Reading Music


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

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

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

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

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

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

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

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

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

Why should you learn to read music?

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

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

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

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

Further thoughts from an Englishman at Sainik School

Once again my thanks to Reji for allowing me to use his blog as a vehicle for my reminiscences.

I was very touched to receive so many emails in response to my original piece and I hope that I have replied to all of them. The Amaravian community spreads far and wide and I had responses from the US, Singapore and various parts of the UK as well as, of course from, India.

Here are some further thoughts on looking at the photos again.

Here you see the famous bike that I learned to ride. I think that I look pretty good in that lunghi. I am sure I still have it folded up in a box in the loft along with a blue and white “hippy style” shoulder bag that I used on my travels. The chappals I think I bought from a street vendor somewhere. The soles were made from bits cut from old car tyres. One of my correspondents mentioned my banian (now that’s a word I had forgotten). To read more about the Banian and what it is called in North America, Please Click here (Reji)

The car parked outside the academic building was Maj Menon’s. An internet search tells me it was a Fiat 1100 Delight. Maj Bhoopal had one too but Col Thamburaj, as befitted his higher rank, had an Ambassador. A teacher called Soundarajan (?) had a motorbike but all the other staff had pedal bikes. Strange to think that all those teachers who were highly educated and had secure reasonably well paid jobs owned very little – perhaps just a bike and a radio.

If you want a laugh on the theme of Ambassador cars check out a great video clip by googling “the sculptor peugeot 206”.

The neighbours. Mr Mathai was on a visit home. He worked abroad, somewhere in the Gulf States I think, so Mrs Mathai was able to afford a few luxuries like a fridge. When it was time for me to get going in the afternoon Robin and Reena would come out into the front yard and shout at my window “Wake up Stephen Uncle. Wake up”.

The green kurta story. Here I am eating traditional style, although it doesn’t look like the mountain of rice is on a plantain leaf, at a festival – perhaps Pongal. A few days later I heard that A S Ram was quite put out that I had worn a kurta in Islam’s colour at a Hindu festival. I had no idea that was what I had done. I just liked the colour.

I am ashamed to say that I knew very little about the history of India and particularly the independence struggle and the horrors of Partition before coming to the school. Most of what I came to find out was from reading a sequence of novels by Paul Scott. The British Council Library in Madras sent out boxes of books. You had to choose from a printed list which just gave the titles and I was struck by “The Jewel in the Crown” and chose it. Luckily this was the first in the sequence and I then read all the others in what became known as “The Raj Quartet”. I also read “Train to Pakistan” by Kushwant Singh and I can see that book now on my bookshelves as I am typing this as well as “Kushwant Singh’s India”.

A S Ram was from north India so he had particularly strong feelings.

The white dhoti story. When I appeared in this outfit for another festival Mrs Mathai said “Look at Steve. Pukka”. I only needed a little “Nehru cap” and I could have been a real Congress wallah. Going round the picture from bottom left I think the first two guys worked in the office, then comes Nair one of the ex-army PT instructors, then Krishna Kutty I think, then on the front row Pakianathan, then Ram, the next face is familiar (Mr KM Koshy) but I can’t put a name to it, then Warrier, then me.

The march past. Many of the readers of this piece will be ex-military men so I hope you won’t feel offended when I say that I didn’t really agree with encouraging boys to concentrate on a career in the armed forces from such an early age and to this day I don’t really agree with boarding schools as I think that young children should be at home with their parents. Then again, I recognise that the school was a great springboard for many boys to have a fulfilling well paid career and all of those who got in touch with me obviously hold the school in high regard and have happy memories of their time there.

Best wishes to you all,

Steve Rosson

steverosson@aol.com

An Englishman at Sainik School 1969-70

by Steve Rosson 
My thanks to Reji for allowing me to post these memories on his blog.

As I neared the end of my university course in 1969 I was accepted by Voluntary Service Overseas to work for a year or so in the developing world.

