Colonel Parimi Venkata Ramakrishna, the Lone Traveller

Floral Clock, Niagara

During this tough Covid time, I was in for a shock this evening – news of the demise of Colonel PV Ramakrishna, known amongst us – his friends – as Ramki.  He was from the  technical graduate entry and was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers with us on 24 December 1982.  He is survived by his daughters – Ms Neharika and Major Vimala. May the God Almighty give them the strength to bear the loss.

He was widowed soon after he hung his boots.  He then took to travelling across the globe and he landed at Toronto in August 2015 and stayed with us for ten days.  We explored the Niagara escarpment, the flower-pot islands, Toronto city, Montreal, Blue Mountains, African Lion Safari and so on.

With Nikhil at the Niagara Falls

As I write this eulogy, I’m still reeling from the tragic death of Ramki, we are shocked, scared and angered at the unfairness and senselessness of the Virus that took him from us. Well meaning people will tell us that it is all part of God’s plan, or that this was just Ramki’s time to go, that he is in a better place. While God certainly knows his plan, we do not. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and as difficult and painful as it is, we must accept that Ramki is with his Creator.

Ramki was a traveler and an adventurer. He was a person who loved to learn about and experience new places and other cultures. He carefully researched each of his journeys, , taking new and unexpected.

Flower-Pot Island – Tobermory

Ramki was an outstanding father who was very proud of his daughters and their achievements.  Whenever we spoke, he always had something to mention about both Neharika and Vimala.  He said in his last conversation with me last year to me “My greatest assets and treasures are my daughters and I have allowed them freedom to grow up to be worthwhile ladies and they have come out in flying colours always.  You have given much more freedom to your children and they will surely achieve greater heights.”

Rest in Peace Ramki – You can continue with your travel in the other world.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan

When I opened my Whatsapp this morning, I was in for a shock; a most unexpected one.  It was the untimely demise of Colonel Sandeep Dhawan due to Covid. May God give the family courage and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

Colonel Sandeep Dhawan was commissioned into 17 GRENADIERS on 24 Dec 1982, and commanded  battalion in the same regiment from 2002 to 2005. He also served a brief stint with 9n. He had served as a Staff Officer with the  Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters.  He was also an Instructor at Infantry School, Mhow and a United Nations Military Observer in Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1995-96. He was Team leader of Indian Army Training Teams, Lesotho (Africa). He married  Anshu in May 1990 and has two daughters, Akarshita and Nikita.

13651, Koduvath Reji, this is Sandeep, H/61,” was the salutary call I received three months back. I wasn’t surprised by Sandeep’s ability to recall all our National Defence Academy (NDA) identity numbers, even after 33 years.  He was a proud father calling me about his daughter Nikita’s application to University of Toronto for a PhD in machine learning.

I assured Sandeep all support from our end and answered many a query about Nikita’s stay in Toronto, including the financial aspects.  We discussed all options threadbare. Sandeep had done his homework well and was a man who went into every little aspect. I promised him a ‘firm base’ at our home for Nikita, where she can walk in freely, and also my availability 24/7 as I am often at home. This was the usual and expected support I always ensure to extend to all our coursemates, military friends and their children.

We  had three more tele-conversations, all about Nikita and her stay here in Canada. I researched her professor and told Sandeep he was a tough nut to crack, though I was unimpressed by his student evaluations.

In one such conversation, Sandeep recommended the book ‘Angela’s Ashes.’  I promptly ordered it and was delivered to me last evening by Amazon.  I never realised what was in store for me!!!!!

We had planned to meet up at Toronto this fall when he came to drop off Nikita.  All this time, I had no idea he would be saying goodbye to us so soon.  Rest In Peace Buddy.

Daffodils & Tulips 2021

Our Garden – All set for the Spring.
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  By William Wordsworth)
As I walked through the tulips this May morning;
I was welcomed by the nature with its colourful awning;
It struck a gleaming chord in my mind;
My camera recorded it with a wind;
I watched every morning in quiet admiration;
The dew drops on soft petals my appreciation;
The tulip flowers in the cool breeze swayed,
It brought a cheer and my mind braid.
I love my tulips, they grace us and wilt away;
If only people too grace this world and fade away.


Canadian Volunteers Deliver Covid-19 Vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilisation effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

Thousands of Canadians, with a wide variety of experiences and expertise, have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country. The voluntary task force members were assembled by the federal government in late May and early June of last year. The task force then began to evaluate the scientific, technical and logistical merits of potential vaccine suppliers.  Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.

The next task for the volunteer force was vaccination. St John Ambulance was the leading organisation delivering training to those who signed up as volunteers . The only criteria is that the volunteer be between the age of 18 and 69, have at least two or more A-levels or equivalent, be at low risk of Covid-19 and be prepared to undergo a reference check. In October, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended the Government introduce a new national protocol to allow non-medics to administer the Covid vaccine. Then, thousands of volunteers with no medical background were also trained to administer the vaccine. The law facilitated more healthcare workers – such as paramedics, physiotherapists or student doctors and nurses, to vaccinate.

The volunteers were assigned the task of:

  • Supporting patients before or after their vaccination.
  • Providing reassurance.
  • Dealing with any medical emergencies.
  • React to any immediate adverse reactions.

Major General Dany Fortin, with nearly 30 years of military experience is responsible to oversee the herculean logistical effort to ensure vaccines reach  across the country and into the arms of millions of Canadians.  General Dany is one of the best operationally-experienced leaders.  Canadians could not have asked for somebody better; somebody who understands the leadership challenges, the planning challenges and the logistics challenges.  The effort has been underway for some months now, where they have been working out what they predict will be the supply line bottlenecks and difficulties.  Previous US President Donald Trump appointed four-star Army General Gustave F Perna to be the chief operations officer for that country’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ in May.

On 20 April, I was scheduled for my vaccination at University of Toronto  Mississauga (UTM) campus at 11:15.  I was advised to reach there only ten minutes before the scheduled time.  UTM joined forces with Trillium Health (our public health agency,) to open a mass vaccination clinic in the campus’s Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre on March 1.   It’s expected that the clinic could ultimately vaccinate up to half a million people.  UTM offered space and equipment, such as ultra-cold storage freezers, to support these critically important initiatives.

As I parked my car, there were volunteers – mostly university students, to guide us to the vaccination centre.  We were then requested to answer a questionnaire on the Trillium Health website using our cellphone.  Those not in possession of a cellphone were helped by the volunteers using their PDAs.

As we entered the centre, our temperature was recorded and there were about ten counters manned by volunteers who carried out necessary documentation in less than five minutes.  After that we were ushered into the gymnasium where I was administered the vaccine by a sexagenarian lady volunteer.

After the vaccine was administered, I thanked her and said “I did not realise that you did it so fast and that too with no pain.”

Over forty years of experience as a nurse, young man!  Our children and grandchildren are proud that I volunteered for this,” she replied with a smile.

We were then ushered into a waiting area with chairs placed maintaining social-distancing norm.  We had to wait for 30 minutes and at the end of it we were issued with our vaccination certificate bearing the Trillium logo of Ontario Ministry of Health

Veteran Plate


On social-media, a friend, an Indian, now settled in UK  commented  “For Indians the mode of transport is a status symbol. When my uncle became a S/Lt from a rating, the first thing he did was replace push bike for a scooter. In U.K. I have seen Lord Chancellor Hailsham and Prime Minister David Cameron riding bike to the Parliament.”

