The Unseen Granny

Nithin Lukose with his Grandmother Mariakutty

Unseen characters have been used since the beginning of theatre with the ancient Greek tragedians, such as Laius in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Jason’s bride in Euripides’ Medea.  Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another classical example of an unseen character.

In the Malayalam movie Paka which was showcased in the recently concluded Toronto Film Festival, there is a Granny whose disgruntled  mutterings are pivotal to the movie all through.  Only her toes are shown, with her lying on her bed.  Her two grandsons live with her until one of her sons, uncle of the two grandsons, returns from jail. 

The only other movie I watched where a body part of a main character is shown is in Inspector Gadget, a 1983 animated film where the villain Dr Claw’s right hand is shown all through the film. 

Like the Dr Claw, the Granny of Paka is arrogant, malicious, ruthless, sinister, short-tempered and sadistic.  The Granny is the one injecting venom of revenge into her grandsons.  She does not want to change and does not even want any light or fresh air entering her room.  She chastises her grandson who tries to open the window of her room.  After her death, the grandson opens the very same window to let in light and fresh air into the room.

The other movie I remember where a main character’s legs were shown was in Charlie’s Angels, where the villain and the master mind’s legs are shown at the very end.  In Paka, the Granny’s toes are only shown all through.

I wanted to meet Nithin Lukose, the director and script writer of the movie after the premier show, but Nithin couldn’t make it to Toronto due to the pandemic protocols.

Mariakutty, aged 83 years.  who enacted the role of the Granny mesmerised the  viewers with her voice alone.  She happens to the Grandmother of the Director Nithin.  The story is loosely based on the stories the Granny narrated to a young Nithin.  In fact Mariakutty relived her life in the movie, through her voice.

Movie Review : Paka

Filmmaker Nithin Lukose’s debut directorial venture  Paka (River of Blood) premiered at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and I was fortunate enough to watch it – thanks to our friend Mr Suresh Nellikode. 

Paka is a tale of a river where the spilled blood of two warring families flow – akin to the rivers and streams in many Indian villages, where hatred, jealousy, bitterness and blood flowed with the water.  At times the waters carried a corpse or a severed limb.  The warring factions can be well described as the Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata, where there is no winner.  Interlace it with a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ like romance between two lovers from the warring sides, it’s a complete story to narrate. 

Paka is set in Wayanad, Kerala, is a gripping and fast paced story of revenge which gets inherited over three generations.  The irony is that the acidity of revenge increases with each passing generation.  The modern generation, the educated and worldly aware one, appears most acidic.

The movie ends with one side discarding all the weapons of revenge in the very same river and the other side diving deeper into vengeance, hatred and revenge.

Though natural sounds have been used all through the movie, the score composed by Faizal Ahmed adds value to the climax.  Camera work of Srikant Kabothu brings out the natural beauty of the hilly terrain and the tropical forests of Wayanad.  Arunima Shanker’s editing is crisp and it ensures a fast pace for the movie.   The only flaw is in non-synchronisation of sounds of the band and chenda melam (ensemble of drums)  during the church festival.

The cast needs a special mention as most actors were common people from the villages of Wayanad, who faced the camera for the first time.  Basil Paulose and Vinitha Koshy have done a great job as the lead pair and the debutantes Athul John as Paachi, Jose Kizhakkan as Kocheppu, Joseph Manikkal as Varkey  have exceeded expectations of raw newcomers. 

The film has short and crisp dialogues and comes with English subtitles.  This will facilitate better understanding of the movie by all.

The word Paka in Russian is an informal way to say goodbye.  Russians often say paka paka  meaning bye bye!.  The very same word Paka in Malayalam denotes hatred. Paka  is a village in southeastern Estonia. In Japanese Paka means a hooded jacket.  The Maoris of New Zealand use the word to denote a white man.  In Swahili, Paka means a cat and in the computing world its an acronym for Password Authenticated Key Agreement.    What a contronym!!!  A dichotomy among languages!   

Kudos Nithin Lukose for an excellent movie.  Paka deserves its selection for the TIFF this year and is a must watch for all.

Light Machine Gun (LMG)

Upon completion of the Artillery Young Officers Course we, the Second Lieutenants, were appointed as the Gun Position Officers (GPO) in our Regiments. The GPO is the commander of the gun group and is responsible for the reconnaissance  and deployment of the six guns of the battery in a gun position.  With the help of his Technical Assistants at the Command Post, he is responsible for calculating and passing the technical parameters of bearing and elevation for the guns to engage targets miles away.

Deployment of a battery of six guns to engage targets in depth commences by reconnaissance (recce)   of the allotted Gun Area.  The map coordinates of the Gun Area is passed to the GPO with any restrictions on movement or administration, which may require the reconnaissance and deployment of the guns to be carried out at night.

On reaching the allotted Gun Area, the GPO recces the area on his vehicle to find a place suitable to deploy his six guns. When the GPO finds a suitable area, he alights from his vehicle to carry out detailed recce on foot to mark the placement of each of the six guns and the Command Post.

The moment the GPO alights from his vehicle, the driver drives the vehicle to an area which offers maximum cover, mainly to avoid detection from air.  The LMG detachment – a Gunner and his assistant – appear in front of the GPO and the GPO deploys the LMG for protection of the Recce Party – both from air and ground attack.

The LMG detachment travels in the Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major’s (BHM) vehicle. BHM is an appointment given to one of the senior Havildars of the Battery. He is responsible for all aspects of duty and discipline of the NCOs and soldiers in that Battery. During the deployment of the Battery, he assists the GPO.

The LMG Gunner is generally the ‘Detail Master’ of the Battery. He is the understudy of the BHM and is the soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the BHM and his most important task is to prepare the Parade State of the Battery the evening before, to be handed over to the Regimental Havildar Major, who compiles the Regimental Parade State after receiving the same from all Batteries.

The assistant LMG Gunner is a tradesman – the Tailor or the Janitor – who generally does not have any combat duties.

After the deployment of the LMG detachment, the GPO carries out his recce, decides on the platforms for his six guns and the Command Post and gives out orders to his party.  The Gunners now prepare the their gun platforms and the Technical Assistants prepare the technical parameters.  During all these actions, everyone is expected to run and walking or slouching is a taboo, until the guns arrive and deploy.

After the guns are deployed and when the GPO confirms that the guns are correctly positioned and all technical parameters are correctly set on the guns, he gives a ‘Ready Report’ indicating that his guns are ready to engage targets.

Immediately on giving the Ready Report, there appeared Gunner Mathukutty, our LMG Gunner, with a steaming cup of tea.  That tea was the one I earned by my sweat.  By the end of the deployment, with all the running around – especially in the Rajasthan deserts – I was drenched in sweat.  The tea tasted too good to describe and it always enthused me and removed any tiredness.

During our training exercises, we had many such deployments, at times about eight in a day.  Every time the Ready Report was given, Gunner Mathukutty served me the very same tasty cup of tea.  I wanted to know as to how Gunner Mathukutty prepared the tea, when he was the LMG Gunner.

During one of the deployments, I kept a close watch on Gunner Mathukutty.  He jumped out of the BHM’s vehicle with the LMG, followed by his assistant who had the stove and kettle.  After I showed him the position of the LMG, they deployed the LMG there.  While I recced the gun platforms, they both recced for a covered position to prepare the magical tea. 

After a fortnight of training, we had our final exercise which in artillery parlance is called the ‘Practise Camp.’  This exercise involves many tactical deployments of the battery culminating into a final deployment in the firing ranges.  After the final deployment is live firing to engage target as per the tactical settings.

On the final day of our exercise, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of our Division visited us in our Gun Area.  I briefed him in detail about the deployment and the tactical scenario.  He appeared satisfied by my briefing, but wasn’t all too happy about my LMG.  True Infantry General that he was, he said “Your LMG is not deployed correctly.  It needs to move 20 meter to the left.”

Captain Raj Mehta, our Tactics Instructor at the National Defence Academy (now a Veteran Major General) had taught us all the nuances of section tactics, especially the deployment of LMG.  He had drilled it in us to such details that all of us will deploy the LMG at its apt position even in our sleep.

‘I deployed it in less than ten seconds,’ I thought.  It could well be that the General did not realise that the LMG was deployed  for both air and ground attack.  I still do not know as to how Gunner Mathukutty could have identified the flying aircraft to be hostile.  In case he sighted any aircraft in our vicinity, friend or foe, he might have ended up emptying the entire magazine of his LMG by firing at the aircraft.

Homecoming

The above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.

We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.

For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other. 

Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?

It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level.  It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.

It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.

The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.

It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely.  Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week?  I always knew you will come before.”  All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”

It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu.  Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s.  I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group.  While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.” 

I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada.  I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.

In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home.  While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?”  “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.

My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”

My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday.  How can he be home in 45 minutes?”

After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even  before I could say anything.  “It was because of the blaring traffic horns.  I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed  you were in a taxi home.”

Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune.  On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week.  On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans.  There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.

