so many pitfalls and agonies he had faced. As usual I moved my hand forward for a shake hand and suddenly the reality dawned on me that he is quadriplegic and has no control over his limbs. Without showing any expressions, I managed to convert that action into a hug and I planted a kiss on his forehead. The chocolates in my hand I realised cannot be eaten by MP, but had to be fed to him. I broke off a piece and placed it in his mouth and his expressions showed that he really relished it and appreciated it. Now the meaning of the words ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ started to sink in my head.

In his journey of self discovery after becoming a quadraplegic, MP taught himself to write, initially by holding a pen with his teeth and subsequently on computer. MP was a prolific writer. His life story, “Airborne to Chairborne”, is part of the syllabus for Class X in the Maharashtra and Kerala. In the piece he writes how he conquered the bouts of depression and began the second phase of his life in the paraplegic home, thousands of miles away from his native Chirayinkiizh in Kerala.

After about two hours of reminiscing about the good old academy days, MP wanted to be moved to his computer station in his room. Colonel Raju and I pushed the wheelchair and placed it at the earmarked place. MP asked me to pick up the stylus and he opened his mouth and I placed it between his teeth. He bit the stylus and with expertise started operating his computer, replying all emails he had received. MP was very prompt at replying to emails, and he received plenty from all his “fans”.

At that moment a few young girls walked in, flowers in their hands and greeted MP. They were the students at a local school, who were inspired by his article ‘Airborne to Chairborne’. Sometimes, we are wary of meeting people with disabilities because we don’t know where to begin and what to say to them. During any meeting with MP, one would realise that it was he who took the initiative to make you comfortable and at ease with his scintillating conversation. His positive attitude, his zest for knowledge comes forth within minutes of meeting him and anyone would be impressed with his confidence, determination and most of all, his humour and wit.

After the girls left, the attendants at the Rehabilitation Center moved MP to his bed. A neatly laid out bed and MP was tucked in. There was a board at the bedside and the day’s newspaper was clipped on to it for MP to read. After every five minutes, the attendant would come and flip the pages and re-clip them on to the board. In those days we did not have any online versions of the newspapers.

Now think of a predicament that you have to depend on others for those very little things in life, like combing your hair, scratching your head, swatting a fly sitting on your face, wear a shirt or what today’s youth do – put their hands in the pockets. Despite all these MP with his will to survive is a lesson for all of us who tend to wilt under pressure – far much lesser than what this man has undergone. He will always be a source of inspiration to all of us.

A few lines from MP’s piece Airborne to Chairborne is a proof of this ‘Believe it or not, every cloud has a silver lining. To surmount even seemingly insuperable barriers one has to shun the thought of disability and muster the remnant faculties and canalise ones energies purposefully and whole-heartedly it isn’t just physical ability and intelligence but an insatiable appetite for success and unstinted will power that would texture the warp and woof of fabric called human destiny. Greater the difficulty, sweeter the victory.’

His friends have made a short documentary film ‘And the fight goes on’, that in 30 minutes told the tale of the real-life fighter.  To obtain a copy of the DVD (English or Malayalam), please contact Cosmos Institute of Information Technology,  email: AndTheFightGoesOn@gmail.com.

I would be failing in my duty if I fail to appreciate the Director and his team at the Army Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center for looking after MP. In any other place anywhere in the world, MP would have suffered bedsores, depression and pain. Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center houses about 75 paralysed soldiers. Some of the soldiers go to visit their native towns and return dejected because they feel nobody wants them, as they are no more earning any pay, but living on a meager pension. These were men who were strong and healthy once upon a time and they had sacrificed for the safety and security of their motherland. They need a lot of love and understanding. They don’t need sympathy. Just an opportunity to live like other men and that’s what Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre provides. The aim of Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center is to ensure that paraplegics/ tetraplegics have a positive outlook in life and they should remember that “it is not their disability but ability that counts”.

A Memorable Reunion

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Our Son Nikhil during his valedictory address to his classmates on graduating from Grade 12 in October 2015, concluded by saying “Hey! There is an individual who came up with a brilliant idea. Have you heard of him? I am going to reply with pride in my voice – and say – I know him; I went to High School with him”.