Indians carry the very same attitude it to the North American shores too – all riding BMW/ Mercedes/ Audi. You will hardly find Indians driving any other brand – even if their salaries are meager.

One Sunday, at the Malayalam Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada, a man told me “Why are you driving on a Honda? You can easily afford a BMW!

With Veteran General Hariz at Niagara

I’m comfortable driving a Honda, Why invest so much in a BMW?  The gasoline needed is the higher grade which is costlier and the cost of maintenance too is high,” I replied.

I was taken aback by his reply “If you want people to respect you in this church, then you must drive a BMW.

Remember – Jesus went to the church riding a poor donkey!!! No one should have valued him then!!!!

I said “My ‘VETERAN’ license plate is much more valuable than your BMW. There is many BMWs in the parking lot. Show me another car with a Veteran plate.”

Further thoughts from an Englishman at Sainik School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes to you all,

Steve Rosson

steverosson@aol.com

Women in the Indian Defence Forces


Regarding employment of women in the Indian Defence Forces, there have been many views expressed.  I have tried to analyse it based on the reasons why Canadian women leave the Defence Forces.

Restrictions on the employment of women in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been lifted since 1989 to include  combat related military occupations (Combat arms, Naval operations and Pilots.)  Restrictions on employment of women in submarines were lifted in 2001.

By the end of 2017, there were 12 women at the general and flag officer ranks in the CAF, a record high with four in each service. The number of women in senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) ranks also rose to 57 Chief Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers, as did the number of women in Special Forces roles.

A summary of women’s representation rates for officers and NCMs in the Regular Force and Primary Reserve is as follows:

  • Army
    • Officer 16.50%
    • NCM   12.80%
    • Total    13.50%
  • Navy
    • Officer 22.40%
    • NCM   19.80%
    • Total    20.60%
  • Air Force
    • Officer  21.00%
    • NCM    19.2%
    • Total     19.80%

Canadian women have fought alongside men in Afghanistan.  Hundreds of women served as combat soldiers between 2000 and 2011, mostly in Afghanistan, with a total of more than 600 deployments of 60 days or more.

The Department of National Defence (DND) has not collected information specifically about Canadian women’s combat experience in Afghanistan, and has no definite plans to do so.  DND stated that “Participation on operations is based on the physical and mental ability of soldiers. Those who can successfully complete the requisite work-up training can deploy on operations and this process does not include gender considerations.”

In the Canadian forces, every job is open to people who meet the standard of the job. The job standards that infantry soldiers meet are based on training followed by testing. Women earned the right to fight in Afghanistan alongside other Canadian soldiers by passing a series of tests, including some specific to the challenges they faced in that theatre.

Here is the case of US Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio, an athlete in college, and a high scorer in Marines training which she graduated in 2007. Five years later, she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyse and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

After over two years in Iraq and Afghanistan she felt that the injuries due to carrying a full combat load, left her with muscle atrophy in her thighs that was causing her to constantly trip and her legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. Her agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering her response time and overall capability.

She compared that while everyone experienced stress and muscular deterioration, her rate was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further ­compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. She categorically states in the article that women can hold their own in combat, but she is concerned about longevity.

Top Five Reasons Why CF Women Leave the Force

  • Family Separation                         27.4 %
  • Return to School                           25.4 %
  • Stay at Home and Raise Family    19.9%
  • More Challenging Work               18.4%
  • Conflict with Spouse Career         18.4%

Three of the top five reasons above is linked to their family responsibilities. Almost 20% of women declared that they had left the CAF to stay home and raise a family, a reason that did not even make the top ten reasons offered by men who left CAF.

US military’s  attrition data shows the following top three reasons for American women service members to leave the military:

  • lack of clear roles and careers paths
  • differential treatment they received
  • difficulty in combining career and family.

The same may apply to all women soldiers across the globe as family responsibilities will take precedence.

Movie Review : Joji : Malayalam


JOJI – Malayalam  Movie set in Covid time – inspired by Macbeth, is a simple story set in a Syrian Orthodox Christian family of Kottayam, told without any frills.  Dileesh the director has done an excellent work, so are all the characters.  Technically also the movie is brilliant. Justin Varghese’s music is apt for each occasion and every time a new symphony plays, it is a reminder about the Shakespearean tragedy lurking around.

The family background and the name of the protagonist are same as my novel ‘Son of a Gunner,’ and there end  the commonalities.  The movie tells the story of a hardworking father who made a fortune through his dedication and business acumen in rubber plantation and harnessed his riches.  His adamant nature and his treatment of  his three sons are typical of such people.  The natures of his three sons follow a typical Syrian Christian lineage of the day.

The eldest son is the one most attached to his father, who toiled  hard with his father for the well being of the family.  He is the least educated – could be that the father could not afford to send his to college during his time.  He is a ‘ruffian’ with coarse language, speaks his mind out and the least greedy while dividing the family riches.  He is physically tough – the result of his hard work in his youth and dresses in simple mundu and shirt.  These qualities must have resulted in a broken marriage  and he is depicted as a divorcee, living with his son in the ancestral home.

The second son is better educated, and runs the rubber procurement business.  He is less attached to his father and is also greedy.  His scheming wife proves  an ideal companion.  His dress sense is better than his elder brother’s, so is his language, but physically he is no match.  He is very diplomatic and flows well with the requirement of the society.

In a Syrian Orthodox family, the youngest son inherits the ancestral house, based on the premise that he is most likely to outlive his parents.  He is responsible to take care of the parents in their old-age and also organise family events and get-togethers.

The youngest son grew up when the family’s fortunes were good.  He neither witnessed any hardships nor he worked towards enhancing the family’s riches.  He had the best of times and the best education  his  father could afford.  Richness of the family ensured that he developed  many vices and turned lazy.  He is depicted as an engineering degree dropout.  He does not even pick up a bottle from the fridge to drink, he wants his sister-in-law to serve him.  He is up-to-date with technology and also his dress sense.

Though physically the weakest, he is the most intelligent among the three sons and is also the most scheming.  His attitude is that the ancestral house belongs to him and the rest are parasites.  He also wants to inherit all the riches the earliest and wants his father dead.   He aptly called the ‘useless’ by his father and the oppressive nature of the father turns him into a beast.

The eldest son is the least greedy, the second  is greedier and the youngest greediest.  The level of greediness is inversely proportional  to their efforts towards the family riches.  This is a reality and is very evident with many court cases – both civil and criminal – in Indian courts – all for wealth inherited from the parents.

It is all about ‘Dad’s Money‘ ‘തന്തേടെ കാശ്’  ‘बाप का पैसा’ – one of the root cause of most evils in Indian society. 

The movie is worth a watch and is available on Amazon Prime.