My eldest brother, now the head of the family,  advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”

Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)

On July 29, a notification on my cellphone read ‘Today is the World ORS Day.’ When there is a Left Handers’ Day (August 13,) a Sandwich Day (November 3,) a Puppy Day (March 23,) and also a Nothing Day (January 16;) I wasn’t surprised to find an ORS day!

ORS Day is observed each year on July 29 to emphasise the importance of ORS as an affordable and highly impactful healthcare method to treat dehydration and diarrhea. This year too it was celebrated, but without much fanfare, throughout the world.  I have failed to find the significance of the date – July 29 – connecting to ORS. Hence I decided to dwell a bit deep.

For more than 25 years WHO and UNICEF have recommended a single formulation of glucose-based ORS to treat or prevent dehydration from diarrhoea and cholera for all ages.  ORS has been used worldwide and has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal diseases.

ORS is an oral powder–containing mixture of glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium citrate. After dissolving in requisite volume of water, it is used for the prevention and treatment of dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.

ORS and zinc are recommended by the WHO and UNICEF to be used collectively to ensure the effective treatment of diarrhea. ORS replaces the essential fluids and salts lost through diarrhea.  Zinc decreases the duration and severity of an episode and reduces the risk of recurrence in the immediate short term.

Captain Robert Allan Phillips (1906–1976) of the US Navy in 1946 first successfully tried oral glucose saline on two cholera patients. As a Navy Lieutenant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II, Phillips developed a field method for the rapid assessment of fluid loss in wounded servicemen.  Captain Phillips embarked on cholera studies during the 1947 Egyptian cholera epidemic and developed highly effectives methods of intravenous rehydration. Later he developed a of glucose-based oral rehydration therapy.

The typical Indian Jugaad  (जुगाड़) by Dr Dilip Mahalanabis – a paediatrician and a clinical scientist working with Johns Hopkins University Center for Medical Research and Training (JHCMRT) – who treated multitudes of Bangladeshi refugees who were suffering from diarrhea with rehydration salt sachets or ORS.  He has not received any recognition, either from the international community or from the Indian government.

Oxford Dictionary defines Jugaad as ‘A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.’  In effect, there is no real word in English that captures the essence of the real Jugaad

In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India as per UNHCR.  This was the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.  The refugees were severely malnourished, especially the children and the Indian government took all efforts to take care of the refugees, despite meager support from the international community.

After walking long distances on foot to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army, this starved and frightened mass of people sought refuge in India. A cholera outbreak in the refugee camps badly affected the already exhausted and starved refugees.  The monsoon was in full fury, and for the refugees living in tents and other make shift arrangements, it was hell.  It is estimated that about 30% of the refugees died from cholera and diarrhea.

This called for a huge amount of intravenous fluids and coupled with problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, effective treatment was near impossible.  Dr Mahalanabis suggested use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation.  He recommended an electrolyte solution with glucose which could prevent fatal dehydration.

The ORS recipe he used consisted of 22 gm glucose, 3.5 gm table salt and 2.5 gm baking soda per liter of water. This is the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, that saved the day for many refugees and they lived to narrate the horrors they faced.

He organised two teams for cholera therapy including oral rehydration. Both teams worked along the border between India and Bangladesh.  He established a treatment centre at the sub-divisional hospital in Bongaon with 16 beds.  He organised  a continuous shuttle of vehicles on the 80 km run from Calcutta to Bongaon, carrying personnel, medication, food and supplies to the centre.  The reserves of intravenous saline-lactate solution stocked originally for cholera research soon depleted.   He had to now used Juggad to make ORS.

To make the ORS, glucose-and salt packets were prepared in Calcutta; first in the JHCMRT library room. Each of the three components of the mixture were carefully weighed by separate technicians and poured into a small polyethylene bag in an assembly-line fashion. Another technician inserted a descriptive label with instructions for dissolving in water; then he sealed one end of the bag with a hot iron. In the field, the dry powder was added to clean drinking water and dispensed from drums directly into the patients’ cups.  The cost was calculated to be 11 Indian paise, (about 1.5 US cents) then per liter of fluid.

Later in 1978 during the cholera epidemic in Manipur, ORS was extensively used, especially in children with diarrhea and cholera. The WHO in 1978 launched the global diarrhea diseases control program with ORS.  In 1979 WHO approved ORS.

Today, ORS is included in WHO’s Essential Medicines List, and Priority Medicines for mothers and children. ORS is also listed as a lifesaving commodity identified and targeted for scale-up and access by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.

India faced a dire financial situation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war and taking care of the refugees.  To shore up some money, the Government of India applied Jugaad and imposed the Refugee Relief Tax (RRT) throughout the country that came into force on November 15, 1971. It meant a separate five paisa stamp to be affixed on all postal articles to show payment of the tax.

The post offices immediately applied Jugaad and came up with hand-stamps marked ‘Refugee Relief Tax Prepaid in Cash’ on all postal stationery.  On December 1, 1971 the new five paisa stamp, showing an image of a refugee family fleeing persecution was released. RRT was repealed in effect from April 1, 1973.

Women at the National Defence Academy (NDA)

India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.

There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling.  Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.

Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets.  One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.

With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers.  Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.

RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980.  The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.

2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component.   This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible. 

Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component.  During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol

Agility Run – The Speed Component.  This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled. 

Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component.   This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol. 

Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component.  The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.

RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.)  As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.

 Male Female
 Pass100%Pass100%
Push-ups28771438
Sit-ups3510035100
Agility Run17.8 sec15.2 sec19.4 sec16.2 sec
Standing Long Jump195 cm277 cm146 cm229 cm
2.4km Run10:347:5812:129:05

Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation

The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.

FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:

  • Escape to cover.
  • Pickets and wire carry.
  • Sandbag fortification.
  • Picking and digging.
  • Vehicle extrication.
  • Stretcher carry.

Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.

The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).

The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:

  • A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
  • An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
  • An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.

The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:

  • Sandbag Lift:   30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
  • Loaded Shuttles:  Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
  • Rushes:  Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
  • Sandbag Drag:  Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
  • If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.

Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?

It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it. 

It’s Natural, Biological and Not the Stork

In the Netherlands, Germany and eastern Europe the myth is that the storks nesting on the roof of a household were believed to bring good luck — and the possibility of new birth — to the family living below.

Marina broke the news of her pregnancy to our daughter, “There is a little baby growing in my belly and we will have a baby in March.”

How did the baby get into your belly and how old is the baby now?” asked inquisitive five year old Nidhi.

The God placed the baby in my belly and is three months old,” replied Marina.

I did not see the God in our home, but Dad came home four months back from his military post in Sikkim.  Whatever it is, I want a sister and not a brother as boys are bullies,” said an innocent Nidhi.

How to break the news of a sibling’s arrival to a child?

Young children are not geared to handle a lot of information about conception and child birth.  Hence, breaking such a news got to be straight and simple and be ready to answer the questions that may follow.  Never pre-empt the child with your explanations, wait for the child’s questions.  If the child is not asking any questions, then it is not n his/her mind.  If the child asks more questions, then by all means go into more detail.

A good method is to make your explanation into a story on the lines that Mom and Dad make a baby, the baby grows inside Mom’s belly, and the baby comes out when fully developed after ten months.  Always ask a few probing questions to determine your child’s level of understanding of pregnancy is all about.  This will help you to choose your words.  You can begin with the fusion of the sperm and an egg in the way fruit grows from a seed.  You can also explain as to how the child develops, its movements, how it feeds, how it sleeps, etc.  If your child is school-going, you can ask a few questions to find out what they already know about where babies come from and then follow their lead.  Ensure that you use accurate anatomical language like womb or uterus instead of belly, etc.

Here comes the importance of using accurate anatomical terms for our body parts, especially the private parts.

Most of us grew up with funny sounding names for our private parts – tuckus, tush, peepee, peekki and son on.  Our parents do it for the sake of propriety and also they wanted to save themselves from embarrassment.  Imagine a kid screaming in a busy shopping mall “My penis hurts!” or “My vagina is itching!!”

It is neither an embarrassment nor a stigma.  It becomes so only if you visualise it to be so.  The proper names for their genitals – penis, testicles, vagina, vulva are taught in Canada in Grade 1 as per the new sexual health education curriculum.  By giving alternative names for our private body parts, we are doing a lot of disservice to our kids.  It has to begin at home and our kids should not be surprised at school.  A study found that kids who easily understood to the terms were the ones who used the proper names for their body parts at home with their parents.

It helps children develop a healthy, more positive body image, instead of feeling that their genitals are something shameful or bad.  It also facilitates the children to understand their bodies better and will prompt them to ask questions about sexual development.  Teaching kids the proper terms for their body parts enhances their awareness of their body, positive body image, self-esteem and confidence.

Kids who are comfortable talking about their bodies are more likely to be able to disclose when something worrisome or uncomfortable is happening to them. They can explain confidently to the doctors about their problems like itching or pain in their private parts.  They can also inform their parents when someone touched them inappropriately. 

Child-sex predators are less likely to pick confident, informed kids who obviously talk openly with their parents about their bodies, and who are aware that other people touching their private parts must be stopped and any attempt reported to the parents immediately.

