Butterfly Conservatory – Niagara Falls

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When Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe) and Sophie Joseph visited us in May 2016, how can we miss a trip to the Niagara Falls.   Niagara Region has much more to offer, other than the falls, like Niagara Gorge, Welland Canal, and Wine Country.  (Please click on each one to read about them on my earlier Blog Posts).

The place, a nature lover should not miss is the Butterfly Conservatory, filled with beautiful free flying butterflies, a tropical wonderland located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. It really is a near ethereal experience.

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Whenever I see butterflies, my mind races back to the nostalgic memories of our childhood in Kerala, India.  Kerala is home to more than 500 birds, 330 butterfly species from the largest butterfly in India, Birdwing, with a wingspan of about 25 cm to the smallest, the Grass Jewel with only 2 cm.  It is also home to 68 species of dragonflies –   the most common types being Malabar Torrent Dart, Yellow Bush Dart, Pied Reed Tail, and the Long-legged Clubtail.  Many writers and poets were fascinated and inspired by these romantic creatures that they became subjects of some great contributions to Indian literature.

As kids, we enjoyed the sight of butterflies and dragonflies fluttering around, especially after the monsoons (June to August) and during the Onam Festival (end August / early September), when the flowers would be in full bloom.  We chased and caught a few of them.  We used to catch these little beauties and tie a small thread to their tails so as to control them and make them take short flights. 

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We would prompt the dragonfly in our captivity to pick up small pebbles. We increased the size of the stones until the dragonfly could lift no more.  This sadistic game ended with the death of the dragonfly, when it severed its head from its torso.  

Advent of rubber cultivation and extensive use of pesticides in Kerala for over three decades have driven these beautiful creations of God from our farmlands.

Thumbi Thullal (Dance of Dragonfly) is a dance performed by women of Kerala as a part of Onam celebrations.  About six to seven women sit in a circle and the lead performer (called Thumbi meaning Dragonfly) sits in the middle of the circle. The lead performer sings melodious fast paced songs and other performers clap their hands and sway to the melody.  Gradually the tempo of the song increases and the lead performer brushes the floor with her hair as if she is possessed by a spirit.  It usually ends with the lead performer fainting or playacting so.

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Back from nostalgia. At the commencement of the Niagara Gorge, about 10 km from the spectacular falls is the Butterfly Conservatory.  This glass-enclosed conservatory is home to over 2000 butterflies.  This state of the art facility is designed to have a tropical environment within a Canadian climate characterised by both warm and cold weather.  The mechanical and electrical systems maintain optimum environmental conditions for the butterflies and plants while accommodating comfort needs for its visitors.

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Around 45 different species of butterflies can be found fluttering in this rainforest setting spread over 11,000 square feet. The exact number of butterflies and species fluctuate on a day to day basis.  The butterfly conservatory accommodates as much as 300 visitors per hour.

The self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory begins with a short, informative video presentation that is close captioned for the hearing impaired.  After this, one is allowed to explore the area and spot different species of butterflies as they fly all around you. The setting has a lovely pond, waterfall and a series of meandering pathways amidst several tropical plants with lovely flowers.

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The jungle vegetation and delightful fluttering of hundreds of beautiful butterflies are unusual and a very uplifting experience.  Everywhere there are exquisite butterflies floating in the warm, moist air or spreading their iridescent wings on leaves and flowers.  One can even catch them mating.

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It is a great place to see beautiful butterflies up close but you are not allowed to touch them, because if you touch their wings they get damaged and they cannot fly anymore and may die.  One may photograph them, but surely they need to be kept out of harm’s way. 

The Conservatory currently hosts species such as Monarchs, Swallowtails, Owls, Mosaics, Red Lacewings, Blue Morphos and Small Postmans. The green house setting also hosts goldfish, turtles, beetles, toads and Eurasian quails to help regulate insect population.

The best part about the tour is that you can actually get the butterflies to land on you. Some might be even willing to rest on your outstretched hand. Visitors are encouraged to wear bright clothes, wear perfume or cologne and move slowly if they wish to have butterflies land on them. 

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Plates filled with fruits are kept at certain places to attract butterflies who like to feed on these and you can watch them doing so.

Most of the butterflies have been imported from farms in tropical countries while some have been raised in a greenhouse behind the conservatory.  The tour is not only entertaining but also educative.  One can watch the metamorphosis process and the life cycle of a butterfly in real time.  One can also observe the butterflies come out of their cocoon, dry their wings and take their first flight.

