Guru Dakshina

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On 16 Apr 1989, the day I married Marina, still lingers in my mind, as would be for any of us on this auspicious day.  I decided to invite all those teachers who taught me Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) for the wedding.  I had requested Mr PT Cherian (PTC), my mentor, house master and physics teacher, to accept the Guru Dakshina (Offering to a Teacher), prior to leaving the home for marriage as per the Syrian Orthodox Christian custom.  Mr Cherian accepted the request and I explained him the route to our home.  Mr Cherian was married to Ms Shiela Cherian, who taught everyone English in their Grade 5, expressed inability to attend owing to her bad health.

Sainik Schools were the brain child of then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, established in 1962 each of the major States of India, manned by senior officers of the armed forces with the objective of turning boys into men who can take on the responsibilities of the armed forces.  Ms Sheila Murphy, an Anglo-Indian lady, was among the first group of teachers to join the school at the time of inception.  Mr PT Cherian joined our school a year later in 1963.  After a few years, fell in love and got married, while we were in our eighth grade.  On the evening of their wedding, we were treated to a never ever seen sumptuous dinner at the Cadets’ Mess.  Thus Ms Sheila Murphy became Mrs Sheila Cherian.

Mrs Sheila Cherian is the first teacher anyone who joins Sainik School, Amaravathinagar would have encountered.  Most of us were from Malayalam or Tamil medium schools having very little knowledge of English.  The way she taught us English, especially how to write (her handwriting was exceptional), everyone of us would carry it to our graves.  She taught us table manners, use of the cutlery and crockery, how to spread butter and jam with the knife, how to eat boiled egg and most importantly, how to eat with our mouth closed.

Mr PT Cherian was our House Master, Physics teacher, Photography Club in-charge, Basket ball and Volley ball coach, mentor, etc etc, all rolled into one.  More than teaching physics, he dedicated all his time and energy to turn us into brave and confident young men.  We could discuss anything and everything under the sun with him.  He was behind every activity that happened in the school and was a great organiser.  Standing six feet tall, he had an impressive personality that would give the run for the money to MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.

The marriage was scheduled for 4 PM and I was scheduled to leave home for the church by 3:30 PM.  All the friends and relatives gathered at our home for the occasion.  Mr AKR Varma – from the Cochin Royalty and our Arts teacher;  Mr George Joseph – English teacher, then Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Neriamangalam; Kerala, Mr AD George –Botany teacher, Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Kottayam; and Mr KS Krishnan Kutty our crafts master, all were there at home to shower their blessings.  There was no trace of Mr Cherian and we waited till 3:40 PM and then it was decided that Mr AKR Varma, being the senior most among our teachers present would accept the Guru Dakshina.  The Dakshina is a betel nut and a rupee coin wrapped in a betel leaf.  I handed over the Dakshina to Mr Varma, touched his feet, accepted his blessings and left for the church.  Mr Cherian was standing at the entrance of the church to receive us.

A few months later, we were on vacation in Kerala and attended Mr Varma’s daughter Vanaja’s wedding.  Mr Varma said that the Guru Dakshina came as a surprise to him and he was very much moved and that tears had rolled down his eyes, as it was the first time ever he had received such a gift.  He said he was unaware of the tradition that the Syrian Christians followed, and it is an ideal Dakshina any Guru could ever ask for.

After five years of marriage, we went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar with our daughter, to attend the Old Boys Association (OBA) meeting.  By then Cherians had retired and had settled in the farm they purchased, adjacent to the school.  We decided to call on the Cherians in the evening and reached the farm house.  The house had about 50 old students, some with their families already there.  The Cherians, known for their love for their students, whom they adored as children, as God had been unkind to the couple and had forgotten to bless them with any kids.  They were playing excellent hosts to each and everyone, including little children.

We paid our respects to the couple and I handed over a package containing a few bottles of whisky as Mr Cherian enjoyed his drinks in the evenings.  Accepting the gift, very well knowing what the contents would be said “Is this the Guru Dakshina I missed in 1989?”  I did not understand what he intended by that line.  I brooded over it and got no clue.  By about nine in the evening, most guests had left and my wife and daughter were closeted with Mrs Cherian with our daughter providing the entertainment with her songs.  I was sitting with Mr Cherian enjoying a drink in the coconut grove and suddenly Mr Cherian said “Do you know why I did not come to your home to accept the Guru Dakshina?  It is not that I did not love you or adore you, but because my marriage has not been complete as the God has not blessed us with any children and that was the reason why Sheila had declined to come for the marriage.  Mr Varma being elder to me in age and having a complete family was the most suitable person to receive the Guru Dakshina”.  I just could not speak and our eyes became wet.  We both remained silent for the next five minutes and completed the drink.

Mr Cherian fetched another set of drinks and continued “I Married Sheila very well knowing that she would not bear any children for me, due to her gynecological condition. I wanted to set an example for my students by marrying the person I loved.  I never wanted my students to tell me that I ditched their teacher”. Tears rolled down my cheeks….

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Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Photo taken in 1969, courtesy  Mr Steve Robsson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as an exchange teacher from England.  Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai.  The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.

The Atheist

MVS1(Mr MV Somasundaram – When we joined school in 1971)

The first atheist I came across in my life was Mr MV Somasundaram (MVS). He taught us Tamil in Grade 6, Social Studies in Grade 7, English in Grade 8, History in Grade 9 and Civics in Grade 10. He was as versatile as the subjects he taught and had good grasp of all the subjects. He was a very soft spoken man, who hardly ever raised his voice. His son Aravazhi was our classmate.

During our days at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, we always said grace before every meal, to thank the the God for all what we were to receive and after the meals for what we did receive. While in Grade 7, I noticed that Mr Somasundaram always remained seated when the grace was said. On enquiry, Sunder, my friend said that he was an atheist. I looked up the dictionary to find the meaning of the word as I had never heard it before.

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Mr Somasundaram was a rationalist and was against all superstitions that plagued the society. He believed that undue importance was given to religion in our day-to-day lives. He neither forced his viewpoints on to anyone nor did he try to influence his students with his ideals and principles. Needless to say, I did not become an atheist, but the seeds of rationalism were sown by Mr Somasundaram.

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Mr Somasundaram subscribed to Viduthalai (Freedom), a Tamil newspaper and the mouth piece of Dravida Kazhagam (DK). (As per his son that he still continues to subscribe to it.) It was delivered to him by the postman and he always brought it to our class. Once in a while he left it half open on the teacher’s table and I had the opportunity to steal a few glances at it. It had a few different letters of the Tamil alphabet, especially in its title, which stood out. I again took the help of Sundar for further details. Sundar explained to me about Viduthalai newspaper and that the great Periyar was Mr Somasundaram’s mentor and the raison d’être for his atheism.

Today Mr Somasundaram is leading a retired life and lives in Chennai with his son Aravazhi. He can be contacted at 944 293 6769. So much for the protégé. Now a bit more about his mentor.

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Erode Venkata Ramasamy (1879 – 1973), affectionately called Periyar by his followers, was a social activist, politician and businessman, who started the Self-Respect Movement in South India. A rationalists who aroused the people to realise that all men are equal and it is the birthright of every individual to enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity. He propagated that the so called men of religion invented myths and superstitions to keep the innocent and ignorant people in darkness. He was an atheist, noted for his anti theistic statement, “He who created God was a fool, he who spreads his name is a scoundrel, and he who worships him is a barbarian.”

