Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Colonel Victor Duraisamy. 

 

 

 

 

Annamalai – The Lord of Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Srinivasan Ramanujan : Mathematical Genius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Memorable Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exceptions Always Prove the Rule


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMN with Family
(Mr C Madhavan Nair with his family)

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

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

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

Hence the rule stands proved.

tb Wing Commander TB Srivastava

Writing Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guru Dakshina

Wedding

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.

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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….

PTC

Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Photo taken in 1969, courtesy  Mr Steve Rosson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as a Voluntary Service Overseas 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

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.

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.

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.

MVS6

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.

MVS8

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.

MVS4

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

wren and martin book copy

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?

SuspBridge

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

CrossCountry

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.

KGW

(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

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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.

Importance of Music in School Curriculum

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 Guddu Sahib, 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.

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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.