Adjacent to the Butterfly Conservatory is the Floral Clock.  This unique and stunning display is a very popular stop and is photographed almost as often as the Falls.  The planted face is maintained by the Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro, the originally builders of the clock.  

The Floral Clock is 40 feet wide, with a planted area 38 feet wide, making it one of the largest such clocks in the world.  The Tower at the back of the clock, houses Westminster chimes that chime at each quarter of an hour.  There is a 10-feet wide water garden that curves 85 feet around the base of the timepiece.

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If you are lucky you may come across the Niagara Parks Commission’s gardeners crawling along the special aluminium ladder they lay across the face of the clock, in order to plant and tend the clock face. Designs are created a year in advance to allow for the proper preparations. Tin dividers are built and installed to prevent soil slippage caused by the slope of the face of the clock. The clock is stopped during the planting process.

The floral design is changed twice each year.  Spring designs are made up with Tulips, Forget-Me-Nots or similar plants, therefore, do not last long.  It is followed by Violas planted in late Spring to provide a colourful design.  From the latter part of May, traditional carpet bedding material is used until frost occurs. The summer designs in general are made up of approximately 24,000 carpet plants whose foliage rather than their blooms provide the necessary contrasting colors. Flowering plants are not suitable for summer planting because the plants that are used must be kept trimmed to form relatively sharp contrasting patterns and not be allowed to grow up and interfere with the movement of the hands. For this reason reddish, green and yellow Alternanthera and Santolina form the background and markings of the various dial designs from year-to-year.   California Golden Privet and Blue Festuca Grass may be used for contrast. In winter, the summer design is perpetuated by using rock chips of various colours.

Anyone planning a visit to the Niagara Falls on the Canadian side must include these little wonderful sites in their itinerary.  Always remember that the falls are better viewed from the Canadian side as one can hardly see it from the US side.  So, always obtain a Canadian Visa in case you are visiting the Niagara Falls.

Caring for the Old and Differently-Abled

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Our  son attended a training capsule regarding social service, especially dealing with the old and infirm. He showed me a pamphlet and it described how the old and the infirm need to be looked after and it concludes by saying that its more important to serve a person than looking for their disabilities. This is a lesson to be taught to the coming generations.

Amir Khan through his TV Program ‘Sathyameva Jayathe’ tried his best to portray the struggles of the differently-abled in India. Did you observe that the stage from where he was preaching all these was not wheel-chair accessible? There was no ramp – I am sure it would not have cost them much compared to the money the program generated. Another TV presentation of a retirement home shown on a Malayalm channel, it was observed that the houses in the retirement home neither had a ramp nor were wheel-chair accessible. An old lady was shown climbing the steps with the support of a walker assisted by a girl.

Many buildings in India are not wheel-chair accessible; why even that; many of the Indian homes with old people are not differently-abled-friendly. Our own ancestral home; where my 82 year old mother lives, does not have a ramp for entry from the courtyard into the house. She suffers from arthritis and finds it extremely difficult to step in and out of the house.

During trip home in 2013, I had to take my mother to the Government Treasury, Kottayam, the City of Letters, to muster her pension roll. There were two options, one to drop her by car at the lower level and make her climb 14 steps, the other, to drop her by car at the upper level and make her walk 200 meters. After consulting my mother, I opted for the first option. The powers that be at Kottayam are well aware that most of the pensioners are old and infirm and to make the place for mustering be made easily accessible to them would not have been very difficult.

Indian public transport buses are the least differently-abled-friendly. One in the best of health needs some effort to board these buses. Many a times, the conductor/ cleaner would push the old and differently-abled into the bus; could be the next bus is close at his heels and does not want to get delayed.

Many of the seniors in India are restricted to their homes –  we respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute, they also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossip, look pretty and smart.

In most homes in India, the seniors are confined to a corner of a house and have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America. All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors, but will be the first ones to raise shackles of family and social values.

During the three week vacation in India, I realised that there is no one at home on weekdays as the adults go to work and children to schools. Spending time was the most difficult as there none to talk to. Only way to pass time was to see those TV serials or listen to music. There is no worthwhile bookstall in Kottayam which sells English novels – most available were old – which I had read before. Then I realised the plight of my mother and I saw that she had read the day’s newspaper from first to last page and had seen four serials by the time the grandchildren were back from school. There are no activities available for the seniors to indulge in and the infrastructure does not permit them to travel around.

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I generally do my chores like groceries, go for a haircut, go to bank etc on weekday mornings – less busy in the Canadian Malls at this time. One sees old couples, dressed in their best, enjoying a cup of tea/coffee, window shopping, talking to other seniors, etc. Some of these seniors are wheel-chair bound. Most of the wheel-chairs are battery powered so that they can move around freely through the Malls.