Viduthalai was started in 1935 by Periyar as a magazine. It grew into a daily newspaper by 1937. The newspaper aimed to create a rational, secular and democratic society, and also to fight superstition. The script used in the publication was in keeping with the need to cope with the developing printing technology. Periyar thought that it was sensible to change a few letters, reduce the number of letters, and alter a few signs. He further explained that the older and the more divine a language and its letters were said to be, the more they needed reform.

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Soon after MG Ramachandran (MGR) became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1978, all ideas of Periyar on the changes and modification of Tamil alphabets were accepted. An act was passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1978, bringing the changes into effect. These modifications have made Tamil as the first Indian language to be adapted for computerisation, obviously, due to the reduced number of alphabets.

After the act was passed and the ‘Viduthalai’ font became the standard Tamil font, we had an open house forum at our school to discuss its implications. The forum was an open discussion, led by Mr Somasundaram and moderated by Squadron Leader Manickavasagam, our then Headmaster. The students in attendance were from Grades 9 to 11. During the discussion, Mr Somasundaram made a scathing attack on Hindu religion. He said that when State Bank of India opened its branch in Amaravathinagar, only our school Principal, Colonel AC Thamburaj and the school band were in attendance for the inauguration, whereas, when a branch of the Ganapathy Temple was inaugurated in the bus-stand, the public were dancing. He cited this as a reason for the country not achieving the desired progress.

Some teachers in the audience objected to Mr Somasundaram’s statement and wanted him to withdraw it, but he stood firm. Our Headmaster retrieved the situation by saying that everyone in the audience were mature enough to draw their conclusions and there was nothing objectionable in the statement. I thought that Mr Somasundaram was right and the situation and the public’s attitudes have not changed ever since.

Periyar came into national prominence with the Vaikom Sathyagraha, a nonviolent protest movement to secure temple entry rights and access to temple roads for people of all castes in Vaikom, a small principality of the then princely state of Travancore (now in Kerala). Periyar came to Vaikom in April 1924 and was arrested by the Travancore Police, but he was unrelenting and the satyagraha movement gained strength. Mahatma Gandhi, on an invitation from Rajaji, went to Vaikom and began talks with the Queen of Travancore where it was agreed that the police pickets would be removed. The styagraha resulted in Sree Chithira Thirunal, the Travancore ruler, signing the Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936, allowing everyone entry into the temples.

Periyar created Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in 1944 from the Justice Party. DK became a non-political socio-cultural movement, which it remains till date, though comparatively inactive. The members were asked to give up the posts, positions and titles conferred by the British rulers. They were also required to drop the caste suffix of their names.

Periyar declared that 15 August 1947, when India became politically free, was a day of mourning because the event marked, in his opinion, only a transfer of power from the British to the upper castes. Though he had basic differences with Mahatma Gandhi, Periyar was terribly grieved when Gandhi fell a victim to an assassin’s bullets on January 30, 1948. He even suggested on the occasion that India should be renamed as Gandhi Nadu.

Annadurai, Karunanidhi and MGR, who were with Periyar in the DK movement, had political aspirations and wanted a share in running the government. They were looking for an opportunity to part ways with Periyar. At the ripe old age of 70, in 1948, Periyar married 30 year old Maniammai. Many led by Annadurai quit DK stating that Periyar had set a bad example by marrying a woman much younger to him in his old age. They formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949. To my mind, one can hardly fault Periyar for marrying a young woman. Perhaps, at the age of 70 he was still young at heart! He went on to live a quarter century more, continuing his social reform movement.

In 1970, UNESCO in recognition of his efforts cited him as “the Prophet of the New Age, the Socrates of South East Asia, Father of Social Reform Movement, and Arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.”

English Teacher

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Mr George Joseph (Mr GJ – that is how everyone addressed him) taught us English in Grade 10 and 11 at Sainik School Amaravathinagar. He joined the school in the vacancy of Mr Seshadiri who left the school (with his daughter Sita from our class) in 1973. I started interacting with him at a personal level in Grade 11 when we went on a trek from Munnar to Idukki in Kerala in September 1977. That was the first time he opened up with me about his teaching experiences.

Mr GJ’s first class in our school was for the batch of David Davidar (three years senior to us), who authored The House of Blue Mangoes (2002), The Solitude of Emperors (2007) and Ithaca (2011). On the very first day, Mr KG Warrier (https://rejinces.net/2014/09/16/the-linguists/), head of the English department had forewarned him that the linguistic capability of the students was at a very high level and he had to be fully prepared to face them, let alone teach them. Mr GJ on many occasions claimed that he actually learnt English by teaching students at our school. During our school days, Mr GJ was a bachelor and hence had all the time in the world to himself. One could mostly see him spending his spare time at the library, reading up all the books which he could not during his university days.

Mr GJ was a good basketball player and coached the school basketball team. He was a good swimmer and hence joined Mr Krishnan Kutty (the crafts Master) (https://rejinces.net/2014/08/08/arts-and-crafts/) to form the nucleus of the canoeing club. He later took over the reins of the canoeing club, once he mastered the art of canoeing and could navigate through the Amaravathi Dam’s waters. He again claims that he perfected the art of canoeing by learning the same from the senior students.

During the boxing competitions at school, Mr GJ was a judge always. He once narrated that he had never seen a boxing bout in his life until he joined our school. One day when Mr CM Nair (Physical Training Instructor) (https://rejinces.net/2014/07/23/233/) while preparing the gymnasium for the boxing competition realised that he was short of a judge as Mr Venkateswaran, the biology teacher had left the school. Whether Mr CM Nair found some similarity between Mr GJ and Mr Venkateswaran in their physical appearance, or not, he summoned Mr GJ and requested him to be the boxing judge the following week. Obviously Mr GJ showed his reluctance having had no experience in the field, why even he had never witnessed a boxing bout and now he has been tasked to be a judge. Mr CM Nair conducted a detailed clinic for Mr GJ and handed him over the rule book of boxing. After the clinic, Mr GJ became very confident and every year till we left the school, he was always a boxing judge and never was his judgement ever questioned.

Once he threw the towel in to the ring to stop a bout, as he realised that the contest was really uneven and the loser of the bout might suffer an injury. This raised a few hackles then, but now looking back one realises how apt his decision was and also that his action befitted that of a seasoned boxing judge.

During our trek from Munnar to Idukki in 1977, the first day’s halt was at a village called Vellathooval. We started the trek early in the morning from Munnar and reached Vellathooval by late afternoon to be received by the Headmaster, staff and students of the Government High School there. The school organised a special assembly of the entire school to welcome us and Cadet Benoy Zachariah (now a cardiac surgeon at Boston, USA) was tasked by Mr GJ to deliver the English speech and I was tasked to deliver a speech in Malayalam, to motivate the students to join Sainik Schools and then the armed forces. That was the first motivational speech I delivered and as per Mr GJ we did a decent job of it. The preferential treatment we received at this school was because Mr GJ had arranged the same with our class mate George Paul’s father who was the Educational Officer, under whose jurisdiction this school came.

