Mess Tin

During an outdoor tactical training exercise at the National Defence Academy, Captain Raj Mehta (now a Veteran Major General) was our instructor.  It was all about section tactics in defence and we were expected to dig a three-man trench – four feet long and in depth and two feet wide.  With the pickaxes and shovels, it was near impossible to dig on the stony mountains of Pune.

In the evening when Captain Mehta came on his rounds, he found our progress real slow.  We blamed it on our blunt pickaxes and shovels and on the hard surface.  Captain Mehta, not too pleased said “When bullets fly, you will dig down with your mess tins! Why? You will do it with your bare hands and dig much deeper than this rat hole in minutes!!

Now what is this wonder tool called a Mess Tin?

A mess tin is an item of a soldier’s mess kit, designed to be used over a portable cooking apparatus. It’s a pair of rectangular-shaped tins of similar depth, one fits inside the other, both having extendable handles that are fixed to the tins by brackets. Mess tins were originally a military design but are also popular among civilian campers.

Mess tins are generally rectangular with rounded-off edges as the rounded edges make it easier to clean inside than sharp corners. Most mess tins are supplied as a set, with one slightly larger than the other, allowing them to nestle together for easy packing. This arrangement is also useful when using the tins for boiling, as the smaller tin can be used to hold the liquid, with the larger tin placed on top to act as a lid. It also uses space as efficiently as possible, especially as the space and weight are premium in a soldier’s haversack. The nesting mess tins in use with the British Indian Army during World War II, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the Indian and British Army.  

The word ‘mess’ in the 14th Century meant ‘a supply or provision of food for one meal.’ The word came from Old French ‘mes’ meaning ‘portion of food, course at dinner,’ and was spelt ‘mes.’ By the 16th Century the word was spelt ‘mess’ with its meaning evolving from ‘a company of persons eating together at the same table’ to the current meaning ‘a communal eating place (especially a military one.)’

In a book published in 1916 ‘Camps, Billets, Cooking, Ceremonial,’ written by an Officer of the British Army and edited by Captain E John Solano lays out rules regarding health and hygiene; water supply; the inspection of food; preserving food, milk, and water from contamination; personal cleanliness and sanitation in billets, camps, and bivouacs. This is the most comprehensive document I read about camping and how to use the mess tin.  I followed it post-retirement during various camping trips we undertook with our children. An extract from the book says:-

‘It is especially useful that men and cadets should know how to cook various articles of food in their service mess -tins, which are so designed that, besides serving as a cup or dish and plate to eat from, they can also be used to cook certain rations in the same manner as in the camp kettle of the field-kitchen.

Cooking in Mess Tins. – The capacity of the mess tin is 1 quart, and it will cook sufficient food for one person if the diet consists of meat and vegetables cooked together, as in the case of Irish stew or sea- pie. Variety in diet is both essential and desirable, and it can be obtained to some extent when cooking in mess -tins by dividing up the rations of, say, two men, so that one mess -tin is used for cooking their meat, and another mess -tin is used for cooking their vegetables. It will be possible in this manner to vary the food slightly, provided such dishes as meat puddings, plain stews, stewed steak, or curry and rice, are given.  When this is done, the front -rank men prepare the meat, and the rear-rank men prepare the vegetables.’

As Cadets at the Academy, the mess tins were our best companions during tactical exercises as we collected our meals in them, ate in them, brewed our tea in them, etc.  It was the most sacred place for the smokers to hide the cigarette packs during tactical exercises. 

Mess Tin may be from the World War but is still popular with campers for similar reasons.  It is unbreakable, light and occupies minimum space.  You can use them to cook and eat out of, and they can be cleaned easily.  You can barbecue, fry and cook in it. 

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Recently at the Yorkdale Mall, Toronto, I walked into a bathroom and I felt a bit uncomfortable, a bit embarrassed.  Something was out of sync.  It was a gender-neutral bathroom.  A young girl and a boy walking out eased my apprehensions a bit.  Reading a board, explaining the need for a gender-neutral bathroom calmed my nerves.

Have you ever thought about why bathrooms are gendered? Or what it would be like if you could not use gendered bathrooms?

Many trans-folks face harassment and are told that they were in the wrong facility, ridiculed, told to leave, verbally threatened, or gawked at and some were sexually assaulted for going to a gender segregated bathroom. This is an important aspect that limits day-to-day activities of trans-folks. Many avoid using public bathrooms, which can result in health conditions ranging from urinary tract infections to kidney problems.

