Reading Music


Veteran Lieutenant General P M Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone.  We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band.  He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987.  Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band.  Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from  the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966.  His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master.  He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968.  The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.

He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us.  Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes.  I just could not make any sense of them.

Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the  performance.  He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.

On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments  practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.

Other than teaching us how to play the instruments,  he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;)  how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them.  During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.

Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it.  Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.

Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the  muscle memory and coordination of the cadets.  Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.

Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7.  They were taught to read music and perform.  Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.

Not all can read music though many enjoy it.  Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians  who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music.  Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.

Why should you learn to read music?

Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition.  It helps you to remember the music you are playing.  With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.

It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster.  Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying.  The act of practicing  and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.

Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles.  It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group.  You can create your own musical compositions too.

It’s never too late to learn anything.  So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.

Pinks and Peonies 2021

June marks the end of the Tulip season in our garden. June is the month of Pinks and Peonies. The pink colour stands out on the lush green background of the lawn.
Neon Star- characatarised by their fragrant fluorescent pink blooms, used as edging plants in our garden. The vibrant pink flowers cover the evergreen, blue-grey foliage.
Rock Soapwort is a vigorous, low creeping plant,. Plants form a low mound of bright-green leaves, smothered by starry bright-pink flowers.
Clematis is one of the showiest vines you can grow. With many types of shapes and colours, these plants dress up any kind of structure they climb.
Lonicera Keckrottii, named after German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528 – 1586)- commonly called gold-flame honeysuckle, this creeper features extremely fragrant rose pink flowers with yellow interiors. Here it forms a screen for our front sit-out.
Thyme flowers are typically lavender-colored and edible. They grow at the top of the stems in a sphere-shape with elongated vertical spikes.
Foxgloves are eye-catching tall, slender flowering plants with flowers in clusters of tubular shaped blooms in colors of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple.
Dianthus, also called pinks, is treasured for its grass-like, blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as pollinating insects.
Peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.
Marco Polo described Peonies, when he first saw them, as: ‘Roses as big as cabbages.’
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 are native to China. They are highly valued there, and are often referred to as the “king of flowers”. They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning ‘most beautiful.’ Chinese have an annual celebration to honor the Peony – the Luoyang Peony Festival.
They are regarded as a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. Which are important things for your future life! That is why you find them in all the marriage bouquets in North America. Pink: is most romantic form of Peony, making it the ideal color for wedding bouquets and table arrangements.
Peonies come in every color except for blue. Pink, and white, are the most popular colours. The Peony features five or more large outer petals called guard petals. At the center of the Peony are the yellow stamens or modified stamens.
Deep Red: is most prized in China and Japan, and has the strongest ties to honour and respect. It’s also the most symbolic of wealth and prosperity in those cultures.
White or Very Pale Pink: symbolise bashfulness, making it a good choice for communicating your regret over embarrassing yourself or someone else. Ideal for those times when you’ve said or done something wrong and want to apologise. Who can hold a grudge when a beautiful bouquet of white peonies shows up at their door??
June 20, 2021 – Summer Solstice – marks the beginning of Canadian Summer. It is the time when the roses come to full bloom.

Iron Box (തേപ്പു പെട്ടി) Theppu Petti

During our young days, we had an iron box – Theppu Petti – heated by burning coconut shells to embers.  The iron box was not made of iron, but brass, weighing over five kilograms.  It had a cover over a hollow cavity with holes on either side, looking more like our eyes.  These eye-lets acted as air-vents to keep the embers glowing.

A metallic flap attached at the back covered the cavity. On top of the cover was a teak handle, hand-carved  to fit the operator’s hand.  The ‘Delta’ shaped base, called the sole, facilitated easy gliding of the Theppu Petti over the cloth under it.  The sole was heated to about 200°C by the burning embers. 

Theppu Petti is the predecessor to the modern electric steam iron.  The electric iron was invented in 1882 by New Yorker Henry W Seely. His iron weighed almost seven kilograms and took a long time to warm up.  Irons gradually became smaller until they resembled the type we have in our homes today.

The iron box did its job of pressing a piece of cloth to remove creases using a combination of a hard surface, and heat and pressure that pressed on the fibres of the clothes, stretching and flattening them.

Using a Theppu Petti to iron a piece of cloth, the operation commenced with placing the monstrous looking object on a metallic ring on the table.  The metallic ring protected the table from getting burnt.  The ironing table back then was nowhere akin to the modern ironing boards, but was a multi-purpose large table (mostly the dining or study table) covered with an old blanket and a bed sheet. 

Four or five coconut shell-halves were placed in the hollow cavity of the Theppu Petti and burnt to embers, which took about 15 minutes.  These embers emitted constant heat for a long time and maintained a near constant temperature.  Kerala households had a large stock of coconut shells and burning them in the iron box were their primary use.  Some used charcoal in place of the coconut shells.

When we were young, our father ironed our clothes until our eldest brother turned ten.  Then he took over the operation and did the job with panache.  When our youngest brother turned ten, the mantle was passed on to him and he became such an expert that he would put any professional cleaner to shame.  Now it is a ritual for him on Sundays to collect the white shirts and black pants of my elder brother, an advocate, and press the entire stock for a week.  He presses all my clothes while I was home and also for the entire household.

തേപ്പ്  – Theppu is a modern Malayalam word which means ‘ironed’. As slang, it refers to a girl  who dumps their lover when they see a better prospect.  The word, though sexist, finds its way into modern Malayalam movies and social-media trolls. 

While serving with the Indian Army in Maharashtra, a Priest from our  Syrian Orthodox church visited me.  His wife hailed from our village and her family was well known to ours.  I invited him for lunch and after that took him to the shopping centre at the Cantonment as he wanted a heavy electric iron box to press his long white cassock.  He couldn’t find a heavy iron box in the market as the modern one’s were light.  He presumed that the Cantonment’s shopping centre would have it as the soldiers always had to press their thick uniforms.

During my next visit home, I narrated the incident to Amma and she passed her characteristic sly smile, which meant there was more to it.  I prodded her and she reminisced the days of 1957 when she was just married and they moved into a small rented one-room house next to the school where Amma was teaching. 

They hardly had any utensils, leave alone an iron box, which was the last priority.  My Dad taught at the school in town and had to bus about 12 kilometer either way, thus had to leave early.  The first Sunday, he ironed the clothes required for my mother and him using an iron box which he borrowed from the home of a senior revenue official who lived across the street.  The next Sunday his request for the iron box was turned down claiming that it was under repair.  Next evening my father walked in with an iron box and that today lies in the attic of our ancestral house.

What is the connection with this old iron box and the Priest,” I asked.

Amma took a long deep breath and said “This Priest is married to the daughter of that revenue official.

That Little Thorthu (തോർത്ത്)

Malayalis are people hailing from Kerala – The God’s Own Country -are often called Mallus because the word Malayali is quite a tongue-twister and difficult to pronounce for many across the globe.  They speak Malayalam, a language spoken by more than 38 million people who  live in the state of Kerala and Lakshadweep. Many in India refer to Mallus as Madrasis or even Malabaris, which any Mallu worth his name will despise.  You call him a ‘Thampi’ and he is sure to spit fire at you!

Malayalam, the eighth most spoken language in India, is believed to have originated from Tamil, with a heavy influence of Sanskrit.  It became an independent language with its own script by AD 9th century.  

There is a little known item of cloth that a Malayali is identified with.  It is not the Mundu or the Lungi; but a 5’x3′ white piece of cloth called Thorthu; a light bath towel,  which you will find in  every Malayali’s wardrobe.  We have a dozen of them in our Canadian home too.  It is universal – one size fits all; used by people of all ages, sex and religion.