Book Review : Mojo in a Mango Tree by Vikram Cotah

Kudos to Vikram, the author, for bringing out a wonderful book based on life lessons. The book is replete with life experiences and ‘interesting’ anecdotes- many where someone has gone an extra mile.  The aspects covered deals with the hospitality industry, but is applicable to all professions and also in everyday life.  The hotel industry, like any other profession, renders many an opportunity to go that extra mile and a good leader/ employee must seek it out.  The leaders and employers have to grant that ‘extra’ to an employee who goes that extra mile to encourage others to follow.  Empowering the employees will go a long way. In most organisations, red tape is the biggest hindrance to achieving the extra mile.   It is all about maturing relationships and enjoying the trust of the customers and subordinates.

The history of hotel industry enunciated in the book is educative and informative.  Consumers evolve and the industry got to be in sync, but the need for a good service culture will remain forever.  Emotions and gastronomy will add value to the guests’ experience.  There is never a second-chance in hospitality as there are no runners-up in a war.

It is all about kindness, compassion and empathy.   Get out of your comfort zone, explore the world and recoup your energy.  A guest is never a room number;  so are your employees and subordinates.  You need a thick skin dealing with complaints and worries and learn to say ‘No’ with a ‘Yes.’  One who manages  crisis  better will always succeed as you are sure to face many.  Feedbacks are more important than compliments.

The author  brings out many life lessons.  Happiness is being positive.  Plan your day well.  Have a dream, set your aims and achieve your goals.  Create a bucket list the earliest and keep ticking them off – Do these consistently – in small measures. Smile is the best weapon in your life.

Success and failures  are integral to life.  Failures provide you opportunities to become  smarter.  Branding is very important today and I have tested and tasted all the elements charted in the book. Life cycle of a hotel from inception applies well to all businesses. Why?  Even true for a soldier.

The reader will appreciate and also identify easily with some well brought out instance like giving out perfumes to the hotel staff – a  novel and a much required need in the Indian context.  Changing the lobby mat with ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Evening’ – I never thought of.  Wall panels to make selfies look great – need of the day.

Learning is a lifelong process.  I ran away from studies to join the Army – neither did I stop running nor studying thereafter.

‘Leaders of the future will need to balance technology quotient and emotional quotient.  This will be the Extra Quotient of the future.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry


The story of the triumphal entry  appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before.

This day is celebrated by Christians world over as Palm Sunday.  The Friday that follows is the ‘Good Friday‘ – the day Jesus was crucified and the Sunday, the Easter Sunday – marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Passion Week.

Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this journey would end in his sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. As Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus. The palm branch represented goodness and victory and was symbolic of the final victory.

The crowds shouted, “Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV)

The date of the first observance of Palm Sunday is uncertain. A detailed description of a palm processional celebration was recorded as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem. The ceremony was not introduced into the West until much later in the 9th century.

Many churches, distribute palm leaves to the congregation on Palm Sunday to commemorate the Triumphal Entry.  The worshipers take home the venerated palm leaf and display it near a cross or crucifix, or place it in their Bible until the next year’s season of Lent. Some churches collect baskets to gather the old palm leaves to be burned for  Ash Wednesday.

Why did he ride on a donkey?

Mathew 21 says ‘1. …Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.’

In those days in that land, horses were owed by the nobility and donkeys by the lower society – often animals of burden used by the potters, washer-men, load or water carriers, etc.  No one owning a donkey  would have had the courage to refuse or fight against the noble looking disciples.  Irony of the narration in all the Gospels is that none speaks about returning the donkey to its owner.

Riding a donkey or a horse that has never been rode upon is a very difficult task.  The animal did not have a saddle, hence the disciples removed their cloaks and spread it on the animal’s back to act as a saddle.  Still it is a very difficult ride – Ask anyone who ever rode a bare-back horse!!  When we were cadets at the National Defence Academy, during horse-riding classes, bare-back riding (without a saddle, but with a blanket,) was the most dreaded one.

Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a stallion, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ came not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.

All the prophets before Jesus were military Generals and they all must have rode on a horse, dressed in complete nobility, carrying a sword.  Here came Jesus, on lowly donkey, with neither any military ceremonial uniform nor a sword.  He came with a smile on his face and heart pouring out with his Godly love.

Now compare Jesus triumphant entry with that of our Bishops – riding on a luxury sedan with a flag flying on their cars, dressed in all gold and finery!!!!!

An Englishman at Sainik School 1969-70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Special Aircraft for the Indian Cricket Team


During our trip to Alaska, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver.  We boarded the early morning Air Canada flight from Toronto.  The flight duration was of about five hours, but the clock only moved by two hours because the clock had to be set back by three hours as the time zone of Vancouver is three hours behind Toronto.

The five hours flight was made more comfortable than the regular one as the aircraft, an Airbus 319 variant deployed was the special charter plane used to fly various teams of the National Hockey League (NHL).  The aircraft had only 58 seats, that too all First Class, with all the accessories like comforters, extra legroom, LCD screens, and a private jet-like experience.  Thank you Air Canada.  They neither charged us any premium nor extra for the additional comfort and services rendered on our Economy Class ticket.

Former India cricket captain Kapil Dev has suggested the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to buy an airplane for the Indian cricket team in order to reduce travel time and resulting fatigue in an already busy schedule. He had made a similar suggestion to the BCCI a few years ago too.  With the T20 Indian Premier League (IPL) also going great guns, BCCI is making good money.  By owning a plane, could be in partnership with any of the leading carriers, it will save a lot of time and make life easier for Team India and also for various IPL teams.

In the middle of the aircraft were four seats on either side with a large table.  It must be for the team management, the captain, the coach, the physio to hold any meetings in flight to work out strategy for the next game or to evaluate the team’s performance in their previous game.

VIRAL; The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping on airport floor goes viral | Latest News, Sports , viral, The picture of MS Dhoni and his wife Sakshi sleeping
With a busy schedule ahead, both at home and at international locations, Team India is in for spending a lot of time in air.  The effect of jet-lag travelling across the globe takes a fair share of energy that too sitting in a cramped position, especially after playing a physically and mentally tiring match.  Why, even the practice sessions of today takes the toll.

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It could also be feasible for various IPL teams to own their own aircrafts in collaboration with various domestic carriers.  The aircraft could be used on the domestic circuit when the IPL is not in session.  It will be a great draw with the cricket crazy Indian public, to be sitting on a seat usually occupied by their cricketing hero.  Obviously, such seats will go at a premium.  The aircraft can also be chartered for corporate events, tourism packages, pilgrimage and also for weddings.

It would not only generate extra moolah for the airline, but would also help in with their publicity.

Kapil Dev’s suggestion must be taken up by BCCI  and all the IPL franchisees, at least to make  the players enjoy a better and comfortable flight in future.  This becomes all too important in the current pandemic days.

Mr Damodaran’s Treatment

(Lieutenant AK Parrat and Commander NK Parrat)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stitching Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could I execute such a mission?

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

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

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

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


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


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

Pen Pushers


My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that  I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard  Staff College and/ or  Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit.  A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome.  This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.

When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College.  You tell us to read five pages daily and write one.  When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer.  In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”

To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun.  We have one Staff College qualified  BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.

My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture?  Who will conduct the demonstration?  Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?

The answer was obvious!  They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”

I concluded “You can select what you want to do.  So, you better qualify the entrance exam for  both.  It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two.  Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.

When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.)  He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams.  A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.

Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through.  The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.  Look at me!  I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”

His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want  to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously.  I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed.  I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”

For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery,  survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on.  Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?

Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied.  With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”

LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days.  Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.

On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight.   I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam.  He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight.  I am sure  you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify.   Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”

Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans.  Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.

As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”

I dashed to the CO’s office.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify.  All the best.  Do well in life.”

He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.

While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time?  Why did he wish me well in life?  Above all, why did he hug meWhy did he have to see me off?

Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered.  (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.

About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.

Indian Army Water Bottle

Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.

My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.

This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,

These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.


In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.

The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

Mischievous Memoirs by Veteran Colonel Gora Sarkar : Book Review


The author has succeeded in painting his childhood with a brush of childlike innocence which every reader can easily connect with.  I developed an instant connection with the author as I too grew up at home with my three brothers with I too being the third and our pranks were as good.

The anecdotes of children’s innocence of marriage at the beginning of the holidays, tickling and kissing followed by baby crawling from beneath the bed, divorce at the end of the holidays with the baby disappearing beneath the bed; Franco-English battle; chocolate deprivation; census enumerator risking his life; holy-dip in the pond; the (un)parliamentary debate – all stand testimony to the author’s ability to recall the incidents in his growing up years with such finesse and humour. I felt it was as realistic as it could be

(Author seated second from left with his Mom, Caesar, Dad. Bonny at the back with Nar Bahadur)


Incidents of a soldier’s diplomacy at its best is displayed with a peg of Sacramental Wine that made two warring sides – the Catholics and the Protestants – come to truce – especially if they are Mallus , that too preaching amongst Nagas. Postponing the cow slaughter in Sri Lankan Army camp to respect the sentiments of his soldiers establishes it further. Ensuring that the French Brigadier’s wife netted a good bargain with the Delhi jeweller is another.

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(Author in Nagaland with his soldiers)

The author has displayed his humaneness and love for fellow human beings through his description of the mental state of people of a conflict ridden zone, first Rakhi, dealing with the rudeness of the American Army officer; the parting advise by his helper at the Indian Military Academy to be like Netaji,  empathy towards the Pakistani Prisoners of War; ensuring that the girls did not get hurt during a hockey match.

The most important lesson for a child (and also for an adult) what the book brings out are:

  • ‘When you grow up, I don’t care if you don’t earn a lot of money, but you must be scrupulously honest.”
  • “The most important quality a boy must possess is character.”

You can purchase the book in India on Amazon,in by clicking here.

International readers can purchase it on Amazon.com.  Please click here.

How it all Began?

TNIn June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  In November 2002, we returned to Devlali.

After the unit got re-established at Devlali, I said to our officers “I owe you a party from my side as  you all have performed extremely well during our operational deployment.  Above, all, you carried me along as your Commanding Officer.   This Saturday, there will be cocktails at the Officers’ Mess to be followed by a dinner at the Dhaba.”   (Dhaba is a roadside restaurant mostly frequented by the passing truck drivers.)

Why at the Dhaba Sir” queried our Second-in-Command (2IC), Late Colonel Suresh Babu.  “Our mess staff have toiled hard for the past eleven months and taken good care of us.  I do not want to stress them anymore,” I justified.

That Saturday evening, officers with their wives and children, all assembled at our Officers’ Mess and the party commenced.  After the cocktails, I got on to the driving seat of the Jeep with all children in tow and ordered others to follow.

I drove to the Taj Hotel, Nashik and after we got off the vehicle, Captain Subhash asked “Sir, so this is your Dhaba?

As we sat down for dinner, the waiter enquired “Buffet or A-la-carte?”  “ A-la-carte” I affirmed.  Suresh was not at all amused with my choice and he said “It is going to cost you a fortune – at least one month’s take-home-pay!”  “That’s fine.  You guys deserve it,” I replied.

A few days after the dinner, Captain Mitra asked me “Sir, you need not have treated us to a dinner  at the Taj.  We could have had it at our Officers’ Mess.  It would have saved a lot of expenditure for you.”

What I paid at the Taj is much less than the efforts you all have put in till now.   Above all, you guys cared for me for the past six months with a smiling face.  I am really indebted to you all,”   I said.

Mitra was not convinced.  He asked “But why the Taj Sir? It is obviously the costliest place one can think of in a hundred kilometer radius of this place.”  I declared  “I do not want any of our officers to be sold for a dinner at a Five-Star Hotel like that Brigadier of the Tehelka incident of last year (Operation West End – 2001)Henceforth, all our celebrations will be at the Taj.”

Whatever it was, it resulted  Mitra coining the term ‘Dinner at the Dhaba’.

In December 2002, Southern Army Commander visited our unit and it was an overwhelmingly successful event.  It surely called for a celebration, especially as Christmas and New Year was approaching. So we decided on a dinner at the Dhaba.

It all commenced with cocktails at the Officers’ Mess and as we reached the Taj, Mitra went to the bar and returned to report “Sir, they have an excellent bar out here.”  “Let us all have a drink then,” I said.  Surely, it did not stop at one drink.

As we were all parading out of the bar for dinner, Suresh, like a good 2IC said “Sir, we have run up a  bar bill that is at least  five times that of the cost of the cocktails at the Officers’ Mess.”  I replied “Do not worry.  We will take care of it later.  Let them all have fun and enjoy.”

The next day in office, I had a file waiting, showing the expenditure for the dinner with a noting sheet.  Captain Subahsh, our Mess Secretary,  had opined “Every Officer to pay Rs 1000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund of the Officers’ Mess.

Below that was the noting of Suresh.  He wasn’t that ‘magnanimous.’ Like any good 2IC he wrote “Each officer to pay Rs 2000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund.”

I scored through the entire noting with a red ink pen and wrote “Each Officer to pay Rs 100.  Rest to be charged off from the entertainment fund.”

As soon as the file reached Suresh, he came charging in to my office and said “Why are you putting your head under a Gillette? Haven’t you read my noting.”  I calmly replied “Yes.  I have overruled it and written my decision with my hand.   Don’t worry about my head; it has been under a Gillette many a times before.”

Be Worthy of Your Soldiers’ Love


(With Suresh, Ranjith, Santosh and Thapa during my farewell party at the Regiment)

While commanding our Regiment at Devlali, I was a single parent taking care of our daughter Nidhi, then aged 12 and our six year old son Nikhil as Marina had emmigrated to Canada.  It would not have been possible for me to take of our children alone and the soldiers at home did a marvelous job.  I remain ever thankful to them.

The staff at home was headed by Havildar Chef Thapa, two Radio Operators – Santhosh and Ranjith and Havildar Driver Suresh.  They took care of the children and the home like theirs and like a fortress.  It was as secure as it could be for the children and they did not want anyone else intruding into their fort.

Thapa hailed from Nepal and was the only married man among them.  It was said in the Regiment that when he went on leave to his native Nepal, he returned only when he ran out of cash.  He went on his two month annual leave and the staff at home took over the kitchen for they did not want any ‘intruder.’

After two months, on a Friday evening Santosh said “Thapa is back from leave.”

He was to report on Sunday to commence his duties on Monday.  Why is he here so early?” I asked and summoned Thapa to enquire about his unusual early arrival.

