Book Review: The Old Man & She by Veteran Avinash Chikte

Can you fall in love at 60?  Why not?? We got to be in love at all stages of our life – with someone or the other, to make our existence meaningful.  At 60, it is more for companionship, after the children have flown to greater heights.

This is the essence of this book – The Old Man & She! – by Veteran Indian Air Force Officer Avinash Chikte.  We trained at the National Defence Academy and he was a year senior – 59th Course – E Squadron.

The book tells the story of Liz and Ravi – she’s 55 and he’s 60. The story confirms that love can begin at any age and stage and there is no place today for cultural or religious barriers.  The author has explored the tornadoes that go through the minds of people in a relationship – that too across religions, cultures, and race.  I have experienced it and I vouch for the authenticity of most situations well crafted in this book.

A good read, and a feel-good book for those who have an open mind, and are not moored by the chains of religion, caste, and race.

Here is the Author for you.

You can buy the book by clicking the link:

In India –  The Old Man & She! (Ebook) – Avinash Chikte

In other countries – https://books2read.com/theoldmanandshe

Great Betrayal of Indian Soldier

Third Pay Commission fixed the soldiers’ pension to 50% of last pay drawn.  To complicate it, a clause of 33 years of qualifying service was added – in effect reducing the pension of a soldier.  Here the soldier was betrayed.

History of Military Pension

In 1873, the Indian Military Service Family Pension Fund was started. It was financed solely by compulsory contributions from officers of the Indian Army, who paid so much a month according to rank. There were what we would call to-day ‘special contributions’ on marriage, or when infants reported their arrival. That fund was used by the Government of India for financing various projects—for instance, the Kidderpore Docks on the Hooghly—and even to finance Frontier campaigns. The Government of India credited the fund with a rate of interest equal to current rates of interest on long-term Indian sterling securities. That pension fund was never popular, not because of what it did, or did not do, for widows and orphans, but by reason of the way in which it was administered. I think everyone had a grievance because they felt that a fund which was built up solely from their pockets ought to be treated as a trust fund, and that they should be represented on a board of trustees. Moreover, it was believed that if the fund had been invested in trustee securities in India, it would have received a higher rate of interest than was in fact accorded to it by the Government of India.  (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1949/mar/09/indian-army-pensions)

Formula for computing pension was substantially liberalised since the time of First Central Pay Commission.  The pension was earlier payable at the rate of 30/80 (37.5%) of the average emoluments.  This was later revised to 41.25% (33/80). From 31/3/1979, a slab system for payment of pension was introduced, wherein pension was paid at various rates ranging from 50% to 42.86%.   The formula was further liberalised by the Fourth Central Pay Commission and from 1/1/1986, the pension was payable at the rate of 50% of the average emoluments comprising basic pay, dearness pay, non-practicing allowance and stagnation increments. (http://aicgpa.org/content/resc/bulletin/topicid44.pdf)

As per the Pension Regulations for the Army 2008, pension was calculated on actual qualifying service rendered by the individual plus a weightage of 10 years in the case of Sepoy, 8 years in the case of Naik and 6 years in the case of Havildar and 5 years in the case of Junior Commissioned Officer subject to the total qualifying service including weightage not exceeding 30 years in the case of Sepoy, Naik and Havildar and 33 years in the case a Junior Commissioned Officer. In other words, a soldier who served for 17 years was given an additional 10 years, making it 27 years.  Now his pension was calculated by a factor of 27/33.  Thus the soldiers ended with 80% of their pension in effect.  This anomaly has been rectified in 2016 after many court cases.

All these ‘shortchanging’ of soldiers commenced soon after the famous victory achieved by the defence forces in liberating Bangladesh in 1971.  After the war, General Manekshaw was elevated to the post of Field Marshal for sure but was sidelined and send home unceremoniously.  Generals who followed did not make any effort to even raise an issue with the government.  It could be because the officers, especially the Generals ‘trusted’ the government and were ‘dreaming’ that the government would take ‘care’ of the soldiers.  The irony is that many officers, especially Brigadiers and above, are virtually unaware of any aspect of their own pay & allowances, let alone the of their soldiers.  Many of them were and are shrouded with a mask of ‘too complicated and technical’ and often remarked that they were not ‘babus’ (clerks) to work out pay & allowances.’

A Field Marshal never retires, but Field Marshal Manekshaw was eased out post 1971 victory.  Still, he was entitled for pay and allowances for life. The bureaucrats and the government cut all his pay and allowances for the next 36 years of his life. This was an award to the General who led the Indian Army to victory in the 1971 war for India, for a man who led his life with at most dignity and served India with all respect.  He was paid his dues only in 2007, that too on his death bed by the then Defence Minister AK Antony.

It required a junior officer, Major Dhanapalan who took up the matter of ‘Rank Pay’ with the Kerala High Court and got a favourable verdict. It was contested at all levels, even up to the Supreme Court by the government.  Obviously, it had no support from the Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence as is evident from various submissions by the government.  The Fourth Central Pay Commission, in 1986, while introducing running pay scale for officers in the ranks of Captain to Brigadier introduced a rank pay in addition to the basic pay. However, the bureaucrats who drafted the orders managed to have the rank pay reduced from the basic pay while fixing the basic pay thus denied all the officers serving at that time their lawful dues. Worse, none of the 50,000 odd officers serving in the armed forces then never realised the treachery and the senior officers never allowed anyone to speak up on the matter.

Cruelty dealt by the Seventh Central Pay Commission is the Military Service Pay (MSP.)  It is a meager Rs 15,900 for officers and Rs 5, 200 for soldiers, which is a compensation for the various aspects e.g., intangibles linked to special conditions of service, conducting full spectrum operation including force projection outside India’s boundaries, superannuation at a younger age and for the edge historically enjoyed by the Defence Forces over the civilian scales, will be admissible to the Defence forces personnel only.  (https://doe.gov.in/sites/default/files/7cpc_report_eng.pdf) Para 6.1.28 (Page 103)

To top it all there is a rider to it.  MSP will continue to be reckoned as Basic Pay for purposes of Dearness Allowance, as also in the computation of pension. MSP will however not be counted for purposes of House Rent Allowance, Composite Transfer Grant, and Annual Increment.

Now comes the One Rank One Pension (OROP.) The recent judgement will adversely affect the soldiers and officers below the rank of Colonel.  In the early 1980s, Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels were the Commanding Officers and many retired as Lieutenant Colonels as Colonel was an appointment then and not a rank.  About a third of Lieutenant Colonels were promoted to Brigadier.  In 2006, Lieutenant Colonels became a timescale promotion and there were no more Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels in the Indian Army.

These Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels who performed the duties of today’s Colonels and retired as Lieutenant Colonels are the most affected due to the current judgement of OROP and by the 6th & 7th Pay Commission. They should be clubbed with the Colonels for pension.

Has the soldier been betrayed by the Government or the Generals?

Veteran Colonel Manu Satti – Soft Toughian

Response I received from Veteran Colonel Manu Satti of 36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment on my earlier post Second Lieutenant – The Extinct Species.

Before I set out Colonel Satti’s response, a note about the responder.

Colonel Manu Satti graduated from Army Cadet College (ACC) and was a course senior to us at the Indian Military Academy. He was ever smiling and quiet. He was competing in the final bout of the inter-company boxing championship.  His opponent was Gentleman Cadet (GC) Hamilton from Botswana.  GC Hamilton was much better built than GC Satti.

There was a psychological game being played against GC Satti – both by the GCs from the Hamilton’s company and by fellow GCs from Botswana who claimed that GC Satti will not last the first round.  Many made fun of him, teased him and he replied with his charming smile. GC Satti remained cool as a cucumber but was obviously boiling inside which everyone realised after what happened on the boxing ring.

Within five seconds of the gong sounding the commencement of the first round, GC Hamilton was on the mat, writhing in pain.  Luckily the medical specialist at the Military Hospital Dehradun realised the grievance of the injury suffered by GC Hamilton. He was immediately evacuated by helicopter to Command Hospital, Lucknow, and GC Hamilton’s life was saved.  GC Satti’s punch was so powerful that GC Hamilton had a rupture of his small intestine and suffered heavy internal bleeding.

With that as the background, please read Veteran Colonel Manu Satti’s response.

Generally, 75 Medium Regiment used to comfortably win basketball and other games against 36 (M) (Maratha) Medium Regiment.  In those days 75 Medium Regiment was located at Gurgaon and 36 (M) Medium at Meerut.

But for a change, once 36 (M) Medium defeated 75 Medium very comfortably.  I was the Team Captain and our Marathas slogged for almost three months, practising morning and evening, ultimately to win the inter-regiment championship.

Colonel Mahavir played with the 75 Medium Regiment team.  He liked me because, I was involved with most teams, whether it was basket ball, volley ball, hand ball, football, athletics, cross country or coaching our boxing team.

In the year 1986, my father’s leg was amputated and required an artificial limp at Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) Pune.

At that time, a vacancy for an officer to attend Field Engineering (FE) Course at College of Military Engineering (CME) Pune, was allotted to 75 Medium Regiment.  During a Commanding Officers’ conference, Colonel Mahavir came to know about my case and our Brigade Commander wanted a change of the course allotment from 75 Medium to 36 Medium.

Colonel Mahavir readily agreed once he came to know that it was my father. Such type of Commanding Officers are rare to be found. I am indebted to Colonel Mahavir Singh and 75 Medium Regiment and of course Captain Reji Koduvath,  the nominated officer.

Second Lieutenant – The Extinct Species

We were commissioned as Second Lieutenants from the Academies and joined our Regiments – eager to go- like an unguided and nuclear tipped missile. 

While commanding our unit, our young officers often remarked that when they messed up something, however serious the matter was – I always said “That’s all – Do not worry – I will handle it now on.”  They now wanted an explanation as to why I neither rebuked them nor got involved in a ‘fault finding mission.’

One day on a lighter moment I gave out the answer.  “When I was a Second Lieutenant, I messed up much more than you guys have put together done till now.”

They prodded me for ‘Dil Mange More’ and I obliged.

