Suit, Boot and Tie

During our childhood the suit, boot and tie were associated with the English, the higher officials and the movie stars. We as children were mostly dressed in shorts and shirts and sometimes with rubber slippers. Most of the time we walked barefoot – to beat the water and mud splashing on to our clothes from the slippers and at many a times due to the fear of losing the slippers. May be we always forgot our slippers home as it proved to be an impediment to faster running and climbing trees. Wearing a suit and the boot always remained a distant dream.

On joining Sainik School at the age of nine, we had to wear the shoes at all times and it took me a lot of effort and time to get used to my feet being covered with the socks and the shoes. Then we were all measured by the tailors and after three months we all got our suits. A dream came true to most of my friends and me. We all wore our coats with the school insignia with a lot of pride during the winter months. In the next letter I shot off home, I wrote as to how different (smart) I looked in my coat. At that time one never realised that this piece of dress was going to be on me for a long time to come – over thirty years.

On my first vacation home I realised as what this change had done to me. I could not step out on to the courtyard of our home or walk along the paddy fields or climb trees barefooted as my soles had gone soft due to constant wearing of socks and shoes. That is when I realised that the socks and shoe had also become an integral part of me rather than being a piece of dress.

This trend with the clothes continued at different stages of my military career, at the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy and with the army unit I was commissioned into. Every where the tailors measured me and I got a new suit every time. While attending various courses in the army in different parts of the country, one realised that each military station had a set of tailors waiting to measure you and provide you with a new suit. Most of these military stations were established by the British Army and had the best climate and picturesque sceneries. Some of these tailors stitched the suits and would put Armanis to shame, as they and their forefathers had been in this business of suit making from the era of the British Army.   They were ready to finance you and would accept post-dated cheques for over a year to make good your bill. Those were the days when credit cards and credit ratings were non-existent. These tailors had a system in place and the only credit check they needed was your credibility as an Indian Army officer.   The customer service they provided was exemplary compared to any standards of today. They seemed to know all the officers of our units as they also had made suits from them. They would alter or repair your suits at no cost which were send through other officers of the unit who went for the course. May be it would be an interesting research subject for the management students like the “Dabbawallahs of Mumbai”.

Wearing a suit was mandatory for us in the army for many a formal occasions. The dictum for us was that it is safer to be formally dressed in an informal occasion than being informally dressed for a formal occasion. A tie was always a saviour that at many a times it converted an informal attire into a formal one. To help me overcome this dilemma, my driver was always handy. He always carried a set of ties during the summers and a suit during the winters. While being driven, I could comfortably switch from informal attire into a formal one in minutes. On retiring from the army, I thought it was time for me to shed my formal attires and become comfortable in the informal dresses. When I took my flight to Canada, my baggage did not have any suits or ties.

On landing in Canada in the summer, I was happy to find that most men were casually dressed in their shorts and sandals and I too followed the dress code. My neck and feet must have enjoyed the wimp of fresh Canadian air. The few men I found dressed in their suits were the real-estate agents or insurance agents. The offices I went for my initial documentation all had people dressed in semi-formal clothes or work clothes and not in their suits.

On Sunday, I went to attend the Holy Mass at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Toronto and I found many men dressed in their Sunday’s best suits. The curiosity in me made me to ask a young man as to why he is wearing a suit to the church. He said as to where else will he ever wear a suit other than to the church. He narrated as to how he got two suits stitched. Based on the advice he got from a few friends that it would be much cheaper to get the suits in India than in Canada, he got two stitched. He came to Canada with the impression that every one wore suits, but after landing, he realised that he needed working-overalls and safety boots and not the suits. Now, where else will he wear the two suits he got stitched other than to the church on Sundays.

Glaciers of the Rockies

During our trip to the Rocky Mountains in August 2016, we set out from Lake Louise to visit the Colombian Icefields.  The road is rightly named as the Icefields Parkway as it offers a breathtaking view of the mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, lakes and valleys  as one winds the way up.   There is a high chance of encounters with wildlife enroute.