It was in August of that year, a few days short of my 22nd birthday, that I arrived at Sainik School to teach English.

I had flown from London Heathrow (my first time on a plane) to Bombay (as was) and then on to Madras (as was). After a few days of orientation I took the overnight train to Coimbatore to be met by Major Bhoopal (the Registrar), Paul (the volunteer I was replacing) and Driver Menon (with his splendid moustache). We piled into the school jeep and, after Bhoopal had done a few bits and bobs of shopping, we set off on the seemingly endless journey to the school. Route planning software tells me that the drive should take two hours today so maybe the roads were worse then or maybe I was just very tired.

As we approached the school Bhoopal suggested that Paul should take me to meet some of the other teachers at “the cafeteria”. I had visions of a sleek, modern establishment with chrome fittings and bright neon lighting so imagine my surprise when I entered a windowless room with rudimentary lighting, a cement floor and mismatched chairs and tables. I got even more of a surprise when I was introduced to Swami, the proprietor, in his dhoti, beads and full Brahmin tilaka. I grew to really like this place, however, and I was to spend many hours there chatting with friends on the staff, drinking coffee, eating masala dosai and being served by Swami and his waiter Rajamini.

My home for the next fifteen months was to be a small three roomed house in a row of four. The windows were barred and shuttered (no glass) and the door was secured by a huge padlock. In truth I only really used the bedroom and the toilet at the back. The bedroom was furnished with what I presume was an army issue bed and wardrobe made of olive green steel and a desk and chair. I had no need of a kitchen as I took all my meals in the mess except when I was invited to the houses of other staff members. The school had very thoughtfully installed a western style toilet for me. Flushing this involved filling a bucket of water from my storage drum in the room next to the toilet. The dam supplied water twice a day for an hour so water had to be stored. My one luxury was an immersion heater about a foot long that I clipped onto a bucket full of water and then plugged in. After about half an hour the water was warm enough for me to “take bath” as I learnt to say.

I said that was my home. Really it was just my house. The school was my home.

The first thing I had to do was to learn to ride a bike in order to get around the campus. The boys found it absolutely hilarious that someone of my age had never learnt to ride a bike and watching me wobble around the place for the next couple of weeks brought them more hilarity. A couple of the senior students were deputed to teach me and eventually I got the hang of it.

I soon got used to the routine. I was woken early by a mess waiter who brought me a mug of “bed tea” from the vast urns that were being taken to the boys’ dormitories. Then it was off to the mess for breakfast. The mess was a large hall a bit like an aircraft hangar with long tables and benches. As I was attached to Pandya House I sat at the top of their table with the House Captain and his deputy. Most of the other teachers ate at home.

I soon got used to Indian food although I do remember the first time I was given idli sambar for breakfast I just could not manage the spicy sambar and asked for an omelette instead. The omelette arrived a few minutes later ….. with green chillies in it!

Then it was off to the academic block to teach. The classrooms were arranged around four sides of a sort of courtyard of rough ground where the daily assembly was held complete with a rousing rendition of the national anthem. I still have the words and music of “Jana, Gana, Mana” rattling around in my head even after fifty years.

I can not imagine I was much good as a teacher. I had no training and my degree was in English Literature and here I was trying to teach youngsters who were all working in their second language even though it was an English medium school. I think we progressed pretty much page by page through the textbook and all the lessons were fairly formal but that was probably how the school liked it. Discipline was never an issue as the boys were all incredibly well behaved but I was horrified to see on a number of occasions boys being made to crawl across the stony courtyard on their elbows and knees as a punishment for some misdemeanour. Remember that the daily uniform was short sleeved shirts and short trousers.

Lunch in the mess was followed by an afternoon nap and then games at the extensive sports fields. Football, volleyball and basketball predominated but I was truly astonished one day when I saw with what ease and alacrity the senior boys tackled the assault course. I can not remember ever seeing the swimming pool with water in it.

