Who was that Doctor?


In December 1992 I attended the three month long Junior Command Course at the College of Combat (now Army War College), Mhow, India.  The Army War College is a tactical training and research institution of the Indian Army. It develops and evaluates concepts and doctrines for tactics and logistics for the army. The college trains about 1,200 officers of the Indian Army, and also from friendly foreign countries as well as paramilitary forces each year.

The Junior Command (JC) Course aims to train Army officers who have gained theoretical knowledge of warfare and practical skills necessary to lead company-size units in various war situations and terrain.

I went to attend the course with Marina and our little daughter Nidhi was about 20 months old.  As a student officer I was busy attending classes, outdoor exercises, working on solutions for the tactical discussion on the next day or reading.  Marina found that she had lot of time at hand after I left for classes by 7:45 AM.

That was when Marina with the assistance of our neighbour’s wife, a Masters degree holder in music, tried her hand at honing her singing skills.  As a child she had a passion for music and did attend a few classes in preliminary Carnatic music.  Later she joined a boarding school and her musical interests perhaps gave way to athletic ones!

Marina learned to sing a few Hindi songs and Urdu Ghazals.  On return to our Regiment after the course, at a party she sang two Hindi songs and an Urdu Ghazal.  It was a real surprise package for our Regimental officers.  A lady from Kerala who could barely manage to communicate in Hindi until then was now singing classical Urdu Ghazals.  At the end of her singing, our then Commanding Officer Colonel Rajan Anand in appreciation remarked   “Even if Reji hasn’t learnt much during the JC Course, Marina has learnt to sing pretty well.

We had a Regimental Jaaz Band, led by Major Gulshan Kaushik and Marina became part of the band.  Her Hindi and Urdu diction was polished up with the help of both Major Kaushik and Mrs. Ritu Kaushik.


Later, in 2001, while I was posted at Delhi, Marina sang a high pitched song during the Christmas party at home.  Next morning, she was in serious trouble with her vocal cords, so much so that she just could not speak.  She went to the ENT Specialist at the Base Hospital Delhi.  The specialist, a Major from the Army Medical Corps, inserting a scope through her mouth (video-stroboscopy) and showing her the lacerated condition of her vocal cords said “You must have tried to sing at a very high pitch and you are not trained in classical singing.  This is what happens when you suddenly strain your vocal cords.”  He diagnosed it as a case of ‘vocal cord hemorrhage.’

Our larynx, or ‘voice box’ houses the vocal cords and has several groups of muscles that raise or lower it when we sing, swallow or yawn.  Many singers raise their larynx unconsciously when they sing high notes. If the larynx is too high on high notes, it can actually strain the vocal cords.  Vocal trauma, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels of the vocal cords. These may then rupture and bleed.


We are familiar with players or other athletes moving into the injured reserve list.  Similarly, many singers too move into the injured list, resulting in cancellation of many of their performances.  This often happens primarily due to vocal cord hemorrhage.

Diagnosis done, but the most interesting was the treatment – complete voice rest – मौन व्रत  (Mauna Vrat).  That meant she should not strain her vocal cords at all.  She was advised not to speak for a week, else she may even end up losing her speech all together. She had to communicate with the children and me through writing and often through a comic sign language.

The news spreads fast – even in those days before the advent of cell-phones and social media – it spreads faster in the Army circles when an officer’s wife is sick.  By evening there were many visitors calling on to enquire Marina’s health, especially those who were guests at the Christmas party the previous evening.

Every officer who came over had only one serious question “Who was the doctor? May be, I need to take my wife to him for consultation

The lesson I learnt after the ordeal was that children must be put through vocal music training and I ensured that both our children attended vocal music training.  To read more about it, please click here.

Marina & Motorcycle

 

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

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

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

 

A look at Friendship from a Gender Perspective


For most of us, making friends is neither a difficult task nor an uphill climb.  If it were so, we would never have had so many friends at different stages of life.  The aim must be to keep it simple and not complicate it by thinking too much about it.

We make friends from kindergarten to this day in our life and we never really give any serious thought to it.  Some friends are long lasting, some casual and some are ‘once a while’, some have left for the heavenly abode and many are forgotten down the lane.  It all depends on the manner in which we view our friendships. For a person like me, educated in a military school, graduated from two military academies and having served a lifetime in uniform, the bonds are very strong. Whenever I had to call up my friends for any assistance or advice, despite being out of touch for years, they have all responded way beyond my expectations. We may be out of touch for ages, but the bonds are glued all too well that when the link is renewed for whatever reason, the relationship blooms all over yet again.

Our son Nikhil wanted to do volunteer service at Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity at Kolkata for a month.  He booked his air tickets and was planning to look for accommodation near the venue.  Without a second thought, I called Brigadier S Ramakrishnan, my friend since our school days who was then posted at Kolkata, and requested him to help Nikhil to find a suitable place to stay. Without a second thought, he and his charming wife,  Mrs. Vijaya Ramakrishnan welcomed Nikhil into their home and looked after him for the entire duration of his stay.


One day, in June 2018, my close friend and partner in teenage pranks and escapades at school, Vijayabhaskaran (alias Vijas),called me up right out of the blue. Even before he spoke a word, the memory of our many colourful escapades  and the resultant punishments we endured together flashed through my mind. He went on to announce that their daughter Sandhiya, pursuing her engineering education in Germany had found her life partner in Ernesto, a Peruvian citizen.  The marriage was scheduled for 05 January, 2019 at Piura, Peru.  I felt honoured as I was the first one outside the family that he was informing of this cross cultural development.  “Surely, we will be there!” I assured him without a second thought. It was only later that the realisation dawned on me that a school boy friendship was now taking me to a new continent and a lost civilisation where I had not tread before.

I had learnt about Peru in middle school geography and about the Inca civilisation in history.  I knew Peru was in South America, with Lima as its capital.  But where is Piura?  A Google search helped us to locate the venue enabling Marina and I to travel to Peru and attend the wedding.

Vijas and I shared nothing in common – a Tamil Hindu and a Mallu (Malayalam speaking) Christian- brought up in different family and cultural settings, pursuing different professions- Vijas is a top Chef of India who features in the book ‘25 of India’s Biggest Chefs’ by Sagrika Ghoshal.   Our friendship blossomed at school and remains as strong till date, despite the geographic distance that separates us. After school, I served the Indian Army, later migrated to Canada,  whereas Vijas is based in Bangalore. Distances, geography and professions don’t seem to matter much to our lasting friendship.

Now, here is a different perspective. Marina studied in a residential school and was in a hostel for graduation.  She was very excited to join the WhatsApp group of her school friends, but the excitement lasted barely a month.  She remembers most of her school friends, but appears to have forgotten most of her university friends.  Our daughter Nidhi too seems to be treading the very same friendship path as her mother.

Our son Nikhil has four good friends from his school days who belong to different ethnicities around the globe.  They follow different passions and areas of studies – Patrick in literature, Nam in drama, Thomas in art & design, Kevin in music, Nikhil in Pharmacy with a career in the Canadian Military. The Five Boys, they ensure that they get together once a month at Toronto, just to toast their friendship.

Patrick’s grandmother recently passed away at the ripe old age of 91.  She meticulously maintained a dairy.  During her funeral, excerpts from her diary were read.  It contained many references to the Five Boys.  Surely, during their many visits to Patrick’s home, the boys would have kept the old lady in high spirits with all their charm and humour.

After Nikhil’s Graduation Dinner, there were ‘after-party’, ‘after-after-party’ and so on, with lots of alcohol flowing.  Next day noon I picked him up and while driving home he said “I did not know that these girls are so messed up with their friends.  Those we thought were the best of friends were getting at each others’ throats after a few drinks with their bitching and free flow of profanity.   We boys appear to have less complicated relationships.

You can very well call me a sexist, but I am pretty sure that the outlook is poles apart and gender specific.  As in many facets of life, even when it comes to friendship, ‘Men are from Mars and women from Venus’!!

Developing Reading Skills in Children


While on a family trip in our car, Marina asked our son Nikhil, then a University Student, as to how he developed reading skills.  The question was pertinent as Marina had migrated to Canada and I as a single parent had brought him up through his Kindergarten and Grade 1 while I was serving in the Indian Army.  Our daughter Nidhi was initiated into reading much earlier by Marina as she was a home-maker and I was invariably tied up with my military duties.


Nikhil explained “While I was in Kindergarten every evening Dad would read with me stories from many story books that I had inherited from Nidhi.  The story which interested me the most was ‘Three Pigs and a Wolf.’  The book was a well illustrated one from a kid’s point of view and every page had a small sentence, thus easier for me to comprehend.  Dad would use different voices for the three pigs.  The best was he named the third Pig the smartest one as Nikhil.  That held my interest.  Further he would make changes to the story every time he read it and I used to be very inquisitive about it every time he read it to me.”

The four words माता पिता गुरु देवा (Matha Pitha Guru Deva) simply translates  as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. The word sequence originates in the Vedas, the scriptures that contain the essence of Hindu Philosophy. The four words contain an axiomatic truth regarding the order of reverence as laid down in the scriptures, which everyone needs to adopt. Irrespective of religion, down the ages, the idea has always been fundamental to Indian thought. It follows that as Parents You are your child’s first teacher.  Not that one needs a philosophical backing to comprehend this basic truth. It’s just that this basic tenet of human understanding had evolved thousands of years ago, at the very dawn of civilisation.

One of the first tasks of the ‘parent teacher’ is to develop reading skills in your child.  You’ve got to read with your child every day.  Children will always imitate their parents – obviously children of parents who read turn out to posses better reading skills.  Children who are read to will end up loving to read.  It’s got to begin when your child is very young, as soon as you can make him/her sit with you.


When I joined Sainik School in Tamil Nadu in Grade 5, I could neither speak nor read Tamil, the native language of the state.  By interacting with my classmates learning to speak Tamil came very easily, but how to learn to read the language?  When I was in Grade 8, my buddy Vijas gave me an advice which hardly anyone would have heard of – “Look out there, it is the cinema poster for the movie ‘Raja Raja Cholan’.   Read each letter of the Tamil alphabet to form a word and continue the exercise whenever you see a poster while on the run to the dam every morning during Physical Training.”

I employed Vijas’ technique with Nikhil.  While driving – dropping him off at school, picking him up after school, commuting to the swimming pool or tennis court or for music class in the evening – I used to point out to various road signs, billboards, store and restaurant signs on the roadside and make him read them out aloud. Then we would discuss the various aspects of displayed signs.  Every time we came across the McDonald’s logo, he would react differently.


Here is the link to his reaction and reading.  McDonald’s logo is one of the most popular emblems in modern history.  It consists of an arched golden coloured ‘M‘ on a plain red background.  This simple one letter logo with two contrasting colours is bound to stay in the memory of any child, even without the gastronomic connection. Their eyes get promptly zoomed on to this simple logo from a long distance.  Whatever it is, the use of a single letter or the colours, everything homes on to a child’s imagination without making it look complicated.  The mantra is Just Keep It Simple.


What should your child be reading? Priority should obviously be given to what evokes his interest as obviously will sustain the reading habit and improve reading skills. Books about your country, other important places in the world, wild animals or dinosaurs – anything and everything, but age-appropriate.  Fiction – action, fantasy, science fiction, funny stories, comics, all of them foot the bill.  Adventure stories where the child can imagine to be the super-hero, princess, detective, and so on are ideally suited.

When your child raises questions?  Ensure that your child has time to think while he is reading and this can be assessed by the questions that may be thrown at you.  Many a time it could be somewhat uncomfortable too.  Be prepared to answer all the questions and never snub the child.   While answering, instead of preaching, ask a question that will lead your child to talk about what he or she thinks.  That will give confidence to your child that you are listening.


Which language to communicate with your child?
  A pertinent question mainly for the immigrants.  I recommend the language which you and your child are comfortable with.  It need not be English all the time.   Communicating in your mother-tongue will enthuse your child to learn more about your own cultural history.

With the effort you devote to developing your child’s reading skills, your child will grow up to become an excellent reader with strong writing skills. The knowledge gained will eventually transform him/her into and a valuable citizen. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man (Sir Francis Bacon). It’s a gradual flow from one to the other. We all need to remember that even in today’s age of technology there is simply no substitute to reading skills. It will surely reflect on your child’s grades and will make a difference when he or she enters university or the workforce.

You don’t need a lot of special skills to help your child learn to read and write. You need not be super-parents.  Just spending time with your child doing everyday activities with a focus on the ‘written word’ makes all the difference in the world.

Passing Out Parade at Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) Chennai


It was an important milestone for Gentleman Cadet Jerrin Koduvath who passed out from OTA Chennai on 07 March 2020.  The entire Koduvath family were there at the Parameshwaran Drill Square to witness the occasion and bless Jerrin on the auspicious moment of him stepping into being an Officer in 56 Engineer Regiment of Indian Army.


The Drill Square was smartly decked up befitting the ceremony with all military ornamentation.  The most conspicuous was the seating area for guests to witness the parade.  The witnessing area was covered with hydraulically operated awnings extending forward towards the Drill Square.  Under the covered space were rows of permanently fitted comfortable seats and under the awnings were four rows of removable chairs.  A bottle of mineral water was placed on all seats and that was really worth and refreshing.  The ceiling fans ensured a constant movement of air to ward off the Chennai heat and high humidity.


We were 24 family members and all of us ensured that we were at the Drill Square by 5 AM so as to get the seats that offered the best view of the proceedings.


Admiral Karambir Singh, PVSM, AVSM, ADC, reviewed the Parade.


The Cadets marched with precision at the Parameshwaran Drill Square and the proud parents and relatives of the Officer Cadets and dignitaries witnessed the mesmerising parade. 136 Gentleman Cadets and 31 Lady Cadets along with eight Gentleman Cadets and three Lady Cadets from friendly countries were commissioned as Officers following completion of vigorous training at the Passing Out Parade.


At the Parade, it was a pleasant surprise for me to meet Veteran Major General PK Ramachandran and Mrs Hema Ramachandran.  General Ramachandran commanded 75 Medium Regiment at Sikkim and Ambala.


After the Parade, we had a sumptuous breakfast at the Cadets’ Mess and then we moved to Pratap Pipping Lawns for the Pipping Ceremony.  Pratap Pipping Lawns too had excellent seating arrangements facilitating everyone a clear view of the proceedings.


