What Would I Have Done?

After a couple of years of my retirement from the Indian Army in 2004,  my friend Colonel Josey Joseph, wanted to know what I would have done post-retirement had I been in India. I laid out my plans and he wanted to know why I did not implement a much smarter and better plan than immigrating to Canada.

My post retirement plan in case I had stayed in India was to become a Priest at our Church and start with many meditation sittings – all to impress the people.

In all mock seriousness, I replied “To begin with, there must be a few fair-skinned followers, especially good-looking blonde girls,  in low cut blouses , and a few white guys. Whenever I paused during my sermons, they would  chorus ‘Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!‘ Now watch the fun as to how my coffers would have filled up.”

Why did you not work towards your plan?” Colonel Josey asked.

The plan was great, but I just cannot sing!  For such a plan to succeed, one has to be good at singing.  Look at any of the ‘successful’ pastors or swamis – They are great singers and dancers too!  A requirement to impress the poor masses and bhakthas,” I replied.

Colonel Josey said “Thank God! Your Dad did not put you through singing and dancing lessons, else you would have ended up selling your Dad first and then your God! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

Now I laid my plan bare.

Syrian Orthodox Priests can marry, only those who aspire to be promoted as a bishop remain a bachelor. Fluent in  English, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, indeed a rare combination for a Mallu Priest, I will be invited to all the International and Pan-Indian (NRI/NRK) weddings and showered in moolah. With my vast military experience and having travelled all over India, I will be invited as a speaker, a motivational speaker, as I specialise in impressing people. 

A Syrian Orthodox priest is often allotted a Parish and he may be the Vicar or the Assistant Vicar. A Parish means a small administrative district or village, including all religions, typically having its own church and a priest or pastor.  Vicar is derived from the English prefix ‘vice,’ similarly meaning ‘deputy‘ and here he is the deputy to the Bishop.

The Parish will be benefited in that every need of the Parishioners would be presented effectively to the District Collector or the Superintendent of Police. Naturally,  they  would be compelled by courtesy and etiquette, to never refuse an audience to the Reverend Father-Veteran Colonel Reji Koduvath. The least I could do is to draft various complaints and applications for the Parish members.

There are various projects by the Central and State Governments for the benefit of the citizens. Many of them do not reach the public as people are unaware of the paperwork involved. Having written many Statements of Case while in service, and following it up to the Defence Ministry level, who else can do it better?

Employment opportunities for the youth, military, police (both central & state), bank, railways, state transport, UPSC, state PSC… I could have provided effective guidance and mentorship to youth aspiring to enroll into all these. I would have conducted orientation training for each specific job at the church, conduct mock tests, interviews, group discussions, public speaking, etc as well.  With more of the youth employed, obviously more money for the church (and me.)

I would also organise leadership training and adventure activities for the children and youth of the Parish. This would facilitate them to do better at the interviews.  

I would motivate the children of the Parish to read by initiating little ones to the habit of reading, the biggest bugbear for the Indian youth. I would publish a Church magazine with children contributing their stories, poems and articles.

Upon hearing my narration, Colonel Josey remarked “I think your idea is not only novel, but simply brilliant. And in these times when most of the clergy, across the board, propagate hate; a message of love , an effort to help the helpless and instill self-confidence in children : that’s the core of what our nation and the world really needs.  And, knowing you so well, I am quite certain that personal gain would hardly be your motivation. Also, more importantly,  although every parish priest is not a Colonel Reji Koduvath, I am sure most of them can undertake some of the activities you suggested.  Someone needs to take the lead.”

Cannabis – Marijuana

Indian media is filled with headlines of Aryan Khan’s  (son of Bollywood Star Sharukh Khan) arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India on a cruise ship on October 3, 2021.  Many media houses are celebrating the event with all pomp and glory throwing in bits and pieces of Masala (spice) – some even went berserk – especially those active on the social-media.

Can you justify such media glare and media trial?

Sashi Tharoor summed it up very well through his tweet “I am no fan of recreational drugs and haven’t ever tried any, but I am repelled by the ghoulish epicaricacy displayed by those now witch-hunting Sharukh Khan on his son’s arrest. Have some empathy, folks. The public glare is bad enough; no need to gleefully rub a 23yr old’s face in it.”