Thorthu has a one centimeter thick border at both ends called Kara, which is generally black, blue or red.  This handy Indian cotton towel is known in North India , it is called the Gamcha, and in Tamil Nadu as  Thundu.

The white coloured Thorthu has been around for generations. The warp and weft of this cloth  is made of very fine cotton fibre.  These hand woven towels are super absorbent, light weight, soft on skin, and quick drying.  In Kerala the relative humidity is around 70% through the year and any thick towel will take its own time to dry out.  Then there is the fear of fungus or mildew developing on a wet cloth.

A Mallu uses the Thorthu for rituals, journeys, pilgrimages, functions, traditional events, political rallies, etc.  It is all because the Thorthu takes up less space, can be washed easily with hands, and dries quickly.

In every Kerala household, the Thorthu has an important place, so did in our home too.  Our father always got the new Thorthu and dare not – no one could ever even touch it.  The next one was Amma’s and for all four sons, we had the older ones, but was always on first-come-first-served basis.  If one got late for the morning bath, he ended up with a wet Thorthu.  

Though the primary use of a Thorthu is to dry one’s self after one’s bath, it has many uses left to the imagination of the user.

To bathe in the pond or river, use it to cover your family treasures and after the bath, hand squeeze the Thorthu and dry yourself.
You will find many children enjoying catching those little fish using a Thorthu.

On your way home, if you intent to climb a coconut tree to bring down some tender coconuts, it comes handy. Tie the two ends and it helps you grip the trunk while you make your way to the treetop.
You will come across four men enjoying their cards game, sitting under a coconut tree. The card table is a Thorthu spread on the ground.
You will most likely meet a fish monger, who will proudly have a white Thorthu around his/her shoulder. It is used as a hand towel and how they manage to keep it white everyday is still a secret.
You will see men and women working in the fields and they use the Thorthu as a headgear to beat the hot sun.
You will come across ladies- young or old – draping a Thorthu over their blouse, covering their chest.
In the kitchen, the Thorthu comes handy as a napkin, a hand towel and also as a mitten while handling hot cooking utensils. The Thorthu also serves as a sieve and also is used to cover the cooked food.
Women after a bath will tie their hair in a Thorthu to facilitate faster drying in the humid Kerala weather.
Thorthu has its use in the traditional medicine of Kerala – Ayurveda – especially as the cover for a Kizhi – a fomentation therapy done using a warm poultice containing herbs, herbal powders, rice or sand and massaged on the whole body to enhance, purify or rejuvenate the body.
You will find a Malayali using his Thorthu in many ways. Only you got to look for it.

Colonel Parimi Venkata Ramakrishna, the Lone Traveller

Floral Clock, Niagara

During this tough Covid time, I was in for a shock this evening – news of the demise of Colonel PV Ramakrishna, known amongst us – his friends – as Ramki.  He was from the  technical graduate entry and was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers with us on 24 December 1982.  He is survived by his daughters – Ms Neharika and Major Vimala. May the God Almighty give them the strength to bear the loss.

He was widowed soon after he hung his boots.  He then took to travelling across the globe and he landed at Toronto in August 2015 and stayed with us for ten days.  We explored the Niagara escarpment, the flower-pot islands, Toronto city, Montreal, Blue Mountains, African Lion Safari and so on.

With Nikhil at the Niagara Falls

As I write this eulogy, I’m still reeling from the tragic death of Ramki, we are shocked, scared and angered at the unfairness and senselessness of the Virus that took him from us. Well meaning people will tell us that it is all part of God’s plan, or that this was just Ramki’s time to go, that he is in a better place. While God certainly knows his plan, we do not. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and as difficult and painful as it is, we must accept that Ramki is with his Creator.

Ramki was a traveler and an adventurer. He was a person who loved to learn about and experience new places and other cultures. He carefully researched each of his journeys, , taking new and unexpected.

Flower-Pot Island – Tobermory

Ramki was an outstanding father who was very proud of his daughters and their achievements.  Whenever we spoke, he always had something to mention about both Neharika and Vimala.  He said in his last conversation with me last year to me “My greatest assets and treasures are my daughters and I have allowed them freedom to grow up to be worthwhile ladies and they have come out in flying colours always.  You have given much more freedom to your children and they will surely achieve greater heights.”

Rest in Peace Ramki – You can continue with your travel in the other world.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan

When I opened my Whatsapp this morning, I was in for a shock; a most unexpected one.  It was the untimely demise of Colonel Sandeep Dhawan due to Covid. May God give the family courage and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan was commissioned into 17 GRENADIERS on 24 Dec 1982, and commanded  battalion in the same regiment from 2002 to 2005. He also served a brief stint with 9n. He had served as a Staff Officer with the  Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters.  He was also an Instructor at Infantry School, Mhow and a United Nations Military Observer in Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1995-96. He was Team leader of Indian Army Training Teams, Lesotho (Africa). He married  Anshu in May 1990 and has two daughters, Akarshita and Nikita.

13651, Koduvath Reji, this is Sandeep, H/61,” was the salutary call I received three months back. I wasn’t surprised by Sandeep’s ability to recall all our National Defence Academy (NDA) identity numbers, even after 33 years.  He was a proud father calling me about his daughter Nikita’s application to University of Toronto for a PhD in machine learning.

I assured Sandeep all support from our end and answered many a query about Nikita’s stay in Toronto, including the financial aspects.  We discussed all options threadbare. Sandeep had done his homework well and was a man who went into every little aspect. I promised him a ‘firm base’ at our home for Nikita, where she can walk in freely, and also my availability 24/7 as I am often at home. This was the usual and expected support I always ensure to extend to all our coursemates, military friends and their children.

We  had three more tele-conversations, all about Nikita and her stay here in Canada. I researched her professor and told Sandeep he was a tough nut to crack, though I was unimpressed by his student evaluations.

In one such conversation, Sandeep recommended the book ‘Angela’s Ashes.’  I promptly ordered it and was delivered to me last evening by Amazon.  I never realised what was in store for me!!!!!

We had planned to meet up at Toronto this fall when he came to drop off Nikita.  All this time, I had no idea he would be saying goodbye to us so soon.  Rest In Peace Buddy.

Daffodils & Tulips 2021

Our Garden – All set for the Spring.
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  By William Wordsworth)
As I walked through the tulips this May morning;
I was welcomed by the nature with its colourful awning;
It struck a gleaming chord in my mind;
My camera recorded it with a wind;
I watched every morning in quiet admiration;
The dew drops on soft petals my appreciation;
The tulip flowers in the cool breeze swayed,
It brought a cheer and my mind braid.
I love my tulips, they grace us and wilt away;
If only people too grace this world and fade away.


Canadian Volunteers Deliver Covid-19 Vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilisation effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

Thousands of Canadians, with a wide variety of experiences and expertise, have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country. The voluntary task force members were assembled by the federal government in late May and early June of last year. The task force then began to evaluate the scientific, technical and logistical merits of potential vaccine suppliers.  Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.

The next task for the volunteer force was vaccination. St John Ambulance was the leading organisation delivering training to those who signed up as volunteers . The only criteria is that the volunteer be between the age of 18 and 69, have at least two or more A-levels or equivalent, be at low risk of Covid-19 and be prepared to undergo a reference check. In October, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended the Government introduce a new national protocol to allow non-medics to administer the Covid vaccine. Then, thousands of volunteers with no medical background were also trained to administer the vaccine. The law facilitated more healthcare workers – such as paramedics, physiotherapists or student doctors and nurses, to vaccinate.

The volunteers were assigned the task of:

  • Supporting patients before or after their vaccination.
  • Providing reassurance.
  • Dealing with any medical emergencies.
  • React to any immediate adverse reactions.

