Bhagawan (God) Shoot

 IdliVada

Late Colonel Avinash Chandra and I joined the Regiment in January 1983.  He was a Captain then and was returning to the Regiment after a staff tenure and I was joining on commissioning as a Second Lieutenant.  He, on promotion to the rank of Major was appointed the Battery Commander of the Jat Battery – 752 Medium Battery.

All the officers – both seniors and juniors – addressed him as Guruji.  He was indeed a Guru on all matters, especially for us, the young officers of the Regiment.  For us, he was the go-to man for all our problems – military, administrative, personal, promotion examination – and all the activities we young officers indulged in.  He was always ready to help, but the only catch was that it came with a liberal dose of advice, anecdotes and stories.

It appeared to us from all his sermons that there was nothing under the sun which Guruji was unaware of and there was no activity Guruji had not indulged in.  As expected, in all his adventurous stories, he was the pivotal character.  We knew the percentage of truth in all his stories, but we all looked forward to listening to them.  Whatever may it be, he had a solution in hand for all our problems and we all did enjoy his sermons.

During the Winter of 1985, the Regiment went through a training exercise conducted by the Brigade Commander.  Next day, during the officers’ tea, Colonel Mahaveer Singh, our then Commanding Officer ordered that henceforth Major Avinash Chandra will not be addressed as Guruji, especially by his junior officers.  It was all because our Brigade Commander during the exercise was peeved at a senior Major of the Regiment being addressed by his nickname.  Guruji immediately said that he loved everyone addressing him as Guruji and if need be, he was ready to meet the Brigade Commander with this special request.  That was our Guruji for all readers.

Guruji would take on any task everyone would find uncomfortable with.  He would make such tasks appear simple and easy and conveyed an impression that he did enjoy executing it.  His body language and mannerisms always added colour to such occasions.

One such task was engaging a target with Artillery fire using the infamous Range Finder DS1,  The equipment is now obsolete and in my view should have been declared so even in those days.  Everyone was literally scared of the invisible floating diamonds and no one wanted to touch it with a barge pole.  Here now appears Guruji, full of confidence, to execute the arduous task.  I always failed to understand as to how he would have executed the task with a failing eye-sight, corrected with glasses.  Did he ever catch a glimpse of the five diamonds, mostly invisible to people with perfect eyesight?

The aim of engaging a target with artillery fire is make the shells fall on or as close to the target as possible to destroy it.  The guns are placed well behind at about 10 km or more and the Observation Officer is located with the attacking or defending infantry unit.  The Observation Post Officer (OP officer) is responsible to direct Artillery fire on to the targets, keeping in mind the safety of own troops.   The Gun Position Officer at his Command Post near the guns would calculate the bearing, distance and other technical parameters to the target, based on the coordinates passed to him by the OP  Officer  and apply corrections to compensate for the prevailing metrological conditions like wind speed and direction, temperature, etc and fire a single shell called a ranging round. If the initial shell is not ‘on target’, corrections to move the fall of shot is ordered and is applied on the guns.  This procedure called  Ranging is continued until the shell lands within 50 meters of the target. He then calls for ‘fire for effect’ by ordering six or more guns to fire in unison until the target is destroyed.

During all the Artillery firing practices, Guruji would setup the monstrous looking Range Finder well before the commencement of the practice.  When his turn to engage the target came, he would wipe his glasses clean, wear them and move to his trusted Range Finder.  He would then instruct his radio operator to pass the target coordinates and other details to the guns with an order for a single gun to fire a shell. The use of the rangefinder, supposedly, was to eliminate the ranging process to the extent possible, and directly order ‘fire for effect’, to improve what in gunnery terms is called ‘First Salvo Effectiveness’. But the problem was that the range Finder DS1 was infamously unreliable and everyone other than a handful of personnel specially trained on it, kept a safe distance from the instrument.

