RIP Mr Louis Fernando


When we were in grade 6, it was a norm that on the first Monday of the month a teacher spoke during the assembly and on other days it was the cadets of grade 11, the senior-most then.

That Monday the speaker at the assembly said that the tendency of people to ‘discard’ or disregard their aging parents is unfair. He emphasised that parents were not a pair of shoes that one throws away once worn out, or when one grew out of it. What a comparison to bring a great lesson home to the young cadets!

After the assembly, our first class was biology by Mr CAS Raghavan, better known amongst us cadets as Jigs. There was a brief discussion about the morning speech and he asked as to whether we knew as to who the speaker was. None of us knew his name. Then Mr Jigs declared – It was Mr I Louis Fernando (ILF), the physics teacher.

Mr ILF  was an amazing human being, an amazing teacher and an amazing mentor who always motivated me to give my best. He was the one who used to urge me to put my best and was very confident that I would join the National Defence Academy and he was dead right.

A flamboyant Late Mr PT Cherian (PTC) headed our physics department and he was in the forefront of all activities – both academic and extracurricular. Mr Cherian was well known for his  skills at basketball and volleyball and every cadet dreamt of imitating his ‘Fosbury Flop’ at the high-jump pit.

There we had Mr PTC on one end and Mr ILF on the other end of the physics department.  A soft spoken thorough  gentleman Mr ILF, I have never seen him upset or angry ever. The actions of both Mr PTC and Mr ILF were more like the Newton’s third law of equal and opposite reactions. Like the two unlike poles, Mr ILF and Mr PTC were attracted to each other and the physics department achieved many a glory for the school in all spheres.

I cannot forget his house then, the first building opposite the Administrative Block. It was aptly named மலர் (Flower) as Mr ILF had the best garden in the campus, brimming with many varieties of roses.

Mr ILF taught us electronics, his favourite subject  in our grade 9, beginning with valves and transistors. Like many in our class, I can proudly say that the foundation for my knowledge of electronics was laid by Mr ILF.

My association with Mr ILF grew mainly during various physics club activities, the public address system management and light & sound arrangements during various cultural activities and plays the cadets and staff staged.

Mr ILF was a great Guru, silent ever, with a smile on his lips and knowledge up his sleeve. All the lessons he taught me – both life as well as academic – will be with me always.

Death cannot take away Mr ILF, he will always remain alive in our hearts. I feel lucky because I was one of his students who  got to know him personally. It was such a bliss. I pray he is in the good place now, watching us from the right side of the Creator.

 

An Eagle’s Eye

Recently on the social media I received a clip showing as to how an eagle blinks.  Eagles as well as certain other birds like vultures, hawks, falcons, robins etc. have three eyelids. The inner or third eyelid is not visible from outside and is the called the ‘nictitating membrane.‘  This thin and translucent membrane is drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining vision. It also functions like a windshield wiper, sweeping across the bird’s eye from side to side. This keeps any particles from being lodged in the sensitive tissue.

On watching the clip about the eagle’s eyelids, I was reminded of my first movie at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in July 1971.  It was Mackenna’s Gold, a 1969 Hollywood film directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif. It was photographed in Super Panavision and in Technicolor by Joseph MacDonald.  This movie was the last one to be filmed by him and was released in 1969 after MacDonald’s death on December 15, 1968 at the age of 62.


During our school days, a movie was screened every Saturday.  The swimming pool doubled up as an open-air movie theatre with the viewers sitting on the stadium steps, and the screen was placed on the opposite side of the swimming pool.

As a nine-year-old watching an English movie while not knowing the English language at all, you can well imagine my plight.  There had been much gossip amongst us cadets about the movie, mainly originated by those who had already watched it.  The pre-screening hype was very high and I was anticipating a thrilling experience, though I was a bit scared.

After night fell on the open air theatre, the movie commenced with its opening song – Old Turkey Buzzard – as depicted on the video clip above.  The song sequence was shot at Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border.  The shot of the vulture’s head and its winking eye scared the hell out of me. I got so scared that I closed my eyes with both hands and placed my head between my knees. When I look back now, it is difficult to define the fear of the nine-year-old and nor could I assign an exact reason for it.

Here the skill of the cinematographer needs to be appreciated.  Remember the movie was shot in 1968 with the cameras available then.  To capture a vulture’s eyelid with such a precision with those cameras would indeed have been a herculean task.   No wonder Joseph MacDonald was the most sought after cinematographer with 20th Century Fox and he filmed over 50 movies with them from 1941 to 1959. It is sad that he never won an Oscar Award though he was nominated thrice.


(Illustration by Sherrin Koduvath)

Back to the movie. Now I was looking down into the swimming pool waters and there it was – the reflection of the screen on the water below.  To make matters worse, the movie having been shot in Super Panavision (Cinemascope), the screen covered the entire length of the 25-meter pool.  Where ever I looked with my face tucked between my knees, I saw the all too scary image of the vulture’s head.  That scared me even further and so I closed my eyelids tightly – luckily we humans have only one set of eyelids.

After about five minutes, I managed to fall asleep only to be woken up by my friends after the show ended.  What a relief!  I later watched the movie in 1980 while on vacation from the National Defence Academy and made for up what I had missed as a nine-year-old. It was only then that I realised the movie was an all time classic.

  • There is shadow under this red rock,
    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
    And I will show you something different from either
    Your shadow at morning striding behind you
    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
    TS Elliot in ‘The Waste Land’

 

 

 

Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu – An Ever Smiling Soldier

Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, ADC, Vice Chief of Army Staff, hangs his boots today. Do not get carried away by his smile; he is a rare combination of professional competence, inspiring leadership, humility and chivalry. A quote by John F Kennedy came to my mind As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” There is no better person than General Anbu for whom the above quote applies as he hardly uttered any words, but always lived by them – for over five decades of life in a military uniform.

It began when he was all of ten years old, as a cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in June 1970. As a cadet, two years our senior, he was identifiable by his cheerful smile, his omniscient trademark insignia. He often walked away with a lion’s share of medals in most sporting activities at school – athletics, swimming, boxing, football, hockey and so on. He was adjudged the most technical boxer while at school and his gymnastics skills were invariably on display during our School Day Pageants.

He graduated from school in 1976 to join the 56th Course at the National Defence Academy (NDA). In his final year at school (1976), he was Chera House Captain – Cadets were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the great ancient Tamil Kingdoms, which somehow paled into insignificance in the History of India as devised by the British. It may be a coincidence that the present Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM from our batch too was the Chera House Captain in 1978.

His smiling, soft spoken demeanour concealed a firm, no nonsense attitude – no wonder he was appointed the Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM) at the NDA as well as at the Indian Military Academy (IMA). He was awarded BLUE in Athletics and Physical Training and Merit Card in Basketball – an envious record for any NDA Cadet. As a young officer he continued to excel in sports and competed with the soldiers at the highest level.

General Anbu was commissioned into 14 Sikh Light Infantry in June 1980. He served in all operational environments – Siachen Glacier; Counter-Insurgency Operations in Kashmir and Manipur; Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, United Nations Peace Keeping in Namibia, etc. He was awarded the Sena Medal for a very daring operation, showing exemplary leadership and gallantry during operations in the Siachen Glacier.

During my visit to Hyderabad in 2001, he organised an impromptu get-together of all our school mates that evening. There I met Mrs Gowry Anbu – a down-to-earth and compassionate lady who mirrors the very same qualities of her husband.

He was in command of his battalion during operational deployment in Rajasthan deserts and that is where I met him in 2002, when I was commanding a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment in the same Division.

One day I walked into Colonel Anbu’s battalion and was received by Subedar Major Swaraj Singh, a smiling smart confident soldier. The way the Subedar Major interacted with me was indicative of how the character of a Commanding Officer flows down the chain of command to all ranks of the Battalion.

As we waited for Colonel Anbu to get free, I asked the Subedar Major something that had intrigued me about the soldiers in Sikh Light Infantry: How does Colonel Anbu, with his quiet and pleasing manners, command the fierce Sikh Light Infantry soldiers so well?

That was when I got a significant military lesson from Subedar Major Swaraj Singh:

“It is a myth in the Indian Army that Sikh Light Infantry soldiers need tough handling in a language filled with profanity. They are just as sensitive as other soldiers and their sensitivity needs to be respected. Our Commanding Officer from his Lieutenant days (1980) believed in respecting the soldiers under his command and we all respect him immensely for that. The performance of the Battalion under his command amply proves the equation.”

Subedar Major Swaraj Singh also said that his Commanding Officer neither drank alcohol nor smoked in his life – busting another Indian Army myth!

I must relate an interesting story about Brigadier Devraj Anbu when he was posted on deputation as the Commandant of the Assam Rifles Training Centre (ARTC) at Dimapur, Nagaland – a first-hand account narrated by another colleague of mine.

At that time he was on the upward trajectory of a very impressive career graph. This posting was his first exposure to the Assam Rifles and prudence dictated that he swim with the tide. Right from his first day in office, all ranks got a feel of his sincerity of purpose, steely determination, no nonsense attitude and genuine concern for the welfare of his Officers and Soldiers. One soon learnt not to mistake his self effacing modesty and courteous demeanour for weakness.

Like most Indian Army Regiments, the Assam Rifles too has very strong traditions rooted in their rich heritage, the foundations of which were laid by Gorkha Troops who formed the nucleus of the Force. One such tradition was the conduct of animal sacrifice on the Vana Devta Pooja celebrations to propitiate the Gods of the forest.

Over the years, many General Officers, Commanding Officers and Religious Teachers had done their best to sensitize the soldiers about the regressive nature of this tradition, quoting examples from the scriptures, but none issued orders prohibiting this practice as it was felt that such an order would cause deep resentment among the rank and file. As all Army Officers were posted to the Assam Rifles on deputation, most were not keen on risking their careers by ‘rocking the boat’.

He was barely few months in the saddle when it was time for the pooja. A traditional havan (where oblations are offered into the sacred flame) was conducted by the Priest and the principal participants were Brigadier Anbu, his deputy, a nominated officer, the Subedar Major and some selected representatives of the soldiers in the presence of all personnel of the organisation except those on essential duties. The ritual was to conclude with the sacrifice of a goat with a single stroke of the khukri (a Gokha’s machete), wielded by a chosen soldier.

The Priest used the ashes of the havan to anoint the sacrificial goat, the selected soldier, and the sacrificial khukri. The soldier then positioned himself near the head of the sacrificial animal with his khukri ready and formally requested Brigadier Anbu for permission to carry out the sacrifice.

In a steady clear tone, Brigadier Anbu replied “Nahin Hai” (permission denied). For the benefit of those unrelated to the uniform, this needs elaboration. In the army when permission for conduct of a troop related religious act is ceremoniously sought, it is simply expected to be ceremoniously granted. If not, it is deemed to a serious attack on troop sensitivity and could culminate in loads of trouble.

Everyone was stunned and the Priest, assuming that he had heard incorrectly, repeated the formal request only to get the same reply from the Commandant. Jaws dropped in astonishment and emotions could have flared at the perceived sacrilege. However, Brigadier Anbu remained unmoved despite gentle hints from his Deputy (who was his senior at SainikSchool) to reconsider his decision.

Without batting an eyelid, Subedar Major Arjun Thapa, a Gorkha from Nepal where ritual sacrifices are held sacred, supported his Commandant’s decision and ordered that the goat be set free. A lauki (bottle gourd) was produced and ritually chopped in two by the Khukri in its place. Not one dissenting murmur was heard from any quarter!

That’s obviously a classy example of what is meant by courage of conviction. It is a testimony to the immense respect and affection earned by Brigadier Anbu across the organisational spectrum, that too within a few of months.

Brigadier Anbu’s brief tenure at the ARTC is still remembered for the immense progress made in training, administration, and welfare at the premier establishment of the Assam Rifles.

