Koel the Brood Parasite

Mrs Hema Ramachandran, wife of Veteran General PK Ramachandran, posted this image on her Facebook of a Koel (Eudynamys Scolopaceus) who visits her garden. 

I was reminded of our grandfather who narrated to us young children as to how the Koel laid her eggs in a House Crow’s (Corvus Splendens) nest.  His narration was to teach us to be industrious as a crow and not be lazy and cunning as a Koel.

When we were in Grade 10 at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Mr Paul Sathya Kumar (MPSK) taught us Biology.  He explained various tactics in the bird/ animal/ plant kingdom to prove the survival of the fittest theory, and one such case was that of a smart Koel who laid her eggs in a crow’s nest.

The Koel is known as a brood parasite – a species that imposes the cost of rearing its offspring onto another species – the host (House Crow) – by laying its eggs in the hosts’ nests.

Is Koel Lazy?  Is she more industrious than the crow?  Is she crafty and cunning?

In Sanskrit and Telugu language it is called as Kokila, Tamil, Kannada , Malayalam –കുയിൽ, குயில்  (Kuyil), Hindi-कोयल  (Koel.)  Many good female singers are referred to as Koel or Kuyil.  Does the female Koel sing?  No! It is the mating call of the male bird to woo the female bird. 

For almost nine months of the year, the Koel is seldom seen because it neither sings nor calls except in the breeding season – April to July.  It is difficult to spot a Koel due to its shy nature and secretive behaviour.  They mostly remain hidden inside leafy foliage and go undetected, by and large.

In their breeding period, birds mate, lay eggs, rear their offspring and protect them. In India, birds usually breed in summer because their chicks will have enough food in the following monsoon.

Koel is a case of mimicry in the bird kingdom.  Its eggs resemble those of the crow in pattern and colour.  The ground colour of the crow eggs presents different shades of bluish green while that of the Koel is olive green. Eggs of both host and parasite have similar brown markings in the form of blotches, specks, and streaks, which are more densely distributed towards the broader end. Although eggs of Koel are smaller in size, they exhibit remarkable mimicry with crow eggs.

To ensure a higher chance of clutch formation (clutch is the number of eggs laid,) the Koel cleverly lays an egg in the crow’s nest when the mother/father crow is not around and then throws away one of the crow’s eggs.  

That means the crows can count and the mother crow is unaware of the replacement.

Another reason as to why the Koel leaves its egg in the crow’s nest is that the Koel is a vegetarian. Newborn chicks need a lot of protein to grow, and the crows will feed them non-veg protein.

This is a survival instinct and is basically inherent in the genes of organisms in nature.  It further proves Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest.

There are other examples of brood parasites in the bird kingdom. The egg of the common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx Varius) mimics that of its host species, the Jungle Babbler (Turdoides Striata) in size and colour. Such mimicry is thought to have evolved to prevent the host from rejecting any eggs.

Host birds respond to brood parasites using different defence strategies. They attack the parasite outright at times, and at others issue warning calls, hide the nest, look for and remove the parasite’s eggs and aggressively defend their territories.  I have often spotted female Koels being chased by crows even outside the nest when they spot each other.

A Koel is so crafty that to increase the chance of survival of its eggs, she lays her eggs in different nests.  Remember the adage – ‘Never put all your eggs in the same basket!‘  When the Koel visits a crow’s nest, it also punctures or breaks eggs irrespective of the species so that her offspring isn’t starved of food even during a shortage.  The Koel is too smart to ensure that the clutch size is optimum so that the crow can feed and take care of its chicks. 

If a host happens to see a parasite laying an egg in its nest or recognises an intruding egg, it will abandon the nest or reject the egg.

Incubation period of the Koel’s egg is about 12 to 13 days and the crow’s 16 to 17 days.  Thus, the Koel chicks emerge a few days before the first crow chick hatches.  The poor crow hatches the eggs, feeds the Koel chick, and brings it to adulthood to hear the bird coo differently.

The Koel chick keeps chirping continuously. So, the mother crow feeds it more thinking that the chick is still hungry and not yet fed enough.  The Koel chicks grow rapidly and become healthier than the crow chicks.  They develop feathers and wings earlier than crow chicks and fly out earlier.

Isn’t the Koel industrious, crafty and cunning than the crow??

The Pleasant Land of Counterpane

I was the giant great and still,
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane

From the Poem – The Land of Counterpane – by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894.)

It was during the year 1971, when we, as nine-year-old kids, joined the fifth grade at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (located in Tamil Nadu, India), that I first heard the word ‘Counterpane.’ For some of you too, it must be a Baader-Meinhof.

I have often been Baader-Meinhofed by Sashi Tharoor with his eloquent English vocabulary, many a times forcing my fingers to caress my cellphone to search for the meaning of the word.

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one stumbles upon some obscure piece of information⁠ – often an unfamiliar word or name⁠ – and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly.

On the day that we joined the school, late Mrs Mercy Mathai, our Matron, ushered us into our dormitory. We were allotted a hall with 12 beds laid out with military precision. Every bed was covered with a thick cotton sheet with our school colours – a steel grey background with four blood red lines running near its four borders in such a manner that the inner lines fell along the border of the mattress. These lines caught my attention and I presumed that the four lines represented the four houses for cadets named after the four famous Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. I was assigned to the Pandya House.

Addressing her new wards, Mrs Mathai said “This is your bed and it is covered with a counterpane. Before you go to bed, each of you will fold it neatly and place it at the foot-board. You will not use it to cover yourself at night. For that there is a blanket near the foot-board.”

Was I Baader-Meinhofed?  I did not understand a word as I knew only Malayalam. 

I was introduced to the term ‘Counterpane‘ in Sainik School. I presumed that counterpane was of British origin, but, oddly, never came across the term later at the military academies, in India. I was therefore, pleasantly surprised when my colleague Major Rajib Basu in 1989 at Devlali, Baader-Meinhofed me when he referred to his bed cover as a “counterpane!” He had graduated from the residential Lawrence School, Lovedale. The term was very common with many ‘public-schools’ in and around Ooty.

Counterpane is a modification of the word Counterpoint, from Old French word Contrepointe, meaning a quilted mattress.

