Who will Play the Butcher?

In 1997 after the Technical Staff Course of 18 months, I was posted back to my parent unit 75 Medium Regiment. In those days the unit had three batteries, each with different class composition of soldiers. Now it has men from all over India, comprising of all classes. A battery is a sub-unit of an Artillery Regiment consisting of six Guns and about 125 soldiers to operate them along with vehicles, radio sets and other technical equipment.

The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery was of Brahmins (other than those from the Southern and Eastern States of India), the second had Jats and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Management of soldiers in all the batteries differed as their reactions to various situations, their needs, their languages etc were different.

In those days, any Young Officer posted to the Regiment served with each of the batteries for one or two years in order to make them familiarise with the soldiers. I too went through this rotation until I moved out for the Long Gunnery Course for 13 months. On my return from the course in 1990, I was appointed the Battery Commander (BC) of the Brahmin Battery. After two years I moved on posting to a staff appointment and returned after two years, again I was handed over the reins of the Brahmin Battery until I moved out for the Technical Staff Course.

On my return to the Regiment in 1997 after the Technical Staff Course, the unit was located in the high-altitude area (10,000 feet above Sea Level) of Sikkim, where families were not permitted to live with the soldiers or officers. After the customary ‘Dining-in’ in the evening at the Officers’ Mess, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel PK Ramachandran spoke welcoming me back into the fold and ordered me to be the BC of the Brahmin Battery. “Oh! Not again” was my instant reply and the CO was a bit puzzled.  He later spoke to me in person and I requested that I need a change and I wanted to have the experience of commanding another battery. The CO had his own logical reasoning for his decision and I did accept the same without any remorse as I too got convinced. Col Ramachandran had earlier served throughout his army career with a Regiment which had only Brahmin soldiers and I realised the he exactly knew the ‘horse for the course.’

The first week I spent at the Regimental Headquarters, carrying out the acclimatisation drills laid down for any soldier on arrival in high-altitude area. Our Battery was located about three km from the Regimental Headquarters. I luckily had two energetic and hardworking officers – Captain Samya Saurav, the Second-in-Command and Lieutenant Manish Wahi, the Gun Position Officer – both are presently Colonels, who effectively commanded their units. I delegated all my duties to the two and they did an excellent job that I hardly ever visited the battery.  Our CO wanted me to stay with the Regimental Headquarters to assist him, hence I had to delegate most duties to my junior officers.

After the week long acclimatisation, I decided to pay a visit to the Battery in the morning. When I reached the kitchen area, I found six sheep grazing there. In high-altitude area live sheep are supplied as rations in place of dressed meat. These sheep are called ‘Meat on Hoof (MOH)’ but are mostly ‘Meat on Knees‘ as the sheep are nearly dead after traversing through the difficult mountain roads from the plains.   The soldiers usually feed them well for a week to bring them back to life before they are slaughtered.

On inquiry I realised the problem of the sheep – the Brahmins did not want to slaughter the animals, but like good soldiers, wanted to partake the meat. I ordered the Havildar Major (Sergeant Major) Kanti Prasad to assemble the entire battery at 12 Noon in front of the kitchen and the BC will slaughter the animal in their presence. After that I went back to my room in the Regimental Headquarters.

In my youth, our household had fowls and animals and whenever I went on vacation, my brothers entrusted me the task of slaughtering. I think I did a good job of it as Amma, a stickler regarding the way the meat is cut, was pretty happy about my job. That was why I was sure that I will do a smart job of slaughtering the animal – if my mother could not find anything wrong – I was damn sure no one on earth could.

By 11 AM, our Havildar Major knocked at my door and reported that the sheep was stewing in the pressure cooker and I need not return to the battery at 12 Noon.

Selfie Menace and Images on Social Media

The youth of today seems mesmerised by the ‘selfie’ trend.  They take selfies anywhere and everywhere, without paying heed to the sentimentality and solemnity associated with the occasion.  They do not even spare funerals. 

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt ‘selfie’ at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela went viral on the social media.  This image showed Thorning-Schmidt flanked by a smiling Barack Obama on one side and David Cameron squeezing in on the other.  All of them appeared to be ‘having fun’ when everyone was paying their respects to the departed soul of a world leader.  The reactions it would have created is well imaginable.

Here is a lesson for every netizen.  The moment an image is posted, it would travel at the light of speed all over the globe.  Any ‘awkward’ image provides an opportunity for the netizens to post their comments and most of these comments are going to be unpalatable.  When you post an image on the social media or the Internet, you are responsible and accountable for it.  It is for you to ensure that you do not bring in shame or touch the sensibilities of others with the image.  You need to ensure that you do not hurt anyone’s career or personal life in any way.  Make sure that you have the permission to post someone’s photograph on the social media.  Copying and pasting someone else’s photo without prior permission, even with due credits, is a crime and violation of copyright. 

In today’s world, many legal cases have emerged due to such unauthorised posting of images.  Many have been charged as stalkers/ pedophiles.  This makes it all the more important to avoid taking pictures of children without permission of their parents, even at public events or social gatherings.  Some schools have banned photography in all their school functions, obviously to avoid misuse by unscrupulous elements.  Before tagging anyone on a photograph, it is your responsibility to obtain necessary permission from the person.  Many people today feel offended by such acts.


Posting the images of your children need special attention.  Over exposure of your children on the social media is not recommended.  Ensure that the images are not likely to be misused by anyone.  Similarly, posting images with high resolution may also invite trouble.  It would be prudent on your part to distort or add ‘noise’ to the image before posting it.  You can use any photo-editor or use many free online photo-editing site for it.

Avoid posting disturbing images of sick people, accident victims, etc.  This would leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mind.  Selecting necessary security settings to ensure that the persons intended are only seeing the image posted is always a good idea.  In case you are comfortable with the subject of your image, you can broadcast it to the whole world. 

