Bicycle – Oh My Old Companion

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Our family friend took part in this year’s Tour De Mississauga, a 30/60/100 KM cycling event. This year it attracted over 1600 cyclists of all abilities from all around the Toronto Area. Cyclists of every age or ability, on every kind of bike (including electric assist), participated. The aim of the event is to familiarise cyclist with the various cycling trails and lanes available in the city, to develop a spirit of adventure and also to encourage cycling, both as a sport and as a physical activity. The event was well organized and truly lived up to its motto “THIS IS NOT A RACE – THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION!”

As is the case with all such community activities in Toronto area like marathons, climbing the CN Tower, parades, etc, in this activity too there were hardly any participation by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. When will we learn to amalgamate with the Canadian society?

Participating in such events will not only develop community spirit in the participants, but will also raise money for some charity. It develops leadership qualities in children and encourages the spirit of adventure in them. Preparing for the event and participation will keep everyone healthy and improve one’s confidence level. Completion of the event will give you immense pride and sense of achievement. It will prove to you that you are physically healthy to undertake such difficult ordeals.

The local governments are doing their best to encourage cycling as a daily activity. Most of the roads in the Toronto Area have either a bicycle lane or off-road cycling paths. Bicycle Lanes are typically 1.5 m to 2 m wide, and designate a space on the roadway exclusively for the use of cyclists. Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive, park or stand in the bike lane. Off-Road Paths include trails through parks and along the arterial roads. Cyclists, skaters and pedestrians often share these paths.

On arrival in Canada, I saw a something like a crash-guard which we have on the front bumpers of the cars back home on the buses in the Toronto Area. On inquiry I learnt that it is a cycle carrier to carry two cycles. Many commuters feel that cycling or taking the bus just doesn’t compete with the convenience of a car. But in Toronto Area, “biking and bussing” is easy. You can cycle to a bus stop or station and then bring your bike on the bus. By biking and bussing you’ll not only improve your health, but also help reduce gas emissions.

In Toronto, bicycles are permitted on buses, trains and subways at all times except weekdays during peak hours. Bicycle transportation is a growing activity in Toronto and throughout North America, due in part because of the many benefits cycling offers.

Transportation by bicycle is the most energy efficient mode of transportation, and generates no pollution, except in its manufacture. Cycling is often the fastest mode of transportation from door to door for distances up to 10 km in urban cores. Ten bicycles can be parked in the space required for a single automobile. Short distance motor-vehicle trips are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per kilometre. These trips have the greatest potential for being replaced by cycling and walking.

BIXI – Bike Share Toronto – is designed to be a convenient way to get around the city, and is ideal for short rides and one-way trips.  The members get access to 2,000 bikes across the city. They can pick up a bike at one of 200 stations, and drop it off at any other station when done.  One need to become an Annual Member or buy a Day Pass to be able to use Bixi. An Annual Member can insert a bike key into a dock to unlock a bike. Day Pass holders will get a ride code, which when typed into the keypad on the dock, unlocks a bike.  The first 30 minutes of each ride are included in the membership or pass price. One can keep a bike out for longer, but additional usage fees will apply.

Reducing auto trips will mitigate ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, ground level air pollution, photochemical smog, acid rain and noise pollution. Cycling contributes to personal health by enhancing fitness and providing an enjoyable, convenient and affordable means of exercise and recreation. Increased physical activity, such as walking and cycling, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and the cost of medical care, decrease workplace absenteeism, and maintain the independence of older adults. Cycling benefits one’s health regardless of the age at which one takes up cycling.

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During our training at the National Defence Academy, Pune, cycling was the only mode of transportation for the cadets, else one had to run. The Academy campus is spread over 7000 acres and to reach various training event sites, a cadet had to cycle an average of 20 km per day. While cycling, one had to maintain proper squad discipline and pay proper respects to passing senior officers. Any minor infringement ensured that the cycle was on you rather than you being on the cycle. Every semester begun with the cycle issue and always ended with the cycle return, after which was a month’s vacation. We used to have a weekly cycle maintenance parade to wash and repair the cycles. Thus even today, the cycle is the most ardent companion of every cadet at the academy, without which life would have been much more difficult.

 

 

Maximus Koduvath

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How did Maximus join our family?

In 2007, on a summer day, our children Nidhi and Nikhil approached Marina with an unusual request that they wanted another sibling.  They promised that they would take care of the newborn baby and also that they would bring up the baby. Marina explained that it was a pretty difficult proposition as she had her tubes tied on delivery of Nikhil.  She explained that it would be very difficult for someone to mother a child at her late age and may lead to complications, both for the mother and child.