The humid warm sultry days all through the year at Aamaravathi Nagar was a bit tough, especially without air conditioning. Why?  There were no fans even.  Windows were thrown open in our dorm to bring in whatever breeze we could catch. The breeze brought with it fine dust particles and there was the counterpane, discharging its duty to protect my bed from this dust. 

We carried our counterpanes to our senior dorms in grade 9, where we had a cabin allotted for each cadet.

The counterpane protected the mattress and the blankets.  How often do we clean or wash our mattress and blankets?  Today the counterpane has been relegated to be an unnecessary addition that just ends up tangled at the bed’s foot-board.

Try using a counterpane to cover your bed during day and you will end up with a clean bed in the evening.  You may find yourself having the best sleep of your life!

In those days many military stations were not authorised fans.  Most military stations were established by the British and were at cooler and greener hill stations. Blame it on climate change or global warming, most military stations now are authorised air conditioners.  I have seen it all.

We had to fold our counterpane every evening prior to retreating to our bed. It was a sin to use it to cover our body at night with it – all because it may lead to skin rashes due to aberration with the dust particles it carried.

Next morning, we had to neatly spread the counterpane on our beds, tuck it in at the rear end, ensuring that the four red lines ran all along the mattress border and leave our dorms for the Physical Training (PT.)  Our mornings commenced with making our bed, spreading the counterpane and the last action before going to bed was folding the counterpane.

Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556, 1974/Chera) reminisces:- In the late sixties and early seventies, counterpanes in school dorms came in varying colour combinations, but the patterns were pleasant and same.

Some of the nine- and ten-year-old 5th and 6th grade boys, still wetted their beds. The counterpanes were a great cover up, though sometimes the smell gave them away.  As they grew older, the counterpanes again covered the sins of some of the adolescent kids, who had adolescent dreams or indulged in porn.

Lieutenant Colonel AC Thamburaj, Principal, introduced the system of inspections. Every alternate Mondays, the dorms and cabins were inspected by the Principal, Headmaster, and the dorm staff. Dusting of closets and bookshelves, sweeping out the dirt, hanging all dresses rolled and thrown under the beds and the over mosquito nets, tight hanging of the mosquito net, washing the socks that smelt like dead rats, blancoing the canvas shoes that were white two weeks ago, changing the pillow case and bed sheet and hiding away unauthorised toys, bugs, pets that lived in the closet…the list was endless; but always ended up with the neat spreading of counterpanes over the well-made bed without any wrinkles.

There were some good wardens like Krishnaswami, Narayanaswami and Govindarajan. There was one scoundrel we feared the most: ‘Karunakaran.’ In 1967, he was with Chola House, and in 1968 became a shared one between Chera and Chola Junior houses. He always found out the exact one item we tried to hide under the mattress or at the bottom shelf of closet. In later years at the military academy, Karunakaran’s training kept me safe from the Divisional Officers during cabin cupboard inspections.

The Counterpanes in School had a tag showing it was manufactured by ‘ChenTex‘ – a cooperative at Chennimalai near Tiruppur and Kangeyam. Chentex, a Weavers Cooperative Society was established in 1941 and is leading on manufacturer of bed covers, bed sheets, bed spreads, cotton bath towels etc. The Society sells within India and also exports to European countries.

We got so used to counterpanes, that a beds without them, always looked incomplete.

Veteran General PM Hariz (Roll No 579, 1974/Pallava) writes: – The legacy of counterpane continued right through our lives I would say … just that over the years it got transformed into a bed cover with greater elegance than the one we had at School …the purpose was the same!!

To me a more important lesson was that of making the bed as one got up early morn each day – at school as Reji said we had to make our bed and cover it with the ‘Counterpane’ before even we got to get going with the morning routine. Some of us left hastily, only to return from PT to find our matron frowning upon the ‘les miserable’ who had left his bed in the same state of rest!!!!

Soon the habit of making one’s bed kicked in and it became second nature to me … and have carried it till today … my wife Zarina and kids fail to understand why I remain paranoid with an unmade bed – and why I hurry to make the bed even as the sun is only just rising!!

That is a habit with a lesson!! In that, one commenced the day with a small doable task … it made it then mentally possible to continue doing small/big tasks through the day. Also importantly, when one returned late at night from work etc – one came back to a clean and made bed – which by itself was a blessing to crawl into after a long day at work!!

It has become so ingrained that I would make the bed even in a guest room or hotel room – at least set the bed in order and place all items at its designated place…. Believe me ..even as I got up this morn at 5.30 ..I first made my bed – my side of the bed !!!

For many of us even today – Amaravathi Nagar remains The Pleasant Land of Counterpane.

Images courtesy M Balaajhi, (Roll Number 4574, 2010/Pandya) and Ashok Prabhu, (Roll Number3499, 2002/Pandya.)

Movie Screening at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar

Nostalgia struck me when I read a Facebook post by a very senior alumni of our school about the movie – The Guns of Navarone.  It was the second English movie I watched in my life.  The first English movie was Mackenna’s Gold.  The next English movie was Where Eagles Dare.

When I joined the school in 1971, I knew only Malayalam and English was all alien.  The ‘scary’ scenes in all these movies ensured that I closed my eyes and slept off in 15 minutes.  I later watched all these classics.

A movie was screened every Saturday, Tamil, Hindi, English and occasionally a Malayalm movie.  The swimming pool doubled up as an open-air movie theatre with the viewers sitting on the stadium steps, and the screen placed on the opposite side of the swimming pool.  Later, the old Senior Cadets’ Mess was converted into a movie theatre.  The cadets had early dinner on Saturday at 7 PM and the screening commenced at 8 PM – after it became dark.

Mr P Gurumoorthy with our classmate Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal – Vice Chief of Naval Staff (Roll No 870)

Mr P Gurumoorthy, our Mathematics Teacher, an expert in local liaison, was responsible for procuring the movie and the late Mr PT Cherian, our Physics Teacher was responsible for the screening.  To read more about Mr PT Cherian, please click here.

Mr Gurumoorthy was better known as the Naval Officer in the National Cadets Corps.  The sight of him in his crisp white Naval uniform was the main motivating factor for many of our friends choosing to opt for the Indian Navy at the National Defence Academy.  He was instrumental in I choosing the Indian Navy as my first option, but the medical authorities decided that I was fit for the Army only.