Five seconds before the shell was about to land, his technical assistant would cry “Stand by” and Guruji would place his spectacled eyes on to the eyepiece of the Range Finder.  After the shell exploded, he would look at it over the Range Finder and then through it.  He would then pickup his pad and write down a few calculations and would order a correction to bring the shell to fall on the target – Right 275, Add 375- with an order for six guns to fire in unison.

Captain Desh Raj, the senior most among us Captains at that time would order us to summon all our Gods to ensure that the shells landed on the target.  Believe it not, in almost all cases the shells did land on the specified target.  Was it because of Guru’s gunnery skills or our prayers?  Whatever it may be, the entire act did impress everyone present, especially the senior commanders.

After about two or three such experiences, I confronted Guruji to explain as to how he managed the show.  He explained that he neither saw the floating diamonds nor the target through the Range Finder.  He was mostly successful as he knew the firing ranges like the back of his palm.  He knew the lie of the ground and could predict accurately how the shell would move with each correction.  The most critical moment for him was when he looked over the Range Finder to catch the glimpse where the shell exploded.  He would then assess the deviation from the target and order the necessary corrections to the guns.

My question now was that even though the entire procedure was based on shear guess work, how come it succeeded every time.  Guruji with his characteristic smile on his lips replied “All because of your prayers.”

Climbing the CN Tower

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CN (Canadian National) Tower is a 553.33 m-high (1,815.4 ft) concrete communications and observation tower in Toronto,  Canada.   It was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline, and a symbol of Canada, attracting more than two million international visitors annually.  Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower, following the railway’s decision to divest non-core freight railway assets.

The idea of the CN Tower originated in 1968 when the Canadian National Railway wanted to build a large TV and radio communication platform to serve the Toronto area.  As Toronto grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, multiple skyscrapers were constructed in the downtown core and the reflective nature of the new buildings compromised the quality of broadcast signals necessitating new, higher antennas that were at least 300 m all.  The CN Tower opened on 01 October 1976, but soon the microwave communication and terrestrial TV/Radio transmissions were overtaken by satellite communication.  Now the tower is more of a tourist attraction and may be raking in more money than what it was intended for.

The 1,776 steps of the CN Tower’s main stairwell are climbed by over 20,000 people annually during two fundraising stair climbs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Way raising well over $3 million for charity every year.  A trek up one of the tallest buildings in the world, the CN Tower Climb is one of the steepest physical challenges in the city.  Climbers face 144 flights of stairs with 1,776 steps, but the knowledge that all that hard work benefits a worthy cause like the United Way or the WWF, and with a bit of help from rest spots along the way, it’s sure to be a feat for over 10,000 climbers, who will look back on with pride.

Our family decided to undertake the feat on 21 April 2012, the day of the WWF climb.  We all practiced for a week by climbing up and down the two flights of stairs at home and going for a jog in the evening.  The children were enthusiastic about the feat, but were a bit scared about their parents.  Appa had left the army eight years before and added a few inches around his waist and Marina, a school days Kerala State 400m winner, had been out of physical activity for a long time.  So each one decided to take along each of the parents and proving Sigmund Freud correct, our daughter Nidhi decided to accompany Appa and our Son Nikhil decided to go along with Marina.  All set we took off early morning and reached the CN Tower.  We had to shed all our jackets at the registration counter and no loose objects like coins, keys, cell phones, water bottles etc are not allowed because in case anything falls off, it is sure to hurt someone climbing much below you.

There were thousands of people either climbing the tower or queuing up at the registration counters.  We commenced our climb after a frisking for any loose objects.  Marina was bit slow to begin with and Nikhil kept company.  Nidhi and self started well with Nidhi leading the way, until about 100 flights of stairs and then realised that Appa still had it in him and I reached the top, first amongst us in about 25 minutes.  Our daughter followed in a few minutes later.

