Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (21 Apr 1926 – 08 Sep 2022)

While driving through the town, I found a man outside his home, bringing the Canadian Flag to half mast. I checked the news feed and learnt that Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, dead at 96.

The British Monarch remains the constitutional head of state of Canada and the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, no matter who holds the role. Hence, the succession from the Queen to her eldest son Charles is automatic.

After Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne on 6 Feb 1952, fifteen Canadian Prime Ministers have been in office. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest for any British monarch and the second longest recorded for any monarch of a sovereign country. (Longest reigning monarch was Louis XIV of France, who reigned from 14th May 1643 until 1st September 1715 —72 years and 110 days.)

In the past four decades since I learnt about her, she matured into her senior years with josh and cheer.  Her dress sense and choice of colours befitted her royal status and it always stood out.  Who will ever miss her signature Launer handbag she always carried?  She reportedly owned more than 200 of them!

The contents of her handbag was no different from what normal women carry with them. It mostly contained a mirror, lipstick, mint lozenges, and her reading glasses.

It is said that the Queen used her handbags to signal to her staff to help her wriggle out of difficult situations. If she shifted the handbag on her left arm (where she normally carried it) to her right arm, it indicated that it was time to wrap up.  If she placed her handbag on the floor, it signaled to her staff that she needed to be saved from an uncomfortable conversation.  If she placed her handbag on the dinner table, it meant  that she wanted to end the event in the next five minutes.

Prince Charles was appointed Field Marshal of the British Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in June 2012. His appointment to the honorary five-star ranks recognised his support for the Queen as Commander-in-Chief.

In Canada’s system of government, the power to govern is vested in the Crown but is entrusted to the government to exercise on behalf and in the interest of the people. The Crown reminds the government of the day that the source of the power to govern rests elsewhere and that it is only given to them for a limited duration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a befitting tribute to Canada’s longest-reigning Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, calling her a person of ‘wisdom, compassion and warmth.’

The Crown in Canada was first established by the kings of France in the sixteenth century. Organised as a royal province of France, both French and British kings and queens have reigned over Canada since 1534. Under Canada’s sovereigns, the country has evolved from a French colony to an independent nation.

From 2009, Prince Charles holds the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Canadian Army & Air Force and Vice-Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy.  The Queen and other members of the Canadian Royal Family hold honorary positions in various branches and regiments embodying the historical relationship of the Crown with the Canadian armed forces.

From 2015, in New Zealand, like in UK, he is the Field Marshal of the New Zealand Army, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy and Marshal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Charles’s official coronation won’t take place immediately following a period of mourning for the Queen.  A coronation is not necessary to become king—Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.  After Queen Elizabeth’s accession on February 6, 1952, her coronation took place on June 2, 1953, over a year later.

Charles, whose regal name is King Charles III, is set to travel to London with Camilla, who is now the Queen Consort, to oversee the preparations for the funeral

The Guardian in 2017 reported that in the event of the Queen’s death, her funeral would take place nine days after her passing. Hence, it might be held on Saturday September 17. The funeral ceremony will commence at 9 AM, when Big Ben will chime with a muffled hammer. The funeral cortege will arrive at the at Westminster Abbey where she will be laid to rest.

(Images Courtesy Pixabay.com)

Nightie

In Kerala, the nightie is everywhere with most working-class women in Kerala owning at least one.

Illustration by Avni Karthik. Age 10

How did Nighty, a boxy garment which doesn’t give any shape to the body, which does not enhance the body’s contours, which does not bring out the women’s curves became so popular?  Nighties’ predecessors – maxis and kaftans – did make their appearance in early seventies – mostly in movies.  It did not gain popularity among the masses.

Nightie came to Kerala with the Gulf boom of the 80’s, like many other fashion and material onsets.  It was a sure content of the suitcases of any Mallu returning from the Gulf.  He carried at least one for every female family member and relative.  It could well be the first invasion of the Western culture into Kerala.  Unlike the Western Nightie, it wasn’t a negligee worn by women to bed at night.

Nightie is universal – fits all size or age. It does not divide women on either caste or religious lines in its use. Nightie became popular also because of the humid weather of Kerala with relative humidity mostly over 70% all through the year – day or night.  It is a shapeless floor-sweeping garment made of thick cloth, with frills at all imaginable and unimaginable places, decorated with puffed sleeves.

To establish in the Indian society, the poor Nightie too endeared many a battle.  In 2013, a Chennai school asked the parents to stop students from wearing nighties for the morning school run.  In 2014, a women’s group in Gothivli village near Mumbai tried to impose a fine of Rs 500 on residents wearing nighties outside their homes, describing the garment as indecent. In both cases, the nightie won the battle.

In 2018, Thokalapalli, a village in coastal Andhra Pradesh, barred women from wearing nightie during the daytime. They ruled that women could wear nighties only at night and any violations will attract a fine of Rs 2000 and anybody who helped in bringing such violator to book would be rewarded with Rs 1000.

Kerala women preferred the nightie over the traditional Chatta-Mundu, lungi-blouse and saree as it is easy to wear, easy to wash and it never failed in its duty and never ended up in a wardrobe malfunction.

Draping a Thorthu over the upper torso depicted modesty for the modest and cultured, but Kerala women – smart as they are, discarded the Thorthu long ago.  A nightie can well be seen in Kerala as a sign of female liberation as well as a social leveller.

Today the Nightie is a national phenomenon with different names.  Nightie in Kerala, Gowns in Mumbai, Housecoats in Goa, and kaftan for the rich. The Nightie has gained international recognition with The New York Times running a story on the outfit under the headline Wear Your Nightie Out.

In the soldiers’ family quarters, the nightie made its presence felt. To begin with, it was introduced by the wives of the South Indian Class (SIC) soldiers especially the Mallus. It caught on and others followed suit. While on rounds of the Regimental Family Quarters, one could see the invasion of the nightie, irrespective of caste or creed!!!

Our mother discarded her saree for the Nightie when her grandchildren came into this world.  She very reluctantly wore the nightie as she had to run after the children, feed them and play with them.  At the end of the day she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.

In 2006, our mother came to Canada and lived with us for six months.  For her journey from Kochi to Toronto, she wore the saree.  Marina and children accompanied her and throughout the journey, it was very inconvenient and uncomfortable for her to visit the washroom in the aircraft.

On landing in Canada, I asked Marina to take her to the Shopping Mall and buy her two pairs of pants & top and skirt & top.  Our mother, stubborn that she was, said “Do you think I will ever wear it??”

After a week of acclimatisation, we planned a trip to Montreal – about eight hours of drive from Toronto.  Now I said “Amma, if you want to come along, you must discard the saree as it will be very convenient, else you will look like a sore thumb in the crowd.

With a lot of reluctance, she wore the pants & top.  After two hours of driving, we stopped at the restaurant for a coffee break.  Nidhi took Amma to the washroom and on returning to our table she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.”

I accompanied Amma on her return journey.  For the entire flight duration of travel from Kochi airport to home, she wore her skirt & top.  My brothers, sisters-in-law and grandchildren were all flabbergasted to see the Granny in a Western outfit.  One of the grandchildren remarked, “Until now Granny was All-India.  Now she is International.”

Senior Citizens with Children in Foreign Lands

A newspaper column contained woes of senior citizens in India, who are living alone with their children abroad on in some distant land.  It threw up a very pertinent question – ‘Should the (Indian) parent be selfish enough to refuse funding or discourage their children from settling abroad?

Some Indian parents assume that it is the responsibility of the children to take care of the parents in their old age. 

Parents brought up their children, hardly giving any developmental space to the child.  They used the children like sounding boards where they tried out all those they could not do.  It ended up with Engineers and Doctors without any consideration for the interest and passion of the child.  The parents tried to live that ideal life (which they themselves could not) through their children.

Parents ended up paying large sums of money for admission of their children and for their grandchildren from LKG onward.  The money was paid to the school, mostly owned by various religious institutions or god-men.  No receipt was given for this money, thus creating Holy Black Money, all in the name of God.  Praise the Lord!!  Halleluiah!!!

The same was repeated at every stage of education up to graduation or post graduation or even PhD.  Its all-Dad’s Money.

In developed countries (USA, Canada, etc,) the students fund their university education.  If the same is followed in India, not more than 40% students are likely to pursue graduation.  They bunk classes, have at least two subjects as supplementary per semester (as they did not qualify the semester exams) – all because its Dad’s Money.  If it is the children’s money like here in Canada, they will make every penny count.