Looking into my eyes he said, “Who will take care of the children and you if I am away for long?”

I kept looking at him for half a minute as I had no words and said “Thank you Thapa.”  Did my eyes well up?

Suresh drove his Commanding Officer’s Jeep with pride and devotion that he never allowed anyone to touch the Jeep.  He was responsible for taking care of my itinerary for the day and instructed Santosh and Ranjith about various uniforms or dresses I had to wear that day and timing for leaving home for an event.  He always carried three ties, a coat and some toiletries  in the Jeep so that I could convert my informal attire into a formal one while he drove, especially when we were short of time.  When Suresh went on his two month annual leave, I mostly walked to office as it was 400 meter away, else I drove.

Keeping four year old Nikhil engaged through the day was the most difficult task they had.  They played cricket with him, ensuring that he always made a lot of runs. I had passed strict orders that Nidhi will not be helped in polishing her shoes, preparing her dress for the school next day, cleaning her cycle and similar chores as I wanted to prepare her for the life ahead in Canada – to live without help.  Santosh and Ranjith flouted my orders on a daily basis when I was away on my evening walks.

Santosh and Ranjith took turns to proceed on leave.  For that they had to approach their Radio-Operator Section Commander.  I had laid down strict channel of reporting for all ranks of the Regiment and my personal staff were no exception.  I came to know of their leave plan only when Subedar Major Thangaswamy said about it during our morning meeting.  He always had a replacement ready for the staff proceeding on leave, but I always declined it as I knew that they disliked intruders in their fort.

We had a large area around the house and along with the staff we decided to turn it into a beautiful  garden and we succeeded to a great extent.  One Sunday afternoon I was at the Mumbai airport while returning from a week long  training event when I received a call from Nidhi. “Dad, our garden was adjudged the best home garden in Devlali Station.  This afternoon I received the prize from General Jambusarwalla, the Commandant.”  I said, “Great job!  You received the prize, so you now arrange a party in the evening and we will celebrate it on my return.”

Recently Nikhil asked, “When we were at Devlali, I never heard you saying anything to your staff.  How did you manage it?”

They knew their Commanding Officer, his needs, likes and dislikes  well and did not need any orders or instructions.” I replied.  In fact they enjoyed their freedom of action.  When I invited guests home, I had to only give the number of guests and their food preferences.  All the guests were astonished by the sumptuous menu our staff laid out.  One vegetarian guest asked me twice to confirm, “Are you sure all these are vegetarian?”  Thapa with his culinary skills had laid out a vegetarian feast with all dishes looking like non-vegetarian ones.

This is a comment on my recent blog-post on Regimental Fund from one of our soldiers:
Walking down the memory lane truly nostalgic sir. We have learned a lot in those golden days. Nice to see old photographs of NCOs and JCOs of SAWA Lakh.  The order of roll call on T-shirt and Shorts was the most popular decision between us youngsters on those days.
I was fortunate to work as your stick orderly and learnt basic of computers at the IT cell you had created for data collection. Now after retirement I am heading security automation department of one of the India’s biggest conglomerate.’

Look at the friends/ followers on your social media accounts.  How many are your soldiers?

Training Two Levels Up & Down

During most military training and courses, the philosophy of training was to train every soldier and officer two levels up with every soldier and officer capable of functioning at a level higher and aware of the functioning two levels up.  A Section Commander was expected to function as a Platoon Commander and was to be aware of the functioning of a Company Commander.

As a Lieutenant, I was the Gun Position Officer (GPO) responsible for deployment of the six guns of the Battery, calculating the technical parameters for engaging targets at about 25 km, ammunition management, administration of the soldiers, maintenance of weapons, vehicles, radio equipment etc.  During our annual training exercise with live firing, our Brigade Commander declared me a ‘casualty.’  Our Technical Subedar took over the duties of GPO and did a commendable job which surely impressed our Brigade Commander.  Four years later, as the Forward  Observation Officer (Captain) during  a similar training exercise, our Brigade Commander declared our Battery Commander a casualty and I carried out the fire planning and engagement of target in support of an Infantry Battalion attack.  We were trained and tested to function a level up.

For the annual inspection when I joined our Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1983, our Brigade Commander wanted the officers to form a gun detachment of the medium gun and bring the gun into action and carry out various target engagement drills.  The senior most Battery Commander was the detachment commander with rest eight of us – Captains and Lieutenants – formed the detachment.  We trained for a week with our Gunner Subedar Amarjit, a Punjabi Brahmin who spoke chaste Punjabi interspersed with taunting comments as our instructor.  It was a great learning for all of us and it was fun, especially Subedar Amarjit’s commentary and exalting Punjabi punch lines.

Curious to see our Battery Commander training on the gun, I asked him as what could be the intention of our Brigade Commander in making us go through this drill.  He said that it was to build camaraderie among officers and make them well versed with the handling and functioning of the gun.  I wasn’t fully convinced.

Come June 2002 and I took over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment.  The unit was under the process of being equipped with modern radars, surveillance and survey equipment.  Military technology develops by leaps and bounds in the modern day and what knowledge I had of the equipment were outdated.  I began earnestly training on the equipment with our soldiers with our Subedars as instructors.

It was learning of a different kind.  the soldiers were enthused by their Commanding Officer training as the detachment member and commander of the radar; carrying the theodlite, setting it up and taking observations; operating the long range optical surveillance system; handling the Global Positioning System (GPS) etc.  I enjoyed the training the same way I did as a Second Lieutenant and learned a lot, especially the short-cuts the soldiers adopted.

It helped me know more about our soldiers and my confidence in them increased manifold.  They too must have had a similar experience.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the three morning hours I spent on training and it appeared that our soldiers too enjoyed training with their Commanding Officer.  My computer knowledge – both in hardware and software – helped me assimilate the training fast. Our soldiers were amazed with my speed of learning and were impressed by my finesse in handling the equipment.

That was when the answer to the question I had as a Second Lieutenant propped up in my mind.  Why can’t Commanders at all levels train for a day or two to function two levels down?

I suggest that all commanders – Brigade Commanders and below – must train two levels down.  It will be a  great learning, especially in view of the ever changing military technology.  When I joined our Regiment in 1983, the soldier’s personal weapon was 7.64mm Self loading Rifle.  Over the years we were equipped with the 5.56 Rifles and the AK 47.  Our Regiment was equipped with Bofors Gun in 1989 – a quantum jump in using the computing power in the field of gunnery.  We were till then used to the cumbersome manual procedures involving logarithmic tables, range tables, various graphical instruments and the calculator to calculate various gunnery parameters.  Similar was the case with the Infantry and Armoured Regiments.

Training two levels down – if done with a positive intent to learn – will go a long way in camaraderie and the soldiers knowing their Commanders better.

Regimental Training & Myths

‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.(Gospel According to St John, Chapter 10, Verses 4 & 5)

This was my guiding light as I trained myself along with our soldiers on assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. Being new to the outfit, it was imperative that I ‘recognise their voices’ and for the soldiers to know the ‘voice’ of their Commanding Officer (CO).

