Cycling @ Niagara

Walking to the Butterfly Conservatory @ Niagara with our grandson James, Marina suddenly stopped and said, “What is this new road sign?”

I too looked at it carefully. It was that of a Bike Fix-it Station.
Niagara Falls is one of the most exciting cycling destinations in Ontario. The rolling landscape of the Region and breathtaking natural wonders provide a unique experience for enthusiasts or amateurs. From road courses to scenic trails, seeing Niagara on two wheels is not only great exercise but a memorable adventure.

On a drive to Niagara Falls, you will come across many cars laden with bicycles at the back. Varying sizes of the cycles indicate that it is a family activity for both adventure and for infotainment. Trains and buses to Niagara have special arrangements to carry bicycles.

Municipality of Niagara has established many Bike Fix-it Stations all along the cycling trails. Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport’s Bike Parking Capital Funding Program, Niagara Parks has undertaken a series of cycling amenity improvements along the Niagara River Recreation Trail, designed to enhance and promote cycling tourism in Niagara and Ontario.

The Fixit station includes all the tools necessary to perform basic bike repairs and maintenance, from changing a flat to adjusting brakes and derailleurs. The tools are securely attached to the stand with stainless steel cables and tamper-proof fasteners.

Hanging the bike from the hanger arms allows the pedals and wheels to spin freely while adjusting or repairing.

Every station is provided by a hand pump for tire inflation.

Cycling in Niagara is one of the best outdoor adventures to experience in Ontario. There are lots of paved bike paths, expansive green spaces, and beautiful waterways throughout Niagara Falls and Niagara region. It’s easy to hop on your bike and ride for days. The Parkway has been named one of the Top 10 cycling routes in the World, stretching over 58 km along the Canadian side of the Niagara River.
Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live – Mark Twain
The bicycle is the most civilised conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. – Iris Murdoch, Irish author

Canadian Immigration Woes

Negotiating the immigration process starting from filing of application, interview, preparing for transplantation into an unknown country and the actual process of moving and settling down  is often a difficult one. It involves many difficulties and unforeseen variables, such as delays, frustrations, and  expenditure. Most immigrants go through a period of turmoil at home and work as they settle in their new country. 

Recently I have been receiving calls from my military friends in India about their children or the children of their friends facing many immigration difficulties.  It is mostly about spousal ill-treatment or domestic violence.

Like many immigrants, we went through three stages: Pre-migration, Transition to Canada and amalgamating with the Canadian society & culture (Acculturation) and Settling down.

Acculturation issues many immigrant families undergo are: –

1. Adjusting to a new climate, especially the Canadian winter.

2. Biological changes associated with changes in diet.

3. Social changes associated with disruption of social networks, sudden changes to the political, economic and religious contexts of the immigrants,

4. Psychological changes such as the need to adapt to Canadian values and attitudes, especially in parenting.

Traversing through the stages of immigration and acculturation brings with it stresses and tensions in family life.  I’ve observed that women find jobs faster, mostly better paying than their husbands and this is very difficult for the patriarchal and egoistic Indian male to accept.  Not many will accept this Canadian reality.  That is why I quit my job as a supervisor at a call-center after six months as our children demanded that I be home when they were there.  They did not want to live in an empty home.   I quit my job to be a house husband. My wife who was doing a four-day week took to a five-day week as her 10 hours of extra work made up much more than what I earned in my 40-hour week and expenditure came down as I did not have to drive to work.

With the wife in a better position than the husband, the situation often  leads to fights ending in domestic violence or abuse.  The husband starts finding fault in trivial issues such as the dresses worn by the wife, her hair style, her spending too much money on pedicure & manicure, not taking adequate care of the husband & children – it’s an endless list. In such relationships the woman is capable of and often does walk out of such relationships to lead an independent life, sometimes with new partners. 

There is also an entirely different situation where the plight of the immigrant woman is a whole lot worse. Some women move into the household of her husband after marriage (Mail Order Brides – Please click here.)  These patriarchal households  often have a  strict hierarchy based on chronological age, and  predefined traditional Indian gender roles.   It is common for three or more generations to be living  together in such households with the family income being contributed to primarily by the young male members. Typical of the Indian joint family, more often than not, the parents of the husband   take many decisions concerning the married couple. Under such circumstances  the girl’s life becomes miserable and intolerable.

In such households, the bride is expected to cook, clean, and take care of many people other than her husband.  The hapless bride with a low language proficiency, inadequate knowledge about Canada and of her rights as a permanent resident/ immigrant, and lack of financial independence is forced to  continue the relationship however unsatisfactory.  The family never allows  her to go out alone or even speak to her friends and acquaintances in Canada.  She is denied access to the car and not allowed to drive – a need in Canada to be independent. She is sometimes denied a cellphone  and even access to the internet.  

