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. They murdered the couple gruesomely, cleaned up the blood stains and took the bodies to the couple’s farmhouse and buried them there. 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 must 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 so.”

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

Designing a Bathroom for the Differently-Abled

Speaking to my Guru from the National Defence Academy days – Veteran General Raj Mehta – the need for designing a bathroom for his wife with reduced mobility came up.  The discussion we had is summarised here. 

Most of our friends – we over 60 years of age – with our mobility in and around our homes reducing with each passing year, will need a walker, a stick or a wheelchair to move. Are our homes designed for it?

How to make wood floors less slippery | Life Is An Episode

The floors of the home got to be non-slippery and the doors curb-less to facilitate movement with a walker/ wheelchair. 

Our discussion zoomed in to the bathroom, the most important space at any age – especially during old age. The bathroom needs special care and precision in furnishing choices and solutions.

Dimensions.  The bathroom must be large enough to enable ease of movement. It should accommodate two persons as one may need assistance.  Hence it must offer 2 meter free space on every side.

Door.  There should be no curb at the bottom of the door frame protruding out from the floor.  The door must open inwards and not outwards.  It may also be a sliding door which disappears in the wall, or a folding door with a vertically-positioned handle to optimize space even more. The door must be made of material, strong enough to withstand the blows from a wheelchair.  The door should be a minimum of 34” wide for wheelchair users. Install lever style door handles that are easier to use than doorknobs.

Floor.  Must be non- tripping and non-slipping. Fast drying and anti-slip materials should be preferred, without steps, large grout lines or uneven joints. Make sure there are no loose bath mats on the floor. Bath mats are an obstacle for people on a wheelchair and a tripping hazard.

Grab Bars. These must be fitted firmly on to the wall in strategic locations to ensure that people using a space have something to grip onto for supporting their body weight. They help to prevent the user from slipping and also assist the user to move more easily without help from others. Grab bars, preferably circular, should have an outside diameter measuring 1.25 to 2 inches. They must be free from any sharp or abrasive elements, must not rotate, and should sustain at least 250 pounds (114 kg) of force. There should be a space or gap of at least 1 inch between the wall and the grab bar.

Washbasin.  The consideration here is that a differently-abled person approaches the sink with the wheelchair and therefore must have the space to assume the most comfortable position at the sink. Adequate space must be left under the sink. The sink must ideally be placed with 34” maximum rim height with a 27” clearance for knees. The handles of the faucets must be long enough to make it is easier to reach and turn on the jet of water.  The mirror should be broad and positioned in such a way that the person can have it at their height. Fix grab bars to maneuver around the sink.

Bath.  An accessible bath needs to be 30” x 48” for mobility devices in front of each plumbing fixture and room to turn around in a wheelchair. Using a rolling shower seat or fixed shower seat at the height of 17” to 19” is a good idea. A small stool or plastic chair can allow the bather to sit while taking a shower and can be removed for users who don’t use the seat to shower. The opening to the shower is level with the floor and is sloped down to the drain. The shower should be about 60” wide for someone in a wheelchair to be able to turn around in or for an accompanying assistant. A minimum of two grab bars are recommended in the shower area. The controls to turn on the shower must ideally be near grab bars.  Place items such as hair care, bathing products, soap, washcloth, etc, so they are easily reachable and do not fall on to the floor. Towel shelves or hooks should be installed within easy reach for drying off before exiting the shower to prevent wet floors.

Toilet.  The toilet must be 17”to 19” high. A higher toilet seat makes it easier to lower, stand, or transfer from a wheelchair/walker to the toilet. Thicker toilet seats can be used to add height to existing toilet. Installing a bidet may allow for more privacy and good hygiene.  Install at least one grab bar to one side of the toilet at the distance of 18” to nearest wall or fixture. The toilet must ideally be between two support bars that are 36” apart.

Lighting.  Even lighting that avoids shadows and glares is preferred.  Using natural light as much as possible is ideal.  Easy to operate light switches must be placed at a lower height for a wheelchair user.  Motion detector lights are preferred for individuals who have trouble accessing light switches.

Wc Mark, Toilet, Handicapped, Logo, Symbol

All walks, halls, corridors, aisles and other passageways at home should be wide enough to allow ease of movement for a person on a wheelchair. The minimum clear width of an accessible route required is 36″ (915 mm) except at doors.

Modern bathroom design that blends attractive look, clever solutions, safe building materials and easy access are great for differently-abled people. The comfortable and functional layout enhance modern bathroom design for them.

“If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever gonna be equal in the community?” – Judith Huemann – American disability rights activist. 

100 Years of The Red Poppy

French lady, Madame Anna Guérin, is accredited as ‘The Poppy Lady,’ who was inspired by John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields.’ She distributed the Red Poppy on Armistice Day to raise money for Veterans’ needs and to remember those who had given their lives during the First World War.  In July of 1921 the Great War Veterans Association adopted the Poppy as the flower of Remembrance – and begun a glorious tradition of pinning the Red Poppy during the Remembrance Week.

