To Sir Without Love

‘Sir’ is a term for addressing males who have been given certain honours or titles (such as knights and baronets) in Commonwealth Countries and is strictly governed by law and custom. The term is also commonly used as a respectful way to address a commissioned military officer – surely not civilians. Equivalent term in the feminine gender would be ‘madam’ and a young woman, girl, or unmarried woman may be addressed ‘miss’. A knighted woman or baronetess is a ‘Dame’ and a ‘Lady’ would be the wife of a knight or baronet.

In Kottayam, Kerala, there is a girls’ school called Baker Memorial Girls High School. The school was established by Amelia Dorothea Baker (1820-1904) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Miss Baker married John Johnson, another CMS missionary, who passed away in 1846. Miss Baker remained in-charge of the school in Kottayam till 1855. Her two sisters married CMS missionaries and three daughters of her brother Henry Baker Jr became teachers at the very same school. (Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H Anderson, Page 336)

The school today stands as a memorial to celebrate the efforts of the three generations of missionaries who dedicated their lives for the empowerment of the women of Kottayam through education. The common folk of Kottayam until my student days called it as Miss Baker School. Remember, it was during the British Raj and everyone addressed the founder headmistress of the school, very respectfully, as ‘Miss Baker’. Today, could any student in the very same school address their teacher ‘Miss Anita?’ I have often heard them addressing their teacher as Anita Miss (I could never make out as to what Miss Anita ‘missed’!)

On joining Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in Grade 5 in 1971, our first Class-Master was Mr MJ Raman, our Mathematics teacher. We were about 25 of us from Kerala and only one could understand English and the rest 24 of us knew only Malayalam. In the first class Mr Raman issued us all the books, stationary, etc and briefed us in English and surely I did not get much of what he said.

We then had an English class by Mr KG Warrier. He asked us something like “Who asked you to do it?” in his Oxford accent and the boy who knew a bit of English promptly replied “Raman Sir told us to do it.” Mr Warrier now said “I know that Dr CV Raman was knighted, but did not know that Mr MJ Raman was also knighted. You all will address your teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames.” Those words were imprinted on our young minds and through all these decades until now, we have always revered our teachers but invariably addressed them as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’, orally and in writing. Culturally, in Kerala as well as the rest of India, these modes of address have undergone a ‘mutation’. Today, it would be sacrilege for a college student to address his professor as ‘Mister Singh’

Please Click Here to read Blog-Posts about our teachers at Sainik School Amatavathi Nagar https://rejinces.net/category/sainik-school/

In Canadian high schools, students mostly address their teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames. In the universities, some professors during their introduction class would specify their requirement. Some want to be addressed in the traditional manner and many with their first names or even shortened first names.

While interacting with an Indian immigrant teacher in Canada, he said he felt uncomfortable when the students addressed him as ‘Mr George.’ He had taught in a college in India for over two decades and everyone addressed his as ‘Sir’ and he felt that the Canadian students are disrespecting their teachers by not addressing them as ‘Sir.’

Addressing male teachers as ‘Sir’ and all females irrespective of marital status as ‘Miss’ shows a massive status disparity and sexism of previous years. According to Times Educational Supplement, ‘Sir’ was first used in Sixteenth Century classrooms when male teachers of a lower social standing were attempting to reinforce their authority among largely upper-class boys. ‘Miss’ (surely not anywhere near the status of ‘Sir’) is largely a Victorian era creation when women were pressurised to give up work after they married, with a number of schools only hiring single female teachers.

In the Dutch education system, children address teachers by their first name, using ‘juf’ or ‘juffrouw’ as a title for a female and ‘meester’ for a male teacher. Australians address their teachers as Mr/Mrs/Ms and surname. Sometimes if a teacher has a long or difficult-to-pronounce name, it is shortened to Mr PK, etc.

In Finland, it’s first names or even nick-names with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society there is very informal. French kids use the terms ‘maîtresse’ and ‘maître’ for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply ‘teacher’. German students address teachers by using ‘Herr/Frau’ and surname, using ‘Sie’ as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, Koennen Sie…).

