Great Betrayal of Indian Soldier

Third Pay Commission fixed the soldiers’ pension to 50% of last pay drawn.  To complicate it, a clause of 33 years of qualifying service was added – in effect reducing the pension of a soldier.  Here the soldier was betrayed.

History of Military Pension

In 1873, the Indian Military Service Family Pension Fund was started. It was financed solely by compulsory contributions from officers of the Indian Army, who paid so much a month according to rank. There were what we would call to-day ‘special contributions’ on marriage, or when infants reported their arrival. That fund was used by the Government of India for financing various projects—for instance, the Kidderpore Docks on the Hooghly—and even to finance Frontier campaigns. The Government of India credited the fund with a rate of interest equal to current rates of interest on long-term Indian sterling securities. That pension fund was never popular, not because of what it did, or did not do, for widows and orphans, but by reason of the way in which it was administered. I think everyone had a grievance because they felt that a fund which was built up solely from their pockets ought to be treated as a trust fund, and that they should be represented on a board of trustees. Moreover, it was believed that if the fund had been invested in trustee securities in India, it would have received a higher rate of interest than was in fact accorded to it by the Government of India.  (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1949/mar/09/indian-army-pensions)

Formula for computing pension was substantially liberalised since the time of First Central Pay Commission.  The pension was earlier payable at the rate of 30/80 (37.5%) of the average emoluments.  This was later revised to 41.25% (33/80). From 31/3/1979, a slab system for payment of pension was introduced, wherein pension was paid at various rates ranging from 50% to 42.86%.   The formula was further liberalised by the Fourth Central Pay Commission and from 1/1/1986, the pension was payable at the rate of 50% of the average emoluments comprising basic pay, dearness pay, non-practicing allowance and stagnation increments. (http://aicgpa.org/content/resc/bulletin/topicid44.pdf)

As per the Pension Regulations for the Army 2008, pension was calculated on actual qualifying service rendered by the individual plus a weightage of 10 years in the case of Sepoy, 8 years in the case of Naik and 6 years in the case of Havildar and 5 years in the case of Junior Commissioned Officer subject to the total qualifying service including weightage not exceeding 30 years in the case of Sepoy, Naik and Havildar and 33 years in the case a Junior Commissioned Officer. In other words, a soldier who served for 17 years was given an additional 10 years, making it 27 years.  Now his pension was calculated by a factor of 27/33.  Thus the soldiers ended with 80% of their pension in effect.  This anomaly has been rectified in 2016 after many court cases.

All these ‘shortchanging’ of soldiers commenced soon after the famous victory achieved by the defence forces in liberating Bangladesh in 1971.  After the war, General Manekshaw was elevated to the post of Field Marshal for sure but was sidelined and send home unceremoniously.  Generals who followed did not make any effort to even raise an issue with the government.  It could be because the officers, especially the Generals ‘trusted’ the government and were ‘dreaming’ that the government would take ‘care’ of the soldiers.  The irony is that many officers, especially Brigadiers and above, are virtually unaware of any aspect of their own pay & allowances, let alone the of their soldiers.  Many of them were and are shrouded with a mask of ‘too complicated and technical’ and often remarked that they were not ‘babus’ (clerks) to work out pay & allowances.’

A Field Marshal never retires, but Field Marshal Manekshaw was eased out post 1971 victory.  Still, he was entitled for pay and allowances for life. The bureaucrats and the government cut all his pay and allowances for the next 36 years of his life. This was an award to the General who led the Indian Army to victory in the 1971 war for India, for a man who led his life with at most dignity and served India with all respect.  He was paid his dues only in 2007, that too on his death bed by the then Defence Minister AK Antony.

It required a junior officer, Major Dhanapalan who took up the matter of ‘Rank Pay’ with the Kerala High Court and got a favourable verdict. It was contested at all levels, even up to the Supreme Court by the government.  Obviously, it had no support from the Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence as is evident from various submissions by the government.  The Fourth Central Pay Commission, in 1986, while introducing running pay scale for officers in the ranks of Captain to Brigadier introduced a rank pay in addition to the basic pay. However, the bureaucrats who drafted the orders managed to have the rank pay reduced from the basic pay while fixing the basic pay thus denied all the officers serving at that time their lawful dues. Worse, none of the 50,000 odd officers serving in the armed forces then never realised the treachery and the senior officers never allowed anyone to speak up on the matter.

Cruelty dealt by the Seventh Central Pay Commission is the Military Service Pay (MSP.)  It is a meager Rs 15,900 for officers and Rs 5, 200 for soldiers, which is a compensation for the various aspects e.g., intangibles linked to special conditions of service, conducting full spectrum operation including force projection outside India’s boundaries, superannuation at a younger age and for the edge historically enjoyed by the Defence Forces over the civilian scales, will be admissible to the Defence forces personnel only.  (https://doe.gov.in/sites/default/files/7cpc_report_eng.pdf) Para 6.1.28 (Page 103)

To top it all there is a rider to it.  MSP will continue to be reckoned as Basic Pay for purposes of Dearness Allowance, as also in the computation of pension. MSP will however not be counted for purposes of House Rent Allowance, Composite Transfer Grant, and Annual Increment.

Now comes the One Rank One Pension (OROP.) The recent judgement will adversely affect the soldiers and officers below the rank of Colonel.  In the early 1980s, Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels were the Commanding Officers and many retired as Lieutenant Colonels as Colonel was an appointment then and not a rank.  About a third of Lieutenant Colonels were promoted to Brigadier.  In 2006, Lieutenant Colonels became a timescale promotion and there were no more Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels in the Indian Army.