The children said that in that case we should go in for an adoption.  They wanted a sibling at any cost.  I realised that there was something more to this strange request as the very subject had come up for discussion during the family dinner a year back and was then dismissed for the same reasons.

Now it was my turn and I asked them as to what they really wanted.  Out came the new proposal! “We want a dog”.

Marina and I never before had a dog while we were with the Indian Army, where all the help was available to rear one. Unlike many officers in our Regiment who had a dog or two, we did not choose to have one.

I was of the opinion that it would be difficult to take care of a dog as it has to be reared indoors because of the severe Canadian winter.  Further, having a dog meant taking it out on a walk, irrespective of the weather and cleaning up the poop would add to our routine chores.   Marina, a hygiene freak, did not like the idea of a dog shedding its hair all over the house.

The children had ready answers to resolve our concerns.  Nikhil would take the dog out on a walk, vacuum clean the house and clean the poop in the morning before going to school.  Nidhi would do the same in the evenings after she returned from the university.  They both agreed to sleep with the dog in the family room and train him to use the doggy-door to exit the house for defecating and urinating.

They had also zeroed in on the breed and the breeder from whom we could obtain a black Labrador pup for $750.  The eagerness, enthusiasm and power of their pleas was overpowering. Both of us had to relent and we agreed to pick up the pup during the weekend.

We drove to a village near Windsor, about 350 km, where the breeder lived and picked up a pup.  The children had already thought of a name and christened him Maximus Koduvath, after the hero of the movie Gladiator.

My mind wandered off to our childhood when my younger brother, the youngest in the family, aged four, had then come up with a similar 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.

The children trained the dog, took him out on the walks and kept the house spotlessly clean, for all of one month and gave up steadily thereafter as they had to commit more time to their studies and extra-curricular activities.  Now the dog became mine and I had to do all these, with a bit help from the children.

The morning and evening walk became a ritual for me – come rain, hail or high-water.  I started enjoying my responsibility as the days passed by and Maximus became more and more attached to me.  I couldn’t fathom how strong the emotional bond was until I went to India for three weeks, Maximus refused to eat as I was not there to feed him.  After two days there was an SOS message from the children about Maximus being on a fast unto death.  I now called up home and the call was put on the speaker-phone.  I told Maximus to go and eat.  Maximus was bewildered that he could hear my voice but not see me.  Poor Maximus was obviously unaware of the technological leap that mankind had taken.  After circling around the house a few times and not finding me, he again came to the phone.  Now I repeated my order and Maximus went to his cage to eat his food.

Taking care of Maximus, I too got attached to him.  It seemed he could understand me in which ever language I spoke, be it English, Malayalam, Hindi or Tamil.  I observed him closely and he was indeed an inspiration for me to write  a few blog-posts – Crossing the Highway; Dogs and the Fire Hydrants; First, Middle and Last Name; Adaptation and Pet Emergency.

Thus Maximus became my best friend.  It was Frederick II, King of Prussia, who coined the statement that the dog is man’s best friend.  The saying was popularised by Ogden Nash in his poem titled ‘The Dog’.

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In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi after renouncing their Kingdom, began their journey to the heavens through the Himalayas.  Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas led the way.    At the start of the journey, a dog befriends them and keeps them company throughout.  During the journey, one by one, they fall to their deaths – the first was Draupadi, followed by Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhima.   Yudhishthira continued his journey and all this while, the dog kept him company.  Just before it was time to ascend to the heavens, Indra, the God of Heaven said that only he, Yudhishthira, could enter the heavens and not the dog.  Yudhisthira was adamant that he would not leave his faithful companion behind and enter heaven and sat down at the gate.  He now turned and found that the dog transformed back into its real shape- the God Dharma.

Scientists have proved that dogs use similar brain mechanisms to humans to process social information.  They also found that canines’ brains are sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, like us.  Researchers also found that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, they experience a surge of oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust and love that is released.  This could be responsible for the bonding humans enjoy with dogs.

Humans in general, demand more love than they give. This behaviour lies at the root of most inter personal conflicts. If only we humans have the capacity for unconditional love that dogs do!  The world would be so much a better place!

 

 

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest batsmen in cricketing history recently said that he played a lot of chess with his brother, but without much good result, but he did enjoy the game.  He added that his son too took to chess first and then moved on to cricket.

