Teenage Binge Drinking

Our friend Joseph Kurian (Joe) while cleaning up his daughter Meera’s room found a bottle of Cognac. He wanted to know how to handle the situation.  His fear, the usual one with all North American parents of teens – ‘Going against an 18 year old in America is like threading a mine field with no metal detectors.’

It is very common for kids high school kids to consume alcohol.  I found many of my scotch bottles near empty  a few times.  I knew our son had done the job.  He recently asked me as to why I never asked him about it.  My reply was “Had it been your Dad, he would have poured water to maintain the level, ending up screwing the scotch.  Thank God! You did not do it.”

Nikhil said “From where can High-School kids get alcohol?  Obviously they got to take it from their dad’s bar.  Else they have to take help of an adult to procure it from a store that calls for money.  So the easiest way out is always resorted to by the teens and our parties cannot go ahead without alcohol.”

After his high school graduation party, they had after-party and after-after-party at other friend’s homes and we picked him up next morning at 11 AM.  Marina asked him as to how the party was and he said “Most kids did not know how to drink.  They threw up all over and many girls ended up crying.  At the end I realised that every girl was out to stab every other girl in the back – Oh! These Girls are really complicated.  We boys are much simpler. My group did not have any problem as I had taught them how to drink.”

“What have you learned?” Marina asked.

Nikhil explained that “You take a glass of water, take a bite before drinking.  Take time with the first drink – Do not gulp it down.  Take a bite, drink a  glass of water, take a stroll through the party hall, dance for a song, release the pressure in the washroom if needed and the ritual continues for the entire night.”

Now Marina asked “Who taught you this?”

“Dad” came the instant answer.

Marina vented everything on to me to which Nikhil said “You do not teach swimming to a kid by standing on the ground.  You got to put him in Water.”

Now Joe  has to put Meera in Water and help her tread it.  She needs an instructor, a coach to tread this ‘water’ and surely there is a need for a lifeguard.  Who else can do this better than the Dad?  All rolled into one.

Teens have been experimenting with alcohol.  During teenage the kids are more vulnerable to addiction as the pleasure center of the brain matures much before the decision making part.  Most of these teens give up on alcohol as they grow up as the ‘thrill’ dies down.  Kids who have their first drink at age 14 or younger are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try alcohol until the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA).

It is interesting to note that 19 countries do not lay down any MLDA like  Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Indonesia, etc.

Countries where MLDA is between 16 and 17 are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, etc.

MLDA is between 18 and 19 in  Australia, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vatican City, etc.

It is capped at 20 in Iceland, Japan, Paraguay, Thailand and Uzbekistan and is at 21 in USA, Sri Lanka etc.

In 16 countries it is illegal to consume alcohol; at any age – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In India MLDA is between 18 and 25.  It varies by state. In New Delhi, MLDA is 25, while in Goa it is 18.  For sure, no one implements it and there is no one to monitor it.  Most of our nephews and nieces in India, Canada and US said they had alcohol during their high school days.

Binge drinking, that is consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, may cause teens to pass out, feel sick, or behave abnormally.  As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, drinking too much, too fast, slows bodily functions, resulting in the drinker to lose consciousness.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher, relative or friend, one has an important role to play.  Kids from families where alcohol dependency or abuse is more appear to keep away from it.    Preserving family rituals, such as keeping established daily routines and celebrating holidays, also can make a difference in steering kids clear of alcohol abuse.

The need of the hour is to openly communicate with the teens about alcohol.  Many are not sure as to when to commence talking about it.  The teens are always confused as to what to drink and when to commence.  Mostly it is a group activity ending up in a ‘show-off’ scenario.  The parents need to set the stage early by letting the teens know that they can talk to you about anything, without the heavens coming down.

Our nephew Jojy, an engineering graduate commented that had the situation like Meera’s happened to his sister at home, he cannot imagine the resultant actions.  Marina often speaks to our kids about her father and my younger brother who went in for alcohol de-addiction programmes.  She also speaks about her and my experiences with drinking.

It is very important for the parents to set a practical MLDA at home.  The ultimate is communication with the children and in awkward situation, take a deep breath, think about your own teenage days and express your feelings in a positive way, without any finger pointing or pontification.

Please read my earlier Blog Post ‘Importance of Parent-Child Communication’ by clicking here.

Teenage binge drinking is resorted to by many teens, but never deal with it lightly.  It is ultimately your open communication and knowing your kid will pay rich dividends in all such matters.

My conversation with Joe ended with a note ‘Meera seems to be very classy – she got a costly Cognac bottle.  Next would be a condom! So, start preparing for that.  We will cross the bridge when it comes.  I do not want to preempt you with my dose of advise.’