In case you go for a haircut on a weekday morning, you will find only seniors, waiting for a haircut, a new hair-makeover, pedicure, manicure etc. They would be non-stop chatting with their hair-dresser /beautician about their last outing for a movie, holiday, their dog, their children, grandchildren, and the list goes on. The hair-dresser would be listening, nodding, at times replying to all those small talk. May be the seniors did spend some time, may be his/ her day was spend very fruitfully. At the end of it, the hairdresser/ beautician gets a decent tip, for putting up with all the small talk the seniors did. In India if a senior lady goes to a hair dresser or a spa, she is surely bound to invite comments that the lady is now trying to become a beauty queen. The irony is that many a times these comments originate from their own children and grand children.

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We live in Mississauga, a city adjacent to Toronto. We had Mayor Hazel McCallion until 2014 and she was  was over 92 years old then.  To read more about her, Please Click Here.  A real charismatic lady, who ran the city with an iron hand, drove around in her car etc. Mississauga is the only city in Canada to have a surplus budget and the city boasts of a very high standard of amenities, social life and infrastructure.  Obviously, the real-estate prices are pretty high in comparison to the neighbouring cities.  I heard her speaking at our daughter’s High School Graduation in 2010; what a powerful speaker she is. I wish we also had such powerful seniors back home too.

The public transit in Canada, the public buildings, the malls – all got to be wheelchair accessible by law. Further the Senior Citizens get a good discount on many City Transit systems. Many cannot drive or their licenses have been cancelled by the Transport Department due to their medical conditions. These seniors travel on their own without any assistance and do most of their chores on their own. In India we will always claim that we are there for them.

It is high time that the Indian government pass laws to make all buildings – at least the new ones being built  differently-abled-friendly.

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy

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While at school, I used to marvel at the honour boards placed at the entrance of the Academic block.  It had the names of the School Captains, Best Result for National Defence Academy (NDA) and Academics and the Sportsman of the year.  These boards in effect displayed all what the school stood for- to train the cadets as an all-rounder and motivated to join the NDA. 

On the School Captains board, the name of Victor Duraisamy of 1965 batch stood out for me.  It could be because the name was secular – Christian sounding first-name and a Hindu last-name.  Or was it because it was the longest one on the board? 

I joined the school in 1971, six years after Colonel Victor Duraisamy left the school  and by that time he was already a Lieutenant in the Indian Army.   

I remember Mrs Sheela Cherian  saying during one of her classes about the Duraisamy brothers who were all-rounders in all aspects- academic, sports, extra-curricular activities and also music.  The family was indeed gifted with music running in their blood.

After joining NDA and about seven years of army life, I heard that Victor Duraisamy  and his younger brother were also commissioned to the very same Regiment – Artillery – that I was also commissioned.  I always knew that I would meet them somewhere in my military career.

In 1989, I was attending the Long Gunnery Staff Course at School of Artillery Devlali.  After a few months we had a new neighbour moving in – it was Colonel Victor Duraisamy.  As the course was very intensive, we had only limited opportunity to interact.  He was then responsible for training the Regiment of Artillery Band. 

During the Artillery reunion, we were all invited to a symphony orchestra performance by the Regimental Band,  It was conducted by none other than Colonel Victor Duraisamy.  The poise of the movementS of Victor and his baton really mesmerised me.  It would have surely given Zubin Mehta a run for his money.  At the end of the performance I complimented him for performing such complex symphonies – that too with military musicians – most hardly matriculates. 

After the symphony, we were invited to his home for dinner and that was where I met Colonel Fredric Duraisamy, his younger brother.  He was then with the Air Defence Artillery.   Both the brothers and their children kept us all entertained with their musical talent for over two hours.

In 1997 while serving with the Army Headquarters at Delhi, Colonel Victor Duraisamy was also posted at the Military Training Directorate (MT  Dte) of Army Headquarters.  He was then responsible for charting out the musical training for all the Regimental Bands of the Indian Army.  He was also responsible for the conduct of the massed band display during the Beating the Retreat Ceremony at Vijay Chowk to mark the culmination of India’s Republic Day Celebrations. 

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy. 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s African Lion Safari

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It has become a ritual for me to take our guests to the African Lion Safari, located in Cambridge, Ontario.  I have even lost count on the number of times I have been there.  I can for sure claim that I am now an accomplished tour guide for anyone visiting the Safari.  When Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe) and Sophie Joseph came calling in May 2016, how could I omit the African Lion Safari from the itinerary.

