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)

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.

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, Tamizh 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!!”

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.”

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy Google

Peony 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senior Citizens with Children in Foreign Lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tulips 2022

Tulips are wildflowers native to central Asia but didn’t really become popular until reaching the Netherlands.
The word ‘tulip’ comes from ‘tülbend,’ a Turkish pronunciation of the Persian word ‘dulband,’ which means turban. 

Tulips are known for their bold colors and beautiful shape, and most varieties are indeed almost perfectly symmetrical.

The blooms have three petals and three sepals, but since the sepals are almost the same size and shape as the petals, tulips appear to have six petals to a bulb.

Generally, tulips symbolise love in general, but there is a different meaning based on the color tulip.

For love and romance, red tulips are the way to go.

If you want to convey an apology, white tulips are the flowers that you seek.

Orange Tulips represent sense of compassion, understanding, and sympathy.

Pink tulips symbolise happiness and confidence.

Purple tulips are associated with royalty.

Yellow tulips are great for cheer and happiness.

Although there are no true black flowers that occur in nature, because of their deep purple petals that almost look black.

True Blue is one of the few colours with Black that has remained absent from tulip’s impressive colour palette.

Tulips come in many solid colors, but there are striped ones, too.

The scientists discovered that the coloring was caused by a virus spread by aphids.

The flower is the symbol of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. A variety of tulip was named after Dr James Parkinson, the doctor for which the degenerative disease is named.

Currently tulips are the third most popular flower in the world, with roses coming in first and chrysanthemums coming in second. 

On Valentine’s Day the tulip is the second most gifted flower (after the rose) – obviously only Red.

Tulip blooms only last a week or two, and we await the tulips to bloom next year.

Old Age Security

An elderly couple who recently returned from the United States after visiting their daughter were allegedly murdered by their driver-cum-domestic aide with an accomplice and buried the bodies in their farmhouse. Police recovered jewellery and nine kg gold looted from them. It was a pre-planned murder.  The culprits believed that the couple had money stashed at their house from a recent real estate transaction.

This case indicates the vulnerability of the elderly, especially those living alone with their children abroad or at distant places within the country. The same vulnerability exists for those who visit home from foreign or distant lands.

Here are some tips, tried and tested by our family.  It is mostly for the elderly travelling from Canada/ USA. You may accept some, modify some or may reject all.

  • Visits back home should be minimised.  Return home only if it is unavoidable.
  • Travel light. – only one hand carry bag.  It will save you a lot of time checking in/ out at the airport and will reduce the physical effort in lugging the baggage around.  In your handbag, keep a pair or two of your dress – rest you can buy after reaching home.
  • Always carry adequate medications – to last you a month longer than your stay.
  • Never carry any gift for any of your relatives or friends.  Whatever you give, no one is satisfied.  I ask them for items not available back home and only available in this part of the world and that is nix.
  • Many have ancestral property back home and may prove to be a millstone around the neck.  Money spent for maintenance of a home in the property – with relatives and contractors ready to fleece the foreigner – it will be economical to stay at any of the 5-Star resort/ hotel
  • Try and dispose off all property back home – Your children are least likely to claim it or even visit it.
  • Dispose off all gold and jewellery – the money realised will be of some use to you or your children.
  • Never give access to your home to anyone.  He may have been serving you for ages.
  •  Never brag or show-off or even discuss your economic status or lifestyle with anyone – even the closest relatives.  Walls too have ears.
  • Never give out your travel plans – especially your absence from home. Keep your travel plans Top-Secret.
  • Always travel by public transport – else call for an auto/ taxi a few minutes before you set out.  Never hire the same driver (even if you may pay more) and never set a travel pattern. Your times of walks, visit to a place of worship, etc must be staggered. 
  • Avoid travelling at night. In case you got to, then use public transport.
  • Never flash your money. There are many prying eyes around you.
  • Never over-tip the food-delivery person or at restaurants/ bars/ hotels. Do not follow the North American standard of 20% of the billed amount. No one is going to ask you “Was there anything wrong with the service?”
  • Avoid designer wear or flashy clothes – a clear give-away.
  • Check your diet.  Eat sensibly and be careful about the water you drink.  Avoid milk and milk products as much as possible.  Drink boiled water and hot beverages.  Black coffee/ tea is ideal with least chance of contamination.
  • Report arrival to local police even if it is not mandated.  You must also verify the personal particulars with the personal documents of your domestic help, driver, etc whom you employ. In many murder cases of elderly, the culprit has been either the driver or the domestic help.
  • Install a Burglar Alarm and CCTV Cameras.  Use Infra-Red Cameras with night vision.  Keep the house illuminated – both from inside and outside.

Physiologic changes of ageing, chronic illness, increased use of medications, and sensory or cognitive changes place the ageing population at increased risk for injury. On top of these, physical security must also be looked into.