These Selection Grade Lieutenant Colonels who performed the duties of today’s Colonels and retired as Lieutenant Colonels are the most affected due to the current judgement of OROP and by the 6th & 7th Pay Commission. They should be clubbed with the Colonels for pension.

Has the soldier been betrayed by the Government or the Generals?

Learning and Studying

Two words – studying and learning – have always been interchangeable for me until I joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1982.  That was when I commenced applying the knowledge I had gained – especially in trigonometry and physics – while calculating various ballistic parameters for the long range guns.

Studying was the formal education I received at school and at the Academy where I gained knowledge – the basics – which stood as the foundation for all my learning.  Learning was all about applying the knowledge in many situations and there were many  errors, mistakes, commissions and omissions. I learned more with every passing experience.  While learning, there was always a chance of failure – I won some and lost many.

Let us examine the definitions of the two words:-

  • To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. Learning is absorbing the information, testing its validity to the point of being able to understand the information.
  • To Study – to read, memorise facts, attend school, etc, in order to learn about a subject.  Studying is the act of gathering the information and poring over it, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

One studies to learn.  Many a times one studies a lot, but learns hardly anything.  One tends to forget what one studied, especially when the aim was only to score a few marks in an examination.  Here there is neither any addition to one’s knowledge nor development of any skills.

Studying is pushing and learning is pulling. The content is pushed to the students and learners pull the content what they want to learn.  In order to increase one’s English vocabulary, reading the dictionary alone will not suffice.  It is mere studying. Reading a book and referring to a dictionary is the ideal way as one learns more from the context the word is used than from its dictionary meaning. One may study English grammar for days, but without getting into real communication – both speaking and writing – it’s hardly of any use and one is learning neither the language nor the grammar. We learn the alphabets of a language by-heart, we learn to associate these alphabets to form words to read and write. We learn grammar, but study literature.

In mathematics there are only two digits – 0 and 1 – the rest are all combinations of these. There is only one mathematical operation – addition – subtraction is addition of a negative number, multiplication is continuous addition and division is addition of fractions. If a child learns this basic fact, rest will follow.

Doctors while at medical school memorise all Latin medical terms, and by constant usage familiarise with these terms. They apply their knowledge and learn to diagnose and also carryout a procedure or a surgery.

To be successful in any profession today, studying and earning a degree is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a Lieutenant  in the Army, but  the selection criteria is more about leadership qualities, empathy, problem solving ability, etc.  In today’s digital world with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, these skills are more important than the marks scored and degrees earned.

For many, studying is associated with reading.  It may be true as one grows into an adult, acquiring knowledge and understanding various concepts. Babies are constantly learning, but are neither studying nor reading. Learning occurs at random too – with one’s observations and correlating the same with the knowledge already gained. Listening to someone well experienced in the field, one learns a lot.  It can be from a new experience, or from what one reads, analyses and perceives.

Studying at school (including home schooling) is vital because it teaches students essential life values. More than studying or learning, it is more about developing social skills and being a team player. Many students realised it during the pandemic.  

School gives the students  the basics –  alphabets, numbers, sounds, arithmetic skills and social skills. It develops problem-solving skills in students.  Expertise of the teacher helps  students understand and gain knowledge. Schools also help develop many hidden talents in students. It guides and motivates students to bring the best out of them. It is also an avenue to interact with other people. It is a place to meet new friends and colleagues. School enhances social skills with students  dealing with different kinds of people.

Owl, Reading, Book, Bird, Study, Animal, Line Art

Learning never exhausts the mind – Leonardo da Vinci

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you -B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere – A Chinese Proverb

Running Away From Studies

We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam.  English, Hindi and Tamil were alien to us.  First language and medium of education at our school was English.  We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Tamil or Hindi as our second and third languages.

Tamil as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward.  Tamil poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language.  As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam.  Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass.  It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.

Tamil was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram.  We commenced with grade 1 Tamil textbook in grade 5.  The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Tamil textbook.

We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies.  Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.

Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.

Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?

The truth is that I ran away from studies.  The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11.  We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam.  What a relief!!!.

We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal.  On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us.  We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.)  This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.

Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics.  How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Tamil?

I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Tamil as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.

At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!

Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received  modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then.  In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them.  This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.

My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots.  It continued and will continue for ever. 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.

Honouring A Fallen Soldier

Sepoy Vaishakh H, an Indian army soldier from Kerala, who made the ultimate sacrifice during an encounter with terrorists on October 11, 2021.  His mortal remains arrived in Kerala on October 13 and  was cremated on October 14 amidst heavy rain with full military honours.  Sepoy Vaishakh was among the five Army personnel who died in a gunfight with terrorists during an operation in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on October 11.

The operation was launched in a village close to Dera Ki Gali (DKG) in Surankote (Jammu & Kashmir) in the early hours following intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists who had infiltrated from across the Line of Control (LoC).

Prior to the funeral, his body was kept at his childhood LP school in Kudavattoor village and then at his home for public viewing. A huge crowd, including those who had no connection with the soldier, turned up to pay their last respects.

Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal, who was representing the state government, Mavelikkara MP Kodikunnil Suresh and state Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani and several senior government and Army officials were also present at the soldier’s home to pay their last respects.

Please spare a moment and take a look at the coffin. 

A fallen soldier deserves much more than this!!!!

A Stitching Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could I execute such a mission?