In Canada, any supplementary will not entail promotion to next semester unlike in India where in the tenth semester they may be clearing their first semester supplementary.  The bigger catch is that the bank financing the education will not release the next tranche unless they know that the student is likely to graduate.  I suggested to many of my friends to ask their children to take student loan even if the parent could afford to pay.  In Canada, grades, marks, assessments, progress reports are confidential and are never disclosed to parents, hence difficult to keep track of the child’s progress.  In case the child is on student loan, the bank will keep track.  

Parents of Indian origin in Canada still carry their Love for their children and end up funding their children education.  Result is the same as in India.

Indian parents buy swanky motorcycles for their teenage children on the pretext that it will save them time which they can spend fruitfully on their studies. Does it happen? Children are often seen racing and stunt driving on their motorcycles, with scant regards to the rules of the road. Wearing helmets is often to ward off police fines than saving one’s head. The children, if they must, should buy their motorcycle with their own money and not with the Dad’s money.

Now comes the greatest of the greatest landmark event – MARRIAGE.

Indian immigrant families consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents even ‘import’ a Mail-Order Bride/ Groom from India.

Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating, and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their culture and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community and loss of face within the community.

Most wedding parties are attended by less than a hundred guests in North America, whereas it cannot be less than a thousand in India.  Again, it is all because of Dad’s Money.  In North America, the bride and the groom must arrange for their marriage expenses and sometimes parents chip in.

The amount of money the bride’s parents in India spend is well known including dowry and jewellery.  It may be to make up for the money spent on the groom’s education, may be to finance the groom’s higher education, may be to finance the education of the groom’s siblings – possibilities are endless. Legislation and enforcement can control this menace to a limited scale only. Despite enactment of the Anti-Dowry laws, ill gotten money still changes hands and the Gods also seem to be enjoying it.

Next comes housing.  Everyone seems to be building a house bigger than their neighbour’s. It is never based on family needs, but in many cases only as a status symbol to show-off one’s mostly ill-gotten wealth. In North America, old parents down-size and move to smaller homes, or to a gated community, or to an old age home once their children move out for education or jobs. In India it is always up-sizing, even when one is on his death bed. Only social awareness can eliminate this problem.

Here is the ultimate – to get even with the Gods who must forgive and remit all sins in getting this wealth.  Huge offerings are made in the God’s houses to please Him. Most of the offerings are of no use to humanity like golden crowns, golden crosses studded with diamonds, chariots, elephants and even one’s hair. It is not understood as to which God is going to be pleased with these offerings. In North America, most old people donate all their wealth or part of it to charities, which could help the humanity and may be the Gods will always be better pleased with them.

Many of the seniors in India are restricted to their homes – the children respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute! They also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossips, look pretty and smart.

In most homes in India, the seniors have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America.

All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors but will be the first ones to raise shackles of cultural and social values.

Hurricane Hazel @ 101

Ms Hazel McCallion, 101 years old, has been reappointed to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sits as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate ‘MAYOR1’. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and would make any listener think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of ‘Hurricane’ Hazel suited her to the tee.

Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.

In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.

Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.

Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.

Mayor McCallion was born in Port Daniel of Quebec on February 14, 1921 and educated in Quebec City and Montreal. She then began her career in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm, and was transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the local office. Mayor McCallion remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

Hazel was married to Sam McCallion on September 29, 1951. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville. She still resides in Streetsville and believes that one got to have a life filled with purpose and meaning and living her life in a Christian-like manner helped to motivate her and keep her energized. She does everything around the house herself like cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. She likes to be self sufficient and thinks that housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep her humble.

Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.

Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors”.

On her 100th birthday she said “My mom or dad couldn’t afford to send me to college or university. So I had to do it without that additional education. It’s the people you meet along the way, there’s always people to help you along the way if you’re willing to accept the help.”

In December 2014, Mayor McCallion stepped-down and people of the city remain ever grateful to her. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.

After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor, on September 23, 2014 Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfill them.”

Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.

Atmospheric River

Canada’s West Coast- British Columbia – was battered with heavy rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding and landslides in November 2021. It is believed to have been caused by more than one Atmospheric Rivers (AR.)

The term AR was coined in 1998 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Yong Zhu and Richard Newell, though ARs did play havoc earlier too. Until then AR was mostly referred to as tropical plume, tropical connection, moisture plume, water vapor surge, cloud burst and cloud band.

An AR is no river in the sky as the name suggests, but is a weather phenomenon.  It is a narrow corridor of highly saturated moisture in the atmosphere that stretches to 1600 km long and about 600 km wide.  Water an AR carries can be roughly compared to about 25 times carried by any major river like the Ganges or the Mississippi.

AR is born in the tropical ocean regions near the equator, and as it travels away from the equator, the warm air mass gets saturated with water vapour.  As the AR makes its landfall, water vapour condenses into precipitation, resulting in heavy rain or snow.

ARs originate form eight oceanic regions around the world, some closer to continental coasts than others. One of those regions is just off North America’s western coast and can produce between one to two dozen ARs per year. ARs from the Indian Ocean caused havoc in Australia and in India, especially Kerala, Uttarakhand, Bengal in the recent years.

Has climate change caused the ARs to be lethal?

Scientists and climatologists believe that the frequency of ARs may reduce by 10% in the years to come, but they may increase in size by about 25%. This would result in ARs dumping more water on the land as years pass by.  Global warming will cause the air in the AR  to become warmer and warmer the air, more water vapour it carries. When the AR makes landfall, it will release more rain or snow than the previous one. 

What caused flooding and land-slides in British Columbia?

The summer season in 2021 in British Columbia saw more than 1,600 fires charring nearly 8,700 square km of forest land.  These forest fires bake the soil, making them more hydrophobic or making them to repel water.  The coniferous trees in Canadian forests, when they burn, release a waxy compound that bind the forest soil, making it more hydrophobic. The water-repelling layer is typically found at or a few cm below the ground surface and is commonly covered by a layer of burned soil or ash. 

When the ARs dumped heavy volume of water in areas burned during the 2021 wildfires, the runoff from these burned grounds was greater and more rapid because of the hydrophobicity of the soil.  Burning down of the trees and vegetation binding the soil on the mountain slopes resulted in the soil becoming loose, causing many land-slides.

Let us now look at the mythological aspects.

The Abrahamic religions narrate the flood story of Noah’s Ark where the God became angry with the sins of mankind. He told his faithful servant, Noah, to build an ark large enough for his family and two of every creature on earth. God delivered the promised deluge, lasting 40 days, that killed everyone and everything on earth except the population of the ark.  After the flood, the ark came to rest on a mountain top, indicating that the depth of the water was higher than the mountains.

As per Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the Gods, was displeased with the humans. Zeus told Deucalion to construct an ark for himself and his wife. After nine days of flooding, the world was destroyed, and the ark rested on top of Mount Parnassus.

Hindu mythology too refers to such a flood. Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish appeared to Manu and told Manu that the world would be destroyed in a great flood. Manu built a boat and tied it to the fish. The fish guided Manu’s boat through the floods to the top of a mountain.

The Chinese too have many stories and myths about floods, Gods, dragons, and spirits. Like other flood stories, there are only a handful of survivors.

Could these floods have been caused by an AR? Some say it might have been caused by tsunamis or by comets or asteroids hitting  the earth.

Flood stories are universal and is part of all religions and mythology where the God sent flood to destroy the sinners as punishment..  Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim hypothesised that dreams of the flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders!!

Are the Gods unhappy with the humanity that the next flood is near? Are we to pay for our sins of not caring for Mother Nature?

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Bible : Genesis 6:5

Suicide Reporting by Media

Recently there has been many  reports on the media about suicides by young university students and young adults.  Some media houses, and some social media activists have gone on an overdrive to report such incidents with all its fury. 

Evidence suggests that the media can influence societal attitudes and beliefs to various social issues. This influence is especially strong for mental health issues, particularly suicide. Canadian newspaper coverage of the popular fictional Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, wherein the lead character dies by suicide in the final episode, generally adhered to core best practice media recommendations, and sensitively discussed suicide from various angles, prompting productive discussion and dialogue about youth suicide. These findings suggest that the media can be an ally in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of important public health issues such as suicide.