I joined our Regiment in 1983 at Gurgaon and during a deployment exercise of our battery, traffic was stopped for the 130mm gun towed by Kraz to pass through the Delhi-Jaipur Highway.  In those days the highway was narrow and followed a different alignment. Superintend of Police of Gurgaon wanted to pass through but was refused and it ended in a physical bout.  Whatever it was – I ended up with a criminal case of attempt to murder using lethal weapons and a Court of Inquiry – both I got saved from – Thanks to our then Commanding Officer, Colonel Mahaveer Singh.

On 31 October 1984, Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, was assassinated, and her mortal remains lay in state at Teen Murthi Bhawan.  By evening that day, our Battery was tasked to take over security of Teen Murthi Bhawan.  Our Battery Commander was residing at Delhi, hence I marched the Battery and reported to General K Balaram, then Adjutant General, who was in command there.  Anyone of that era would better know the qualities of General Balaram. He was the first and perhaps only AG to be granted Vice Chief status.

Late Lieutenant General K Balaram, PVSM

Our Battery Commander then – now Veteran Brigadier CM Nayyar, Sena Medal – was a student when General Balaram, Signals, was the Commandant at Wellington. He warned me by narrating many incidents about his conduct – that he even rode his scooter and never his staff car after office hours. I had some great moments with him as he and I smoked ‘Capstan‘ cigarettes then. All shops selling cigarettes had closed down due to riots in Delhi after the assassination. Naik (Corporal) Paul, my driver kept a good stock of it (Still do not know how he managed it) and supplied me regularly with it. Whenever the work pressure got on to General Balaram, he called me to the Operations Room which we had set up inside Teen Murthi Bhawan. He wanted to inhale a deep smoke and a cup of tea – that too the tea in a steel glass our soldiers made. Thus, whenever General Balaram summoned me, it was when the situation at the gate had gone awry or he wanted a break.

We were responsible for the VIP entrance gate through which all heads of states would pass.  Whenever things would go wrong, General Balaram would shout at the top of his voice “Get that Second Lieutenant – only he can solve this chaos.”

In came Yasser Arafat with his four bodyguards – armed to their teeth – and I refused entry for the bodyguards saying that our boys would take care of Arafat’s security.  He gave me a deep glance and ordered his bodyguards to stay put with me.  Even Yasser Arafat did not want to take a chance with a Second Lieutenant!!!

Next on the receiving end was the Japanese delegation led by their Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. The delegation had over a hundred press people – journalists, reporters, photographers.  I requested their liaison officer that I could only send in five persons with their PM.  The liaison officer pleaded helplessness.  I had to solve the issue.  I assembled all their press crew outside the entrance and when the PM came in, I called out five people and send them inside.  Now there was more chaos with everyone shouting, “My photographer is inside, but I am the reporter” or “My reporter is inside, but I am the photographer.”  I told everyone that whosoever has gone inside will come out with the necessary material and you all can share the same.

Then came a person claiming to be the Commissioner of Police of Delhi. He too was denied entry through the VIP Gate. He shouted at me “Who are you to stop me? What are you doing here?” To this I calmly replied, “If you had done your duty, I need not have been here.”

With Veteran Colonel Mahaveer Singh during Golden Jubilee celebrations of 75 Medium Regiment in 2018

These were few of the highlights that happened at Teen Murthi Bhawan in those three days.

After a few weeks there was another altercation with a senior police officer from Delhi and again it was the same story of a Court of Inquiry – and again our CO managed to save me.

Now that was that when we were Second Lieutenants! Luckily for me – when I was in command (2002-2004,) the species had become extinct. 

What Would I Have Done?

After a couple of years of my retirement from the Indian Army in 2004,  my friend Colonel Josey Joseph, wanted to know what I would have done post-retirement had I been in India. I laid out my plans and he wanted to know why I did not implement a much smarter and better plan than immigrating to Canada.

My post retirement plan in case I had stayed in India was to become a Priest at our Church and start with many meditation sittings – all to impress the people.

In all mock seriousness, I replied “To begin with, there must be a few fair-skinned followers, especially good-looking blonde girls,  in low cut blouses , and a few white guys. Whenever I paused during my sermons, they would  chorus ‘Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!‘ Now watch the fun as to how my coffers would have filled up.”

Why did you not work towards your plan?” Colonel Josey asked.

The plan was great, but I just cannot sing!  For such a plan to succeed, one has to be good at singing.  Look at any of the ‘successful’ pastors or swamis – They are great singers and dancers too!  A requirement to impress the poor masses and bhakthas,” I replied.

Colonel Josey said “Thank God! Your Dad did not put you through singing and dancing lessons, else you would have ended up selling your Dad first and then your God! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

Now I laid my plan bare.

Syrian Orthodox Priests can marry, only those who aspire to be promoted as a bishop remain a bachelor. Fluent in  English, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, indeed a rare combination for a Mallu Priest, I will be invited to all the International and Pan-Indian (NRI/NRK) weddings and showered in moolah. With my vast military experience and having travelled all over India, I will be invited as a speaker, a motivational speaker, as I specialise in impressing people. 

A Syrian Orthodox priest is often allotted a Parish and he may be the Vicar or the Assistant Vicar. A Parish means a small administrative district or village, including all religions, typically having its own church and a priest or pastor.  Vicar is derived from the English prefix ‘vice,’ similarly meaning ‘deputy‘ and here he is the deputy to the Bishop.

The Parish will be benefited in that every need of the Parishioners would be presented effectively to the District Collector or the Superintendent of Police. Naturally,  they  would be compelled by courtesy and etiquette, to never refuse an audience to the Reverend Father-Veteran Colonel Reji Koduvath. The least I could do is to draft various complaints and applications for the Parish members.

There are various projects by the Central and State Governments for the benefit of the citizens. Many of them do not reach the public as people are unaware of the paperwork involved. Having written many Statements of Case while in service, and following it up to the Defence Ministry level, who else can do it better?

Employment opportunities for the youth, military, police (both central & state), bank, railways, state transport, UPSC, state PSC… I could have provided effective guidance and mentorship to youth aspiring to enroll into all these. I would have conducted orientation training for each specific job at the church, conduct mock tests, interviews, group discussions, public speaking, etc as well.  With more of the youth employed, obviously more money for the church (and me.)

I would also organise leadership training and adventure activities for the children and youth of the Parish. This would facilitate them to do better at the interviews.  

I would motivate the children of the Parish to read by initiating little ones to the habit of reading, the biggest bugbear for the Indian youth. I would publish a Church magazine with children contributing their stories, poems and articles.

Upon hearing my narration, Colonel Josey remarked “I think your idea is not only novel, but simply brilliant. And in these times when most of the clergy, across the board, propagate hate; a message of love , an effort to help the helpless and instill self-confidence in children : that’s the core of what our nation and the world really needs.  And, knowing you so well, I am quite certain that personal gain would hardly be your motivation. Also, more importantly,  although every parish priest is not a Colonel Reji Koduvath, I am sure most of them can undertake some of the activities you suggested.  Someone needs to take the lead.”

Hussif and Button Stick

We were issued with a Housewife’ on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  Why a housewife to a 16-year-old cadet? That too an item which was neither male nor female, and wasn’t even a living being.

It  was a simple Khaki pouch containing needles, thread, thimble, buttons, and a pair of scissors, meant for sewing on buttons, darning socks, and mending uniforms. It was called the ‘hussif’ by the officers at the Academy and housewife by many Cadets and the soldiers who were the Havildar Quartermasters at the Squadron.

Housewife morphed into “Hussif”   and first appeared in print in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1749 suggesting that it had already been in common use. The term appears to have possibly originated as a dialect of the shire of Lancaster, England. However, the term is now banned in modern armies which acknowledges that the gender specific term is not only outdated but also offensive to women.

By the mid 19th century these rolled-up sewing kits became standard army issue. Before the invention of safety pins for a quick fix, sewing needles were used to remove splinters and, at times, even sew up the soldier’s wounds! When I joined the Sainik School at the age of nine we had to carry a small plastic box with contents like the hussif. 

I hardly ever used my hussif at the Academy during my three years other than for sewing some lost buttons. Behold! It had to be carefully maintained as it had to be produced during kit muster held at the beginning of each semester at the Academy. The hussif was part of the small pack we carried in  the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO.)

The name hussif comes from a time when it was common for mothers, wives and fiancés in the 18th and 19th centuries to personalise these kits with embroidery for their menfolk to take to war.  It was often packed  in the holdall and stowed within the man’s haversack. Few hussifs of those days were covered with flowers or other feminine motifs and colours if the hussif was a gift from a needlewoman in their life.

The humble hussif played an important role in both the World Wars. Embroidery was widely used as a form of therapy for wounded soldiers, especially those recovering at the hospitals. The bright environment of the hospital was the perfect place for them to engage in  embroidery as an activity, which helped in their rehabilitation. The imagery and stories they stitched were  often reflective of pride in their regiment, the battlefields they had fought in, or messages of love to a distant sweetheart.

Armies and Navies, from Britain to Australia to North America, issued hussifs as part of the standard kit to their serving troops, at least up to the Korean War era. The British Army continued to do so, well into the 1960s and the Indian Army until the early 80s.

Another remarkable object that is etched in my memory is the Button Stick. These were used by the civilian bearers or orderlies to polish all the brass buttons, shoulder titles etc of our various Academy uniforms, though I never saw them later in my Army career.  

These button sticks were used by soldiers to polish the buttons on their uniform without spilling  any of the polish on the fabric. During WWI, when soldiers were out of the trenches, they often had to ensure that the buttons of their uniform were polished using Brasso. While tedious and time-consuming, soldiers used this brass button polishing guard to avoid staining the fabric with excess polish which left a nasty brown stain  on the Khaki or Olive Green uniforms. 

It could well be that the button sticks used by the orderlies of the NDA may date back to the World War days!

Why did the armies over the world have done away with the hussif? Repairing or darning the  uniform, stitching a lost button… are still needs of the day!