In April 2017, the 79ers, my batchmates from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar had our annual meet in Srinagar, J&K. I reached Srinagar three days ahead to spend time with soldiers who had served with me. I travelled to a remote locality to be with the boys and that evening I called up Lieutenant General Anbu, the Army Commander Northern Command over the military telephone circuit. Typical of the Corps of Signals’ way of doing things, the duty officer at every successive military exchange came on line and fussed around for ever as the call was being directed to the Army Commander. He finally came on line and spoke to me for over thirty minutes, bantering about the good old days and expressing his inability to fly down to meet his school mates at Srinagar as he had to attend the Army Commanders’ Conference at New Delhi next day.

It is said that a soldier has no holiday in life; but retirement makes every day one for him. Knowing General Anbu, I am sure that he will make the rest of his days more rewarding and entertaining as he is a man of great versatility. He is bound to enrich the life of those around him in a meaningful manner.

Great soldiers do not retire, they just fade away – surely he too will fade away and be rarely be in television spotlight, as is the wont of so many retired senior defence officers these days! Perhaps he will pen down his thoughts covering a momentous half century in uniform.

Sacrificing a Family Tradition


When we joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in Grade 5 in June 1971, there were many vegetarians amongst us.  Most Brahmin Cadets up until then had never ever eaten anything non-vegetarian in life.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs that the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  Nowadays the very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is very fondly served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.

Like a true Syrian Orthodox Christian, I too had never tasted pork.  Our family tradition was based on Deuteronomy Chapter 14: Verses 3 to 8 which says “Do not eat any detestable thing.  These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep.   You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.   However, of those that chew the cud or that have a divided hoof you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the hyrax. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a divided hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you.  The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.”

This was the rule the Jews followed a thousand years before Christ in accordance with The Torah passages in Leviticus that lists the animals people are permitted to consume. It first notes what qualifies an animal that is absolutely permitted.   Muslims also follow a similar rule.  Chapter 6 Verse 146 of Quran says “ We prohibited every animal of uncloven hoof; and of the cattle and the sheep We prohibited to them their fat, except what adheres to their backs or the entrails or what is joined with bone.”

Although Christianity is also an Abrahamic religion, most of its adherents are permitted to consume pork. Since Christianity lost most of its roots from Judaism, Christians are not bound to most of the restrictions of Mosaic Law. However, Seventh day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also do not permit pork consumption. The Syrian Christians of Kerala belong to this lineage of pork taboo. For many Scottish highlanders too, pork is taboo although the reasons are quite unclear.

It is believed that St Thomas, an Apostle of Christ came to Kerala in 52 AD and converted local Hindus and some Jews to Christianity.  Cochin Jews (also known as Malabar Jews or Yehudey Kochin), are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon (970 – 931 BCE).  St Thomas did not impose any changes to the pattern of worship, rituals and traditions of the locals.  This resulted in Malayali Syrian Christians with the Jews following Mosaic law .  It changed when the Portuguese colonised Kerala in the 16th Century.  Their concept of ‘the cross preceding the sword‘ resulted in forcible conversion of Malayali Syrian Christians to Catholicism.  Portuguese Inquisition used consumption of pork to distinguish between Jews and Catholics and accused the Malayali Syrian Christians of being Jews. Those Malayali Syrian Christians who refused to convert to Catholicism had to flee away from the coastal areas controlled by Portuguese to  the hills in the interior of Kottayam.  They today are further divided into Marthoma, Jacobite and Orthodox factions.

The first Friday of July 1971, we were served pork for dinner.  There were separate tables for all those who did not want to partake the ground pork, where they were served potato and peas curry.  I too joined this vegetarian section. So our taboos were at home. We learned about tolerance to eat what we eat, together, may be at separate tables though, but without hate and rancour.

Cadet Sunil Kumar, our batch mate, a Namboodiri (a hard core Kerala Brahmin) erroneously joined the wrong queue and ended up eating pork.  After eating it, he said it was so tasty that he even went for a second helping.  This motivated me to go for the forbidden pork on the first Friday of August 1971.  I sacrificed a family tradition of not eating pork in exchange for a mouth-watering dish on that day and from then on I never missed it on any first Friday of the month.

So, now I follow the New Testament of Bible (As do most Christians world wide) where in as per Gospel According to St Matthew 15:10, Jesus calls the people to him and says, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Minor mercies that religions do offer some flexible options!!

Despite the many health warnings that come with red meat in general and processed pork in particular, to this day I remain a happy and avid pork eater, thanks to Sainik School Amravathi Nagar and Sunil Kumar.

The Lesser Teachers


Teachers play an important role in our lives to become good human beings and valued citizens to society.  Teachers are an extremely important part of any school society and at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu), it was no different.  What Cadets at our school learned from our teachers at a young age has in most cases stayed with us and will continue to do so till our graves.

Here I am writing not about our great front line teachers, but about those lesser mortals, great human beings, who always worked in the background to make learning easier for us Cadets.  They are the support staff who assisted with most activities that happened at our school.

The oldest of the lab attendants was Mr. Vittal Das.  He was at the Biology lab assisting Mr Paul and Mr George, our zoology and botany teachers.  He made sure that we got frogs for our dissection classes, duly anesthetised with a heavy dose of chloroform.  He was the most politically active among the support staff, even though they were not unionised.  He was in the forefront fighting for their rights.  He was a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) who remained steadfast with the party and was always singing praises for his leader, Late M Karunanidhi.  Despite the dismissal of Karunanidhi Government in 1976 and the drubbing DMK received in the 1977 elections, he remained loyal to the party.

Manuel, the Physics Lab Attendant was a man for all seasons, all because he was assistant to Mr. PT Cherian, our Physics teacher.  Mr Cherian was an icon and was in the forefront for almost all activities at our school – cultural show, cinema projection, photography club, operating the public address system for all events and so on.  Where ever Mr Cherian went, Manuel was there, like his shadow, to assist him.

Then there was Samuel, our Chemistry Lab Attendant who like any typical lab attendants at any school, posed as a ‘Mister Know-All’. Mr KM Koshy, our Chemistry teacher during a class session, once sent Samuel on a leather hunt.  He asked Samuel to fetch dilute H2O from the Chemistry Lab.  Samuel returned empty handed after about 15 minutes and dutifully reported “Sir, in our lab there is no dilute H2O, all we have is concentrated.”

Whenever we walked into the library, there was Nazeer, assistant to Mr Stephen, our librarian.  He had a smile for everyone and was always on the double in the library – placing books back on the shelves, arranging periodicals and newspapers on the tables, setting the chairs right, etc.  He was very particular that the cadets used the library to enhance their knowledge and insisted that we read newspapers, the only source of information in those days in remote Amaravathi Nagar.  He used to deliver newspapers to us even on Sundays and Holidays at our dorms so that we never missed the day’s news.  He was instrumental in my developing a reading habit, especially the attachment to ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.

Mariya Das, the younger sibling of Manuel had two roles to play.  He was the attendant at the Academic Block whose main duty was to ring the bell at appropriate times.  In those days Cadets did not wear watches (it was a super luxury item and was not permitted as per school rules) and when we saw Mariya Das rushing, we knew that it was time for the period to end.  In the mornings during physical training and the evenings during the games hour he doubled up as a grounds-man.

CMN Grndsmen
(Late Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Grounds-men, from the left – Maria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one)

It was a marvel as to how our Chief Grounds-man, Achuthan ensured that we Cadets were provided with all equipment needed for the morning Physical Training and evening games.  He was assistant to our Physical Training Instructor, Late Mr C Madhavan Nair.

With his team of four illiterate grounds-men, they ensured that the gym with the boxing ring was always maintained meticulously well.  Every afternoon, it was their duty to ensure that all fields were marked properly and all nets were in place.  We had to draw the balls and other sporting kit from Achuthan every evening at 4 PM.  He ensured that all kit handed over to us was serviceable and kept a track of them even if we left them on the ground.

The ultimate test of the team work of Mr CM Nair and his grounds-men was the conduct of the Annual Athletic Meet and School Day.  How they accurately marked the 400 meters’ track, pits for the jumps and lanes for the throws – all still remains a mystery for me till date.  This most important event of the school year culminated with the ‘Massed PT’ for the School Day, involving all Cadets from grade 6 to 12.  There too the role of the grounds-men in providing us with various equipment and marking the spots for us to stand during the Massed PT was indeed commendable.

Regarding our dedicated and caring Mess Waiters, please Click Here.

School support staff play an important role in ensuring the students are nurtured in a safe and supportive environment. They foster positive, trusting relationships with students and improve school climate by encouraging students to actively participate in all school activities, especially in a residential military school.

Every Cadet who has graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar really had an intimate connect with the school support staff, especially their positive behavior which had a great effect on us the Cadets. In a quiet sort of way, they had touched our lives in ever so many ways with tender care.

Colonel Kizhakayil Kotiath Arun, Sena Medal


Cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) were divided into four houses named after four Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava.  I was in Pandya House.  Reminiscing through the good old Sainik School days, a thought came to my mind about my many visits to Chera House dormitory in my Grade 11 days (1978), walking through the back alley of Chola House  dorm.

The most prominent object that would catch my eyes was the wheel of a trolley that lay unmoved in the Chola House back alley.  It was black cast-iron wheels, surely weighing over 80 kilos, from  one of the trolleys used during the construction of Amaravathi Dam.  It had a solid axle with two wheels, akin to the wheels of a railway wagon, but a bit smaller.  It obviously resembled the ‘Barbell with Plates’ used by champion weightlifters.   I used to try moving it and many a time realised that it has not moved an inch since  1975.

These trolleys used during construction of the dam found their resting place behind the old Cadets’ Mess, now the Gymnasium and Cinema Hall on completion of the dam.  The Gymnasium building was the workshop during dam construction days, hence these trolleys were abandoned there.

How did this barbell find its way to the back alley of Chera House dorm?

It was brought in by Veteran Commander Ponnar and his friends who managed to pick up the trolley-wheel from their ‘graveyard’ behind the gym and carried it over a kilometer long trail and brought it to its current resting place in the back alley of Chera House.

The toughest senior cadet I came across during my Cadet days at Sainik School Amaravathinagar was Cadet  KK Arun of 1975 Batch.  He was tall and well built, quiet and unassuming, always with a smile on his face.  I realised he too was a Malayalee who found his moorings at Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu like me.  I hardly ever interacted with him – he was too senior and I belonged to a different House – the Pandyas.

It was a matter of pride, sense of achievement and a dream  for any Cadet at Sainik School to be selected to join the National Defence Academy (NDA).  It involved passing a written examination with a qualifying rate less than a percentile or two.  Then was the five day Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and then a stringent medical examination.  Cadets of the graduating  year (Grade 11 then) used to work out mentally and physically to qualify through this rigorous and grueling procedure.

Cadet KK Arun too had set his aim to join the NDA.  He found the weights and exercises at the gym and the morning Physical Training (PT) inadequate to stress and strain all his muscles.  One often found Cadet KK Arun lifting it with ‘Clean and Jerk’ or a ‘snatch’  in the evenings after the Games Parade.  Whenever I walked past this ‘Barbell’ during my NDA preparation days in 1978, the idea to lift it germinated in my mind.  Obviously, I could only lift it from a side, that too with both my hands. I always had a ‘Hero Worship’ for Arun as to how come he could lift this monster many a times at my age.

Arun joined NDA in 1975 and I followed suit in 1979 January.  We never met since our school days.  Arun remained a fitness freak throughout his Indian Army career.   He was an Instructor at the Commando Wing of Infantry School – an appointment any young officer will even trade his ‘girl friend’ for.

As a senior Major he landed in a coveted appointment – The Adjutant of NDA – an appointment any Cadet who passed out of NDA will sacrifice anything and everything for.  It was a reward for Major Arun’s soldierly qualities, his love for his soldiers, dedication to duty, physical fitness, gentlemanly qualities and so on.

Drill is the bedrock of discipline – thus goes an old saying and it is the Adjutant who meticulously oversees the Drill Training at NDA.  It culminates with  the Passing Out Parade (POP), a spectacular event which marks the  culmination of another successful semester.  POP parade held at the Khetarpal Parade Ground comprises over one thousand cadets bidding farewell to their senior colleagues and will remain etched in the memory of anyone who has witnessed it.  Passing Out Cadets march past the Quarter Deck to the  haunting strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.  The Adjutant on his charger accompany the passing out cadets to their Final Steps.

