How I got Out-Lawed in Canada

I took Catherine Parkinson – mother-in-law of our daughter Nidhi – for cataract surgery.  The receptionist, filling out various documents queried, “Who is with you?”

Catherine replied, “My daughter-in-law’s Dad.

Realising that the receptionist did not get it, she said, “My son’s father-in-law.”

Catherines statement confused the receptionist more and she said, “I will write as family.”

What is my relationship with Catherine? 

In Thamizh this relationship is well defined as சம்பந்தி (Sambanthi.)  It is the same in Hindi, Bengali and Marathi – सम्बन्धी. 

The term Sambanthi is derived from two words – samam or sama meaning equal and bandanam or bandan meaning relation.

Thus, the literal meaning can be assumed as relationship of equal status.

Sambanthi could also be considered a derivation from the Sanskrit word sambanda or sambandham meaning an alliance as a marriage is more of an alliance between the families of the bride and the groom.

The closest I could define our relationship in English was Co-in-Law, akin to a co-brother – a reciprocal relationship not related by blood between two persons.

Co-brother (plural co-brothers or co-brethren) could mean one’s colleague in some profession or trade.  The word does not find a place in many English Dictionaries. In India, co-brother is used to describe the relationship between two men married to two blood sisters- one’s wife’s sister’s husband.

Sambandham in Malayalam, the word closest to sambanthi, has a different connotation.

In Kerala in certain communities, women had a special status as they followed a matriarchal system of inheritance of wealth and property. Some families follow this tradition even today though many have moved on to some form of patriarchal system. A lady from these communities could enter into cohabitation (live-in relationship) with men and this co-habitation was called as Sambandam. The male gave a white mundu (dhothi) to the lady. The acceptance of mundu was considered as consummation of the alliance and permission to enter the lady’s bedroom. Colloquially, today, Sambandaham denotes an alliance or a marriage.

Sambandham is now not practiced, but sambanthi continues, though without an English equivalent.

Goodbye Mrs Sheila Cherian

On my birthday, as I was replying to all the birthdays wishes from friends, the news of passing away of Ms Sheila Cherian – Ms Sheila Murphy – came not as a surprise as she was in a coma.  Anyone from our vintage reading this eulogy will acknowledge with a nod and a smile that Ms Sheila was the best educator we had ever been blessed with, was an absolute timeless icon.

Ms Sheila Murphy, an Anglo-Indian lady, was among the first group of teachers to join Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Thamzh Nadu in 1962 at the time of inception.  Mr PT Cherian joined our school a year later in 1963.  After a few years, fell in love and got married, while we were in our eighth grade.  On the evening of their wedding, we were treated to a never ever seen sumptuous dinner at the Cadets’ Mess.  Thus, Ms Sheila Murphy became Mrs Sheila Cherian.

Mrs Sheila Cherian is the first teacher anyone who joined Sainik School, Amaravathinagar encountered. Most of us were from Malayalam or Thamizh medium schools having very little knowledge of English.  The way she taught us English, especially how to write (her handwriting was exceptional.) She tried her best to improve my handwriting, but the success rate was minimal.  She taught us table manners, how to sit at a table, use of cutlery and crockery, how to spread butter and jam with the knife, how to drink soup, how to eat boiled egg and most importantly, how to eat with our mouth closed.

I still remember her first class in July 1971.  She was our English teacher and the Class-teacher.  She first took us to the washroom and taught us how to use the urinal and the commode, how to flush and how important it is to wash our hands there after. Next, she took us to the library.  She introduced us to the books in the junior section and explained to us the need to read – read more – as we grew. Then commenced her English class.

Many of the lessons she taught, I will take them to my grave – so will most of her students.

When I heard the news of her passing, there were so many thoughts and memories that raced through my head. Just like many of you who might have been blessed to be her student. I thought about the last time I met her.

In 1994, we went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar, to attend the Old Boys Association (OBA) meeting. By then Cherians had retired and had settled in the farm they purchased, adjacent to the school. We decided to call on the Cherians in the evening and reached the farmhouse. The house had about 50 old students, some with their families already there. The Cherians, known for their love for their students, whom they adored as children, as God had been unkind to the couple and had forgotten to bless them with any kids. They were playing excellent hosts to each and everyone, including little children.

We paid our respects to the couple, and by about nine in the evening, most guests had left and I was sitting with Mr Cherian enjoying a drink in the coconut grove.  Mr Cherian said “Do you know why I did not come to your home to accept the Guru Dakshina?  It is not that I did not love you or adore you, but because my marriage has not been complete as the God has not blessed us with any children and that was the reason why Sheila had declined to come for the marriage.”

I just could not speak and our eyes became wet.  We both remained silent for the next five minutes and completed the drink.

Mr Cherian fetched another set of drinks and continued “I Married Sheila very well knowing that she would not bear any children for me, due to her gynecological condition. I wanted to set an example for my students by marrying the person I loved.  I never wanted my students to tell me that I ditched their teacher.” Tears rolled down my cheeks….