Daffodils 2022

This year the weather played truant with temperatures reaching over 200 Celsius in March, followed by sub-zero temperatures and snow mid April. The plants did well to survive through the roller-coaster weather to bloom well.

We welcome Spring with the Daffodils blooming. They are the first flower to bloom in our garden with Hyacinths.

Hyacinths are spring-blooming bulbs with richly colored flowers and an incredible fragrance.

Daffodil – genus Narcissus, refer to the trumpet-shaped springtime blooms. Daffodil is the national flower of Wales.
Golden yellow daffodils are an iconic spring flower.  They also come in various combinations of white, pink and orange, with or without yellow, in intense and pastel shades

The Romans believed that the daffodil sap healed wounds, but daffodil sap contains sharp crystals to deter animals from eating the flower. This irritates the skin rather than healing.
Greek myth has it that nymph Echo fell in love with a Greek named Narcissus, who told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken. Nemesis, the God of Revenge, heard the sad story and lured Narcissus to a pool. He was so distracted by his handsome reflection that he fell in the pool and drowned. Afterwards he turned into the flower.
Daffodils symbolise friendship and new beginnings. They are one of the first signs of Spring and are also strongly associated with Easter because of this reason. 

In England they are also known as Lent Lilies.

In China, the daffodil symbolises good fortune and they are the official Chinese New Year symbol.
In Japan, the daffodil means joy and in France they are a sign of hope.

Smart Alec

On our very first day at the National Defence Academy, Captain Sajjan Singh Batti, our Divisional Officer addressed us on 12 January 1979.  One sentence of that address still hangs in my mind – “All those from the Military/ Sainik Schools, don’t presume that you are ‘Smart Alecs’ and know all the tricks of the trade.

That was the first time I heard the phrase ‘Smart Alec.’  From the context I made out its meaning to be a person trying to outsmart the system and get away with it.

Recently I researched into the etymology of Smart Alec.

Oxford English Dictionary defines a Smart Alec as ‘a person who behaves as if they know everything and likes to show people this in an annoying way.’

If Oxford defines so, what does Cambridge define it as – ‘someone who tries to appear smart or who answers questions in a funny way that annoys other people.’

Mariam Webster Dictionary In my view gives a better definition ‘obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness.’

One must have come across many Smart Alecs and one must have turned into a Smart Alec in some situation.  Generally Smart Alecs are known to be boastful, appear very friendly, giving out ‘expert advice’ on anything and everything under the sun.  When the Smart Alec becomes a quite person, scheming his plans, keeping his cards close to his chest, he becomes dangerous.

Did you know that Smart Alec was a real man – a New York pimp named Alexander Hoag, who operated in connivance with his prostitute wife Melinda?  The same is chronicled in ‘Studies in Slang’ by Missouri University professor Gerald Cohen.

In the 1840s, Alexander Hoag with his wife Melinda devised a ploy to hustle men Melinda enticed and brought to her apartment.  Melinda made her victim remove and hang his clothes. Alexander who hid behind a secret panel entered the room and disappeared with all the valuables in the victim’s dress pockets.

After some time, Alexander banged on the door, and Melinda made her customer believe that her husband had returned early from some trip and was at the door. The victim grabbed his clothes and bolted out of the room through the window.

When her customers complained to the New York Police, Alexander bought out two corrupt police officers with an agreement to split the booty.  The police soon discovered Alexander was cheating them out of their share by this new tactic and arrested Alexander and Melinda.

Investigators of New York Police were dumbfounded by the smartness of Alexander’s operations that they started referring to him as Smart Alec.  Then it became a police slang for a criminal who was too smart for his own good, or whose cockiness led to his arrest. Its first known printed use was in an 1862 Nevada newspaper article, used the term to refer to a ‘know-it-all’ convict.

The term ‘Smart Alec’ got prominence in the early 20th century but became part of everyday speech as a slang only around 1950.  A porn film Smart Aleck was released in 1951, justifying the slang’s origin to a pimp and a prostitute.

A Smart Alec has come out with an application for a smartwatch and aptly named it Smart Alec.  The application it claims will control the level of stress the wearer endures.
Smart Alec Workbooks are available for young children up to grade 5 in almost all subjects.  These workbooks are marketed as books developed by teachers in collaboration with administrators, designed to reinforce fundamental skills taught at each grade level.  A real Smart Alec at work!
What do you call a woman with the Smart Alec traits?
Call her Smart Alexa! Now you realise why Amazon christened its Smart Virtual Assistant as Alexa???

Book Review: The Old Man & She by Veteran Avinash Chikte

Can you fall in love at 60?  Why not?? We got to be in love at all stages of our life – with someone or the other, to make our existence meaningful.  At 60, it is more for companionship, after the children have flown to greater heights.

This is the essence of this book – The Old Man & She! – by Veteran Indian Air Force Officer Avinash Chikte.  We trained at the National Defence Academy and he was a year senior – 59th Course – E Squadron.