 

The projector used then was RCA Photophone 35mm which used a carbon arc to throw the image of the celluloid film on to the big screen.  Today’s digital screening had not come in.  The movies came in reels – each reel 1000 feet long, running for about ten minutes.  The Indian movies were generally of 16 reels, running for about two and a half  hours and English movies about 10 to 12 reels, of about 90 minutes to two hours.  The reels of a movie were enclosed in steel boxes and were physically transported from theatre to theatre, often by bus or train. 

To reduce cost of production and keeping in mind commercial viability, a Tamil movie was released in about 25 cities/ towns of Tamil Nadu.  Theatres in Udumalpet (Udumalaippettai,) the closest town to Amaravathi Nagar – about 25 km away – hardly ever received a new release Tamil movie.  It featured in the ‘Second-Run’ towns – that meant that a Tamil movie was screened a month or two after its release.  English and Hindi movies came mostly six months to year, many much later, after their release. 

English and Hindi movies ran as morning shows on Saturdays and Sundays at Udumalpet theatres.  After the Saturday’s morning show, the reels were despatched by bus to Amaravathi Nagar and was screened in the evening.  Sunday morning, the first bus carried the reels back to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to screen their Sunday morning show.

Tamil movies were screened in Udumalpet theatres as regular shows – matinee (3 to 5:30 PM), first show (6 to 8:30 PM) and second show (9:30 PM to midnight.)  Now how to get those reels to far away Amaravathi Nagar on a Saturday evening when the movie was playing its regular shows?

Illustration by Sherrin Koduvath

After the movie played its first five reels, it was loaded into the bus on its last trip at 7 PM from Udumalpet and the bus reached Amaravathi Nagar a few minutes before 8 PM.  As the swimming pool was very close to the bus-stand, the screening commenced immediately thereafter.

Mr Menon on his Bullet Motorcycle, stationed at the theatre in Udumalpet, carried the next six reels at 8 PM and reached Amaravathi Nagar by 8:30 PM.  He returned with the reels played till then to Udumalpet, in time for the theatre to commence their second show.  Then he carried the last six reels to Amaravathi Nagar and returned them after screening. What an idea Sir Ji!!!!  

How was any delay in this clock-work precise operation covered?  Mr Gurumoorthy had an answer.  The local theatre had bits and pieces of song and dance sequences and fight scenes, cut out from reels of Hindi and English movies.  These were screened to keep the viewers engaged, as Mr Menon raced to the theatre with fresh reels.

Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556) reminisces:-Prior to 1969, the school had only a 16 mm projector. The movies were all ‘black and white’ English movies. Maybe, there were no Tamil and Hindi movies available in that format.

That time, Chera, Chola, Pandya and Bharathi Houses dined in the longish shed. Bigger strength Pallava and Valluvar Houses dined in the Boxing Arena. On Saturdays, if a movie was to be screened, we had to pick up our chairs after lunch and deposit them on the lawn that existed between the two sheds. The mess staff took out the dining tables and made seating arrangement for viewing the movie. Dinner was served outside.

90% of 5th and 6th Graders fell asleep as soon as the movie started. For one, we were tired, and the other, we could not understand the language.  Subtitles and close captioning were not heard of or seen. The film strips often broke or Mr Cherian had to change the spool with the help of his lab assistant Manuel. He switched on a lamp he had on his switch board, and wake us from the slumber. After the movie was over, we were woken up and sleep walked back to the dorms.

Sometime in 1969, a 35 mm projector was installed in the swimming pool and the first movie to be screened was Sivaji Ganesan & Jayalalitha starrer ‘Enga Mama’ – remake of Hindi Film Brahmachari) The students sat on the bleachers, while the Staff sat on the top arena. We started watching movies in Eastman color. Since it was an outdoor pool, the movie screening was dependent on weather. Some evenings the movie show was cancelled even while we were eating our early dinner of tomato rice and kaajaa. There have been occasions we had to scoot half way through the movie, due to unexpected showers.

Apparently, around 1974, the movie screening moved back to the good old ‘longish’ shed, but with a proper projection room and 180 degree change in the viewing direction – with the stage now becoming the balcony.

Some of the daring 11th Graders (senior most then) sometimes sneaked off to Udumalpet on a Saturday evening, watch a movie, sleep in the bus stand and return on Sunday morning. Not many attempted this risky business, anyway.’ 

Veteran General PM Hariz (Roll No 579) writes:-Whilst watching 16 mm movies like No Man is an Island – a 1962 war film about the exploits of George Ray Tweed, a US Navy radioman who avoided capture and execution by the Japanese during World War II;  Sinbad the Sailor – a 1947 fantasy film about the daredevil sailor Sinbad, who embarks on a voyage across the Seven Seas to find the lost riches of Alexander the Great; etc, changing of reels took some time.  This dead time was for the singing talents to pelt a few numbers.  I vividly recollect Om Prakash (Roll No 285)- our short hockey wizard – singing ‘Asman sey aaya farishta’ and using the reel cover as the dhol (drum.)

Movie watching at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar will forever linger in the minds of all its alumni.

Memories of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar Band

A recall by Veteran Commander Nanda Kumar Parrat (Roll No 322)

 I joined SSA in January 1965 in grade 5, age 9. The School Band members, especially in their ceremonial dress of Blood Red and Steel Grey (School Colours) with White anklets and gloves were a sight to behold for a nine year old.

When the school commenced in 1962, Mr Patrick was the Band Master. Then, we had just a Base Drum, Cymbal, Bugle, Side Drums and an innocuous looking triangular instrument called…obviously…the Triangle. Wikipedia…definition…an Idiophone-type of musical instrument in the percussion family.

Mr Guddu Shaib, a Veteran Pipe Major from the Madras Regiment, joined our school in 1966 and introduced bagpipes for the very first time.

As it happened, from 1965 – 1970, a Senior of mine was the SOLE player of this very light innocuous looking Triangle.

Everyone who was in school during those six to seven years, remember only THAT cadet as playing the Triangle….and  NO ONE ELSE.

About 40 years later I met the Triangle player, now an Indian Navy Veteran, and suddenly I realised that it was a real feat and mystery that no other cadet ever got to play the Triangle while he was in school (all of 7 years.) As it was the lightest and easiest instrument in the band to play and to merit the extra ration of milk, etc., there were hordes of others trying for that particular instrument, but never made it. 

