On our very first day at the National Defence Academy, Captain Sajjan Singh Batti, our Divisional Officer addressed us on 12 January 1979. One sentence of that address still hangs in my mind – “All those from the Military/ Sainik Schools, don’t presume that you are ‘Smart Alecs’ and know all the tricks of the trade.”
That was the first time I heard the phrase ‘Smart Alec.’ From the context I made out its meaning to be a person trying to outsmart the system and get away with it.
Recently I researched into the etymology of Smart Alec.
Oxford English Dictionary defines a Smart Alec as ‘a person who behaves as if they know everything and likes to show people this in an annoying way.’
If Oxford defines so, what does Cambridge define it as – ‘someone who tries to appear smart or who answers questions in a funny way that annoys other people.’
Mariam Webster Dictionary In my view gives a better definition ‘obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness.’
One must have come across many Smart Alecs and one must have turned into a Smart Alec in some situation. Generally Smart Alecs are known to be boastful, appear very friendly, giving out ‘expert advice’ on anything and everything under the sun. When the Smart Alec becomes a quite person, scheming his plans, keeping his cards close to his chest, he becomes dangerous.
Did you know that Smart Alec was a real man – a New York pimp named Alexander Hoag, who operated in connivance with his prostitute wife Melinda? The same is chronicled in ‘Studies in Slang’ by Missouri University professor Gerald Cohen.
In the 1840s, Alexander Hoag with his wife Melinda devised a ploy to hustle men Melinda enticed and brought to her apartment. Melinda made her victim remove and hang his clothes. Alexander who hid behind a secret panel entered the room and disappeared with all the valuables in the victim’s dress pockets.
After some time, Alexander banged on the door, and Melinda made her customer believe that her husband had returned early from some trip and was at the door. The victim grabbed his clothes and bolted out of the room through the window.
When her customers complained to the New York Police, Alexander bought out two corrupt police officers with an agreement to split the booty. The police soon discovered Alexander was cheating them out of their share by this new tactic and arrested Alexander and Melinda.
Investigators of New York Police were dumbfounded by the smartness of Alexander’s operations that they started referring to him as Smart Alec. Then it became a police slang for a criminal who was too smart for his own good, or whose cockiness led to his arrest. Its first known printed use was in an 1862 Nevada newspaper article, used the term to refer to a ‘know-it-all’ convict.
The term ‘Smart Alec’ got prominence in the early 20th century but became part of everyday speech as a slang only around 1950. A porn film Smart Aleck was released in 1951, justifying the slang’s origin to a pimp and a prostitute.
We were issued with a ‘Housewife’ on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979. Why a housewife to a 16-year-old cadet? That too an item which was neither male nor female, and wasn’t even a living being.
It was a simple Khaki pouch containing needles, thread, thimble, buttons, and a pair of scissors, meant for sewing on buttons, darning socks, and mending uniforms. It was called the ‘hussif’ by the officers at the Academy and housewife by many Cadets and the soldiers who were the Havildar Quartermasters at the Squadron.
Housewife morphed into “Hussif” and first appeared in print in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1749 suggesting that it had already been in common use. The term appears to have possibly originated as a dialect of the shire of Lancaster, England. However, the term is now banned in modern armies which acknowledges that the gender specific term is not only outdated but also offensive to women.
By the mid 19th century these rolled-up sewing kits became standard army issue. Before the invention of safety pins for a quick fix, sewing needles were used to remove splinters and, at times, even sew up the soldier’s wounds! When I joined the Sainik School at the age of nine we had to carry a small plastic box with contents like the hussif.
I hardly ever used my hussif at the Academy during my three years other than for sewing some lost buttons. Behold! It had to be carefully maintained as it had to be produced during kit muster held at the beginning of each semester at the Academy. The hussif was part of the small pack we carried in the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO.)
The name hussif comes from a time when it was common for mothers, wives and fiancés in the 18th and 19th centuries to personalise these kits with embroidery for their menfolk to take to war. It was often packed in the holdall and stowed within the man’s haversack. Few hussifs of those days were covered with flowers or other feminine motifs and colours if the hussif was a gift from a needlewoman in their life.
