Sacrificing a Family Tradition


When we joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in Grade 5 in June 1971, there were many vegetarians amongst us.  Most Brahmin Cadets up until then had never ever eaten anything non-vegetarian in life.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs that 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.  Nowadays the very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is very fondly 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.

Like a true Syrian Orthodox Christian, I too had never tasted pork.  Our family tradition was based on Deuteronomy Chapter 14: Verses 3 to 8 which says “Do not eat any detestable thing.  These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep.   You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.   However, of those that chew the cud or that have a divided hoof you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the hyrax. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a divided hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you.  The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.”

This was the rule the Jews followed a thousand years before Christ in accordance with The Torah passages in Leviticus that lists the animals people are permitted to consume. It first notes what qualifies an animal that is absolutely permitted.   Muslims also follow a similar rule.  Chapter 6 Verse 146 of Quran says “ We prohibited every animal of uncloven hoof; and of the cattle and the sheep We prohibited to them their fat, except what adheres to their backs or the entrails or what is joined with bone.”

Although Christianity is also an Abrahamic religion, most of its adherents are permitted to consume pork. Since Christianity lost most of its roots from Judaism, Christians are not bound to most of the restrictions of Mosaic Law. However, Seventh day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also do not permit pork consumption. The Syrian Christians of Kerala belong to this lineage of pork taboo. For many Scottish highlanders too, pork is taboo although the reasons are quite unclear.

It is believed that St Thomas, an Apostle of Christ came to Kerala in 52 AD and converted local Hindus and some Jews to Christianity.  Cochin Jews (also known as Malabar Jews or Yehudey Kochin), are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon (970 – 931 BCE).  St Thomas did not impose any changes to the pattern of worship, rituals and traditions of the locals.  This resulted in Malayali Syrian Christians with the Jews following Mosaic law .  It changed when the Portuguese colonised Kerala in the 16th Century.  Their concept of ‘the cross preceding the sword‘ resulted in forcible conversion of Malayali Syrian Christians to Catholicism.  Portuguese Inquisition used consumption of pork to distinguish between Jews and Catholics and accused the Malayali Syrian Christians of being Jews. Those Malayali Syrian Christians who refused to convert to Catholicism had to flee away from the coastal areas controlled by Portuguese to  the hills in the interior of Kottayam.  They today are further divided into Marthoma, Jacobite and Orthodox factions.

The first Friday of July 1971, we were served pork for dinner.  There were separate tables for all those who did not want to partake the ground pork, where they were served potato and peas curry.  I too joined this vegetarian section. So our taboos were at home. We learned about tolerance to eat what we eat, together, may be at separate tables though, but without hate and rancour.

Cadet Sunil Kumar, our batch mate, a Namboodiri (a hard core Kerala Brahmin) erroneously joined the wrong queue and ended up eating pork.  After eating it, he said it was so tasty that he even went for a second helping.  This motivated me to go for the forbidden pork on the first Friday of August 1971.  I sacrificed a family tradition of not eating pork in exchange for a mouth-watering tasty dish on that day and from then on I never missed it on any first Friday of the month.

So, now I follow the New Testament of Bible (As do most Christians world wide) where in as per Gospel According to St Matthew 15:10, Jesus calls the people to him and says, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Minor mercies that religions do offer some flexible options!!

Despite the many health warnings that come with red meat in general and processed pork in particular, to this day I remain a happy and avid pork eater, thanks to Sainik School Amravathi Nagar and Sunil Kumar.

The Lesser Teachers


Teachers play an important role in our lives to become good human beings and valued citizens to society.  Teachers are an extremely important part of any school society and at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu), it was no different.  What Cadets at our school learned from our teachers at a young age has in most cases stayed with us and will continue to do so till our graves.

Here I am writing not about our great front line teachers, but about those lesser mortals, great human beings, who always worked in the background to make learning easier for us Cadets.  They are the support staff who assisted with most activities that happened at our school.