After about 30 minutes of drive, we were stunned by the beauty of  Bow Lake, with its cool true-blue waters and mist overhanging the water.  It offered a perfect picture-postcard shot with Crowfoot Glacier in the background, whose meltwaters feed the lake.  Bow Lake is right adjacent to the highway and is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park.

After spending about 30 minutes at the Bow Lake, we drove off to the Colombia Icefield Discovery Centre to undertake out trip to the Athabasca Glacier.  The centre is operated only in summer (in winter the centre closes down) by Brewster Travel and located opposite the Columbia Icefields.

Straddling the boundary between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia (BC), the Columbia Icefields situated on the Rockies, is the largest ice mass in North America, south of the Arctic Circle.   It is known as the ‘hydrographic apex of North America’ as the rivers emanating from these glaciers flow into three oceans – the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic.  In effect it becomes the centre of water distribution in North America. Only one other similar divide exists and it is in Northern Siberia.

The Columbia Icefield, at an average elevation of about 3,000 m,  covers an area of 365 sq km and has a maximum depth of 365 m. The highest points on the icefiled are Mount Columbia (3745 m) and Mount Athabasca (3,491 m).

Six large outlet glaciers flow from the Columbia IceField – Athabasca, Castleguard, Columbia, Dome, Saskatchewan and Stutfield Glaciers. Meltwater from the Athabasca Glacier feeds the Athabasca River which flows into the Arctic Ocean traversing about 4,000 km. Water from the Saskatchewan Glacier enters into the Saskatchewan River further flowing about 2,600 km into the Atlantic Ocean. Water from other glaciers flow into the Fraser and Columbia rivers leading to the Pacific Ocean. If these glaciers recede or disappear, it would result in a catastrophic effect on the water supply of North America.

We boarded the all-terrain Ice Explorer – a massive vehicle specially designed for glacier travel  for the Glacier Adventure – a ride onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. During this thrilling trip, the experienced driver-guide shared a wealth of fascinating information about glaciers, icefields, flora, fauna and their impact on our environment.

The Ice Explorer crawled its way up and our guide showed us the trees growing close to the glacier.  She said they were almost 400 years old.  These trees have not grown tall as they have only two to three months of growing time.  Further, the cold winds blowing away from the glacier have ensured that the branches grow away from the glacier and the side of the tree closer to the glacier is devoid of any branches.

As the Ice Explorer entered the glacier,  we crossed the lateral moraines.  When a glacier recedes, large amounts of debris –  referred to as till – is  deposited as linear ridges called moraines.  As a glacier moves down a valley, the friction created by the valley sides forces deposition along the edge of the glacier. These depositions are referred to as lateral moraines. If a glacier is receding, lateral moraines provide evidence of how far the glacier has retreated.

After crossing the moraines, the Ice Explorer halted on the glacier and the tourists dismounted on to the glacier to walk on the ice and fill their water bottle with fresh glacier water. It was perfect time to capture the beauty of the icefield’s breathtaking mountain setting.

A glacier is compacted ice that is moving.  Glaciers can be divided into two zones, the zone of accumulation, and the zone of melting. Where a glacier develops near the edge of an ice field, it receives great accumulations of fresh snow. At this point the glacier appears clean and a bright white in color. The elevation is high enough and cool enough to maintain the snow throughout the year. This snow compacts as ice, which becomes part of the glacier as it moves down slope

As the glacier flows farther away from the ice field and downhill, it becomes dirty and rougher in appearance. It is entering the zone of melting.  Meltwater streams appear on the surface especially during the summer.

When a glacier melts more snow and ice than it receives, it begins to recede. The Athabasca Glacier is receding in length and shrinking in volume at an alarming rate. The melting rate is faster now than it has been in the last 40 years. It appears that a combination of warmer weather and a dirtier surface that absorbs the summer heat are the sources of the problem. The glacier is shrinking by 30 percent every 100 years. At this rate it would be gone in 300 years.