The humble hussif played an important role in both the World Wars. Embroidery was widely used as a form of therapy for wounded soldiers, especially those recovering at the hospitals. The bright environment of the hospital was the perfect place for them to engage in embroidery as an activity, which helped in their rehabilitation. The imagery and stories they stitched were often reflective of pride in their regiment, the battlefields they had fought in, or messages of love to a distant sweetheart.
Armies and Navies, from Britain to Australia to North America, issued hussifs as part of the standard kit to their serving troops, at least up to the Korean War era. The British Army continued to do so, well into the 1960s and the Indian Army until the early 80s.
Another remarkable object that is etched in my memory is the Button Stick. These were used by the civilian bearers or orderlies to polish all the brass buttons, shoulder titles etc of our various Academy uniforms, though I never saw them later in my Army career.
These button sticks were used by soldiers to polish the buttons on their uniform without spilling any of the polish on the fabric. During WWI, when soldiers were out of the trenches, they often had to ensure that the buttons of their uniform were polished using Brasso. While tedious and time-consuming, soldiers used this brass button polishing guard to avoid staining the fabric with excess polish which left a nasty brown stain on the Khaki or Olive Green uniforms.
It could well be that the button sticks used by the orderlies of the NDA may date back to the World War days!
Why did the armies over the world have done away with the hussif? Repairing or darning the uniform, stitching a lost button… are still needs of the day!
We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam. English, Hindi and Tamil were alien to us. First language and medium of education at our school was English. We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Tamil or Hindi as our second and third languages.
Tamil as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward. Tamil poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language. As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam. Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass. It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.
Tamil was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram. We commenced with grade 1 Tamil textbook in grade 5. The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Tamil textbook.
We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies. Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.
Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.
Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?
The truth is that I ran away from studies. The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11. We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam. What a relief!!!.
We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal. On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us. We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.) This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.
Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics. How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Tamil?
I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Tamil as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.
At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!
Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then. In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them. This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.
My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots. It continued and will continue for ever.
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.
Above is a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy, and was unveiled on 04 May 2010 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia.
We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.
For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other.
Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?
It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level. It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.
It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.
The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.
It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely. Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week? I always knew you will come before.” All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”
It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Tamil Nadu. Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s. I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group. While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.”
I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada. I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.
In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home. While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?” “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.
My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”
My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday. How can he be home in 45 minutes?”
After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even before I could say anything. “It was because of the blaring traffic horns. I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed you were in a taxi home.”
Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune. On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week. On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans. There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.“
My eldest brother, now the head of the family, advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”
On the eve of retirement of my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004. We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil, pullback, pullout, retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere. Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.
Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your life. A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your blood runs Olive Green. The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.
Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations. During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being. As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.
At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of. Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.
This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on. Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about. Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.
As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining. One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.
You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait! You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife. You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.
At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed. In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire. It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying. Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service. It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.
Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.‘
Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:- ‘Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.
I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.
Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way. They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’
Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:-‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’
Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- “Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.
Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.
Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’
Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.‘
Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’
Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994. Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.
He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi. His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime… Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.‘
Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’
Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime. Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.
We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.
Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!! Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too. We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them : Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’
Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1.3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else. Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor.’
‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’ : — Winston Churchill.
Teach the kids to do all chores at home – you will be a proud parent because you will gift a son or a daughter who can do the dishes, cut the veggies and clean toilets to your future daughter/ son-in-law.
You must have come across a kid tearing a shop upside-down for being refused a toy; a kid holding the parents to ransom for some gizmo in the electronic shop; threatening the parents with dire consequence for not buying a motorcycle; screaming their guts out as the child could not get a window seat on an airplane or bus; and so on. These are entitled kids, and they grow into entitled adults. That kid in his entire life did no chores at home other than disturbing the cushions on the couch.
An entitled kid expects food on the table; to be provided with snacks and drinks at their beck and call; the choice of food to be more like a restaurant menu; someone else or the household help will make their beds, clean up their mess; not follow any time schedules – even to eat or sleep.
Most of us did not enjoy doing chores around our homes. I certainly did not. We were in a Sainik (Military) School from age nine and we had no choice, but to do everything – making our beds, polishing our shoes, keeping the dorms and the area around clean – the list was endless. We all grew up totally unentitled.
