Suit, Boot and Tie

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During our childhood the suit, boot and tie were associated with the English, the higher officials and the movie stars. We as children were mostly dressed in shorts and shirts and sometimes with rubber slippers. Most of the time we walked barefoot – to beat the water and mud splashing on to our clothes from the slippers and at many a times due to the fear of losing the slippers. May be we always forgot our slippers home as it proved to be an impediment to faster running and climbing trees. Wearing a suit and the boot always remained a distant dream.

On joining Sainik School at the age of nine, we had to wear the shoes at all times and it took me a lot of effort and time to get used to my feet being covered with the socks and the shoes. Then we were all measured by the tailors and after three months we all got our suits. A dream came true to most of my friends and me. We all wore our coats with the school insignia with a lot of pride during the winter months. In the next letter I shot off home, I wrote as to how different (smart) I looked in my coat. At that time one never realised that this piece of dress was going to be on me for a long time to come – over thirty years.

On my first vacation home I realised as what this change had done to me. I could not step out on to the courtyard of our home or walk along the paddy fields or climb trees barefooted as my soles had gone soft due to constant wearing of socks and shoes. That is when I realised that the socks and shoe had also become an integral part of me rather than being a piece of dress.

This trend with the clothes continued at different stages of my military career, at the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy and with the army unit I was commissioned into. Every where the tailors measured me and I got a new suit every time. While attending various courses in the army in different parts of the country, one realised that each military station had a set of tailors waiting to measure you and provide you with a new suit. Most of these military stations were established by the British Army and had the best climate and picturesque sceneries. Some of these tailors stitched the suits and would put Armanis to shame, as they and their forefathers had been in this business of suit making from the era of the British Army.   They were ready to finance you and would accept post-dated cheques for over a year to make good your bill. Those were the days when credit cards and credit ratings were non-existent. These tailors had a system in place and the only credit check they needed was your credibility as an Indian Army officer.   The customer service they provided was exemplary compared to any standards of today. They seemed to know all the officers of our units as they also had made suits from them. They would alter or repair your suits at no cost which were send through other officers of the unit who went for the course. May be it would be an interesting research subject for the management students like the “Dabbawallahs of Mumbai”.

Wearing a suit was mandatory for us in the army for many a formal occasions. The dictum for us was that it is safer to be formally dressed in an informal occasion than being informally dressed for a formal occasion. A tie was always a saviour that at many a times it converted an informal attire into a formal one. To help me overcome this dilemma, my driver was always handy. He always carried a set of ties during the summers and a suit during the winters. While being driven, I could comfortably switch from informal attire into a formal one in minutes. On retiring from the army, I thought it was time for me to shed my formal attires and become comfortable in the informal dresses. When I took my flight to Canada, my baggage did not have any suits or ties.

On landing in Canada in the summer, I was happy to find that most men were casually dressed in their shorts and sandals and I too followed the dress code. My neck and feet must have enjoyed the wimp of fresh Canadian air. The few men I found dressed in their suits were the real-estate agents or insurance agents. The offices I went for my initial documentation all had people dressed in semi-formal clothes or work clothes and not in their suits.

On Sunday, I went to attend the Holy Mass at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Toronto and I found many men dressed in their Sunday’s best suits. The curiosity in me made me to ask a young man as to why he is wearing a suit to the church. He said as to where else will he ever wear a suit other than to the church. He narrated as to how he got two suits stitched. Based on the advice he got from a few friends that it would be much cheaper to get the suits in India than in Canada, he got two stitched. He came to Canada with the impression that every one wore suits, but after landing, he realised that he needed working-overalls and safety boots and not the suits. Now, where else will he wear the two suits he got stitched other than to the church on Sundays.

Pocket Billiards

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The above is an image of our classmates from Sainik School Amaravathinagar, in front of the Cadets’ Mess at the National Defence Academy (NDA) during our reunion in December 2015.  The reunion was hosted by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, then Commandant, NDA.  Everyone is standing with their hands off their pockets, a rarity in such images of today.  Most images one receives on the social media have men standing with their hands deep down their pant pockets.