This entire spectacle is the culmination of five months of rigorous drill training imparted by the Drill Instructors under the watchful eyes of the Adjutant.  It is purely an Adjutant’s show.  Please click here to read more about the Academy Drill Instructors.

Who will ever forget the ‘Josh Pep-talk’ delivered by the Adjutant prior to the commencement of POP, exhorting all cadets to put in their best to make it as spectacular as possible.

A young Officer on commissioning  to our Regiment narrated an anecdote.  He was trained by Major Arun at the NDA.  He said “While delivering the customary Pep-talk by the Adjutant, his Charger, a well built white horse, delivered an anal salute.  Major Arun immediately said ‘SORRY’ and continued.  That was our Adjutant, an epitome of decency.”  I felt very proud of our Alma Mater and did not miss the opportunity  to declare with pride in my voice “I attended the very same school from where Major Arun graduated.”

Major Arun served as a Commando Instructor.  He was a real ‘tough’ instructor and was well known for his teaching abilities with love for his students – A real GURU in all aspects.  Some even say the Nana Patekar’s Hindi movie ‘PRAHAR‘ (please click here for more about the movie) was inspired by him. He was awarded Sena Medal for gallantry.


He rose to the Rank of Colonel and commanded a Rajput Regiment.  There are many anecdotes from his army life worth mentioning.  He hung up his military boots and is now settled with his family at Greater NOIDA near Delhi.

I was lucky to come in contact with him, courtesy Colonel TM Natarajan, our batch mate from Sainik School.  It was a rewarding experience sharing our journey experiences and also relent that we two never met after leaving school.

A Wedding in Peru

Vijayabhaskaran (Vijas), our classmate from Sainik School days. my partner in most teenage crimes at school (we took the resultant punishments too together), called me up in June 2018 to announce that their daughter Sandhiya, pursuing her engineering education in Germany had found her ideal life partner in Ernesto, a Peruvian citizen.  The marriage was scheduled for 05 January, 2019 at Piura, Peru.


Vijas’s voice was beaming with pride, voice choking many a times, narrating as to how and when the two met, experience and interactions he had with Ernesto and as to how they were an ideal made-for-each-other couple.  I felt honoured as I was the first one (other than his wife Amuda) he was informing of this development.


Vijas wanted someone who was just as warm hearted as her, but still had a great work ethic and a sense of determination.  He said that he could not be happier for his little girl – he watched her go through school, music lessons, internships, work, university, immigration to Germany and he realised that he had both God’s blessings, and best wishes from his family and friends in abundance.

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?  Googled it up and came the answer.

Piura is a city in North-Western Peru, the capital of Piura Province. The population is approximately 400 000.   It was here that Spanish Conquistador (Conqueror) Francisco Pizarro founded the first Spanish city in South America, San Miguel de Piura, in 1532 thereby earning the modern day city its Peruvian nickname: ‘La Primera Ciudad‘ meaning the first city.  Piura served as the first main port through which the Incan gold and silver the Spaniards had gathered was shipped back to Spain. Piura declared its independence from the Spanish on January 4, 1821.  Piura is about two hours of flying time from Lima.

There were four of our classmates from Sainik School Amaravathinagar attending the wedding.  Dr Benoy and Dr Neena from Boston, Aravazhi and Amutha from Chennai, Ranganathan (Ranga) and Akhila from Bengaluru.  We were honoured with the presence of Mrs Anita Chandramouli, wife of Late Group Captain R Chandramouli in the group.  Vijas had planned a Peru tour for a week for all of us after the wedding.  How can we miss a visit to Machu Pichu, the hallowed ancient Inca city?

I booked our tickets from Toronto to Lima and then to Piura and the tour package with the travel agency JourneYou.  All set, we embarked the Air Canada plane to land in Lima on 03 January after a ten hour journey.   This was the first time I ever set foot in the Southern Hemisphere.  Luckily for us, Toronto and Lima fell on the same Longitude, hence no time difference, which saved us the agony of jet lag.  We then took our flight to Piura and reached our hotel in the afternoon, to be greeted by our classmates who had already reached in the morning, travelling over 36 hours.


(From Left to Right : Aravazhi, Self, Benoy, Ranga and Vijas)

Aravazhi was a day-scholar at school as his dad was our teacher – Mr MV Somasundaram.  Four of us lived in the same dormitory of Pandya House and were mentored by our House Master Mr PT Cherian.  We were all meeting Benoy after a gap of three decades, but the moment we met, the timeline seemed to vanish – we were all back as Cadets, sharing all our joy and experiences of life.


(From Left to Right : Shashi Bellamkonda – Vijas’s Catering College buddy, self, Aravazhi, Amuda Aravazhi, Anita Chandramouli, Marina and Akila Ranga)

Our  ladies too got into the act of sharing their life experiences.  Overheard a conversation about recipes and sarees – anything and everything under the sun.

The smartest amongst us all were Ranga and Benoy.  Ranga joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) and served the Indian Navy.  During a football match at school, Benoy suffered an injury to his eye leaving that eye blind.  We were told that with one eye, a person had only 2D vision and could never make out the depth.  We never realised what it meant until we were training on the obstacle course.  One of the obstacles was a ten feet long ditch with a rope hanging in the centre.  Benoy, running to the obstacle jumped forward to catch the rope, but he ended up in the water filled ditch as he could not assess the depth at which the rope was hanging.  That gave us a practical lesson on the 3D vision we enjoy.

Benoy too qualified for NDA but was obviously found medically unfit.  When the final result came out, he was among the top ten who had qualified – What an achievement! After leaving school he joined Madurai Medical College and later specialised in Cardiology.  My question to him was as how he practices cardiology with one eye.  He said that today all procedures are through various scopes which in fact provides only 2D images.


The above image of Ceremonial Parade at school is of 1977 when we were in our Tenth Grade.  Ranga and Benoy are the two Stick-Orderlies with Colonel (Dr) K Jaganathan as our School Captain.


The wedding ceremony was solemnised  on 05 January Afternoon at the Catholic Church.  It was followed by a cocktail and a sumptuous dinner with all Peruvian delicacies thrown in.


We then danced our way through the night to Spanish and Bollywood music.

Chai –My Favourite Brew


Recently I came across a video clip about TWG’s Yellow Gold Bud Tea.  This tea is believed to have been once the favourite of Chinese emperors and as precious and costly as gold.  In fact, each tea bud is lavished in 24-karat gold, which once infused, yields a delicately metallic and floral aftertaste.

In the Sixties, during our childhood days, back home in Kottayam, the regular morning brew was coffee.  Ripened red coffee beans were plucked from the coffee trees that grew in our homestead and after being sun dried their outer covering was removed.  The beans were then fried until they turned black and ground to a powder at the nearby mill, to be stored in air tight containers. The coffee powder was put into a copper vessel with boiling water and was left for a few minutes for the coffee to be infused and the thick powder would settle at the bottom of the copper vessel.  The extract or decoction was now mixed with milk and sugar and then served to all. Just thinking about it makes one salivate.

The taste of that home-made coffee is now history.  With the advent of rubber plantations, all coffee trees were cut to make way for rubber. Thus the end of home-made coffee powder. We now source our coffee powder from various commercially available brands in the market. Sad change.

Happy change. I took to drinking tea on joining Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, at the age of nine in 1971.  Tea was served to us early in the morning prior to Physical Training, at 11 o’ Clock between classes and in the evening prior to games.  Every cadet took a liking to this tea as everyone looked forward to it.  For many it served as a clock as none of us wore a wrist watch.  The tea had some magic in it as it had the innate quality to kick start all the important events in a cadet’s life!

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What was so special about this magical concoction?  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea. What was special about it? It could be the special blend of the tea leaves or the way in which it was cured. Or perhaps it was the sublime effect of the Amaravathi River waters, the vessel in which it was brewed, or the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It still remains a mystery to all of us, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming steaming cups of this divine tea.

Another most memorable cup of tea that I have had was the tea served by soldiers at the Sadhna Post at Nastachun Pass.  This pass is located at about 10,000 feet Above Sea Level at the entrance to the Thangdhar Valley on the Indo-Pak border.  The narrow one-way road from Chowkibal (about 100 km from Srinagar) was cut along the mountains to Nastachun Pass and then down into Thangdhar Valley.  The road being narrow could only accommodate one vehicle either way.  To ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, all traffic was regulated by a convoy system. The up and down convoys left from Thandhar and Chowkibal at about 8 in the morning and 2 in the Afternoon respectively.  The vehicles on reaching Nastachun Pass would park there, awaiting all vehicles to fetch up from either side.

During this wait, soldiers manning Sadhna Post would serve tea to all.  It was real refreshing cup of tea as one was both physically and mentally tired traversing up through the treacherous roads with many hairpin bends. It was a magic potion that invigorated tired limbs and ebbing spirits.


During winter, the road and the mountains got covered with over ten feet of snow.  The only way to cross over was by foot columns.  The foot columns operated at night, two days after a heavy snow storm to avoid avalanches.  The foot column consisted mainly of soldiers proceeding or returning from leave from their homes, porters carrying essential supplies – fresh vegetables and milk, mail, etc.

It took about four hours of strenuous climb to Sadhna Post and was a sure test of anyone’s mental and physical abilities. It was a kind of surreal experience. Talking aloud was not permitted as the vibrations caused by human voice could resonate with layers of snow on the ridge face and trigger an avalanche. On reaching Sadhna Post, everyone was welcomed by the soldiers with a hot ‘cuppa’, a cup of tea that was the most refreshing and tasty—it simply was the best ever. To my mind, it could very well be compared to Amrit – the nectar of immortality in Hindu mythology. The climb down from the Sadhna post appeared easier but was just as treacherous, if not more, due to the tendency to slip and fall.

I have never tasted the Yellow Gold Bud Tea, the specialty of the Chinese emperors. But I am pretty certain that it would pale into insignificance when compared with the Amravathi Special or the Sadhna Post Amrit!

RIP Wing Commander K Manickavasagam


Squadron Leader K Manickavasagam joined our school – Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu, India as our Headmaster in 1978 while we were in Grade 11.  He bid adieu to the world to be with the God Almighty on 13 April 2018, leaving behind a great legacy – especially for the Cadets of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar.

He got on to his main task from the day he arrived – to turn us teens into adults.  He was seen everywhere during all activities – from the morning Physical Training (PT) to evening dinner.  We all enjoyed his company, his talks, his motivational anecdotes.  It would not be wrong for me to say that he was instrumental in many of us clearing the Services Selection Board (SSB) Interview and joining the defence forces with Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff  heading the pack.

The day for us all dawned with PT and there was Squadron Leader R Manickawasagam, out there, running with us and exercising with us.  While we marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the school after breakfast, we saw Squadron Leader Manickavasagam cycling down from his residence to the Academic Block.  Next was the morning assembly.  He called Vijayabhaskaran and me during PT and asked us to deliver a speech during the assembly  on  “Untouchability” for Vijayabhaskaran  “Co-education in Sainik Schools” for me.  Vijayabhaskaran asked “for how long should we speak?”. “As long as you can” came the Headmaster’s reply. As we went back to prepare our speeches, Vijas told me that we should speak for 45 minutes each the least so that everyone goes for the tea-break after the assembly and we all can manage to skip the first three periods of the day. After each speech, Squadron Leader  Manickavasagam spoke for 15 minutes, analysing and assessing our speeches.  He was real serious and meticulous  as he went about all his tasks.

Squadron Leader Manickavasagam appeared to have taken the divine task of molding us teens into leaders and good citizens.  He lead many adventure activities like treks through the Anamalai Wildlife Park located adjacent to our school campus, tracking rabbits in the Small-Arms Range area and so on.