The reason suddenly flashed to me after 40 years…the Triangle player was the only one to fit into the ceremonial dress which was specially stitched for him in Grade 5 (1964). No other cadet could fit into that small size uniform. That’s how he managed to stave off any attempts of others to play the Triangle for seven long years. Some people are lucky early in life.

Reveille with Bugle

Cadets playing bugle were detailed to sound morning Reveille at our school. It went like this, ‘Taa da Taa da Tat Tat Tat Taa’. We had this song in the same tune, ‘Chaar-lie, Chaar-lie, get up for tea’. At least we then believed….the song line…One Senior used to climb the roof of the dormitory at 0530 hrs to ostensibly increase the range of the sound of the bugle.

Retreat…. Sounds of Last Post

During the Annual School Day, sounding the Retreat, was a sombre occasion and the last act after Prize distribution, VIP speech, etc. Whereas, the Last Post sounded sentimental in itself, the apparent ‘Echo’ played by our cadet buglers from below the distant hill (firing range) made one’s hair stand on end.It is already dusk ..sun already behind the hills…the Last Post…wow.. Totally memorable even after 50 years…… The ECHO …still echoes in my heart.

This image came from the archives of Abe Jacob Abraham (Roll No 114,) as a Cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar in 1964, sounding the Reveille with Veteran Colonel Ravi Nair (Roll No 131) on his right. 

Colonel Nair recalls: “Most memorable phase of life.  Waking up the School for the day.  An onerous task indeed, which Abe and I did dutifully for the entire tenure in school. After the Reveille, rush to the Mess to have a glass of glucose concentrate and two eggs as compensation to lung power!!

Dr KT John (Roll No 84) writes from Melbourne, Australia: “I have played the bugle with you and Abe, Ravi, both for waking people and also for the lowering of the flag at dusk.

Remember playing the Reveille with Jaideep GC (Roll No 55) echoing, which used to wake up most of Amaravathi Nagar, including the donkeys, who occasionally joined in the chorus. Oh! what wonderful times.”

Veteran Colonel Jayath Pooviah recalls: “Later it devolved upon me to carry out this task…. Only I stumbled up that hill in my pajamas and woke up with the school while blowing that bugle... Never got that drink after!!

This image is of Mr Patrick, who was the Band Master until 1965, playing the pipe during the Dinner Night, after the dessert course. After he played the pipe, a toast (generally a tot of rum) was given to him by the Principal, a Lieutenant Colonel then. Later, Mr Guddu Sahib being a tee-totaler, the toast contained fruit juice only.

Joining the BAND Wagon by Veteran Colonel T Ravi (Roll No 556)

In 1967, Pallava and Valluvar Houses were housed in the two storey buildings. Raghavan was the school vice captain. He lived in one of the side rooms along with our House Captain Muthukumar. Every morning Raghavan emerged from his room to blow the Reveille which echoed throughout the Amaravathi Valley.

Each week, Mr Guddu Sahib detailed a buglar to blow the Reveille in the morning and one for the Retreat in the evening. The retreat time was normally 15 minutes before the school ‘fall-in’ for Prep. Most of us running to be in time for the Prep cursed the Retreat. You had to freeze in whatever pose you heard it. The trail that ran behind the MI Room was full of human statues when the buglar blew the Retreat and the flag came down.

There were lots of misconceptions. ‘Blowing a bugle while sitting down, made your balls big,’ was one of them. Not everyone could blow the bugle, even though quite few could blow their own trumpets. Bugle was easy to carry, as compared other equipment, except the Triangle and Cymbals.

The dreaded instrument was the Base Drum, which needed strong shoulders and height. VP Misra (Roll No 179) and R Gnana Prakasam (Roll No 630) were made for Base Drum. Normally, the band used two side drums. The unwieldy kettle drums came out only on occasions. I still can’t recollect how Mr Guddu Sahib mustered those many side drummers.

Mr Guddu sahib’s favorite instrument was the bagpipe. We learnt to play the pipe in stages. Initially, just the chanter. Then we graduated to playing the pipe with the drones blocked. Finally, the pipe with all three drones. Each of the guys in the band, had their own favorite tunes. Mr Guddu Sahib cajoled and convinced the members to play the number he chose.

Sometime in 1969 or 1970, the band was present for an event in Udumalpet (Free Eye Camp.) State Ministers Sadiq Basha and Mathialagan were the guests of honour. When the event finished, the two misters came to the band stand and congratulated Mr Guddu Sahib, who reminisced about the accolades as long as we were at school.

Veteran Captain R Gnana Prakasam writes:

Wow …what nostalgic memories ..I have to confess that I never had any music sense and my motivation to join Band was only Extra Diet..Band Milk. My enormous appetite could be satiated by Band Milk and extras. I played cymbals and base drum. We really had lots of privileges like skipping PT and going out of school for some performances. Best sportsmen from our batch were in School Band. Rajarajan was the favourite of Gudddu Sahib as he was versatile in many instruments. He was our No 1 Bagpiper.

Can you recognise these septuagenarians and correlate with the archived photos above?

Reading Music

Veteran Lieutenant General PM Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone.  We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band.  He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987.  Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band.  Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.

Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from  the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966.  His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master.  He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968.  The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us.  Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes.  I just could not make any sense of them.

Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the  performance.  He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.

On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments  practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.

Other than teaching us how to play the instruments,  he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;)  how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them.  During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.

Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it.  Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.

Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the  muscle memory and coordination of the cadets.  Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.

Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7.  They were taught to read music and perform.  Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.

Not all can read music though many enjoy it.  Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians  who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music.  Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.

Why should you learn to read music?

Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition.  It helps you to remember the music you are playing.  With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.

It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster.  Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying.  The act of practicing  and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.

Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles.  It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group.  You can create your own musical compositions too.

It’s never too late to learn anything.  So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.

An Englishman at Sainik School 1969-70

by Steve Rosson 
My thanks to Reji for allowing me to post these memories on his blog.

As I neared the end of my university course in 1969 I was accepted by Voluntary Service Overseas to work for a year or so in the developing world.

It was in August of that year, a few days short of my 22nd birthday, that I arrived at Sainik School to teach English.

