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 minimise 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 their 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 daughter Nidhi and our son Nikhil)

First, Middle and Last Name

Names

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.

How to change your name legally in Punjab? - Procedure, Affidavit  Submission, Newspaper Publication, Gazette Notification, Charges,  Application Forms
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

Comm1aCommencement 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.

Comm1The 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.

comm3The 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.

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.

Algonquin Park – A Riot of Fall Colours

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We along with Stephens went ahead with our plans to camp in the Algonquin Provincial Park and celebrate the Thanks Giving Day of 2015. (Please click here to read more about Thanks Giving Day). The children were excited about the camping and visit to the park to view the fall colours, especially after the good times they had in the summer camp in Northern Ontario.
Algonquin Provincial Park, about 7,600 square kilometres in area, is located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in Central Ontario, Canada. Over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers, formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age, are located within the park. The park is in an area of transition between Northern coniferous forest and Southern deciduous forest. There are over 1,200 campsites in eight designated campgrounds. I booked the Campsite # 45 at Achray Campgrounds in July for the October camping. Most camping sites are booked well in advance as only the early birds will catch the prey. The best time to view the fall colours in the park is during the Thanks Giving long weekend and the traffic on the roads are heavy with campers and tourists. After this weekend, the camp is closed to visitors and campers.
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(Image Courtesy Google)
Achray Campground was selected because it was well into the interior of the park with no electricity and cell-phone coverage and also for the view it offered. Achray Campground is located on the East side of Algonquin Provincial Park at the southeast end of Grand Lake. The drive from Toronto took about 7 hours with the last 50 km accessed via a gravel road.
On entering the park, all vehicles and visitors have to register at the main gate and obtain necessary permits and passes. The park staff will brief about the rules to be followed, Do’s and Don’t’s, procedure for garbage disposal, etc. After the registration, we drove about 25 kms on the gravel road to the Achray Campgrounds. The store in the campground, the ‘Stone House’, was part of a railway depot complex that was built in the 1930’s, made with stone quarried on the opposite shore of Grand Lake. The store offers canoe rentals, ice, firewood, chips, chocolate bars, camper’s supplies and park merchandise.
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We settled down at our campsite and after a sumptuous lunch, embarked on to the Jack Pine trail, in search of the place where Tom Thompson painted his famous painting ‘The Jack Pine’ which hangs in the National Gallery. Thomson worked as a fire ranger at Achray in 1916. We reached the spot marked with a plaque where the pine was (tree has since died), which inspired the artist.
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The walk up to the plaque was mesmerising with the vivid red, yellow and orange colours the leaves of the deciduous trees – maples, birches, poplars, tamarack, etc – had turned into. The coniferous trees with their green needles added variety. The varied colored leaves and the brown pine needles that had fallen on the ground and in the cracks in the rocks provided an interesting view.
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The green leaf colour comes from pigments of chlorophyll, used by the trees to make food with the help of sunlight. There are other pigments namely carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaves, but are overshadowed by the chlorophyll in the spring and summer. Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges like in corn, carrots, and bananas. Anthocyanins impart red colour to fruits like cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries, etc.
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In the fall, trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves. The nutrients are shuttled into the roots for reuse in the spring. Some tree leaves turn mostly brown, indicating that all pigments are gone. Trees respond to the decreasing amount of sunlight by producing less and less chlorophyll and eventually stops producing chlorophyll. Now the carotenoid in the leaves show through and the leaves become a bright cascade of various shades of glowing yellows.
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The fall season being characterised by short days and longer and cooler nights. When a number of warm, sunny autumn days and cool but not freezing nights come one after the other, the Maple leaves produce lots of sugar, but the cool night temperatures prevent the sugar sap from flowing through the leaf veins and down into the branches and trunk. The anthocyanins are now produced by the leaves for protection. They allow the plant to move down the nutrients in the leaves to the roots, before they fall off. The nutrients stored in the roots help the trees to sprout out their leaves in the coming spring. During this time, the anthocyanins give leaves their bright, brilliant shades of red, purple and crimson.
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In a maple or a birch tree, the tender thin leaves, made up of cells filled with water sap, will freeze in winter. Any plant tissue incapable of living through the winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the tree’s survival. As sunlight decreases in autumn, the veins that carry sap into and out of a leaf gradually close. A layer of cells, called the separation layer, forms at the base of the leaf stem. When this layer is complete, the leaf is separated from the tissue that connected it to the branch, and it falls. Coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and firs, don’t lose their leaves, or needles, in winter. The needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing. Evergreen leaves can live for several years before they fall off.
It is easy to track the changing colours on the Ontario Parks’ website with suggestions for the best viewing locations and links to ‘Great Fall Drives’ around each park. There’s also the Ontario Tourism’s fall colour report starting soon at http://www.ontariotravel.net.
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In the evening, we celebrated the Thanks Giving with a dinner – but not with the traditional Turkey Dinner, but with chicken barbeque.
As per the old military adage, I decided to take a different route on our way back home the next day. The route was mostly through the country roads up to Peterborough. The roads passed through many townships, all dependant on agriculture and diary interspersed with few timber mills to convert the abundantly available wood into lumber. The region was hilly with many streams and small lakes and again a spectacular display of fall colours.

The Longwood Gardens

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Visiting Marina’s sister Charm and her husband Cherian at Delaware, USA, every summer for the past decade, we always plan to visit the Longwood Gardens. The visit materialised only in the summer of 2015. The Longwood Gardens, one of the world’s greatest gardens of today, was established by Mr Pierre Du Pont when he purchased Peirce’s Park in 1906 in order to save the trees in the park. The park owner had contracted a lumber mill operator to remove the trees from the park.

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Mr Du Pont was born in 1870 in Delaware, USA. He was president of the world famous DuPont Company from 1915 to 1919, and served on its Board of Directors until 1940. He also managed General Motors from 1915-1920, became GM’s president in 1920 and served on GM’s Board of Directors until 1928.

During his early years in Wilmington, Delaware, he was influenced by the area’s natural beauty and by the Du Pont family’s long tradition of gardening. His jobs took him to Europe many a times and he was always exposed to a wide variety of garden settings, fountains, grand architecture and the latest technology.

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After buying the Peirce’s Park at the age of 36, Pierre started to create a garden, which today is the Longwood Garden. He built the gardens piecemeal, beginning with the Flower Garden Walk and he followed no grand plan or design. He added an open-air theatre in 1912, inspired by an outdoor theatre near Siena, Italy. He then added the “secret” fountains that drenched the unaware visitors.

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As a wedding gift to Alice Belin, whom he married 1915, he added a conservatory – Longwood’s first “winter garden” and planted exotic foliage and created a small marble fountain. In 1921, he opened the Conservatory, a perpetual Eden which used the latest technology of the day to heat, water, and power the complex. All the systems were hidden in tunnels so as not to detract from the grandeur of the glass-covered and surrounding rooms. He then opened the greenhouse to the public.

By the mid-1930s, Longwood had grown from the original 202 acres to over 1000 acres due to Pierre’s purchase of 25 contiguous properties over the years. Today the Longwood Gardens has a yearly budget of nearly $50 million and a staff of 1,300 employees, students, and volunteers. Longwood is continuously evolving to become one of the world’s greatest gardens.  The garden is open to visitors year-round to enjoy exotic plants and horticulture, events and performances, seasonal and themed attractions, educational lectures, courses, and workshops.

The Longwood Gardens consists of 20 outdoor gardens and 20 indoor gardens within 4.5 acres of heated greenhouses, known as conservatories It contains 11,000 different types of plants and trees, as well as fountains. The Gardens also has extensive educational programs including a graduate program, and extensive internships. It hosts 800 horticultural and performing arts events each year, from flower shows, gardening demonstrations, courses, and children’s programs to concerts, organ and carillon recitals, musical theatre, fountain shows, and fireworks displays. It also hosts an extensive Christmas light display during the holiday season.

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Longwood Gardens is renowned for its extraordinary fountains. The astonishing shows gather attention from far and wide, and are a favorite among visitors of all ages. Inspired by the success of the Italian water gardens and open air theatre fountains, Mr Du Pont unveiled the Main Fountain Garden in 1931. The goal was to rival the fountains he had seen in Europe. Today, this open air theatre conducts fountain shows featuring 750 jets in changing patterns, this showpiece comes alive with five-minute shows set to music. Since its 1914 Garden Party debut, this Italian-style outdoor theatre has expanded from its simple original fountains to the 750 jets that create the rainbowed curtain of water.

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Tucked into a protected courtyard (accessed via the Conservatory), this stunning outdoor garden features aquatic plants from all over the world. The garden is open from late May through mid-October. Peak bloom occurs mid-July through September (depending on weather). The water-lilies and tropical aquatic plants are displayed here in five large pools. The aquatic plants consists of lilies, lotus and incredible Victoria water-platters with leaves measuring up to four feet in diameter. This leaf might have been used to float the infant Lord Krishna, to be discovered by Markandeya. The same leaf could have been used by Kunti to float infant Karna and also may have been used in the case of infant Moses.

Longwood Orchids
The Orchid House displays a fraction of the 7,500 orchids at Longwood Gardens. To ensure a continuous display, the orchid grower hand picks and replaces the plants three times a week with others from the five orchid growing houses. Orchids were a passion of Pierre Du Pont and his wife, Alice. Orchids were one of the first plant collections—started in 1922. In 1948, the collection was greatly enlarged when Pierre  DuPont’s sister-in-law, Mrs. William Du Pont, donated her well-known and respected collection of more than 2,300 orchid plants to Longwood.

Longwood Palms
The Palm House opened on Palm Sunday, 1966 with a landscape of palms in all sizes and shapes from all around the world. Mr Du Pont preferred temperate houses because they were less expensive to heat and only the small conservatory in the Peirce House was warm enough for an occasional palm.

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The Silver Garden houses the cacti collections. Through the glass roof the moonlight appear to bounce off the gray and silver-foliaged plants that fill this garden. This mimics the dry and arid landscapes found in Mediterranean and desert regions. Slate, rocky outcroppings, and exotic plants combine to create this multi-textured garden. The gray-blue slate pathway gives the impression of a dry streambed that would be found in a desert. The greenhouse containing this garden was built in 1921 and was originally used to grow peaches and nectarines. Following a major structural renovation, the Silver Garden came into being in 1989.

These are some of the few specialities of the Longwood Garden and must be included in the itinerary of anyone visiting this part of America.

The Burden of Pay

Burdon of PayOur son Nikhil, a grade 12 student, applied for a position as a volunteer at the local hospital this year. The aim of joining the volunteer team at the hospital was to have a firsthand feel of the hospital environment as he intends to pursue a career in the medical field. Volunteering would give him a chance to explore different occupations in the hospital and he would be exposed to a wide range of health care workers, from front line nursing and medical staff to program administrators. He would get to know the people, challenges and rewards involved and gain a better understanding of the roles and jobs available.