After three days of trekking we reached Idukki and then went around sightseeing for the next three days. One evening I was talking with Mr GJ and the subject was regarding the difficulties faced by the teachers while managing the students during various treks and hikes at the school. Mr GJ narrated his very first hiking experience at our school the year he had joined. Mr GJ was tasked to lead the hike to Yercaudu in Tamil Nadu, a quiet little hill station on the Shevaroy hills of the Eastern Ghats. During the train trip to the base of Yercaudu, Cadet Appu fell off the train. Mr GJ got the entire entourage to disembark from the train at the next station and he walked about five kilometers along the track back and found Cadet Appu lying unconsciously near the rail track. Mr GJ administered first aid to Cadet Appu and carried him on his shoulders and walked back to the railway station where the rest of the entourage was waiting. They then boarded the next train and continued with the hike.

Like most classes at our school, Mr GJ’s English classes were mostly group discussions with the teacher in the lead and acting as a moderator. Among some of the memorable discussions we had, one was about opening Sainik Schools for girl cadets too. Mr GJ brought out that the boys would be better disciplined, better dressed, better behaved if girl cadets were studying along with us and the overall performance of the cadets would surely improve manifold. This discussion took place in the days when no one in India thought of opening military service for women.

Once Mr GJ opened up a discussion by his justifications for men resorting to domestic violence. As expected, all cadets in the class opposed it tooth and nail. At the end of the class Mr GJ concluded by saying that had he not put up a few arguments in support of the motion, no worthwhile discussion would have emanated. He brought home the point that to get noticed in the group discussion, at times one would have to support a cause which one is sure will have no takers. He always encouraged us to approach an issue differently; mainly to stand out and also to try out a different method or a path.

After we moved on from the school, Mr GJ moved out as the Principal of Navodaya Schools in Kerala and is now retired and has settled down at Palai, Kerala.  He can be contacted on Cell # 944 636 8276 and email gjay51045@gmail.com.

wren and martin GJ

Evolution of Sainik School Amaravathinagar Through the Biology Department

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Sainik (Military) School Amaravathinagar in Tamil Nadu state of India, where I did my schooling from grade 5 to grade 11, was established in 1962 as feeder institutes for the National Defence Academy(NDA).   There were about a dozen more such schools, one in each state, established at the same time. The aim was to attract youth from all the states of India and from all the classes of the society. The idea was mooted by Mr VK Krishna Menon, then Defence Minister of India. Sainik schools were meant to be the ordinary citizen’s public school where deserving students can get high quality education irrespective of their income or class background. These schools did achieve this aim – General Suhag, the present Army Chief is a Sainik School product.

Amaravathinagar was chosen as the site for our school as the area was on the foothills of the Western Ghats and adjacent to the Amaravathi Dam. The weather of area suited the school and the terrain provided ideal backdrop for various adventure activities. The dam ensured a constant supply of water and also a site for water sports like canoeing.

Another reason for choosing Amaravathinagar as the site was that there were many sheds, buildings, staff quarters left vacant on completion of the dam. One of the workshop buildings became the Cadet Mess, one a gymnasium. The administrative area of the dam construction became the administrative offices and the rest became class rooms. Some staff quarters, closer to the class rooms were turned into Cadets’ living and the rest became staff quarters.

Over the years, a new well equipped Cadet Mess, Academic Block, Cadet Dormitories, swimming pool and many other buildings were added. Today the schools stands out as one of best in India – both for quality of infrastructure and educational value.

When theses schools started in 1962, the teachers were paid a notch better than the UGC scale and over the years it hardly ever increased, making teaching in Sainik Schools less attractive. To compound the problem, all teachers join as teachers and retire as a teacher without any promotion in either status or appointment.

When we joined the school in 1971, the teachers were all-rounders; good at academics, sports and organising hobbies and clubs, extracurricular activities and adventure activities. We were taught sciences by Mr Venkiteswaran (Venky) in Grade 5 and Mr Raghavan in Grade 6. Mr Raghavan was better known as Mr Jiggs for his style and actions. Mr Venky taught zoology and Mr Jiggs botany and both were excellent teachers and also were very good at cricket and tennis. Mr Venky played in all sports teams of the school and was an excellent mentor cum coach for students. His afternoons began with playing French-Cricket with grade 5 students and later played football, basketball and hockey with senior students. His day ended with a round of tennis at the tennis court, mostly playing with Colonel Thamburaj, our Principal and Mr Raghavan.

As the remuneration of the teachers did not keep pace with the inflation, by 1973 many teachers of very high caliber left our school for greener pastures at various Public schools in Ooty and Kodaikanal as they offered better remuneration. That was when we bid goodbye to Mr Venky and Mr Raghavan. The only girl in our class was Sita, daughter of Mr Seshadiri, the English teacher. As Mr Seshadiri too left for similar reasons, our batch became all male.

Mr Paul Sathya Kumar and Mr AD George replaced Mr Venky and Mr Raghavan. They too had similar traits as they were not only outstanding teachers, but also great sportsmen. Mr Paul coached the school cricket team and Mr George the football team. Mr Paul was also an excellent musician who could play most instruments. He accompanted the school choir on his organ during the morning assembly and was an integral part of all plays and cultural activities the students staged.

Similarly, the exodus of teachers of 1973 affected most departments and there were many new teachers, majority of them as good or even a notch better than whom they replaced. The noteworthy exceptions were Mrs & Mr Cherian and Mr KG Warrier, for whom the call of the money would not have been all that important for obvious reasons.

The next exodus of teachers took place in 1985 after we left school. The Navodaya Schools were established in 1985 in every district of India to provide residential school level education for the common man. Most of the teachers, Mr Paul and Mr George included, moved out as principals to these schools – obviously for better pay and status. Further, the scheme being funded entirely by the centre (and states as in case of Sainik schools), most of these Navodaya schools got established with better infrastructure. Another advantage was that the children studying in their own district in most cases and the girls also get equal opportunity unlike the Sainik Schools.

Has the Sainik Schools achieved their goals? An often asked question. These schools are now deteriorating for sure, mainly because of lack of funds. The way out is for the Defence Ministry at the centre to take over these schools in entirety from selection of staff and students to providing scholarships as being done in case of the Navodaya Schools.

Another important issue that need to be addressed is of the Defence Officers posted to these schools as Principals, Headmasters and Registrars. The Army Education Corps (Navy and Air Force too) officers are normally posted and most are incapable of motivating the cadets – in any way – forget about joining the Army. Any of our batch mates from Sainik Schools will vouch for it. Today most regular officers are better qualified academically than these (un) Educated Officers and would any day be better academicians, organisers, leaders and motivators.

In case the army wishes to resuscitate these Sainik Schools, the way out is for the center government to finance the scholarships as in Navodaya Vidyalaya and also remove the Education Corps officers from the system.

Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ)

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Walking down the isle of a Chinese vegetable store in Mississauga, Canada, after  immigration in 2004, I was surprisingly greeted by the Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ) placed on a rack. On Closer examination, the tag read ‘Kasava – Product of Guatemala’. Any Malayalee (Mallu) will always and forever relish Tapioca cooked with spices and grated coconut and fish curry marinated with special tamarind (Kudam Puli (കുടംപുളി) scientifically known as Garcinia Cambogia). The concoction served in Toddy (alcoholic extract from coconut trees) shops all over Kerala (Indian Province where Malayalam is the native language and the residents are called Malayalees – now Mallus), is something one can never get in any homes.

Tapioca is not a native of Kerala. Then how come it reached the shores of Kerala?.

Tapioca is said to have originated in Brazil. Portuguese distributed the crop from Brazil to countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Kerala in India in the 17th Century. Some believe that Vysakham Thirunal, the Travancore King (1880-1885 AD), who was also a botanist, introduced this laborer’s food in Travancore (South Kerala). By beginning of 19th Century, people from central Travancore migrated to the Malabar region (North Kerala) and they introduced tapioca to the locals.

