Suicide Reporting by Media

Recently there has been many  reports on the media about suicides by young university students and young adults.  Some media houses, and some social media activists have gone on an overdrive to report such incidents with all its fury. 

Evidence suggests that the media can influence societal attitudes and beliefs to various social issues. This influence is especially strong for mental health issues, particularly suicide. Canadian newspaper coverage of the popular fictional Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, wherein the lead character dies by suicide in the final episode, generally adhered to core best practice media recommendations, and sensitively discussed suicide from various angles, prompting productive discussion and dialogue about youth suicide. These findings suggest that the media can be an ally in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of important public health issues such as suicide.

J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga all figure among celebrities who have contemplated suicide but found help and stepped back from the brink. U.S. study found a 10 percent increase in suicide mortality after the 2014 death of Robin Williams, American actor and comedian, which was partially attributed to inappropriate media coverage. Similar increases in suicide mortality were witnessed in Canada and Australia after the death of this well-known celebrity.

This phenomenon is known as ‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat suicide.’  Research has found that media coverage with details as to how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone vulnerable to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.

Greater the coverage of a suicide story higher the chances of finding a copycat.

WHO statistics indicate that more than 700 000 people die world over by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.  Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.  77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.  Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTQ2S+) persons; and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at every level – school, university, community, family – to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. World Health Organisation’s (WHO)’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends:-

  • limit access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
  • foster socio-emotional life skills in adolescents;
  • early identify, assess, manage and follow up anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviours.,
  • interact with the media for responsible reporting of suicide;

Is there a need to regulate such reporting?

In Canada, Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) provides suicide prevention and support to the people of Canada. They have laid down best practices and recommendations geared to media and other organisations with suggested guidelines and practices on how to report and comment on suicide activities, whether in the media, social media sites or internal communiques.  They recommend:-

  • Health reporters, not crime reporters, are best positioned to cover suicides.
  • Reports should generally avoid details of suicide methods, especially when unusual or novel methods are involved.
  • Emergency resource links should be included in all articles that deal with suicide.

Specific for social-media:

  • Providing information and resources to people who make suicide-related queries or posts;
  • Including panic buttons that allow for rapid access to crisis services/hotlines;
  • Providing mechanisms for users to report if they are concerned about someone with the possibility for rapid intervention; and
  • Moderating forums that frequently include suicide-related postings and making sure to remove inappropriate posts.

CSPS Recommends

  • Ongoing collaboration between journalists and mental health professionals, acknowledging scientific evidence and the autonomy of journalists;
  • All journalism schools include teaching of how to report responsibly and respectfully on the topic of suicide, including attention to issues related to ethics and social justice;
  • Media training for mental health professionals who are likely to be called on to comment on suicide in the press; and
  • Education for policy-makers and other prominent figures who may be asked to comment publicly on the topic of suicide.

The Austrian journalists recently altered the way they reported about suicide. Studies of that experience showed that after the changes, there was a significant reduction in suicide deaths across the country. Since then many other countries have put out recommendations. 

It’s Natural, Biological and Not the Stork

In the Netherlands, Germany and eastern Europe the myth is that the storks nesting on the roof of a household were believed to bring good luck — and the possibility of new birth — to the family living below.

Marina broke the news of her pregnancy to our daughter, “There is a little baby growing in my belly and we will have a baby in March.”

How did the baby get into your belly and how old is the baby now?” asked inquisitive five year old Nidhi.

The God placed the baby in my belly and is three months old,” replied Marina.

I did not see the God in our home, but Dad came home four months back from his military post in Sikkim.  Whatever it is, I want a sister and not a brother as boys are bullies,” said an innocent Nidhi.

How to break the news of a sibling’s arrival to a child?

Young children are not geared to handle a lot of information about conception and child birth.  Hence, breaking such a news got to be straight and simple and be ready to answer the questions that may follow.  Never pre-empt the child with your explanations, wait for the child’s questions.  If the child is not asking any questions, then it is not n his/her mind.  If the child asks more questions, then by all means go into more detail.

A good method is to make your explanation into a story on the lines that Mom and Dad make a baby, the baby grows inside Mom’s belly, and the baby comes out when fully developed after ten months.  Always ask a few probing questions to determine your child’s level of understanding of pregnancy is all about.  This will help you to choose your words.  You can begin with the fusion of the sperm and an egg in the way fruit grows from a seed.  You can also explain as to how the child develops, its movements, how it feeds, how it sleeps, etc.  If your child is school-going, you can ask a few questions to find out what they already know about where babies come from and then follow their lead.  Ensure that you use accurate anatomical language like womb or uterus instead of belly, etc.

Here comes the importance of using accurate anatomical terms for our body parts, especially the private parts.

Most of us grew up with funny sounding names for our private parts – tuckus, tush, peepee, peekki and son on.  Our parents do it for the sake of propriety and also they wanted to save themselves from embarrassment.  Imagine a kid screaming in a busy shopping mall “My penis hurts!” or “My vagina is itching!!”

It is neither an embarrassment nor a stigma.  It becomes so only if you visualise it to be so.  The proper names for their genitals – penis, testicles, vagina, vulva are taught in Canada in Grade 1 as per the new sexual health education curriculum.  By giving alternative names for our private body parts, we are doing a lot of disservice to our kids.  It has to begin at home and our kids should not be surprised at school.  A study found that kids who easily understood to the terms were the ones who used the proper names for their body parts at home with their parents.

It helps children develop a healthy, more positive body image, instead of feeling that their genitals are something shameful or bad.  It also facilitates the children to understand their bodies better and will prompt them to ask questions about sexual development.  Teaching kids the proper terms for their body parts enhances their awareness of their body, positive body image, self-esteem and confidence.

Kids who are comfortable talking about their bodies are more likely to be able to disclose when something worrisome or uncomfortable is happening to them. They can explain confidently to the doctors about their problems like itching or pain in their private parts.  They can also inform their parents when someone touched them inappropriately. 

Child-sex predators are less likely to pick confident, informed kids who obviously talk openly with their parents about their bodies, and who are aware that other people touching their private parts must be stopped and any attempt reported to the parents immediately.

A study found that even though kids in pre-school learn the proper names for their body parts, only kids with parents who used the right terms caught on. So, do not leave this important task to the teachers. You can begin using proper terminology when changing diapers, bathing the child, or at any other time that the subject might come up.

Sex education must begin at home and it has to be age-appropriate.  You may seek the assistance of your pediatrician.  Many of us are uncomfortable with the use of anatomically correct terminology; hence it is important to practice before you talk with your kids.  If they sense that you are uncomfortable, it will never sink in.  Every question from your child about his or her body must be answered as appropriate to the child’s age, as accurately and honestly as possible. Never make it a big deal!!!

For me, my first sex education teacher was my Amma and to read more about it, Please Click Here.

These are two well illustrated books I recommend for parents and grandparents.  The books will help you answer young children’s delightful, thoughtful, and often non-stop questions about their own bodies and about how girls’ and boys’ bodies are the same and are different—questions that are seemingly simple, but often not easy to answer. 

Train Them Young

Teach the kids to do all chores at home – you will be a proud parent because you will gift a son or a daughter who can do the dishes, cut the veggies and clean toilets to your future daughter/ son-in-law.  

You must have come across a kid tearing a shop upside-down for being refused a toy; a kid holding the parents to ransom for some gizmo in the electronic shop; threatening the parents with dire consequence for not buying a motorcycle; screaming their guts out as the child could not get a window seat on an airplane or bus; and so on.  These are entitled kids, and they grow into entitled adults.  That kid in his entire life did no chores at home other than disturbing the cushions on the couch.

An entitled kid expects food on the table; to be provided with snacks and drinks at their beck and call; the choice of food  to be more like a restaurant menu; someone else or the household help will make their beds, clean up their mess; not follow any time schedules – even to eat or sleep.

Most of us did not enjoy doing chores around our homes. I certainly did not. We were in a Sainik (Military) School from age nine and we had no choice, but to do everything – making our beds,  polishing our shoes, keeping the dorms and the area around clean – the list was endless. We all grew up totally unentitled.

When should kids start taking on household chores?

The latest study says as early as two years old. They should begin with age-appropriate tasks, under parental or senior sibling’s observation – clearing up toys, arranging their books, wearing clothes, etc.  A child is not born with all the skills to do all of these chores right away, so a little guidance and encouragement is necessary.  This will ensure that your child grows unentitled and will not develop into an entitled adult.  No parents want to raise entitled kids.

A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs.  Making children do chores at home and making them participate in all family activities is the responsibility of parents. Let your kids feel like they are part of this family team and they have to pitch in! Doing chores together help kids feel connected to the family.

Chores teach kids to take care of themselves and do basic activities like clean, cook and maintain the space around them, etc. Giving kids simple responsibilities around the home will inculcate self-reliance and responsibility. It also gives a small much needed breather to the parents. 

Kids are not born perfectionist; hence expect them to whine and take too long to complete the task.  It will never be up to your expectations, but they will soon be there with a little encouragement and guidance. Many a times, you will end up doing it all over, take it that it’s the best training your kid can get.  Ultimately, isn’t it so much easier to do it ourselves! Remember – Everything begins at home.