How do you wish to address your teachers? How do you wish your children addressed their teachers?

York-Durham Heritage Railway

On October 1, 2016, we embarked on the York-Durham Heritage Railway train on a trip around the city of Uxbridge, about an hour’s drive from Toronto.  The York-Durham Heritage Railway trains operate on the original Toronto & Nipissing (T&N) rail line, built in the late 1860’s. This line was built to allow its owner, William Gooderham, a distiller from Toronto, to carry grain to his distillery as well as lumber.

On March 4th, 1868, the Company was chartered and construction began the following year. As it was advantageous at that time to have the rail line pass through any town, many paid handsomely for the privilege. Markham raised over $4,000 in one evening, and Unionville made a successful last minute effort to have the line rerouted after it bought $500 worth of shares. The town of Uxbridge was chosen for the site for the railway’s shops.

We  reached the Uxbridge station, with its distinctive “Witches Hat” roof, owned and maintained by the Township of Uxbridge for the heritage journey. Uxbridge is situated in a beautiful valley on the northern slope of the Oak Ridges Moraine, about 64km northeast of Toronto, Ontario.  The York-Durham Heritage Railway reopened the line between Uxbridge and Stouffville in 1996 and has been running on summer weekends since then. The train journey of about 90 minutes.

After we boarded the train, the Captain of the train – the Conductor – briefed the passengers about the train and its journey, what to see and do with the coach attendant awtching. All the staff running the train are volunteers.

The fall had set in (01 Oct) and the leaves were changing colours – before they fall off.  This gave a kaleidoscope of colours all through the journey.

The guard’s wagon  of the train called the Caboose at the rear end of the train, acted as an office and living quarters for the crew of a freight train in the old days. A viewing Cupola is built to facilitate a crew member to look forward at the train to see if anything is amiss

The Baggage Car with open doors fitted with safety barricades is the best place to view the landscape while the train is on the move.

One side of the Baggage Car is a ‘Railway Play Station’ for kids, to keep the kids engaged all through the journey.

On the other side of the Baggage Car is the Souvenir shop and a snack-bar – all manned by volunteers.

The rail-road crossings do not have barriers like those along an operational rail line as the trains operate only on weekends.  It is the duty of the drivers who cross the railway line to lookout for approaching trains and stop.

A musician, again a volunteer, entertained the passengers with his melodies. The passengers also joined him in chorus.

A volunteer ‘Clown’ was also seen entertaining kids with his tricks on board

This is a lime stone quarry enroute of LaFarge Cement Company.  Ontario has large deposit of limestone which supports the large cement manufacturing industry.

The journey was very pleasant, especially with the friendly, easy – going volunteer staff.  The staff obviously loved what they did.  It is an experience worth sharing as it goes to prove that a volunteer force can run a railway and much more.

 

Pelee Island : The Southernmost Tip of Canada

On July 08, 2017, we along with Stephens, our travel companions, travelled from Toronto to Lemington, a four hour car drive along Highway 401.  We boarded MV Jiimaan, a vessel 200 ft)in length that transports 400 passengers and 40 vehicles on Lake Erie from Lemington to Pelee Islands.  The cruise was of  about 90 minutes.  The ferry housed a cafeteria and the view from the deck was awesome.

Pelee Island, (42 Sq Km) largest island in the Western End of Lake Erie, is the Southernmost tip of Canada.  It was leased to Thomas McKee by Ojibwa and Onawa tribes in 1788.  The island’s name is derived from a French word ‘pelee’ meaning barren.  It remained barren, true to its name until it was purchased by William McKormick in 1823.

The Pelee Island Lighthouse was built by John Scott in 1833.  William McCormick donated the land and also served as its first light-keeper till 1840.  The lighthouse used to guide sailors through the rocky Pelee Passage. in the Erie Lake until it went out of service in 1909.

The only other way to get on to the Pelee Island is through the International Airport with a 3,300 feet paved runway.  Regular flights operate in winter when the ferry services are closed.  It serves as the emergency pickup point. It might be the smallest International Airport in Canada – it is International as it receives flights from USA, just South of it.