J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga all figure among celebrities who have contemplated suicide but found help and stepped back from the brink. U.S. study found a 10 percent increase in suicide mortality after the 2014 death of Robin Williams, American actor and comedian, which was partially attributed to inappropriate media coverage. Similar increases in suicide mortality were witnessed in Canada and Australia after the death of this well-known celebrity.

This phenomenon is known as ‘suicide contagion’ or ‘copycat suicide.’  Research has found that media coverage with details as to how a person died by suicide, may prompt someone vulnerable to identify with the individual and copy actions described in media coverage.

Greater the coverage of a suicide story higher the chances of finding a copycat.

WHO statistics indicate that more than 700 000 people die world over by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.  Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.  77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.  Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTQ2S+) persons; and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at every level – school, university, community, family – to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. World Health Organisation’s (WHO)’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends:-

  • limit access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
  • foster socio-emotional life skills in adolescents;
  • early identify, assess, manage and follow up anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviours.,
  • interact with the media for responsible reporting of suicide;

Is there a need to regulate such reporting?

In Canada, Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) provides suicide prevention and support to the people of Canada. They have laid down best practices and recommendations geared to media and other organisations with suggested guidelines and practices on how to report and comment on suicide activities, whether in the media, social media sites or internal communiques.  They recommend:-

  • Health reporters, not crime reporters, are best positioned to cover suicides.
  • Reports should generally avoid details of suicide methods, especially when unusual or novel methods are involved.
  • Emergency resource links should be included in all articles that deal with suicide.

Specific for social-media:

  • Providing information and resources to people who make suicide-related queries or posts;
  • Including panic buttons that allow for rapid access to crisis services/hotlines;
  • Providing mechanisms for users to report if they are concerned about someone with the possibility for rapid intervention; and
  • Moderating forums that frequently include suicide-related postings and making sure to remove inappropriate posts.

CSPS Recommends

  • Ongoing collaboration between journalists and mental health professionals, acknowledging scientific evidence and the autonomy of journalists;
  • All journalism schools include teaching of how to report responsibly and respectfully on the topic of suicide, including attention to issues related to ethics and social justice;
  • Media training for mental health professionals who are likely to be called on to comment on suicide in the press; and
  • Education for policy-makers and other prominent figures who may be asked to comment publicly on the topic of suicide.

The Austrian journalists recently altered the way they reported about suicide. Studies of that experience showed that after the changes, there was a significant reduction in suicide deaths across the country. Since then many other countries have put out recommendations. 

Homecoming

Above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.

We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.

For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other. 

Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?

It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level.  It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.

It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.

The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.

It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely.  Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week?  I always knew you will come before.”  All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”

It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu.  Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s.  I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group.  While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.” 

I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada.  I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.

In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home.  While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?”  “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.

My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”

My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday.  How can he be home in 45 minutes?”

After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even  before I could say anything.  “It was because of the blaring traffic horns.  I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed  you were in a taxi home.”

Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune.  On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week.  On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans.  There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.

My eldest brother, now the head of the family,  advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”

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.

The Whisky War


The news is ripe with Indo-China border stand-off these days. How does Canada fare in border management?

Canada and the United States share the world’s longest undefended border, running along the 49th parallel from the west coast to Lake Superior and following natural boundaries for the remainder.


Denmark and Canada share maritime boundary in the Arctic and it runs in the middle of Nares strait  through which runs Kennedy Channel.  This 35 km wide strait separates Ellesmere Island from northern Greenland.  The strait is home to two islands – Franklin and Crozier – which falls within the territorial waters of Denmark


The third and the contested island is within the territorial waters of both Canada and Greenland, an uninhabited barren rock of 1.3 Sq km, named after Hans Hendrik, an Arctic traveller.  A theoretical borderline in the middle of the strait goes through the island.  According to an international treaty, any island which is in 12 miles of mainland comes under the territory of that country which technically allows both Denmark and Canada a claim over the island.

The Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations in a landmark judgement of 1933 ruled the island to be a sovereign part of Denmark.  The League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations after World War II and Canada claims that this decision became irrelevant with the demise of the League of Nations.

The dispute between Canada and Denmark re-emerged in 1973 when Denmark and Canada started demarcating their borders through negotiations. They agreed on all other disputes except Hans Island which was then decided to be resolved later.


The Whisky War commenced in 1984 when Canadians sailed to the island and erected the Red Maple Flag on the island and kept a famous Canadian whiskey as a symbolic expression.

In return, the Danish Minister of Greenland visited the island and replaced the Canadian flag with the Danish flag. He took the Canadian whisky and replaced it with world-famous Danish schnapps.

This Whisky War continued until 2015, with both the armies taking turns in unfurling their national flags and placing their famous whisky for the other.

Canada and Denmark, both NATO allies, agreed to resolve dispute citing the presence of the Russian Army in the Arctic region during the cold war.  On 04 May 2008, an international group of scientists from Australia, Canada, Denmark, and the UK installed an automated weather station on Hans Island.  On 23 May 2018, Canada and Denmark announced a Joint Task Force to settle the dispute over Hans Island. A committee of Arctic experts was constituted to resolve the dispute peacefully. One of the main resolutions, they are thinking of, is to declare the barren stone island into condominium.

A condominium does not mean that the two countries are going to build a high-rise apartment building on the island, but it means that the island will be co-owned and co-managed by both the countries . Thus the will have both Canadian and Danish flags on it.

Fishing @ PEI


In the summer of 2010, we decided to travel to the Eastern most province of Canada, the Prince Edward Islands (PEI).

Savanna Style Location Map of Prince Edward Island
PEI is located close to the Eastern Canadian coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island with mainland Canada. The 12.9-kilometre bridge opened on 31 May 1997. One can also reach the island on a ferry. There is no toll on the bridge or charges on the ferry while entering PEI, but on leaving one got to pay.

The island is named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria. The Island is 224 km long and from 6 to 64 km wide with a total area of 5,660 square km. No place in the province is more than 16 km from the sea and the highest point is 152 metres or 466 feet above sea level.

Classic Style Map of Prince Edward Island
The island has three counties: Prince, Queens and Kings. The Island is formed from sedimentary bed rock of soft, red sandstone which produces the rich, red soil. The redness of the soil is due to the high iron-oxide (rust) content.


Agriculture remains the dominant industry, especially potato farming in the red soil. The province currently accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total potato production. In the PEI, fishing, particularly lobster fishing as well as oyster fishing and mussel farming, is second to farming as an occupation and is a highly regulated industry.


The lobsters are fished using a lobster trap. Lobster traps are constructed of wire and wood and an opening permits the lobster to enter a tunnel of netting. The size of the opening depends upon the size of the lobster to be caught. The majority of the newer traps consist of a plastic-coated metal frame.  Traps are usually constructed in two parts, called the ‘kitchen’, where there is bait, and exits into the ‘parlour’, where the lobster is trapped from escape.

During fishing season, bait fish is placed inside the trap, and the traps are dropped onto the sea floor. A long rope is attached to each trap, at the end of which is a plastic or Styrofoam buoy that bears the owner’s license number and is identified by their colour coding. The traps are checked every day by the fisherman and re-baited if necessary.

The activity that really enthused us was the lobster and crab fishing tour, operated by Captain Mark Jerkins and assisted by his younger brother Codi. Captain Mark runs this tour in July and August at the end of the fishing season. During the tour we experienced what the lobster fisher folk undergo. It involved locating a buoy, hauling a trap and banding a claw of the lobsters. The claws are banded to ensure that the lobsters do not fight with each other and lose their claws. Watch how Cody holds the lobster’s claws in the image. Outside water, if not handled properly, these claws will fall-off as they are really heavy.


As per Mark, this Lobster is about 40 yrs old.


Everyone took a turn at the boat’s wheel and learned how to use modern technologies to fish for lobster. Captain Mark also shared his personal experiences while fishing for lobster and also how this fourth generation lobster fishing family makes their living on the water. At the end of the tour we were treated to a sumptuous dinner of lobsters and crabs.


More than 1,200 lobster fishers set out for these waters to haul in lobsters during the first fishing season in PEI that runs from April 30 to June 30 each year. Setting Day marks the start of the eight-week lobster fishing season. The annual event starts at 4:45 am when the fishing communities across the island come out to cheer on their local fishing fleets as they head out to the sea. The first lobster boat that leaves the wharf is that of the most veteran fisher and his crew and other boats follow and the wharf roars with the sounds of engines, cheers and silent prayers. Some harbours invite local clergy to bless the boats and crews during this annual spring rite.