Children will never learn these by mere observation – They got to do it themselves.  Parents have to show the way and also explain to them how to do it.  They must also thank them for their effort and also tell them as to how their participation in the chore helped the household.  It will teach the child the importance of helping others.

Have you ever written a note to the school teacher explaining a reason for the kid not completing an assignment like the dog chewed on the completed work, the hard-disk of the computer got accidentally formatted, the laptop computer crashed?  You have robbed your child of an opportunity to be responsible and advocate for themselves at school.  It’s a sure way of setting them up for failure, which none of us want.  We want to see them scaling greater heights, turn into valuable citizens and proud members of the society.  That needs a lot of hard work – both from the parent and the child.  It isn’t that easy.

When we do things for them all the time, it hinders their development and keeps them from succeeding on their own.  It ends up as a message to our children that we don’t believe in their abilities. If you develop your child to be an entitled teen/ adult, they will expect their spouse, their roommate, or you to do everything for them.  If your kid hasn’t consistently done chores, it’s never too late to start, particularly if you’re really open with them about why you’re making the change and what your new expectations are.

Experts also recommend linking a new chore with a future behaviour — telling a teen that they’re learning how to help with dinner so they can make meals when they go to college, or when they’re cooking for their partner or spouse later.

Kids are never happy for being reminded about their chores.  Even parents are never too happy doing things around the house. They are very likely to nag when asked to do a chore.  It should never be used as a tool to discipline the kids.  You must be flexible and allow the child to chose what chore they want to do. 

Reward your kids when they do their chores and appreciate them for their efforts.  Ensure that the rearwards you’re comfortable with. Plan the reward in advance and always be consistent.

Prepare the Child for the Path – not the Path for the Child.

Reading Music

Veteran Lieutenant General PM Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone.  We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band.  He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987.  Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band.  Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.

Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from  the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966.  His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master.  He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968.  The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us.  Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes.  I just could not make any sense of them.

Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the  performance.  He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.

On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments  practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.

Other than teaching us how to play the instruments,  he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;)  how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them.  During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.

Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it.  Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.

Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the  muscle memory and coordination of the cadets.  Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.

Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7.  They were taught to read music and perform.  Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.

Not all can read music though many enjoy it.  Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians  who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music.  Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.

Why should you learn to read music?

Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition.  It helps you to remember the music you are playing.  With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.

It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster.  Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying.  The act of practicing  and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.

Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles.  It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group.  You can create your own musical compositions too.

It’s never too late to learn anything.  So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.

CARS Without Scars

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage. Today, it forms an important part of most competitive entrance examinations for important universities the world over.  To develop this skill, the only mantra is to read more – that too from all disciplines across the board. Some of you may question how and why reading is connected to CARS? After all the answers to the questions are all there in the given passage!

The explanation is pretty simple. The more you read, the more is your ability to quickly comprehend. The more you read, greater is your vocabulary and greater is the speed of comprehension and less the chances of your not comprehending something in the passage. The more you read more will be the chances of your familiarity with the subject matter and with greater familiarity comes greater ease of analysis. So reading is fundamental to development of mental faculty …no escape!

CARS is a skill that needs to be initiated in a child as early as possible.  Parents and primary school teachers play a very important role in developing this skill in children.  Some of the tips for teaching critical thinking to children, as recommended by American Philosophical Association (APA), are as listed below: –

  • Start as Early as Possible. Children can be encouraged to give reasons for their decisions or conclusions rather than teaching them ‘formal’ logic.
  • Avoid Pushing. Whenever we tell our children to do things. it would be pertinent to give them reasons for the same. Some, they may understand; others, they may not.
  • Encourage Kids to Ask Questions. That is the only way to instill and encourage curiosity in children. They should never feel any pressure in asking questions to their parents or teachers.  Many a times, children are hesitant to ask a question due to this pressure from their peers or siblings.
  • Get Kids to Clarify Meaning. Rather than the rote system, encourage children to explain things in their own words.
  • Encourage Children to Consider Alternative Explanations and Solutions. Allow children to experiment or consider multiple solutions rather than always looking for the bookish right answer. This will enhance flexible thinking.
  • Talk About Biases. Children can understand how emotions, motives, cravings, religious leanings, culture, upbringing, etc can influence our judgments.
  • Don’t Confine Critical Thinking to Purely Factual or Academic Matters. Encourage kids to reason about ethical, moral, and public policy issues.
  • Get Kids to Write. Writing helps students clarify their explanations and sharpen their ideas. Only kids who read and analyse develop good writing skills.

When faced with preparing for a CARS test, you are what you are. In  case you have a few months or at best a year before you take the test, can you actually prepare for and improve upon your CARS score? Surely Yes. Let us see some of the aspects of preparation for CARS.

Reading Speed
Speed of reading is very important for any CARS test.  Generally, there are five to six passages and 60 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Thus you have less than 15 minutes to read each passage, the set of associated questions and answer them.   The only way to increase your speed of is by reading and more reading. There are of course many speed reading techniques that one may try but eventually you must settle down to a particular reading technique.

Most of the modern-day CARS tests are computer based, the examinee needs to develop speed of reading onscreen.  Reading onscreen in a test environment calls for better training of your eyes and mind as it is 20% slower than reading it on paper.  If the test you are taking is onscreen, you must practice more onscreen.

Some tips to speed up your onscreen reading are: –

  • Do not Move Your Head – either up/down or left/right – to see an entire page on most computer screens. Practice shifting your focus between words and lines without moving your head.
  • Avoid ‘Sub Vocalization’ – also known as auditory reassurance. It is a common habit where readers say words in their head while reading, thus slowing down.  Your mind is capable of perceiving and analyzing text much faster than you think – at least double that of your speaking speed.
  • Never Stop in Between and Go Back and Forth. In case you do not fully understand a part of the passage or you lack clarity about what the inputs are, first read the complete passage and then look for what you need to clarify.
  • Practice Reading Phrases or Small Sentences Rather Than Reading Each Word. Remember that you are looking for the overall meaning and not referring to a dictionary. Reading word by word slows you down as you tend to pause between words.

Selective Reading
As part of your reading in preparation for CARS you need to read for pleasure and entertainment as well as concentrate on some dense and difficult prose. In both categories your reading should be only non- fiction and generally related to social sciences and humanities. The CARS passages are hardly ever science based. In the light reading category, a few national and international current affairs magazines would suffice such as Time, Newsweek, India Today, Frontline and so on. It is also important to read the editorials of daily newspapers and a few articles that appear on the editorial page. As for difficult prose try for example Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Reading such as this is essential so that you develop the ability to read and assimilate difficult prose.

Practice
While wide multidisciplinary reading is the best solution in the long run, if your preparation time is limited to a year or less, then the solution lies in relentless practice. Even if you do nothing else by way of preparation, just practice alone may well see you through. Repetitive practice will in the long run build up your stamina and help improve your reading speed and your analytical skills and above all your scores.   Roughly one mock test a day or five to six per week should suffice. After a month or so, if you are on the right track there should be improvement in your scores. If not there is something seriously wrong in your approach and you may need professional help to identify your weakness.

Vocabulary Improvement
A good vocabulary is a basic requirement for proficiency in the CARS test. If you have been a reader of storybooks since your childhood, generally your vocabulary ought to be good. However, if you have been a poor reader, your vocabulary will need to be supplemented in the short term. Some of the books or Audio-visual materials specifically meant for this purpose are readily available in the market. Some research on effectiveness must be done before you home in on what you need.

Adopt A Simple Strategy
During our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC), the objective tests often contained a section where examinees are required to tick true/false on a series of statements. The questions had negative marking and often bamboozled a lot of us trainees. Eventually some someone came out with a strategy that proved to be effective for at least some of us: –

  • Those questions that you CLEARLY KNOW to be true/false should be first attempted.
  • Then, those that you FEEL are true should be ticked false and vice a versa.

Similarly, there are many strategies in attempting the CARS test. The simplest and the best strategy is to read the entire passage first and then answer questions in the given order. Some may advocate obviously stupid strategies such as reading the first and the last paragraphs and then answer the questions or even reading the questions first (not the answer choices) before you read the passage so that apparently you know where to focus when you read. These stupid options must be shunned. Some other strategies such as devoting a disproportionately longer time for reading and assimilation of the passage and then answering the questions may be useful to some. Yet another strategy may be to devote meaningful time only to say five out of six, or seven out of nine passages and apply pure guesswork on the remaining passage(s) without reading. First skimming through the passages with a view to and identify and attempt the easier passages first may also be another strategy. Early in your preparation time you need to firm in on your strategy and then practice relentlessly on the chosen strategy. If there is no noticeable improvement in scores after a period of time, you may need to think of changing your strategy.