I needed a dictionary to understand his tweet – ghoulish (ugly and unpleasant, or frightening) epicaricacy (deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others.)  That is Tharoorian English for you!!

I too am not a fan of recreational drugs and never tried it.  The smell of marijuana smoke puts me off – though I have been a cigarette smoker for over four decades.  But the way the NCB, Indian media and the judiciary have conducted themselves in dealing with the case – I am no fan of that too.  It is absurd – may be I have lived in Canada for 18 years where a similar case would have been dealt with differently. 

This prompted me to delve into the Canadian laws on Cannabis.  In our Province of Ontario, one must be 19 and older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational Cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in our province – Ontario. The law stipulates that one can smoke and vape Cannabis in private residences, many outdoor public places (sidewalks and parks,) designated smoking guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns, etc. 

After the law was implemented in October 2019, I found a drastic decrease in the odor of Marijuana smoke while on my walks, especially at park corners. It appeared that it was Cool no more.

The law also permits a person to possess a maximum of 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried cannabis  in public at any time.  I also realised that I can grow four Cannabis plants at our home for recreational purpose.  

My mind raced back to 1980’s – a Television interview of a Tribal Chieftain from Kerala, India.  In the early 1970’s when Mrs Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, she visited the tribal area accompanied by Mr K Karunakaran, then Home Minister of Kerala State.  The Tribal Chieftain was fortunate to have had an audience with Mrs Gandhi.  She asked him as to what she could do for the welfare of his people and the Chieftain did not ask for a school, not a hospital and not a proper road to his land – he did not ask for  drinking water facilities and  not for electricity – but he promptly asked “Our people should be allowed to grow two Cannabis plants per household.”

Mrs Gandhi smiled and Mr Karunakaran nodded.  The Chieftain claimed that thereafter the Police and the  State Excise Department accepted it as an unwritten law and never ever bothered them.

Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)

On July 29, a notification on my cellphone read ‘Today is the World ORS Day.’ When there is a Left Handers’ Day (August 13,) a Sandwich Day (November 3,) a Puppy Day (March 23,) and also a Nothing Day (January 16;) I wasn’t surprised to find an ORS day!

ORS Day is observed each year on July 29 to emphasise the importance of ORS as an affordable and highly impactful healthcare method to treat dehydration and diarrhea. This year too it was celebrated, but without much fanfare, throughout the world.  I have failed to find the significance of the date – July 29 – connecting to ORS. Hence I decided to dwell a bit deep.

For more than 25 years WHO and UNICEF have recommended a single formulation of glucose-based ORS to treat or prevent dehydration from diarrhoea and cholera for all ages.  ORS has been used worldwide and has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal diseases.

ORS is an oral powder–containing mixture of glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium citrate. After dissolving in requisite volume of water, it is used for the prevention and treatment of dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.

ORS and zinc are recommended by the WHO and UNICEF to be used collectively to ensure the effective treatment of diarrhea. ORS replaces the essential fluids and salts lost through diarrhea.  Zinc decreases the duration and severity of an episode and reduces the risk of recurrence in the immediate short term.

Captain Robert Allan Phillips (1906–1976) of the US Navy in 1946 first successfully tried oral glucose saline on two cholera patients. As a Navy Lieutenant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II, Phillips developed a field method for the rapid assessment of fluid loss in wounded servicemen.  Captain Phillips embarked on cholera studies during the 1947 Egyptian cholera epidemic and developed highly effectives methods of intravenous rehydration. Later he developed a of glucose-based oral rehydration therapy.

The typical Indian Jugaad  (जुगाड़) by Dr Dilip Mahalanabis – a paediatrician and a clinical scientist working with Johns Hopkins University Center for Medical Research and Training (JHCMRT) – who treated multitudes of Bangladeshi refugees who were suffering from diarrhea with rehydration salt sachets or ORS.  He has not received any recognition, either from the international community or from the Indian government.

