Early Summer Flowers : 2021

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

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

Train Them Young

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

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

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

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

When should kids start taking on household chores?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roses 2021

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

Pinks and Peonies 2021

June marks the end of the Tulip season in our garden. June is the month of Pinks and Peonies. The pink colour stands out on the lush green background of the lawn.
Neon Star- characatarised by their fragrant fluorescent pink blooms, used as edging plants in our garden. The vibrant pink flowers cover the evergreen, blue-grey foliage.
Rock Soapwort is a vigorous, low creeping plant,. Plants form a low mound of bright-green leaves, smothered by starry bright-pink flowers.
Clematis is one of the showiest vines you can grow. With many types of shapes and colours, these plants dress up any kind of structure they climb.
Lonicera Keckrottii, named after German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528 – 1586)- commonly called gold-flame honeysuckle, this creeper features extremely fragrant rose pink flowers with yellow interiors. Here it forms a screen for our front sit-out.
Thyme flowers are typically lavender-colored and edible. They grow at the top of the stems in a sphere-shape with elongated vertical spikes.
Foxgloves are eye-catching tall, slender flowering plants with flowers in clusters of tubular shaped blooms in colors of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple.
Dianthus, also called pinks, is treasured for its grass-like, blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as pollinating insects.
Peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.
Marco Polo described Peonies, when he first saw them, as: ‘Roses as big as cabbages.’
They are also the 12th anniversary flower – because the peony symbolises honour, fortune, and a happy relationship.. It is the state flower of Indiana.
Peonies are native to China. They are highly valued there, and are often referred to as the “king of flowers”. They were the national flower prior to 1929, when they were replaced by the plum tree. Chinese name for the peony is ‘Sho Yu’ meaning ‘most beautiful.’ Chinese have an annual celebration to honor the Peony – the Luoyang Peony Festival.
They are regarded as a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. Which are important things for your future life! That is why you find them in all the marriage bouquets in North America. Pink: is most romantic form of Peony, making it the ideal color for wedding bouquets and table arrangements.
Peonies come in every color except for blue. Pink, and white, are the most popular colours. The Peony features five or more large outer petals called guard petals. At the center of the Peony are the yellow stamens or modified stamens.
Deep Red: is most prized in China and Japan, and has the strongest ties to honour and respect. It’s also the most symbolic of wealth and prosperity in those cultures.
White or Very Pale Pink: symbolise bashfulness, making it a good choice for communicating your regret over embarrassing yourself or someone else. Ideal for those times when you’ve said or done something wrong and want to apologise. Who can hold a grudge when a beautiful bouquet of white peonies shows up at their door??
June 20, 2021 – Summer Solstice – marks the beginning of Canadian Summer. It is the time when the roses come to full bloom.

Daffodils & Tulips 2021

Our Garden – All set for the Spring.
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  By William Wordsworth)
As I walked through the tulips this May morning;
I was welcomed by the nature with its colourful awning;
It struck a gleaming chord in my mind;
My camera recorded it with a wind;
I watched every morning in quiet admiration;
The dew drops on soft petals my appreciation;
The tulip flowers in the cool breeze swayed,
It brought a cheer and my mind braid.
I love my tulips, they grace us and wilt away;
If only people too grace this world and fade away.


Canadian Volunteers Deliver Covid-19 Vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilisation effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

Thousands of Canadians, with a wide variety of experiences and expertise, have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country. The voluntary task force members were assembled by the federal government in late May and early June of last year. The task force then began to evaluate the scientific, technical and logistical merits of potential vaccine suppliers.  Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.

The next task for the volunteer force was vaccination. St John Ambulance was the leading organisation delivering training to those who signed up as volunteers . The only criteria is that the volunteer be between the age of 18 and 69, have at least two or more A-levels or equivalent, be at low risk of Covid-19 and be prepared to undergo a reference check. In October, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended the Government introduce a new national protocol to allow non-medics to administer the Covid vaccine. Then, thousands of volunteers with no medical background were also trained to administer the vaccine. The law facilitated more healthcare workers – such as paramedics, physiotherapists or student doctors and nurses, to vaccinate.

The volunteers were assigned the task of:

  • Supporting patients before or after their vaccination.
  • Providing reassurance.
  • Dealing with any medical emergencies.
  • React to any immediate adverse reactions.

Major General Dany Fortin, with nearly 30 years of military experience is responsible to oversee the herculean logistical effort to ensure vaccines reach  across the country and into the arms of millions of Canadians.  General Dany is one of the best operationally-experienced leaders.  Canadians could not have asked for somebody better; somebody who understands the leadership challenges, the planning challenges and the logistics challenges.  The effort has been underway for some months now, where they have been working out what they predict will be the supply line bottlenecks and difficulties.  Previous US President Donald Trump appointed four-star Army General Gustave F Perna to be the chief operations officer for that country’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ in May.

On 20 April, I was scheduled for my vaccination at University of Toronto  Mississauga (UTM) campus at 11:15.  I was advised to reach there only ten minutes before the scheduled time.  UTM joined forces with Trillium Health (our public health agency,) to open a mass vaccination clinic in the campus’s Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre on March 1.   It’s expected that the clinic could ultimately vaccinate up to half a million people.  UTM offered space and equipment, such as ultra-cold storage freezers, to support these critically important initiatives.

As I parked my car, there were volunteers – mostly university students, to guide us to the vaccination centre.  We were then requested to answer a questionnaire on the Trillium Health website using our cellphone.  Those not in possession of a cellphone were helped by the volunteers using their PDAs.

As we entered the centre, our temperature was recorded and there were about ten counters manned by volunteers who carried out necessary documentation in less than five minutes.  After that we were ushered into the gymnasium where I was administered the vaccine by a sexagenarian lady volunteer.

After the vaccine was administered, I thanked her and said “I did not realise that you did it so fast and that too with no pain.”

Over forty years of experience as a nurse, young man!  Our children and grandchildren are proud that I volunteered for this,” she replied with a smile.

We were then ushered into a waiting area with chairs placed maintaining social-distancing norm.  We had to wait for 30 minutes and at the end of it we were issued with our vaccination certificate bearing the Trillium logo of Ontario Ministry of Health

Veteran Plate


On social-media, a friend, an Indian, now settled in UK  commented  “For Indians the mode of transport is a status symbol. When my uncle became a S/Lt from a rating, the first thing he did was replace push bike for a scooter. In U.K. I have seen Lord Chancellor Hailsham and Prime Minister David Cameron riding bike to the Parliament.”

Indians carry the very same attitude it to the North American shores too – all riding BMW/ Mercedes/ Audi. You will hardly find Indians driving any other brand – even if their salaries are meager.

One Sunday, at the Malayalam Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada, a man told me “Why are you driving on a Honda? You can easily afford a BMW!

With Veteran General Hariz at Niagara

I’m comfortable driving a Honda, Why invest so much in a BMW?  The gasoline needed is the higher grade which is costlier and the cost of maintenance too is high,” I replied.

I was taken aback by his reply “If you want people to respect you in this church, then you must drive a BMW.

Remember – Jesus went to the church riding a poor donkey!!! No one should have valued him then!!!!

I said “My ‘VETERAN’ license plate is much more valuable than your BMW. There is many BMWs in the parking lot. Show me another car with a Veteran plate.”

Book Review : Mojo in a Mango Tree by Vikram Cotah

Kudos to Vikram, the author, for bringing out a wonderful book based on life lessons. The book is replete with life experiences and ‘interesting’ anecdotes- many where someone has gone an extra mile.  The aspects covered deals with the hospitality industry, but is applicable to all professions and also in everyday life.  The hotel industry, like any other profession, renders many an opportunity to go that extra mile and a good leader/ employee must seek it out.  The leaders and employers have to grant that ‘extra’ to an employee who goes that extra mile to encourage others to follow.  Empowering the employees will go a long way. In most organisations, red tape is the biggest hindrance to achieving the extra mile.   It is all about maturing relationships and enjoying the trust of the customers and subordinates.

The history of hotel industry enunciated in the book is educative and informative.  Consumers evolve and the industry got to be in sync, but the need for a good service culture will remain forever.  Emotions and gastronomy will add value to the guests’ experience.  There is never a second-chance in hospitality as there are no runners-up in a war.