One got to be extra-careful while posting of images during distress or calamities.  Some of your images may spread a feeling that you are not sensitive to the situation.  Similarly, images of funerals, cremation, obituaries, etc must be minimised.  You should pay special attention to the photos you post for such melancholic occasions and remove them immediately thereafter.   

Before uploading, posting or sharing a photograph, always pause and think what potential damage your act can cause.  Consider as to how your friend’s parents, siblings or teachers would react to the photo.  There have been many instances of people losing their jobs due to such inadvertent postings by their friends.  Many companies, prior to hiring, do peruse through the prospective employee’s social media sites to look for such aberrations.  Photos of many politicians in their youth have come haunting them later and have often caused considerable embarrassment. 


Many netizens tend to be bold on the Internet and on social networks and do things they might otherwise not do.  Many create fake profiles and some use tagging to attract the unsuspecting netizens on to their web page or website.  Obviously, these sites are real suspect in their content.

Geo-tagging of photos is a way of letting friends and families know where you are.  At the same time you are also at risk from burglars and stalkers.   Cyber criminals on the prowl can easily find out about your routine and also know when you are away from your home.  If you are out of station and your photo posted with a location far away will be boon for the burglars as they can very well predict your likely time of return.

If you post a photo you did not shoot, you could be violating someone’s copyright.  They reserve the right to take you to court and also sue you for damages.  The Facebook Terms of Service state, “You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law. We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement or our policies. If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.” 

If you post pictures from a concert, fair, flash mob or any public gathering, you can post those photos without specific permission of the people you captured on camera.  There is an expectation of privacy in places like a public washroom, swimming pool, courtroom or hospital.  In many schools, photography during the public functions are strictly forbidden.  In such places, obviously, you cannot shoot and will have to depend on the official photographer if any. 

It is the responsibility of every netizen to take responsibility for all the photos and images posted on the Internet.  Hence before posting “Always STOP and THINK” about the likely repercussions your innocent post may bring about.  

Over enthusiasm to shoot a selfie must be curbed, especially at public functions as you become more of an eyesore.  As per The Telegraph, more people have died in 2014 from selfies than shark attacks.  An engineering student from Thamizh Nadu, India, fell to his death while taking a selfie.  Seven Indian youths drowned while taking selfies on Mangrul Lake, Nagpur, India as they had tipped over while posing for a selfie.

Importance of Parent-Child Communication


Often heard from parents of University students that they do not listen to them. It must all be because when the very same children were young, the parents did not have time and energy to listen to them. Obviously, now one cannot expect the children to listen to the very same parents on becoming adults. Communication play a big role in Parent-child relationship, especially in the modern society.

Being an at-home father and having brought up a daughter and a son through their teenage in Canada and also having observed behaviour of many parents and children, some of the aspects that came to my mind are discussed below.

A family and a home is not a private limited company, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs. Making the children do chores at home, making them participate in all family activities, ensuring that their academic pursuits are successful, encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and interest and also their sporting interests and above all communicating with them to achieve the aforesaid is what the parents have got to do.

The rules and ideas suggested below have worked with our family, earlier in the Indian Army environment and now in the Canadian environment. It is neither a remedy or pill for success nor a ‘Dummies for Good Parenting’. You may accept some, modify some and reject some, based on your judgment.

Show Interest.    Convey to the child that you are interested and involved and you are always available for help. Whenever the child speaks to you, make sure that you turn off the television or put the newspaper down. Avoid taking a telephone call however important it may be, as for most of us, nothing can be more important than your children.

Converse in Private. The best communication between you and the child will occur when others are not around. It would be good idea to take the child out for a drive or to a quiet corner in park or a coffee shop. Many a times the child would like to discuss matters in the presence of either the mother or the father or at times both. Our son opens out his mind and discusses all his thoughts and ideas while I drive him to school or for his swimming/ guitar/ tennis lessons. He never discusses these in front of his mother or sister, fearing ridicule. Our daughter identifies with her mother better.

Do Not Dictate.    Putting a child down, especially in front of others, is both embarrassing and disgusting for any child. This will lead only to resentment and hostility, never to good communication. Try to physically and mentally get down to the child’s level and then talk.

Never React.   When you hear about a behaviour or an incident which makes you angry, do not attempt communication until you regain your cool, because you cannot be objective until then. If you ever admonish the child immediately, you can be rest assured that the child will never report any such instances in the future. Always analyse the situation and try and get maximum details from the child and may be at times from the teachers and friends, and then deliver your judgment. Assist the child in planning some specific steps to the solution and along with it provide or suggest remedial actions or methodology as to how to deal with similar situations in future in a more dignified and mature manner.

Be a Patient Listener.   In case you are tired after a day’s work, you will have to make an extra effort to be an active listener. Coax and encourage your child to bring out more details. Teenagers tend to use slang and at times un-parliamentary language in their narration. Do not ever hang on to these words as the true picture will be lost immediately. You must advise the child to curb his profanity at a later time. Listen carefully and politely. Do not interrupt the child when he is trying to tell his story. Be as courteous to your child as you would be to your boss.

Preach the Least.   Preaching is never helpful in getting communication open and keeping it open. Never come out with sob stories about the difficulties and lack of facilities you had in your childhood. Avoid using the lines like “You only talk when I am done“; “I know what is best for you“; “Do What I say“; “I never spoke like this to my parents“; etc.

Reporting Procedure.  Always encourage the child to speak to you about what happened at school, at an outing for a movie with friends, a party etc. Always be informed as to where the child is going, who all are accompanying and the back-at-home time. Your questioning technique should be such that the child will inform you all these details prior to even planning an outing with friends. On return from the event, make sure that you obtain a feedback on the activity. Never ask why but always ask what happened. You really need to prod to get the teenager speak about it and what you get will always be the tip of the iceberg, rest you got to extrapolate. Your reactions should be such as to ensure that the child reports such events, without asking, in future. Nowadays when I pick up the children after an event, on entering the car, they start off with their briefing.