The organisation enroute is worth mentioning.  There is a para-medic every four flights of stairs, to take care of any medical emergencies.  There were posters made by school children, bringing out the importance of wild life conservation and also about the climb, placed at the landing area after each flight.  As we reached on top, a bottle of water was handed over to each participant.  There were climbers of all ages – from kids to grandparents, disabled, amputees, veterans, etc.

After about 20 minutes we saw Nikhil pushing Marina out of the last step.  I asked him as to how they took 45 minutes to climb up to which he Marina said that Nikhil was all the way pushing and prodding her, and waiting with her when she took breaks and she would not have completed this climb without his assistance.  I felt really happy about his deed to take care of his mother and I asked him as to why he did not leave her and climb in good time as she would have somehow managed her way up.  To this Nikhil said that this may be the only time when Marina would climb the tower and he can do it in a shorter time later.  It was real moment of pride for all of us and I said to him that he did a great job in taking care of his mother and many teens would not have done so and I see a bright star in the sky in you.

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On reaching home in the afternoon, an Indian family friend called us to enquire about the climb.  He asked as to how much we paid and I said that we had to pay $100 per climber as charity to WWF.  To this he said that going up the elevator costs only $25 and you pay $100 to strain yourself and climb all the way.  I did not say a word in response.

In the evening another Indian friend wanted to know as to why I took the entire family for such an ordeal (in case you are mad, you could have done it yourself), and I said that it was aimed to boost self confidence and leadership qualities in children and also to encourage charity for a cause like WWF.  To this he said that he did not understand the connection between climbing 1776 steps and leadership qualities to which I did not respond.

The Elusive Diamonds

IdliVada
Our Regiment was equipped with the Russian made 130 mm M46 Guns when I was commissioned to the Regiment in 1982.  The 130 mm Gun was manufactured in erstwhile Soviet Union in 1950 and entered service with the Indian Army in 1965.  The gun boasts of having achieved longest range of 27.5 km with conventional munitions.  It traces its origin back to its predecessors used in ships and coastal defence by Russians during World War II.  The gun was in the equipment list of many countries and some even produced their variants.  The gun saw action during many conflicts across the globe – from the Vietnam War to the recent civil war in Syria and Iraq. 

To be fair to the Russians, it must be said that indeed the gun was good and extensively used in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars. The problem however was with the accessories that came with the gun. When the Indian Army procured the 130 mm Guns, a plethora of accessories were supplied by the Russians.  Most appeared to be tried, tested and failed – hence the Russians wanted to somehow palm them off to others.  India must have paid a hefty sum for these accessories.  Most of them found their due place in the technical stores of the Regiments, and hardly ever used

The biggest of them was the PPL Periscope – the wooden box for storage of the periscope looked more like a coffin.  The periscope must have had its origin from the gun being used as a Naval Gun.  Thankfully, no one in the Regiment appeared to have even unpacked them or set them up for training or operations.  No Observation Officer would have bothered to carry it to war as it needed at least six men to lift.   On a ship, the carriage problem would not have been there and a need for a high periscope to observe the horizon was the requirement for any Observation Officer deployed on a ship in the high-seas.

The next biggest was the Range Finder DS1.  From its looks and make, it also appeared to have its origin from the days of the gun being used in its naval version.  It seems that someone in the Indian Artillery hierarchy of the 60s took a liking for this cumbersome piece that a chapter for observing and engaging targets with this monster was incorporated in the Gunnery Technical Hand Book (fortunately it has been removed  from the recent editions).

The technique of employment was that the observation post officer measured the distance to the spot where a round fell and ordered the required correction in terms of ‘ Left/Right or Add/Drop’, having already made a similar measurement to the target, to make the round hit the target.  

For measuring the distance with the DS1, one needs to manipulate a knob and make five ‘diamonds’ that appeared on the viewfinder so as to position the centre one on the object to which distance is to be measured  and two each equidistant in front and behind it. This needed a high degree of practice and skill.