When I heard his speech, I never, ever visualised that the import of those words would come true in my life, and that too, within a short span of three months. Our classmates from the 1979 batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, were invited by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, Commandant National Defence Academy (NDA) for a get-together at the NDA on 22 and 23 December 2015. That was when the meaning of our son’s words gleamed into my head and with pride I felt “I went to Sainik School with Ashok”.

It was not an occasion to be missed and so I booked my ticket for travel from Toronto, Canada to Pune, India. Apart from meeting many of my classmates, it was also a once in a lifetime event for anyone who graduated from NDA to be invited by the Commandant to be his personal guest at the NDA for two days.

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The two places I looked forward to entering were the Commandant’s Office and his residence. Both the places, I never had an opportunity to venture into, either as a Cadet at the NDA or as a Major in the Indian Army attending a yearlong course at the Institute of Armament Technology across the NDA Lake.

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On the evening of 21 December, about 25 of our classmates assembled at the Aquarius Resort, near NDA. Hats off to Veteran Group Captain R Chandramouli who made it for the event, ignoring his poor health. Some of us were meeting for the first time since leaving the school in 1979. For all of us, nothing much changed other than the age, marriage and children. It appeared that we were all back at the school in 1979. Everyone appeared to make the most of the time in celebrating the togetherness. Children, most of whom had known each other in their previous meetings, welcomed the new entrants into their fold and appeared to be busier than their fathers in exchanging notes.

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The event commenced on 22 December, the day of the Winter Solstice,  by paying homage to the martyred officers, who had passed out of NDA at the Hut of Remembrance. The solemn ceremony was an acknowledgement for the courage, valour and sacrifice of those who served the country. It kindled a thought in everyone’s mind on the sacrifices of these officers for the peace and welfare of the country. The ceremony had a patriotic impact on everyone, especially the children.

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Then was the sumptuous breakfast at the Cadets’ Mess. Obviously, nothing had changed from our Cadet days in 1979. It appeared that the clock had frozen in the Cadet’s Mess. Those were the days when over 2000 cadets finished their breakfast consisting of cereal, two eggs, over a dozen toasts and coffee – all under 20 minutes flat. Possibly they still did so.

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After breakfast, we moved to the Ashoka Pillar, at the main intersection opposite the Sudan Block. It was photography time for all and obviously the traffic was held-up. Luckily for us, the cadets were on vacation and we being the Commandant’s personal guests, took priority over everything at the NDA – a right normally enjoyed only by the cadets.

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After that was the visit to the Salaria Square, known for its well kept lawns, gardens with exotic plants and flowers throughout the year, fountains and war trophies in terms of captured tanks. The square is named after Captain GS Salaria, the first alumnus of NDA to be decorated with Param Vir Chakra – nation’s highest gallantry award.

Then we moved on to the Sudan Block, with its massive pink dome, the most remarkable and dominating piece of architecture in the 8000 acre campus of the NDA. Money for the building had come from a corpus donated by Sudan in recognition of the sacrifices of Indian troops in the defence of Sudan during World War II. It houses the administrative offices, non-science academic departments, the Commandant’s Office and the Deputy Commandant’s Office.

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We entered the Sudan Block and headed straight to the Commandant’s Office. This was the first time in my life I entered the Commandant’s office, all courtesy Ashok. One of the ladies in the crowd wanted to know whether I had ever been to the Commandant’s Office and my reply was “I did my training at the NDA in three years”. All the defence officers laughed out loud and the civilian friends and ladies wanted an explanation. Veteran Colonel AC Cherian came to my rescue and explained that the only time a Cadet entered the Commandant’s Office was when he had to be relegated to the next course on academic, physical or disciplinary grounds and such cadets ended up completing their training in over three years. Ashok was prompt to point out that I must have narrowly missed the ‘honour’ as I had over 100 restrictions (punishments) to my credit.

After a cup of tea with the Commandant and his wife Geetha, we drove off to visit the equestrian lines, the Air Force Training Team and the Naval Training Team. Then was the visit to E Squadron to see the cadets’ accommodation. E Squadron was chosen as Cherian, Veteran Commander Reginald and self had graduated from this Squadron. Here again, everything appeared to be same from the time we had left. The only notable change was the grill atop the doors of each cabin. The vertical mesh had been replaced by a diagonal one and I am sure with it the ‘Seventh Heaven’ would have disappeared too (the ex-NDAs would understand).