What are the advantages of chess?  Why should you play chess with your children, at least on weekends?

The best habit you can help create for your child is one that encourages a bond between the two of you. If you play weekly game of chess with them, your kid will feel special.  Become your child’s chess partner and enjoy the results. Always remember that chess is not for nerds! It is for cool parents and cool kids.

Game for of All Ages. You can begin chess at any age and there is no retirement. Age is also not a factor when you are looking for an opponent –you can play with your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – the possibilities are endless.   Chess helps children with physical disabilities to improve their motor skills as the movement of pieces are in the left, right, forward, backward and diagonal ways.

Chess is Fun.   Unlike many of today’s video games, chess leads to interesting conversations as well as unsuspecting humour. The game causes a person to interact with another human being in an activity with endless possibilities.

Creative Game.  No chess game ever repeats itself, which means you create more and more new ideas with each game. It is never boring and repetitive. You always have something to look forward to. Every game you are the general of an army and you alone decide the destiny of your soldiers.

Cheap and Easy Entertainment. Considering the monthly bills of satellite TV, and video games, which reduces real communication between family members, chess is a real good option. The game of chess has been around for centuries, and once you begin to play it, you are sure to be immersed in it. Playing chess with your child gives you an excuse to make time for your child.

Develops Memory. The chess theory is complicated and many players memorise different opening variations. You will also learn to recognise various patterns and remember the variations.  Chess is also a game of experience. If you want to win successive games, you will have to learn from your earlier mistakes. Chess surely enhances your memory power.

Develops Logical Thinking.  The game of chess forces players to multi-task, plan ahead, and make real-time executive decisions. Chess disciplines the mind, which  is ideal for children, as they are constantly yearning for opportunities to be challenged. Chess requires some understanding of logical strategy. Mistakes are inevitable and chess is a never-ending learning process.  Chess develops the capability to predict and foresee consequences of actions.

Promotes Imagination, Concentration and Creativity. It encourages you to be inventive. There are an indefinite amount of beautiful combinations yet to be constructed.  Chess has also proven its ability to calm aggressive children. The need to sit still in one place and concentrate on the board will bring  a calming effect on children.

Self-Motivating. It encourages the search of the best move, the best plan, and the most beautiful continuation out of the endless possibilities. It encourages the everlasting aim towards progress, always steering to ignite the flame of victory.  You are forced to make important decisions influenced only by your own judgment.  The more you practice, the better you will become. You should be ready to lose and learn from your mistakes.

Chess and Psychology.  Chess is one game that teaches a child patience and willpower. It improves a child’s ability to interact with his opponent albeit in a silent way. This enhances confidence as well as self esteem and makes one a good listener. Listening can go a long way in improving interpersonal skills.  Chess tests your sportsmanship in a competitive environment.

Body Language.  An important feature one will learn in chess is the ability to judge body language. Being able to read expressions when a game is in progress is what will help one plan in advance. This, while applicable to the moves on the chess board are equally important in one’s life. Being able to anticipate issues will allow you to plan in advance and this will hold you in good stead no matter what situation you are faced with. Planning ahead has some great rewards, while lack of planning can result in a check mate

Chess and Your Child’s Grades. Chess develops the scientific and logical way of thinking. While playing, you generate numerous variations in your mind. You explore new ideas, try to predict their outcomes and interpret surprising revelations. You decide on a hypothesis, and then you make your move and test it.  Each game is different and there are several numerical possibilities to a strategy. Having to deal with this will develop a scientific way of thinking which is very essential when faced with multiple solutions to a problem. Being able to quickly analyse the effects of each move is what will enhance a child’s mental mathematical as well as analytical abilities.

When in Grade 8, being fascinated by the game, I requested my friend Aravinda Bose to teach me the game and he was all too willing to teach me and take me through my ‘Green Horn’ days.  On returning home for vacations, we procured a chess set from our father and I taught my three other siblings to play chess.  We played each other and learnt a lot from it.  Later I taught our children to play the game and now they beat me hollow. From my experience of learning and teaching the game at a young age, one of the recommended methodology to teach chess to children would be as follows.

Acquire pictures of the characters in medieval time warfare from the internet. Then introduce the child to the Pawn first and explain that persons’ role in the army. This is to help him develop a personal relationship with the piece which will give a better understanding, or feel, of that piece’s place and role. Place the chess-board on the table with the bottom right hand square as white.  As you play, engage the child in constant conversation directed at the move just made, potential next move, and so on. Explain why this move might not be such a good one, and why this move would be a good one.