It is all about kindness, compassion and empathy.   Get out of your comfort zone, explore the world and recoup your energy.  A guest is never a room number;  so are your employees and subordinates.  You need a thick skin dealing with complaints and worries and learn to say ‘No’ with a ‘Yes.’  One who manages  crisis  better will always succeed as you are sure to face many.  Feedbacks are more important than compliments.

The author  brings out many life lessons.  Happiness is being positive.  Plan your day well.  Have a dream, set your aims and achieve your goals.  Create a bucket list the earliest and keep ticking them off – Do these consistently – in small measures. Smile is the best weapon in your life.

Success and failures  are integral to life.  Failures provide you opportunities to become  smarter.  Branding is very important today and I have tested and tasted all the elements charted in the book. Life cycle of a hotel from inception applies well to all businesses. Why?  Even true for a soldier.

The reader will appreciate and also identify easily with some well brought out instance like giving out perfumes to the hotel staff – a  novel and a much required need in the Indian context.  Changing the lobby mat with ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Evening’ – I never thought of.  Wall panels to make selfies look great – need of the day.

Learning is a lifelong process.  I ran away from studies to join the Army – neither did I stop running nor studying thereafter.

‘Leaders of the future will need to balance technology quotient and emotional quotient.  This will be the Extra Quotient of the future.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry


The story of the triumphal entry  appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before.

This day is celebrated by Christians world over as Palm Sunday.  The Friday that follows is the ‘Good Friday‘ – the day Jesus was crucified and the Sunday, the Easter Sunday – marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Passion Week.

Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this journey would end in his sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. As Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus. The palm branch represented goodness and victory and was symbolic of the final victory.

The crowds shouted, “Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV)

The date of the first observance of Palm Sunday is uncertain. A detailed description of a palm processional celebration was recorded as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem. The ceremony was not introduced into the West until much later in the 9th century.

Many churches, distribute palm leaves to the congregation on Palm Sunday to commemorate the Triumphal Entry.  The worshipers take home the venerated palm leaf and display it near a cross or crucifix, or place it in their Bible until the next year’s season of Lent. Some churches collect baskets to gather the old palm leaves to be burned for  Ash Wednesday.

Why did he ride on a donkey?

Mathew 21 says ‘1. …Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.’

In those days in that land, horses were owed by the nobility and donkeys by the lower society – often animals of burden used by the potters, washer-men, load or water carriers, etc.  No one owning a donkey  would have had the courage to refuse or fight against the noble looking disciples.  Irony of the narration in all the Gospels is that none speaks about returning the donkey to its owner.

Riding a donkey or a horse that has never been rode upon is a very difficult task.  The animal did not have a saddle, hence the disciples removed their cloaks and spread it on the animal’s back to act as a saddle.  Still it is a very difficult ride – Ask anyone who ever rode a bare-back horse!!  When we were cadets at the National Defence Academy, during horse-riding classes, bare-back riding (without a saddle, but with a blanket,) was the most dreaded one.

Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a stallion, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ came not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.

All the prophets before Jesus were military Generals and they all must have rode on a horse, dressed in complete nobility, carrying a sword.  Here came Jesus, on lowly donkey, with neither any military ceremonial uniform nor a sword.  He came with a smile on his face and heart pouring out with his Godly love.

Now compare Jesus triumphant entry with that of our Bishops – riding on a luxury sedan with a flag flying on their cars, dressed in all gold and finery!!!!!

Should You Vaccinate Against COVID19???


Our family friend and travel partner, Jijo Sptephen, he is a nurse with a Long-Term-Care-Center, catering for senior citizens.  It was chivalrous of Jijo that during the pandemic he did not miss a day’s work and has been a great motivator for the staff at the Care-Center.  With his wit and humour, he has a knack of keeping every one in high spirits.  We have experienced it many times during various trips together.

As he is in the front-line taking care of seniors, he was amongst the first few to receive the COVID19 vaccine in Canada.  He called me up after vaccination and said that he is safe now and there are no side-effects as being propagated in the social media.

The literature handed over to him said ‘Some people may experience side effects from the vaccine, but they will likely be mild to moderate and resolve after a few days. Some of the symptoms are part of the body’s response to developing immunity.

Serious side effects after receiving the vaccine are rare. Should you develop any serious symptoms or symptoms that could be an allergic reaction, seek medical attention right away. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives (bumps on the skin that are often very itchy.)
  • Swelling of the face, tongue or throat.
  • Difficulty breathing.

After his vaccination, he picked up his wife Annie from work. On reaching home, Jijo called me over the phone and said ”Reji, Please don’t get vaccinated for COVID!”

A bit surprised and assuming that he had had some sever side effects, I asked “Hope everything is fine?

I,m fine, but you don’t get vaccinated before Marina,” he advised.

Why so?” I enquired.

While they were driving home after Jijo picked up Annie, she asked Jijo to stop at the grocers to buy vegetables.  After he parked the car, she handed him the shopping list and said “You go and buy everything as per this list.  I’m staying in the car. You are protected against COVID19 as you are vaccinated!!!!”

 

 

 

Mall Walking


Every morning after seeing off my wife to her pharmacy at 8:30, I drive to the Square 1 Mall, about 400 meter from our home.  I drive to the mall only in the winter as the walkways are slippery

One morning Mr Mark, our neighbour inquired, “I always see you with a backpack.  What do you carry in it?” Old habits die hard and you can never take the soldier out of me.

Two bottles of water, three energy bars, a packet of tissues, a bottle of moisturising lotion, a tube of hand cream, a cap, a pair of gloves, a neck warmer, a face mask and some cash,” I said, reminiscent of our cadet days when we had to rattle out the contents of the backpack of our Field Service Marching Order (FSMO.)

This morning as I stepped out of my room with my backpack, our son asked, “What do you do while walking ? Why don’t you get a pair of earphones? You can listen to either music or a podcast while you walk.”  A wise idea! I thought and I immediately placed an online-order for a pair of  earphones.


The 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.


Another attraction to walk in the mall are the washrooms at every turn, all spic and span, providing various options.


Square 1 Mall has two levels, the upper and the lower.  Walking fast through the aisles at each level takes me about 15 minutes.  I walk on the upper level for 15 minutes, come down to the lower level and walk for 15 minutes and repeat it.

What do I do while I walk for 60 minutes?

Thanks to Whatsapp, I use this time to call up my friends and relatives in India to exchange pleasantries.  It is the most convenient time – between 6 and 7 pm in India.


While walking, I enjoy the window displays of various stores, especially fashion, attire, accessories, shoes and perfume stores.  While great products and excellent customer service can keep customers coming back, visuals and branding are the elements that get people to walk into a store and the store’s window display plays a big part in this. It got to be fresh and attention-grabbing as possible, positioned at eye level to draw customers’ attention. The message got to be conveyed to a stroller in three seconds and it is not nearly enough time to read anything.


As this is the Holiday Season with the Christmas and the new Year around the corner, it is the time most stores in the mall do maximum business, notwithstanding the pandemic. Thus, all stores put up their best window displays and it keeps changing too.  I look for the changes like the game where one got to identify ten differences in two similar images.

During the walk, I plan out various activities for the day, many based on instructions from Marina in the morning.  It is all about grocery shopping or a visit to our family doctor, buying the correct cut of meat at the butcher’s, trying to figure out the ingredients of the marinade for the meat to be cooked that evening – the list is endless.

I often get calls from her after she reaches her pharmacy about an impending medication delivery with instructions regarding the time of delivery based on the patient’s availability at their home.  Sometimes, it is a query about a report, an invoice or a payment.  In fact I am the CEO, accountant and delivery boy of our company with Marina and I as partners.


These days it is all about Christmas with the mall and the stores all decked up with Christmas themes with red and green – the Christmas colours.  I enjoy all the Christmas trees put up all around the mall.


Last week while walking I observed various advisory and warning signs put up in view of the pandemic.  Many a thoughts flashed through my mind.  Why can’t they be creative?  Why do they have to make it on a drab grey background instead used the Christmas colours?  Why can’t they base it on a Christmas theme with the Santa and his eight reindeer to depict social distancing?