The population of Pelee Island is about 140.  In summer about 100 migrant workers land on the island to support both tourism and agriculture.  The island has a Police Station manned by two personnel, obviously there is hardly any crime and the last major crime was reported in 1920.  The Emergency Services is operated by two Para-Medics with an ambulance and a Nurse Practitioner manning the Medical Clinic.  Emergency cases has to be airlifted to the mainland at Lemington.  The Fire Department has a fire tender operated by volunteer crew.

This is the shoe tree which has an interesting history.  The tree was given up for dead and the home owner tied a pair of shoes on to it and it is believed to re-grow thereafter.  All the migrant workers, on leaving the island at the end of the season now tie their work-shoes on the tree to bring them good luck.

The island is mainly  agricultural based with about 5,000 acres of soybeans, about 1,000 acres of wheat, 500 acres of grape cultivation.  The centre of the island was a large marsh which was drained out to form the fertile agricultural land.  Thus most cultivation is done below the Lake’s level and hence there is always fear of floods.  The houses on the island are built on stilts to save them from flooding.

After spending the day on the island, we boarded the ferry on our return voyage to Lemington and then we drove off to Toronto.

 

 

A Befitting War Memorial and Museum

Having visited many cenotaphs and monuments across Canada and also the War Museum at Ottawa in memory of Canadians who served around the world in the cause of peace and freedom, I was always baffled that my motherland India has only a handful of them.  Surely the Indians have a colourful military history, spanning over many centuries, covering the entire globe.  The Indian soldiers made up the majority numbers in World War I & II, but there is only the India Gate built in memory of these valiant soldiers who did the ultimate sacrifice in World War I and their names are etched on it.  There is no museum anywhere in India to celebrate the sacrifices of the soldiers and to document the military history of the land.

On 22 March 2017, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened Punjab State War Heroes’ Memorial & Museum during my trip to the holy city of Amritsar.  It surely stands out as the very first such monument of India.  It celebrates the history of Punjab, the ten Gurus, the Sikh Kingdom, Indians in both World Wars and all the post independent military actions.

The museum is at it nascent stage, but surely takes the visitor through the ages.  The area has been aesthetically done up with its surroundings and the imposing high ‘Sword’ – it could well be the tallest such structure in the world, standing high at about 45 meters.  I was surely impressed by a line from the smart young tour guides who all said a catch line “The sword is weapon with its sharp edge facing towards Pakistan, depicting not war, but peace and prosperity”.  This spirit is what is being celebrated here – “Not war, but peace and prosperity.”

The guns, tanks, fighter aircraft, a model of India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and also two captured Pakistani tanks as war trophies; all add colour and decor to the seven acre monument.  The base of the sword with its four roaring lions and the various military equipment are all surely a delight for the ‘selfie’ mavericks.

The first gallery in the museum housed the history of the ten Guru of Sikhism and their contribution in spreading the message of love and peace.  The history of the Holy Book ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ from the first compilation of the Adi Granth to its current compiled version and the contributors of the Holy Book is very well brought out here.  It was surely a great learning for me.

The second hall depicted the military history of Punjab, mainly from the time of Maharaja Ranjith Singh.  The other galleries were dedicated to the wars fought by India post independence.  The display and layout is very impressive, especially the use of modern technology projection system to bring to life the real-near war scenario of the time depicted.  Obviously, being at a nascent stage with a hurried inauguration has left a few gaps and I am sure that the team working on the museum will do the needful to bring better authenticity to the displays.  Surely, in its present state it can stand in line with the many war museums I have visited in North America and Europe.  It not only depicts the military history of Punjab, but is also ensures that it celebrates the Indian military history and bestows it the due place and recognition.  In future, I am sure that it will emerge as a centre for research and excellence in India and for the entire world.

The 7D Theatre running a show with the latest technology to tingle patriotism through all our senses, depicting India’s military history is the icing on the cake.  Having experienced a similar show at the Niagara, depicting the history of the Falls, I am sure this too will stun any visitor.  There is a bit of fine tuning required to exploit the 7D system to its hilt.