How to Read the CARS Passage
Remember that the CARS test is basically aimed at testing whether you can see the big picture, not the minor detail. By the time you finished reading the passage and applying a few minutes of thought, a central theme should emerge, shouting from roof tops so to say. How do we reach that stage? Central to all prose writing is the point that a paragraph contains a central idea. When we complete each paragraph of the passage, we should ask ourselves what this central idea is and preferably jot this down on a scratch paper in just four or five words. We may call this a paragraph review. We may also jot down as part of the paragraph review, inferences and conclusions that we can draw, comparisons if any and the purpose of anything that is unique

Once you have completed this process for all the paragraphs of the passage, look at your scratch paper and go through the ideas jotted down. Try and link these together and form a central theme, which should also be jotted down on the scratch paper. Now give a thought on the authors tone. Is he light hearted, serious or matter of fact? Is he trying to sell a new idea? Is he emotional about the central idea? A clear understanding of the central idea and the author’s tone are essential to answer the following questions. Once this process is done you may answer the questions and there will rarely be a need to re-read any portion of the passage. If there is any question which cannot be answered now, it is better to guess rather than go back to reading the passage as this will only waste time and rarely find the answer.

Instead of using a scratch paper some may be more comfortable with highlighting a few words/sentence in the passage itself to bring out its central idea. To my mind his is an inferior technique but by all means use it if you are more comfortable with it.

Some Sample Questions

Question 1:  ‘Meter’ is a unit of measure derived from one millionth of the radius of the planet Earth. Based on this which of the following is true:

  • A) The radius of the planet is the perpendicular bisector of all the auxiliary latitudes
  • B) The first geodetic survey of the Meter was(?) done by Willebrord Snell.
  • C) The Nautical Mile is equal to Imperial Mile in meters.
  • D) It is impossible to derive the Meter using land based geodesy techniques and materials as was available in the 18th Century.
  • E) None of the above.

The answer is E as all of the other statements are red-herrings.  Do not get caught up looking for the red-herrings.  It may be prudent to skip such a question and revisit at the end time permitting.

Question 2

  • A) Some days are longer than others during the calendar year
  • B) A few of Da Vinci’s paintings were lost over time.
  • C) It is possible that there were no protests in Washington D.C. in 1946
  • D) All students writing the MCAT do well on the CARS section
  • E) None of the above.

Here there is neither a passage nor a question.  If you analyse, other than for statement D, all other statements are ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘is possible’.  Statement D is the only specific sentence with ‘all’.  By elimination, the answer got to be D.  Can you now guess the question?

Question 3:  Gautier was indeed a poet and a strongly impressive one- a French poet with limitations as interesting as his gifts. Completeness on his own scale is to our mind the idea he most instantly suggests. Such as his finished task presents him, he is almost the sole of his kind. He has imitators who could not mimic his spontaneity and his temper. Alfred de Musset once remarked about him “at the table of poets his glass was not large, but at least it was his own glass”.

Why does the author quote de Musset in this passage?

  • A) To show that all of Gautier’s contemporaries were his fans.
  • B) To prove that Gautier’s poetry was objectively the best.
  • C) To show how different Gautier and his poetry were.
  • D) To show the weaknesses of the French style of poetry.
  • E) None of the above.

The answer is C.  The quote by Musset ending with ‘it was his own glass’ points to the answer.

CARS is not at all be the nightmare that it is made out to be. In fact, if your vocabulary and ability to see the big picture are okay, then half the battle is won. All that remains is to polish the skills by relentless practice, backed up by record keeping of your scores.

A look at Friendship from a Gender Perspective


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Reading Skills in Children


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

To Read or Not to

Recently I saw a video clip of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, quite infamous for his idiosyncratic use of English language, wherein, a high school student asked him to give out a difficult word from his vocabulary which she had not heard.  Pausing for a moment, he said “READ”.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” said Joseph Addison – essayist, poet, playwright and politician.  Who does not want to exercise his or her mind?  Reading is bound to make you smarter; stimulate critical and analytical thinking; assimilate new information; improve problem solving skills; and the list is endless.

One who does not observe cannot paint, one who does not listen cannot sing and one who does not read can never write.  Shashi Tharoor attributes his vast vocabulary and spelling to his extensive reading.  He claimed that he hardly used a dictionary, but made out the meaning of difficult words, contextually, as it occurred in different passages or paragraphs.

Most students appearing for Medical/ Pharmacy College Admission Test (MCAT or PCAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and admission tests for various management and business schools, the world over, inter alia, generally need to take on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test. To many, this test is a sort of Waterloo.  It is mostly a test of comprehension based on a passage(s) followed by some questions, which needs to be answered in a very short time. The CARS test is a more advanced form of the good old comprehension question that was (and perhaps sill is) a part of the English language examinations at various levels. While the latter tested only one’s language skills, the former tests ones knowledge, critical analysis and power of reasoning also.

Many students struggle with this section because it requires a certain level of intuition, or some previous knowledge of the subject.  One should be familiar with various difficult words in the passage and more or less know their precise meaning in the context in which it is used; else one is sure to take a lot more time in comprehending the passage.  Most students appearing for such admission tests are quite uncomfortable with CARS, as they are more used to formulas, theorems and theories based on scientific subjects.  Indeed, quite a few have managed to cram the subject matter without really understanding the conceptual aspects.  Unfortunately, the CARS section is not something that you can cram for, but you must prepare for it over time.  Armed with a vast array of knowledge (gained through extensive reading) and lots of practice, a student will be well ready to take on the CARS test.

CARS section is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage.  To develop this skill, one suggested way is to read through the editorial page of a leading English newspaper and also any economic news paper.  While reading, even if you can assimilate ten percent of what is written, your knowledge base will increase.  Ultimately it is all about reading.

To become a better reader, the only way is to read more.  One needs to develop stamina for reading and it needs to begin at a young age.  It is obvious that the children of parents who read turn out to be better readers – they surely imitate what their parents do and perhaps the habit gets into your genes.  So, put down your mobile phones and put off your television when you are in the company of your children.  That is the time to take up a book and commence reading.  Everything from books to magazines is good material to build up your reading stamina. Remember that the CARS section will generally not contain passages pertaining to the natural sciences, it encompasses everything else.

While practising for CARS, read the passages like you would read normally.  Never try to skim through it, never skip lines – you may think that you are reading the passage fast, but you are sure to miss out on some essential information.  You are sure to ‘miss the woods for the trees.‘  If you practice ‘normal’ and perhaps a bit deliberate reading, you will realise that you are able to pick out relevant information faster.  Previous knowledge about the passage will help you immensely, but should never become a hindrance in your ability to answer the questions.

Let us take an example of the following simple passage: –

  • “While Nelson Mandela is the father of South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is our grandfather,” Harris Majeke, South Africa’s ambassador to India, said. “Mandela was inspired by the Satyagraha campaign led by Gandhi. It was a compelling act of passive protest against oppression. This would later inspire the formation of the African National Congress and strengthen Mandela’s belief in our shared humanity.”  It is true that there is a direct connection between Gandhi’s campaign against discrimination in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement there.  “The African National Congress, which in 1952 launched the first mass movement against apartheid under the leadership of Dr. Albert Luthuli, had been founded in 1912 on the model of the Indian National Congress, with which Gandhi had been closely associated,” writes Claude Markovits in “The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and the Afterlife of the Mahatma.”

A student who is not aware of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Claude Markovits; developments in South Africa; practice of Satyagraha as a passive protest; evils of apartheid and other such concepts will not be able to comprehend the passage well, analyse it and satisfactorily answer the questions that follow.

The best suggested way to practice for CARS is to read for pleasure and entertainment and also to make use of the Dead Time at one’s disposal.  Dead time is the time available at your disposal while you are travelling, waiting for someone or an event to happen, etc.  As Shashi Tharoor brought out, you are bound to pick up on new words and phrases, practice forming opinions, and have the opportunity to reason beyond the text.

As against reading for pleasure and entertainment, when one reads to learn, the ability to grasp the essentials conceptually from what one reads and retain it in memory for ever, is a skill that varies from one individual to another. This skill is a highly developed common denominator amongst all successful people who primarily use their brain for their success. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be acquired, enhanced and fine tuned.

The best seller “Unlimited Memory” by Grandmaster, Kevin Horsley deals with ‘how to use advanced learning strategies to learn faster, remember more and be more productive’. Be that as it may, reading for pleasure and entertainment is primary to all reading; without this habit, ‘reading to learn is nearly impossible’. Reading for pleasure is habitual, a habit that needs to be developed very early in life. Like swimming and cycling, it’s a skill that becomes increasingly more difficult to acquire with advancing years.

Our niece who used to travel by train home (four hours) on weekends from her university in Kerala once complained about ogling and eve teasing by some young male co-travellers, which used to irritate her a lot. Here the victim and the perpetrators, both have no concept of utilising dead time.  I advised her that reading will divert her attention from the ogling Romeos, many of whom, will get intimidated just by the sight of a girl with an English book (for obvious reasons) and she on the other hand, will gain knowledge, improve her vocabulary and enhance language skills.  After a month she reported success.   Now, after five years of my advice, she still continues to carry a book with her during travels and I must say that she has evolved into young woman with good general awareness.