A couple of days ago, I tried to measure my ‘lateral deviation’ while I walked.  In medical terms, it may be classified as gait dynamics. The first time I attempted it was as a cadet to measure my deviation from a straight line as I walked on a pitched dark night during various navigation exercises.  I walked along the side lines of the soccer field and it was about a quarter meter to my right when I traversed 100 meters.

Here I walked along the line made by adjoining tiles on the aisle floor for 100 meters and it was still about a quarter meter to my right.  Neither age nor my being in the Western hemisphere altered it.  I should have measured it while vacationing in Peru in the Southern hemisphere.  May be, it could be to my left.  Anyhow I reserved it for my next trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Soldiers’ Pensions and Disability


Recently the social media was abuzz with the news of Indian soldiers’ pension being cut by 50% for those seeking voluntary retirement after 20 years of service.  One suggested methodology is to follow the Canadian Armed Forces Pension scheme.  Canadian Armed Forces Pay scales are second only to the Australian.

It is a well established fact that the Armed Forces have a steep pyramidcal structure – more at the officers level – and also at the soldiers level.  The need is to have a young and large base – Lieutenants, Captains and Majors  for officers and Privates for soldiers.

Canadian Armed Forces offers 50% pension on completion of 10 years of service.  Officers who continue further are only put through command and staff courses and they rise up to command battalions/ regiments. This results in:-

  • Those wishing to retire after 10 years of service are generally about 35 years old and many even get married and raise their families on retirement.
  • The 50% pension assures them a constant income and facilitate them to embark on a new career.
  • The pyramidical structure of the Forces is considerably reduced.
  • Those wishing to serve beyond 10 years receive their pension on a sliding scale to be 100% with 20 years of service.

Among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 per cent  were for mental health, about half of those were diagnosed as  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most Indian Army soldiers and officers do suffer from PTSD due to intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situation. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army – hence no claimants for disability pension.

Canadian Veterans who qualify for disability benefits receive up to 75 per cent of the salary they were earning when they left the Forces. They are guaranteed benefits for 24 months initially, or until age 65 for those completely disabled, after which the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) kicks in.

The rise of mental health claims is often chalked up to Canada’s difficult 2002-11 combat mission in Afghanistan.  The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that the Afghanistan mission was  far from the only source of mental health risks. Even at home in Canada, military service means moving often and spending time on duty far from family – a standard practise for most Indian soldiers.

Common disability among Canadian soldiers  for Fiscal Year 2018–19 were:-

  • TINNITUS                              6,726
  • HEARING LOSS                     6,139
  • PTSD                                    2,440
  • ARTHROSIS OF KNEE             842
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS KNEE         781
  • DEPRESSIVE DISORDERS       721
  • LUMBAR DISC DISEASE         629
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS HIP            617
  • CERVICAL DISC DISEASE       578
  • FACET JOINT SYNDROME       50

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of a sound in one or both ears or in the head when it does not arise from a stimulus in the environment.  A single indication or complaint of tinnitus is not sufficient for diagnostic purposes. The condition must be present for at least 6 months.  Individuals who experience tinnitus have provided many different descriptions of what the tinnitus sounds like to them. Descriptions include high-pitched sound, ringing sound, whistle, squealing sound, hum, pulse-like sound, etc

There are two general types of Hearing Loss – sensorineural (sometimes called perceptive) and conductive hearing loss.  Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss due to a defect in the cochlea or the auditory nerve whereby nerve impulses from the cochlea to the brain are attenuated. Conductive hearing loss means the partial or complete loss of hearing due to defective sound conduction of the external auditory canal or of the middle ear. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive.  A hearing loss disability exists when there is a Decibel Sum Hearing Loss (DSHL) of 100 dB or greater at frequencies of 500,1000, 2000 and 3000 Hz in either ear, or 50 dB or more in both ears at 4000 Hz.

Most Indian Soldiers and Veterans will vouch that a great chunk of them are suffering from  Tinnitus or Hearing Loss and also that most soldiers under their command suffered from it – especially those from the Armoured Corps, Regiment of  Artillery, Aviation  and also Mechanised Infantry.

Will the Indian Military hierarchy ever be willing to accept the existence of Tinnitus, Hearing Loss or PTSD?

Over Structured Training in the Indian Army


While commanding the Regiment, I tasked our young officers to draft a letter in reply to a query from the higher Headquarters on deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones.)  After two days I asked them about the status of the draft and one of them said “Sir, why don’t you please write it as you write much better than all of us.”  I did not like it a wee bit, but my usual response I curtailed and I analysed the reason with them.  I explained to them:-

We all came through the Services Selection Board (SSB) where we were shown nine caricature images of which one could not make head and tail of.  We all wrote nine convincing stories.  The tenth was a blank and still we wrote a story.  We were flashed a hundred words at the rate of two words every minute and were all wrote a hundred sentences.  Had what we wrote not make sense or was not creative enough, none of us would be here.  Where did we lose all those critical thinking, analytical power and  creative thinking?”

A case study I projected to them.  It was about a section capturing two militants in a hideout by an infantry  section.  The situation was posed to ten Gentleman Cadets  (GC), ten Young Officers (YO) Course qualified officers, ten Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers and ten Staff College qualified officers.

Ten GCs will come out with nine solutions of which eight will work.  Ten YOs will come out with seven solutions of which five  will work.  Ten JC officers  will come out with five solutions of which three  will work.  Ten Staff College qualified will come out with one solution which is sure to fail at its very first step.

It’s all because of the over structured training in the Army at various stages with the level of structuring increasing up the hierarchy.  

It all commenced from the very first document most of us as YOs in our regiments would have created – a Court of Inquiry mostly to regularise an injury suffered by a soldier while playing.  The task would be given by the Adjutant with a caveat “Refer to a previous Court of Inquiry and do the needful.”  From there commences the procedure of looking back and copying forward.

A decade ago, a friend, a Brigadier at DSSC was tasked to suggest methodology to make tactical exercises more creative.  My suggestion was based on the education here in Canada for Gifted Children who form 2% of students.  Gifted Children unusually possess advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided.  They are usually segregated at Grade 4 based on a written examination.

Gifted Children Programme is a  carefully designed the self-contained program to meet the needs, characteristics and interests of gifted students. Self-contained classes for gifted students offer a space where the child can relate to their intellectual peer group.

The programme is run by teachers who have additional qualification for such special education. It aims to provide:

  • Learning content more relevant to their interests and abilities than in a regular class.
  • The opportunity to work with and learn from other children with similar or higher intellectual aptitude.
  • The ability to work with like-minded peers who also have creative and complex ways of thinking.
  • The ability to relate with others who have similar interests.

It was mutually agreed that the Gifted Children situation is similar to the student officers at DSSC.  Based on the experience I gained working with both our children who were in Gifted Children programme, I suggested that for one tactical exercise let the students be given a blank map sheet with minimum inputs regarding force level, weapons, logistics etc and let the students commence by marking the International Boundary onward and create an exercise and also a solution.  Here no ‘pinks’ will come handy as every time only the map sheet is changed and there is no pre-made solution.  The instructors will have to work overtime to correct and assess each solution and one or two  among all the exercises may be conducted for the course.

The idea was presented to the DSSC Commandant who asked the Brigadier to present the same to the entire faculty.  At the end of the presentation, senior faculty members came out with a question “How will we assess the students?”

The ‘baby’  was thrown out of the window – with the bath, loofah and soap.  It appeared that the aim of all military training is to assess and not to teach.

Halloween 2020


With the convergence of a full moon, a blue moon, daylight saving time and Saturday celebrations with the pandemic with high transmission rates, Halloween 2020 is bound to be remembered in Canada.

The word ‘Halloween’ means ‘hallowed evening’ or ‘holy evening.’ It is believed to be of Scottish Christian origin, dating back to mid Eighteenth Century. Halloween falls on 31 October, the evening prior to the Christian All Saints Day on 01 November.


Halloween came to North America with the influx of Scottish and Irish settlers by early Nineteenth Century. It was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the Twentieth Century it was being celebrated all over North America by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.


Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go out in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, “Trick or Treat?” The word ‘Trick’” refers to ‘threat’  to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no ‘treat’ is given.

Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario Province recommended against trick or treating door-to-door this Halloween for Toronto, Ottawa and also our city of Mississauga.  Prime Minister Trudeau has declared that his three children will not venture out this Halloween for ‘Trick or Treat.


Most homes put up Halloween decorations as what one sees in the ‘Dracula’  movies with cobwebs, skeletons and various scary models. The most common is the ‘Jack-O-Lanterns’ which originated in Ireland where children carved out potatoes or turnips and lighted them from the inside with candles. In North America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, thus carving them and making them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became a North American Halloween tradition.


It is said that over 60% of pumpkins grown in North America gets converted into Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween and end up as trash.


Whether Halloween is a devil’s holiday or not, the children really have a lot of fun and enjoy the evening going for ‘Trick or Treat’; the adults enjoy accompanying the children and also treating them at their homes.  People of all ages do have a lot of fun ‘dressing up’ in the most grotesque way and they do not ever associate the devil with what they do.


31 October night happens to be a ‘Full-Moon Night’ and also a ‘Blue-Moon.‘  The idiom ‘once in a blue-moon‘ refers to a rare occurrence, but in fact it appears once every 2.7 years, because the lunar month – from new moon to new moon-  is 29.53 days compared to 30 or 31 days of our calendar month.  Hence February (with 28 or 29 days) can never witness a blue-moon.  Last blue-moon occurred on March 31, 2018.


Now comes the Daylight Saving Time (DST) when we turn our clock by an hour on the first Sunday of November. This year, the day falls on 01 November.  It reduces  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 earlier 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.

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.

(Images from Halloween 2019)

The Whisky War


The news is ripe with Indo-China border stand-off these days. How does Canada fare in their border management?

Canada and the United States share the world’s longest undefended border, running along the 49th parallel from the west coast to Lake Superior and following natural boundaries for the remainder.


Denmark and Canada share maritime boundary in the Arctic and it runs in the middle of Nares strait  through which runs Kennedy Channel.  This 35 kilometres wide strait separates Ellesmere Island from northern Greenland.  The strait is home to two islands – Franklin and Crozier – which falls within the territorial waters of Denmanrk


The third and the contested island is within the territorial waters of both Canada and Greenland, an uninhabited barren rock of 1.3 Sq km, named after Hans Hendrik, an Arctic traveller.  A theoretical borderline in the middle of the strait goes through the island.  According to an international treaty, any island which is in 12 miles of mainland comes under the territory of that country which technically allows both Denmark and Canada a claim over the island.

The Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations in a landmark judgement of 1933 ruled the island to be a sovereign part of Denmark.  The League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations after World War II and Canada claims that this decision became irrelevant with the demise of the League of Nations.

The dispute between Canada and Denmark re-emerged in 1973 when Denmark and Canada started demarcating their borders through negotiations. They agreed on all other disputes except Hans Island which was then decided to be resolved later.


The Whisky War commenced in 1984 when Canadians sailed to the island and erected the Red Maple Flag on the island and kept a famous Canadian whiskey as a symbolic expression.

In return, the Danish Minister of Greenland visited the island and replaced the Canadian flag with the Danish flag. He took the Canadian whisky and replaced it with world-famous Danish schnapps.

This Whisky War continued until 2015, with both the armies taking turns in unfurling their national flags and placing their famous whisky for the other.

Canada and Denmark, both NATO allies, both agreed to resolve dispute citing the presence of the Russian Army in the Arctic region during the cold war.  On 04 May 2008, an international group of scientists from Australia, Canada, Denmark, and the UK installed an automated weather station on Hans Island.  On 23rd May 2018, Canada and Denmark announced a Joint Task Force to settle the dispute over Hans Island. A committee of arctic experts was constituted to resolve the dispute peacefully. One of the main resolutions, they are thinking of, is to declare the barren stone island into condominium.

A condominium does not mean that the two countries are going to build a high-rise apartment building on the island, but it means that the island will be co-owned and co-managed by both the countries . Thus the will have both Canadian and Danish flags on it.

A Soldier’s Promise


Marine Master Sgt. William H. Cox and Marine First Sgt. James ‘Hollie’ Hollingsworth first met as Privates, taking cover from rockets and shells raining all around them in a bunker in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam in 1968.

They made a pact: “If we survived this war, we will  contact each other on every New Year’s eve“.

They did that every New Year for the next five decades.

In January 2017, 83-year-old Cox made the trip from his home in South Carolina to say goodbye to his dying friend, Hollingsworth, 80, in Georgia. That day he made a final promise to his Vietnam buddy – to stand guard over his coffin and deliver the eulogy at his funeral.


In October 2017, Hollingsworth passed away and keeping his word, the 83-year-old Cox put on his blue Marines’ uniform and turned up at his buddy’s funeral service on October 20, without the cane that the 83-year-old normally used. He stood without his cane during his vigil at the casket and at the funeral.’

They both were door gunners with a Marine Helicopter Squadron and flew many combat missions together. At the end of each mission, they had a saying, which Cox repeated at the end of Hollingsworth’s eulogy: “Hollie, you keep ‘em flying, and I’ll keep ‘em firing.”

Marina & Motorcycle

 


In 1993, I met with an accident fracturing my right arm, resulting in my right arm being put in a cast for three months.  At that time, I was posted as a Brigade Major at an artillery brigade headquarters.  I owned a Yamaha Rajdoot Motorcycle then.  The accident resulted in the motorcycle resting in a corner of our garage.

A few weeks into this sedentary state of my motorcycle, Marina, very nonchalantly asked me whether she could ride it.  She until then was riding her moped and I never took her question very seriously.  I casually explained to her the gears, clutch, brake, accelerator etc and also the methodology to start and ride the motorcycle.

Little did I realise that she will take off immediately, but she did.  She was the champion athlete in her school days and had represented her district at Kerala State level – no mean achievement.  I did not appreciate that she was still enthralled by speed, now of a different variety.  That was it – like fish to water, she took on to driving the motorcycle and I, on to the pillion with my hand in a cast, fearing the worst for my hand that wasn’t in a cast!

 


After three months, I was accompanying our Brigade Commander to the Field Firing Ranges.  As we entered the Cantonment on our return journey, a motorcycle zipped past us.  Marina was driving my Yamaha with the Brigade Commander’s wife on the pillion.  Our Brigade Commander looked at me in askance and said “Your wife can drive the motorcycle, but not with my wife on the pillion.  Please tell her to maintain speed limits.  If some mishap happens, you can well imagine the station gossips.” I secretly wished that I could tell him that he should restrain his wife. But then, boss is boss.

Speed in general and other activities that cause an adrenaline rush were an integral part of Marina’s DNA. She had migrated to Canada in 2002 and the family followed suit in 2004.  While on a family vacation to San Francisco in 2006, Marina was booked by the cops for driving at 100 miles per hour (mph) on a 65 mph highway.  With the consequent heavy fine she had to pay and a steep rise in the insurance premium, I thought she had come to terms with her obsession for speed.

During our vacation to Chicago, Illinois, in 2009, Marina went Skydiving (in tandem) from 18,000 feet, a freefall of a minute and a half.  The advantage of skydiving in the State of Illinois is that it is not mandatory to wear a helmet (even on motorcycles), but the safety goggles is a must to protect the eyes. Thus the videos come out much better without the helmet on.


She had to prove my heavy fine hypothesis wrong when in 2010 she expressed her long cherished dream to own a motorcycle.  I tried to dissuade her saying that motorcycles are not cheap and would cost a small fortune, much more than our cars.   They require more maintenance and insurance is much more expensive. Also, you can drive it only for six months in Canada.  In addition, we also need to procure very expensive associated gear such as helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and footwear over and above the purchase of the bike.  

Unable to convince her, I was out with the ultimate weapon, statistics. I warned her that according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, your chances of dying on a motorcycle are 35 times higher than in a car!  Canadian Medical Association Journal says that motorcycles are the cause of 10% of motor vehicle deaths in the country, even though they only make up 2% of what’s on the road.

Her pharmacist friends and her elder sister who too is a pharmacist advised her that riding a bike to work may not be befitting a Pharmacy Manager and possibly look very unprofessional.  