He chaired many of the open-house debates and discussions.  He encouraged us to present our views, right or wrong, confidently.  He shared his experiences and wisdom during these events.  He encouraged all of us to be creative by participating in various extra-curricular activity clubs.  He conducted General Knowledge classes for us in the evenings wherein we could discuss anything and everything under the sun.

He was often seen cheering us from the sidelines when we competed in various Inter-house sports events with all our spirits, heart and soul – whether it was the boxing, athletics, football, hockey, volleyball or basketball.

Squadron Leader  Manickavasagam always had positive words of encouragement for us – even while we goofed it up.  He did mete out punishments for us, keeping in mind our age and exuberance.  Once he made Vijayabhaskaran and I to apologise in front of the Morning Assembly – it was too less a punishment for the mischief we did.  Looking back, had the intended punishment of withdrawal from school was awarded to us – we would not have achieved what we have today for sure.

RIP Squadron Leader K Manickavasagam.  You had the vibes of all of the students. An Officer and a thorough Gentleman to the core – someone we all would love to emulate.

Manspreading


During our Sainik (Military) School days (boys only) in Grade 8, I had an opportunity to play a girl’s role in a play.  Ms Sheela Murphy, our English Teacher was in charge of the event and she really decked me up to be a beautiful girl.  The photograph of me sitting down came out after a few days and Ms Murphy said “I have always been telling you to sit with your legs closed.  Ladies always do so. While on stage, men should also keep their knees as close as possible, else it becomes an eyesore.”  From that day I made efforts to ensure that whenever I sat,  my knees were together, especially with  legs visible.

Recently I read an article about ‘Manspreading’ by our friend Suresh Nellikode, which was published as a middle in the New Indian Express newspaper dated October 25, 2017.  This made me analyse and I realised that menspreading is a habit of men, whether in a public transit or in their homes or offices.  Some men take extra care to avoid manspreading while being photographed, especially in the group photos.  Sometimes it may be the fault of the cameraman to have shot the image while the man was in a manspreading position.  Ultimately, the responsibility to avoid it lies with the man being photographed.

“Manspreading”  is an act of a someone, usually a man, taking up two seats in a public space by spreading his legs.  This has been a cause of inconvenience to many, one of them could have taken a seat had the man not manspread.

Oxford Dictionary (online) describes manspreading as a practice whereby a man adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat.

Does man’s anatomical structure make him manspread?  Is it a natural act by a man to avoid testicular compression from his thigh muscles?  Is it  natural for a woman to sit with their knees close together and ankles crossed, but the same may be painful for a man?  Is it that God gifted women with a wider pelvis and thighbones resulting in  sitting with their knees close together as a stress-free position?  Is it the male ego that makes a man to manspread?  Is it that the parents and teachers never corrected a boy while he manspread?   These were the questions that came to my mind after reading Suresh’s middle.

New York police officers arrested two men on the charge of manspreading on the subway in May 2015, for they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders.  Now Spain’s capital city Madrid has taken a stand against manspreading, banning men from indulging in the rude leg extending move on its trains and buses..

If we want perfect, equitable commuting, why not legitimise that all able-bodied persons, both males and females,  between the age of 19 (voting/ marriageable/ drinking/ smoking) age and 30 stand while traveling on public transit?

Keeping your legs planted on the floor, with the knees a feet apart would be the most ideal way for men to sit.  Men may also lock their heels or cross their legs, but sitting with straight legs works best for most situations.  Ensure that one does not over project his genitals as monkeys and chimps are known to display their genitals to act more aggressive.  This  many a times looks grotesque, especially when one is seated on a stage or facing a camera.  While crossing legs, men often cross their left leg over their right – because …. Please click here to read my Blog and you may be able to reason it out.

Are we going to finish at manspreading? Are there more issues that the women are concerned about men’s behaviour?   ‘Manslamming’ is one feminine concern when men do not move out of the way of women on the sidewalk fast enough to give them way.  Then is ‘manterupting’ where the women are shouted down by men at conferences/ meetings, shopping malls, etc.  Then comes ‘Mansplaining’ where the women describe men who infringe on their feelings of narcissistic superiority; and the list will go on, adding new terms in times to come.

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?

RIP Mr KM Koshy (KMK)

SRamanujan Skit Gp Photo

When we reached Grade 8 at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, we graduated to the senior houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava – named after the historic Tamizh kingdoms.  The House Masters were the iconic figures of the school with Mr MV Somasundaram, the rationalist, at Chera House;  Mr M Selvaraj, the Tamizh Maestro at Chola House; Mr PT Cherian, the man for all seasons, at Pandya House and Mr KM Koshy, the chemistry specialist, at Pallava House.  All of our classmates for sure will surely cherish what they have leant from these iconic teachers.

I have written about them in my earlier Blog Posts (Please Click on the links):-

Mr MV Somasundaram    https://rejinces.net/2015/12/20/the-atheist/

Mr M Selvaraj   https://rejinces.net/2014/09/16/the-linguists/

Mr PT Cherian   https://rejinces.net/2016/01/12/guru-dakshina/

Mr KM Koshy headed the Chemistry Department of the School till he emigrated in 1977 while we were in Grade 10.  He was an outstanding Chemistry teacher and he made the most complicated organic chemistry bonds look simple and easy to understand for us. 

He was actively involved with all the extra-curricular activities of the school and was a great actor.  The above image where Mr Koshy is standing in the middle, is of the Play on Ramanujan, directed by MrVekitesha Murthy and staged in 1977 to mark the ninetieth birthday of noted Indian Mathematician Ramanujan.  Mr Koshy essayed the role of Professor Hardy to perfection.  Please Click Here to read more about the play.  

He was passionately devoted to Chemistry and  had a rare talent for conveying his fascination to all of us.  He was a teacher who had a wonderful, compassionate way with us and a rare sense of humour that drew us to him.  He  loved Chemistry, especially Organic Chemistry and he made the subject come alive for all of us.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Mr KM Koshy on Monday, 27 February 2017 due to cardiac arrest.  He has gone up to heaven to sit on the right hand side of the Lord, reserved for teachers of eminence .  His son Dr Rajeev Koshy was an year senior to us at School.    

Mr Koshy played a major role in our lives.  He has touched the hearts of a lot us, and the Amaravian Community will never forget him.  Rest In Peace.

Hindi Minimum or Maximum Hindi

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Hindi Minimum Test, a test to assess the linguistic ability of cadets, used to be conducted  at the National Defence Academy (NDA) for all cadets in their second semester.  It was a well known fact that for most cadets who graduated from Sainik School Amaravathinagar (Tamizh Nadu) – known as Amaravians, it was a hurdle too high to clear.  So, we all had extra classes on Thursday evenings and all those Hindi Pundits at the Academy tried their level best to make us imbibe the national language.  Thus Thursday evenings became more of a school social at the NDA.  At the Indian Military Academy (IMA) the very same test was called Compulsory Hindi Test.

The move by the Congress government at  the Centre in 1965 to impose Hindi on Tamizh population was the root cause of Congress being wiped out of Tamil Nadu.  Rise of Dravida Munnettra Kazhakam (DMK) was also due to this imposition of Hindi.

Many argue that the agitations against Hindi have had an impact on the Tamizh psyche.  It is often claimed by the political commentators that the people from other Southern States learn Hindi along with their native language, but the Thamizh are fanatical about their language, being cultivated by the Dravidian political parties.

It was bit easier for Mallus as the language Malayalam has nearly all the alphabets as the Devanagari script of Hindi Language.  Malayalam language is closer to Tamizh, but has borrowed its vocabulary and grammar from Sanskrit.  For a Tamizhan it is a nightmare to learn Hindi as Tamizh, being the oldest Indian language has limited consonants – only one ‘ka’ (க) in place of ka (क), kha (ख), ga (ग), gha (घ) and similarly for all other sets of consonants.  The Hindi Pundits never understood this very basic issue (and till date they do not seem to understand this fact or try and gloss over this fact) – else they would have to accept that Tamizh is older and more sacred than Sanskrit.  Where would the ‘Indian Nationalists’ hide their faces then?

Hindi propagated in the seventies and eighties by various governmental organisations also had its effect.  Hindi terms coined by them to replace commonly spoken English words were so confusing that even Hindi speaking population of North India would have had a run for their money.  National Television – Doordarshan – and All India Radio spewed out those tough Hindi words with venom.  This resulted in many homes in South India switching off their TV sets at 8:45 PM – on commencement of Hindi national telecast.

In the eighties,  opening up of media space for private players resulted in new channels using a medium – a mix of Hindi and English – which could be better understood by everyone.

With globalisation and advancement of IT, the luck Indians rode on, mainly for maintaining English as a national language, was that many found jobs in the world market.  India ended up having a reservoir of English speaking educated mass, which attracted global players to establish business, especially in the IT field.

I do not even remember how I managed to pass the Hindi minimum test.  For using  idioms in sentences for पानी पानी होना I wrote –  जब मैं स्विमिंग पूल में गया, वहां पानी पानी हो गया and for पांचों उंगली घी में होना  I wrote –  जलेबी खाते वक़्त मेरा पांचों उंगली घी में था and the list of bloopers went on.  This was done knowing well that they were howlers, but it resulted in annoying the Pundits who tried their level best to ram Hindi down my throat and I really derived some sadistic pleasures from it.  With vengeance, (more than the keepers of the Tamil culture, language etc as displayed during the Jallikattu demonstration) I coined new sentences and helped the Hindi Pundits in coining new words to enhance their vocabulary.  I was even successful to a great extend in creating new rules for Hindi grammar -the least it did was to put some doubt in the minds of the Hindi Pundits at  NDA.

Whatever it was, I managed to pass the Hindi Minimum Test in my Fifth Semester.  Some of the Amaravians struggled with it during their entire three year stay at the NDA and did not pass until their Final Sixth Term and special tests were conducted for them.  After three years of NDA and a year of training at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), I was commissioned to 75 Medium Regiment of Artillery.  The Regiment then had three sub-units -Batteries – manned by Jats, South Indians and North Indian Brahmins (Pundits).  For all the ‘fun‘ I had with the Hindi Pundits at the NDA, Gods must have been very unhappy with me or was it that Lieutenant Colonel AN Suryanarayanan, our then Commanding Officer (now a Veteran Brigadier) decided it wisely that I must go to the Pundit Battery.  I ended up at the right place, I thought.  This resulted in me learning to speak proper Hindi for the first time in my life.  I learned Hindi from our soldiers and many spoke chaste Hindi.

In the Indian Army, the official publications and forms were bilingual – with English and Hindi.  It did not achieve much other than making the publications double their weight and increasing production cost.  I used to advice young officers in the Regiment to read the publication – Glossary of Military Terms –  because of the need to use and understand military terminologies is very important for a young officer, especially during training courses and also during tactical discussions.  This book was bilingual – with Hindi on the left pages and English on the right pages.  I would often suggest to the officers to read the Hindi side when they got bored of reading the English pages as they would find many of them totally out of place and some really humorous.

Nowadays, the Indian Army has done away with the Officer’s Hindi Minimum Examinations – to the delight of all Amaravians joining the NDA.

 

Suit, Boot and Tie

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During our childhood the suit, boot and tie were associated with the English, the higher officials and the movie stars. We as children were mostly dressed in shorts and shirts and sometimes with rubber slippers. Most of the time we walked barefoot – to beat the water and mud splashing on to our clothes from the slippers and at many a times due to the fear of losing the slippers. May be we always forgot our slippers home as it proved to be an impediment to faster running and climbing trees. Wearing a suit and the boot always remained a distant dream.

On joining Sainik School at the age of nine, we had to wear the shoes at all times and it took me a lot of effort and time to get used to my feet being covered with the socks and the shoes. Then we were all measured by the tailors and after three months we all got our suits. A dream came true to most of my friends and me. We all wore our coats with the school insignia with a lot of pride during the winter months. In the next letter I shot off home, I wrote as to how different (smart) I looked in my coat. At that time one never realised that this piece of dress was going to be on me for a long time to come – over thirty years.