I had flown from London Heathrow (my first time on a plane) to Bombay (as was) and then on to Madras (as was). After a few days of orientation I took the overnight train to Coimbatore to be met by Major Bhoopal (the Registrar), Paul (the volunteer I was replacing) and Driver Menon (with his splendid moustache). We piled into the school jeep and, after Bhoopal had done a few bits and bobs of shopping, we set off on the seemingly endless journey to the school. Route planning software tells me that the drive should take two hours today so maybe the roads were worse then or maybe I was just very tired.

As we approached the school Bhoopal suggested that Paul should take me to meet some of the other teachers at “the cafeteria”. I had visions of a sleek, modern establishment with chrome fittings and bright neon lighting so imagine my surprise when I entered a windowless room with rudimentary lighting, a cement floor and mismatched chairs and tables. I got even more of a surprise when I was introduced to Swami, the proprietor, in his dhoti, beads and full Brahmin tilaka. I grew to really like this place, however, and I was to spend many hours there chatting with friends on the staff, drinking coffee, eating masala dosai and being served by Swami and his waiter Rajamini.

My home for the next fifteen months was to be a small three roomed house in a row of four. The windows were barred and shuttered (no glass) and the door was secured by a huge padlock. In truth I only really used the bedroom and the toilet at the back. The bedroom was furnished with what I presume was an army issue bed and wardrobe made of olive green steel and a desk and chair. I had no need of a kitchen as I took all my meals in the mess except when I was invited to the houses of other staff members. The school had very thoughtfully installed a western style toilet for me. Flushing this involved filling a bucket of water from my storage drum in the room next to the toilet. The dam supplied water twice a day for an hour so water had to be stored. My one luxury was an immersion heater about a foot long that I clipped onto a bucket full of water and then plugged in. After about half an hour the water was warm enough for me to “take bath” as I learnt to say.

I said that was my home. Really it was just my house. The school was my home.

The first thing I had to do was to learn to ride a bike in order to get around the campus. The boys found it absolutely hilarious that someone of my age had never learnt to ride a bike and watching me wobble around the place for the next couple of weeks brought them more hilarity. A couple of the senior students were deputed to teach me and eventually I got the hang of it.

I soon got used to the routine. I was woken early by a mess waiter who brought me a mug of “bed tea” from the vast urns that were being taken to the boys’ dormitories. Then it was off to the mess for breakfast. The mess was a large hall a bit like an aircraft hangar with long tables and benches. As I was attached to Pandya House I sat at the top of their table with the House Captain and his deputy. Most of the other teachers ate at home.

I soon got used to Indian food although I do remember the first time I was given idli sambar for breakfast I just could not manage the spicy sambar and asked for an omelette instead. The omelette arrived a few minutes later ….. with green chillies in it!

Then it was off to the academic block to teach. The classrooms were arranged around four sides of a sort of courtyard of rough ground where the daily assembly was held complete with a rousing rendition of the national anthem. I still have the words and music of “Jana, Gana, Mana” rattling around in my head even after fifty years.

I can not imagine I was much good as a teacher. I had no training and my degree was in English Literature and here I was trying to teach youngsters who were all working in their second language even though it was an English medium school. I think we progressed pretty much page by page through the textbook and all the lessons were fairly formal but that was probably how the school liked it. Discipline was never an issue as the boys were all incredibly well behaved but I was horrified to see on a number of occasions boys being made to crawl across the stony courtyard on their elbows and knees as a punishment for some misdemeanour. Remember that the daily uniform was short sleeved shirts and short trousers.

Lunch in the mess was followed by an afternoon nap and then games at the extensive sports fields. Football, volleyball and basketball predominated but I was truly astonished one day when I saw with what ease and alacrity the senior boys tackled the assault course. I can not remember ever seeing the swimming pool with water in it.

Then it was back home to “take bath” and then the evening meal in the mess unless I had been invited out. After that home to mark books, read or listen to my small radio which could pick up, usually with much interference, Radio Ceylon which played British pop music and the BBC World Service for news. I sometimes wandered over to the Pandya House dormitory to chat to the boys but not as often as I wish I had done.

I did get regular invitations to dinner from other staff members and sometimes I was rather uncomfortable when the man and I were served by his wife who then went back to the kitchen to eat her meal. I never knew whether this was shyness or the fact that she had no English or it was just tradition. This was not the case, though, when dinner was with Colonel Thamburaj, the Principal, and his wife or with Major Menon, the Headmaster, and his wife. With them, too, you could usually rely on a good supply of alcohol.
PTC
(Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai. Late Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right.  Mr Steve in the middle. The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.)


There were plenty of other social functions organised like the House Days and at Diwali and Pongal. I always loved the huge buffets that were laid on and one of my favourite foods was the large potato cakes. I never could get on, though, with the custom that nobody could leave before the chief guest. I was often ready for my bed hours before that.

Some other random memories include watching a flock of about 100 sheep go past my house being driven by a little boy with no clothes on, sitting on my verandah and watching A K R Varma with his Groucho Marx moustache riding past on his bike ringing his bell furiously and waving to me, eating my first ever mango at Venki’s house and then my first ever papaya at Mrs Mathai’s, the dhobi wallah squatting on my bedroom floor and listing the clothes he was taking away to wash “one kurta, one jibba, one pant, one half-pant”, the frogs croaking after the monsoon, Balan the tailor making trousers for me that fitted perfectly without him even measuring me, a hike in the Animalai Hills with the mess waiters carrying all the gear so that we could have a brew-up en route, a school trip to Mysore and Bangalore, Sports Day with its “Olympic style” march past complete with flags and the band in their red tunics, the view of Idli Malai across the sports fields, learning to eat rice with my hand whilst sitting on the floor. All happy memories.

Of course, I wasn’t always happy. Sometimes I felt lonely and sometimes I felt homesick but I look back at my time at the school with great fondness and I have always been grateful for the immense kindness that was shown to me, a young man a long way from home, by all the staff and students.

If anyone would like to contact me please email steverosson@aol.com.

 

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.

My Romance with the Indian Railways

My journey with the Indian Railway commenced with my first travel way back in 1966 when I was in Grade 1.  In the Malayalam text book there was a small verse on the ‘Steam Engine’ – (കൂ കൂ കൂകും തീവണ്ടി, കൂകി പായും തീവണ്ടി) Koo koo kookum theevandi, kooki payum theevandi.  I was fascinated by the poem and insisted on travelling on a train.   My dad took me on my first train journey – an eight kilometer one from Kottayam to Chingavanam on a steam engine powered passenger.  Little did I realise as a toddler then that I will serve in the Indian Army and travel the length and breadth of the country on trains. It was the beginning of a long and cherished association with the Indian Railways.