All sane advice from well wishers and yours truly, did not deter her a wee bit from her avowed intention to own and ride a motorcycle. Throwing all caution to the winds, she went ahead and passed the eye test and written examination to obtain a M1 licence – the first step to riding a bike in Canada.   

The next step was to buy a motorcycle.  To ride on a Canadian Highway where the speed limit is 100 kmph, a bike with an engine capacity of at least 250cc to 400cc is needed.  We visited all motorcycle showrooms from Harley Davidson to Honda – but much to her great disappointment, no one was willing to sell Marina a motorcycle.  But Why?

In Canada, in order to buy a motorcycle, the buyer must sit on the bike with both feet flat on the ground while comfortably holding the handlebars.


They all agreed to sell her a smaller motorcycle – 100cc to 150cc which can be taken only on city streets – but she would not settle for not riding on the highways. And why would they not allow a light motorcycle on the highways?   While driving on Canadian highways with a speed limit of about 100 kmph, the motorcyclists need to share the road with sixty feet long commercial trucks which are also is cruising at about 100 kmph.  Due to various factors such as air pressure and airflow, a large vehicle can create heavy air turbulence. In case your motorcycle is not heavy and powerful enough, this turbulence may affect your ability to control your vehicle when passing a large one.

Well, that was the end of her motorcycle ambitions. Or was it? Perhaps, like a dreaded virus, it lies dormant in some corner of her brain to re-emerge at some opportune moment in a not so distant future!  

Illustrations by Sherrin Koduvath

Where’s the Creativity?

For the Passing Out Parade of our nephew, I landed at the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, two days in advance to be a guest of our regimental officer Major Subash.  That evening, Major Subash’s Company Commander had invited all passing out Gentleman Cadets (GC) for a customary dinner.  Major Subash, a Platoon Commander, forced me to accompany him for the dinner despite my efforts to wriggle out of it.  He wanted me to interact with the soon to be commissioned officers.

During the event, I was fairly reticent and kept to myself as I thought that I had hung up my boots some sixteen years ago and living in Canada ever since, what would I share with these youngsters?  Some of the GCs prodded me for some advice.

The advice I gave was that everyday ensure that you read five pages and write a page.   To this a GC enquired “What should we read?”  “Anything and everything – newspaper, magazine, military pamphlet, user manual – or even porn, but ensure you read every day.”

The GCs it seemed were a bit bewildered by my rather unexpected advice.  One of them asked me “What about saving money?  Many have been advising us about it.”  It must have been advised to them by many senior veterans who are currently employed by banks as ‘Defence Accounts Specialist‘ and why not catch them young! 


When they persisted, I went on to add “On joining your regiments, learn to be part of it and be a soldier first.  Learn about your soldiers, equipment and so on.  Remember to enjoy your life.  Pursue your passions/ hobbies/ interests.  Participate in adventure activities and use your vacations to travel around the country and around the world,” I suggested.

What about savings?” perhaps, some of the guys who joined the service for a few dollars more, persisted.  The financial genius in me said “You do not have to worry much about it for the first three years of your service.  Contribute to your Provident Fund to save you some taxes!

Analysing the conversation that evening, I will state confidently that each and every officer of the Indian Armed Forces can be classified as ‘Gifted.’  Most of us are through Sainik/ Military Schools where for admission we went through a test in grade 4/5 similar to the one in Canada to identify gifted children.  If I recall correctly, it was a bit tougher than the test administered in Canada.

After graduating from School, we all went through a very tough entrance exam for the Academy where the qualifying result was a fraction of a percent.  Then we qualified a much more rigorous Services Selection Board (SSB) interview stretching five days.  If anyone qualified through it, that person is real Super-Gifted.  Training at the Academies is not an easy one, especially the need to qualify in academic subjects along with the strenuous physical activities and tests. 

On commissioning, the problem of diminishing creativity begins.  Officers tend not to learn but to study.  Here let me define both – What you study, you forget soon after the exam; but what you learn, you retain for life.  The study tendency can well be attributed to the grading system in most courses.

While I was in command of our unit, we were tasked to write a paper on tactical employment of modern surveillance devices.  I tasked the junior officers to come up with a draft and one of them said “Sir, you write well.  This paper is for Army Headquarters and why don’t you write it.  Our efforts may not be that good and creative.”

I pointed out to them how they had closed their minds to creativity. “You all have gone through the SSB where in you were shown nine caricature images of which you could not make out head or tail, but you all managed to write nine good and creative stories.  The tenth one was a blank one, but still you wrote a credible story.  One hundred words were flashed to you with an interval of 30 seconds and you all wrote one hundred sensible sentences.  Now you say that you are incapable of writing a creative paper” I explained sternly.

The death of creativity begins when a young officer given any particular task is asked to go through an older file/paper/ Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to understand how it was done previously and then accomplish the task in a similar manner. Many military units have SOPs even for the most mundane activities like organising an Officers’ mess function. These SOPs, while they serve to accomplish a task quickly and without confusion, also serve as creativity killers. 

One of the first documentation tasks for a young officer is usually a Court of Inquiry (C of I) and in most cases it would pertain to a severe injury suffered by a soldier.  The Adjutant invariably asked the young officer to refer to a previous one and carryout a C of I in a similar manner. If you want the young officer to be creative, you need to make him understand the need for the C of I, and from where he should read up on what evidence is, how to adduce evidence and reach a finding on the investigation based on evidence. The manner in which the proceedings of the C of I are recorded on paper is perhaps the only thing that an old court of inquiry would reveal.   

The trend of ‘ஈ அடிச்சான் கோபி (ee adichan copy)’ or blind copying or ‘Cut & Paste’ begins from here and it continues through service, culling all the creativity one had at the time of the SSB. 

Reading five pages and writing a page everyday are the very first baby steps to professional creativity and competence. As the youngsters anxiously awaited their entry into the mysterious Olive Green world, what better piece of advice could I give them?

Welcome Spring 2020 with Tulips


Every year, the cold winter snow melts away and we welcome spring, a new beginning.  This new beginning is marked in our garden by tulips.


April rains bring in May flowers‘ is a common saying in Canada. Tulips and daffodils do not wait for the rain and by end of April they sprout out marking the beginning of spring.


Tulip flowers last only a fortnight.

 
We have Early-Spring, Mid-Spring and Late-Spring varieties.  Thus we extent the Tulip flower season in our garden.
  
This year around we did not receive many showers in April and it did have a telling effect on the quality and size of tulip plants and flowers. It is said that the tulip’s velvety black center represents a lover’s heart, darkened by the heat of passion.
 
At least we were lucky to have the best flowers in the city as claimed by many visitors.

 
Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century. They got their common name from the Turkish word for gauze (with which turbans were wrapped) – reflecting the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom.
 
Canadian Tulips have a great history.  In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for the preceding three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. 
 
he eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip, it conveys forgiveness too.   
Yellow tulips symbolises cheerful thoughts.
  
The Red Tulip became associated with love based on a Turkish legend.

 
Purple symbolizes royalty.

 
We have multi-colored varieties too.

With all of the history, sentiments and meanings of tulips, it’s not surprising that their popularity continues to endure. The wide range of colours and varieties available allows them to be used for many occasions.

CARS Without Scars

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage. Today, it forms an important part of most competitive entrance examinations for important universities the world over.  To develop this skill, the only mantra is to read more – that too from all disciplines across the board. Some of you may question how and why reading is connected to CARS? After all the answers to the questions are all there in the given passage!

The explanation is pretty simple. The more you read, the more is your ability to quickly comprehend. The more you read, greater is your vocabulary and greater is the speed of comprehension and less the chances of your not comprehending something in the passage. The more you read more will be the chances of your familiarity with the subject matter and with greater familiarity comes greater ease of analysis. So reading is fundamental to development of mental faculty …no escape!