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

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

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

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


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


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

Indian Army Water Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military Special Trains

The story of my romance with the Indian Railways is never complete without the story of the military special. Indian Railways and the military have a close and intimate bonding. The military refer to the special coaches as ‘rolling stock’ and the engine simply as ‘power’.  The Military has its own ‘Movement Control Organisation’ (MCO) with its personnel closely integrated with the railways and located at important railway stations/ headquarters.

This special relationship goes back to the very formation of Indian Railways. One of the main reasons for establishing the railway network was to provide an effective and trustworthy method of transporting large amount of troops from one part of the country to another. The colonial masters found this as an imperative requirement, which enabled the government of the day to maintain control over the vast lands it governed.

Indian Railways run these Military Special trains all the time. These trains move both in peace and in times war. Some of these trains are freighters only, while others have accommodation for personnel as well. Some military specials carry armed forces personnel for aid to civil authorities, such as earthquake or flood-relief work. Some Military Special trains have rakes formed totally by special ‘Military’ coaches in their own distinctive greens while others have rakes formed by ‘normal’ Indian Railway coaches. Some movements get decided suddenly (such as due to natural or man-made disasters), while other movements are planned well in advance – as per the strategic relocations of operational units of Indian armed forces. The mobilisation plan of military units and formations are made in close coordination with Indian Railways.

I had my first experience of travelling with our Regiment by a military special in 1983, a move from Delhi  by a meter gauge military special for firing practice of 130mm medium guns at Pokhran Ranges in Rajasthan.  We had to move to Pokharan as that was the only Field Firing Range with the Indian Army that offered 30 square km of uninhabited area to fire the guns over 27 km.  Railway lines in Rajasthan then were all meter gauge.  Indian Railways today operate mostly on broad gauge.  The gauge of the railway track is the distance between the inner sides of two tracks.   For broad gauge it is 1676 mm (5 ft 6 in) and for meter gauge it is one meter.

A 24 wagon rake for loading of the medium guns – MBFU – (M – Meter Gauge, B – Bogie Wagon, FU – Well Wagon) was placed at the military siding ramp at Delhi Cantonment Railway Station -12 for loading guns and 12 for Russian Kraz towing vehicle. The gun weighs over 8 tonnes and the wheelbase just about narrowly fits on to the meter gauge rake.  Today with broad gauge rakes, the wagons offer sufficient width to maneuver the guns.

The most crucial part of loading is to mount these guns and Krazes on to the MBFU.  I watched in fascination how the most experienced driver, Havildar Kuriakose, drove the leading Kraz towing the gun.   He drove on to the ramp and then straight through, over the wagons to the last-but-one wagon and halted in such a way that the gun was exactly adjusted in the well of the MBFU.  The gun was unhooked and he drove his Kraz in to the well of the last MBFU.  A slight wavering or error in judgement could have caused the unthinkable. It was a critical operation which only best of the specialist drivers can accomplish.

Tank drivers of Armoured Regiments too face similar predicaments driving onto the MBFU and sometimes end up in mishaps.

By nightfall, the train was formed with 24 MBFU, one first class coach, four sleeper coaches, a military kitchen car and seven wagons for carriage of ammunition and stores.  Now it was an eternal wait at the station for ‘power’- a diesel engine – to tow the train.  They had the crew – loco pilot, his assistant and guard ready, but no ‘power’.  By midnight, an engine was made available after it had towed a passenger train.  There were three halts enroute, each over six hours, all waiting for ‘power’ and after 36 hours, we were at Pokharan railway station.

The last military special train I travelled was while commanding the Regiment in 2002.  Our Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  The entire Indian Army had moved into their operational locations after the attack on the Indian Parliament building by terrorists believed to have come in from Pakistan.  The Indian Railways ensured that our Regiment, like all the other units of the Indian Army, were mobilised to their operational locations at super-high priority in two days.  The Military Special trains moved at speeds greater than that of many express trains and were accorded the highest priority.

After ten months, the move back to Devlali from Rajasthan was the opposite. An Army which did not even fire a single bullet, an army which did not fight a war had no priorities in anyone’s mind.  Our Divisional Headquarters had entrusted me with an important and critical task two days prior to the move back of our Regiment.  I was given a week to complete the task and fly back to Devlali on completion.  I did not want to miss travelling in the Military Special, that too as the Commanding Officer.  I burnt the midnight oil for the next two days, completed the task, handed it over to the Divisional Headquarters.

On the day of our train’s move from Jodhpur (Rajasthan), our soldiers loaded all the vehicles and equipment on the train.  A diesel engine was connected but now the Railways had the ‘power’, but no crew.  As many Military Special trains were run from Jodhpur taking the army back home, adequately rested crew was at premium.  We waited for 24 hours for the train to commence its journey. Our train stopped at every possible station, even to give way to freight trains.  Now we were the lowest priority in the eyes of the Indian Railways.  The onward move executed in less than two days now took five days on the return leg.

After my premature retirement and move to Canada, I very much miss my passionate association with the Indian Railways. Now, even when I travel in India, it is mostly by air, due to time pressures. Gone are the days of those never ending train journeys. I can only recollect those days with a sense of loss and nostalgia.

Bathing Nude

Few years ago an Indian Army Officer undergoing a course at Canadian Forces College, Toronto came over for dinner.  During our conversation he said that one evening he walked into the sauna in the gym to find the Commandant, a General, sitting nude, enquiring his welfare.  He said that he felt a bit embarrassed to face a nude General.  I asked “That means you are surely not an ex-NDA (National Defence Academy)?” And I was dead right.