It was also intended to help him manage his time better. Statistics show that students who work or volunteer are better time managers and fare better in the universities. Volunteering would provide him chance to meet new people and through them expand his network, opening up new opportunities. It would also facilitate him to use the French language he had improved with a one month stay in France. It would also provide him a chance to find out how other people viewed him and his strengths.

Nikhil was called for an interview by the volunteer coordinator at the hospital and motivated with the above factors, he faced the interview. The last question he was asked was about the difference between a job and a volunteer position. Nikhil answered “there is no difference at all except that there is no burden of pay being a volunteer.”

Nikhil this year was also hired by the Mississauga City to be a swimming instructor and a life guard at the swimming pool. This job he got after volunteering as an assistant instructor at the pool for an year. To be a swimming instructor one got to be a certified lifeguard by the National Lifeguard Service. The certification involves about twelve levels of swimmer training and a swimming instructor course. Further one got to be certified in first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by the Canadian Red Cross and also be certified in child psychology. All these certifications are valid for only a two year period after which he has to recertify in all.

In many provinces of Canada and US, forty hours of community service is mandatory for graduating from high school. Nikhil had already completed this requisite as he had volunteered at the pool for over 100 hours. The purpose of the community involvement requirement is to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities. This also gives the kids the opportunity for new experiences, whether it be visiting a senior-citizens’ home, volunteering in a hospital or working in the library.

Students who engage in community service have many opportunities for personal growth. They gain exposure to people and experiences that broaden awareness and understanding of the world around them. Most kids learn new skills in these situations and work with people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles. This is often the first time some of them have worked for a boss, and it is helpful in learning how to follow orders on the job.

One of the biggest problem students face in school is lack of motivation. Many students are unable to fathom the gap between the curriculum and their everyday lives. Community service provides an opportunity to apply academic learning to real human needs and to make the knowledge gained usable. This would motivate a child to research further into the subject being taught.

Studies indicate that students who volunteer have demonstrated improvement in positive feelings and mental health, and have helped them to reduce depression and stress. Many students feel that it is ‘cool’ to volunteer and many flaunt their volunteer T-Shirts in the school. Many students have reported an increased sense of social responsibility, and a subsequent desire to “give back” to their communities. This attitude help create social capital, that is, social networks of trust and cooperation.

Most well paying jobs in the health related fields in North America is regulated and the licensing procedure is applicable to both immigrants and the North American students. This is mainly applicable to doctors, pharmacists and nurses. The licensing test consists of a written and a practical element and covers all real-life scenarios encountered in the profession. Most Canadian students are well versed with the system as they undergo on the job training, mostly as volunteers and thus qualify these tests with much ease. The immigrants find it pretty difficult as they are not well versed with the North American system and also they have learnt many an incorrect practices back home. The only way to learn the North American system is to volunteer and obtain some experience.

Most hospitals have over 500 volunteers on their role and some have even over a thousand. There is a long waitlist of people who want to enrol as volunteers. They are high school students and retirees; they are the veterans from the Canadian forces; they are university students, young professionals and seasoned executives. Some have an interest in health care, some are considering a medical profession, while others have spent much time in hospitals recuperating from some serious illness or accidents. To enrol into the volunteers corps at a hospital as a student, one got to get two recommendations from the teachers (not easy to come by) and after the interview with the volunteer coordinator undergo a medical examinations, mainly to ensure that they are not carriers of any communicable disease.

In North America one needs experience to get a job and the best way for gaining experience and showcasing one’s talents and skill is only through volunteering. This not only looks good on the resume, the recommendations by the supervisors at the volunteering organisation would also give one a better chance of getting the job. Volunteering is the only way a new immigrant can gain US/Canadian experience and many immigrants are reluctant to take up a volunteering position as it does not pay or there is no burden of pay.

Nikhil’s Grad Breakfast

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Grad Breakfast is a wonderful high school tradition where the graduating Grade 12 students get together one last time and enjoy breakfast as a group. This is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the hard work and achievements of the graduating students. The Grade 11 students serve the Grad Breakfast for the graduating Grade 12 students, generally during the last week of the class. It may also be a charity event and the money generated may be send to a deserving charity. This occasion also marks the passing of the mantle to the Grade 11 students, who will now be the seniors in the coming academic year.

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The Woodlands Secondary School from where our son Nikhil is graduating from, had their Grad Breakfast on Friday, June 12, 2015. The occasion is also used to select the valedictorian from a pool of applicants. The prospective candidates apply to run as a Valedictorian and the application got to be validated by two high school teachers. All candidates have to deliver a short speech at the Grad Breakfast, in front of the graduating Grade 12 students. The term ‘Valedictorian’ is an Anglicized derivation of the Latin ‘vale dicere’ meaning ‘to say farewell’, historically rooted in the valedictorian’s traditional role as the final speaker at the graduation ceremony. So the valedictory address generally is considered a final farewell to classmates, before they disperse to pursue their individual paths after graduating from the high school.

The major criteria for the Valedictorian applicants was that the valedictorian must be a well-rounded individual whose accomplishments reflect the values of the school community. The recipient of this honour would have to meet the requirements for Graduation with a minimum of 30 credits; must be a honour student (80% average) from Grade 9 to 12; have demonstrated respectful behaviour in school as well as in the community at large; have not been in any discipline cases; must be a positive role model for the junior students; must have demonstrated leadership in various aspects of school life throughout the school career; and be able to represent the entire graduating class.

Nikhil along with four other classmates had applied to be the Valedictorian. After the Grad Breakfast, all five candidates delivered their speeches. Nikhil spoke about the changes the graduating students are going to bring to the community, the country and the world. Click here to listen to Nikhil’s speech on YouTube.

The graduating students were asked to vote online to select their Valedictorian. This was not merely a popularity contest, but the chances of an unpopular candidate winning it despite an awesome speech is very slim. Nikhil was confident that he would win it. After a few days it was announced that Nikhil was selected as the Valedictorian for 2015.

Being a Valedictorian, it will surely confer one bragging rights and will also and a line to one’s resume and will also look good. It normally does not provide you any extra boost for your university admissions, but for sure, the admission panel will take a close look at it.

Now Nikhil had to nominate one of his teachers to introduce him as the Valedictorian at the Commencement. He chose Miss Pils, his French teacher. Ms Pils is the only teacher who taught him for all the four high school years. 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 Valedictorian has to deliver the Valedictory address at the ‘Commencement’, to be held in October 2015. There is no greater recognition of a graduate’s achievements than a high school graduation ceremony, or Commencement. Diplomas are conferred or handed out to graduating students. Various award winning graduating students are honoured during the ceremony. The speakers selected for this event often include community dignitaries, alumni and the valedictorian. During our daughter Nidhi’s Commencement in 2009, it was Ms Hazel McCallion, the then Mayor of our city Mississauga (Please click here to read more about her), who delivered an inspiring motivational speech to the graduating students.

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 exercises’, as graduation is not the end; it is only the beginning.

Nikhil’s Prom

Prom1Prom (promenade) is a semi-formal dance or gathering of graduating high school students. It is a celebration of hard work and friendship these teens underwent during their four years at the high school. The term ‘prom’ comes from the word ‘promenade,’ meaning a march of guests into a ballroom to announce the beginning of a formal event or ball. This event is typically held near the end of the year for the Grade 12 students. Prom is a major event among high school students and is believed to be the most important teenage event in Canada. Many teens feel this event to be an important event in their life, next to their wedding.

In the early 1900s, prom was a simple tea dance where high school seniors wore their Sunday best. In the 1920s and 1930s, prom expanded into an annual class banquet where students wore party clothes and danced afterward. In the 1950s, proms became more extravagant and elaborate, moving  to hotel ballrooms and country clubs from the school gymnasium, bearing similarity to today’s proms. With this, competition blossomed, as teens strove to have the best dress, the best mode of transportation, and the best looking date. In 1975, President Ford’s daughter Susan held her high school’s senior prom at the White House.

Our son Nikhil attended the Prom in June 2015 with his date Vivian Elizabeth as both were graduating from Grade 12. The preparation for the event started in full earnest in May after Vivian accepted Nikhil’s proposal to be his Prom Date. This event is called a ‘Promposal’ and can mimic marriage proposals. Nikhil with a bouquet in his hands, dropped down to one knee, and proposed to Vivian to be his Prom Date.

Many of Nikhil’s friends did come up with creative methods for Promposal. Some did a ‘Bhangra’ with a ‘Dhol’; some sang a song duly supported by chorus of friends; some proposed with flowers and special cup-cakes; some had flash-mobs; some had special T-Shirts with a message and the list is endless. With these creative methods, teens are making each other feel special. This trend can be attributed to the power of social media and every teen want to post something special about every important event and promposal is really important.

Nikhil wanted to wear a tuxedo for the event and we went to the store renting tuxedos to pick up one suiting him. He did not want to invest in the costly outfit as he realised that he is hardly ever going to wear it after the prom and in all probability will outgrow his tuxedo soon. He had to procure a bow-tie and a pocket square in Royal Blue colour to match with Vivan’s dress.

Two days before the event, Nikhil visited the barber for a stylish haircut and also procured a set of perfumes and creams to wear on the prom day. He went to the florist and placed an order for a corsage for Vivan. The boutonnières to be worn by the boys are procured by the girls. The entire exercise cost us around $400. When our daughter Nidhi had her prom seven years back, it cost us around $600.

In case of girls, they got to buy their evening gowns and the jewellery to go with it. They got to get a pedicure and a manicure done, got to do up the nails, put on an apt facial makeup and also get a hairdo for the occasion. All these cost handsomely and all appointments have to be booked well in advance and the father got to get her to each place well before the appointed time.

Prom2On the day of the prom, prom-couples gather at a park, garden, or their own and their dates’ houses for single and/or group photographs. In Nikhil’s case (and also Nidhi’s), the location for the photo-shoot was the Rhododendron Gardens located at Port Credit on Lake Ontario. The Rhododendron Gardens as the name suggest has about 60 different hybrids of Rhododendrons and are in full bloom by late June, as if to coincide with the high school proms. The park has a micro-climate that suits rhododendrons because of its acidic soil, the humidity from its exposure to Lake Ontario and its tree cover, which includes many white pine and oak.

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At the park, the prom couples gathered by 3 PM, exchanged the corsage and the boutonnière and after the photo-shoot, which took about three hours, proceeded to the banquet hall for the dinner and dance. The dinner and dance is organised by the school and is supervised by a few teachers.