Then it was back home to “take bath” and then the evening meal in the mess unless I had been invited out. After that home to mark books, read or listen to my small radio which could pick up, usually with much interference, Radio Ceylon which played British pop music and the BBC World Service for news. I sometimes wandered over to the Pandya House dormitory to chat to the boys but not as often as I wish I had done.

I did get regular invitations to dinner from other staff members and sometimes I was rather uncomfortable when the man and I were served by his wife who then went back to the kitchen to eat her meal. I never knew whether this was shyness or the fact that she had no English or it was just tradition. This was not the case, though, when dinner was with Colonel Thamburaj, the Principal, and his wife or with Major Menon, the Headmaster, and his wife. With them, too, you could usually rely on a good supply of alcohol.
PTC
(Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai. Late Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Mr Steve in the middle. The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.)

I was most comfortable when socialising with the other residents of my row of houses. At one end there was Sheila Murphy, then me, then Mrs Mathai and her two children and then Cherian. We were sometimes joined by Ranganathan the mess manager. A few years ago I was pleased to hear that Sheila and Cherian had married.


There were plenty of other social functions organised like the House Days and at Diwali and Pongal. I always loved the huge buffets that were laid on and one of my favourite foods was the large potato cakes. I never could get on, though, with the custom that nobody could leave before the chief guest. I was often ready for my bed hours before that.

Some other random memories include watching a flock of about 100 sheep go past my house being driven by a little boy with no clothes on, sitting on my verandah and watching A K R Varma with his Groucho Marx moustache riding past on his bike ringing his bell furiously and waving to me, eating my first ever mango at Venki’s house and then my first ever papaya at Mrs Mathai’s, the dhobi wallah squatting on my bedroom floor and listing the clothes he was taking away to wash “one kurta, one jibba, one pant, one half-pant”, the frogs croaking after the monsoon, Balan the tailor making trousers for me that fitted perfectly without him even measuring me, a hike in the Animalai Hills with the mess waiters carrying all the gear so that we could have a brew-up en route, a school trip to Mysore and Bangalore, Sports Day with its “Olympic style” march past complete with flags and the band in their red tunics, the view of Idli Malai across the sports fields, learning to eat rice with my hand whilst sitting on the floor. All happy memories.

Of course, I wasn’t always happy. Sometimes I felt lonely and sometimes I felt homesick but I look back at my time at the school with great fondness and I have always been grateful for the immense kindness that was shown to me, a young man a long way from home, by all the staff and students.

If anyone would like to contact me please email steverosson@aol.com.

 

Mr Damodaran’s Treatment


(Lieutenant AK Parrat and Commander NK Parrat)

After reading my blogpost on Mr KP Damodaran, our Compounder at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Veteran Commander NK Parrat, reminisced about the medical treatment of Cadets by Mr KP Damodaran.

Commander Parrat was in 11th Grade, senior most in school, when we joined in 5th Grade in 1971.  He then Joined the National Defence Academy (48 Course) and was commissioned into the Indian Navy (IN.)  His claim to fame, both at the School and at the Academy,  was his swimming and basketball skills.  He later became a Clearance Diver in the Navy.  He came out with flying colours and was cleared for 100 meter deepsea diving in a Diving and Salvage Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), Panama City, Florida, USA.

Commander NK Parrat’s father, Late Lieutenant AK Parrat served the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and was transferred to IN on India’s independence.  Lieutenant AK Parrat specialised in air-radio and was posted at INS Hansa, which was then located at Coimbatore.  Thus Commander NK Parrat joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar.

With the liberation of Goa in December 1961 from the Portuguese, INS Hansa moved to Dabolim, Goa and Lieutenant AK Parrat was posted to Kochi, Kerala.  He now offered his son Commander NK Parrat, then in grade 6,  that he could move to Sainik School, Kazhakkoottam, Kerala.  Commander NK Parrat refused on the plea “I do not want to be new boy again!


