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 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 the 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 the child himself, regardless of what he 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 for 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

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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 in them.  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 September 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.