A study found that even though kids in pre-school learn the proper names for their body parts, only kids with parents who used the right terms caught on. So, do not leave this important task to the teachers. You can begin using proper terminology when changing diapers, bathing the child, or at any other time that the subject might come up.

Sex education must begin at home and it has to be age-appropriate.  You may seek the assistance of your pediatrician.  Many of us are uncomfortable with the use of anatomically correct terminology; hence it is important to practice before you talk with your kids.  If they sense that you are uncomfortable, it will never sink in.  Every question from your child about his or her body must be answered as appropriate to the child’s age, as accurately and honestly as possible. Never make it a big deal!!!

For me, my first sex education teacher was my Amma and to read more about it, Please Click Here.

These are two well illustrated books I recommend for parents and grandparents.  The books will help you answer young children’s delightful, thoughtful, and often non-stop questions about their own bodies and about how girls’ and boys’ bodies are the same and are different—questions that are seemingly simple, but often not easy to answer. 

Mr M Selvaraj on his Protege Veteran Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar

To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.

When our Amaravian Colonel Reji koduvath Roll No 931 of SSA, wanted me to share my experience with Vice Chief of Naval staff Vice Admiral G Ashok kumar, an Amaravian I readily accepted heart of hearts, though I didn’t give a positive nod to him on the spot. How can a teacher say ‘No’ when he is asked to say about his student in the past during his formative years in Sainik School, Amaravathinagar. As I am an ardent lover of Reji’s prolific pen who is an author of two books in addition to many blogs penned by him about Masters of SSA.

Since over lapping memories for the past more than four decades give pressure to my thoughts, joining with my age, minute details of our Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar had escaped from my memory.

In the year 1971 Ashok kumar Roll No 870 joined as a raw-clay along with other students like 892 Brigadier T Thomas, Colonel Reji Koduvath and many others. In the process of moulding the cadets through well–designed activities, he made a remarkable lead and made himself fit physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally for joining the National Defence Academy and other walks of civil life.

Blue colour epaulets with single golden stripes adorned Ashok’sshoulders when he was in eleventh standard as he was made Vice Captain of Chera House by selection and not by election. He was a front line cadet both in scholastic and co-scholastic areas. He lead the Chera House under the guidance of his House Master Mr MV Somasundaram, a nonagenarian, now living in Chennai, ably assisting his House Captain, marched forward majestically towards achieving the target of hugging the covetable Cock-House trophy and to give honour to his House symbol Bow and Arrow.

As all Sainikiens are groomed to become all rounders, he enthusiastically participated in all activities. If my memory track is in the right direction, he was a good basket ball player, a fine tune piper in the school band, ably guided by the Band Master Mr Goodu Sahib. His most liked area is on the stage. He is blessed with the gift of the gap and with his eloquent tongue he enjoyed and made the audience enjoy with elocution and extempore speech competitions also conducted in the school intra-murally.

Group Photo of the Play on Ramanujan- Extreme Left : Mr K Ekambaram as Ramanujan, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar as Komalambal (Mother of Ramanujan), Late Mr KM Koshy as Professor Hardy, Mr Venkatesha Murthy as Collector of Nellore, Mr M Selvaraj as Father of Ramajujan, Late Mr AKR Varma as the Postman, Mr R Subramanium as Professor EH Neville (Photo Courtesy Mr Venkatesha Murthy).

As we are living in a nuclear family, if the parents don’t have girl child they need not worry, SSA will turn them to be beautiful girl in stage one- act plays. Yes, our Vice Admiral, G Ashok kumar, the then Sainikien is an example as he acted in a lady character, Komalambal, the mother of Ramanujam, world- wide great Indian Mathematician, in a skit entitled Ramanujam, written and directed by Mr Venkatesahamurthy, Maths Master. In addition to students, many Masters like Mr KM Koshy,Mr R Subramanan, Mr K.Ekambaram,Mr KP Nataraja Pillai, Mr King Kristo kumar, myself and the playwright Mr Venkateshamurthy himself enacted various roles.

Right from his joining the SSA Ashok had been a gentleman cadet, the way in which he was moving with his fellow mates, Masters, other staff members and the armed force officers were of exemplary manner and that he was loved by all.
He is one of the proud sons of Alma mater SSA , and he has reached the second highest position in the Indian Navy. Normally intelligent people make a soft- pedaling towards intelligence; but our Admiral Ashok kumar is an exemption. If I say that his intelligence coupled with diligence has taken him to such a great height along with other covetable traits in him , it is not an encomium or a hyperbole but it is my heartfelt expression that comes from the bottom of my heart about our past student of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Vice Admiral and Vice Chief of Naval staff.

On behalf of all Amaravians – Defence officers, Masters, Staff members and the students of the past and present let me wish Vice Admiral Ashok kumar, his better half, Mrs Geetha, the woman behind him for his achievement and success, daughters Mrs Sruthi and Ms Sweta all the best. May God’s gracious blessings be showered on them.

Rohint Natarajan on Veteran Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar

The first time I met Ashok Uncle was when I was about 8-9 years old, when we had gone to Darjeeling and Gangtok on a family vacation. We were staying at the officers’ mess at Gangtok. Dad suddenly walked in with a smart energetic gentleman and introduced him as his classmate. They both were overjoyed to see each other. Little did I know back then that our association would stretch so long in our life. Because as an army kid you come across so many coursemates and uncles every now and then. But the strong bond that Sainik School Amaravati Nagar had forged held on stronger than anything.

Many years down the line, I kept on hearing about uncle and as luck could have it, both Ashok Uncle  and my dad were posted at Mumbai at the same time. I used to hear that dad used to go meet uncle often despite him holding a prestigious and demanding position. Owing to the fact that I was elsewhere during that tenure I could not get a first hand glimpse of how Ashok Uncle handled his multitudes of roles with such aplomb.

When we went to NDA as a part of the Amaravians get together in 2015, I got to see Ashok Uncle’s cool side. He must have probably been the coolest of all commandants of NDA, his alma mater as well. Finally, in 2019 when we were at Delhi and Ashok Uncle was yhe Vice Chief of Naval Staff (VCNS,) I had probably maximum interaction with him compared to any of his batchmates kids. I am thoroughly convinced that he is the most chilled out person who is always high on energy and ever cheerful; that too while being the VCNS.

Not to forget Geeta Aunty is also retiring with uncle, who is also another one who needs to be mentioned for her cool demeanor. Perfect couple who are always youthful and full of life. I have never seen either of them stressed or tensed despite the numerous tasks and responsibilities at hand. He was kind enough to share few instances of how he had managed to wriggle out of tough spots while ensuring that no one’s ego was hurt and at the same time ensuring the outcome was the best possible one.

It is simply unbelievable. The quick thinking, speed of thought and execution is something I wish to emulate in my life as well. I think I have iterated enough number of times how cool uncle is but it just does not seem enough. It would be incomplete if I don’t mention his amazing singing skills. Oh what a wonderful entertainer he is!! Would have given so many singers in the industry a run for their money. Good for them that he ended up in the Indian Navy.

All the very best Ashok Uncle for your second innings. I’m sure the nation is missing out on an amazing chief of Indian Navy but hopefully he gets to serve in some or the other capacity because he still has enough fire in his belly. Also the nation needs such leaders. Good luck Ashok Uncle and Geeta Aunty. Lots of love yours truly Rohinth (Gucci as Aunty calls me.)

About Rohint Natarajan: – Born in Tiruppur to Veteran Brigadier TM Natarajan, an Amaravian of 79 batch and Mrs Sudha Natarajan. He travelled the length and breadth of the country as an Army Kid. An alumnus of almost 10 educational institutions across the country – Army public school Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi and Kolkata, Bhavans Secunderabad, Kendriya Vidyalaya , Avadi to name a few. A mechanical engineering graduate from SASTRA University, Thanjavur (completed in 2014.)

After a short stint in Tata Consultancy Services, joined the Central Reserve Police Force as Assistant Commandant in 2017 and served at the Indo Pak border in the Kutch Sector. Subsequently, cleared Civil Services Examination in 2018 and joined Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax.) Presently serving as assistant commissioner in Bangalore.

Interests include traveling, playing the guitar, sports and watching movies.

Lieutenant General Kalisipudi Ravi Prasad, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal : A True Soldier

On the eve of retirement of  my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004.  We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil,  pullback, pullout,  retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere.  Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.

Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran  is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your  life.  A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your  blood runs Olive Green.  The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.

Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations.  During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being.  As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.

At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the  nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of.  Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.

This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on.  Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about.  Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of  and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.

As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining.  One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada.  This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.

General Ravi Prasad at Devlali with our coursemates and their ladies – from left to right : Rohini Shankar, Lalitha Ravi Prasad, GM Shankar, Shridhar Chitale, Manjushree Chitale, Ravi Prasad, Darshika Suri, Y V Suri and PK Sharma.

Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.

You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait!  You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife.  You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha  will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.

At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed.  In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire.  It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying.  Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service.  It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.

Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’

Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!

Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.

Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:-Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.

I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.  

Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way.  They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’

Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:- ‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’

Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.

Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.

Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’

Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.

