Three Musketeers by Veteran Colonel RB Gowardhan

I was commissioned into 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River,) a great unit which participated in 1971 war with elan and earned laurels. The Regiment had a unique combination of soldiers, Brahmin, Jat and South Indian Class. Being a Medium Regiment, the unit had all tall and well-built gunners. The unit won most of the sports trophies and excelled in all training competitions. The unit had moved from J & K to Gurgaon. Due to its proximity to New Delhi, unit was posted with full complement of officers. During those days it was an honour and privilege to be the Adjutant of the Regiment.

Adjutant of the Artillery unit is responsible for administration and assist the Commanding Officer in administration, training and discipline. In the battle and training, the Adjutant’s duty is to control and coordinate fire of 18 guns of the Regiment.

I was lucky to have all three officer GPOs (Gun Position Officers) responsible to control fire of each battery and ready to assist me in all regimental duties. The first one was Captain Paramjit Singh Ralhan, a handsome sardar who graduated from IMA as Direct Entry. He had decent manners and a smiling face. Second was Lieutenant Koduvath Reji, Sainik School and NDA brat, who was enthusiastic and bubbling with energy, sometimes exceeded limit of his enthusiasm. The third one was Lieutenant Gulshan Rai Kausik, matured service entry officer with boxer built and red eyes. His looks were sufficient to make any soldier to behave. All three were josh machines and when ordered can produce anything.

Ralhan was of a great help to control discipline of Brahmin battery and to organize any event in the unit or officer’s mess. Ralhan with his diligence and demure resolved any kind of situation or indiscipline with his cool mind and report “Sir, no problem, matter is resolved.” I remember one incident, where the problem was created by a rogue soldier. Ralhan handled the situation exceedingly well and disciplinary action was taken against the defaulter.   

Reji used to follow the dictum that as youngster commit any mistake but keep Adjutant informed. Therefore, it was quite often that I used to jump from the chair when he used to come and inform “Sir, chhotasa galati ho gaya.(Sir,I Committed a small mistake.)The so-called small mistake used to be slapping Superintendent of Police or bashing up BSF Dy Commandant. It wasn’t for the wrong reasons, but we had to sort out the issues.

On 31 Oct 1984, Regiment’s column was ordered to move and take responsibility of security of Teen Murty Bhawan, where mortal remains of our late Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi were kept. Regiment was also responsible for controlling VIP visitors, who came there to pay homage to late Prime Minister. Reji, stopped Inspector General of Delhi Police, who along with family was sneaking through VIP gate. This resulted into arguments with the Police Officer asking, “What are you doing here and who are you to stop me?”  Reji told that officer, “Had police been working properly, Army would not have come to control this.” This was being heard and observed by Minister-in-Charge there Mr Shivraj Patil and he appreciated Reji for his dedication to duty and rebuked Police Officer. Later, the Regiment received an appreciation letter and cash prize from the Minister.

Kaushik, with his presence of mind could handle any situation. Once the Regiment was playing final match of Kabaddi with Rocket Regiment, the hosts. They had arranged referees who were biased and obvious that they were helping Rocket Regiment. Our soldiers could not tolerate that injustice and warned referees. But referees again gave a wrong decision in favour of Rocket Regiment and our soldiers could no longer bear this injustice. They entered ground and caught hold of one of the referees. This resulted into commotion and big fight broke out between the soldiers of both Regiments. Adjutant of Rocket Regiment and I intervened to control the situation but we too faced the wrath of fighting soldiers. Lieutenant Kaushik fearlessly entered mob and with his commanding voice ordered Savdhan. To everyone’s surprise, we found all soldiers stood to attention. Then he ordered “Rocket Regiment dahine mood and Medium Regiment baye mood; tej chal.(Rocker Regiment Right Turn and Medium Regiment Left Turn; Quick March.)” Soldiers followed the orders and moved out of the field. The worst was averted.

All three officers were real assets in our Regimental life and during the training too. During firing of those monster 130 mm guns, I had to be careful and watchful as in Artillery they say that, once ordered and fired round/rounds of gun/guns cannot be corrected and result is depicted on the target. As an Adjutant, whenever all guns were ordered to fire together, I had to control my GPOs to ensure all guns fired accurately and in unison. As soon as I used to pass order for firing and report ready. Reji, who was most chatak(quick,) reacted and made his guns ready and report, thereafter, would not stop to point out mistakes of others if any. Ralhan, who was as cool as penguin checked, rechecked and took his time. To keep an atmosphere warm in his command post, I used to pass on heat online of fire control net.  Kaushik, with good sense of hearing and watchful eyes used to take time and get ready. The end result was accurate and coordinated fire.

There is lot to write about them. I can never forget their contribution to maintain josh, discipline, and winning competitions. All three are now well settled – Ralhan in USA, Reji in Canada, and Kaushik in South Delhi. I wish them very best for their endeavours.     

Sergeant Roy and Lieutenant Bobak

At the Canadian War Museum, thousands of people have seen a painting of a Black Canadian woman in a military uniform, standing behind a canteen counter, with crossed arms and a stern face. Most Canadians neither know the woman in the painting nor the artist.   It is one of the most famous canvases to come from the brush of Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female war artist. 

The painting is of Sergeant Eva May Roy and it remains in storage at the Canadian War Museum. She is one of many Black women who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II and is among the people whose stories are largely missing not only from public record but from public conscience as well.

Roy was a trailblazer, who served overseas at a time when it was rare to see a Canadian military woman working in Europe.  After the war broke out, Roy left her job as a presser in a laundry to become a machine operator and fuse assembler at the General Engineering Co. munitions plant in Scarborough, Ontario.

Roy enlisted in 1944 and joined the CWAC, a new division created just three years earlier. CWAC had 50,000 women in its ranks during World War II in support roles ranging from cooking to decoding. Roy trained as a cook and served in military canteens in Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland.

Many people associated with Roy say that the stern image presented by her portrait is somewhat misleading. She had an outgoing personality, was enthusiastic about the army and loved to sing.

After returning to Canada in January 1946, Roy worked as a government postal clerk in Toronto. Almost a decade later, when CWAC launched another recruiting campaign, Roy re-enlisted, served from 1955 to 1965 and attained the rank of sergeant.  She died in 1990.  

Molly Lamb Bobak (1920–2014) was the first Canadian woman war artist. In 1942 Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) and was appointed Official War Artist with the rank of Lieutenant in 1945.  She served overseas in London where she painted women on military training as well as dynamic scenes of marches and parades.

Upon her return from London, Molly married fellow war artist Bruno Bobak. For her role in the Second World War and many other accomplishments she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1973 and presented with the Order of Canada in 1995.

Wearing Military Uniform to Canadian Courts

The Canadian Armed forces have now ordered that all military personnel will be allowed to wear their uniforms to civilian criminal court only if they are testifying on behalf of the forces or the Crown in a military capacity.

The move comes in the wake of the case proceedings of Major General Dany Fortin, the former head of Canada’s vaccine task force, who was charged with one count of sexual assault in connection with an alleged incident in 1988. Since Fortin’s trial began in September, he has defended himself in court while wearing his uniform and ten medals across his chest.

The order came after complaints by some sexual trauma survivors that they were offended by a highly decorated military commander’s decision to wear his uniform and medals to his ongoing sexual assault trial.  They described Fortin’s decision to wear his uniform with medals as an act of intimidation that would have a silencing effect on survivors as well as on the judge.

Let us turn the clock back to 1985.  As a young Lieutenant then, I had to escort a Major, a Vir Chakra winner of the 1971 Indo-Pak War, to Additional Sessions Court at Delhi.  The Major was standing trial for the murder of his wife’s paramour. 

The Major’s wife was residing with her paramour with whom she had apparently decided to get married to. It was claimed by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) who investigated the case that the Major devised a booby trap bomb which he put into a package  and left it at the foot of the staircase leading to the home of the paramour.  The paramour is said to have opened the parcel and the resultant explosion killed him instantly.

The Major wore his Army uniform with full medals without the belt to the court.  On entering the court, he took his position in the dock.  As the Judge entered the court, the Major saluted the Judge. Three soldiers with weapons as guard and I as the escort sat behind him.

The Additional Sessions Court found the Major guilty of murdering her wife’s paramour and he was sentenced to life. The judgement was later overturned by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India, who acquitted the Major of the crime.   The higher courts observed that ‘it appeared that the case was totally dependent on circumstantial evidence and held that the CBI has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused.’

It is pertinent to note that in most countries the civilian judicial system prosecutes offences involving Armed Forces members for murder, manslaughter, culpable homicide, rape, and sexual assault.  Such cases are generally not tried by Court martial

Was there anything wrong in that the Major, an accused in a murder trial, while attending the court, was wearing his uniform with all his medals? 

At that time, I thought it was more of a dishonour to the Indian Army.  The uniform is a powerful symbol of the institution and wearing it could make a witness deposing against him feel a bit intimidated as though he/she was deposing against  the Indian Army as an organisation. The Judge could also be swayed by the sight of a soldier in uniform as sentiments other than that of a judge and an accused may come into the equation.  More than anything else the accused being in uniform somehow seems to suggest that he has organisational support irrespective of his purported criminal offence. Also, there is no doubt that the sight of the accused in uniform reflects poorly on the organisation.

 Undoubtedly all these aspects must have been considered in totality in the case of the Canadian General accused in   a sexual assault case. The Canadian Armed forces have indeed brought about a very sensible change of rule.

I believe that all other Armed Forces across the globe need to follow suit and not allow the Armed Forces Members to attend court in uniform when indicted as an accused, especially in a murder or a sexual assault case. In some cases, the offence in question such as culpable homicide not amounting to murder may have happened during performance of duty and the individual may have organisational support. It’s a debatable issue whether the uniform should be permitted in such cases, especially if the organisation feels a moral obligation to defend the individual.

The word dock has a bit of history.  Beginning in the late 1500s, English courts had separate enclosures for defendants in criminal cases. Since defendants were not allowed to pass through the bar in that era, these boxes called docks were introduced to distinguish the defendant from the other people in the gallery.  In those days, dock was a slang for a cage for animals and in the English courts, the defendants were kept caged.

Remembrance Day Holy Mass

St Gregorios Orthodox Church of Toronto observed Remembrance Sunday on November 13, 2022.  Rev Fr Thomas P John offered special prayers after the Holy Liturgy.

Fr John had requested the parishioners to respectfully wear a Poppy at church for the Holy Mass. For those who did not have one, it was made available at the church entrance to pick up and wear. A donation box was provided for donations to the Canadian Legion. Activity books for kids were also provided.

The Syrian Orthodox Christians believe that St Thomas, Apostle of Christ, came to Kerala in 52 AD and converted local Hindus and some Jews to Christianity.  A point to note that the Cochin Jews (also known as Malabar Jews or Yehudey Kochin,) are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon (970 – 931 BCE).  St Thomas did not impose any changes to the pattern of worship, rituals, and traditions of the locals. 

Portuguese colonisation of Kerala in the 16th Century with their concept of ‘the cross preceding the sword‘ resulted their aggressive efforts to bring the   Malayali Syrian Christians, and others  under the Catholic umbrella.  Those Malayali Syrian Christians who refused to convert had to flee the coastal areas controlled by Portuguese to the hills in the interior. As a result of this and other reasons, they today are further divided into Marthoma, Jacobite and Orthodox factions.  Later, British colonisation brought in the Protestant faith to the shores of Kerala.

The word Syrian in ‘Syrian Christians’ has nothing to do with ethnicity. It purely denotes the religious affiliation to the Orthodox Church of Antioch, then part of Syria and the Syriac, the liturgical language used as against Rome and Latin.

The Syriac language is a dialect of Aramaic spoken today in the Mesopotamian Plateau between Syria and Iraq, was once used widely throughout the Middle East. The Gospels were translated into Syriac early on, and Syriac studies today help document the historical relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This is believed to be closest to the dialect Jesus spoke during his ministry.