Late Captain Pratap Sing, MVC (P), and I grew up as Lieutenants together at 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) from 1983 to 1988.  In May 1988 he attained martyrdom at Siachen Glacier.  Hence, I was emotionally charged, with my heart thumping, to be at this place, to pip Lieutenant Jerrin Kodvath.  More about Captain Pratap, please click here.


On culmination of all ceremonies, I walked to the Jessami Company living area where a bust of Captain Pratap had been installed by his OTA course-mates.  While training as a Gentleman Cadet at OTA, Captain Pratap was in Jessami Company.  It was a bit disheartening to note that the bust had no resemblance to Captain Pratap.  May be, I would have been among a few who interacted with him closely during his last days in Indian Army.

The Commandant OTA, Officers and staff need to be complimented for exceptional organisational skills and administrative arrangements for conducting such a Parade and all other connected ceremonies.  Everything was as fit as a T.


After the ceremonies got over, a grand tea was hosted for us at the residence of Major Subhash Chander of 75 Medium Regiment, now posted as Instructor at OTA and his wife Preeti.  We, the Koduvath Family stand indebted to Major Subhash and Preeti in extending all-out support and guidance to us for attending all the events connected with the POP and making us extremely comfortable.


With gratitude we the Koduvath Family thank all the staff of Trident Hotel, Chennai for ensuring a comfortable stay for us for three days during the celebrations.  Special thanks to Sudharshan Iyer who recommended Trident Hotel  and Varun Sharma, Trident Hotels for coordinating all arrangements for us.

I Quit Smoking


The Beginnings

I have been a smoker from my Sainik School Grade 11 days – from the age of 16. Then as a young teenager in the late 70s, it was all about imitating movie stars. In those far away times, it was cool to smoke both on and off screen. Time was when the great Tamil Superstar Rajanikanth emerged on screen with a cigarette in hand and his bag of tricks. He would flip a cigarette to his lips with uncanny flair and even light a tossed up cigarette with a single shot from his revolver. From Hollywood to Bollywood many including the likes of Gregory Peck to Amitabh Bachan were not far behind. So yes, I simply wanted to be cool. Or was it an adolescent’s act of defiance? Was I telling the world “I am no more my mamma’s boy” or perhaps “I am grown up now and I am tough!’’?

At the time, I had no idea that three out of four adolescent smokers continue to smoke for most of their adult lives, and one out of the three, would prematurely die of some smoking related issue. Years later when I joined the army, smoking continued to flourish aided by the encouraging environment where it was both macho and fashionable to smoke. In our courses of instruction, many a class would commence with the instructor announcing ‘gentlemen you may smoke if you wish’ and would progress with both the class and the instructor being engulfed in a cloud of smoke. It would sound implausible that an ash tray was provided at the desk of every trainee officer. Also, I still remember the formal dinner night banquets in our unit officers mess, at the end of which cigars and cigarettes were passed around as part of the banquet drill!

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Studies are revealing. Statistics show that three fourths of all smokers attempt to leave smoking a few times every year, often unsuccessfully with the average abstinence lasting only three weeks. Nicotine is found to be more addictive than cocaine although in its pharmacologic effects it is much milder. Nicotine is found to increase speed of reaction and improve performance in tasks requiring sustained attention. Per se nicotine is not all that dangerous, it is the tar and other chemicals in cigarette smoke that causes major health problems. Many smokers also feel that smoking is a big help in stress relief, a boredom remedy, and mood enhancer.

I simply relished the act and often reasoned with myself that I really liked it, it helped me in many ways and there is really no reason to give it up but often I went through the cycle of disgust, wanting to give up and restart in full flourish. While serving with our Regiment in Delhi, our revered senior Battery Commander, a chain smoker with whom I shared many a smoke, died of cardiac arrest while undergoing Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET), a routine activity in the army. The calamity shocked me a great deal but still it did not deter my smoking. Camaraderie in smoking is just as strong as drinking camaraderie and perhaps only a wee bit less intense than the camaraderie in battle! Smoking friends are simply great friends especially when they come to each others’ rescue as the cigarettes run out.

It was not that I did not want to change, to kick the awful habit of smoking, but just could not do it – for many reasons or rather self found excuses – justifying my continuation to smoke.

My wife Marina, from the day we got married in April 1989 could not make the ‘change’ in me to quit smoking.  She tried all the tricks in her bag and ultimately gave up.  Whenever she spoke against my smoking, I very tactfully looked the other way.

Back in my Devlali days, I had a close friend in uniform. He was a defiant smoker who used to boast that he will never quit smoking.  He, would often tell me quite in jest but with all mock seriousness to place a carton of cigarettes in his coffin, when the time comes. Coming from a practising Christian, the joke reflected his passion for the blue smoke.  Then one day his son was diagnosed with cancer and in six months the young one breathed his last.  After all the rituals of the child’s funeral, at night he took me to a dark corner of the backyard, hugged me, wept like a kid and said “Reji, I smoked so much that my son ended up paying for it.  I never smoked in front of my children, but see what fate has done to me.”  The tragedy resulted in his giving up smoking, but I bashed on regardless, so to say. The thought struck me that emotionally disturbing events in the lives of smokers which are perceived as direct consequences of the smoking habit often result in rapid cessation of smoking.

I wanted to frantically quit smoking when: –

  • I panted for breath in the high-altitudes of Kashmir and Sikkim.
  • Undergoing BPET and various other rigorous physical activities.
  • Our children embarrassed me with their innocent questions on my smoking.
  • I saw the pools of desperation in Marina’s eyes.
  • I did my mathematics to calculate the size of the hole I was burning in my pocket.

But the macho man in me could not and would and do it. Bash on regardless!

In January 2018, my friend-philosopher-guide from my Commanding Officer days, a Veteran Brigadier called me up to say that he quit smoking.  We too were smoking comrades both in and out of uniform.   It was all because his daughter was diagnosed with cancer.  She has fought through it and is hale and hearty now. But this too did not deter me from smoking.

In February 2019, we travelled to Peru to attend my dear friend Vijas’ daughter’s wedding.  It was followed by a week-long tour of Peru.  After two days I suffered prostate gland enlargement or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and had to undergo an emergency procedure at a hospital in Peru followed by evacuation to Canada.   My wife blamed it partly to my smoking habit, but this too did not deter me from smoking.


On my last Birthday – 13 March 2019 – our son Nikhil gifted me a JUUL – an e-cigarette to help me quit smoking.  After that, to date I have not smoked.  JUUL was founded by former smokers, James and Adam, with the goal to provide a satisfying alternative for adult smokers.  JUUL’s policy is that they do not want to see a new generation of smokers.

I felt the need to quit for the past 30 years.  I wanted to quit smoking for the past 30 years.  So, it was neither ‘want’ nor ‘need’; but was all about a catalyst.  Our son gifting me a JUUL acted as a catalyst.

The Way Ahead?

Thanks to the initiative by many production houses and sensible movie stars, scenes depicting smoking is now mostly off screen barring a few senseless ones.  Mere statutory warning on the cigarette pack or on screen is simply not good enough.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, analysis of cross-sectional data from 2006-2013 shows the rate of onset of cigarette smoking among young adults (6.3 percent) was more than three times higher than onset among adolescents (1.9 percent) during this time.  Hence all educational effort must target young adults to achieve any worthwhile results.

Banning cigarette advertisements and sponsorship at entertainment or sports events, and prohibiting free sampling of tobacco products and non-tobacco branded items are worthwhile measures to keep young adults off cigarettes.  Young adults are less monitored and more independent, thus prone to carry on smoking and using other tobacco products.

Meanwhile the tobacco lobby continues to grow from strength to strength with a profit only motive as their inspiration. Reasonably strong worldwide legislation would be required to shackle the tobacco industry.

We have many miles to go in educating young adults about the awful habit of smoking and use of other tobacco products.

Newlyweds Do Fight


Almost all married people fight, although many are ashamed to admit it. Actually a marriage in which no quarreling at all takes place may well be one that is dead or dying from emotional undernourishment. If you care, you probably fight” said noted American author Flora Davis.

Captain Deepak Malik (name changed), a young officer, newlywed, once sought my interview as he had some pressing private issues.  I ordered him to meet me next morning at 11 AM.  All the while I tried to fathom as to what could be the problem he might be facing.  Is it that his young wife has not been able to adjust to the Indian Army’s way of life?  Is it that she is scared of me as the Commanding Officer?  Is it that she felt that some officers or soldiers misbehaved with her?  My mind went into an overdrive, searching for all possible problems a young couple could face.  Surely, I was preparing myself as to how to deal with it.

Next morning at 11 AM, Captain Malik showed up at my office.  I asked him “What is the pressing issue?“.  Taking a long deep breath, he answered “Sir, everyday there is a fight between my wife and me.  It is becoming too much for me to handle.

How many times do you fight?”  I questioned.  “Once a day” was his prompt reply.

Oh! that is not an issue at all.  When we got married, we fought twice on a working day and four times on a holiday.  Young man, you are doing pretty well.  Remember, your wife is an individual, she comes from a different family and background.  It is natural to have differences of opinion and at this age and it got to end up in a fight.  If you do not fight, then there is a problem – either of you are faking it.  Now get off from my office and attend to your work”  I said to him, feeling relieved.

After a month, I met the couple at the Officers’ Mess function and I enquired about their well being.  Captain Malik said “I asked for the Commanding Officer’s interview thinking that after hearing my sob story, he might excuse me the morning Physical Training, instead he gave me kick and threw me out.   Now I realise what married life is all about.”

Marriage is all about communication – honest, frank, open, accepting and respecting.  It must be full of love for each other.  It should neither be sarcastic nor hurtful.

It is an art as to how newlyweds deal with arguments, big and small.  They end up causing heartburn and a lot of tension in marriage. Both partners need to find a communication style that works for both and respect the boundaries mutually set.

It is mostly small and pretty issues which end up in arguments, at times running out of hand.  It could be about the ‘mess’ in the bedroom, clutter in the washroom,  what to watch on TV, what to eat for dinner, which movie to go, visiting family members, how often you spend time with each other’s friends – the list is endless, even though very small.

Life of a newlywed is challenging – it is all about adjustments and at times compromises – many were least expecting these. Reality dawns on the couple  when they live together, away from their parents.  It is all the more challenging for an Army wife who hails from a non-Military background.  It is going to be a roller coaster ride for the bride and she is bound to be scared at each step.  The husband got to explain everything in detail to her and provide more than needed support for her to adjust to the military environs.

Taking a holiday and travelling to a place of interest to both will do a lot good.  Sometimes this may also lead to a fight, but the thrill of the first holiday together will much outweigh the fight.   This time can be utilised to review your progress together and also plan for future.

His money – Her money – Our money‘ – especially when both spouses are earning – is another point for a fight.  Now you got to row the boat together, hence the need for proper budgeting after mutual discussions.

When you marry someone, you marry into a family. Learning how to live with each other’s family needs ‘diplomatic’ skills many a time. Always keep the interest of your spouse ahead of everyone else.

Each of you are individuals and hence need ‘my time’.  Allow your spouse this benefit too- to pursue hobbies or interests or even lazing around doing nothing.  You both will have many interests common and many divergent.  You got to accommodate each other.

Sex is an important part of married life.  Both got to be expressive and enjoy the pleasure.  It is not all about the ‘physical sex’ on which you spend no more than five minutes.  It is all about foreplay, caressing, speaking those lovely lines and so on.  Go as far as your imagination can take you, but be equally careful not to make it a nightmare for your partner.  When one partner feels there isn’t enough sex, it will cause issues. Both need to be open and respectful about how you are feeling and your needs.

Everyone has different plans in life. The husband may want a child whereas the wife may not. It could be the in-laws who are more in a hurry to see a grandchild. Either way, having children is a huge decision and can cause tensions if both are not on the same page.

I’ve learned that just because two people argue,
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
And just because they don’t argue,
it doesn’t mean they do.     
Omer Washington

 

God @ Home

House, Frog, Heart, Home, At Home, Fabric, Decoration

A Home appears to be  the most endangered species on earth, especially a  home that is governed by the spirit of God; where people relate to one another with the awareness of the presence of God; where everyone feels that God is part of every activity.

What is the difference between a ‘home’ and a ‘house?’  A house is a physical structure, mostly today made of concrete, wood and masonry, whereas a home is a place where a person ‘belongs.’  A home can be a house or an apartment, a thatched hut,  a tent, a boat, or a cave.

For soldiers, ‘Coming Home‘ means being with their dear ones; to be with their friends and families; to express their love; to relax and have fun.  Soldiers cannot avail leave or vacation whenever they feel like. Their commanding officer has to grant them ‘leave‘.  Their returning from active duty is called ‘Home Coming‘ and not ‘House Coming.’  They come to their ‘Home Towns‘ and not to the towns where their house is located.

A home is where the dad and mom are committed to each other in true love, where they nurture their children to know and follow the Lord.  This concept of a real home is being threatened by the TV serials of the day, with each channel beaming serials about ‘artificial’ homes with members wearing too much make up and always over-dressed; beaming them with vengeance to the society and to each other.  The folks in today’s home watch them without fail, why even the ritual of a family prayer is rescheduled based on the timings of these serials.

A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs.  Making the children do chores at home, making them participate in all family activities, ensuring that their academic pursuits are successful, encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and interest and also their sporting interests and above all communicating with them to achieve the aforesaid is what the parents got to do.

Matha Pitha Guru Deva’ translates into most Indian languages as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. It owes its origin to the Vedic times and is said to be the greatest truth. It is the order of reverence as laid down by the Hindu philosophy.  Today’s generation may call it ‘Matha Pitha Google Deva’

First comes the mother (Matha), obviously as she is the one who carried us in her womb for ten months; developed as into a human being from a mere cell; who gave her essence to create us and brought us into this world.  Then is the father (Pitha), as he has contributed 23 chromosomes. Nearly half your traits are inherited from the father. The mother and the father took us to the teacher (Guru), and it is the guru(s), through their teachings, develop our minds and channelise our thinking. All the three have a very important role in identifying our Gods (Deva) and bringing us closer to the God.

How does this ‘God-centeredness’ play itself out in the practical details of everyday life? To a certain extent it expresses itself differently from situation to situation. Every family, like every individual, is a poem  written by God, and every poem is unique. But there are some common features we can expect to find in a genuinely God-centered home.