 

 

Legendary Lungi

Legendary Lungi

For me, undoubtedly most comfortable evening home wear has always been the down to earth ‘Lungi’.  It is extremely comfortable and is an all season wear.  It is unisex – wearable by both men and women.  It is easy to wear without any hassles of zips, buttons or laces.  One got to  just tie at the waist.  Tying a Lungi at the waist is surely not any rocket science, but to ensure that it remains there is surely an art by itself.  Lungi surely provides free movement for the lower limbs and also air circulation, especially  ideal for the hot and humid climate of Kerala.

A Lungi is a cotton sheet about 2 meter in length and about a meter and a half in breadth and is characterised  by its floral or window-curtain patterns.  By design, surely one-size-fits-all, both males and females and surely does not have any caste creed or religion.  The only variation is that Muslims of Kerala wear it right to left, whereas others wear it  left to right.  It is very difficult for a normal eye to make out this subtle difference.  Lungi is worn in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Thailand. ‘Mundu’ is its white cousin and is worn mostly outdoors  in Kerala- to church, family functions and even to office.

While serving in the Indian Army, I wore a Lungi to bed, even in remote border posts – at altitudes above 10,000 feet when the mercury dipped to nearly 30 degrees below the freezing mark.  I wore it while serving in the North in Kashmir, in the West in the deserts of Rajasthan and in the humid jungles of Eastern India. It surely had no combat or camouflaged design or pattern as it was not an Army ‘issue’ item and surely did not figure in the ‘Dress Regulations for the Army.’

Once on my trip home on vacation from Sikkim, I called on Colonel Baby Mathew who was commanding an Artillery Regiment located near the airport from where I was to board the flight home.  On reaching the main gate of his regiment, the sentry on guard saluted me smartly and said “Our CO (Commanding Officer) is waiting at his residence for your arrival” and he then gave directions to the driver about the route.  On entering Colonel Mathew’s residence I heard his voice saying “Head straight to my bedroom.”  There was Colonel Mathew, sitting on his bed, adorned in his favourite Lungi.  He ordered me to change into my Lungi and join him for a hot lunch of Kappa (Kasava or Tapioca) and fish curry – a Kerala Christian favourite.  While partaking the meal, Colonel Mathew said “I have placed my residence out of bounds for all ranks for the next 24 hours” – meaning no one to come near his house until I was there.  Obviously the Commanding Officer did not want his command to see him and his friend in their Lungi.

In June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  The entire Indian Army had moved into their operational locations after the attack on the Indian Parliament building by terrorists believed to have come in from Pakistan.  The Indian Railways ensured that our Regiment, like all the other units of the Indian Army, were transported to their operational locations at super-high priority in two days.  The Military Special trains moved at speeds greater than that of many express trains and were accorded the highest priority.

The move back to Devlali from Rajasthan was the opposite.  An Army which did not even fire a single bullet, an army which did not fight a war surely  had no priorities in anyone’s mind.  The Military Special trains stopped at every possible station, even to give way to the goods trains.  Now we were the lowest priority in the eyes of the Indian Railways.  The onward move executed in less than two days now was sure to take a week.

On the day of our train’s move from Jodhpur (Rajasthan), the soldiers loaded all the vehicles and equipment on the train.  After accomplishing the task, the Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) Thangaswamy had a roll-call to ensure everyone was present and also to brief the soldiers about the return journey.  As I looked out of my railway coach’s window, I saw the entire regiment standing.  I had a brain wave – “Why carry all the soldiers on the train?  About a hundred of them is all what I require, mainly to ensure the security and safety of the train and the equipment.  Why not the rest of the soldiers be send on leave as many had not met their families for a prolonged time due to the operational commitments?  Also, less of a trouble for the chefs to cook meals on a running train and less of administrative issues.”  I stepped out of my coach wearing my Lungi and a shirt and ordered Subedar Major Thangaswamy to only keep about a hundred soldiers and disperse the rest on leave for a week to rejoin at Devlali.  Everyone’s face suddenly brightened up but with that I was christened “Lungi CO”.

After moving to Canada, on a warm and sunny summer morning, I was watering the garden wearing my all time favourite Lungi.  There appeared our neighbour, Mr Win of Chinese descent and on seeing me wearing a colourful and comfortable costume enquired “Reji, what skirt are you wearing- looks really colourful.” -That was it! I discarded my favourite Lungi forever.

Jonah the Musical

On 01 July 2017, we along with Stephens, our travel companions, set out early morning to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA.  After eight hours of car ride from Toronto, we reached our hotel and checked-in by about 10 AM.

Lancaster is nicknamed the Garden Spot of America or Pennsylvania Dutch Country and located in South Central Pennsylvania.  The county is home to America’s oldest Amish settlement, where thousands still lead the age old lifestyle – without motor cars, without modern gadgets like cell phones, computers etc – but with their horse buggies, ploughs pulled by mules, homes without electricity etc.  It is called Dutch Country as most Amish settlers are of German (Deutsch) descend and have nothing to do with the present Netherlands.  It is called the Garden Spot because of the well drained plain farmlands which support agriculture, the mainstay of the Amish people.