PEI’s lobster industry strongly believes in sustainability and would never jeopardize their rich resources for short term gains. Its fishery is strong because of the aggressive and sustainable management strategies implemented throughout its history. The Canada government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets minimum legal sizes to sustain the lobster fishery and fines fishermen caught with smaller lobsters on their boats.

The smaller lobsters called the ‘Canners’ are unique to the PEI, where the warmer temperatures cause the lobsters to mature quickly. These small lobsters were canned in the earlier days and so they got their name. Minimum size of ‘Canners’ is now set to 72 mm and they weigh between 250 and 375 grams. This is where the marine-scientific community believes the population is sustainable, as 50% of female lobsters in PEI’s waters would have reproduced at least once by the time they reach this size. In other regions, the minimum legal size is 81 mm. The waters are colder there and it takes longer for the lobsters to mature – when they do, they are much bigger. The ‘Market’ lobsters are about 81 mm and weigh more than a pound. They are used in the restaurants and are exported live to the United States.


The Island’s 27 crab fishermen are engaged in the trade.  Their allotted annual quota for PEI fishermen is about 600 tons which include snow crab, rock crab and spider crab.


In PEI, during a  tuna fishing season (mid July to mid October), each licence is allotted  one tuna and the captain owns that fish, to conserve Bluefin tuna population. According to Captain Mark, he stays in the high-seas until a Bluefin Tuna  weighing about 400 kg is caught.  Tunas are fished using ‘tended line’ method where a baited hook is attached on a line, connected to a powerful motor on the boat to reel in the catch.  At the hook end Captain Mark ties a kite which flutters in the air and goes down once the fish bites the bait.  The line is now pulled in and if the tuna is not large enough, is released and the operation is repeated.


95 %of the Bluefin Tuna is exported to Japan. A fish can be caught on a Monday, trucked to Halifax on Tuesday and arrive by plane in Tokyo on Thursday.  A fish that fetches about $25,000 at the PEI Wharf may fetch half a million dollars in the Tokyo’s fish market auction.

The fishing industry being regulated stipulates that there is a need for a licence to fish lobsters. The licenses are passed on from generation to generation and it is not that easy to get a new license as the DFO has put a cap on it. With each licence comes stipulations regarding the harvesting season dates, area they can set their traps, the number of traps permitted, the minimum and the maximum size of the lobsters that can be caught. Any violation of the stipulations will lead to hefty fines and also suspension of the license for three days. There have been hardly any violations reported as a three day suspension during a sixty day harvesting season will prove to be big loss.

The fishing community along with the DFO officials and the environmentalist have succeeded in maintaining the equilibrium of the fragile eco-system and also ensure optimum market value for their catches.

 

Butterfly Conservatory @ Niagara Falls

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When Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe) and Sophie Joseph visited us in May 2016, how could we miss a trip to the Niagara Falls.   Niagara Region has much more to offer, other than the falls, like Niagara Gorge, Welland Canal, and Wine Country.  (Please click on each one to read about them on my earlier Blog Posts).

The place, a nature lover should not miss is the Butterfly Conservatory, filled with beautiful free flying butterflies, a tropical wonderland located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. It really is a near ethereal experience.

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Whenever I see butterflies, my mind races back to the nostalgic memories of our childhood in Kerala, India.  Kerala is home to more than 500 birds, 330 butterfly species from the largest butterfly in India, Birdwing, with a wingspan of about 25 cm to the smallest, the Grass Jewel with only 2 cm.  It is also home to 68 species of dragonflies –   the most common types being Malabar Torrent Dart, Yellow Bush Dart, Pied Reed Tail, and the Long-legged Clubtail.  Many writers and poets were fascinated and inspired by these romantic creatures that they became subjects of some great contributions to Indian literature.

As kids, we enjoyed the sight of butterflies and dragonflies fluttering around, especially after the monsoons (June to August) and during the Onam Festival (end August / early September), when the flowers would be in full bloom.  We chased and caught a few of them.  We used to catch these little beauties and tie a small thread to their tails so as to control them and make them take short flights.

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We prompted the dragonfly in our captivity to pick up small pebbles. We increased the size of the stones until the dragonfly could lift no more.  This sadistic game ended with the death of the dragonfly, when it severed its head from its torso.

Advent of rubber cultivation and extensive use of pesticides in Kerala for over three decades have driven these beautiful creations of God from our farmlands.

Thumbi Thullal (Dance of Dragonfly) is a dance performed by women of Kerala as a part of Onam celebrations.  About six to seven women sit in a circle and the lead performer (called Thumbi meaning Dragonfly) sits in the middle of the circle. The lead performer sings melodious fast paced songs and other performers clap their hands and sway to the melody.  Gradually the tempo of the song increases and the lead performer brushes the floor with her hair as if she is possessed by a spirit.  It usually ends with the lead performer fainting or playacting so.

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Back from nostalgia. At the commencement of the Niagara Gorge, about 10 km from the spectacular falls is the Butterfly Conservatory.  This glass-enclosed conservatory is home to over 2000 butterflies.  This state of the art facility is designed to have a tropical environment within a Canadian climate characterised by both warm and cold weather.  The mechanical and electrical systems maintain optimum environmental conditions for the butterflies and plants while accommodating comfort needs for its visitors.

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Around 45 different species of butterflies can be found fluttering in this rainforest setting spread over 11,000 square feet. The exact number of butterflies and species fluctuate on a day to day basis.  The butterfly conservatory accommodates as much as 300 visitors per hour.

The self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory begins with a short, informative video presentation that is close captioned for the hearing impaired.  After this, one is allowed to explore the area and spot different species of butterflies as they fly all around you. The setting has a lovely pond, waterfall and a series of meandering pathways amidst several tropical plants with lovely flowers.

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The jungle vegetation and delightful fluttering of hundreds of beautiful butterflies are unusual and a very uplifting experience.  Everywhere there are exquisite butterflies floating in the warm, moist air or spreading their iridescent wings on leaves and flowers.  One can even catch them mating.

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It is a great place to see beautiful butterflies up close but you are not allowed to touch them, because if you touch their wings they get damaged and they cannot fly anymore and may die.  One may photograph them, but surely they need to be kept out of harm’s way.

The Conservatory currently hosts species such as Monarchs, Swallowtails, Owls, Mosaics, Red Lacewings, Blue Morphos and Small Postmans. The green house setting also hosts goldfish, turtles, beetles, toads and Eurasian quails to help regulate insect population.

The best part about the tour is that you can actually get the butterflies to land on you. Some might be even willing to rest on your outstretched hand. Visitors are encouraged to wear bright clothes, wear perfume or cologne and move slowly if they wish to have butterflies land on them.

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Plates filled with fruits are kept at certain places to attract butterflies who like to feed on these and you can watch them doing so.

Most of the butterflies have been imported from farms in tropical countries while some have been raised in a greenhouse behind the conservatory.  The tour is not only entertaining but also educative.  One can watch the metamorphosis process and the life cycle of a butterfly in real time.  One can also observe the butterflies come out of their cocoon, dry their wings and take their first flight.

Adjacent to the Butterfly Conservatory is the Floral Clock.  This unique and stunning display is a very popular stop and is photographed almost as often as the Falls.  The planted face is maintained by the Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro, the originally builders of the clock.

The Floral Clock is 40 feet wide, with a planted area 38 feet wide, making it one of the largest such clocks in the world.  The Tower at the back of the clock, houses Westminster chimes that chime at each quarter of an hour.  There is a 10-feet wide water garden that curves 85 feet around the base of the timepiece.

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If you are lucky you may come across the Niagara Parks Commission’s gardeners crawling along the special aluminium ladder they lay across the face of the clock, in order to plant and tend the clock face. Designs are created a year in advance to allow for the proper preparations. Tin dividers are built and installed to prevent soil slippage caused by the slope of the face of the clock. The clock is stopped during the planting process.

The floral design is changed twice each year.  Spring designs are made up with Tulips, Forget-Me-Nots or similar plants, therefore, do not last long.  It is followed by Violas planted in late Spring to provide a colourful design.  From the latter part of May, traditional carpet bedding material is used until frost occurs. The summer designs in general are made up of approximately 24,000 carpet plants whose foliage rather than their blooms provide the necessary contrasting colors. Flowering plants are not suitable for summer planting because the plants that are used must be kept trimmed to form relatively sharp contrasting patterns and not be allowed to grow up and interfere with the movement of the hands. For this reason reddish, green and yellow Alternanthera and Santolina form the background and markings of the various dial designs from year-to-year.   California Golden Privet and Blue Festuca Grass may be used for contrast. In winter, the summer design is perpetuated by using rock chips of various colours.