Major General Dany Fortin, with nearly 30 years of military experience is responsible to oversee the herculean logistical effort to ensure vaccines reach  across the country and into the arms of millions of Canadians.  General Dany is one of the best operationally-experienced leaders.  Canadians could not have asked for somebody better; somebody who understands the leadership challenges, the planning challenges and the logistics challenges.  The effort has been underway for some months now, where they have been working out what they predict will be the supply line bottlenecks and difficulties.  Previous US President Donald Trump appointed four-star Army General Gustave F Perna to be the chief operations officer for that country’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ in May.

On 20 April, I was scheduled for my vaccination at University of Toronto  Mississauga (UTM) campus at 11:15.  I was advised to reach there only ten minutes before the scheduled time.  UTM joined forces with Trillium Health (our public health agency,) to open a mass vaccination clinic in the campus’s Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre on March 1.   It’s expected that the clinic could ultimately vaccinate up to half a million people.  UTM offered space and equipment, such as ultra-cold storage freezers, to support these critically important initiatives.

As I parked my car, there were volunteers – mostly university students, to guide us to the vaccination centre.  We were then requested to answer a questionnaire on the Trillium Health website using our cellphone.  Those not in possession of a cellphone were helped by the volunteers using their PDAs.

As we entered the centre, our temperature was recorded and there were about ten counters manned by volunteers who carried out necessary documentation in less than five minutes.  After that we were ushered into the gymnasium where I was administered the vaccine by a sexagenarian lady volunteer.

After the vaccine was administered, I thanked her and said “I did not realise that you did it so fast and that too with no pain.”

Over forty years of experience as a nurse, young man!  Our children and grandchildren are proud that I volunteered for this,” she replied with a smile.

We were then ushered into a waiting area with chairs placed maintaining social-distancing norm.  We had to wait for 30 minutes and at the end of it we were issued with our vaccination certificate bearing the Trillium logo of Ontario Ministry of Health

Veteran Plate


On social-media, a friend, an Indian, now settled in UK  commented  “For Indians the mode of transport is a status symbol. When my uncle became a S/Lt from a rating, the first thing he did was replace push bike for a scooter. In U.K. I have seen Lord Chancellor Hailsham and Prime Minister David Cameron riding bike to the Parliament.”

Indians carry the very same attitude it to the North American shores too – all riding BMW/ Mercedes/ Audi. You will hardly find Indians driving any other brand – even if their salaries are meager.

One Sunday, at the Malayalam Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada, a man told me “Why are you driving on a Honda? You can easily afford a BMW!

With General Hariz at Niagara

I’m comfortable driving a Honda, Why invest so much in a BMW?  The gasoline needed is the higher grade which is costlier and the cost of maintenance too is high,” I replied.

I was taken aback by his reply “If you want people to respect you in this church, then you must drive a BMW.

Remember – Jesus went to the church riding a poor donkey!!! No one should have valued him then!!!!

I said “My ‘VETERAN’ license plate is much more valuable than your BMW. There is many BMWs in the parking lot. Show me another car with a Veteran plate.”

Women in the Indian Defence Forces


Regarding employment of women in the Indian Defence Forces, there have been many views expressed.  I have tried to analyse it based on the reasons why Canadian women leave the Defence Forces.

Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include  combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.)  Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.

By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.

A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

  • Army
    • Officer 16.50%
    • NCM   12.80%
    • Total    13.50%
  • Navy
    • Officer 22.40%
    • NCM   19.80%
    • Total    20.60%
  • Air Force
    • Officer  21.00%
    • NCM    19.2%
    • Total     19.80%

Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan.  Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.

The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so.  DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”

In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.

Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.

She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further ­compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.

Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force

  • Family Separation                         27.4 %
  • Return to School                           25.4 %
  • Stay at Home and Raise Family    19.9%
  • More Challenging Work               18.4%
  • Conflict with Spouse Career         18.4%

Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.

US military’s  attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:

  • lack of clear roles and careers paths
  • differential treatment they received
  • difficulty in combining career and family.

The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.

Movie Review : Joji : Malayalam


JOJI – Malayalam  Movie set in Covid time – inspired by Macbeth, is a simple story set in a Syrian Orthodox Christian family of Kottayam, told without any frills.  Dileesh the director has done an excellent work, so are all the characters.  Technically also the movie is brilliant. Justin Varghese’s music is apt for each occasion and every time a new symphony plays, it is a reminder about the Shakespearean tragedy lurking around.

The family background and the name of the protagonist are same as my novel ‘Son of a Gunner,’ and there end  the commonalities.  The movie tells the story of a hardworking father who made a fortune through his dedication and business acumen in rubber plantation and harnessed his riches.  His adamant nature and his treatment of  his three sons are typical of such people.  The natures of his three sons follow a typical Syrian Christian lineage of the day.

The eldest son is the one most attached to his father, who toiled  hard with his father for the well being of the family.  He is the least educated – could be that the father could not afford to send his to college during his time.  He is a ‘ruffian’ with coarse language, speaks his mind out and the least greedy while dividing the family riches.  He is physically tough – the result of his hard work in his youth and dresses in simple mundu and shirt.  These qualities must have resulted in a broken marriage  and he is depicted as a divorcee, living with his son in the ancestral home.

The second son is better educated, and runs the rubber procurement business.  He is less attached to his father and is also greedy.  His scheming wife proves  an ideal companion.  His dress sense is better than his elder brother’s, so is his language, but physically he is no match.  He is very diplomatic and flows well with the requirement of the society.

In a Syrian Orthodox family, the youngest son inherits the ancestral house, based on the premise that he is most likely to outlive his parents.  He is responsible to take care of the parents in their old-age and also organise family events and get-togethers.

The youngest son grew up when the family’s fortunes were good.  He neither witnessed any hardships nor he worked towards enhancing the family’s riches.  He had the best of times and the best education  his  father could afford.  Richness of the family ensured that he developed  many vices and turned lazy.  He is depicted as an engineering degree dropout.  He does not even pick up a bottle from the fridge to drink, he wants his sister-in-law to serve him.  He is up-to-date with technology and also his dress sense.

Though physically the weakest, he is the most intelligent among the three sons and is also the most scheming.  His attitude is that the ancestral house belongs to him and the rest are parasites.  He also wants to inherit all the riches the earliest and wants his father dead.   He aptly called the ‘useless’ by his father and the oppressive nature of the father turns him into a beast.

The eldest son is the least greedy, the second  is greedier and the youngest greediest.  The level of greediness is inversely proportional  to their efforts towards the family riches.  This is a reality and is very evident with many court cases – both civil and criminal – in Indian courts – all for wealth inherited from the parents.

It is all about ‘Dad’s Money‘ ‘തന്തേടെ കാശ്’  ‘बाप का पैसा’ – one of the root cause of most evils in Indian society. 

The movie is worth a watch and is available on Amazon Prime.

Book Review : Mojo in a Mango Tree by Vikram Cotah

Kudos to Vikram, the author, for bringing out a wonderful book based on life lessons. The book is replete with life experiences and ‘interesting’ anecdotes- many where someone has gone an extra mile.  The aspects covered deals with the hospitality industry, but is applicable to all professions and also in everyday life.  The hotel industry, like any other profession, renders many an opportunity to go that extra mile and a good leader/ employee must seek it out.  The leaders and employers have to grant that ‘extra’ to an employee who goes that extra mile to encourage others to follow.  Empowering the employees will go a long way. In most organisations, red tape is the biggest hindrance to achieving the extra mile.   It is all about maturing relationships and enjoying the trust of the customers and subordinates.

The history of hotel industry enunciated in the book is educative and informative.  Consumers evolve and the industry got to be in sync, but the need for a good service culture will remain forever.  Emotions and gastronomy will add value to the guests’ experience.  There is never a second-chance in hospitality as there are no runners-up in a war.