We boarded the bus at the glacier for the Glacier Skywalk, operated by Brewster.  We were dropped at the cliff-edge walkway that extends along the Sunwapta Valley.  The first 400 metres of the walk was along a cliff lined with six interpretive stations and an audio tour providing education about the area.

At the end of the walkway was  a glass-floored observation platform 280 metres over the Sunwapta Valley, that extends 35 metres from the cliff.  It offered a bird’s eye view and provided a unique perspective of nature at its finest.  Looking down was the deep valley with the Athabasca River flowing and many waterfalls that leap from the cliffs into the river.  One could see the birds flying below, feel the fresh air, relax and enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience.


My First Days in Canada

An essay by our son Nikhil while in Grade 4 – 2004 – three years after his arrival in Canada.

As I stepped out of the airport, I got this feeling of wonder. I saw skyscrapers that had an elegance, which could never have existed in India. The streets were so much cleaner; I could have stared at them forever. The best improvement though was the air. It didn’t smell like free flowing sewage, no, it smelled like home. All these things I could never have imagined, because they simply didn’t exist in India.

The drive to my mom’s house was long, and uncomfortable. I was excited to meet my mother after so long apart of course, but I was worried. I was worried how much she had changed, and I shuddered at the thought that I wouldn’t even recognise my own mother. As soon as I saw her, my worries melted like candle away. She kissed me, and hugged me so tight I thought my ribs would crack. She was still the same mom, and I was still her same son. I guess the important things never change, huh?

My first day of school was a nightmare. The day started of with me mouthing the words to an anthem I hadn’t even heard before. I should have known that such a rocky start was a sign of things to come. I got a crash course in everything Canadian. I had to learn words like budding (in line) and yo. I had to learn how to do those annoying knock-knock jokes, which took me forever. The day was a lesson in American culture, and it was a painful one.

Up until now, I hadn’t even thought about my radical transformation. Only now do I realise its aftermath. I had gained a flawless Canadian identity, but I had lost my Indian one along the way. I can’t even remember my home in India. I can’t speak the two Indian languages I once could. The worst consequence though is that I can’t interact with my cousins with the same familiarity anymore, it’s like there’s a wall between us. I had lost, no, I had killed my culture, and the sad part is, I didn’t even notice.

Medicine Lake and Maligne Canyon

On our return from Maligne Lake to Jasper, we stopped by at the Medicine Lake.  A geological wonder, Medicine Lake is perhaps best described as a sinking lake.  In summer, the lake fills more quickly than it can drain away.  The glacier melt waters flood the lake in summer, sometimes overflowing it and the body of water appears deep and expansive.  In fall and winter the lake disappears, becoming a mudflat with scattered pools of water connected by a stream.

Where then does the water go?

‘Out through the bottom’ like a bathtub without a plug. The Maligne River pours into the lake from the South and the lake waters drain out through sinkholes in the bottom. The water then streams through a cave system formed in the slightly soluble limestone rock, surfacing again in the area of Maligne Canyon 16 km downstream. This is one of the largest known sinking lakes in the Western Hemisphere and may be the largest inaccessible cave system anywhere in the world.

Summer melt water coming into the lake exceeds the amount the sinkholes can drain.  Decreased melt water in the late summer and fall means that the lake’s sinkholes can drain the lake faster than what the Maligne River can fill.  This creates the disappearing lake phenomena.

This natural phenomenon bewildered Aboriginals and other early visitors.  They found no apparent water outlet, but the lake sank in winters.  Many in the early days attributed it to some spirits or demons sucking away the water in winter.  Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its seemingly magical powers and the United Nations declared the Rocky Mountain Parks a World Heritage Site partly because of this unique drainage system.

Wolves in the region have figured out how to make it work for them.  They have been known to chase caribou into the muck so they get slowed down or stuck.