The book tells the story of Liz and Ravi – she’s 55 and he’s 60. The story confirms that love can begin at any age and stage and there is no place today for cultural or religious barriers.  The author has explored the tornadoes that go through the minds of people in a relationship – that too across religions, cultures, and race.  I have experienced it and I vouch for the authenticity of most situations well crafted in this book.

A good read, and a feel-good book for those who have an open mind, and are not moored by the chains of religion, caste, and race.

Here is the Author for you.

You can buy the book by clicking the link:

In India –  The Old Man & She! (Ebook) – Avinash Chikte

In other countries – https://books2read.com/theoldmanandshe

Hurricane Hazel @ 101

Ms Hazel McCallion, 101 years old, has been reappointed to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sits as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate ‘MAYOR1’. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and would make any listener think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of ‘Hurricane’ Hazel suited her to the tee.

Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.

In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.

Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.

Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.

Mayor McCallion was born in Port Daniel of Quebec on February 14, 1921 and educated in Quebec City and Montreal. She then began her career in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm, and was transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the local office. Mayor McCallion remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

Hazel was married to Sam McCallion on September 29, 1951. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville. She still resides in Streetsville and believes that one got to have a life filled with purpose and meaning and living her life in a Christian-like manner helped to motivate her and keep her energized. She does everything around the house herself like cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. She likes to be self sufficient and thinks that housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep her humble.

Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.

Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors”.

On her 100th birthday she said “My mom or dad couldn’t afford to send me to college or university. So I had to do it without that additional education. It’s the people you meet along the way, there’s always people to help you along the way if you’re willing to accept the help.”

In December 2014, Mayor McCallion stepped-down and people of the city remain ever grateful to her. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.

After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor, on September 23, 2014 Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfill them.”

Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.

Spring Snowfall

Easter Monday, April18, 2022, 4 PM – we were in for a surprise – Snowfall after the onset of Spring with the Spring Equinox on 20 Mar 2022.  This date marks the astronomical first day of spring around the Northern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, March equinox (Spring Equinox or Vernal Equinox) is when the Sun crosses the Equator, heading North. This is Utttarayana as per Hindu Astronomy. After this date, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more toward the Sun, resulting in increasing daylight hours and warming temperatures. 
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) dutifully announced the arrival of Spring on March 20 and I obediently put away the snow-blower and the snow shovels in the shed.  The weather is expected to be warmer during the final days of April, but a cooler pattern is expected for early May.
The snowfall predicted was for about eight inches, what came down may be a bit more.  Blame it on Climate Change or Global Warming!
It appears that Mother Nature too was tricked by the weather.  Daffodils have already sprouted and grown over eight inches tall. They will all thrive through this Spring-Snow-Storm and will flower in a fortnight.
It is a Canadian saying that ‘April rains bring in May flowers.’ Tulips in our garden are also getting buried under the snow.  What will April snow bring this May?
The Weeping Pussy Willow catkins flowered, and they will lose their pollens with the snow piling on them. Some of the flowers in the inside will survive this onslaught of snow. 
A tricky storm track and a delicate temperature gradient hovering around 2oC resulted in this unprecedented spring snowfall.  During this time of the year, the difference between a snowfall and a chilling rain is only a few degrees Celsius. 

Seek The Living Among The Dead

Today, we live in a world impacted by pandemic and natural disasters.  We are all going through a difficult phase of our lives.  Many are coping with complex personal environments and circumstances.  This is where we need spiritual support to fill that vacuum left by the absence of God in us. 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going” was the catch-line during our tough five week-long Commando training, considered amongst the toughest in the world, designed to push the trainees, testing our physical and mental toughness to an extreme.  Our training began at 2 AM with physical training, obstacle crossing, long marches up to 40 km, and ended at midnight with night navigation marches, raids, and ambushes – all while carrying our personal weapon – the rifle weighing over 5 kg and a 30 kg backpack.

This was where I needed someone to hold my hand, pat me at the back, encourage me to complete the tough tasks, push me from the back through those long endurance marches, etc.  Here my faith in Christ helped endure through it successfully.  I found our Saviour, the Resurrected Christ there when and where I needed Him.  Whatever physical and mental turbulence I was going through, He underwent many times more and emerged successful. 

Timothy 2:3 says, “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The bible does not offer you space to complain or crib.  St Paul was beaten, persecuted, betrayed, drowned, and thrown into a prison, still he never complained.  Paul endured his perils by holding to his faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Did Jesus Christ ever complain even while He was dying on the cross?

The essence of resurrection is contained in the verse Luke 24: 5 where the angels at the tomb said to the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  It happens to be the first spoken word after the resurrection of Christ.

This question led the women to understand the reality of resurrection.  We must realise how pertinent it is in our daily lives. Resurrection celebrates the moment death was defeated and hope came alive.  If you are looking for Jesus among the dead, you will not find him, because he is not there.