It is all about kindness, compassion and empathy.   Get out of your comfort zone, explore the world and recoup your energy.  A guest is never a room number;  so are your employees and subordinates.  You need a thick skin dealing with complaints and worries and learn to say ‘No’ with a ‘Yes.’  One who manages  crisis  better will always succeed as you are sure to face many.  Feedbacks are more important than compliments.

The author  brings out many life lessons.  Happiness is being positive.  Plan your day well.  Have a dream, set your aims and achieve your goals.  Create a bucket list the earliest and keep ticking them off – Do these consistently – in small measures. Smile is the best weapon in your life.

Success and failures  are integral to life.  Failures provide you opportunities to become  smarter.  Branding is very important today and I have tested and tasted all the elements charted in the book. Life cycle of a hotel from inception applies well to all businesses. Why?  Even true for a soldier.

The reader will appreciate and also identify easily with some well brought out instance like giving out perfumes to the hotel staff – a  novel and a much required need in the Indian context.  Changing the lobby mat with ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Evening’ – I never thought of.  Wall panels to make selfies look great – need of the day.

Learning is a lifelong process.  I ran away from studies to join the Army – neither did I stop running nor studying thereafter.

‘Leaders of the future will need to balance technology quotient and emotional quotient.  This will be the Extra Quotient of the future.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry


The story of the triumphal entry  appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before.

This day is celebrated by Christians world over as Palm Sunday.  The Friday that follows is the ‘Good Friday‘ – the day Jesus was crucified and the Sunday, the Easter Sunday – marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Passion Week.

Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this journey would end in his sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. As Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus. The palm branch represented goodness and victory and was symbolic of the final victory.

The crowds shouted, “Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV)

The date of the first observance of Palm Sunday is uncertain. A detailed description of a palm processional celebration was recorded as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem. The ceremony was not introduced into the West until much later in the 9th century.

Many churches, distribute palm leaves to the congregation on Palm Sunday to commemorate the Triumphal Entry.  The worshipers take home the venerated palm leaf and display it near a cross or crucifix, or place it in their Bible until the next year’s season of Lent. Some churches collect baskets to gather the old palm leaves to be burned for  Ash Wednesday.

Why did he ride on a donkey?

Mathew 21 says ‘1. …Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.’

In those days in that land, horses were owed by the nobility and donkeys by the lower society – often animals of burden used by the potters, washer-men, load or water carriers, etc.  No one owning a donkey  would have had the courage to refuse or fight against the noble looking disciples.  Irony of the narration in all the Gospels is that none speaks about returning the donkey to its owner.

Riding a donkey or a horse that has never been rode upon is a very difficult task.  The animal did not have a saddle, hence the disciples removed their cloaks and spread it on the animal’s back to act as a saddle.  Still it is a very difficult ride – Ask anyone who ever rode a bare-back horse!!  When we were cadets at the National Defence Academy, during horse-riding classes, bare-back riding (without a saddle, but with a blanket,) was the most dreaded one.

Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a stallion, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ came not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.

All the prophets before Jesus were military Generals and they all must have rode on a horse, dressed in complete nobility, carrying a sword.  Here came Jesus, on lowly donkey, with neither any military ceremonial uniform nor a sword.  He came with a smile on his face and heart pouring out with his Godly love.

Now compare Jesus triumphant entry with that of our Bishops – riding on a luxury sedan with a flag flying on their cars, dressed in all gold and finery!!!!!

Special Aircraft for the Indian Cricket Team


During our trip to Alaska, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver.  We boarded the early morning Air Canada flight from Toronto.  The flight duration was of about five hours, but the clock only moved by two hours because the clock had to be set back by three hours as the time zone of Vancouver is three hours behind Toronto.

The five hours flight was made more comfortable than the regular one as the aircraft, an Airbus 319 variant deployed was the special charter plane used to fly various teams of the National Hockey League (NHL).  The aircraft had only 58 seats, that too all First Class, with all the accessories like comforters, extra legroom, LCD screens, and a private jet-like experience.  Thank you Air Canada.  They neither charged us any premium nor extra for the additional comfort and services rendered on our Economy Class ticket.

Former India cricket captain Kapil Dev has suggested the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to buy an airplane for the Indian cricket team in order to reduce travel time and resulting fatigue in an already busy schedule. He had made a similar suggestion to the BCCI a few years ago too.  With the T20 Indian Premier League (IPL) also going great guns, BCCI is making good money.  By owning a plane, could be in partnership with any of the leading carriers, it will save a lot of time and make life easier for Team India and also for various IPL teams.

In the middle of the aircraft were four seats on either side with a large table.  It must be for the team management, the captain, the coach, the physio to hold any meetings in flight to work out strategy for the next game or to evaluate the team’s performance in their previous game.

VIRAL; The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping on airport floor goes viral | Latest News, Sports , viral, The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping
With a busy schedule ahead, both at home and at international locations, Team India is in for spending a lot of time in air.  The effect of jet-lag travelling across the globe takes a fair share of energy that too sitting in a cramped position, especially after playing a physically and mentally tiring match.  Why, even the practice sessions of today takes the toll.

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It could also be feasible for various IPL teams to own their own aircrafts in collaboration with various domestic carriers.  The aircraft could be used on the domestic circuit when the IPL is not in session.  It will be a great draw with the cricket crazy Indian public, to be sitting on a seat usually occupied by their cricketing hero.  Obviously, such seats will go at a premium.  The aircraft can also be chartered for corporate events, tourism packages, pilgrimage and also for weddings.

It would not only generate extra moolah for the airline, but would also help in with their publicity.

Kapil Dev’s suggestion must be taken up by BCCI  and all the IPL franchisees, at least to make  the players enjoy a better and comfortable flight in future.  This becomes all too important in the current pandemic days.

Mr Damodaran’s Treatment


(Lieutenant AK Parrat and Commander NK Parrat)

After reading my blogpost on Mr KP Damodaran, our Compounder at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Veteran Commander NK Parrat, reminisced about the medical treatment of Cadets by Mr KP Damodaran.

Commander Parrat was in 11th Grade, senior most in school, when we joined in 5th Grade in 1971.  He then Joined the National Defence Academy (48 Course) and was commissioned into the Indian Navy (IN.)  His claim to fame, both at the School and at the Academy,  was his swimming and basketball skills.  He later became a Clearance Diver in the Navy.  He came out with flying colours and was cleared for 100 meter deepsea diving in a Diving and Salvage Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), Panama City, Florida, USA.

Commander NK Parrat’s father, Late Lieutenant AK Parrat served the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and was transferred to IN on India’s independence.  Lieutenant AK Parrat specialised in air-radio and was posted at INS Hansa, which was then located at Coimbatore.  Thus Commander NK Parrat joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar.

With the liberation of Goa in December 1961 from the Portuguese, INS Hansa moved to Dabolim, Goa and Lieutenant AK Parrat was posted to Kochi, Kerala.  He now offered his son Commander NK Parrat, then in grade 6,  that he could move to Sainik School, Kazhakkoottam, Kerala.  Commander NK Parrat refused on the plea “I do not want to be new boy again!


AK Parrat knew Mr Damodaran from their RIN days and instantly a special relationship was established.  Mr Damodaran was well known as he had actively participated in the Bombay Mutiny, a revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946.

Lieutenant Percy S Gourgey, RIN, in his book, ‘The Indian Naval Report of 1946,′ has chronicled the events of the revolt.  The sailors were infuriated by the statements of Commander F M King, RIN, of HMIS Talwar, when he addressed the Indian sailors as ‘sons of coolies and bitches.’  Later, around 20,000 sailors stationed at Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands joined the revolt.