Book Review : Golf and Life : by Veteran Major General Anil Sengar

Congratulations to the author for a well researched book – fusing golf and leadership seamlessly.  The book is worth a read, even for someone like me who hardly ever stepped into a golf course. If you have not stepped on to a Golf Course or does not understand the Golf jargon, this book is for you!!

The catchphrase of the book – ‘The Past is in Your Head and the Future is in Your Hands’ – showcases what the book is all about.

The author has used his distinctive narrative style to lead the reader through the 18 Holes of a Golf Course – the Life Course – all accompanied by a tinge of humour and at places sarcasm too.  Owning a set of Golf Clubs, a membership to a Golf Club, or merely playing golf does not make one a golfer – far from being a good golfer.  It is all about hard work, dedication and endless hours spent at the Golf Course. All to achieve that ever-elusive perfection.

The journey of life – how to deal with different situations and people – and what one can contribute to the society is well brought out.  At every instance, the author delves into the need to ensure that one equips well with the best quality tools.  There is no point in blaming the tools in hand.  A poor artist ends up blaming his brush. What one achieves in life is all because of equipping correctly, planning well, and practising a lot.  The author has chronicled this journey of life through the actions of an enthusiastic golfer Kay El who wants to achieve success, but not through hard work alone.  One comes across many Kay Els in life, and one has also become a Kay El on many occasions.

The need to be fair – whether on the Golf Course or on the Course of Life – is well enunciated throughout the book.  One quote that sums up this aspect which all readers would like to follow is ‘Anything that threatens your peaceful sleep, peace of mind and reputation, as a man of trust and credibility is not worth any wealth or reward.’

Leadership is all about being truthful to oneself, especially while no one is watching or umpiring.  General Sengar has explained this aspect of being self-disciplined well. 

The Mantra in this book is all about finding a cause and dedicating wholesomely for it and is sure to achieve success.

Worth a read and strongly recommended for anyone in a leadership role; also for anyone aspiring to be a leader or a golfer or both.

The book costing ₹395 is available @ https://notionpress.com/read/golf-and-life and on amazon.in @ https://www.amazon.in/dp/B09QQKNMT2/

Learning and Studying

Two words – studying and learning – have always been interchangeable for me until I joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1982.  That was when I commenced applying the knowledge I had gained – especially in trigonometry and physics – while calculating various ballistic parameters for the long range guns.

Studying was the formal education I received at school and at the Academy where I gained knowledge – the basics – which stood as the foundation for all my learning.  Learning was all about applying the knowledge in many situations and there were many  errors, mistakes, commissions and omissions. I learned more with every passing experience.  While learning, there was always a chance of failure – I won some and lost many.

Let us examine the definitions of the two words:-

  • To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. Learning is absorbing the information, testing its validity to the point of being able to understand the information.
  • To Study – to read, memorise facts, attend school, etc, in order to learn about a subject.  Studying is the act of gathering the information and poring over it, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

One studies to learn.  Many a times one studies a lot, but learns hardly anything.  One tends to forget what one studied, especially when the aim was only to score a few marks in an examination.  Here there is neither any addition to one’s knowledge nor development of any skills.

Studying is pushing and learning is pulling. The content is pushed to the students and learners pull the content what they want to learn.  In order to increase one’s English vocabulary, reading the dictionary alone will not suffice.  It is mere studying. Reading a book and referring to a dictionary is the ideal way as one learns more from the context the word is used than from its dictionary meaning. One may study English grammar for days, but without getting into real communication – both speaking and writing – it’s hardly of any use and one is learning neither the language nor the grammar. We learn the alphabets of a language by-heart, we learn to associate these alphabets to form words to read and write. We learn grammar, but study literature.

In mathematics there are only two digits – 0 and 1 – the rest are all combinations of these. There is only one mathematical operation – addition – subtraction is addition of a negative number, multiplication is continuous addition and division is addition of fractions. If a child learns this basic fact, rest will follow.

Doctors while at medical school memorise all Latin medical terms, and by constant usage familiarise with these terms. They apply their knowledge and learn to diagnose and also carryout a procedure or a surgery.

To be successful in any profession today, studying and earning a degree is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a Lieutenant  in the Army, but  the selection criteria is more about leadership qualities, empathy, problem solving ability, etc.  In today’s digital world with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, these skills are more important than the marks scored and degrees earned.

For many, studying is associated with reading.  It may be true as one grows into an adult, acquiring knowledge and understanding various concepts. Babies are constantly learning, but are neither studying nor reading. Learning occurs at random too – with one’s observations and correlating the same with the knowledge already gained. Listening to someone well experienced in the field, one learns a lot.  It can be from a new experience, or from what one reads, analyses and perceives.

Studying at school (including home schooling) is vital because it teaches students essential life values. More than studying or learning, it is more about developing social skills and being a team player. Many students realised it during the pandemic.  

School gives the students  the basics –  alphabets, numbers, sounds, arithmetic skills and social skills. It develops problem-solving skills in students.  Expertise of the teacher helps  students understand and gain knowledge. Schools also help develop many hidden talents in students. It guides and motivates students to bring the best out of them. It is also an avenue to interact with other people. It is a place to meet new friends and colleagues. School enhances social skills with students  dealing with different kinds of people.

Owl, Reading, Book, Bird, Study, Animal, Line Art

Learning never exhausts the mind – Leonardo da Vinci

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you -B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere – A Chinese Proverb

Running Away From Studies

We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam.  English, Hindi and Tamil were alien to us.  First language and medium of education at our school was English.  We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Tamil or Hindi as our second and third languages.

Tamil as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward.  Tamil poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language.  As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam.  Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass.  It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.

Tamil was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram.  We commenced with grade 1 Tamil textbook in grade 5.  The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Tamil textbook.

We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies.  Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.

Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.

Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?

The truth is that I ran away from studies.  The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11.  We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam.  What a relief!!!.

We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal.  On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us.  We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.)  This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.

Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics.  How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Tamil?

I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Tamil as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.

At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!

Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received  modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then.  In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them.  This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.

My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots.  It continued and will continue for ever. 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.

Aircraft on a Highway

On November 16, 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Purvanchal Expressway in Uttar Pradesh after landing on the highway airstrip in an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130 Hercules plane.  Kudos to the IAF for executing such a mission.  The 3.2 km long airstrip has been constructed on the expressway to facilitate emergency landing by fighter aircraft.  IAF carried out a few trial landings on the strip prior to the mission with the Prime Minister on board. The questions that came to my mind were:-

  • Is it safe to execute such missions with the Prime Minister on board?
  • What was the intended aim from the military/ strategic point of view?

Who can answer my queries the best other than Veteran Wing Commander Avinash Chikte of the IAF, our senior at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron?  He is former fighter pilot and now a commercial airline pilot. He is the author of two books and many blog posts.  He answered my questions. Please read his blog about the incident @ https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/purvanchal-expressway-why-some-highways-are-built-like-runways-554391.html

Why did these questions erupt in my mind?

While in our Grade 11 at school, on November 4, 1977,  a VIP flight on the Tupolev-124, the Russian-made aircraft which was christened as Pushpaka by the IAF, crash landed at Jorhat in Eastern India with the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai on board.  The Prime Minister was accompanied by his son Sri Kanti Bhai Desai, the director of Intelligence Bureau Sri John Lobo and the Chief Minister of Arunachal Sri PK Thungan.

The aircraft was carrying 11 crew and nine passengers. Five of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured. The Prime Minister was  unscathed. The plane went down nose first – a  deliberate act by the crew in the cockpit in the front part of the aircraft – to ensure they took the main impact of the crash, saving the VIP passengers.

Mr Desai is accredited as the first non-Congress Party Prime Minister of India, but he was the brunt of many teenage jokes at our school. The jokes revolved around his bizarre drinking habit and being born on the Leap Day – February 29, 1896. Babies born on the Leap Day are referred to as Leaplings, Leapers, or Leapsters. The Leap Year must be evenly divisible by 4. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year unless the year is also divisible by 400.- Year 2000 is a leap years, but 1900 and 2100 are not.

The list of Indian senior politicians who survived such crash landings may interest the readers.

Babu Jagjivan Ram was seriously injured in a BOAC airline crash in Iran shortly before Independence. Babu was lucky to survive the accident in which several people were killed, but was unlucky that he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947.

Sardar Patel too had a miraculous escape.  The aircraft carrying him to Jaipur to to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan, force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949.  Although the aircraft was completely damaged, the skill of the IAF pilot ensured that no one was injured.

Other prominent Indian politicians who did not survive an aviation accident are Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia.  Many Chief Ministers of various Indian states had miraculous escapes – mostly helicopter accidents – with former Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis surviving five of them. 

Recent Canadian Incident

A small plane on a training mission was forced to make an emergency landing on a Canadian highway in Toronto on October 27, 2021at 11 AM.   The instructor-pilot declared May Day after running into mechanical issues and realising that he would not make it back to the airport. The pilot with his trainee managed to land the plane safely on the highway.

Canadian highways have two aprons on either side. The one on the right is marked with a continuous white line and can be used to stop the vehicles in an emergency. The one on the left is marked with a continuous yellow line and is meant for the emergency services vehicles like police cruisers, ambulance and fire-trucks. This lane was used by the aircraft to make the emergency landing.
By 2 PM, the plane took a ride on a flatbed truck to clear the highway, ending one of the rare Canadian highway incident in recent history

Honouring A Fallen Soldier

Sepoy Vaishakh H, an Indian army soldier from Kerala, who made the ultimate sacrifice during an encounter with terrorists on October 11, 2021.  His mortal remains arrived in Kerala on October 13 and  was cremated on October 14 amidst heavy rain with full military honours.  Sepoy Vaishakh was among the five Army personnel who died in a gunfight with terrorists during an operation in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on October 11.

The operation was launched in a village close to Dera Ki Gali (DKG) in Surankote (Jammu & Kashmir) in the early hours following intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists who had infiltrated from across the Line of Control (LoC).

Prior to the funeral, his body was kept at his childhood LP school in Kudavattoor village and then at his home for public viewing. A huge crowd, including those who had no connection with the soldier, turned up to pay their last respects.

Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal, who was representing the state government, Mavelikkara MP Kodikunnil Suresh and state Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani and several senior government and Army officials were also present at the soldier’s home to pay their last respects.

Please spare a moment and take a look at the coffin. 

A fallen soldier deserves much more than this!!!!

Light Machine Gun (LMG)

Upon completion of the Artillery Young Officers Course we, the Second Lieutenants, were appointed as the Gun Position Officers (GPO) in our Regiments. The GPO is the commander of the gun group and is responsible for the reconnaissance  and deployment of the six guns of the battery in a gun position.  With the help of his Technical Assistants at the Command Post, he is responsible for calculating and passing the technical parameters of bearing and elevation for the guns to engage targets miles away.

Deployment of a battery of six guns to engage targets in depth commences by reconnaissance (recce)   of the allotted Gun Area.  The map coordinates of the Gun Area is passed to the GPO with any restrictions on movement or administration.

On reaching the allotted Gun Area, the GPO recces the area on his vehicle to find a place suitable to deploy his six guns. When the GPO finds a suitable area, he alights from his vehicle to carry out detailed recce on foot to mark the placement of each of the six guns and the Command Post.

The moment the GPO alights from his vehicle, the driver drives the vehicle to an area which offers maximum cover, to avoid detection from air.  The LMG detachment – a Gunner and his assistant – appear in front of the GPO and the GPO deploys the LMG for protection of the Recce Party – both from air and ground attack.

The LMG detachment travels in the Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major’s (BHM) vehicle. BHM is an appointment given to one of the senior Havildars of the Battery. He is responsible for all aspects of duty and discipline of the NCOs and soldiers in that Battery. During the deployment of the Battery, he assists the GPO.

The LMG Gunner is generally the ‘Detail Master’ of the Battery. He is the understudy to the BHM and is the soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the BHM and his most important task is to prepare the Parade State of the Battery the evening before, to be handed over to the Regimental Havildar Major, who compiles the Regimental Parade State after receiving the same from all Batteries.

The assistant LMG Gunner is a tradesman – the Tailor or the Janitor – who generally does not have any specific combat duties.

After the deployment of the LMG detachment, the GPO carries out his recce, decides on the platforms for his six guns and the Command Post and gives out orders to his party.  The Gunners now prepare their gun platforms and the Technical Assistants prepare the technical parameters.  During all these actions, everyone is expected to run and walking or slouching is a taboo, until the guns arrive and deploy.

After the guns are deployed and when the GPO confirms that the guns are correctly positioned and all technical parameters are correctly set on the guns, he gives a ‘Ready Report’ indicating that his guns are ready to engage targets.

Immediately on giving the Ready Report, there appeared Gunner Mathukutty, our LMG Gunner, with a steaming cup of tea.  That tea was the one I earned by my sweat.  By the end of the deployment, with all the running around – especially in the Rajasthan deserts – I was drenched in sweat.  The tea tasted too good to describe and it always enthused me and removed any tiredness.

During our training exercises, we had many such deployments, at times about eight in a day.  Every time the Ready Report was given, Gunner Mathukutty served me the very same tasty cup of tea.  I wanted to know as to how Gunner Mathukutty prepared the tea, when he was the LMG Gunner.

During one of the deployments, I kept a close watch on Gunner Mathukutty.  He jumped out of the BHM’s vehicle with the LMG, followed by his assistant who had the stove and kettle.  After I showed him the position of the LMG, they deployed the LMG there.  While I recced the gun platforms, they both recced for a covered position to prepare the magical tea. 

After a fortnight of training, we had our final exercise which in artillery parlance is called the ‘Practise Camp.’  This exercise involves many tactical deployments of the battery culminating into a final deployment in the firing ranges.  After the final deployment is live firing to engage target as per the tactical settings.

On the final day of our exercise, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of our Division visited us in our Gun Area.  I briefed him in detail about the deployment and the tactical scenario.  He appeared satisfied by my briefing, but wasn’t all too happy about my LMG.  True Infantry General that he was, he said “Your LMG is not deployed correctly.  It needs to move 20 meter to the left.”

Captain Raj Mehta, our Tactics Instructor at the National Defence Academy (now a Veteran Major General) had taught us all the nuances of section tactics, especially the deployment of LMG.  He had drilled it in us to such details that all of us will deploy the LMG at its apt position even in our sleep.

‘I deployed it in less than ten seconds,’ I thought.  It could well be that the General did not realise that the LMG was deployed  for both air and ground attack.  I still do not know as to how Gunner Mathukutty could have identified any aircraft flying overhead to be hostile.  In case he sighted any aircraft in our vicinity, friend or foe, he might have ended up emptying the entire magazine of his LMG by firing at the aircraft.

Homecoming

Above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.

We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.

For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other. 

Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?

It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level.  It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.

It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.

The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.

It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely.  Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week?  I always knew you will come before.”  All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”

It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu.  Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s.  I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group.  While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.” 

I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada.  I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.

In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home.  While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?”  “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.

My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”

My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday.  How can he be home in 45 minutes?”

After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even  before I could say anything.  “It was because of the blaring traffic horns.  I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed  you were in a taxi home.”

Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune.  On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week.  On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans.  There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.

My eldest brother, now the head of the family,  advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”

Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)

On July 29, a notification on my cellphone read ‘Today is the World ORS Day.’ When there is a Left Handers’ Day (August 13,) a Sandwich Day (November 3,) a Puppy Day (March 23,) and also a Nothing Day (January 16;) I wasn’t surprised to find an ORS day!

ORS Day is observed each year on July 29 to emphasise the importance of ORS as an affordable and highly impactful healthcare method to treat dehydration and diarrhea. This year too it was celebrated, but without much fanfare, throughout the world.  I have failed to find the significance of the date – July 29 – connecting to ORS. Hence I decided to dwell a bit deep.

For more than 25 years WHO and UNICEF have recommended a single formulation of glucose-based ORS to treat or prevent dehydration from diarrhoea and cholera for all ages.  ORS has been used worldwide and has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal diseases.

ORS is an oral powder–containing mixture of glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium citrate. After dissolving in requisite volume of water, it is used for the prevention and treatment of dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.

ORS and zinc are recommended by the WHO and UNICEF to be used collectively to ensure the effective treatment of diarrhea. ORS replaces the essential fluids and salts lost through diarrhea.  Zinc decreases the duration and severity of an episode and reduces the risk of recurrence in the immediate short term.

Captain Robert Allan Phillips (1906–1976) of the US Navy in 1946 first successfully tried oral glucose saline on two cholera patients. As a Navy Lieutenant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II, Phillips developed a field method for the rapid assessment of fluid loss in wounded servicemen.  Captain Phillips embarked on cholera studies during the 1947 Egyptian cholera epidemic and developed highly effectives methods of intravenous rehydration. Later he developed a of glucose-based oral rehydration therapy.

The typical Indian Jugaad  (जुगाड़) by Dr Dilip Mahalanabis – a paediatrician and a clinical scientist working with Johns Hopkins University Center for Medical Research and Training (JHCMRT) – who treated multitudes of Bangladeshi refugees who were suffering from diarrhea with rehydration salt sachets or ORS.  He has not received any recognition, either from the international community or from the Indian government.

Oxford Dictionary defines Jugaad as ‘A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.’  In effect, there is no real word in English that captures the essence of the real Jugaad

In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India as per UNHCR.  This was the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.  The refugees were severely malnourished, especially the children and the Indian government took all efforts to take care of the refugees, despite meager support from the international community.

After walking long distances on foot to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army, this starved and frightened mass of people sought refuge in India. A cholera outbreak in the refugee camps badly affected the already exhausted and starved refugees.  The monsoon was in full fury, and for the refugees living in tents and other make shift arrangements, it was hell.  It is estimated that about 30% of the refugees died from cholera and diarrhea.

This called for a huge amount of intravenous fluids and coupled with problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, effective treatment was near impossible.  Dr Mahalanabis suggested use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation.  He recommended an electrolyte solution with glucose which could prevent fatal dehydration.

The ORS recipe he used consisted of 22 gm glucose, 3.5 gm table salt and 2.5 gm baking soda per liter of water. This is the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, that saved the day for many refugees and they lived to narrate the horrors they faced.

He organised two teams for cholera therapy including oral rehydration. Both teams worked along the border between India and Bangladesh.  He established a treatment centre at the sub-divisional hospital in Bongaon with 16 beds.  He organised  a continuous shuttle of vehicles on the 80 km run from Calcutta to Bongaon, carrying personnel, medication, food and supplies to the centre.  The reserves of intravenous saline-lactate solution stocked originally for cholera research soon depleted.   He had to now used Juggad to make ORS.

To make the ORS, glucose-and salt packets were prepared in Calcutta; first in the JHCMRT library room. Each of the three components of the mixture were carefully weighed by separate technicians and poured into a small polyethylene bag in an assembly-line fashion. Another technician inserted a descriptive label with instructions for dissolving in water; then he sealed one end of the bag with a hot iron. In the field, the dry powder was added to clean drinking water and dispensed from drums directly into the patients’ cups.  The cost was calculated to be 11 Indian paise, (about 1.5 US cents) then per liter of fluid.

Later in 1978 during the cholera epidemic in Manipur, ORS was extensively used, especially in children with diarrhea and cholera. The WHO in 1978 launched the global diarrhea diseases control program with ORS.  In 1979 WHO approved ORS.

Today, ORS is included in WHO’s Essential Medicines List, and Priority Medicines for mothers and children. ORS is also listed as a lifesaving commodity identified and targeted for scale-up and access by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.

India faced a dire financial situation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war and taking care of the refugees.  To shore up some money, the Government of India applied Jugaad and imposed the Refugee Relief Tax (RRT) throughout the country that came into force on November 15, 1971. It meant a separate five paisa stamp to be affixed on all postal articles to show payment of the tax.

The post offices immediately applied Jugaad and came up with hand-stamps marked ‘Refugee Relief Tax Prepaid in Cash’ on all postal stationery.  On December 1, 1971 the new five paisa stamp, showing an image of a refugee family fleeing persecution was released. RRT was repealed in effect from April 1, 1973.