The result of a study by Kingston University, London, showed that book readers were more empathetic than those who mainly watched television.  While watching a movie or a television show based on a book, one perceives it from the angle the director wants the viewer to perceive it, whereas while reading a book one has the liberty to pause when   needed, make assumptions and perceive  it the way  the reader wants.  Television viewers were in fact found to have more anti-social behaviour than others.  It is interesting to note that amongst readers, fiction readers showed the best social skills; comedy readers were the best at relating to people; romance and drama lovers were the most empathetic and most skilled at seeing things through other’s eyes.

Good readers make great leaders.  Abraham Lincoln had only one year of formal education, but his reading made up for the rest.   Roosevelt was believed to have read two books a day. Thomas Jefferson had one of the most exhaustive personal libraries of his time.  Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year and as per him “Reading is absolutely essential to success.” Even in the military profession, I have observed that those who rise to the top rungs of the hierarchy possess varied qualities of the head and heart, but reading invariably is a common denominator.

  • Coming into contact with a good book and possessing it, is indeed an everlasting enrichment.”    Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
  • “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”  Francis Bacon
  • “Books are uniquely portable magic”    Stephen King
  •  “Time is a river and books are boats”     Dan Brown
  • “Any book that helps a child to form of a habit of reading, make reading one of his deep and continuing needs is good for him”  Maya Angelou
  • “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”  Oscar Wilde

Banning Cell Phones in Schools


Ontario, Canada, is banning cell phones in classrooms during instructional time, starting next academic session – September 2019.  Education Minister Lisa Thompson said “Ontario’s students need to be able to focus on their learning — not their cell phones. By banning cell phone use that distracts from learning, we are helping students to focus on acquiring the foundational skills they need, like reading, writing and math.”

The cell phone combined with internet technology has undoubtedly revolutionised our lives in myriad ways. Perhaps there is hardly any facet of life untouched by this revolution. Increasingly, it has become difficult to be active members of our present day societies without the use of cell phones. Like all technologies that have revolutionised human life and behaviour, the cell phone too has its pros and cons. Along with its all too obvious beneficial uses, the cell phones have a number of disruptive influences particularly on children.

Research indicates that in developed countries, a majority of middle school children own cell phones. While some children own their first cell phones when they are 11, nearly 50-60 % of all children own cell phones by the age of 13. In many cases it is the parents who are instigators of the first cell phone purchase. For many families the safety factor along with an enhanced sense of being connected is the major motivator for children being cell phone owners at a tender age. Children from higher income groups tend to own a cell phone earlier than those from lower income groups. Both parents and schools resort to various methods to regulate the use of cell phones to a greater or less degree.

In developing nations, the problem seems to be less acute as it is only a small percentage of well to do children who own cell phones in middle school and majority of children even in high schools still do not own cell phones. While parents of children who own cell phones attempt some sort of regulation on their use, most schools simply adopt a policy of banning these devices within school premises. Just as school uniforms do, such a policy serves as a great leveler between the haves and the have nots. So the dynamics in the developing world seem to be quite different from those in the developed world.

Is the ban proposal a case of resistance to change? During our schooldays too, many such scientific gadgets that enhanced learning were banned and the bans were later withdrawn. It commenced with the slide rule, then it was the calculator. During our children’s schooldays it was the turn of the scientific calculator to be followed by the laptop and then the notepad computers. While it has to be admitted that the revolutionising impact of the cell phone is far different from that of the slide rule or scientific calculator, particularly on the social and behavioural planes, the bottom line is that it is still a new technology that must be incorporated into the learning process sooner or later.

Cell phones help improve Digital literacy, a critical aspect of young students learning. It will also help them to effectively participate in the workforce. The cell phones provide a link between students and their parents, which has an important role to play in ensuring their safety. Evidence indicates parents want this type of access. Students with special needs, such as managing diabetes, and other medical and physiological conditions may be required to access various apps during school(s) hours. Rather than banning cell phones all out, we need to find ways to educate the students to use their phones effectively and efficiently. Banning cell phones will likely lead to underground and hidden use by teens. Rather than reducing cyber-bullying, banning cell phones altogether may show an increase in cyber-bullying.

We know about the 3Rs of learning – reading, writing, and arithmetic. We now need to include ‘research’, thus making it 4Rs. Schools need to educate both the teachers and students about safely negotiating the virtual environment. This means all schools need to develop policies around the use of cell phones during school hours.

A 2015 study by the London School of Economics investigated the impact of restricting  Cell phone use in schools of four cities in England on student productivity. The results  indicated an improvement in student performance of 6.41% in schools that have  introduced a cell phone ban. These findings did not discount the possibility that  cell phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured. The study  found that cell phone bans have very different effects on different types of students. It  improved outcomes for the low-achieving students (14.23%), and had no significant  impact on high achievers. It showed that low-achieving students are more likely to be  distracted by the presence of cell phones, while high achievers can focus in the  classroom regardless of whether phones are present.

Another study was published in the Journal of Communication Education, Ohio University, based on impact of cell phone usage during class lecture, on student learning. Participants in three different study groups (control, low-distraction, and high- distraction) watched a video lecture, took notes on that lecture, and took two assessment tests after watching the lecture. Students who were not using their  cell phones wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored better on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their cell phones.

Research published by the University of Chicago found that even if cell phones are turned off, turned face down or put away, their mere presence reduces people cognitive capacity. The paper called the phenomenon “cell phone induced brain drain”.

University of Illinois conducted a study that examined students’ cell phone and Internet use and its relationship to their mental health. The study assessed two forms of escapism amongst students: one that arises from boredom and one used as a way to avoid negative emotional situations.

What are the likely drawbacks of students using cell phones?

  • It surely reduces face-to-face communication. Teenagers tend to message or  text, avoiding a more challenging conversation.
  • Smartphone apps, games and messages prompt dopamine release, creating addiction. Mere presence of a phone in the backpack can distract a student even though the student may not even be checking it.
  • It tends to reduce working memory capacity, mental mathematical ability, logical analysis and fluid intelligence.
  • It has surely reduced the students’ ability to cope with uncertainty and stress. In other words it reduces tolerance for ambiguity. Research shows being uncomfortable with uncertainty is associated with students feeling distracted and tense during difficult examinations or tests. The more uncomfortable young people are with uncertainty, the higher the number of co-occurring psychological problems they report experiencing. Smartphone use is associated with the current epidemic of anxiety and depression.

How can cell phones help in enhancing the learning process?

  • Students tend to carryout research using their cell phones off-campus, later in life in their higher education, and in their professional and workplace learning.
  • In case students want to investigate, collect data, receive personalised and immediate feedback, record media, create, compose, or communicate with peers, in and beyond the classroom, then using cell phones is ideal.
  • Cell phones allow students to learn at a place, time and pace of their choosing, for example, on excursions, or when working on group projects or assignments with friends in more informal spaces like home, while travelling, etc.

Banning cell phones in schools is not the solution as it is important to educate children to live well in the era in which they are growing up. Students must be taught how to use technology to learn, communicate, and work with ideas. Modern technology provides new learning opportunities and the ability for students to develop skills they will need for future careers. The ability to copy what is written on the blackboard or what is dictated by the teacher into a note book is not a particularly useful skill that will help learning in the modern age nor is it what prospective employers are looking for.

An outright ban on cell phone use will hardly ever yield the results intended. Students will always find a way to smuggle it in, even if banned. That said, there is also an overarching need to perhaps severely regulate its use during classes.

Is there a need to regulate the minimum age for ownership of cell phones?

The rules formulated must be implementable at school level without hindering learning and development while at the same time minimise the disruptive effects on tender minds at the social and psychological plane.

Is it worthwhile to ban cell phones in schools? Will the ban be later overturned?

A Letter to Santa


Most children believe in the existence of Santa Claus just as our children did while growing up.  Why wouldn’t they? After all, they always found the Christmas gift they prayed for under the Christmas Tree every Christmas Morning.

During the Christmas of 1994, I was posted as the Brigade Major at Binnaguri.  Veteran Lieutenant General KR Rao, PVSM, AVSM, VSM was then our Colonel General Staff. Before coming to wish us ‘Merry Christmas’ he called up and our daughter Nidhi, aged three, answered the phone and asked him as to who he was.  Colonel Rao with a tinge of humour said “I am the Santa Claus.”  Nidhi was overjoyed and said “Thank you Santa, I got the Barbie which you sent across.  How did you know that I really wanted it?


Santa Claus – it all began with St Nicholas, saint of children and sailors, a Bishop who lived in the Fourth Century in Myra, Turkey.  He was a very rich and kind man with a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people.  The legend has it that a poor man who had three daughters could not get them married as he could not afford dowry.  One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house which fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry.  It was repeated for the second and third daughters. Thus commenced the tradition of hanging stocking by children expecting Santa to drop their gifts down the chimney.


St. Nicholas became popular in the Victorian era when writers and poets rediscovered the old stories.  In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas‘ was published by Dr Clement Clarke Moore.  The poem describes St Nicholas with eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became famous with the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. The other seven reindeer are named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

Are these reindeer male or female?  Obviously they are females as female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter whereas the males shed them. It’s a mystery, though, why many of them have obvious masculine names, Rudolph for instance.