The  wife’s dependence on the husband and his family increases her vulnerability. She is unaware of Canadian immigration laws and policies  that  make it possible for abused immigrant women to leave their sponsors and apply to the state for financial help.

The birth of a child adds to her woes and often puts her into a state of bonded labour.  If it is a girl child, her perils become multi-fold. Please click here to read my post on 4472 Missing Girls. She becomes enslaved to the household.  Fear of the husband claiming custody of the child by declaring that she is unfit to take care of the child instills further fear.  She is unaware of the support system that the Canadian Government provides for the single mother and for the children.

She feels helpless and powerless based on fear of losing custody of children to her husband if she  leaves the abusive home, and later the fear of state intervention and apprehension of her children by Children’s Aid Society.  Many Indian movies and TV debates have succeeded in implanting this fear in  the immigrant woman’s mind.

Abuse and violence aimed at Indian immigrant women is a complex social problem in Canada determined by a wide range of contributory factors such as Indian culture and the immigration process. Several characteristics of Indian society, including the position of women, arranged marriage, and family arrangements, influence the risk of domestic violence. The sources of incompatibility between husband and wife in immigrant families include disparities in age and attractiveness, sexual difficulties, and differences in caste and religion.  Continued existence under such conditions may well  lead to tremendous psychological stress and serious mental illness

So what’s the way out of this rat-trap? The only way is for the woman concerned to take the bull by its horns.  She needs to be aware of all the help that she can get from the state. She should preferably be made aware of these before the immigration takes place. If not, her friends in Canada and loved ones back in India somehow need to make her aware of these. She then has no option but to develop the courage to walk out of these abusive relationships, seek the State’s help in either returning to India or finding an alternative life in Canada.

In case you are aware of someone in an abusive or toxic relationship in Canada, this webpage of the Government of Canada will be useful.

Help for spouses or partners who are victims of abuse –

Spring Tulips 2023

April rains bring in May flowers’ is a common saying in Canada. This year, tulips sprouted as the days warmed up in March to above 25o C, but the weather played truant like typical Canadian weather that come April – it was a winter blast – it was freezing. 

The trees bear flowers even before the leaves sprout. It is all because of a short summer available for them to grow fruits.

Tulips are spring flowers and it signals arrival of the coming of a new season. Most tulips have six petals, but some can have many more.

Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century.

Cultivated varieties, referred to as ‘Dutch tulips,’ originated in the Netherlands.

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.

Yellow tulips symbolise cheerful thoughts.

The brightly colored, upright flowers may be single or double, and vary in shape from simple cups, bowls, and goblets to more complex forms.

Tulips typically bear cup-shaped flowers in almost every shade but true blue. They can be double or single, fringed or twisted, perfumed or non-scented.

Purple symbolises royalty.

Orange is a color that’s symbolic of friendship and appreciation.

The eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip. It conveys forgiveness.

These are different shades of Red Tulips in our garden. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love.

Red tulips are the hue of choice to express that you are deeply in love. The red colour tulips evoke passion and romance.

There are no Black Tulips.   It is very dark Red.  This is the blackest we got.

Pink tulips symbolise congratulations and the wish for good luck.

White tulips are a symbol of saying you’re sorry about something,

Some of the Tulips are still blooming – may be due to the strong variation in temperature this spring.

They are gone in two weeks – and that’s the saddest part.

Mental Health Education

The Ontario government announced that they will introduce a new mandatory education curriculum for elementary and high school students that aims to increase mental health literacy, in the wake of continued challenges that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It will help students to recognise signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help. Ontario’s current health and physical education curriculum, updated in 2019, already includes learning on mental-health literacy in every grade.

The program was ushered in due to the advocacy of Progressive Conservative MPP Natalie Pierre, who put forward a motion in December around mental health literacy. She took up the case for mental health education after her 17-year-old son took his life by suicide six years ago.  After her son died, Pierre made it her personal mission to advocate for mental health education in classrooms.

She said that her son was like any other student. The day before he died, he took a university campus tour. The night before, he went to a school dance. He worked a few hours at his part time job, and he got together with friends. Everyone observed him to be a normal, healthy teenager, but that wasn’t the truth.  In the months and years that followed; others contacted her to share their experiences with mental illness.

This propelled her to advocate for mental health education in schools the same way math and science are taught.

The proposed curriculum aims to create a personal toolbox of skills that a student could utilise in their life and their jobs and in the classroom.  It will include learning materials for Grades 7 and 8 in the form of activities, videos, and information to help students learn how to manage stress, determine the relationship between mental health and mental illness, recognise signs, symptoms and how to find support.