African Lion Safari, a family owned private entrepreneurship, is a picturesque and fun-filled Wildlife Park that offers not only a Safari trip of 9 km, but also conducts educative shows on birds and elephants.    This conservation theme-park showcases many different and rare animals from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The drive through the game reserve will get you as close as you can ever get with fascinating wild life, both literally and figuratively.

At the Safari, animals are exhibited in an entirely different way – visitors are caged in their car or tour bus, and the animals are free to roam the 5 to 50 acre reserve, in their natural habitat.  The Safari Trail comprises seven game reserves that showcase a diverse collection of species such as lions, cheetahs, baboons, rhinos, ostriches, giraffes, and many other exotic and native species.

In case you take your own car, you are able to better control the time that you spend observing and photographing the animals, and there is a great deal of flexibility. There is a  guided tour on the Safari bus, which takes just over an hour.  The tour guides offer unique and personal information about the animals you encounter.  Visitors who spend a full day at the African Lion Safari, often exercise both options. I prefer the drive in our car and surely there are a few risks involved.

It is worthwhile to note some interesting facts about the founder of this wonderful place. Late Colonel GD Dailley founded the Safari with a vision to create an environment for self-sustaining populations of declining wildlife species.  It opened with 40 lions  in three reserves in 1969.  Today the park houses in excess of 1,000 animals comprised of more than 100 species.

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Colonel Gordon Debenham Dailley  (July 24, 1911 – May 3, 1989), was born in Winnipeg, Canada and was educated at St John’s College and at the University of Manitoba.   He was a member of the team which won the gold medal in ice hockey for Great Britain at the 1936 Winter Olympics. The team consisted mostly of British-born Canadian citizens, as well as Dailley, whose only justification for playing for Britain lay in his long years of living in England.  He led the team to European Championships in 1937 and 1938,  after which he left hockey to join the Canadian Army.

Colonel Dailley served in England throughout World War II. After the war, he remained with the Canadian Forces and held a number of posts in Ottawa and served on the United Nations Armistice Commission in Korea. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1955 and was assigned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia as the Canadian Military Attaché.  In August 1960 he was appointed the base commander at Gagetown in New Brunswick.  He retired from the army in 1964.

After about an hour’s drive from our home on 24 May 2016, we landed at the Safari gates at 9:55 AM, five minutes before the gates opened.  There were only three other cars as the Safari had opened only on 07 May and also because 24 May happened to be a working day.  This meant that we had all the time at our disposal to watch and photograph the animals.

The first reserve is Nairobi Sanctuary which houses elegant birds like the crowned crane and white stork  with llamas and robust Watusi cattle from Africa with its large distinctive horns that can reach up to 8 feet.

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Next is the Simba Lion Country, home to a large pride of lions, perched on large rocks or in the shade of trees.  The cubs were busy playing and stalking their mother and pouncing on her.  There is a separate enclosure for the White Lions.  They are same as their African Lion cousins with a rare color mutation.  They are found in the Timbavati area of South Africa.

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Adjacent to the lion sanctuary  is  the Duma Cheetah Preserve.  African Lion Safari has been very successful with breeding cheetahs, who are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, with over 40 cubs to date.

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The most entertaining reserve is Wankie Bushland Trail where you will encounter baboons.  This is where the risk of taking your car lies.  These baboons have developed special skills to pull at wipers or peel rubber stripping or to simply perch atop the car’s roof and take a ride around their habitat.

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The next enclosure is the Rocky Ridge Veldt representing the Savannahs of Africa.  It is home to a mix of species from the curious ostrich to the highly endangered Rothschild giraffes, as well as wildebeest, zebras, eland and rhinos.

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The ostriches and giraffes come very close to the cars and this shot of the giraffe saying hello through the moon-roof  of our car.

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The last reserve takes you to North America which houses animals like elk and the bison.

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There are also a number of entertaining, educative  and informative shows starting with the Elephant Swim.  The keepers bring the Asian elephants, all cutely holding the tail of one in front by their trunk. They range from the oldest at 35 to the youngest at two years

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Next show was the ‘Birds of Paradise’ where various birds showcase their incredible intelligence like a crow cleaning up tin cans to put in a blue recycle bin to a macaw deciphering colours, as well as the red-legged Seriemas,  a long legged bird from South America, showing off their natural abilities.  The Serena displayed its skill at killing a snake by picking it up and throwing it repeatedly hard on to the ground.  They also showcased a wide assortment of birds like macaws, emu, an Indian bat,  peacock and ended the show with a talking and singing parrot.