AK Parrat knew Mr Damodaran from their RIN days and instantly a special relationship was established.  Mr Damodaran was well known as he had actively participated in the Bombay Mutiny, a revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946.

Lieutenant Percy S Gourgey, RIN, in his book, ‘The Indian Naval Report of 1946,′ has chronicled the events of the revolt.  The sailors were infuriated by the statements of Commander F M King, RIN, of HMIS Talwar, when he addressed the Indian sailors as ‘sons of coolies and bitches.’  Later, around 20,000 sailors stationed at Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands joined the revolt.

The revolt began with a demand for better food and working conditions, but turned into demand for independence from British rule.  They also demanded the release of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language, revision of pay and allowances to be at par with  the sailors in the Royal Navy, etc.

That was a bit on the history of the Bombay Mutiny.

How did Mr Damodaran earn a place in the heart of all the cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar?

It was all due to his dedication and love for the cadets.  He had many a magic potions which could cure all diseases and injuries the cadets suffered.

On returning from the sports field after a hard day’s play and leaving behind the epidermal layer on the ground, all Cadets straight went to the MI Room for an appointment with Mr Damodaran.


He cleaned the wound with savlon solution, applied a gauze over the wound and painted it with a layer of ‘Tincture Benzoin.’ It burned as the tincture was applied, but was a sure cure for all superficial skin wounds. After the superficial wound was cleaned with savlon, a gauze was placed on the wound and Tincture Benzoin was painted over it.  It burned as it was applied, but the adhesive nature of the medication ensured that it stuck to the wound and did not need bandaging.  On healing, the gauze fell off by itself.


Many cadets suffered from fungal infections of the skin, ringworm, athlete’s foot, scabies, etc – all because we played in the dirt, many a times bare-footed.  Gentian Violet, an antiseptic dye was used to treat these cases.  The cadet who suffered from the infection stood out as the dye remained on the skin for over a week.  It was a sure way to mark out those ‘Unhygienic Cadets.’

There were two magic potions compounded by Mr Damodaran – Soda-Sal (Sodium Salicylate) and Sodium-bicarbonate.  Soda-Sal is a  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent for relieving pain and reducing fever. Sodium-bicarbonate was the antacid.  Mr Damodaran had them in two labeled bell-shaped jars and was dispensed lavishly to cadets for any ailments.


We had the awful smelling IG Paint (Ichthammol Glycerin), also called black ointment or black drawing salve, a remedy for many skin disorders and inflammation. It is made from sulfonated shale oil and combined with other ingredients, like lanolin or petroleum.  For any sprains, this ‘stinking’ paint was lavishly applied.

The most uncomfortable potion was the Mandl’s Paint, used as throat paint for the treatment of pharyngitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and sore throat. Due to high viscous nature, it retains the drug for longer time on affected part of the throat.  The agony was that he inserted into the mouth a cotton swab attached to a foot-long stick to paint the patient’s throat.  It left a severe after-taste, but it cured all those medical conditions in a few days – without any antibiotics.

Most of the medicines listed above have been discontinued today due to their harmful side-effects.  It was with Mr Damodaran’s loving care that we cadets of the days trained and graduated from the school without any serious medical conditions.

To read more about our Compounder and his magic APC, Please Click Here.

A Stitching Lesson


At Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, we had an MI Room (Medical Inspection Room) – the refuge for the tired souls – both physical and mental.  The boss out there was Mr KP Damodaran who  can well be described as a Nursing Assistant by profession, whom everyone called a Compounder, but always acted as a Doctor.

Forever for any medical condition, worth it or not, he prescribed a combination of APC with sodium-bicarbonate, a pink coloured magic potion, an awful tasting mixture, compounded by our Compounder Mr Damodaran, a Veteran from the Royal Indian Navy who saw action during World War II.