A good home is orderly where peace always prevails.  It is simple and is never in chaos.  Violence and confusion of the outside world got to stay out.  The members of the household must decide on what to come in.  The parents got to ensure that the decision to allow ‘what to come in’ must be a joint one, allowing the children to express their point of view and accepting them wherever feasible, even if it at the cost of discomfort to the parents.  Every effort must be to ensure that all family activities are aimed at building the ‘Family Spirit’ where each member values and respects others, irrespective of their age and status.  Joy is characteristic of a true home. It is much more than happiness and joy is deep-rooted in us.  Every day life of every family member would be different. There would be many obstacles and hardships for each member to circumvent.  Here, each family member got to support each other and show the way to get through them.

A home should be safe place where the children can ‘mess up.’  It is surely not a place for ‘perfection.’  The elders must guide the children to come out of the ‘mess‘ they create, so that they are better prepared to face the world outside full of hatred, judgment, sarcasm and violence.   A home should be a retreat where the members can find comfort, rest and healing.  A place where children can retreat after an event or a failure, where they will not be rebuked or made fun of, especially after a failure or after a bad incident.  A scary, stick wielding parent, emanating anger and ever ready to pounce on a kid, is surely not a place any kid would like to return even on a normal or a successful day.

A good home is a place of service.  It got to be full of  kindness, respect, humility, and love. This is where parents discover that serving each other and helping each other is primary.  Parents and children helping each other in daily chores like house cleaning, cooking, laundry – it is all sacred and is the way for a good family.  This attitude of helpfulness is carried forward to the outside world and it all begins at home.  The children learn from parents and build a positive attitude of selflessness.

A God-centered home is a place where the spiritual disciplines are practiced. It provides an environment where every member of the family learns how to live by studying the scriptures, praying, meditating. etc.  A good home is based on God’s purposes for every member of the household. There is a need for every family member to define his Dreams, Aims and Goals.  The children must be guided to choose their own educational and career paths and parents should never lead them holding their nose.  The tendency of only ‘Engineer or Doctor’ must be avoided.  The children got to explore and develop their academic career based on their aptitude, passion and interests.  Parents must ensure that they do not try and live their life through their children.

Always remember “God is the head of the home, an unseen guest at every meal, and a silent listener to every conversation.

Teenage Binge Drinking

Our friend Joseph Kurian (Joe) while cleaning up his daughter Meera’s room found a bottle of Cognac. He wanted to know how to handle the situation.  His fear, the usual one with all North American parents of teens – ‘Going against an 18 year old in America is like threading a mine field with no metal detectors.’

It is very common for kids high school kids to consume alcohol.  I found many of my scotch bottles near empty  a few times.  I knew our son had done the job.  He recently asked me as to why I never asked him about it.  My reply was “Had it been your Dad, he would have poured water to maintain the level, ending up screwing the scotch.  Thank God! You did not do it.

Nikhil said “From where can High-School kids get alcohol?  Obviously they got to take it from their dad’s bar.  Else they have to take help of an adult to procure it from a store that calls for money.  So the easiest way out is always resorted to by the teens and our parties cannot go ahead without alcohol.”

After his high school graduation party, they had after-party and after-after-party at other friend’s homes and we picked him up next morning at 11 AM.  Marina asked him as to how the party was and he said “Most kids did not know how to drink.  They threw up all over and many girls ended up crying.  At the end I realised that every girl was out to stab every other girl in the back – Oh! These Girls are really complicated.  We boys are much simpler. My group did not have any problem as I had taught them how to drink.”

“What have you learned?” Marina asked.

Nikhil explained that “You take a glass of water, take a bite before drinking.  Take time with the first drink – Do not gulp it down.  Take a bite, drink a  glass of water, take a stroll through the party hall, dance for a song, release the pressure in the washroom if needed and the ritual continues for the entire night.”

Now Marina asked “Who taught you this?”

Dad” came the instant answer.

Marina vented everything on to me to which Nikhil said “You do not teach swimming to a kid by standing on the ground.  You got to put him in Water.”

Now Joe  has to put Meera in Water and help her tread it.  She needs an instructor, a coach to tread this ‘water’ and surely there is a need for a lifeguard.  Who else can do this better than the Dad?  All rolled into one.

Teens have been experimenting with alcohol.  During teenage the kids are more vulnerable to addiction as the pleasure center of the brain matures much before the decision making part.  Most of these teens give up on alcohol as they grow up as the ‘thrill’ dies down.  Kids who have their first drink at age 14 or younger are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try alcohol until the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA).

It is interesting to note that 19 countries do not lay down any MLDA like  Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Indonesia, etc.

Countries where MLDA is between 16 and 17 are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, etc.

MLDA is between 18 and 19 in  Australia, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vatican City, etc.

It is capped at 20 in Iceland, Japan, Paraguay, Thailand and Uzbekistan and is at 21 in USA, Sri Lanka etc.

In 16 countries it is illegal to consume alcohol; at any age – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In India MLDA is between 18 and 25.  It varies by state. In New Delhi, MLDA is 25, while in Goa it is 18.  For sure, no one implements it and there is no one to monitor it.  Most of our nephews and nieces in India, Canada and US said they had alcohol during their high school days.

Binge drinking, that is consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, may cause teens to pass out, feel sick, or behave abnormally.  As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, drinking too much, too fast, slows bodily functions, resulting in the drinker to lose consciousness.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher, relative or friend, one has an important role to play.  Kids from families where alcohol dependency or abuse is more appear to keep away from it.    Preserving family rituals, such as keeping established daily routines and celebrating holidays, also can make a difference in steering kids clear of alcohol abuse.

The need of the hour is to openly communicate with the teens about alcohol.  Many are not sure as to when to commence talking about it.  The teens are always confused as to what to drink and when to commence.  Mostly it is a group activity ending up in a ‘show-off’ scenario.  The parents need to set the stage early by letting the teens know that they can talk to you about anything, without the heavens coming down.

Our nephew Jojy, an engineering graduate commented that had the situation like Meera’s happened to his sister at home, he cannot imagine the resultant actions.  Marina often speaks to our kids about her father and my younger brother who went in for alcohol de-addiction programmes.  She also speaks about her and my experiences with drinking.

It is very important for the parents to set a practical MLDA at home.  The ultimate is communication with the children and in awkward situation, take a deep breath, think about your own teenage days and express your feelings in a positive way, without any finger pointing or pontification.

Please read my earlier Blog Post ‘Importance of Parent-Child Communication’ by clicking here.

Teenage binge drinking is resorted to by many teens, but never deal with it lightly.  It is ultimately your open communication and knowing your kid will pay rich dividends in all such matters.

My conversation with Joe ended with a note ‘Meera seems to be very classy – she got a costly Cognac bottle.  Next would be a condom! So, start preparing for it.  We will cross the bridge when it comes.  I do not want to preempt you with my dose of advise.’

പഴങ്കഞ്ഞി (Pazhankanji)

Pazhankanji – fermented previous day’s cooked rice soaked in plain water – was served every morning at our home while we were growing up.  It was mostly accompanied by a pickle or ഉപ്പുമാങ്ങ  (Uppumanga) chutney.  Uppumanga is pickled tender mangoes in  brine.  After harvesting the tender mangos, generally in March-April, they are washed clean, dried and put into a large china-clay pitcher called a ഭരണി  (Bharani) with  brine and lot of fresh green chillies.  The mangos are now left to pickle up and is used to make chutney, with or without coconut, during the monsoons (June till September).  At that time availability of vegetables from our farmland around the house would deplete as new saplings would have been planted with the commencement of monsoons.  Obviously they would be growing up to yield their produce.

Amma used to make chutney with the Uppumanga and the accompanying chillies by grinding it with the small red onions and grated coconut.  She also used it to prepare prawn curry with it. I relished the brine from the Bharani which had the flavour of both the mango and the chili.  My brothers too loved it and obviously it was a strict ‘no-no’ for us to dip our hands into the Bharani as it would spoil the Uppumanga  Amma treasured.  Our hands would be dirty or wet and she did not want the mangos to be infected with fungus.  She had a special തവി(Thavi), a large ladle made of  half shell of a coconut with a long handle made from coconut wood, to take out the mangoes.

Amma cooked every morning prior to leaving to the school where she taught and in the evening on return.  The rice for the dinner was cooked in the evening and I observed that she always cooked an extra cup of rice.  On inquiry, she said it is for the guests who might come calling on in the evening.  In those days the last trip of the bus to Kottayam town was at 7 PM and all relatives who came over had to spend the night at our home.  Our home was about 20 km from our ancestral village as our father moved there next to Amma’s school so that she could spend more time at home and with us children.

Any rice left over after dinner was placed in an earthen pot soaked in water and left to ferment overnight at room temperature.  We did not have a fridge by then and hence this was the only way to store the leftover rice.  Next morning it was served as Pazhankanji. It really tasted a lot better when one had it using a spoon made out of a Jack-Fruit leaf as shown in the image above.  In case poor and hungry people came calling, they would be served this.   If any of it was still left, it was put in the feed for the cows we reared.

As per Ayurveda and common popular belief,  consuming Pazhankanji has the  following advantages:-

  • Rich in B6 and B12 Vitamins.
  • Easy to digest and hence the body feels less tired and one feels fresh throughout the day.
  • Beneficial bacteria get produced in abundance for the body.
  • Excessive heat retained in the body overnight is relieved .
  • Reduces constipation as this is very fibrous..
  • It is said to lower blood pressure and hypertension subsides appreciably.
  • This removes allergy induced problems and also skin-related ailments.
  • It removes all types of ulcers in the body.
  • It helps in maintaining youthful and radiant look.
  • Consuming this is believed to reduce craving for tea or coffee.

From where does the rice, known as കുത്തരി  (Kuththari), to make this divine Pazhankanji come from?

Rice from our paddy field after harvesting is stocked in പത്താഴം (Pathazham), a large wooden box.  About 50 kg of this raw harvested rice it is taken out and boiled in the evening in a large copper vessel  until the husk break open a little.  This is left overnight and next morning it is drained and sun dried on a തഴപ്പായ് (Thazhappay) – a mat of 12 feet by 30 feet made from the leaves of screw pine.  We children had to be sentries for the rice being dried in the sun to ensure that the brood of fowls we reared did not feast on the rice and also to shoo away the crows.  Another task was to turn the rice over using our hands and feet to ensure exposing of the entire rice to the sun to facilitate even drying.  In case one spotted a rain bearing cloud, one had to alert every member of the household to come out to pack up the rice and the mat.  In case they got wet, fungus infection was a sure shot thing in humid Kerala.  The only other task one was permitted during this sentry duty was to read a book.

After about two to three such rounds of sun drying was complete, the rice used to be packed in gunny bags and had to be transported to the rice mill for de-husking operation.  Our eldest brother was the mission commander and he used to hire a hand cart and we siblings used to load it up and push the cart to the mill with our eldest brother manning the controls of the hand cart in front.  At the rice mill, the semi-polished rice would emerge out through a chute, the outer husk through another and the edible Bran – തവിട് (Thavidu) through another.  We had to collect these in different gunny bags and load them up in the hand cart.  After paying up the mill owner was the return journey home.  The inedible husk was used as fuel to be burned with firewood to boil the next lot of raw rice and the bran found its way to the cows’ feed.

A part of the rice husk was burned and the residue was sieved and to the fine powder.  Salt, powdered pepper and cloves were added to this to form ഉമ്മിക്കരി (Umikkari). This was used as tooth powder by all of us.  I was least surprised by the advertisements of modern toothpaste manufacturers claiming that they have all the ingredients that made up our Ummikkari in their product.

In the earlier days, when I was a little child, prior to the establishment of the rice mill, Amma would hire women folk to do the de-husking operation in an ഉരൽ (Ural).  Ural is a stone cylinder about two feet tall and two feet in diameter.  On the top surface, a hole, six inch in diameter and depth is chiseled out to hold rice.  There is a five feet tall baton made of hardwood, with a metallic cover at the base, which is lifted up and pounded on the material inside the hole.  Perfecting the art of not spilling the contents while pounding is developed over time – to start with for any learner, the speed of pounding is a bit slow, but with practice, the speed really picks up.  In my younger days I have seen two ladies doing this in tandem.  Real precision timing and coordination is required for each pounding, else it could spell disaster.

With the advent of modern household appliances like grinders, fridges. mixies, etc and availability of pre-prepared, sorted  and cleaned rice and various other products have surely reduced the workload, but the taste of the natural rice still lingers on my taste buds.  The fridges for sure have made Pazhankanji a history, even in our home.

How Did You Manage It?

child
Our father, a primary school headmaster, always believed that it would be better to have the children born in March (Pisceans) as it would ensure that the child when joining school does not have to waste a few months. Nowadays it is mandatory that the child must be six years (in our school days it was five) old on the first day of school – 01 June. There had been many instances when the parents wanted the child to begin school early, especially those who missed the age barrier by a few days or a month or two. In the good old days, the parents and the headmaster could mutually agree to enter in records a suitable date of birth to ensure entry into school. This resulted many of our generation (including my wife Marina) ending up with two dates of birth – one the actual day they were born and the other the ‘official’ one. All four of us brothers were actually born Pisceans and we never had this problem of two dates to remember.

On taking over command of the unit, I went full steam automating the administrative functions in the unit and the first priority was to automate the records of the men under command.  This was to ensure that all their necessary documentation were up to date, they receive all their pay and allowances and are fully qualified for promotion to the next rank. The very first step was data capture from the existing manual records. After most data were transferred to the digital media, I called up each individual soldier for an interview to fill in the gaps. As we were deployed in the operational area at that time, this interviews went on till late at night. More than collecting the data, it helped me to a great extent to know the men better as I was totally new to the regiment.

First use of the data captured was to make the weekly Regimental Order look more colourful. Not only that it was printed using a colour printer, the contents were also changed to be colourful. The routine stuff of Duty Officers, punishments etc were all printed in black and the goodies in colour. The goodies included wishes on festivals, compliments for achievements of the men and a special wish from the Commanding Officer (CO) on the soldier’s birthdays. With the data captured, I could easily print out the list of men celebrating their birthdays in the week ahead.

On analysing the data of the unit, I realised that about 20% of the men were born on the first day of the year (01/01) and about 30% born on the first day of the month, especially March, April and May. I concluded that like our father, their school headmasters also would have done the trick.

Case of Marina and her sibling is even better – they all have one ‘official’ birthday – 25 May. The secret was that their grandfather was the headmaster of the primary school and he had taken some liking to that date, like most headmasters of that time.  That is why many in our generation would have their official birthdays in and around 25 May – a few days before 01 June. Now in case I got to get them all for our daughter’s wedding in Canada and when I apply for their Visas, the Canadian Immigration will have a lot of questions and also a lot to analyse.