Whenever I tried to operate the DS1, I could either see the object or the diamonds and never both, however hard I tried.  I requested our Technical Section Commander – Subedar Bidappa – for help and he excused himself from the task owing to his poor vision.  He suggested Havildar (Sergeant) Nahar Singh of the Survey Section as he had undergone a four-week long course at School of Artillery in operating the Range Finder.  Havildar Nahar Singh agreed to transfer some of his skills and the art of manipulating the diamonds. 

On the set day, I got the Range Finder set up at the training area next to the Survey Section and Havildar Nahar Singh commenced his lessons.  We got struck at the stage where the elusive diamonds are to be manipulated –  as usual  I could either see the diamonds or the object and not both.  Havildar Nahar Singh demonstrated his skill with the range Finder and measured distances to many objects around the training area.  He read out the distances nearest to a meter and to verify it, he read the distance to a telephone pole to be 376 meters and asked me to pace it.  Great! it was indeed about 375 meters.

I felt very small about my inability and kept trying to catch the elusive diamonds.  Now came a warning from Havildar Nahar Singh – in case one operates the DS1 for a long period, one’s eyesight will deteriorate.  He padded his comment with a line that soldiers operating the DS1 in the earlier days were authorised an extra egg in their rations to compensate for the struggle their eyes went through.

 Never to accept a failure in front of the soldiers, I tried with all my efforts to catch the elusive diamonds for the next two hours despite Havildar Nahar Singh’s warning.  Seeing my resolve Havildar Nahar Singh must have felt bad and he came to me and requested me to pack up the DS1.  He now gave me his piece of wisdom.

He said that he too had never seen the elusive diamonds ever in his life.  How the hell on earth did he measure the distances to various objects so accurately?  He disclosed the secret that in the training area he knew the distance to all the visible objects as he had been conducting training for his section there.  Whenever he measured the range to an object, he would focus the Range Finder on the object and set the distance on the scale. 

How did he manage it during the training at the School of Artillery?  There too all the students carried a small notebook with the accurate distances to various objects from various training areas.  He claimed that hardly any student ever caught the glimpse of the elusive diamonds.

Guruji and Bhagawan (God) Shoot follows.  

 

The Mennonites

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When Gulliam Le Floch, the French exchange student came to live with us in August 2014, we visited the Mennonite community in the St Jacobs Village in the Waterloo Region of Ontario. The aim of the visit was to introduce Gulliam to the Canadian culture and the people. Mennonite is a Christian group, by the name of Anabaptists, who took their name from their Dutch founder, Menno Simons. They believe that they are to follow the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, which they held onto firmly despite being persecuted by various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. They are known as people of Peace Churches as they would rather flee a country than fight for their rights, or be forced to fight for that country, as they are committed to non-violence. Hence they do not join the armed forces or the police. Today, there are 1,500,000 Mennonites around the world and there are congregations world-wide with large populations in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Mennonites are recognizable by the way they live and dress, with many living the way their fore-fathers did. They have rejected the use of modern technology and motorised transportation and have succeeded in continuing a traditional farming style. Most use tractors and mechanized equipment, though a few very conservative Mennonites use a horse. Driver’s licenses are forbidden, though motorized transportation may be hired for longer distances.

Most Mennonites have telephones, running water and electricity and use freezers and washing machines but not dryers. The community allows for two phones per family, but without accessories on the phones. They do not use cellular phones, fax machines, computers, television, or radios. They accept neither health care nor education paid by the state. Their children are reportedly doing well in mathematics as they do not use calculators and cellphones.  They are considered hard working, thrifty and industrious, and live a rural, agricultural life-style and are often seen in local markets selling their home-baked pies, fresh eggs and home-grown vegetables.

The men wear plain trousers and jackets, and often a plain straw hat and women wear their hair long, but covered by a prayer cap and have plain dresses, often dark navy blue, brown or black. The overall impression is one of simplicity and plainness, which is their aim.