Tapioca was promoted extensively during World War II in Kerala by Chithira Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore and his Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Then rice was the staple food of the people of Kerala and was being imported from Burma and Indonesia. With Japanese Navy enforcing a blockade in the Malaccan Strait, the ships carrying rice to India were either destroyed or captured. This caused an acute shortage of rice. A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich Tapioca as a substitute to costly rice. Thus Tapioca came to be known as ‘staple food of the poor.’ Hotels refused to include Tapioca in their menu due to its working class image. Only place that served Tapioca were the toddy shops, where the labourers turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work. Today tapioca is a rarity in Kerala and so is a delicacy and hence all hotels including the five-star ones have tapioca with fish curry in all their menus.

During my childhood, we used to cultivate Tapioca on our land. Tapioca is a tropical crop, tolerant to drought, but cannot withstand frost. It is best grown in lower altitudes with warm humid climate with well distributed rainfall. Our land is terraced on the hill slope into 20 x 20 feet sections. Each section is held together with stone masonry retaining wall to avoid soil erosion. On top of these walls pineapple was grown to give additional strength to the retaining wall. On some of these walls a fast growing grass was planted as fodder for cows.

In the month of August, the labourers would till the land and make mounds of about a foot after spreading a compost mixture of cow-dung and ash. These mounds are made about three feet apart. Tapioca is planted in June with the onset of the South-West monsoon. Stakes taken from plants of the previous year is now cut into pieces of about a foot and is planted on these mounds. After a month, all the unhealthy or weak sprouts are pinched off leaving only two sprouts to grow into stakes.

As the plants mature, underground stems called tubers enlarge with starch. This is the time when the plant is most susceptible to rodent attacks, mainly from rats. As the tubers matured, a plant was uprooted almost every evening and tubers either were boiled and eaten with chutney or cooked with grated coconut and spices and eaten with fish curry. During weekends our mother had off being a school teacher and she would make thin slices of fresh tapioca tubers and fry them in coconut oil.

After about ten months, in April, tapioca is harvested. Firstly the stakes are cut off and the healthy ones are stored for cutting for next planting. Underground tubers are now pulled out manually, pulling at the base of the stakes. The tubers are cut off from their bases and carried to the peeling site.

At the peeling site, the women folk of the village sit on mats and peel the outer skin of the tubers and slice the white starch part into thin slices. The women folk were generally paid in kind at the scale of one for every ten basket of tubers sliced by them. The sliced tubers are now collected in baskets and carried by the men folk to the boiling site. Here the slices are boiled in water until semi-cooked. The slices are now drained and put on the ground to dry under the sun. Once dried, these are collected in gunny bags. Some of the dried tapioca was retained for our consumption and the remainder were sold off to Kunjappan Chettan, the trader who lived across our home. Please refer to my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/kunjappan-chettan-the-trader/

In the 1980s, labour in Kerala became very expensive and  rodent attacks on tapioca crops became severe. Most tapioca plants were infected with Gemini virus causing ‘Mosaic’ disease curling the leaves and thus reduced yield.  In this period, the price of natural rubber skyrocketed. This turned tapioca farmers to rubber cultivation. With the incoming of rubber, out went the cows first as there was not enough grass to feed them. Further, the skins of the tapioca tubers and leaves from the uprooted stakes, which were the staple diet of the cows for four months, were now unavailable.

Mr AD George, our botany teacher at school had mentioned that the Gemini virus intruded into Kerala through a sample brought in by a professor, who while on a visit to a foreign country where tapioca was cultivated, saw a plant infected by the virus. He collected a leaf to show it to his students and brought it home to Kerala. After demonstrating the specimen to his students, the professor discarded the specimen. This virus then is believed to have spread across Kerala.

The land lost all its herbal healing powers with the advent of rubber cultivation. Herbal plants like Kurumtotti (Sida Rhombifolia), Kizhukanelli (Phyllanthus Amarus), Paanal (Glycosmis Arboraea), etc, all very abundant until we cultivated tapioca, became nearly extinct. The undergrowth shown in the image above is mostly of these herbal plants. Further, the present generation is totally unaware of the existence of these herbs in our own land and uses of these herbs. The cows used to eat these herbs along with the grass they chewed off the land and hence their milk also should have had some herbal effect.

In 2002 I visited Colonel TM Natarajan, my class mate from Sainik School and he spoke about the Sago (Sabudhana[साबूदाना ] or Chavvari [ചവ്വരി/ சவ்வரிசி]) factory his family had. That was when I realised that Sago was not a seed and it was factory manufactured and tapioca is the main ingredient. As Tamil Nadu had many Sago factories and in order to feed them with tapioca, tapioca cultivation now moved from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. The only hitch is that it needs extensive irrigation to grow as Tamil Nadu does not enjoy as much rainfall as Kerala is blessed with.

Why Do Soldiers Break Step On A Suspension Bridge?

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Our son Nikhil and I had a discussion about the phenomenon of resonance about which he had a class that day. My mind wandered back to Mr PT Cherian’s high school physics classes. Mr Cherian had a knack of explaining basic principles of physics by citing real life examples which were simple and easy to assimilate. For more about Mr Cherian, please refer my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/guru-dakshina/.

Mr Cherian explained resonance by using a simple experiment. He had three pendulums of different lengths and two of the same length tied to a rubber hose. He swung one of the two pendulums of equal lengths and after a few minutes, all the other pendulums begun to swing with the other pendulum of equal length swinging as much as the other. This he explained was as a result of resonance and the frequency of the two pendulums with equal lengths were same and hence they resonated.

Bridges and buildings have a natural frequency of vibration within them. A force applied to an object at the same frequency as the object’s natural frequency will amplify the vibration of the object due to mechanical resonance. Mr Cherian explained that while on a swing, one can go higher with a jerk of a bend knee or a swing of the legs and a car wobbles at a particular speed; are all examples mechanical resonance. The shattering of glass by singers with their voice is also by the same principle.

Mr Cherian then narrated an incidence which took place in 1831 when a brigade of soldiers marched in step across England’s Broughton Suspension Bridge. The marching steps of the soldiers happened to resonate with the natural frequency and the bridge broke apart, throwing dozens of men into the water. After this, the British Army issued orders that soldiers while crossing a suspension bridge must ‘break step’ and not march in unison.

If soldiers march in unison across a,suspension bridge, they apply a force at the frequency of their step. If their frequency is closely matched to the bridge’s frequency, soldiers’ rhythmic marching will amplify the natural frequency of the bridge. If the mechanical resonance is strong enough, the bridge can vibrate until it collapses due to the movement.

A similar tragedy was averted in June 2000 when a large crowd assembled at the opening of London’s Millennium Bridge. As crowds packed the bridge, their footfalls made the bridge vibrate slightly. Many in the crowd fell spontaneously into step with the bridge’s vibrations, inadvertently amplifying them. The police swung into action to clear the crowd off the bridge. Though engineers insist the Millennium Bridge was never in danger of collapse, the bridge was closed for about a year while construction crews installed energy-dissipating dampers to minimise the vibration caused by pedestrians.

Another example of mechanical resonance was the destruction of Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington in 1940. Even though the bridge was designed to withstand winds of up to 200 kmph, on that fateful day the wind speed recorded was mere 60 kmph. A mechanical resonance resulted due to the wind at that particular speed hitting the bridge perpendicularly.   Continued winds increased the vibrations until the waves grew so large and violent that they broke the bridge apart.