My mind went back to our school days-from 1971 to 1979, to the times when a cadet with his hands in pockets, was taunted supposedly for playing Pocket Billiards.  At times they were queried as to which ball is winning – the Right or the Left one.  Owing to this rigorous discipline instilled during the formative years, even after 37 years since our graduation,   mere thought of putting one’s hands in pockets will never occur to our classmates; even in their wildest of dreams.

A detailed report on the reunion appears on my blog (Please Click here to read).   If you study all the photographs taken both at formal and informal events, you will hardly observe anyone playing ‘Pocket Billiards’.  It could all be courtesy the taunts our classmates would have received.  We did not even spare our teachers – especially the new entrants- from similar taunts.

Pocket Billiards is mostly a men’s problem.  This is not a sexist view point but a factual one.  Women rarely put their hands in their pockets, except perhaps on a cold, chilly day.  They generally do not enjoy the liberty of putting their hands in pockets mostly because their attire, even while wearing pants. Women’s pants generally come without pockets and even when they do, the pockets are too shallow to accommodate a whole hand.  Women’s pants or jeans are often too tight, thereby making it uncomfortable to shove their hands in.  Thus it remains mostly a masculine issue.

Why do men put their hands in pockets? Body language experts and psychologists have different takes on the issue. Is it that they are obsessed with their family treasures? Some experts opine that that there is a subconscious male urge to perpetually hold on to ones genitals.   But holding on to one’s genitals in public is surely an indecent social display and the only way to be close to their genitals is by way of putting their hands in their pockets.  It could be that they are scared that their family treasures would fall off or someone would steal them!

‘Pocket Billiards’ by a speaker on a podium is sure to distract and also put off the audience.  Such speakers do not know what to do with their hands and try to find places to hide them and this leads to Pocket Billiards. This body language theory is sometimes contradicted by some world famous orators who can hold the audience spell bound, with one of their hands remaining in the pocket.  It becomes somewhat obscene when Pocket Billiards is accompanied with a posture of legs wide apart and hips thrust forward. Even so, some psychologists opine that this combination is a confident gesture of the dominant male who wants to tell others around who the boss is. Whatever the theory, it is not a pleasant sight to behold!

One of the most evolved part of human anatomy is our hand – with the wrist, palm and the five fingers.  The relationship between our hands and our brain has been well established by scientists.  In fact, our hands have become another communication tool.

We salute when we meet a superior officer in the military and we shake hands when we meet someone.  All these greetings are done with the open palm and has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance and submission.  Many oaths are still taken with the palm over the heart, or over a holy book.  In the olden days, it was to show that you are unarmed and therefore not a threat and from there evolved various salutes and handshakes.

Most common body language theory is that hiding our hands is an instinctive reaction to nervousness while keeping our hands out in the open indicates confidence and also that we have nothing to hide.  Pocket Billiards tends to encourage slouching and that is why the militaries around the world have strictly forbidden it, even while off-parade.

Many men feel that they project a cool and confident look with their hands in their pockets without realising that the converse is the truth. More often than not, they project a nervous look, without knowing what to do with their hands.  Some psychologists suggest that the habit also demonstrates unwillingness, mistrust and reluctance and is often associated with liars. Be careful, everyone with hands in their pockets need not necessarily be a liar. It may just be a biological need to ward off the cold. Some experts also feel that pocket billiards is merely indicative of a person’s desire to listen rather than speak. Some even differentiate between one hand and both hands in the pocket. Theories abound but the general consensus is that the habit is one of negative body language and needs to be got over.