The mode of transport for prom couples is another important aspect as everyone wants to make a grand entry. Normally the parents drop off the children to the venue. Some hire limousines for the event. One Nova Scotia student rented a helicopter for around $2000 to make a grand entry. One teen showed up in an ambulance as a ‘Sleeping Beauty’, to be kissed by her prince charming to wake her up (she later had to apologize after a severe social media backlash). The teens outdo each other by showing up to prom in vehicles such as fancy cars, horse chariots and even ox-pulled carriages.

The grand entry to the prom party will remind you of the Oscars. It is a red-carpet moment and the boys and girls really feel like a prince and a princess. It has all the glamour, glitz, camera flashes, etc.

After the dance and dinner, group of friends congregated at a student’s home for the after-party. Some moved from one after-party to another and we picked up Nikhil the next morning.

Since high school prom only happens once in a teen’s life, many feel it worth investing in it. Every teen wants to look back on pictures and remember the fun they had and how it was a night they felt and looked at their best. Everyone wants these memories to last forever, so they want to make sure they are the best ones.

High school prom with all its glamour surely contributes to the increased stress in the present day teenager’s already cooked up life. It also pinches heavily on the parent’s wallet. With every passing year, the marketing companies, media and the social media hypes the event and the pressure on the teens will surely keep increasing.

Matha Pitha Guru Deva (Mother Father Teacher God)

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माता पिता गुरु देवा * மாதா பிதா குரு தெய்வம் * മാതാ പിതാ ഗുരു ദൈവം

‘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.

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 father then take us to the teacher (Guru), and it is the guru(s), through their teachings, develop our minds and channelize our thinking. All the three have a very important role in identifying our Gods (Deva) and bringing us closer to the God.

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati received a ripe mango. Their children Ganesha and Karthikeya, both wanted it. To break the impasse, Lord Shiva asked them to go around the world and the one who returns first would win the mango. Karthikeya immediately set off to encircle the world on his mount, the peacock. Ganesha realising that his mount, the rat is no match for the peacock, went around his parents once and claimed the prize saying that the parents are the whole world to him and by going around them once, he had in effect gone around the world. The happy parents gifted the fruit to Ganesha. When Karthikeya returned after going round the world, he saw Ganesha with the fruit in his hand. His non-understanding of this simple truth upset him so much that he is believed to have gone away to live alone and meditate in the hills of Palani in Southern India.

Based on my earlier articles about our teachers at Sainik School and the National Defence Academy (NDA), Brigadier (Retired) Azad Sameer expressed his views. He said that many of our teachers are unsung heroes who have mentored a generation of students and taught them values and ideals which are everlasting. He is reminded of many of teachers in school, specially those associated with English, maths, physics, boxing, football and so on. Besides the subject proper, many of them taught lessons that one carries for life.

Brigadier Sameer is of the opinion that essentially this reverence for teachers is born out of a typical Indian value. A special bond between the teacher and pupil. 5000 years of Indian history will bear testimony to this special bond and special value system. Elsewhere in the world, he wonders whether one get to see this emotional connect between the teacher and the taught.

In my opinion, in case such an umbilical cord between the teacher and the students did not exist in the entire world, we would never have had the novel and then the movie like ‘To Sir With Love’.  The reverence for teachers exist in all the societies across the world.

Jesus Christ in the bible is referred to as Lord, Savior, Master, and Redeemer. In the four Gospels, out of 90 times Jesus was addressed directly, 60 times he was called Teacher. As per St John (13:13), Jesus is supposed to have said that “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am”.

The reverence for their teachers what students demonstrate here in Canada is very much the same as what the students do in India. Most of the Indian guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship of today is mostly hypocritical and that was what many of my classmates on leaving our school realised. We always addressed our teachers as Mister Raman or Miss Murphy; we never added the typical ‘sir’ as what most Indian teachers expect the students to. When our class mates reached their universities, they addressed their teachers in the same way and they faced castigation not only from the teachers, but also from their class mates. Many took offense to addressing the professor as ‘Mister’. The teachers here in Canada, expect the students to address them as ‘Mister/Miss’ and some even insist on being addressed with only their first names. The teachers in Canada are much more straightforward in their relationship with the students. Here the teachers earn the students’ respect rather than forcing themselves on the students.

I feel that the teachers in Canada give more freedom to the students for developing their ideas and thoughts.  The teachers are much more approachable and appear to be multi-talented and many have both formal and informal qualifications and experiences in varied fields other than the subjects they teach. The students discuss anything and everything with their teachers. We were lucky during our school days that we had similar teachers as in Canada.

The importance of high school teachers for the students are much more here as they need at least two teachers’ recommendations for the university admission.  For any job as a teenager or even later, two high school teachers’ recommendation is mandatory; even if it is for an assistant’s job at a coffee or burger shop.  Our son Nikhil needed it while applying for the job of swimming instructor and life guard at the city’s swimming pool and also when he applied for a volunteer position at the city hospital.

About 70% of a high school student’s assessment is done by the teacher throughout the semester. The assessment is based on various assignments, presentations, written submissions, tests, quizzes, etc. The attitude and aptitude of the student and his organisational ability is also reported upon. The final semester examinations generally carries only 30% of the marks.   This demands real effort from the students to maintain a healthy relationship with their teachers.

The teacher-student relationship is celebrated here during the valedictory address by the student valedictorian of Grade 12 and also at Grade 8 during the graduation ceremony. Please watch Nikhil’s Grade 8 valedictory address You may also watch many a valedictory addresses posted on the YouTube.

Teachers play an important role in nation building by developing young students into responsible citizens. Teachers through their perseverance, love and sacrifices has shown us the right path in which great men have built the nations. Any strong and powerful nation is endowed with committed and dedicated teachers, without whom these nations would never have achieved glory.

In the modern world of information overload, we may even define it as ‘Matha, Pitha, Google, Deva.’

Tulip Festival

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April rains bring in May flowers’ is a common saying in Canada, especially as everyone awaits the April rains to help wash away the winter snow that had been shoveled to form little mounds around their homes. Whether the plants, especially the tulips and daffodils, whether it rained or not, by end of April they sprout out to mark the beginning of spring.

This year around we did not receive many showers in April and it did have a telling effect on the quality and size of tulip plants and flowers. In our garden too, this effect was visible (Please refer image). The tulips and daffodils did not perform too well.

Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century. They got their common name from the Turkish word for gauze (with which turbans were wrapped) – reflecting the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom. By the 17th century, the popularity of tulips, particularly in the Netherlands, became so great that the price of a single bulb soared to new heights, causing markets to crash and putting into motion ‘tulip-mania’. Many are even said to have sold their houses and fortresses during the ‘tulip-mania’.

Different tulip colors denotes different aspects – yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, white conveying forgiveness and purple representing royalty. The Red Tulip became associated with love based on a Turkish legend that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin.  When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It is believed that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning ‘perfect love’. The eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip. It is said that the tulip’s velvety black center represents a lover’s heart, darkened by the heat of passion.

For all our neighbours, friends and family, our garden becomes a place of celebration and many call it ‘Tulip Festival’. Close by in Ottawa, the Capital City of Canada, the largest tulip festival in North America and is held every year in May. This festival is a celebration founded on international friendship with Netherlands, the home of tulips. It all begun in 1945 with the presentation of 100,000 tulip bulbs from Princess Juliana of the Netherlands to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, given in appreciation of the safe haven that members of Holland’s exiled royal family received during World War II in Ottawa and in recognition of the role which Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands. Since then, the tulip has become Ottawa’s official flower and, each spring, the National Capital Region blooms with magnificent tulip beds planted by the National Capital Commission, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. As a thank-you gift, the Netherlands sends more than a million tulips to Ottawa every year.

The Canadian Tulip Festival is also a celebration of the return of spring, with over a million tulips in 50 varieties blooming in public spaces across the National Capital Region. The highest concentration of tulips can be viewed in the flower beds of Commissioners Park, on the banks of Dow’s Lake, where 300,000 flowers bloom. During the Festival the international community adds to the pageantry and programming with cultural displays and performances reflecting the diversity of the National Capital community.

This year, during the Tulip Festival in Ottawa, an official Canadian delegation, lead by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, consisting mainly of veterans and their relatives, was in the Netherlands to attend a series of ceremonies and events honouring the sacrifices Canadian soldiers made when they liberated the Dutch from Nazi occupation 70 years ago. About a dozen veterans, 90s, and frail flew into Netherlands in a Canadian Armed Forces plane. The aircraft flew trans-Atlantic, unusually low, around 12,000 feet, to avoid a situation where a rapid cabin depressurization might irreparably harm an elderly passenger without the speed or strength to put on an oxygen mask.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew Canadian Second World War veterans and their families from the airline’s five Canadian gateways – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton – to Netherlands for the commemorative celebrations. The biggest delegation consisting of 300 participants, including some 40 veterans left from Toronto on May 1. The youngest veterans was 88 (who was 15 when he fought the war as he had forged his documents) and the oldest 97. They were greeted in the boarding area by the flight crew for a pre-departure ceremony. Inside the aircraft, the airline had personalized the seat headrests with Canadian and Dutch flags. The group was acknowledged on numerous occasions during the flight with special announcements, and the crew handed out keepsake souvenirs to the passengers.

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This is John Gay, ready to board the KLM flight, a cook during WWII and at 97 years old, one of the oldest veterans who participated. He was part of the artillery and helped free up the city of Caen and the Falaise Gap. He cooked for the soldiers in England and Normandy, which got harder and harder because of food supplies and he had to make do with dehydrated potatoes, dehydrated cabbage and meat called “Spam”. He could cook up 6 gallons of stew and would distribute this amongst the soldiers in cans. John is visiting the Netherlands for the 10th time this year, travelling with his son and other family members.

To make this flight extra special and show the veterans how much we appreciate and respect them, arrangements were made to honour them. There were special cakes decorated with the Dutch and Canadian flags. Flight attendants handed out and pinned on Carnation Flowers with gratitude and respect. Every veteran got a Delftsblauw salt and pepper shaker set, there were special headrest covers and when we landed at Schiphol airport, the plane was escorted to the gate and the fire brigade welcomed the veterans with a water canon salute, also known as the ‘Shower of Affection’. Just before landing, bagpipe music filled the airplane.

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On Monday May 04, 2015, the delegation of veterans attended a ceremony at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place for 1,393 Commonwealth soldiers who died during the liberation campaign, many of whom were killed in the late stages of the war as the allies cleared the Netherlands and pushed into Germany. The village of Holten was liberated by Canadians on April 8, 1945 after fierce house to house fighting. Harper said that the bond was forged between Canada and the Netherlands in those dark days still endures. He recalled that each headstone on each cemetery was a stark reminder that doing the right thing often comes at a great cost — but a cost that must be paid.