Anyone planning a visit to the Niagara Falls on the Canadian side must include these little wonderful sites in their itinerary.  Always remember that the falls are better viewed from the Canadian side as one can hardly see it from the US side.  So, always obtain a Canadian Visa in case you are visiting the Niagara Falls.

Silencing the Roar of the Niagara Falls

NiagaraScilence11(Image Courtesy Google Maps)

Niagara Falls is the aggregate name for three waterfalls that structure the Southern end of the Niagara Gorge; the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and the American Falls which includes the Bridal Veil Falls, on the American side.

Niagara Falls is over 12,000 years old and were formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when the melting glaciers formed the Great Lakes. Water from Lake Erie at an elevation of 175m above sea level, flowed downhill towards Lake Ontario which is at an elevation of 75m. While the water rushed from one lake to another, the Niagara River, about 58 km in length; was carved out. At one point, the river had to rush over a large cliff (the Niagara Escarpment). As the falls eroded over time, the Niagara Gorge of about 11 km from where the falls were initially formed.

About 800 years ago, only one fall existed. Due to erosion, Goat Island got carved out, separating the flow of the Niagara River into two channels. The larger channel formed the Horseshoe Falls and carried 90% of the water and the smaller channel, now known as the American channel carried 10%. Please click here to read more about the Niagara Falls.

The New York State Parks have now proposed to shutdown the American Falls for nine months to replace the two 115-year-old pedestrian stone bridges that connect the mainland to Green Island and Green Island to Goat Island and also to repair a concrete bridge that connect the mainland to Goat Island. The State has placed two proposals for the impending task.

The first is a two-year construction which would divert water from the American Falls for five months in the first year, from August to December. The bridges would be demolished and new piers would be anchored to the bedrock and the water flow would be restored in late December. Construction would continue in the second year with the water flowing over the Falls.

The second option is an accelerated one year construction, where in water would be diverted from the American Falls for nine months, April through December. It would affect the entire summer tourism season and require 24-hour-a-day construction.

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Earlier from 12 June 1969, The flow over the American Falls was stopped completely by the US Army Corp of Engineers. It was to remove the large amount of loose rock from the base of the falls to enhance its appearance. When the Falls were shut off, it attracted a drove of tourists. In case the event repeats, tourists from the world over are sure to congregate at the Niagara Falls and the social media would be filled with images and videos of the spectacle.

The erosion of the American Falls resulted in major rock falls in 1931 and 1954 had dumped heavy boulders at the base of the Falls. It was felt that further erosion of the American Falls would result in more rock falls and ultimate death of the American Falls. The Horseshoe Falls is yet to experience such major rock falls.

With a view to save the American Falls, the Army Engineers contracted Albert Elia Construction Company to construct and remove a cofferdam to stop the water flow in the American Channel. In addition, they were required to clean the surface of the river bed and remove loose rock from the face of the Falls. A cofferdam is a temporary barrage built within across a body of water to divert the water or to allow the enclosed area to be pumped out, creating a dry work environment for the major work to proceed.

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Construction of the cofferdam began at midnight of 09-10 June 1969 and was completed by 2:40 AM on 12 June. It took 1,264 truckloads, consisting of 27,800 tons of rock and earth, to stop the flow. As the water flow sopped, a fence was erected to prevent onlooker from falling into the gorge.

As the Falls dried, the Niagara Police recovered the remains of a man, a woman and the carcass of a deer amongst the rocks. Closing of the American Channel resulted in heavier flow into the Horseshoe Falls. The boulders deposited at the base of the American Falls was estimated by Army Engineers at 358,000 tons, reaching 41m high in places, reducing the water fall from 30m to a mere 14m.

After studying the rock-falls at the American Falls, the International Joint Commission of the US and Canada came to five conclusions:-

  1. While it is technically feasible to remove the boulders collected at the base of the American Falls, it is not desirable to do so at the present time.
  2. While structural solutions are available to arrest erosion at the crest of the American Falls, the Falls should not be stabilized by artificial means.
  3. A broad environmental study should be jointly carried out by Canada and the US to identify and give priority to those measures which best enhance the total setting and beauty of the Niagara Falls area.
  4. The two flanks of the American Falls and the Goat Island flank of the Horseshoe Falls are sufficiently stable to warrant remedial action.
  5. A statistically minor element of risk from unpredictable rock movement will remain and must be accepted by the viewing public.

On 25 November, 1969 at 10:05 AM a drag-line lifted out the first scoops of earth and rock from the 180m long cofferdam that had been in place since 12 June. There was a little ceremony to mark the beginning of the return to normalcy. David Kennis, age 11, symbolising the next generation, pulled a cord which operated a horn. The blast from the horn signaled the drag-line operator to begin work. By 10:43 AM, the first trickle of water flowed through the dam. The first gush of muddy water spurted through the dam at 11:05 AM, but it was mid afternoon before water once again plunged over the falls. About 2,650 people watched from various vantage points with cameras and newsreels as workers began removing the dam. By the evening of 25 November 1969, the roar of Niagara returned to normal.

In case the water flow of the American Falls is stopped, it would be a breathtaking sight and a spectacle not to be missed, likely to be in 2019 if federal, state or private funding is found right away.

Canadian Report Card

competition we faced back home always prompted us to cross-examine our children when they came home with a report card or a test result.  We always wanted to know as to who got the maximum marks, where does our child stand in the class,  etc.  At the end of Grade 3 of Nikhil, when he came home with the report card, he declared “Do not ask me how others did as I have no clue as I did not ask anyone about it.”

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It is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public.   The report cards are handed over to the students in a sealed envelope, obviously to ensure confidentiality.

The aim of a progress report in Canada is to enable the students to reach their potential, and to succeed. It is a real challenge for the school as every student is unique and they got to ensure each student gets adequate opportunities to achieve success according to his/her interests, abilities, and goals. The reporting is fair, transparent, and equitable for all students. It supports all students, including those with special education needs and all those learning the language of instruction (English or French). The curriculum is carefully planned to relate to the expectations, learning goals and cater to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students.

All aspects of learning are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course.   The reporting provides a descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement. It also develops students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.

The high school report card looks more like the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) in the army – it appears as if it leaves no aspects of learning skills and work habit of the child uncovered.  The aspects covered in the report are Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Regulation.  Strengths and Steps for Improvement are listed out for each subject separately.

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My mind raced back to our Sainik School days and even our army course days, where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board.  I always looked at the mark list on the notice board to make sure that I was not the last.  What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well!

Once I perused his report card in Grade 11, I asked him a few questions to find out some details about the steps for improvement and we discussed in detail as to how he is going to prepare for his Grade 12.   After discussing the same, I casually asked our son as to how his friends did.  Our son theorised that students want to either show off their marks or feel a bit good when they have really done well or in case they haven’t, they are looking for someone who did worse.  He was not in either and hence did not find out how others did.  I realised that what he said was what I had been doing all throughout my life, either blow the trumpet, or look for someone who did worse to feel happy that you are not the worst.

Our son had done exceptionally well in French and the teacher rewarded him with a recommendation for a cultural and educational exchange program in France.  He went to  Paris (01 July 2014) and returned  on 31 Jul with a French Grade 11 Student, Guillaume Le Floch.  Nikhil stayed with the Le Floch family for a month in France.  Guillaume stayed with us and returned to France on 31 Aug.

While Nikhil was away for a month, I felt a vacuum, both in my mind and at home.  Our dog Maximus seemed pretty depressed and had been running all over the house looking for Nikhil.

We will all got to get used to such absence of the kids and this will prepare us to learn to live without them in times to come.

Canada : New Immigration Regulations – New Challenges

Recently, I have been receiving many a queries regarding immigration to Canada and also regarding the Student Visas.  Hence I am posting the very same article I posted on 15 February 2015.  There has been no major change in the Canadian immigration policies despite the new Liberal Party government taking office.