Bathrooms at the NDA are all open ones with neither any cubicles nor any shower curtains.  There are only shower heads, all in a row.  It is mandatory for all cadets to shower before breakfast and in the evening after games.  As time is always at a premium for any military cadet, the ritual had to be as short as possible, with many waiting in queue – hence an elaborate bath was near impossible.  The highlight of the bath was not its brevity, but by tradition implicitly enforced by the seniors, the cadets are not allowed to wear any clothing – it’s all nude and pretty natural. `

I cannot really say with any great emphasis that bathing nude is hygienically a huge plus as compared to bathing with a small brief on. However, it is more than a century old tradition in many military training institutions the world over. The open shower system meant that a large number of cadets could use the facility within the limited duration of time available.

To my mind, bathing nude has two distinct advantages. It helps one to overcome one’s inhibitions about being nude in the presence of others thereby developing a sort of self confidence about one’s own being and physique. When one learns to overcome this pretty strong inhibition, one automatically develops the capability overcome a lot of other inhibitions of less intensity.  The second is that with everyone down to his skin it builds a sort of camaraderie with the fellow trainees.

There is no awkwardness, nobody made any stupid dick jokes and nobody stared. There was just complete utopian nonchalance about the whole thing as cadets from all regions, religions, castes and creeds bathed under the same shower. In everyone’s consciousness he was down to mother earth, a sort of nude common denominator. The act was indeed a great leveler.  The common Indian mentality is that public nudity is obscene and vulgar and therefore should be abhorred. I do hope that as a nation we can learn to tolerate public nudity, no matter what our personal inclinations are in this regard.

Communal bathing and spas have been around for thousands of years, especially in the Indian context. However, the concept of modesty is a relatively recent one and was mostly dictated by the Victorian British norms.  Many indigenous people still  play sports without any covering and athletes in ancient Greece competed naked. In fact, the Greek word gymnasium means ‘a school for naked exercise,’ but in English it means only athletic exercise.

Men and women bathed nude in Roman baths of first century.  Emperor Hardin is believed to have issued many decrees against co-ed bathing.  There were baths of varying levels of luxury and also at varying levels of propriety. At one extreme were the ones for prostitutes and at the other the ones for royalty.  These baths showcased  Roman architectural expertise where new and innovative building styles were tested.

It was mandatory for students to swim nude in Chicago high school swimming pools till 1970’s.  In those days filtration and chlorination techniques were not as advanced as of today.  Nudity ensured that the swimming costumes they wore, mostly cotton or wool, did not leave any fibres that clogged the pool.

Bathing complex of Friedrichsbad Baths, Baden-Baden, Germany, opened in 1877, catering to European aristocracy.  It is still open to all and visitors who indulge in a 17-step Irish-Roman bathing ritual – a sequence of hot air baths, steam rooms, showers, pools, and massages, soaking in curative mineral waters. Here on some specific days of the week and on holidays, it is co-ed nude bathing and on other days it is gender specific nude bathing.

In most gym and swimming pool locker rooms for men in Canada, the baths are all open without cubicles.  Cubicles are provided in family locker rooms used by children and parents.  It is natural for people to have differing standards of modesty, based on their cultural/ religious background and upbringing.  Some are comfortable striding around the locker room naked and some prefer to change their clothes more discreetly. People around are neither stealing glances nor are they being judgmental.  I generally go to swim in the afternoons which is the time designated for adult swimmers.  I surely do not have a body to flaunt and no six-packs to flex.  Everyone around me also passes the same muster with respect to their masculinity.

One has to shower before entering a swimming pool to keep dirt and germs out.  Post a swim-session, it is meant to rinse off salt, chlorine and other harmful chemicals.  You cannot do this well with your swimming costume on.  It is said that the concept of the open bath came to Canada with soldiers returning from World War II when most able bodied Canadian men got enlisted to fight the war in Europe.  The only country where it is a rule to have a nude bath prior to entering a swimming pool is Iceland.  Here the bath may be in public or in a cubicle.

Nudity in public bathroom may offend some people, but most will not react to it though they may avoid it.  The argument that nudity is natural may fall on deaf ears to the puritans who refuse to accept their ties to the natural world.

Sleeping without underwear is another military tradition proven to be good for one’s genitals as per many medical studies.  Underwear tends to trap moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.  For sure, allowing that area to get some air helps to keep it dry and clean.  Royal Marines tend to sleep naked for a similar reason and also to ensure they don’t hold all the juices and skin flakes emitted from their bodies in their clothes.  From this came the expression ‘going commando‘  which means going without wearing any underwear.

In Western militaries where men and women serve together the bathrooms are shared.  Here too there is hardly any awkwardness or sexual discrimination.  In 2011, a woman soldier of the Norwegian Armed Forces complained about being asked to bathe naked with 30 men and in front of other male officers during a field exercise.  The Norwegian Armed Forces initially gave the male officer who ordered the bath a harsh disciplinary warning for his behaviour and a fine of 2,500 Kroner, but cancelled the official reprimand after the officer appealed the decision.  After two separate internal reviews, Norwegian Military ruled against making any changes to its bathing policies, meaning that other female soldiers could find themselves in a similar situation due to Norway’s gender-neutral military conscription policy.