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This was followed by another great show, the ‘Birds of Prey’.  The flying and hunting skills predator birds were on display here.  The birds included marabou stork, a bald and golden eagle, a couple of owls and peregrine falcon ,the fastest moving creature in the animal kingdom.

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This was followed Elephant Round-Up show where keepers help to display the elephant’s impressive strength, agility and intelligence.  One even painted a t-shirt in the show, holding the paint brush in its trunk.  It was heartening to see that not even once was an elephant shouted at or goaded with a pointed metal rod as seen in some parts of Asia. African Lion Safari is home to the largest Asian elephant herd in any zoological facility in North America and has one of the most successful breeding programme.  The Safari announced the birth of Jake in 2009, a healthy male calf , through artificial insemination, the first ever in Canada.

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African Queen boat cruise piloted by one of the parks guides, circles a lake to see exotic birds, primates, ring-tailed lemurs, ground horn-bills, spider monkeys, black and white ruffed lemur and endangered Angolan Colobus monkeys that reside on the islands.

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The shows were conducted mostly by university students, many pursuing their degrees in zoology related fields.  What an opportunity and environment for these students to earn, learn and apply their knowledge and also improve their confidence levels, communication skills and self-esteem?

How do these animals, mostly from the tropics, survive through the harsh Canadian winter?  The Safari has large barn-like centrally heated housing where the animals can go in and out.  As per the Safari staff, the Cheetahs love playing in the snow and they enjoy the winters.

Since its inception in 1969, the Park has been successful in breeding 30 species, considered endangered, and 20 species, considered threatened. The original idea of maintaining self-sustaining populations of species in decline is still the Park’s priority, all while providing its visitors with a safe, entertaining, and educational environment.

Umbrella

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The schools reopen for the new session in Kerala after the summer vacation in June every year.  The school opening is marked by the commencement of the monsoon rains and in the low-lying areas of Kottayam, there would invariably be floods and the schools are often closed at least for a fortnight thereafter. Our father was the headmaster of a school in this area near Kumarakom and once I asked him as to why they cannot have an extended session till April end and have summer vacation in May and June.  He said that this idea was tried out unsuccessfully as the combination of extremely hot summer days and scarcity of drinking water posed major difficulties and hence the proposal was shelved.

The low lying areas of Kottayam are a part of the North Kuttanad, known as the rice bowl of Kerala. This is perhaps the only region in the world where rice farming is done at about 2.5 meter below sea level.  The paddy fields are reclaimed land from the backwaters.  In case one embarks on a boat ride through the backwaters, one can observe that the paddy fields are at a much lower level than the water level of the backwaters.  If you carefully observe the image above or below, you can differentiate the two levels.

Kuttanad meaning ‘low lying lands’ is one of the most fertile regions of Kerala, spread over the districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam, crisscrossed by rivers, canals and waterways.  The region contains the low lying lands measuring about 25 kilometers East-West and 60 kilometers North-South on the West coast of Kerala. A major portion of this area lies 1 to 2.5 meters below the sea level.  Kuttanad has 1, 10,000 hectare area, of which 50 % is reclaimed and 88 % is under agriculture.  The area is characterised by Dyke building in deep waters, land reclamation and maintenance and Rice-Fish rotation farming.

 

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The dykes (bund) construction and maintenance are intricate tasks, for which an array of long and stout coconut poles are hammered deep enough into the lake bed in two rows, about two meters in width enveloping the entire area,  It is then fenced with bamboo mats on either side.  The channels of the bund are now filled to the desired height, first with sand, followed by twigs, interspersed with high quality clay dug from the bottom of the lake.  Then water is pumped out and the land is prepared for rice cultivation.

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The dykes are now mostly permanent ones built with granites and concrete.  Only a few gaps are left to facilitate flowing in of water after the harvest.  The gaps are filled prior to cultivation as mentioned above.  In the earlier days, water was pushed out from the low lying areas manually using a waterwheel.  Nowadays, the manual labour has been replaced by electric pumps.

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During heavy monsoons, the flood waters may breach the bunds and inundate the paddy fields, causing heavy losses to the farmers.

The fresh water environment close to rice fields and the canals provide abundance of Pearl spots (Karimeen for which Kerala is well known for), fresh water giant prawns (attukonju) and freshwater catfish.

So much for the geography of Kuttanad and its peculiarities. Let me now relate to a monsoon related necessity. It was customary for our father to gift all four of us with an umbrella, with our name inscribed on it, at the beginning of every school year.  One either lost them or damaged them as the school year passed by. In the autumn of his life, he resumed the old habit and continued with the same gift to all his grand children.