This bathroom at the Yorkdale Mall looked akin to what it could have been in a sci-fi movie – with colourful lighting and modern sanitary fittings.  For a man used to ‘Men Only‘ bathroom, the main difference was the absence of a pee-pot. This bathroom has ten stalls with a commode. It was one of the best public bathrooms I ever walked into,

The mall has several gender-segregated bathrooms dedicated to serve men who prefer to relieve themselves in the company of other men and women-only washrooms for women who prefer to wait in a long line for their fellow woman to finish using the toilet and looking in the bathroom mirror disapprovingly.

How come that gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t that common around the world, even in developed and progressive nations? Gloria Steinem, American feminist journalist and social political activist said, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”

The core of this issue is transphobia coupled with social/ religious myths. Having gender-segregated washrooms have not deterred a predator in their tracks so also the peeping Toms.

Single-stall, accessible washrooms are a viable solution for businesses, schools, and municipalities. These bathrooms can be accessible to differently abled and marked as gender neutral, as was the case at the Yorkdale Mall.

Its that the men do not want to lose access to private male-only spaces. Its an inherent fear that integrating women into men’s bathroom space will result in a loss, not of privacy for women but of the privileged status of men-only spaces. Its no different in the militaries world over.

A US Army study concluded that there is a severe discomfort among men sharing toilet and team spaces with women. There is an increased women’s willingness to use such men-only spaces. There is an urgent need to address the underlying logic of sexism, not only in male-dominated professions but in all walks of life.

Just as inaccessible bathrooms act as a barrier for differently-able people, segregated bathrooms are a barrier to trans-folks. To truly make society inclusive for trans-folks, gender-neutral bathrooms need to become a priority in all public spaces.

Toronto police, and members of the public, can now use a gender-neutral bathroom at the service’s headquarters. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) have installed gender-neutral bathrooms.  The Toronto District School Board and many other school boards in Ontario have rolled out similar washrooms in schools across the province.

These gender-neutral bathrooms has not only helped trans-folks, but also other customers who have conflicts over which bathroom to utilise due to the following circumstances – at least one or more with which many of us can identify with:

  • Dads with daughters.
  • Moms with sons.
  • Parents with differently-able children.
  • Adults with aging parents who may be mentally/physically differently-able.

It is a big step forward for welcoming trans-folks into greater society and fostering acceptance.  There is no need to distinguish between men and women bathrooms at all. The minds of the people must grow and not fall prey to theories that ‘Because God said so,’ ‘It’s unnatural,’ ‘It’s just wrong’ etc.

Aren’t the bathrooms at our homes Gender-Neutral??

Images courtesy Google

Peony 2022

Peony ows its name to Paeon, the Greek mythological physician to the gods, who extracted a milky liquid from the root of a plant to cure Pluto. Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine wanted to kill Paeon out of jealousy. Zeus, the Greek god of the sky saved him by turning him into a Peony.

Another myth links the name Peony to a nymph named Paeonia whose beauty attracted the attention of Apollo, the Greek Olympian deity. Out of spite, Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, turned her into a Peony. This legend is likely what led to the flower’s meaning of poor luck in the Victorian age.

Chinese often refer to Peony as the ‘King of flowers.’ They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. The Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning ‘most beautiful.’

In the Eastern world, peonies were mainly used for their medicinal properties to relieve pain associated with childbirth.
Marco Polo described Peonies, when he first saw them, as: ‘Roses as big as cabbages,’ as the bowl-shaped Peony flowers can reach up to 10 inches in diameter.
Their stems are not strong enough to support the heavy blossoms, hence they need support.  Peony cages are placed in spring around the plant as they grow.
They are also the 12th anniversary flower – because the peony symbolises honour, fortune, and a happy relationship. It is the state flower of Indiana.

Peonies come in every color except for blue. The Peony features five or more large outer petals called guard petals. At the centre of the Peony are the yellow stamens or modified stamens.
Peonies are regarded as a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. That is why you find them in all the marriage bouquets in North America. Pink: is the most romantic form of Peony.
Pink, and white, are the most popular colours.
Deep Red is most prized in China and Japan and has the strongest ties to honour and respect and also wealth and prosperity.
White or Very Pale Pink symbolise bashfulness, ideal gift for those times when you’ve said or done something wrong and want to apologise.
Yellow Peony symbolises a of new beginning or a fresh start. An ideal gift as a housewarming gift, or to wish someone luck as they begin a new job.

Peonies of three types grow in our garden- Tree Peonies, Herbaceous Peonies and Itoh peonies.
Herbaceous peonies (also known as bush peonies) with long narrow thick green leaves, they die to the ground in Winter. They re-emerge in Spring when the snow melts.