The oldest of the lab attendants was Mr. Vittal Das.  He was at the Biology lab assisting Mr Paul and Mr George, our zoology and botany teachers.  He made sure that we got frogs for our dissection classes, duly anesthetised with a heavy dose of chloroform.  He was the most politically active among the support staff, even though they were not unionised.  He was in the forefront fighting for their rights.  He was a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) who remained steadfast with the party and was always singing praises for his leader, Late M Karunanidhi.  Despite the dismissal of Karunanidhi Government in 1976 and the drubbing DMK received in the 1977 elections, he remained loyal to the party.

Manuel, the Physics Lab Attendant was a man for all seasons, all because he was assistant to Mr. PT Cherian, our Physics teacher.  Mr Cherian was an icon and was in the forefront for almost all activities at our school – cultural show, cinema projection, photography club, operating the public address system for all events and so on.  Where ever Mr Cherian went, Manuel was there, like his shadow, to assist him.

Then there was Samuel, our Chemistry Lab Attendant who like any typical lab attendants at any school, posed as a ‘Mister Know-All’. Mr KM Koshy, our Chemistry teacher during a class session, once sent Samuel on a leather hunt.  He asked Samuel to fetch dilute H2O from the Chemistry Lab.  Samuel returned empty handed after about 15 minutes and dutifully reported “Sir, in our lab there is no dilute H2O, all we have is concentrated.”

Whenever we walked into the library, there was Nazeer, assistant to Mr Stephen, our librarian.  He had a smile for everyone and was always on the double in the library – placing books back on the shelves, arranging periodicals and newspapers on the tables, setting the chairs right, etc.  He was very particular that the cadets used the library to enhance their knowledge and insisted that we read newspapers, the only source of information in those days in remote Amaravathi Nagar.  He used to deliver newspapers to us even on Sundays and Holidays at our dorms so that we never missed the day’s news.  He was instrumental in my developing a reading habit, especially the attachment to ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.

Mariya Das, the younger sibling of Manuel had two roles to play.  He was the attendant at the Academic Block whose main duty was to ring the bell at appropriate times.  In those days Cadets did not wear watches (it was a super luxury item and was not permitted as per school rules) and when we saw Mariya Das rushing, we knew that it was time for the period to end.  In the mornings during physical training and the evenings during the games hour he doubled up as a grounds-man.

CMN Grndsmen
(Late Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Grounds-men, from the left – Maria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one)

It was a marvel as to how our Chief Grounds-man, Achuthan ensured that we Cadets were provided with all equipment needed for the morning Physical Training and evening games.  He was assistant to our Physical Training Instructor, Late Mr C Madhavan Nair.

With his team of four illiterate grounds-men, they ensured that the gym with the boxing ring was always maintained meticulously well.  Every afternoon, it was their duty to ensure that all fields were marked properly and all nets were in place.  We had to draw the balls and other sporting kit from Achuthan every evening at 4 PM.  He ensured that all kit handed over to us was serviceable and kept a track of them even if we left them on the ground.

The ultimate test of the team work of Mr CM Nair and his grounds-men was the conduct of the Annual Athletic Meet and School Day.  How they accurately marked the 400 meters’ track, pits for the jumps and lanes for the throws – all still remains a mystery for me till date.  This most important event of the school year culminated with the ‘Massed PT’ for the School Day, involving all Cadets from grade 6 to 12.  There too the role of the grounds-men in providing us with various equipment and marking the spots for us to stand during the Massed PT was indeed commendable.

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School support staff play an important role in ensuring the students are nurtured in a safe and supportive environment. They foster positive, trusting relationships with students and improve school climate by encouraging students to actively participate in all school activities, especially in a residential military school.

Every Cadet who has graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar really had an intimate connect with the school support staff, especially their positive behavior which had a great effect on us the Cadets. In a quiet sort of way, they had touched our lives in ever so many ways with tender care.