Encourage, Accept and Appreciate.    Show that you accept your child , regardless of what he/she has or has not done. Always appreciate the child for the 93% marks he scored than admonishing him for the 7% he lost. You got to encourage him and advise him as to how he can do better. Say a word of appreciation like “Thank you” or “You did a nice job“, when the child does any chores at home. Never use put-down words or statements like “Stupid, that makes no sense at all” or “What do you know, you are only a child“. Once when our son made a cup of coffee and brought it up to my table. I took a sip and I heard our son say “Welcome”. I realised my folly that I had failed to appreciate his effort and the least he expected was a “Thank You“. In India we take many such actions for granted and have never developed the habit of appreciating, the idea being driven in that if you appreciate, it will spoil the child.

Participative Decision Making.   Involve the children in as much decision making as possible like the colour scheme for the walls of the home, flowers to be planted in the garden, selection of the restaurant and menu for a family dinner, family summer vacation, etc. Try and accommodate all their aspirations, at times against your own interest and wish; you may not get such an opportunity later in life. During our summer vacation to Chicago, our children wanted to go sky-diving. The main point of interest being video graphed during the free fall without the helmets (wearing helmets in the State of Illinois is not mandatory, but wearing goggles are). On reaching the sky-diving center we realised that our son was not eligible to participate being below 18 years of age. So the mother and the daughter sky-dived and the father-son duo decided to undertake the adventure after our son turned 18.

Cultural and Family Barriers.   Try not to bring in any cultural and family reasons regarding the way the teenagers dress, the friends they interact with and activities they are involved in. Many parents persuade their children from wearing short dresses or going out with friends as being ‘Against our culture‘. This tends to make the teenagers rebellious and many end up taking rash and illogical decisions, more to prove to their friends that they are liberated, not bound by their parent’s culture or religious beliefs. During a summer barbecue party at an Indian friend’s place, a teenage girl was surprised to find our daughter in shorts. She inquired as to whether the parents had no objection to the dress. Our daughter said that she was used to wearing shorts back home in India as she grew up in a military environment.   The teenager said that she was not permitted to wear shorts, but she always wore one inside her jeans to school and on reaching the school would  take off her jeans. It is not an uncommon sight around high schools where girls come in fully covered from head to toe and after a few minutes you find them at the smokers’ corner wearing the skimpiest dress.

Parent Teacher Interactions.  “How is my child doing?” is a standard question every parent asks and the standard reply by the teacher will be “very well“. Many fail to understand that it is “very well” to the effort put in by the child and the parent’s involvement. Rather, it would be more prudent to enquire about the behavioral and leaning aspect of the child and the topics being covered in future in the class. This way one can the least contribute to the child’s development.

Remove all Barriers to Communication.    Modern gizmos like the Cell phone, Ipod, Ipad, hand-held gaming consoles etc are always barriers to communication. Children fail to listen to what is being said and to observe what is happening around. One must lay down strict time slots for their use and never allow them to be used during any family time: during the meals, family outings, get-together, etc. The rule at our home or in the car is that when in company of any family member, no ear phones are permitted. In case music is to be played, it should be audible to all.

Sex Education.  The most difficult subject for many parents to broach with their teenage children, but once you take the first bold step towards it, it becomes easier and would always be a rewarding experience. Studies indicate that adolescents whose parents talk to them about sex tend to be less sexually active and more likely to use an effective means of contraception. Many parents are not able to provide all the information about sex that young people need. Only a few ever got a good idea from their parents that helped them talk about sexual issues with their girlfriend/ boyfriend.   Parents must be the primary source of information about sexual and reproductive health for their children and not what they learn from their friends or through media or from the internet. Our son’s favourite line being “All my thirst for sex was quenched the day I discussed it with my dad.”

We humans are a rare species when it comes to parenting. We are conflicted between excessive care and a willingness to let them loose. We are eager to be their friends, but also to set firm boundaries. We want all their problems to vanish in a blink of an eye, but we also want to prepare them to face hardships on their own. We suffer when they make mistakes, but we don’t let them see our suffering. All these paradoxical behaviors build the barriers we face when communicating with our children.

Dear Lord, make me a better parent. Teach me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say and to answer all their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting them, talking back to them, and contradicting them. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them to be to me.” – Author: Gary Myers

The Invictus Games

The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’. It showcases the fighting spirit of the injured military personnel and what these tenacious men and women can achieve, post injury. The Games harness the power of sport to support recovery and rehabilitation.  It has helped to generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.

The Invictus Games was the brainchild of Prince Harry, a former Apache helicopter pilot who served with the British armed forces in Afghanistan.  He was inspired to launch an event after seeing three young soldiers badly injured in Afghanistan in 2008.  At the time, Harry was being sent home after the news of his presence in Afghanistan as a British army officer was flashed by the media.  This endangered his fellow officers, forcing him to leave, even though he wanted to stay with his soldiers.

While sitting aboard his flight home, Harry saw a coffin of a Danish solider loaded aboard. Also on that flight were three young British soldiers on stretchers in induced comas, wrapped in plastic, with missing limbs and tubes coming out of them.

On a trip to the Warrior Games in the USA in 2013 he saw how the power of sport could motivate the injured soldier physically, psychologically and socially. He formed the Invictus Foundation and hosted the inaugural Invictus Games at London from 10-14 September 2014 which was attended by over 400 competitors from 13 nations.  Across four days of intense sporting action, they competed in nine sports in five venues.

Thus was born the Invictus Games, the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded and sick soldiers and veterans.