My mornings were well spent on training with our officers and soldiers on the equipment, as my first priority was to achieve a good level of proficiency in handling and operational functioning of the radars, surveillance and survey equipment.

The deficiency in our posted strength of personnel was made up by the influx of about 20 recruits, whose training had been truncated in view of the mobilisation.  They had to be trained further to become effective soldiers.  Drill and Weapon Training Instructors were requested from the neighbouring Infantry Battalion.  All young soldiers with less than five years of service were trained separately, commencing with 45 minutes of Physical Training, followed by a breakfast break of 45 minutes .  This was followed by 45 minutes of Drill after which there was a 15 minute ‘hydration break’ with liberal amounts of lemonade and water being served.  This was followed by a 45 minute  Weapon Training class under the trees. The technical and tactical training sessions were conducted thereafter, on each day.

For the next four weeks, all Officers and Soldiers trained sincerely and hard.  At the end of our training schedule, we had well turned out soldiers moving about with a smart military bearing.  They all proved to be an asset to the Regiment as they were ready to execute any task. A strong feeling of ‘espirit de corps’ and Regimental Pride developed due to which, we had zero disciplinary violations. .

Training of JCOs and NCOs to become effective junior leaders was a bit difficult on account of systemic inertia caused due to decades of centralised functioning.  Though their duties and responsibilities were explained in detail and all JCOs were granted the financial power to purchase anything up to Rs 100 without prior approval, they were rather hesitant to assert themselves.

On the third day of my training with the Radar teams, I tasked a JCO to drive in a vehicle along the road, for a distance of about 15 km from our location, with a radio-set and a GPS.  He was required to stop after every km and report his location while those of us at the radar end tried and locate him and compare the map coordinates worked out by us with his GPS coordinates reported.  After about five reports, the JCO stopped reporting his coordinates because the batteries powering his GPS had drained off.  “Why couldn’t   he use his initiative and purchase the standard AA batteries from any local shop?” I asked.  Though the cost of the batteries was well within his financial powers, the thought of procuring them himself, did not occur to him.  “March him up to me tomorrow!” I ordered.  In the evening Major Suresh, our Second-in-Command, came to my office and said “At this rate you will end up marching up half the Regiment.  Please give them time to get used to your style of functioning.”

There were many myths prevailing which had to be broken.  This needed persistent efforts as it is rather difficult to introduce new ideas and practices without uprooting deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that drive the functioning of any military unit.

As the Regiment was all set to move into battle, all soldiers wore their Identity Discs with the oval disc on their left wrists and the round one around their necks. The myth prevalent was that this was to ensure that identification of the body parts would be easier if blown apart due to an explosion.  The correct method of wearing the two discs was explained to all soldiers.  The oval disc, through one hole of which, a cord 24 inches long is passed through, is worn around the neck like a chain.   The round disc is required to be attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc using a smaller cord, about four inches in length. Both the discs, attached to each other, were required to be worn around the neck of each soldier! In case of death during war, the round disc is required to be removed by the soldier’s comrades or at the field hospital and deposited with his unit as proof of his  death in action. The oval disc is left on the body for identifying it and conducting the last rites.  The round disc, along with the soldier’s personal belongings are despatched to the Depot Regiment/ Company of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

An  aspect that hindered the effective functioning of JCOs was the non-availability of transport, especially when they had to travel outside the Regimental area.  Three 100 cc light motorcycles with six helmets were handed over to our Subedar Major, for use by the JCOs. The Subedar Major was directed to issue military driving licences to all JCOs and to those Havildars who had qualified for promotion to be a JCO.  One JCO was brought to me with the excuse that he could not drive a motorcycle and hence, did not want any driving license to be issued to him.  I cleared his doubts by making him aware that, “All JCOs were required to clear Mechanical Transport Level 3 Test (MT3) prior to attending the promotion cadre. Anyone with MT3 is qualified to drive a motorcycle and other vehicles.  In case any JCO is unwilling to drive, he would be marched up to the General Officer for dismissal from service on grounds of inefficiency.”  There were no complaints after that.

The Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and Small Arms Annual Classification Firing results of the Regiment, did not follow a bell curve.  That meant that either the standards set by  the Army Physical Training Corps or the Infantry School were too easy (which, obviously was not the case)  or the soldiers of our Regiment were exceptional in their marksmanship and physical fitness!!  I impressed upon all the need to be truthful in reporting test results and it must follow the bell curve.  The case of Havildar Shivnath Singh who represented India twice in the Asian games and twice at the Summer Olympics  and who wilted due to unscientific over training was discussed.  I summed it saying “Failing in any test is not a sin and the soldier has to be trained systematically to achieve the desired results.

Another retrograde convention among all ranks concerned the use of the telephone or intercom to communicate with the CO. This was considered by most as sacrilege. Our officers felt that calling the CO over the intercom or telephone appeared discourteous and they were not comfortable with it. They felt that they must physically appear in front of the CO to pass on any information. I explained to them, “The exchequer has spent a considerable sum to provide the Regiment with a telephone network and an intercom system.  Please use them. Calling the CO over the phone is not being discourteous.”  It still took them over a month to shed this inhibition.

Did it continue like that for ever in the Regiment?  I did what I could and I cannot ensure its continuity, but I succeeded to a great extent in dispelling many myths and retrograde conventions.

Regimental Fund

On taking over command of our Regiment in June 2002, we were deployed in our operational area in Rajasthan, ready to be launched into battle any time.  The mercury tipped many days over 40°C and the Regiment had been there since the dawn of the New Year.

The entire Regiment was living in tents with the Commanding Officer (CO) provided with a much more spacious and larger tent.  The other luxury the CO enjoyed was a desert cooler in the tent and the Second-in-Command (2IC) too had this luxury.  A 5kW generator meant for the workshop powered the lights, fans and desert coolers from 9 AM to 2 PM and then from 7 PM to 10 PM.

My first day in command was spent on familiarisation of the Regiment and the area around.  It ended with my first command order.  Please click here to read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/01/first-comd-order/.

That was when I realised that the dreams and plans I had in mind to be executed on taking over command had to be kept in abeyance as there weren’t adequate funds.  The only money at my disposal was Rs 200000 from a fixed deposit that had matured.  That wasn’t my money and if I used it, I had to make it up.

After working out the power requirement, it was decided to procure three 15kW generators and fifty desert coolers to equip every tent in the Regiment.  Two Young Officers with a team of soldiers were deputed to purchase the same from Jodhpur, the nearest town.  From that evening we had a well lit and well cooled township.  My only worry was that I had spent most of the Regimental Fund.

That evening at the Officers’ Mess, I gave out my command policy.  Anything that does not have a utility value to the Regiment in our operational area or for the families of our officers and soldiers at our permanent location must be disposed offAll funds, Regimental and others must be utilised towards the war efforts.

All Officers and soldiers were asked to propose anything they needed and I found they were too contented with what I gave them the very first day and wanted no more.

We procured two desktop computers to support my automation endeavours. Now I had to conserve all that was left with our Regimental Fund.  The first step was to reduce stationary usage by automation and we succeeded to a great extent.