It is interesting to look at the history of Syrian Christians in Canada. With the arrival of a sizable number of Syrian Orthodox Christians to Canada from Kerala in the 1960s, Toronto became the focal point for the formation of the first Orthodox Syrian Christian Parish in Canada. The first Holy Qurbana (Mass) was offered on Christmas Day in 1969.  Today, the Church conducts Sunday Holy Mass in Malayalam and English.

What is the significance of Remembrance Day? It falls on November 11 and Canadians remember the men and women who served and continue to serve the country during times of war, conflict, and peace. It coincides with the Armistice Day which marks the date when armies stopped fighting World War I on November 11 in 1918. We observe this day to remember those who gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.  On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they had fought so hard to achieve. Canadians wear the Red Poppy for a week to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers.

Fr John conducted the Holy Mass wearing the Poppy on his Kappa – the ecclesiastical outer vestment wore over all other garments.  The Acolytes also wore the poppy on their Albs (long white vestment worn over their garments during the ministry.)  An Acolyte is a person assisting the leader in a religious service or procession.

Prior to the special prayers, Fr John exalted the congregation that we all must remember the soldiers, peacekeepers, those who served on the front lines, those who volunteered, those who waited anxiously at home, for those who hoped that things would get better, and those who could not stand by and wait.

He asked each one to remember them and if we did not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for their country.

Fr John then led the prayer by giving thanks to all those who believed that the world could be a better place. He in his prayers remembered those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, trusting that others could and would carry the torch.  He also gave thanks for those who were once enemies and who have become friends and allies.

He concluded his prayers with a reminder to all that we often take for granted, our values and institutions, our freedom to participate in cultural and political events, and our right to live under a government of our choice, were all attained at a huge human cost. Those who fought the wars and many who laid down their lives and lost their limbs, went in the belief that the values and beliefs enjoyed by humanity were being threatened. They truly believed that without freedom there can be no enduring peace and without peace no enduring freedom.

He also urged all the members to follow such Canadian customs and traditions like Remembrance Day and amalgamate with the mainstream Canadian society. 

This must be the first time any Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada conducted a special prayer to observe Remembrance Day.  St Gregorios Orthodox Church in the past 20 years had not done so. 

My compliments and sincere thanks to Fr John and all the office bearers, acolytes and all the parishioners who participated in the prayers for remembering the soldiers.   

Post Script:- This post may suggest to some that the author is a very religious person or even some one with a Christian supremacy theory. Far from the truth. I realise that no religion is better or worse than any other. All religions began with man’s effort to bring in some value system as a guide to humanity. However as Karl Marx said, religion did evolve into “opium of the masses.” The clergy, gurus and politicians used it as a tool to exploit people and serve vested interests. So whether we are believers, atheists or agnostics, what is important is that we cherish and try to live by human values that we have set for ourselves. I am able to do this with a great level of satisfaction. Then there is this notion of one being deeply spiritual without being religious. I try this concept with hardly any success.

A Remembrance Day to Remember

On November 01, every year Canadians take down the Halloween decorations and replace them with Christmas decorations, thus marking the beginning of the Holiday Season.  On the first Sunday of November (which falls on November 06 this year) the clocks are turned one hour back at 2 AM for Daylight Saving Time (DST.)

For the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in Canada, the month of November is well known for its cold and gloomy weather, but this year it is warm – more like the middle of September.  The daytime temperatures have been in the 20s – a record  high. Normally November temperatures remain in single digits. 

The warm November weekend prompted us to take a long drive through the outskirts of our city Mississauga on November 05, 2022, Saturday.  After enjoying the beauty of the fall colours, at the end of our drive we reached a Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop Drive-Through.  There was a long queue of cars on the Drive-Through with customers waiting to pick up their morning cup of coffee. For Canadians, especially on a warm weekend, a cup of coffee from Tim Horton’s is inescapable.

As we inched forward, we saw a lady in a car approaching the Drive-Through from the opposite direction.  The three cars ahead of us did not permit her to get into the queue.  As I approached her car, I stopped and waved at her asking her to join the queue.  She got into the queue, and we followed her in the Drive-Through to the ordering station.

Tim Hortons Inc, commonly referred to by Canadians as Tim’s or Timmies, is a Canadian multinational fast food restaurant chain. They serve coffee, doughnuts, and other fast-food items. In 1964, Tim Horton, a National Hockey League legend, opened his first store in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Today, it is Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain, with over 5000 restaurants in 15 countries.

Double Double, a Canadian classic coffee brewed at all Tim Hortons restaurants is coffee with two shots of cream and two shots of sugar. It gives the right creaminess and sweetness to the coffee and is the most common coffee ordered at the Tim Hortons. The two magic words ‘Double-Double,’ from being a vernacular expression, is now part of the regular vocabulary and included in the Canadian Oxford dictionary.

We ordered two cups of coffee and pulled up to the window where an Associate was waiting with the coffee we ordered.  He handed me the two cups of coffee and as I flashed my credit card to pay, he said “The customer before you  has paid for your order.”

A bit surprised and bewildered, I asked “But why?  Tim Horton’s only provides free coffee on the Remembrance Day – November 11 – to Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces Members.

This is the Remembrance Week.  May be that you are a Veteran and she wanted to show her appreciation,” justified the Associate who did not know what had transpired.

Marina opined “Could be. Our car has a Veteran Plate.”

I couldn’t help but reflect. “One stranger showed a bit of kindness to another and the other showed her appreciation in return“. Small things in life sometimes give you loads of happiness.

What Caused the Suspension Bridge to Break?

A suspension bridge on Machchhu river in Gujarat’s Morbi town collapsed on October 30, 2022, leaving more than 130 people dead. The 230-meter bridge, built during British rule in the 19th century was touted by the state’s tourism website as an artistic and technological marvel. It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened for the public a week before the tragedy.

As per media reports, about 200 people were estimated to have been on the bridge when it collapsed. A 36-second video clip shared by the Morbi District Administration shows a large crowd of young men shaking the bridge from side to side few moments before it collapsed.

Did the bridge collapse due to overcrowding or overloading?

Such a possibility is remote!  Most bridges collapses world wide occurred while the bridges were under construction. Then what led to the collapse of this bridge?

Let us examine this tragedy in the light of similar ones.

In 1831, when a brigade of soldiers marched in step across England’s Broughton Suspension Bridge, a similar incident occurred. The marching steps of the soldiers happened to resonate with the natural frequency and the bridge broke apart, throwing dozens of men into the water. After this, the British Army issued orders that soldiers while crossing a suspension bridge must ‘break step‘ and not march in unison.

When soldiers march in unison across a suspension bridge, they apply a vibration at the frequency of their steps. If their frequency is closely match the bridge’s frequency, soldiers’ rhythmic marching will amplify the natural frequency of the bridge. If the mechanical resonance is strong enough, the bridge can vibrate until it collapses due to the movement.

Here is a simple experiment to understand mechanical resonance. Tie three pendulums of different lengths and two of the same length (B & D) to a rubber hose. Now swing one of the two pendulums of equal lengths and after a few minutes, all the other pendulums will begin to swing with the other pendulum of equal length swinging as much as the other. This is due to result of resonance as the frequency of the two pendulums with equal lengths are same and hence they resonate.

On October 04, 2022, at least 30 students were injured in an unfortunate incident after a hanging bridge fell in Assam’s Karimganj district. The horrific incident took place when 100 girls and boys of Cheragi Vidyapith High School were crossing it with all of them falling into the river.

In this case the students could have the tendency to fall in step due to drill classes and morning assembly at school. While walking, children tend to flock together and fall in step not to step on the neighbour’s foot.

Ground Resonance is one of the hazardous conditions of helicopter operations every pilot is taught.  It has not been solved and continues to be a big concern for anyone who flies a helicopter. It is an out-of-balance condition in the rotor system of a helicopter on the ground that rapidly increases in frequency until the helicopter shakes itself apart. When it happens, seconds is all it takes to break apart the copter into many pieces.

In May 1999, two girls were drowned and 15 others injured when a suspension bridge across a river collapsed in Panathur, Kasargod in Kerala. The incident occurred when a group of people taking part in a funeral procession entered the suspension bridge, the bridge tilted and collapsed – again due to mechanical resonance l.

In a similar incident in February 2014, eight people died and more than 30 were injured when a suspension bridge collapsed over a dry stream in the North-Western province of Lai Chau in Vietnam. The accident happened as a group of residents walked across the bridge to bring the coffin of a local official to a graveyard.

What could have triggered the mechanical resonance in these two cases? The villagers participating in the two funerals were surely never drilled down by any Sergeant Majors. 

I believe that anyone while on a funeral procession walks slowly and is often accompanied by the drums or hymns being sung at a melancholic pace. The funeral participants tend to bunch together, mainly due to their sadness. These factors could have forced the funeral participants to march in step, without their knowledge. Another reason of marching in step could be that one does not want to step on another’s foot and the best way to avoid is to walk in step with the person in front. In both the cases, the coffin was carried by the coffin bearers with their hands. This needed the coffin bearers to walk in step.

Mechanical resonance may have been a contributing factor in the recent Morbi bridge collapse. Only a detailed investigation can bring out the actual cause.

You must have heard of singers breaking glass with their voice. They produce a frequency that resonates with the frequency of the glass. Glass wine goblets are especially resonant because of their hollow tubular shape, which is why they make a pleasant ringing sound when clinked. When the singer’s frequency resonates with glass’ natural frequency, it causes the glass to vibrate in resonance and if she sings loud enough, the glass will vibrate itself to smithereens.

Another example of mechanical resonance was the destruction of Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington in 1940. Even though the bridge was designed to withstand winds of up to 200 kmph, on that fateful day the wind speed recorded was mere 60 kmph. A mechanical resonance resulted due to the wind at that speed hitting the bridge perpendicularly. Continued winds increased the vibrations until the waves grew so large and violent that they broke the bridge.

The good old soldiers’ orders about crossing a suspension bridge must come into force immediately to save lives in future.

Illumi

Its Illumination Mississauga (Illumi) – opened with more than 20 million brilliant lights in 13 magical universes on a 600,000 square foot site, the equivalent of 10 football fields.
As darkness fell on 22 October 2022, we with our grandson James drove to the Illumi location, about 15 minutes from our home. Having purchased our tickets online, there was no waiting at the ticket counter. We entered the Jack-o-Lantern area – Halloween is around the corner and Canadian homes are decorated with carved pumpkins to form Jack-o-Lantern. More than 50% of the pumpkin grown in Canada gets converted into Jack-o-Lanterns.

We were welcomed by the Tree of lights – 47 meters high – as tall as the Statue of Liberty! Made of 44,000 interactive luminous spheres. It is visible from kilometer around and is the hallmark of Illumi. Its unparalleled display of brilliance of multimedia sound and light show.
The Crazy Boulevard depicts a Hollywood movie set with extravagant Boulevards and a make-believe neighbourhood.

Various architectural wonders of the world were depicted with dancing lights.
A scene from a Western movie depicted in recognition of Hollywood in entertaining humanity over the years.
A dozen of huge Cinderella’s glass sandals were a great attraction.

Illumi recognised the Canadian sports-persons and various sporting events Canadians excel.

How can the Canadians forget the Fall. Trees in various shades red and yellow, made out of lights was a true representation of the season outside.

The Fall got to be followed by the severe Canadian Winter – with Snowman and skating. Gigantic glowing crystals form an icy world, a sparkling ice castle and a pathway lined with snowmen leads you to memories of frosty Canadian winters.
This section was aptly named The Happiest Farm.

Reminisced about my childhood – the brood of hens and the majestic rooster Amma reared.

Children enjoyed the pigs and the piglets more than anything else.

At the Europea Place was the Merry-Go-Round Square and James hopped on to a white horse on the magical carousel.

Welcome to the animal kingdom. The area welcomed visitors with melodious Bollywood songs.

Majestic pachyderms stood with elegance and grace.

Zebras and the geese in contrasting colours attracted kids.

Red and white waterbirds
James atop a cheetah.
Giraffes and snakes co-existed peacefully.

