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 the Burma Front.  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.

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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 Amaravathinagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive the 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 pored 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 speciality for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

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

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

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

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy. 

 

 

 

 

Annamalai – The Lord of Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Srinivasan Ramanujan : Mathematical Genius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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