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Canada has the most educated and qualified truck and cab drivers and security guards in the world. Many of them are immigrants who hold postgraduate degrees in Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering, Management and Law.  These are the ones who could not qualify through the strict licensing regimes of Canada in their disciplines. They are well qualified and many held important job positions back home, but are less conversant with the demands of their profession in Canada. Many who qualified through the licensing procedure had either succeeded in erasing their (bad or wrong) experiences back home or have worked hard and learnt the Canadian requirements of their profession.

Canada’s education system produces enough highly educated and trained professionals to fill the entry level positions in engineering and applied sciences. There are some openings available in the Healthcare field like doctors, pharmacists and nurses, but the effort required to obtain a license is pretty herculean. The Canadian labour markets demand skilled trades (plumbers, electricians, and truck drivers), retail sector workers, and obviously caregivers to look after the very young and the very old. The engineers and doctors who immigrated in the past 20 years learned this bitter lesson after they landed in Canada.

Over the past 20 years, there are many cases of Canadian immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia who claim to have been duped into immigrating to Canada. They found it extremely hard to find a job in any field, let alone pursue careers in which they were qualified back home. In fact, recent immigrants are the new face of urban poverty in Canada.

These immigrants themselves are to be blamed for their present status. Most of them applied for immigration to Canada without adequate research about their job prospects, licensing procedures, requirement of tests like IELTS, TOFEL, etc.  Many in the healthcare field landed without exploring the licensing requirements to practice in Canada. They are the most vocal group among the disgruntled immigrants.

The Canadian government also shares the blame for the archaic point system it used to qualify applicants for immigration. Even when Canada faced serious shortages for truck drivers (the most common profession among immigrant Canadian males), the government was busy admitting doctors and engineers. Instead of prioritising younger applicants, the system brought in middle-aged workers, who were educated, but not necessarily skilled for Canadian needs. In addition, they were set in their ways and found it hard to change habits and work ethics.

For many students who arrived in Canada, it was a sure-shot thing for foreign student to graduate with a degree or a diploma, obtain a job and apply for permanent residency. The new immigration regulations have changed this sure-shot occurrence into a game of chance.

Today, most immigrant students take huge loans to finance their studies in Canada in hope for a permanent residency later. Most of them were lured by the big promises their agents made and also paid a hefty sum as commission to these agents.  The catch here is that a student can only apply for residency and for those jobs for which no Canadian worker is available.  The employer has to prove this by advertising in two local newspapers and then certify that no suitable Canadian is available for the job.

Many of these students were carried away by the often heard statement by these agents that Americans and Canadians do not study, they do not attend universities. etc.  To add to this, in many countries there is a false propaganda that their people are doing real well in US and Canada. Please refer my earlier blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/real-propaganda/

The parents of these students spread the ‘news’ around about the successful immigration of their wards to Canada and then about the job they are in and also claim that they did send a lot of money back. All these could be to improve their ward’s value in the marriage market. There are many students in Canada who married while being a student on a student visa and have brought in their partners too on a student visa. They make up a story that their residency application is nearly through and the only way to get their partner in is through student visa.

While the new regulations have added new challenges for foreign students in Canada, they have also improved the odds for highly-skilled professionals and trades.  Instead of a ‘first come, first serve’ basis, the new immigration regulations fast-tracks those prospects whose skills are more in demand in Canada.

As per the new system, prospective immigrants can file an online application and the Canadian government will draw names from this pool, based on the current needs of the labour market. This ensures that only those prospects who meet a certain criteria will be invited to submit a formal application for permanent residency, thus cutting the processing time and overload of applications. By prioritising those applicants whose skills are more in demand, the system improves the odds for new immigrants to succeed in Canada and not be a burden on the state.

Candidates applying for permanent residency would have a higher chance in case they can provide a job offer letter from a prospective employer in Canada.  Finding a job in Canada can take time and may be different from finding a job in one’s home country. Most employers look for Canadian experience and that can be achieved only by volunteering in a position in one’s field.  The students in Canada do so during their education by volunteering and also in the coop opportunity the university offers in conjunction with the businesses around.

Acceptance by the Canadian Government  for permanent residency in no way guarantees employment in one’s preferred profession or any other profession.  Most got to start all over by volunteering in their field, attending courses to upgrade their skills to be at par with the Canadian requirement and passing various regulatory and licensing examinations.

Even if one has the language skills in English or French needed to immigrate to Canada, those skills may not be strong enough to work in the preferred profession. Most professions and trades require one to be fluent in English or French and to have a strong knowledge of all work-related languages.

Canadian employers often do not know how to assess education and work experience from other countries. They might prefer one with experience working in Canada. Getting that experience is one of the biggest challenges for newcomers.

Life in Canada of an immigrant will be different than in their home country. They may have to take a job with lower pay while one upgrades their skills or get experience working in Canada. This may result in change of financial status and life-style. Even if one earns a higher salary in Canada than one was earning in one’s home country, the cost of living in Canada may be higher than one is used to. All immigrants to Canada as a skilled worker, investor, entrepreneur or as a self-employed person, will have to provide proof that of sufficient funds to support the family after arrival in Canada.

Challenges in Parenting Faced by Indian Immigrants In North America

Background
A nursing student, 22 year old daughter of parents who had immigrated to the US from Kerala, was reported missing by her parents on February 24, 2014. She was last heard from by her mother who talked to her, on the phone.  The daughter claimed to be in the library at the university campus, where as the police investigation revealed that she made the call from a fitness center.

The parents were in for a rude shock when they learned from police that their daughter, who was a nursing student, had not attended classes since May 2013.  All along, her parents believed that she was going to school, and her mother who was under the impression that her daughter was on track to follow in her footsteps. She had been living at home and telling her parents she was attending school all through the fall and winter. The father’s credit card was even charged $6,072 for the Fall 2013 semester. I had heard from our daughter about of a few students who enroll in courses using the parent’s credit card and later cancelling their enrollment and taking the money.

The parents had not been seeing their daughter’s progress card and when her father asked to see the report card, she said there was something wrong with the computer. The mother had noticed that that her daughter wasn’t bringing home college text books. On inquiry, she said that she was doing online reading. In hindsight, how could a mother, who is also a nurse by profession ever accept such an excuse.

On March 11, 2014, the police found her dead body in her car and as per the police, the cause of death appeared to be suicide, due to inhalation of a noxious substance.

Reality Check

This case study reveals the challenges in parenting faced especially by parents emigrating from India. This brings out the need for positive parent-child interactions, especially at teen and adolescence levels. Each age and stage of growth presents unique joys and challenges, and the teen and adolescence years are certainly no exception. In fact, parenting during these years will always present unique situations as a result of the physical, social and emotional changes taking place in your child’s life. The parents have a great deal of influence on the behaviour of their adolescents.

Majority of Indian immigrant parents’ relationships with their children are formal and vertical with regard to age and gender. Communication and authority flow downward consistent with a hierarchical order. Indian parents accept as their duty the care of their children and children’s reciprocated duty is to unquestionably respect and honour their parents. In this context, parents expect children to accede to parental wishes and to behave in ways that reflect well upon the family, and many times the community. Many Indian immigrant parents rely on the inculcation of guilt and shame to keep children, regardless of age, focused on the importance of family obligations and to behave in ways that do not ‘bring shame’ to the family. Anything and everything the child does is castigated with the often heard remark that ‘its against our culture.

For a majority of Indian immigrant parents in America, the desire for children to succeed educationally and economically is a very high (only doctors and engineers please.) Accordingly, children’s exceptional academic performance is often viewed by parents as an honour to them.

This also forces children to hide their actual performance/ report cards.  Parents are also culprits as they brag about their children’s academic achievements.  It is very significant at high school level and when the child does not secure admission in a worthwhile university, next lot of stories are spun out by the parents.  This further degrades the child’s confidence and they end up feeling out of place – trying to live in a castle of lies.

Lives of many Indian immigrant children, especially those at high school and university level can well be compared to the Hindi movie ‘Ram Aur Shyam,’  The children often end up leading a life of double role – one for university and one for home.  It is akin to maintaining two girlfriends at the same time – one should not meet the other.

