A look at Friendship from a Gender Perspective


For most of us, making friends is neither a difficult task nor an uphill climb.  If it were so, we would never have had so many friends at different stages of life.  The aim must be to keep it simple and not complicate it by thinking too much about it.

We make friends from kindergarten to this day in our life and we never really give any serious thought to it.  Some friends are long lasting, some casual and some are ‘once a while’, some have left for the heavenly abode and many are forgotten down the lane.  It all depends on the manner in which we view our friendships. For a person like me, educated in a military school, graduated from two military academies and having served a lifetime in uniform, the bonds are very strong. Whenever I had to call up my friends for any assistance or advice, despite being out of touch for years, they have all responded way beyond my expectations. We may be out of touch for ages, but the bonds are glued all too well that when the link is renewed for whatever reason, the relationship blooms all over yet again.

Our son Nikhil wanted to do volunteer service at Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity at Kolkata for a month.  He booked his air tickets and was planning to look for accommodation near the venue.  Without a second thought, I called Brigadier S Ramakrishnan, my friend since our school days who was then posted at Kolkata, and requested him to help Nikhil to find a suitable place to stay. Without a second thought, he and his charming wife,  Mrs. Vijaya Ramakrishnan welcomed Nikhil into their home and looked after him for the entire duration of his stay.


One day, in June 2018, my close friend and partner in teenage pranks and escapades at school, Vijayabhaskaran (alias Vijas),called me up right out of the blue. Even before he spoke a word, the memory of our many colourful escapades  and the resultant punishments we endured together flashed through my mind. He went on to announce that their daughter Sandhiya, pursuing her engineering education in Germany had found her life partner in Ernesto, a Peruvian citizen.  The marriage was scheduled for 05 January, 2019 at Piura, Peru.  I felt honoured as I was the first one outside the family that he was informing of this cross cultural development.  “Surely, we will be there!” I assured him without a second thought. It was only later that the realisation dawned on me that a school boy friendship was now taking me to a new continent and a lost civilisation where I had not tread before.

I had learnt about Peru in middle school geography and about the Inca civilisation in history.  I knew Peru was in South America, with Lima as its capital.  But where is Piura?  A Google search helped us to locate the venue enabling Marina and I to travel to Peru and attend the wedding.

Vijas and I shared nothing in common – a Tamil Hindu and a Mallu (Malayalam speaking) Christian- brought up in different family and cultural settings, pursuing different professions- Vijas is a top Chef of India who features in the book ‘25 of India’s Biggest Chefs’ by Sagrika Ghoshal.   Our friendship blossomed at school and remains as strong till date, despite the geographic distance that separates us. After school, I served the Indian Army, later migrated to Canada,  whereas Vijas is based in Bangalore. Distances, geography and professions don’t seem to matter much to our lasting friendship.

Now, here is a different perspective. Marina studied in a residential school and was in a hostel for graduation.  She was very excited to join the WhatsApp group of her school friends, but the excitement lasted barely a month.  She remembers most of her school friends, but appears to have forgotten most of her university friends.  Our daughter Nidhi too seems to be treading the very same friendship path as her mother.

Our son Nikhil has four good friends from his school days who belong to different ethnicities around the globe.  They follow different passions and areas of studies – Patrick in literature, Nam in drama, Thomas in art & design, Kevin in music, Nikhil in Pharmacy with a career in the Canadian Military. The Five Boys, they ensure that they get together once a month at Toronto, just to toast their friendship.

Patrick’s grandmother recently passed away at the ripe old age of 91.  She meticulously maintained a dairy.  During her funeral, excerpts from her diary were read.  It contained many references to the Five Boys.  Surely, during their many visits to Patrick’s home, the boys would have kept the old lady in high spirits with all their charm and humour.

After Nikhil’s Graduation Dinner, there were ‘after-party’, ‘after-after-party’ and so on, with lots of alcohol flowing.  Next day noon I picked him up and while driving home he said “I did not know that these girls are so messed up with their friends.  Those we thought were the best of friends were getting at each others’ throats after a few drinks with their bitching and free flow of profanity.   We boys appear to have less complicated relationships.

You can very well call me a sexist, but I am pretty sure that the outlook is poles apart and gender specific.  As in many facets of life, even when it comes to friendship, ‘Men are from Mars and women from Venus’!!

Developing Reading Skills in Children


While on a family trip in our car, Marina asked our son Nikhil, then a University Student, as to how he developed reading skills.  The question was pertinent as Marina had migrated to Canada and I as a single parent had brought him up through his Kindergarten and Grade 1 while I was serving in the Indian Army.  Our daughter Nidhi was initiated into reading much earlier by Marina as she was a home-maker and I was invariably tied up with my military duties.