We often end up failures, dissatisfaction, or burnout after the long and treacherous hours we put in.  Often our efforts do not bring us a sense of achievement and fulfilment.  This could be due to the lack of realisation as to how our effort may have helped others and not us. We place an unrealistic expectation on returns that will lead to frustration, anger, and disappointment. It is a way of seeking the living among the dead. Here we are not looking at the joy and happiness that our action has brought to someone else (living,) but we are more concerned about what we will receive in return (dead.)

We look for the dead weighing our success based on our achievements like bank balance, grades scored, promotions achieved, the brands of the clothes we wear, the car we drive and so on.  We keep looking for self-worth in our personal image and some end up finding relief in drug and alcohol abuse, leading to addiction (further death) not liberty or freedom or solution to one’s problems (mirage of living.)  For some, it leads to anxiety and fear, rather than joy and fulfilment of life.

Looking for the living among the dead also means looking for a spark or a ray of hope when everything around is grim and bleak.  While on a military mission, driving on a Himalayan mountain road at about 12,000 feet above sea level, the pickup truck with two soldiers ahead of me suddenly toppled to the side, because the road caved in.  The pickup with every tumble lost each of its wheels, finally rested on a tree at bout 1000 feet below. I ran out of the Jeep with my driver and two of my radio operators and we reached the vehicle to see the two soldiers badly injured, bleeding profusely.  Upon seeing the state of the vehicle and the tumbles it took, I did not expect any survivors.  Here I was ‘Looking for the living among the dead’ as hardly anyone survived such accidents in that area. We carried the two injured soldiers up the steep slope, evacuated them to the nearest first-aid post to be evacuated by the Army Helicopter and they survived.

Until today, I do not know how we rolled down that steep slope, brought those soldiers up the mountain.  Everything appeared to be a miracle, where the Resurrected Christ gave me the strength to execute the task.  It saved the lives of two soldiers, but for us who participated in it, it was all some bruises left on our body by the bamboo which grew on the mountain slope.  No one complained. We were all happy that we could save two lives.  That is what soldiering is all about – Risking one’s life to save others.

Whenever I passed on that road again, I felt the Resurrected Christ appearing before me.

This Easter, we must all look for our resurrected living Saviour, one who brings joy and life and hope, the one about whom the Prophet Isaiah said: “Those who hope in me will never be disappointed.” 

Weeping Pussy Willow

The very first flowers that appear in our garden on the onset of Spring is on the Weeping Pussy Willow.  The Salix Caprea ‘Pendula’ is commonly known as the Goat Willow or Weeping Pussy Willow, which belongs to the Caprea genus of flowering trees.
The tree grows pendulous branches and can reach up to 8 feet, while the spread of the tree can also be around 6 feet.
Fuzzy nubs start to appear along the branches, even before the leaves sprout. The reason for this is so that the leaves don’t get in the way of the pollen travelling on the wind, so the chances of pollination are increased.
These nubs are flowers that sprout just before they fully bloom. The soft coating of hairs acts as insulation to protect these early bloomers from cold temperatures. Most other willows make similar flowers, and since they’re among the very first to bloom, they’re especially delightful—they signal the onset of spring. The tree derives its name from these soft silver tufts that resemble a tiny cats’ paws, feeling so much like fur.
Even in full bloom, willow flowers hardly look like flowers at all. They have neither any petals nor any fragrance. Such flowers are called Catkins, derived from old Dutch word Katteken meaning a kitten. Alder, Birch, Beech, Hazel also produce catkins.
Pussy willows are Dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. Only male plants produce the fuzzy flowers. The flowers on female plants look more like greenish hairy caterpillars.
The male catkins begin to look yellow when the pollens develop on the tips of the anthers.
Catkins usually don’t rely on pollinators to spread their pollen. Instead, they release it into the wind, where it may or may not land on the female flower parts. To hit their targets, the catkins produce a a large volume of pollen. Such massive quantity of pollens released in the atmosphere results in many humans developing allergies and breathing difficulties during this period.

Why do Indians Sound So Arrogant?

Indians are among the politest people in the world, coming from a four-thousand-year-old civilisation. How come others consider us as rude?

The question cropped in my mind when I read a news report about a Romanian Mayor calling an Indian Minister who was overseeing evacuation of Indian students from Ukraine arrogant and rude.  Was the Minister arrogant or rude?  Surely Not!

Most Indians do not undergo any vocal musical training at school, unlike in North America. They do not have to do presentations while at school.  Hence most Indian kids end up with only a volume control. I too have a similar problem in that I cannot modulate my pitch and tone.  To enunciate or to put across a point, I tend to raise the volume and it becomes offensive to a Canadian listener.  Some have told me off that I am rude.  With practice and help from our children, I have improved a lot.  Am I perfect in this regard?  An affirmative No!