Oxford Dictionary defines Jugaad as ‘A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.’  In effect, there is no real word in English that captures the essence of the real Jugaad

In 1971, an estimated 10 million refugees crossed the border from East Pakistan into India as per UNHCR.  This was the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.  The refugees were severely malnourished, especially the children and the Indian government took all efforts to take care of the refugees, despite meager support from the international community.

After walking long distances on foot to escape from the ruthless atrocities of the Pakistan Army, this starved and frightened mass of people sought refuge in India. A cholera outbreak in the refugee camps badly affected the already exhausted and starved refugees.  The monsoon was in full fury, and for the refugees living in tents and other make shift arrangements, it was hell.  It is estimated that about 30% of the refugees died from cholera and diarrhea.

This called for a huge amount of intravenous fluids and coupled with problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, effective treatment was near impossible.  Dr Mahalanabis suggested use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation.  He recommended an electrolyte solution with glucose which could prevent fatal dehydration.

The ORS recipe he used consisted of 22 gm glucose, 3.5 gm table salt and 2.5 gm baking soda per liter of water. This is the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, that saved the day for many refugees and they lived to narrate the horrors they faced.

He organised two teams for cholera therapy including oral rehydration. Both teams worked along the border between India and Bangladesh.  He established a treatment centre at the sub-divisional hospital in Bongaon with 16 beds.  He organised  a continuous shuttle of vehicles on the 80 km run from Calcutta to Bongaon, carrying personnel, medication, food and supplies to the centre.  The reserves of intravenous saline-lactate solution stocked originally for cholera research soon depleted.   He had to now used Juggad to make ORS.

To make the ORS, glucose-and salt packets were prepared in Calcutta; first in the JHCMRT library room. Each of the three components of the mixture were carefully weighed by separate technicians and poured into a small polyethylene bag in an assembly-line fashion. Another technician inserted a descriptive label with instructions for dissolving in water; then he sealed one end of the bag with a hot iron. In the field, the dry powder was added to clean drinking water and dispensed from drums directly into the patients’ cups.  The cost was calculated to be 11 Indian paise, (about 1.5 US cents) then per liter of fluid.

Later in 1978 during the cholera epidemic in Manipur, ORS was extensively used, especially in children with diarrhea and cholera. The WHO in 1978 launched the global diarrhea diseases control program with ORS.  In 1979 WHO approved ORS.

Today, ORS is included in WHO’s Essential Medicines List, and Priority Medicines for mothers and children. ORS is also listed as a lifesaving commodity identified and targeted for scale-up and access by the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children.

India faced a dire financial situation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war and taking care of the refugees.  To shore up some money, the Government of India applied Jugaad and imposed the Refugee Relief Tax (RRT) throughout the country that came into force on November 15, 1971. It meant a separate five paisa stamp to be affixed on all postal articles to show payment of the tax.

The post offices immediately applied Jugaad and came up with hand-stamps marked ‘Refugee Relief Tax Prepaid in Cash’ on all postal stationery.  On December 1, 1971 the new five paisa stamp, showing an image of a refugee family fleeing persecution was released. RRT was repealed in effect from April 1, 1973.

Hussainiwala – A Village on Indo-Pak Border


During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.


Railway line connecting Peshawar to Mumbai was built in 1885, passing through Hussianiwala.  During the Pre-Partition days, Punjab Mail connected the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ferozepur, Lahore and Peshawar. In those days, most British troops and businessmen arrived at Mumbai and made their way to their destinations in the North-West Frontier Province by train. The train track from Ferozepur to Hussainiwala was an engineering fete, with Qaiser-e-Hind bridge, which stood over several round pillars (all of them intact even today, as depicted in the image above).


When Pakistan was carved out of British India, the border was drawn along the Sutlej River in Punjab and it passed through Hussainiwala Village.  Now, Sutlej River has changed its course over the years, running further East in Indian territory.  This made Hussainiwala an enclave into Pakistan, with the Sutlej River behind it.