Ravi (extreme left) with his mother, CHVSR Prasad and TLP Babu with General KV Krisnha Rao at NDA in December 81

Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’

Maj Gen BV Rao, Vice Admiral MS Pawar, Ravi and Major General ML Mohan Babu

Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994.
Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.

He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi.
His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime…
Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.

Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’

Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime.  Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.

We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.

Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!!  Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too.  We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them :  Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’

Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1. 3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else.
Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor
.’

‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’  :  — Winston Churchill.

Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal – An Ever-Smiling Admiral

When we – thirty Mallus (a person from the Indian state of Kerala, especially one who speaks Malayalam) – joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (SSA) in 1971 in grade 5, it was our classmate – Cadet G Ashok Kumar – who acted as an interpreter.  Our life was made easier as our House Captain was Veteran General PM Hariz, then in his 9th grade – who too was a Mallu.  We knew only Malayalam with no knowledge of either Tamil or English.  Ashok, a Mallu, his father served in Tamil Nadu Police, he studied in Tamil Nadu, but spoke Malayalam fluently.  He was very empathetic towards us and did his interpretation with lot of passion and commitment.  I fondly remember him teaching me how to slip a pillowcase over a pillow. 

These qualities of Ashok stood with him throughout his life, especially as a Indian Navy Officer, rising to be a Vice Admiral and the Vice Chief of Naval Staff. 

Admiral Ashok was commissioned into the Executive Branch of the Navy on 1 July 1982. He is a navigation specialist and served as a Navigation Officer of the Frigates INS Beas and INS Nilgiri, the Destroyer INS Ranvir and the Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. He attended the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC,) Wellington, the Higher Command Course at the Army War College, Mhow and the Expeditionary Operations course at Quantico, Virginia, USA.

He commanded Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kulish and INS Ranvir. He has also served as the Executive Officer of INS Brahmaputra. He served as the Defence Advisor (DA) at the High Commission of India in Singapore and the Chief Staff Officer (Operations) of the Western Naval Command.

Ashok01

Admiral Ashok has made each one of his classmates proud by his achievements.  He displayed his love for us when he hosted us at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – while he was the Commandant – for a get-together on 22 and 23 December 2015.  It was the most memorable part of the life of all our classmates and their families.  To read more about it, Please click here. 

Today, Admiral Ashok hangs his Naval Uniform after nearly four decades of dedicated service to the Indian Navy.  How cool is that!!  So began the journey we celebrate today,  a career in which that nine-year-old cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar  grew up to be a top Admiral of the prestigious Indian Navy. 

For your next visit to Swati in the US, ensure that you and Geeta obtain a Canadian Visa and spend some time with us. Remember that the Niagara Falls is better viewed from the Canadian side. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.

Ashok, now is the time for you to sit back and not relax, but to demonstrate your deep love for Geeta.  You can now afford to spent more time with her – without the excuse of office or duty.  This is a God sent opportunity to express your gratitude to  Geeta for all her love and dedication in bringing up your two daughters Sruti and Swati to be great ladies and valuable citizens.

On 24 July, Vice Admiral Ashok dedicated a Sea Harrier aircraft to his Alma Mater – a great act showcasing his love for his Alma Mater. Many of our classmates proudly accompanied Ashok on the solemn occasion.

Mr MV Somasundaram, Ashok’s House Master at Chera House about his protege:-
You are a seaman with  gratitude to our School,
the soil and source of a crusading career;
Inhale the sweet fragrance of Sainik Flower,
your formative alma mater;
Keep navigating viewing the Pole star with a vision,
rowing with a compass of rationalism;
A splendid torch that would make your life bright and beautiful,
With wishes to grow near the sky.
To read more about Mr MV Somasundaram, Please Click Here.

Mr M Selvaraj, Ashok’s Tamil teacher recalls:- சாதாரணக் குடும்பத்தில் பிறந்தவரும் சரித்திர நாயகனாகத் திகழலாம் என்பதற்கு நீயே நல்லதோர் எடுத்துக் காட்டு. உன் மார்பை அலங்கரிக்கும் பதக்கங்களே உனது கடற்படைச் சாதனைகளைப் பறைசாற்றும் படைத்துறை இசைமுரசு. உன்னத சேவைப் பதக்கம், உயரிய சேவைப் பதக்கம், சிறந்த சேவைப் பதக்கம் முதலான விருதுகளே உன் கடற்படைச் சேவைக்கு அங்கீகாரம் அளிக்கும் நற்சான்றிதழ்கள்.
அன்று (1978 ) அமராவதிநகர் சைனிக் பள்ளியின் சேரர் இல்லத் துணைத் தலைவனாய்ப் பணியாற்றினாய் இன்று (2021) இந்தியக் கப்பற்படையின் துணைத்தலைவராய் விளங்குகிறாய். குடியரசுத் தலைவர் பெருமகனார் அப்துல்கலாம் அவர்கள் சொன்னவாறு அப்போதே கனவு கண்டாயோ?
உச்சம் தொட்ட உன்னைக்கண்டு உன்னை ஈன்றெடுத்த பெற்றோர்கள் மட்டும் அல்லாமல் சைனிக் பள்ளியாம் நற்றாயும், சைனிக் குடும்பத்தைச் சேர்ந்த அத்தனைப்பேரும் அகமகிழ்ந்து ஆனந்தக் கண்ணீர் அல்லாவா விடுகிறோம், அன்புச் செல்வனே துணை அட்மிரல் அசோக் குமாரே. தாயக மண்ணில் மட்டும் அல்லாமல், அயலக மண்ணிலும் நம் நாட்டின் பெருமையை நிலைநாட்டிய உனக்கு எங்கள் வீர வணக்கம்.
கனிவையும், கண்டிப்பையும் காட்ட வேண்டிய இடத்தில் காட்டி, கடற்படை வீரர்களுக்கு நல்லதோர் வழிகாட்டியாய், முன்கள வீரனாய் விளங்குகின்றவன் அல்லவோ நீ. இன்முகமும், இன்சொல்லும் உனக்கு இறைவன் அளித்த அருட்கொடை..கடற்படை ஆயுதங்களோடு இந்த இரண்டு பிரம்மாஸ்திரங்களையும் கொண்டு அல்லவா அனைவர் நெஞ்சங் களையும் வென்று மகிழ்கிறாய்.
ஓய்வுக்கு ஒய்வு கொடுத்த ஓய்வறியாக் கடற்படை வீரன் நீ. ஒய்வு பெற்ற பின்னும் நீ ஓய்வெடுக்கவா போகின்றாய். இல்லை, இல்லை.தேனீயாய்ச் சுறுசுறுப்பாக என்றும் இருப்பாய் என்று எங்களுக்குத் தெரியும். இதுவரை நாடுகாக்கும் நற்பணியாற்றினாய். இனி, வீடு நலம்பெற அன்பு மனைவி இல்லற நாயகி திருமதி கீதா, அருமைச் செல்வங்களாம் ஸ்ருதி, ஸ்வேதி இவர்களுடன் பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு மகிழ்வுடனும், நலமுடனும் வாழ்க என எல்லாம் வல்ல இறைவன் அருள் வேண்டுகிறோம்.

கடற்படைத் துணைத்தலைவர் அன்புச்செல்வன் அமராவதி அசோக் குமாருக்கு வாழ்த்துக்கள்! இறையருள் புரிக!

You are an exemplary example to prove that ordinary common man’s offspring also can shine like a historical legend. The medals that adore your chest are the proclaiming Military band. Param Vishist Seva Medal, Ati Visit Seva Medal, Seva Medal are the right recognition for your outstanding service in Indian Navy.
In 1978 you were Vice Captain of Chera House in Sainik School and now in 2021 you are the Vice Chief of the Indian Navy. As our great soul Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said, did you dream to reach this height at that time itself? You have reached the zenith in your career. Seeing you, not only your biological parents but also benign mother – SSA and all members of SSA family shed blissful tears out of extreme happiness. Do you know,our dear Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar?
You have impressed the people to know the greatness of our country not only in our mother soil, but in other alien soil also. A Royal Salute to you, our dear. Where you have to show your senility you did show and where you have to show gentility you did show and you stood as a forefront warrior, you are an ideal guide to all your fellow warriors. Aren’t you?
Smiling face and soft-spoken words are God’s precious gift to you. Along with the Navy weapons, with these two ‘Brammasthrams’ you have conquered the hearts of all people and make them feel happy. You are an outstanding soldier in Indian Navy who gave rest to rest and you are a work alcoholic. Are you going to take rest after retirement? Never, never. We know that you will be as active as a honeybee as you had been hither to.
So far you have put in your very best without any reservation for the Homeland. Now it is time for you to look after your family. We pray to the God Almighty to bless you to have a happy retired life with Mrs Geetha madam, the woman behind you for your success, your affectionate daughters Mrs Sruti and Ms Swati.
To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.