Women at the National Defence Academy (NDA)

India’s Supreme Court on August 18, 2021, allowed women candidates to appear for NDA entrance exam scheduled on September 5, saying debarring them amounted to gender discrimination.

There has been a raging debate over the judgement among the Veterans community, with many voicing against the court ruling.  Some passed some scathing attacks on women while some came out with interesting memes and jokes.

Some questioned the physical abilities of Lady Cadets.  One theorised that the larger number of cases of stress fractures among Lady Cadets in comparison to their male counterparts was attributed to the difference in bone structure of women that the female hips are not meant to take the same stress as males because they have widened pelvis to enable child bearing.

With all these inputs, I decided to study the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), the military college of the Canadian Armed Forces and, since 1959, a degree-granting university training military officers.  Like the NDA, the RMC mission is to educate, train and develop Officer Cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army.

RMC opened its doors for the Lady Cadets in 1980.  The program introducing female cadets has worked well, mainly because the move was carefully planned, integrating both men and women. Lady Cadets are required to maintain the same exacting standards as Gentleman Cadets. They run the same obstacle course – a mandatory ordeal for which first-year recruits earn the right to wear the RMC uniform. They also compete in mixed inter-squadron sports.

2.4km Run – The Aerobic Component.   This portion consists of running 3 laps of an 800m course in the fastest time possible. 

Push-ups – The Upper Body Muscle Endurance Component.  During the test the candidates are required to perform their maximum push-up repetitions. There is no time limit and the push-up execution must comply with the Canadian Armed Forces push-up protocol

Agility Run – The Speed Component.  This test consists of sprinting 6 x 9 m by weaving around four obstacles (chairs) without touching any of them. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled. 

Sit-ups – The Mid-core Muscle Endurance Component.   This test consists of a two minute evaluation during which the candidates must perform their maximum repetitions of sit-ups according to Canadian Forces protocol. 

Standing Long Jump – The Leg Power Component.  The candidates are required to jump from both feet without hopping. Two trials are permitted and the best result is compiled.

RMC Physical Performance Test (RMC PPT.)  As part of the program, the students are being physically assessed two times a year. The completed evaluation is being scored out of 500 points where each item is worth a maximum of 100 points. A minimum of 250 points is required to successfully complete the RMC PPT. Five physical fitness components are evaluated through different testing items: the 2.4km Run, push-ups, agility run, sit-ups and a standing long jump.

 Male Female
 Pass100%Pass100%
Push-ups28771438
Sit-ups3510035100
Agility Run17.8 sec15.2 sec19.4 sec16.2 sec
Standing Long Jump195 cm277 cm146 cm229 cm
2.4km Run10:347:5812:129:05

Fitness for Operational Requirements of CAF Employment (FORCE) Evaluation

The FORCE Evaluation is a reflection of the CAF minimal physical employment standard related to common defence and security duties known as the Universality of Service principle, which stipulates that “CAF members are liable to perform general military duties and common defence and security duties, not just the duties of their military occupation or occupational specification.

FORCE was developed by experts who looked at more than 400 tasks performed by CAF personnel in all environments over the past 20 years. Using the data collected from CAF personnel, subject matter experts, laboratory and field measurements, the research team developed a revised fitness component of the minimum operational standard required based on the following six common tasks:

  • Escape to cover.
  • Pickets and wire carry.
  • Sandbag fortification.
  • Picking and digging.
  • Vehicle extrication.
  • Stretcher carry.

Some trades within the CAF require higher levels of fitness or operational readiness, but the minimum standards for the FORCE Evaluation are meant to reflect the baseline CAF physical employment standard that everyone must meet.

The FORCE Evaluation is designed to capture the movement patterns, energy systems, and muscle groups recruited in the performance of the Common Military Task Fitness Evaluation (CMTFE).

The FORCE evaluation comprises of three sections, which are as follows:

  • A health appraisal questionnaire where the candidates complete a health appraisal evaluation and the evaluator records vitals (heart rate and blood pressure).
  • An operational fitness evaluation. Four job related simulations are evaluated during the FORCE evaluation.
  • An exercise prescription where the evaluator provides the candidates with a program detailing the activity frequency, duration, intensity and rate of progression.

The FORCE Evaluation consists of four test components, each designed to measure different physical capabilities:

  • Sandbag Lift:   30 consecutive lifts of a 20 kg sandbag above a height of 91.5 cm, alternating between left and right sandbags separated by 1.25 m. Standard: 3 min 30 sec Intermittent
  • Loaded Shuttles:  Using the 20 m lines, complete ten shuttles (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back), alternating between a loaded shuttle with a 20 kg sandbag and an unloaded shuttle, for a total of 400 m. Standard: 5 min 21 sec 20-metre
  • Rushes:  Starting from prone, complete two shuttle sprints (1 shuttle = 20 m there, 20 m back) dropping to a prone position every 10m, for a total of 80 m. Standard: 51 sec
  • Sandbag Drag:  Carry one 20 kg sandbag and pull four on the floor over 20 m without stopping. Standard: Complete without stopping
  • If a member has not met the minimum fitness standards, a re-test can be attempted three months later.

Isn’t it high time the Indian Armed Forces take a re-look at the Physical Standards requirements for its cadets and recruits, considering women making their entry at all levels?

It may be pertinent for those in power and the Veterans to read “The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out” by Kate Armstrong, one of 32 women to first enter RMC in 1980 and graduate four years later. Her memoir captures the dominating, misogynistic world of one of Ontario’s most patriarchal institutions and her experience challenging it. 

Lieutenant General Kalisipudi Ravi Prasad, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal : A True Soldier

On the eve of retirement of  my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004.  We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil,  pullback, pullout,  retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere.  Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.

Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran  is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your  life.  A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your  blood runs Olive Green.  The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.

Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations.  During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being.  As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.

At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the  nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of.  Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.

This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on.  Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about.  Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of  and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.

As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining.  One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada.  This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.

General Ravi Prasad at Devlali with our coursemates and their ladies – from left to right : Rohini Shankar, Lalitha Ravi Prasad, GM Shankar, Shridhar Chitale, Manjushree Chitale, Ravi Prasad, Darshika Suri, Y V Suri and PK Sharma.

Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.

You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait!  You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife.  You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha  will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.

At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed.  In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire.  It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying.  Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service.  It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.

Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’

Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!

Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.

Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:-Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.

I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.  

Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way.  They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’

Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:- ‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’

Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.

Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.

Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’

Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.

Ravi (extreme left) with his mother, CHVSR Prasad and TLP Babu with General KV Krisnha Rao at NDA in December 81

Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’

Maj Gen BV Rao, Vice Admiral MS Pawar, Ravi and Major General ML Mohan Babu

Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994.
Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.

He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi.
His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime…
Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.

Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’

Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime.  Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.

We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.

Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!!  Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too.  We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them :  Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’

Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1.3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else.
Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor
.’

‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’  :  — Winston Churchill.

Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal – An Ever-Smiling Admiral

When we – thirty Mallus (a person from the Indian state of Kerala, especially one who speaks Malayalam) – joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (SSA) in 1971 in grade 5, it was our classmate – Cadet G Ashok Kumar – who acted as an interpreter.  Our life was made easier as our House Captain was Veteran General PM Hariz, then in his 9th grade – who too was a Mallu.  We knew only Malayalam with no knowledge of either Tamil or English.  Ashok, a Mallu, his father served in Tamil Nadu Police, he studied in Tamil Nadu, but spoke Malayalam fluently.  He was very empathetic towards us and did his interpretation with lot of passion and commitment.  I fondly remember him teaching me how to slip a pillowcase over a pillow. 

These qualities of Ashok stood with him throughout his life, especially as a Indian Navy Officer, rising to be a Vice Admiral and the Vice Chief of Naval Staff. 

Admiral Ashok was commissioned into the Executive Branch of the Navy on 1 July 1982. He is a navigation specialist and served as a Navigation Officer of the Frigates INS Beas and INS Nilgiri, the Destroyer INS Ranvir and the Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. He attended the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC,) Wellington, the Higher Command Course at the Army War College, Mhow and the Expeditionary Operations course at Quantico, Virginia, USA.

He commanded Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kulish and INS Ranvir. He has also served as the Executive Officer of INS Brahmaputra. He served as the Defence Advisor (DA) at the High Commission of India in Singapore and the Chief Staff Officer (Operations) of the Western Naval Command.

Ashok01

Admiral Ashok has made each one of his classmates proud by his achievements.  He displayed his love for us when he hosted us at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – while he was the Commandant – for a get-together on 22 and 23 December 2015.  It was the most memorable part of the life of all our classmates and their families.  To read more about it, Please click here. 

Today, Admiral Ashok hangs his Naval Uniform after nearly four decades of dedicated service to the Indian Navy.  How cool is that!!  So began the journey we celebrate today,  a career in which that nine-year-old cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar  grew up to be a top Admiral of the prestigious Indian Navy. 

For your next visit to Swati in the US, ensure that you and Geeta obtain a Canadian Visa and spend some time with us. Remember that the Niagara Falls is better viewed from the Canadian side. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.

Ashok, now is the time for you to sit back and not relax, but to demonstrate your deep love for Geeta.  You can now afford to spent more time with her – without the excuse of office or duty.  This is a God sent opportunity to express your gratitude to  Geeta for all her love and dedication in bringing up your two daughters Sruti and Swati to be great ladies and valuable citizens.

On 24 July, Vice Admiral Ashok dedicated a Sea Harrier aircraft to his Alma Mater – a great act showcasing his love for his Alma Mater. Many of our classmates proudly accompanied Ashok on the solemn occasion.

Mr MV Somasundaram, Ashok’s House Master at Chera House about his protege:-
You are a seaman with  gratitude to our School,
the soil and source of a crusading career;
Inhale the sweet fragrance of Sainik Flower,
your formative alma mater;
Keep navigating viewing the Pole star with a vision,
rowing with a compass of rationalism;
A splendid torch that would make your life bright and beautiful,
With wishes to grow near the sky.
To read more about Mr MV Somasundaram, Please Click Here.