Santa in England became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, in France, he was called ‘Père Nöel‘, in Austria and Germany he was ‘Christ kind’ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolised the new born baby Jesus.

In North America his name was ‘Kris Kringle‘ (from Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers took the old stories of St Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas‘ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus.’


Canada is home to the tradition of children writing letters to Santa.  Canada Post has been helping Santa with his mail for decades. Since the national program started in 1981, Santa’s North Pole Post Office has answered more than 27.8 million letters in 39 languages, including Braille.  Look at the Postal Code – it is ‘Ho Ho Ho‘ – Santa’s signature laugh.

Santa is assisted by volunteers called ‘Postal Elves‘ who help him with this monumental task. They volunteer more than 260,000 hours to make sure all the children who write to Santa get a reply before Christmas.


The first snowfall or the Santa Claus parades held in most cities and towns across Canada is a trigger for children to write their letters to Santa.  Schools, daycares and homes organise Santa letter writing.  One needs to include full return address for the Postal Elves to deliver a reply.  Postage is free, but Santa loves stickers.  Children are encouraged to write about their favourite sports, jokes, school activities or family fun with pictures and drawings.

A child normally writes two letters to Santa, one from school and the other from home.  In order to prevent a child from receiving inconsistent responses from Santa, all mails from schools and daycares are replied with a generic, poster-size group letter, which will include every child’s name.  A letter from home will get a personalised response from Santa.

Santa is often asked interesting questions by children – “Does Rudolph have a girlfriend?“; “How many cookies do you eat?” and so on.  Some even ask for reuniting their separated parents.  He also receives requests for toys, pets, dresses, etc. The advent of modern communication technology has not reduced the number of hand-written letters to Santa, but has increased year to year.

Children dealing with issues write letters showing their concerns.  These ‘special letters‘ are dealt with by a team of trained Postal Elves — from psychologists and social workers to police —  who help Santa handle them.  If they think the child is in danger, a process is set in motion to solve the issue.  These Elves are trained to give a appropriate reply that will help provide some reassurance that someone is listening.

We must appreciate Canada Post, Postal Elves, teachers, parents and children for these letters and for keeping the tradition alive.

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

(Images Courtesy Google)

 

God @ Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do We Wear a Poppy Today?


On November 10, 2017, our friend’s daughter, Ann Maria, a Grade 6 student, invited me to her school to attend the Remembrance Day Memorial Service. On reaching the school’s auditorium, I was greeted by Ann’s teacher and said she was expecting me as Ann had spoken to her about me coming.

All the students of the school and staff were present and it was a solemn ceremony, paying tribute to all the soldiers, veterans and their families. The theme was to Remember the Soldiers and Veterans and also who laid down their lives to bring peace to Canada. The children enacted various scene from the lives of soldiers and read passages from bible and also a few lines remembering the soldiers.

The most inspiring and heart touching moment for me was the recitation of the poem “Why Wear A Poppy?” by Don Crawford. He turned this poem, handwritten in pencil and on two sheets of foolscap, in to The Perth Courier one morning in the early 1960’s, which was printed a few days later. Since then, this poem has appeared in a multitude of weekly newspapers and magazines, including Legion Magazine in Canada, and foreign publications like Australia’s Anzac Appeal and Scotland’s Claymore magazine.


Such events at schools are sure to develop the students into good citizens and also instil respect in them for the soldiers and their sacrifices to ensure peace and prosperity in Canada

To Sir Without Love

‘Sir’ is a term for addressing males who have been given certain honours or titles (such as knights and baronets) in Commonwealth Countries and is strictly governed by law and custom. The term is also commonly used as a respectful way to address a commissioned military officer – surely not civilians. Equivalent term in the feminine gender would be ‘madam’ and a young woman, girl, or unmarried woman may be addressed ‘miss’. A knighted woman or baronetess is a ‘Dame’ and a ‘Lady’ would be the wife of a knight or baronet.

In Kottayam, Kerala, there is a girls’ school called Baker Memorial Girls High School. The school was established by Amelia Dorothea Baker (1820-1904) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Miss Baker married John Johnson, another CMS missionary, who passed away in 1846. Miss Baker remained in-charge of the school in Kottayam till 1855. Her two sisters married CMS missionaries and three daughters of her brother Henry Baker Jr became teachers at the very same school. (Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H Anderson, Page 336)

The school today stands as a memorial to celebrate the efforts of the three generations of missionaries who dedicated their lives for the empowerment of the women of Kottayam through education.  Common folk of Kottayam until my student days called it as Miss Baker School. Remember, it was during the British Raj and everyone addressed the founder headmistress of the school, very respectfully, as ‘Miss Baker’. Today, could any student in the very same school address their teacher ‘Miss Anita?’ I have often heard them addressing their teacher as Anita Miss (I could never make out as to what Miss Anita ‘missed’!)

On joining Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in Grade 5 in 1971, our first Class-Master was Mr MJ Raman, our Mathematics teacher. We were about 25 of us from Kerala and only one could understand English and the rest 24 of us knew only Malayalam. In the first class Mr Raman issued us all the books, stationary, etc and briefed us in English and surely I did not get any of what he said.

We then had English class by Mr KG Warrier. He asked us something like “Who asked you to do it?” in his Oxford accent and the boy who knew a bit of English promptly replied “Raman Sir told us to do it.” Mr Warrier now said “I know that Dr CV Raman was knighted, but did not know that Mr MJ Raman was also knighted. You all will address your teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames.” Those words were imprinted on our young minds and through all these decades until now, we have always revered our teachers but invariably addressed them as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’, orally and in writing. Culturally, in Kerala as well as the rest of India, these modes of address have undergone a ‘mutation’. Today, it would be sacrilege for a college student to address his professor as ‘Mister Singh’

Please Click Here to read Blog-Posts about our teachers at Sainik School Amatavathi Nagar https://rejinces.net/category/sainik-school/

In Canadian high schools, students mostly address their teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames. In universities, some professors during their introduction class would specify their requirement. Some want to be addressed in the traditional manner and many with their first names or even shortened first names.

While interacting with an Indian immigrant teacher in Canada, he said he felt uncomfortable when the students addressed him as ‘Mr George.’ He had taught in a college in India for over two decades and everyone addressed his as ‘Sir’ and he felt that the Canadian students are disrespecting their teachers by not addressing them as ‘Sir.’

Addressing male teachers as ‘Sir’ and all females irrespective of marital status as ‘Miss’ shows a massive status disparity and sexism of previous years. According to Times Educational Supplement, ‘Sir’ was first used in Sixteenth Century classrooms when male teachers of a lower social standing were attempting to reinforce their authority among largely upper-class boys. ‘Miss’ (surely not anywhere near the status of ‘Sir’) is largely a Victorian era creation when women were pressurised to give up work after they married, with a number of schools only hiring single female teachers.

In the Dutch education system, children address teachers by their first name, using ‘juf’ or ‘juffrouw’ as a title for a female and ‘meester’ for a male teacher. Australians address their teachers as Mr/Mrs/Ms and surname. Sometimes if a teacher has a long or difficult-to-pronounce name, it is shortened to Mr PK, etc.

In Finland, it’s first names or even nick-names with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society there is very informal. French kids use the terms ‘maîtresse’ and ‘maître’ for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply ‘teacher’. German students address teachers by using ‘Herr/Frau’ and surname, using ‘Sie’ as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, Koennen Sie…).

How do you wish to address your teachers? How do you wish your children addressed their teachers?

Teenage Binge Drinking

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

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

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

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

“What have you learned?” Marina asked.

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

Now Marina asked “Who taught you this?”

Dad!!!!” came the instant answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voice Modulation

Margaret Thatcher

Voice modulation is very important, especially to make any presentation or a speech impressive. The best method to achieve it is to undergo a bit of voice training and the easiest way is to attend a few lessons on vocal music, either Western, Hindustani or Carnatic. Our daughter Nidhi had undergone training in all the three and our son Nikhil was reluctant to do so. His clichéd excuse was that vocal music is not that ‘manly’. His ideas about vocal music training changed after we watched the movie ‘The Iron Lady’, a biographical movie about Ms Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of UK.

Ms Thatcher realised that her voice was a bit ‘screechy’ and was deemed a problem when she first wanted to run for Parliament election. Women’s voices, especially shouting at the top of their voices in any parliament has always been accused for being too shrill. The movie shows her undergoing vocal training to reduce the shrillness of her voice to her optimum pitch and improve the projection of her voice. Improvement in both of these areas removed much of her shrillness and gave her voice a better projection and thus better impact.

Bingo! after the movie Nikhil enrolled for the vocal music lesson and did about a dozen classes. His voice modulation improved tremendously and after a few months he asked me as to how I knew that vocal music training would help. I said “fools learn from their mistakes, wise ones learn from others’ mistakes and idiots will never learn. Your dad was a fool and you need to be wiser.”