Veteran General PM Hariz writes:-It’s been a pleasure knowing Ashok all these years. Apart from our association at Amaravathi Nagar, we served together as instructors at DSSC, Wellington, just prior to his posting as DA to Singapore; and since then have been always in touch with each other. As the Commandant NDA, I had a standing Invitation to visit him; unfortunately could not make it due to exigencies of service.  We were indeed very proud when he was appointed as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff;  when Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, another Amaravian was the Vice Chief of Army Staff. I took the liberty of telling both of them that they needed to get a photograph of them together …. And they obliged! I had then posted this in the Amaravian Alumni Association FaceBook Group. It was indeed a very unique and proud moment for all Amaravians. After my retirement, he was kind enough to visit us at Kovai on his way to DSSC to deliver a lecture.

Ashok has been actively involved in chasing issues on behalf of the School too, both at the Service HQs and at the State Govt level. Recently, when the present Principal was steering the release of funds from the State Govt, Ashok got the Defence Secretary to speak to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to assist in resolution of the issue. My wife and I had the pleasure of attending his daughter’s wedding at Delhi in Nov 19. Admiral Ashok, an officer and a gentleman has been a shining example  of an officer in the armed forces, worthy of emulation. We wish him and his family the very best in the second innings.’

Veteran General Devraj Anbu recalls:-
Two Amaravians in the corridor of South Block housing the Ministry of Defence was an envy for everyone. Ashok and self did capitalise to a great extent.
Ashok’s tri- service experience gave a great head start in his tenure as Vice Chief. His vast experience, ability to articulate and persuasiveness resulted many a time in deciding very delicate and important issues in favour of the Navy. Many a time he navigated his way through complex and thorny issues to Navy’s great advantage. He was at his best during deliberations in Vice Chiefs’ meetings.
Having known Ashok from Chera House days in school, I took the liberty of enjoying his hospitality when he was in Singapore. I cannot forget the way he looked after me from the time I landed there to my departure. Every moment I spent with Ashok’s family is etched in my mind. He has done this for everyone who has come across him .. a great quality that endeared him to everyone.’

From the Left : Chef Vijaya Baskaran; Chef Manjit Singh Gill, President IFCA; Admiral Ashok Kumar; Late Chef (Dr)
Soundararajan, then Secretary IFCA

Chef Vijaya Baskaran, Vice President, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA,) looking back at the VII International Chefs conference organised by IFCA in 2017 at Delhi writes:-
‘I recall with pride  my classmate Admiral Ashok Kumar, addressing over 800 of the finest Chefs, he commenced by saying “What will a Naval officer talk to reputed Chefs about? Both the Chefs and Navy personnel wear whites and work in challenging conditions. Armed forces march on their stomach or ships sail on their stomachs and the most important reason – I was invited by my classmate and I  could not refuse. Such is our brotherly bonding.
The 45 minutes of his talk was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the delegate chefs; such was the power of his words. I am sure many chefs will try to influence their children to enroll in the Indian Navy after such a motivating talk.  The aftermath of his powerful speech was that there was a long queue of chefs waiting to click a picture with Admiral Ashok.’

Veteran Commander Daniel Reginald, Indian Navy, our classmate remembers fondly:
‘Having landed up in the Navy three years junior to Ashok and in a service where even one day seniority matters, I enjoyed the privilege of getting treated at par as a classmate by Ashok, despite our seniority differences.  We missed being in the same station  most of the time (except for a short period at Naval Headquarters) and I finally caught up with him after taking premature retirement and when he was posted as Flag Officer Sea Training and Chief of Staff Southern Naval Command, Kochi.
The bond and friendship we share growing up together in Amaravathi Nagar breaks all the seniority differences, and Ashok is such an  approachable person.  I had the full liberty to call him up any time and seek his help and guidance in the high positions he held, and I regret not visiting him enough whilst I was in the service. Friends and forever and will catch up with him, post his retirement. Wishing Ashok, Geeta and their two lovely daughters- Sruti and Swati – Godspeed, following winds in their anchorage.’

Veteran Commander MP Joseph, Indian Navy, two years our senior at School reminisces:-‘Ashok was always seen smiling, even when things were not looking very good, a classic example of being bestowed with the stellar quality of sense of humour, he could laugh at himself, rather than complain – a very important quality in a military leader.

As we look back on Admiral Ashok’s  career of service to our country, I think everyone will agree with me in saying, it was much cooler even than what we all – his nine-year-old classmates at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar – could’ve imagined.

Veteran Commander N Balasubramanian, our classmate recalls:-It has been a 50 year association with Ashok since joining Sainik School in July 71. We were in the same section in School, thereafter we were coursemates in NDA too and there also we were in the same class following it up with the Indian Navy being in the Executive Branch. We also did 51st staff course together. I was also fortunate to know his wonderful family well and have spent some memorable time with them in our younger days.

Ashok and Geetha have always been warm and large hearted. Though I left Navy in 2007, have enjoyed like many other coursemates, colleague and even strangers their hospitality all along even when he was DA in Singapore.

I had a contribution to him in choosing the Navy, as I suggested to him to give Navy as first choice when we were choosing Service while appearing for NDA, as I was in the Naval wing and he in the Airforce wing in NCC. It proved good for the Navy. Also Geetha rose up to be President Naval Wives Welfare Association (NWWA).

Over the years, I have found Ashok to be down to earth, cheerful, affectionate, humble and helpful to all. He is a thorough family man and  a very devoted son.  I am confident that more challenging assignments will come his way considering his wide exposure and experience. On behalf of my family and many classmates and coursemates I take this opportunity to wish Ashok, Geetha, Shruti and Swati all the very best, good luck and god speed.

Alex Manappurathu, Ashok’s Chera House mate writes:– ‘I remember Ashok being a strong Sivaji Ganesan fan. A movie buff to the core. During school vacations he claimed to go to movie halls every day (and saw multiple movies per day!), and at end of the vacation, returned to school with repertoire of stories to be narrated to his eager classmates.

Cut to the present, having heard him at our Alma mater recently at the Sea harrier dedication ceremony, he was coaxing the students and teachers, connecting the dots of his school days and his naval career to drive home certain points. Makes me wonder if it was this story telling sessions of his school days that honed his oratory skills!

In the past few years whenever I have met folks known to him, it was very clear that all of them spoke of him in very high esteem. Some statements from them …
“Made me realise persuasion is the way to get things done, and not Danda (stick.)”
“He had done so much for me, this is is least I could do.”
“Well accepted personality, gets along with every one.”
“Learned so much from him
.”

With his strong interpersonal skills, wishing him a very happy and productive second innings too after he hangs his naval uniform.’

Air Marshal Thazhathupulikunnel Devasia Joseph. Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vayu Sena Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal : Son of the Soil

Here we are…43 years from this day, I met TD Joseph (Joe) at the National Defence Academy (NDA)- he as an Air Force Cadet and I as an Army Cadet.  Until then, we both did not know each other and that we hailed from the same village – Ayarkunnam, Kottayam, Kerala.  He graduated from the Mayo College, Ajmer, Rajasthan and I from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu. Today, I cannot believe the day has finally come for Joe to hang up this uniform and retire.

Often our vacations home coincided and we met either at the fish vendor’s stall in the village market or at the coconut oil mill.  You were the ‘son of the soil’ and I have an anecdote to narrate.  My eldest brother, while on a trip to the village market, was hailed by a young man pulling a പിടി വണ്ടി (Pidi Vandi – hand cart). laden with bags of fertilizers, with his father pushing from behind.  It took my brother a minute to recognise the person.  Behold! it was you – a young Flight Lieutenant.

Joe, by your compassionate and fearless leadership, you have put smiles on all the officers and airmen who served under your command.  I witnessed it in while I visited you at Shillong in 2017.  You were real passionate about everyone’s well-being.

You are a born leader and have been blessed to be able to lead others.  You have the power to influence others and you did it very well  You always worked towards the betterment of others and never for self-gratification.   You surely did enjoy your time with the Indian Air Force and you will undoubtedly miss the camaraderie and the privilege of leading such wonderful human beings.

Sophie was always by your side, and you touched the skies with glory in her company.  You both raised two thoroughbred gentlemen sons – Abhishek and Ivan, with Ann Maria now joining your team.   Sophie has been your supporting pillar over all those years and you credit her for that.  It was very evident during the days you both spent with us in Canada in June 2016.

Sophie has been a perfect Air Force wife, inspiring others and representing the ladies fraternity. With her love and caring, you have flown safely all these years.

Joe was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in December 1982. He was the winner of the Nawanagar Sword of Honour and President’s Plaque for standing first in Order of Merit in his batch of pilots. He has flown over 3800 hours on various fighter and trainer aircraft.

He is a Category A Qualified Flying Instructor and was an Air Force Examiner. He commanded a Fighter Squadron in the Eastern Sector, the Flying Instructors’ School at Chennai and a major Air Base in the Western Sector.  He was a senior faculty with the National Defence College, New Delhi the Air Defence Commander in the South Western Sector and Eastern Sector.

Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul recounts:- ‘… and a most inspiring Malayalam address to the audience, on the occasion of Onam, all of which went over my head.  Loved his golf, and had a mean handicap.  When a Sikh C-in-C was retiring, we made him ‘renew his vows’, at a party. Joe was the ‘priest’ who conducted the ceremony, and as in everything else he did, was technically flawless, including his sense of comic timing. Had the audience in splits!!!