The Games started with a spectacular Opening Ceremony, with an audience of 5,000 gathering on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the special military themed opening event. With a fly past from The Red Arrows, displays by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Queen’s Colour Squadron and performances from bands in the Royal Marines, Army and RAF, the Games kicked off with all pomp and ceremony.

Prince Harry on conclusion of the first Invictus Games said “These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of service men and women and their families and their ‘Invictus’ spirit. These Games have been about seeing guys sprinting for the finish line and then turning round to clap the last man in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together, not wanting to come second, but not wanting the other guys to either. These Games have shown the very best of the human spirit.”

According to Prince Harry, the 2014 Games were just the beginning of the Invictus story. The competitors showed grit, determination and humour with an absolute refusal to be beaten or be defined by their injuries.  There the Invictus spirit was born.  He was excited to see the American public supporting these inspirational men and women at the 2016 Invictus Games.  Seeing so many men and women competing against each other with huge beaming smiles, made him realise the power of the concept behind Invictus Games.  He is of the opinion that sports can make a huge difference and help the injured soldiers fix their lives and those of others around them.

The Invictus Games 2016 was held at Orlando, USA from 08 to 12 May 2016.  The games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America.  First lady Michelle Obama, Britain’s Prince Harry and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman delivered stirring speeches during the opening ceremony.

Freeman powerfully orated the Invictus Pledge to the crowd to help conclude the ceremony:
Your service sets an example
Your bravery inspires me
It is my honor now
To support and give you courage
To fight for you as you fought for us
To keep your family close beside
To take the steps you need to take
I am here for you.

President George W Bush is the Honorary Chairman of the Games.  He said “I have dedicated the rest of my life to honoring the service and sacrifice of the men and women with whom I served as Commander-in-Chief.  Those who wear their Nation’s uniform, some of whom have overcome both visible and invisible injuries, deserve our support.  I am proud to serve as honorary Chairman of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016, and to shine a spotlight on the unconquered spirit of these men and women, not just from the American team but from 15 coalition nations.”

The George W Bush Institute conducted an international symposium at Invictus Games Orlando 2016 on May 8, to discuss solutions aimed at helping returning servicemen and women improve outcomes for their transition back to civilian life.

The Invictus Games 2017 would be hosted by Toronto, Canada, from September 26­ to 30.  It coincides with the  celebrations of the 150th anniversary of its Confederation and 100th anniversary of Canada’s defining rolein the Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I.  It will provide a unique opportunity for Canadians to commemorate and honour its injured soldiers and their families.  Ontario has committed up to $10 million in support of the Invictus Games 2017.   It is expected to feature more than 600 competitors from 16 nations.

The kickoff for the Invictus Games 2017 was held on 02 May 2016, by way of an exhibition sledge hockey game at Toronto.  Prince Harry joined Prime Minister Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory were in attendance.

Paraplegic rehabilitation Centre (PRC), Kirkee, is a pioneer in introducing sports on wheelchair for the Indian wounded soldiers. The First National Games for disabled were also organised by PRC and were held at the Centre. Inmates of the Centre are undisputed champions in wheelchair sports at National level. At the international level, inmates from PRC have won many medals.

Will India ever hold an Invictus Games?  Will someone sponsor the Games? It is ironic that the sponsor for the Invictus Games 2014 and 2016 was none other than Indian owned Jaguar Range Rover.

Doing it Right


Walking our dog in the mornings and evenings is a ritual undertaken every day. On such a walk, we came to a pedestrian crossing and the signal started to blink red. There was a mother with her two teenaged children trying to cross. The mother started crossing and was howling at the top of her voice in Punjabi, instructing the children to follow her. The children did not move and were advising the mother against her action. The mother crossed over and the children were left behind. Here the generation gap became evident both physically and mentally.  From their diction, it was evident that the mother was brought up back home in India and the children were nurtured in Canada.

On one such walks, we were accompanied by our son and I was about to take the dog across the crossing when the light had started blinking red. Our son advised me not to do it and further added that this act was very much like running over a red light while driving. Even now I do get an itch to cross over in similar situation, but I always remember our son’s advice.

One always wondered as to how come we have that itch to break a simple law – it neither saves time nor is it any way more convenient. One can attribute it to the ethos we had practiced back home and also to the denials we faced. The spirit of winning a competition by using any means and to push forward one’s agenda could have resulted in this.

The competition we faced back home always prompted us to cross-examine our children when they came home with a report card or a test result. We always wanted to know as to who got the maximum marks, where does our child stand in the class, etc. I also followed this when our daughter came home with her first report card in Canada. She said it Is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public. My mind raced back to our school days and even our army course days; where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board. What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well.

In Canada, the end-of-term report cards come home in a sealed envelope and there is no discussion about the student’s performance or there is no parent interview.

The parent-teacher meeting is held after six weeks into the semester. One has heard most teachers saying that the child is doing well, whether the child had scored marks or not. In one such meeting I asked the teacher as to what he meant by saying that the child is doing well. He said that the child is doing well to his ability and your effort. My mind went back to the parent-teacher meeting we had back home where it was more of a slew of complaints than any compliments.

After an important presentation of our son in high school, I inquired as to what the teacher had commented on the presentation. He said that the teachers do not make any comment in the class and all assessment aspects would be covered on the marking sheet. The marking sheet is a rubric given to student well in advance, showing all aspects that would be assessed with complete marking scheme. This leads to more objectivity and less subjectivity. During our Long Gunnery or any Army Course teaching practices, we neither had any rubric nor were aware as to how the session would be assessed. A lot of subjectivity was left for the assessor. Each session ended with a detailed commentary by the assessor, many a times touching a high level of ridicule. The said aim of such commentary was that it would bring out the lessons for others, but at what cost?