How to get over the Pocket Billiards syndrome? Like most good habits and bad ones too, they all begin at home.  Children take on to it seeing their parents or other adults doing it.  By putting your hands in the pockets, you are surely setting a bad example for your children.  In case you observe a child putting his hands in pockets, it is best to explain and make him understand that with his hands in the open, he would look smarter and more confident than otherwise.  Teachers at schools also have a similar role to ensure that their students do not end up playing Pocket Billiards. Friends and peers are the best to help you out of this dreadful habit.  Our classmates, both in the military and civil life, are a sure testimony to this.  Another option is to stitch down your front pockets or pin it close.  You can always use the back pockets to store your wallet or cell phone.

One needs to pay attention to one’s hands and ensure that they are clean, hygienic and presentable.  Make sure to rub a cream or lotion and also a sanitizer on your hands prior to meeting anyone or while going to a gathering.  Ensure that you consciously use gestures that will get your message across to those that will help you build alliances and influence people.  With your hands in your pockets, you would mostly end up as an ugly duckling.

Bicycle – Oh My Old Companion

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Our family friend took part in this year’s Tour De Mississauga, a 30/60/100 KM cycling event. This year it attracted over 1600 cyclists of all abilities from all around the Toronto Area. Cyclists of every age or ability, on every kind of bike (including electric assist), participated. The aim of the event is to familiarise cyclist with the various cycling trails and lanes available in the city, to develop a spirit of adventure and also to encourage cycling, both as a sport and as a physical activity. The event was well organized and truly lived up to its motto “THIS IS NOT A RACE – THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION!”

As is the case with all such community activities in Toronto area like marathons, climbing the CN Tower, parades, etc, in this activity too there were hardly any participation by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. When will we learn to amalgamate with the Canadian society?

Participating in such events will not only develop community spirit in the participants, but will also raise money for some charity. It develops leadership qualities in children and encourages the spirit of adventure in them. Preparing for the event and participation will keep everyone healthy and improve one’s confidence level. Completion of the event will give you immense pride and sense of achievement. It will prove to you that you are physically healthy to undertake such difficult ordeals.

The local governments are doing their best to encourage cycling as a daily activity. Most of the roads in the Toronto Area have either a bicycle lane or off-road cycling paths. Bicycle Lanes are typically 1.5 m to 2 m wide, and designate a space on the roadway exclusively for the use of cyclists. Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive, park or stand in the bike lane. Off-Road Paths include trails through parks and along the arterial roads. Cyclists, skaters and pedestrians often share these paths.

On arrival in Canada, I saw a something like a crash-guard which we have on the front bumpers of the cars back home on the buses in the Toronto Area. On inquiry I learnt that it is a cycle carrier to carry two cycles. Many commuters feel that cycling or taking the bus just doesn’t compete with the convenience of a car. But in Toronto Area, “biking and bussing” is easy. You can cycle to a bus stop or station and then bring your bike on the bus. By biking and bussing you’ll not only improve your health, but also help reduce gas emissions.

In Toronto, bicycles are permitted on buses, trains and subways at all times except weekdays during peak hours. Bicycle transportation is a growing activity in Toronto and throughout North America, due in part because of the many benefits cycling offers.

Transportation by bicycle is the most energy efficient mode of transportation, and generates no pollution, except in its manufacture. Cycling is often the fastest mode of transportation from door to door for distances up to 10 km in urban cores. Ten bicycles can be parked in the space required for a single automobile. Short distance motor-vehicle trips are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per kilometre. These trips have the greatest potential for being replaced by cycling and walking.

BIXI – Bike Share Toronto – is designed to be a convenient way to get around the city, and is ideal for short rides and one-way trips.  The members get access to 2,000 bikes across the city. They can pick up a bike at one of 200 stations, and drop it off at any other station when done.  One need to become an Annual Member or buy a Day Pass to be able to use Bixi. An Annual Member can insert a bike key into a dock to unlock a bike. Day Pass holders will get a ride code, which when typed into the keypad on the dock, unlocks a bike.  The first 30 minutes of each ride are included in the membership or pass price. One can keep a bike out for longer, but additional usage fees will apply.