Nikhil explained “While I was in Kindergarten every evening Dad would read with me stories from many story books that I had inherited from Nidhi.  The story which interested me the most was ‘Three Pigs and a Wolf.’  The book was a well illustrated one from a kid’s point of view and every page had a small sentence, thus easier for me to comprehend.  Dad would use different voices for the three pigs.  The best was he named the third Pig the smartest one as Nikhil.  That held my interest.  Further he would make changes to the story every time he read it and I used to be very inquisitive about it every time he read it to me.”

The four words माता पिता गुरु देवा (Matha Pitha Guru Deva) simply translates  as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. The word sequence originates in the Vedas, the scriptures that contain the essence of Hindu Philosophy. The four words contain an axiomatic truth regarding the order of reverence as laid down in the scriptures, which everyone needs to adopt. Irrespective of religion, down the ages, the idea has always been fundamental to Indian thought. It follows that as Parents You are your child’s first teacher.  Not that one needs a philosophical backing to comprehend this basic truth. It’s just that this basic tenet of human understanding had evolved thousands of years ago, at the very dawn of civilisation.

One of the first tasks of the ‘parent teacher’ is to develop reading skills in your child.  You’ve got to read with your child every day.  Children will always imitate their parents – obviously children of parents who read turn out to posses better reading skills.  Children who are read to will end up loving to read.  It’s got to begin when your child is very young, as soon as you can make him/her sit with you.


When I joined Sainik School in Tamil Nadu in Grade 5, I could neither speak nor read Tamil, the native language of the state.  By interacting with my classmates learning to speak Tamil came very easily, but how to learn to read the language?  When I was in Grade 8, my buddy Vijas gave me an advice which hardly anyone would have heard of – “Look out there, it is the cinema poster for the movie ‘Raja Raja Cholan’.   Read each letter of the Tamil alphabet to form a word and continue the exercise whenever you see a poster while on the run to the dam every morning during Physical Training.”

I employed Vijas’ technique with Nikhil.  While driving – dropping him off at school, picking him up after school, commuting to the swimming pool or tennis court or for music class in the evening – I used to point out to various road signs, billboards, store and restaurant signs on the roadside and make him read them out aloud. Then we would discuss the various aspects of displayed signs.  Every time we came across the McDonald’s logo, he would react differently.


Here is the link to his reaction and reading.  McDonald’s logo is one of the most popular emblems in modern history.  It consists of an arched golden coloured ‘M‘ on a plain red background.  This simple one letter logo with two contrasting colours is bound to stay in the memory of any child, even without the gastronomic connection. Their eyes get promptly zoomed on to this simple logo from a long distance.  Whatever it is, the use of a single letter or the colours, everything homes on to a child’s imagination without making it look complicated.  The mantra is Just Keep It Simple.


What should your child be reading? Priority should obviously be given to what evokes his interest as obviously will sustain the reading habit and improve reading skills. Books about your country, other important places in the world, wild animals or dinosaurs – anything and everything, but age-appropriate.  Fiction – action, fantasy, science fiction, funny stories, comics, all of them foot the bill.  Adventure stories where the child can imagine to be the super-hero, princess, detective, and so on are ideally suited.

When your child raises questions?  Ensure that your child has time to think while he is reading and this can be assessed by the questions that may be thrown at you.  Many a time it could be somewhat uncomfortable too.  Be prepared to answer all the questions and never snub the child.   While answering, instead of preaching, ask a question that will lead your child to talk about what he or she thinks.  That will give confidence to your child that you are listening.


Which language to communicate with your child?
  A pertinent question mainly for the immigrants.  I recommend the language which you and your child are comfortable with.  It need not be English all the time.   Communicating in your mother-tongue will enthuse your child to learn more about your own cultural history.

With the effort you devote to developing your child’s reading skills, your child will grow up to become an excellent reader with strong writing skills. The knowledge gained will eventually transform him/her into and a valuable citizen. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man (Sir Francis Bacon). It’s a gradual flow from one to the other. We all need to remember that even in today’s age of technology there is simply no substitute to reading skills. It will surely reflect on your child’s grades and will make a difference when he or she enters university or the workforce.

You don’t need a lot of special skills to help your child learn to read and write. You need not be super-parents.  Just spending time with your child doing everyday activities with a focus on the ‘written word’ makes all the difference in the world.

Public Address (PA) System


Can you hear me at the back?”  Queried the Reviewing Officer at the Passing Out Parade of our nephew, prior to commencing his address to the Cadets.  There was a seven second utter silence that followed – as if those seven seconds did not exist in this world for everyone gathered out there.