When should kids start taking on household chores?
The latest study says as early as two years old. They should begin with age-appropriate tasks, under parental or senior sibling’s observation – clearing up toys, arranging their books, wearing clothes, etc. A child is not born with all the skills to do all of these chores right away, so a little guidance and encouragement is necessary. This will ensure that your child grows unentitled and will not develop into an entitled adult. No parents want to raise entitled kids.
A family and a home is not a private limited company of the parents, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs. Making children do chores at home and making them participate in all family activities is the responsibility of parents. Let your kids feel like they are part of this family team and they have to pitch in! Doing chores together help kids feel connected to the family.
Chores teach kids to take care of themselves and do basic activities like clean, cook and maintain the space around them, etc. Giving kids simple responsibilities around the home will inculcate self-reliance and responsibility. It also gives a small much needed breather to the parents.
Kids are not born perfectionist; hence expect them to whine and take too long to complete the task. It will never be up to your expectations, but they will soon be there with a little encouragement and guidance. Many a times, you will end up doing it all over, take it that it’s the best training your kid can get. Ultimately, isn’t it so much easier to do it ourselves! Remember – Everything begins at home.
Children will never learn these by mere observation – They got to do it themselves. Parents have to show the way and also explain to them how to do it. They must also thank them for their effort and also tell them as to how their participation in the chore helped the household. It will teach the child the importance of helping others.
Have you ever written a note to the school teacher explaining a reason for the kid not completing an assignment like the dog chewed on the completed work, the hard-disk of the computer got accidentally formatted, the laptop computer crashed? You have robbed your child of an opportunity to be responsible and advocate for themselves at school. It’s a sure way of setting them up for failure, which none of us want. We want to see them scaling greater heights, turn into valuable citizens and proud members of the society. That needs a lot of hard work – both from the parent and the child. It isn’t that easy.
When we do things for them all the time, it hinders their development and keeps them from succeeding on their own. It ends up as a message to our children that we don’t believe in their abilities. If you develop your child to be an entitled teen/ adult, they will expect their spouse, their roommate, or you to do everything for them. If your kid hasn’t consistently done chores, it’s never too late to start, particularly if you’re really open with them about why you’re making the change and what your new expectations are.
Experts also recommend linking a new chore with a future behaviour — telling a teen that they’re learning how to help with dinner so they can make meals when they go to college, or when they’re cooking for their partner or spouse later.
Kids are never happy for being reminded about their chores. Even parents are never too happy doing things around the house. They are very likely to nag when asked to do a chore. It should never be used as a tool to discipline the kids. You must be flexible and allow the children to chose what chore they want to do.
Reward your kids when they do their chores and appreciate them for their efforts. Ensure that the rearwards are those you’re comfortable with. Plan the reward in advance and always be consistent.
Prepare the Child for the Path – not the Path for the Child.
(Images are of James Carter Parkinson, our two year old grandson)
After reading my blogpost on Mr KP Damodaran, our Compounder at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Veteran Commander NK Parrat, reminisced about the medical treatment of Cadets by Mr KP Damodaran.
Commander Parrat was in 11th Grade, senior most in school, when we joined in 5th Grade in 1971. He then Joined the National Defence Academy (48 Course) and was commissioned into the Indian Navy (IN.) His claim to fame, both at the School and at the Academy, was his swimming and basketball skills. He later became a Clearance Diver in the Navy. He came out with flying colours and was cleared for 100 meter deepsea diving in a Diving and Salvage Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), Panama City, Florida, USA.
Commander NK Parrat’s father, Late Lieutenant AK Parrat served the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and was transferred to IN on India’s independence. Lieutenant AK Parrat specialised in air-radio and was posted at INS Hansa, which was then located at Coimbatore. Thus Commander NK Parrat joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar.