I must here quote from the book ‘Immediate Action’ by Andy Mcnab.    He was a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide until he retired in 1993.  Teaching young infantry soldiers as an Instructor at the Regimental Training Depot how to bathe, he writes ‘We had to show them how to wash and shave, use a toothbrush…  Then I had to show them how to shower, making sure they pulled their foreskin back and cleaned it.

To be NUDE or not to be – it is your choice – rules permitting. 

Morning Shave

Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”

‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen.  On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), morning shave became the first important task of the day.  During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and in senior classes, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber.  On joining NDA, morning shave became  mandatory  for all cadets and it continued through my over two decades of service with the Indian Army.


One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday.  I had by then shaved and was changing.  I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT.  “We have shaved and put on our PT dress.  Let us all go for a run.  Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.

In the Army, being a uniformed service,  discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.  Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps.  There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession.   It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All  commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty.  A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.

Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to  Alexander the Great.  It is believed  that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.


In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard.  Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip.  British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century.  Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache.  Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore mustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army.   At this time, a mustache differentiated a soldier from a civilian.  Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role.  By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.


Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare.  Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt.  A few soldiers were even court-martialed for not complying with the order of a mustache.  In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn.  No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.


Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving.  Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.

Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin.  Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.

Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.

For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.

Legendary Lungi

For me, undoubtedly most comfortable evening home wear has always been the down to earth ‘Lungi’.  It is extremely comfortable and is an all season wear.  It is unisex – wearable by both men and women.  It is easy to wear without any hassles of zips, buttons or laces.  One got to  just tie at the waist.  Tying a Lungi at the waist is surely not any rocket science, but to ensure that it remains there is surely an art by itself.  Lungi surely provides free movement for the lower limbs and also air circulation, especially  ideal for the hot and humid climate of Kerala.

A Lungi is a cotton sheet about 2 meter in length and over a meter  in breadth and is characterised  by its plain, checkered, floral or window-curtain patterns.  By design, surely one-size-fits-all, both males and females and surely does not have any caste, creed or religion.  The only variation is that Muslims of Kerala wear it right to left, whereas others wear it  left to right.  It is very difficult for a normal eye to make out this subtle difference.  Lungi is worn in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Thailand. ‘Mundu’ is its white cousin and is worn mostly outdoors  in Kerala- to church, family functions and even to office.

While serving in the Indian Army, I wore a Lungi to bed, even in remote border posts – at altitudes above 10,000 feet when the mercury dipped to nearly 30 degrees below the freezing mark.  I wore it while serving in the North in Kashmir, in the West in the deserts of Rajasthan and in the humid jungles of Eastern India. It surely had no combat or camouflaged design or pattern as it was not an Army ‘issue’ item and surely did not figure in the ‘Dress Regulations for the Army.’

Once on my trip home on vacation from Sikkim, I called on Colonel Baby Mathew who was commanding an Artillery Regiment located near the airport from where I was to board the flight home.  On reaching the main gate of his regiment, the sentry on guard saluted me smartly and said “Our CO (Commanding Officer) is waiting at his residence for your arrival” and he then gave directions to the driver about the route.  On entering Colonel Mathew’s residence I heard his voice saying “Head straight to my bedroom.”  There was Colonel Mathew, sitting on his bed, adorned in his favourite Lungi.  He ordered me to change into my Lungi and join him for a hot lunch of Kappa (Kasava or Tapioca) and fish curry – a Kerala Christian favourite.  While partaking the meal, Colonel Mathew said “I have placed my residence out of bounds for all ranks for the next 24 hours” – meaning no one to come near his house until I was there.  Obviously the Commanding Officer did not want his command to see him and his friend in their Lungi.

In June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  The entire Indian Army had moved into their operational locations after the attack on the Indian Parliament building by terrorists believed to have come in from Pakistan.  The Indian Railways ensured that our Regiment, like all the other units of the Indian Army, were transported to their operational locations at super-high priority in two days.  The Military Special trains moved at speeds greater than that of many express trains and were accorded the highest priority.

The move back to Devlali from Rajasthan was the opposite.  An Army which did not even fire a single bullet, an army which did not fight a war surely  had no priorities in anyone’s mind.  The Military Special trains stopped at every possible station, even to give way to the goods trains.  Now we were the lowest priority in the eyes of the Indian Railways.  The onward move executed in less than two days now was sure to take a week.

On the day of our train’s move from Jodhpur (Rajasthan), the soldiers loaded all the vehicles and equipment on the train.  After accomplishing the task, the Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) Thangaswamy had a roll-call to ensure everyone was present and also to brief the soldiers about the return journey.  As I looked out of my railway coach’s window, I saw the entire regiment standing.  I had a brain wave – Why carry all the soldiers on the train?  About a hundred of them is all what I require, mainly to ensure the security and safety of the train and the equipment.  Why not the rest of the soldiers be send on leave as many had not met their families for a prolonged time due to the operational commitments?  Also, less of a trouble for the chefs to cook meals on a running train and less of administrative issues.

I stepped out of my coach wearing my Lungi and a shirt and ordered Subedar Major Thangaswamy to only keep about a hundred soldiers and disperse the rest on leave for a week to rejoin at Devlali.  Everyone’s face suddenly brightened up but with that I was christened ‘Lungi CO.’

After moving to Canada, on a warm and sunny summer morning, I was watering the garden wearing my all time favourite Lungi.  There appeared our neighbour, Mr Win of Chinese descent and on seeing me wearing a colourful and comfortable costume enquired “Reji, what skirt are you wearing- looks really colourful.  Sometimes it is a full-skirt, sometimes half-skirt and sometimes mini-skirt.” –That was it! I discarded my favourite Lungi forever.