As in sailing any sea, one has to take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes, in a Headquarters, when somebody senior got on your nerves, one deftly manoeuvred the boat into Joe’s office, where a cuppa tea, a beatific smile, and a few words of wisdom, were instrumental in inspiring you to take the boat out again.’

Veteran Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani pens :- ‘Joe known since the last four decades, a handsome, smart and erudite officer with impeccable language and diction has been a simpleton at heart. Rarely does one find the combination of an intellectual, hard working, meticulous and sincere professional who is a simpleton at heart, bears no malice towards anyone and makes an effort to keep in touch with friends. I followed him for the RCDS course in London, UK and his briefing to me was immaculate and precise.

Sophie aka Nirmala has been a pillar of support to Joe, in all his endeavours while carrying out her responsibilities on the social front for the welfare of the extended Air Force family. Fun loving and charming, she has been sought after by seniors and subordinates while being a caring and loving friend to her peers. We wish both Joe and Sophie Good luck, Godspeed and Happy Landings as they begin their Second Innings, which I am sure will be better than the first. Wishing you both many birdies and pars with an odd eagle thrown in to keep you going. Lots of love from Golu & Rekha’                                                                              

Veteran Air Vice Marshal Michael Fernandez says:-  ‘Joe is a super guy, and I mean it truly. Known him ever since NDA, got to know him better when we spent the next decade together. Always ready to help and extend a hand whenever he saw someone in need. Ably complemented by Sophie who I am sure has been his crutch though he is the youngest looking coursemate we have. Hope Sophie remembers the reason she stopped speaking to me for around three months. Looking back, I’m sure she will remember that episode “happily.”  Professionally second to none, Joe, possibly, must be one of the few coursemates who has published a professional book.  Vaneeta and I wish them all the very best in their life ahead.

Veteran Captain Ramesh Babu (Indian Navy) recalls:- ‘Joe was an ideal Cadet at the Academy, excelling in everything that the curriculum prescribed. He followed rules, studied hard, played well, marched smartly and made lifelong bonds with friends, which make up the essence of Academy life. As Malayalees, we shared a special bond and the poor guy often had to put up with my pranks. Together,  the two of us smashed over the nets when volleyball got introduced at NDA. The special bond we made at the Academy continues, now encompassing our families.

Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall writes:- ‘Our dear Joe, as I saw him during three years of stay in Bravo Squadron during NDA days, has been a perfect gentleman – always cool, silent, and soft spoken and ever smiling. He has been a passionate basketball player. Joe, the fighter pilot, by dint of his caliber, professional acumen and perseverance rose to don the most coveted rank of Air Marshal and achieved numerous accolades and decorations in his illustrious career spanning over four decades. It’s been a matter of great pride for ‘Braves’ to have been associated with him and remember the old bonding. I recall a very brief conversation with you at Braves get-together at Gangtok few years ago wherein I was touched by simplicity and contentment with life when you talked about your humble beginnings and that what God blessed you with Sophie and adorable and successful sons. At this memorable moment, we wish you all the very best in life ahead..’

Veteran Lieutenant Colonel Tejinder Padda recollects : Hi TD! Heartiest Congratulations on completion of an absolutely awesome tenure with the IAF. Started getting to know you from the time you joined NDA as Cadet TD Joseph and got to know you more when you rose to the pinnacle and became the Air Marshal TD Joseph. There has been hardly any change in you ever since: cool, always smiling, suave, having a good word for everyone and everything, essentially a towering personality. Though happy to note one major change- you’ve grown up to become rather naughty in preparation for your retired life, I presume!

In NDA I remember your full of josh cross country running, awesome Basket Ball game and not to forget the Green Horn Camp josh run… when you were literally caught with your ‘dungarees down. A fantastic person that you are, may you have a super retirement and get to spend more time with Sophie and the family and get to fulfil all your bucket list. Good luck to you.’

Veteran Colonel Nilesh Lal reminisces:- ‘Joe was good in cross country and he came in fifth in our first term.  TD ( Tulsi Das ) for want of a better name (as TD was unpronounceable) was a genial, unassuming & affable person who steered clear of any controversy & was always on the right side of law ; managing that in NDA required some dexterity & manoeuvring skills & guess that is what ensured that Joe  mastered his flying skills subsequently.  Post NDA we briefly interacted while he was flying in the western sector and I have a vivid memory of Joe proudly introducing his Flying Bird .Proud to know that Joe is the last of the lot from Bravo 61 still in uniform and wishing him the very Best going forward.

Movie Screening at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar

Nostalgia struck me when I read a Facebook post by a very senior alumni of our school about the movie – The Guns of Navarone.  It was the second English movie I watched in my life.  The first English movie was Mackenna’s Gold.  The next English movie was Where Eagles Dare.

When I joined the school in 1971, I knew only Malayalam and English was all alien.  The ‘scary’ scenes in all these movies ensured that I closed my eyes and slept off in 15 minutes.  I later watched all these classics.

A movie was screened every Saturday, Tamil, Hindi, English and occasionally a Malayalm movie.  The swimming pool doubled up as an open-air movie theatre with the viewers sitting on the stadium steps, and the screen placed on the opposite side of the swimming pool.  Later, the old Senior Cadets’ Mess was converted into a movie theatre.  The cadets had early dinner on Saturday at 7 PM and the screening commenced at 8 PM – after it became dark.

Mr P Gurumoorthy with our classmate Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal – Vice Chief of Naval Staff (Roll No 870)

Mr P Gurumoorthy, our Mathematics Teacher, an expert in local liaison, was responsible for procuring the movie and the late Mr PT Cherian, our Physics Teacher was responsible for the screening.  To read more about Mr PT Cherian, please click here.

Mr Gurumoorthy was better known as the Naval Officer in the National Cadets Corps.  The sight of him in his crisp white Naval uniform was the main motivating factor for many of our friends choosing to opt for the Indian Navy at the National Defence Academy.  He was instrumental in I choosing the Indian Navy as my first option, but the medical authorities decided that I was fit for the Army only.

 

The projector used then was RCA Photophone 35mm which used a carbon arc to throw the image of the celluloid film on to the big screen.  Today’s digital screening had not come in.  The movies came in reels – each reel 1000 feet long, running for about ten minutes.  The Indian movies were generally of 16 reels, running for about two and a half  hours and English movies about 10 to 12 reels, of about 90 minutes to two hours.  The reels of a movie were enclosed in steel boxes and were physically transported from theatre to theatre, often by bus or train. 

To reduce cost of production and keeping in mind commercial viability, a Tamil movie was released in about 25 cities/ towns of Tamil Nadu.  Theatres in Udumalpet (Udumalaippettai,) the closest town to Amaravathi Nagar – about 25 km away – hardly ever received a new release Tamil movie.  It featured in the ‘Second-Run’ towns – that meant that a Tamil movie was screened a month or two after its release.  English and Hindi movies came mostly six months to year, many much later, after their release. 

English and Hindi movies ran as morning shows on Saturdays and Sundays at Udumalpet theatres.  After the Saturday’s morning show, the reels were despatched by bus to Amaravathi Nagar and was screened in the evening.  Sunday morning, the first bus carried the reels back to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to screen their Sunday morning show.

Tamil movies were screened in Udumalpet theatres as regular shows – matinee (3 to 5:30 PM), first show (6 to 8:30 PM) and second show (9:30 PM to midnight.)  Now how to get those reels to far away Amaravathi Nagar on a Saturday evening when the movie was playing its regular shows?

Illustration by Sherrin Koduvath

After the movie played its first five reels, it was loaded into the bus on its last trip at 7 PM from Udumalpet and the bus reached Amaravathi Nagar a few minutes before 8 PM.  As the swimming pool was very close to the bus-stand, the screening commenced immediately thereafter.

Mr Menon on his Bullet Motorcycle, stationed at the theatre in Udumalpet, carried the next six reels at 8 PM and reached Amaravathi Nagar by 8:30 PM.  He returned with the reels played till then to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to commence their second show.  Then he carried the last six reels to Amaravathi Nagar and returned them after screening. What an idea Sir Ji!!!!  

How was any delay in this clock-work precise operation covered?  Mr Gurumoorthy had an answer.  The local theatre had bits and pieces of song and dance sequences and fight scenes, cut out from reels of Hindi and English movies.  These were screened to keep the viewers engaged, as Mr Menon raced to the theatre with fresh reels.

Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556) reminisces:-Prior to 1969, the school had only a 16 mm projector. The movies were all ‘black and white’ English movies. Maybe, there were no Tamil and Hindi movies available in that format.

That time, Chera, Chola, Pandya and Bharathi Houses dined in the longish shed. Bigger strength Pallava and Valluvar Houses dined in the Boxing Arena. On Saturdays, if a movie was to be screened, we had to pick up our chairs after lunch and deposit them on the lawn that existed between the two sheds. The mess staff took out the dining tables and made seating arrangement for viewing the movie. Dinner was served outside.

90% of 5th and 6th Graders fell asleep as soon as the movie started. For one, we were tired, and the other, we could not understand the language.  Subtitles and close captioning were not heard of or seen. The film strips often broke or Mr Cherian had to change the spool with the help of his lab assistant Manuel. He switched on a lamp he had on his switch board, and wake us from the slumber. After the movie was over, we were woken up and sleep walked back to the dorms.