Concerns of Indian Immigrant Parents in North America

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  • Fear of Losing Children to the American Culture.     Most Indian parents migrate with the hope of making it good with many opportunities North America offers to them and their children. However, they fear that their children, especially those who entered adolescence or young adulthood subsequent to emigrating and those born in North America, are becoming more ‘Americans’ and abandoning the family’s cultural values.  Most of these parents fail to realise that the present young Indian society has changed and have adapted to the American culture of dating, live-in relationships, drugs, pubs, etc, (mostly kept under wraps.)  Some Indian parents often demand that children minimise their activities like dating based on personal choice, partying, using contraceptives, marrying for love vs  accepting an arranged marriage, or reject the culture outright. Indian children often perceive their identification with the parental native culture to be a disadvantage to making it big in the American society.
  • Loss of Authority Over Children.           Indian parents become aware of two very painful post-immigration facts of life: that there are vastly different rules for parenting children, and the new rules significantly lessen their general authority over their children. Many parents complain that the children do not listen to them and some are even scared of saying anything to their children. Parents also lament the ‘permissiveness‘ of the American society that condones children’s rights to challenge parental values and authority and often observe that raising children in North America is same as ‘living with strangers.’
  • Disciplining Children.       Many Indian parents feel restrained in their authority to discipline their children ‘appropriately‘ consistent with the usual and acceptable modes of disciplining children back in India. Many Indian parents used disciplinary practices that by American standards, are considered harsh and even abusive. For these parents, parenting in North America requires accommodation to new value systems, rules, and expectations.  As a result, Indian parents overwhelmingly tend to be cautious in disciplining their children because of their unfamiliarity with other disciplinary methods and fear of breaking the law.
  • Loss of Authority to Select Children’s Mate.  Indian immigrant families represent a kaleidoscope of religions and cultures and consider it their right to select and to decide whom the children will (date and) eventually marry. They do not accept the fact that arranged marriages among Indians is on the wane. Notwithstanding the decline in the practice, however, many Indian immigrant parents continue to endorse arranged marriages. Some parents do not hesitate to send marriageable children home to seek a spouse in case there are few or no eligible candidates. Some parents may even ‘import‘ a potential spouse from India.  Some parents do permit culturally exogamous dating and marriages and most children prefer selecting, dating and eventually marrying someone of their own choosing, based on the North American criterion of romantic love. Parents complain that children’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage as a rejection of them and their values and negatively reflect upon them as parents within the community. They also reference the progressively increasing divorce rate among younger Indian immigrants and worry about their children’s ability to ‘make a good marriage.’
  • Loss of Face Within the Community.    Within the Indian community, parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviour and are criticised for their failing as parents, because children’s behaviour reflect negatively upon parents. They believe that it is the paramount duty of their children to enhance family pride by honouring their parents through their culturally appropriate behaviour and outstanding accomplishments. Consequently, when children behave out-of-culture, parents invariably complain that such behaviour dishonour them as ‘Indian Parents‘ and devalue their standing as ‘Indians‘ within the community.
  • Religious Institutions.       Indian parents seems to prove the adage of ‘being more loyal to the king than the king themselves’ when it comes to their religious matters. They force their children to attend religious ceremonies, mostly without explaining the details of the ceremony and its significance in real life.  Religious teachers employed by these institutions are ‘fresh off the boat (FOB)‘ from India and do not connect to the North American society and the stresses the children undergo here.   They ensure to instill a feeling of ‘guilt and shame‘ in the Indian parents for not strictly adhering to the religious practices and the ‘sin‘ they are committing by not protecting their children from the ‘hazards‘ of the ‘evil‘ North American society. Their sermons are mostly archaic and have no place in the modern society. Luckily these sermons are in their dialects or in ‘Hinglish/ Punglish/ Manglish,‘ which these children do not understand. These religious heads will talk non-stop on the evils of the North American society, but wants you to part with your dollars liberally at any instant.

The Way Ahead

  • Monitor and Supervise your Child.       Children want parents who listen and try to understand, set good examples, and offer guidance. A delicate balance of allowing your child freedom while still exercising a level of parental control is key to your child achieving independence.
  • Monitor Your Child’s Activities.  Show a constant and genuine interest in your child’s life.  Know where your child is at all times. Ask where they are going after school, when they will be home, and which friends they will be with. Parents who actively monitor and guide their children tend to have adolescents who experience positive relationships with peers and who are less likely to use drugs.
  • Check-in Regularly.           Talk to your child after school to ask about their day. If your child is scheduled to be at a friend’s house, call the friend’s parent to confirm the arrangement. Be involved without being overbearing. Your child may protest your monitoring behaviour, but setting boundaries and sticking to them will show your child that you love them.
  • Parent in an Authoritative Style.     Parent with warmth and respect, avoiding to be overly controlling or overly lenient. Authoritative parents are warm but firm. They encourage their children to be independent, but as parents, they manage to keep limits and controls on their child’s actions. Authoritative parents openly discuss family rules with their children, which allows the children to express their views. Authoritative parents are nurturing, while providing the rules, guidelines, and standards that children need.
  • Encourage Your Children to Bring Home their Friends.     This will ensure that you meet your child’s friends and know the company he/ she keeps. Interact with your child to find out the activities and conversations that took place during their outing. This is easier said than done as you have to earn the confidence of your child, especially by not reacting to those uncomfortable issues that may crop up. This will provide some insight into the activity pattern of your child outside the school hours
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  • Eat Dinner Together.      Eating dinner or at least a meal together as a family provides an ideal opportunity to interact with your children. Talk to your child about their day, their friends, and current events. It also shows that you care enough to take time to listen and learn about their interests. Research finds that teens who eat dinner with a parent five or more times during the week are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, get into fights and engage in sexual activity.
  • College and University Students to Study with Education Loan.    The children must utilise the facility of the liberal educational loans, especially those funded by the governments. It not only satisfies the financial need to proceed with higher education but helps in saving income tax also while repayment. Tax benefits on education loan end up reducing overall cost of the loan. Most student loans offer lower interest rates, deferred payment options and a repayment grace period following graduation. This will ensure that the children are better focused on their education. It can also act as a monitoring tool for the parents as the next tranche of the loan would not be released unless the student has scored adequate marks and have the requisite attendance. In case the parents are financially sound, they can assist the child to repay the loan in full or in part upon graduation.

Wishing all parents ‘Great Parenting.’  Remember what Mayim Chaya Bialik, American actress, author, and neuroscientist said “I came to parenting the way most of us do – knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.

(Photographs are of our daughter Nidhi and our son Nikhil)

First, Middle and Last Name

Names

My name at school and in the Indian Army read Koduvath Reji as our family is known by the name Koduvath. (Please click here to read more about Koduvath family). Syrian Christians of Kerala generally have three parts in their names. First comes the family name, followed by the father’s name and then the christen name. In my case it was only the family name and my christen name. As a teenager, I asked my father as to how we all siblings had only two names and a very short christen name. Being a Headmaster, I got a typical reply from him that the most common question one gets in primary language classes is “What is your name?” He did not want his children to get confused in answering the very first question and hence to make our lives a bit easier, gave us all easy to write names. Think of my plight had my name been a typical Syrian Christian name like ‘Kuruvilla‘, ‘Philipose‘, ‘Punnoose‘ or ‘Zachariah‘.

In Malayala Manorama newspaper in Kerala, one often finds a few change of name advertisements in the classified columns; mainly for women changing their surnames to match their husband’s. In some cases it is to put the surname after the christen name and a few for astrological and numerological reasons.

Other than the above, there may be a variety of interesting reasons for a name change. Sometimes someone did not take a liking to the name their parents gave; in some cases the couple would go for a ‘double-barrel’ name, hyphenating the surnames of both the partners. Some do it to Anglicise their names as in a few cases the way their names are pronounced in North America may end up as an unpleasant word in their language or else to make it easier for the folks to pronounce one’s name. At times some feel that their name is a liability while seeking a job and at times it is to beat an identity theft.

Our mother, Pallathettu Kurian Sosamma married our father Koduvath Varkey George in 1956. They both were teachers and neither changed their names. Our father believed that everyone must maintain their individuality and identity and marriage is not a sacrificial altar, which demands one to surrender one’s name. Further, the expenses and hassles involved as per him were also not worth the trouble. Hence, none of his daughters-in-law, including my wife, changed their names after marriage. My wife remained Marina Mani, the surname she got from her father’s name.

Many officers in the Indian Army change their wife’s name after marriage at their own will. They had their documentations (Part II Orders) of their marriage done and replaced the surname of their wife with the husband’s surname. It was surprising to many when I insisted that my wife will maintain her maiden name in all her documentations. I realised most officers were unaware of the procedure for a change of name and that a marriage under any law does not authorise a change of name. The soldiers too followed the simple methodology of a marriage Part II Order to change their spouse’s name and the uninformed officers did sign them off!