Reducing auto trips will mitigate ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, ground level air pollution, photochemical smog, acid rain and noise pollution. Cycling contributes to personal health by enhancing fitness and providing an enjoyable, convenient and affordable means of exercise and recreation. Increased physical activity, such as walking and cycling, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and the cost of medical care, decrease workplace absenteeism, and maintain the independence of older adults. Cycling benefits one’s health regardless of the age at which one takes up cycling.

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During our training at the National Defence Academy, Pune, cycling was the only mode of transportation for the cadets, else one had to run. The Academy campus is spread over 7000 acres and to reach various training event sites, a cadet had to cycle an average of 20 km per day. While cycling, one had to maintain proper squad discipline and pay proper respects to passing senior officers. Any minor infringement ensured that the cycle was on you rather than you being on the cycle. Every semester begun with the cycle issue and always ended with the cycle return, after which was a month’s vacation. We used to have a weekly cycle maintenance parade to wash and repair the cycles. Thus even today, the cycle is the most ardent companion of every cadet at the academy, without which life would have been much more difficult.

 

 

Doing it Right

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Walking our dog in the mornings and evenings is a ritual undertaken every day. On such a walk, we came to a pedestrian crossing and the signal started to blink red. There was a mother with her two teenaged children trying to cross. The mother started crossing and was howling at the top of her voice in Punjabi, instructing the children to follow her. The children did not move and were advising the mother against her action. The mother crossed over and the children were left behind. Here the generation gap became evident both physically and mentally.  From their diction, it was evident that the mother was brought up back home in India and the children were nurtured in Canada.

On one such walks, we were accompanied by our son and I was about to take the dog across the crossing when the light had started blinking red. Our son advised me not to do it and further added that this act was very much like running over a red light while driving. Even now I do get an itch to cross over in similar situation, but I always remember our son’s advice.

One always wondered as to how come we have that itch to break a simple law – it neither saves time nor is it any way more convenient. One can attribute it to the ethos we had practiced back home and also to the denials we faced. The spirit of winning a competition by using any means and to push forward one’s agenda could have resulted in this.

The competition we faced back home always prompted us to cross-examine our children when they came home with a report card or a test result. We always wanted to know as to who got the maximum marks, where does our child stand in the class, etc. I also followed this when our daughter came home with her first report card in Canada. She said it Is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public. My mind raced back to our school days and even our army course days; where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board. What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well.

In Canada, the end-of-term report cards come home in a sealed envelope and there is no discussion about the student’s performance or there is no parent interview.

The parent-teacher meeting is held after six weeks into the semester. One has heard most teachers saying that the child is doing well, whether the child had scored marks or not. In one such meeting I asked the teacher as to what he meant by saying that the child is doing well. He said that the child is doing well to his ability and your effort. My mind went back to the parent-teacher meeting we had back home where it was more of a slew of complaints than any compliments.

After an important presentation of our son in high school, I inquired as to what the teacher had commented on the presentation. He said that the teachers do not make any comment in the class and all assessment aspects would be covered on the marking sheet. The marking sheet is a rubric given to student well in advance, showing all aspects that would be assessed with complete marking scheme. This leads to more objectivity and less subjectivity. During our Long Gunnery or any Army Course teaching practices, we neither had any rubric nor were aware as to how the session would be assessed. A lot of subjectivity was left for the assessor. Each session ended with a detailed commentary by the assessor, many a times touching a high level of ridicule. The said aim of such commentary was that it would bring out the lessons for others, but at what cost?

Our course-mate from the National Defence Academy, Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph, VM, VSM, visited us in June 2016.  At the end of his stay with us, I asked him as to what he is taking with him back to India.  He said that the lesson he learnt in Canada was that in case everyone did everything correctly and the best way they could, this world would be a great place to live.  He was convinced that in case everyone followed the rules and regulations, life would be much better, and breaking rules lead to corruption and chaos, causing inconvenience to one and all.