Did the Reviewing Officer not trust the Commandant of the Academy, a General Officer, who invited him to be the Reviewing Officer?  Would everyone at the Academy have not put their best foot forward to ensure successful conduct of the most important and venerated event at the Academy?  As Cadets during our own Passing out Parade in the past, haven’t we all seen the Herculean efforts put in by everyone, especially the team responsible for the PA system, to ensure that each word spoken is audible at every nook and corner of the Parade Ground and beyond?


Was the Reviewing Officer expecting a reply?  Was he expecting a Cadet lined up in front to acknowledge his query?  Did he expect the Adjutant mounted on his charger, with a sword in his right hand and reins of the horse in the other to raise his sword as an answer?  Did he expect the buglers standing on the ramparts of the fort behind to play a note in acknowledgement?

What if the address was not audible to the Cadets? Would it make a huge difference? No. They would have already been bored to death with the surfeit of advices from all and sundry.  I do not remember a single word of the address by the Reviewing Officer at our Passing Out Parade, though the Reviewing Officer was the most charismatic of them all, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.  So would be the fate of any lesser mortal here and now. Senior military officers could sometimes do well without recourse to ‘out of place clichés’.


My mind flashed back to my military service days.  Once a month in military service, it was the day of the ‘Sainik Sammelan’ (Address to Soldiers of the Regiment by the Commanding Officer (CO)), a monthly ritual, mostly held on the last Saturday of the month.  During my Regimental service, I had observed that a Sergeant responsible for the PA System would set it up well before everyone assembles, tested it by tapping his fingers on the microphone and saying “Testing, Testing, Testing.”

Once the Regimental Sergeant Major assembled all the soldiers, he would also test The PA System by tapping his fingers on the microphone and saying “Testing, Testing, Testing.”  After the Sergeant Major gives his report to the Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer.  The Adjutant then receives the report from the Subedar Major who then hands over the parade to the Second-in-Command (2IC).  At every stage of reporting, no one seems to trust the poor PA system and everyone tested its functionality.

Now comes the auspicious moment of the arrival of the CO.  The 2IC gives the report to the CO and the CO settles down on the dais.  As he is about to commence his speech, the PA system would sabotage by itself and give out a most shrill and unholy tone “Koooooooooooo  Thap” and refuse to do its job. Pure and simple system generated retribution for the lack of faith!! The CO looks at the 2IC, who in turn gives a frowning look at the Adjutant, who gives a dirty look at the Subedar Major, who now gives a dirtier look at the Sergeant Major, who finally gives the dirtiest look at the hapless Sergeant who set up the PA system.  Obvious display of lack of trust at every level of command.

Sainik Sammelans have been an event for the CO to demonstrate his oratory skills.  Some COs believed that they could communicate all their ‘accumulated wisdom’ on to their captive audience during the Sainik Sammelan and often in such cases, it would extend to several hours.  In effect there is no transmission/reception of wisdom, but it always ends up with sore bottoms, numb feet and a few caricatures of the CO by the officers.

Captain Desh Raj was the self appointed commander for all young officers (Lieutenants and Captains) of our Regiment. One day, after the CO’s Regimental Sainik Sammelan, Captain Desh Raj summoned all of us, five young officers of the regiment, and directed us to show him our note pads where we had noted down the points briefed by our Commanding Officer.  All of us, except one, were reluctant to display our pads.  We were all trying to hide our note pads, but Captain Desh Raj successfully managed to snatch them from us and glanced through them.  Soon thereafter he declared “None of you can make a good caricature of our CO.  Your artistic skills need to be toned up.  Look at my note pad and the next time I would like to see a better caricature of our Commanding Officer from you all than this masterpiece of mine

That was when I realised that all those serious note taking by all young officers were much the same and on similar lines to what Captain Desh Raj did!  When I became a Battery Commander and later a CO, I ensured that all my Sainik Sammelans were of less than ten-minute duration. Possibly, I was mortally scared of my subordinates drawing my caricature! So I resolved not to give them time for the act.

Whether the PA system is working or not, there is no need to raise the question “Can you hear me at the back?”  Every speaker must realise that nothing much can be done at the nick of time other than the speaker straining his vocal cords to make the speech audible to all.  It only shows lack of trust in the organisation or the person who invited you to speak. Above all, a routine and meaningless cliché that is best avoided!!

Abiding Faith


While commanding the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment at Devlali in 2003, I received a call from the Colonel General Staff (Col GS) of the Artillery Division, our higher HQ, that he wanted our soccer team to represent the Division in the Corps level soccer tournament. The tournament was to commence in a week’s time and our Col GS knew that we had a very good soccer team.

The Col GS is in charge of the General Staff branch, responsible for training, intelligence, planning and conduct of operations, beside a host of other less important subjects. Most orders from the General Officer Commanding (GOC), pertaining to these issues are actually drafted and signed by him.