Prior to the construction of the road around Medicine Lake, the irregular water levels made it difficult to get visitors to Maligne Lake.  Shallow bottomed boats were employed, but they ran aground on sandbars or capsized in strong winds prevalent in the area.  In an attempt to establish higher water levels, in 1930’s, the park superintendent ordered that old magazines and mattresses be thrown into the lake to plug the drainage holes and allow the lake to fill.  The scheme failed to work,  and no one ever tried such tricks to fool mother nature ever after. 

The park officials even suggested building a dam to close the sinkholes to stem the outflow of water.  It was also given up as they realised that the sinkholes were immense and needed many truckloads of soil to fill them up.  It was in 1956 after Jean Corbel, a French scientist who concluded that a sinking river system had been created much before the last ice age. 

These cave systems till date remain the largest inaccessible cave system in the world. In case someone attempts to go down through them, they will surely find the old magazines to read when bored.

After leaving Medicine Lake, we drove down to Maligne Canyon.  The Jasper Parks have created a trail for the tourists to hike and follow the canyon as it flows down on its way to the Athabasca River which further drains into the Arctic Ocean.

The Maligne River after draining into the Medicine Lake seem to disappear and then re-emerge 16 km  downstream near Maligne Canyon. Some geologists speculate that parts of the canyon were originally deep caves that have since been uncovered by glacial scraping and water erosion. This scraping of the caves lead to the canyons being narrow at the top and wider down below.


Before the last ice age ended 14,000 years ago, the Maligne Valley was buried under a glacier about a kilometre thick. Glaciers moved  and the heavy ice and rock at the bottom of the glacier eroded the valley floor until it broke into the cave, later tearing the roof away. The glacial ice invaded the passage, grinding much of it away until the climate warmed and the remaining ice melted away. What was left –the geologists theorise  was the Maligne Canyon.

Another interesting thing about the Maligne Canyon is that more water appears to flow out of the gorge than flows in at the ground’s surface. Most of the water in the canyon area flows underground through a cave system, 30 km long, that carries it from Medicine Lake 14 km away to Maligne Canyon’s many springs.

The underground system is extensive and during the 1970s researchers used a biodegradable dye to determine the underground river’s extent. The dye showed up in many of the lakes and rivers in the area and it became clear that the underground system was one of the most extensive in the world.

Walking on the trails along the canyon was awe-inspiring.  The gorges were breathtaking, with its rushing waters and steep walls. In some places the walls narrowed, forcing the large volume of water through a series of rapids. The areas of the gorges are fenced off, as a fall here could prove fatal.

These geological wonders are one of its kind in the world and are always worth a visit.

Maligne Lake and Spirit Island


The first place we visited on our tour of the Rocky Mountains in our August 2016 trip was Maligne (loosely translated in French as wicked) Lake  and Spirit Island.   This magnificent lake is located in Jasper National Park, Alberta.  The 46 km drive to the lake from the city of Jasper is on a  road built along the glacier valley running between the Maligne and Queen Elizabeth mountain ranges. Towering glaciated peaks and turquoise coloured glacier lakes dot the route on the banks of rushing Maligne River.  The drive offers plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife such as elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer and bears.  The road ends at a Jasper National Park facility from where the boat cruises for Spirit Island begins.

We boarded a cruise boat for a  90-minute boat cruise to Spirit Island.  This cruise  was, named the “Best Boat Tour in Canada” by Reader’s Digest.  The boat was Captained by a young lady and our tour guide, also a young lady, gave us a lot of information about the lake and the surrounding areas as we cruised to the Spirit Island.

Maligne Lake, the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world and the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Ringed by snow and ice-capped mountains, the 22 km long lake stretches past serene Spirit Island up to the melt-water channels of Coronet Glacier.