Harper spoke of the great sacrifices made by the now-dwindling war-time generation, saying they understood that some things were worth fighting and dying for; a sentiment that remains today. he added that the heroes who liberated the Netherlands, like the men and women who serve our country today understood that when there arises a great evil, a threat to all the things that define our existence as a free and just people, such enemies must be confronted.

I would conclude by quoting from the speech delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the visit “When tyranny threatens the free, when cruelty torments the innocent, when desperation overwhelms the human spirit, we choose to respond, we choose the high road forward, not the easy way out. We choose risk not for reward, but for righteousness, we choose to fight for freedom, we choose to defend the innocent, we choose to bring hope to the world.

Canadians will never forget the welcome our troops received in this country as the war ended. Canadians will never cease to marvel at how this starving and scarred land so quickly became the prosperous, progressive and generous country we know today, a partner in so many things, including Iraq.”

Organ Donation

Organ Donation

Our neighbour, a lady in her sixties, an ardent Christian from Kerala, India, called on us a few weeks back. The subject of organ donation and its importance cropped up during the discussion. Marina my wife and I were supporting the need for organ donations and said that we have signed up for organ donation with Health-Canada and the same is reflected on our Health-Cards. The lady being a strong Christian put forth the case that as Christians, we need to be prepared for the second coming of Christ, when all will be judged, the still living and the resurrected dead. She stressed the need for being prepared, both spiritually and physically for the day. For the God to resurrect, one need to be buried with all the body parts in tact she said. I put forth the argument that God created Adam from the dust and in case the God is all too willing to resurrect me, he can do the same.

The importance of organ donation is well known to all. This act by one person can save the lives of as many as eight other people – and make a difference in the lives of many more. As per Statistics Canada, the data for 2012 showed that over 4,500 people were waiting for organ transplants, 2,124 organs transplanted and 256 people on those wait-lists died before receiving transplants. Unfortunately, only a fraction of Canadians are registered to donate. If you decide to become an organ and tissue donor, discuss it with your family and friends as they are always asked before donation happens, so it is important that they know your wishes.

The first successful living donor transplant was a kidney transplant performed in Boston in 1954 between 23-year-old identical twins.

Anyone can be considered as a potential donor. Age is less important than the health of your organs and tissues, a kidney, part of the liver, and a lobe of the lung. The only need is that you must be old enough to give consent and must be in good health.

Organ donation is not only lifesaving but life giving. As an example, a kidney transplant will prolong the recipient’s life and vastly improve the quality of that life. Suddenly, someone who was tied to a dialysis machine has the freedom to travel, the energy to do what they want and the desire to again live life fully.

It is a difficult decision to be an organ donor, especially taking into consideration many myths surrounding the act. Many find it difficult to perceive about the state of one’s body after death. Always remember that being an organ donor is a generous and worthwhile decision that will always save a life or two.

Most common myth is that the hospital staff will not strive as hard to save one’s life in case they come to know that the patient is an organ donor. Social media, movies and  rumours, all have played their role in ensuring the veracity of this myth. The focus of any doctor would be to save the patient’s life and is mostly unaware about the patient’s organ donation status. As per a Canadian study, physicians are nearly 50 percent more likely than non-physicians to register as an organ donor.

Another myth is that in case of an organ donor, there is a haste in signing death certificate to facilitate organ harvesting. Although it is a popular topic in the tabloids, it has rarely ever happened. Most hospitals carry out more tests to determine that the donor is truly dead prior to removing any organ.

Religious myths and beliefs stand in the way of organ donations. Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism etc. In case one is uncomfortable with one’s faith’s position on donation, it would be prudent to discuss it with the clergy.

Hindu philosophy supports organ donation to a great extent and there are many references to support the concept of organ donation in Hindu scriptures. Daan, meaning selfless giving, is one among the ten Niyam (rules) laid down by Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita chapter 2:22 says ‘As a person puts on new garments, giving up the old ones; the soul similarly accepts new material bodies giving up the old and useless ones.’ Here the mortal body and the immortal soul is described as in the relationship between clothes and a human being.

Pope Francis has called for more people to donate their organs and the Pope said that the clergy needs to explain that donating organs is a gesture of love and each of us, for example, has two kidneys, and giving one of them to a relative or a person we love is a beautiful gesture. There is a case of religious unity from Kottayam, Kerala, India, where Father Sebastian, a 41-year-old Catholic priest, in May 2013, donated one of his kidneys to Rasad Mohammed, a 30 year old Muslim. Father Sebastian said that he was inspired by the story of Father Davis Chiramel, who had donated one of his kidneys to a Hindu. He motivates everyone for organ donation by saying that in keeping with his Catholic beliefs, there is nothing more than giving one’s life to someone and God has given the opportunity to give a part of the life to a person so that he gets a new lease of life.

There is a myth that an open-casket funeral is not possible for people who have donated organs or tissues. The donor’s body is clothed for burial prior to being placed in the casket and hence there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. For bone donation, a rod is inserted where bone is removed and for skin donation, a very thin layer of skin is taken from the donor’s back. Because the donor is clothed and lying on their back in the casket, no one can make out any difference.

Another myth is that the organs of older people are not accepted. No one is too old for donating organs. The decision to use the organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. Only a very few medical conditions automatically disqualify one from donating organs.  It may turn out that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Allow the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

There is a myth that the rich and famous are given priority when it comes to allocating organs. It may appear so because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, but they are treated no differently from anyone else in Canada.

In case of donors under age 18, there is a need for parental consent. Children are also in need of organ transplants, and they usually need organs smaller than those an adult can provide.

Based on the above facts, being an organ donor will make a huge difference, and not just to one person. By donating your organs after your death, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. Many families say that knowing their loved one helped save other lives helped them cope with their loss.

Hindu-Arabic Numerals

Indian Numerals

The numerals in various languages interested me a lot. During our childhood, the Bible at home had chapters numbered with the Malayalam numerals and the verses with Indo-Arabic numerals. During our cadet days at the National Defence Academy, we travelled to Pune city by the municipal transit bus. The tickets were printed with the price shown with Devnagiri numerals and I had no clue of it. Once in the bus, the conductor gave me the ticket and I asked him as to what the cost was. He shot back saying that you dress in a suit and how come you cannot read. I came back and learnt the Devnagiri numerals immediately.

Our son Nikhil while in Grade 2, came home from school and asked me as to what has Hinduism to do with numerals. Taken aback, I asked him to narrate the context and he said the he was taught in the Math class that the common numerals are called Hindu-Arabic Numerals. In North America anything to deal with the country/sub-continent India is referred to as ‘Hindu’ (Hindustan) so as not to confuse with the American Aboriginals, commonly referred to as ‘Red-Indians’ or ‘Indians’.

My mind raced back to 1974, while in Grade 8 at Sainink School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, India, our math teacher, Mr Venkatesha Murthy had explained to us that the numerals we use every day would be known as Indo-Arabic Numerals and not as Arabic Numerals. These numerals were invented by mathematicians in India. They were later called ‘Arabic’ numerals by Europeans, because they were introduced in Europe by Arab merchants. The Europeans were intrigued by the speed at which these Arab merchants calculated mentally when the Europeans were struggling with their Roman numerals and their Abacus.

Mr Murthy also spoke to us in detail about important contributions made by mathematicians like Aryabhata, Bhaskara and Ramanujam. He also spoke to us about contributions of Indian mathematicians to the study of the concept of zero as a number, negative numbers, arithmetic, and algebra.  Mathematicians from Kerala (India) had developed trigonometric functions like sine, cosine, and tangent in the 15th century. They even had developed calculus two centuries before its invention in Europe. As usual, India being a timeless and record-less civilisation, no one formulated a systematic theory of differentiation and integration and there is no evidence of their findings being transmitted outside Kerala.

The Indian Science Conference of Jan 2015 had lectures about ancient knives so sharp they could slit a hair in two, 24-carat gold extracted from cow dung and even 7,000-year-old planes that could travel to other planets. Among other technologies, introduced at the congress there were polymers to build houses made of cactus juice, egg shells and cow dung; a cow bacteria that turns anything eaten by an animal into pure gold, and the curious procedure of an autopsy, conducted by leaving a dead body floating in water for three days. The surprising discoveries were said to be based on ancient Hindu texts, such as the Vedas and the Puranas, and were presented at a session on ‘Ancient Indian Sciences through Sanskrit’. There were some who claimed that Indians had travelled to other planets, and the helmet-shaped object found on the surface of Mars was the hair worn on the head by space travellers. These stories would not even have found a place in children’s comics. Surprisingly there were not one lecture about the mathematical contributions made by the Indians.

Providing a scientific platform in a prestigious science conference for a pseudo-science is appalling. It for the first time such a session is held in Indian Science Congress. Indian Prime Minister by saying to an audience of doctors and scientists that plastic surgery and genetic science existed and were in use thousands of years ago in ancient India and how the Hindu god Ganesh’s elephant head became attached to a human body. The Gujarat State school science books on various myths are now well known. These alarming developments happened after the change of government in Delhi. The scientific community should be seriously concerned about the infiltration of pseudoscience in science curricula with backing of the government. The accelerated pace with which it is being promoted will seriously undermine nation’s science and it will have a disastrous effect on the future generation.

With this at the back of my mind, while in India in Jan 2015, I decided to interact with my nephews and nieces, mostly engineering students. To my surprise none knew that the numerals were called Indo-Arabic and they had no clue of the achievements of Indian mathematicians. It appeared that the textbooks in Canada have been amended, but the Indian books still carried Arabic numerals.

Movember

Movember

The word ‘Movember‘ is derived from the combination of the word ‘mo, which is the Australian-English abbreviated form for ‘mustache‘ and ‘November,’ as the event takes place every year during the month of November. This involves growing of mustaches in order to raise awareness of different men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health challenges. Using the mustache as a catalyst, Movember encourages men to invest in their own health by more openly talking about their health concerns and more proactively seeking necessary medical care. The idea is to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed.

Participants of Movember are called “Mo Bros”. This year our son Nikhil decided to be a “Mo-Bro” at his high school and hence grew all facial hair for a month. At the end of it he decided not shave it off. The students did succeed in raising about the men’s health issues and also collect money during a charity event at the school.

The women taking part in Movember are called ‘Mo Sistas.‘ Mo Sistas are not necessarily encouraged to grow mustaches of their own, but to support the cause, spread the word and encourage guys to become a walking billboard for the charity.

The idea of Movember originated in 1999, when a group of men from Adelaide, Australia decided to grow their mustaches for charity during the month of November. Then the Movember foundation came into existence. The goal and motto of the foundation is to “change the face of men’s health.” The movement has gone global and today is well supported in New Zealand, the US, Canada, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Ireland. From 30 Mo Bros in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 to 4 million Mo’s by 2013, Movember, through the power of the mustache, has become a truly global movement that is changing the face of men’s health.