What needs to be done now?  Here are certain suggestions:-

The display rooms, especially post independent wars, could well be covered with camouflage nets to give the visitor a war ambience.  The walkways may be redesigned to depict communication trenches as seen in the Runn of Kutch, Rajasthan deserts, plains of Punjab, hills of J&K, the Eastern states, high altitudes and Siachen Glacier.  The base can be of glass and below it can be the soil of the area being depicted.  Playing of war music and songs of the relevant times will surely add to the ambience.

A gallery may be added to depict the life of our soldiers in Siachen Glacier and the high altitudes.

The museum could also arrange with the formations in Punjab to hold static equipment displays as well as a few manoeuvres, especially on weekends and holidays when the footfall would be at its peak.  The area behind the museum can be well employed for this, especially for the tracked vehicles.  This will surely go a long way in civil-military liaison and bringing our armed forces closer to the people.

Creation of an amphitheatre, keeping in mind the future plans for a light & sound show will reap rich dividends.  The theatre could also stage re-enactments and plays of various aspects being displayed in the galleries.  The same is being done in many locations in North America employing volunteer and professional artists with pyro-techniques during high footfall times and days.  The schools and colleges can be encouraged to stage their shows too.  The professional and amateur artists in and around the museum area can be contracted to come out with their versions.  This will surely boost their cultural talents and at the same time provide them with employment.

There is a need to collect and display war/ military artefacts and displaying them at appropriate places.  This may include medals, uniforms, Field Service Marching Order, First Field Dressings, shell dressings, boxes and bags, enamel plates and mugs, water bottles, flasks, crockery and cutlery – the list is endless.  It would also be worthwhile to collect war/ field literature in terms of letters, journals, diaries, note books etc used by the soldiers.  For the collection of these artefacts, there got to be a media campaign through newspapers, radio and TV.  It would be worthwhile to rope in the students too by the Education department sending circulars through schools and colleges.  Once collected, these priceless artefacts must be restored, preserved, catalogued and displayed.  This will surely be of immense help to future research scholars and will go a long way in preserving our military heritage.

Even though at its nascent stage, the landscaping of the area needs to be taken up on a war footing.  The horticulture department needs to step in with their expertise.  Water conservation with drip irrigation and such methods may be employed.  It would be prudent to create a nursery and a small green-house to ensure that the annual and seasonal plants would bloom in the area all through the year.  Surely a must for such a monument.

The sore point in many such Indian institutions is the sanitation and hygiene.  The washrooms need a thorough ‘working out.’  The janitorial staff got to clean it regularly on hourly basis the least and may be more frequently during rainy season and high footfall times.  Provision of clean and cold drinking water where the visitor is expected to spend at least one hour is mandatory.

With the dedication of the team behind the monument, one is sure that in the very near future this monument will be a world beater.  It will surely be a torchbearer for other states and the centre to follow.  This will stand out as a classical monument to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served our great nation and the contributions of the daughters and sons of a great land Punjab.

 

March Break or ‘Breaking’ March

The schools in Ontario, Canada closed down for the March Break also known as Spring Break after Friday’s classes on March 10, 2017.  The schools will reopen only on March 20.  On Saturday/Sunday (March 11/12 night at 2 AM, the clocks are moved forward by a hour to cater for Daylight Saving Time (DST).

The Spring Breaks dates back to the 1930s when a New York swimming coach, looking for a warmer place to train his team moved them to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, in the 1930s. Spring Break was made popular in the 1960s with the release of the movie ‘Where the Boys Are’  about a group of college students enjoying their Spring Break at the very same location.

In Canada, Spring Break is one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, when cross-border traffic volume increase manifold with parents and children moving to the US, obviously a warmer area, to spend the holydays.  The airports are jam-packed that weekend.  Many Canadians also use the break to escape the bitter winter cold for warmer climates like Hawaii and Mexico, leaving resorts and hotels fully booked.