The Land of The Scarlet Spiders where hundreds of gargantuan red tarantulas attracted both adults and children alike at the Illumi. The monstrous matriarch and her progeny of 250 arachnid predators are sure to give you goosebumps.

The Infinite Poles was all about the Poles – The North and the South. Icy regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic are represented the icy world with lights where penguins, whales and igloos coexist in an endless forest of stalagmites.

The Magic Lanterns sections was a walk-through among traditional arches surrounded by huge bright flowers, bamboo shoots and pandas to discover the stately soldiers and cavalry of the emperors. We strolled into the pagoda and admired the school of koi fish guarded by a fabulous imperial dragon.

The horses reminded me of our equestrian classes at the National Defence Academy. A herd of 200 sparkling stallions, inspired by Cavalia’s white show-horses, a colossal herd, constructed from thousands of dazzling lights, showcased the gracefulness of Cavalia’s equine stars. Cavalia has made a name for themselves over the last decade and a half. Since 2003, they’ve been touring the world with their eponymous acrobatic and equestrian show.

Cavalia is a Canadian entertainment company that specialises in creating, producing and marketing large-scale live shows and events. A family business founded by Normand Latourelle, has its expertise in high technology, multimedia and special effects that create a magical, unique, never-before-seen experiences.

Illumi – A Dazzling World of Lights is Cavalia’s latest creation: a magical and captivating nocturnal journey created with thousands of monumental light sculptures.

Wine Tasting and Oak Apples

Once in Sacramento, how can we miss a visit to Napa Valley, America’s most celebrated wine region. Napa is best known as a booming wine region, serving up some of the top vintages and some of the best wines in the world. The rolling hills and sunny skies make the region a picturesque spot for a quick getaway.

Wine and wine tasting is the main draw. The valley with over 400 wineries to explore with rustic architecture – century-old castles to cutting-edge contemporary designs – is a great getaway spot.
We visited Beringer Vinery on September 02, 2022 for wine tasting. Beringer’s history dates to 1869, when Jacob Beringer, reached Napa Valley after sailing from Germany. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. In 1875, Jacob and his brother Frederick, purchased 215 acres, known as Los Hermanos (the brothers), that became the heart of the Beringer estate.
Beringer has some of the most beautiful architecture in Napa Valley. The Rhine House, which Frederick Beringer began construction in 1883, is a 17-room mansion. The design is based on the design of his ancestral home in Germany. It was completed in 1884. There are 41 stained glass panels reflecting coloured light throughout the house, stenciled paint work on the walls, hand-carved wood panels and cabinets, etc. Today, it is the center of hospitality, holding wine tasting.
The Hudson House, built around 1850, was on the property when the Beringer brothers bought the land in 1875. Originally the house stood in the same location the Rhine House today. Frederick had Jacob’s residence, the Hudson House, moved 200 feet north using horses and logs in 1883. where it remains today.
The house was originally built by David Hudson, who was known for his involvement in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 in Sonoma, an event that was instrumental in California winning independence from Mexico.
After Frederick’s passing in 1901, then Jacob’s passing in 1915, Jacob’s children, Charles and Bertha Beringer, took over. While most wineries shut their doors at the beginning of Prohibition in 1920, Beringer continued to operate under a federal license that allowed them to make wine for religious purposes. Of course, Beringer went beyond selling sacramental wine to churches, which is the story behind the Whisper Sister label. After Prohibition, Beringer was the first winery to offer public tours, sparking wine tourism in Napa Valley.

In Napa Valley, I was surprised by the giant Oak Trees – not by their sizes and not by the littleness of the small acorns that grew on them, but by the Oak Apples.

The adage that Mighty oaks – from little acorns grow is a 14th Century old English proverb that has so much significance to many aspects of our everyday lives. It inspires us never to give up, and to always remember that great things do indeed come from small beginnings.

That’s what I knew about Mighty Oaks and Little Acorns until my visit to the Napa Valley.  There were Big Oak Apples growing on the Mighty Oaks too. 

An oak apple is not a fruit but a gall. Now what is a Gall?

Plant galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues. They can be caused by various parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Oak apple galls are leaves that have developed into a thin sphere because wasps have laid eggs inside of the leaf.

Oak apple wasps (Amphibolips Confluenta) have a lifespan of over two years that happens on one single oak tree. The mother wasp lays her eggs at the roots of the oak tree. The larvae that emerge feed on roots of the oak tree. They develop into pupae, and then into wingless female wasps. In spring of the second year of the life cycle, the adult female wasps emerge from the ground and climb up the oak tree to the leaves. There they inject an egg into the veins of a newly growing leaf, and the gall begins to form.

As the egg hatches, chemicals and hormones released through fluid alter the leaf’s typical growth and the leaf develops into green round ball to create a secure tiny home for one wasp larva. In summer, the larva turns into a pupa, and then into an adult wasp. The adult wasp exits the gall by making a hole, and the galls turn brown and sometimes drop to the ground. Males and females mate, and females burrow into the ground to lay eggs and the cycle restarts again.

The mighty oak tree, the galls and the oak apple wasps teach us about the complexity of the natural world around us and demonstrate how native tree species support.  There are hundreds of insects that produce galls, even within a single oak tree. Other insects use different species of plants to create galls. And many other organisms sometimes take advantage of a gall one larva has created and repurpose it for their own use.

On September 03, Kumar Bala aka Nandu surprised me with a visit to Sacramento. Kumar and I are from the same batch at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Thamizh Nadu. He is the Head of Life Sciences Strategy at Oracle with a focus on Medical Device and Pharma sectors. He lives in the Bay Area, about 90 minutes’ drive from Sacramento. We had lunch at Mylapore Restaurant at Folsom, about thirty minutes’ drive from Sacramento. The restaurant served the most authentic Dosa, Uthappam, Idli and other South Indian delicacies. It was indeed a great place to culminate our reunion and my California trip.

California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento is a tribute to the Iron Horses and the people who sacrificed to make it possible in connecting California to the rest of the nation. The museum features restored locomotives and cars, some dating back to 1862. First opened to the public in 1976, the Museum is visited by Over 500,000 annually. 

The Museum displays many meticulously restored locomotives and cars. Numerous exhibits illustrate how railroads have shaped American people’s lives, the economy, and the unique culture of California and the West.
The first steam engine that welcomes you into the museum is Central Pacific (CP) No 1, named Gov. Stanford named in honour of the railroad’s then president, Leland Stanford, who was also Governor of California. This steam engine, built in 1862, hauled the CP’s first excursion train, first revenue freight on 25th March 1864 and first scheduled passenger train on 15th April 1864. It remained in service until retired in 1895. It is now on static display at the museum, restored to its 1864 appearance.
Southern Pacific No1- C P Huntington is named after the company’s vice-president. It was built in 1863 and was used to help build the transcontinental railroad as well as haul passenger trains. It ended its service being used as a weed burner, clearing the tracks.
Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&TRR) No 18, named the Dayton, was built in 1873 to haul passenger and freight trains. Later, it was employed on snow-plow duty and was retired in 1926. In 1937, the locomotive, minus the plow, was sold to Paramount Pictures who repainted and renumbered for use in the filming of motion pictures.
The VTRR No 13 – The Empire was built in 1873 and saw service as a freight engine. In 1910, it was converted from a wood burner to an oil burner, and was renumbered #15, perhaps due to ‘Triskaidekaphobia‘- the fear of number 13.  The locomotive retired in 1931. In 1978, based on period photographs and original drawings, it was restored to #13 status of 1873.

The Sonoma, a narrow-gauge steam engine, was built in 1876. The engine is believed to have initially pulled both passenger and freight trains, though no photographs or records exist. The Sonoma has been restored to its as-built appearance, utilising available drawings and specifications.
Union Pacific No. 4466 is a Switcher type steam locomotive built in 1920 to perform switching chores and transfer runs – ‘shunting’ in railways parlance. In 1978, it was donated to the museum, and in 1984, it was restored to service and it also pulled the museum excursions. In 1999, new California emissions regulations banned the operation of coal-fired steam locomotives, which caused the 4466 to be put on indefinite static display.
The first California oil burning, cab-forward design engine was built in 1910. The configuration provided the best visibility for locomotive engineers on sharp curves and saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smokestack fumes in numerous long mountain tunnels and snow-sheds. The engine is equipped with two independent sets of driving wheels, enabling it to follow the rails flexibly. 4294 was in service from 1944 to 1956, hauling both freight and passenger trains until replaced by diesel engines. In 1981, it was restored, repainted, and refurbished.
Wooden Combination (Passenger & Baggage) Car No.16 was built in late 1874 for the VTRR. As the small wooden coaches in use until then were crammed beyond capacity and passengers frequently had to stand, in late 1874, VTRR procured two combination cars – cars No 15 and No 16. The car featured elegant interior ash, oak and black walnut woodwork. The Car No 16 served on the VTRR until 1938. The car was gifted to the museum in 1969 who undertook extensive restoration and returned to its 1875 appearance.
This Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad combination narrow-gauge first-class Car No 1 was built in 1874 for the short-lived Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad. The car was saved from a scrap heap to be restored with great difficulty as there were hardly any photographs or images available.
This narrow-gauge passenger car built in 1881 was named the Silver State after the Nevada state motto.  The coach saw irregular service as a first-class car until the early 1900s. The car was restored in 1977 with new exterior wood and all colors that matched the original paint. All hardware in the car was re-plated with silver to match the original finish which is typical of an 1880s passenger car.
Experiments with refrigerator cars began in the 1860s and by 1872 meat was being shipped successfully within the Eastern states. The idea of shipping fruit and vegetables as well, quickly caught on. This 1924 built refrigerator car called Reefer needed Icing Stations at regular intervals. The scheduling had to ensure that trains reached the icing stations before the ice melted. This steel-framed wood-sheathed car carried out its duties until retirement in 1962.
Georgia Northern Railway private passenger car No 100 – The Gold Coast – was built in 1905 as Saloon Car No 97. In 1948, it was sold to railroad historian Lucius Beebe and his partner and photographer Charles Clegg, who were one of the first gay couples to have a relationship well known to the public. They refurbished the car and named it The Gold Coast. They made the car their home and during that period wrote three books and entertained many world-renowned guests. Beebe died in 1966, and The Gold Coast was donated to the California State Railroad Museum in 1969. The car also houses many photographs and other works donated by Clegg in memory of Beebe.
This Railway Post Office No 42 was built in 1950. It was in service until 1967 when the Railway Mail service ended. It operated as a US Post Office on wheels with armed postal clerks sorting mails as the train chugged through the Wild-West.

The California State Railroad Museum serves its function is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for study and education of the public. Various restored engines, rolling stock, railroad artwork, and interactive exhibits are sure to delight both rail enthusiasts and first time visitors alike.

Pony Express, Railroad and Steamers

City of Sacramento derives its name from its location near the confluence of the American and Sacramento River.  Thus, water and railroad transportation were vital to the development of the city. During the California Gold Rush (1848–1855,) Sacramento was connected to San Francisco by rail, road, pony mail and ships. 