All Indian immigrants in Canada do not sound rude or arrogant, but the candidates I have interviewed recently, I am forced to change my opinion.  These candidates give off an arrogant vibe and an arrogant look. They pad up their resumes to over a page with mostly redundant achievements and in some cases family lineage.  They act as if they know it all, have achieved all and are ready to join the workforce. They blow their trumpets. Their claims and lies fall shattered when they are asked to handle a real situation or a process.

The way one is greeted, business processed, merchandise dispensed at the store or on the drive-through in Canada, it involves exchanging a few pleasantries.  The conversation by the sales associate involves lot of those ‘magic words’ like please, thank you, have a nice day, etc.  Driving through a coffee outlet, I could often make out the nationality of the associate from their accent coupled with the absence of those magic words.  They do sound impolite and rude by Canadian standards.

Many Indian immigrants land with a false superiority or prestige.  It is all because of the social-media propaganda that all of NASA’s scientists are Indians; Silicon Valley companies are being run by Indians; all doctors in America are Indians; Indians are doing very well in USA and Canada; and so on.  Sorry, but it isn’t the truth!

Another opinion is that Americans or Canadians do not study and that it is all Indian students in universities, and they are the toppers.  Look at the award lists or achievers list of any North American universities and you will realise the truth. 

Next in line is the belief that North Americans are dumb. You must be right!!! That is why every time you switch on a computer or a cellphone or a tablet, look at the company which developed the software and that’s why they are the pioneers of modern technology and medical research.

Indians have only heard of a few hardworking and intelligent Indians in India or outside India. Other countries too have the same percentage of hardworking and intelligent people.  The political/ religious leaders pepper their discourses with some history, some mythology, some twisted facts etc. This leaves an impression in the mind of the youth that Indians are the best and have all the solutions for all the problems the world suffers today. This has made the youth less tolerant to the other religions/ castes/ creeds.  This makes the youth less accepting of others, their viewpoints, their beliefs, and their cultures.  A sure recipe to disaster!!

Various debates on national television are a clear indication of the arrogance of the anchors and the participants.  Many foreign panelists in such discussions have pointed it out (I too feel the same.) These anchors and participants (some Veterans too) have indoctrinated the Indian youth to believe that the rude and arrogant way they put across their viewpoint is an acceptable one.  This further adds to the rudeness and arrogance of the educated Indians without they themselves realising it.

Various propaganda or false information passed on to the Indian youth on social media have influenced their minds. Most youth do not read, but forward whatever they receive to others, believing them to be true.  Many adults (including Veterans) too engage in such acts to show their presence on social media by proving that they are ‘Virtually Alive.’ When a Veteran or someone a youth respects forwards a message, they lap it up as true and forward it to their friends without any analysis.  Lack of reading, analysis and opinion forming among university students make them narrow-minded. Thus, they become non-creative, lacking original ideas.  Look at any Indian social-media group – it is all about Forwards with hardly any Original work or opinions.

Many youths in Canada (including our children) hardly make any comments or post photos/ videos on social media.  On inquiry they said that they do not want their prospective employer to reject them for their social media posts.  They do not have friends too who post offensive or arrogant material because it should not surface during a background check.  Our son Nikhil did not want his posts to haunt him later when he gets into Canadian politics.

Many North American students take up part time jobs during their high school onward.  They work in restaurants, swimming pools, gyms, libraries etc.  They must volunteer in community activities as part of the requirement for high school graduation.  This exposes them to difficult situations where they observe or participate in customer management.  This trains them about what not to speak and how to put across one’s concerns in a polite and civilised manner. 

Politeness must be inculcated in children, and it must begin at home.  Parents must set an example, especially when facing a difficult situation. 

Kindness and politeness are not overrated at all. They’re underused. – Tommy Lee Jones – American actor and film director.

Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot. – Clarence Thomas – US Supreme Court Judge 

Appreciating Children

Graduation Ceremony from Middle School (Grade 8) of our daughter Nidhi was a year after we set foot in Canada.  The very first question that came to my mind was – “Is this all necessary?”  We became poorer by a few hundred Dollars in terms of her dress, visit to the beauty parlour and the florist.

Is this all necessary?”  Why do we think so?  On analysis I realised that as children we were never appreciated for anything.  In case you obtained 93% marks the question on everyone’s lips was “Where did the 7% go?”  No one appreciated or complimented me for obtaining 93%.  The story took a different turn in case Susikutty, our neighbour’s daughter scored 94%.  Everyone played the same track “Look at Susikutty!  See how she is focused?  Learn to work hard like her….

On landing in Canada, I realised that one was being appreciated for even little things like holding open the coffee shop’s door.  That was when it dawned on me as to our rationing of compliments, even to our children, let alone subordinates or people unknown.  The belief that was drilled into me was that in case you appreciated someone, his performance would go down, but in case you ‘rebuked’ him, he would try and do better.  What a myth? 