During my bachelor days, on a vacation home, along with our father, we went to attend a baptism in the family. In those days we had a Bajaj scooter at home and we took off. Being the month of June, the monsoon was in full fury and we had to stop enroute and take shelter in a tea-shop. I ordered two cups of tea and our father said “that is why I always say you should plan your children to be born in March”. I immediately asked him “How did you manage?” and he gave out his characteristic sly smile.

Years rolled by and in 1997, we were blessed with our son Nikhil on 16 March. At that time we were located at Pune as I was attending the Technical Staff Officers Course. As customary of the Orthodox Syrian Christians, the baptism had to be done after two months and our son had to take on our father’s name and our father had to be the God Father. During the baptism ceremony, it is the God Father who carries the child to the church and also say the pledges for the child. The entire family congregated at Pune for the occasion. After the ceremony got over, our father asked me “How did you manage?” and I too passed a sly smile. (Our daughter Nidhi was born on 20 March 1991 and I was born on 13 March 1962).

The secret is that both our children were due on 13 March, my birthday, but the gynecologist decided to delay their arrivals.

Climbing the CN Tower

CNTower
CN (Canadian National) Tower is a 553.33 m-high (1,815.4 ft) concrete communications and observation tower in Toronto,  Canada.   It was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline, and a symbol of Canada, attracting more than two million international visitors annually.  Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower, following the railway’s decision to divest non-core freight railway assets.

The idea of the CN Tower originated in 1968 when the Canadian National Railway wanted to build a large TV and radio communication platform to serve the Toronto area.  As Toronto grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, multiple skyscrapers were constructed in the downtown core and the reflective nature of the new buildings compromised the quality of broadcast signals necessitating new, higher antennas that were at least 300 m tall.  The CN Tower opened on 01 October 1976, but soon microwave communication and terrestrial TV/Radio transmissions were overtaken by satellite communication.  Now the tower is more of a tourist attraction and may be raking in more money than what it was intended for.

The 1,776 steps of the CN Tower’s main stairwell are climbed by over 20,000 people annually during two fundraising stair climbs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Way raising well over $3 million for charity every year.  A trek up one of the tallest buildings in the world, the CN Tower Climb is one of the steepest physical challenges in the city.  Climbers face 144 flights of stairs with 1,776 steps, but the knowledge that all that hard work benefits a worthy cause like the United Way or the WWF, and with a bit of help from rest spots along the way, it’s sure to be a feat for over 10,000 climbers, who will look back on with pride.

Our family decided to undertake the feat on 21 April 2012, the day of the WWF climb.  We all practiced for a week by climbing up and down the two flights of stairs at home and going for a jog in the evening.  Our children were enthusiastic about the feat, but were a bit scared about their parents.  Appa had left the army eight years before and added a few inches around his waist and Marina, a school days Kerala State 400m winner, had been out of physical activity for a long time.  So each one decided to take along each of the parents and proving Sigmund Freud correct, our daughter Nidhi decided to accompany Appa and our Son Nikhil decided to go along with Marina.  All set we took off early morning and reached the CN Tower.  We had to shed all our jackets at the registration counter and loose objects like coins, keys, cell phones, water bottles etc are not allowed because in case anything falls off, it is sure to hurt someone climbing below.

There were thousands of people either climbing the tower or queuing up at the registration counters.  We commenced our climb after a frisking for loose objects.  Marina was bit slow to begin with and Nikhil kept company.  Nidhi and self started well with Nidhi leading the way, until about 100 flights of stairs and then realised that Appa still had it in him and I reached the top, first amongst us in about 25 minutes.  Our daughter followed a few minutes later.

The organisation enroute is worth mentioning.  There is a para-medic every four flights of stairs to take care of any medical emergencies.  There were posters made by school children, bringing out the importance of wild life conservation and also about the climb, placed at the landing area after each flight.  As we reached on top, a bottle of water was handed over to each participant.  There were climbers of all ages – from kids to grandparents, differently-able, amputees, veterans, etc.

After about 20 minutes we saw Nikhil pushing Marina out of the last step.  I asked him as to how they took 45 minutes to climb up to which he Marina said that Nikhil was all the way pushing and prodding her, and waiting with her when she took breaks and she would not have completed this climb without his assistance.  I felt really happy about his deed to take care of his mother and I asked him as to why he did not leave her and climb in good time as she would have somehow managed her way up.  To this Nikhil said that this may be the only time when Marina would climb the tower and he can do it in a shorter time later.  It was real moment of pride for all of us and I said to him that he did a great job in taking care of his mother and many teens would not have done so and I see a bright star in the sky in you.

CNTower2

On reaching home in the afternoon, an Indian family friend called us to enquire about the climb.  He asked as to how much we paid and I said that we had to pay $100 per climber as charity to WWF.  To this he said that going up the elevator costs only $25 and you pay $100 to strain yourself and climb all the way.  I did not say a word in response.

In the evening another Indian friend wanted to know as to why I took the entire family for such an ordeal (in case you are mad, you could have done it yourself), and I said that it was aimed to boost self confidence and leadership qualities in children and also to encourage charity for a cause like WWF.  To this he said that he did not understand the connection between climbing 1776 steps and leadership qualities to which I did not respond.

My First Sex Education

MySexEd
During our childhood my brother, the youngest in the family, then aged four, came up with an unusual request. He wanted someone younger to him. It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid, a goat’s kid, a female one.  That was how goat rearing commenced at our home.

In the evenings, after school, we used to take the goat out into our farmland for grazing.  We had to be on the lookout to ensure that the goat did not forage on the Tapioca (Kasava) cultivation, mainly to save the cultivation and also to save the goat from food poisoning. Little did I then know that the toxicity of the tapioca foliage was due to the presence Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN).    During the Monsoon rains, we had to cut the necessary forage from the trees which acted as support for the black pepper wines.

The kid grew real fast with all the attention and forage that we children heaped on her.  In a year she matured into a beautiful doe and was ready for a mate.  A Doe would come to heat by the end of summer and it lasts for two or three days and the cycle is repeated every three weeks.

In Kerala, the schools reopen after the summer vacations on 01 June but my Alma Mater, Sainik School Amravathinagar, reopens only by 15 June.  During my Grade 7 summer vacation, after the schools reopened for my brothers, our doe bleated one entire night.  In the morning Amma said that the doe is on heat and it is time to mate her.  That day our farm-hand did not turn up as he had pneumonia due to drenching in the monsoon showers the previous day.  I was the only one now free to take the doe for mating.

The village had a tea-shop run by a man named Kuttappai.  The tea-shop served as the meeting place for all village elders and doubled up as a reading room.  All dailies and magazines published from Kottayam found their way there.  It also served as the village ‘parliament’.  It was indeed a house of knowledge, and doubled up as a cultural-political-social-entertainment institution, where anything and everything under the sun – from international relations to state and village politics; science to the Bible; communism to capitalism – were discussed.  Gossips too found their way in, obviously as spicy as the narrator could make it.

Kuttappai reared a flock of goats housed in a thatched shed to the rear of the tea-shop.  He used the milk from the goats to make tea and obviously the village folk relished his special tea.  The flock was led by a majestic buck.  The buck also served as the village stud and Kuttappai charged Rs 10 for every mating.

At about 11 o’ clock, I walked our doe to Kuttappai’s tea shop, as per Amma’s advise because that was the time  when the tea-shop would be empty of customers as people would have returned home after fiery debates and discussions.  Obviously that was the only time Kuttappai would be free to facilitate the mating.

On reaching the tea-shop, Kuttappai instructed me to tie our doe closely on to a coconut tree adjacent to the goat shed.  The smell and sight of the doe in heat made the buck tied in the shed restless and his snorting and kicking increased, at times reaching a violent stage as if he would bring the entire shed down.

After 15 minutes, Kuttappai emerged from his tea-shop.  The buck was tied with a long rope and Kuttappai released him so as to make him reach the doe.  The buck went around the doe, smelled and licked her vulva and when he was about to mount her, Kuttappai pulled him back into the shed and tied him up.  That was a staged foreplay for the buck.

Now the buck had turned real violent as the frequency of his kicking multiplied and the volume of his snorts became louder.  After 10 minutes Kuttappai again released the buck and he came charging in and mounted the doe and the entire mating was completed in a few seconds.  Kuttappai now pulled the buck back into the shed and like a conqueror, the buck stood with his head high, but the tone of his snorts had changed as if to announce his accomplishment.

A doe generally gets into heat in the later part of summer and in Kerala it coincides with the onset of Monsoons (June to September).  There are certain indications the doe gives out when in heat.  Her vulva swells and become red, and she may have some vaginal discharge.    She tends to eat less and become restless because the hormones associated with fertility kick in.  A milk producing doe may decrease her milk production due to the hormonal changes.  Her frequency of tail-wagging suddenly increases and her bleats become longer, especially at night.

During the monsoons when the doe goes into heat, the buck goes into rut.  During rut the buck urinates into his mouth and on his chest, face, and beard, turning them yellow.  The scent glands near his horns become overactive.  These lead to an unbearable stink – in reality the stink is to attract a doe in heat towards him.  During rut a buck would snort, grunt and kick its hind legs.  It tends to give a terrorising look with its upper lip curled up.

In the evening when Amma returned from school I dutifully reported to her the events of the day and posed some uncomfortable questions about the procedure and the need for it.  The School teacher in Amma responded with poise and she summarised the entire event as an act of depositing the sperm by the buck in the doe’s womb where it would fertilise an egg and would result in the formation of an embryo.  She also explained that the rooster and the hens also did the same and so did humans. Thus began my introduction to sex education.

Maximus Koduvath

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How did Maximus join our family?

In 2007, on a summer day, our children Nidhi and Nikhil approached Marina with an unusual request that they wanted another sibling.  They promised that they would take care of the newborn baby and also that they would bring up the baby. Marina explained that it was a pretty difficult proposition as she had her tubes tied on delivery of Nikhil.  She explained that it would be very difficult for someone to mother a child at her late age and may lead to complications, both for the mother and child.

The children said that in that case we should go in for an adoption.  They wanted a sibling at any cost.  I realised that there was something more to this strange request as the very subject had come up for discussion during the family dinner a year back and was then dismissed for the same reasons.

Now it was my turn and I asked them as to what they really wanted.  Out came the new proposal! “We want a dog”.

Marina and I never before had a dog while we were with the Indian Army, where all the help was available to rear one. Unlike many officers in our Regiment who had a dog or two, we did not choose to have one.

I was of the opinion that it would be difficult to take care of a dog as it has to be reared indoors because of the severe Canadian winter.  Further, having a dog meant taking it out on a walk, irrespective of the weather and cleaning up the poop would add to our routine chores.   Marina, a hygiene freak, did not like the idea of a dog shedding its hair all over the house.

The children had ready answers to resolve our concerns.  Nikhil would take the dog out on a walk, vacuum clean the house and clean the poop in the morning before going to school.  Nidhi would do the same in the evenings after she returned from the university.  They both agreed to sleep with the dog in the family room and train him to use the doggy-door to exit the house for defecating and urinating.

They had also zeroed in on the breed and the breeder from whom we could obtain a black Labrador pup for $750.  The eagerness, enthusiasm and power of their pleas was overpowering. Both of us had to relent and we agreed to pick up the pup during the weekend.

We drove to a village near Windsor, about 350 km, where the breeder lived and picked up a pup.  The children had already thought of a name and christened him Maximus Koduvath, after the hero of the movie Gladiator.

My mind wandered off to our childhood when my younger brother, the youngest in the family, aged four, had then come up with a similar request.  He wanted someone younger to him.  It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid – a goat’s kid.

The children trained the dog, took him out on the walks and kept the house spotlessly clean, for all of one month and gave up steadily thereafter as they had to commit more time to their studies and extra-curricular activities.  Now the dog became mine and I had to do all these, with a bit help from the children.

The morning and evening walk became a ritual for me – come rain, hail or high-water.  I started enjoying my responsibility as the days passed by and Maximus became more and more attached to me.  I couldn’t fathom how strong the emotional bond was until I went to India for three weeks, Maximus refused to eat as I was not there to feed him.  After two days there was an SOS message from the children about Maximus being on a fast unto death.  I now called up home and the call was put on the speaker-phone.  I told Maximus to go and eat.  Maximus was bewildered that he could hear my voice but not see me.  Poor Maximus was obviously unaware of the technological leap that mankind had taken.  After circling around the house a few times and not finding me, he again came to the phone.  Now I repeated my order and Maximus went to his cage to eat his food.

Taking care of Maximus, I too got attached to him.  It seemed he could understand me in which ever language I spoke, be it English, Malayalam, Hindi or Tamil.  I observed him closely and he was indeed an inspiration for me to write  a few blog-posts – Crossing the Highway; Dogs and the Fire Hydrants; First, Middle and Last Name; Adaptation and Pet Emergency.

Thus Maximus became my best friend.  It was Frederick II, King of Prussia, who coined the statement that the dog is man’s best friend.  The saying was popularised by Ogden Nash in his poem titled ‘The Dog’.

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In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi after renouncing their Kingdom, began their journey to the heavens through the Himalayas.  Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas led the way.    At the start of the journey, a dog befriends them and keeps them company throughout.  During the journey, one by one, they fall to their deaths – the first was Draupadi, followed by Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhima.   Yudhishthira continued his journey and all this while, the dog kept him company.  Just before it was time to ascend to the heavens, Indra, the God of Heaven said that only he, Yudhishthira, could enter the heavens and not the dog.  Yudhisthira was adamant that he would not leave his faithful companion behind and enter heaven and sat down at the gate.  He now turned and found that the dog transformed back into its real shape- the God Dharma.

Scientists have proved that dogs use similar brain mechanisms to humans to process social information.  They also found that canines’ brains are sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, like us.  Researchers also found that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, they experience a surge of oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust and love that is released.  This could be responsible for the bonding humans enjoy with dogs.

Humans in general, demand more love than they give. This behaviour lies at the root of most inter personal conflicts. If only we humans have the capacity for unconditional love that dogs do!  The world would be so much a better place!

 

 

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest batsmen in cricketing history recently said that he played a lot of chess with his brother, but without much good result, but he did enjoy the game.  He added that his son too took to chess first and then moved on to cricket.

What are the advantages of chess?  Why should you play chess with your children, at least on weekends?