Maximus Koduvath

mx

How did Maximus join our family?

In 2007, on a summer day, our children Nidhi and Nikhil approached Marina with an unusual request that they wanted another sibling.  They promised that they would take care of the newborn baby and also that they would bring up the baby. Marina explained that it was a pretty difficult proposition as she had her tubes tied on delivery of Nikhil.  She explained that it would be very difficult for someone to mother a child at her late age and may lead to complications, both for the mother and child.

The children said that in that case we should go in for an adoption.  They wanted a sibling at any cost.  I realised that there was something more to this strange request as the very subject had come up for discussion during the family dinner a year back and was then dismissed for the same reasons.

Now it was my turn and I asked them as to what they really wanted.  Out came the new proposal! “We want a dog”.

Marina and I never before had a dog while we were with the Indian Army, where all the help was available to rear one. Unlike many officers in our Regiment who had a dog or two, we did not choose to have one.

I was of the opinion that it would be difficult to take care of a dog as it has to be reared indoors because of the severe Canadian winter.  Further, having a dog meant taking it out on a walk, irrespective of the weather and cleaning up the poop would add to our routine chores.   Marina, a hygiene freak, did not like the idea of a dog shedding its hair all over the house.

The children had ready answers to resolve our concerns.  Nikhil would take the dog out on a walk, vacuum clean the house and clean the poop in the morning before going to school.  Nidhi would do the same in the evenings after she returned from the university.  They both agreed to sleep with the dog in the family room and train him to use the doggy-door to exit the house for defecating and urinating.

They had also zeroed in on the breed and the breeder from whom we could obtain a black Labrador pup for $750.  The eagerness, enthusiasm and power of their pleas was overpowering. Both of us had to relent and we agreed to pick up the pup during the weekend.

We drove to a village near Windsor, about 350 km, where the breeder lived and picked up a pup.  The children had already thought of a name and christened him Maximus Koduvath, after the hero of the movie Gladiator.

My mind wandered off to our childhood when my younger brother, the youngest in the family, aged four, had then come up with a similar request.  He wanted someone younger to him.  It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid – a goat’s kid.

The children trained the dog, took him out on the walks and kept the house spotlessly clean, for all of one month and gave up steadily thereafter as they had to commit more time to their studies and extra-curricular activities.  Now the dog became mine and I had to do all these, with a bit help from the children.

The morning and evening walk became a ritual for me – come rain, hail or high-water.  I started enjoying my responsibility as the days passed by and Maximus became more and more attached to me.  I couldn’t fathom how strong the emotional bond was until I went to India for three weeks, Maximus refused to eat as I was not there to feed him.  After two days there was an SOS message from the children about Maximus being on a fast unto death.  I now called up home and the call was put on the speaker-phone.  I told Maximus to go and eat.  Maximus was bewildered that he could hear my voice but not see me.  Poor Maximus was obviously unaware of the technological leap that mankind had taken.  After circling around the house a few times and not finding me, he again came to the phone.  Now I repeated my order and Maximus went to his cage to eat his food.

Taking care of Maximus, I too got attached to him.  It seemed he could understand me in which ever language I spoke, be it English, Malayalam, Hindi or Tamil.  I observed him closely and he was indeed an inspiration for me to write  a few blog-posts – Crossing the Highway; Dogs and the Fire Hydrants; First, Middle and Last Name; Adaptation and Pet Emergency.

Thus Maximus became my best friend.  It was Frederick II, King of Prussia, who coined the statement that the dog is man’s best friend.  The saying was popularised by Ogden Nash in his poem titled ‘The Dog’.

Maximus22

In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi after renouncing their Kingdom, began their journey to the heavens through the Himalayas.  Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas led the way.    At the start of the journey, a dog befriends them and keeps them company throughout.  During the journey, one by one, they fall to their deaths – the first was Draupadi, followed by Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhima.   Yudhishthira continued his journey and all this while, the dog kept him company.  Just before it was time to ascend to the heavens, Indra, the God of Heaven said that only he, Yudhishthira, could enter the heavens and not the dog.  Yudhisthira was adamant that he would not leave his faithful companion behind and enter heaven and sat down at the gate.  He now turned and found that the dog transformed back into its real shape- the God Dharma.

Scientists have proved that dogs use similar brain mechanisms to humans to process social information.  They also found that canines’ brains are sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, like us.  Researchers also found that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, they experience a surge of oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust and love that is released.  This could be responsible for the bonding humans enjoy with dogs.

Humans in general, demand more love than they give. This behaviour lies at the root of most inter personal conflicts. If only we humans have the capacity for unconditional love that dogs do!  The world would be so much a better place!

 

 

For your kind information and necessary action please

Thus ended most letters in the Indian Army.  During my young officer days, I asked a senior colleague as the need for ending all official correspondence with such a line.  He said that it padded up the letter and the letter would look incomplete without such an epilogue.

I never understood as to how the information could ever be kind to anyone and what was the need to send the letter in the first place in case no action was needed.  Someone told me that it was to be specific as to what the person at the other end must do.  If that person was ignorant of what is to be done with the letter, I never understood as to how that person could be educated about it with that very clichéd line.

The information asked for is attached herewith as Appendix to this letter.” This is another superfluous  epilogue I found in many letters written in reply to a query requesting data or information.  An appendix means an attachment and is never mailed in a separate envelop, it is always placed in the same envelop (herewith), and always with a covering letter (to this letter.)