A survey released in February 2023 found about 91% of school principals reported needing some or a lot of support for students’ mental health and well-being.  The report also suggested that there is a lack of resources to respond to the mental health crisis in the classroom.

The curriculum is proactive, practical, and evidence based. It reaches students where they are at and at a time in their lives when mental health issues often emerge. It is aimed to prevent tragedies like the one experienced by Pierre.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government will also spend $26 million over the next two years to provide mental-health resources to students over the summer, so their support isn’t interrupted by the school break.

Mental health disorders among teenagers are highly prevalent yet undertreated. Reasons for not seeking help is due to limited awareness about mental health issues, social stigma and embarrassment, teenagers’ perceptions about confidentiality and the ability to trust an unknown person. Lack of professional help, inability of parents to identify mental health issues of their children and accept the same further adds to the problem.

The need for mental health education at high school must be about being honest regarding our mental health, pain, anger.  By pretending that such issues do not exist in the teens and do not have to be taught about it at school is a disservice to the students.  Introduction of mandatory mental health education in grade 10 will go a long way addressing the issues faced by the students.

Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” — Noam Shpancer, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

Hyacinths & Daffodils – 2023

Hyacinths and Daffodils are the flowers that bloom in our garden after the Weeping Pussy Willow. 

Different coloured hyacinths carry different meanings. Pink hyacinths mean Playful Joy while the purple flowers symbolise Deep Regret and White represents Love & Prayer. Each colour flower has a unique fragrance and are commonly used in perfume making.

The Hyacinth is a member of the same family as the asparagus.  They bloom from March to April  

According to Ancient Greek mythology legend, a young Hyacinth was killed when Apollo and Zephyrus were fighting over his affections. It is believed that Hyacinths sprung up from his spilled blood.

Hyacinths originated from Turkey and the Middle East, along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.  It was first grown in Constantinople in the 16th century. They were later introduced to Europe where hyacinth-lovers bred many new varieties and developed different colours of the fragrant flower. Today, these flowers are mainly grown in Holland.

 Hyacinths are believed to be great for a range of skin disorders such as eczema and nausea. They are also meant to help soothe sore throats and snake bites. 

Hyacinths and Daffodils, like Tulips are planted in early Autumn so that they have enough time to grow solid roots before the winter frost sets in. 

Daffodils were brought to Britain by the Romans.  The Romans believed that the daffodil sap healed wounds. It is only a myth as Daffodil sap contains sharp crystals to deter animals from eating the flower. This irritates the skin rather than healing it.

As per the Greek myth, Echo, a nymph, fell in love with a Greek named Narcissus, who told her to leave him alone. She lived alone, heartbroken. Nemesis, the God of Revenge, heard the sad story and lured Narcissus to a pool. He was so distracted by his handsome reflection that he fell in the pool and drowned. Afterwards he turned into the flower.  That is why Daffodils are also called Narcissus.

Daffodils are the birth flower for March as they are one of the first signs that spring has arrived, it makes sense that these beautiful flowers represent the first month of the season.

Legend says Daffodils are associated with cheerfulness. When they are presented to someone as a bunch, it is meant to provide happiness. However, if they are only given as a single flower, it is meant to mean misfortune.

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

Daffodils are the 10th Anniversary flowers.  Daffodils, along with tin (now replaced with diamond,) are known as the traditional gifts to celebrate a decade of marriage. It is now, however, a more modern choice to celebrate with diamond jewelry instead of tin.

Daffodils are the National Flower of Wales and are  traditionally worn on St David’s Day coinciding with the time of year daffodils begin to appear.

Canadian Spring & Weeping Pussy Willow

Flowering of the Weeping Pussy Willow signals the onset of spring in our garden.

The Salix Caprea ‘Pendula,’ commonly known as the Goat Willow or Weeping Pussy Willow, which belongs to the Caprea genus of flowering trees. It is also known as Kilmarnock, as the tree was first commercially sold in 1853 by Thomas Lang of Kilmarnock, Scotland.

This tree is grafted – a Weeping Pussy Willow grafted on top of a regular Pussy Willow trunk. The tree grows pendulous branches or weeping branches and can reach up to 8 feet, while the spread of the tree can also be around 6 feet.

The weeping pussy willow is referred to by poets and philosophers as the tree of enchantment. It relates to all that is feminine – dreaming, intuition, emotion, enchantment, healing and revitalisation. The willow’s flexibility symbolises resilience and inspires us to move on with life.

Fuzzy nubs start to appear along the branches, even before the leaves sprout. It is to increase the chances of pollination by wind and the leaves do not get in the way of the pollen riding the wind.