The best habit you can help create for your child is one that encourages a bond between the two of you. If you play weekly game of chess with them, your kid will feel special.  Become your child’s chess partner and enjoy the results. Always remember that chess is not for nerds! It is for cool parents and cool kids.

Game for of All Ages. You can begin chess at any age and there is no retirement. Age is also not a factor when you are looking for an opponent –you can play with your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – the possibilities are endless.   Chess helps children with physical disabilities to improve their motor skills as the movement of pieces are in the left, right, forward, backward and diagonal ways.

Chess is Fun.   Unlike many of today’s video games, chess leads to interesting conversations as well as unsuspecting humour. The game causes a person to interact with another human being in an activity with endless possibilities.

Creative Game.  No chess game ever repeats itself, which means you create more and more new ideas with each game. It is never boring and repetitive. You always have something to look forward to. Every game you are the general of an army and you alone decide the destiny of your soldiers.

Cheap and Easy Entertainment. Considering the monthly bills of satellite TV, and video games, which reduces real communication between family members, chess is a real good option. The game of chess has been around for centuries, and once you begin to play it, you are sure to be immersed in it. Playing chess with your child gives you an excuse to make time for your child.

Develops Memory. The chess theory is complicated and many players memorise different opening variations. You will also learn to recognise various patterns and remember the variations.  Chess is also a game of experience. If you want to win successive games, you will have to learn from your earlier mistakes. Chess surely enhances your memory power.

Develops Logical Thinking.  The game of chess forces players to multi-task, plan ahead, and make real-time executive decisions. Chess disciplines the mind, which  is ideal for children, as they are constantly yearning for opportunities to be challenged. Chess requires some understanding of logical strategy. Mistakes are inevitable and chess is a never-ending learning process.  Chess develops the capability to predict and foresee consequences of actions.

Promotes Imagination, Concentration and Creativity. It encourages you to be inventive. There are an indefinite amount of beautiful combinations yet to be constructed.  Chess has also proven its ability to calm aggressive children. The need to sit still in one place and concentrate on the board will bring  a calming effect on children.

Self-Motivating. It encourages the search of the best move, the best plan, and the most beautiful continuation out of the endless possibilities. It encourages the everlasting aim towards progress, always steering to ignite the flame of victory.  You are forced to make important decisions influenced only by your own judgment.  The more you practice, the better you will become. You should be ready to lose and learn from your mistakes.

Chess and Psychology.  Chess is one game that teaches a child patience and willpower. It improves a child’s ability to interact with his opponent albeit in a silent way. This enhances confidence as well as self esteem and makes one a good listener. Listening can go a long way in improving interpersonal skills.  Chess tests your sportsmanship in a competitive environment.

Body Language.  An important feature one will learn in chess is the ability to judge body language. Being able to read expressions when a game is in progress is what will help one plan in advance. This, while applicable to the moves on the chess board are equally important in one’s life. Being able to anticipate issues will allow you to plan in advance and this will hold you in good stead no matter what situation you are faced with. Planning ahead has some great rewards, while lack of planning can result in a check mate

Chess and Your Child’s Grades. Chess develops the scientific and logical way of thinking. While playing, you generate numerous variations in your mind. You explore new ideas, try to predict their outcomes and interpret surprising revelations. You decide on a hypothesis, and then you make your move and test it.  Each game is different and there are several numerical possibilities to a strategy. Having to deal with this will develop a scientific way of thinking which is very essential when faced with multiple solutions to a problem. Being able to quickly analyse the effects of each move is what will enhance a child’s mental mathematical as well as analytical abilities.

When in Grade 8, being fascinated by the game, I requested my friend Aravinda Bose to teach me the game and he was all too willing to teach me and take me through my ‘Green Horn’ days.  On returning home for vacations, we procured a chess set from our father and I taught my three other siblings to play chess.  We played each other and learnt a lot from it.  Later I taught our children to play the game and now they beat me hollow. From my experience of learning and teaching the game at a young age, one of the recommended methodology to teach chess to children would be as follows.

Acquire pictures of the characters in medieval time warfare from the internet. Then introduce the child to the Pawn first and explain that persons’ role in the army. This is to help him develop a personal relationship with the piece which will give a better understanding, or feel, of that piece’s place and role. Place the chess-board on the table with the bottom right hand square as white.  As you play, engage the child in constant conversation directed at the move just made, potential next move, and so on. Explain why this move might not be such a good one, and why this move would be a good one.

Once you believe he is totally comfortable with the moves and responsibilities of the Pawn, introduce the King. After the pictures and description, add him to the board with the Pawns and continue to play. Continue in this theme introducing the other pieces to the child in this manner, taking whatever pace that child requires. Never rush them to the next thing as long as they are still struggling with what they have been doing. Watch closely for signs of boredom and be prepared to stop play and go do something else for a while. By following this methodology when you have finally arrived at a full board of players, your child will have a thorough knowledge of each one, know them like family and be prepared to move into the more complex moves.

If you are fortunate enough to see your child stick with it and learn the game, you will have set the child’s foot on the path to a much easier adjustment in school, better learning abilities and a far greater chance of succeeding in whatever the child attempts.

Importance of Parent-Child Communication

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Often heard from parents of University students that they do not listen to them. It must all be because when the very same children were young, the parents did not have time and energy to listen to them. Obviously, now one cannot expect the children to listen to the very same parents on becoming adults. Communication play a big role in Parent-child relationship, especially in the modern society.

Being an at-home father and having brought up a daughter and a son through their teenage in Canada and also having observed behaviours of many parents and children, some of the aspects that came to my mind are discussed below.

A family and a home is not a private limited company, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs. Making the children do chores at home, making them participate in all family activities, ensuring that their academic pursuits are successful, encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and interest and also their sporting interests and above all communicating with them to achieve the aforesaid is what the parents have got to do.

The rules and ideas suggested below have worked with our family, earlier in the Indian Army environment and now in the Canadian environment. It is neither a remedy or pill for success nor a ‘Dummies for Good Parenting’. You may accept some, modify some and reject some, based on your judgment.

Show Interest.         Convey to the child that you are interested and involved and you are always available for help. Whenever the child speaks to you, make sure that you turn off the television or put the newspaper down. Avoid taking a telephone call however important it may be, as for most of us, nothing can be more important than our children.

Converse in Private. The best communication between you and the child will occur when others are not around. It would be good idea to take the child out for a drive or to a quiet corner in park or a coffee shop. Many a times the child would like to discuss matters in the presence of either the mother or the father or at times both. Our son opens out his mind and discusses all his thoughts and ideas while I drive him to school or for his swimming/ guitar/ tennis lessons. He never discusses these in front of his mother or sister, fearing ridicule. Our daughter identifies with her mother better.

Do Not Dictate.        Putting a child down, especially in front of others, is both embarrassing and disgusting for any child. This will lead only to resentment and hostility, never good communication. Try to physically and mentally get down to the child’s level and then talk.

Never React.            When you hear about a behavior or an incident which makes you angry, do not attempt communication until you regain your cool, because you cannot be objective until then. If you ever admonish the child immediately, you can be rest assured that the child will never report any such instances in the future. Always analyse the situation and try and get maximum details from the child and may be at times from the teachers and friends, and then deliver your judgment. Assist the child in planning some specific steps to the solution and along with it provide or suggest remedial actions or methodology as to how to deal with similar situations in future in a more dignified and mature manner.

Be a Patient Listener.        In case you are tired after a day’s work, you will have to make an extra effort to be an active listener. Coax and encourage your child to bring out more details. Teenagers tend to use slang and at times un-parliamentary language in their narration. Do not ever hang on to these words as the true picture will be lost immediately. You must advise the child to curb his profanity at a later time. Listen carefully and politely. Do not interrupt the child when he is trying to tell his story. Be as courteous to your child as you would be to your best friend.

Preach the Least.   Preaching is never helpful in getting communication open and keeping it open. Never come out with sob stories about the difficulties and lack of facilities you had in your childhood. Avoid using the lines like “You only talk when I am done“; “I know what is best for you“; “Do What I say“; “I never spoke like this to my parents“; etc.

Reporting Procedure.       Always encourage the child to speak to you about what happened at school, at an outing for a movie with friends, a party etc. Always be informed as to where the child is going, who all are accompanying and the back-at-home time. Your questioning technique should be such that the child will inform you all these details prior to even planning an outing with friends. On return from the event, make sure that you obtain a feedback on the activity. Never ask why but always ask what happened. You really need to prod to get the teenager speak about it and what you get will always be the tip of the iceberg, rest you got to extrapolate. Your reactions should be such as to ensure that the child reports such events, without asking, in future. Nowadays when I pick up the children after an event, on entering the car, they start off with their briefing.

Encourage, Accept and Appreciate.     Show that you accept your child , regardless of what he/she has or has not done. Always appreciate the child for the 93% marks he scored than admonishing him for the 7% he lost. You got to encourage him and advise him as to how he can do better. Say a word of appreciation like “Thank you” or “You did a nice job“, when the child does any chores at home. Never use put-down words or statements like “Stupid, that makes no sense at all” or “What do you know, you are only a child“. Once when our son made a cup of coffee and brought it up to my table. I took a sip and I heard our son say “Welcome”. I realised my folly that I had failed to appreciate his effort and the least he expected was a “Thank You“. In India we take many such actions for granted and have never developed the habit of appreciating, the idea being driven in that if you appreciate, it will spoil the child.

Participative Decision Making.   Involve the children in as much decision making as possible like the colour scheme for the walls of the home, flowers to be planted in the garden, selection of the restaurant and menu for a family dinner, family summer vacation, etc. Try and accommodate all their aspirations, at times against your own interest and wish; you may not get such an opportunity later in life. During our summer vacation to Chicago, our children wanted to go sky-diving. The main point of interest being video graphed during the free fall without the helmets (wearing helmets in the State of Illinois is not mandatory, but wearing goggles are). On reaching the sky-diving center we realised that our son was not eligible to participate being below 18 years of age. So the mother and the daughter sky-dived and the father-son duo decided to undertake the adventure after our son turned 18.

Cultural and Family Barriers.      Try not to bring in any cultural and family reasons regarding the way the teenagers dress, the friends they interact with and activities they are involved in. Many parents persuade their children from wearing short dresses or going out with friends as being ‘Against our culture‘. This tends to make the teenagers rebellious and many end up taking rash and illogical decisions, more to prove to their friends that they are liberated, not bound by their parent’s culture or religious beliefs. During a summer barbeque party at an Indian friend’s place, a teenage girl was surprised to find our daughter in shorts. She inquired as to whether the parents had no objection to the dress. Our daughter said that she was used to wearing shorts back home in India as she grew up in a military environment.   The teenager said that she was not permitted to wear shorts, but she always wore one inside her jeans to school and on reaching the school would  take off her jeans. It is not an uncommon sight around high schools where girls come in fully covered from head to toe and after a few minutes you find them at the smokers’ corner wearing the skimpiest dress.

Parent Teacher Interactions.      “How is my child doing?” is a standard question every parent asks and the standard reply by the teacher will be “very well“. Many fail to understand that it is “very well” to the effort put in by the child and the parent’s involvement. Rather, it would be more prudent to enquire about the behavioral and leaning aspect of the child and the topics being covered in future in the class. This way one can the least contribute to the child’s development.

Remove all Barriers to Communication.          Modern gizmos like the Cell phone, Ipod, Ipad, hand-held gaming consoles etc are always barriers to communication. Children fail to listen to what is being said and to observe what is happening around. One must lay down strict time slots for their use and never allow them to be used during any family time: during the meals, family outings, get-together, etc. The rule at our home or in the car is that when in company of any family member, no ear phones are permitted. In case music is to be played, it should be audible to all.

Sex Education.       The most difficult subject for many parents to broach with their teenage children, but once you take the first bold step towards it, it becomes easier and would always be a rewarding experience. Studies indicate that adolescents whose parents talk to them about sex tend to be less sexually active and more likely to use an effective means of contraception. Many parents are not able to provide all the information about sex that young people need. Only a few ever got a good idea from their parents that helped them talk about sexual issues with their girlfriend/ boyfriend.   Parents must be the primary source of information about sexual and reproductive health for their children and not what they learn from their friends or through media or from the internet. Our son’s favourite line being “All my thirst for sex was quenched the day I discussed it with my dad.”

We humans are a rare species when it comes to parenting. We are conflicted between excessive care and a willingness to let them loose. We are eager to be their friends, but also to set firm boundaries. We want all their problems to vanish in a blink of an eye, but we also want to prepare them to face hardships on their own. We suffer when they make mistakes, but we don’t let them see our suffering. All these paradoxical behaviors build the barriers we face when communicating with our children.

Hen’s Egg Song


Every morning in our childhood, we were woken up by our Rooster’s crowing.  The rooster crows to announce his supremacy in the territory and in the brood.  During the day, one often heard the hens crying loud “bak bak ba kO” after laying an egg. This is often referred to as the hen’s ‘egg song’.

Our house had a barn about 50 meters away from the main building.  It housed the cows and had a room to store hay, the main fodder for the cows.   The hens utilised the hay area to beat the afternoon heat or to save themselves from the heavy monsoon downpours.  The brooding hens stayed there most of the day, hardly ever going out.  Most of the hens laid their eggs too over the hay stacks.  Some would find their way into the house and lay their eggs in the store room where Amma stored the grains and other yields from the farm.  They would also use the area where old newspapers and magazines were stored to lay their eggs.

Hens often resort to ritual singing after she has laid an egg.  The hen’s song generally lasts for a minute or two and at times extend up to five minutes.  Many a times, it turns very irritable to one’s ears and one would wish they would stop their endless singing at the earliest.  It appears that the hens want to broadcast to the world that they have achieved something great.  It is surely a great event in the hen’s day to have laid an egg.  But why do they do it?  Why does a hen feel the need to broadcast to the world that she has laid an egg? Would it not be sensible for them to be silent so as to protect their egg from predators and humans?

One possible explanation is that the hen is feeling proud of the achievement for laying an egg. So, in fact she must be ‘crowing with pride’ about her accomplishment.  It may also be that she is feeling relieved to have it plop out.   Another possibility is that having gone off to lay her egg in private somewhere, she is calling to the rest of the flock to rejoin them.  It could also be that she is protecting her egg by moving away from it and distracting predators from the nest itself and focusing their attention to her instead to keep her egg safe.