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We were then treated to a splendid lunch at the Cadets’ Mess, with Ashok and Geetha in attendance. In the afternoon was the visit to the Habibullah Hall (named in honor of the first Commandant of NDA) for the screening Discovery Channel Documentary ‘Revealed: National Defence Academy’. The documentary charts out the history of military leadership; and explores the journey of young cadets through the tough three-year NDA course. The documentary was to be followed by a Hollywood movie and that was when Reginald came out with the idea of a drive to the Sinhgarh Fort. Obviously, old habits die hard, that too while back at the NDA.

Sinhgarh Fort, a site of many historic battles, the most famous one being the capture by Tanaji, Shivaji’s General, in March 1670. The Fort, located about 15 km from NDA, overlooks the NDA campus and the surrounding areas. Reginald, his wife Emy and I drove off to Singarh Fort to return by evening to join the crowd for the dinner at the Commandant’s residence.

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The NDA Commandant’s residence is named ‘Kondana’. The name is derived from the earlier name of Sinhgarh Fort. It was called ‘Kondana’ after the sage Kaundinya. Geetha and Ashok were waiting at the gate to receive all of us and obviously, it was the first time ever I entered the sprawling compound. A red carpet reception was awaiting all of us with the NDA band in attendance. Geetha took the ladies and children on a conducted tour of the residence and the surrounding garden and Ashok took the gentlemen around. After an hour into the cocktails, Ashok ‘secured’ (Naval terminology for dismissing) the band. Now Ashok took on the mic and sang songs which each one of us either sang or liked while at school, bringing in a lot of nostalgia.

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On the morning of 23 December, we were dropped at the main entrance to the NDA by bus to walk three km along the picturesque periphery road. The road snakes its way through the main training area and the firing ranges to the Army Training Team’s Grand Stand. We were received by Ashok at the stand and hot breakfast awaited us there. Ashok took this time to bring out as to how Sainik School Amaravathinagar changed his life, from being a rustic nine year old in 1971 to a teenager in 1978, who was selected to join the NDA. He paid tributes to the school, the teaching staff and all the employees of the great school who had a role in morphing each one of us into worthy citizens of the country.

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After breakfast, we returned to the resort to pack our stuff and checkout. Then we moved to the Peacock Bay of NDA. Peacock Bay derives its name from the abundance of peacocks found in the area. The bay is also home to other fauna such as the deer, lion-tailed monkeys and civets. The facilities at the picturesque bay is used to train the cadets in seamanship and sailing. Everyone enjoyed a boat ride in the lake and was followed by a gorgeous lunch. After lunch everyone dispersed, some on a trip to the temple town of Shirdi and some like me, to their homes in time to celebrate Christmas.

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The red carpet treatment we received at the NDA, various events we were part of, and the many places we could access at the NDA where all possible only because of Ashok. Someone in the crowd aptly summed up by saying “We all felt like Vice Admirals at the NDA during the two days.”

I take this opportunity to extend our whole hearted appreciation on behalf of all Amaravian 79ers to Ashok and Geetha for their efforts in making the event a grand success. Alex Manappurathu, V Vijayabhaskar, V Mohana Kumar and Veteran Commander VS Ranganathan need a special mention for their efforts in organising such a memorable get-together. Thanks to G Natarajan for the special T-Shirts he designed and procured to commemorate the event.

A special ‘Thank You’ from all Amaravian 79ers for the efforts of two Amaravians posted at NDA – Flight Lieutenant Sathish Kumar (2006 Batch) and Wing Commander S Jayashankar (1982 Batch) – for their herculean efforts in making the reunion a grand success. They coordinated each and everything regarding reception, transport, meals, menus, accommodation, schedules, etc.

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With pride in my voice, I would forever say “I went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar with Ashok”.

Billy is Right With His Weather Prediction

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Wiarton Willie, the groundhog who lives in Wiarton, Ontario is the primary groundhog predictor of Ontario Province, who has been making his predictions since 1956. On 02 February 2016, the Groundhog Day, Billie predicted six more weeks of Winter, whereas Nova Scotia’s groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam called for an early spring.

On 03 February 2016, the Toronto area recorded the highest ever temperature of 15.5oC. Normally, at this time of the year, there would be about six to 12 inches of snow with the mercury around the freezing mark. The warmest temperature ever recorded on the day was 9.3oC in 1991.