At 11 AM on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent after more than four years of World War I when the Germans called for an armistice to secure a peace settlement. They accepted allied terms of an unconditional surrender.

Thus the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance and became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war. The allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their dead soldiers.

On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new Cenotaph in London. The silence was proposed by Australian journalist Edward Honey, who was working in Fleet Street. At about the same time, a South African statesman made a similar proposal to the British Cabinet, which endorsed it.

The tradition of Remembrance Day evolved out of Armistice Day. The initial Armistice Day began at Buckingham Palace, with the King hosting a banquet honoring the French president. Later, during World War II, many countries changed the name of the holiday. The US chose Veterans Day.

Remembrance Day in Canada, known as ‘Jour du Souvenir,’ remains a statutory holiday in six of the 10 provinces. The Armistice Day Act, which was held throughout the 1920s, declared that Canada’s Thanksgiving would also be observed on Armistice Day — the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell. The government, in 1931, officially changed the date to November 11. The name also changed to Remembrance Day.

Canada has declared that the date is of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace, particularly the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and all conflicts since then in which members of the Canadian Armed Forces have participated.

Some Canadian facts on the Remembrance Week:-

  • 118,000 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice during times of war and conflict.
  • 82% of Canadians still find the annual tribute important.
  • 54% of Canadians feel today’s youth do a great job of honouring veterans.
  • 46% Canadians think young people understand the sacrifices of those who have died in conflict.
  • 91% believe Canada should do more to honour its veterans.

Movember and Men’s Health

The word ‘Movember‘ is derived from the combination of the word ‘Mo, which is the Australian-English abbreviated form for ‘Mustache‘ and ‘November,’ as the event takes place every year during the month of November. This involves growing of mustaches in order to raise awareness of different men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health challenges.

Using the mustache as a catalyst, Movember encourages men to invest in their own health by more openly talking about their health concerns and more proactively seeking necessary medical care. The idea is to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed.  Participants of Movember are called ‘Mo Bros’ and the women who support are called ‘Mo Sistas.

The idea of Movember originated in 1999, when a group of men from Adelaide, Australia decided to grow their mustaches for charity during the month of November and the Movember Foundation came into existence. The goal and motto of the foundation is to ‘change the face of men’s health.’ The movement has gone global and today is well supported in New Zealand, the US, Canada, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Ireland.

The Movember Foundation aims to prevent men dying too young from a range of health issues including prostate and testicular cancer, mental health and suicide. Their efforts have impacts on a global scale and have funded more than 1,200 men’s health projects around the globe.

Globally, men die on average 5 years earlier than women, and for reasons that are largely preventable. The world loses a man to suicide every minute of every day.  The reason for the poor state of men’s health are numerous and complex and include:-

  • Lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues men face
  • Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re feeling
  • Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physically or mentally well
  • Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their health 
  • Stigmas surrounding mental health

Canadian statistics indicate that:-

  • 1 in 9 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime
  • Testicular cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young Canadian men
  • In 2019, over 3,050 men died by suicide, nearly 60 men per week
  • In Canada, 3 out of 4 deaths by suicide are men
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian males aged 15–44 years

Here are some fun-facts to tickle your mustache!!!

  • The King of Hearts is the only king in a deck of cards without a mustache. 
  • Noblemen in the Victorian era ate soup with special ‘mustache spoons’ equipped with small barriers to protect their mustaches.  
  • Ram Singh Chauhan holds the Guinness world record with a mustache that spans 14 feet long.
  • There are between 10,000 and 20,000 hairs on a man’s face, and the average mustache has 600.
  • The average man spends six months of his life shaving and mustache grooming. 
  • The average man will touch his mustache upwards of 750 times per day, averaging 31.25 times per hour.

Will you participate in Movember?  Will you educate your peers, friends and family about men’s health issues?

Cannabis – Marijuana

Indian media is filled with headlines of Aryan Khan’s  (son of Bollywood Star Sharukh Khan) arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India on a cruise ship on October 3, 2021.  Many media houses are celebrating the event with all pomp and glory throwing in bits and pieces of Masala (spice) – some even went berserk – especially those active on the social-media.

Can you justify such media glare and media trial?

Sashi Tharoor summed it up very well through his tweet “I am no fan of recreational drugs and haven’t ever tried any, but I am repelled by the ghoulish epicaricacy displayed by those now witch-hunting Sharukh Khan on his son’s arrest. Have some empathy, folks. The public glare is bad enough; no need to gleefully rub a 23yr old’s face in it.”

I needed a dictionary to understand his tweet – ghoulish (ugly and unpleasant, or frightening) epicaricacy (deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others.)  That is Tharoorian English for you!!