In May 1999, two girls were drowned and 15 others injured when a suspension bridge across a river collapsed in Panathur, Kasargod in Kerala State of India. The incident occurred when a group of people taking part in a funeral procession entered the suspension bridge  The bridge tilted and collapsed, again due to mechanical resonance.

In a similar incident in February 2014, eight people died and more than 30 injured when a suspension bridge collapsed over a dry stream in the North-Western province of Lai Chau in Vietnam. The accident happened as a group of local residents walked across the bridge to bring the coffin of a local official to a graveyard. The group had walked 15 meters on the bridge when it suddenly collapsed.

What would have triggered off the mechanical resonance in the above two cases? The villagers participating in the two funerals were surely never drilled down by any Sergeant Majors.

It is felt that anyone while on a funeral procession walks slowly and is often accompanied by the drums or hymns being sung at a melancholic pace. The funeral participants tend to bunch together, mainly due to their sadness. These factors could have forced the funeral participants to march in step, without their knowledge. Another reason of marching in step could be that one does not want to step on another’s foot and the best way to avoid is to walk in step with the person in the front. In both the cases, the coffin would have been carried by the coffin bearers with their hands. This would need the coffin bearers to walk in unison.

In all probability, the frequency of walking of the mourners in the funeral procession would have resonated with the natural frequency of the bridge, causing the bridge to swing violently. The pandemonium that would have set out must have caused panic, resulting in the mourners rushing to get off the bridge causing a stampede.

Hence in future the rule must be that not only the soldiers need to break steps on a suspension bridge, but also a funeral procession.

Hindu-Arabic Numerals

Indian Numerals

The numerals in various languages interested me a lot. During our childhood, the Bible at home had chapters numbered with the Malayalam numerals and the verses with Indo-Arabic numerals. During our cadet days at the National Defence Academy, we travelled to Pune city by the municipal transit bus. The tickets were printed with the price shown with Devnagiri numerals and I had no clue of it. Once in the bus, the conductor gave me the ticket and I asked him as to what the cost was. He shot back saying that you dress in a suit and how come you cannot read. I came back and learnt the Devnagiri numerals immediately.

Our son Nikhil while in Grade 2, came home from school and asked me as to what has Hinduism to do with numerals. Taken aback, I asked him to narrate the context and he said the he was taught in the Math class that the common numerals are called Hindu-Arabic Numerals. In North America anything to deal with the country/sub-continent India is referred to as ‘Hindu’ (Hindustan) so as not to confuse with the American Aboriginals, commonly referred to as ‘Red-Indians’ or ‘Indians’.

My mind raced back to 1974, while in Grade 8 at Sainink School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, India, our math teacher, Mr Venkatesha Murthy had explained to us that the numerals we use every day would be known as Indo-Arabic Numerals and not as Arabic Numerals. These numerals were invented by mathematicians in India. They were later called ‘Arabic’ numerals by Europeans, because they were introduced in Europe by Arab merchants. The Europeans were intrigued by the speed at which these Arab merchants calculated mentally when the Europeans were struggling with their Roman numerals and their Abacus.

Mr Murthy also spoke to us in detail about important contributions made by mathematicians like Aryabhata, Bhaskara and Ramanujam. He also spoke to us about contributions of Indian mathematicians to the study of the concept of zero as a number, negative numbers, arithmetic, and algebra.  Mathematicians from Kerala (India) had developed trigonometric functions like sine, cosine, and tangent in the 15th century. They even had developed calculus two centuries before its invention in Europe. As usual, India being a timeless and record-less civilisation, no one formulated a systematic theory of differentiation and integration and there is no evidence of their findings being transmitted outside Kerala.

The Indian Science Conference of Jan 2015 had lectures about ancient knives so sharp they could slit a hair in two, 24-carat gold extracted from cow dung and even 7,000-year-old planes that could travel to other planets. Among other technologies, introduced at the congress there were polymers to build houses made of cactus juice, egg shells and cow dung; a cow bacteria that turns anything eaten by an animal into pure gold, and the curious procedure of an autopsy, conducted by leaving a dead body floating in water for three days. The surprising discoveries were said to be based on ancient Hindu texts, such as the Vedas and the Puranas, and were presented at a session on ‘Ancient Indian Sciences through Sanskrit’. There were some who claimed that Indians had travelled to other planets, and the helmet-shaped object found on the surface of Mars was the hair worn on the head by space travellers. These stories would not even have found a place in children’s comics. Surprisingly there were not one lecture about the mathematical contributions made by the Indians.

Providing a scientific platform in a prestigious science conference for a pseudo-science is appalling. It for the first time such a session is held in Indian Science Congress. Indian Prime Minister by saying to an audience of doctors and scientists that plastic surgery and genetic science existed and were in use thousands of years ago in ancient India and how the Hindu god Ganesh’s elephant head became attached to a human body. The Gujarat State school science books on various myths are now well known. These alarming developments happened after the change of government in Delhi. The scientific community should be seriously concerned about the infiltration of pseudoscience in science curricula with backing of the government. The accelerated pace with which it is being promoted will seriously undermine nation’s science and it will have a disastrous effect on the future generation.

With this at the back of my mind, while in India in Jan 2015, I decided to interact with my nephews and nieces, mostly engineering students. To my surprise none knew that the numerals were called Indo-Arabic and they had no clue of the achievements of Indian mathematicians. It appeared that the textbooks in Canada have been amended, but the Indian books still carried Arabic numerals.

Cross Country Race

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The first cross-country  race (Marathon in North America), I ran was as a Grade 5 student at Sainik (Military) School Amaravathinagar. It was a 5 km run along the base of the Western Ghats on the North side of the school. With every passing year, the distance increased. with it the difficulty. On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), the cross country race became a ritual in every semester (half-year) and thus I ran six races in three years of about 14 km. During the first 10 years of service in the Army, I ran seven races. On reaching Canada, I ran two such races, in support of charitable causes.

Running a marathon is one of the largest physical challenges you can set, often it is more of a mental challenge – the mental strength to complete the race despite the panting, tiredness and pains. It results in an accomplishment every time, irrespective of your age. It does not matter even if you are the last, you are part of an elite club of people that have completed the race successfully.

At the NDA, the cross country race was more of a team event. The Squadron which won the trophy every semester claimed more bragging rights than the cadet who came first or second. It was a matter of pride for the cadets that their Squadron did well and hence every cadet put their heart, soul and body into doing well at the race.

The practice for the race at NDA would begin nearly a month prior with all cadets running a full race almost every evening and morning on Sundays and holidays. The final race would generally be on a Sunday morning, starting at the famous Glider Dome and ending there. One has witnessed cadets completing the race despite physical injuries – a cadet finished the race after he fractured his leg halfway. There has been many cadets running the race with fever. All to ensure that they do not bring in negative points for their Squadron and let the team down.

In 1987, our Regiment was located in Gurgaon near Delhi and we formed part of the Brigade stationed at Meerut – about 50 km from Delhi. Cross country race was a closely contested competition among the regiments and our unit had the rare distinction of winning it for the previous five years. 1987 was the final year at Gurgaon as the unit had received its move order to the Kashmir Valley.