My father first took me to the steam engine as the poem was more about the steam throwing coal eating monster.  He showed me three persons working on the engine.  The Engine Driver (Pilot or Engineer) was the overall commander of the engine.  He was responsible for ensuring punctuality, watch the signals, the track ahead and the train behind, see that the locomotive is running safely and efficiently, blow the whistle when required and plan ahead for stops.

The engineer was assisted by two Firemen who stoked the fire, maintained steam pressure in the boiler, watched the track and signals ahead, and relayed signals from Guard.  They took turns with one stoking the fire and the other watching the signal and blowing the whistle. Firemen were also apprentice engine drivers, allowed to run the train under the engine driver’s supervision and expected to learn enough to be ready for eventual promotion.  Even today, the Indian Railways recruit only Assistant Loco Pilots for their Diesel and Electric Engines, who over a period of service are promoted to be Loco Pilots. I am told that the Assistant Loco Pilots of today earn a salary more than that of the average software engineer!

Steam engines of yesteryear may have been slower and ‘dirtier‘ than diesel/ electric ones, but they were much safer.   As per records, out of every 100 accidents on Indian Railways, only two involved steam engines as the steam engine staff had to be on their feet, busy stoking the fire, adjusting gauges, tightening gears and releasing excessive steam pressure, polish gleaming brass fittings and gauges, filling the water tender and so on.

The train was controlled by a Guard who impressed me with his well starched and ironed cotton white trousers and coat as white as snow.  For the life of me, I could never figure out as to how these Guards on the trains pulled by steam engines, maintained their white uniform so well.  A short journey on such a train always invariably resulted in my dress and hair getting covered with coal-dust.

I might add here an interesting aside. The Indian Railways currently runs a luxury heritage train from Delhi to Alwar, renamed The Palace On Wheels, (earlier Fairy Queen, since 1855) powered by a 70-year-old renovated steam engine, named ‘Azad‘- engine number WP 7200, built in 1947 in USA.

Indian Railways is still maintaining its oldest working steam locomotive named Fairy Queen at New Delhi. I wonder whether the Railways still have the drivers to operate it.

When I joined Fifth Grade at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu), in June 1971, travelling from Kerala to the School was the longest train journey one undertook until then.  It commenced by boarding a Meter-Gauge train at Kottayam, hauled by a steam engine to Ernakulum.  From there in the afternoon it was on to famous No 20 Madras Mail – a Broad-Gauge train – which ran between Cochin and Madras to alight at Coimbatore.  The only reprieve was that the train was hauled by a diesel engine, and therefore no coal dust.

The advantage in a diesel or electric engine is that it can run at same speed whether forward or backward. Steam engines were to run at lesser speed when running with its water tank in the front side. To avoid this there were engine turn tables at major loco sheds for turning the engine to keep engine side in the front.

We got off at Coimbatore by 9 PM and at 10 PM there was a train to Rameshwaram, again a steam engine train on Meter Gauge.  This train would drop us at a tiny station called Udumalaipettai at 2 AM.  Then there was the agonising wait in the small waiting room at the railway station for it to dawn so that the restaurants in town would open their shutters. Early in the morning it was a walk of about a km to the bus-stand, lugging our bags.  Near the bus-stand there was a restaurant which served vegetarian breakfast and we would enjoy the last civilian meal of the semester before joining the Military School. From then on it was going to be the much loved ‘bill of fare’.

After breakfast it was a bus ride of 24 km on the No 10 Bus which plied between Udumalaipettai and Amaravathinagar – about an hour of a bumpy ride, but it ensured that the heavy breakfast we had consumed was well truly digested without any hiccups.

By the time I was commissioned in the Indian Army in 1982 the railways had evolved a great deal; the steam engines had given way to diesel ones which were much faster and did not deposit coal dust in our hair and clothes. With the army life came some really long and memorable train journeys. For a Mallu posted to most military stations in North India, 72 hours was par for the course.  If your unit was in the North East, it was 96 hours and beyond. A colleague of mine used to travel from Trivandrum, then the southernmost station of the Indian railways to Ledo, in Assam, almost on the then Burma border, where his unit was located. It was small matter of some 4000km, 3970km to be precise, taking seven days.  It involved travel by five different trains, with changes at Ernakulum, Madras Central, Howrah Junction, and Tinsukia. The journey from Trivandrum began with a meter-gauge train and ended at Ledo on a meter gauge train. But the bulk of the journey in the middle was by broad gauge. In some ways, the experience of a journey such as this is as exhilarating as that of a mountaineering expedition

Once or twice a year it was a journey homeward to avail the much awaited leave. Also the initial years in the army one had to undergo a lot of training courses at various institutions widely dispersed all over the country. So this resulted in at least one more long train journey. Very often one had to travel at short notice and therefore without reservation. It was nothing short of high adventure.

As the trains rumbled across the length and breadth of the country, I was able to directly imbibe the diversity of our ancient land. As they crossed the many rivers flowing West to East, East to West and North to South (Only the Son River in India flows from south to North), and climbed the many hill ranges and plateaus, I came face to face with school geography. The vastness of the Indo-Gangetic plains, the stunning beauty of the Konkan tract, tenuous criticality of Siliguri Corridor, mesmerising  beauty of the plains of Punjab engulfed in endless fields of wheat, mustard  and sunflower, and he endless barren expanse of the Thar desert all lay bare before me.   I couldn’t help but notice the gradual change in climate, topography, flora, demography, culture, architecture and so on. It was an ever changing landscape of every facet of human existence. There is no better way to learn about this vast country than to simply travel by train. No wonder, the Mahatma, loved to travel by train.

When I am at Kottayam the Pole Star is not visible as it is always hidden behind coconut trees. As the train takes me northward from Kottayam, on the first night I begin to see it quite high above the horizon. On the second night it is much higher in the sky than the previous night. It was much later, during a training course that I theoretically learned that the latitude of a place is the vertical angle between the horizon and the pole star (altitude of the Polaris.) But the railways had made me understand the phenomenon much earlier. Latitude until then was just a line on a map.