These nubs are flowers that sprout just before they fully bloom. The soft coating of hairs acts as insulation to protect these early bloomers from cold temperatures. Most other willows make similar flowers. The tree derives its name from these soft silver tufts that resemble tiny cats’ paws, feeling so much like cat fur.

Even in full bloom, willow flowers hardly look like flowers at all. They have neither any petals nor any fragrance. Such flowers are called Catkins, derived from the old Dutch word Katteken meaning a kitten. Alder, Birch, Beech, Hazel also produce catkins.

Pussy willows are Dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants. Only male plants produce the fuzzy flowers. The flowers on female plants look more like greenish hairy caterpillars. The male catkins begin to look yellow when the pollen develop on the tips of the anthers.

Catkins usually don’t rely on pollinators to spread their pollen. Instead, they release it into the wind, where it may or may not land on the female flower parts. To hit their targets, the catkins produce a large volume of pollen. Such a massive quantity of pollen released in the atmosphere results in many humans developing allergies and breathing difficulties during this period.

These trees thrive both in sunny sites and sites with partial shade. This willow will need some sun in the afternoons. These trees are tough and are easy to maintain. The tree needs a stake until the roots are well anchored.

Easter Egg and Easter Bunny

During Easter, most greetings I received had either the Easter bunny or the Easter eggs.

Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg come from? There is no Biblical reference to either. When Christ rose from the dead, there were no bunnies around.

Easter bunny has become a prominent symbol of Christianity’s most important holiday, though the Bible makes no mention of a bunny who delivers decorated eggs to well-behaved children on Easter Sunday.

The origins of this mythical mammal are unclear, but rabbits, known to breed prolifically, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. Easter occurs in the Northern Hemisphere in spring and that is when the hibernating rabbits come out.

It is believed that the Easter bunny first arrived in North America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase. Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. The custom spread across North America and chocolates, candies and gifts in decorated baskets replaced the nests.

The Easter Eggs are a pagan tradition from their spring festivities where the egg denoted new life. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection – a new life for humanity.

The ancient Egyptians decorated ostrich eggs in gold and silver as a way of honouring their loved ones, who were buried with these intricate gifts.  Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates to at least the 13th century, when eggs were a forbidden food during Lent.  So people painted and decorated them to mark the end of the Lent and ate them on Easter as a celebration.

Eggs were very prized at Easter because hens never laid many eggs during winter due to the cold and the lack of sunlight. Hens begin to lay eggs again when the sun came out in spring, meaning eggs became associated with spring and, in turn, Easter.

Easter eggs made of chocolate started in 1725, in the Court of King Louis XIV in Versailles. The widow Giambone poured molten chocolate into empty chicken eggshells, and the first chocolate Easter egg was born.

Easter egg hunts and egg rolling are two popular egg-related traditions. In the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn, is an annual event held the Monday after Easter. The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was the President. The event has no religious significance, although some people have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.

Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and they have also been associated with fertility and death.

Earthworm Swarming

April rains bring in May flowers is a Canadian saying. After a heavy downpour last evening, I had to fling a bunch of worms off our driveway and put them back in the flowerbed. Earthworms lying on sidewalks or streets after a heavy rain is a common sight in Canada on the onset of spring. They move out of their burrows and swarm the roads, sidewalks, and driveways.

Why do they do this?

Scientific name for earthworms is Lumbricus Terrestris Lumbricus in Latin means a worm and Terrestris means of the earth.They belong to Oligochaeata class meaning few bristles. The bristles help the worms to stay anchored in the soil as they move. Oligochaetes are distinguished from other worms by their lack of legs. Instead, Oligochaetes move by contracting and relaxing their longitudinal muscles, which run along the length of their body.

Researchers hypothesise several reasons why heavy rain bring these worms out of their soil homes.  Many scientists opine that they come out to the soil surface after a good rain to prevent drowning in their water-filled burrows.

Earthworms do not have lungs.  They breath through their skins. They need moisture-enriched soil with a certain oxygen content to survive. They are least likely to drown and can survive several days fully submerged in water if oxygen levels are right.

Some experts believe that the earthworms surface during rains for migration purposes as it gives them an opportunity to slither through greater distances across the wet soil surface or grass surface than they could through soil.

Certain species of earthworms surface to mate, but only a few of the 4,400 existing species, making it unlikely that mating is a primary reason for this surfacing. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning an individual worm has both male and female reproductive organs. Earthworm mating typically occurs after it has rained and the ground is wet.

Being hermaphrodites, they can fertilise themselves (parthenogenesis,) but is rare. They emerge from the soil and jut out their anterior end. They wait for another earthworm to point in the opposite direction. The two worms join together and a mucus is secreted so that each worm is enclosed in a tube of slime. The eggs of both mates become fertilised with the sperms of the other.