Our Commanding Officer, Colonel Mahaveer Singh called Late Captain Pratap Singh, Maha Vir Chakra and self to his office in March 1987 and briefed us that we had to win the cross country competition for him. We both were Captains then and by virtue of being the senior, I became the team captain. Among young subalterns, one was away on a training course and the other admitted in the Military Hospital.

The team to be fielded for the competition was to consist of one officer and 15 soldiers. We started practicing for the race – two officers and 20 soldiers. Every morning at 5 we would be picked up from our residence and the team used to be dropped off about 20 km from the regimental location. Now everyone had no option but to run back to the regiment. The faster one did it, lesser the agony.

After a month’s practice, we decided to move to Meerut a week before the race to carry out a few practices there. The race was scheduled for 11 April, Saturday to commence at 6 AM. The day we had planned to leave, Pratap’s mother took seriously ill and he had to hospitalise her and take care of her. I told Pratap to reach Meerut by Thursday evening the latest.

As Pratap had not practiced for the last week, I had made up my mind to run the race. Pratap landed up in Meerut on his motorbike on Thursday evening. On Friday I showed him the route and told him to be stand-by.

In the evening we reached the Officers’ Mess for dinner and all the young officers participating in the race were there. Seeing the senior Captains set to run the race, Lieutenant Atul Mishra wanted to know as to who amongst us was running the race. Pratap said that the person who woke up first would wake up the other and the latter would run the race. Everyone believed it as the same was narrated by Atul after a decade.

After the race, I received the trophy from the Brigade Commander and after a few minutes there was Pratap with his motorbike asking me to get on to the pillion. We rode off and as I was too tired, I hugged on to him and slept off. I woke up only on reaching our regimental location after over an hour of drive.

We handed over the trophy to Colonel Mahaveer, who appreciated us for the efforts and wanted to know where the rest of the team was. Pratap said “now do not come out with your clichéd question as to who is commanding the unit, I have ordered them to relax at Meerut for the next two days and also to visit the Nauchandi Mela”, Colonel Mahaveer passed his unique smile as a sign of approval for Pratap’s actions.

Nauchandi Mela is held every year at Meerut in April-May. It is a rare symbol of communal harmony with Hindu and Muslim shrines – Nauchandi temple and the Dargah (shrine) of Muslim saint, Bala Mian. Visitors pay obeisance at both the shrines irrespective of the religion they belong to.  The mela, which originally brought sellers and buyers of utensils and domestic animals together, now includes various kinds of goods, entertainment and food.

Colonel Mahaveer had a knack of delegation and had immense trust in all of us. He always encouraged the young officers to be decisive and whenever we goofed it up, he always held our hands and took the responsibility for our actions.

Library


During childhood days, our village in Kerala had a public library, housed on the upper floor of the Post Office building. The library had a good collection of books, periodicals and newspapers. The library used to be bustling with activity in the evening. Students and youth came there to borrow books, many came to read newspapers and periodicals and above all, it had a radio connected to a public address system which beamed the news from All India Radio. Those were the days when most households did not own a radio and Television had not become a reality. Our village with its literate masses needed something to read as a source of information and entertainment and the library provided it. My brothers used to borrow the books from library and our grandmother who lived with us then used to read them after everyone went to school.  Now my mother, a grandma, watches the tear-jerking serials on the TV after everyone leaves the home to school or to work.

During my recent trip home, I found the library totally deserted. The reading habit seems to have died down. How can you expect children overloaded with assignments, tuition and above all entrance coaching to find time to read? Various tear-jerking serials have occupied the free time of housewives and senior citizens, which in those days was spend reading.

Sainik School Amaravathinagar, our school also had a well stocked library. I actually started using the library only from my Grade 8 onward as I was not all that proficient in English till then. At that time Mr Stephen the librarian had taken over. Till then the librarian was a clerk or an administrative staff member who hardly had any clue about the real duties of a librarian.

Mr Stephen with an ever smiling pleasing personality was a graduate in Library Sciences. He was the first person to encourage many of us to use the facility of the library and also explain to us the wealth of information available there. He always used to remind us as to how lucky we were to have such a library which he said many colleges and universities in India did not have.

Other than being the librarian, Mr Stephen used to actively participate in all extra-curricular activities. One could always see him in the gymnasium helping students, playing all games with the students and also participating in adventure activities like trekking and rock-climbing. This helped him develop a special rapport with the students. I spend some of my free time in the library and also whenever I was made an ‘outstanding’ student in the classes, I straight away moved into the library.  Mr Stephen exactly knew what would have happened in the class, but never asked me a question and let me into the library.

On migration to Canada, we settled down in the city of Mississauga. The City runs  Mississauga Library System. It is one of the largest public library systems in Canada with over 300,000 registered users. There are 18 locations, including a multi-floor Central Library with material allocated by subject areas. Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or owns property in Mississauga can obtain a Library Card required to borrow materials.

All the library branches I visited were always full of customers, especially students and seniors. The library system has a large collection of books, DVDs, video tapes etc in 22 languages including Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi. The excellent catalogue system followed by the library can be accessed online from the home. One can place a hold on a material through the online system. The moment the material arrives the customer is intimated by email or over the phone. In case a desired items not in the Library’s catalogue, it may be obtained through inter-library loan.

In case the library branch one visited does not have a desired material, but is available in another branch, the same is transferred to the library if you request for a hold. All materials borrowed from any branch of the library can be returned at any branch. The catalogue system caters for it.

The Library offers access to downloadable eBooks and audio books. One can download these to a computer or a mobile device.  One can also sign up to receive sample chapters from new books and newsletters about new books and authors.

Library staff are always available to help the customer to find information and choose materials. The Library offers extensive information on occupations, educational planning, career planning, training and job search strategies.

An extensive collection of fine, old and rare materials, dealing with the history of Mississauga City is available for in-library use at the Mississauga Central Library and includes scrapbooks, local archives, and a large collection of photographs. Genealogical materials are available through Ancestry at all Library locations. The Historic Images Gallery brings together the image collections of multiple institutions providing centralized access and is searchable online.

eResources provide access to reference eBooks, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly journals, book reviews and more. Search over 30 eResources covering a wide variety of topics including health, business, world news, literature, sports, arts, and entertainment. With a valid Mississauga Library card, you can do your research from home, school or office.

Children’s Dial-A-Story can be called as often as you want, any time of the day to listen to a new preschool story each week in the comfort of your home.

Public access to the Internet and Microsoft Office is available at all Library locations. One can book a session to use a Library computer with a valid Library card. Photocopiers are available at all Library locations at a minimal payment. Copying is subject to copyright laws.

Large Print Books are available from all library locations and rotate from library to library. In partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Braille Books are provided via mail.

“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”   – Sidney Sheldon

Linguists

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In 1971, after the anti-Hindi agitation that raged through Tamil Nadu, I joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar in the state then known as Madras.   The school almost resembled any British Military School as all the military words of command were in English like “Attention” and “Stand-at-Ease”. There I started to learn Tamil and also English.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world and the script has only 18 consonants unlike Devnagari script which has about 37 consonants. When Devnagari script has क, ख, ग, घ (ka, kha, ga, gha), Tamil has only க (ka) and similarly for the other corresponding consonants. All the other South Indian languages namely Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu follow their own script similar to the Devnagari script. Further these three languages unlike Tamil, have a lot of Sanskrit vocabulary. Hence learning of Hindi or any Devnagari script based language becomes difficult for a Tamil in comparison to the people from the other states.