In the evening we watched the Biblical Stage Show – Jonah by  Sight & Sound Theatre, a Christian faith-based, company -complete with grandiose sets, costumes befitting the time period, music and songs, use of modern technology like GPS to move various props around the huge stage – it was amazing. The center stage was very wide, and they also had props and action the left stage and the right stage.  They used the aisles in the seating area too for the actors and animals to make their entry.  They lighted up the ceiling of the theatre to immerse the audience into the ambience of day, night, storm, underwater – it was a journey into a different world.

The cast was fantastic and everyone fitted into their roles and the story being told very well.  Kudos to the technical and arts team, the changes of the sets were flawless and smooth.  In minutes one was transported from a little town to a sea port, then to a ship bumping through the storm ravaged seas to an evil town.  The props were magnificent and huge -especially the ship covering almost half the stage.  The details have been really gone into designing the ship with all its sails, masts and the most amazing was the lower deck when the hull opens to show the inside of the ship.  Truly Fantastic!

It was real technical wizardry and art on display all through the two hour show.  They have made three dimensional ancient cities come live with people and animals.  A fleet of boats sailing across the stage, and a 50 foot ship being tossed up and down in a storm at sea is amazing.  After intermission, the entire theatre is transformed to an undersea world with schools of exotic fish swimming about, beautiful iridescent jellyfish floating above our heads, sharks prowling for prey, colourful clownfish and seahorses swimming around, and a giant whale swimming over our head.

The story of Jonah has been scripted very well with a fine touch of humour.  The story has been extended to fill two hours, but will never distract the audience even for a second.  The story dates back to about 700 years before Christ where in a boy, Jonah gets a prophecy from God about the victory of the king of the Israelites.  When it comes true, he is declared a prophet and everyone waits for more prophecies.  God does not appear to Jonah thereafter, but the people of Gath-Hepher erect a heroic statue of him.

One day God ordered Jonah to go to Nineveh to declare the city’s wickedness and impending destruction.  Jonah does not want to save the people of Nineveh as his father was killed by soldiers from Nineveh and he hates the city and its people.  This forces Jonah to flee.

He goes to Joppa, a seaport and embarks on a ship sailing to Tarshish.  A storm rages and the ship is battered and tossed around by it.  Jonah, realising that the storm is God send to curtail his journey to Tarshish, orders the Captain to throw him off the ship.  Thus the storm dies down.

Jonah falls into the deep sea and the audience are transported into a serenely beautiful undersea world.  Jonah is gulped down by a huge whale and he survives this encounter for three days.  He repents and prays to God for mercy.  Now God wants Jonah to help the people of Nineveh find redemption.  God ensures that Jonah is thrown out from the whale’s stomach to land in the City of Nineveh.  Jonah keeps avoiding the people of  Nineveh as he hates his father’ killers, but ultimately understands the idea of forgiveness and redemption and saves the people.

The music and the songs in the play were apt and spectacular, especially the powerful voice of the Queen of Nineveh.   The show was supported by about 25 stage technicians who run the show and the 48 actors who star in it.  They all have done a remarkable job bringing a story alive both as a spectacle and as a Biblical message.

Some history behind the Sight & Sound Theatre.  It was founded by Glenn Eshelman who painted landscapes as a boy. As he grew up, Glenn continued to pursue his artistic interests, eventually buying a camera to take reference photos for his paintings. After marrying Shirley, Glenn sold his artwork out of the trunk of his car to make a living. In 1964 he presented a scenic photography slide-show at a local church using a slide projector, a turntable for musical underscore and a microphone for narration. This was the first unofficial “Sight & Sound” show.  By the mid-1970’s, Glenn and Shirley took their slide-shows around the United States.  They formed the Living Waters Theatre in 1976, marking the birth of  Sight & Sound Theatres.

In January 1997, a devastating fire destroyed the theatre, but the couple rebuilt it in 18 months.  The new 2000-seat, state-of-the-art theater featured a massive, 300-foot panoramic stage that wrapped around the audience, with the ability to house sets four stories tall.  They have now further enhanced the theatre by incorporating the modern technological light & sound equipment and software, coupled with other technologies like GPS and digital communication.

York-Durham Heritage Railway

On October 1, 2016, we embarked on the York-Durham Heritage Railway train on a trip around the city of Uxbridge, about an hour’s drive from Toronto.  The York-Durham Heritage Railway trains operate on the original Toronto & Nipissing (T&N) rail line, built in the late 1860’s. This line was built to allow its owner, William Gooderham, a distiller from Toronto, to carry grain to his distillery as well as lumber.