The song could also be an invitation to the rooster for mating.  At the end of the song, the rooster would often approach the hen with a dipped wing, waving his colourful tail feathers and dance around her in a circular pattern. It often culminates with a successful mating.  One mating can leave enough sperm to fertilize each egg for up to a week, hence it may not be a daily ritual.

The hens are not only vocal when they lay their eggs, they also make sounds of purring, growling, predator warnings, squawking and calling chicks to food. Certain breeds are more talkative than others and some chicken are louder or quieter depending on their breed and genetic constitution.

We also had a few ducks.  The ducks would quack all through the day and one could never fathom the reason for the ruckus they created.  There was hardly any pattern to it.  They normally laid their eggs at night and would remain quite after their accomplishment.  Sometimes they laid their eggs early in the morning while being taken to the water filled paddy fields.  Mostly these eggs were often lost.  Once the water was drained out from the fields to sow rice, one could often collect many eggs from there.


The duck’s egg is surely much bigger than hen’s.  Some claim that the duck eggs have twice the nutritional value of a hen’s egg and stay fresh for a longer period as compared a hens egg due to their thicker shell.    Duck eggs are rich with Albumen, making cakes and pastries fluffier and richer, as compared to hen’s eggs.  Duck eggs have more Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 apparently prevents irregular heartbeat, reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease inflammation.  That may the reason why the Chinese preserve duck eggs by soaking in brine, or packing each egg in damp, salted charcoal. It is said to be a delicacy and have been known to be edible for years.

The hens announce their accomplishment of laying an egg to the entire world around, but the duck, even though does a better job, keeps quiet after the accomplishment.  We as kids used to get into the hay stacks to look for an egg before the crows snatch it away on hearing the hen’s song.  A few times it turned out to be hoax, as some hens may sing without laying an egg.

The ducks do not brood and do not sit idle in one place, hence poor hatchers.  At our home, a brooding hen hatched the duck eggs.  The hen would take care of the ducklings like her chicks.  After a week or two, the ducklings would jump into the water in the paddy fields and would start swimming.  The poor mother-hen would run  around crying, unable to get into water and swim and unable to get near her ‘chicks’ and protect them.  This event marks the end of the mother-chick relationship and the ducklings now go their way in a flock.

Perhaps, there is a human parallel to this comparison.  A few people execute difficult tasks and accomplish great deeds, but keep quite after all their hard work.  They do not announce it to the world and often their works are recognised many years after their death.    Galileo Galilei – a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer; Vincent van Gogh – Dutch Post-Impressionist painter; Johann Sebastian Bach – as a composer; Gregor Johann Mendel – who discovered the basic principles of Genetics; and the list is endless.

Some people do announce to the world all their accomplishments and many make much noise about small feats.  Some would fake it too; no job but only noise.

May be it’s better to be a hen than a duck in the present days of social media dominated world, where even the silliest activity is broadcast as a great accomplishment.
So, are you a ‘duck type’ or a ‘hen type’?

Nikhil’s Kerala Trip

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In December 2012 our son Nikhil wanted to accompany me on my trip to Kerala as he had two weeks of Christmas vacation.  I asked him the reason behind such a decision and he said that it was to spend a few days with his grandmother, uncles and cousins.  He also wanted to visit all the old temples and churches in Kottayam and what interested him the most was Sree Padmanabha Temple at Trivandrum as he had read a lot about the billions worth of treasure the temple had.

Accordingly we landed early morning in Trivandrum and checked into the Taj Hotel.  He was really astounded by the top quality service rendered by the darwan (Person guarding the main entrance and receives the guests), the bell boy and the room service, the likes of which he had never experienced in all our travel across North America.  After visiting the temple we headed to Kottayam and stayed with my eldest brother, with whom my mother lived.

During every Kerala visit, I make a trip to Kochi to meet my Sainik (Military) School classmates, Veteran Commander Reginald and Mr Roy John (Collector, Customs) and this time too Reginald was gracious enough to arrange an evening at the Naval Institute.  Nikhil was again surprised that once he was about to empty his Coke glass, it was refilled by the waiter, a privilege he had never enjoyed.

Nikhil interacted with his cousins and became closer to them than before.  They saw a Hollywood movie on DVD.  At the end of the movie, one of the cousins commented that it was for the first time he enjoyed and understood a Hollywood movie.  Nikhil all through the movie paused the DVD, explained to them the context  of the scene with respect to the events in North America and its culture; replayed the scene.  Until then they said they never understood the inner meanings of many scenes and obviously never the subtle humour associated with them.  I told them that my plight is still the same and I do not get the essence of many scenes in the movies as I am not as well versed with the North American society as our children – they go to school in Canada.

Interacting with my elder brother who at that time was the Public Prosecutor and a Communist supporter, helped to enhance Nikhil’s knowledge about the legal system in India.  It also gave him an insight into the growth of Communism in India, especially Kerala, resulting in the first democratically elected communist regime under Mr. EMS Namboodirippadu in 1957.  They held many discussions about the relevance of Communism in the world today and how it played a great role in bringing social changes in Kerala.

They discussed as to how the term ‘Kerala Model’ of development was termed and how Kerala achieved improvements in material living conditions reflected in indicators of social development comparable to those of many developed countries, even though the  per capita income is low.  Achievements such as low levels of infant mortality and population growth, high levels of literacy and life expectancy, along with other factors responsible for such achievements were also discussed.  There was a discourse about contribution of various Communists governments in achieving such development when the rest of India lagged very much behind  (obviously not because of the ‘Gulf Money’ as many from North India think as consolation for their lack of progress).

On our way back to Canada, we came through Chennai as we had planned to spend an evening with Major General PK Ramachandran, who was our Commanding Officer and at that time serving with the Area Headquarters at Chennai.  On reaching his residence, the sight of the guards, the way the lawn was manicured and the fabulous garden, the way he was looked after by the General and his wife and all the services he received from the staff at the General’s home seem to have touched a nerve or two in the teenager.  When we went to bed, Nikhil asked me as to why did I leave all these luxuries behind and quit the army and whether I missed these.  To this I said that I really miss all these, but had to make a choice between the family and the army and hence I migrated to Canada to join the family.  Had I continued in the army, they would have visited me during their vacations for few weeks and I would have visited them for two or the most three months (including furlough) in a year.  I was touched by his reply “That is a real sacrifice for our sake”.

One day at Kottayam, we decided to set off on foot to visit the old temples and churches around my elder brother’s home.  Nikhil was finding it difficult to keep up with me and I asked him whether he was feeling good to walk or should we hire an auto-rickshaw.  He said that he had a heavy breakfast as his grandmother wanted him to put on a few kilos and hence piled up his plate.  He was upset that the granny did not realise that his body structure and metabolism did ensure that he remained thin and it was not that he did not eat enough and he added that granny being a school teacher, who is well read and well-traveled should realise these facts.  “You could have always refused her and could have left the meal half eaten”, I said.  “Your mother is too powerful and I can never say ‘no’ to her.  Look at your eldest brother who is four years elder to you and your elder brother, the city’s public prosecutor, they never said ‘no’ to her and instantly obeyed all what she said.  When she was in Canada with us, you never said ‘no’ to her.  How do you expect a little boy like me stand up to her and ever say a word” said Nikhil.

 I then realised that this trip was worth more than a thousand times its cost. The value of knowing one’s roots is often incalculable.

 

Whom Will You Marry?

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(Illustration by Thomas Graham)

During lunch, on his return from classes while in Grade 12, our son Nikhil asked me “Why did you marry Mom?  You never dated her, you did not go to school with her, you did not know her from before.  Your parents selected her, you saw and spoke to her for five minutes and agreed to marry her.  What prompted you to take that decision?”

I said to him that once my parents selected her, they must have seen something good in her and her family.  Her parents and siblings were well educated and she was in her third year of Pharmacy graduation.  Her academic record till then was outstanding, from her high school days until her graduation.  Further, during her high school days, she was the Kerala State champion in 400 meters run.

Now Nikhil wanted to know how it made any difference to me  or to my family.  I explained to him that  by virtue of me  serving as a Major in the Indian Army then, I needed a partner who could cope up with the pressures of being an ‘Army Wife’.  Marina was doing her Pharmacy Graduation at Gulburga in Karnataka State (about 600 km from her home) and hence she had to be independent and ought to have travelled a lot on her own.  She had to be intelligent and hardworking, else she would not have done so well in her Pharmacy course.  Further, she ought to have been physically fit, else she would not have won those laurels in athletics.   She being bit adventurous (I realised after marriage that she was much more adventurous – Please Click Here to read about her adventures), would be an ideal life partner  for me.

Now he wanted to know as to whether it has had any effect on the children.  I explained to him that both of us being physically fit and intelligent, the God has blessed us with two kids, intelligent, smart and physically fit.  The kids have no physical deformities like flat foot, knock knees, bow legs, etc, which has enabled them to do well in sports, music and dance. 

WhomWillMarryWith the volley of questions being fired at me, I realised that there had to something more to it.  I prodded him a bit and he said that Ms Kent, the English teacher, was holding a discussion the next day as to “Whom will you marry? A beautiful woman, a rich woman or an intelligent woman.”  The boys in the class had to present their cases and the girls would cross-examine them. 

I now asked Nikhil as to what his take was.  As expected he said he would marry an intelligent woman.  Now we discussed the pros and cons for each case and at the end I said to him not  to be surprised to find that he might be the only one supporting his case.  I advised him to be well prepared to take on the girls and use all his charms, wit, language skills and oratory skills to manage the situation.  

Next evening, at the family dinner, Marina asked Nikhil as to how the discussion in the class went.  Nikhil said that he was the only one supporting the case for an intelligent woman and the rest of the boys were mostly for a beautiful woman.  After everyone presented their cases, most of the questions from the girls was directed at Nikhil.  One girl asked as to whether he would accept a woman if her father offered him a million dollars.  Nikhil countered it by saying that in case the girl is intelligent, he would not stop at a million, but would make billions.

Another girl asked him “If the woman is so ugly, then how can you move around with her.”  Nikhil’s point was that he wanted a woman who does neither hitches on to him nor he wanted to hitch on to her.  He was marrying her for companionship and not to show her off as a booty.  Further, he would not have to protect her from gazers.

The boldest amongst the girls asked “If the woman is so ugly, then how can you have sex with her.”  Nikhil’s explanation was that the pleasure of sex is mostly from the mind and hardly from the body.  Most animals during their intercourse do not look at their partners.  Most humans have sex either in the darkness or they mostly close their eyes during an intercourse.  Hence beauty  did not matter to him.

Ms Kent wanted to know the source of this piece of information and Nikhil said “It’s from my Dad”.  Now Ms Kent said that she would like to meet me.  After Nikhil said this, I found Nidhi walking away from the dinner table.  She came back after a few minutes and I asked as to where she had been.  She said she was chatting with Ms Kent of the Facebook as to why she wanted to meet up with her Dad.  Ms Kent was Nidhi’s English teacher too and were friends after she graduated from high school.  That was when Ms Kent realised that Nikhil was Nidhi’s sibling.

Thomas  Thomas Graham is a young artist from Mississauga, Canada.  He after graduating from Grade 12 in June 2015 (with Nikhil), is selected to join the prestigious Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University, Toronto, to pursue a degree in illustration and is looking to become an illustrator by profession. 

Marina’s Canadian Journey

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We got married in 1989 and Marina, my wife was then on the third year of her Pharmacy degree at Gulbarga, Karnataka.  I was then undergoing the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) for a year at Devlali. She always came over to Devlali, whenever she could manage a few days off, often travelling in trains without reservations. That used to be a monthly affair and I think the entire course knew when she came over as I invariably managed to skip classes on those days.

In those days there were no cell phones and mind you, no (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) STD or long distance dialling facilities too at Devlali. One had to wait for 9 PM as thereafter the rates came down to a quarter, else it was expensive to make a long distance calls then. Whenever I thought I missed her, I used to sit outside the Telephone office, next to the railway station, book a call to the ladies hostel at Gulbarga and wait for the call to materialise. It used to take an hour for sure and the wait many a times seemed much longer, especially with the mosquitoes buzzing into one’s ears; their bites I did not seem to mind too much (created by the almighty, perhaps they too had a right to live), but never their music. At times there was some company.  A Young Officer trying to call up his girl friend/ fiancé or another officer missing his wife who had gone home for a few days, may be for a marriage in the family or to look up her parents.

Marina was the University topper and after completing her B Pharm degree, we got into ‘family’ life and Marina enjoyed the army wife’s life for a few years. Once the initial fun was over after getting too used to the army life, over the years she got really fed up with it. She found that the wives of many senior officers real dumb who had no interests other than making a career for their husbands.

One day, she decided that she had had enough and said “What use is my B Pharm Degree, for which I slogged for four years?” That is, after eight years of marriage and Army life, she decided to leave me and move to Delhi and try her hand at a business. The business, a joint venture with another Army lady, did not go the way Marina wanted and hence she applied for immigration to Canada.

After applying for immigration, she left the business to her partner and joined a Pharmacy College in Delhi to teach. The main aim was to get back to the subject proper, which she had not been in touch with for last eight years. That was when I got posted to Delhi.

She got the books for the licensing exam for a Pharmacist in Canada from her sister who lives in the US. And thus began her battle with the books all over again and I must say she slogged her way out. She got her Canadian Visa as a permanent resident in February 2002 and at that time, coincidentally I was posted overnight to take over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment in the field during Operation Parakram.

A decision was made – to splinter the family- our son Nikhil, an LKG student, off to my parents in Kerala; our daughter Nidhi Grade 5 student to stay at Delhi with Brigadier GM Sankar, our family friend, until her final examinations in March and then off to Kerala; myself to Rajasthan and Marina to Canada, that too in February when the winter is at its worst in Canada. There was no other option and it had to happen and we simply had to cope.

After the operational deployment, our unit returned to Devlali in November 2002. Our children moved in with me and I became a single parent Commanding Officer.  By then I had established myself well in the unit.  All officers and soldiers were outstanding individuals with a lot of self-confidence.  They understood their tasks pretty well and executed them with finesse.  The unit was indeed a well-oiled machine.  Late Colonel Suresh Babu was the Second-in-Command, who along with other officers ran the Regiment exceptionally well. Our Regiment was clearly the best outfit in town.

Soon thereafter, I was in for a shock as Nikhil, then in Kindergarten, came back to me speaking only Malayalam as he lived in Kerala for six months.  He had completely forgotten Hindi and English, which he spoke very fluently while at Delhi and his brains were now reformatted in Malayalam.  It took a month and some special effort from me and the unit staff to teach him Hindi and English.