Over the many years of train travel I also realised that the Indian railways is a truly humongous organisation any which way you look at it. It is one of the largest rail networks in the world with over 68500 km of track network and nearly 7200 railway stations. It is one of the world’s largest employers, employing some 1.4 million people. Every day it transports 25 million people. It is simply mind-boggling to think in terms of the likes of the entire population of a country like Australia or Taiwan being transported by the Indian railways on a daily basis. Of the worlds 230 odd nations only 55 odd have a population more than 25 million.  The railways also move some 1200 million tons of freight every year.

One got to fully subscribe to Michael Portillo, British journalist, broadcaster, and former Conservative politician- “The two biggest legacies of the Raj are the unification of India and the English language. Moreover, without the railways, India would not have been connected and could not have become one country.” 

Next : Military Special Trains

Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu – An Ever Smiling Soldier

Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, ADC, Vice Chief of Army Staff, hangs his boots today. Do not get carried away by his smile; he is a rare combination of professional competence, inspiring leadership, humility and chivalry. A quote by John F Kennedy came to my mind As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” There is no better person than General Anbu for whom the above quote applies as he hardly uttered any words, but always lived by them – for over five decades of life in a military uniform.

It began when he was all of ten years old, as a cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in June 1970. As a cadet, two years our senior, he was identifiable by his cheerful smile, his omniscient trademark insignia. He often walked away with a lion’s share of medals in most sporting activities at school – athletics, swimming, boxing, football, hockey and so on. He was adjudged the most technical boxer while at school and his gymnastics skills were invariably on display during our School Day Pageants.

He graduated from school in 1976 to join the 56th Course at the National Defence Academy (NDA). In his final year at school (1976), he was Chera House Captain – Cadets were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the great ancient Tamil Kingdoms, which somehow paled into insignificance in the History of India as devised by the British. It may be a coincidence that the present Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM from our batch too was the Chera House Captain in 1978.

His smiling, soft spoken demeanour concealed a firm, no nonsense attitude – no wonder he was appointed the Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM) at the NDA as well as at the Indian Military Academy (IMA). He was awarded BLUE in Athletics and Physical Training and Merit Card in Basketball – an envious record for any NDA Cadet. As a young officer he continued to excel in sports and competed with the soldiers at the highest level.

General Anbu was commissioned into 14 Sikh Light Infantry in June 1980. He served in all operational environments – Siachen Glacier; Counter-Insurgency Operations in Kashmir and Manipur; Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, United Nations Peace Keeping in Namibia, etc. He was awarded the Sena Medal for a very daring operation, showing exemplary leadership and gallantry during operations in the Siachen Glacier.

During my visit to Hyderabad in 2001, he organised an impromptu get-together of all our school mates that evening. There I met Mrs Gowry Anbu – a down-to-earth and compassionate lady who mirrors the very same qualities of her husband.

He was in command of his battalion during operational deployment in Rajasthan deserts and that is where I met him in 2002, when I was commanding a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment in the same Division.

One day I walked into Colonel Anbu’s battalion and was received by Subedar Major Swaraj Singh, a smiling smart confident soldier. The way the Subedar Major interacted with me was indicative of how the character of a Commanding Officer flows down the chain of command to all ranks of the Battalion.

As we waited for Colonel Anbu to get free, I asked the Subedar Major something that had intrigued me about the soldiers in Sikh Light Infantry: How does Colonel Anbu, with his quiet and pleasing manners, command the fierce Sikh Light Infantry soldiers so well?

That was when I got a significant military lesson from Subedar Major Swaraj Singh:

“It is a myth in the Indian Army that Sikh Light Infantry soldiers need tough handling in a language filled with profanity. They are just as sensitive as other soldiers and their sensitivity needs to be respected. Our Commanding Officer from his Lieutenant days (1980) believed in respecting the soldiers under his command and we all respect him immensely for that. The performance of the Battalion under his command amply proves the equation.”

Subedar Major Swaraj Singh also said that his Commanding Officer neither drank alcohol nor smoked in his life – busting another Indian Army myth!

I must relate an interesting story about Brigadier Devraj Anbu when he was posted on deputation as the Commandant of the Assam Rifles Training Centre (ARTC) at Dimapur, Nagaland – a first-hand account narrated by another colleague of mine.

At that time he was on the upward trajectory of a very impressive career graph. This posting was his first exposure to the Assam Rifles and prudence dictated that he swim with the tide. Right from his first day in office, all ranks got a feel of his sincerity of purpose, steely determination, no nonsense attitude and genuine concern for the welfare of his Officers and Soldiers. One soon learnt not to mistake his self effacing modesty and courteous demeanour for weakness.

Like most Indian Army Regiments, the Assam Rifles too has very strong traditions rooted in their rich heritage, the foundations of which were laid by Gorkha Troops who formed the nucleus of the Force. One such tradition was the conduct of animal sacrifice on the Vana Devta Pooja celebrations to propitiate the Gods of the forest.

Over the years, many General Officers, Commanding Officers and Religious Teachers had done their best to sensitize the soldiers about the regressive nature of this tradition, quoting examples from the scriptures, but none issued orders prohibiting this practice as it was felt that such an order would cause deep resentment among the rank and file. As all Army Officers were posted to the Assam Rifles on deputation, most were not keen on risking their careers by ‘rocking the boat’.

He was barely few months in the saddle when it was time for the pooja. A traditional havan (where oblations are offered into the sacred flame) was conducted by the Priest and the principal participants were Brigadier Anbu, his deputy, a nominated officer, the Subedar Major and some selected representatives of the soldiers in the presence of all personnel of the organisation except those on essential duties. The ritual was to conclude with the sacrifice of a goat with a single stroke of the khukri (a Gokha’s machete), wielded by a chosen soldier.

The Priest used the ashes of the havan to anoint the sacrificial goat, the selected soldier, and the sacrificial khukri. The soldier then positioned himself near the head of the sacrificial animal with his khukri ready and formally requested Brigadier Anbu for permission to carry out the sacrifice.

In a steady clear tone, Brigadier Anbu replied “Nahin Hai” (permission denied). For the benefit of those unrelated to the uniform, this needs elaboration. In the army when permission for conduct of a troop related religious act is ceremoniously sought, it is simply expected to be ceremoniously granted. If not, it is deemed to a serious attack on troop sensitivity and could culminate in loads of trouble.