Mr M Selvaraj, Ashok’s Tamil teacher recalls:- சாதாரணக் குடும்பத்தில் பிறந்தவரும் சரித்திர நாயகனாகத் திகழலாம் என்பதற்கு நீயே நல்லதோர் எடுத்துக் காட்டு. உன் மார்பை அலங்கரிக்கும் பதக்கங்களே உனது கடற்படைச் சாதனைகளைப் பறைசாற்றும் படைத்துறை இசைமுரசு. உன்னத சேவைப் பதக்கம், உயரிய சேவைப் பதக்கம், சிறந்த சேவைப் பதக்கம் முதலான விருதுகளே உன் கடற்படைச் சேவைக்கு அங்கீகாரம் அளிக்கும் நற்சான்றிதழ்கள்.
அன்று (1978 ) அமராவதிநகர் சைனிக் பள்ளியின் சேரர் இல்லத் துணைத் தலைவனாய்ப் பணியாற்றினாய் இன்று (2021) இந்தியக் கப்பற்படையின் துணைத்தலைவராய் விளங்குகிறாய். குடியரசுத் தலைவர் பெருமகனார் அப்துல்கலாம் அவர்கள் சொன்னவாறு அப்போதே கனவு கண்டாயோ?
உச்சம் தொட்ட உன்னைக்கண்டு உன்னை ஈன்றெடுத்த பெற்றோர்கள் மட்டும் அல்லாமல் சைனிக் பள்ளியாம் நற்றாயும், சைனிக் குடும்பத்தைச் சேர்ந்த அத்தனைப்பேரும் அகமகிழ்ந்து ஆனந்தக் கண்ணீர் அல்லாவா விடுகிறோம், அன்புச் செல்வனே துணை அட்மிரல் அசோக் குமாரே. தாயக மண்ணில் மட்டும் அல்லாமல், அயலக மண்ணிலும் நம் நாட்டின் பெருமையை நிலைநாட்டிய உனக்கு எங்கள் வீர வணக்கம்.
கனிவையும், கண்டிப்பையும் காட்ட வேண்டிய இடத்தில் காட்டி, கடற்படை வீரர்களுக்கு நல்லதோர் வழிகாட்டியாய், முன்கள வீரனாய் விளங்குகின்றவன் அல்லவோ நீ. இன்முகமும், இன்சொல்லும் உனக்கு இறைவன் அளித்த அருட்கொடை..கடற்படை ஆயுதங்களோடு இந்த இரண்டு பிரம்மாஸ்திரங்களையும் கொண்டு அல்லவா அனைவர் நெஞ்சங் களையும் வென்று மகிழ்கிறாய்.
ஓய்வுக்கு ஒய்வு கொடுத்த ஓய்வறியாக் கடற்படை வீரன் நீ. ஒய்வு பெற்ற பின்னும் நீ ஓய்வெடுக்கவா போகின்றாய். இல்லை, இல்லை.தேனீயாய்ச் சுறுசுறுப்பாக என்றும் இருப்பாய் என்று எங்களுக்குத் தெரியும். இதுவரை நாடுகாக்கும் நற்பணியாற்றினாய். இனி, வீடு நலம்பெற அன்பு மனைவி இல்லற நாயகி திருமதி கீதா, அருமைச் செல்வங்களாம் ஸ்ருதி, ஸ்வேதி இவர்களுடன் பல்லாண்டு பல்லாண்டு மகிழ்வுடனும், நலமுடனும் வாழ்க என எல்லாம் வல்ல இறைவன் அருள் வேண்டுகிறோம்.

கடற்படைத் துணைத்தலைவர் அன்புச்செல்வன் அமராவதி அசோக் குமாருக்கு வாழ்த்துக்கள்! இறையருள் புரிக!

You are an exemplary example to prove that ordinary common man’s offspring also can shine like a historical legend. The medals that adore your chest are the proclaiming Military band. Param Vishist Seva Medal, Ati Visit Seva Medal, Seva Medal are the right recognition for your outstanding service in Indian Navy.
In 1978 you were Vice Captain of Chera House in Sainik School and now in 2021 you are the Vice Chief of the Indian Navy. As our great soul Dr A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said, did you dream to reach this height at that time itself? You have reached the zenith in your career. Seeing you, not only your biological parents but also benign mother – SSA and all members of SSA family shed blissful tears out of extreme happiness. Do you know,our dear Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar?
You have impressed the people to know the greatness of our country not only in our mother soil, but in other alien soil also. A Royal Salute to you, our dear. Where you have to show your senility you did show and where you have to show gentility you did show and you stood as a forefront warrior, you are an ideal guide to all your fellow warriors. Aren’t you?
Smiling face and soft-spoken words are God’s precious gift to you. Along with the Navy weapons, with these two ‘Brammasthrams’ you have conquered the hearts of all people and make them feel happy. You are an outstanding soldier in Indian Navy who gave rest to rest and you are a work alcoholic. Are you going to take rest after retirement? Never, never. We know that you will be as active as a honeybee as you had been hither to.
So far you have put in your very best without any reservation for the Homeland. Now it is time for you to look after your family. We pray to the God Almighty to bless you to have a happy retired life with Mrs Geetha madam, the woman behind you for your success, your affectionate daughters Mrs Sruti and Ms Swati.
To read more about Mr M Selvaraj, Please Click Here.

Veteran General PM Hariz writes:-It’s been a pleasure knowing Ashok all these years. Apart from our association at Amaravathi Nagar, we served together as instructors at DSSC, Wellington, just prior to his posting as DA to Singapore; and since then have been always in touch with each other. As the Commandant NDA, I had a standing Invitation to visit him; unfortunately could not make it due to exigencies of service.  We were indeed very proud when he was appointed as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff;  when Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, another Amaravian was the Vice Chief of Army Staff. I took the liberty of telling both of them that they needed to get a photograph of them together …. And they obliged! I had then posted this in the Amaravian Alumni Association FaceBook Group. It was indeed a very unique and proud moment for all Amaravians. After my retirement, he was kind enough to visit us at Kovai on his way to DSSC to deliver a lecture.

Ashok has been actively involved in chasing issues on behalf of the School too, both at the Service HQs and at the State Govt level. Recently, when the present Principal was steering the release of funds from the State Govt, Ashok got the Defence Secretary to speak to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to assist in resolution of the issue. My wife and I had the pleasure of attending his daughter’s wedding at Delhi in Nov 19. Admiral Ashok, an officer and a gentleman has been a shining example  of an officer in the armed forces, worthy of emulation. We wish him and his family the very best in the second innings.’

Veteran General Devraj Anbu recalls:-
Two Amaravians in the corridor of South Block housing the Ministry of Defence was an envy for everyone. Ashok and self did capitalise to a great extent.
Ashok’s tri- service experience gave a great head start in his tenure as Vice Chief. His vast experience, ability to articulate and persuasiveness resulted many a time in deciding very delicate and important issues in favour of the Navy. Many a time he navigated his way through complex and thorny issues to Navy’s great advantage. He was at his best during deliberations in Vice Chiefs’ meetings.
Having known Ashok from Chera House days in school, I took the liberty of enjoying his hospitality when he was in Singapore. I cannot forget the way he looked after me from the time I landed there to my departure. Every moment I spent with Ashok’s family is etched in my mind. He has done this for everyone who has come across him .. a great quality that endeared him to everyone.’

From the Left : Chef Vijaya Baskaran; Chef Manjit Singh Gill, President IFCA; Admiral Ashok Kumar; Late Chef (Dr)
Soundararajan, then Secretary IFCA

Chef Vijaya Baskaran, Vice President, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA,) looking back at the VII International Chefs conference organised by IFCA in 2017 at Delhi writes:-
‘I recall with pride  my classmate Admiral Ashok Kumar, addressing over 800 of the finest Chefs, he commenced by saying “What will a Naval officer talk to reputed Chefs about? Both the Chefs and Navy personnel wear whites and work in challenging conditions. Armed forces march on their stomach or ships sail on their stomachs and the most important reason – I was invited by my classmate and I  could not refuse. Such is our brotherly bonding.
The 45 minutes of his talk was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the delegate chefs; such was the power of his words. I am sure many chefs will try to influence their children to enroll in the Indian Navy after such a motivating talk.  The aftermath of his powerful speech was that there was a long queue of chefs waiting to click a picture with Admiral Ashok.’

Veteran Commander Daniel Reginald, Indian Navy, our classmate remembers fondly:
‘Having landed up in the Navy three years junior to Ashok and in a service where even one day seniority matters, I enjoyed the privilege of getting treated at par as a classmate by Ashok, despite our seniority differences.  We missed being in the same station  most of the time (except for a short period at Naval Headquarters) and I finally caught up with him after taking premature retirement and when he was posted as Flag Officer Sea Training and Chief of Staff Southern Naval Command, Kochi.
The bond and friendship we share growing up together in Amaravathi Nagar breaks all the seniority differences, and Ashok is such an  approachable person.  I had the full liberty to call him up any time and seek his help and guidance in the high positions he held, and I regret not visiting him enough whilst I was in the service. Friends and forever and will catch up with him, post his retirement. Wishing Ashok, Geeta and their two lovely daughters- Sruti and Swati – Godspeed, following winds in their anchorage.’

Veteran Commander MP Joseph, Indian Navy, two years our senior at School reminisces:-‘Ashok was always seen smiling, even when things were not looking very good, a classic example of being bestowed with the stellar quality of sense of humour, he could laugh at himself, rather than complain – a very important quality in a military leader.

As we look back on Admiral Ashok’s  career of service to our country, I think everyone will agree with me in saying, it was much cooler even than what we all – his nine-year-old classmates at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar – could’ve imagined.

Veteran Commander N Balasubramanian, our classmate recalls:-It has been a 50 year association with Ashok since joining Sainik School in July 71. We were in the same section in School, thereafter we were coursemates in NDA too and there also we were in the same class following it up with the Indian Navy being in the Executive Branch. We also did 51st staff course together. I was also fortunate to know his wonderful family well and have spent some memorable time with them in our younger days.