The revolt began with a demand for better food and working conditions, but turned into demand for independence from British rule.  They also demanded the release of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language, revision of pay and allowances to be at par with  the sailors in the Royal Navy, etc.

That was a bit on the history of the Bombay Mutiny.

How did Mr Damodaran earn a place in the heart of all the cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar?

It was all due to his dedication and love for the cadets.  He had many a magic potions which could cure all diseases and injuries the cadets suffered.

On returning from the sports field after a hard day’s play and leaving behind the epidermal layer on the ground, all Cadets straight went to the MI Room for an appointment with Mr Damodaran.


He cleaned the wound with savlon solution, applied a gauze over the wound and painted it with a layer of ‘Tincture Benzoin.’ It burned as the tincture was applied, but was a sure cure for all superficial skin wounds. After the superficial wound was cleaned with savlon, a gauze was placed on the wound and Tincture Benzoin was painted over it.  It burned as it was applied, but the adhesive nature of the medication ensured that it stuck to the wound and did not need bandaging.  On healing, the gauze fell off by itself.


Many cadets suffered from fungal infections of the skin, ringworm, athlete’s foot, scabies, etc – all because we played in the dirt, many a times bare-footed.  Gentian Violet, an antiseptic dye was used to treat these cases.  The cadet who suffered from the infection stood out as the dye remained on the skin for over a week.  It was a sure way to mark out those ‘Unhygienic Cadets.’

There were two magic potions compounded by Mr Damodaran – Soda-Sal (Sodium Salicylate) and Sodium-bicarbonate.  Soda-Sal is a  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent for relieving pain and reducing fever. Sodium-bicarbonate was the antacid.  Mr Damodaran had them in two labeled bell-shaped jars and was dispensed lavishly to cadets for any ailments.


We had the awful smelling IG Paint (Ichthammol Glycerin), also called black ointment or black drawing salve, a remedy for many skin disorders and inflammation. It is made from sulfonated shale oil and combined with other ingredients, like lanolin or petroleum.  For any sprains, this ‘stinking’ paint was lavishly applied.

The most uncomfortable potion was the Mandl’s Paint, used as throat paint for the treatment of pharyngitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and sore throat. Due to high viscous nature, it retains the drug for longer time on affected part of the throat.  The agony was that he inserted into the mouth a cotton swab attached to a foot-long stick to paint the patient’s throat.  It left a severe after-taste, but it cured all those medical conditions in a few days – without any antibiotics.

Most of the medicines listed above have been discontinued today due to their harmful side-effects.  It was with Mr Damodaran’s loving care that we cadets of the days trained and graduated from the school without any serious medical conditions.

To read more about our Compounder and his magic APC, Please Click Here.

A Stitching Lesson


At Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, we had an MI Room (Medical Inspection Room) – the refuge for the tired souls – both physical and mental.  The boss out there was Mr KP Damodaran who  can well be described as a Nursing Assistant by profession, whom everyone called a Compounder, but always acted as a Doctor.

Forever for any medical condition, worth it or not, he prescribed a combination of APC with sodium-bicarbonate, a pink coloured magic potion, an awful tasting mixture, compounded by our Compounder Mr Damodaran, a Veteran from the Royal Indian Navy who saw action during World War II.

I was admitted for mumps in the isolation ward for 21 days while in grade 7. During one of his daily rounds, Mr Damodaran saw me reading the history book. As he turned the pages, it was about the Viceroys and Governor Generals of British India – Lord Wavell and Mountbatten. Mr Damodaran said “I’ve met both Lord Wavell and Lord Mountbatten during World War II.  Lord Wavell’s sketch in this book least resembles his personality.” 

What was the magic tablet APC? It was a combination tablet containing aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. In those days (early 70’s), it was perceived to be a magic drug – a solution for most diseases and medical conditions. It disappeared in 1983 because of harmful side effects of phenacetin.

Sodium-bicarbonate is a mixture of  Sodium-bicarbonate with sugar and salt.  It was used as an antacid to treat heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach as Sodium-bicarbonate is a very quick-acting antacid.

When we were in grade 11 in 1978, we were the senior-most in school. During a movie show on a Saturday night, a bench we were seated broke and a piece cut through the thigh of Palanivel, our classmate. Everyone else were engrossed in watching the movie, but I saw Palani bleeding and writhing in pain. I helped him walk to the MI Room and there was Mr Damodaran.

Palani was immediately administered a dose of Tetanus Toxoid (TT) and the next step was to suture his six inch long gash. Mr Damodaran switched on the steriliser and after five minutes asked me “put on the gloves and take out the suturing thread and a needle with a tong.” I did as ordered.

Then came a surprise ordeal for me.  Mr Damodaran had a failing eyesight and he asked me “Please thread the needle.”  Unfortunately for us, Mr Damodaran’s spectacles broke a few days before and to get a new one he had to travel to Udumalpet, the closest town, about 24 km away.  That could be feasible only the next day being a Sunday.

His next command was a bigger surprise – “now start stitching.”  He instructed each step and I put six sutures through Palani’s skin.  Palani must still be carrying the scar on his thigh today.

How could I execute such a mission?

When we were in Grade 2 & 3, we had stitching classes by Annamma Teacher, who also taught us Malayalam.  On a piece of cloth we began with hemming, then running stitch, cross stitch and then stitch English Alphabets, a flower and a leaf.  It came in handy that day.


Annamma Teacher remains etched in my memory as she was very compassionate to the young kids and was an epitome of dedication.  She was always dressed in her spotlessly white ‘Chatta, Mundu and Kavani,‘ the traditional Syrian Christian women’s attire.  Chatta is more like a jacket, while the mundu (dhoti), unlike the one worn by a man, is elegance personified, especially at the back, where it is neatly pleated and folded into a fan-like ‘njori‘.  Both Chatta and Mundu are pure cotton, Kavani, generally off-white with hand sewn embroidery is made of a thinner material and is draped across the body.


During our younger days, Chatta, Mundu and Kavani was the most common wear for the ladies, especially while attending the Sunday Mass and also during social and religious occasions. Chatta consists of two pieces of cloth cut into T shape and hand stitched prior to the arrival of sewing machines.  My grandmother said that they used to cut the cloth into two Ts with a kitchen knife as the scissors were not in vogue then and hand sew them.


Muslim women of Kerala in those days wore a white Mundu called ‘Kachimundu’ with blue and purple borders. The Muslim women’s Mundu do not have the fan-like Njori at the back. The head covering ‘Thattam‘ is better known as ‘Patturumala.’ The torso is covered by a long blouse with full sleeves. This type of dress is known as Kachi and Thattam.


Difficulty in maintaining the white outfit spotlessly white and availability of cheaper, easy to wear and maintain sarees resulted in the saree becoming the common wear for the Syrian Christian ladies.  Modern day wedding planners have revived the Chatta, Mundu and Kavani by showcasing it by asking a few relatives of their client to dress up so.


Annamma Teacher’s son, Veteran Colonel OM Kuriakose and her grandson Lieutenant Colonel Anish Kuriakose – both father and son are from The Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army.

 

Pen Pushers


My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that  I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard  Staff College and/ or  Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit.  A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome.  This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.

When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College.  You tell us to read five pages daily and write one.  When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer.  In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”

To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun.  We have one Staff College qualified  BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.

My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture?  Who will conduct the demonstration?  Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?

The answer was obvious!  They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”

I concluded “You can select what you want to do.  So, you better qualify the entrance exam for  both.  It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two.  Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.

When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.)  He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams.  A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.

Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through.  The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.  Look at me!  I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”

His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want  to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously.  I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed.  I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”

For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery,  survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on.  Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?

Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied.  With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”

LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days.  Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.

On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight.   I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam.  He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight.  I am sure  you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify.   Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”

Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans.  Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.

As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”

I dashed to the CO’s office.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify.  All the best.  Do well in life.”

He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.

While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time?  Why did he wish me well in life?  Above all, why did he hug meWhy did he have to see me off?

Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered.  (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.

About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.

Indian Army Water Bottle


Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.


My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.


This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,


These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.


In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.


The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

Wind Can Blow Both Ways


(With Santosh the evening I  hung my boots in July 2004)

Great experiences make military life marvelous – even for the family members of soldiers. It lasts a long time, much after we hang our boots and even after we migrate to another continent.

Marina emigrated to Canada in March 2002 and I took over command of the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment in June 2002. For someone who served his entire regimental life  in a Medium Regiment operating Bofors guns to suddenly land in a Surveillance Regiment equipped with radars, drones and survey gadgets – it was an altogether different experience. I had to learn everything from scratch and had to familiarise with the officers and soldiers.

The regiment was an excellent outfit.  I set off with training on various surveillance equipment, starting with radars.  I had to convert from a Medium Gunner to a Surveillance Gunner. The officers and soldiers helped me to imbibe both the art and the science of surveillance, many a times explaining the procedures and drills repeatedly.  I read all the operator and training manuals of all  equipment and in two weeks time, I was proficient enough to handle them.

My Radio Operator Santosh Kodag a Maratha, took charge of the household, but was surprised that my family had not come along.  Commanding Officer living alone in a fabulous peace station like Devlali – Santosh realised something was wrong.

Devlali is one of the most relaxed military stations located near Nasik city – about 150 km from Mumbai.  It has a colonial charm and is clean with fresh air and lots of greenery and open spaces.  The climate is fabulous all through the year.  The schools in the area are well known for their educational standard.  The Cantonment offers all recreational facilities like horse riding, swimming, squash, tennis, golf, club, etc – all that goes with a good military station.  The School of Artillery is located here where all Gunner officers are trained.  Hence, it is always abuzz with Young Officers and also newly married young couples.

A week after landing in Devlali and when Santosh felt that I was well settled, one evening, handing over a glass of whisky to me said “I know your wife is away in Canada and your children are in Kerala. Why don’t you get the children here?

Our daughter is in Grade 4 and our son in LKG. I will not get adequate time to take care of them. My mother is taking care of them well in Kerala,” I replied.

To this Santosh said “Why don’t you get your mother and your kids here. I will take care of everything. I know your mother is pretty old. You do not have to worry.”

I thought for a while and then called up my mother about my plans to shift her and children to Devlali. She said “I was also thinking about it. My duty is to take care of the children and it would always be better that you are around.

I booked the tickets for my mother and children to travel to Devlali and Santosh went to Kottayam, Kerala to accompany them.

Santosh now took over everything – handing over the medications to my mother and also taking her for her regular medical  appointments with the Military Hospital – getting our son Nikhil ready for school (Nidhi was independent by then)- serving breakfast for all, packing up lunch boxes, etc.

After two years, I relinquished command and also hung up my boots and migrated to Canada.

Now Santosh is married with two kids, serving in the regiment as a Havildar (Sergeant). Every year when we visit India, we send a parcel of gifts for him, his wife and children.

February 2018, we travelled to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of my parent unit – 75 Medium Regiment. The SATA Regiment  deputed Havildar Santosh to receive us and accompany us to the Medium Regiment.

Marina was busy shopping for gifts for Santosh and his family. Marina had met Santosh only twice – when we traveled to India – and she has been ever thankful to him for taking care of the children in her absence.

I recently asked Nikhil as to whether he remembered anything of Devlali days and he said “The only person I remember is Santosh Bhaiyya – the poor guy, I gave him a difficult time – especially when he tried to feed me and get me ready for school.

On 01 November 2018, our SATA Regiment celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. We could not travel to India for the occasion as our daughter Nidhi was expecting our grandson’s birth. I got a silver trophy made for the occasion and it was presented to our Regiment on my behalf by Havildar Santosh.

Wind can blow either way in the Indian Army. A soldier can soothe the pains of his Commanding Officer too.

Mischievous Memoirs by Veteran Colonel Gora Sarkar : Book Review


The author has succeeded in painting his childhood with a brush of childlike innocence which every reader can easily connect with.  I developed an instant connection with the author as I too grew up at home with my three brothers with I too being the third and our pranks were as good.


(Author seated second from left with his Mom, Caesar, Dad. Bonny at the back with Nar Bahadur)

The anecdotes of children’s innocence of marriage at the beginning of  the holidays, tickling and kissing followed by  baby crawling from beneath the bed, divorce at the end of the holidays with the baby disappearing beneath the bed;  Franco-English battle; chocolate deprivation; census enumerator risking his life; holy-dip in the pond; the (un)parliamentary debate  – all stand testimony to the author’s ability to recall the incidents in his growing up years with such finesse and humour. I felt it was as realistic as it could be.


(Author in Nagaland with his soldiers)

Incidents of a soldier’s diplomacy at its best is displayed  with a peg of Sacramental Wine that made two warring sides – the Catholics and the Protestants – come to truce – especially if they are Mallus , that too preaching amongst Nagas. Postponing the cow slaughter in Sri Lankan Army camp  to respect the sentiments of his soldiers establishes it further.  Ensuring that the French Brigadier’s wife netted a good bargain with the Delhi jeweller is another.

The author has displayed his humaneness and love for fellow human beings through his description of the mental state of people of a conflict ridden zone, first Rakhi, dealing with the rudeness of the American Army officer; the parting advise by his helper at the Indian Military Academy to be like Netaji,  empathy towards the Pakistani Prisoners of War; ensuring that the girls did not get hurt during a hockey match.

The most important lesson for a child (and also for an adult) what the book brings out are:

  • ‘When you grow up, I don’t care if you don’t earn a lot of money, but you must be scrupulously honest.”
  • “The most important quality a boy must possess is character.”

You can purchase the book in India on Amazon,in by clicking here.

International readers can purchase it on Amazon.com.  Please click here.

 

 

 

How it all Began?

TNIn 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.  In November 2002, we returned to Devlali.

After the unit got re-established at Devlali, I said to our officers “I owe you a party from my side as  you all have performed extremely well during our operational deployment.  Above, all, you carried me along as your Commanding Officer.   This Saturday, there will be cocktails at the Officers’ Mess to be followed by a dinner at the Dhaba.”   (Dhaba is a roadside restaurant mostly frequented by the passing truck drivers.)

Why at the Dhaba Sir” queried our Second-in-Command (2IC), Late Colonel Suresh Babu.  “Our mess staff have toiled hard for the past eleven months and taken good care of us.  I do not want to stress them anymore,” I justified.

That Saturday evening, officers with their wives and children, all assembled at our Officers’ Mess and the party commenced.  After the cocktails, I got on to the driving seat of the Jeep with all children in tow and ordered others to follow.

I drove to the Taj Hotel, Nashik and after we got off the vehicle, Captain Subhash asked “Sir, so this is your Dhaba?

As we sat down for dinner, the waiter enquired “Buffet or A-la-carte?”  “ A-la-carte” I affirmed.  Suresh was not at all amused with my choice and he said “It is going to cost you a fortune – at least one month’s take-home-pay!”  “That’s fine.  You guys deserve it,” I replied.

A few days after the dinner, Captain Mitra asked me “Sir, you need not have treated us to a dinner  at the Taj.  We could have had it at our Officers’ Mess.  It would have saved a lot of expenditure for you.”

What I paid at the Taj is much less than the efforts you all have put in till now.   Above all, you guys cared for me for the past six months with a smiling face.  I am really indebted to you all,”   I said.