This is the statue of a Pony Express Rider.  The rider’s clothes were based on the description in Mark Twain’s book Roughing It, published in 1872. Rider’s saddle and Mochilla (what they carried the mail in) were modeled after originals that are in the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. 
The Pony Express was an American Express mail service that used relays of horse-mounted riders. It operated from April 3, 1860, to October 26, 1861. 121 riders rode 650,000 miles with only one rider killed, one schedule not completed and one mail pouch lost. With the advent of Telegraph in 1860, Pony Express went bankrupt in 18 months of its commencement of operations.
Blue Star Memorial Highways are highways in the United States that are marked to pay tribute to the US armed forces. The blue star was used on service flags to denote a service member fighting in the war. Today, it stands as a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces who have served, are presently serving and will serve in the future.
The California Steam Navigation Company was formed in 1854 to consolidate competing steamship companies in California and they enjoyed a near-monopoly. With the advent of the railroad systems which were faster and cheaper, the steamship business was driven to unprofitable levels. in 1871, the company’s assets were purchased by the California Pacific Railroad, and the corporation was dissolved.
The Delta King, a 285-foot riverboat did her daily river voyages between San Francisco and Sacramento from 1927, providing prohibition-era drinking, jazz bands, gambling, and fine dining. In 1940, the boat was recruited into service with the US Navy during World War to serve on San Francisco Bay as a floating barrack, troop transport and hospital ship.
After the war, the ship became a derelict and was partially submerged for 15 months in San Francisco Bay. She was acquired by the present owners and towed to Old Sacramento and was renovated. Today she is a floating luxury hotel with her original 88 staterooms converted to 44 larger luxury suites. It houses the award-winning Pilothouse Restaurant and the ship is a destination wedding too.
Next to the Delta King is the Tower Bridge is a vertical lift bridge across the Sacramento. It has also been known as M Street Bridge. This golden yellow vertical lift bridge was first opened in December of 1935 when it replaced the old Sacramento Northern Railway swing through truss bridge. In June 1976 as part of Bicentennial projects, it was painted a yellow-ochre color to match the gold leafed cupola on the nearby State Capitol.
Western Pacific Passenger Depot is a former railway station in Sacramento that opened in 1910. The station was in operations until 1970. The station was equipped with indoor restrooms, large waiting room with a separate women’s waiting room, an attic storeroom, baggage room, and ticket and telegraph office.
The California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento is a tribute to the Iron Horses and the people who sacrificed to make it possible in connecting California to the rest of the nation. The museum features restored locomotives and cars, some dating back to 1862.
Old buildings are witnesses to the aesthetic and cultural history of a city, helping to give people a sense of place and connection to the past. Historic buildings often represent something famous or important to people who live in a city or those visiting.

Sacramento: The Capital of California

During our summer vacation of 2022, we visited our niece Deepti and her family at Sacramento.  While touring California in 2008, I believed that either Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego could be the capital of California.  That time Sacramento did not find a place in our destinations.

The city derives its name from its location near the confluence of the American and Sacramento River.  The word Sacramento signifies Sacrament or Lord’s Supper. Sacramento came into prominence during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855).  Then it was a hastily built city with wooden structures covered with canvas.
The California State Legislature officially moved to Sacramento in 1854 and at the 1879 Constitutional Convention, Sacramento was named the permanent State Capital. With its new status and strategic location, the city quickly prospered. Sacramento became a major distribution and transportation point as the western end for both the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad.

A series of devastating fires prompted a group of citizens to establish the first volunteer fire department in the western United States. Sacramento Fire Department was established and became the first paid professional fire department west of the Mississippi.

The Firehouse No 3 in Sacramento was built in 1893. The existing structure remains the oldest Fire House in California, dating from 1853. When restored in 1959 for occupancy and use as a restaurant and bar, every effort was made to preserve as much as possible of the original building.
During the Gold Rush, Pioneer Square, a two-storied brick building housed Professor LA Lauriet’s Assay Office. If a miner stuck gold, Lauriet determined the authenticity of the gold. The miner could then save it, gamble with it, or spend it at a saloon.
The City’s waterfront location made it extremely vulnerable to flooding. After three seasons of severe flooding, thousands of cubic yards of soil were brought in to raise the entire city one storey. The original street level can still be seen throughout Old Sacramento under boardwalks and in some basements, as in the image above. The street level of Old Sacramento was raised in the 1860s and ’70s as much as 14 feet.
The B.F. Hastings Bank Building was erected in 1853, after the fire of November 2, 1852. This historic site was a banking house and it housed the State Supreme Court and the offices of the State Attorney General and the State Librarian. It also contained the offices of Wells, Fargo & Co., the Alta California Telegraph Company and the Pony Express.
River City Saloon was one of the original houses of ill repute owned by Johanna Heigle. Shortly after that it became Parker French’s Saloon. This saloon was also known as an unruly place at times. During Prohibition, it was continually raided as it insisted it was only serving alcohol for medicinal reasons. In 2007, the saloon was remodeled to its original grandeur and renamed the River City Saloon.
This is all that remains of the original Union Hotel built in 1855 and replacing the Verandah Hotel that occupied the site from 1852 until 1855. The Union Hotel was the social, political and business center of Sacramento until 1870. It housed the headquarters of the stagecoach lines and steamboat lines.
Livingston Low Baker & Robert Muirhead Hamilton came to California in 1849 with the hope of finding gold. Mining for gold was hard work with little rewards, so Baker & Hamilton started selling general supplies, tools and provisions to the miners. In 1850 the pair opened their first store in Sacramento concentrating on agricultural equipment and general merchandise.
The Hall, Luhrs & Company was a wholesale grocery business that operated from 1885 to 1906. It is the largest brick building in Old Sacramento.
In 1855, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins formed a partnership and opened Huntigton & Hopkins hardware store. The store was demolished and reconstructed at this site in 1970 because of the construction of the Interstate 5 Freeway. The inside of the store is typical of a hardware store of the mid-19th century in that Huntington used the second floor of his original building as his living quarters. In 1861 they conceived a plan for linking the East Coast and the West by a railroad. Thus, the Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated on June 28, 1861.
Built as wholesale and import house by four German immigrants who arrived in 1849 on the ship Lady Adams and started a wholesale business under that name. This is the only building to survive fire of 1852 as it was built with bricks. It was raised to its present level in 1865. In recent years it has been used as a lodging house.
The Mechanics Exchange Hotel catered to that segment of the Sacramento population. It served those connected with the iron works, mills, and railroad activities during the gold rush. In 1854, it was known as the Mechanics’ Saloon and Ball Alley. In 1860, owners replaced it with a brick building. They raised the buildings and added a third story when the city elevated the streets.
Old Town Sacramento brings to life the Wild West we’re used to in Hollywood movies. Many of the streets and buildings, dating from the 1800’s tell the story of gold rush miners, merchants, and madams.

When most cities around the world moved ahead with the times, Sacramento city preserved old buildings which are historically significant and aesthetically appealing.  These buildings have been put to good use for businesses and offices and they also attract a lot of tourists year around.

Human Instruments

Can you ever imagine that the survey of the Trans-Himalayan Region was done mostly on foot? That a human being walked all the way through the Himalayas, while counting each step he took to calculate the distances between places.

Reading a 36-page document by Dr Kapil Raj, When Human Travellers Become Instruments: The Indo-British Exploration of Central Asia in the Nineteenth Century, I was fascinated by the ability of the human body and mind to find methods to overcome any difficult situation.

British India in the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny went into mapping and stabilising its surrounding territories. The British needed to bring the Trans-Himalayan region into the ambit of British trade, followed by military intervention. The first step was to map the area of the Kashmir Kingdom, some surrounding areas under the Chinese Empire and some areas in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Captain Thomas George Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers was entrusted with the task of mapping Kashmir. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1849, arrived in India in 1851, and joined the Great Trigonometrical Survey. The Great Trigonometrical Survey was a project which aimed to survey the entire Indian subcontinent which was begun in 1802 by William Lambton. Under his successor, George Everest, the project was made the responsibility of the Survey of India.

After the survey of Kashmir, Montgomerie had to survey and map Tibet, an autonomous region. Tibetans were very suspicious of the Europeans. Thus, he had to enroll the services of locals who could travel as part of trade caravans to Tibet.  Even if he found locals for the task, how could they be trained to use conventional surveying techniques and instruments?

Captain Montgomerie trained the natives, drilled them night and day for weeks, to take a stride of exactly 31.5 inches whatever the terrain or incline. At 63360 inches to a mile, every 2,000 such paces marked a mile.

As his first ‘human instrument’, Montgomerie nominated Mahomed-i-Hameed, aka Moonshee who reached Leh on 4 July 1863 after meticulously mapping his route from Kashmir. On 24 August Hameed, disguised as a merchant and accompanied by two servants and a pony-load of merchandise, joined a caravan heading for Yarkand, a major oasis city on the trade route between China, India, and Central Asia.

The party arrived at Yarkand on 30 September. Hameed had precisely traced the entire route, carefully noting all that he had observed, especially the vegetation and human dwellings. He drew a map of the city and the region and transcribed the history of the region as narrated by locals.

On 27 March 1864 the party commenced their return journey to Leh, but Hameed died en route, after eating poisonous rhubarb, according to his companions. Montgomerie’s assistant, William Johnson, was the first to reach the scene of the tragedy. Hameed’s entourage had meanwhile made off with his most saleable belongings. Fortunately, no one had touched his notes.  Armed with Hameed’s notes, Montgomerie sailed for England on 20 February 1865 after thirteen years in India. Using this leisure, he drew a map of the route between Leh and Yarkand.

This new mission was entrusted to two Kumaoni Bhotiya cousins, schoolteacher Nain Singh, and Mani Singh, the patwari, the village record-keeper. They had already taken part in topographical surveys and were familiar with geodesic and astronomical instruments and could handle any hurdles in crossing the frontier from Kumaon. 

Disguised as Lamas, they carried a prayer wheel and a rosary, perfectly normal adjuncts for the pilgrimage to the holy city of Lhasa. The prayer wheel concealed a small compass, and other miniature survey instruments. Rudraksh Rosary helped count paces, one bead for every hundred paces. The Buddhist rosary has 108 coral beads; those of the cousins only had a hundred, every tenth bead being much larger than the others. A complete round of the Rosary represented exactly 10,000 paces or five miles.

After months of rigorous drilling in the use of the sextant, compass and other survey instruments and techniques, Nain Singh and Mani Singh left for Tibet in March 1864 and returned to DehraDun on 27 October 1866. They were turned back at the Tibeto-Kumaoni border, so they tried to enter Tibet through Nepal, all the while charting the route they followed. Despite the advantage of their origin, they had to adopt different guises and resort to devious ploys for entering Tibet: passing off as merchants with the survey instruments cleverly hidden in their wares, or even as healers curing people of minor ailments! 

During a two-and-a-half-year expedition, Nain Singh walked 1,200 miles at a steadily maintained pace. He counted 2.5 million paces on his rosary! He not only succeeded in pinpointing the location of Lhasa, but also measuring the distance between several important Tibetan cities, thirty-one stations in all. He also mapped the 700-mile upper-course of the Tsangpo River from its source to Lhasa and reported that Tsangpo and the Brahmaputra were the same river.

Nain Singh also gave a detailed account of Tibet’s general climatic conditions, demographics, its cities and monasteries, army, agricultural production, economy, the state of its roads, transportation, communications, and most importantly, Tibet’s trade with China and Kashmir. . The Royal Geographical Society awarded Nain Singh a gold watch in 1868 and the Victoria gold medal in 1875.

Kishen Singh, alias AK, a cousin of Nain Singh, travelled across the Tibetan plains and the Kunlun Mountains between 1878 and 1882. In Lhasa, AK was delayed for over a year waiting for his caravan to leave. He was robbed twice, and even imprisoned by the Mongolians!  He was freed by a Tibetan merchant who forced him. to ride a horse, which prevented him from counting his strides. Undeterred and innovative, he got round the problem by measuring the length of the horse’s pace and counting each time the right foreleg hit the ground. When he returned to British India in 1882, he had travelled 2,800 miles and counted an incredible 5.5 million paces!

This confidence in natives to record and narrate facts so vital for the survival of the British Empire is especially surprising when one remembers that geography in the nineteenth century consisted not only in taking topographical readings but also in collecting cultural, ethnolographic, political, and commercial information.

Though the survey instruments used then have long become museum pieces, these measurements are accurate and still the basis on which the maps are made in times of GoogleEarth, GPS, and satellite,

Back to School

Back-to-School period usually starts and ends in August before the school year starts in Canada, United States, and Europe. In Australia and New Zealand – being in the Southern Hemisphere, this occurs in February, after their summer break.

In merchandising, Back-to-School is the period in which students and their parents purchase school supplies and clothes for the coming school year.  At many Canadian Malls, Back-to-School sales are held for school supplies, children and young adults’ clothing, office supplies, back-packs, laptop computers and so on. 