Ashok and Geetha have always been warm and large hearted. Though I left Navy in 2007, have enjoyed like many other coursemates, colleague and even strangers their hospitality all along even when he was DA in Singapore.

I had a contribution to him in choosing the Navy, as I suggested to him to give Navy as first choice when we were choosing Service while appearing for NDA, as I was in the Naval wing and he in the Airforce wing in NCC. It proved good for the Navy. Also Geetha rose up to be President Naval Wives Welfare Association (NWWA).

Over the years, I have found Ashok to be down to earth, cheerful, affectionate, humble and helpful to all. He is a thorough family man and  a very devoted son.  I am confident that more challenging assignments will come his way considering his wide exposure and experience. On behalf of my family and many classmates and coursemates I take this opportunity to wish Ashok, Geetha, Shruti and Swati all the very best, good luck and god speed.

Alex Manappurathu, Ashok’s Chera House mate writes:– ‘I remember Ashok being a strong Sivaji Ganesan fan. A movie buff to the core. During school vacations he claimed to go to movie halls every day (and saw multiple movies per day!), and at end of the vacation, returned to school with repertoire of stories to be narrated to his eager classmates.

Cut to the present, having heard him at our Alma mater recently at the Sea harrier dedication ceremony, he was coaxing the students and teachers, connecting the dots of his school days and his naval career to drive home certain points. Makes me wonder if it was this story telling sessions of his school days that honed his oratory skills!

In the past few years whenever I have met folks known to him, it was very clear that all of them spoke of him in very high esteem. Some statements from them …
“Made me realise persuasion is the way to get things done, and not Danda (stick.)”
“He had done so much for me, this is is least I could do.”
“Well accepted personality, gets along with every one.”
“Learned so much from him
.”

With his strong interpersonal skills, wishing him a very happy and productive second innings too after he hangs his naval uniform.’

Air Marshal Thazhathupulikunnel Devasia Joseph. Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vayu Sena Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal : Son of the Soil

Here we are…43 years from this day, I met TD Joseph (Joe) at the National Defence Academy (NDA)- he as an Air Force Cadet and I as an Army Cadet.  Until then, we both did not know each other and that we hailed from the same village – Ayarkunnam, Kottayam, Kerala.  He graduated from the Mayo College, Ajmer, Rajasthan and I from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu. Today, I cannot believe the day has finally come for Joe to hang up this uniform and retire.

Often our vacations home coincided and we met either at the fish vendor’s stall in the village market or at the coconut oil mill.  You were the ‘son of the soil’ and I have an anecdote to narrate.  My eldest brother, while on a trip to the village market, was hailed by a young man pulling a പിടി വണ്ടി (Pidi Vandi – hand cart). laden with bags of fertilizers, with his father pushing from behind.  It took my brother a minute to recognise the person.  Behold! it was you – a young Flight Lieutenant.

Joe, by your compassionate and fearless leadership, you have put smiles on all the officers and airmen who served under your command.  I witnessed it in while I visited you at Shillong in 2017.  You were real passionate about everyone’s well-being.

You are a born leader and have been blessed to be able to lead others.  You have the power to influence others and you did it very well  You always worked towards the betterment of others and never for self-gratification.   You surely did enjoy your time with the Indian Air Force and you will undoubtedly miss the camaraderie and the privilege of leading such wonderful human beings.

Sophie was always by your side, and you touched the skies with glory in her company.  You both raised two thoroughbred gentlemen sons – Abhishek and Ivan, with Ann Maria now joining your team.   Sophie has been your supporting pillar over all those years and you credit her for that.  It was very evident during the days you both spent with us in Canada in June 2016.

Sophie has been a perfect Air Force wife, inspiring others and representing the ladies fraternity. With her love and caring, you have flown safely all these years.

Joe was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in December 1982. He was the winner of the Nawanagar Sword of Honour and President’s Plaque for standing first in Order of Merit in his batch of pilots. He has flown over 3800 hours on various fighter and trainer aircraft.

He is a Category A Qualified Flying Instructor and was an Air Force Examiner. He commanded a Fighter Squadron in the Eastern Sector, the Flying Instructors’ School at Chennai and a major Air Base in the Western Sector.  He was a senior faculty with the National Defence College, New Delhi the Air Defence Commander in the South Western Sector and Eastern Sector.

Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul recounts:- ‘… and a most inspiring Malayalam address to the audience, on the occasion of Onam, all of which went over my head.  Loved his golf, and had a mean handicap.  When a Sikh C-in-C was retiring, we made him ‘renew his vows’, at a party. Joe was the ‘priest’ who conducted the ceremony, and as in everything else he did, was technically flawless, including his sense of comic timing. Had the audience in splits!!!

As in sailing any sea, one has to take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes, in a Headquarters, when somebody senior got on your nerves, one deftly manoeuvred the boat into Joe’s office, where a cuppa tea, a beatific smile, and a few words of wisdom, were instrumental in inspiring you to take the boat out again.’

Veteran Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani pens :- ‘Joe known since the last four decades, a handsome, smart and erudite officer with impeccable language and diction has been a simpleton at heart. Rarely does one find the combination of an intellectual, hard working, meticulous and sincere professional who is a simpleton at heart, bears no malice towards anyone and makes an effort to keep in touch with friends. I followed him for the RCDS course in London, UK and his briefing to me was immaculate and precise.

Sophie aka Nirmala has been a pillar of support to Joe, in all his endeavours while carrying out her responsibilities on the social front for the welfare of the extended Air Force family. Fun loving and charming, she has been sought after by seniors and subordinates while being a caring and loving friend to her peers. We wish both Joe and Sophie Good luck, Godspeed and Happy Landings as they begin their Second Innings, which I am sure will be better than the first. Wishing you both many birdies and pars with an odd eagle thrown in to keep you going. Lots of love from Golu & Rekha’                                                                              

Veteran Air Vice Marshal Michael Fernandez says:-  ‘Joe is a super guy, and I mean it truly. Known him ever since NDA, got to know him better when we spent the next decade together. Always ready to help and extend a hand whenever he saw someone in need. Ably complemented by Sophie who I am sure has been his crutch though he is the youngest looking coursemate we have. Hope Sophie remembers the reason she stopped speaking to me for around three months. Looking back, I’m sure she will remember that episode “happily.”  Professionally second to none, Joe, possibly, must be one of the few coursemates who has published a professional book.  Vaneeta and I wish them all the very best in their life ahead.

Veteran Captain Ramesh Babu (Indian Navy) recalls:- ‘Joe was an ideal Cadet at the Academy, excelling in everything that the curriculum prescribed. He followed rules, studied hard, played well, marched smartly and made lifelong bonds with friends, which make up the essence of Academy life. As Malayalees, we shared a special bond and the poor guy often had to put up with my pranks. Together,  the two of us smashed over the nets when volleyball got introduced at NDA. The special bond we made at the Academy continues, now encompassing our families.

Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall writes:- ‘Our dear Joe, as I saw him during three years of stay in Bravo Squadron during NDA days, has been a perfect gentleman – always cool, silent, and soft spoken and ever smiling. He has been a passionate basketball player. Joe, the fighter pilot, by dint of his caliber, professional acumen and perseverance rose to don the most coveted rank of Air Marshal and achieved numerous accolades and decorations in his illustrious career spanning over four decades. It’s been a matter of great pride for ‘Braves’ to have been associated with him and remember the old bonding. I recall a very brief conversation with you at Braves get-together at Gangtok few years ago wherein I was touched by simplicity and contentment with life when you talked about your humble beginnings and that what God blessed you with Sophie and adorable and successful sons. At this memorable moment, we wish you all the very best in life ahead..’

Veteran Lieutenant Colonel Tejinder Padda recollects : Hi TD! Heartiest Congratulations on completion of an absolutely awesome tenure with the IAF. Started getting to know you from the time you joined NDA as Cadet TD Joseph and got to know you more when you rose to the pinnacle and became the Air Marshal TD Joseph. There has been hardly any change in you ever since: cool, always smiling, suave, having a good word for everyone and everything, essentially a towering personality. Though happy to note one major change- you’ve grown up to become rather naughty in preparation for your retired life, I presume!

In NDA I remember your full of josh cross country running, awesome Basket Ball game and not to forget the Green Horn Camp josh run… when you were literally caught with your ‘dungarees down. A fantastic person that you are, may you have a super retirement and get to spend more time with Sophie and the family and get to fulfil all your bucket list. Good luck to you.’

Veteran Colonel Nilesh Lal reminisces:- ‘Joe was good in cross country and he came in fifth in our first term.  TD ( Tulsi Das ) for want of a better name (as TD was unpronounceable) was a genial, unassuming & affable person who steered clear of any controversy & was always on the right side of law ; managing that in NDA required some dexterity & manoeuvring skills & guess that is what ensured that Joe  mastered his flying skills subsequently.  Post NDA we briefly interacted while he was flying in the western sector and I have a vivid memory of Joe proudly introducing his Flying Bird .Proud to know that Joe is the last of the lot from Bravo 61 still in uniform and wishing him the very Best going forward.

Colonel Parimi Venkata Ramakrishna, the Lone Traveller

Floral Clock, Niagara

During this tough Covid time, I was in for a shock this evening – news of the demise of Colonel PV Ramakrishna, known amongst us – his friends – as Ramki.  He was from the  technical graduate entry and was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers with us on 24 December 1982.  He is survived by his daughters – Ms Neharika and Major Vimala. May the God Almighty give them the strength to bear the loss.

He was widowed soon after he hung his boots.  He then took to travelling across the globe and he landed at Toronto in August 2015 and stayed with us for ten days.  We explored the Niagara escarpment, the flower-pot islands, Toronto city, Montreal, Blue Mountains, African Lion Safari and so on.

With Nikhil at the Niagara Falls

As I write this eulogy, I’m still reeling from the tragic death of Ramki, we are shocked, scared and angered at the unfairness and senselessness of the Virus that took him from us. Well meaning people will tell us that it is all part of God’s plan, or that this was just Ramki’s time to go, that he is in a better place. While God certainly knows his plan, we do not. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and as difficult and painful as it is, we must accept that Ramki is with his Creator.