Sometime in 1969, a 35 mm projector was installed in the swimming pool and the first movie to be screened was Sivaji Ganesan & Jayalalitha starrer ‘Enga Mama’ – remake of Hindi Film Brahmachari) The students sat on the bleachers, while the Staff sat on the top arena. We started watching movies in Eastman color. Since it was an outdoor pool, the movie screening was dependent on weather. Some evenings the movie show was cancelled even while we were eating our early dinner of tomato rice and kaajaa. There have been occasions we had to scoot half way through the movie, due to unexpected showers.

Apparently, around 1974, the movie screening moved back to the good old ‘longish’ shed, but with a proper projection room and 180 degree change in the viewing direction – with the stage now becoming the balcony.

Some of the daring 11th Graders (senior most then) sometimes sneaked off to Udumalpet on a Saturday evening, watch a movie, sleep in the bus stand and return on Sunday morning. Not many attempted this risky business, anyway.’ 

Veteran General PM Hariz (Roll No 579) writes:-Whilst watching 16 mm movies like No Man is an Island – a 1962 war film about the exploits of George Ray Tweed, a US Navy radioman who avoided capture and execution by the Japanese during World War II;  Sinbad the Sailor – a 1947 fantasy film about the daredevil sailor Sinbad, who embarks on a voyage across the Seven Seas to find the lost riches of Alexander the Great; etc, changing of reels took some time.  This dead time was for the singing talents to pelt a few numbers.  I vividly recollect Om Prakash (Roll No 285)- our short hockey wizard – singing ‘Asman sey aaya farishta’ and using the reel cover as the dhol (drum.)

Movie watching at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar will forever linger in the minds of all its alumni.

Early Summer Flowers : 2021

We all love to see colourful blossoms in our garden. These blooms are meant to attract pollinators. This completes the Mother Nature’s cycle of sex and reproduction. Insects, the major pollinators, their activity in our garden picks up in late June, July and early August and as a result she has planned things nicely: this is the most intense flowering period in the garden. Perennials that flower for the longest period of time and attract the greatest number of insects.
Hydrangeas come in various shades of blues, vibrant pinks, frosty whites, lavender, and rose—sometimes all blooming on the same plant! The colour of the blooms depend largely on the pH value of the soil – Acidic soils with a pH of less than 5.5 produce blue flowers; soils with a pH greater than 5.5 produce pink flowers. White flowers are not affected by pH.
Smooth hydrangeas are among the most popular hydrangeas that are white such as ‘Annabelle,’ ‘Incredi-ball,’ and ‘Invincibelle Wee White.’
The Daisy gets its name from the Sun. Daisy is a feminine given name that comes from the day’s eye. They are known for blooms that are flat and disc-shaped, with petals that form rays projecting outward from a central hub.
Daisies are composite flowers composed of 15 to 30 white ray petals surrounding a centre consisting of bright yellow disk, though other colour combinations are common.
Shasta Daisies bear all-white daisy petals, yellow disk florets, and contrasting glossy, dark green leaves. It was bred by American horticulturist Luther Burbank and named it after the snow-capped Mount Shasta, in California.

Blanket-Flower, the daisy-like flowers of rich reds and yellows in circular concentration, blooms throughout the summer.
Named after the Native Indian’s blankets – the colour the flowers resemble, attracts humming birds and butterflies.
Cone-flowers are popular perennials, come in glorious shades of pink, orange, yellow, and red.
Purple cone-flower (Echinacea Purpurea), is most common, there are other varieties too.
It’s from herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. and are found only in eastern and central North America.
Snapdragons have tall spikes of brightly coloured flowers that bloom profusely in cooler weather. Most are intensely coloured and real standouts in our garden. Snapdragon flowers start blooming at the bottom of the stalk and work their way up, making for a long period of bloom.
Numerous varieties of snapdragon exist with dwarf, intermediate and tall flowering stems that provide a range of colors to work with in the garden.
Snapdragons are available in most colours except blue. There are approximately 40 different species of snapdragons, and they are from the family Plantaginaceae, the family of plantains.
The origin of snapdragons is uncertain but it is believed to have been from countries such as Spain and Italy. Snapdragon may reach up to 3 feet or as short as 6 inches. They are also known as ‘dragon flowers’, and the Latin name ‘Antirrhinum’ means ‘counterfeiting nose’ or ‘like a snout’.
The common name derives from the shape of the individual flower heads, which resemble the snout of a dragon, and which even open and close in a snapping motion, as often happens when pollinators open the jaws to reach the pollen.
Snapdragons come in different variations of pink, purple, lavender, white, yellow, orange or burgundy. They are the perfect flowers for the spring and summer seasons since they are usually available at around this time of year!
Lilies (lilium,) come in many colours and types, from exotic-looking stargazer lilies with painted petals speckled in both light and dark dots, to elegant white lilies that sparkle with pure white petals and red stamens.
All lilies comprises large, brilliantly coloured triangular petals that open wide and curl back to reveal delicate stamen in the center of the bloom. They produce intoxicating fragrance.
The lily is ranked as the fourth most popular flower across the world. The blooms open at various times, most lilies live one to two weeks. They come in various colours – white, yellow, pink, red and orange.
White lily signifies, modesty and virginity while Red lilies symbolise passion.
Orange lily stands for passion
Yellow lilies symbolise thankfulness and desire for enjoyment.
Tiger lily, named for its orange with brown spots, in Buddhism represents mercy and compassion
Pink lilies symbolise prosperity and abundance.
Lilies are social plants, growing best in groups of three to five.
Lilies have one of the longest in-vase life spans of any cut bloom, to keep them longer is to clear out the pollen from their centers. This will also prevent staining on the petals.
Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves. Rabindranath Tagore

Train Them Young

Teach the kids to do all chores at home – you will be a proud parent because you will gift a son or a daughter who can do the dishes, cut the veggies and clean toilets to your future daughter/ son-in-law.  

You must have come across a kid tearing a shop upside-down for being refused a toy; a kid holding the parents to ransom for some gizmo in the electronic shop; threatening the parents with dire consequence for not buying a motorcycle; screaming their guts out as the child could not get a window seat on an airplane or bus; and so on.  These are entitled kids, and they grow into entitled adults.  That kid in his entire life did no chores at home other than disturbing the cushions on the couch.

An entitled kid expects food on the table; to be provided with snacks and drinks at their beck and call; the choice of food  to be more like a restaurant menu; someone else or the household help will make their beds, clean up their mess, not follow any time schedules – even to eat or sleep.

Most of us did not enjoy doing chores around our homes. I certainly did not. We were in a Sainik (Military) School from age nine and we had no choice, but to do everything – making our beds,  polishing our shoes, keeping the dorms and the area around clean – the list was endless. We all grew up totally unentitled.

When should kids start taking on household chores?

The latest study says as early as two years old. They should begin with age-appropriate tasks, under parental or senior sibling’s observation – clearing up toys, arranging their books, wearing clothes, etc.  A child is not born with all the skills to do all of these chores right away, so a little guidance and encouragement is necessary.  This will ensure that your child grows unentitled and will not develop into an entitled adult.  No parents want to raise entitled kids.

A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs.  Making children do chores at home and making them participate in all family activities is the responsibility of parents. Let your kids feel like they are part of this family team and they have to pitch in! Doing chores together help kids feel connected to the family.

Chores teach kids to take care of themselves and do basic activities like clean, cook and maintain the space around them, etc. Giving kids simple responsibilities around the home will inculcate self-reliance and responsibility. It also gives a small much needed breather to the parents.  Kids are not born perfectionist; hence expect them to whine and take too long to complete the task.  It will never be up to your expectations, but they will soon be there with a little encouragement and guidance from you.  Many a times, you will end up doing it all over, take it that it’s the best training your kid can get.  Ultimately, isn’t it so much easier to do it ourselves! Remember – Everything begins at home.

Children will never learn these by mere observation – They got to do it themselves.  Parents have to show the way and also explain to them how to do it.  They must also thank them for their effort and also tell them as to how their participation in the chore helped the household.  It will teach the child the importance of helping others

Have you ever written a note to the school teacher explaining a reason for the kid not completing an assignment like the dog chewed on the completed work, the hard-disk of the computer got accidentally formatted, the laptop computer crashed?  You have robbed your child of an opportunity to be responsible and advocate for themselves at school.  It’s a sure way of setting them up for failure, which none of us want.  We want to see them scaling greater heights, turn into valuable citizens and proud members of the society.  That needs a lot of hard work – both from the parent and the child.  It isn’t that easy.

When we do things for them all the time, it hinders their development and keeps them from succeeding on their own.  It ends up as a message to our children that we don’t believe in their abilities. If you develop your child to be an entitled teen/ adult, they will expect their spouse, their roommate, or you to do everything for them.  If your kid hasn’t consistently done chores, it’s never too late to start, particularly if you’re really open with them about why you’re making the change and what your new expectations are.