Despite having the warmest February in Toronto’s history last month, it appears that March is more than making up for the reduced snowfall.  On Monday March 13, with the snowstorm, about a foot of snow is expected to blanket the area according to Environment Canada.  The storm is also expected to bring gusty winds resulting in potentially dangerous driving conditions and blowing snow. The above image shows our home at about 2 PM on 13 March.

The city has issued an extreme cold weather warning and the crews are out with their salters and snow plows to clear the snow to keep the traffic going.  Surely, it is bit of a disappointment for the children as most outdoor activities, other than snow-skiing ,is likely to be closed.  Parents are surely worried, especially those who intended to be on the roads, driving their children to various Canadian Spring Break locations. 

With the Spring Break comes the DST.  It adds one hour to standard time with the purpose of making better use of daylight and conserving energy.  Even though the Sun will rise and set as before, the clocks will show the time one hour later than the day before.  The first to use DST was Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada In July, 1908.  Other cities and provinces followed suit by introducing DST bylaws.

The first country to introduce DST was Germany during World War I on April 30, 1916, when clocks were turned ahead one hour.  This was to minimize the use of artificial lighting in order to conserve fuel.  UK followed it up and many other countries, including France also did the same. Many countries reverted back to standard time after World War I and World War II marked the return of  DST in  Europe.

In the US, ‘Fast Time’ as it was called then, was first introduced in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson to support the war effort during World War I. From 1945 to 1966 there were no uniform rules for DST in the US and it caused widespread confusion especially for trains, buses, and the broadcasting industry. As a result, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was enacted which stipulated that DST would begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October.

The US Congress extended DST to a period of ten months in 1974 hoping to save energy following the 1973 oil embargo. The trial period showed that DST saved the energy equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil each day, but DST still proved to be controversial.  It was then reduced it to eight months in 1975 as many complained that the dark winter mornings endangered the lives of children going to school.

After the energy crisis, the DST schedule in the US was revised several times from 1987 to 2006. The current DST was introduced in 2007 beginning the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November. DST is now in force in over 70 countries worldwide and affects over a billion people every year. The beginning and end dates vary from one country to another. In 1996, the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide DST schedule, beginning  last Sunday in March and ending  last Sunday in October.

It is believed that DST showed a decrease in road accidents by ensuring that the  roads are naturally lit during the peak traffic hours.  Studies also show that there is an increase in both heart attacks and road accidents on the days after clocks are set forward one hour in the spring.

Canada’s War Museum

war museum

The first time we visited Ottawa, the Canadian capital, was in 2009, five years after landing in Canada. Being a soldier, I was very much impressed with the Canadian War Museum, especially as to how it serves to remind us of the sacrifices of soldiers across the globe and also sensitises us about the immense calamity any war can have on the civilisation. In 2014, Guillaume Le Floch, the French exchange student came to stay with us and we all visited the capital city and obviously we visited the War Museum once again.

Canadian War Museum was established 1880 in Ottawa to pay tributes to the men and women who endured the tests of war. Today the museum stands as a gratitude for the service and sacrifice of Canadians soldiers. The new, modern building, commissioned in 2005 on its 125th anniversary and the sixtieth anniversary of the end of WWII., emerges from the ground and rises progressively higher at its eastern end, closest to Parliament Hill. Its textured concrete walls and roof are somewhat reminiscent of a bunker, while a partially grass-covered roof is consistent with the Museum’s theme of regeneration and its environmental friendly design.

The museum also provides an evolving searchable catalogue of its collections. Types of artifacts found in the database include archaeological specimens, aboriginal arts and artifacts, folk art, furniture, war art, military objects, glass, porcelain, textiles and much more. This catalogue now contains more than 240,000 objects and is growing to include more than a million artifacts held with the museum.

Much of the Museum’s public exhibition space is devoted to its Canadian Experience Galleries. These displays underline the profound effect that war has had on Canada’s development and the significant role Canadians have played in international conflicts. Their content is a rich mixture of some 2,500 objects from war art to armoured vehicles, as well as scores of audio-visual displays and many hands-on activities.

The first gallery introduces the concept of war and its relevance to Canadians and Canada. Visitors explore the Canadian experience of conflict from aboriginal warfare and post European contact and the Northwest Resistance of 1885.