Another explanation involves rain drop vibrations on the soil surface sounding like predator vibrations, like that of moles or birds. Earthworms often come to the surface to avoid falling prey. According to Professor Josef Gorres of the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, “Rain can set up vibrations on top of the soil like mole vibrations. Similar to how earthworms move upwards and out of the way when predator vibrations are felt, they could move in a similar way for rain vibrations.”

What happens when drought conditions prevail?

During the peak of summer or during draught conditions, earthworms burrow deeper. They may either die or revert to a hibernation called diapause. In a diapause state, they coil up in knots in a little hole with a slimy substance to avoid moisture loss. Eggs in cocoons survive prolonged drought, allowing earthworm populations to survive drought periods.

According to Mary Ann Bruns, Associate Professor of Agronomy/Soil Microbiology in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Penn University, “Earthworms dig deeper into the soil where it is moister when conditions are dry. They will do all they can to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations.

Anglers looking for earthworms as baits create vibrations to coax worms from their burrows.  They run a piece of steel or a hand saw across the top of a stake, which causes a rubbing sound to occur as the stake vibrates. These vibrations cause the earthworms to move to the surface. 

Earthworms are the true friend of a gardener or a farmer. Presence of earthworms is a sign of healthy soil. The burrowing and feeding activity of earthworms has a positive effect on soil quality. The burrows help in water infiltration, soil aeration and improve soil porosity. Earthworm are known to easily consume two ton of dry matter per acre per year, partly digesting and mixing it with soil.  Earthworm casts improve soil fertility as they have higher nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium contents. 

In the Netherlands, some soils reclaimed from the sea at first did not have any earthworms. In these soils the formation of topsoil with reasonable organic matter content did not take place, resulting in poor crop growth. Once the cause was established, the government of the Netherlands started a campaign to introduce earthworms. After the introduction of the earthworms, a dark topsoil layer was formed, and crop growth increased substantially.

In the spring mornings, armed with a dustpan and a brush, I collect all the earthworms on our driveway and deposit them in the garden soil.

Tips to encourage or sustain a healthy population of worms in your garden are:-

  • Reduce tilling your soil.
  • Leave organic matter on the surface.
  • Add organic manure and compost.
  • Avoid chemicals – fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, etc.
  • Use an organic mulch to keep soil moist and cool.

Natural science has not come out with any conclusive reasons as to why earthworms surface after a heavy rain in spring, but they continue to surface every spring.


While in command of the Brahmin Battery of 75 Medium Regiment at the age of 28, our Battery Havildar (sergeant) Major Mishra asked me about my कुंडली (kundli – horoscope).  I said that I do not have one as we, the Syrian Christians of Kerala do not have our horoscope written at the time of our birth.

One of the hallmarks of mental and emotional maturity is being able to run your own life and make your own decisions,” advises clinical psychologist and author Terence Sandbek, PhD.

For some, horoscopes may give a sense of feel-good, mostly because they only focus on those parts that are applicable to them.  some latch onto sections of a horoscope that confirm or support their beliefs and ignore the rest.  For some, it gives an illusion of control on their lives as horoscope very opaquely says what a person is expected to do in future. 

There are many who take major life-decisions based on their horoscopes.  It gives them confidence, especially when what is charted in the horoscope yield positive results.  To those who believe in horoscopes, it tends to reduce life-stresses.

While on a trip to Jammu, Mishra took me to a well-known astrologer to get my horoscope made backdated.  The astrologer asked me about my place of birth, time, caste, and creed.  I had a birthplace and time of birth as told to me by my mother, but neither a caste nor a creed.

Now the astrologer wanted to solve the riddle based on Mishra’s request.  So, the astrologer asked me “What do your parents do?

Both are schoolteachers,” I replied.

What about your siblings?

My elder brother is a barrister and the younger a college professor.”

Then I must classify you as a Bharadwaj Brahmin.”  I’ve no clue as to what it meant, but Mishra confirmed it “तंत्र मंत्र में साहिब पंडितो का पंडित है .” (He is a Brahmin as far as rituals and Mantras are concerned.)

As per the horoscope prepared by this astrologer, I was expected to continue serving the Indian Army till 55 and return to my place of birth in my old age.  It also said that I will suffer from stomach ailments and as a cure, I must wear गोमेद (Gomed – Hessonite stone) on a silver ring on my Left Ring Finger.  I never wore the Hessonite stone and never had any stomach issues till date.

The only aspect correctly predicted was that I will have a daughter and after five years a son – son was born after six years – adjustment for prediction.