A Captain in the Indian Army who served with me asked me a question “Sir, in case you come back to command our Battalion, what changes would you bring in?” I said, “I will appreciate everyone for all their deeds, how insignificant it may appear to be.”

Grade 8 Graduation Ceremony may be bit more laid back than formal high school ceremonies (commencement,) but the move from junior to senior high school is still a monumental occasion that needs to be celebrated.  Many schools in Canada do not insist on students wearing caps and gowns for middle school graduation but is mandatory for the High School Graduation.  The students must wear dress clothes for the occasion – suits for boys and gowns for girls.

Many of us forget to give graduation gifts to our children.  I did not for our daughter’s Grade 8 Graduation as I was unaware.  Our daughter participated in her High School Musical Drama in a lead role and after the play I found every Canadian parent gifting their children for their outstanding performances – mostly bouquets and chocolates. I felt small as it was past 9 PM and I could not have procured any at that time as the shops had closed.  After the event we went out for a family dinner to celebrate her performance.

After our son’s graduation after middle and high school where he was the valedictorian, I ensured that I did not repeat the mistake.  I was ready with the gifts.

Giving Graduation Gifts to Middle School students is very important.  A card filled with age-appropriate humour, or contain motivational or inspirational graduation sayings, or simply a message of congratulations is the minimum.  You may also gift a small to moderate amount of money, school supplies the student might need for high school, journals or scrapbooks, favorite teen books, a watch or an item of jewelry, a cool backpack, or other carry-all, gift cards for movies, or other fun activities, etc.

Learning and Studying

Two words – studying and learning – have always been interchangeable for me until I joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1982.  That was when I commenced applying the knowledge I had gained – especially in trigonometry and physics – while calculating various ballistic parameters for the long range guns.

Studying was the formal education I received at school and at the Academy where I gained knowledge – the basics – which stood as the foundation for all my learning.  Learning was all about applying the knowledge in many situations and there were many  errors, mistakes, commissions and omissions. I learned more with every passing experience.  While learning, there was always a chance of failure – I won some and lost many.

Let us examine the definitions of the two words:-

  • To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. Learning is absorbing the information, testing its validity to the point of being able to understand the information.
  • To Study – to read, memorise facts, attend school, etc, in order to learn about a subject.  Studying is the act of gathering the information and poring over it, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

One studies to learn.  Many a times one studies a lot, but learns hardly anything.  One tends to forget what one studied, especially when the aim was only to score a few marks in an examination.  Here there is neither any addition to one’s knowledge nor development of any skills.

Studying is pushing and learning is pulling. The content is pushed to the students and learners pull the content what they want to learn.  In order to increase one’s English vocabulary, reading the dictionary alone will not suffice.  It is mere studying. Reading a book and referring to a dictionary is the ideal way as one learns more from the context the word is used than from its dictionary meaning. One may study English grammar for days, but without getting into real communication – both speaking and writing – it’s hardly of any use and one is learning neither the language nor the grammar. We learn the alphabets of a language by-heart, we learn to associate these alphabets to form words to read and write. We learn grammar, but study literature.

In mathematics there are only two digits – 0 and 1 – the rest are all combinations of these. There is only one mathematical operation – addition – subtraction is addition of a negative number, multiplication is continuous addition and division is addition of fractions. If a child learns this basic fact, rest will follow.

Doctors while at medical school memorise all Latin medical terms, and by constant usage familiarise with these terms. They apply their knowledge and learn to diagnose and also carryout a procedure or a surgery.

To be successful in any profession today, studying and earning a degree is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a Lieutenant  in the Army, but  the selection criteria is more about leadership qualities, empathy, problem solving ability, etc.  In today’s digital world with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, these skills are more important than the marks scored and degrees earned.

For many, studying is associated with reading.  It may be true as one grows into an adult, acquiring knowledge and understanding various concepts. Babies are constantly learning, but are neither studying nor reading. Learning occurs at random too – with one’s observations and correlating the same with the knowledge already gained. Listening to someone well experienced in the field, one learns a lot.  It can be from a new experience, or from what one reads, analyses and perceives.

Studying at school (including home schooling) is vital because it teaches students essential life values. More than studying or learning, it is more about developing social skills and being a team player. Many students realised it during the pandemic.  

School gives the students  the basics –  alphabets, numbers, sounds, arithmetic skills and social skills. It develops problem-solving skills in students.  Expertise of the teacher helps  students understand and gain knowledge. Schools also help develop many hidden talents in students. It guides and motivates students to bring the best out of them. It is also an avenue to interact with other people. It is a place to meet new friends and colleagues. School enhances social skills with students  dealing with different kinds of people.