On landing in Canada, Marina worked eight hours a day and studied 10 hours a day and in a year cleared all the licensing exams in one go. A herculean effort. There are two written and a practical examination to be cleared and only about 5% of international pharmacy graduates clear it.

After two years of her landing in Canada, Marina obtained her license as a pharmacist after completing her studentship (four months) and internship (six months). Children joined her in March 2004. I bid farewell to arms six months later and moved to Canada in July 2004. Thus began the reunion of a splintered family. What began as a stray thought in Marina’s mind had eventually developed into a passionate endeavour resulting in a cataclysmic change for each member of the family. Are we happy today as a family?  Mostly, it’s an emphatic YES. But sometimes we do miss our people, Kerala and above all the Indian Army environs.

At that time I asked Marina as to how she managed to pass all her licensing exams in a year when most people take a minimum of three years and many up to six. She said it was all hard work as she wanted to get me and children as fast as possible to Canada. Being alone in Canada facilitated her to put in those extra hours of hard work. Further, as she was an Army Wife, she was tough and ready to take on all challenges.  She said she was lucky that she never worked as a pharmacist in India and hence did not learn the ‘wrong’ things.  Thus  no unlearning was required prior to learning the Canadian way of pharmacy management. In her view, she started her studies as if she had not even done her B Pharm and hence could clear all the exams in one go.

Marina with our grandson James.

Canadian Report Card

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The competition we faced back home always prompted us to cross-examine our children when they came home with a report card or a test result.  We always wanted to know as to who got the maximum marks, where does our child stand in the class,  etc.  At the end of Grade 11 of Nikhil in June 20114, when our son came home with the report card, he declared “do not ask me how others did as I have no clue as I did not ask anyone about it”.  It is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public.   The report cards are handed over to the students in a sealed envelope, obviously to ensure confidentiality.

The aim of a progress report in Canada is to enable the students to reach their potential, and to succeed. It is a real challenge for the school as every student is unique and they got to ensure each student gets adequate opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals. The reporting is fair, transparent, and equitable for all students. It supports all students, including those with special education needs and all those learning the language of instruction (English or French). The curriculum is carefully planned to relate to the expectations, learning goals and cater to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students.

All aspects of learning are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course.   The reporting provides a descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement. It also develops students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.

The high school report card looks more like the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) in the army – it appears as if it leaves no aspects of learning skills and work habit of the child uncovered.  The aspects covered in the report are Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Regulation.  Strengths and Steps for Improvement are listed out for each subject separately.

My mind raced back to our Sainik School days and even our army course days; where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board.  I always looked at the mark list on the notice board to make sure that I was not the last.  What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well.

Once I perused his report card, I asked him a few questions to find out some details about the steps for improvement and we discussed in detail as to how he is going to prepare for his Grade 12.   After discussing the same, I casually asked our son as to how his friends did.  Our son theorised that students want to either show off their marks or feel a bit good when they have really done well or in case they haven’t, they are looking for someone who did worse.  He was not in either and hence did not find out how others did.  I realised that what he said was what I had been doing all throughout my life, either blow the trumpet, or look for someone who did worse to feel happy that you are not the worst.

Our son had done exceptionally well in French and the teacher rewarded him with a recommendation for a cultural and educational exchange program in France.  He went to  Paris (01 July 2014) and returned  on 31 Jul with a French Grade 11 Student, Guillaume Le Floch.  Nikhil stayed with the Le Floch family for a month in France.  Guillaume stayed with us and returned to France on 31 Aug.

While Nikhil was away for a month, I felt a vacuum, both in my mind and at home.  Our dog Maximus seemed pretty depressed and had been running all over the house looking for Nikhil.

We will all got to get used to such absence of the kids and this will prepare us to learn to live without them in times to come.

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Bringing Up Our Daughter Nidhi

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On 20 March 1991, we were blessed with our daughter and we named her “Nidhi” and she was a treasure in the real sense.  She was christened “Susan” after my mother, in accordance with the customs of the Syrian Orthodox Christians of Kerala.

After my tenure as a Brigade Major and prior to my joining the Technical Staff Course at Pune, there was a three months gap and hence in September 1995, I moved to our parent regiment – 75 Medium Regiment, then located at Udhampur.  Marina, who was running a small business then and our daughter who was attending pre-school were stationed at Delhi.  During the Dushera holidays, Nidhi wanted to visit me and spend a week with me and so she was put on the Air India (then Indian Airlines) flight to Jammu as an unaccompanied minor.  Marina was not scared at all to send her all alone as Nidhi was pretty confident and Marina was pretty sure that Nidhi could handle herself well.  She felt butterflies in her stomach only after seeing her off with the airline ground-staff.

I was waiting at the Jammu airport and when Nidhi came out I asked her as to how the flight was and she said that she had put up an ‘about to cry’ face and the air hostess got scared and stuffed her with lots of chocolates and cookies.  I was then staying in the single officers’ accommodation in the regimental premises and we dined in the Officers’ Mess.

How to keep a four year old daughter busy all day was the intriguing question that came to my mind.  Two people in the regiment came to my rescue.  The first was the Religious Teacher, who would take Nidhi to the Regimental Mandir and narrate all the Hindu mythological stories to her.  The next was the (RHM) Regimental Havildar Major (Sergeant Major) Sengole, who would take Nidhi around the unit with him.  She enjoyed watching the gunners carryout their gun drill practices on the Bofors Guns, the chef in the kitchen rolling out ‘Rotis’ in hundreds for the men, the drill at the Quarter Guard, men maintaining their rifles in the armoury, vehicles being repaired in the workshop, etc.

A word about RHM Sengole.  He is six feet tall, dark and well built soldier with an imposing personality who hailed from Madurai in Tamil Nadu.  As a Sepoy, he was the Light Machine Gun (LMG) handler when I was a young Lieutenant performing the duties of Gun Position Officer (GPO).  When he became a Naik (Corporal) he was the Commanding Officer’s stick orderly when any VIP visited and when he was promoted to a Havildar (Sergeant) he was special guard commander – all because of his blood red eyes and the moustache he had painstakingly grown, which would easily put forest brigand Veerappan to shame.  Sengole was initially a bit surprised to see a four year old girl smiling at him as all kids were literally scared at the sight of him.  He once confided that even his twins were also scared of him when he visited them during his vacations.  The secret was that after having spent over a decade with Sengole, I knew how soft at heart and calm this God-fearing and fearful looking person was.

Having grown up in a family of four sons and educated at the Military School and later at the Military Academies and having served all the while in a male only environment of the Indian Army, the only issue I had was to comb and set Nidhi’s hair.  She had long and thick tresses and when I tried to run the comb through, I realised how difficult it was to even get the comb down the thick growth.  That was when Mrs Jadeja, wife of Captain Vikram Jadeja, who was our Battery Second-in-Command, came to my rescue.  I would dispatch Nidhi to her house whenever she wanted her hair  done and she could also play with their two lovely daughters Rachna and Archana.

After a few days Nidhi walked up to me and asked “What is the difference between a Gola (गोला) and Goli (गोली)?”  I had no answer and she said that the Gola is as big as what she is and is fired from the Bofors Gun and Goli as big as her middle finger and is fired from a rifle.  After spending two weeks with me, she went back to Delhi, again as an unaccompanied minor with an ‘about-to-cry’ face.  That was my first experience of single-parenting.

Marina migrated to Canada in February 2002 and I moved to take over command of 125 (Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment which was then operationally deployed in the Rajasthan Sector.  The children were sent to Kottayam, Kerala, to live with their grandparents and study there.  Nidhi immediately picked up Malayalam and started to read and write the language as Malayalam was the third language for her as part of the Grade 5 curriculum.

The children along with my mother moved in with me to Devlali, Maharashtra, as the regiment had moved back to its permanent location after the operational commitments.  There started my second round as a single parent.  Nidhi immediately readjusted to the military environment and she had continued with her fluency in Hindi language.  Our son Nikhil, then in Kindergarten, had completely forgotten Hindi and his brains were reformatted to Malayalam.

The regiment was real well oiled machinery and Late Colonel Suresh Babu was the Second-in-Command, who along with the other officers ran the regiment exceptionally well and was the best unit in town.  The soldiers in the regiment were totally self-disciplined and needed no supervision or ‘spoon feeding’.  It appeared that all they needed was directions with clean and trustworthy leadership.  This ensured that I could spend more time with the children as I had to spend under 10 hours a week in the regiment, and I had mastered the art of total delegation.

Preparing Nidhi for the life ahead in Canada, I wanted to make her totally independent.  She had to polish her shoes, press her school uniform and make her bed.  My helper Naik Santhosh would always help her out after ensuring my absence.  Nidhi had to cycle to and fro her school.  Our home was situated on a hillock and hence going to school on a cycle was bit easy, but the return trip on a warm afternoon was bit difficult.  She would at times call up the regiment to say that the cycle is punctured or the chain had come off and the men in the regiment would gladly send her a truck to pick her up and the cycle and drop off at the home.  One day Nidhi asked me as to whether I was commanding a regiment or not.  I enquired as to from where that doubt had arisen.  “All the kids in the class say that you are not the Commanding Officer, otherwise I would have been dropped off to school in the Commanding Officer’s Vehicle” she said.  I kept mum for a minute and told her that for the entire world I may not be commanding a regiment, but you know the truth.

That was the days when I got a jolt of my life.  Nidhi had attained puberty and as a dad who had all along lived in a male only world had no clue as to how to deal with the situation.  I immediately rushed to my mother for some tips and was in for a rude shock when she said she too had lived in a man’s world for the past fifty years – with my dad and four sons – and she had never dealt with such a situation and had fully forgotten how it was when she was a teenager.  I called up my wife and she spoke to Nidhi and gave all the motherly advise and how to cope with the changes.

The children joined their mother in Canada in 2004 and Nidhi went to join the school in Grade 8.  She was the fastest among all to adapt to the Canadian culture and environment (even faster than her mom who had spent two years in Canada by then).  During her Grade 9, she bagged a plum role in the high school musical drama “Leader of the Pack” which involved rendering four solo songs and six group songs with over 16 costume changes.  Nidhi kept up with her linguistic skills in Hindi and Malayalam, but Nikhil who joined in Grade 1 has fully reformatted his brains to the Canadian English mode, overwriting all the Hindi and Malayalam.

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Nidhi came out with flying colours from her high school and completed  her Bachelor of Sciences degree and is currently working with an event management company in Toronto.  I pray to God to ensure her success in life.

Challenges in Parenting Faced by Indian Immigrants In North America

Background
A nursing student, 22 year old daughter of parents who had immigrated to the US from Kerala, was reported missing by her parents on February 24, 2014. She was last heard from by her mother who talked to her, on the phone.  The daughter claimed to be in the library at the university campus, where as the police investigation revealed that she made the call from a fitness center.

The parents were in for a rude shock when they learned from police that their daughter, who was a nursing student, had not attended classes since May 2013.  All along, her parents believed that she was going to school, and her mother who was under the impression that her daughter was on track to follow in her footsteps. She had been living at home and telling her parents she was attending school all through the fall and winter. The father’s credit card was even charged $6,072 for the Fall 2013 semester. I had heard from our daughter about of a few students who enroll in courses using the parent’s credit card and later cancelling their enrollment and taking the money.

The parents had not been seeing their daughter’s progress card and when her father asked to see the report card, she said there was something wrong with the computer. The mother had noticed that that her daughter wasn’t bringing home college text books. On inquiry, she said that she was doing online reading. In hindsight, how could a mother, who is also a nurse by profession ever accept such an excuse.

On March 11, 2014, the police found her dead body in her car and as per the police, the cause of death appeared to be suicide, due to inhalation of a noxious substance.

Reality Check

This case study reveals the challenges in parenting faced especially by parents emigrating from India. This brings out the need for positive parent-child interactions, especially at teen and adolescence levels. Each age and stage of growth presents unique joys and challenges, and the teen and adolescence years are certainly no exception. In fact, parenting during these years will always present unique situations as a result of the physical, social and emotional changes taking place in your child’s life. The parents have a great deal of influence on the behavior of their adolescents.

Majority of Indian immigrant parents’ relationships with their children are formal and vertical with regard to age and gender. Communication and authority flow downward consistent with a hierarchical order. Indian parents accept as their duty the care of their children and children’s reciprocated duty is to unquestionably respect and honour their parents. In this context, parents expect children to accede to parental wishes and to behave in ways that reflect well upon the family, and many times the community. Many Indian immigrant parents rely on the inculcation of guilt and shame to keep children, regardless of age, focused on the importance of family obligations and to behave in ways that do not ‘bring shame’ to the family. Anything and everything the child does is castigated with the often heard remark that ‘its against our culture‘.

For a majority of Indian immigrant parents in America, the desire for children to succeed educationally and economically is a very high (only doctors and engineers please). Accordingly, children’s exceptional academic performance is often viewed by parents as an honour to them.

This also forces children to hide their actual performance/ report cards.  Parents are also culprits as they brag about their children’s academic achievements.  It is very significant at high school level and when the child does not secure admission in a worthwhile university, next lot of stories are spun out by the parents.  This further degrades the child’s confidence and they end up feeling out of place – trying to live in a castle of lies.

Lives of many Indian immigrant children, especially those at high school and university level can well be compared to the Hindi movie ‘Ram Aur Shyam’.  The children often end up leading a life of double role – one for university and one for home.  It is akin to maintaining two girlfriends at the same time – one should not meet the other.