Here are excerpts of the Valedictory Address by Nikhil in Grade 8 (before vocal training) and Graduation Breakfast Address in Grade 12 (after vocal training.)

Decades of research have established that musical training has profound impact on the development of the brain. Many language skills, from reading to speech perception and production, rely upon phonological awareness, the explicit knowledge of the components of speech and how they can be combined.   Phonological awareness, in turn, relies upon the ability to categorise speech sound which are distinguished by small differences in timing and frequency content. Audiovisual processing is seen to be much enhanced in musicians’ brains compared to their non-musician counterparts.  Musicians are more sensitive to subtle changes in both speech and music sounds.

When children start learning music before the age of seven, they develop bigger vocabularies, a better sense of grammar and a higher verbal IQ. These advantages benefit both – development of their mother tongue and learning of foreign languages. During these crucial years, the brain is at its sensitive development phase, with 95% of the brain’s growth occurring now. Music training started during this period also boosts the brain’s ability to process subtle differences between sounds and assist in the pronunciation of languages – and this gift lasts for life.  It has been found that adults who had musical training in childhood still retain this ability to learn foreign languages quicker and more efficiently than adults who did not have early childhood music training.

How is music training going to develop one into a good speaker?

In order to get your ideas across well, captivate an audience, command or persuade your team to achieve a goal, it is important to modulate your voice to suit the occasion. In all these situations, your voice plays an important role in making a meaningful impact on your listeners.

We all like to listen to a confident and inspiring voice. A good voice is one that is easy to listen to and also command attention of the listeners, influence and inspire them. A good voice is a great tool in communicating any messages clearly, whenever or wherever one is.

Most speakers, however good they are, shy away from listening to their own voices. One got to accept one’s voice, but also realise that there is always scope for training. The aim of such training should be to develop some simple vocal skills to help you sound more confident and interesting.

Speed of the delivery of the speech, mostly too fast, causes strain to the listeners and results in loosing focus. The speed of your delivery is mostly dictated by your nervousness; more nervous you are, faster you speak. This results in loosing track of your thoughts and makes you mumble a few words and often results in a monotonous and uninspiring speech. To control the speed of your delivery, pause for a second or two after your first sentence. This allows the audience time to adjust to your voice and take in what you have just said. A good way to practise getting used to pausing is to read out aloud a from a newspaper or a book. When you get to a full stop make sure that you pause two or three seconds before moving on to the next sentence.

Most audiences get put-off by a dull and uninspiring speaker with a monotonous voice, a voice that is too quiet or a voice that lacks emphasis. You need to speak with energy and enthusiasm if you want your audience to listen to every word. If the audience cannot hear you, they will switch off very quickly. To avoid this you do not have to shout but you need to project your voice by emphasising the key words in the sentences. This will help you to project energy and passion into your voice and your voice will sound stronger and more confident. Emphasising words also tends to lift the pitch in your voice so that it is no longer monotonous but more varied and interesting to listen to. Select any text, underline the key words and read it aloud to practice emphasising these key words.

An expert voice coach can help you to discover your true voice; develop your own vocal strengths and thus communicate with greater influence in all situations. This is where the basics of classical music comes in to help you modulate your voice.

It is not too late for anyone to undergo a few vocal music lessons. The least one can do is to ensure that the generations to come are put through some vocal music lessons.

Responsible Dreaming-

 martin-luther-king-jr-

The response received on the blog “Dreams, Aims and Goals” has been overwhelming and I thank all my ‘followers’ for it.

Veteran Major General Raj Mehta, our instructor at the National Defence Academy (NDA), after reading the above piece, made an observation about ‘responsible dreaming’.   General Mehta remarked “I would term your take as advice for ‘responsible dreaming’ with the clear intent of achieving that dream. Failure to do so would make you irresponsible and someone not quite at ease with herself/himself. Dreams carry the liability of achievement and on a time line; so dream right”. I, to some extent, endorse General Mehta’s views on responsible dreaming.

Another interesting remark was from Deepthi, a medical student from the US. She says “Though I will say that some of my friends have become rather adrift following this ideal; and also as you get older it is hard to reconcile the reality of your experience with what you thought you were dreaming about.”

‘If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride’ goes the age old adage. This applies as well to your dreams which many a time become your wish. How does a wish differ from a dream?

A wish is generally momentary where as a dream is generally a long-term affair.  A wish may be a  fanciful thought, but a dream should be a burning desire.  A dream tends to be passionate with a sincere desire to achieve and a wish may get knocked off in a few seconds which one found an excuse to be unachievable.  Some dreams will surely turn into wishes, mostly based on parental/ environmental/ peer pressure.  Your dream would be something you want to achieve, come what may, least bothering about what one may say. The moment you give up on a dream, it has become a wish.

This in no way should deter you from dreaming. Everyone dreams, but many are reluctant to speak about them, mostly fearing rebuke from parents or out of sheer embarrassment that you may be made fun of. If Martin Luther King did not speak about his dream, you would have never heard of the world famous “I have a dream” speech.

Many  dreams are knocked out of your mind by the dream killers and idea crushers, who are in plenty around us. Let the disappointments you had from pursuing your previous dreams not deter you. Take these failures as stepping stones to success. Remember that in case you dream average, you will always get below average results. Self-confidence will always help you to achieve your dreams.

Dreams neither differentiate between sexes nor age groups. My friend CG Ramesh opined that the girls in India are more focused; they grab fleeting opportunities, have definite goals and visualize coherently how they want to achieve them. He feels that the boys generally drift along and settle for less than their potential because they do not want to stretch/sweat/toil for their dreams. I tend to disagree with this as I feel that boys generally do not discuss their dreams, perhaps because ‘Men are from Mars and Woman are from Venus’.

A dream is a seed that is planted in your mind, in a soil of imagination, which you may nurture and grow into a tree, a bush, a small plant.  Most times, the seed may not even sprout. To nurture this seed you must become aware of your own abilities and inner strengths. Then you maximise these with your talents, the environment, and people around you. This needs you to prime your body, mind and spirit towards achieving the dream. Thus a dream or a part of it becomes your aim and you divide the aim into achievable goals based on a timeline.

Our aims must be a size or two bigger, like a child’s shoe and with our abilities, like the child’s feet, the aim will grow to fit into it. In case the shoe is too over sized, one can imagine the perils. This should never limit our dreams, but selecting the aims based on our dreams should invariably be limited or restricted by our particular context and environment. Our dreams are often restricted more by fear and imagination than by reality. Everyone has the potential to define a worthwhile aim, and most have the ability to achieve it. We need to raise the bar every time and push beyond perceived barriers.

Once you have defined an aim that emerged from your dream, consider whether the aim as defined is worth pursuing. Consider the odds that may be stacked against it and also the factors that are likely to affect you achieving the aim.

Now evaluate your aim to see how good the aim is driving you to achieve it. Have your passions been kindled by your aim? Has the aim given you some extra energy to pursue it? Are you willing to pay a price in case your aim is not achieved? If the answers to these questions are positive, you have defined your aim well, else redefine your aim or wait for your next dream to define another aim. Continue with this evaluation until you achieve your aim. You may have to redefine your aim, make a few corrections in the method of the pursuit or may have to shelve it altogether. Do not worry – the experience you gained in defining and pursuing your aim will always help you with your next endeavour.

Once you have zeroed down on to your aim, go full steam ahead towards achieving it. Always evaluate your progress to ensure that you are moving closer to your aim. Avoid any distractions that come in the way and this does not mean that you must not undertake other activities. In case you are satisfied with the progress you have made, you are doing well. You can always get some feedback from your friends, peers and family.

Remember that there are responsible dreamers and real dreamers. The responsible ones will always define an aim based on their dreams and the real ones will continue dreaming.   You have your dreams, but never get ‘married’ to them as a ‘divorce’ would be painful.

Dreams, Aims & Goals

dreamsInteracting with our teenaged nephews and nieces, I asked them “What is your Dream?” “To become an engineer.” “What is your Aim?” “To become an engineer.” “What is your Goal?” “To become an engineer.” In some cases the ‘engineer’ was replaced by a ‘doctor’. That was when I realised that in our childhood we never even thought about our future aspirations, and planning them was a far cry;   today’s generation has something to think about, even if the thought is limited in many cases to doctors and engineers, mostly dictated by parental pressure.

Dream, Dream Dream; Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action. You have to dream before your dreams can come true. Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended.” These are a few quotes from a great dreamer of all times Dr Adbul Kalam.

Figuratively, dreams can be defined as an idea or hope that is apparently impractical or unlikely to be ever realised in the current state of the world. That does not mean in any way that the dreams have not been realised ever. Dreams are boundless, limitless, and timeless and are dictated by the power of imagination of the dreamer. Let your dreams float into infinity and they will germinate new ideas and visions. I do not wish to quantify your dreams, but let us take the case of a student dreaming about finding a cure for cancer. Many of us would have had such a dream while reading about the sufferings cancer patients have had or seeing someone close battling it out.