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On the roads of St Jacobs, you can find them in their horse drawn buggies as they go about their daily lives. They often choose to educate their children in schools they run themselves, as this ensures that their beliefs and values are passed on to the next generation, which is probably the reason for their continued growth and success. The Mennonite children are baptised in their late teens when they accept to live as a member of the community, accepting the Mennoite way of life. Those wishing to leave the community for better educational or career objectives are allowed to leave.

Due to their emphasis on the virtues of thrift, diligence, frugality, and humility, Mennonites learned to earn a living on the poorest soils to where persecution often drove them. They learned to improve the fertility of poor soil and experiment with new ways of farming.  Over the centuries, they developed both skills and a reputation as expert farmers.

In Canada, the Mennonites took to maple syrup production in a big way. Maple syrup is often eaten with pancakes, waffles, French toast, or oatmeal and porridge. It is also used as an ingredient in baking and as a sweetener or flavouring agent. Culinary experts have praised its unique flavour, although the chemistry responsible is not fully understood. Maple syrup is also used in specialty products such as maple butter and candies.

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Canada has a large number of sugar maple trees. Canadian national arboreal emblem is the maple tree showing Canada as a world leader in sustainable forest management. The Canadian flag is red and white, with a stylized eleven-point maple leaf at its centre.

The sugar maple trees are tapped in the spring to extract the sap of the trees. Each fall, the maple trees shed all their leaves and also produce starch that helps protect their roots from freezing during winter. The trees then convert this stored starch into sugar. When the snow melts, water penetrates the roots and mixes with this sugar to produce sugared watery sap. During the warm spring days, this sap moves up the tree to the buds in preparation for the growing season. During the cold nights, the sap moves down to the roots to avoid freezing. The spring thaw causes the wood of the tree to expand, which puts the sap in the wood under pressure. This movement of the sap lasts for about three weeks, until the tree’s buds leaf out, generally from March to April.

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During this period of spring of warm days and cold nights, the sap is extracted through a hole drilled into the wood. The holes are connected with a pipeline ending at the collection tank. In the earlier days, buckets were used to collect the sap.  The sap is then boiled in huge boilers to produce the maple syrup. The sap has to be boiled the same day that it is harvested, so maple producers must keep steady fires going constantly to obtain good maple syrup. On average, it takes about 32 liters of maple sap to produce one liter of maple syrup.

The visit to the Mennonite community was an interesting study for all of us and to see a close knit community in Canada still living under the age old traditions, customs and practices.

My First Sex Education

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During our childhood my brother, the youngest in the family, then aged four, came up with an unusual request.  He wanted someone younger to him.  It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid – a goat’s kid – a female one.  That was how goat rearing commenced at our home.

In the evenings, after school, we used to take the goat out into our farmland for grazing.  We had to be on the lookout to ensure that the goat did not forage on the Tapioca (Kasava) cultivation, mainly to save the cultivation and also to save the goat from food poisoning. Little did I then know that the toxicity of the tapioca foliage was due to the presence Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN).    During the Monsoon rains, we had to cut the necessary forage from the trees which acted as support for the black pepper wines.

The kid grew real fast with all the attention and forage that we children heaped on her.  In a year she matured into a beautiful doe and was ready for a mate.  A Doe would come to heat by the end of summer and it lasts for two or three days and the cycle is repeated every three weeks.

In Kerala, the schools reopen after the summer vacations on 01 June but my Alma Mater, Sainik School Amravathinagar, reopens only by 15 June.  During my Grade 7 summer vacation, after the schools reopened for my brothers, our doe bleated one entire night.  In the morning Amma said that the doe is on heat and it is time to mate her.  That day our farm-hand did not turn up as he had pneumonia due to drenching in the monsoon showers the previous day.  I was the only one now free to take the doe for mating.

The village had a tea-shop run by a man named Kuttappai.  The tea-shop served as the meeting place for all village elders and doubled up as a reading room.  All dailies and magazines published from Kottayam found their way there.  It also served as the village ‘parliament’.  It was indeed a house of knowledge, and doubled up as a cultural-political-social-entertainment institution, where anything and everything under the sun – from international relations to state and village politics; science to the Bible; communism to capitalism – were discussed.  Gossips too found their way in, obviously as spicy as the narrator could make it.