Concerns of Indian Immigrant Parents in North America

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  • Fear of Losing Children to the American Culture.     Most Indian parents migrate with the hope of making it good with many opportunities North America offers to them and their children. However, they fear that their children, especially those who entered adolescence or young adulthood subsequent to emigrating and those born in North America, are becoming more ‘Americans’ and abandoning the family’s cultural values.  Most of these parents fail to realise that the present young Indian society has changed and have adapted to the American culture of dating, live-in relationships, drugs, pubs, etc, (mostly kept under wraps).  Some Indian parents often demand that children minimize their activities like dating based on personal choice, partying, using contraceptives, marrying for love vs  accepting an arranged marriage, or reject the culture outright. Indian children often perceive the identification with the parental native culture to be a disadvantage to making it big in the American society.
  • Loss of Authority Over Children.           Indian parents become aware of two very painful post-immigration facts of life: that there are vastly different rules for parenting children, and the new rules significantly lessen their general authority over their children. Many parents complain that the children do not listen to them and some are even scared of saying anything to their children. Parents also lament the ‘permissiveness’ of the American society that condones children’s rights to challenge parental values and authority and often observe that raising children in North America is same as ‘living with strangers.’
  • Disciplining Children.       Many Indian parents feel restrained in their authority to discipline their children ‘appropriately’ consistent with the usual and acceptable modes of disciplining children back in India. Many Indian parents used disciplinary practices that’ by American standards, are considered harsh and even abusive. For these parents, parenting in North America requires accommodation to new value systems, rules, and expectations.  As a result, Indian parents overwhelmingly tend to be cautious in disciplining their children because of their unfamiliarity with other disciplinary methods and fear of breaking the law.
  • Loss of Authority to Select Children’s Mate.  Indian immigrant families represent a kaleidoscope of religions and cultures and consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Notwithstanding the decline in the practice, however, many Indian immigrant parents continue to endorse arranged marriages. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents may even ‘import’ a potential spouse from India.  Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their values and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community. They also reference the progressively increasing divorce rate among younger Indian immigrants and worry about their children’s ability to ‘make a good marriage’.
  • Loss of Face Within the Community.    Within the Indian community, parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviors and are criticised for their failing as parents, because children’s behaviors reflect negatively upon parents. They believe that it is the paramount duty of their children to enhance family pride by honouring their parents through their culturally appropriate behaviors and outstanding accomplishments. Consequently, when children behave out-of-culture, parents invariably complain that such behaviors dishonour them as ‘Indian Parents’ and devalue their standing as ‘Indians’ within the community.
  • Religious Institutions.       Indian parents seems to prove the adage of ‘being more loyal to the king than the king themselves’ when it comes to their religious matters. They force their children to attend religious ceremonies, mostly without explaining the details of the ceremony and its significance in real life.  Religious teachers employed by these institutions are ‘fresh off the boat (FOB)‘ from India and do not connect to the North American society and the stresses the children undergo here.   They ensure to instill a feeling of ‘guilt and shame’ in the Indian parents for not strictly adhering to the religious practices and the ‘sin’ they are committing by not protecting their children from the ‘hazards’ of the ‘evil’ North American society. Their sermons are mostly archaic and have no place in the modern society. Luckily these sermons are in their dialects or in ‘Hinglish/ Punglish/ Manglish’, which these children do not understand. These religious heads will talk non-stop on the evils of the North American society, but wants you to part with your dollars liberally at any instant.

The Way Ahead

  • Monitor and Supervise your Child:       Children want parents who listen and try to understand, set good examples, and offer guidance. A delicate balance of allowing your child freedom while still exercising a level of parental control is key to your child achieving independence.
  • Monitor Your Child’s Activities.  Show a constant and genuine interest in your child’s life.  Know where your child is at all times. Ask where they are going after school, when they will be home, and which friends they will be with. Parents who actively monitor and guide their children tend to have adolescents who experience positive relationships with peers and who are less likely to use drugs.
  • Check-in Regularly.           Talk to your child after school to ask about their day. If your child is scheduled to be at a friend’s house, call the friend’s parent to confirm the arrangement. Be involved without being overbearing. Your child may protest your monitoring behavior, but setting boundaries and sticking to them will show your child that you love them.
  • Parent in an Authoritative Style.     Parent with warmth and respect, avoiding to be overly controlling or overly lenient. Authoritative parents are warm but firm. They encourage their children to be independent, but as parents, they manage to keep limits and controls on their child’s actions. Authoritative parents openly discuss family rules with their children, which allows the children to express their views. Authoritative parents are nurturing, while providing the rules, guidelines, and standards that children need.
  • Encourage Your Children to Bring Home their Friends.     This will ensure that you meet your child’s friends and know the company he/ she keeps. Interact with your child to find out the activities and conversations that took place during their outing. This is easier said than done as you have to earn the confidence of your child, especially by not reacting to those uncomfortable issues that may crop up. This will provide some insight into the activity pattern of your child outside the school hours
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  • Eat Dinner Together.      Eating dinner or at least a meal together as a family provides an ideal opportunity to interact with your children. Talk to your child about their day, their friends, and current events. It also shows that you care enough to take time to listen and learn about their interests. Research finds that teens who eat dinner with a parent five or more times during the week are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, get into fights and engage in sexual activity.
  • College and University Students to Study with Education Loan.    The children must utilise the facility of the liberal educational loans, especially those funded by the governments. It not only satisfies the financial need to proceed with higher education but helps in saving income tax also while repayment. Tax benefits on education loan end up reducing overall cost of the loan. Most student loans offer lower interest rates, deferred payment options and a repayment grace period following graduation. This will ensure that the children are better focused on their education. It can also act as a monitoring tool for the parents as the next tranche of the loan would not be released unless the student has scored adequate marks and have the requisite attendance. In case the parents are financially sound, they can assist the child to repay the loan in full or in part upon graduation.

Wishing all parents ‘Great Parenting.’  Remember what Mayim Chaya Bialik, American actress, author, and neuroscientist said “I came to parenting the way most of us do – knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.

(Photographs are of our children)

First, Middle and Last Name

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My name at school and in the Indian Army read Koduvath Reji as our family is known by the name Koduvath. (Please click here to read more about Koduvath family). Syrian Christians of Kerala generally have three parts in their names. First comes the family name, followed by the father’s name and then the christen name. In my case it was only the family name and my christen name. As a teenager, I asked my father as to how we all siblings had only two names and a very short christen name. Being a Headmaster, I got a typical reply from him that the most common question one gets in primary language classes is “What is your name?” He did not want his children to get confused in answering the very first question and hence to make our lives a bit easier, gave us all easy to write names. Think of my plight had my name been a typical Syrian Christian name like ‘Kuruvilla’, ‘Philipose’, ‘Punnoose’ or ‘Zachariah’.

In the Malayala Manorama newspaper in Kerala, one often finds a few change of name advertisements in the classified columns; mainly for women changing their surnames to match their husband’s. In some cases it is to put the surname after the christen name and a few for astrological and numerological reasons.

Other than the above, there may be a variety of interesting reasons for a name change. Sometimes someone did not take a liking to the name their parents gave; in some cases the couple would go for a ‘double-barrel’ name, hyphenating the surnames of both the partners. Some do it to Anglicise their names as in a few cases the way their names are pronounced in North America may end up as an unpleasant word in their language or else to make it easier for the folks to pronounce one’s name. At times some feel that their name is a liability while seeking a job and at times it is to beat an identity theft.

Our mother, Pallathettu Kurian Sosamma married our father Koduvath Varkey George in 1956. They both were teachers and neither changed their names. Our father believed that everyone must maintain their individuality and identity and marriage is not a sacrificial altar, which demands one to surrender one’s name. Further, the expenses and hassles involved as per him were also not worth the trouble. Hence, none of his daughters in law, including my wife, changed their names after marriage. My wife remained Marina Mani, the surname she got from her father’s name.

Many officers in the Indian Army change their wife’s name after marriage at their own will. They had their documentations (Part II Orders) of their marriage done and replaced the surname of their wife with the husband’s surname. It was surprising to many when I insisted that my wife will maintain her maiden name in all her documentations. I realised most officers were unaware of the procedure for a change of name and that a marriage under any law does not authorise a change of name. The soldiers too followed the simple methodology of a marriage Part II Order to change their spouse’s name and the uninformed officers did sign them off!

After marriage Marina was addressed as Mrs Reji as everyone in the army quite reasonably presumed Reji to be my surname. Marina despised it, but settled down to accepting it as time passed. I named our daughter Nidhi and Marina was arguably unhappy as a disyllabic ‘single’ name appeared dreadfully incomplete. I insisted that she would neither take on my first name nor surname with the reasoning that it obviates a ‘change of name’ problem after marriage. My wife then named her Nidhi Susan, as my mother’s first name ‘Sosamma’ is the vernacularised form of ‘Susan’. When our son was born, Marina took on the responsibility of naming him and he ended up with a very complete name ‘Nikhil George Koduvath.’

When we had to apply for the emigration process to Canada, the first requirement was to obtain a passport. I conveniently swapped my first and the last names to become Reji Koduvath from Koduvath Reji. Thus I ended up with two identities, one Indian and the other Canadian. The last name did pose a bit of an issue for our daughter in Canada. Whenever she went for any documentation and when she gave her last name as Susan, they would reconfirm it as Susan is a common first name in Canada.

On assuming command of the Regiment, I insisted on correct and complete documentation for all soldiers of the unit. There I realised that numerous gaps existed in their documentation, particularly those related to marriage and child birth. In the next Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to troops), I decided to educate everyone about the procedure and need for correct documentation, especially as most soldiers’ families were nuclear and many had moved away from the traditional joint family system.

I explained to them the correct legal procedure for a change of name as applicable in India (as also in many developed countries). First step is to make an affidavit for the change of name and submit it to a District Court or a Magistrate. The next step is to publish advertisements announcing the name change in two local newspapers. The last step is to get the same published as a notification in the Official Gazette of one’s state.

At the end of it, one soldier from Rajasthan raised an issue that in their area, the second name of every girl was ‘Kumari’ and when they got married, it changed to ‘Devi’. He gave an example that Ritu Kumari after marriage will automatically become Ritu Devi as per their customs. I replied that until change of name is done legally, she would remain Kumari for life. I instructed all officers and soldiers who did change their spouse’s name to complete all legal proceedings for change of name.

In Canada, when you visit the family physician or the pharmacy, the search key-field that they use is the last name. I always request them to search with our home telephone number as Nikhil and I have a common last name, Nidhi and Marina have different last names.

Once at our Pharmacy, the technician searched with the home telephone number as the key-field and five names came up. She commented that all the three males of the family have a common last name and both the females have different last names. You must be wondering who the third male member of our family is. It is Maximus Koduvath, our dog, who also gets his medication from the same pharmacy based on the veterinarian’s prescription. Maximus is a Canadian and he has to have a last name.

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Nikhil’s Commencement

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Commencement is a very special event for the graduating class, teachers, staff and the families of graduating students. The occasion is used to celebrate the achievements of students with many special guests in attendance. It is a formal celebration that has associated with it a high level of maturity and respect for one another’s achievements.

US senator Orrin Hatch aptly said about High School Commencement that there is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘Commencement’, as graduation is not the end; it is only the beginning.  It is one of the most important moments in a student’s life as it marks a transition from high school to university.  Nikhil’s Grade 12 Commencement of the Woodlands School, Mississauga, was held on August 08, 2015.

The high school graduation ceremony in many ways is considered a rite of passage. It commemorates making it through the early, grueling years of homework and science projects. It marks the beginning of a new educational adventure.

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The graduating students and the faculty wore the traditional black robe and the cap was not mandatory. The use of the graduation robe began in the Twelfth century. At this time no sufficient heating systems existed in universities. To ward off the cold, graduates started wearing long robes with hoods to prevent being cold during the long ceremony. Later on in that century, robes were made the official attire of academics.

The robes that students and faculty wear were modeled on priests’ traditional robes. Students once wore their robes to all classes and lectures (like Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts). Today robes are reserved for academic occasions, like graduations, but they still reflect particular academic achievements.

The square cap that graduates wear is called a mortarboard as it resembles to a tool used by masons to hold the mortar while applying it on to a wall. The term was first used in English in the 1850s . The caps became popular in the Fourteenth Century, when it was worn by artists and students, to signify superiority and intelligence. In those days the caps were commonly red in color to signify blood and life.

At the end of the graduation ceremony, many students toss their caps high in the air. This tradition was started by the US Naval Academy in 1912. Prior to the graduation of 1912, graduates of the academy were required to serve two years in the fleet as midshipmen before being commissioned as Navy officers, therefore they still needed their hats. The class of 1912 was commissioned from the time of graduation and received their officers hats, thus their hats were no longer needed, leaving the graduates free to toss their caps into the air and not worry about getting them back. The tradition then caught on at other institutions throughout the country. Now the action is regarded as a symbolic gesture of the end of a chapter in a graduate’s life.

The use of a tassel adorning a graduation cap only started in the last 40 to 50 years. The tassel was originally designed to decorate the graduate’s cap during the ceremony but it has come to have symbolism as well.

The gesture of moving the tassel from one side of the cap to the other symbolizes the individual’s movement from candidate to graduate. Prior to the ceremony the tassel is expected to be worn on the right. During the ceremony it should be moved to the left side after students receive their diploma.

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The Commencement ceremony was a reunion for Nikhil and his friends as it was over a month into their university studies. Everyone appeared to be exchanging notes about their universities, classes and new friends. It began at 7 PM with the Academic procession, being lead by the Principal, followed by the two Vice-Principals, Heads of Departments, Ms Andrea Pils and Nikhil, being the valedictorian.

Ms Andrea Pils, Nikhil’s French teacher, was nominated by Nikhl to introduce him prior to his valedictory address. Ms Pils is the only teacher who taught him for all the three high school years and she was the one who recommended Nikhil for the cultural and educational exchange programme in France based on his performance in French. As per Nikhil, one month he spend in Nantes, France with the Le Floch family was very fruitful and memorable. It was not only an important career milestone, but also a personal one for him. It had a telling impact on Nikhil’s outlook and conduct.

The ceremony commenced with the Canadian Anthem followed by the Principal’s address. Then it was the distribution of degrees to the students who marched up the stage as their name was announced. It was a moment of pride for the student as well as the parents, who looked on with a sense of achievement as the first academic degree was conferred on their child. Along with the degrees, various prizes for outstanding achievements were also given to the students.

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The high school diplomas were presented to each student as a roll tied with a string. In the earlier days, diplomas were made of sheepskin, hand-written, rolled and tied with a ribbon and from here originated the saying ” hang your sheepskin on the wall”. It was a phrase to represent showing your education. Many academic institutions still continue with this tradition and some have changed to handing over the certificate in a folder.

Click Here to watch Introduction by Ms Andrea Pils

After all the diplomas and awards were presented to the students, Ms Pils introduced Nikhil as the Valedictorian for the graduating class of 2015.

Click here to watch Nikhil’s Valedictory Address.

The Valedictorian delivers a speech known as the “valediction” to his fellow classmates on behalf of them. Nikhil’s speech covered the ups and downs they have all gone through, and provided a humorous and youthful insight of a hopeful future. At the end of the speech, there was a standing ovation as a recognition of his outstanding efforts and success in academic life.