Some of the celebrities who have endorsed the Movember movement are Australian World Surfing Champion Mick Fanning, 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button, UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, New Zealand’s national rugby captain Richie McCaw and US actor Nick Offerman who worked on a series of videos for the movement. Indian cricketers Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan, and Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh have been the prominent faces of the movement in India.

The best part is that the shaving and razor supplier Schick, is one of the biggest partners of Movember.

As stated on Movember.com, the poor current state of men’s health can often be attributed more to lifestyle than biology. Some causes include:

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

According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research of Cancer, the number of prostate cancer cases is expected to nearly double to 1.7 million in less than 20 years. The Movember movement hopes to inspire more men around the world to better attend to their physical and psychological needs. Hence we can see an improvement on current statistics, like these:

  • 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime.
  • Over 238,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed and almost 30,000 men will die of prostate cancer every year.
  • Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males between the ages of 15 and 35.
  • Men who sit more than six hours a day have an 18 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 7.8 percent increased chance of dying from diabetes compared with someone who sits for three hours or less a day.
  • Globally, 5.3 million deaths will be attributed to physical inactivity.
  • 24% of men are less likely to go to the doctor compared to women.

As a global men’s health movement, the Movember Foundation has the ambition to contribute to improving the lives of men around the world. This will be achieved through programs in the areas of – Awareness & Education, Living with Cancer, Research and Mental Health through:

  • Reduced mortality from prostate, testicular cancer and men’s suicide
  • Men living with prostate or testicular cancer being physically and mentally well
  • Men and boys understanding how to be mentally healthy and taking action when they experience mental health problems
  • Men and boys with mental health problems not being discriminated against

Some mustache trivia:-

  • An Indian man holds the record for the longest growing mustache. According to Guinness World Records, Ram Singh Chauhan has a mustache that spans 14 feet long. He has been growing it since 1982, after a friend with a 7-foot-long mustache suggested it,
  • A man spends an average of five months of his life shaving if he starts at the age of 14 – assuming that he lives until he’s 75 years old.
  • In a deck of cards the King of Hearts is the only king without a mustache.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Charlie Chaplain didn’t actually wear his mustache on a daily basis. It was removable, and he wore it only because, “Well, it’s amusing enough to add something to the routine, but it allows me to keep my facial expressions.”
  • William Taft was the first US President (1909-1913) to have a car and the last to wear a mustache in office

 

Arithmetic of Licence Plates

licenceplateOur son Nikhil in his Grade 3 found division a bit difficult. Along with the division difficulty came the prime numbers and factors. We decided to solve the problem by making arithmetic interesting by me giving out various tips that I had learned while at school, especially from Mr Venkitesha Murthy, our Grade 7 mathematics teacher. Mr Murthy taught us mathematics through various stories, anecdotes and riddles. He also inspired us with the achievements of great Indian Mathematicians like Ramanujam, Bhaskara and Aryabhatta. It took me some time and effort to grasp the concept of factors and prime numbers even while in Grade 7 and hence Nikhil’s difficulty with the same was not at all surprising to me.

Everyday Nikhil and I spent almost half an hour in the car – dropping him off at school, picking up after school, commute to the swimming pool or tennis court or for music class in the evening. Nikhil called it a ‘father-son‘ time and used it to discuss all those which he thought would attract a comment or a spoof from his mother or sister. This practice continues to date and the subject kept changing as Nikhil grew up to his current Grade 12.

To solve the riddle of division and factors, I came up with a game. In our province, Ontario, most licence plates on vehicles has four alphabets followed by three digits. Three digit numbers can be easily handled by a Grade 3 student. Any vehicle we came across on our drive, we used to analyse the number.

To begin with was to see whether the number was even or odd and hence conclude its divisibility by ‘2’. Then it was to add all the digits and if the resultant sum was either ‘3’ or ‘6’ or ‘9’, it was to be concluded that the number is divisible by three.

In case the number was an even one and the last two digits (ten and unit place) was divisible by ‘4’, then ‘4’ is a factor. If the unit place is either ‘5’ or ‘0’, the number is divisible by ‘5’. In case ‘2’ and ‘3’ are factors, then ‘6’ will also be a factor. If the sum of the digits resulted in ‘9’, the number is divisible by ‘9’. If the unit place has ‘0’, then ’10’ is a factor.

With this game on, every day we would analyse about 10 licence plates and with that the difficulty of division, factors and prime numbers was resolved to a great extent.

The first car my wife bought for me on arrival in Canada was a new Honda Accord and when I went to take the delivery, the agency had already procured the licence plate for me. The number was ‘BBZW 139’. In North America, licence plates move with the owner, not with the vehicle. If you sell or change vehicles, you keep the licence plates and affix them on your new vehicle. Hence this number plate remained with me, though I changed three cars.

The number also reflects a bit on my personality as 139 is an odd number and also a prime number. It has only 1 and itself as a factor and is not fully divisible by any other number. I believe that I cannot be affected by any factors or divided by any other than 1 – the God Almighty – and myself.

The digits ‘139’ fascinated me as it added to 13, my day of birth – 13 March. My school Roll Number was ‘931’, which again added up to 13 and my Defence Account Number was 161005, which again added up to 13 and the list goes on. This is mere coincidence and has nothing to do with the ‘unlucky 13′ and it has never bought the lady luck to my side and I cannot claim to be unlucky also. I do not believe in numerology or astrology and hence this trail of 13 never ever cast its bad luck on me.

’13’ is also known as ‘Baker’s Dozen‘ – instead of ’12’, bakers always packed 13 for a dozen in Britain. In the mid-thirteenth century, Britain enacted the statute of Assize of Bread and Ale, which set the relationship between the price of wheat and what the subsequent price of a loaf of bread from a certain quantity of wheat should be. If the baker accidentally cheated a customer by giving them less, they were subject to extremely severe fines and punishment. In order to avoid such accidents, bakers started to count 13 for a dozen.

Children turn teenagers when they turn 13 and we are all aware of what it means.   Apollo 13 is the only unsuccessful moon mission. An oxygen tank exploded and the survival of the astronauts on board was hanging in balance for several days, but they all came home safely. Many Christians believe that 13 is unlucky as there were 13 people in the ‘Last Supper‘.

Triskaidekaphobia‘ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’), and ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia‘ is the term used to describe the fear of ‘Friday the Thirteenth‘  – (Greek words paraskevi (‘Friday’) and dekatria (‘thirteen’) with –phobia as a suffix to indicate ‘fear’). Researchers estimate that at least 10 percent of the US population has a fear of the number 13, especially for Friday the thirteenth.

Mathematicians point out that 13 is not so unlucky, but it earned all its bad name as it is an odd number and a prime number. It is 13’s bad luck that it follows the ‘perfect number‘ 12. Many believe that 12 is ‘perfect’ as it counts to a dozen, there are 12 months in an year, a day consists of two 12-hour cycles etc. The extend of ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ in the US is so high that more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings do not have a thirteenth floor, and the vast majority of hotels, hospitals and airports avoid using the number for rooms and gates as well.

The number 13 may be lucky or unlucky, but one cannot blame the number for it and will always follow number 12 and precede number 14.

Vet PlatePS.  Now I do not have the above licence plate.  The Government of Ontario, in recognition of my service with the Indian Army has given me a new plate.  My gratitude to Canada for honouring a Veteran from another country.

11/11 @ 11:11

remembrance day

Every year on November 11, at 11 minutes past 11 AM, Canadians pause in a silent minute to remember the men and women who served, and continue to serve the country during times of war, conflict and peace. This moment coincides with the Armistice Day which marks the date and time when armies stopped fighting World War I on November 11 at 11 minutes past 11 AM in 1918. In the United States this day is called Veteran’s Day and is also observed on November 11. On this day in Canada at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock, all the buses and trains will stop, the fire engines will sound their sirens for a minute as a mark of respect to all the fallen soldiers.

Urban_96's Content - Page 4 - Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board
During the Remembrance week- November 4 to 11, all the flags fly at half-mast; all the buses have ‘Lest We Forget‘ signboards, most of the shops, restaurants and malls display banners and posters to honour the soldiers and veterans.

The Remembrance Day is observed to honour veterans who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.

Six rules of poppy protocol for Remembrance Day | The Star
On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve. All the buses ply with the sign ‘Lest We Forget’; all the shopping malls and coffee shops put up posters in appreciation of the services rendered by our soldiers; cadets and veterans sell the ‘Red Poppy’ – made by disabled Veterans – to be pinned on the dresses.

In photos: Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada to honour those we've lost - The Globe and Mail
Canadian Prime Minister and the entire cabinet appeared on media for the duration of remembrance week, wearing the Red Poppy. In India, on the Armed Forces Flag Day (07 Dec), children pin the flags on our President and the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, and for the next event you see them without the flags on their chests.

Poppies are worn as the symbol of remembrance, a reminder of the blood-red flower that still grows on the former battlefields of France and Belgium. During the terrible bloodshed of the second Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, wrote of these flowers which lived on among the graves of dead soldiers:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Remembrance Day: Canadians mark 100 years since end of First World War | CTV News
The national ceremony is held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa presided by The Governor General of Canada with the Prime Minister, other government officials, representatives of Veterans’ organizations, diplomatic representatives, other dignitaries, Veterans as well as the general public in attendance.


School is where the children usually first learn about who and what Remembrance Day is for. Schools go into why we need to give respect and they will usually have an assembly and a veteran or a serving soldier addresses the students. After the assembly, the first hour in class is spent on discussing the sacrifices made by the soldiers and the students are urged to come up with the details of family members, relatives or friends who served or are still serving with the armies around the world.

Our son Nikhil, studying in Grade 9 In 2010, was attending such a discussion. The class consisted of ‘Gifted Children’ and had about 70% of students of Oriental origin, 25% Caucasians and he was the lone Indian. Every other student were narrating the details of their parents, uncles, grandparents, granduncles, etc who served in the First and the Second World Wars and other military operations. Nikhil did not want to be left behind and he stood up to give his account.

Nikhil narrated the few instances of his life as a kindergarten student which he spent in Devlali and the interactions he had with the soldiers and also about various events he had witnessed like the artillery fire power demonstration.

Military history being taught in Canadian schools is based on the Canadian participation in the World Wars. He did a lot of research on the military history aspects and had bought a dozen books on the subject.  In those days, Nikhil earned $50 pocket money a month for helping me out with the household chores like vacuuming, cleaning, washing of dishes, laundry, gardening, garbage disposal, etc. He used to use up all the money to buy books and always ended up with a bill much higher than the limit and I always gleefully paid it as it was for books. Now days he does not want any pocket money as he earns about $100 a week working as a swimming instructor and life guard at the city’s swimming pool.