Mitra was not convinced.  He asked “But why the Taj Sir? It is obviously the costliest place one can think of in a hundred kilometer radius of this place.”  I declared  “I do not want any of our officers to be sold for a dinner at a Five-Star Hotel like that Brigadier of the Tehelka incident of last year (Operation West End – 2001)Henceforth, all our celebrations will be at the Taj.”

Whatever it was, it resulted  Mitra coining the term ‘Dinner at the Dhaba’.

In December 2002, Southern Army Commander visited our unit and it was an overwhelmingly successful event.  It surely called for a celebration, especially as Christmas and New Year was approaching. So we decided on a dinner at the Dhaba.

It all commenced with cocktails at the Officers’ Mess and as we reached the Taj, Mitra went to the bar and returned to report “Sir, they have an excellent bar out here.”  “Let us all have a drink then,” I said.  Surely, it did not stop at one drink.

As we were all parading out of the bar for dinner, Suresh, like a good 2IC said “Sir, we have run up a  bar bill that is at least  five times that of the cost of the cocktails at the Officers’ Mess.”  I replied “Do not worry.  We will take care of it later.  Let them all have fun and enjoy.”

The next day in office, I had a file waiting, showing the expenditure for the dinner with a noting sheet.  Captain Subahsh, our Mess Secretary,  had opined “Every Officer to pay Rs 1000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund of the Officers’ Mess.

Below that was the noting of Suresh.  He wasn’t that ‘magnanimous.’ Like any good 2IC he wrote “Each officer to pay Rs 2000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund.”

I scored through the entire noting with a red ink pen and wrote “Each Officer to pay Rs 100.  Rest to be charged off from the entertainment fund.”

As soon as the file reached Suresh, he came charging in to my office and said “Why are you putting your head under a Gillette? Haven’t you read my noting.”  I calmly replied “Yes.  I have overruled it and written my decision with my hand.   Don’t worry about my head; it has been under a Gillette many a times before.”

Be Worthy of Your Soldiers’ Love


(With Suresh, Ranjith, Santosh and Thapa during my farewell party at the Regiment)

While commanding our Regiment at Devlali, I was a single parent taking care of our daughter Nidhi, then aged 12 and our six year old son Nikhil as Marina had emmigrated to Canada.  It would not have been possible for me to take of our children alone and the soldiers at home did a marvelous job.  I remain ever thankful to them.

The staff at home was headed by Havildar Chef Thapa, two Radio Operators – Santhosh and Ranjith and Havildar Driver Suresh.  They took care of the children and the home like theirs and like a fortress.  It was as secure as it could be for the children and they did not want anyone else intruding into their fort.

Thapa hailed from Nepal and was the only married man among them.  It was said in the Regiment that when he went on leave to his native Nepal, he returned only when he ran out of cash.  He went on his two month annual leave and the staff at home took over the kitchen for they did not want any ‘intruder.’

After two months, on a Friday evening Santosh said “Thapa is back from leave.”

He was to report on Sunday to commence his duties on Monday.  Why is he here so early?” I asked and summoned Thapa to enquire about his unusual early arrival.

Looking into my eyes he said, “Who will take care of the children and you if I am away for long?”

I kept looking at him for half a minute as I had no words and said “Thank you Thapa.”  Did my eyes well up?

Suresh drove his Commanding Officer’s Jeep with pride and devotion that he never allowed anyone to touch the Jeep.  He was responsible for taking care of my itinerary for the day and instructed Santosh and Ranjith about various uniforms or dresses I had to wear that day and timing for leaving home for an event.  He always carried three ties, a coat and some toiletries  in the Jeep so that I could convert my informal attire into a formal one while he drove, especially when we were short of time.  When Suresh went on his two month annual leave, I mostly walked to office as it was 400 meter away, else I drove.

Keeping four year old Nikhil engaged through the day was the most difficult task they had.  They played cricket with him, ensuring that he always made a lot of runs. I had passed strict orders that Nidhi will not be helped in polishing her shoes, preparing her dress for the school next day, cleaning her cycle and similar chores as I wanted to prepare her for the life ahead in Canada – to live without help.  Santosh and Ranjith flouted my orders on a daily basis when I was away on my evening walks.

Santosh and Ranjith took turns to proceed on leave.  For that they had to approach their Radio-Operator Section Commander.  I had laid down strict channel of reporting for all ranks of the Regiment and my personal staff were no exception.  I came to know of their leave plan only when Subedar Major Thangaswamy said about it during our morning meeting.  He always had a replacement ready for the staff proceeding on leave, but I always declined it as I knew that they disliked intruders in their fort.

We had a large area around the house and along with the staff we decided to turn it into a beautiful  garden and we succeeded to a great extent.  One Sunday afternoon I was at the Mumbai airport while returning from a week long  training event when I received a call from Nidhi. “Dad, our garden was adjudged the best home garden in Devlali Station.  This afternoon I received the prize from General Jambusarwalla, the Commandant.”  I said, “Great job!  You received the prize, so you now arrange a party in the evening and we will celebrate it on my return.”

Recently Nikhil asked, “When we were at Devlali, I never heard you saying anything to your staff.  How did you manage it?”

They knew their Commanding Officer, his needs, likes and dislikes  well and did not need any orders or instructions.” I replied.  In fact they enjoyed their freedom of action.  When I invited guests home, I had to only give the number of guests and their food preferences.  All the guests were astonished by the sumptuous menu our staff laid out.  One vegetarian guest asked me twice to confirm, “Are you sure all these are vegetarian?”  Thapa with his culinary skills had laid out a vegetarian feast with all dishes looking like non-vegetarian ones.

This is a comment on my recent blog-post on Regimental Fund from one of our soldiers:
Walking down the memory lane truly nostalgic sir. We have learned a lot in those golden days. Nice to see old photographs of NCOs and JCOs of SAWA Lakh.  The order of roll call on T-shirt and Shorts was the most popular decision between us youngsters on those days.
I was fortunate to work as your stick orderly and learnt basic of computers at the IT cell you had created for data collection. Now after retirement I am heading security automation department of one of the India’s biggest conglomerate.’

Look at the friends/ followers on your social media accounts.  How many are your soldiers?

Training Two Levels Up & Down

During most military training and courses, the philosophy of training was to train every soldier and officer two levels up with every soldier and officer capable of functioning at a level higher and aware of the functioning two levels up.  A Section Commander was expected to function as a Platoon Commander and was to be aware of the functioning of a Company Commander.

As a Lieutenant, I was the Gun Position Officer (GPO) responsible for deployment of the six guns of the Battery, calculating the technical parameters for engaging targets at about 25 km, ammunition management, administration of the soldiers, maintenance of weapons, vehicles, radio equipment etc.  During our annual training exercise with live firing, our Brigade Commander declared me a ‘casualty.’  Our Technical Subedar took over the duties of GPO and did a commendable job which surely impressed our Brigade Commander.  Four years later, as the Forward  Observation Officer (Captain) during  a similar training exercise, our Brigade Commander declared our Battery Commander a casualty and I carried out the fire planning and engagement of target in support of an Infantry Battalion attack.  We were trained and tested to function a level up.

For the annual inspection when I joined our Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1983, our Brigade Commander wanted the officers to form a gun detachment of the medium gun and bring the gun into action and carry out various target engagement drills.  The senior most Battery Commander was the detachment commander with rest eight of us – Captains and Lieutenants – formed the detachment.  We trained for a week with our Gunner Subedar Amarjit, a Punjabi Brahmin who spoke chaste Punjabi interspersed with taunting comments as our instructor.  It was a great learning for all of us and it was fun, especially Subedar Amarjit’s commentary and exalting Punjabi punch lines.