Everyone presumed that Billy may be proved wrong this time, but not Weather-Canada. They also predicted that the winter season would continue for another six weeks.

The above image of our home was shot on 09 February 2016 morning, with about 10 cm of snow and the temperature at 0oC. This indicates the weakening of the El Niño effect. The temperatures in the coming few days is expected to be well below minus 15oC as per Weather-Canada.

The unusual warm temperatures in the first week of February had its effect on the tulip bulbs in our garden. The bulbs were reacting to the warm weather around them and sprouted. Now with the snowfall, they got buried under the snow cover. The foliage that sprouted will turn yellow and die back, returning the bulb to its ‘dormancy’ period. This way, the nature takes care of itself and in Spring (April), these same bulbs will sprout again and bloom.

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”  ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Groundhogs and Canadian Weather Prediction

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What has groundhogs to do with Canadian weather predictions? It is believed that the groundhogs can predict the arrival of Spring on 02 February and is celebrated as the Groundhog Day in Canada and the US. According to legend, the groundhog emerges from its burrow at noon on that day to look for its shadow. If it is a sunny day and the groundhog sees its shadow, according to folklore it gets frightened and returns to its hole to sleep, and winter continues for six more weeks. If it does not see its shadow, it remains outside because the worst of winter is over and the spring is on its way.

The origins of Groundhog Day lie in medieval Europe, where the day was known as Candlemas Day, a Christian festival named for the custom of lighting candles on that day. In case the day was bright and sunny, the Europeans believed that the winter would stay for another six weeks, else they predicted an early arrival of spring. Europeans had hedgehogs also predicting the beginning of spring on Candlemas Day. When European settlers came to North America, they brought the February 2nd legend with them. There being no hedgehogs in North America, they made the groundhogs do the prediction. For the early settlers, the onset of an early spring meant they could begin planting and and hence early harvest, especially with winter provisions dwindling. The major flaw with the groundhog prediction was that unlike in Europe, the long Canadian winters made the exit of the groundhogs from their burrows difficult on 02 February as the burrows were still buried in snow.

There is some truth to the shadow aspect of the legend. Sunny days in winter are generally associated with colder, drier arctic air and cloudy days with milder, moist maritime air. Given the tendency for weather conditions to persist for several days before changing, the weather on any 02 February may continue for a few days, but not necessarily any longer. Since seasons tend to follow a pattern, six more weeks of winter, rather than an early spring, is a statistically better option in Canada.

The North American tradition groundhogs predicting came from Europe with the German settlers. The first reported groundhog prediction is from Pennsylvania, USA in 1887.

Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog who lives in Wiarton, Ontario is the primary groundhog predictor of Ontario Province, who has been making his predictions since 1956. The role of Willie has been played by several groundhogs over the years as their average life span is 4 to 6 years. Unlike the other groundhogs, Wiarton Willie does not live in a burrow in the wild; he lives in a special house, safe from predators. Other provinces have their own groundhogs to carry out the prediction on 02 February.

A study of weather data over several decades for 13 cities across Canada reveals that the groundhogs’ predictions were correct only 37% of the time and this also may be by mere chance. On 02 February 2016, two of Canada’s groundhogs have made clashing weather predictions. Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam is calling for an early spring while Ontario’s Wiarton Willie expects six more weeks of winter.

This year’s winters have not only left the groundhogs confused, but also has sent the meteorologists of Weather Canada on a leather-hunt; all courtesy the El Niño effect. This effect, in the first week of December 2015, swamped Chennai (India) with the heaviest rainfall in a century. The deluge resulted in about 250 people dead, several hundred critically injured, many houses and buildings destroyed or damaged, and thousands displaced.

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This is the image of our home on 03 February 2016 and the temperature 15.5oC. Normally, at this time of the year, there would be about six to 12 inches of snow with the mercury around the freezing mark.   The warmest temperature recorded on the day was 9.3oC in 1991.

Where has the snow gone? Is it global warming? Is it the climate change in action? Is it the effect of El Niño phenomenon?

El Niño has a reputation of bringing mild winters across Southern Canada. It is associated with warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator, to the West of South America. During the two strongest El Niño events of the past (1982-83 & 1997-98), the warmest water was right next to the coast of South America. This year the warmest water has shifted to the West of Canada and during the winter it will continue to shift further to the East.