In China, gifting your friend an umbrella means you want to end the relationship because umbrella sounds like San in Chinese, which means to separate. Giving a married couple an umbrella as a gift should be avoided in all cases, at least in China. The Chinese believe that if it is raining and you are worried he or she will get wet, it’s better for both of you to huddle under one umbrella until you reach your partner’s destination.

That brings me to a personal anecdote related to the gifting of umbrellas. A few weeks after assuming command of the unit in the operational area in Rajasthan, our Second-in-Command (2IC) Late Col Suresh Babu approached me to discuss a case of about 100 umbrellas lying unsold in the Regimental Canteen at Devlali, Maharashtra.  He proposed a 50% reduction sale for them.  I realised with the unit in the operational area, it may not be feasible to execute the sale.

After analysing the loss being incurred by the canteen and the overall cost of the umbrellas, and taking a cue from my father, I decided to buy all of them from the Regimental fund and ordered them to be gifted to all children of the unit at the beginning of the academic session.  As in Kerala, in Devlali too, the monsoons pour down heavily coinciding with the school opening, but luckily there are no floods.  The gift must have impressed all the families and children, back in Devlali as they had not yet met the new Commanding Officer.

In 2009, five years after handing over command, I received a call from Subedar Ravinder Singh.  His son came on line and told me that the umbrella I had gifted him at the time of taking over command of the unit has been preserved by him and was always a sign of encouragement for him.  He also expressed his gratitude for training all the children of the unit on computers and that early introduction to technology had him exploring the world further and how it has helped him in his present career.

Most of your deeds and actions may not matter much to you, but it matters to the one who is in the receiving end.  The resultant effect will always be as to how the receiver perceives it. And, if the recipient perceives it well, he or she will replicate it in later life, in one form or the other. Good deeds generally have a chain reaction as do bad deeds. But in case of good deeds the chain is generally much longer than in the case of bad deeds.

Joe’s Canadian Sojourn – Casa Loma

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Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe), our course-mate from the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Sophie Joseph visited us during the last week of May 2016.  Joe and I hail from the same village -Ayarkkunnam – in Kerala, India.  Joe was surprised to be invited to many homes of people who had migrated to Canada from the very same village.

Prior to leaving India, everyone wanted to know as to why he was only visiting Canada and not the US.  Most sub-continental travellers presume that Canada has nothing much to offer and a journey to the North American continent essentially was limited to a handful of US destinations.  Joe was however convinced after reading many of my travelogues on my blog that Canada has many fascinating unexplored areas, unknown to even many who have settled here for decades.

The weather was good, adequately warm to undertake long journeys and for trekking.    We travelled well and made use of every minute at our disposal.  The itinerary included Mennonites of St Jacobs, Niagara Gorge, Niagara Falls, Welland Canal, Wine Country, Flower Pot Island, and CN Tower.  (Please click on each one to read about them on my earlier Blog Posts).    We also visited the African Lion Safari and Casa Loma.

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Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House), was a dream house Major General Sir Henry Pellatt built.  It still stands out as the biggest residential place ever built in Canada.  It was General Pellat’s  dream castle.

Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build (today’s worth about $75 million). General  Pellatt filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the world. With soaring towers, tunnels and secret passageways, it was a  castle than a private residence.

Casa Loma has 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, three bowling alleys, an indoor swimming pool, and a rifle range. The original internal telephone system is preserved till date.  Casa Loma had 50 telephones, one in each room, when the whole of Toronto had only 250.  It served as a location for many movies such as X-Men, Strange Brew, Chicago, The Tuxedo,  Love Guru and The Pacifier.

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The main floor opens with the Great Hall which leads into a library and the main dining room.  In the main dining room, the Pellatts hosted many formal dinner parties. The 10,000-book library had the Pellatt family coat of arms carved into the ceiling, with herringbone oak floor pattern creating an optical illusion of different shades from each end of the room.

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Pellatts had a Serving Room which was also used as a breakfast room.  The room was inspired by Roman carvings.  This room was the staging area into which the kitchen staff brought the cooked food for the waiters to carry to the dining room.

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General Pellat’s Study on the main floor had a marble fireplace with carvings of Hercules on the mantle.  The walls had walnut panels which concealed a secret door on either side of the fireplace – the left one leading to the Pellatts’ bed rooms and the right one to the basement.  The room also boasted of a desk that was the exact replica of Napoleon’s writing desk.