Labour Day, which falls on the first Monday of September, a holiday in Canada and the US, marks the end of Back-to-School shopping. Labour Day also marks the unofficial end of summer, though Fall (Autumn) begins only on September 22 – Fall Equinox. The day after Labour Day – first Tuesday of September – marks the beginning of a new school year.

Back-to-School shopping tradition caught on in North America as women flocked to colleges and universities in the early twentieth century.  These young women were trend setters for new fashions. Many clothing stores started special lines to cater to college going women. Every September, college these women shopped for their clothing needs and the stores obliged by setting up discounted sales. 

Every student is excited about the new academic year they are entering.  The first day of school is one of the most important day in the academic year as they show off their latest clothing and discussing as to what about their escapades during the summer holidays. Gossips too are as important.

There is an inherent discomfort at the bottom of the stomach of each student on the first day at school. About 2.5% of school children suffer from acute fear of going to school and this fear is called Didaskaleinophobia– derived from Greek Didasko meaning to teach and Phobos meaning fear. Equivalent Latin term is Scholionophobia.

Am I competing with Mr Tharoor?? No way!!!

It is a North American tradition to gift an apple to the teacher by the students on the first day of school when school opened in September as it coincided with the ripening of apples in North America. This tradition of gifting apples to teachers dates to the 16th century when parents in Denmark and Sweden often gifted teachers with baskets of apples and other food to help compensate for their low wages. Tradition of bringing apples to teachers carried on even after schools were modernised.

In the 1920s, apple polishing was used as a slang for trying to curry favour to the teacher. Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell sang in 1939:-

 “An apple for the teacher that seems the thing to do because I want to learn about romance from you.

An apple for the teacher to show I’m meek and mild If you insist on saying that I’m just a problem child.

An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don’t know your lesson in arithmetic.

We have other words that mean the same thing. We also call this type of person a kiss-up, toady or boot-licker. Another popular one is teacher’s pet.

It is an apple-polisher’s dream to become the teacher’s pet – much to the anger of fellow classmates.”

Nothing much has changed to this day. We were all mortally scared on our first day of school. Our stomachs were churning. We all went through it and so did our children. Now it is the turn of our grandchildren.

The only change is that today Apple denotes not the fruit for the young generations.

On assuming command of our Regiment in June 2002, I gifted an umbrella to all school going children of our Regiment when the schools opened. Please Click Here to read about it. At that time, I was unaware of the Back-to-School traditions.

In 2003, I ordered our Religious Teacher [Regimental Chaplin- a Hindu Pundit] to prepare a packet for each school going children of the Regiment with necessary school supplies and gift the same to the children. Our Religious Teacher was a bit reluctant initially, having never heard of such a practice during his two decades of military service. On completion of the assigned task, he reported, “Sir, this is the apt method to spend the Mandir Fund. It will inspire all our children to put in their best at school.”

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (21 Apr 1926 – 08 Sep 2022)

While driving through the town, I found a man outside his home, bringing the Canadian Flag to half mast. I checked the news feed and learnt that Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, dead at 96.

The British Monarch remains the constitutional head of state of Canada and the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, no matter who holds the role. Hence, the succession from the Queen to her eldest son Charles is automatic.

After Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne on 6 Feb 1952, fifteen Canadian Prime Ministers have been in office. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest for any British monarch and the second longest recorded for any monarch of a sovereign country. (Longest reigning monarch was Louis XIV of France, who reigned from 14th May 1643 until 1st September 1715 —72 years and 110 days.)

In the past four decades since I learnt about her, she matured into her senior years with josh and cheer.  Her dress sense and choice of colours befitted her royal status and it always stood out.  Who will ever miss her signature Launer handbag she always carried?  She reportedly owned more than 200 of them!

The contents of her handbag was no different from what normal women carry with them. It mostly contained a mirror, lipstick, mint lozenges, and her reading glasses.

It is said that the Queen used her handbags to signal to her staff to help her wriggle out of difficult situations. If she shifted the handbag on her left arm (where she normally carried it) to her right arm, it indicated that it was time to wrap up.  If she placed her handbag on the floor, it signaled to her staff that she needed to be saved from an uncomfortable conversation.  If she placed her handbag on the dinner table, it meant  that she wanted to end the event in the next five minutes.

Prince Charles was appointed Field Marshal of the British Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in June 2012. His appointment to the honorary five-star ranks recognised his support for the Queen as Commander-in-Chief.

In Canada’s system of government, the power to govern is vested in the Crown but is entrusted to the government to exercise on behalf and in the interest of the people. The Crown reminds the government of the day that the source of the power to govern rests elsewhere and that it is only given to them for a limited duration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a befitting tribute to Canada’s longest-reigning Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, calling her a person of ‘wisdom, compassion and warmth.’

The Crown in Canada was first established by the kings of France in the sixteenth century. Organised as a royal province of France, both French and British kings and queens have reigned over Canada since 1534. Under Canada’s sovereigns, the country has evolved from a French colony to an independent nation.

From 2009, Prince Charles holds the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Canadian Army & Air Force and Vice-Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy.  The Queen and other members of the Canadian Royal Family hold honorary positions in various branches and regiments embodying the historical relationship of the Crown with the Canadian armed forces.

From 2015, in New Zealand, like in UK, he is the Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy and Marshal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Charles’s official coronation won’t take place immediately following a period of mourning for the Queen.  A coronation is not necessary to become king—Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.  After Queen Elizabeth’s accession on February 6, 1952, her coronation took place on June 2, 1953, over a year later.

Charles, whose regal name is King Charles III, is set to travel to London with Camilla, who is now the Queen Consort, to oversee the preparations for the funeral

The Guardian in 2017 reported that in the event of the Queen’s death, her funeral would take place nine days after her passing. Hence, it might be held on Saturday September 17. The funeral ceremony will commence at 9 AM, when Big Ben will chime with a muffled hammer. The funeral cortege will arrive at the at Westminster Abbey where she will be laid to rest.

(Images Courtesy Pixabay.com)

Selections @ Devlali

Those were the days when Selections ruled the roost at School of Artillery Devlali.  It was skimming at the highest level of the Regiment of Artillery.

When we passed out of Indian Military Academy in 1982, we were forced to return our Blue Patrols for mere Rs 100 – all because the Artillery version had a red stripe on the trousers’ side which was half an inch thicker than what was provided by Kapoor & Co at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. While officers commissioned to all other arms/ services retained their Blue Patrols, we the Gunners had to return them to Kapoor & Co.

On joining Young Officers Course at School of Artillery, Devlali, every student officer had to get a new pair of Blue Patrol and winter ceremonial uniform or Service Dress (SD) stitched – costing over a thousand rupees those days – only from Selections.  The reasons – obvious. A Second Lieutenant’s pay was much less than a thousand rupees a month then. Free rations was not entitled then and monthly mess bill ate into over half a month’s salary.

Service Dress is the style of khaki serge dress uniform introduced by the British Army for use in the field from the early 1902, following the experiences of a number of imperial wars and conflicts, including the Second Boer War. The uniform was originally issued as a field uniform, later designated as SD. Variant of this uniform continues to be worn today, although only in a formal role, as No. 2 Pattern dress by the British and the Commonwealth Armies. Indian Army too continued with a similar winter SD for the officers until 1990s. Today the Indian Army officers wear a similar uniform designated as Dress No. 5SD.

No. 1 Dress , sometimes referred to as ‘blues’ or ‘blue patrol,’ is a universal ceremonial uniform which is almost consistent throughout the Commonwealth Armies. For most regiments and corps, this No. 1 dress consists of dark blue tunic and trousers. Different units are distinguished by the colouring of the cap, piping on the tunic and of the welts or stripes on the trousers, as well as badges and in certain Cavalry Regiments by the colour of the collar.

Indian Army Blue Patrol consists of a ‘bandgala’ tunic and a trouser. The shoulder pips are embroidered along with ranks on the coat except for Armoured Corps officers who wear a chain mail along with their ranks on the shoulders.

Veteran Colonel SP Mudholkar. He now leads a retired life at Pune

It was not until 1981 when Second Lieutenant SP Mudholkar issued a show-cause notice and raised the issue with the School of Artillery against the order of getting the SD and Blue Patrl stitched only from Selections, inclusion of a private firm in the Offices’ Mess Bills for recovery .  In those days, Mess Bills of various messes at School of Artillery had a serial dedicated to Selections.  You can well imagine as to the patronage Selections enjoyed from the highest levels of the Regiment of Artillery – mostly occupied by officers belonging to the Khlan.

By the time we went to Devlali to attend our Young Officers’ Course in 1983, Blue Patrol and SD procurement was done away with – thanks to Second Lieutenant SP Mudholkar – else I too would have succumbed to the pressure from the Chief/ Senior Instructor.  In those good-old days, any Young Officer refusing to procure their SD and Blue Patrol were marched up to the Chief/ Senior Instructor until they relented. Another tactic was to blackmail the Young Officer with a poor grading, though most ended up with a C grading. The Great Good-Old Days!!! Who wants to begin their military career on the wrong foot?

Selections appeared on the Mess Bills during our course- luckily for us it remained at zero value.

Three years later, Lieutenant General Sood, Commandant, School of Artillery, was appointed the Director General of Artillery – and away went Selections.  The ‘baby‘ of the erstwhile higher-ups of Regiment of Artillery was thrown out with the tub, water, soap, and loofah to land in Devlali market. 

Ever Been Penniless?

Have you ever been in a situation when you were penniless? Without a dime in your pocket! Without a credit card with you!

If it was not for those humans who understood your situation and helped you, you will never understand the value of a good neighbour. Such ordinary citizens make you feel that the world is worth living.  You too must have faced similar situations. You too must have turned into a good Samaritan.

About a decade ago, Mississauga Transit, Toronto Transit and all other city transits in Canada accepted cash.  The passenger had to put the correct change for the ticket value into the fare box placed adjacent to the driver.  Today, they do not accept cash.   They work on Presto Card.

After the cash was deposited, the driver issued a Transfer Ticket in case the passenger had to undertake further bus journey.  The Transfer Ticket was valid for two hours from the time of issue. Nowadays, the Presto Card keeps track of all transfers.

On that afternoon, I had an appointment with our family physician and our son Nikhil had to be at the city’s swimming pool where he worked as a lifeguard, to attend a reorientation training. I asked Nikhil to drop me off at the physician’s office and take the car and drive to the swimming pool.  I was to ride the transit bus for my return trip.

As I stepped into the bus and searched for my wallet, I realised that I had left it at home. There I was – standing penniless and embarrassed.  The driver, a young lady, smiled at me. She must have realised my dilemma. Is it that she had come across similar situations earlier?

I apologetically said “Sorry! I do not have my wallet on me.”

Not a problem. Come in,” she said with a smiling face and handed me the Transfer Ticket.

Thank you. I can walk home from the stop where you will drop me,” I thanked her.

Recently while driving to work to audit one of the pharmacies of our company, I drove into the drive-through outlet of Tim Hortons and ordered my favourite Medium Coffee Double-Double.

Tim Hortons Inc., commonly referred to by Canadians as Tim’s or Timmies, is a Canadian multinational fast food restaurant chain. They serve coffee, doughnuts, and other fast-food items. In 1964, Tim Horton, a National Hockey League Legend, opened his first store in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Today, it is Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain, with over 5000 restaurants in 15 countries.

Double Double, a Canadian classic coffee brewed at all Tim Hortons restaurants is coffee with two shots of cream and two shots of sugar. It gives the right creaminess and sweetness to the coffee and is the most common coffee ordered at the Tim Hortons. The two magic words ‘Double-Double,’ from being a vernacular expression is now part of a bonafide vocabulary in the Canadian Oxford dictionary.

After placing my order for coffee at the ordering station, I pulled up to pick-up window.  That was when I relised that I neither had my wallet nor there was a penny in any of the car’s cervices. I was literally Penniless.

I sheepishly said to the girl at the window, “Sorry!  I neither have my wallet nor a penny on me.

She smiled at me and said “That’s OK.  You can have your coffee.”

I cannot take it as I have no money to pay.  You can give it to the next customer,” I said.

Our company’s motto is ‘Always Fresh. Always Tim Hortons.’  If you do not pick it up, we got to drain it out,” she said.