Believing in predictions based on astrology can be attributed to the human psychological phenomenon – the Barnum Effect, also called Forer Effect.  The phenomenon occurs when an individual believes that the predictions and descriptions apply specifically to them, though these predictions are generic in nature and can apply to anyone.

Astrology predictions are based on the Sun, the Moon, and the planets and the signs of the Zodiac. The Zodiac sign is based on where the Sun was on your birthday.

In the earlier days, astronomy and astrology went together. In 17th century, German mathematician Johannes Kepler, who propounded the laws of planetary motion, also charted horoscopes for the Roman Emperor Rudolf II. 

In those days, they were not aware of the existence of Uranus or Neptune – Uranus was discovered in 1781 and, Neptune in 1846.  Did they not include the effects of these planets in the horoscopes?  These planets still do not find a place in the birth charts of today.   

What is the influence of the planets on a human’s life? Gravitational? Electromagnetic?

The nurse present at my birth had more gravitational influence on me than Venus or Mars had. That is what Newton’s theory of gravity says.  Electric and magnetic forces tend to cancel because the charges and poles have opposite signs. Electromagnetic radiation or light from Mars is blocked by walls. Then, how can someone be declared a Manglik based on the position of Mars in the birth-chart. 

Is Astrology a Science? is the most common question.  People who believe in astrology and the astrologers strongly claim that that astrology is a precise science.

Then What is science? – A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

If it is a science, can astrologers work backwards if shown a birth chart and predict the time of birth? Why don’t two different astrologers agree on their predictions?  Why is that the recourse to overcome birth-chart issues suggested by two astrologers differ?

How come twins or triplets born at the same time lead different life paths when the influence of the stars is the same on them?

The Earth’s rotational axis processes with a 26,000-year period that is, the North-South directional axis of the earth wobbles around.  Polaris, the pole star of today wasn’t the pole star of the Northern hemisphere 4,800 years ago – it was then the star Thuban.  After 2000 years, earth’s axis will process and move away from Polaris.  For an observer from the earth, it appears that all stars move around the Polaris. Similar are the locations of the Zodiac’s – they too will change with respect to Earth in times to come.

In the Indian astrology, Rahu plays an important part. According to Vedic astrology Rahu is an inauspicious planet. During transition of planets the time under the influence of Rahu should be avoided to do any auspicious work.

In Kerala and Thamizh Nadu, Rahu Kalam is avoided for all auspicious activities like marriage rituals, engagement, purchase of stocks, shares, gold, home, car and starting new business or trade.  This is followed by most people irrespective of their religious faith.

Rahu Kaalam is one of the eight segments of the day between sunrise and sunset. Eight segments of the day are calculated by taking the total time between sunrise and sunset at a given place and then dividing this time duration by eight.  Thus, it cannot be constant through all seasons due to varying times of sunrise and sunset, but in practice, Rahu Kaalam lasts for 90 minutes, and the period changes on all days of the week.

Rahu is one of the nine major celestial bodies (navagraha) as per Indian astrology and said to be the king of meteors.  Rahu is usually paired with Ketu, believed to be another shadow planet which is in the house opposite of Rahu in all birth-charts.

In reality, Rahu and Ketu denote the points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon as they move on the celestial sphere. Therefore, Rahu and Ketu are respectively called the North and the South lunar nodes. Eclipses occur when the Sun and the Moon are at one of these points, giving rise to the understanding of swallowing of the Sun and the Moon by the snake.

Rahu and Ketu are imaginary points on the Sun’s/ Moon’s path.  How can an imaginary point have any effect on one’s life? 

If my life is to follow a chart written based on my place and time of birth, it may be fine, but my caste and creed – I do not think so.  I’m surely not a Brahmin!!!!

How I got Out-Lawed in Canada

I took Catherine Parkinson – mother-in-law of our daughter Nidhi – for cataract surgery.  The receptionist, filling out various documents queried, “Who is with you?”

Catherine replied, “My daughter-in-law’s Dad.

Realising that the receptionist did not get it, she said, “My son’s father-in-law.”

Catherines statement confused the receptionist more and she said, “I will write as family.”

What is my relationship with Catherine? 

In Thamizh this relationship is well defined as சம்பந்தி (Sambanthi.)  It is the same in Hindi, Bengali and Marathi – सम्बन्धी. 

The term Sambanthi is derived from two words – samam or sama meaning equal and bandanam or bandan meaning relation.

Thus, the literal meaning can be assumed as relationship of equal status.

Sambanthi could also be considered a derivation from the Sanskrit word sambanda or sambandham meaning an alliance as a marriage is more of an alliance between the families of the bride and the groom.