Owl, Reading, Book, Bird, Study, Animal, Line Art

Learning never exhausts the mind – Leonardo da Vinci

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you -B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere – A Chinese Proverb

A Washroom Abashment

For my morning stroll, I walk to the Square 1 Mall, a five minute walk from our home.  Square 1 Mall opens at 6 am, not for shoppers, but for the cleaning staff and for the salespersons to set up their stores.  The aisles are nearly empty where it is always warm at +25°C with music and it never rains or snows.  The ground is even and level and there is no chance of slipping and falling.  Morning walkers, mostly senior citizens use the facility.

Square 1 Mall is the largest shopping centre in Ontario and the second largest shopping centre in Canada. It has over 2,200,000 square feet (200,000 m2) of retail space, with more than 360 stores and services.

As I entered the mall on a freezing December morning, the girl at the Santa-Photo Centre which comes up every Christmas Holidays, was setting up the place.  This is where families take their Photo-with-Santa while they shop at the mall.  Is there a better way to remember the holidays than having your picture taken with Santa

Nearing completion of my walk, I felt an urgent need to empty my bladder, to wet the white porcelain throne in the washroom.  I was lost in my thoughts as I entered one of the many washrooms in the mall.  I went through the front door and turned left to the men’s washroom.

There it was, a spic and span, freshly cleaned washroom welcomed me in.  I was a bit surprised to find the washroom a bit  too spacious for a Canadian public washroom.  Was it that it catered for turning of a wheelchair bound user? I presumed. The grab bars confirmed that the cubicle was meant for a differently-abled person.  Still there was something amiss!

As I completed the nature’s call and turned I saw the sanitary waste bin – a container that allows safe disposal of sanitary waste in washrooms. If washroom users continuously flush items that  shouldn’t go down the toilet, it is bound to cause drain blockages and plumbing issues.  Providing toilet paper and soap are essential in every washroom environment, but personal hygiene disposal units must be provided too.

It is a women’s washroom!!  Reality dawned on me.  When I entered, I saw only the last three letters of the signage.  English language and its spellings can be real tricky! Not my fault!!!! I justified.

Why couldn’t there be Gender Neutral Washrooms?? A mother taking her son or a father taking his daughter to a washroom, where will they go?

Toronto Police Headquarters, The Royal Ontario Museum and many schools provide gender neutral washrooms. Four of the family washrooms in Square 1 Mall are gender neutral.

Slowly I stepped out and walked to the entrance of the washroom.  Luckily for me I was the only one.  I adjusted my mask to cover my entire face and walked out with my right leg first.  Why with my right leg?  Please click here to read the reason.

The Time magazine should have declared the Mask and not Musk as the person of the year 2021???

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Before we usher in 2022, me must examine the Terms and Conditions that come with it!!!!

2021 was one of the most challenging year for most of us. Let us be thankful that we are happy and safe and all set to enter into 2022.

Atmospheric River

Canada’s West Coast- British Columbia – was battered with heavy rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding and landslides in November 2021. It is believed to have been caused by more than one Atmospheric Rivers (AR.)

The term AR was coined in 1998 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Yong Zhu and Richard Newell, though ARs did play havoc earlier too. Until then AR was mostly referred to as tropical plume, tropical connection, moisture plume, water vapor surge, cloud burst and cloud band.

An AR is no river in the sky as the name suggests, but is a weather phenomenon.  It is a narrow corridor of highly saturated moisture in the atmosphere that stretches to 1600 km long and about 600 km wide.  Water an AR carries can be roughly compared to about 25 times carried by any major river like the Ganges or the Mississippi.

AR is born in the tropical ocean regions near the equator, and as it travels away from the equator, the warm air mass gets saturated with water vapour.  As the AR makes its landfall, water vapour condenses into precipitation, resulting in heavy rain or snow.

ARs originate form eight oceanic regions around the world, some closer to continental coasts than others. One of those regions is just off North America’s western coast and can produce between one to two dozen ARs per year. ARs from the Indian Ocean caused havoc in Australia and in India, especially Kerala, Uttarakhand, Bengal in the recent years.

Has climate change caused the ARs to be lethal?

Scientists and climatologists believe that the frequency of ARs may reduce by 10% in the years to come, but they may increase in size by about 25%. This would result in ARs dumping more water on the land as years pass by.  Global warming will cause the air in the AR  to become warmer and warmer the air, more water vapour it carries. When the AR makes landfall, it will release more rain or snow than the previous one. 

What caused flooding and land-slides in British Columbia?

The summer season in 2021 in British Columbia saw more than 1,600 fires charring nearly 8,700 square km of forest land.  These forest fires bake the soil, making them more hydrophobic or making them to repel water.  The coniferous trees in Canadian forests, when they burn, release a waxy compound that bind the forest soil, making it more hydrophobic. The water-repelling layer is typically found at or a few cm below the ground surface and is commonly covered by a layer of burned soil or ash. 

When the ARs dumped heavy volume of water in areas burned during the 2021 wildfires, the runoff from these burned grounds was greater and more rapid because of the hydrophobicity of the soil.  Burning down of the trees and vegetation binding the soil on the mountain slopes resulted in the soil becoming loose, causing many land-slides.