Kuttappai reared a flock of goats housed in a thatched shed to the rear of the tea-shop.  He used the milk from the goats to make tea and obviously the village folk relished his special tea.  The flock was led by a majestic buck.  The buck also served as the village stud and Kuttappai charged Rs 10 for every mating.

At about 11 o’ clock, I walked our doe to Kuttappai’s tea shop, as per Amma’s advise because that was the time  when the tea-shop would be empty of customers as people would have returned home after fiery debates and discussions.  Obviously that was the only time Kuttappai would be free to facilitate the mating.

On reaching the tea-shop, Kuttappai instructed me to tie our doe closely on to a coconut tree adjacent to the goat shed.  The smell and sight of the doe in heat made the buck tied in the shed restless and his snorting and kicking increased, at times reaching a violent stage as if he would bring the entire shed down.

After 15 minutes, Kuttappai emerged from his tea-shop.  The buck was tied with a long rope and Kuttappai released him so as to make him reach the doe.  The buck went around the doe, smelled and licked her vulva and when he was about to mount her, Kuttappai pulled him back into the shed and tied him up.  That was a staged foreplay for the buck.

Now the buck had turned real violent as the frequency of his kicking multiplied and the volume of his snorts became louder.  After 10 minutes Kuttappai again released the buck and he came charging in and mounted the doe and the entire mating was completed in a few seconds.  Kuttappai now pulled the buck back into the shed and like a conqueror, the buck stood with his head high, but the tone of his snorts had changed as if to announce his accomplishment.

A doe generally gets into heat in the later part of summer and in Kerala, it coincides with the onset of Monsoons (June to September).  There are certain indications the doe gives out when in heat.  Her vulva swells and become red, and she may have some vaginal discharge.    She tends to eat less and become restless because the hormones associated with fertility kick in.  A milk producing doe may decrease her milk production due to the hormonal changes.  Her frequency of tail-wagging suddenly increases and her bleats become longer, especially at night.

During the monsoons when the doe goes into heat, the buck goes into rut.  During rut the buck urinates into his mouth and on his chest, face, and beard, turning them yellow.  The scent glands near his horns become overactive.  These lead to an unbearable stink – in reality the stink is to attract a doe in heat towards him.  During rut a buck would snort, grunt and kick its hind legs.  It tends to give a terrorising look with its upper lip curled up.

In the evening when Amma returned from school I dutifully reported to her the events of the day and posed some uncomfortable questions about the procedure and the need for it.  The School teacher in Amma responded with poise and she summarised the entire event as an act of depositing the sperm by the buck in the doe’s womb where it would fertilise an egg and would result in formation of an embryo.  She also explained that the rooster and the hens also did the same and so did humans. Thus began my introduction to sex education.

RCMP Musical Ride

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The Tavistock Agricultural Society hosted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP – fondly called ‘Mounties’ by Canadians) Musical Ride on August 15, 2016.  Tavistock, part of Oxford County in Ontario, is a German/Scottish community founded in 1848  by Captain Henry and is famous for its cheese production and fresh meats.   It served as a gathering place for agricultural workers and soon became equipped with taverns, flour mills, blacksmith shops and general stores.  Tavistock is also home to many Mennonite families today.

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An RCMP Musical Ride performance is a splendor to watch. It is exciting, full of pageantry, and truly Canadian.  The ride is performed by a full troop of 32 riders and their horses. Their performance consists of intricate figures and drills choreographed to music. These movements demand utmost control, timing and coordination.  It presents a first-hand view of the precision and attention to detail for which the RCMP has become famous for.