After the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, the Official Languages Act was amended in 1967 by the Indian Government to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current bilingualism and use of English in education in India. This bilingualism has helped the Indians to a great extent in ensuring acceptance all over the world.

Hindi as a national language was not accepted all over India due to the implementation issues. The Hindi Pundits coined many a difficult terms to replace commonly used English terms. Many of the terms coined were not even accepted by the Hindi speaking population. Lot of money and efforts were pumped in by the government for the enhanced use of Hindi as an official language, but it never had any results other than a few Members of Parliament making a foreign sojourn to study the use of Hindi in some country or the other and the practise still continues.

To further make the matter worse, all forms were printed in both Hindi and English and so also all the government publications. This resulted in higher production costs without serving any purpose. While serving in the Indian Army, I recommended all my subordinates to read and understand the pamphlet ‘Glossary of Military Terms’. The pamphlet was printed in Hindi on the left page and English on the right. I also used to advise them to read the Hindi side whenever they got bored – the Hindi equivalents were hilarious and many a times grossly incorrect.

In our school the English department was headed by Mr KG Warrier and the Tamil department by Mr M Selvaraj. Both of them were strong linguists and always ensured that they spoke the language with purity in that when they spoke, they always used only one language. Both had excellent communication skills and were near perfect in their pronunciations. Both of them never taught me at school, but I had extensively interacted with them during various extra-curricular activities.

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(Mr KG Warrier with our Class-mate AP Sunil Kumar at Kottakkal.  The photo is of 2013 when Mr Warrier turned 90)

Mr KG Warrier hails from the family of world renowned Ayurveda Physicians of Kottakkal in Kerala. He is currently enjoying his retired life at Kottakkal. He is staying with his daughter, Rathi. The Warrier community connected to the Vaidya Sala stay at ‘Kailasa Mandiram’ in the Vaidya Sala premises at Kottakkal, Malappuram District, Kerala.

His specialty was that he would dress up in his starched and pressed cotton pants and shirt, wear a felt hat and hold a pipe in his hands. I was always intrigued as to how he managed to maintain the crease of his pants perfect even at the end of the day.

A few days before leaving school to join the National Defence Academy I met Mr KG Warrier and he asked me in Tamil as to when I was joining the academy and how the preparations were progressing. My answer was in the usual ‘mixed language’ of Tamil, Malyalam and English. To this he said “உனக்கு தமிழும் தெரியாது, மலையாளவும் தெரியாது, ஆங்கிலவும் தெரியாது. உனக்கு என்ன தெரியும்? (You do not know Tamil or Malayalam or English. What do you know?)”.

I still recollect a few words of advice Mr KG Warrier had given us.  He said that everyone should always carry and use three books – a dictionary, an atlas and a Wren & Martin Grammar book.  At the beginning of each year at the school, these were the first set of three books we were issued with.  Later on during my army service I did carry these three books.  Nowadays with the power of the internet with browsing tools like the Google, most information is at one’s fingertips and these three books have become almost extinct.

Mr M Selvaraj was well known for his voice and his oratory skills which were showcased during all the cultural programmes at the school. His orations in both Tamil and English would be well remembered by all his students. I was very curious as to how he managed to handle the two languages independently and so effectively. During my final year in school, I did manage to summon enough courage and asked Mr M Selvaraj about the secret.

Mr M Selvaraj said that when he joined the school he had very little grasp of English having done his Masters degree in Tamil. Major MMR Menon, then Headmaster of the school had advised him that to be a successful teacher in a school like this, mastery over English would go a long way. So with reluctance he approached Mr KG Warrier, but was surprised when Mr KG Warrier accepted to be his Guru and thus he started to learn English. He ended the chat by saying “the English I speak is all what Mr KG Warrier and Ms Sheela Cherian had taught me like any student who graduated under these great teachers.”

Mr M Selvaraj left our school in 1987 to be the first Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Mahe. After establishing the school, he moved as the Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Pondichery and now leads a retired life in Trichy.

After leaving the school, I always tried to complete a sentence in one language and many a times I did fail. After joining the army, I picked up Hindi. Luckily for me, I served mostly with the Brahmin soldiers from North India and that helped me improve my Hindi to a great extent. Now with Hindi also joining the bandwagon of languages in my mind, maintaining purity of language became near impossible.

Hats-off to all those Tamil news readers in any television channels, they speak pure Tamil only and would use another language vocabulary only in case it is unavoidable.

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Arts and Crafts

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One could either take arts or crafts as a non-elective subject from Grade 8 to 10 at Sainik School Amaravathinagar. Half the class joined either of the two based on their aptitude and inclination. Generally the well built boys went for the crafts as it involved a lot of planeing, chiseling and cutting. In our class we had PV Sumon, who had the thinnest frame of all, but wanted to enroll for the crafts class. The crafts teacher was a bit reluctant, but agreed to accept him into his fold on the sheer insistence of Sumon. At the end of it all, Sumon turned out to be best student from out batch in crafts. In the arts class, which I too had joined, had Mouli Marur as the best student who ultimately ended up as a designer and creative director with expertise in digital graphics and later a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The arts and crafts were taught to us by two simple, dedicated and hardworking teachers. They had no Masters degree to boast of, but their love for what they taught and whom they taught made them stand out in the crowd of teachers at the school.

Late Mr AK Rama Varma (AKR): The Royal Artist

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Mr AKR hailed from the Kochi Royalty and the art was in his blood. He taught us how to use colours to express one’s imagination, how to design various posters, book covers, cards etc. Even though I was not good at them, but the seeds Mr AKR had sowed were harvested much later by me with the advent of computers. I became a bit of an expert in making PowerPoint presentations by using the best colour layouts, designing covers and cards etc.

Mr AKR was a Kathakali (classical dance of Kerala, India) dancer too and he essayed various characters from the Mahabharata with grandeur during various cultural shows staged in the school. He also doubled up as our swimming instructor and everyone remembers him mostly for the role he did as a drowning victim for Mr CM Nair’s life saving demonstrations at the swimming pool.

How can anyone in our class ever forget the beautiful and confident Vanaja Varma, the daughter of Mr AKR. Vanaja, a year junior and she holds the honour of being the first girl most of our classmates ever interacted with. Even to this date many of us have a special place for her in our hearts.

Mr KS Krishnan Kutty (KSK) : Man for All Seasons

kskKSK

Mr KSK spend most of his time, many days until midnight, in his crafts section, completing many projects he had undertaken in addition to his teaching. His wife Ms Valsala and children always complained that he was never home, that high was his level of commitment and dedication. He had to be there everywhere, to make a set for the drama to be staged, to make any model for any other department, to repair the school furniture, to make various boards etc.

He was an excellent crafts teacher who could make his students visualise their own woodwork projects, design them and execute them. Anyone could walk into the crafts section and ask for any assistance at any time and he would smilingly oblige.

He was the school hockey coach and was also assisting with the canoeing club. He designed and fabricated about a dozen canoes with locally available material at a very minimal cost and these canoes became the showpiece of the canoeing club.

Mr KSK must be the only crafts teacher in India to be bestowed with the President’s Best Teacher Award. It was given for his dedication to duty and his ability to inculcate good values in his students. We had the honour of hosting Mr KSK and Ms Valsala when they came to Delhi to receive the President’s award. Mr KSK was a loving father and his two sons studied in our school and the younger son Colonel Sareesh is today an Air Defence officer.

