Appreciating Children

Graduation Ceremony from Middle School (Grade 8) of our daughter Nidhi was a year after we set foot in Canada.  The very first question that came to my mind was – “Is this all necessary?”  We became poorer by a few hundred Dollars in terms of her dress, visit to the beauty parlour and the florist.

Is this all necessary?”  Why do we think so?  On analysis I realised that as children we were never appreciated for anything.  In case you obtained 93% marks the question on everyone’s lips was “Where did the 7% go?”  No one appreciated or complimented me for obtaining 93%.  The story took a different turn in case Susikutty, our neighbour’s daughter scored 94%.  Everyone played the same track “Look at Susikutty!  See how she is focused?  Learn to work hard like her….

On landing in Canada, I realised that one was being appreciated for even little things like holding open the coffee shop’s door.  That was when it dawned on me as to our rationing of compliments, even to our children, let alone subordinates or people unknown.  The belief that was drilled into me was that in case you appreciated someone, his performance would go down, but in case you ‘rebuked’ him, he would try and do better.  What a myth? 

A Captain in the Indian Army who served with me asked me a question “Sir, in case you come back to command our Battalion, what changes would you bring in?” I said, “I will appreciate everyone for all their deeds, how insignificant it may appear so.”

Grade 8 Graduation Ceremony may be bit more laid back than formal high school ceremonies (commencement), but the move from junior to senior high school is still a monumental occasion that needs to be celebrated.  Many schools in Canada do not insist on students wearing caps and gowns for middle school graduation but is mandatory for the High School Graduation.  The students must wear dress clothes for the occasion – suits for boys and gowns for girls.

Many of us forget to give graduation gifts to our children.  I did not for our daughter’s Grade 8 Graduation as I was unaware.  Our daughter participated in her High School Musical Drama in a lead role and after the play I found every Canadian parent gifting their children for their outstanding performances – mostly bouquets and chocolates. I felt small as it was past 9 PM and I could not have procured any at that time as the shops had closed.  After the event we went out for a family dinner to celebrate her performance.

After our son’s graduation after middle and high school where he was the valedictorian, I ensured that I did not repeat the mistake.  I was ready with the gifts.

Giving Graduation Gifts to Middle School students is very important.  A card filled with age-appropriate humour, or contain motivational or inspirational graduation sayings, or simply a message of congratulations is the minimum.  You may also gift a small to moderate amount of money, school supplies the student might need for high school, journals or scrapbooks, favorite teen books, a watch or an item of jewelry, a cool backpack, or other carry-all, gift cards for movies, or other fun activities, etc.

Who will Play the Butcher?


In 1997 after the Technical Staff Course of 18 months, I was posted back to my parent unit 75 Medium Regiment. In those days the unit had three batteries, each with different class composition of soldiers. Now it has men from all over India, comprising of all classes. A battery is a sub-unit of an Artillery Regiment consisting of six Guns and about 125 soldiers to operate them along with vehicles, radio sets and other technical equipment.

The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery was of Brahmins (other than those from the Southern and Eastern States of India), the second had Jats and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Management of soldiers in all the batteries differed as their reactions to various situations, their needs, their languages etc were different.

In those days, any Young Officer posted to the Regiment would serve with each of the batteries for one or two years in order to make them familiarise with the soldiers. I too went through this rotation until I moved out for the Long Gunnery Course for 13 months. On my return from the course in 1990, I was appointed the Battery Commander (BC) of the Brahmin Battery. After two years I moved on posting to a staff appointment and returned after two years, again I was handed over the reins of the Brahmin Battery until I moved out for the Technical Staff Course.

On my return to the Regiment in 1997 after the Technical Staff Course, the unit was located in the high-altitude area (10,000 feet above Sea Level) of Sikkim, where families were not permitted to live with the soldiers or officers. After the customary ‘Dining-in’ in the evening at the Officers’ Mess, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel PK Ramachandran spoke welcoming me back into the fold and ordered me to be the BC of the Brahmin Battery. “Oh! Not again” was my instant reply and the CO was a bit puzzled.  He later spoke to me in person and I requested that I need a change and I wanted to have the experience of commanding another battery. The CO had his own logical reasoning for his decision and I did accept the same without any remorse as I too got convinced. Col Ramachandran had earlier served throughout his army career with a Regiment which had only Brahmin soldiers and I realised the he exactly knew the ‘horse for the course.’

The first week I spent at the Regimental Headquarters, carrying out the acclimatisation drills laid down for any soldier on arrival in high-altitude area. Our Battery was located about three km from the Regimental Headquarters. I luckily had two energetic and hardworking officers – Captain Samya Saurav, the Second-in-Command and Lieutenant Manish Wahi, the Gun Position Officer – both are presently Colonels, who effectively commanded their units. I delegated all my duties to the two and they did an excellent job that I hardly ever visited the battery.  Our CO wanted me to stay with the Regimental Headquarters to assist him, hence I had to delegate most duties to my junior officers.

After the week long acclimatisation, I decided to pay a visit to the Battery in the morning. When I reached the kitchen area, I found five goats there. In high-altitude area live goats are supplied as rations in place of dressed meat. These goats are called ‘Meat on Hoof (MOH)’ but are mostly ‘Meat on Knees’ as the goats are nearly dead after traversing through the difficult mountain roads from the plains.   The soldiers usually feed them well for a week to bring them back to life before they are slaughtered.

On inquiry I realised the problem of the goats – the Brahmins did not want to slaughter the animals, but like good soldiers, wanted to partake the meat. I ordered the Havildar Major (Sergeant Major) Kanti Prasad to assemble the entire battery at 12 Noon in front of the kitchen and the BC would slaughter the animal in their presence. After that I went back to my room in the Regimental Headquarters.

In my youth, our household had fowls and animals and whenever I went on vacation, my brothers would entrust me the task of slaughtering. I think I did a good job of it as Amma, a stickler regarding the way the meat is cut, was pretty happy about my job. That was why I was sure that I would do a smart job of slaughtering the animal – if my mother could not find anything wrong – I was damn sure no one on earth could.

By 11 AM, our Havildar Major knocked at my door and reported that the goat was stewing in the pressure cooker and I need not return to the battery at 12 Noon.