The RCMP has become a national symbol of Canada. The courage, sacrifice and steadfast determination of its members to maintain law and order have been the source of many legends.  Many movies and over 300 fiction and non-fiction books have told the tale of the adventures and history of RCMP.  The image of RCMP members on their trusted and faithful horses finds its righteous place on Canadian stamps, coins, souvenirs, and posters.

In early 1869, the Canadian government purchased Rupert’s Land (now Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, and Eastern Northwest Territories) from the Hudson’s Bay Company and renamed it the North-West Territories.  The Canadian Government encouraged settlements in the area to harness the agricultural potential of the fertile area.    In order to establish and maintain social order, North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was created in 1870.

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The first officially recorded NWMP Musical Ride was performed in Regina on January 16, 1887 and the first general public display of the Musical Ride was held in 1901.  In 1902, the uniform of the NWMP changed to a more modern uniform of this day.  Two years later, prefix  of ‘Royal’ was conferred on the NWMP by His Majesty King Edward VII, in recognition of its past service.  In 1920, the name of the Force changed from the Royal Northwest Mounted Police to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was designated Canada’s national police force.

In the summer of 1921, the RCMP Musical Ride members performed their first public display in Ottawa.  in 1930, the Musical Ride went to England for the first time to perform at Olympia and in London.  The first Musical Ride tour to the United States was in 1934 to New York City, with a repeat performance the following year.

In 1951, a Musical Ride troop provided an escort for Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip when they visited Canada.  Two years later, when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, a Musical Ride troop acted as the RCMP contingent in her coronation procession.  It was also part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.  Queen Elizabeth II is the Honorary Commissioner of the RCMP and she takes a keen interest in horses and is and highly knowledgeable.  She has been presented with four horses as gifts from the Force.

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In 1974, the RCMP Regulations changed to permit females to join the Force.  Six years later, the first female members were selected for the Musical Ride.  Since that time, two or more female members make up each Musical Ride.

One of the most prominent symbols of Canada is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ‘Mountie’, wearing his red serge uniform and brown Stetson. The red tunic was chosen to emphasize the British nature of the NWMP, and to make it distinct from the blue American military uniforms.

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The ceremonial uniform of the RCMP and its horses is perhaps one of the most recognised in the world.  The riders wear the red serge, which consists of a high collared scarlet tunic, a Sam Browne belt with shoulder cross strap and white sidearm lanyard, dark blue breeches with a yellow stripe, brown riding boots, a brown Stetson hat with a wide, flat brim, and brown gauntlets.  It is believed that Sam Steele, one of the original NWMP, introduced the style of hat, as it was a practical item to wear while on patrol, unlike the British pith helmet.

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The riders carry lances, while the Officer in Charge carries a sword.  The lance was carried by the men on the Long March as it was believed to be intimidating.RCMP330
The horses also wear a uniform, which consists of a double bridle with a white neck strap or ‘head rope,’ white brow-band and English style saddles.  The horse’s white head rope was used by the NWMP to tie the horses when dismounted.  The horses’ royal blue saddle blankets, called ‘Shabrack’ are emblazoned in yellow with the fused letters MP.  The horses also have a maple leaf brushed onto their rumps; this is done with a wet brush and a stencil before each performance.

in 1938, Commissioner Wood had ordered the RCMP to use only black mounts after being impressed at how the red RCMP tunics looked against black horses.  Today, the horses are bred primarily for colour, temperament, and conformation. They got to be athletic, with the stamina, substance, and conformation to be able to perform the intricate movements required in the Musical Ride performance.

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About 200 horses are owned by the RCMP Musical Ride.  36 travel on the Ride each year.  32 take part in each performance, one is ridden by the Officer in Charge, and three extra horses act as replacements if another gets sick or lame.

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One of the most familiar Musical Ride formations is the ‘Dome’ that once featured on the back of the Canadian fifty-dollar bill.

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The riders demonstrated their lance drill wherein they showcased various movements with their lances.

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Another highlight is the ‘Charge,’ when lances, with their red and white pennons, are lowered, and the riders launch into the gallop.