The lake was carved out by glaciers and the lake is fed and drained by the Maligne River, which enters the lake on its South side and drains the lake to the North into the Medicine Lake. An open forest of pine and spruce around the lake is home to moose, caribou and many other species of wildlife. Hiking and cross-country skiing trails abound making this a popular destination throughout the summer.

Maligne Lake was originally known as ‘Chaba Imne’ or Beaver Lake by the native tribes who lived near Jasper. In 1907 Mary Schaeffer  learned of the mysterious lake and located it.  She later wrote about her adventures, making the area a popular tourist attraction in years to come. She first traveled to the Canadian Rockies at the age of 18 with her friend Mary Vaux.  Here Mary met Charles Schaffer, a medical doctor who was pursuing his passion for botany. They married a year later and returned to the Rockies each summer until Charles’ death in 1903.  The best vantage point from where the lake can be observed with all its beauty has been aptly named as Schaffer’s Lookout after this courageous woman.

The highest peak in the area is Mount Brazeau (11,386 feet), stands at the South-East of Maligne Lake. The East side of the valley is made of steeply dipping limestone beds which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Ranges, named in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s sovereign.

Queen Elizabeth II became queen upon the death of her father King George VI on February 6, 1952.  Over the ensuing days, she received proclamations of allegiance from all of her realms – Canada being the first to do so, beating the United Kingdom by about two hours.  During the coronation year in 1953, Canada offered a grand gesture to mark the occasion by naming the mountain range after her.  The Queen has till date not set her foot in the area, but the mountain range stands testimony to Canada’s loyalty to the Commonwealth.

After about 14 km (30 minutes) cruise on the clear turquoise green waters of Maligne Lake, we reached the Spirit Island.   One of the most popular pictures in the Canadian Rockies is the image of Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake. There is no road or trail access the island. Tour boats or private, non-motorised craft are the only means of reaching Spirit Island.

According to some accounts of First Nations (Aboriginal Canadians) mythology, Spirit Island gets its name from two young lovers from feuding tribes who used to meet secretly on the island. However, when the young woman eventually confessed her affair to her father, one of the tribes’ chiefs, he banned her from ever returning to the island. Heartbroken, her lover continued to return to Spirit Island throughout his life, hoping to meet his lover. She never returned and he eventually died on the island, where his spirit still resides.  The aboriginals still hold the island sacred and tourists are not allowed to step on it.  The aboriginals offer prayers and conduct rituals on the island.

The boat cruised at a pretty good speed, but had to slow down to reduce the wake for the passing canoes.  There were many adventurists who on their canoes were making a trip to the Spirit Island.  The Jasper National Park facility rents canoes.  When a tour boat crossed our boat, the Captain would warn passengers of the following wake.  As our boat traversed over this wake, it gave everyone a roller-coaster effect.  Had the boat not slowed down to a near stop, one can well imagine the plight of those canoes.

The lookout over Spirit Island, a small isle of trees linked to the mainland by a low, rocky isthmus, provides one of the most famous sights in the Canadian Rockies—and is surely one of the most recognised mountain scenes in all of Canada.  The cruise is a must do for all nature enthusiasts visiting the Rocky Mountains.

Thanksgiving Day

The first Thanksgiving we celebrated was in October 2004, to give thanks to the God Almighty for bringing the family to the great land of Canada. I bought a turkey like all Canadians, but had no clue about baking it. I went through the internet and downloaded a recipe which I thought was the easiest and most practical. That was when I called up my old classmate and dear friend Vijaya Bhaskar, the Executive Chef and General Manager, Hotel Le Meridian, Bengaluru. He is a top Chef of India who features in the book ‘25 of India’s Biggest Chefs’ by Sagrika Ghoshal. I explained to him the task in hand and read out the recipe I had and he advised me to add some Indian spices (garam masasla) while marinating and follow all steps as given in the recipe.