Experts also recommend linking a new chore with a future behaviour — telling a teen that they’re learning how to help with dinner so they can make meals when they go to college, or when they’re cooking for their partner or spouse later.

Kids are never happy for being reminded about their chores.  Even parents are never too happy doing things around the house. They are very likely to nag when asked to do a chore.  It should never be used as a tool to discipline the kids.  You must be flexible and allow the child to chose what chore they want to do. 

Reward your kids when they do their chores and appreciate them for their efforts.  Ensure that the rearwards you’re comfortable with. Plan the reward in advance and always be consistent.

Prepare the Child for the Path – not the Path for the Child.

Roses 2021

Roses bloomed in our garden with the onset of summer.
With the summer setting in Canada with the Summer Solstice on 20 June, 2021, the roses in our garden came to full bloom.
For hundreds of years the rose has been widely recognised as a symbol of love, sympathy or sorrow.
The world’s oldest living rose is believed to be 1,000 years old. It grows on the wall of the Cathedral of Hildesheim in Germany and its presence is documented since A.D. 815.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, is associated with his attire of pinning a fresh red rose to his coat every day. He made it a point to wear a rose as a remainder of his life with his wife Kamala, who passed away in 1938 after a prolonged illness.
Roses are said to be the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
The rose is one among the only three flowers mentioned in the Bible. The others are lilies and camphire – akin to henna.
Rose is England’s National Flower and the United States’ national flower since 1986.
George Washington, the first president of USA, was also the first US rose breeder.
Roses have been a beautiful symbol of celebration in all cultures. Nothing expresses personal sentiments better than roses, and they’re always in style.
Ancient Romans cultivated the flowers to decorate buildings and furniture, and even laid rose petal carpets.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, roses are the oldest species of plant to be grown as decoration.
Roses are edible. Their petals can be used to make jams, syrups, and rosewater.
About 100 million roses – mainly red – are grown for Valentine’s Day each year.
The other popular rose holidays in Canada are Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Colour of the rose depends on the species. Roses can be found in different shades of white, yellow, pink, orange and red colors.
Red roses are a symbol for love and affection.
Pink roses convey poetic romance and gentleness.
White rose symbolised innocence and purity, which is how it became associated with weddings and bridal bouquets.
Peach coloured roses signal modesty.
Orange coloured Roses imply fascination.
The colour yellow conveys happy thoughts and a positive feelings of warmth. Though yellow roses signifies friendship, the color once signified the negative traits of jealousy and greed.
There are neither any black roses nor blue roses.
What might sometimes be referred to as a black rose is actually a dark red rose.
Roses do not bloom hurriedly; for beauty, like any masterpiece, takes time to blossom. – Matshona Dhliwayo (Canadian Philosopher, Entrepreneur, and Author)

Memories of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar Band

A recall by Veteran Commander Nanda Kumar Parrat (Roll No 322)

 I joined SSA in January 1965 in grade 5, age 9. The School Band members, especially in their ceremonial dress of Blood Red and Steel Grey (School Colours) with White anklets and gloves were a sight to behold for a nine year old.

When the school commenced in 1962, Mr Patrick was the Band Master. Then, we had just a Base Drum, Cymbal, Bugle, Side Drums and an innocuous looking triangular instrument called…obviously…the Triangle. Wikipedia…definition…an Idiophone-type of musical instrument in the percussion family.

Mr Guddu Shaib, a Veteran Pipe Major from the Madras Regiment, joined our school in 1966 and introduced bagpipes for the very first time.

As it happened, from 1965 – 1970, a Senior of mine was the SOLE player of this very light innocuous looking Triangle.

Everyone who was in school during those six to seven years, remember only THAT cadet as playing the Triangle….and  NO ONE ELSE.

About 40 years later I met the Triangle player, now an Indian Navy Veteran, and suddenly I realised that it was a real feat and mystery that no other cadet ever got to play the Triangle while he was in school (all of 7 years.) As it was the lightest and easiest instrument in the band to play and to merit the extra ration of milk, etc., there were hordes of others trying for that particular instrument, but never made it. 

The reason suddenly flashed to me after 40 years…the Triangle player was the only one to fit into the ceremonial dress which was specially stitched for him in Grade 5 (1964). No other cadet could fit into that small size uniform. That’s how he managed to stave off any attempts of others to play the Triangle for seven long years. Some people are lucky early in life.

Reveille with Bugle

Cadets playing bugle were detailed to sound morning Reveille at our school. It went like this, ‘Taa da Taa da Tat Tat Tat Taa’. We had this song in the same tune, ‘Chaar-lie, Chaar-lie, get up for tea’. At least we then believed….the song line…One Senior used to climb the roof of the dormitory at 0530 hrs to ostensibly increase the range of the sound of the bugle.

Retreat…. Sounds of Last Post

During the Annual School Day, sounding the Retreat, was a sombre occasion and the last act after Prize distribution, VIP speech, etc. Whereas, the Last Post sounded sentimental in itself, the apparent ‘Echo’ played by our cadet buglers from below the distant hill (firing range) made one’s hair stand on end.It is already dusk ..sun already behind the hills…the Last Post…wow.. Totally memorable even after 50 years…… The ECHO …still echoes in my heart.

This image came from the archives of Abe Jacob Abraham (Roll No 114,) as a Cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar in 1964, sounding the Reveille with Veteran Colonel Ravi Nair (Roll No 131) on his right. 

Colonel Nair recalls: “Most memorable phase of life.  Waking up the School for the day.  An onerous task indeed, which Abe and I did dutifully for the entire tenure in school. After the Reveille, rush to the Mess to have a glass of glucose concentrate and two eggs as compensation to lung power!!

Dr KT John (Roll No 84) writes from Melbourne, Australia: “I have played the bugle with you and Abe, Ravi, both for waking people and also for the lowering of the flag at dusk.

Remember playing the Reveille with Jaideep GC (Roll No 55) echoing, which used to wake up most of Amaravathi Nagar, including the donkeys, who occasionally joined in the chorus. Oh! what wonderful times.”

Veteran Colonel Jayath Pooviah recalls: “Later it devolved upon me to carry out this task…. Only I stumbled up that hill in my pajamas and woke up with the school while blowing that bugle... Never got that drink after!!

This image is of Mr Patrick, who was the Band Master until 1965, playing the pipe during the Dinner Night, after the dessert course. After he played the pipe, a toast (generally a tot of rum) was given to him by the Principal, a Lieutenant Colonel then. Later, Mr Guddu Sahib being a tee-totaler, the toast contained fruit juice only.

Joining the BAND Wagon by Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556)

In 1967, Pallava and Valluvar Houses were housed in the two storey buildings. Raghavan was the school vice captain. He lived in one of the side rooms along with our House Captain Muthukumar. Every morning Raghavan emerged from his room to blow the Reveille which echoed throughout the Amaravathi Valley.

Each week, Mr Guddu Sahib detailed a buglar to blow the Reveille in the morning and one for the Retreat in the evening. The retreat time was normally 15 minutes before the school ‘fall-in’ for Prep. Most of us running to be in time for the Prep cursed the Retreat. You had to freeze in whatever pose you heard it. The trail that ran behind the MI Room was full of human statues when the buglar blew the Retreat and the flag came down.

There were lots of misconceptions. ‘Blowing a bugle while sitting down, made your balls big,’ was one of them. Not everyone could blow the bugle, even though quite few could blow their own trumpets. Bugle was easy to carry, as compared other equipment, except the Triangle and Cymbals.

The dreaded instrument was the Base Drum, which needed strong shoulders and height. VP Misra (Roll No 179) and R Gnana Prakasam (Roll No 630) were made for Base Drum. Normally, the band used two side drums. The unwieldy kettle drums came out only on occasions. I still can’t recollect how Mr Guddu Sahib mustered those many side drummers.

Mr Guddu sahib’s favorite instrument was the bagpipe. We learnt to play the pipe in stages. Initially, just the chanter. Then we graduated to playing the pipe with the drones blocked. Finally, the pipe with all three drones. Each of the guys in the band, had their own favorite tunes. Mr Guddu Sahib cajoled and convinced the members to play the number he chose.

Sometime in 1969 or 1970, the band was present for an event in Udumalpet (Free Eye Camp.) State Ministers Sadiq Basha and Mathialagan were the guests of honour. When the event finished, the two misters came to the band stand and congratulated Mr Guddu Sahib, who reminisced about the accolades as long as we were at school.

Veteran Captain R Gnana Prakasam writes:

Wow …what nostalgic memories ..I have to confess that I never had any music sense and my motivation to join Band was only Extra Diet..Band Milk. My enormous appetite could be satiated by Band Milk and extras. I played cymbals and base drum. We really had lots of privileges like skipping PT and going out of school for some performances. Best sportsmen from our batch were in School Band. Rajarajan was the favourite of Gudddu Sahib as he was versatile in many instruments. He was our No 1 Bagpiper.

Can you recognise these septuagenarians and correlate with the archived photos above?

Reading Music

Veteran Lieutenant General PM 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.

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.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

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 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 see men and women working in the fields and they use the Thorthu as a headgear to beat the hot sun.
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 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