Tree peonies are characterised by their woody stems. They defoliate in Fall, but the woody stems stay intact above the ground. They tend to bloom earlier and with larger flowers than the bush peony. Thus, they are in competition with the Tulips which are on their way out.
Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous peony and the tree peony.  These crosses have produced new, exciting colours.  The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies but die to the ground in the Winter.  Since they are recent introductions and are still in short supply, they command a high price.
Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous (or bush) peony and the tree peony. These crosses have produced new, exciting colours. The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies but die to the ground in the Winter. Since they are recent introductions and are still in short supply, they command a high price.

Itoh Peonies derive its name from Japanese horticulturist, Dr Toichi Itoh, who successfully created seven peony hybrids from a tree peony bred with a herbaceous peony. Dr Itoh passed away before seeing his creations bloom. Years later, American horticulturist Louis Smirnow bought some of these original Itoh peonies from Dr Itoh’s widow and continued Itoh’s work.

Irony is that these large beautiful flowers last only a week or ten days.

Senior Citizens with Children in Foreign Lands

A newspaper column contained woes of senior citizens in India, who are living alone with their children abroad on in some distant land.  It threw up a very pertinent question – ‘Should the (Indian) parent be selfish enough to refuse funding or discourage their children from settling abroad?

Some Indian parents assume that it is the responsibility of the children to take care of the parents in their old age. 

Parents brought up their children, hardly giving any developmental space to the child.  They used the children like sounding boards where they tried out all those they could not do.  It ended up with Engineers and Doctors without any consideration for the interest and passion of the child.  The parents tried to live that ideal life (which they themselves could not) through their children.

Parents ended up paying large sums of money for admission of their children and for their grandchildren from LKG onward.  The money was paid to the school, mostly owned by various religious institutions or god-men.  No receipt was given for this money, thus creating Holy Black Money, all in the name of God.  Praise the Lord!!  Halleluiah!!!

The same was repeated at every stage of education up to graduation or post graduation or even PhD.  Its all-Dad’s Money.

In developed countries (USA, Canada, etc,) the students fund their university education.  If the same is followed in India, not more than 40% students are likely to pursue graduation.  They bunk classes, have at least two subjects as supplementary per semester (as they did not qualify the semester exams) – all because its Dad’s Money.  If it is the children’s money like here in Canada, they will make every penny count.

In Canada, any supplementary will not entail promotion to next semester unlike in India where in the tenth semester they may be clearing their first semester supplementary.  The bigger catch is that the bank financing the education will not release the next tranche unless they know that the student is likely to graduate.  I suggested to many of my friends to ask their children to take student loan even if the parent could afford to pay.  In Canada, grades, marks, assessments, progress reports are confidential and are never disclosed to parents, hence difficult to keep track of the child’s progress.  In case the child is on student loan, the bank will keep track.  

Parents of Indian origin in Canada still carry their Love for their children and end up funding their children education.  Result is the same as in India.

Indian parents buy swanky motorcycles for their teenage children on the pretext that it will save them time which they can spend fruitfully on their studies. Does it happen? Children are often seen racing and stunt driving on their motorcycles, with scant regards to the rules of the road. Wearing helmets is often to ward off police fines than saving one’s head. The children, if they must, should buy their motorcycle with their own money and not with the Dad’s money.

Now comes the greatest of the greatest landmark event – MARRIAGE.

Indian immigrant families consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents even ‘import’ a Mail-Order Bride/ Groom from India.

Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating, and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their culture and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community and loss of face within the community.

Most wedding parties are attended by less than a hundred guests in North America, whereas it cannot be less than a thousand in India.  Again, it is all because of Dad’s Money.  In North America, the bride and the groom must arrange for their marriage expenses and sometimes parents chip in.

The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known including dowry and jewellery.  It may be to make up for the money spent on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – possibilities are endless. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

Next comes housing.  Everyone seems to be building a house bigger than their neighbour’s. It is never based on family needs, but in many cases only as a status symbol to show-off one’s mostly ill-gotten wealth. In North America, old parents down-size and move to smaller homes, or to a gated community, or to an old age home once their children move out for education or jobs. In India it is always up-sizing, even when one is on his death bed. Only social awareness can eliminate this problem.

Now comes the ultimate – to get even with the Gods who must forgive and remit all sins in getting this wealth.  Huge offerings are made in the God’s houses to please Him. Most of the offerings are of no use to humanity like golden crowns, golden crosses studded with diamonds, chariots, elephants and even one’s hair. It is not understood as to which God is going to be pleased with these offerings. In North America, most old people donate all their wealth or part of it to charities, which could help the humanity and may be the Gods will always be better pleased with them.

Many of the seniors in India are restricted to their homes – the children respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute! They also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossips, look pretty and smart.

In most homes in India, the seniors have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America.

All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors but will be the first ones to raise shackles of cultural and social values.