On my first vacation home I realised as what this change had done to me. I could not step out on to the courtyard of our home or walk along the paddy fields or climb trees barefooted as my soles had gone soft due to constant wearing of socks and shoes. That is when I realised that the socks and shoe had also become an integral part of me rather than being a piece of dress.

This trend with the clothes continued at different stages of my military career, at the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy and with the army unit I was commissioned into. Every where the tailors measured me and I got a new suit every time. While attending various courses in the army in different parts of the country, one realised that each military station had a set of tailors waiting to measure you and provide you with a new suit. Most of these military stations were established by the British Army and had the best climate and picturesque sceneries. Some of these tailors stitched the suits and would put Armanis to shame, as they and their forefathers had been in this business of suit making from the era of the British Army.   They were ready to finance you and would accept post-dated cheques for over a year to make good your bill. Those were the days when credit cards and credit ratings were non-existent. These tailors had a system in place and the only credit check they needed was your credibility as an Indian Army officer.   The customer service they provided was exemplary compared to any standards of today. They seemed to know all the officers of our units as they also had made suits from them. They would alter or repair your suits at no cost which were send through other officers of the unit who went for the course. May be it would be an interesting research subject for the management students like the “Dabbawallahs of Mumbai”.

Wearing a suit was mandatory for us in the army for many a formal occasions. The dictum for us was that it is safer to be formally dressed in an informal occasion than being informally dressed for a formal occasion. A tie was always a saviour that at many a times it converted an informal attire into a formal one. To help me overcome this dilemma, my driver was always handy. He always carried a set of ties during the summers and a suit during the winters. While being driven, I could comfortably switch from informal attire into a formal one in minutes. On retiring from the army, I thought it was time for me to shed my formal attires and become comfortable in the informal dresses. When I took my flight to Canada, my baggage did not have any suits or ties.

On landing in Canada in the summer, I was happy to find that most men were casually dressed in their shorts and sandals and I too followed the dress code. My neck and feet must have enjoyed the wimp of fresh Canadian air. The few men I found dressed in their suits were the real-estate agents or insurance agents. The offices I went for my initial documentation all had people dressed in semi-formal clothes or work clothes and not in their suits.

On Sunday, I went to attend the Holy Mass at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Toronto and I found many men dressed in their Sunday’s best suits. The curiosity in me made me to ask a young man as to why he is wearing a suit to the church. He said as to where else will he ever wear a suit other than to the church. He narrated as to how he got two suits stitched. Based on the advice he got from a few friends that it would be much cheaper to get the suits in India than in Canada, he got two stitched. He came to Canada with the impression that every one wore suits, but after landing, he realised that he needed working-overalls and safety boots and not the suits. Now, where else will he wear the two suits he got stitched other than to the church on Sundays.

Thanksgiving Day

Chef Bhaskaran

The first Thanksgiving we celebrated was in October 2004, to give thanks to the God Almighty for bringing the family to the great land of Canada. I bought a turkey like all Canadians, but had no clue about baking it. I went through the internet and downloaded a recipe which I thought was the easiest and most practical. That was when I called up my old classmate and dear friend Vijaya Bhaskar, the Executive Chef and General Manager, Hotel Le Meridian, Bengaluru. I explained to him the task in hand and read out the recipe I had and he advised me to add some Indian spices (garam masasla) while marinating and follow all steps as given in the recipe.

Vijaya Bhaskar (Vijas as we all called him) was in my adjacent room in Pandya House at Sainik School Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) and we had Mr PT Cherian as our house-master. Vijas was my trusted companion whenever I did any prank or took to any (mis)adventures like getting out of school after dinner, busing to Udumalpet (nearest town about 22 km away) to watch the second show at the theater and then walk back through the night to reach school early in the morning.

Whenever we got caught in our acts, we did the punishment meted out also together like apologising to the entire school during the morning assembly, wearing the uniform all through the day for a week or digging 24 pits (1M x 1M x 1M) for tree plantation. We enjoyed each others company in all these activities.

We went to Madras (now Chennai) to appear for the entrance exam for the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1978 and that was when I visited Vijas’ home. He had three brothers and a sister and they all addressed their dad as “Naina” (I really took a liking for the word “Naina” then). Vijas’ dad worked with the Post and Telegraph (P&T) department and the entire family lived in the small P&T quarters. Unlike us, who had some cultivation around the home to provide for most vegetables, they had to buy anything and everything for the household. It must have been the magical powers of Naina that he managed to bring up all children to be successful citizens today and I always thought that we were better off with both our parents being teachers and the little inputs we had from the land around our homes. In 1979 Naina did another great act of adopting a girl and so the family became that of six children with Vijas leading the pack.

We both qualified our NDA entrance exam and were undergoing training for our interview. We had Squadron Leader Manickavasagam as our Headmaster (another exception to my previous rule) and one day we both were summoned early in the morning to be told that we had to address the assembly at 8 AM and the topic for Vijas was “Untouchability” and for me it was “Co-education”. Vijas’ mind went into an overdrive and immediately asked “for how long should we speak?”. “As long as you can” came the Headmaster’s reply and the typical smile (well captured in the image here) indicated to me that there was some prank attached to the question.

As we went back to prepare our speeches, Vijas told me that we should speak for 45 minutes each the least so that everyone goes for the tea-break after the assembly and we all can manage to skip the first three periods of the day. That was when I realised what the prank was and we did execute it pretty well that after each speech, the Headmaster spoke for 15 minutes, analysing and assessing our speeches.

After graduating from the school, Vijas surprised everyone by opting to join the Institute of Hotel Management in Chennai. In those days we neither knew the existence of such an institute nor the avenues in hotel management. Vijas came out of the institute with flying colours and today has reached the position of the Executive Chef and General Manager with the prestigious Hotel Le Meridian at Bengaluru.   Now the same Vijas was giving his “special” advice to bake the Thanksgiving Turkey.

Thanksgiving is an important day for all Canadian families and for the “Turkey” dinner, the entire family gets together. For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. In 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that on the second Monday in October as Thanksgiving Day and would be “a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”

Throughout the 19th century, official Days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed to celebrate such events as the cessation of cholera (February 6, 1833), the end of war between Great Britain and France (June 18, 1816), restoration of peace with Russia (June 4, 1856), and for the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness (April 15, 1872).

In the US, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 at the behest of Governor William Bradford, to mark the arrival of the Pilgrims, a name commonly applied to early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States in 1863 via proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln that declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to move the official Thanksgiving date to earlier in November in order encourage a longer Christmas shopping season as a depression recovery strategy. His idea was shot down by Congress, and the official date was declared permanently as the fourth Thursday in November.

Reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further North than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. Since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. There are hardly any differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving, both Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with parades, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of turkey!

Thanksgiving was referred to in writings as Turkey Day due to the popularity of the bird as the traditional feast. Roasted goose was the favourite at harvest time in England. When the Pilgrims arrived in America from England, roasted turkey replaced roasted goose as the main cuisine because wild turkeys were more abundant and easier to find than geese. Thus the turkey was most-associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, making winter the prime season for turkey farmers. Today, turkey has been recognized as a lean substitute for red meat.

The first turkey effort was a big success and everyone enjoyed the dinner and after the dinner I called up Vijas to thank him for the tips he gave. He asked me at the end as to whether I documented all what I did to the turkey and I said “no”. Vijas said “that is the difference between a good chef and an amateur cook”. Thankfully I never had to prepare the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner after that since our daughter took it upon her and every year we have been treated to excellent dinners on both days.

Left Foot First

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On joining Sainik School in 1971 at the age of nine, I underwent my first run of drill classes.  The Drill Sergeant with his order for Tez Chal (Quick March) always followed it up with “Shoot your Left foot“.  This Left foot first then continued through the training at the Academies and during my military service. 

While travelling on a train during my vacation from school in 1978, my co-passenger was a Veteran Sergeant who had seen action with the Royal Air Force during World War II in Burma.  He spoke of a Black & White English movie, ‘The Tie.’  He described a scene where a detective and a constable are tracking a fugitive through the city roads on a foggy winter night.  Only the silhouette of the fugitive is seen and suddenly it stops walking and then walks ahead.  The detective says that it is a woman.  Now, the question of the Veteran was as to how the detective made out that it was a woman.  I had no clue and he explained that women generally commence walking with their Right foot first and men with their Left.  That is why when we march, we are drilled to shoot our Left foot first.  After this meeting, I started observing men and women and the first Right foot applied to women in about 80% cases.  Perhaps the remaining 20% were taught drill by some Sergeant Majors.

Shooting the Left foot first in the military was mainly because the soldiers were mostly right-handed and they carried their weapons the right side.  So when a soldier stepped forward with a Left foot, they were in a better balanced fighting posture, with Right foot planted and weapon up, ready for action.  It was also to keep everyone on the same foot for advancing in a line. In the olden day battles, soldiers advanced together ahead in formation, so that the enemy could not break the lines. In order to do this they used drums to keep everyone in line and together and commenced the march on the Left foot.  Every time the drum struck, their Left foot hit the ground.  Modern Armies across the globe follow this to keep everyone in step while marching, more to instill discipline and team work and for a ‘Soldierly’ look while moving in a group.

In the military, one always walked on the left side of a superior officer.  In other words, one always kept his superior on his ‘Right’ side.  This was to facilitate him to return a salute with his Right arm without poking his arm into someone on his Right. leftright364
We are all familiar with the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, ‘That is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’  Surely no one would have been there to photograph this one small step.  The second human to set foot on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and the instant was captured by Neil Armstrong.  In this image (courtesy NASA),  Aldrin is seen landing on the lunar surface with his Left foot, that too in rearward motion.  Perhaps,  a mere coincidence or the sheer logic of the number of rungs in the ladder!

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In this connection, a bit of mythology may interest the reader. Nataraja, the Hindu God Shiva as a cosmic dancer, is depicted in idol form in most temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, balancing on his Right foot with his Left foot up.  The only exception being the Nataraja idol at Meenakshi temple, Madurai.  It is believed that the Pandya King who commissioned the temple wanted to give some relief to Natarajan’s Right leg, at least in the temple constructed by him.LeftRight225
God Shiva with his consort Parvathi is mostly depicted sitting and in most cases, Shiva has his Left foot folded up and Parvathi her Right.  As per Hindu mythology, Shiva represents the Purusha (male) and Parvathi the Prakrithi (nature or female).  Some Hindu mythological art portrays gods with both feet on together on the ground and this may be the depiction of combination of Purusha and Pakrithi.

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When an Indian Bride enters a home, she is advised by her mother-in-law to enter with her Right foot first, but no such instruction is ever passed to the groom.  During many Hindu marriages, the groom ritually places the Right foot of the Bride on a grinding stone.  The mantras recited during this time advise the bride to lead a firm life like the grinding stone, to be as firm as a rock, so that the family can depend on her.

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Most Hindu Goddesses are often depicted with their Right leg folded up, depicting Prakrithi.

This may explain as to why women commence their walk with their Right foot.

 

 

Pocket Billiards

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The above is an image of our classmates from Sainik School Amaravathinagar, in front of the Cadets’ Mess at the National Defence Academy (NDA) during our reunion in December 2015.  The reunion was hosted by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, then Commandant, NDA.  Everyone is standing with their hands off their pockets, a rarity in such images of today.  Most images one receives on the social media have men standing with their hands deep down their pant pockets.

My mind went back to our school days-from 1971 to 1979, to the times when a cadet with his hands in pockets, was taunted supposedly for playing Pocket Billiards.  At times they were queried as to which ball is winning – the Right or the Left one.  Owing to this rigorous discipline instilled during the formative years, even after 37 years since our graduation,   mere thought of putting one’s hands in pockets will never occur to our classmates; even in their wildest of dreams.

A detailed report on the reunion appears on my blog (Please Click here to read).   If you study all the photographs taken both at formal and informal events, you will hardly observe anyone playing ‘Pocket Billiards’.  It could all be courtesy the taunts our classmates would have received.  We did not even spare our teachers – especially the new entrants- from similar taunts.