Chef Bhaskaran

Vijaya Bhaskar (Vijas as we all called him) was in my adjacent room in Pandya House at Sainik School Amaravathinagar (Thamizh Nadu) and we had Mr PT Cherian as our house-master. Vijas was my trusted companion whenever I did any prank or took to any (mis)adventures like getting out of school after dinner, busing to Udumalpet (nearest town about 22 km away) to watch the second show at the theater and then walk back through the night to reach school early in the morning.

Whenever we got caught in our acts, we did the punishment meted out also together like apologising to the entire school during the morning assembly, wearing the uniform all through the day for a week or digging 24 pits (1M x 1M x 1M) for tree plantation. We enjoyed each others company in all these activities.

We went to Madras (now Chennai) to appear for the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1978 and that was when I visited Vijas’ home. He had three brothers and a sister and they all addressed their dad as “Naina” (I really took a liking for the word “Naina” then). Vijas’ dad worked with the Post and Telegraph (P&T) department and the entire family lived in the small P&T quarters. Unlike us, who had some cultivation around the home to provide for most vegetables, they had to buy anything and everything for the household. It must have been the magical powers of Naina that he managed to bring up all children to be successful citizens today and I always thought that we were better off with both our parents being teachers and the little inputs we had from the land around our homes. In 1979 Naina did another great act of adopting a girl and so the family became that of six children with Vijas leading the pack.

We both qualified our NDA entrance exam and were undergoing training for our interview. We had Squadron Leader Manickavasagam as our Headmaster (another exception to my previous rule) and one day we both were summoned early in the morning to be told that we had to address the assembly at 8 AM and the topic for Vijas was Untouchability and for me it was Co-education in Sainik school (which has become a reality today!). Vijas’ mind went into an overdrive and immediately asked “for how long should we speak?”. “As long as you can,” came the Headmaster’s reply and the typical smile (well captured in the image here) indicated to me that there was some prank attached to the question.

As we went back to prepare our speeches, Vijas told me that we should speak for 45 minutes each the least so that everyone goes for the tea-break after the assembly and we all can manage to skip the first three periods of the day. That was when I realised what the prank was and we did execute it pretty well that after each speech, the Headmaster spoke for 15 minutes, analysing and assessing our speeches.

After graduating from the school, Vijas surprised everyone by opting to join the Institute of Hotel Management in Chennai. In those days we neither knew the existence of such an institute nor the avenues in hotel management. Vijas came out of the institute with flying colours and today has reached the position of the Executive Chef and General Manager with the prestigious Hotel Le Meridian at Bengaluru.   Now the same Vijas was giving his special advice to bake the Thanksgiving Turkey.

Thanksgiving is an important day for all Canadian families and for the Turkey Dinner, the entire family gets together. For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. In 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that on the second Monday in October as Thanksgiving Day and would be a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.

Throughout the 19th century, official Days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed to celebrate such events as the cessation of cholera (February 6, 1833), the end of war between Great Britain and France (June 18, 1816), restoration of peace with Russia (June 4, 1856), and for the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness (April 15, 1872).

In the US, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 at the behest of Governor William Bradford, to mark the arrival of the Pilgrims, a name commonly applied to early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States in 1863 via proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln that declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to move the official Thanksgiving date to earlier in November in order encourage a longer Christmas shopping season as a depression recovery strategy. His idea was shot down by Congress, and the official date was declared permanently as the fourth Thursday in November.

Reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further North than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. Since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. There are hardly any differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving, both Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with parades, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of turkey!

Thanksgiving was referred to in writings as Turkey Day due to the popularity of the bird as the traditional feast. Roasted goose was the favourite at harvest time in England. When the Pilgrims arrived in America from England, roasted turkey replaced roasted goose as the main cuisine because wild turkeys were more abundant and easier to find than geese. Thus the turkey was most-associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, making winter the prime season for turkey farmers. Today, turkey has been recognized as a lean substitute for red meat.