In order to find a cure for a cancer, one must possibly pursue a medical career, though some inventions/discoveries have been made by people who were not even remotely connected with the concerned subject. Hence from Dreams evolve an Aim that is achievable and real-time. In this case the aim would be to become a successful medical graduate.  The goals for achieving this aim for a high school student would be to graduate high school with the requisite marks and also pass the requisite entrance examination. To succeed in your aim, you must have a single-minded devotion to your goal.  It is like a football match where you aim to win a match and to succeed in your aim you have to score goal(s).

One needs to revisit the aims and goals, may be weekly, monthly, quarterly or half-yearly with a view  to redefine them, raise the bars, change them if needed,  and at times even discard them to find new aims and goals. One may lose interest in the aims and goals as they may not be ‘challenging’ enough to motivate you or interest you. Sometimes you may have thought of an aim, but the goals may not be what you really want to achieve. In this case you are trying to force yourself to settle for what you think you can get rather than achieve what your passions are. This is mostly due to parental and environmental pressures where everyone wants you to be either a doctor or an engineer, no more and no less.

To make your aims more challenging and a bit more interesting, set an aim that is a bit big and impressive that just thinking about it scares you a little bit and seems almost impossible, but has the potential to dramatically change your life if you were able to achieve it. Keeping this in mind you raise the bar for your goals a little by little and try and achieve them and keep raising your bar until you reach that aim which you never thought would be possible. By tapping into your creativity and resourcefulness you can amaze yourself with the results you achieve.

Once you have set your goals, break them down into smaller time-bound goals and evaluate the progress on a daily/weekly basis. You got to avoid distractions and also need to prioritise these small goals. This in no way means that you should not indulge in other activities. All work and no play will always make Jack a dull boy.

You must believe in yourself and reassure yourself that you can achieve the goals you have set for yourself, especially when the going gets tougher. While undergoing the training in the Military Academies, I often reassured myself with the thought that about fifteen thousand officers have successfully gone through the tough training before me and I am in no way any less than them.

Kevin, our nephew who lives in US took up the pre-medical course in high school. Most children at that stage do not even have the faintest idea about their passions or their abilities. Anu and Johnson, the parents were in for a bit of a surprise when Kevin in his Grade 12 gave out his mind that he did not want to pursue a career in the medical field, but wanted to take up animation and graphic designing as a career. The parents being very supportive accepted Kevin’s aims and advised him to begin the procedure for admission as there was only one university offering the particular course Kevin wanted and obviously it was really competitive. At the high school graduation ceremony, Anu and Johnson were in for another surprise – Kevin was adjudged the best student in animation and graphic designing. Kevin is currently undergoing the course on computer animation at The Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta.

Dream unlimited, define your aim, set your goal(s) and achieve them and success and happiness will surely be at your footsteps.

Psalm 23 and Dreams

psalm23
It was a ritual in our home that everyone recited the Twenty-third Psalm at the end of the evening prayer and the same was recited at our church at the end of the Holy Mass. This Psalm is applicable to one and all, irrespective of one’s religion and it reaffirms one’s faith in their God. The Twenty-third Psalm begins with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. In the Malayalam version which we recited as children, the “I shall not want” part was translated as “എനിക്കു മുട്ടുണ്ടാകുകയില്ല” (enikku muttundakukayilla), and I always looked at my knees after reciting it, as it literarily translated in any child’s mind as “I will not have my knees”.

God will open the door only if one knocks and hence the aspect of “I shall not want” in Psalm 23 is debatable. Without the ‘wants’ humanity would have never progressed and developed to its current stature. The modern version of the Psalm has put it more aptly as “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing”. These ‘wants’ always tempted me to dream, about anything and everything I came across as a child, mostly to be rebuked by elders saying that I was wasting my time dreaming – even the act of dreaming was rationed in our childhood—‘Who can dream what and how much’ was somewhat a pre-decided issue!

As I grew up and came under the stewardship of Late Mr PT Cherian, our House Master at Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, who always encouraged us to dream –to dream big – that too King Size. As I grew older I read the Wings of Fire by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam wherein he says that “Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.” This was the predicament I always faced while dreaming that it delayed my falling asleep and the same continues to date.

Veteran Commander D Reginald was my companion to operate the public address system in the school under the guidance of Mr PT Cherian while studying in Grade 9 (1974). All the amplifiers, speakers, cables, etc were kept in Mr Cherian’s Physics Lab and on Sundays after lunch we both would go there to carry out regular maintenance. Once we were accompanied by our friend S Harikrishnan (currently Manager, State Bank of India), who was an accomplished singer. The idea was to fulfill Hari’s dream of listening to his voice duly recorded on the audio cassette recorder. Being Sunday afternoon, we knew that Mr Cherian will never be around as he always enjoyed his afternoon siesta and never ever wanted to be disturbed at that time and there would be no one to stop us from (mis)using the precious cassette recorder. We recorded Hari’s song and played back the recording. That was the first time he ever heard his own singing. Hari had the brightest and the biggest eyes amongst us and he was so excited that his eyes bulged out like search lights.

After accomplishing the mission Hari left and we were on to our maintenance tasks. Reginald was always a better dreamer than I was and continues to be so till date. Our discussion was about the possibility that one day we would be able to record what we see with the same ease like we recorded Hari’s voice. That dream has come true today and we have even gone much ahead that we are able to transmit the same across the globe in real-time. Remember that ‘What you dream today will in all likelihood become a reality tomorrow.’

We have encouraged our children to dream and the effect of it is mostly heard from the washroom. I always hear their monologues, dialogues, role-playing, singing, etc while they spend their time in the washroom – the most private time one ever gets. I was really scared of doing this while growing up on the fear of what others will think about me (mad?) and so I could never give expression to my dreams.

One must dream, that too dream unlimited. That is when one gets into a creative mood and comes out with ‘out of the box’ ideas. Imagine if Newton or Shakespeare or Ved Vyasa did not dream; the world would have been surely poorer. Some of our dreams may fructify in our life time like the video recording dream we had as children; some we would be able to implement ourselves as we grow up.

One such dream I always carried was that of the ‘Bara Khana’ (Party for the soldiers) in the regiment. One always saw the chefs overworked in the kitchen, many soldiers toiling it out for erecting the tents, making seating arrangements, organizing entertainment, serving food and drinks, etc. Many soldiers took it as a ‘punishment’ and not as a time to make merry. My dream was that all soldiers in the regiment should be free from all chores and commitments and be free to enjoy the party with their families and friends.

On return to our permanent location in Devlali after an year long operational deployment, Late Col Suresh Babu approached me with the idea of party for the entire unit with the families. That was when I gave my directions based on my dreams – everything should be contracted out – from tent pitching, decorations, entertainment, food preparation and service – each and everything and no soldier would toil for it. The only hitch which Col Babu projected was that the waiters of the contractors will not be familiar with the military protocols and hence may not serve the Commanding Officer first and so on. I was fine with it as I never had any ‘doubt’ that I was commanding the unit.

On the day of the party, there were round tables laid out with chairs for all officers, soldiers and their families to sit and the contracted entertainment troupe started off with their performances. Snacks and drinks were being served by the contractor’s waiters and each and everyone enjoyed the proceedings. At this time our chef came to me and said that it was the first party he attended. that too wearing his best clothes and thanked me immensely for arranging this. All the soldiers were unanimous that it was the first time they wholeheartedly enjoyed an evening, otherwise they would be running around and also closing down everything after the party. After the success of the first outsourced party, we decided that we would hold only two parties a year and would always be outsourced.

As one grows up, it would be feasible to implement one’s dreams, but many find it convenient to forget them then.

Nikhil’s First Days in Canada

nik
An essay by our son Nikhil while in Grade 5, four years after his arrival in Canada.

As I stepped out of the airport, I got this feeling of wonder. I saw skyscrapers that had an elegance, which could never have existed in India. The streets were so much cleaner; I could have stared at them forever. The best improvement though was the air. It didn’t smell like free flowing sewage, no, it smelled like home. All these things I could never have imagined, because they simply didn’t exist in India.

The drive to my mom’s house was long, and uncomfortable. I was excited to meet my mother after so long apart of course, but I was worried. I was worried how much she had changed, and I shuddered at the thought that I wouldn’t even recognise my own mother. As soon as I saw her, my worries melted like candle away. She kissed me, and hugged me so tight I thought my ribs would crack. She was still the same mom, and I was still her same son. I guess the important things never change, huh?

My first day of school was a nightmare. The day started of with me mouthing the words to an anthem I hadn’t even heard before. I should have known that such a rocky start was a sign of things to come. I got a crash course in everything Canadian. I had to learn words like budding (in line) and yo. I had to learn how to do those annoying knock-knock jokes, which took me forever. The day was a lesson in American culture, and it was a painful one.

Up until now, I hadn’t even thought about my radical transformation. Only now do I realise its aftermath. I had gained a flawless Canadian identity, but I had lost my Indian one along the way. I can’t even remember my home in India. I can’t speak the two Indian languages I once could. The worst consequence though is that I can’t interact with my cousins with the same familiarity anymore, it’s like there’s a wall between us. I had lost, no, I had killed my culture, and the sad part is, I didn’t even notice.