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This floor also had a  Smoking Room for a game of chess or cards.  Adjacent to it was the Billiard Room where General Pellatt and EJ  Lennox, the architect of Casa Loma and his neighbour,  often played in the evenings.

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The second floor housed Genral Pellatt’s Suite, separate from Mary’s.  The walls are of mahogany and walnut.  The tiger skin on the floor was imported from India in 1920.  The bathroom has a  shower structured to completely surround the body with spray by using 6 taps that controlled 3 levels of pipes.

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Lady Pellatt’s suite adjacent to her husband’s suit had walls painted in her favourite colour: Wedgwood blue.  Lady Pellatt’s bathroom was smaller than General Pellatt’s.  It had a bidet, a rare feature in Canadian homes at the time.

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General Pellatt had five guest rooms, all suited for the royalty.  He dreamt of having the Royal Family as guests at Casa Loma.  This room was named Windsor Room after the Royal Family in England.  It has a nineteenth century walnut bed with dolphins carved on to the posts representing Venus.

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This suite for guests is decorated in Chinoiserie style with a large red lacquered dresser imported from China.  The walls are covered with Chinese inspired patterns of phoenixes and foo dogs.  It also has a Chinese screen with carvings of flowers and trees and a mother-of-pearl peacock.

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The Third Floor housed the servants’ rooms and the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum.  General Pellatt enlisted as a rifleman with The Queen’s Own Rifles on November 2, 1876.  He rose through the ranks and eventually became the Commanding Officer. In 1905.  In recognition of his services, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor by King Edward VII.

In 1910, Pellatt took the entire 600-men regiment (including its horses) to England for military training at his expense, to mark the Regiment’s fiftieth anniversary from 13 August to 03 October 1910.  General Pellatt later served as the regiment’s Honorary Colonel and was promoted to the rank of Major-General upon retirement.  When Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, General Pellatt went to England with some men and officers of the Queen’s Own Rifles to be part of the honour guard.

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In the basement was a Wine Cellar.  Ammonia and brine-filled pipes chilled the collection of nearly 1800 bottles of exotic wine and champagne.

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The Stables are connected to Casa Loma by an 800-ft tunnel.  The tunnel also housed a coal based heating system to heat the entire building.  Canadian army used the tunnel as a secret base to build a new SONAR system during World War II.

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The tunnel ended at the stables and garage.  The stalls for the horses are constructed of mahogany and the floors covered with Spanish tiles so that the horses did not slip.  Each horse’s name was inscribed on the wall in 18 Carat Gold.

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Major General Sir Henry Pellatt was born to British parents in Kingston, Ontario on January 6, 1859.  General Pellatt left his studies when he was seventeen to pursue a career in commerce in the family business. By the age of 23, he became a full partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm Pellatt and Pellatt.  He married Mary Dodgeson whom he met when he was twenty.

He achieved fame in 1879 for beating the US  amateur champion in one mile.  As a partner in Pellatt and Pellatt, he founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. By the time he was 30, the Toronto Electric Light Company enjoyed a monopoly on street lighting of the city of Toronto.

In 1892 his father retired, enabling General Pellatt to invest with more risk.  By 1901, he was chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land and electricity. In 1902, he won the rights to build the first Canadian hydro-electric  plant at Niagara Falls.  All these he achieved while serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles.  After retirement, in 1911, he began building his  dream castle – Casa Loma.

Unfortunately, General Pellatt’s fortunes nosedived and he went into debt. The one sure source of income from the monopoly of electrical power vanished when the government took over the company without any compensation.  He then invested into the airline business, to be taken over again by the government towards the war efforts for World War I.

Post World War I economy of Canada slumped.  So did General Pellatt’s fortunes.  He owed the Home Bank of Canada $1.7 million and City of Toronto a heavy tax bill.  He had no choice but to auction off his prized possessions for a fraction of their worth and to abandon his dream home – Casa Loma.  After moving into many smaller homes, he last lived with his trusted chauffeur.

Though he lost a great fortune, General Pellatt never lost his spirit of philanthropy, a character trait for which he was honoured late in life. His service of fifty years with the Queen’s Own Rifles was celebrated on June 27, 1926 with a march past of 500 men complete with the fly-past of three military planes.   A dinner was hosted at the Royal York Hotel, a reunion of the Queen’s Own Rifles, for his 80th birthday, including a telegram of congratulations from King George’s wife Queen Mary.  General Pellat was moved to tears.

He died two months later, in his chauffeur’s arms.  Thousands lined Toronto streets to witness his funeral procession. He was buried with full military honours befitting a soldier who gave so much to his country.