I was admitted for mumps in the isolation ward for 21 days while in grade 7. During one of his daily rounds, Mr Damodaran saw me reading the history book. As he turned the pages, it was about the Viceroys and Governor Generals of British India – Lord Wavell and Mountbatten. Mr Damodaran said “I’ve met both Lord Wavell and Lord Mountbatten during World War II.  Lord Wavell’s sketch in this book least resembles his personality.” 

What was the magic tablet APC? It was a combination tablet containing aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. In those days (early 70’s), it was perceived to be a magic drug – a solution for most diseases and medical conditions. It disappeared in 1983 because of harmful side effects of phenacetin.

Sodium-bicarbonate is a mixture of  Sodium-bicarbonate with sugar and salt.  It was used as an antacid to treat heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach as Sodium-bicarbonate is a very quick-acting antacid.

When we were in grade 11 in 1978, we were the senior-most in school. During a movie show on a Saturday night, a bench we were seated broke and a piece cut through the thigh of Palanivel, our classmate. Everyone else were engrossed in watching the movie, but I saw Palani bleeding and writhing in pain. I helped him walk to the MI Room and there was Mr Damodaran.

Palani was immediately administered a dose of Tetanus Toxoid (TT) and the next step was to suture his six inch long gash. Mr Damodaran switched on the steriliser and after five minutes asked me “put on the gloves and take out the suturing thread and a needle with a tong.” I did as ordered.

Then came a surprise ordeal for me.  Mr Damodaran had a failing eyesight and he asked me “Please thread the needle.”  Unfortunately for us, Mr Damodaran’s spectacles broke a few days before and to get a new one he had to travel to Udumalpet, the closest town, about 24 km away.  That could be feasible only the next day being a Sunday.

His next command was a bigger surprise – “now start stitching.”  He instructed each step and I put six sutures through Palani’s skin.  Palani must still be carrying the scar on his thigh today.

How could I execute such a mission?

When we were in Grade 2 & 3, we had stitching classes by Annamma Teacher, who also taught us Malayalam.  On a piece of cloth we began with hemming, then running stitch, cross stitch and then stitch English Alphabets, a flower and a leaf.  It came in handy that day.


Annamma Teacher remains etched in my memory as she was very compassionate to the young kids and was an epitome of dedication.  She was always dressed in her spotlessly white ‘Chatta, Mundu and Kavani,‘ the traditional Syrian Christian women’s attire.  Chatta is more like a jacket, while the mundu (dhoti), unlike the one worn by a man, is elegance personified, especially at the back, where it is neatly pleated and folded into a fan-like ‘njori‘.  Both Chatta and Mundu are pure cotton, Kavani, generally off-white with hand sewn embroidery is made of a thinner material and is draped across the body.


During our younger days, Chatta, Mundu and Kavani was the most common wear for the ladies, especially while attending the Sunday Mass and also during social and religious occasions. Chatta consists of two pieces of cloth cut into T shape and hand stitched prior to the arrival of sewing machines.  My grandmother said that they used to cut the cloth into two Ts with a kitchen knife as the scissors were not in vogue then and hand sew them.


Muslim women of Kerala in those days wore a white Mundu called ‘Kachimundu’ with blue and purple borders. The Muslim women’s Mundu do not have the fan-like Njori at the back. The head covering ‘Thattam‘ is better known as ‘Patturumala.’ The torso is covered by a long blouse with full sleeves. This type of dress is known as Kachi and Thattam.


Difficulty in maintaining the white outfit spotlessly white and availability of cheaper, easy to wear and maintain sarees resulted in the saree becoming the common wear for the Syrian Christian ladies.  Modern day wedding planners have revived the Chatta, Mundu and Kavani by showcasing it by asking a few relatives of their client to dress up so.


Annamma Teacher’s son, Veteran Colonel OM Kuriakose and her grandson Lieutenant Colonel Anish Kuriakose – both father and son are from The Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army.

 

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. Some Cadets even claimed that it was made with donkey’s milk.

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.