Skydiving Adventure

ms

In the summer of 2009 we decided to visit Chicago for a week for sight-seeing and to meet my old Sainik School classmate Marur Mouli.  Mouli had his desk next to me in the class at the especially reserved place for the abstract thinkers – the last row. We were real outstanding students in Maths that we spend most of the Math period standing outside the class where we continued discussing our teenage ‘philosophies’ of life. We both qualified the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Mouli was found medically unfit after the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview. He had opted for the Air Force and the medicos said that he had an open sacrum – the last-vertebra in the spine. I thought they would have declared him unfit for an open mouth and not an open sacrum. Never seen Mouli quiet and would even speak while sleeping.

Mouli was a great artist in the true sense. Good at every form of art – drawing, painting, caricature, singing, playing all the instruments available in the school’s band section, acting (his playing the Pied Piper of Hamelin is still etched in my memory), debating etc. When I left school to join the NDA, I realised that Mouli was a bit dejected and in order to raise his morale I said to him “Better things are awaiting you. Better cheer up”. I never realised what I told him until he once called me while in India to say that he saw “the better thing” after a long struggle and that he was working as a graphic designer for Apple Macintosh. In 1989 he had taken up a job as a lecturer in graphic design with the Art Institute of Chicago.

During the boat cruise in the Chicago River, we came across an advertisement for skydiving and all of us decided to try our hand at it the next day. Skydiving is inherently a dangerous activity, given the unknown variables of man, nature, and machine. We reached the Chicagoland Skydiving Center located in an air-strip which was a clearing in the cornfields of Hinckley, Illinois. We reached the Center by noon and we saw a 200 Series DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft parked next to a shed which housed the office. The receptionist, a young lady, said that the minimum age for skydiving was 18 and hence Nikhil being 12 years cannot undertake the skydiving. Nikhil said that he will come back on turning 18 and wanted me also not to jump that day. So Marina and Nidhi decided to take the jump and the receptionist got all the paperwork done.

There was one man mowing the grass in the strip cleared in the cornfield and another man picking up the garbage and cleaning the washrooms and the sheds. At 12:30 PM. About 15 men came in their pickups and most appeared to be construction workers from what they were wearing. They were the instructors and after a 30 minute orientation and kitting up, they boarded the aircraft with two instructors each – one the tandem and the other the cameraman.

The man moving the grass by then had refuelled the aircraft and was seen inspecting the aircraft as he was the flight engineer. The man picking up the garbage took to the pilot seat and the young receptionist was the co-pilot. The aircraft took off and climbed to 18,000 feet and dropped the jumpers and landed back. The flight engineer, the pilot and the co-pilot – all went back to do what they were doing before the takeoff.

The freefall was for a minute and a half on a tandem with one instructor while the other was video-graphing the fall. They were taken through many manoeuvres by the instructor during the free fall. Since the jumper was in front of the skydive instructor with own altimeter and ripcord, they had the sensation of skydiving on their own. After the ripcord was pulled, the instructor offered guidance as they flew the parachute together and landed.

The greatest advantage of skydiving in the State of Illinois is that it is not mandatory to wear a helmet (even on motorcycles), but the safety goggles is a must to protect the eyes. Thus the videos come out much better without the helmet on.

After seeing as to how the Skydiving Center operated, I had to see-off a family friend from Toronto Airport by the New Delhi flight of Air India. As we reached there, a bus pulled up carrying the cabin crew and they moved to one corner. After five minutes the co-pilots arrived by a car and took position in another corner. After another five minutes the captain arrived in another car and stood in the middle. In case of all the other international carriers, all the crew and the captain all come by the same bus and move into the aircraft as a team. Now I realised why Air India is running in perpetual loss.

How Did You Manage It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Life through an LCD Screen

LifeLCD1
Our niece Deepthi, and her fiancée, Dean exchanged their marriage vows at the picturesque Lake House Inn, Philadelphia, United States on 04 June 2016.  The ceremony was presided over by Dr Alan David Fox, Professor of Asian and Comparative Philosophy and Religion in the Philosophy Department at the University of Delaware.  Dr. Fox had mentored both Deepthi and Dean while at the university.

At the commencement of the ceremony, Dr. Fox requested all invitees to be seated and not to indulge in any photography.  He said that the official photographer present would post the photographs on the internet for everyone to see.  He also requested all the attendees to pay attention to the readings and the vows being exchanged and also participate in an important event in the life of the bride and the groom.  He opined that such a solemn occasion should never be viewed through the LCD screens or the viewfinder of one’s recording device.  A very profound thought.

Is there really a need to record these solemn events in one’s life?

Surely it is a once-in-a-lifetime event and it costs dearly with no upper limit.  During any wedding, a great portion of the money would be spent on things that will be gone forever the day after the wedding.  Only a few things remain – the rings, the dress, the photos and the memories.   In this digital age, the pictures will stay until eternity, perhaps stored away in a virtual cloud, unlike our marriage album – faded, distorted and moth eaten –   but the memories will fade.

Turning the pages of ones parent’s or grandparent’s wedding album is a remarkable experience. The youthful looks  of the familiar haggard persona, a sort of reverse metamorphosis; the fashions, customs, traditions and rituals of a bygone era; the  images of many close and not so close relatives, many of them no longer amongst the living.  All of this results in a plethora of emotions flooding the sensitive mind.  It is an enthralling experience to cherish.  So, why on earth should this privilege be denied to the future generations?

Our son Nikhil, during his cultural exchange programme to France was very enthusiastic to visit the Louvre Museum, mainly to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  On reaching near the famous painting, he was somewhat disappointed as he felt that the original of the much revered painting now before him in ‘flesh and blood’, looked much like a fake duplicate of the many grand prints and photographs of the same painting that he had seen.  Moreover, it was one of the smallest in the room.  He was more bothered by some over-enthusiastic tourists, many trying to photograph or ‘selfie’ the painting.  They were least bothered about others around and proved to be a real nuisance by getting in the way and sticking cameras and selfie sticks in the face of others.  These ‘enthusiasts’ were merely interested in telling the world that they were there and had the least concern for others around or for the masterpieces which they had purportedly come to see!

These days it costs a mini fortune to physically witness any major sporting event.  To make it a profitable experience,  one must simply soak in the atmosphere of the sporting arena, get emotionally involved in the sporting action and partake of every thrilling moment of the sport.    With a cell phone in hand, it appears that everyone has taken on the role of a photographer, resulting in their watching the entertaining action through LCD monitors.  They would have done well to sit in the comfort of their homes and watch the same action, inclusive of slow motion replays, on their large LCD television.  Then why make all the effort to go to a stadium to watch such a sporting event?  Here again the selfie sticks pose a major problem and many sporting arenas in North America have rightfully banned them.  These self-styled photographers should realise that all the important moments of the game have been recorded by many professional photographers with their high-resolution cameras and would be available on the websites of the newspapers and the sports organisation.  Then why miss such an opportunity?  Why not become part of the celebration and enjoy every moment of it?

Many parents see their children growing up through the camera lens.  For them, many special events in their life slip by as they have seen them only through a lens.   They do not participate with the children while on an outing or at an adventure event or at an amusement park.  They fail to see the emotions and expressions on the faces of their children.  They forget the prime importance of living the experience and capturing the image in one’s mind rather than in a memory stick. They forget to participate wholeheartedly, live the moment with the children and absorb the experience through every pore.  Holding a costly camera or cell phone, one is sure to be scared of action and water.  It would be better to take a couple of quick snapshots, then pack the camera and celebrate the occasion with one’s family.  Family photos are surely a trigger for memories, but for posterity – when you are old – your eyesight will rarely be good enough for you to appreciate them. But the memory of a cherished moment, etched in one’s mind is joy forever!

I always pity those dads who video/photograph their kid’s birthday parties.  They are busy adjusting camera angles and lights and hence do not participate in the celebrations.  It would be prudent to call for a professional photographer to cover such events or one can request a friend to do it.  Another option is to mount the camera on a tripod and get some shots with a wireless remote.

While visiting any place of interest, spend time fruitfully to learn about it.  Listen attentively to the tourist guide if present or read through the information boards posted there.  Help your children to understand what they are seeing and a few lines of explanation from the parents would enhance the kid’s learning.   In case you are very much interested in photographing the place, reserve it for a subsequent trip.


A photograph of any object would record many a details which one would have missed while seeing it live.  One may come across interesting features that the naked eye would have otherwise missed.  Sophie and Joe would bear me out.

Unlike the digital cameras of today, film photography of the good old days was a pretty costly affair and one did not see the results until the all the 36 shots were taken.  Many a time this would take over six months.  In those days, it was easier to maintain the required balance between looking through a viewfinder and experiencing life.  Today one can easily get over 200 shots in one day with hardly any effort and at no cost.

Remember that it is vitally important to maintain a right balance between viewing life through an LCD screen and experiencing it through all the senses.

 

Climbing the CN Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNTower2

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

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

My First Sex Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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