As a Brigade Major and as a Commanding Officer were the only two occasions when I could get the staff and subordinate officers to doing away with these epilogues.  My reasoning was that it saved time, ink and paper (think of the number of trees that could have been saved.)

One clerk said that it had become an instinct and his fingers never stopped until he typed the epilogue.  One clerk said the idea was great, but will only be in practice until you are around and the next officer taking over from you would insist on the epilogue and hence the reluctance.

LOL, OMG, FTW etc are commonly used abbreviations in the cyber world in the age digital communications and text messaging.  These are understood well by everyone across the continents and have been evolved over a period of usage and it still continues to evolve.  As young officers, we were given a book of abbreviations to be used in the Army called ‘Appendix C.’  The introductory paragraph of the book said that use of abbreviations would reduce time and effort and assist in assimilation and it would facilitate telegraphy (old analog methodology of transmitting text).  We used to be summoned to the Adjutant’s office with the abbreviations book, to scan through every word in a document to be sent to the higher headquarters to ensure that any word that found a place in the abbreviations book had been abbreviated and in case the abbreviation used had been correctly used.  In case of any errors, either the entire page was retyped or else the correcting fluid was to be used.  One can imagine the amount of time spent on the task in place of the time it was meant to save.

When the entire world was using the word ‘fax‘ as an abbreviated form for facsimile (the current generation would not be aware of the origin of the word), the abbreviation book called it ‘fx.’  Luckily recently it has been changed to ‘fax.’  If you ask someone for a ‘lap,’ it does not mean that you want to sit on their lap or rest your head on their lap, but it is understood that it is a request for their laptop computer.

There is an abbreviation ‘DHPP‘ and the very same Appendix C calls it as ‘Diesel High Power Point’ in place of ‘Diesel High Pour Point.’  It actually means that this type of diesel has a high pour point.   The pour point of a liquid is the temperature at which it becomes semi solid and loses its flow characteristics. In diesel, the pour point is the temperature at which the paraffin in the fuel has crystallised to the point where the fuel gels and becomes resistant to flow.  It is surely not a Power Point presentation the least.

World over uses left aligned format for all types of correspondence (all lines in the letter are aligned to the left).  This facilitates easier reading on the hand held PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and cell (cellular) phones.  The Indian government for its official correspondence still continues to have subject line centered and some parts offset to the right side, the Indian Army also continues with the age-old practice.  You can imagine how someone using a PDA is to read such a letter and make sense of it.

We need to change with time and cater for all the developments taking place around us in all aspects of life and official correspondence is no different.

Exceptions Always Prove the Rule

Group  Captain (Retired) TB Srivastava with our classmates and their ladies- 02 March 2019

The phrase is derived from a legal principle of republican Rome: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted), a concept first proposed by Cicero. This means a stated exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMN with Family
Mr C Madhavan Nair with his family

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

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

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

Hence the rule stands proved.

tb Wing Commander TB Srivastava

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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Linguists

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In 1971, after the anti-Hindi agitation that raged through Tamil Nadu, I joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar in the state then known as Madras.   The school almost resembled any British Military School as all the military words of command were in English like “Attention” and “Stand-at-Ease”. There I started to learn Tamil and also English and Hindi.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world and the script has only 18 consonants unlike Devnagari script which has about 37 consonants. When Devnagari script has क, ख, ग, घ (ka, kha, ga, gha), Tamil has only க (ka) and similarly for the other corresponding consonants. All the other South Indian languages namely Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu follow their own script similar to the Devnagari script. Further these three languages unlike Tamil, have a lot of Sanskrit vocabulary. Hence learning of Hindi or any Devnagari script based language becomes difficult for a Tamil in comparison to the people from the other states.

After the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, the Official Languages Act was amended in 1967 by the Indian Government to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current bilingualism and use of English in education in India. This bilingualism has helped the Indians to a great extent in ensuring acceptance all over the world.

Hindi as a national language was not accepted all over India due to the implementation issues. The Hindi Pundits coined many a difficult terms to replace commonly used English terms. Many of the terms coined were not even accepted by the Hindi speaking population. Lot of money and efforts were pumped in by the government for the enhanced use of Hindi as an official language, but it never had any results other than a few Members of Parliament making a foreign sojourn to study the use of Hindi in some country or the other and the practise still continues.

To further make the matter worse, all forms were printed in both Hindi and English and so also all the government publications. This resulted in higher production costs without serving any purpose. While serving in the Indian Army, I recommended all my subordinates to read and understand the pamphlet ‘Glossary of Military Terms’. The pamphlet was printed in Hindi on the left page and English on the right. I also used to advise them to read the Hindi side whenever they got bored – the Hindi equivalents were hilarious and many a times grossly incorrect.

In our school the English department was headed by Mr KG Warrier and the Tamil department by Mr M Selvaraj. Both of them were strong linguists and always ensured that they spoke the language with purity in that when they spoke, they always used only one language. Both had excellent communication skills and were near perfect in their pronunciations. Both of them never taught me at school, but I had extensively interacted with them during various extra-curricular activities.

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(Mr KG Warrier with our Class-mate AP Sunil Kumar at Kottakkal.  The photo is of 2013 when Mr Warrier turned 90)

Mr KG Warrier hails from the family of world renowned Ayurveda Physicians of Kottakkal in Kerala. He is currently enjoying his retired life at Kottakkal. He is staying with his daughter, Rathi. The Warrier community connected to the Vaidya Sala stay at ‘Kailasa Mandiram’ in the Vaidya Sala premises at Kottakkal, Malappuram District, Kerala.