Everyone was stunned and the Priest, assuming that he had heard incorrectly, repeated the formal request only to get the same reply from the Commandant. Jaws dropped in astonishment and emotions could have flared at the perceived sacrilege. However, Brigadier Anbu remained unmoved despite gentle hints from his Deputy (who was his senior at SainikSchool) to reconsider his decision.

Without batting an eyelid, Subedar Major Arjun Thapa, a Gorkha from Nepal where ritual sacrifices are held sacred, supported his Commandant’s decision and ordered that the goat be set free. A lauki (bottle gourd) was produced and ritually chopped in two by the Khukri in its place. Not one dissenting murmur was heard from any quarter!

That’s obviously a classy example of what is meant by courage of conviction. It is a testimony to the immense respect and affection earned by Brigadier Anbu across the organisational spectrum, that too within a few of months.

Brigadier Anbu’s brief tenure at the ARTC is still remembered for the immense progress made in training, administration, and welfare at the premier establishment of the Assam Rifles.

In April 2017, the 79ers, my batchmates from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar had our annual meet in Srinagar, J&K. I reached Srinagar three days ahead to spend time with soldiers who had served with me. I travelled to a remote locality to be with the boys and that evening I called up Lieutenant General Anbu, the Army Commander Northern Command over the military telephone circuit. Typical of the Corps of Signals’ way of doing things, the duty officer at every successive military exchange came on line and fussed around for ever as the call was being directed to the Army Commander. He finally came on line and spoke to me for over thirty minutes, bantering about the good old days and expressing his inability to fly down to meet his school mates at Srinagar as he had to attend the Army Commanders’ Conference at New Delhi next day.

It is said that a soldier has no holiday in life; but retirement makes every day one for him. Knowing General Anbu, I am sure that he will make the rest of his days more rewarding and entertaining as he is a man of great versatility. He is bound to enrich the life of those around him in a meaningful manner.

Great soldiers do not retire, they just fade away – surely he too will fade away and be rarely be in television spotlight, as is the wont of so many retired senior defence officers these days! Perhaps he will pen down his thoughts covering a momentous half century in uniform.

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

Library

During childhood days, our village in Kerala had a public library, housed on the upper floor of the Post Office building. The library had a good collection of books, periodicals and newspapers. The library used to be bustling with activity in the evening. Students and youth came there to borrow books, many came to read newspapers and periodicals and above all, it had a radio connected to a public address system which beamed the news from All India Radio. Those were the days when most households did not own a radio and Television had not become a reality. Our village with its literate masses needed something to read as a source of information and entertainment and the library provided it. My brothers used to borrow the books from library and our grandmother who lived with us then used to read them after everyone went to school.  Now my mother, a grandma, watches the tear-jerking serials on the TV after everyone leaves the home to school or to work.

During my recent trip home, I found the library totally deserted. The reading habit seems to have died down. How can you expect children overloaded with assignments, tuition and above all entrance coaching to find time to read? Various tear-jerking serials have occupied the free time of housewives and senior citizens, which in those days was spend reading.

Sainik School Amaravathinagar, our school, also had a well stocked library. I started using the library only from my Grade 8 onward as I was not all that proficient in English till then. At that time Mr Stephen, our librarian had taken over. Untill then the librarian was a clerk or an administrative staff member who hardly had any clue about the real duties of a librarian.

Mr Stephen with an ever smiling pleasing personality was a graduate in Library Sciences. He was the first person to encourage many of us to use the facility of the library and also explain to us the wealth of information available there. He always used to remind us as to how lucky we were to have such a library which he said many colleges and universities in India did not have.

Other than being the librarian, Mr Stephen used to actively participate in all extra-curricular activities. One could always see him in the gymnasium helping students, playing all games with the students and also participating in adventure activities like trekking and rock-climbing. This helped him develop a special rapport with the students. I spend some of my free time in the library and also whenever I was made an ‘outstanding’ student in the classes, I straight away moved into the library.  Mr Stephen exactly knew what would have happened in the class, but never asked me a question and let me into the library.

On migration to Canada, we settled down in the city of Mississauga. The City runs  Mississauga Library System. It is one of the largest public library systems in Canada with over 300,000 registered users. There are 18 locations, including a multi-floor Central Library with material allocated by subject areas. Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or owns property in Mississauga can obtain a Library Card required to borrow materials.

All the library branches I visited were always full of customers, especially students and seniors. The library system has a large collection of books, DVDs, video tapes etc in 22 languages including Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi. The excellent catalogue system followed by the library can be accessed online from the home. One can place a hold on a material through the online system. The moment the material arrives the customer is intimated by email or over the phone. In case a desired items not in the Library’s catalogue, it may be obtained through inter-library loan.

In case the library branch one visited does not have a desired material, but is available in another branch, the same is transferred to the library if you request for a hold. All materials borrowed from any branch of the library can be returned at any branch. The catalogue system caters for it.

The Library offers access to downloadable eBooks and audio books. One can download these to a computer or a mobile device.  One can also sign up to receive sample chapters from new books and newsletters about new books and authors.

Library staff are always available to help the customer to find information and choose materials. The Library offers extensive information on occupations, educational planning, career planning, training and job search strategies.

An extensive collection of fine, old and rare materials, dealing with the history of Mississauga City is available for in-library use at the Mississauga Central Library and includes scrapbooks, local archives, and a large collection of photographs. Genealogical materials are available through Ancestry at all Library locations. The Historic Images Gallery brings together the image collections of multiple institutions providing centralized access and is searchable online.

eResources provide access to reference eBooks, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly journals, book reviews and more. Search over 30 eResources covering a wide variety of topics including health, business, world news, literature, sports, arts, and entertainment. With a valid Mississauga Library card, you can do your research from home, school or office.

Children’s Dial-A-Story can be called as often as you want, any time of the day to listen to a new preschool story each week in the comfort of your home.

Public access to the Internet and Microsoft Office is available at all Library locations. One can book a session to use a Library computer with a valid Library card. Photocopiers are available at all Library locations at a minimal payment. Copying is subject to copyright laws.

Large Print Books are available from all library locations and rotate from library to library. In partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Braille Books are provided via mail.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”   – Sidney Sheldon
Post Script :- My book ‘Suit, Boot and Tie‘ now finds a place with Mississauga Library System.
Search Results for suit boot (sirsidynix.net)