Visit to African Lion Safari follows.

Nikhil’s Kerala Trip

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In December 2012 our son Nikhil wanted to accompany me on my trip to Kerala as he had two weeks of Christmas vacation.  I asked him the reason behind such a decision and he said that it was to spend a few days with his grandmother, uncles and cousins.  He also wanted to visit all the old temples and churches in Kottayam and what interested him the most was Sree Padmanabha Temple at Trivandrum as he had read a lot about the billions worth of treasure the temple had.

Accordingly we landed early morning in Trivandrum and checked into the Taj Hotel.  He was really astounded by the top quality service rendered by the darwan (Person guarding the main entrance and receives the guests), the bell boy and the room service, the likes of which he had never experienced in all our travel across North America.  After visiting the temple we headed to Kottayam and stayed with my eldest brother, with whom my mother lived.

During every Kerala visit, I make a trip to Kochi to meet my Sainik (Military) School classmates, Veteran Commander Reginald and Mr Roy John (Collector, Customs) and this time too Reginald was gracious enough to arrange an evening at the Naval Institute.  Nikhil was again surprised that once he was about to empty his Coke glass, it was refilled by the waiter, a privilege he had never enjoyed.

Nikhil interacted with his cousins and became closer to them than before.  They saw a Hollywood movie on DVD.  At the end of the movie, one of the cousins commented that it was for the first time he enjoyed and understood a Hollywood movie.  Nikhil all through the movie paused the DVD, explained to them the context  of the scene with respect to the events in North America and its culture; replayed the scene.  Until then they said they never understood the inner meanings of many scenes and obviously never the subtle humour associated with them.  I told them that my plight is still the same and I do not get the essence of many scenes in the movies as I am not as well versed with the North American society as our children – they go to school in Canada.

Interacting with my elder brother who at that time was the Public Prosecutor and a Communist supporter, helped to enhance Nikhil’s knowledge about the legal system in India.  It also gave him an insight into the growth of Communism in India, especially Kerala, resulting in the first democratically elected communist regime under Mr. EMS Namboodirippadu in 1957.  They held many discussions about the relevance of cCmmunism in the world today and how it played a great role in bringing social changes in Kerala.

They discussed as to how the term ‘Kerala Model’ of development was termed and how Kerala achieved improvements in material living conditions, reflected in indicators of social development, comparable to those of many developed countries, even though the  per capita income is low.  Achievements such as low levels of infant mortality and population growth, and high levels of literacy and life expectancy, along with the factors responsible for such achievements were also discussed.  There was a discourse about contribution of various Communists governments in achieving such development when the rest of India lagged very much behind  (obviously not because of the ‘Gulf Money’ as many from North India think as consolation for their lack of progress).

On our way back to Canada, we came through Chennai as we had planned to spend an evening with Major General PK Ramachandran, who was our Commanding Officer and at that time serving with the Area Headquarters at Chennai.  On reaching his residence, the sight of the guards, the way the lawn was manicured and the fabulous garden, the way he was looked after by the General and his wife and all the services he received from the staff at the General’s home seem to have touched a nerve or two in the teenager.  When we went to bed, Nikhil asked me as to why did I leave all these luxuries behind and quit the army and whether I missed these.  To this I said that I really miss all these, but had to make a choice between the family and the army and hence I migrated to Canada to join the family.  Had I continued in the army, they would have visited me during their vacations for few weeks and I would have visited them for two or the most three months (including furlough) in a year.  I was touched by his reply “That is a real sacrifice for our sake”.

One day at Kottayam, we decided to set off on foot to visit the old temples and churches around my elder brother’s home.  Nikhil was finding it difficult to keep up with me and I asked him whether he was feeling good to walk or should we hire an auto-rickshaw.  He said that he had a heavy breakfast as his grandmother wanted him to put on a few kilos and hence piled up his plate.  He was upset that the granny did not realise that his body structure and metabolism did ensure that he remained thin and it was not that he did not eat enough and he added that granny being a school teacher, who is well read and well-travelled should realise these facts.  “You could have always refused her and could have left the meal half eaten”, I said.  “Your mother is too powerful and I can never say ‘no’ to her.  Look at your eldest brother who is four years elder to you and your elder brother, the city’s public prosecutor, they never said ‘no’ to her and instantly obeyed all what she said.  When she was in Canada with us, you never said ‘no’ to her.  How do you expect a little boy like me stand up to her and ever say a word” said Nikhil.

 I then realised that this trip was worth more than a thousand times its cost. The value of knowing one’s roots is often incalculable.