A unique feature of this year’s El Niño is the warmer than normal ocean water temperatures that are widespread throughout the North Pacific (to the West of Canada). Another key to upcoming winter is that it appears that El Niño is peaking at the beginning of winter and a steady weakening during winter. During the winter of 1997-98, El Niño remained very strong through the winter. A weakening El Niño has a different impact on the weather pattern than does a strengthening El Niño. However, if El Niño surprises us and continues to strengthen, then the mild temperatures would persist throughout the winter.

While the strength of this year’s El Niño is comparable to 1997-98, the numerous differences in the global pattern are why a repeat of the mild winter across all of Southern Canada cannot be predicted. It is expected that there would be some snow in the next two months, prior to the Spring in April.

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The unusual warm temperature has had its effect on the tulip bulbs in our garden. The bulbs are reacting to the warm weather around them and have sprouted as seen in the image above. With the next snowfall, expected in a few days, the foliage will yellow and die back, returning the bulbs to their ‘dormancy’ period. This way, the nature takes care of itself and in Spring these same bulbs will sprout again and bloom.

“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.” – Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth

For your kind information and necessary action please-

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Thus ended most letters in the Indian Army.  During my young officer days, I had asked a senior colleague as the need for ending all the official correspondence with such a line.  He had said that it padded up the letter and the letter would look incomplete without such an epilogue. I never understood as to how the information could ever be kind to anyone and what was the need to send the letter in the first place in case no action was needed.  Someone told me that it was to be specific as to what the person at the other end must do.  If that person was really ignorant of what is to be done with the letter, I never understood as to how that person could be educated about it with that very clichéd line.

“The information asked for is attached herewith as Appendix to this letter”.  This is another superfluous  epilogue I found in many letters written in reply to a query requesting data or information.  An appendix means an attachment and is never mailed in a separate envelop, it is always placed in the same envelop (herewith), and always with a covering letter (to this letter).

As a Brigade Major and as a Commanding Officer were the only two occasions when I could get the staff and subordinate officers to doing away with these epilogues.  My reasoning was that it saved time, ink and paper (think of the number of trees that could have been saved).  One clerk said that it had become an instinct and his fingers never stopped until he typed the epilogue.  One clerk said the idea was great, but will only be in practice until you are around and the next officer taking over from you would insist on the epilogue and hence the reluctance.

LOL, OMG, FTW etc are commonly used abbreviations in the cyber world in the age digital communications and text messaging.  These are understood well by everyone across the continents and have been evolved over a period of usage and it still continues to evolve.  As young officers, we were given a book of abbreviations to be used in the Army called Appendix C.  The introductory paragraph of the book said that use of abbreviations would reduce time and effort and would assist in assimilation and it would facilitate telegraphy (old analog methodology of transmitting text).  We used to be summoned to the Adjutant’s office with the abbreviations book, to scan through every word in a document to be sent to the higher headquarters to ensure that any word that found a place in the abbreviations book had been abbreviated and in case the abbreviation used had been correctly used.  In case of any errors, either the entire page was retyped or else the correcting fluid was to be used.  You can imagine the amount of time spend on the task in place of the time it was meant to save.

When the entire world was using the word “fax” as an abbreviated form for facsimile (the current generation would not be aware of the origin of the word), the abbreviation book called it “fx”.  Luckily recently it has been changed to “fax”.  If you ask someone for a “lap”, it does not mean that you want to sit on their lap or rest your head on their lap, but it is understood that it is a request for their laptop computer.

There is an abbreviation “DHPP” and the very same Appendix C calls it as “Diesel High Power Point” in place of “Diesel High Pour Point”.  It actually means that this type of diesel has a high pour point.   The pour point of a liquid is the temperature at which it becomes semi solid and loses its flow characteristics. In diesel, the pour point is the temperature at which the paraffin in the fuel has crystallized to the point where the fuel gels and becomes resistant to flow.  It is surely not a Power Point presentation the least.

World over uses left aligned format for all types of correspondence (all lines in the letter are aligned to the left).  This facilitates easier reading on the hand held PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and cell (cellular) phones.  The Indian government for its official correspondence still continues to have subject line centered and some parts offset to the right side, the Indian Army also continues with the age-old practice.  You can imagine how someone using a PDA is to read such a letter and make sense of it.

We need to change with time and cater for all the developments taking place around us in all aspects of life and official correspondence is no different.