I too am not a fan of recreational drugs and never tried it.  The smell of marijuana smoke puts me off – though I have been a cigarette smoker for over four decades.  But the way the NCB, Indian media and the judiciary have conducted themselves in dealing with the case – I am no fan of that too.  It is absurd – may be I have lived in Canada for 18 years where a similar case would have been dealt with differently. 

This prompted me to delve into the Canadian laws on Cannabis.  In our Province of Ontario, one must be 19 and older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational Cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in our province – Ontario. The law stipulates that one can smoke and vape Cannabis in private residences, many outdoor public places (sidewalks and parks,) designated smoking guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns, etc. 

After the law was implemented in October 2019, I found a drastic decrease in the odor of Marijuana smoke while on my walks, especially at park corners. It appeared that it was Cool no more.

The law also permits a person to possess a maximum of 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried cannabis  in public at any time.  I also realised that I can grow four Cannabis plants at our home for recreational purpose.  

My mind raced back to 1980’s – a Television interview of a Tribal Chieftain from Kerala, India.  In the early 1970’s when Mrs Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, she visited the tribal area accompanied by Mr K Karunakaran, then Home Minister of Kerala State.  The Tribal Chieftain was fortunate to have had an audience with Mrs Gandhi.  She asked him as to what she could do for the welfare of his people and the Chieftain did not ask for a school, not a hospital and not a proper road to his land – he did not ask for  drinking water facilities and  not for electricity – but he promptly asked “Our people should be allowed to grow two Cannabis plants per household.”

Mrs Gandhi smiled and Mr Karunakaran nodded.  The Chieftain claimed that thereafter the Police and the  State Excise Department accepted it as an unwritten law and never ever bothered them.

Suicide Reporting by Media

Recently there has been many  reports on the media about suicides by young university students and young adults.  Some media houses, and some social media activists have gone on an overdrive to report such incidents with all its fury. 

Evidence suggests that the media can influence societal attitudes and beliefs to various social issues. This influence is especially strong for mental health issues, particularly suicide. Canadian newspaper coverage of the popular fictional Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, wherein the lead character dies by suicide in the final episode, generally adhered to core best practice media recommendations, and sensitively discussed suicide from various angles, prompting productive discussion and dialogue about youth suicide. These findings suggest that the media can be an ally in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of important public health issues such as suicide.

J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga all figure among celebrities who have contemplated suicide but found help and stepped back from the brink. U.S. study found a 10 percent increase in suicide mortality after the 2014 death of Robin Williams, American actor and comedian, which was partially attributed to inappropriate media coverage. Similar increases in suicide mortality were witnessed in Canada and Australia after the death of this well-known celebrity.

This phenomenon is known as ‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat suicide.’  Research has found that media coverage with details as to how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone vulnerable to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.

Greater the coverage of a suicide story higher the chances of finding a copycat.

WHO statistics indicate that more than 700 000 people die world over by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.  Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.  77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.  Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTQ2S+) persons; and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at every level – school, university, community, family – to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. World Health Organisation’s (WHO)’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends:-

  • limit access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
  • foster socio-emotional life skills in adolescents;
  • early identify, assess, manage and follow up anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviours.,
  • interact with the media for responsible reporting of suicide;

Is there a need to regulate such reporting?

In Canada, Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) provides suicide prevention and support to the people of Canada. They have laid down best practices and recommendations geared to media and other organisations with suggested guidelines and practices on how to report and comment on suicide activities, whether in the media, social media sites or internal communiques.  They recommend:-

  • Health reporters, not crime reporters, are best positioned to cover suicides.
  • Reports should generally avoid details of suicide methods, especially when unusual or novel methods are involved.
  • Emergency resource links should be included in all articles that deal with suicide.

Specific for social-media:

  • Providing information and resources to people who make suicide-related queries or posts;
  • Including panic buttons that allow for rapid access to crisis services/hotlines;
  • Providing mechanisms for users to report if they are concerned about someone with the possibility for rapid intervention; and
  • Moderating forums that frequently include suicide-related postings and making sure to remove inappropriate posts.

CSPS Recommends

  • Ongoing collaboration between journalists and mental health professionals, acknowledging scientific evidence and the autonomy of journalists;
  • All journalism schools include teaching of how to report responsibly and respectfully on the topic of suicide, including attention to issues related to ethics and social justice;
  • Media training for mental health professionals who are likely to be called on to comment on suicide in the press; and
  • Education for policy-makers and other prominent figures who may be asked to comment publicly on the topic of suicide.

The Austrian journalists recently altered the way they reported about suicide. Studies of that experience showed that after the changes, there was a significant reduction in suicide deaths across the country. Since then many other countries have put out recommendations. 

Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women at the National Defence Academy (NDA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Natural, Biological and Not the Stork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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