I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention about Ms Valsala. She was an energetic, well mannered and active lady who always carried herself with poise. She was an athletic champion in her school days and after marriage moved to Amaravathinagar from Kerala. When the school wanted to start a Kindergarten for the children in the area the then Principal did not even think twice before handing over the responsibility to her, even though there were many other graduate ladies in the school campus. With Mr KSK’s support, the Kindergarten became well known and students started to enroll from far away villages.

Today the couple has settled down in their native village near Kochi, Kerala after Mr KSK’s retirement from school.

Your dedication and hard work will always enable you to achieve your goals.

Education and Punishment

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The rape of a first class student in school premises on July 17, 2014 in Bangalore added one more to the long list of child abuse cases, many of which remains unnoticed. It has brought back light on one of the worst perils that our country is facing today – child sexual abuse. It is a pity that most of such abusers are either close relatives or teachers of the children. In this case too, it was the physical education teacher. Most Principals let loose these physical education teachers (goons) on to the children to ‘discipline’ them, especially during assemblies or sports or cultural events. These teachers mostly end up misusing the ‘authority’ vested in them by the Principal and in many cases resulting into physical, sexual and mental abuse to the children. Majority of such physical education teachers have no qualification to be one.

Joshi Philip, our family friend, invited me to attend the prize distribution ceremony at their daughter’s primary school. Ann Maria, their daughter, a Grade 2 student, that day had the annual prize distribution ceremony at the end of the academic year. I accompanied Joshi to the school and at the reception we signed-in and were given a round yellow sticker which said “A Proud Parent”. I stuck it above my shirt’s pocket, close to my heart, as anyone will feel proud of it rather than hanging a visitor badge around the neck.

We entered the gymnasium where the award ceremony was to take place. Every primary school here has at least two such gymnasiums and we used to boast about the one we had at the National Defence Academy. We did not have one in the Sainik School. The gymnasium is a hardwood floored hall which serves as a basket ball court, assembly area, an auditorium and a lunch room or a cafeteria. At the end of the gymnasium was a stage where all the award winners were seated. The students marched in class wise with their teachers leading them and the students sat on the wooden floor while the teachers occupied their positions at the end near the wall. As expected of little children from Kindergarten to Grade2, they were talking and then the Principal appeared on the stage and raised her right arm. All children became silent and she said “eyes and ears towards me please” and introduced the two Masters of the Ceremony (MC) who were Grade 5 students.

The prize distribution ceremony went on beginning with the Kindergarten and any time when the children became noisy, the Principal would appear with her right hand raised and everyone became silent. During the entire proceedings not even a single teacher moved from their positions. At the end of the ceremony the Principal came on stage to thank everyone and to congratulate the prize winners and at the end wanted the children to do their usual “Silent Cheer”. I had no clue what it was. It was all the body and face expression of a cheer but done without a sound and was impressive and unique.

On leaving the school I realised that the self-discipline inculcated in these children will make them better citizens of the country and they do not need any “policing” to implement any laws or regulations.

Looking back to my Sainik School days, we mostly had the Principal and the Headmaster from the Education branches of the three services, and most of them one felt were the least ‘educated’. This was further reconfirmed during my training at the Academies and service tenures. Most of the Education Corps officers are masters in some discipline or the other and today we have many officers from the Arms and Services holding masters degree by virtue of undergoing the Staff College or the Long Gunnery or the Engineering degree courses. Some even hold Doctorates too. Academically these officers are many times better than their Education Corps counterparts.

Then why post such officers to the Military/Sainik Schools? Many of them behave no better than the physical education teachers of the Bangalore incident. Most are incapable of moulding and motivating the students to join the defence services and are pretty ordinary in teaching. Any officer in the Indian Army can conduct a better class than these Education officers. The only qualification these Education officers boast of is their Bachelor of Education (B Ed) degree. Most of the Haviladrs (Sergeants) who have attended any courses of instruction in various military training establishments (where they are luckily not trained by the Education officers) will beat them hollow in the art of teaching. Then why not even do away with the Education Corps, considering the education standards of the present recruits into the army.

Skydiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Importance of Music in School Curriculum

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On the social media there was a post with a video of a school band performing during the interval of a basketball match. The caption said “When will we have such performances from our school bands in India”. It took my memories back to school days when we thought that music was not our cup of tea and joining the school band was a sheer waste of time as it did not provide any extra marks and did cut into one’s free time.  Mr Gudu Saheb, our Band Master tried his level best to teach me the notes of music, but they all looked to me like a few designs all coming to eat me up.  That was it, I gave up not to even look back at it.  Having realised my school folly as one grew up; it was too late to learn music at that belated stage.   Now the only option available was to ensure that our children learned music at their young age.

Why the school bands in India do not have such good standards and such good performances when compared to those in North America? The main reason could be attributed to our notion that it does not bring in marks. In North American schools, band or music is part of the curriculum and it brings marks with it.

As band/music is part of the North American school curriculum, the music teachers are graduates in music and some are post-graduates. Our son’s music teacher in Grade 10 was a post graduate in English and music and that year he taught Nikhil both the subjects. During a meeting with him I asked him as to how he got into the two.  He said music was his passion and English was his interest and hence studied both. In India, the band is trained by an ex-bandmaster from the Army or from the police and has no formal qualification in music. The qualification of music teachers back home leaves a lot desired, even though plenty of talent with graduate and post-graduate qualifications in music are available. Music does not form part of the School Board Exams and is limited to performances in Youth Festivals in most schools in India. The reality TV competitions have encouraged parents to impart music training to their children.

Unlike in North America, where the time spent for rehearsing and performing a band routine is counted towards community service hours required for graduation, in India no such advantages is accrued by the children. The most they get for a performance in India may be a T-shirt or a meal.

Music helps to bring out the best in young people. It nourishes self-esteem and keeps them engaged. Promoting music in schools provides students with interests that take up considerable time and energy outside the academic activities. Students become involved in extracurricular activities and by being busy with music-related activities helps to keep students away from getting involved in the kinds of negative activities that lead to serious problems, such as drugs and alcohol.

Musical training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention, and even the ability to convey emotions vocally. Children who have had music lessons tend to have a larger vocabulary and better reading ability than those who haven’t had any musical training.

Music education helps in a child’s overall development intellectually, socially and emotionally. Music offers creative challenges and aesthetic appreciation as well as self-expression and self-discovery opportunities.   Music education fosters emotional maturity, as students learn to set and achieve personal goals. Time management, self-assessment, the ability to accept criticism and performance skills are all important attributes students learn through music education.

Music education plays a big part leading to personal development, such as self-discipline, dedication, teamwork, self-confidence and practice. All these values and the behaviours that demonstrate them are necessary to be a well-rounded person in all realms of life. Although these values are taught through other disciplines in various ways, the importance of learning them through music education in schools is that they translate into other disciplines so naturally. Students who enjoy music can easily transfer the habits learned to pursue their music to academic subjects.

Scientists have also discovered that learning to read music or play a musical instrument develops higher thinking skills. This means that children who learn music in schools are better problem-solvers and are better at analysis and overall critical thinking, because studying or playing music uses the same part of the brain that is used in mathematical thinking.  Music education can help promote better math students.

The importance of music in schools is that it fosters the kind of discipline that contributes to the development of personality traits and characteristics that bring one success in all of life’s endeavors. Music education helps develop overall intelligence, which translates to success in academic subjects in school. Music education also opens doors socially and culturally.  All these factors lead to success in life.