On March 4th, 1868, the Company was chartered and construction began the following year. As it was advantageous at that time to have the rail line pass through any town, many paid handsomely for the privilege. Markham raised over $4,000 in one evening, and Unionville made a successful last minute effort to have the line rerouted after it bought $500 worth of shares. The town of Uxbridge was chosen for the site for the railway’s shops.

We  reached the Uxbridge station, with its distinctive “Witches Hat” roof, owned and maintained by the Township of Uxbridge for the heritage journey. Uxbridge is situated in a beautiful valley on the northern slope of the Oak Ridges Moraine, about 64km northeast of Toronto, Ontario.  The York-Durham Heritage Railway reopened the line between Uxbridge and Stouffville in 1996 and has been running on summer weekends since then. The train journey of about 90 minutes.

After we boarded the train, the Captain of the train – the Conductor – briefed the passengers about the train and its journey, what to see and do with the coach attendant awtching. All the staff running the train are volunteers.

The fall had set in (01 Oct) and the leaves were changing colours – before they fall off.  This gave a kaleidoscope of colours all through the journey.

The guard’s wagon  of the train called the Caboose at the rear end of the train, acted as an office and living quarters for the crew of a freight train in the old days. A viewing Cupola is built to facilitate a crew member to look forward at the train to see if anything is amiss

The Baggage Car with open doors fitted with safety barricades is the best place to view the landscape while the train is on the move.

One side of the Baggage Car is a ‘Railway Play Station’ for kids, to keep the kids engaged all through the journey.

On the other side of the Baggage Car is the Souvenir shop and a snack-bar – all manned by volunteers.

The rail-road crossings do not have barriers like those along an operational rail line as the trains operate only on weekends.  It is the duty of the drivers who cross the railway line to lookout for approaching trains and stop.

A musician, again a volunteer, entertained the passengers with his melodies. The passengers also joined him in chorus.

A volunteer ‘Clown’ was also seen entertaining kids with his tricks on board

This is a lime stone quarry enroute of LaFarge Cement Company.  Ontario has large deposit of limestone which supports the large cement manufacturing industry.

The journey was very pleasant, especially with the friendly, easy – going volunteer staff.  The staff obviously loved what they did.  It is an experience worth sharing as it goes to prove that a volunteer force can run a railway and much more.

 

Pelee Island : The Southernmost Tip of Canada

On July 08, 2017, we along with Stephens, our travel companions, travelled from Toronto to Lemington, a four hour car drive along Highway 401.  We boarded MV Jiimaan, a vessel 200 ft)in length that transports 400 passengers and 40 vehicles on Lake Erie from Lemington to Pelee Islands.  The cruise was of  about 90 minutes.  The ferry housed a cafeteria and the view from the deck was awesome.

Pelee Island, (42 Sq Km) largest island in the Western End of Lake Erie, is the Southernmost tip of Canada.  It was leased to Thomas McKee by Ojibwa and Onawa tribes in 1788.  The island’s name is derived from a French word ‘pelee’ meaning barren.  It remained barren, true to its name until it was purchased by William McKormick in 1823.

The Pelee Island Lighthouse was built by John Scott in 1833.  William McCormick donated the land and also served as its first light-keeper till 1840.  The lighthouse used to guide sailors through the rocky Pelee Passage. in the Erie Lake until it went out of service in 1909.

The only other way to get on to the Pelee Island is through the International Airport with a 3,300 feet paved runway.  Regular flights operate in winter when the ferry services are closed.  It serves as the emergency pickup point. It might be the smallest International Airport in Canada – it is International as it receives flights from USA, just South of it.

The population of Pelee Island is about 140.  In summer about 100 migrant workers land on the island to support both tourism and agriculture.  The island has a Police Station manned by two personnel, obviously there is hardly any crime and the last major crime was reported in 1920.  The Emergency Services is operated by two Para-Medics with an ambulance and a Nurse Practitioner manning the Medical Clinic.  Emergency cases has to be airlifted to the mainland at Lemington.  The Fire Department has a fire tender operated by volunteer crew.

This is the shoe tree which has an interesting history.  The tree was given up for dead and the home owner tied a pair of shoes on to it and it is believed to re-grow thereafter.  All the migrant workers, on leaving the island at the end of the season now tie their work-shoes on the tree to bring them good luck.

The island is mainly  agricultural based with about 5,000 acres of soybeans, about 1,000 acres of wheat, 500 acres of grape cultivation.  The centre of the island was a large marsh which was drained out to form the fertile agricultural land.  Thus most cultivation is done below the Lake’s level and hence there is always fear of floods.  The houses on the island are built on stilts to save them from flooding.

After spending the day on the island, we boarded the ferry on our return voyage to Lemington and then we drove off to Toronto.