Pocket Billiards is mostly a men’s problem.  This is not a sexist view point but a factual one.  Women rarely put their hands in their pockets, except perhaps on a cold, chilly day.  They generally do not enjoy the liberty of putting their hands in pockets mostly because their attire, even while wearing pants. Women’s pants generally come without pockets and even when they do, the pockets are too shallow to accommodate a whole hand.  Women’s pants or jeans are often too tight, thereby making it uncomfortable to shove their hands in.  Thus it remains mostly a masculine issue.

Why do men put their hands in pockets? Body language experts and psychologists have different takes on the issue. Is it that they are obsessed with their family treasures? Some experts opine that that there is a subconscious male urge to perpetually hold on to ones genitals.   But holding on to one’s genitals in public is surely an indecent social display and the only way to be close to their genitals is by way of putting their hands in their pockets.  It could be that they are scared that their family treasures would fall off or someone would steal them!

‘Pocket Billiards’ by a speaker on a podium is sure to distract and also put off the audience.  Such speakers do not know what to do with their hands and try to find places to hide them and this leads to Pocket Billiards. This body language theory is sometimes contradicted by some world famous orators who can hold the audience spell bound, with one of their hands remaining in the pocket.  It becomes somewhat obscene when Pocket Billiards is accompanied with a posture of legs wide apart and hips thrust forward. Even so, some psychologists opine that this combination is a confident gesture of the dominant male who wants to tell others around who the boss is. Whatever the theory, it is not a pleasant sight to behold!

One of the most evolved part of human anatomy is our hand – with the wrist, palm and the five fingers.  The relationship between our hands and our brain has been well established by scientists.  In fact, our hands have become another communication tool.

We salute when we meet a superior officer in the military and we shake hands when we meet someone.  All these greetings are done with the open palm and has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance and submission.  Many oaths are still taken with the palm over the heart, or over a holy book.  In the olden days, it was to show that you are unarmed and therefore not a threat and from there evolved various salutes and handshakes.

Most common body language theory is that hiding our hands is an instinctive reaction to nervousness while keeping our hands out in the open indicates confidence and also that we have nothing to hide.  Pocket Billiards tends to encourage slouching and that is why the militaries around the world have strictly forbidden it, even while off-parade.

Many men feel that they project a cool and confident look with their hands in their pockets without realising that the converse is the truth. More often than not, they project a nervous look, without knowing what to do with their hands.  Some psychologists suggest that the habit also demonstrates unwillingness, mistrust and reluctance and is often associated with liars. Be careful, everyone with hands in their pockets need not necessarily be a liar. It may just be a biological need to ward off the cold. Some experts also feel that pocket billiards is merely indicative of a person’s desire to listen rather than speak. Some even differentiate between one hand and both hands in the pocket. Theories abound but the general consensus is that the habit is one of negative body language and needs to be got over.

How to get over the Pocket Billiards syndrome? Like most good habits and bad ones too, they all begin at home.  Children take on to it seeing their parents or other adults doing it.  By putting your hands in the pockets, you are surely setting a bad example for your children.  In case you observe a child putting his hands in pockets, it is best to explain and make him understand that with his hands in the open, he would look smarter and more confident than otherwise.  Teachers at schools also have a similar role to ensure that their students do not end up playing Pocket Billiards. Friends and peers are the best to help you out of this dreadful habit.  Our classmates, both in the military and civil life, are a sure testimony to this.  Another option is to stitch down your front pockets or pin it close.  You can always use the back pockets to store your wallet or cell phone.

One needs to pay attention to one’s hands and ensure that they are clean, hygienic and presentable.  Make sure to rub a cream or lotion and also a sanitizer on your hands prior to meeting anyone or while going to a gathering.  Ensure that you consciously use gestures that will get your message across to those that will help you build alliances and influence people.  With your hands in your pockets, you would mostly end up as an ugly duckling.

Bill of Fare

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Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served.  The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess.  The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.

The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Tamil Kingdoms.  We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise.  The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection.  They formed an integral part of each house.  They would be the cheer-leaders for most of the inter-house sports competitions and would slip an extra piece of meat or an egg in case we won a competition.

The Cheras were served by Natarajan who was better known as the local banker.  He also reared cows and sold the milk to enhance his income and his banking operations.  The Cholas were served by Vasu who was more of a neatness freak.  He realised the need for education and got his daughters through graduation who are well settled now.  The Pandyas had Venkatachalam, the most vociferous of all and also the most active.  The Pallavas had Madhavan, who despite his bout with asthma, never allowed his sickness to interfere with his job.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.  The very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.

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We were served with tea at 5:30 in the morning, before Physical Training.  During the long recess at 11′ o clock it was again tea with biscuits and in the evening before games it was tea and snacks.  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea – it could be the tea leaves, could be the Amaravathi waters, could be the vessel in which it was brewed, could be the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It remains a mystery to all of us to date, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming cups of this divine tea.

Breakfast for us was mostly continental with bread, butter, jam and eggs on all weekdays.  On Saturdays it was Idli-Sambar-Chutney and on Sundays it was Dosa.

The Bill of Fare began with Monday and it was the day we were served fish curry and rice for lunch and mutton curry with roti for dinner.  The dessert for dinner used to be fruit custard.

Mysore-Pak which owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore, was served on Tuesdays.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.  It was a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour.  The sweet added colour to the drab vegetarian dinner we had on Tuesdays.

We all awaited the fried Tilapia fish served for lunch on Wednesdays.  The fish came from the catch of the day at the Amaravathi Dam, co-located with the school campus. What made it very special? Was it the way it was marinated or crispiness of the fried fish or its unique freshness? Indeed it was the very best of all fried fish – it could any day compete with my mother’s fish fry at home.

When I got married, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the coming Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  My most relished combination with Dosa was chicken masala which was served for Thursdays’ dinner at the school mess.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the Dosa (3 to 5 mm thick) made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

Dosa, a thin pancake, is made from a batter of ground lentils and rice.  Its origin can be traced back to the Tamil Brahmins, who are strict vegetarians.  The batter is fermented overnight and is poured over an oil-coated hot granite griddle like a crepe and turned over to cook both sides.  The modern version of the crispy, paper-thin variety is rather a deviation from its original.  Some restaurants in South India still serve the original thick Dosa and is called Kallu (Stone) Dosa.

Fish cutlet was the specialty for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

Saturday was the movie day and hence we were served dinner early.  It was Biryani – either chicken or mutton – but what every cadet looked forward to was the sweet dish.  It was Khaja – a delicious flaky pastry, shaped out of a layered dough and dipped in sugar syrup.

One can very well imagine the effort taken by the mess staff for ensuring that quality and taste of food served to the cadets is of a high standard and they need to be commended for their care and culinary skills. The fact that one of the key attractions for most Alumni to get back to the Alma Mater is the food being served, says it all.

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Post Script
:  I dedicate this post to Mr Venkatachalam, our waiter of Pandya House, who passed away on  11 August 2016.  He will remain in the hearts of all those who were served by him, with all his love, affection and dedication, in Pandya House.  Our friends from Pandya House will remember him for ever.

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy

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While at school, I used to marvel at the honour boards placed at the entrance of the Academic block.  It had the names of the School Captains, Best Result for National Defence Academy (NDA) and Academics and the Sportsman of the year.  These boards in effect displayed all what the school stood for- to train the cadets as  all-rounders and to motivate them to join the NDA. 

On the School Captains board, the name of Victor Duraisamy of 1965 batch stood out for me.  It could be because the name was secular – Christian sounding first-name and a Hindu last-name.  Or was it because it was the longest one on the board? 

I joined the school in 1971, six years after Colonel Victor Duraisamy left the school  and by that time he was already a Lieutenant in the Indian Army.   

I remember Mrs Sheela Cherian  saying during one of her classes about the Duraisamy brothers who were all-rounders in all aspects- academic, sports, extra-curricular activities and also music.  The family was indeed gifted with music running in their blood.

After joining NDA and about seven years of army life, I heard that Victor Duraisamy  and his younger brother were also commissioned to the very same Regiment – Artillery – that I was also commissioned.  I always knew that I would meet them somewhere in my military career.

In 1989, I was attending the Long Gunnery Staff Course at School of Artillery Devlali.  After a few months we had a new neighbour moving in – it was Colonel Victor Duraisamy.  As the course was very intensive, we had only limited opportunity to interact.  He was then responsible for training the Regiment of Artillery Band. 

During the Artillery reunion, we were all invited to a symphony orchestra performance by the Regimental Band,  It was conducted by none other than Colonel Victor Duraisamy.  The poise of the movements of Victor and his baton really mesmerised me.  It would have surely given Zubin Mehta a run for his money.  At the end of the performance I complimented him for performing such complex symphonies – that too with military musicians – most hardly matriculates. 

After the symphony, we were invited to his home for dinner and that was where I met Colonel Fredric Duraisamy, his younger brother.  He was then with the Air Defence Artillery.   Both the brothers and their children kept us all entertained with their musical talent for over two hours.

In 1997 while serving with the Army Headquarters at Delhi, Colonel Victor Duraisamy was also posted at the Military Training Directorate (MT  Dte) of Army Headquarters.  He was then responsible for charting out the musical training for all the Regimental Bands of the Indian Army.  He was also responsible for the conduct of the massed band display during the Beating the Retreat Ceremony at Vijay Chowk to mark the culmination of India’s Republic Day Celebrations. 

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy. 

 

 

 

 

Annamalai – The Lord of Mountains

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Most of our classmates of the 1979 batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar would remember Mr Kannayiram Ekambaram (KE), the Tamil teacher as the ‘Goonda (goon) of Annamalai’. That was how he introduced himself when he joined our school in 1973 (we were in Grade 6 then), as a temporary teacher, soon after completing his masters degree in Tamil. He often used this tag line to wriggle out of difficult situations when he was at the losing side of any argument or confrontation with us. He then went on to complete his degree in education and rejoined as a permanent Tamil teacher.

Mr Ekambaram, five feet tall, always wore white pants and a white shirt with black goggles. He came to our class, the section with Tamil as third language, a few times as a relief when our teacher was unavailable. Hence my interaction with him was limited, and was mostly during the drama practises as I was responsible for the audio system under the guidance of Mr. PT Cherian.

In 1978, during the Inter-House English Debate competition, the stage was thrown open to the audience to speak for or against the motion. The time was to be used for compiling the results. During the previous competitions, one of the staff members spoke to cover this interlude. Mr George Joseph (GJ), our English teacher, was the Master of Ceremony. (You can read more about GJ from my earlier article by clicking here.) Immediately, two cadets from Grade 8 walked up to the podium and spoke about their points of view. They were from Mr GJ’s class and by the time the second speaker was speaking, I realised that Mr GJ had set them up well in advance and I felt ‘cheated’.

At that time, I was on cloud nine having cleared the Entrance Examination for the National Defence Academy (NDA) and was all set to proceed for the Services Selection Board (SSB) interview in two days. I was then well known in the school formy notoriety and also for the consequent punishments that came as a reward for them. I summed up all the courage and my thoughts and walked up to Mr GJ on the stage and informed him that I too wanted to speak. He agreed, but on a condition that I would not exceed three minutes.

Now the dilemma for me was that I had not read much about the subject being debated and that most points I knew had already been covered by the speakers in the debate. As I was all set to go for the SSB Interview, I spoke about the preparations we had done for the interview and what all needed to be done to facilitate cadets to clear the interview. I proposed that all cadets who qualify the NDA Entrance Examination be made House Captains and Prefects, to facilitate them develop leadership qualities. Such a step would surely boost the self confidence of these cadets and would facilitate them in clearing the SSB. (Till date I subscribe to this view).

I well exceeded the three minutes limit and Mr GJ kept ringing his bell every 15 seconds for the next minute, until I concluded. The applause I received at the end of the speech, indicated that I had struck the right note with cadets and teachers. Mr GJ then came up and complimented me for my extempore effort and also for the subject I covered. After the results were announced, all the cadets marched off to the Cadets’ Mess for dinner and I stayed back to pack up the audio system.