I picked up the coffee and drove ahead.

Two weeks later, I pulled into the parking lot of the same restaurant and walked in and ordered my coffee.  “Two weeks ago, I did not pay for my coffee.  I want to pay for it now,” I said.

We cannot accept it now as our accounts are closed everydayIf you insist, you can donate the money for the Tim Hortons Camp Day,” the girl at the counter said.

Since 1974, Tim Hortons have worked with more than 300,000 young people, using camp experiences to develop social and emotional skills and learning and innovation skills. These camps aim to equip the youth with the skills and opportunities needed to thrive, pursue their education, find meaningful jobs, enrich their communities, and lead fulfilling lives.  Tims Camps programmes run year-round in the community, at school and at seven camps across North America.

I thanked the girl at the counter and Tim Hortons in my mind as I placed a $2 coin in the Camp Day donation box.

I substantiated my belief that these ordinary citizens make the world worth living.

On returning home, I activated Google Pay on my cellphone.

Disc Identity

Mortal remains of Lance Naik Chandra Shekhar of 19 Kumaon Regiment, who died in Siachen in May 1984 was found in an old bunker on August 13, 2022. 

He was part of a team that was tasked to capture Point 5965 in the glacier. This was one of the earliest actions by the Indian Army as part of Operation Meghdoot to occupy Siachen Glacier. The team, while halting for the night, was caught in an avalanche in which 18 soldiers led by Second Lieutenant PS Pundir, were killed.  Chandra Shekhar’s body was discovered on August 13 at an elevation of over 16,000 feet. It was identified with the help of a disc with the army number found on the skeletal remains. 

This incident goes to prove the necessity and functionality of the Disc Identity used by soldiers world over.

The Identity Discs bear the personal number, name, regiment, religion and blood group of the soldier and serve the twin purpose as both a recorded evidence of a soldier’s death in action as well as for the eventual recognition of the body, in case there is a need. When there are a large number of fatal casualties over a short duration, it serves a purpose of keeping a record of death.

On a philosophical note, the Discs remind every soldier that martyrdom is just around the corner. However, at the practical level, it has a specific purpose.

It must be sounding a bit eerie to the uninitiated.

These discs hanging close to the soldiers’ chests, remind them as to who they are. It gives the soldier facing death, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, the confidence that He will not be forgotten. Some spouses of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq wore their soldier-spouse’s discs as a  reminder of their true love and commitment.

In the Indian Army we had to wear these Identity Discs while on operations and during various training exercises.  Actually, there are two discs – an oval disc with holes punched on either end and a round one with a single hole.  Our soldiers wore the oval disc on their left wrist and the round one around their neck.  On inquiry they said that it is to ensure that one disc will remain with the body even if the hand shears off.  The logic did not appeal to me at all, but I could not find any instructions regarding the proper way of wearing the discs. Surely we were not fighting a battle with swords to have either our heads or hands to shear off. I had no difficulty wearing the round disc around my neck, but the oval disc around my wrist was always a worry.  I lost them during most training exercises and had to get a new one made every time.  Obviously there was something amiss – I thought.

When we joined the Regiment, the Armourer had a punching set for punching the blank Identity Disc issued to soldiers with their particulars.  Of late, the soldiers got them engraved by the unit contractor who used the engraving tool he used to engrave steel vessels.

In 1988, I had to appear for a promotion examination in which ‘Military Administration’ was a subject.  Disposal of the mortal remains of a soldier killed in action was an issue on which I often had many questions.  Our Battery Commander was Major VN Singh, a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran.  He was well known for his knowledge and meticulous military administration skills and had just been posted to our Regiment after a stint as an administration and logistics staff officer of an infantry brigade.  I approached him and he clarified the mystery and explained to me the procedure and the proper way of wearing Identity Discs.

The oval disc, through one hole a cord 24 inches long  is passed through and the chain is worn around the neck.  Using a small cord of about six inches, the round disc is attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc.  In case of death in war, the round disc is removed to identify the dead and the oval disc is left on the body for identifying it whenever the body is recovered.  The round disc along with the soldier’s personal belongings is despatched to the Depot Regiment of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

Identity Discs of the Indian Army owe its origin to the British Army.  The first British ‘Disc Identity’ was introduced in 1907.  It was a single identity disc, fitted with a cord to be worn around the neck underneath the clothing.  The single-disc led to many postmortem problems in identification of the dead in that the disc was being removed for administrative purposes, leaving the body devoid of identification.

In May 1916 the second disc was introduced – octagonal in shape – known as “Disc, Identity, No.1, Green,” with the original disc becoming “Disc, Identity, No.2, Red.” The No.1 disc was to be attached to the long cord around the neck, with the No.2 being threaded on a 6 inch cord from this disc. No.1 Disc was intended to remain on the body whereas No.2 Disc was to be removed for administration.

US Army Identity Discs consist of two discs. One disc is on a 24 inch chain and the other is attached to the main chain by a four inch chain.

There is an interesting history to the US Army Discs. During WWII the discs were rectangular shaped with round ends and a notch at one end with name and details stamped by a machine. It was rumoured that the notch was put on the disc so that the disc could be placed in a dead soldier’s mouth and would hold it open so that the gasses would escape and prevent the body from bloating. In reality, the stamping machine required a notch to hold the blank disc in place while it was stamped. During the Vietnam War, new stamping machines were used and the notch was eliminated. Soldiers realised that the clinging of the metal discs gave away their location. Hence rubber covers were provided to keep the discs silent.

During the Vietnam War, some American soldiers tied one disc to their bootlaces. They believed that it could facilitate identification in case their body was dismembered.

Canadian soldiers’ Identity Disc is scored by a horizontal groove so that the lower portion may be detached. If the wearer becomes a fatal casualty, the lower portion of the disc shall be detached and returned to the Headquarters with the soldier’s personal documents. The chain and upper section of the disc shall not be removed from the body.

In the case of Lance Naik Chandra Sekhar, the Identity Disc helped identify his skeletal remains.  In future, Identity Discs may become more symbolic as technology advances in the days of DNA sampling to identify deceased soldiers.

In Canada and USA, some military spouses and fiancés wear their partner’s Identity Discs as a symbol of love towards their partner deployed in a far away land. Some Veterans post retirement continue to wear their Discs.

Having had a look at the Identity Discs worn by soldiers, isn’t it high time, Indian Army designed a meaningful Identity Disc worthy of being worn by the soldiers with pride – and even their spouses?

Jerricans

An object that fascinated me while in military service was the Jerrican.  This 20 Litre can was used for storage of fuel and lubricants and at times for water.  As a young officer in 1984, it was the time of Operation Meghdoot when India gained dominance in Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. In the glacier, kerosene is the lifeline and was delivered in jerrycans by helicopters to various posts. The cost of each jerrycan with its precious contents can well be calculated with each helicopter sortie ferrying about 10 jerrycans. It must be the costliest fuel in the world!!

Jerricans get their name from the Germans who invented them. The original steel fuel cans (Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, in German for Armed Forces Unit Canister) were a huge improvement over the square cans used by Allied Forces.  These jerrycans were easier to carry, easier to pour and more durable.

The term ‘Jerry,’ is a slang term for Germans used by Allied forces. In preparation for the war, the Germans had thousands of jerricans in stock and they effectively used them during the war. In 1942 the British Army in North Africa captured some of these cans from the Germans. These cans were sent to England, where they were soon reverse-engineered and put into production. 

In preparation for the war, Hitler came up with a novel idea of holding a design competition for the slickest can for carriage of fuel and water.  Hitler realised the need to keep his men and machines effectively lubricated and hydrated.  He also knew how critical a smoother, more efficient way to move fuel and water would be to win the war.

Vinzenz Grünvogel, chief engineer with the firm Müller of Schwelm, is credited with devising the winning can.  This simple looking can has more to the design than meets the eye.  Developed under the utmost secrecy, the jerrycan featured flat sides that were rectangular in shape and was made in two halves that were welded together like an automobile fuel tank.

It had three handles, which allowed it to be easily passed from one man to another.  The handles were designed in a way of enabling four empty cans to be carried by one person using the outside handles, or two full cans using the middle handle.

An air chamber at the top ensured buoyancy and a short spout which was secured by a snap cover and could be popped open for pouring, eliminating the need for a funnel. A gasket made the mouth leak-proof.  An air-breathing tube from the spout to the air space facilitated easy and smooth pouring.

The design ensured that it was easy to make, easy to handle, easy to stack, easy to transport, durable, and efficient. 20 liters capacity made it easy to calculate bulk amounts.

The two flat sides of the can were stamped with a large X shape, providing better strength and ability to weather changing temperatures, along with the gas volume fluctuations that came with them.  It facilitated up to five jerrycans to be stacked in a row.

The Allied forces used containers nicknamed flimsies. It was made of light-gauge sheet metal pieces poorly welded together. They were a hassle to carry and ruptured quite easily.  The flimsies required a wrench to open, a spout to pour and a funnel to receive the liquid.

There is an Indian connection to the jerrycans landing in Washington. Paul Pleiss, an American engineer who worked in Berlin, persuaded his German colleague to join him on a vacation trip overland to India by car. As they prepared to leave on their journey, they realised that they had no provision for emergency water. The German engineer took three jerrycans stored at Tempelhof Airport and mounted them on the underside of the car.

When the two were halfway across to India, Field Marshal Goering sent a plane to take the German engineer back home. Before departing, the engineer gave Pleiss complete specifications for the jerrycan’s manufacture. Pleiss continued alone to Calcutta where he put the car in storage and returned to Philadelphia.

Back in the US, Pleiss told military officials about the container, but without a sample can, he could stir no interest.  The risk involved in having the cans removed from the car and shipped from Calcutta seemed too great, so he eventually had the complete vehicle shipped.  It arrived in New York in the summer of 1940 with the three jerrycans intact. Pleiss immediately sent one of the cans to Washington. The War Department looked at it but unwisely decided that an updated version of their container would be good enough.

As the Americans did not listen to Pleiss, the British showed keen interest as they were scavenging all the jerrycans they could.  Pleiss got the second of his three jerrycans flown to London. The British immediately reverse engineered the jerrycan and commenced production on a war footing.

Meanwhile, the US was using flimsies with slight modifications to the previous versions, but they still leaked and exploded and required a wrench to open and a funnel to pour.

It was reported that 40 percent of fuel was lost in transport because of the cans. It raised an alarm and the flimsies were scrapped as the US conceded production to Britain, which by 1944 had set up many factories manufacturing jerrycans out in the tens of millions.

In 1944, President Roosevelt stated that “without these cans it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace, which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Benjamin Franklin included a version of this proverb, preceded by the words, A little neglect may breed great mischief, in Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1758.

During World War II, this verse was framed and hung on the wall of the Anglo-American Supply Headquarters in London to remind everyone the importance of seemingly trivial repair
parts and inventory replenishment.

Reasonable Reasons

We attended the Junior Command Course at Mhow, India in 1993 and after the course went to our home at Kottayam, Kerala for a month’s vacation. In those days, we travelled on vacation by train and the journey took over 48 hours and two train changes at the most awkward hours of night.  You can imagine my plight with Marina and our two-year daughter Nidhi in tow, with paraphernalia of assorted baggage – in all sizes and shapes.

We reached home and my next ordeal was to get a return reservation from Kottayam to Delhi and onward to Jammu.  During summers, the seats in the trains from Kerala to anywhere in the country were lapped up the moment the reservation counters opened on the exact 60th day before the date of journey.  The only option for me was to contact our Member of Parliament, Mr Suresh Kurup, who always obliged with his emergency quota.  Mr. Kurup is well known for his soft corner and respect for all soldiers.

Armed with the allotment of Emergency Quota and my Warrant (Military form authorising travel by Indian Railways,) I reached Kottayam railway station.  At the reservation counter the booking clerk refused to book the seats – Why?  Our Regimental clerk had committed a grave sin!! He spelt KoTTayam with one T.