Once you believe he is totally comfortable with the moves and responsibilities of the Pawn, introduce the King. After the pictures and description, add him to the board with the Pawns and continue to play. Continue in this theme introducing the other pieces to the child in this manner, taking whatever pace that child requires. Never rush them to the next thing as long as they are still struggling with what they have been doing. Watch closely for signs of boredom and be prepared to stop play and go do something else for a while. By following this methodology when you have finally arrived at a full board of players, your child will have a thorough knowledge of each one, know them like family and be prepared to move into the more complex moves.

If you are fortunate enough to see your child stick with it and learn the game, you will have set the child’s foot on the path to a much easier adjustment in school, better learning abilities and a far greater chance of succeeding in whatever the child attempts.

Psalm 91 : The Soldiers’ Psalm

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During our childhood, we recited Psalm 91 as part of the evening Family Prayer (Click Here to Read More about it).  In those days I never realised the meaning of the words we recited and did not visualise that it would come handy in the future.  During my first stint in the Kashmir Border, sleeping alone in my bunker, the very same words would ring in my ears.  These words I realised helped me tide over the difficulties and uncertainties that lie ahead for any soldier in  high-altitude terrain, mostly snow covered icy heights, prone to avalanches and blizzards and  bone chilling cold.  Hence I decided to recite Psalm 91 every evening, (in Malayalam, the language in which my father taught me the Psalm), before I retired to bed.  Psalm 91 has for ever been one of my inspirations and a prayer.

There is a ‘story’ in circulation by the modern evangelists that during World War I, 91 Infantry Brigade of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was preparing to enter combat in Europe. Because their commander was a devout Christian, he assembled his men and gave each of them a little card on which was printed the Psalm 91, the same number Psalm as their brigade. They agreed to recite that Psalm daily. After they had begun praying the Psalm, 91 Brigade was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of World War I – Chateau Thierry, Belle Wood and the Argonne. Other American units that fought in the same battles had up to 90 percent casualties, but 91 Brigade did not suffer a single combat-related casualty.

The truth about this ‘story’ of 91 Infantry Brigade and the Psalm 91 has been cleared By Mary Jane Holt in an article ‘The truth about the 91st Psalm’.  The article refers to a communication the author received from Mike Hanlon, Research Editor of Relevance, the Quarterly Journal of The Great War Society: “There was no 91 Brigade with the AEF in World War I. The Brigades’ highest number was 84.”  This story appears to have been churned out by an evangelist with a view to cash in on the sympathy the soldiers world over enjoy.

The Bible historians believe that Psalm 91 might have been written by Moses, even though most Psalms have been authored by King David.  Moses would have written it to inspire the enslaved Israelite soldiers to fight against their Egyptian masters.  Hence, Psalm 91 is known as the Soldiers’ Psalm and is also referred to as the Psalm of Protection.

There are many testimonies of NATO soldiers keeping a card size print of Psalm 91 in their pockets and also reciting it during their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Psalm as it is, would be applicable to all soldiers irrespective of their faith or religion.

The Psalm begins by stating that there is no need to fear because of who He is. Then is a more personal relationship to God as the Almighty is referred to as ‘My refuge, My fortress, My God in whom I trust’.  Thus the personal relationship we have with our God enables us not to fear at all.  It follows with an affirmation that He will come to your rescue in case of any difficulties and that He will protect you as He would cover you under His wings like a mother bird.

Then is the declaration of guarantee by  God that He will protect you from all that a soldier may confront in a battlefield like ‘the terror of night’,  ‘arrow that flies by day’, ‘the pestilence that stalks in the darkness’, and ‘the plague that destroys at midday’.  He also provides you the protection while you rest that no disaster would come near your tent.  The God vows to protect the soldier even though thousands may fall on either side.  God has commanded the angels to guard you so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

The Psalm further says that you will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.  This act can only be done by a soldier in a battlefield and the soldier has to move ahead facing the enemy’s bullets and nothing can stop him from carrying out his divine duty.  For God’s sake, don’t even let the thought about these actions come to anyone else’s mind or even in the mind of a soldier in peacetime, as the wild life protection laws of no nation will ever spare you and please do not expect God to come to your rescue.

The Psalm concludes with a God’s promise to a soldier ‘He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him.  With a long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold My salvation.’

In Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight by saying “O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.”  Here again the Lord guarantees a soldier the grand honour of the right to heaven.