Anyhow, it proved my current theory that a better reflection of a high-school student comes from the books he keeps than the friends he keeps.

Fair & Lovely

anita

Washington Post published a survey by the World Value Survey, which measured social attitudes of people in different countries. The survey asked citizens what types of people they would refuse to live next to, and counted how many chose the option ‘people of a different race’ as a percentage for each country. Jordan came out as the country with the highest proportion of ‘intolerant’ people with 51.4% and India with 43.5%.

Look at the ‘Fair & Lovely’ ad in India and it will prove one aspect of intolerance for the dark complexioned, especially among the fairer sex. The ad shows a miraculous change in the complexion of a girl from being dark skinned to very fair. The effect in the ad must have been achieved by the ‘digital touch-up’ and also by the effective use of light during photography.

Manufactured by Hindustan Lever, Indian arm of nternational giant Unilever, Fair & Lovely claims to offer dramatic change to fair complexion in just six weeks.  The packing of the cream displays one face six times, in an ever-whitening progression, and includes ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of a woman who presumably used the product. Do you think Unilever will ever market or package this product in US/Canada the way they do in India?

As per Indian laws, since Fair & Lovely is not categorised as a pharmaceutical product, Hindustan Lever is not bound to prove efficacy of the product. In India, litigation for not achieving advertised effect or social effect of the advertisement would take a long time and may not get the desired judgement.

Indian media is now trying to establish itself and is in the process of maturing. At this stage, to most the revenue matters and hence are ready to air ‘irresponsible’ news, discussions, advertisements, etc for ensuring better Target Rating Point (TRP) and raking in a few more bucks. Responsibility for ensuring that advertising is truthful is a shared responsibility among advertisers, agencies, and the media. The best regulation is self-regulation and one can expect it from the Indian media houses in the times to come.

Fair & Lovely is the largest selling skin whitening cream in the world, and was first launched in India in 1975. It held a commanding 50-70 % share of the skin whitening market in India. The product is marketed by Unilever in 40 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with India being the largest single market. One can see them in the shelves of many Indian grocery stores in Canada too.

Our children, both schooled in Canada, their friends with complexions ranging from the darkest to the fairest, have been dismayed with the Fair & Lovely’s television commercials aired on the Indian channels. The ad typically contains the message of a dark complexioned depressed woman, becoming fairer and getting a job or a husband. It also depicts the women becoming happier and more confident after the change of her complexion. The question from our children was as to how come no one is suing them in India for racialism.

The discussion further went on to belief in India that the skin colour is very powerful unlike in North America where the emphasis on a deep and glowing tan. The majority of Indian society still feels that a lighter color skin tone reflects a higher status and is more attractive. This gets further strengthened with the bride searching ads put up by Indian men mostly seeking out fair skinned women. Hence the target market for Fair & Lovely is predominantly young women aged 18-35.

As expected, the discussion moved on to their cousin Anita, an engineering graduate, now working with an IT firm in Trivandrum, Kerala. Anita is a dark complexioned girl and she is well aware of that. Heard her saying to her mother that it was not her fault that she was born with a darker skin.

Our daughter Nidhi always felt that Anita was trying to appear fair and hence was using all unhealthy products. This had a telling effect on her skin. Nidhi, during her visit to India in February 2014, decided to give a few tips to Anita about carrying herself confidently and beautifully with her natural complexion. She had seen many of her dark complexioned friends using cosmetic products and procedures to look beautiful.

The first lesson Nidhi gave Anita was that being dark complexioned is also beautiful and hence there is no need to look fair. Then she took Anita to the local cosmetic store and based on the ingredients, selected cosmetics which suited her skin tone and ensuring that it had no bleaching agent. It was followed by a lesson on how to apply the cosmetics and makeup tips to enhance her facial features.

In June 2014, I got a call from Anita, then a student at the Engineering College and she said that she wanted to run for the post of the Chairperson of the College Union. I felt that she had become really confident and appeared to have come out of the ‘complexion problem’. She won the students election and became  the Chairperson.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Wedding

“Fire! Fire! Fire!” with our exchange operator screaming at the top of his voice; woke me up from deep slumber. Our regiment was located in the higher reaches of Sikkim on 12 December 1997 when this incident occurred. The area was covered with about four feet of frozen solid snow with the temperature touching minus 20 degrees Celsius.

I paid a visit to the dentist in the evening as my wisdom tooth was troubling me and I was under immense pain. The dentist decided that the best way out was extraction and hence administered local anesthesia on my gums and did the extraction. He advised me to take rest for a day or two. I reached my room and I had a splitting headache as a result of the anesthesia. I decided to go to sleep and hit the bed.

At dusk, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel PK Ramachandran, wanted to talk to me and called up the Regimental Telephone Exchange to connect the call. The exchange operator had tried the call many times but as I was in deep slumber, I did not answer the call. The exchange operator came to my room and saw me in deep slumber and informed the CO about my status. Our CO being a thorough gentleman, advised the operator to let me enjoy my sleep and to put through the call the moment I woke up.

At about 9 PM, the exchange operator noticed smoke and flames in the building I was sleeping. He came rushing into my room screaming and woke me up. He said that my room was on fire. By that time about five soldiers also came in. I ordered everyone to clear off and not get any burn injuries. The soldiers led by the exchange operator were salvaging my desktop PC, the TV and the VCR.

I stepped out of the room engulfed in flames wearing my sandals. Luckily my Identity Card was safe as it was in my uniform shirt’s pocket as I had slept off without changing my uniform. The fire started because the officer staying in the neighbouring room had forgotten to turn off his kerosene based room heating system. As I stood outside in the biting cold, I could see the entire building up in flames. The soldiers were in the act of salvaging everything from the adjacent buildings.

That was when we realised that the water tankers in the regiment were empty as the orders were to keep the tankers empty to prevent them from freezing. The solid frozen snow was of no use to douse the fire as it could not be lifted off the ground. The order was passed immediately that all water tankers will be kept three-fourth full every night to meet such eventualities.   Our CO came to me and asked as to how I felt and I replied that the only thing I could do was to enjoy the warmth the fire was providing on a freezing night.

Next morning the soldiers scouted through the ashes and Subedar (Warrant Officer) Balakishan came out with all my medals (given by the government in recognition of bravery, honour and sacrifice) and a photograph which was intact despite the raging fire. It was our marriage photograph dated 16 April 1989. I immediately said that “What God has united no raging fire, storm or hail can ever separate”.

An Orthodox Syrian Christian wedding follows similar procedures as done by other Orthodox faiths like Greek, Slavic, and Egyptian. It begins with the Betrothal service where the Priest blesses the rings of the Bride and Groom, then places them on the ring fingers of their right hands. In the Bible, the right hand is the preferred hand, indicating good. The Betrothal dramatizes the free decision made by the Bride and Groom, and is symbolized by the giving of rings.

The Marriage Ceremony begins immediately thereafter culminating in the crowning. It begins with the priest placing a crown on the groom’s head while reciting the crown blessing thrice. Then the crowning ceremony of the bride follows in the similar way. The Greek and Slavic Orthodox use crowns made from olive leaves and the Syrian Orthodox use a gold chain as a symbolic crown. The crowning is a sign of victory, just as athletes were crowned in ancient times at their triumphs. In this instance, the Bride and Groom are crowned on account of their growth as mature Christians, prepared for the responsibilities of a Christian marriage.

This is followed by a series of petitions and prayers with special reference to well known couples of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Sarah. An epistle excerpt of Saint Paul is read, exhorting husband and wife to unconditional love and support of one another. Then an excerpt from the Gospel of Saint John is read, relating to the wedding at Cana when Christ performed the first of His miracles and blessed the institution of marriage.

The differences in the marriage ceremony between other Orthodox faiths and Kerala’s Syrian Orthodox faith begin here. The groom ties the ‘Minnu’ around the bride’s neck – tying the knot. This has been adopted from the Hindu traditions. the ‘Thali’ used in a Kerala Hindu marriage was in the shape of a leaf of the sacred banyan tree and Christians modified the Thali by superimposing a cross on the leaf and called it a ‘Minnu’. The Minnu is suspended on seven threads drawn out of the Manthradoki. The seven strands represent the bride, the bridegroom, the couple’s parents and the Church.

The groom then places the ‘Manthrakodi’, a sari presented by the bridegroom and his family, which is draped over the bride’s head, symbolizing the groom’s pledge to protect, care for and cherish his wife The Manthrakodi is the adaptation from the earlier Kerala Hindu Nair traditions of ‘Pudavakoda’ where the marriage was a contract and handing over clothes for the bride indicated entry into a contracted marriage. At this point, the bride’s relative, who has been standing behind her, yields her place to a female member of the groom’s family as a sign that the bride is welcomed into her new family.

The ceremony ends with a benediction and prayer. The Priest uses the Bible to uncouple the hands of the Bride and Groom signifying that only God can come between them. It is always the priest who will preside over the actual marriage ceremony that is the tying of the Minnu. If a bishop is present, he will only bless the Minnu. This tradition may have emerged from the old Travancore Christian Marriage Acts wherein only the priest had the magisterial power to conduct a marriage.

Even though our marriage was not conducted in the presence of Fire God (Agni), our wedding photograph lived through an Agni Pareeksha (Trial by Fire).

Nikhil’s Poems

nik

Here are some poems Nikhil wrote as part of Grade 10 English Assignments.

Order and Chaos
Discipline is the greatest strength
Restraint the greatest virtue
Control is the highest aspiration
Order the only truth
Order is what everyone seeks
Order: a utopian fruit
Disorder is the natural state
Anarchy is the final end
Lawless is the nature of the world
Into chaos we all descend
Chaos is past, present and future
Chaos we can achieve

Love
I am defenseless, I must surrender
I am under your enchantments
You speak and I hear Venus’ voice
You laugh at my inept replies
The philosophers deride
Those who lose to passion
Yet my soul knows what I don’t
I cannot deny this
You are perfect as the rose is perfect
In this game I am green as grass
You are the light which kisses my world
But soon you must be gone
You will move on
Leave me incomplete
I must simply trudge on thereafter
From one heartbreak to the next
In grief to grief, from dust to dust

Time Travel
I used to serve
obeying other’s commands
Now I have tasted command
I can never obey again
I used to plan
deciding on my future
I now live in the moment
planning as i go
I used to consume knowledge
to prove achievement
I now seek wisdom
for the sake of it
I used to fear failure
and facing disappointment
I now fear obscurity
dying not remembered
I used to believe
I knew what I wanted
I now know
I must be willing to change
I used to watch TV
so I could be entertained

I now use what I saw
to entertain others
I was once blind
Stumbling for the truth
But now I see

Bottom of the Bottle
Her love so fierce she couldn’t contain it
She expected to be happy so long
Letters of love so many were writ
Her love a great flag flapping
She could not have known the a lurking
For in the shadows he works
The tiger’s name was her love’s drinking
One of life’s horrid quirks
She forgave his smelling everyday like booze
He said he was sober yet she could tell
She thought life’s game in which I can’t lose
Now she’s in a hell wet not hot
When she has a child her greatest terror
Is he’ll follow his father and commit his error

The Desert Fox

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A Ballad composed by Nikhil as part of Grade 10 English curriculum. Based on the North African Campaign of World War II.