CARS is a skill that needs to be initiated in a child as early as possible.  Parents and primary school teachers play a very important role in developing this skill in children.  Some of the tips for teaching critical thinking to children, as recommended by American Philosophical Association (APA), are as listed below: –

  • Start as Early as Possible. Children can be encouraged to give reasons for their decisions or conclusions rather than teaching them ‘formal’ logic.
  • Avoid Pushing. Whenever we tell our children to do things. it would be pertinent to give them reasons for the same. Some, they may understand; others, they may not.
  • Encourage Kids to Ask Questions. That is the only way to instill and encourage curiosity in children. They should never feel any pressure in asking questions to their parents or teachers.  Many a times, children are hesitant to ask a question due to this pressure from their peers or siblings.
  • Get Kids to Clarify Meaning. Rather than the rote system, encourage children to explain things in their own words.
  • Encourage Children to Consider Alternative Explanations and Solutions. Allow children to experiment or consider multiple solutions rather than always looking for the bookish right answer. This will enhance flexible thinking.
  • Talk About Biases. Children can understand how emotions, motives, cravings, religious leanings, culture, upbringing, etc can influence our judgments.
  • Don’t Confine Critical Thinking to Purely Factual or Academic Matters. Encourage kids to reason about ethical, moral, and public policy issues.
  • Get Kids to Write. Writing helps students clarify their explanations and sharpen their ideas. Only kids who read and analyse develop good writing skills.

When faced with preparing for a CARS test, you are what you are. In  case you have a few months or at best a year before you take the test, can you actually prepare for and improve upon your CARS score? Surely Yes. Let us see some of the aspects of preparation for CARS.

Reading Speed
Speed of reading is very important for any CARS test.  Generally, there are five to six passages and 60 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Thus you have less than 15 minutes to read each passage, the set of associated questions and answer them.   The only way to increase your speed of is by reading and more reading. There are of course many speed reading techniques that one may try but eventually you must settle down to a particular reading technique.

Most of the modern-day CARS tests are computer based, the examinee needs to develop speed of reading onscreen.  Reading onscreen in a test environment calls for better training of your eyes and mind as it is 20% slower than reading it on paper.  If the test you are taking is onscreen, you must practice more onscreen.

Some tips to speed up your onscreen reading are: –

  • Do not Move Your Head – either up/down or left/right – to see an entire page on most computer screens. Practice shifting your focus between words and lines without moving your head.
  • Avoid ‘Sub Vocalization’ – also known as auditory reassurance. It is a common habit where readers say words in their head while reading, thus slowing down.  Your mind is capable of perceiving and analyzing text much faster than you think – at least double that of your speaking speed.
  • Never Stop in Between and Go Back and Forth. In case you do not fully understand a part of the passage or you lack clarity about what the inputs are, first read the complete passage and then look for what you need to clarify.
  • Practice Reading Phrases or Small Sentences Rather Than Reading Each Word. Remember that you are looking for the overall meaning and not referring to a dictionary. Reading word by word slows you down as you tend to pause between words.

Selective Reading
As part of your reading in preparation for CARS you need to read for pleasure and entertainment as well as concentrate on some dense and difficult prose. In both categories your reading should be only non- fiction and generally related to social sciences and humanities. The CARS passages are hardly ever science based. In the light reading category, a few national and international current affairs magazines would suffice such as Time, Newsweek, India Today, Frontline and so on. It is also important to read the editorials of daily newspapers and a few articles that appear on the editorial page. As for difficult prose try for example Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Reading such as this is essential so that you develop the ability to read and assimilate difficult prose.

Practice
While wide multidisciplinary reading is the best solution in the long run, if your preparation time is limited to a year or less, then the solution lies in relentless practice. Even if you do nothing else by way of preparation, just practice alone may well see you through. Repetitive practice will in the long run build up your stamina and help improve your reading speed and your analytical skills and above all your scores.   Roughly one mock test a day or five to six per week should suffice. After a month or so, if you are on the right track there should be improvement in your scores. If not there is something seriously wrong in your approach and you may need professional help to identify your weakness.

Vocabulary Improvement
A good vocabulary is a basic requirement for proficiency in the CARS test. If you have been a reader of storybooks since your childhood, generally your vocabulary ought to be good. However, if you have been a poor reader, your vocabulary will need to be supplemented in the short term. Some of the books or Audio-visual materials specifically meant for this purpose are readily available in the market. Some research on effectiveness must be done before you home in on what you need.

Adopt A Simple Strategy
During our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC), the objective tests often contained a section where examinees are required to tick true/false on a series of statements. The questions had negative marking and often bamboozled a lot of us trainees. Eventually some someone came out with a strategy that proved to be effective for at least some of us: –

  • Those questions that you CLEARLY KNOW to be true/false should be first attempted.
  • Then, those that you FEEL are true should be ticked false and vice a versa.

Similarly, there are many strategies in attempting the CARS test. The simplest and the best strategy is to read the entire passage first and then answer questions in the given order. Some may advocate obviously stupid strategies such as reading the first and the last paragraphs and then answer the questions or even reading the questions first (not the answer choices) before you read the passage so that apparently you know where to focus when you read. These stupid options must be shunned. Some other strategies such as devoting a disproportionately longer time for reading and assimilation of the passage and then answering the questions may be useful to some. Yet another strategy may be to devote meaningful time only to say five out of six, or seven out of nine passages and apply pure guesswork on the remaining passage(s) without reading. First skimming through the passages with a view to and identify and attempt the easier passages first may also be another strategy. Early in your preparation time you need to firm in on your strategy and then practice relentlessly on the chosen strategy. If there is no noticeable improvement in scores after a period of time, you may need to think of changing your strategy.

How to Read the CARS Passage
Remember that the CARS test is basically aimed at testing whether you can see the big picture, not the minor detail. By the time you finished reading the passage and applying a few minutes of thought, a central theme should emerge, shouting from roof tops so to say. How do we reach that stage? Central to all prose writing is the point that a paragraph contains a central idea. When we complete each paragraph of the passage, we should ask ourselves what this central idea is and preferably jot this down on a scratch paper in just four or five words. We may call this a paragraph review. We may also jot down as part of the paragraph review, inferences and conclusions that we can draw, comparisons if any and the purpose of anything that is unique

Once you have completed this process for all the paragraphs of the passage, look at your scratch paper and go through the ideas jotted down. Try and link these together and form a central theme, which should also be jotted down on the scratch paper. Now give a thought on the authors tone. Is he light hearted, serious or matter of fact? Is he trying to sell a new idea? Is he emotional about the central idea? A clear understanding of the central idea and the author’s tone are essential to answer the following questions. Once this process is done you may answer the questions and there will rarely be a need to re-read any portion of the passage. If there is any question which cannot be answered now, it is better to guess rather than go back to reading the passage as this will only waste time and rarely find the answer.

Instead of using a scratch paper some may be more comfortable with highlighting a few words/sentence in the passage itself to bring out its central idea. To my mind his is an inferior technique but by all means use it if you are more comfortable with it.

Some Sample Questions

Question 1:  ‘Meter’ is a unit of measure derived from one millionth of the radius of the planet Earth. Based on this which of the following is true:

  • A) The radius of the planet is the perpendicular bisector of all the auxiliary latitudes
  • B) The first geodetic survey of the Meter was(?) done by Willebrord Snell.
  • C) The Nautical Mile is equal to Imperial Mile in meters.
  • D) It is impossible to derive the Meter using land based geodesy techniques and materials as was available in the 18th Century.
  • E) None of the above.

The answer is E as all of the other statements are red-herrings.  Do not get caught up looking for the red-herrings.  It may be prudent to skip such a question and revisit at the end time permitting.

Question 2

  • A) Some days are longer than others during the calendar year
  • B) A few of Da Vinci’s paintings were lost over time.
  • C) It is possible that there were no protests in Washington D.C. in 1946
  • D) All students writing the MCAT do well on the CARS section
  • E) None of the above.

Here there is neither a passage nor a question.  If you analyse, other than for statement D, all other statements are ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘is possible’.  Statement D is the only specific sentence with ‘all’.  By elimination, the answer got to be D.  Can you now guess the question?

Question 3:  Gautier was indeed a poet and a strongly impressive one- a French poet with limitations as interesting as his gifts. Completeness on his own scale is to our mind the idea he most instantly suggests. Such as his finished task presents him, he is almost the sole of his kind. He has imitators who could not mimic his spontaneity and his temper. Alfred de Musset once remarked about him “at the table of poets his glass was not large, but at least it was his own glass”.