After marriage Marina was addressed as Mrs Reji as everyone in the army quite reasonably presumed Reji to be my surname. Marina despised it, but settled down to accepting it as time passed. I named our daughter Nidhi and Marina was arguably unhappy as a disyllabic ‘single’ name appeared dreadfully incomplete. I insisted that she would neither take on my first name nor surname with the reasoning that it obviates a ‘change of name’ problem after marriage.

My wife then named her Nidhi Susan, as my mother’s first name ‘Sosamma’ is the vernacularised form of ‘Susan’.  (Now she is Nidhi Parkinson-Watson with a hyphenated last name.) When our son was born, Marina took on the responsibility of naming him and he ended up with a very complete name ‘Nikhil George Koduvath.

When we had to apply for the emigration process to Canada, the first requirement was to obtain a passport. I conveniently swapped my first and the last names to become Reji Koduvath from Koduvath Reji. Thus I ended up with two identities, one Indian and the other Canadian. The last name did pose a bit of an issue for our daughter in Canada. Whenever she went for any documentation and when she gave her last name as Susan, they would reconfirm it as Susan is a common first name in Canada.

On assuming command of the Regiment, I insisted on correct and complete documentation for all soldiers of the unit. There I realised that numerous gaps existed in their documentation, particularly those related to marriage and child birth. In the next Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to soldiers,) I decided to educate everyone about the procedure and need for correct documentation, especially as most soldiers’ families were nuclear and many had moved away from the traditional joint family system.

How to change your name legally in Punjab? - Procedure, Affidavit  Submission, Newspaper Publication, Gazette Notification, Charges,  Application Forms
I explained to them the correct legal procedure for a change of name as applicable in India (as also in many developed countries.) First step is to make an affidavit for the change of name and submit it to a District Court or a Magistrate. The next step is to publish advertisements announcing the name change in two local newspapers. The last step is to get the same published as a notification in the Official Gazette of one’s state.

At the end of it, one soldier from Rajasthan raised an issue that in their area, the second name of every girl was ‘Kumari’ and when they got married, it changed to ‘Devi’. He gave an example that Ritu Kumari after marriage will automatically become Ritu Devi as per their customs. I replied that until change of name is done legally, she would remain Kumari (virgin) for life! I instructed all officers and soldiers who did change their spouse’s name to complete all legal proceedings for change of name.

In Canada, when you visit the family physician or the pharmacy, the search key-field that they use is the last name. I always request them to search with our home telephone number as Nikhil and I have a common last name, Nidhi and Marina have different last names.

Once at our Pharmacy, the technician searched with the home telephone number as the key-field and five names came up. She commented that all the three males of the family have a common last name and both the females have different last names. You must be wondering who the third male member of our family is. It is Maximus Koduvath, our dog, who also gets his medication from the same pharmacy based on the veterinarian’s prescription. Maximus is a Canadian and he has to have a last name.

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Four-Year Undergraduate Programme

gggEducation in Canada aims at developing all-rounded personality of a student.  Graduation is the stepping stone to the employment market.   Why does Canada/USA have four year graduation courses? After analysing the curricula our daughter and her friends went through for  graduation in life sciences in Canada, my observations are as given below.

Finances.   The students being over 18 years of age want to be financially independent and do not want to depend on their parents. All of the students I met (including our daughter) had taken student loans to pay for their education. As they were paying for it with their own money, they wanted each and every penny to be counted, resulting in no bunking or whiling away time in the class – every minute had been paid for by them (not by the parents).

Part-Time Work.   Most students undertook part-time work (our daughter taught in the tuition centre for 10 hours a week) to pay for their other expenses that is not met from the student loans. Studies have proven that the students who take up part-time jobs are more dedicated to their studies, better at time management and outperform the students who do not take up part-time jobs.

Every Academic Year is Three Semesters Effectively.   The academic year commences in September with the first semester and the second semesters beginning in January and ending by April. The period between May to August may be called  summer vacation, but is used up to complete any particular requisite course(s) which could not be taken during the two semesters or pursue a course of interest. Students use this time to volunteer both within and outside the country or join a research team, or work for four months to make money and also to gain experience. Many employers like the government, city, private institutions that conduct summer camps, etc, earmark jobs for the university students. They work as swimming instructors, life guards, kids’ camp guides, area cleaners, gardeners,  etc.

Course Content.   I was flabbergasted to see our daughter taking Bollywood Music and Prem Chand Kahaniya as optional subjects in the second and third year as part of a life science course. I am sure no Indian Universities would be offering such subjects. Here the students have a variety of courses to choose from and there are different pre-requisites for post graduation in different universities.

Assignments.   Assignments typically consist of 15- 20 % of the total grade. One cannot  get away by copying assignment from friends.  Plagiarism is very serious and may even result in failing the course. Original works and ideas are well rewarded. Assignments are given every week or at least once every 15 days and are mostly corrected by the Teaching Assistants (TAs) of the professor. TA is generally a research student under that professor and the TA makes some money by assisting the professor.

Tests.   There are anywhere from two to four tests in a semester. The midterm tests range from 25 to 40 % each. The weightage for the tests are about 50 – 80% depending on the professor. The key point is you do not lose all your points if you miss your final. So, if you get sick or have issues with some chapters, you are not penalised for that. The risk is evenly distributed. The catch is, you are forced to study all through the semester because you have tests every 4 to 6 weeks depending on number of tests.  Some tests are comprehensive, but most are only part of the text. It all depends on the professor. The key thing is, Professor who teaches the class dictates the rules of tests and he is a God for the students.

Quizzes:   The quizzes are quite important and are sometimes online and sometime they are pop-quizzes or surprise quizzes in class. The weightage for quizzes can be from 5 – 20 %. So, you have to be prepared every time with previous class material.

Group Projects and Individual Projects.     They can be from 20 – 40% of the grade. The goal is that the professor wants the students to apply what they learned in the class. There are two types of projects. Group projects as name says, will be between 2 – 5 people. Individual projects, you only work on it. In either case, you end up giving final presentation in the class. The presentation skills are developed in the students from high school onward and they are well trained in executing group and individual projects.

Term Papers.   Some classes do not have anything other than writing papers after extensive research. The research paper has to be based on a given format with full citations. One will have to follow the APA or any other similar format as per the university policy (it starts from High School here). For arts and literature classes, there will not be any exams like mid terms and they usually have two or three papers to write during semester.

Class Participation.   There is about 5 – 15 % of marks for class participation. The students have to actively participate in discussions and hence have to be fully prepared for each class. The TAs sitting behind the class do the marking and the professor will award the final marks.

Co-op. This is where the industry and the academic institution come together to offer the students a chance to work in the industry during graduation. In some universities it is mandatory for all students to take up co-op assignments.  This ensures that education remains at par with the developments in the  industry.  The curriculum aims to provide the students exposure of actual industrial and business processes. Students’ projects are mostly related to real problems identified with the industry/ business.

Recommendations.  For applying for any job, even part-time or for a post graduate course, it is mandatory to provide recommendations of two to three professors. In case you are not well known to them, the professor would end up saying that he/she is ‘not comfortable’ giving the recommendations. It is not all that easy to ‘buy’ these recommendations.

The economic progress of a country is strongly linked with the quality of education.  The Canadian education system  from school level onward undertake periodic review of the curriculum and subject content to ensure that they are up to date and not outmoded or obsolete.  They also ensure that the system effectively fulfills the requirements of the country in creating valuable citizens for the future. Norms and standards of education are set up so as to educate the students with appropriate skills suitable for a rapidly changing economic scenario.

We would always get an education system we deserve and not what we desire.

Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ)

Kappa1

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

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

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

Tapioca was promoted extensively during World War II in Kerala by Chithira Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore and his Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Then rice was the staple food of the people of Kerala and was being imported from Burma and Indonesia. With Japanese Navy enforcing a blockade in the Malaccan Strait, the ships carrying rice to India were either destroyed or captured. This caused an acute shortage of rice.

A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich Tapioca as a substitute to costly rice. Thus Tapioca came to be known as ‘staple food of the poor.’ Hotels refused to include Tapioca in their menu due to its working class image.

The only place that served Tapioca were the toddy shops, where the labourers turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work. Today tapioca is a rarity in Kerala and so is a delicacy and hence all hotels including the five-star ones have tapioca with fish curry in all their menus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Country Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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