I contacted the Station Master and the Reservation Supervisor.  All expressed both sympathy and empathy a soldier deserved, but the cardinal sin of spelling KoTTayam with only one T, they could not condone.

While at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Thamizh Nadu, our nearest railway station (NRS) was Udumalaipettai – with one P and two Ts. In Thamizh and Hindi, it has two Ps, but in English only one – Any reasonable reasons?

 The town was known amongst the locals as (உடுமலை) Udumalai and all the buses boards read so.  The British called it Udumalpet and that too caught on, but no one ever used Udumalipettai, other than the Indian Railways and some Military clerk sitting in the remote border, preparing a warrant for a soldier from Udumalpet – counting the Ps and Ts.

When we filled our application for the National Defence Academy (NDA,) our teachers insisted that we spelt Udumalaipettai with the correct number of Ps and Ts as the Indian Railways insisted.

To return to the Regiment on time, the only option to me was to buy two tickets and claim the cost later from the Comptroller Defence Accounts (CDA.) I requested the Reservation Supervisor to block the seats until I either got a fresh warrant or bought the tickets by paying cash. He agreed saying that he got to finalise the reservation chart two days before the date of journey.  

I shot off a letter to our Adjutant, narrating my agony.  Major Ranjan Deb (now a Veteran Colonel,) an Aviator with an uncanny sense of humour was in chair and he despatched a soldier to Kottayam with a fresh warrant with two Ts for KoTTayam. Unfortunately, the soldier could reach Kottayam a day prior to my journey and by that time, I had to buy the tickets by paying cash.

On reaching the Regiment stationed in Jammu & Kashmir, I sent the forms for claiming the cost of the tickets to CDA, explaining the reasons as to why I had to buy the railway tickets by paying cash.  The reasons I stated appeared beyond reasonable doubt to the powers at the CDA, but how can they allow such a claim without raising any objection?  It will go against the ethos of the Accounts Department anywhere in India. 

My claim was approved in principle, but the CDA raised a query “How did the Officer and his wife make the onward journey from Jammu Tawi to Kottayam?”

Beyond reasonable doubt, Major Ranjan Deb promptly replied “By walking.”  In a week’s time my bank account was credited with full reimbursement for the cost of tickets.

Now let us fast forward to 2016.  Our family is in Canada – Marina, Nidhi, Nikhil and myself – all Canadian citizens. 

Nikhil decided to travel to Kolkata to serve in Mother Teresa’s Ashram for a month.  I said to him “If you find time, visit Veteran Colonel Ranjan Deb, our Regimental Officer who lives in Barrackpore.”  I had narrated many incidents about Colonel Deb, especially when he was our Battery Commander with 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) 

On a Wednesday, when Nikhil had a day off from Mother Theresa’s Ashram, he took a cab to Barrackpore.  Colonel Deb and Nikhil spend a day together and at the end of it Colonel Deb remarked “Reji, I spent a few hours with Nikhil. I was amazed at his all-round development at his age. No Indian student will be able to match up with Nikhil’s thought process. His education in Canada stands out distinctly. I am 63 and he is 19 years of age. I did not get bored for even a second of the six hrs we were together. Healthy engrossing discussion.

This is what is called Regimental spirit.  A kid, not born – why – not even planned while we served together, comes all the way from Canada to meet us – a Veteran Colonel and his wife.  What else can we ask for in life?  What other recognition do we need? He made our day!!”

JJ Murphy – Princely Rubber Planter

Natural Rubber, extracted from trees has had a long history with humanity.  Rubber trees are native to South America and the ancient tribes, called it ‘Caoutchoue,’ meaning a Crying Tree. They named it so because when an incision is made on the bark of the tree, the latex oozes out like a teardrop.

The South American tribes used the natural rubber latex for their shoes. They immersed their foot in latex, lifted their foot and waited until the latex dried.  This process was repeated until they achieved a thick sole.

When the European explorers returned home with pieces of rubber, they found that when they erased pencil lines on paper with what they brought home, it came off easily. As it could rub-it-off, the word Rubber was coined.

Referring to a tie-breaking game as a Rubber is common in a variety of sports and games from bridge, cricket to baseball. A three-game set in bridge is commonly referred to as a rubber. A rubber is mostly resolved through a tiebreaker.

Dead Rubber means a match in a series where the winner has been decided based on the previous matches.  The dead rubber match therefore has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost.

The term ‘Rubber Stamp’ originated in the Nineteenth Century when rubber stamps were used in the passage of bureaucratic papers of various kinds from one office to the other, often to show that an office had seen the document and approved it. It symbolised excessive bureaucracy and meant ‘To endorse or approve uncritically; to pass routinely or automatically.’

Rubber is an important tree for the world and its utilisation has increased many fold over the years.  It appears that the humanity is bound by rubber from birth to death.

Thailand is the largest producer of natural rubber in the world. India is one among the top ten rubber producing countries with Kerala accounting for over 75%.  The rubber Board of India is located at Kottayam, Kerala and the price of rubber in India is decided at the Kottayam market.

Rubber plant was brought to India by the British to augment production to meet ever increasing demand for rubber in Britain.   Hevea Brasiliensis – the rubber trees, native to Amazon rainforests, how did they find their way to Kerala, the God’s Own Country?

Rubber trees grow well in typical Amazonian conditions – temperature between 25°C to 35°C, high humidity of 75%, five to six hours of adequate sunlight, and about 200 to 300 cm of annual rainfall.  Kerala’s weather very well suits the requirements.

The British initiated rubber plantations in India, as early as 1873 at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, but the attempt failed. In 1902, Murphy Saippu, (Saheb in Malayalam,) known as JJ among his friends, John Joseph Murphy, an Irish man, established the first commercial rubber plantation in Kerala.

Murphy had enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, but without completing the course, he sailed to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to seek his fortune. He struck out on his own, though he belonged to a prominent Dublin family of shippers and bankers.  He was an adventurous colonialist, an avid racer, a social reformer and an educationalist. Murphy established the 1200-acre Murphy Estate, at Yendayar, about 60 km from Kottayam.

In those days, his estate was known for family quarters for the labourers with piped water and sanitation, hospitals with maternity wards, crèches at the workplace, schools for the children with midday meals, etc. He is believed to have even sent his workers’ children to Madras (Chennai) for higher education at his own expense. 1n 1952, he sold off his estate and lived there until his death in 1957.

One of Murphy’s passions was racing. He had a large stable and his horses brought him laurels from many courses in India, England and Ireland. The trophies were proudly displayed at his Yendayar bungalow.

He dominated the racing world for several years and won the C N Wadia Gold Cup at Bombay and the Governors cup at Madras. He raced his horse Old Orkney in England to win the Manchester November Handicap in 1927 and Goodwood Cup in 1929.

During World War II, when the entire country faced severe food shortage, the people of Yendayar were fortunate because Murphy ensured regular supplies of quality rice and other items at a great personal cost. Murphy’s philanthropy was legendary. No person who went to him with a genuine need had to return disappointed.

Murphy visited Ireland and UK for the last time in 1938 – 39. After he sold his estate in 1952, he lived at Yendayar until death on 09 May 1957. He was laid to rest at the cemetery of St Joseph’s Church, Yendayar.

KV Thomas Pottamkulam, in his article about Murphy titled ‘Princely Planter’ concludes that “I would like to think that if, instead of coming to India, he had emigrated to the United States, he might well have become the first Irish Catholic President decades before J F Kennedy.”

To extract the latex from a mature tree, a long curving, quarter inch deep groove is cut into the bark of the tree early in the morning. From this cut the latex oozes out into a container below where it gets collected. This latex is picked up four hours later from each tree and is processed to obtain natural rubber.

A rubber tree begins to yield latex when it is seven years old and is tapped for twenty years. After that, the tree is cut and sold as timber and a new set of trees are planted.

For the first five years after a new sapling is planted, they do inter-cropping by planting pineapple. It binds the soil and prevents soil erosion. It also brings in moolah for the farmer. The rubber growing areas of Kerala produces the best variety of pineapples in India.

After five years, the canopy of the tree grows large and prevents sunlight from reaching the ground. Now they plant a wild legume plant which binds the soil and acts as a mulch to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature and suppress weed growth.

Rubber Board of India established John Joseph Murphy Research Centre (JJMRC) in 2013 in his memory. It is the first of its kind integrated research and technology services hub, based in India’s first industrial park dedicated to rubber based industries. The centre is situated at Irapuram village in Ernakulam District. The park is a joint venture by the Rubber Board of India and the Government of Kerala.

When a Higher Secondary School was opened in Yendayar in 1982 with the support of local people, they did not forget the man who made Yendayar.  They named the school John Joseph Murphy Memorial Higher Secondary School.

Unfortunately, these are the only two memorials for a man who dedicated his life and changed the region’s economy and the people who lived there.

Parade State

While commanding our Regiment – 125 Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment, I attended office mostly on Friday afternoons.  That was when I signed those official documents which required the Commanding Officer’s (CO) signatures like the Daily Parade State.

I was a single parent CO with Marina having migrated to Canada. Bringing up our two primary school going children, feeding them, sending them to school, ensuring that they did their homework, making them take bath, etc – all fell on my shoulders.

For the uninitiated, Daily Parade State is a large table giving out details of soldiers and officers authorised and posted to the Regiment and their daily whereabouts. This report is compiled daily by the Regiment/ Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major (RHM/ BHM) the previous evening, showing the whereabouts of the soldiers as of the next morning at 8 AM.

Daily Parade State in the Regiment and Batteries is compiled by the Detail Master. He is the understudy to the RHM/ BHM and is a soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the RHM/ BHM.  Battery Detail Masters prepare the Parade State of the Battery in the evening and hand it over to the Regimental Detail Master, who compiles the Regimental Parade State.

Our Regiment was then a cooperating unit with the School of Artillery, Devlali with a lot of station commitments and training commitments – called Range Detail.  Unlike at many Schools of Instructions of the Indian Army, at School of Artillery, the student officers/ soldiers do not draw the equipment or ammunition and they do not clean/ maintain the equipment.  It is the duty of the cooperating Regiments to provide the same.  The details of manpower and equipment to be provided along with administrative details like pitching of tents, preparation of the Observation Posts, etc are given out a week prior to the beginning of the month.  Thus, all soldiers are well aware of the commitments and duties.

We were always short of manpower as the soldiers had to avail their leave too. Our Section/ Platoon Commanders always managed the show – often with the radio operator or driver doubling up as radar operator or surveyor and so on.  Clerks were well utilised as radio operators and surveyors or to assist the chefs in the kitchen, so were the tradesmen. Even the Religious Teacher was not spared.

Failure or a short-fall of the Range Detail meant the CO being summoned by the General – the Commandant, School of Artillery.  Our RHM and BHMs ensured that all Range Details were executed well.  They had their own methodology to deal with shortcomings.  Whatever it was, I was never summoned by the General.

Every morning, the BHMs presented their Parade State to their Battery Commander while the RHM presented the same to the Adjutant and then to the Second-in-Command, finally to the CO. The Daily Parade state is an auditable document to account for ration drawn from the Supply Depot for the soldiers. Hence, it is mandatory for the CO to sign it.

Three months into command, RHM Kaptan Singh summoned all his courage and asked “Sir, how come you do not ask any question while you sign the Parade State?  You tell me to turn the pages and place my finger where you are to sign.  You do not even look at it.”

Why this question now?” I asked, knowing the answer well.

Your predecessor used to grill me for over ten minutes every morning about various figures in the Parade State like number of soldiers on leave, soldiers on various out-station duties, etc.  I know that you know about every soldier,” RHM Kaptan Singh explained.

Thank God!  You had to suffer this agony for only ten minutes; I had to over 30 minutes,’ I thought.

My mind raced back to my Battery Commander days.  Then also, I hardly paid any attention to the figures reflected on the Parade State, but our CO wasn’t so.  He believed that every figure reflected on the Parade State was the gospel truth.

He summoned each Battery Commander and questioned about the number of soldiers on leave or on out-station details, etc and I used to rattle out some numbers.  Then he summoned our BHM and asked the very same question.  What a pathetic example of command! 