The first turkey effort was a big success and everyone enjoyed the dinner and after the dinner I called up Vijas to thank him for the tips he gave. He asked me at the end as to whether I documented all what I did to the turkey and I said “no”. Vijas said “that is the difference between a good chef and an amateur cook.” Thankfully I never had to prepare the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner after that since our daughter took it upon her and every year we have been treated to excellent dinners on both days.

Left Foot First

On joining Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar in 1971 at the age of nine, I underwent my first run of drill classes.  The Drill Sergeant with his order for Tez Chal (Quick March) always followed it up with “Shoot your Left foot.”  This Left foot first continued through the training at the Academies and during my military service. 

Please identify me in this picture – Photo of our class – Grade 5 in 1971 @ Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Thamizh Nadu

While travelling on a train during my vacation from school in 1978, my co-passenger was a Veteran Sergeant who had seen action with the Royal Air Force during World War II in Burma.  He spoke of a Black & White English movie, ‘The Tie.’  He described a scene where a detective and a constable are tracking a fugitive through the city roads on a foggy winter night.  Only the silhouette of the fugitive is seen and suddenly it stops walking and then walks ahead.  The detective says that it is a woman. The question of the Veteran was as to how the detective made out that it was a woman. 

I had no clue and he explained that women generally commence walking with their Right foot first and men with their Left.  That is why when we march, we are drilled to shoot our Left foot first.  After this meeting, I started observing men and women and the first Right foot applied to women in about 80% cases.  Perhaps the remaining 20% were taught drill by some Sergeant Majors.

Shooting the Left foot first in the military was mainly because the soldiers were mostly right-handed, and they carried their weapons the right side.  So when a soldier stepped forward with a Left foot, they were in a better-balanced fighting posture, with Right foot planted and weapon up, ready for action.  It was also to keep everyone on the same foot for advancing in a line. In the olden day battles, soldiers advanced together ahead in formation, so that the enemy could not break the lines. In order to do this, they used drums to keep everyone in line and together and commenced the march on the Left foot.  Every time the drum struck, their Left foot hit the ground.  Modern Armies across the globe follow this to keep everyone in step while marching, more to instill discipline and teamwork and for a ‘Soldierly‘ look while moving in a group.

In the military, one always walked on the left side of a superior officer.  In other words, one always kept his superior on his ‘Right’ side.  This was to facilitate him to return a salute with his Right arm without poking his arm into someone on his Right. 

We are all familiar with the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, ‘That is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’  No one was there to photograph this one small step.  The second human to set foot on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and the instant was captured by Neil Armstrong.  In this image (courtesy NASA,) Aldrin is seen landing on the lunar surface with his Left foot, that too in rearward motion.  Perhaps, a mere coincidence or the sheer logic of the number of rungs in the ladder!

In this connection, a bit of mythology may interest the reader. Nataraja, the Hindu God Shiva as a cosmic dancer, is depicted in idol form in most temples of Kerala and Thamizh Nadu, balancing on his Right foot with his Left foot up. The only exception being the Nataraja idol at Meenakshi temple, Madurai. It is believed that the Pandya King who commissioned the temple wanted to give some relief to Natarajan’s Right leg, at least in the temple he constructed.

God Shiva with his consort Parvathi is mostly depicted sitting and in most cases, Shiva has his Left foot folded up and Parvathi her Right.  As per Hindu mythology, Shiva represents the Purusha (male) and Parvathi the Prakrithi (nature or female.)  Some Hindu mythological art portrays gods with both feet on together on the ground and this may be the depiction of combination of Purusha and Pakrithi.

When an Indian Bride enters the home, she is advised by her mother-in-law to enter with her Right foot first, but no such instruction is ever passed to the groom.  During many Hindu marriages, the groom ritually places the Right foot of the bride on a grinding stone.  The mantras recited during this time advise the bride to lead a firm life like the grinding stone, to be as firm as a rock, so that the family can depend on her.

Most Hindu Goddesses are often depicted with their Right leg folded up, depicting Prakrithi.

This may explain as to why women commence their walk with their Right foot.