As I walked all alone to the Cadets’ Mess, from a distance I could recognise the silhouette of Mr. Ekambaram standing outside his residence, dressed up in his usual all white attire. As I came close to him he took me aside and spoke to me in detail about his life, from school days to the university days and also said that he was probably more notorious as a student than I was. By the time we reached the mess, he said that he saw some spark in me and that he was pretty sure that I would clear my SSB. He wished me all the best for the interview and we both left to take our seats for dinner at our tables.

As I was about to take my seat for dinner, Mr M Selvaraj, the Head of Tamil Department called me. (To read more about Mr Selvaraj please click here). He complimented me for an excellent speech and said that the points I had raised had merit and need consideration. He appreciated me for my confidence to speak on a subject which many students or even teachers would have feared to attempt. He concluded by saying that I had it in me and I had to clear the SSB and he was pretty sure that I would be successful.

At that time I felt as though the Tamil Department had had a conference after the debate as both of them spoke nearly the same words. It really boosted my self-confidence and from then on I started to believe that I would surely crack the SSB Interview. What triggered my confidence was perhaps the fact that the words of encouragement came from the most unexpected quarters, the Tamil Department. The rest is all history.

During my Army days and later, many a times I reminisced about this incident and about Mr Ekamabaram’s pep-talk and the effect it had on a naughty cadet, to turn him around. Mr Ekambaram, for me, will always remain a hero and a well-wisher who spurred me on to achievements that I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

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Srinivasan Ramanujan : Mathematical Genius

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Srinivasa Ramanujan, the Indian mathematician of the early twentieth century,  whose contributions to number theory, continued fractions, and infinite series revolutionised the field of mathematics.  Mathematician across the globe are even today trying to prove or disprove many theorems left behind by him.

While at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, we had Mr. Venkitesha Murthy (VM) teaching us mathematics in 1977 in Grade 11.  He was a great fan of Srinivasa Ramanujan and had taken up extensive study of his works and life.  The effort would have been really painstaking in those days (without internet and Google) to collect such enormous data, that too sitting in a remote village of Tamil Nadu, called Amaravathinagar.

In 1977, to mark the ninetieth birthday of Ramanujan, Mr. Murthy staged a one hour play on his life and achievements.  Veteran Commander Reginald was responsible for the light effects and I did the sound effects.  We both sat through many rehearsals and the personality of Ramanujan left a deep impression on us.  Teachers and students enacted different roles with Mr. Murthy as Ramanujan leading from the teachers’ side and Ashok Kumar (now Vice Admiral) from the students’ side.

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Group Photo of the Play on Ramanujan- Extreme Left :  Mr K Ekambaram as Ramanujan, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar as Komalambal (Mother of Ramanujan), Mr KM Koshy as Professor Hardy, Mr Venkatesha Murthy as Collector of Nellore, Mr M Selvaraj as Father of Ramajujan, Mr AKR Varma, Mr R Subramanium as Professor EH Neville (Photo Courtesy Mr Venkatesha Murthy).  You may click on the names of our teachers to read more about them.

Mr Murthy helped his students to be aware of the achievements of Ramanujan, when many in India (including my siblings) had not even heard of him.  This post is based on some of the scenes from Mr. Murthy’s play.  The announcement of the release of a movie ‘The Man who knew Infinity’ rekindled my thoughts about Ramanujan.  I hope the movie will bring in significant awareness about a mathematical genius from India.

Ramanujan was born in Erode (1887), and schooled in Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu), where his father worked as a clerk in a cloth merchant’s shop.  Until high school, Ramanujan was a ‘good’ student, interested in the curricula.  During his high school days, he began to display his immense mathematical sense; worked on his own on summing geometric and arithmetic series.  He had a great memory and could rattle out the value of the constant ‘pi’ to any number of decimal places.  Here he came across a book ‘ Synopsis of elementary results in pure mathematics’ by GS Carr.  This book is said to have moulded the mathematical thought process of Ramanujan and had a great influence on his early works.  The irony was that the book, published in 1856, was out of date by the time Ramanujan used it.

In 1904, Ramanujan joined Government College in Kumbakonam. The following year his scholarship was not renewed because Ramanujan devoted most of his time to mathematics and neglected all other subjects.  In 1906 Ramanujan joined Pachaiyappa’s College at Chennai (then Madras). His aim was to pass the First Arts examination, ended up passing only in mathematics and failing is all others.  In the following years he worked on mathematics, developing his own ideas without any help .  The only guidance he had was Carr’s book, which had theorems, but hardly any proofs.  Ramanujan is said to have developed his theorems using a slate as he could not afford paper.  This aspect along with the proof-less theorems in Carr’s book might have influenced Ramanujan in that he noted mostly the results and hardly any proofs.  He married on 14 July 1909 to a ten year old S Janaki Ammal.  

Ramanujan continued to develop his mathematical ideas and began to pose problems and solve problems in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society.  He became well known among the mathematicians of Madras area after he published a research paper on Bernoulli numbers in 1911 in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society.

In 1911 Ramanujan approached the founder of the Indian Mathematical Society for advice on a job. He got a temporary post in the Accountant General’s Office in Madras and in 1912.   Ramanujan later became a clerk in the accounts section of the Madras Port Trust.  

In January 1913 Ramanujan wrote to Professor GH Hardy of Cambridge, having read his book ‘Orders of infinity.’  He had enclosed some unproved mathematical theorems and some proofs.  Hardy, together with his colleague, Professor JE Littlewood, studied the theorems.  It seems that Hardy initially thought him to be a crank or a prankster as most of the 120 theorems had no proofs.  Hardy replied to Ramanujan that he wanted proof for the theorems.    

Ramanujan was delighted with Hardy’s reply and then he wrote to him “I have found a friend in you who views my labours sympathetically. … I am already a half starving man. To preserve my brains I want food and this is my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship either from the university or from the government.”

Madras University awarded Ramanujan a scholarship in 1913 for two years and, in 1914, Hardy brought Ramanujan to Cambridge, to begin an extraordinary collaboration – between a believer and an atheist – an educated and an uneducated genius.  Ramanujan, being an orthodox Brahmin and a strict vegetarian, did not want to cross the seven seas (a taboo in Hindu culture).  He was convinced by Professor EH Neville, Hardy’s colleague, who met with Ramanujan while lecturing in India.

Hardy entrusted Littlewood with the task of teaching Ramanujan ‘formal’ pure mathematics.  Littlewood failed miserably as the classes would end up with volley of questions from Ramanujan.  World War I took Littlewood away on war duty but Hardy remained in Cambridge to work with Ramanujan.  He remained sick, mainly due to the cold winter – a difficult proposition for anyone from Chennai even today.  He had problems with his diet as the outbreak of the war resulted in a scarcity of vegetables which worsened his health.

Ramanujan credited his mathematical gift to Goddess Mahalakshmi-Namgiri who he said appeared to him in his dreams.  He claimed that he had unusual experiences and dreams while asleep and Goddess Mahalakshmi would appear to him and show him the answers to the puzzles in his mind. As soon as he woke up, he would write them down.

On 16 March 1916 Ramanujan graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Science by Research (the degree was called a Ph D from 1920).  Ramanujan’s dissertation was on Highly composite numbers and consisted of seven of his papers published in England.

Ramanujan fell seriously ill in 1917 and his doctors feared that he would die. Hardy went to see him when he was ill.  On reaching Ramanujan’s bed, Hardy said that he rode a taxi cab with a dull number 1729 .  Ramanujan said that it is a very interesting number as it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways 1729 = 13 + 123 = 93 + 103Click here to read my earlier post ‘Arithmetic of Licence Plates’, inspired by this anecdote.

On 18 February 1918 Ramanujan was elected a fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society and then three days later, the greatest honour that he would receive, his name appeared on the list for election as a fellow of the Royal Society of London and on 10 October 1918 he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge.

Ramanujan returned to India in 1919 and died the following year.  His birthday, 22 December, is celebrated as the National Mathematics Day in India.

‘The Man who knew Infinity’  – the movie is being released world-wide on 29 April 2016.  Waiting to see what the movie offers beyond the Mr. Murthy’s play of 1977.  Review of the movie follows (after I watch it).

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Here is a photograph (1968)  of Sir Dr CV Raman with  Mr. Venkitesha Murthy and Cadets of  Sainik School, Amaravathinagar.  Photo Courtesy Vetran N Vijayasarathy

 

A Memorable Reunion

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Our Son Nikhil during his valedictory address to his classmates on graduating from Grade 12 in October 2015, concluded by saying “Hey! There is an individual who came up with a brilliant idea. Have you heard of him? I am going to reply with pride in my voice – and say – I know him; I went to High School with him“.

When I heard his speech, I never, ever visualised that the import of those words would come true in my life, and that too, within a short span of three months. Our classmates from the 1979 batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, were invited by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, Commandant National Defence Academy (NDA) for a get-together at the NDA on 22 and 23 December 2015. That was when the meaning of our son’s words gleamed into my head and with pride I felt “I went to Sainik School with Ashok”.

It was not an occasion to be missed and so I booked my ticket for travel from Toronto, Canada to Pune, India. Apart from meeting many of my classmates, it was also a once in a lifetime event for anyone who graduated from NDA to be invited by the Commandant to be his personal guest at the NDA for two days.

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The two places I looked forward to entering were the Commandant’s Office and his residence. Both the places, I never had an opportunity to venture into, either as a Cadet at the NDA or as a Major in the Indian Army attending a yearlong course at the Institute of Armament Technology across the NDA Lake.

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On the evening of 21 December, about 25 of our classmates assembled at the Aquarius Resort, near NDA. Hats off to Veteran Group Captain R Chandramouli who made it for the event, ignoring his poor health. Some of us were meeting for the first time since leaving the school in 1979. For all of us, nothing much changed other than the age, marriage and children. It appeared that we were all back at the school in 1979. Everyone appeared to make the most of the time in celebrating the togetherness. Children, most of whom had known each other in their previous meetings, welcomed the new entrants into their fold and appeared to be busier than their fathers in exchanging notes.

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The event commenced on 22 December, the day of the Winter Solstice,  by paying homage to the martyred officers, who had passed out of NDA at the Hut of Remembrance. The solemn ceremony was an acknowledgement for the courage, valour and sacrifice of those who served the country. It kindled a thought in everyone’s mind on the sacrifices of these officers for the peace and welfare of the country. The ceremony had a patriotic impact on everyone, especially the children.

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Then was the sumptuous breakfast at the Cadets’ Mess. Obviously, nothing had changed from our Cadet days in 1979. It appeared that the clock had frozen in the Cadet’s Mess. Those were the days when over 2000 cadets finished their breakfast consisting of cereal, two eggs, over a dozen toasts and coffee – all under 20 minutes flat. Possibly they still did so.

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After breakfast, we moved to the Ashoka Pillar, at the main intersection opposite the Sudan Block. It was photography time for all and obviously the traffic was held-up. Luckily for us, the cadets were on vacation and we being the Commandant’s personal guests, took priority over everything at the NDA – a right normally enjoyed only by the cadets.

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After that was the visit to the Salaria Square, known for its well kept lawns, gardens with exotic plants and flowers throughout the year, fountains and war trophies in terms of captured tanks. The square is named after Captain GS Salaria, the first alumnus of NDA to be decorated with Param Vir Chakra – nation’s highest gallantry award.

Then we moved on to the Sudan Block, with its massive pink dome, the most remarkable and dominating piece of architecture in the 8000 acre campus of the NDA. Money for the building had come from a corpus donated by Sudan in recognition of the sacrifices of Indian troops in the defence of Sudan during World War II. It houses the administrative offices, non-science academic departments, the Commandant’s Office and the Deputy Commandant’s Office.