Although decades have passed since we all sat in her class, that feeling we had when she greeted us back then has not faded a bit from our collective memories. We humans tend to hold on to the best memories of our childhood and Mrs Sheila Cherian was most certainly a big part of our best memories. She was indeed . . . and will always be . . . a timeless icon in our lives.

The words I write – I owe it to Mrs Sheila Cherian as she laid the foundation for all my English language abilities – to read and to write.  She made our life brighter with her charming smile, motherly affection, knowledge and wisdom.

Rest in Peace Mrs Sheila Chearian.  To the world you may just be a teacher, but to us,your students, you were the world.

Movie Review :  Ennu Swantham Sreedharan – Always Yours Sreedharan

എന്ന് സ്വന്തം ശ്രീധരൻ  ( Ennu Swantham Sreedharan) Always Yours Sreedharan – with English subtitles – is the true depiction of the life of a family in Malabar (North Kerala.)  A must watch.

The movie is co-produced by our friend Suresh Nellikode (our neighbour in Canada) and he has essayed a pivotal role in the movie.

എന്ന് സ്വന്തം ശ്രീധരൻ  (Ennu Swantham Sreedharan) is a great movie watching experience – the best movie I watched in the past 12 months.   While drawing the life of an unsung and unrecognised person or a family on screen, there is a tendency to go overboard and portray them as super-humans.  This movie effectively tells the story of a do-gooder – a true good neighbour – a great family – sincerely and realistically.

The story and the situations in the movie brought back the memories of my grandmother – who too had a troop of oldies – across castes, creeds, and religions.  I used to enjoy them reminiscing about their good-old-days.

When our grandmother came to live in our home – about 12 km from our ancestral home – these oldie-troopers dropped in to spend time with her.  What is depicted in the movie is very close to what I experienced in my childhood.

The role played in the movie by the fish, the train and the never meeting railway tracks are apt for the story and for the occasion.  Every scene and every frame in the movie is well crafted.  My special kudos to the cameraman and director Siddik.

Shihabuddin has narratesthe story (real life of a few people) well and is bound to touch the viewer’s heart.  His lyrics and Muhammed’s are apt for the situation, fits the story and very meaningful. The singers have rendered the songs well and they deserve a special mention.   

Baburaj and Raza’s music score flows with the narration.  Use of natural sounds adds value to the fare.  Subair, the art director has recreated the life on Malabar realistically.

All actors, especially the children and the youth – they stole the show with their subtle acting.  The women – generally used as props in many movies – here everyone has a role to play – from the grandmother to the baby-girl.  Hats off to all the performers. 

Suresh – you deserve an award for the subtle portrayal of Usthad.  You have transformed yourself totally.  My opinion could be since I know the real Suresh.  But the Usthad is not you!!!!

Compliments to Memory Creations for bringing out such a fantastic movie.  Siddik as a director I’m sure will have a fabulous career ahead and will execute many Memorable Creations.

Newton and Recoil of a Gun

While preparing for the entrance examination for the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1988, the prescribed book on basic physics had a question – Recoil of a gun is based on which of Newton’s Laws of Motion?  The options were:-

  • First Law
  • Second Law
  • Third Law
  • None of the above.

Based on my previous knowledge, I presumed that the answer is the Third Law, but the book stated that it is the Second Law.  I sought help of our senior officers who had graduated from LGSC and they all said that it’s the Third Law.  I concluded then that it might be a typo error in the book.

In 1996, I attended Technical Staff Course.  Those of us without any technical qualifications like B Tech had a six months scientific orientation course prior to the commencement of the course.  This orientation course covered basic sciences and mathematics. 

During the class on Newton’s Laws of Motion by Dr Ganesh, a young scientist, I queried about Newton’s Laws and Gun’s Recoil to clear my mind of the lingering doubt.  Dr Ganesh explained it in detail.

  • The gun with the bullet/ shell housed inside prior to pressing of the trigger, total momentum of the system equals zero. 
  • On pressing the trigger, the bullet gains velocity and the gun recoils.  Here too the total momentum of the system does not change.  Momentum is the product of the Mass and Velocity. 
  • That is why we calculate recoil by equating the momentum of the Gun and the bullet by the formula – Mg X vg = mb x Vb where
    • Mg is Mass of the Gun
    • vg is Velocity of the Gun
    • mb is Mass of the Bullet
    • vB is Velocity of the Bullet

We account for both the forward momentum of the bullet and the rearward momentum of the gun.  Here the sum of the magnitude and direction of the momentum of both the bodies involved does not change being in opposite direction. Hence, momentum of the system is conserved.

This conservation of momentum is why gun recoil occurs in the opposite direction of bullet projection – the mass times velocity of the projectile in the positive direction equals the mass times velocity of the gun in the negative direction. Thus the sum of momentum before the trigger is pulled or when the gun fires remains the same.

Thus, the recoil of a gun is attributed to the Law of Conservation of Momentum – that is the Second Law.

Now I realised that the basic Physics book I read while preparing for LGSC was correct.