Our course-mate from the National Defence Academy, Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph, VM, VSM, visited us in June 2016.  At the end of his stay with us, I asked him as to what he is taking with him back to India.  He said that the lesson he learnt in Canada was that in case everyone did everything correctly and the best way they could, this world would be a great place to live.  He was convinced that in case everyone followed the rules and regulations, life would be much better, and breaking rules lead to corruption and chaos, causing inconvenience to one and all.    

Hen’s Egg Song

Every morning in our childhood, we were woken up by our rooster’s crowing.  The rooster crows to announce his supremacy in the territory and in the brood.  During the day, one often heard the hens crying loud “bak bak ba ko” after laying an egg. This is often referred to as the hen’s ‘egg song.’

Our house had a barn about 50 meters away from the main building.  It housed the cows and had a room to store hay, the main fodder for the cows.   The hens utilised the hay area to beat the afternoon heat or to save themselves from the heavy monsoon downpours.  The brooding hens stayed there most of the day, hardly ever going out.  Most of the hens laid their eggs too over the hay stacks.  Some would find their way into the house and lay their eggs in the store room where Amma stored the grains and other yields from the farm.  They would also use the area where old newspapers and magazines were stored to lay their eggs.

Hens often resort to ritual singing after she has laid an egg.  The hen’s song generally lasts for a minute or two and at times extend up to five minutes.  Many a times, it turned very irritable and one wished they would stop their endless singing the earliest.  It appeared that the hens wanted to broadcast to the world that they had achieved something great.  It is surely a great event in the hen’s day to have laid an egg. 

But why do they do it?  Why does a hen feel the need to broadcast to the world that she has laid an egg? Would it not be sensible for them to be silent so as to protect their egg from predators and humans?

One possible explanation is that the hen is feeling proud of the achievement for laying an egg. So, in fact she must be ‘crowing with pride’ about her accomplishment.  It may also be that she is feeling relieved to have it plop out.   Another possibility is that having gone off to lay her egg in private somewhere, she is calling to the rest of the flock to rejoin them.  It could also be that she is protecting her egg by moving away from it and distracting predators from the nest itself and focusing their attention to her instead to keep her egg safe.

The song could also be an invitation to the rooster for mating.  At the end of the song, the rooster often approached the hen with a dipped wing, waving his colourful tail feathers and dance around her in a circular pattern. It often culminated with a successful mating.  One mating can leave enough sperms to fertilize each egg for up to a week, hence it may not be a daily ritual.

The hens are not only vocal when they lay their eggs, they also make sounds of purring, growling, predator warnings, squawking and calling chicks to food. Certain breeds are more talkative than others and some chicken are louder or quieter depending on their breed and genetic constitution.

We also had a few ducks.  The ducks quacked all through the day and one could never fathom the reason for the ruckus they created.  There was hardly any pattern to it.  They normally laid their eggs at night and remained quite after their accomplishment.  Sometimes they laid their eggs early in the morning while being taken to the water filled paddy fields.  Mostly these eggs were lost.  Once the water was drained out from the fields to sow rice, we collected many eggs from there.

The duck’s egg is surely much bigger than hen’s.  Some claim that the duck eggs have twice the nutritional value of a hen’s egg and stay fresh for a longer period as compared a hen’s egg due to their thicker shell.    Duck’s eggs are rich with albumen, making cakes and pastries fluffier and richer, as compared to hen’s eggs.  Duck’s eggs have more Omega3 fatty acids. Omega 3 apparently prevents irregular heartbeat, reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease inflammation.  That may the reason why the Chinese preserve duck eggs by soaking them in brine, or packing each egg in damp, salted charcoal. It is said to be a delicacy and have been known to remain edible for years.

The hens announce their accomplishment of laying an egg to the entire world around, but the duck, even though does a better job, keeps quiet after the accomplishment.  We as kids used to get into the hay stacks to look for an egg before the crows snatch it away on hearing the hen’s song.  A few times it turned out to be hoax, as some hens may sing without laying an egg.

The ducks do not brood and do not sit idle in one place, hence poor hatchers.  At our home, a brooding hen hatched the duck eggs.  The hen took care of the ducklings like her chicks.  After a week or two, the ducklings jumped into the water in the paddy fields and swam.  The poor mother-hen  ran  around crying, unable to get into water and swim and unable to get near ‘her chicks’ and protect them.  This event marked the end of the mother-chick relationship and the ducklings now went their way in a flock.

Perhaps, there is a human parallel to this comparison.  A few people execute difficult tasks and accomplish great deeds, but keep quite after all their hard work.  They do not announce it to the world and often their works are recognised many years after their death.    Galileo Galilei – a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer; Vincent van Gogh – Dutch Post-Impressionist painter; Johann Sebastian Bach –  a composer; Gregor Johann Mendel – who discovered the basic principles of genetics; and the list is endless.

Some people do announce to the world all their accomplishments and many make much noise about small feats.  Some fake it too; no job but only noise.

May be it’s better to be a hen than a duck in the present days of social media dominated world, where even the silliest activity is broadcast as a great accomplishment.

So, are you a ‘duck type’ or a ‘hen type’?

Kunjappan Chettan – Our Village Trader


Mr Pothen (Peter in Malayalam) lived opposite our home across the street and everyone called him Kunjappan suffixed with ‘Chettan’ meaning an elderly man. Kunjappan Chettan was the village trader who ran his business from his home. He traded mainly in pepper, nutmeg, natural rubber, eggs and dried tapioca (cassava), which the villagers produced.

I have seen him from childhood always wearing a spotless white dhoti with a white towel which always hung from his right shoulder.  He visited the nearby village markets too to collect the merchandise he traded in. He never wore a shirt on his business trips, but used to wear a white shirt while going to the church on Sundays, visiting his relatives or going to Kottayam town.

Kunjappan Chettan was very popular with the women folk as he used to buy all the eggs their hens laid – the free range ones. The ladies would use the money to buy fish the next day or meat on the weekends. The entire households in the village produced their own vegetables in those days and the only purchases were limited to onions and tomatoes. Nowadays the situation in our village is that hardly anyone produces any vegetables, mainly due to non availability of labour and with the advent of rubber cultivation.