His specialty was that he dressed in his starched and pressed cotton pants and shirt, wear a felt hat and hold a pipe in his hands. I was always intrigued as to how he managed to maintain the crease of his pants perfect even at the end of the day.

A few days before leaving school to join the National Defence Academy I met Mr KG Warrier and he asked me in Tamil as to when I was joining the academy and how the preparations were progressing. My answer was in the usual ‘mixed language’ of Tamil, Malyalam and English. To this he said “உனக்கு தமிழும் தெரியாது, மலையாளவும் தெரியாது, ஆங்கிலவும் தெரியாது. உனக்கு என்ன தெரியும்? (You do not know Tamil or Malayalam or English. What do you know?)”.

I still recollect a few words of advice Mr KG Warrier had given us.  He said that everyone should always carry and use three books – a Dictionary, an Atlas and a Wren & Martin Grammar book.  At the beginning of each year at the school, these were the first set of three books we were issued with.  Later on during my army service I did carry these three books.  Nowadays with the power of the internet with browsing tools like the Google, most information is at one’s fingertips and these three books have become almost extinct.

Mr M Selvaraj was well known for his voice and his oratory skills which were showcased during all the cultural programmes at the school. His orations in both Tamil and English will be remembered by all his students. I was very curious as to how he managed to handle the two languages independently and so effectively. During my final year in school, I did manage to summon enough courage and asked Mr M Selvaraj about the secret.

Mr M Selvaraj said that when he joined the school he had very little grasp of English having done his Masters degree in Tamil. Major MMR Menon, then Headmaster of the school had advised him that to be a successful teacher in a school like this, mastery over English would go a long way. So with reluctance he approached Mr KG Warrier, but was surprised when Mr KG Warrier accepted to be his Guru and thus he started to learn English. He ended the chat by saying “the English I speak is all what Mr KG Warrier and Ms Sheela Cherian had taught me like any student who graduated under these great teachers.

Mr M Selvaraj left our school in 1987 to be the first Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Mahe. After establishing the school, he moved as the Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Pondichery and now leads a retired life in Trichy.

After leaving the school, I always tried to complete a sentence in one language and many a times I did fail. After joining the army, I picked up Hindi. Luckily for me, I served mostly with the Brahmin soldiers from North India and that helped me improve my Hindi to a great extent. Now with Hindi also joining the bandwagon of languages in my mind, maintaining purity of language became near impossible.

Hats-off to all those Tamil news readers in any television channels, they speak pure Tamil only and would use another language vocabulary only in case it is unavoidable.

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Family Prayer

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Morning and evening family prayer has been a ritual followed in our family as far as I can recollect. Our father led the prayer real loud (could be because he was a Headmaster and our grandfather who was also a Headmaster, prayed much louder) and we all followed suit. As a child I never understood the meaning of whatever I said during the prayers and also what was the intention of such an act. I always perceived it as a punishment our father meted out to all his children for their unruly behaviour. I actually realised the value and importance of it only after I joined the Indian Army.  (Please CLICK HERE read my blog on Soldier Gods)

The family evening prayer used to begin at 9 PM with our mother singing a hymn followed by one of the children reading a passage from the bible. The actual prayer commenced after that and it used to last about five minutes. At the end of it everyone was expected to observe a minute or two of silent prayer. I never knew what to pray for most times, but I also sat silently. During the lent, we had special prayers and the duration extended for another five more minutes.

With advent of the Television beaming out many tear jerking serials, our parents by then retired from teaching, also got addicted to many of them. In Kerala due to power shortage we have half an hour power-cut on weekdays in the evening. The timing of the power-cut used to change every month and now the evening prayer time was dictated by the power-cut, as that was the time our parents could not watch any serial.

The morning prayers were a nightmare for me as our father woke us all up by 5:30 AM and he commenced the prayer with us in chorus. I always felt that the morning prayers were much longer than the evening prayers. After the prayers, we had to brush our teeth and get cracking with the household chores. Our father distributed each one of us a task and later our eldest brother when he turned a teen took over the responsibility. By that time our father went to milk the cows and clean up the cowshed.

My main chore when I came on vacation was to draw water out of the well in the courtyard using the pulley-rope-bucket system. In those days we did not have the pumping facility. This was the toughest chore among all and as I was away most of the year at school, my brothers wanted a relief and I did not mind it. Drawing of water began by 6 AM and ended only by 9 AM as water was needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing and also for the animals in the shed. Last requirement of water was for my mother to bathe before setting out to the school and by that time everyone else left home for their schools/ university. This water drawing chore continued till I turned a teen as by that time a pump set was installed with pipes to distribute water to the kitchen, bathrooms and to the cowshed. During our last visit home, I wanted to show our son the pulley-rope-bucket system, but I could not find it anywhere.

Behind our house lived Vasu and Chellamma with their two daughters and son. Vasu was a daily wage earning farm hand and Chellamma made a living out of rearing cows and goats and selling milk to the neighbourhood. One day Shankara Panikkan (Please read my blog on Shankara Panickan by CLICKING HERE) died at about 5 AM. We all went to Panikkan’s home to console the family. By about 7 AM Chellamma came running to  Panikkan’s home saying that she did not wake up early in the morning as George Sir (our father) did not pray that morning as we all were at Panikkan’s home.

That was when we realised that the loud morning prayers at our home also served as a wake-up call for the neighbourhood (It would have surely woken up the God Almighty too.)