The second gallery covers the South African War (1899-1902) or, as it is also known, the Boer War, where more than 7,000 Canadians, including 12 women nurses participated. This war marked Canada’s first official dispatch of troops to an overseas war. This gallery also houses exhibits from the First World War. During World War I, Canada was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, with its own foreign affairs. In 1910, the then Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier declared that “when Britain is at war, Canada is at war. There is no distinction.” Some 619,000 Canadians, about 7% of the population, had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service overseas.

The third gallery explores Canada’s fight against dictatorships overseas during the Second World War. The gallery introduces the visitor to the oppressive and aggressive dictatorships of the 1930s, and the mounting pressure for a strong response from the rest of the world. Britain’s declaration of war did not automatically commit Canada, as had been the case in World War I. The government and people were united in support of Britain and France. After Parliament debated the matter, Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King promised that only volunteers would serve overseas.  In the beginning Canada was unprepared for such a large scale war.  The regular army of 4500 men, augmented by 51,000 partly-trained reservists were deployed and was surely a modest beginning. The Second World War fundamentally changed Canada. Canada experienced industrial transformation and a booming economy during the war. New technologies and manufacturing principles produced enormous quantities of military supplies. By 1942, there was full employment as hundreds of thousands of Canadian men and women found work in war industries. As a result of its enormous military contribution during the war, Canada also became recognized as an important and assertive international actor, increasingly pursuing its own path in foreign policy.

The fourth gallery showcases The Cold War, Peacekeeping, and Recent Conflicts, 1945 to the present.  Canada became a respected international player through its commitments to Western defence and peacekeeping. The first Peacekeeping force consisted of Canadians to resolve the 1956 Suez Crisis.  Lester B. Pearson, the then Foreign Minister, who later became prime minister of Canada, won a Nobel Peace Prize for using the world’s first, large-scale United Nations peacekeeping force to de-escalate the situation. Since then, there was hardly a peacekeeping mission till date that did not have Canadian participation.

The LeBreton Gallery houses the Military Technology collection and is a diverse collection of vehicles, artillery and other large artifacts that tell the personal stories of war, from the eighteenth century to the present.

The Memorial Hall located in the Museum’s spacious foyer, is a space for quiet remembrance and personal contemplation. The concrete walls, grooved with large, offset rectangles, are reminiscent of the rows of white grave markers in Allied war cemeteries. The lone artifact is the headstone from the grave of Canada’s Unknown Soldier from the First World War, a simple bench the only furniture. Sunlight through the Hall’s only window directly illuminates the headstone every Remembrance Day, 11 November, at precisely 11 am, the moment the Great War ended in 1918.

The Regeneration Hall is a narrow, soaring hall with angled walls and a narrow triangular window that frames the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. There is the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower that houses seven Books of Remembrance which record the names of the men and women who have given their lives in military service to Canada. (Please click to read my earlier blog). The hall is a representation of hope for a better future. High narrow windows spell out in the dots and dashes in Morse Code which stands for “Lest We Forget” and “N’oublions jamais”.

The Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour explores Canada’s long history of honouring individuals; how Canadians have remembered and commemorated their military past. Through personal stories, photographs, art and artifacts, this gallery shares the earliest forms of honouring through burial, painting or dance, to the erection of national monuments.

The Military History Research Centre has a comfortable main reading room. An Archives Reading Room is also available for researchers accessing archival documents, photographs and rare books. The staff is always available to assist you with research, answer any questions, and assist in accessing the collections.

“Spitfire Dance”, a dramatic musical entertainment in two acts, is staged by the War Museum. The musical is accompanied by World War II era songs, and it tells the stories of pioneer female aviators of the Royal Canadian Air Force, their courage, their daring and their frustrations. It is a memorial for all those women who dared compete in that most male of establishments of the time – aviation.

Every nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that none can ever repay. The only way they can is to remember them, cherish them and honour their sacrifice. I conclude with the first four lines from Binyon’s poem For the Fallen, written in September 1914.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.