In November we were ordered to return to our permanent location at Devlali. I ordered that only one of the three generators to be carried along and the rest two and all fifty coolers to be sold off at 60% of their cost with the first priority for our soldiers.  The coolers and generators were of no use to the Regiment at Devlali and would have turned into junk later.  Our soldiers from Rajasthan picked up the entire lot and I recouped half the Regimental Fund I had spent.

The first project we executed was a washroom cleaning device based on the mobile cleaning unit employed by the Indian Railways to clean the toilets of the trains on the platform.  Our soldiers designed and built it.  Now every soldier could carry out janitorial duties and the Safaiwalas (Janitors) were available to accompany radar detachments, survey teams and also operate radio sets.  They turned up smartly in their combat uniforms every morning walking with a swag with the radio set on their back and the operators pad in their hand.

Most of my time in the Regiment was spent at the Computer Cell.  Whenever needed, I relieved at the soldiers’ washroom rather than using the washroom at my office. This ensured that all soldiers kept their washrooms spic and span.

Two weeks after landing at Devlali, Major General RS Jambusarwalla, our Divisional Commander visited us.  I received him at the Regiment and he walked to the rear end of his car and ordered his driver to open the boot.  There it was – a computer, a printer and a multimedia projector.  That was the only time in my military career a visit by a senior officer began with a gift to the Regiment.

Two weeks later was the inspection by Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM,   the Army Commander, Southern Command and his proposal for other units to procure the software we had developed for Rs 10000 was a great boon.  Now I had all the money at my disposal to implement all my ‘wild ideas.’

We were a SATA Battery being converted to a SATA Regiment.  We did not have a JCOs’ Club, an important Regimental institution.  Fighting many a battle with the Station Headquarters, we managed to get a near dilapidated building allotted as our JCOs’ Club. I summoned our SM and tasked him to get the building done up, procure furniture, crockery, cutlery, etc.  I gave him a month’s time for executing the task with my final advice “It’s got to be better than our Officers’ Mess.”  After a month our SM invited all officers for a cocktail at the JCOs’ Club for inauguration.  The above image is the testimony to that day.

The next project was to create a high-end barber shop.  Please read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/29/acgo/.

Our soldiers came up with a request for a multi-gym.  SM Thangaswamy was tasked to execute the project with the assistance of other JCOs.  They suggested procuring the equipment  from Ambala as it would a cheaper option.  I advised them to procure it locally from Nashik to ensure installation and warranty services.

Two weeks later SM Thnagswamy asked me about my availability to inaugurate the gym.  I asked him to inaugurate immediately and make it available to our soldiers.

We automated our kitchen with flour kneader, freezers and coolers for storage of milk, meat and vegetables.  We were allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power. I did not want it to turn into an elephant’s teeth for show alone.  How we extracted its full value, please read https://rejinces.net/2019/03/31/elephantteeth/.

I was lucky that I had a great lot of officers and soldiers who accepted me, supported my ideas and worked wholeheartedly to ensure fulfilment of all my dreams.  I must sincerely thank all Officers, JCOs, NCOs and soldiers and a special high-five for our Subedar Major (SM) Thangaswamy who kept me in high spirits with his sense of humour.


Did I realise all the dreams I came with to command?  It’s an emphatic Yes and much more; all because of a great Regiment that I was lucky to command.

Love Thy Soldiers Than Thyself

Listening to an interview of Brigadier General Ross Coffman of the US Army on military leadership, I was fascinated by his revelation that it was his father who too served the US Army was the one who instilled in him a duty to serve the nation, and to love the men and women who fought alongside. General Coffman narrated an incident with his father.

A close relative was skimming through the pages of his father’s album and came across some photographs of his father as the Platoon Commander with Sergeant Elvis Presley.  He said “If you sell these photographs, you will earn huge money.”

When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation by registering for the US Army draft.  At that time he was a rock and roll music sensation.  Though the US Army offered Presley an option to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops, he decided to serve as a regular soldier. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and countrymen.  Thus Presley became US Army Serial Number 53310761 and after his basic training was assigned to D Company of the Third Armored Division’s 1st Medium Tank Battalion.  This took him to Germany on October 1, 1958 and he served with the Regiment until March 2, 1960.  On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

What impressed young Ross the most was his dad’s reply.  “I love all the soldiers who served with me.  My love for them will never be on sale.

On assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment at our operational area in Rajasthan during June 2002, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testament’ of all soldiers.  I realised that most were incomplete or inaccurate with respect to the name of the next of kin, spouse and children. When I inspected the documents of the clerks who were responsible for their preparation, I found the same glaring errors and omissions.  Realising the gravity of the situation at the juncture when war clouds were looming, I decided to automate the personal documentation of our personnel, starting with the generation of the Last Will.

Having served throughout with a Medium Artillery Regiment, and on staff assignments, I had a very basic, broad based knowledge and exposure to the equipment and operational functioning of my new unit which was all about radars, surveillance equipment and survey. Achieving thorough proficiency in these subjects became my foremost priority. Therefore, my mornings were well spent on training with our soldiers on the equipment.  By noon it was too warm for any worthwhile learning and I used the rest of the day to familiarise with the soldiers by interviewing them at my office.  Please read https://rejinces.net/2015/12/28/firstmlname/

When I moved in to command, I had four boxes – two for my personal belongings and two housing my desktop computer, printer, scanner and various other accessories.  My personal computer was the only functional computer in our Regiment then.

I began my automation project by creating a basic database comprised of  the soldiers’ personal number, rank, name, next of kin, spouse and children. With each interview, the database expanded to include other relevant aspects.  By the time I completed the first round of interviews, I had to conduct another round as I had more data to collect.

With the assistance of three soldiers, we captured most of the required data and I programmed it to ease various documentation aspects – Part II Orders, pay & allowances, promotions, qualifications, training schedules, nominations for Insurance & Provident Fund, leave availed and printing of relevant forms and certificates concerning every aspect of documentation pertaining to soldiers.

The interviews went on to the third round and our soldiers appeared to enjoy the experience.  During one of the breaks while on a reconnaissance mission, my radio operator, Naik Ranjith, a good mimic, enacted a soldier’s expression on being summoned to the Commanding Officer’s (CO) tent for an interview.  It commenced with the discomfiture of the soldier seated on a chair in front of the CO.  Until then, soldiers always stood at attention in the CO’s office unless ordered to stand ‘at ease’.  On being seated, he was served a cup of tea and to complicate the matter further, he was offered a biscuit!  The soldier’s dilemma was,  how he could drink the tea and eat the biscuit while answering the volley of questions fired at him by his CO.  The seat in front of the CO’s table came to be named as the ‘hot seat’.

The ‘hot seat’ helped me to learn a lot about our soldiers and also to break the ice with them. Rather, it melted the ice altogether. At the end of this process, we had a robust database which could execute most documentation tasks at the click of a mouse. Our biggest achievement was that we could print all documents that were required to process the grant of  pension to soldiers who were due to retire, running into over sixty pages, accurately, without errors, with the click of a mouse.  It made the clerks redundant.

By the end of November 2002, we returned to our permanent location at Devlali as a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery.  The news about automated functioning and other welfare measures instituted in our Regiment reached the ears of Commandant, School of Artillery. Two weeks later, the Commandant directed me to be prepared to conduct Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM,   the Army Commander, Southern Command, during the administrative inspection of the School of Artillery.  I was tasked to conduct the General in our Regiment for thirty minutes after the briefing by the Commandant at his office.