Our Col GS was Colonel Azad Sameer (now a Veteran Brigadier) and he was my friend, philosopher, mentor and guru while I was in command. Our relationship had started off on a strictly official level and evolved into a personal one of mutual respect and friendship at an emotional level. The entire Regiment knew this for sure, such that one day our Adjutant (the officer who acts as an administrative assistant to the Commanding Officer) came to me and said “We implicitly respond positively to all orders and instructions passed by the Col GS as we all know that you would always want them to be executed without a question.  Rather, there is no appeal against it even in the Supreme Court of India.” Now these words coming from an Adjutant who was fully aware that his Commanding Officer was no ‘yes man’ and invariably had issues with unfair/ incorrect orders or those that were either complicated or made no sense; these words quite simply summed up our professional and personal equation.

Colonel Sameer and I had never met before during our military career and our first meeting was when our Regiment became part of the newly raised Artillery Division.  We developed an instant liking for each other from our first meeting, a continuing equation as on date.

Our Regiment was then a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery, and as such we were not administratively under the Artillery Division.  The request for sending the soccer team came from the Col GS (who was also a soccer enthusiast and a very good player) and I had to take a decision whether to send the team, or politely tell him why it was not possible.  I was not obliged to do so, rather it was against the norms of the Indian Army. Also I was aware that if my response was negative, he would well understand.  But somewhere deep down I wanted to be positive in keeping with the ethos of our relationship. If I were to ask for approval from the School of Artillery, it would surely have been turned down.  The Regiment had immense training and administrative duties under the School of Artillery and manpower was always at a premium. The question was ‘will we be able to spare 14 soldiers for three weeks?  That too without proper military authority?‘ It’s also a case in point regarding some tough decision making that a Commanding Officer is required to do in a peacetime army.

I summoned Major Suresh Babu, our Second-in-Command to discuss the issue.  He led our soccer team to victory in the Station Tournament.  The most critical game of this tournament was with the team of officers attending Young Officers’ Course at School of Artillery for they were fresh out of the Military Academy and were fit as a fiddle.

After hearing me out, Major Suresh said “We got to send the team; it’s obvious from your words.  We can cover the soldiers’ move as a training event, but to send an officer we need explicit permission from School of Artillery which is near impossible.”

A decision was made – we will send 14 men comprising the football team and the Col GS was to find an officer to lead the team from any of the other regiments of the Artillery Division and the same was conveyed to Col GS. Well that was that.

In the normal course, a divisional sports team would be drawn from the talent of all its dozen or so units, after a competition or trials and would have trained together for a while. So it is very seldom that a regimental team gets to represent a division. Sometimes in the Army, the Command and Control Hierarchy can be a strange animal. Here in this case while our Regiment was operationally under the Artillery Division, we were not under them for administration, sports or training. To that extent the orders to send the football team may even be viewed as illegal!! But having made the decision, more with my heart than with my mind, I got the team around, explained the overall situation and simply told them that they ought to do well. Being a Regimental team, we maybe a little short of talent, but that was well compensated by the ‘espirit de corps’.

After three weeks I got a call from Colonel Sameer – his voice brimming with excitement and pure elation.  He said “Reji, Congratulations!  Our team came runner-up in the Corps soccer tournament!  I never ever dreamt that this experiment would work the way it did and your boys would do so well!” Well I was a bit surprised too at the progress they made and thought to myself that although the orders were not entirely correct, I was happy with the decision I made and its outcome, both for the formation as well as the unit,

A few days later, we had a long chat over the phone about the soccer tournament.  Colonel Sameer was really thankful for our Regiment sending the team and said “Only you could have done it!”  I too was bit surprised about the laurels our team brought for the Artillery Division.

It turned out that a young subaltern from another regiment was appointed the team captain and as per his report it was very clear they would not have progressed to the finals of the tournament without the dedication and commitment of the soldiers from our Regiment.  He said that rather than he leading the team, they were forcing him to lead them.  They used to be up early morning and would reach the ground for practise and he too had to follow them.  They devised strategies for each game and he only had to lead and implement them.

He reported that the senior Havildar (Sergeant) of the team had said to him “Our Commanding Officer has sent us on a mission having complete faith and confidence in us.  He spared us to play this tournament despite the heavy commitment of our Regiment.  Other soldiers in the Regiment had to put in extra hours to cover our absence.  We got to do our best as we cannot let down our Commanding Officer and the Regiment.  I am sure you will surely lead us to our aim.

Keep abiding faith in the men under your command. Laurels will surprise you. 

Trusting your soldiers will not diminish or vanquish the anguish, but will enable you to endure it.