Let us now look at the mythological aspects.

The Abrahamic religions narrate the flood story of Noah’s Ark where the God became angry with the sins of mankind. He told his faithful servant, Noah, to build an ark large enough for his family and two of every creature on earth. God delivered the promised deluge, lasting 40 days, that killed everyone and everything on earth except the population of the ark.  After the flood, the ark came to rest on a mountain top, indicating that the depth of the water was higher than the mountains.

As per Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the Gods, was displeased with the humans. Zeus told Deucalion to construct an ark for himself and his wife. After nine days of flooding, the world was destroyed, and the ark rested on top of Mount Parnassus.

Hindu mythology too refers to such a flood. Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish appeared to Manu and told Manu that the world would be destroyed in a great flood. Manu built a boat and tied it to the fish. The fish guided Manu’s boat through the floods to the top of a mountain.

The Chinese too have many stories and myths about floods, Gods, dragons, and spirits. Like other flood stories, there are only a handful of survivors.

Could these floods have been caused by an AR? Some say it might have been caused by tsunamis or by comets or asteroids hitting  the earth.

Flood stories are universal and is part of all religions and mythology where the God sent flood to destroy the sinners as punishment..  Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim hypothesised that dreams of the flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders!!

Are the Gods unhappy with the humanity that the next flood is near? Are we to pay for our sins of not caring for Mother Nature?

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Bible : Genesis 6:5

Aircraft on a Highway

On November 16, 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Purvanchal Expressway in Uttar Pradesh after landing on the highway airstrip in an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130 Hercules plane.  Kudos to the IAF for executing such a mission.  The 3.2 km long airstrip has been constructed on the expressway to facilitate emergency landing by fighter aircraft.  IAF carried out a few trial landings on the strip prior to the mission with the Prime Minister on board. The questions that came to my mind were:-

  • Is it safe to execute such missions with the Prime Minister on board?
  • What was the intended aim from the military/ strategic point of view?

Who can answer my queries the best other than Veteran Wing Commander Avinash Chikte of the IAF, our senior at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron?  He is former fighter pilot and now a commercial airline pilot. He is the author of two books and many blog posts.  He answered my questions. Please read his blog about the incident @ https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/purvanchal-expressway-why-some-highways-are-built-like-runways-554391.html

Why did these questions erupt in my mind?

While in our Grade 11 at school, on November 4, 1977,  a VIP flight on the Tupolev-124, the Russian-made aircraft which was christened as Pushpaka by the IAF, crash landed at Jorhat in Eastern India with the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai on board.  The Prime Minister was accompanied by his son Sri Kanti Bhai Desai, the director of Intelligence Bureau Sri John Lobo and the Chief Minister of Arunachal Sri PK Thungan.

The aircraft was carrying 11 crew and nine passengers. Five of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured. The Prime Minister was  unscathed. The plane went down nose first – a  deliberate act by the crew in the cockpit in the front part of the aircraft – to ensure they took the main impact of the crash, saving the VIP passengers.

Mr Desai is accredited as the first non-Congress Party Prime Minister of India, but he was the brunt of many teenage jokes at our school. The jokes revolved around his bizarre drinking habit and being born on the Leap Day – February 29, 1896. Babies born on the Leap Day are referred to as Leaplings, Leapers, or Leapsters. The Leap Year must be evenly divisible by 4. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year unless the year is also divisible by 400.- Year 2000 is a leap years, but 1900 and 2100 are not.

The list of Indian senior politicians who survived such crash landings may interest the readers.

Babu Jagjivan Ram was seriously injured in a BOAC airline crash in Iran shortly before Independence. Babu was lucky to survive the accident in which several people were killed, but was unlucky that he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947.

Sardar Patel too had a miraculous escape.  The aircraft carrying him to Jaipur to to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan, force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949.  Although the aircraft was completely damaged, the skill of the IAF pilot ensured that no one was injured.

Other prominent Indian politicians who did not survive an aviation accident are Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia.  Many Chief Ministers of various Indian states had miraculous escapes – mostly helicopter accidents – with former Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis surviving five of them. 

Recent Canadian Incident

A small plane on a training mission was forced to make an emergency landing on a Canadian highway in Toronto on October 27, 2021at 11 AM.   The instructor-pilot declared May Day after running into mechanical issues and realising that he would not make it back to the airport. The pilot with his trainee managed to land the plane safely on the highway.

Canadian highways have two aprons on either side. The one on the right is marked with a continuous white line and can be used to stop the vehicles in an emergency. The one on the left is marked with a continuous yellow line and is meant for the emergency services vehicles like police cruisers, ambulance and fire-trucks. This lane was used by the aircraft to make the emergency landing.
By 2 PM, the plane took a ride on a flatbed truck to clear the highway, ending one of the rare Canadian highway incident in recent history