Ramki was a traveler and an adventurer. He was a person who loved to learn about and experience new places and other cultures. He carefully researched each of his journeys, , taking new and unexpected.

Flower-Pot Island – Tobermory

Ramki was an outstanding father who was very proud of his daughters and their achievements.  Whenever we spoke, he always had something to mention about both Neharika and Vimala.  He said in his last conversation with me last year to me “My greatest assets and treasures are my daughters and I have allowed them freedom to grow up to be worthwhile ladies and they have come out in flying colours always.  You have given much more freedom to your children and they will surely achieve greater heights.”

Rest in Peace Ramki – You can continue with your travel in the other world.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan

When I opened my Whatsapp this morning, I was in for a shock; a most unexpected one.  It was the untimely demise of Colonel Sandeep Dhawan due to Covid. May God give the family courage and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan was commissioned into 17 GRENADIERS on 24 Dec 1982, and commanded  battalion in the same regiment from 2002 to 2005. He also served a brief stint with 9n. He had served as a Staff Officer with the  Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters.  He was also an Instructor at Infantry School, Mhow and a United Nations Military Observer in Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1995-96. He was Team leader of Indian Army Training Teams, Lesotho (Africa). He married  Anshu in May 1990 and has two daughters, Akarshita and Nikita.

13651, Koduvath Reji, this is Sandeep, H/61,” was the salutary call I received three months back. I wasn’t surprised by Sandeep’s ability to recall all our National Defence Academy (NDA) identity numbers, even after 33 years.  He was a proud father calling me about his daughter Nikita’s application to University of Toronto for a PhD in machine learning.

I assured Sandeep all support from our end and answered many a query about Nikita’s stay in Toronto, including the financial aspects.  We discussed all options threadbare. Sandeep had done his homework well and was a man who went into every little aspect. I promised him a ‘firm base’ at our home for Nikita, where she can walk in freely, and also my availability 24/7 as I am often at home. This was the usual and expected support I always ensure to extend to all our coursemates, military friends and their children.

We  had three more tele-conversations, all about Nikita and her stay here in Canada. I researched her professor and told Sandeep he was a tough nut to crack, though I was unimpressed by his student evaluations.

In one such conversation, Sandeep recommended the book ‘Angela’s Ashes.’  I promptly ordered it and was delivered to me last evening by Amazon.  I never realised what was in store for me!!!!!

We had planned to meet up at Toronto this fall when he came to drop off Nikita.  All this time, I had no idea he would be saying goodbye to us so soon.  Rest In Peace Buddy.

Women in the Indian Defence Forces


Regarding employment of women in the Indian Defence Forces, there have been many views expressed.  I have tried to analyse it based on the reasons why Canadian women leave the Defence Forces.

Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include  combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.)  Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.

By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.

A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

  • Army
    • Officer 16.50%
    • NCM   12.80%
    • Total    13.50%
  • Navy
    • Officer 22.40%
    • NCM   19.80%
    • Total    20.60%
  • Air Force
    • Officer  21.00%
    • NCM    19.2%
    • Total     19.80%

Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan.  Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.

The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so.  DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”

In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.

Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.

She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further ­compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.

Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force

  • Family Separation                         27.4 %
  • Return to School                           25.4 %
  • Stay at Home and Raise Family    19.9%
  • More Challenging Work               18.4%
  • Conflict with Spouse Career         18.4%

Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.

US military’s  attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:

  • lack of clear roles and careers paths
  • differential treatment they received
  • difficulty in combining career and family.

The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.

Pen Pushers


My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that  I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard  Staff College and/ or  Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit.  A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome.  This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.

When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College.  You tell us to read five pages daily and write one.  When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer.  In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”

To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun.  We have one Staff College qualified  BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.

My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture?  Who will conduct the demonstration?  Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?

The answer was obvious!  They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”

I concluded “You can select what you want to do.  So, you better qualify the entrance exam for  both.  It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two.  Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.

When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.)  He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams.  A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.

Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through.  The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.  Look at me!  I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”

His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want  to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously.  I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed.  I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”

For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery,  survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on.  Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?

Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied.  With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”

LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days.  Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.

On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight.   I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam.  He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight.  I am sure  you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify.   Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”

Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans.  Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.

As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”

I dashed to the CO’s office.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify.  All the best.  Do well in life.”

He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.

While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time?  Why did he wish me well in life?  Above all, why did he hug meWhy did he have to see me off?

Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered.  (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.

About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.

Indian Army Water Bottle

Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.

My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.

This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,

These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.

The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

Mischievous Memoirs by Veteran Colonel Gora Sarkar : Book Review


The author has succeeded in painting his childhood with a brush of childlike innocence which every reader can easily connect with.  I developed an instant connection with the author as I too grew up at home with my three brothers with I too being the third and our pranks were as good.

The anecdotes of children’s innocence of marriage at the beginning of the holidays, tickling and kissing followed by baby crawling from beneath the bed, divorce at the end of the holidays with the baby disappearing beneath the bed; Franco-English battle; chocolate deprivation; census enumerator risking his life; holy-dip in the pond; the (un)parliamentary debate – all stand testimony to the author’s ability to recall the incidents in his growing up years with such finesse and humour. I felt it was as realistic as it could be

(Author seated second from left with his Mom, Caesar, Dad. Bonny at the back with Nar Bahadur)


Incidents of a soldier’s diplomacy at its best is displayed with a peg of Sacramental Wine that made two warring sides – the Catholics and the Protestants – come to truce – especially if they are Mallus , that too preaching amongst Nagas. Postponing the cow slaughter in Sri Lankan Army camp to respect the sentiments of his soldiers establishes it further. Ensuring that the French Brigadier’s wife netted a good bargain with the Delhi jeweller is another.

.

(Author in Nagaland with his soldiers)

The author has displayed his humaneness and love for fellow human beings through his description of the mental state of people of a conflict ridden zone, first Rakhi, dealing with the rudeness of the American Army officer; the parting advise by his helper at the Indian Military Academy to be like Netaji,  empathy towards the Pakistani Prisoners of War; ensuring that the girls did not get hurt during a hockey match.

The most important lesson for a child (and also for an adult) what the book brings out are:

  • ‘When you grow up, I don’t care if you don’t earn a lot of money, but you must be scrupulously honest.”
  • “The most important quality a boy must possess is character.”

You can purchase the book in India on Amazon,in by clicking here.

International readers can purchase it on Amazon.com.  Please click here.

How it all Began?

TNIn June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  In November 2002, we returned to Devlali.

After the unit got re-established at Devlali, I said to our officers “I owe you a party from my side as  you all have performed extremely well during our operational deployment.  Above, all, you carried me along as your Commanding Officer.   This Saturday, there will be cocktails at the Officers’ Mess to be followed by a dinner at the Dhaba.”   (Dhaba is a roadside restaurant mostly frequented by the passing truck drivers.)

Why at the Dhaba Sir” queried our Second-in-Command (2IC), Late Colonel Suresh Babu.  “Our mess staff have toiled hard for the past eleven months and taken good care of us.  I do not want to stress them anymore,” I justified.

That Saturday evening, officers with their wives and children, all assembled at our Officers’ Mess and the party commenced.  After the cocktails, I got on to the driving seat of the Jeep with all children in tow and ordered others to follow.

I drove to the Taj Hotel, Nashik and after we got off the vehicle, Captain Subhash asked “Sir, so this is your Dhaba?

As we sat down for dinner, the waiter enquired “Buffet or A-la-carte?”  “ A-la-carte” I affirmed.  Suresh was not at all amused with my choice and he said “It is going to cost you a fortune – at least one month’s take-home-pay!”  “That’s fine.  You guys deserve it,” I replied.

A few days after the dinner, Captain Mitra asked me “Sir, you need not have treated us to a dinner  at the Taj.  We could have had it at our Officers’ Mess.  It would have saved a lot of expenditure for you.”

What I paid at the Taj is much less than the efforts you all have put in till now.   Above all, you guys cared for me for the past six months with a smiling face.  I am really indebted to you all,”   I said.

Mitra was not convinced.  He asked “But why the Taj Sir? It is obviously the costliest place one can think of in a hundred kilometer radius of this place.”  I declared  “I do not want any of our officers to be sold for a dinner at a Five-Star Hotel like that Brigadier of the Tehelka incident of last year (Operation West End – 2001)Henceforth, all our celebrations will be at the Taj.”

Whatever it was, it resulted  Mitra coining the term ‘Dinner at the Dhaba’.

In December 2002, Southern Army Commander visited our unit and it was an overwhelmingly successful event.  It surely called for a celebration, especially as Christmas and New Year was approaching. So we decided on a dinner at the Dhaba.

It all commenced with cocktails at the Officers’ Mess and as we reached the Taj, Mitra went to the bar and returned to report “Sir, they have an excellent bar out here.”  “Let us all have a drink then,” I said.  Surely, it did not stop at one drink.

As we were all parading out of the bar for dinner, Suresh, like a good 2IC said “Sir, we have run up a  bar bill that is at least  five times that of the cost of the cocktails at the Officers’ Mess.”  I replied “Do not worry.  We will take care of it later.  Let them all have fun and enjoy.”

The next day in office, I had a file waiting, showing the expenditure for the dinner with a noting sheet.  Captain Subahsh, our Mess Secretary,  had opined “Every Officer to pay Rs 1000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund of the Officers’ Mess.

Below that was the noting of Suresh.  He wasn’t that ‘magnanimous.’ Like any good 2IC he wrote “Each officer to pay Rs 2000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund.”

I scored through the entire noting with a red ink pen and wrote “Each Officer to pay Rs 100.  Rest to be charged off from the entertainment fund.”

As soon as the file reached Suresh, he came charging in to my office and said “Why are you putting your head under a Gillette? Haven’t you read my noting.”  I calmly replied “Yes.  I have overruled it and written my decision with my hand.   Don’t worry about my head; it has been under a Gillette many a times before.”