The third hunter Monty he comes from the East
He has finally defeated the beast
Unaccustomed to desert sands and rocks
He has now whipped the desert fox
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The first hunter let the fox come to him
He waited with patience, his outlook grim
The fox in a flurry of speed and dash
Attacked the hunter in a move considered rash
The fox had beat hunter the first
But underestimated the hunter’s king’s thirst
So the king sent in bold hunter the second
The sands of the desert with blood would now redden
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The second hunter set traps and snare
The fox would die if an attack he dare
Though when the fox came the traps did fail
The second hunter oh did he go pale
The king’s patience was now truly wearing thin
He removed the second hunter for defeat is a sin
He then sent a hunter he long hated
His relation with the king quite complicated
The desert fox he tests the king’s patience
He leads the king’s hunters a merry dance
Moving swift across deserts running tall
He had best fear Monty or face his downfall

The third hunter not as dashing as his prey
He chose a position well sited in which to stay
He held his ground well near the sea
He gathered around him a vast hunter army
Once he gathered more hunters than needed
He attacked the weary fox who retreated
All we shocked that fox had lost
Then all were shocked at the cost
Several hunters maimed and so much expense
So many tools broken it makes no more sense
It makes one wonder who was the better
The defeated fox or his bankrupt hunters
The desert fox he tested the king’s patience
He lead the king’s hunters a merry dance
Once moving swift across deserts running tall
He should have feared Monty his final downfall

Family Prayer

fpMorning and evening family prayer has been a ritual followed in our family as far as I can recollect. Our father led the prayer real loud (could be because he was a Headmaster and our grandfather who was also a Headmaster, prayed much louder) and we all followed suit. As a child I never understood the meaning of whatever I said during the prayers and also what was the intention of such an act. I always perceived it as a punishment our father meted out to all his children for their unruly behaviour. I actually realised the value and importance of it only after I joined the Indian Army.  (Please CLICK HERE read my blog on Soldier Gods)

The family evening prayer used to begin at 9 PM with our mother singing a hymn followed by one of the children reading a passage from the bible. The actual prayer commenced after that and it used to last about five minutes. At the end of it everyone was expected to observe a minute or two of silent prayer. I never knew what to pray for most times, but I also sat silently. During the lent, we had special prayers and the duration extended for another five more minutes.

With advent of the Television beaming out many tear jerking serials, our parents by then retired from teaching, also got addicted to many of them. In Kerala due to power shortage we have half an hour power-cut on weekdays in the evening. The timing of the power-cut used to change every month and now the evening prayer time was dictated by the power-cut, as that was the time our parents could not watch any serial.

The morning prayers were a nightmare for me as our father woke us all up by 5:30 AM and he commenced the prayer with us in chorus. I always felt that the morning prayers were much longer than the evening prayers. After the prayers, we had to brush our teeth and get cracking with the household chores. Our father distributed each one of us a task and later our eldest brother when he turned a teen took over the responsibility. By that time our father went to milk the cows and clean up the cowshed.

My main chore when I came on vacation was to draw water out of the well in the courtyard using the pulley-rope-bucket system. In those days we did not have the pumping facility. This was the toughest chore among all and as I was away most of the year at school, my brothers wanted a relief and I did not mind it. Drawing of water began by 6 AM and ended only by 9 AM as water was needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing and also for the animals in the shed. Last requirement of water was for my mother to bathe before setting out to the school and by that time everyone else left home for their schools/ university. This water drawing chore continued till I turned a teen as by that time a pump set was installed with pipes to distribute water to the kitchen, bathrooms and to the cowshed. During our last visit home, I wanted to show our son the pulley-rope-bucket system, but I could not find it anywhere.

Behind our house lived Vasu and Chellamma with their two daughters and son. Vasu was a daily wage earning farm hand and Chellamma made a living out of rearing cows and goats and selling milk to the neighbourhood. One day Shankara Panikkan (Please read my blog on Shankara Panickan by CLICKING HERE) died at about 5 AM. We all went to Panikkan’s home to console the family. By about 7 AM Chellamma came running to  Panikkan’s home saying that she did not wake up early in the morning as George Sir (our father) did not pray that morning as we all were at Panikkan’s home.

That was when we realised that the loud morning prayers at our home also served as a wake-up call for the neighbourhood (It would have surely woken up the God Almighty too.)

Adaptation

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“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment” so said Charles Darwin in his Theory of Evolution.

Our dog, Maximus Koduvath, turned six this year and I thought he had mellowed down a lot in comparison to his “puppy” days. He plays and runs around in the backyard and luckily does not dig up the lawn. He only digs up area not covered with the grass.

In the backyard of the house we have a kitchen garden where we grow vegetables in summer months. We grow them organically using the compost from the city’s recycling centre as manure. The children help me in collecting the compost and spreading it and are treated with a doughnut and coffee. Thanks to Colonel Balaji, an old classmate, both at Saink School and National Defence Academy, who has taken to farming in his native village in Tamil Nadu after hanging up his boots, who advised me to spray a mixture of Neem Oil, liquid soap, chilli powder and turmeric powder on to the plants as a pesticide/fungicide. It has really improved the yield of the vegetables and the blooms on all the flowering plants in the front garden.

I had put up a 30 inch high wire mesh to separate the vegetable cultivation from the lawn. Many friends thought that it was to keep away the raccoons, skunks and rabbits (these are the common visitors to all Canadian home gardens). I would tell our friends that we live a stone’s throw away from the City Hall where our Mayor sits (our Mayor is a 93 year old iron lady, Ms Hazel McCallion, who presides over the city with total commitment and enthusiasm) and Ms Hazel has placed the area around the city centre as “out of bounds” for all animals.

Some enquired the reason for such a low fence and my theory, based on the equestrian training at the National Defence Academy, was that any animal, unlike humans, needs a running space to run and jump over any obstacle. Hence Maximus will not be in a position to jump across with the limited space in the lawn. In case he manages to jump across, he will not be able to get out and hence will never try again to jump in. The 30 inch height of the fence facilitated my easy entry and exit into the garden.

This year I decided to apply some bone-meal to all the vegetable plants to facilitate better yield. Maximus got attracted to the smell of the bones and he jumped across the fence and licked off some of the bone-meal after digging down. Now he could not extricate himself out of the fenced area as he did not have running space to execute a jump. He started to bark and I had to lift him over the fence. I shouted at Maximus for uprooting a few plants in his search for the bone-meal and as usual he retreated into his cage in the family room. Yes, my theory was well proved.

This drill of Maximus jumping over the fence and I extricating him out from there continued for three days and every time I got angry with him, he would retreat to his cage.

A few days later I saw Maximus in the vegetable garden and on seeing me, he came up to the fence and lifted his both front legs together over the fence and before they could land on the ground, he managed to lift off the rear legs and crossed over the fence with ease. The Darwin’s theory of evolution dawned on me and I realised that Maximus had adapted to the environment and my theory lay in the dust-bin.

Next year I need to raise the height of the fence and also build a gate there – another self-help project for the year ahead.

 

Leadership and Bible

GS(Based on Chapter 10 of the Gospel According to St John)
During our summer vacations while in school, we used to attend Vacation Bible School for 10 days. Every year the theme was based on one of the parables Jesus spoke. The theme for the summer after my Grade 6 was the ‘Good Shepherd’ parable as described in Chapter 10 of the Gospel According to St John.

At that young age of eleven, the parable had a great impact and over the years I must have read it umpteen times and every time I read it, I interpreted it differently. The variations in my interpretations were caused by the varied experience one had serving the Army and the difficult situations one faced. I can now confidently say that the interpretations ‘matured’ with each passing day and with the experiences I gained.

The entire interpretations given below are solely personal and have no theological or religious connotations. I have selected verses 1 to 5 and 11 to 14 and have purposely omitted verses 6 to 10. I have clubbed a few verses being interconnected.

Verse 1.   Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
Verse 2.   The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

The leader got to face the team he leads from the front. He got to face up to each member of the team and must avoid the tendency to ‘sneak in’ from the side or the back. This applies more in case the team is facing an adverse or difficult situation.

The leader got to be confident and this confidence is the resultant of professional knowledge and integrity. Any leader with good intentions will always be accepted and such leaders will always enter from the main door.

Verse 3.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

The team has to understand the voice of the leader and there by the leader’s intentions. The team will understand these only in case the leader is willing to communicate effectively with his team members.

Further, one has to know each member of the team and in case you know them well, you will always call them by their names. That could be the reason why in the armed forces everyone wears a name-tag. Earlier the Indian Railway staff and the State Transport staff used to wear their name-tags. In Canada, anyone who comes in personal contact with the customers is always seen wearing their name-tags. Who does not want to be addressed by their names than the “shoo – shooo” one often uses in the Indian Restaurants and public offices.

Leading from the front is the most important aspect of leadership. No one likes back-seat driving, even if the back-seat driver is the spouse or children.

Verse 4.   When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

The necessity for the leader to take the entire team together and lead them from the front is the essence of this verse. Here again the importance of the team knowing the leader is stressed.

Verse 5.   But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

In case the leader fails to communicate well with his team and make his intentions clear, will become a stranger. The team will never accept a stranger and will never be confident to follow a stranger.

Verse 11.   I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Verse 12.   The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
Verse 13.   The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

The above three verses apply in literal sense to military leadership, where the call of duty takes one into life and death situations. This also applies to all leaders; the only difference could be that one does not have to lay down one’s life, but at times may have to pay for with his status, money etc.

Any leader who works for self-glorification and physical rewards is the hired hand. The famous saying that ‘in case you work you get more work else you get your pay‘ applies here. Such a person does not ‘own’ the team and is bothered more about his self-interest. They will be the first to sacrifice a team member in case something goes wrong. Often heard these ‘hired hands’ saying “I briefed him in detail about the task, but he goofed it up”. They never realise that their voices were not recognised by the team (sheep) as the briefing must have been ineffective or the leader did not know the ability of each team member (sheep) as to what they can deliver.