Hussainiwala is named after a Muslim Peer (Saint), Hussaini Baba, whose shrine is located at the entrance to the Border Post.  This small hamlet came into prominence on the evening of 23 March 1931 when British soldiers tried to cremate the bodies of three young Indian freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru – who were hanged at the Lahore Central Jail.  The hanging, scheduled for 24 March was rescheduled a day earlier as the British feared a revolt in Lahore as the situation had become very tense.  They  secretly transported their bodies to Hussainiwala and while cremating them on the banks of the Sutlej, the locals got wind of it.  They assembled near the cremation site.  Fearing repercussions, British soldiers fled the scene, leaving behind the dead bodies which were cremated by the villagers.  This site today is a memorial – aptly called ‘Prerana Sthal‘ (Motivation Site).


Later Bhagat Singh’s mother, Vidyawati, and freedom fighter BK Dutt were cremated at this site as per their wishes. The cremation site is called ‘Shaheedi Sthal’ (Martyrs’ Place).   This is where Indians from all over the country make an annual pilgrimage to honour the martyrs on March 23 as they observe ‘Shaheedi Diwas’ (Martyrs’ Day).


(Defences on the Indian side on Bund (wall) with a bunker as inset)

This enclave has witnessed three bloody battles between India and Pakistan,  with the very first one fought on 18 March 1956.  At that time, heavy floods had damaged Bela Bund and Sulaimanki Headworks at Hussainiwala and as the Indian engineers were repairing the damage, Pakistan Army launched an unprovoked attack at 9 PM.  4 JAK RIF was guarding the bund, and they fought  gallantly causing heavy causalities on the enemy.  This resulted in a hasty withdrawal by the attackers.


During partition of British India in 1947,  Hussainiwala, an enclave of 12 villages went to Pakistan. The railway line no more had trains running through Hussainiwala.  The railway station at Hussainiwala as it exists today is depicted in the image above.  Now Punjab Mail connects Mumbai to Ferozepur via Delhi.  Pakistan destroyed  Qaisere- Hind Bridge leaving behind the round pillars across the river. The Shaheedi Sthal was in a dilapidated state without any maintenance. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, brokered an exchange deal and Hussainiwala came to India while Sulaimanki Headworks –  from where three major canals which supply irrigation water to a large area in Pakistan  Punjab originate –  went to Pakistan. India immediately restored Shaheedi Sthal to its due dignity and reverence.

During Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, 2 Maratha Light Infantry (Kali Panchwin) was deployed to defend Hussainiwala. The battalion fought valiantly to thwart a  frontal attack resulting in two enemy tanks destroyed and two captured, with several enemy killed. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nolan was killed in enemy artillery shelling. The unit ensured that the Samadhi of Bhagat Singh was not desecrated by Pakistan Army. The battalion was visited by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Defence Minister YB Chavan, Congress Party President  K Kamraj, the Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers. Kali Panchwin was awarded the battle honour ‘Hussainiwala’ for its role in the 1965 War. The citizens of Firozpur, in honour of the Battalion’s contribution in defending the bridge and Firozpur town, presented a silver replica of the Hussaniwala Bridge.

During the 1971 War, it was 15 PUNJAB defending Hussainiwala enclave and the Memorial.  On 03 December, Pakistan Army launched a heavy attack.  The valiant Punjabis withstood the attack gallantly despite suffering heavy casualties until withdrawing on 04 December night.


Did the three freedom fighters, who laid down their lives for Indian independence in their wildest dreams ever visualise that post independence, there would be a partition on religious lines and it would all end up in three bloody wars at the very same site their ‘Samadhi’ stood?

Malabar and Tellicherry Pepper

TellicheryPepper

Grocery stores in Canada carry Malabar and Tellichery black pepper. Malabar, one can easily associate with pepper, but how come a small town Tellicherry in Kerala, India, has been associated with this spice.

Tellicherry is the name given by the British to Thalassery. The name originates from the Malayalam word ‘Thala’ (Head) and ‘Kacheri’ (Office), thus Thalassery or ‘head of offices’. The Europeans nicknamed the town ‘The Paris of Kerala’, as it was in close proximity to the sole French military base in Kerala in that era. Later the French abandoned Thalassery and shifted their base to Mahé.