The women folk liked him for not that he provided the best price for their eggs, but that he would accept cracked eggs too, unless they were leaking. The secret behind it was that he was supplying his eggs to Mr Rozario, an Anglo-Indan who ran the best bakery in Kottayam town. Mr Razario would accept all the cracked eggs as he had to crack them anyway. Mr Rozario’s pick-up van would visit Kunjappan Chettan every Fridays to pick-up the eggs he had collected the entire week.

All the spices and the rubber procured by Kunjappan Chettan  had to be transported to Kottayam market, 12 km away, to be sold to wholesale traders. Pappchan with his bullock cart provided the transportation services. Pappachan had a bullock cart, pulled by two hefty bullocks, and he always addressed them as his sons. He would never hit them and would always be seen talking to them. Whether the bullocks understood anything what Pappachan said, they would silently stand in front of Kunjappan Chettan’s home until the cart was fully loaded on Monday evenings. After the loading was completed, Pappachan would tell his sons to proceed. Pappachan would go off to sleep and the bullocks would pull the cart and by early morning reach the market gate. Pappachan would hand over all the merchandise to the wholesale dealer and during the day pickup stuff for the village store and any other materials anyone else would have ordered. He would commence his return journey by evening and the bullocks would find their way to Kunjappan Chettan’s home and reach early morning Wednesday and all the while Pappachan would be sleeping. The modern trucks have driven these bullock-carts to extinction.

Kunjappan Chettan’s family and our family had a healthy relationship. All the children went to school together, played in the evenings together and we always formed part of any celebrations in either home. This relationship has carried over to the next two generations.

In those days Mr Chackochan (Jacob in Malayalam) was the only one who owned a car in our village. The magnanimity of Chackochan ensured that his car always doubled-up as an ambulance in emergencies for the entire village. Now every household has at least one.

Chackochan belonged to the richest family of our village. He ran a coconut oil mill. The mill had a telephone and it became a village property and always carried urgent messages for the village folks. The workers in the mill doubled up as messengers who ran to the home of the recipient of the message to convey it. With the introduction of cell phones, anyone and everyone now owns a cell phone.

Kunjappan Chettan’s grandson used to be asthmatic during his childhood and used to get severe attacks and he had to be rushed to the hospital about 5 km away. Chackochan would always come with his car to provide the ambulance service, even at midnight. While I was on summer vacation from Sainik (Military) School, the boy suffered a severe attack at midnight and I was asked to run (being the fittest) to Chackochan’s home to fetch the car.

On reaching Chackochan’s house, I opened the gate and went to the front door and rang the bell. Chackochan came out and asked me as to whether the dogs attacked me. That was when I looked behind and I saw two German Shepherds staring at me. No one ever told me that there were two German Shepherds guarding the house and one had to use the bell at the main gate to call Chackochan. The dogs must have got really confused on seeing me confidently and fearlessly opening the main gate and running up to the front door.

With the arrival of modern transportation systems, the village trader’s role diminished as the villagers could sell their produce directly to wholesalers at Kottayam and also buy and transport goods from there.  Mr Rozario became old and closed down his bakery resulting in lack of demand for eggs.  Thus Kunjappan Chettan retired, closing down his business.

Nostalgia Induced by Free Range Eggs

Driving through the Canadian rural area, we landed at a farm selling ‘farm fresh’ eggs.  They were also selling ‘Free Range‘ eggs, costing over double the price of normal eggs.  These eggs they claimed were laid by hens raised free of cages and other types of confinement housing and provided with access to the outdoors, weather permitting.


The labels on egg cartons in Canada are confusing to any shopper and are misleading.  Only a handful are certified by a third-party agency like ‘SPCA Certified,‘ meaning the product comes from a farm following prescribed standards of animal welfare, assessed annually by a trained inspector or ‘Certified Organic,‘ where in the birds are raised on organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics. I am told that mature broiler chicken raised on growth hormones are in such terrible state of pain due to the inability of their legs to withstand the body weight, that we are actually doing them a favour when we slaughter them!

Now we get many uncertified, but somewhat accepted labels, more as a fashion statement.  They cover Free Range and ‘Free-Run‘ denoting that hens could move around in open concept barns, but they do not necessarily have access to the great outdoors.  The ‘Cage-Free‘ and ‘Pasture Raised‘ can also be found.

Labels such as ‘Animal Friendly‘, ‘Country Fresh‘, ‘Naturally Raised’, ‘Non-Medicated’, ‘Raised Without Antibiotics’, ‘Raised Without Hormones’ or ‘Vegetable-Fed’ or ‘Grain-Fed’ do not mean anything, misleading.

In case there are no labels, or the label states ‘Classic‘, ‘Conventional‘, ‘Regular‘, ‘Farm-Fresh‘ or ‘Natural‘, it means that the hens who laid these eggs were kept in cages for almost their entire lives. The cages are about the size of a file cabinet drawer and can hold up to seven hens.  It is reported that an estimated 95% of eggs produced in Canada come from hens confined to cages where their movement is severely restricted and they are denied their most fundamental behavioural needs such as wing-flapping, foraging, perching and nesting.

The space provided for each hen varies across farms but may be as little as 432 sq cm (67square inches) per bird, which is less than a standard-sized piece of notebook paper. Generally, 4-6 birds are housed in each cage and cages are stacked vertically (hence the term ‘battery’”) to allow thousands of hens to be housed in one barn.