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The conclusion is the ‘March Past,’ performed to the strains of the “RCMP Regimental March”  and a salute to the guest of honour.

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After the much-anticipated performance was over, the troops lined up facing the fence so that young and old could pet the horses and ask the riders questions about their experiences as members of the ride and as RCMP.

The RCMP Musical Ride consists of the execution of several intricate figures, with movements being formed by horses and riders in two’s, four’s and eight’s at a trot and canter.  The RCMP Musical Ride continues to provide displays of horsemanship around the world.

Bill of Fare

CadetMessAmar

Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive the their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served.  The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess.  The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.

The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Tamil Kingdoms.  We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise.  The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection.  They formed an integral part of each house.  They would be the cheer-leaders for most of the inter-house sports competitions and would slip an extra piece of meat or an egg in case we won a competition.

The Cheras were served by Natarajan who was better known as the local banker.  He also reared cows and sold the milk to enhance his income and his banking operations.  The Cholas were served by Vasu who was more of a neatness freak.  He realised the need for education and got his daughters through graduation who are well settled now.  The Pandyas had Venkatachalam, the most vociferous of all and also the most active.  The Pallavas had Madhavan, who despite his bout with asthma, never allowed his sickness to interfere with his job.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.  The very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.

CadetMessAmar22

We were served with tea at 5:30 in the morning, before physical training.  During the long recess at 11′ o clock it was again tea with biscuits and in the evening before games it was tea and snacks.  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea – it could be the tea leaves, could be the Amaravathi waters, could be the vessel in which it was brewed, could be the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It remains a mystery to all of us to date, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming cups of this divine tea.

Breakfast for us was mostly continental with bread, butter, jam and eggs on all weekdays.  On Saturdays it was Idli-Sambar-Chutney and on Sundays it was Dosa.

The Bill of Fare began with Monday and it was the day we were served fish curry and rice for lunch and mutton curry with roti for dinner.  The dessert for dinner used to be fruit custard.

Mysore-Pak which owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore, was served on Tuesdays.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.  It was a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour.  The sweet added colour to the drab vegetarian dinner we had on Tuesdays.

We all awaited the fried Tilapia fish served for lunch on Wednesdays.  The fish came from the catch of the day at the Amaravathi Dam, co-located with the school campus. What made it very special? Was it the way it was marinated or crispiness of the fried fish or its unique freshness? Indeed it was the very best of all fried fish – it could any day compete with my mother’s fish fry at home.

When I got married, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the coming Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  My most relished combination with Dosa was chicken masala which was served for Thursdays’ dinner at the school mess.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the Dosa (3 to 5 mm thick) made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

Dosa, a thin pancake, is made from a batter of ground lentils and rice.  Its origin can be traced back to the Tamil Brahmins, who are strict vegetarians.  The batter is fermented overnight and is pored over an oil-coated hot granite griddle like a crepe and turned over to cook both sides.  The modern version of the crispy, paper-thin variety is rather a deviation from its original.  Some restaurants in South India still serve the original thick Dosa and is called Kallu (Stone) Dosa.

Fish cutlet was the speciality for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

Saturday was the movie day and hence we were served dinner early.  It was Biryani – either chicken or mutton – but what every cadet looked forward to was the sweet dish.  It was Khaja – a delicious flaky pastry, shaped out of a layered dough and dipped in sugar syrup.

One can very well imagine the effort taken by the mess staff for ensuring that quality and taste of food served to the cadets is of a high standard and they need to be commended for their care and culinary skills. The fact that one of the key attractions for most Alumni to get back to the Alma Mater is the food being served, says it all.

Venkatachalam
Post Script
:  I dedicate this post to Mr Venkatachalam, our waiter of Pandya House, who passed away on  11 August 2016.  He will remain in the hearts of all those who were served by him, with all his love, affection and dedication, in Pandya House.  Our friends from Pandya House will remember him for ever.