The hired hands will vanish from the scene when something goes wrong and will only surface to gobble up all the credit for the effort of the rudderless team to overcome the adverse situation.

Verse 14,   I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

You got to know the team (sheep). You got to know every team member in depth. You got to know the strengths and weaknesses of each. A good leader who knows his team will always project the strengths of his team members while covering up their weaknesses.

Once the leader knows the team, the team will know their leader. In order to know the team, the leader got communicate, both formally and informally with the team members. Theses communications opens up the personality of the leader and based on it each team members makes an opinion or impression about the leader.

Everyone has to assume leadership sometime or the other; it may be at work, in your class, at home, during family or social events etc. Wishing all the leaders the grace of God to became a “Good Shepherd”.

What Do I Do Now?

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This is the question everyone asks me when I call-up anyone back home in India. When I say I am enjoying my retired life, the immediate reaction has been “You just cannot sit idle and must be up to something.” Hence I decided to pen down all the activities I indulge in throughout the day.

Saying good-bye to the army is very difficult, especially since one has enjoyed the best of times and it’s the Army which has made you what you are this day. One could not have asked for anything better from God and the system – otherwise from being a primary school teacher’s son, I would not have retired as a Colonel. All what I am today is the result of the education of Sainik School, NDA, IMA and various Military Institutions. In sheer physical terms – from a 22 kg nine year old boy to a 78 kg 42 year old – all credit must belong to the Indian Army. So it was a painful good-bye to the arms.

Looking back, thirteen years since I hung my boots, I have no regrets or complaints. God and the Army Headquarters (MS Branch) was always kind to me that I served 10 Yrs in Delhi (even though I had no interest in Delhi;) five years on various courses and to top it, had only two years of High-Altitude postings. Again nothing to complain.

The army made me a computer aware man despite being a BA. It made me a leader and a man. I never ended up working in the Army – as I enjoyed every part of it. Thanks to God, all my colleagues, my superiors and mainly to the men who really made feel proud.

The journey out of the uniform had been different to what many of you experienced as I took the evening flight to Canada, the day I handed over command. I jettisoned into a new and unknown world, where my wife and children were waiting.  As promised, my wife had a nice, big home and a car waiting for me and as she was earning a good salary as a pharmacist, I had no pressures at all. My first step was to amalgamate with the Canadian society.

To my dismay, I found that all my perceptions of the Western world were totally misplaced. No racism, no shunning being a brown skin, and a very friendly lot of people who valued human aspects of life. I spent my first six months learning to speak English the way Canadians do and I found all the people whom I spoke to at the malls or coffee-shops or in the bus, very patient and friendly trying to make out what I was trying to communicate. These communications helped a lot and also corrections from our children got me into speaking Canadian-English.

After six months, I landed up with a job as a supervisor at a call-center and I enjoyed that too for a two year period until our children demanded that I be home when they were there.  They did not want to live in an empty home.   That’s it, I quit my job, to be a house husband. My wife who was doing a four-day week took to a five-day week as her 10 hours of extra work made up much more than what I earned in my 40 hour week and expenditure came down as I did not have to drive to work.

Having taken over as the house-husband, I felt I was busier than any time before as I woke up first, made tea for all, cooked breakfast, packed lunch and fresh-fruit-juice and dropped off the children to school and saw-off my wife to work. Then were the chores – washing dishes, laundry, vacuum cleaning the house, walking the dog (a very difficult aspect in Canada- especially in winters), preparing lunch, gardening, grocery and the list goes on. By afternoon, I picked up the children from school; some days in the evening  when they had any after school activities like drama club, environmental club, debating club etc. Then was dropping them off to their extra-curricular activities by 5 PM – for swimming, tennis, golf, music, dance, or voluntary service at the community old-age home. Got everyone back to home by 6 or 7 PM and helped them with their assignments and study and then cooked dinner and we waited for Marina to return to enjoy a family dinner at 9 PM.

Now with both our children moving out of home to stay in Downtown Toronto, pursuing their job and university, my busy schedule came to a near end.  That was when I found time to read more and write more.  I took to photography as a new hobby as I realised I needed quality images for my blogs.  I now get busy only on the weekends when children come home, normally preceded with a text message listing out all the groceries and other stuff they need.

The life has kept me busy and hence I presume in good health too. I never carried any baggage in my life. I never carried a brief-case to office as I did not believe in carrying office to home or vice-versa.  I recall a conversation with an NCO who met me while on vacation last year who said “You are the only Commanding Officer I’ve seen coming to command a unit with four boxes and leaving with only two.

Air-Canada only allows two pieces of baggage,” I replied.

Fountain Pen

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May be, I am from an old school, wherein the importance of handwriting was stressed as the most essential quality a primary student had to develop.  So we had the writing book, two lined and four lined for Malayalam and English.  I cannot count as to how many times I got castigated by Ms Murphy, our English teacher, for my illegible hand.  In order to develop writing skills in our son, I decided to procure a fountain pen for him.  To my surprise I found none available in the Toronto Area.  Some arts shops carried calligraphy pens, but not the good old fountain pen.  Then I requested my brother to procure half a dozen of them from Kerala and send it with a friend of ours visiting Kerala.

Fountain pens are nowadays used mainly by Urdu and Chinese language writers.  In these languages, calligraphy plays an important role as the strokes and their thickness may alter the meaning of the words.  Then why use a costly fountain pen when 100 pens for $2 deal on disposable ballpoint pens are there in the market and when we are mostly writing in English language?

Many of the people using fountain pens today grew up doing so. Fountain pens used to be on the list of required school supplies. Those writers may simply be accustomed to using fountain pens or enjoy the nostalgic feeling that comes with it. Using a fountain pen may remind people of simpler times, when good handwriting skills were praised, rather than how many words per minute you can type.

A student using a fountain pen may attract comments from his friends like “a grandpa’s times pen”; “why are you using a stone-age tool?” or “Hey, that’s really cool”.  In a sea of laptops, ipads, and tablets, a student using an actual pen, let alone a fountain pen, can be shocking, and on some occasions, very much appreciated.   Our son says that at school he stands out real cool as he is the only one using a fountain pen.

There are also technical advantages of using a fountain pen. The liquid ink flow requires less pressure when writing which reduces cramping and overall discomfort when writing. Fountain pens are great for those with weak wrists or hands, and carpal tunnel. The quality and variety of fountain pens is also very attractive. Fountain pens, if well maintained, can last for decades.

When you write with a pen rather than typing it on a computer, the writings last as there is no “Backspace”  or “Delete” button.  Whatever one wrote remains on paper and can be referred to later, even though one did not like what one wrote at that time.  May be in a different context or situation it may come handy.  Think your creation which you wiped off on a computer screen with the delete button.  At many times, you cannot recover it.

Fountain pens may be more expensive than a pack of ballpoint pens, but they last for a lifetime, making them much more ‘eco-friendly’ than your usual disposable pens. There is also more variety when it comes to fountain pens. They can be tailored to suit the needs of their user. Left-handed options, pen styles, nib sizes, and the vast spectrum of ink colors allow users to customize their pen to fit their unique personal style.  In addition to their unique design, fountain pens offer a larger range of writing styles. Depending on nib, hold, and angle of the pen, writing styles can be altered and changed accordingly.

So why, with all these advantages are people still buying disposable pens? . Fountain pens need careful maintenance in order to prevent leaking and promote long lasting use. Refilling your fountain pen can be messy and tedious.  This task would be a great exercise for children in enhancing their concentration and delicate handling. Taking fountain pens on airplanes can be risky because the air pressure changes at high altitude may cause ink explosions, and unless you like to unintentionally dye your clothes, most people view this as an inconvenience.

Fountain pens will surely improve the handwriting of the person using it, it also make you feel different and your creativity will surely be better than using a ball-point pen or typing out on a computer screen,  Why don’t you try it for once and see the difference.

Pet Emergency

mxMaintaining a pet in Canada/USA is a serious matter and needs lot of effort and care by the pet owners.  The Municipal laws requires that all dogs and cats owned must be licensed and wearing a tag.  Licensing helps prevent against rabies outbreaks by requiring a certificate of vaccination for all dogs over the age of 4 months.  All the animals must be neutered/spayed prior to licensing in order to ensure population control.  By licensing your dog or cat, Animal Services will make every effort to reunite you with your pet if it gets lost.   There is a normally a limit laid down for the maximum numbers of pets that you can own.

The laws also specify that while on any private or public property, you got to pick up after your pet and the dog must be kept on a leash no more than two metre long and you must be holding onto the leash.   The owner of a dog is liable for a bite on another person or animal.   If your dog is continuously barking or whining and disturbing your neighbours, you can be fined under the Noise Bylaw.

There are many veterinary clinics dotting the city and there is a pet emergency hospital providing services 24 hours.  The Canadian government provides medical cover for all the citizens, but not for your pets and hence every visit to the veterinarian will ease a few hundred dollars.

The veterinary clinics will maintain all health records of the pets and the pharmacy will maintain all the medications dispensed.  To facilitate searching the database for the pet’s record, it is practice to give the pet also a last name, which is your family name.  Hence our dog is named Maximus Koduvath.  In case the pharmacy pulls up records of Koduvaths, the dog’s name will also popup.  Why not? He is also a member of the family.

Once Maximus ingested some poison and had to be taken to the pet emergency hospital.  We called up the hospital and the moment we reached there with Maximus, there were two attendants waiting with a stretcher to roll him in.  They carried out a stomach wash and the entire event made me poorer by $400.

While waiting for Maximus at the hospital, there was an elderly couple also sitting there.  I got into a conversation with them and they told me that their ten year dog had developed some kidney complications and is being operated upon.  I casually asked them about the cost of the procedure and behold – they were expecting anything to the tune of $6000 upwards.

Due to constant pestering by the children for a dog (we got Maximus because of the same), a friend of ours settled the deal with the children for a cat, being less costly and easy to maintain.  It takes much less effort to maintain a cat as unlike a dog, one does not have to take the cat for a walk in the morning and evening (a pretty difficult task during the freezing Canadian winter).  One day a car ran over the cat, and the car driver called the Animal Services and they immediately dispatched a blue-cross ambulance, which picked up the injured cat and moved it to the pet emergency.  The Animal Services called up the owner (based on the information retrieved using the license tag) and informed him about the condition of the animal and the hospital where it was.

The owner rushed to the hospital and he was informed that the cat needed urgent life saving surgery which would cost a minimum of $3000.  The owner thought if it was back home he would have buried the cat by now and would never cost him a penny.  He did not want to part with $3000, that too for a cat.  He wanted a cheaper option and the hospital offered to carryout euthanasia and would cost him $500.  He immediately settled for the second option and made the payment and drove back home.