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We entered the Sudan Block and headed straight to the Commandant’s Office. This was the first time in my life I entered the Commandant’s office, all courtesy Ashok. One of the ladies in the crowd wanted to know whether I had ever been to the Commandant’s Office and my reply was “I did my training at the NDA in three years“. All the defence officers laughed out loud and the civilian friends and ladies wanted an explanation. Veteran Colonel AC Cherian came to my rescue and explained that the only time a Cadet entered the Commandant’s Office was when he had to be relegated to the next course on academic, physical fitness or disciplinary grounds and such cadets ended up completing their training in over three years. Ashok was prompt to point out that I must have narrowly missed the ‘honour’ as I had over 100 restrictions (punishments) to my credit.

After a cup of tea with the Commandant and his wife Geetha, we drove off to visit the equestrian lines, the Air Force Training Team and the Naval Training Team. Then was the visit to E Squadron to see the cadets’ accommodation. E Squadron was chosen as Cherian, Veteran Commander Reginald and self had graduated from this Squadron. Here again, everything appeared to be same from the time we had left. The only notable change was the grill atop the doors of each cabin. The vertical mesh had been replaced by a diagonal one and I am sure with it the ‘Seventh Heaven‘ would have disappeared too (the ex-NDAs would understand).

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We were then treated to a splendid lunch at the Cadets’ Mess, with Ashok and Geetha in attendance. In the afternoon was the visit to the Habibullah Hall (named in honor of the first Commandant of NDA) for the screening Discovery Channel Documentary ‘Revealed: National Defence Academy’. The documentary charts out the history of military leadership; and explores the journey of young cadets through the tough three-year NDA course. The documentary was to be followed by a Hollywood movie and that was when Reginald came out with the idea of a drive to the Sinhgarh Fort. Obviously, old habits die hard, that too while back at the NDA.

Sinhgarh Fort, a site of many historic battles, the most famous one being the capture by Tanaji, Shivaji’s General, in March 1670. The Fort, located about 15 km from NDA, overlooks the NDA campus and the surrounding areas. Reginald, his wife Emy and I drove off to Singarh Fort to return by evening to join the crowd for the dinner at the Commandant’s residence.

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The NDA Commandant’s residence is named ‘Kondana‘. The name is derived from the earlier name of Sinhgarh Fort. It was called ‘Kondana’ after the sage Kaundinya. Geetha and Ashok were waiting at the gate to receive all of us and obviously, it was the first time ever I entered the sprawling compound. A red carpet reception was awaiting all of us with the NDA band in attendance. Geetha took the ladies and children on a conducted tour of the residence and the surrounding garden and Ashok took the gentlemen around. After an hour into the cocktails, Ashok ‘secured’ (Naval terminology for dismissing) the band. Now Ashok took on the mic and sang songs which each one of us either sang or liked while at school, bringing in a lot of nostalgia.

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On the morning of 23 December, we were dropped at the main entrance to the NDA by bus to walk three km along the picturesque periphery road. The road snakes its way through the main training area and the firing ranges to the Army Training Team’s Grand Stand. We were received by Ashok at the stand and hot breakfast awaited us there. Ashok took this time to bring out as to how Sainik School Amaravathinagar changed his life, from being a rustic nine year old in 1971 to a teenager in 1978, who was selected to join the NDA. He paid tributes to the school, the teaching staff and all the employees of the great school who had a role in morphing each one of us into worthy citizens of the country.

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After breakfast, we returned to the resort to pack our stuff and checkout. Then we moved to the Peacock Bay of NDA. Peacock Bay derives its name from the abundance of peacocks found in the area. The bay is also home to other fauna such as the deer, lion-tailed monkeys and civets. The facilities at the picturesque bay is used to train the cadets in seamanship and sailing. Everyone enjoyed a boat ride in the lake and was followed by a gorgeous lunch. After lunch everyone dispersed, some on a trip to the temple town of Shirdi and some like me, to their homes in time to celebrate Christmas.

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The red carpet treatment we received at the NDA, various events we were part of, and the many places we could access at the NDA where all possible only because of Ashok. Someone in the crowd aptly summed up by saying “We all felt like Vice Admirals at the NDA during the two days.”

I take this opportunity to extend our whole hearted appreciation on behalf of all Amaravian 79ers to Ashok and Geetha for their efforts in making the event a grand success. Alex Manappurathu, V Vijayabhaskar, V Mohana Kumar and Veteran Commander VS Ranganathan need a special mention for their efforts in organising such a memorable get-together. Thanks to G Natarajan for the special T-Shirts he designed and procured to commemorate the event.

A special ‘Thank You’ from all Amaravian 79ers for the efforts of two Amaravians posted at NDA – Flight Lieutenant Sathish Kumar (2006 Batch) and Wing Commander S Jayashankar (1982 Batch) – for their herculean efforts in making the reunion a grand success. They coordinated each and everything regarding reception, transport, meals, menus, accommodation, schedules, etc.

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With pride in my voice, I would forever say “I went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar with Ashok”.

Exceptions Always Prove the Rule


(Group  Captain (Retired) TB Srivastava with our classmates and their wives – 02 March 2019)
The phrase is derived from a legal principle of republican Rome: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (“the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted”), a concept first proposed by Cicero. This means a stated exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception.

Commenting on my previous blog “Education and Punishment”, many of our school mates referred to Wing Commander TB Srivastava, our Principal and Mr C Madhavan Nair (CMN), our Physical Education Instructor. They both are the exceptions to the blog.

Mr CMN was a retired Havildar (Sergeant) Major from the Indian Army, who joined the school from its inception. The day started with his Physical Training (PT) class early in the morning and in the evening it was the games. Most students remember him for his love for his students and always addressed them as “Mone (മോനേ)” in Malayalam meaning “My Son”. It caught on especially as majority of the students hailed from Tamil Nadu and thus spoke Tamil and not Malayalam.

The organisational capabilities and leadership skills of Mr CMN were on display when he conducted the “Massed PT” for the School Day, involving all students from grade 6 to 12. He trained everyone, coordinated all their movements from entry till exit and the choreography will surely put Chinni Prakash (movie choreographer) to shame. All these he achieved by motivating each student to put in his best and by blowing a few notes using his whistle. One has neither seen him losing his cool nor using any ‘difficult’ language to the students.

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(Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Groundsmen – from the left – Maria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one)

As a Captain, I was entrusted with the task of marking the ground for an athletic meet. The effort I had to put in to mark the 400M track, especially the curves, that too with about 200 trained soldiers under command, reminded me of Mr CMN. With half a dozen illiterate groundsmen, he would execute the same task in six hours and I took two full days with 200 soldiers.

Mr CMN trained the students in swimming, diving and life saving (his core area while serving in the army) and also all the games – football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and boxing. His knowledge of each of these games was immense and would always refer all the in-school competition matches. His skill in refereeing to ensure fair play and sportsmanship was exceptional.

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(Mr C Madhavan Nair with his family)

His treatment to all his students as his ‘Sons’ must have been because he was a great father. His two daughters and son studied in the same school (senior to us) and that also would have added to his attachment to the school and the students, despite the low salary he earned.

Wing Commander TB Srivastava was our Principal from 1972 to 1975. Another great teacher who brought in many changes to the school’s day-yo-day functioning and a great motivator. He was a cause for many of our school mates to join the Indian Air Force. The fruit of his effort was that our school won the Defence Minister’s trophy for sending the maximum number of cadets to the National Defence Academy (NDA) from all Sainik Schools.

The Principal would be seen participating in all activities the students indulged in – from morning PT to the evening dinner. He was a great orator, real good horseman, played all games pretty well and spoke with love and poise with the students. Unluckily we never had any other officer from the armed forces who came anywhere near Wing Commander TB Srivastava (many were real pathetic expressions of humanity) and that is why many of us do not even recall their names.

Hence the rule stands proved.

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Writing Skills

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For the Canadian youth, armed with Cell phones, Blackberries and Ipods, texting has become the order of the day. The language skills have been relegated and new acronyms, shortcuts and smilies have taken over. Children are also not learning and enjoying social niceties like please, thank you, or it is a pleasure meeting you. They enjoy the anonymity of communicating through technology and tend to say things in text that they would never say face to face.

This phenomenon is not unique to our children. The parents are almost as guilty. They communicate with their children through text messaging. Parents mistakenly think that they are in better contact with their children when the children respond to their messages.

The use of shortcuts while texting hinders a child’s ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar. Free flow while writing is hampered, adversely affecting a child’s ability to write a paper, prepare a presentation or write an examination, resulting in poor grades.

The children are not confident enough to speak face-to-face, especially with adults. In many Indo-Canadian homes, I have observed that the children shy away and retreat to their rooms at home when someone comes calling on. The parents need to educate the children the need to come down and meet the guests and exchange a few pleasantries and then retreat to their rooms in case they have any work.

Hence there is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board – that is to write. May be letters to grand-parents and relatives back home or their friends. Another methodology to improve the writing skills is to encourage the child to maintain a journal. In the journal, they can write about anything and everything, like any incidence at school, about a TV programme they watched and so on. Encouraging the child to maintain a diary will surely improve writing skills.

When we joined Sainik School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) at the age of nine (Grade 5) in 1971, the only medium of communication with the parents was the most trusted Post-Card. So we started writing letters at that young age. It was a great fete I thought for a nine year old to write a short letter to his parents and siblings, describing as to how good he felt for being enrolled in a premier school and how good the food was. This was my first attempt at creative writing, not being guided as to what to write, not being corrected and marked by teachers. At the end of each letter writing session, I thought I did accomplish something. The language was Malayalam to start with, but gradually converted to English as I became better at it and could express ideas and thoughts properly. To begin with, the lines I scribbled on the postcard would go up and come down; how good I tried I could never make the letters follow a straight line.

Once we left home and returned to the school after the vacations, we used to write our status reports of our safe arrivals and post it on Monday and would reach home may be following Monday. That was the only time our parents would know that we reached the school safe. They had the trust and confidence in us that we would reach safely, despite change of three trains and bussing to Amaravathinagar. Compare it with today’s children in Canada– not of Grade 5, but even university students – the number of times the cell-phones would have gone-off, even for a trip of an hour. Has the technology made us to lose confidence in our children?  Is it that our parents, with the technology available then, could have only prayed to their Gods and may be that gave then the power not to panic or get pressurised?

Still remember the days I spent at a remote post in Kashmir, cut-off from rest of the world and the only link to civilization was radio and the letters. We used to get a lot of those “Forces Letter” which did not need any postage and that’s when I wrote letters to anyone and everyone, whose postal address I had. Some addresses were wrong and was dutifully returned by the Postal Department.

From our base, one could see the road winding down from the pass and the convoy used to take about two hours to reach the base camp. The convoy was always lead by the mail vehicle, could be that the driver was very experienced with the curves and dangers of the route, or could be that everyone wanted the mail to be the first to reach the base camp. Memories linger of our Soldiers and Officers literally “tracking” the convoy with an expectant gaze, until the convoy reached the base camp. Our Dispatch Rider who used to collect the Dispatches (letters), would be waiting outside the Field Post Office (FPO). Once the Dispatch Rider returned to the post and distributed the letters, the expressions of those who did and did not receive any “Dispatches” can well be guessed. The next half hour was an undeclared “Private” time for everyone. Mood of each Soldier who received their “Dispatches” would depend on the content of each “Dispatch”. This mood continued to be hidden under their smiles sometimes until he received his next “Dispatch”; sometimes until he went home on leave, sometimes for months to come. During the snow covered winter months (we used to get 10 to 15 feet of standing snow and the roads were closed), the truck was replaced by a helicopter which used to come once or twice a week carrying the same “Dispatches”. Rest of the story remained the same but for the difference that the “tracking” period reduced drastically to less than five minutes.

The art of letter writing may be dead and buried and with it the writing skills of our young generation. Many cannot sit and write a page, with logical thoughts and cannot describe on paper a situation, an event or an experience. Leave alone spelling and grammatical mistakes, even the main idea does not reach the target person. With this reluctance to write, many do not maintain any journals or diaries. Letters, journals and diaries are one of best and cost effective method to develop creative writing skills and you will feel the same sense of achievement what I felt when I wrote those letters at the age of nine.