The closest I could define our relationship in English was Co-in-Law, akin to a co-brother – a reciprocal relationship not related by blood between two persons.

Co-brother (plural co-brothers or co-brethren) could mean one’s colleague in some profession or trade.  The word does not find a place in many English Dictionaries. In India, co-brother is used to describe the relationship between two men married to two blood sisters- one’s wife’s sister’s husband.

Sambandham in Malayalam, the word closest to sambanthi, has a different connotation.

In Kerala in certain communities, women had a special status as they followed a matriarchal system of inheritance of wealth and property. Some families follow this tradition even today though many have moved on to some form of patriarchal system. A lady from these communities could enter into cohabitation (live-in relationship) with men and this co-habitation was called as Sambandam. The male gave a white mundu (dhothi) to the lady. The acceptance of mundu was considered as consummation of the alliance and permission to enter the lady’s bedroom. Colloquially, today, Sambandaham denotes an alliance or a marriage.

Sambandham is now not practiced, but sambanthi continues, though without an English equivalent.

Real Hindenburg – A Revelation

Hindenburg is in news with expose on Adani.  The company is a short-seller that specialises in forensic financial research, founded in 2017 by Nathan Anderson.

The company’s website claims, ‘We view the Hindenburg as the epitome of a totally man-made, totally avoidable disaster.  We look for similar man-made disasters floating around in the market and aim to shed light on them before they lure in more unsuspecting victims.’

Where does this company get its name Hindenburg?

Let us peep into the history of the real Hindenburg.

Nazi Germany built the largest airship of that time. The airship used highly flammable hydrogen gas for lift off but was vulnerable to explosion.  In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin made an airship that pioneered the first transatlantic air service.  It was named Hindenburg after Paul Von Hindenburg (1847-1934,) a German World War I military commander and President. The airship measured 804 feet from stern to bow.

Why was Helium, a non-combustible gas not used in the German airship?

U.S. law of the time prevented the Hindenburg from using helium.   

Hindenburg’s designer – Hugo Eckener – wanted to use Helium, but the U.S., which had a monopoly on Helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes, banned its export.

After the Hindenburg disaster, owing to American public opinion, the law was amended to allow helium export for nonmilitary use.

Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the airship, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurised to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.

On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, on its flight across the Atlantic to Naval Air Station Lakehurst, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, just outside of New York City.  It was carrying 36 passengers and 61 crew and was captained by Captain Max Pruss.

1n 1936, Hindenburg had crossed the Atlantic, often to Brazil, 34 times.  While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. 13 passengers, 21 crew, and a ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered serious injuries.

Hindenburg’s final flight across the Atlantic was relatively uneventful, other than some headwinds, that slowed it by an hour. When the aircraft flew over New York area, thunderstorms and bad weather thwarted the scheduled late-morning landing at Lakehurst.

To avoid the storm, Captain Pruss flew over Manhattan and out into the Atlantic, to wait until the storm subsided. People of New York ran out of their homes to watch the world’s largest airship overhead. It raised curiosity as it was roughly the size of the Titanic, but it flew overhead.

Around 6 PM, the storms passed, and Captain Pruss ordered his ship to Lakehurst, almost a half-day late. By 7 PM, the Hindenburg was on final approach to Lakehurst, which had mooring mast and a winch. In those days, large airships dropped its lines and cable to be run down through the mooring mast and into the winch, which pulled the airship to the ground.  This procedure was called Flying Moor.

When Hindenburg was at an altitude of 295 feet, the mooring lines were dropped to the ground as a light rain began to fall. The lines were connected through the mooring masts to the winch and as the Flying Moor operations commenced, Hindenburg caught fire.

As the Hindenburg’s flaming tail began to drift toward the earth, the flames moved forward through the different hydrogen-holding cells toward her bow. The ship began falling steeply. When the airship’s stern hit the ground, the fire burst through its nosecone. The entire disaster lasted less than 40 seconds.

Hindenburg disaster marked the end of an era of airships. Then began World War II and arrived speedy fighter aircraft which could easily shoot down the slow-moving airships, blew the death knell to the airship industry.

Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who was at Lakehurst to record a newsreel for NBC, immortalised the Hindenburg disaster in a famous statement, “Oh, the humanity!”

The U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Navy couldn’t come to any solid conclusion in their report and stated ‘the firey disaster was a result of the mixture of free hydrogen and air.’  The mystery Hindenburg disaster lives on, likely never to be definitively solved.

Such are the man-made disasters Hindenburg refers to and the company claims to shed light on them before they lure in more unsuspecting victims.

The Hurricane Subsides

Ms Hazel McCallion, who transformed our city – Mississauga – a suburb of Toronto from a largely rural community into a bustling metropolis during her 36-year tenure as mayor, died at the ripe age of 101 on January 29, 2023.