Why does the author quote de Musset in this passage?

  • A) To show that all of Gautier’s contemporaries were his fans.
  • B) To prove that Gautier’s poetry was objectively the best.
  • C) To show how different Gautier and his poetry were.
  • D) To show the weaknesses of the French style of poetry.
  • E) None of the above.

The answer is C.  The quote by Musset ending with ‘it was his own glass’ points to the answer.

CARS is not at all be the nightmare that it is made out to be. In fact, if your vocabulary and ability to see the big picture are okay, then half the battle is won. All that remains is to polish the skills by relentless practice, backed up by record keeping of your scores.

HORN PLEAJ? OK

Mumbai has realised the menace of honking; at least Mumbai Police realised it.  They call Mumbai the ‘Honking Capital of India?‘   Do other cities and towns of India differ in any way??

A few weeks back, I rented a chain-saw from the store to cut a tree. Along with the chain-saw came the ear protection mufflers. On inquiry with the store man, he said that it was mandatory that the ear mufflers be issued with the equipment whose noise levels were higher than the prescribed limit, but it is up to the user to use it or not. My mind raced back to my young officer days in the Indian Army. It was considered not manly enough to wear the ear plugs while firing the heavy caliber guns. As usual, after every firing practice session, one heard a thousand bees buzzing in the ears for the next few days. We all got used to this sound as we got used to the firing, without realising that we were getting into a world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss. The effects of it still continue and I have a hard time listening to whispers or low noises.

horn
Recently I called up an old friend in India and he must have been on the road, I could make out from the ear piercing horn sounds of horns of the vehicles coming through my ears. A sound I missed for the good.

While driving our SUV, this SUV has been with us for the past seven years, our 14 year old son wanted to know where the horn was and how it sounded. I tried to blow the horn and pressed very hard in the middle of the steering wheel and nothing was heard. On reaching home, I pressed real hard applying all the force my body could place and the horn made a feeble noise, when compared to the screeching noises I heard over the phone. I now realised that I had never used the horn in my seven years of Canadian driving and may be that the springs in the center of the steering wheel might have been jammed.

My mind went back to an article which appeared a few years ago in a newspaper here by an old man who had been to Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, as a medical tourist for a knee replacement surgery. He describes his taxi ride from the airport to the hospital, a 20 km drive which took an hour, with the driver honking twice as many times as what he had done in fifty years of driving in Canada.

Out here in North America, honking is considered indecent. It is done to alert some erring driver who has done some action that might have lead to an accident and you really want to abuse him with all your might. Else its only to attract the other driver’s attention to some thing serious like a not fully closed car door, deflated tyre etc which may lead to a fatality.

While driving in India, one always honked, required on not, or may be that was the only way to get ahead in the confusion that existed on our roads. For some it was a practice set out by the driving instructors in driving schools.

Can you for once imagine the noise pollution being created by the honking of the horn? May be its pretty irritating for me here as I have not been used to hearing this high pitched noise out here.

The rules that lay down the pitch, tone and volume of the horns may be same in India keeping with the world standards, as most car manufacturers provide you with a ‘weak’ horn and the noisy ones are add-ons.   May be in India to drive, the shrillness and volume of the horn may depict the size of your vehicle. That’s why the trucks have their horns sounding like an elephant trumpet.

Air-horns even though illegal is fitted on most of the buses and trucks in India. These shrill horns pose a direct threat to road safety as they embolden drivers to drive more rashly and negligently. Road rage incidents go up as it gives drivers a false self-confidence as they believe they can shove through the traffic and scare away pedestrians. Many bus and truck drivers use it as an effective tool to clear the road.

World Health Organisation in its report has stated that prolonged or excessive exposure to noise, whether in the community or at work, can cause serious permanent medical conditions like hypertension and ischemic heart disease. Noise can adversely affect performance, for instance reading, attentiveness, problem solving and memory. Use of air horn may cause severe physiological and psychological impacts on the pedestrians and can damage the eardrum.

The Indian Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 specifies that all vehicles can be fitted with an electric horn or other devices, specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards for use by the driver of the vehicle and capable of giving audible and sufficient warning of the approach or position of the vehicle. The rules further specifies that no motor vehicle shall be fitted with any multi-toned horn or with any other sound-producing device giving an unduly harsh, shrill, loud or alarming noise except ambulance or fire-fighting or police vehicles. These rules are often broken and the police merely hear these shrill horns, many not realising the damage it has done to them, that they are welcome into my world of Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

May be that we in India are pretty used to this honking and it may be very difficult to drive on the roads, shared by hawkers, cycles, animals, pedestrians etc with all the potholes and with the density of traffic, without honking. At least you can try and limit the number of honks.

If everyone can reduce one honk a day, may be we will achieve less noise pollution on our roads in India.

To Read or Not to

Recently I saw a video clip of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, quite infamous for his idiosyncratic use of English language, wherein, a high school student asked him to give out a difficult word from his vocabulary which she had not heard.  Pausing for a moment, he said “READ”.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” said Joseph Addison – essayist, poet, playwright and politician.  Who does not want to exercise his or her mind?  Reading is bound to make you smarter; stimulate critical and analytical thinking; assimilate new information; improve problem solving skills; and the list is endless.

One who does not observe cannot paint, one who does not listen cannot sing and one who does not read can never write.  Shashi Tharoor attributes his vast vocabulary and spelling to his extensive reading.  He claimed that he hardly used a dictionary, but made out the meaning of difficult words, contextually, as it occurred in different passages or paragraphs.

Most students appearing for Medical/ Pharmacy College Admission Test (MCAT or PCAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and admission tests for various management and business schools, the world over, inter alia, generally need to take on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test. To many, this test is a sort of Waterloo.  It is mostly a test of comprehension based on a passage(s) followed by some questions, which needs to be answered in a very short time. The CARS test is a more advanced form of the good old comprehension question that was (and perhaps sill is) a part of the English language examinations at various levels. While the latter tested only one’s language skills, the former tests ones knowledge, critical analysis and power of reasoning also.

Many students struggle with this section because it requires a certain level of intuition, or some previous knowledge of the subject.  One should be familiar with various difficult words in the passage and more or less know their precise meaning in the context in which it is used; else one is sure to take a lot more time in comprehending the passage.  Most students appearing for such admission tests are quite uncomfortable with CARS, as they are more used to formulas, theorems and theories based on scientific subjects.  Indeed, quite a few have managed to cram the subject matter without really understanding the conceptual aspects.  Unfortunately, the CARS section is not something that you can cram for, but you must prepare for it over time.  Armed with a vast array of knowledge (gained through extensive reading) and lots of practice, a student will be well ready to take on the CARS test.

CARS section is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage.  To develop this skill, one suggested way is to read through the editorial page of a leading English newspaper and also any economic news paper.  While reading, even if you can assimilate ten percent of what is written, your knowledge base will increase.  Ultimately it is all about reading.

To become a better reader, the only way is to read more.  One needs to develop stamina for reading and it needs to begin at a young age.  It is obvious that the children of parents who read turn out to be better readers – they surely imitate what their parents do and perhaps the habit gets into your genes.  So, put down your mobile phones and put off your television when you are in the company of your children.  That is the time to take up a book and commence reading.  Everything from books to magazines is good material to build up your reading stamina. Remember that the CARS section will generally not contain passages pertaining to the natural sciences, it encompasses everything else.

While practising for CARS, read the passages like you would read normally.  Never try to skim through it, never skip lines – you may think that you are reading the passage fast, but you are sure to miss out on some essential information.  You are sure to ‘miss the woods for the trees.‘  If you practice ‘normal’ and perhaps a bit deliberate reading, you will realise that you are able to pick out relevant information faster.  Previous knowledge about the passage will help you immensely, but should never become a hindrance in your ability to answer the questions.

Let us take an example of the following simple passage: –

  • “While Nelson Mandela is the father of South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is our grandfather,” Harris Majeke, South Africa’s ambassador to India, said. “Mandela was inspired by the Satyagraha campaign led by Gandhi. It was a compelling act of passive protest against oppression. This would later inspire the formation of the African National Congress and strengthen Mandela’s belief in our shared humanity.”  It is true that there is a direct connection between Gandhi’s campaign against discrimination in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement there.  “The African National Congress, which in 1952 launched the first mass movement against apartheid under the leadership of Dr. Albert Luthuli, had been founded in 1912 on the model of the Indian National Congress, with which Gandhi had been closely associated,” writes Claude Markovits in “The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and the Afterlife of the Mahatma.”