In Canada the law specifies that: –

  • Birds must be able to stand fully in an upright position within the enclosure.
  • Flooring must be designed, constructed, and maintained in a manner that supports the birds’ feet and does not contribute to trapping, injuries, or deformities to the birds’ legs, feet, and/or toes.
  • All birds must have access to at least 2 waterers in case one breaks down.
  • Automated feeding systems must be designed to minimise the likelihood of chicks getting caught in them.
  • Tiers must be arranged to prevent droppings from falling directly on tiers below, excluding perches, terraces and ramps/ladders.
  • The number of tiers must not exceed four where the ground level is considered to be one tier.

In my childhood, I was always fascinated by the brood my mother reared.  The most dominant cock assumed the position of a rooster, leading the brood.  There were many duels to establish supremacy and the defeated cocks submitted to the rooster.  The rooster always pushed ahead of the females to have first pickings of the food while the hens stood back.


In the evenings the brood returned and never entered the coop but perched on the tamarind tree behind it.  The rooster perched on the top with the hens and other cocks below him; hence the idiom ‘ruling the roost‘.  The rooster was always on the lookout for intruders and predators and warned the brood about them.  He also attacked and threw away the intruders.  The rooster crowed at the break of dawn, announcing to the world his presence and dominance in the brood.  It also served as an alarm for our father.  He woke us all up and commenced with the morning prayers.

The rooster also crowed in response to a potential rival.  When being fed in the morning, the crowing acted as a way to assert that it is his food.  It also served as a warning to other roosters in the neighbourhood, not to trespass his territory.

Our neighbour’s rooster was bigger and always ‘bullied‘ our rooster.  In one such fight, I, then aged about four, barged between the two roosters in an attempt to protect ours.  The neighbour’s rooster literally flew into a rage and pecked on my forehead and left me bleeding and presented me with a scar which became my identification mark. A mark of recognition! How would I be identified without the help of the neighbour’s rooster? A philosophical poser.

The rooster mates with the hens during the day, like all birds.  The mating ritual will typically begin with a rooster exhibiting a type of dance meant to attract his mate. He would dip one wing, wave his colourful tail feathers and dance around the hen in a circular pattern. If the hen is receptive, she will crouch down and allow the rooster to mount her, else he would force himself upon her.  For balance, he would peck on to her comb atop her head.  The entire mating would last a few seconds.

Rooster Naughty Bits Explained – Bitchin' Chickens

Both male and female chickens have one exterior sexual opening called a cloaca. When a rooster mounts a hen, he tucks his tail under the hen’s in a ‘cloacal kiss‘, passing sperms to fertilize the egg.   The sperms travel up the oviduct, where an egg is released every day.  One mating can leave enough sperms to fertilize each egg for up to a week.

The hens usually met their end dying of old age, disease or falling prey to intruders like foxes, dogs or cats.  Some got run over by the vehicles plying on the road in front of the house.  The rooster’s or cock’s end is another story.  Amma ordered us sons to butcher one to be the entrée for the dinner when an uncle came calling on.  The cocks also met similar fates to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Lord – Christmas and Easter.  She indicated the cock to be butchered by its colour and at night, one had to climb the tamarind tree with the skill of a leopard, locate the cock and catch it.  It was indeed a ‘Surgical Strike.’  The operation was impossible during the day as the cock always run away.

We then had to butcher it and dip it in boiling water to de-feather them.  Unlike the factory reared chicken of today, these fowls, being Free Range do not carry any fat between their skin and muscles, hence, skinning them was impossible.  The meat took longer to cook and was harder to bite into, but always tasted much better.  Similarly, the eggs from the Free Range hens tasted much better to my palate than the factory produced eggs served at the Cadets’ Mess or the Officers’ Mess.  It could be because these hens foraged on the leaves, especially of the herbal plants that grew abundantly all around our house then.


Every other year, Amma hatched chicks to recoup the dwindling strength of her brood.  She selected a healthy hen who had just moved into her ‘broody‘ state and prepared a safe area in the storeroom, away from other hens and cats.  A hen in a broody state does not lay eggs, eats hardly, remains in her nest, is very irritable and assumes that she is incubating eggs to hatch, though there is nothing under her.

She then picked out a dozen eggs from the recent pile.  She was a bit superstitious when it came to placing the eggs under the hen for incubation.  She always believed that anything she touched turned male – that is why we do not have a sister.  I was presumed to be the ‘lucky’ one because whenever I placed the eggs under the brooding hen, it mostly resulted in about eight females and four male chicks.

After I left home to join Sainik School, the job for once was given to my younger brother.  It turned out that barring two, rest of the chicks were all males.  That possibly explains why he has two sons today!


After 21 days of incubation under the broody hen, the chicks hatch.  The mother hen led the chicks out, teach them to eat and drink and walk through the farm.  In case of any attack from predators like cats, hawks or crows, the mother hen tucked the chicks under her wings. She also attacked the intruder with her beak.  The rooster immediately came to her rescue and also join the fight to repel the intruder.  As children, we used to artificially color the chicks to red, orange or pink, to scare away the predator birds.

The offering at the annual feast of our ancestral church with St George as the patron saint, was fowl.  Many ladies in the area conditionally promised St George that they would offer Him a fowl in case at least 10 of the dozen chicks survived through.  Now the responsibility to take care of the chicks rested with St George and in case he failed, he lost a fowl during the annual feast!

After about six weeks of rearing the chicks, the mother hen either avoided them or pecked them away as they have now become capable enough to take care of themselves.  They now grow as ‘Free Range’ to produce eggs or to end up as entrée at the family dinner.

With rubber plantations replacing the pineapple and tapioca cultivation in our farmland, forage for the fowls reduced.  Spurt in vehicular traffic on the road in front of our house made it unsafe for the birds.  Easy availability of eggs and chicken meat at affordable prices without hassles made rearing of fowls uneconomical.  All these factors, along with the age of my mother contributed to the sad end of fowl rearing at our home, as also in much of rural Kerala. At the very thought of those childhood days with the ‘Free Range’ brood around, I am flooded with a wave of nostalgia.