Thalassery had a unique geographical advantage as a trading center being the nearest point from the coast to the spice growing area of Wayanad. The trading center developed mainly after the 16th century when the British got permission to set up a factory in Thalassery from the local ruler. Various conflicts with the local chieftains prompted the British to build a fort in Thalassery. The local king gave the fort and adjoining land to the British in 1708. The fort was later modified and extended by the British East India Company. The king also gave permission to the British to trade pepper in Thalassery without paying duty. After the construction of the fort, Thalassery grew into a prominent trade center and a port in British Malabar. The British won absolute administrative authority over Malabar region after annexation of the entire Malabar region from Tipu Sultan in the Battle of Sree Rangapatnam. Thalassery thus became the capital of British North Malabar.

In 1797 The British East India Company established a spice plantation in Anjarakandy near Thalassery. In 1799 it was handed over to Lord Murdoch Brown with a 99-year lease. Coffee, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg were cultivated there. Anjarakandy cinnamon plantation was the world’s largest at that time. Construction of the Tellicherry Lighthouse in 1835 evidences the importance the British attached to the area.  The British East India Company built a new spice warehouse in 1863 and also established the first registrar office in South India at Anjarakandy in 1865, only to register the cinnamon plantation of Murdoch Brown.

Thalassery municipality was formed on 1 November 1866 according to the Madras Act of 1865 of the British Indian Empire, making it the second oldest municipality in the state. At that time the municipality was known as Thalassery Commission.

The Arab traders had monopolised pepper trade from the Malabar region from about 1500 BC. They sailed in boats through the Arabian Sea, hugging the coastline and reached Malabar and Travancore regions. From there they used the backwaters and the rivers to move inland. The Arabs sold the pepper procured from these regions in Egypt and Europe. Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BC.

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In order to dissuade the Europeans from sailing into the Malabar coast, the Arabs successfully spun many a stories and myths about black pepper. The most common story was that large many-headed serpents guarded the forests where pepper grew and the local people would set the forest on fire once the pepper ripened. The fire would drive away the serpents and people would gather the peppercorns before the serpents could return. The black colour of the pepper was due to burning.

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Trade interactions between the Arabs and the locals from Malabar resulted in many marital alliances. Some Arab traders settled in the Malabar region and Islam flourished there as a result. Today the region is dominated by Muslims. In Kottayam, south of Malabar, spice trade was based on the backwaters and rivers with Thazhathangady (Lower Market) and Puthenangady (New Market) as trading posts established by the Arab traders. Wherever the Arabs established trading posts, Islam also flourished there.

The Cheramaan Juma Masjid at Methala,  near Kodungallur , Thrissur District of Kerala is said to have been built in 629 AD, which makes it the oldest mosque in the Indian subcontinent which is still in use.

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The Christians in the region believe that they were converted by St Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples in the first century, who might have traveled in one such ship.

Many Christians and Jews persecuted in Persia fled to Kerala in the Arab ships and settled along the coast. Fort Kochi area was known for its Jewish settlement and these Jews were called Malabar Jews and are the oldest group of Jews in India and settled there by the 12th century.  

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They built synagogues in the 12th century and are known to have developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam language.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam came to Kerala through trade. but these religions elsewhere in India mostly through the sword.

Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as ‘black gold‘ in Europe and used as a form of commodity money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term ‘peppercorn rent‘ as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given. Pepper was so valuable that it was often used as collateral or even currency. In the Dutch language, ‘pepper expensive‘ is an expression for something very expensive.

Its exorbitant price during the Middle Ages was one of the inducements which led the Portuguese to seek a sea route to India. In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail to India by circumventing Africa. Gama returned in greater numbers soon after and Portuguese by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas gained exclusive rights to trade in black pepper in Malabar.

Pepper’s popularity quickly spread through world cuisines once more trade routes were established. At one time it accounted for a whopping 70 percent of the international spice trade. As it became more readily available, the prices dropped, and ordinary people were able to enjoy it. Regional cuisines began incorporating pepper into their foods alongside native spices and herbs.

Whatever may be the history of black pepper. it is still sold as Malabar or Tellichery pepper even though currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s requirements.