Curious to see our Battery Commander training on the gun, I asked him as what could be the intention of our Brigade Commander in making us go through this drill.  He said that it was to build camaraderie among officers and make them well versed with the handling and functioning of the gun.  I wasn’t fully convinced.

Come June 2002 and I took over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment.  The unit was under the process of being equipped with modern radars, surveillance and survey equipment.  Military technology develops by leaps and bounds in the modern day and what knowledge I had of the equipment were outdated.  I began earnestly training on the equipment with our soldiers with our Subedars as instructors.

It was learning of a different kind.  the soldiers were enthused by their Commanding Officer training as the detachment member and commander of the radar; carrying the theodlite, setting it up and taking observations; operating the long range optical surveillance system; handling the Global Positioning System (GPS) etc.  I enjoyed the training the same way I did as a Second Lieutenant and learned a lot, especially the short-cuts the soldiers adopted.

It helped me know more about our soldiers and my confidence in them increased manifold.  They too must have had a similar experience.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the three morning hours I spent on training and it appeared that our soldiers too enjoyed training with their Commanding Officer.  My computer knowledge – both in hardware and software – helped me assimilate the training fast. Our soldiers were amazed with my speed of learning and were impressed by my finesse in handling the equipment.

That was when the answer to the question I had as a Second Lieutenant propped up in my mind.  Why can’t Commanders at all levels train for a day or two to function two levels down?

I suggest that all commanders – Brigade Commanders and below – must train two levels down.  It will be a  great learning, especially in view of the ever changing military technology.  When I joined our Regiment in 1983, the soldier’s personal weapon was 7.64mm Self loading Rifle.  Over the years we were equipped with the 5.56 Rifles and the AK 47.  Our Regiment was equipped with Bofors Gun in 1989 – a quantum jump in using the computing power in the field of gunnery.  We were till then used to the cumbersome manual procedures involving logarithmic tables, range tables, various graphical instruments and the calculator to calculate various gunnery parameters.  Similar was the case with the Infantry and Armoured Regiments.

Training two levels down – if done with a positive intent to learn – will go a long way in camaraderie and the soldiers knowing their Commanders better.

Regimental Training & Myths

‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.(Gospel According to St John, Chapter 10, Verses 4 & 5)

This was my guiding light as I trained myself along with my troops on assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. Being new to the outfit, it was imperative that I ‘recognise their voices’ and for the soldiers to know the ‘voice’ of their Commanding Officer (CO).

My mornings were well spent on training with our officers and soldiers on the equipment, as my first priority was to achieve a good level of proficiency in handling and operational functioning of the radars, surveillance and survey equipment.

The deficiency in our posted strength of personnel was made up by the influx of about 20 recruits, whose training had been truncated in view of the mobilisation.  They had to be trained further to become effective soldiers.  Drill and Weapon Training Instructors were requested from the neighbouring Infantry Battalion.  All young soldiers with less than five years of service were trained separately, commencing with 45 minutes of Physical Training, followed by a breakfast break of 45 minutes .  This was followed by 45 minutes of Drill after which there was a 15 minute ‘hydration break’ with liberal amounts of lemonade and water being served.  This was followed by a 45 minute  Weapon Training class under the trees. The technical and tactical training sessions were conducted thereafter, on each day.

For the next four weeks, all Officers and Men trained sincerely and hard.  At the end of our training schedule, we had well turned out soldiers moving about with a smart military bearing.  They all proved to be an asset to the Regiment as they were ready to execute any task. A strong feeling of ‘espirit de corps’ and Regimental Pride developed due to which, we had zero disciplinary violations. .

Training JCOs and NCOs to become effective junior leaders was a bit difficult on account of systemic inertia caused due to decades of centralised functioning.  Though their duties and responsibilities were explained in detail and all JCOs were granted the financial power to purchase anything up to Rs 100 without prior approval, they were rather hesitant to assert themselves.

On the third day of my training with the Radar teams, I tasked a JCO to drive in a vehicle along the road, for a distance of about 15 km from our location, with a radio-set and a GPS.  He was required to stop after every km and report his location while those of us at the radar end tried and locate him and compare the map coordinates worked out by us with his GPS coordinates reported.  After about five reports, the JCO stopped reporting his coordinates because the batteries powering his GPS had drained off.  “Why couldn’t   he use his initiative and purchase the standard AA batteries from any local shop?” I asked.  Though the cost of the batteries was well within his financial powers, the thought of procuring them himself, did not occur to him.  “March him up to me tomorrow!” I ordered.  In the evening Major Suresh, our Second-in-Command, came to my office and said “At this rate you will end up marching up half the Regiment.  Please give them time to get used to your style of functioning.”

There were many myths prevailing which had to be broken.  This needed persistent efforts as it is rather difficult to introduce new ideas and practices without uprooting deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that drive the functioning of any military unit.

As the Regiment was all set to move into battle, all soldiers wore their Identity Discs with the oval disc on their left wrists and the round one around their necks. The myth prevalent was that this was to ensure that identification of the body parts would be easier if blown apart due to an explosion.  The correct method of wearing the two discs was explained to all soldiers.  The oval disc, through one hole of which, a cord 24 inches long is passed through, is worn around the neck like a chain.   The round disc is required to be attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc using a smaller cord, about four inches in length. Both the discs, attached to each other, were required to be worn around the neck of each soldier! In case of death during war, the round disc is required to be removed by the soldier’s comrades or at the field hospital and deposited with his unit as proof of his  death in action. The oval disc is left on the body for identifying it and conducting the last rites.  The round disc, along with the soldier’s personal belongings are despatched to the Depot Regiment/ Company of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

An  aspect that hindered the effective functioning of JCOs was the non-availability of transport, especially when they had to travel outside the Regimental area.  Three 100 cc light motorcycles with six helmets were handed over to our Subedar Major, for use by the JCOs. The Subedar Major was directed to issue military driving licences to all JCOs and to those Havildars who had qualified for promotion to be a JCO.  One JCO was brought to me with the excuse that he could not drive a motorcycle and hence, did not want any driving license to be issued to him.  I cleared his doubts by making him aware that, “All JCOs were required to clear Mechanical Transport Level 3 Test (MT3) prior to attending the promotion cadre. Anyone with MT3 is qualified to drive a motorcycle and other vehicles.  In case any JCO is unwilling to drive, he would be marched up to the General Officer for dismissal from service on grounds of inefficiency.”  There were no complaints after that.

The Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and Small Arms Annual Classification Firing results of the Regiment, did not follow a bell curve.  That meant that either the standards set by  the Army Physical Training Corps or the Infantry School were too easy (which, obviously was not the case)  or the soldiers of our Regiment were exceptional in their marksmanship and physical fitness!!  I impressed upon all the need to be truthful in reporting test results and it must follow the bell curve.  The case of Havildar Shivnath Singh who represented India twice in the Asian games and twice at the Summer Olympics  and who wilted due to unscientific over training was discussed.  I summed it saying “Failing in any test is not a sin and the soldier has to be trained systematically to achieve the desired results.

Another retrograde convention among all ranks concerned the use of the telephone or intercom to communicate with the CO. This was considered by most as sacrilege. Our officers felt that calling the CO over the intercom or telephone appeared discourteous and they were not comfortable with it. They felt that they must physically appear in front of the CO to pass on any information. I explained to them, “The exchequer has spent a considerable sum to provide the Regiment with a telephone network and an intercom system.  Please use them. Calling the CO over the phone is not being discourteous.”  It still took them over a month to shed this inhibition.

Did it continue like that for ever in the Regiment?  I did what I could and I cannot ensure its continuity, but I succeeded to a great extent in dispelling many myths and retrograde conventions.