Our BHM’s figures never tallied with mine and the 30-minute ordeal ended with our CO’s remark “You do not know what is happening in your Battery.”  This continued everyday, and my figures never matched our BHMs.  Other Battery Commanders matched their figures with their BHM’s in the morning prior to being summoned by our CO. Luckily for me, I moved out of the Regiment in two months for the Staff Course.

Now I had to justify my blind signing of the Parade State to RHM Kaptan Singh.

This document is a proverbial Elephant’s Teeth for show only. This Parade state was prepared by your Detail Master the previous evening giving out the likely state of all personnel of our Regiment including me the next morning.  He put in herculean efforts and with a lot of erasing and rewriting, managed to tally all the figures. If this is accurate, then your Detail Master must be a genius and hell of a Prediction Master.  Last evening, I did not know where I would be this morning.  Hence these figures can never be accurate. If it is accurate, then the Detail Master must be sitting on my chair. Do you want me to grill you on it now?”

RHM Kaptan Singh passed his characteristic smile, saluted, and walked away fully convinced.

Nightie

In Kerala, the nightie is everywhere with most working-class women in Kerala owning at least one.

Illustration by Avni Karthik. Age 10

How did Nighty, a boxy garment which doesn’t give any shape to the body, which does not enhance the body’s contours, which does not bring out the women’s curves became so popular?  Nighties’ predecessors – maxis and kaftans – did make their appearance in early seventies – mostly in movies.  It did not gain popularity among the masses.

Nightie came to Kerala with the Gulf boom of the 80’s, like many other fashion and material onsets.  It was a sure content of the suitcases of any Mallu returning from the Gulf.  He carried at least one for every female family member and relative.  It could well be the first invasion of the Western culture into Kerala.  Unlike the Western Nightie, it wasn’t a negligee worn by women to bed at night.

Nightie is universal – fits all size or age. It does not divide women on either caste or religious lines in its use. Nightie became popular also because of the humid weather of Kerala with relative humidity mostly over 70% all through the year – day or night.  It is a shapeless floor-sweeping garment made of thick cloth, with frills at all imaginable and unimaginable places, decorated with puffed sleeves.

To establish in the Indian society, the poor Nightie too endeared many a battle.  In 2013, a Chennai school asked the parents to stop students from wearing nighties for the morning school run.  In 2014, a women’s group in Gothivli village near Mumbai tried to impose a fine of Rs 500 on residents wearing nighties outside their homes, describing the garment as indecent. In both cases, the nightie won the battle.

In 2018, Thokalapalli, a village in coastal Andhra Pradesh, barred women from wearing nightie during the daytime. They ruled that women could wear nighties only at night and any violations will attract a fine of Rs 2000 and anybody who helped in bringing such violator to book would be rewarded with Rs 1000.

Kerala women preferred the nightie over the traditional Chatta-Mundu, lungi-blouse and saree as it is easy to wear, easy to wash and it never failed in its duty and never ended up in a wardrobe malfunction.

Draping a Thorthu over the upper torso depicted modesty for the modest and cultured, but Kerala women – smart as they are, discarded the Thorthu long ago.  A nightie can well be seen in Kerala as a sign of female liberation as well as a social leveller.

Today the Nightie is a national phenomenon with different names.  Nightie in Kerala, Gowns in Mumbai, Housecoats in Goa, and kaftan for the rich. The Nightie has gained international recognition with The New York Times running a story on the outfit under the headline Wear Your Nightie Out.

In the soldiers’ family quarters, the nightie made its presence felt. To begin with, it was introduced by the wives of the South Indian Class (SIC) soldiers especially the Mallus. It caught on and others followed suit. While on rounds of the Regimental Family Quarters, one could see the invasion of the nightie, irrespective of caste or creed!!!

Our mother discarded her saree for the Nightie when her grandchildren came into this world.  She very reluctantly wore the nightie as she had to run after the children, feed them and play with them.  At the end of the day she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.

In 2006, our mother came to Canada and lived with us for six months.  For her journey from Kochi to Toronto, she wore the saree.  Marina and children accompanied her and throughout the journey, it was very inconvenient and uncomfortable for her to visit the washroom in the aircraft.

On landing in Canada, I asked Marina to take her to the Shopping Mall and buy her two pairs of pants & top and skirt & top.  Our mother, stubborn that she was, said “Do you think I will ever wear it??”

After a week of acclimatisation, we planned a trip to Montreal – about eight hours of drive from Toronto.  Now I said “Amma, if you want to come along, you must discard the saree as it will be very convenient, else you will look like a sore thumb in the crowd.

With a lot of reluctance, she wore the pants & top.  After two hours of driving, we stopped at the restaurant for a coffee break.  Nidhi took Amma to the washroom and on returning to our table she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.”

I accompanied Amma on her return journey.  For the entire flight duration of travel from Kochi airport to home, she wore her skirt & top.  My brothers, sisters-in-law and grandchildren were all flabbergasted to see the Granny in a Western outfit.  One of the grandchildren remarked, “Until now Granny was All-India.  Now she is International.”

36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment

When I wrote about 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment, I would be failing in my duties if I did not write about its sibling unit – 36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment.

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) as a second Lieutenant in 1982, 36 (M) Medium was part of the same Artillery Brigade.  They were located at Meerut and we at Gurgaon. The young officers of both regiments bonded well in that we stayed with the young officers of 36 (M) Medium whenever we visited Meerut.  It was mostly for various competitions – both professional and sports.

The two Regiments competed vigorously on the field, but at the end of the day, we were friends again.  I still cherish the nicest memories of our association with 36 (M) Medium, especially Veteran Colonels Manu Satti, Atul Mishra, Mitra and Mukherjee. 

36 (M) Medium, well known among the Gunner fraternity as Chathis, meaning 36, is also known for most conversions an Indian Regiment has ever been through.  The Regiment was raised as 7/5 Maratha Light Infantry at Faizabad on October 10, 1940, by Lt Col AL Collingwood.

Like all Maratha Infantry Battalions, 36 (M) Medium too have the battle cry – Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai,, meaning ‘ Victory to Emperor Shivaji.’  This war cry is believed to have been conceived while the Marathas were fighting Italian forces in World War II in Gallabat, Sudan. It was in January 1941. An attack on an Italian garrison was not going as per plan with the Marathas on the verge of losing the battle. It was then that Captain Boomgart, the officer in charge, was advised to inspire the Marathas by reminding them of the Emperor Shivaji, the famous Maratha king who had the courage to stand against the Mughals’ misrule. Thus was coined the famous war cry, “Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai.”  Hearing the war cry, the Marathas lept forward with great aggression and overcame the Italian garrison.

Soon after raising, in 1942 the Regiment converted from an Infantry Battalion to 51 (M) Armoured Regiment. It was part of the 268 Indian Infantry Brigade which saw operations on the Japanese front during World War II.

During the war, in 1943, the Regiment became 8 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment and served under 44 Indian Armoured Division, in Burma.  The Regiment in 1944-45 was part of 33 Corps Troops and later participated in the Burmese operations in 1945 as part of 7 Indian Infantry Division.

At the end of 1945, 2 Indian Airborne Division was reorganised in preparation for the independence of India.  This resulted in Indianisation of the Division. All British soldiers moved into 6 (British) Independent Parachute Brigade, though it remained part of the 2 Indian Airborne Division. 36 (M) Parachute Anti-Tank Regiment (Royal Indian Artillery) joined the Division in 1946.

On Indian independence, the Regiment was rechristened as 36 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment of the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army.  In 1956, the Regiment converted to become 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment.

The Regiment saw action in the Tsangdhar-Zimithang and the Tawang – Sela Sectors in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.  62 Bravehearts of the Regiment laid down their lives during this war.

In 1965 the Regiment converted to 36 (M) Light Regiment, equipped with 120 mm Mortars and was deployed in the Dera Baba Nanak and Amritsar sectors. The Regiment participated in the operations to occupy areas up to the Icchogil Canal and in the Battle of Dograi.

Before the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Regiment reconverted to be 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment with Tampella 160 mm Mortars and participated in operations in the Shakargarh Bulge and Sialkot sectors.

In 1981, the Regiment was equipped with the Russian made M-46 130 mm Medium Gun and subsequently converted to the 155mm Bofors gun.

Coorgis

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – in 1982, we had Subedar Chinnappa, Subedar Bidappa, Havildar Muthanna, etc in the South Indian Class (SIC) Battery. These Coorgis (Kodava community) were great soldiers and outstanding hockey players.  By 1986, Coorgis stopped joining our Regiment and we did not have any Coorgi when I left the Regiment in 1997. It appeared that for the Coorgis, Indian Army was no more attractive.

Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is a rural district in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka.  It is the birthplace of Cauvery, a river that local Kodavas consider sacred. Located on the Western Ghats, Kodagu is also referred to as the Scotland of India for its salubrious weather. Kodagu is the most beautiful hill station of Karnataka and is well known for its coffee, especially Robusta variety.

Most of the Coorgi soldiers in our Regiment came from 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment. Until 1901, this Regiment was designated as the 11 Madras Infantry and in 1902, the Regiment was reorganised and the basis of recruitment changed from Thamizh and Telugu to only Coorgi soldiers.

In 1903, the restructured Regiment was then renamed the 71 Coorg Rifles. The Regiment was disbanded in 1904 because of insufficient recruits. In 1942, Coorgis were again recruited into the newly raised 1st Coorg Battalion. In 1946, it was converted to 37 Coorg Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Indian Artillery.

Today, the 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is part of the Regiment of Artillery with their war cry “Cauvery Mata ki Jai.”

Up to 1970s, this Regiment was manned by soldiers from Coorg. Now this Regiment is manned by soldiers from the South Indian States with hardly any Coorgis – still the name persists.

I did come across a few officers in the Indian Army from Coorg, and they proved their metal as most became Generals.  Field Marshal K M Cariappa, the first Indian General and first Commander-in-Chief of India, first comes to my mind, followed by General Kodendera Subayya Thimayya. All the more because two Battalions of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) are named after them.

Lieutenant General PC Thimmaya, Lieutenant  General  CB Ponnappa and Lieutenant  General  CP Cariappa were all at the National Defence Academy and we trained together. 

A total of eleven officers from Kodagu became Lieutenant Generals in the Army so far. This apart, from twenty  Major Generals and four Air Marshals, which undoubtedly makes Kodagu, the Land of Generals.

Indian Hockey team too had many Coorgis, but now hardly anyone. Coorg produced more than 40 Hockey internationals and some of them like M P Ganesh and MM Somaiya captained the Indian team.

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment maintains many of the traditions of the Kodava community. On the Regiment’s raising day, officers and soldiers, regardless of their ethnicity, wear the traditional ‘Kupya Chele’, which consists of a traditional jacket and headgear. The officers wear Peeche Kathi (a traditional dagger.)  The ladies wear Kodava Podiya or Coorgi style saree.

The Coorg style of draping a sari involves tucking the pleats at the back of the waist, instead of the front. The end of the sari is brought below the left shoulder and secured over the right shoulder in a firm knot called ‘Molakattu.’

Peeche Kathi has a handle shaped like a parrot or peacock. The sheath may be made of pure silver, silver and wood, or silver/gold embedded with precious stones. The sheath is linked to an intricately designed long silver chain, which ends in an assortment of miniature replicas of Kodava weapons.

Unlike ‘Change of Baton’ followed by other artillery Regiments when a new the Commanding Officer takes over, a Peeche Kathi is handed over as a sign of change in command.  The residence of the Commanding Officer is called Mercara house, named after the Mercara town in Coorg

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is so closely affiliated with the Kodagu community that it is a tradition for the unit to take part in the annual hockey tournament in Kodagu.  For the Kodavas, the annual hockey tournament is very important it is part of their culture. In this tournament, various families of Kodagu compete against each other. The Regiment gives an award for the first goal scored in the tournament and it is a matter of pride for the people because the Regiment named after their community is taking keen interest.

Mess Tin

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

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

Now what is this wonder tool called a Mess Tin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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