Nicknamed Hurricane Hazel due to her unique political style, she served 12 terms as the Mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014.

Hazel was born in Port Daniel, Que., on February 14, 1921. Her family owned a fishing and canning company. She attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal after high school. She joined the Canadian Kellogg company and transferred to Toronto. She remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

In 1945, she met her husband Sam, and the couple married six years later. The McCallions then settled in Streetsville (now part of Mississauga,), where Hazel’s political career began. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville,where she lived at the time of her death

Hazel McCallion was the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors at the time of her death. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sat as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail Order Brides

Recently there was an article on social media about Indian expats in Europe still seeking an arranged marriage.  The irony is that it was written by a professional matchmaker of Indian origin based in Europe. 

Arranged marriages among the next gen in our family in India is on the decline.  The youth want to select their mates on their own rather than opt for an arranged marriage.  It could well be that the children are allowed free choice.  Our generation was not allowed this freedom, more out of social and economic considerations. “Who can love whom and by how much was written in the love laws a long time ago,” lamented Arundhati Roy in the God of Small Things. But mercifully by and large the next generation has chosen to break  all abhorrent caste and religious barriers.

Similar is the case in North America, among people of Indian descent.  Most of those who import brides/ grooms or Mail Order Brides/ Grooms – they have not been capable of finding their partners – or they were never allowed to do so.  This mostly happens to children who immigrated in their high-school or later.  For them it is difficult to merge into the North American system of dating.

On migration, the parents are unaware of the social realities of North America.  Like us, many came with imported cultural and social values.  This did not allow for flexibility in parenting and the eldest child generally took the brunt.  By the time the next one reached high school, the strings were loosened, the parents by then a little more flexible.

One of our nieces who migrated while she was in high school is now a surgeon in the US. When her parents thought that she was marriageable, they generously asked her to look for a partner.  She was furious and retorted “You never allowed me to date!  Why? you did not even allow me to return home late! Now you want me to bring a boy home!  Is it feasible?” She settled for an arranged marriage, but her younger sister married her long-time fiancé. In our case, we had migrated when our children were very young and perhaps, we as parents had more time to accept and merge into the new value system. Our daughter Nidhi married her fiancé and our son Nikhil lives with his fiancé.

Many who go in for mail order brides/ grooms are often dependent on their parents economically.  This leaves them no choice other than to follow parental diktats. The situation is often pathetic in such cases. Caught between the nuances of different cultural values, often these marriages end up unhappy. This observation is personal and there is no empirical data to evaluate which system results in happier marriages.   

Nowadays there is a proliferation in the Indian digital marriage market sponsored by various matrimony sites. In the traditional value system the task is now outsourced to these companies.  It does not come cheap.  To this imbroglio, throw in the religious and caste angle coupled with the tenets of astronomy, and we have the comical evolution of a traditional system into the digital age.

About 23 percent of the Canadians who marry overseas from India every year and file international spousal sponsorships have their applications rejected. This has prompted applicants to complain that Canadian visa officers are suspicious of all Indian marriages – even genuine ones.  It’s a crime for a foreign national to marry a Canadian citizen or permanent resident only to gain entry to Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is often not convinced that the relationship is genuine and was entered into for honest reasons.  It is difficult to evaluate the genuineness of these cases, with each spouse telling different versions of events and at times even questioning the genuineness of supporting documents issued by many government institutions. In short, be doubly sure when you marry an overseas citizen.

Remember Dr Balamurali Ambatti, who made it into the Guinness Book of Records for becoming the world’s youngest MD in 1995.  His achievements then were widely celebrated by Indian parents.  Balmurali graduated from Baltimore City College at age 11, graduated from New York University and joined medical school at 14. At age 17, he received his MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Hyderabad police arrested Balmurali Ambati and three members of his family on a complaint filed by Balamurali’s wife that she was harassed by them for not paying a promised dowry.  She said that the family had locked her in a room of her New York City apartment and allowed her to return to India with them on a visit only after she signed a document agreeing to a divorce.

You can visualise the reasons for the episode!!!

Sergeant Roy and Lieutenant Bobak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wearing Military Uniform to Canadian Courts

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

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

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

A Quebec court acquitted General Fortin as the court was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that General Fortin was the culprit in this case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembrance Day Holy Mass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Remembrance Day to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Caused the Suspension Bridge to Break?

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

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

Did the bridge collapse due to overcrowding or overloading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Majestic pachyderms stood with elegance and grace.

Zebras and the geese in contrasting colours attracted kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Images Courtesy

Ever Been Penniless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I picked up the coffee and drove ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasonable Reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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