General Sihota accompanied by the Commandant reached our Regiment and I straight away demonstrated the software and the automated office functioning.  We also discussed various welfare measures that we had initiated in our Regiment.  At the end of the discussion, the General asked me “If other Units of the Army would like to procure this software from you, how much would you expect?

“Ten thousand rupees,”  I replied.

Why ten thousand?”

“This software has been designed for our Regiment. I need to work to customise it for others.  I can provide it free of cost, but then, no CO would value it.  Only those COs who sincerely value the importance of documentation of their personnel will spend money to procure the software.”

The Army Commander was convinced with my reply and he gave me the go ahead.  We all left from our Regiment for lunch and the Commandant was happy that the administrative inspection of School of Artillery was concluded with the GOC-in-C’s visit to our Regiment.  About a hundred units, mostly Artillery Regiments and a few Infantry Battalions procured the software from us.

The money from the software accumulated in our Regimental Fund Account.  Our Second-in-Command, Maj Suresh approached me to say that it was my money as it was the fruit of my hard work.  I refused to accept a penny though Suresh was adamant that I take at least 25%.  I said:-

“I developed this software for our soldiers.  I love our soldiers from the bottom of my heart.  I cannot sell my love for our soldiers.  All the money we earn from this software must go to them.”

Having joined our Regiment with four boxes, I left the Regiment after a very fulfilling command tenure with two boxes, leaving behind my desktop computer which had dutifully served me for seven years.

Making of a General : A Himalayan Echo by Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh


Congratulations to the author for a well written book with the aim of motivating our youth – an aspect that very few military leaders have  attempted.  The journey of life of a young lad from Charangpat (Lake of the Dragonflies)- a remote hamlet in Manipur – ‘the Switzerland of India’,  to becoming a General in the Indian Army and on hanging his uniform.  His choice to return to his roots to serve  the society instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement at any place of his choosing, is well etched.  He was, in his own words, was a child who was physically weak, shy, scared of heights and the darkness.

Manipur has the highest per-capita number of officers in India’s armed forces.  Now, being the Chairman of the Manipur State Public Service Commission, I have a suggestion.  While appearing for Canadian citizenship, we were required to clear an examination which had 20% questions from Canada’s military history, mostly covering Canada’s contribution during the two World Wars.  India has a very eventful military history, especially post independence.  Through my various blogposts I have been suggesting that the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions must have least five percent questions from Independent India’s military history.    This will enthuse the coming generation and will make them aware of the role and sacrifices of India’s Armed Forces. It is sure to make them feel proud.

All through the book, the author’s love for nature has been vividly painted, taking the reader through a visual fete. The description of the author’s grandfather ‘Even the horses kept silent when he coughed,’ kept me thinking for a while. The author’s initiative to recover plastic junk accumulated over the years of army deployment in the Siachen glacier is another example.

The impact of seeing a ten year old handle a weapon by; the need to have a dream in life – to dream big and how to pursue it; participating in family activities and chores; care  for his mother by buying her salt with all his pocket money; overcoming stage fear; moral fibre, by choosing to throw away that ‘chit’ carried by him to the examination hall; listening to the English news to enlarge his vocabulary; the importance of reading (even if not comprehended at that age;) the need to remain focused;   the power of pardon and  courage to be truthful; his adventurous train journey;  the importance of education in the development of any society; the need for hobby – great life lessons that any child will value and benefit from during his growing years.

13th Manipur Polo International 2019 underway
It was a revelation to me that the game of polo originated in Manipur.  His requesting for half a mark to make it to 60 – brought back memories of many of my class mates and also, officers during various courses, begging for a  mark or two to make a better grade.

Team spirit and camaraderie instilled in cadets at the National Defence Academy,  the lack of facilities and time to enhance individual skills; modification of curricula to incorporate leadership skill development;  have been well brought out.

The initial grooming and training  of a Young Officer in his Regiment; the need and role of a mentor; the impact of his carrying the additional load of a soldier during a gruelling professional competition; the importance of participating in adventure activities – provide an interesting peek into the development and growth of a military leader.

The need for re-orienting training and educating the soldiers in dealing with the local population – through the eyes of the author – recipient of the adverse effects of lack of empathy  by soldiers; the adverse effect of Armed Forces Special Powers Act; effect of movies to turn the youth to violence – have been well explained.

The author has given a first-hand information about the plight of the Bangladeshi Chakma refugees; peace-loving Mizos; the clashes between  Meiteis, Naga, Kuki tribes, Manipuri Muslims; religio-communal  divide and its present day implications; present cultural and socio-economic situation   – the voice of a true son of the soil.

Submitting Kanchejunga rolls out like a movie as one reads, especially the fall of the author into a crevasse, coming out of the jaws of death and the felicitation by the Prime Minister of India that followed.

The conviction of the author to stand up against an unsavoury remark against Manipuris by a General at the Defence Services Staff College and the methodology adopted to make the General retract his words shows the maturity of the author and his adeptness in dealing with ‘difficult ‘situations.

A tinge of well appreciated  subtle  humour – panic is fear at highest level of military; the golden epaulettes;   gifting of a telephone by a Pakistani soldier.

The first hand details of the attack on Point 5770, mostly unsung,  gives the reader goose bumps with each activity explained with brevity.  It showcases the leadership traits of the author.  My salute to you Sir for the respect you showed to the fallen enemy soldiers in keeping with the highest military values. Not being awarded the Battle Honour – I hope the Indian Army will make amends for the oversight even at this stage.  It needed an American author, Marcus P Acosta to bestow the honour the author’s Battalion 27 RAJPUT deserved.

The Siachen Glacier experience, the after effects on both the body and mind of the author is well expressed.  The dogs Pista and Pisti and the author pinning his commendation on Pisti, concern against  euthanasia of  aged mules shows the author’s love for all God’s creations.  His wish to command a brigade in the glacier – that too for a rupee – proves his military leadership traits.

The causes that led to the Ind-Chinese recent stand-off as viewed through the author’s eyes is worth a read.


As suggested by the author, the need for a test to assess the psychological and emotional condition of the officers prior to assuming command of units is of utmost importance. If implemented, it will prove to be extremely beneficial to the Army.  Also, the case of boots for soldiers – why every piece of the soldier’s uniform – were privately bought.  There is no worthwhile water-bottle for a soldier since 2000.  The author’s concern for the soldiers’ needs and his moral fibre  to convey it to none other than the Defence Minister in the presence of the Chief of the Army Staff shows the author’s convictions.

The author has fulfilled his childhood dream – he did not stop there – but went on to become a Lieutenant General of the  Indian Army.  He has rightfully credited his achievements to his family, his teachers, his superior and subordinate officers of the Indian Army; above all to the soldiers who served under him.

After writing this review, I felt that I missed a great deal in never getting an opportunity to meet or serve under our first General from the North-East – a true soldier and a gentleman. I sign off with a quote from this book:-

Meeting and interacting with thousands of officers and men under my command gave me more faith in the inner strength and capability of our officers to win any situation.  Only the Generals have to live up to it.