A student who is not aware of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Claude Markovits; developments in South Africa; practice of Satyagraha as a passive protest; evils of apartheid and other such concepts will not be able to comprehend the passage well, analyse it and satisfactorily answer the questions that follow.

The best suggested way to practice for CARS is to read for pleasure and entertainment and also to make use of the Dead Time at one’s disposal.  Dead time is the time available at your disposal while you are travelling, waiting for someone or an event to happen, etc.  As Shashi Tharoor brought out, you are bound to pick up on new words and phrases, practice forming opinions, and have the opportunity to reason beyond the text.

As against reading for pleasure and entertainment, when one reads to learn, the ability to grasp the essentials conceptually from what one reads and retain it in memory for ever, is a skill that varies from one individual to another. This skill is a highly developed common denominator amongst all successful people who primarily use their brain for their success. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be acquired, enhanced and fine tuned.

The best seller “Unlimited Memory” by Grandmaster, Kevin Horsley deals with ‘how to use advanced learning strategies to learn faster, remember more and be more productive’. Be that as it may, reading for pleasure and entertainment is primary to all reading; without this habit, ‘reading to learn is nearly impossible’. Reading for pleasure is habitual, a habit that needs to be developed very early in life. Like swimming and cycling, it’s a skill that becomes increasingly more difficult to acquire with advancing years.

Our niece who used to travel by train home (four hours) on weekends from her university in Kerala once complained about ogling and eve teasing by some young male co-travellers, which used to irritate her a lot. Here the victim and the perpetrators, both have no concept of utilising dead time.  I advised her that reading will divert her attention from the ogling Romeos, many of whom, will get intimidated just by the sight of a girl with an English book (for obvious reasons) and she on the other hand, will gain knowledge, improve her vocabulary and enhance language skills.  After a month she reported success.   Now, after five years of my advice, she still continues to carry a book with her during travels and I must say that she has evolved into young woman with good general awareness.

The result of a study by Kingston University, London, showed that book readers were more empathetic than those who mainly watched television.  While watching a movie or a television show based on a book, one perceives it from the angle the director wants the viewer to perceive it, whereas while reading a book one has the liberty to pause when   needed, make assumptions and perceive  it the way  the reader wants.  Television viewers were in fact found to have more anti-social behaviour than others.  It is interesting to note that amongst readers, fiction readers showed the best social skills; comedy readers were the best at relating to people; romance and drama lovers were the most empathetic and most skilled at seeing things through other’s eyes.

Good readers make great leaders.  Abraham Lincoln had only one year of formal education, but his reading made up for the rest.   Roosevelt was believed to have read two books a day. Thomas Jefferson had one of the most exhaustive personal libraries of his time.  Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year and as per him “Reading is absolutely essential to success.” Even in the military profession, I have observed that those who rise to the top rungs of the hierarchy possess varied qualities of the head and heart, but reading invariably is a common denominator.

  • Coming into contact with a good book and possessing it, is indeed an everlasting enrichment.”    Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
  • “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”  Francis Bacon
  • “Books are uniquely portable magic”    Stephen King
  •  “Time is a river and books are boats”     Dan Brown
  • “Any book that helps a child to form of a habit of reading, make reading one of his deep and continuing needs is good for him”  Maya Angelou
  • “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”  Oscar Wilde

A Cruise on the Saint Lawrence


After a sumptuous lunch, we walked down to the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Montreal to embark on our cruise boat – Le Beteau Mouche – meaning ‘The Riverboat.’  This 50 passenger boat is 37meter long and 7meter wide with two decks.  The terrace on top as well as the two decks offer a panoramic view of Montreal.  The Old Port stands at the very spot where the City of Montréal was founded.


The Old Port like most ancient docks around the world fell into decay, but today, thanks to the Old Port of Montréal Corporation, one can stroll, cycle, skate, rollerblade and eat along the waterfront.  Today the port is the starting point for many vessels offering a cruise on the Saint Lawrence River.


Our boat cast off from the Old Port at 3 pm on its journey up North, and under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  This steel truss cantilever bridge with a five-lane highway is 3,425.6 meter long, across the Saint Lawrence River and allows access to Saint Helena’s Island.  Originally named the Montreal Harbour Bridge (pont du Havre), it was renamed in 1934 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s first voyage up the Saint Lawrence River.


As the boat cruised away from the port, we could see the Old Montreal’s buildings, mainly Notre-Dame Basilica, Aldred Building, etc.


As we steamed out of the port, we came to the Clock Tower, a 45 metres tall structure.  It marks the entrance to the port and is a memorial to the sailors lost at sea in wartime.  The clock is still said to be extremely precise with its legendary accuracy.  The clock’s mechanism was made in England by Gillett and Johnston and is a replica of Big Ben in London.   The Clock Tower was the port’s time keeper in an era when wrist watches were not common.


Past the Clock tower is the Molson Brewery, a relic of the glorious industrial past of Montreal.  In 1782, at the age of 18, John Molson sailed on a leaking ship from England to Canada, with a thirst for a better beer in a new country. In 1786, he founded the Molson Brewery, the oldest brewery in North America, and subsequently, Canada’s second oldest company (the oldest company is Hudson’s Bay Company established in 1670).  Through expansion and rebuilding after Montreal’s Great Fire of 1852, the facility still stands in its original location.  John Molson who also built the first steamship and the first public railway in Canada, was a president of the Bank of Montreal, and he also established a hospital, a hotel, and a theatre in Montreal.


This is the entrance to the 306-kilometer long Saint Lawrence Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario, built in the 1950s.  It stands as a symbol of challenging engineering feats in history.  The seaway consists of seven locks – five Canadian and two US – in order to lift vessels 75 meters above sea level as they transit from Montreal to Lake Ontario.  Opening of the seaway diminished the importance of the Montreal Port as ocean going ships could now traverse through the Great Lakes and there was no requirement of offloading Great Lakes going smaller vessels from ocean going larger ones.


As we touched the Northern tip of Saint Helena’s Island, we saw La Ronde (Round)- Quebec’s biggest amusement park with more than 40 rides and attractions.  It was built as the entertainment complex for Expo 67.  (More about Expo 67 in a subsequent post.)


We then sailed to Habitat 67, a much sought after residential complex in Montreal.  It is considered an architectural landmark and one of the most recognisable and spectacular buildings in Montreal.  This housing complex was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie as part of his Master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University and then built as a pavilion for Expo 67.


We then came to Silo Number 5 and the boat took a turn on its return trip.  It was in 1906 that Silo Number 5, formerly known as Elevator B, came into operation.  At that time Montreal Port was known as a hub of the grain trade in North America.  It was built with brick and non-combustible materials to avoid the risk of explosions due to grain dust.  Grain dust which is highly combustible can form explosive clouds.  A fire or an explosion can happen at a large grain-handling facility if accidentally ignited.  The Silo consists of three distinct parts linked together by aerial galleries. Its floating elevators allowed offloading of grain from the holds of smaller lake going ships and the simultaneous loading of trans-Atlantic vessels without ever coming into contact with the quays.  Disused since 1994, the site is today plagued by vandalism and graffiti.


As the boat turned around we could see Bota Bota Spa.  Located on a ship anchored in the Old Port of Montreal, Bota Bota, offers its passengers the healing benefits of a spa while being lulled by the natural movements of the St Lawrence River.  Bota Bota consists of five decks, a floating terrace, restaurant, and a modern garden area which houses the various spa installations.


The Sixty-minute cruise on the Saint Lawrence River was educative and comfortable.  It is surely one of the best ways to learn more about Montreal as an island. Our tour guide gave very many details of all landmarks as we cruised along.  We were amused by many of her fun facts, trivia and anecdotes.


From the church we drove to Saint Helena’s Island, crossing Saint Lawrence River over Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  Our exploration of Saint Helena’s Island is covered in the next post.