PS – Thanks to Veteran Colonel Baby Mathews – the idea for this article emanated from a telephonic conversation with him.

Bless You!

Sneezing occurs when irritants are sneak past our nose hairs. The nose hairs act like filters, capturing and trapping most of the particles that we breathe in. If something irritating like dust or a cold virus gets past this filter, a sneeze is initiated.   A sneeze is a reflex that’s both awkward and elegant. Awkward because of the sudden, involuntary spasms it sends us into, and elegant because of the unified efforts of our nervous and muscular systems. Working together, our nerves and muscles can forcefully blast irritants right out of our system before they can take hold and make us sick.  “Sternutation” is the scientific word for sneezing, derived from the Latin word  “sterno,” which means stretching, spreading, or scattering.


Some people experience “sun sneeze” when exposed to bright light. This is a genetic trait called ACHOO, which stands for Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome.  Snatiation” is a rarer form of sneezing triggered by a full stomach right after eating, another genetic trait.

Why Do We Say ‘Bless You’ When Someone Sneezes?

During the old ages, it was believed that one’s heart stopped beating when one sneezed. So if you are still alive after a sneeze, that’s because someone must have blessed you! It was also believed that sneezing was a way of ridding oneself of the Devil, so they said “God Bless you” to rid you of the Devil and keep evil spirits away from. Others believed that they were getting possessed by the demons so by saying “God bless you”, they were preventing evil from taking over their souls. This also originated from the common belief was that during a sneeze, the soul leaves the body and creates a vacancy for the Devil to swoop in.

When someone in your vicinity sneezes, the Germans say “gesundheit“, giving a blessing of good health.  The Polsh say “na zdrowie” and most The Romans would say “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve,” which meant “good health to you” and the Greeks would wish each other “long life.” The phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who uttered it in the sixth century during a bubonic plague epidemic, as sneezing is an obvious symptom of plague.  North Americans’ “Bless you!”   is believed  it was brought to North America  by German-speaking immigrants. in the early part of the 20th century.

In India the response  is by blessing the “sneezer”  to live long; like in Bihar it is ‘Chattanji’, in Oriya it is ‘Buda/budi te hai tha’, in Thamizh it is ‘nooru aayisu/ deerghaayisu’, in Kashmiri it is ‘Bismillah/ Kustaan chu yaad karan’.

Does Your Heart Stop When You Sneeze?

How and from where did the myth originate?  The changing pressure in your chest due to sneezing changes your blood flow, which may change the rhythm of your heartbeat. The feeling that the heart comes to a stop during a sneeze may be  from the sensation of a prolonged delay in the heart beat and one may feel that the next beat  to be more forceful and more noticeable.

Interesting Facts:

  • Sneezes are an automatic reflex that can’t be stopped once sneezing starts.
  • Sneezes can travel at a speed of 15 kmph and the wet spray can radiate five feet.
  • People don’t sneeze when they are asleep because the nerves involved in nerve reflex are also resting.
  • Some people sneeze when plucking their eyebrows because the nerve endings in the face are irritated and then fire an impulse that reaches the nasal nerve.
  • Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire, England sneezed for 978 days, sneezing once every minute at the beginning. This is the longest sneezing episode on record.

Sneeze Etiquette And Self-Care:

A sneeze itself is a mixed blessing. Though a sneeze protects the sneezer, it can make other people sick. When you sneeze, you blast all those bacterial droplets into the air and onto the skin and tissue of anyone in the vicinity of the sneeze.

  • Cover your mouth to catch a sneeze before it gets to someone else. Sneezing into a tissue is best. If you don’t have tissue, try not to use your hand to shield the sneeze. Rather, aim for the inside of your elbow or into the crook of your shoulder. You’re less likely to touch keypads, doorknobs and drawer handles with those parts of your body.
  • If you sneeze in your hand, make sure to wash with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer before touching other things.
  • It’s hard to avoid all sneeze triggers, especially during the contagious cold and flu season. Covering up with scarves or face-masks is how some people defend their noses.
  • Avoid sneeze generators like pets and try not to go out much on high pollen count days.
  • A polite “excuse me” doesn’t hurt after you’ve had a loud sneeze fit in a public place. When it comes to “blessing” someone after a sneeze, keep in mind that different parts of the world recognize different customs.

Superstitions Around the World

  • In South India,  a single sneeze indicates that someone’s taking about you and two sneezes means  someone’s thinking about you- most likely your mother-in-law.
  • In North India, a single sneeze indicates bad luck, if you sneeze twice it’s good luck. If you’re about to do some chore or thinking of it and you sneeze once, don’t go as you may not achieve the desired result or something bad may happen. Of course if you sneeze twice you should go and if you sneeze an odd number it’s also bad luck.
  • According to a Chinese superstition a sneeze on New Year’s Eve is ominous for the coming year; and to offset this, the sneezer must visit three families of different surnames, and beg from each a small tortoise-shaped cake, which must be eaten before midnight.
  • The Japanese attach significance to the number of times a man sneezes. Thus, one sneeze indicates that some one is praising him, while two betoken censure or disparagement or gossip; a triple sneeze is commonplace, and means simply that a person has taken cold.
  • In Mexico, also, it was formerly believed either that somebody was speaking evil of one who sneezed, or that he was being talked about by one or more persons.
  • Sneezing is a lucky charm for the French.  when one sneezes, they say ‘May your dreams come true’.
  • Three sneezes in succession in Holland means its going to be a sunny day tomorrow.
  • Sneeze on Monday for health. Sneeze on Tuesday for wealth. Sneeze on Wednesday for a letter. Sneeze on Thursday for something better. Sneeze on Friday for sorrow. Sneeze on Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow. Sneeze on Sunday, safety seek.

May God bless all of you all every time you sneeze.