With the liberation of Goa in December 1961 from the Portuguese, INS Hansa moved to Dabolim, Goa and Lieutenant AK Parrat was posted to Kochi, Kerala. He now offered his son Commander NK Parrat, then in grade 6, that he could move to Sainik School, Kazhakkoottam, Kerala. Commander NK Parrat refused on the plea “I do not want to be new boy again!“
AK Parrat knew Mr Damodaran from their RIN days and instantly a special relationship was established. Mr Damodaran was well known as he had actively participated in the Bombay Mutiny, a revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946.
Lieutenant Percy S Gourgey, RIN, in his book, ‘The Indian Naval Report of 1946,′ has chronicled the events of the revolt. The sailors were infuriated by the statements of Commander F M King, RIN, of HMIS Talwar, when he addressed the Indian sailors as ‘sons of coolies and bitches.’ Later, around 20,000 sailors stationed at Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands joined the revolt.
The revolt began with a demand for better food and working conditions, but turned into demand for independence from British rule. They also demanded the release of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language, revision of pay and allowances to be at par with the sailors in the Royal Navy, etc.
That was a bit on the history of the Bombay Mutiny.
How did Mr Damodaran earn a place in the heart of all the cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar?
It was all due to his dedication and love for the cadets. He had many a magic potions which could cure all diseases and injuries the cadets suffered.
On returning from the sports field after a hard day’s play and leaving behind the epidermal layer on the ground, all Cadets straight went to the MI Room for an appointment with Mr Damodaran.
He cleaned the wound with savlon solution, applied a gauze over the wound and painted it with a layer of ‘Tincture Benzoin.’ It burned as the tincture was applied, but was a sure cure for all superficial skin wounds. After the superficial wound was cleaned with savlon, a gauze was placed on the wound and Tincture Benzoin was painted over it. It burned as it was applied, but the adhesive nature of the medication ensured that it stuck to the wound and did not need bandaging. On healing, the gauze fell off by itself.
Many cadets suffered from fungal infections of the skin, ringworm, athlete’s foot, scabies, etc – all because we played in the dirt, many a times bare-footed. Gentian Violet, an antiseptic dye was used to treat these cases. The cadet who suffered from the infection stood out as the dye remained on the skin for over a week. It was a sure way to mark out those ‘Unhygienic Cadets.’
There were two magic potions compounded by Mr Damodaran – Soda-Sal (Sodium Salicylate) and Sodium-bicarbonate. Soda-Sal is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent for relieving pain and reducing fever. Sodium-bicarbonate was the antacid. Mr Damodaran had them in two labeled bell-shaped jars and was dispensed lavishly to cadets for any ailments.
We had the awful smelling IG Paint (Ichthammol Glycerin), also called black ointment or black drawing salve, a remedy for many skin disorders and inflammation. It is made from sulfonated shale oil and combined with other ingredients, like lanolin or petroleum. For any sprains, this ‘stinking’ paint was lavishly applied.
The most uncomfortable potion was the Mandl’s Paint, used as throat paint for the treatment of pharyngitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and sore throat. Due to high viscous nature, it retains the drug for longer time on affected part of the throat. The agony was that he inserted into the mouth a cotton swab attached to a foot-long stick to paint the patient’s throat. It left a severe after-taste, but it cured all those medical conditions in a few days – without any antibiotics.
Most of the medicines listed above have been discontinued today due to their harmful side-effects. It was with Mr Damodaran’s loving care that we cadets of the days trained and graduated from the school without any serious medical conditions.
While on a family trip in our car, Marina asked our son Nikhil, then a University Student, as to how he developed reading skills. The question was pertinent as Marina had migrated to Canada and I as a single parent had brought him up through his Kindergarten and Grade 1 while I was serving in the Indian Army. Our daughter Nidhi was initiated into reading much earlier by Marina as she was a home-maker and I was invariably tied up with my military duties.
Nikhil explained “While I was in Kindergarten every evening Dad read with me stories from many story books that I had inherited from Nidhi. The story which interested me the most was ‘Three Pigs and a Wolf.’ The book was a well illustrated one from a kid’s point of view and every page had a small sentence, thus easier for me to comprehend. Dad used different voices for the three pigs. The best was he named the third Pig the smartest one as Nikhil. That held my interest. Further he made changes to the story every time he read it and I used to be very inquisitive about it every time he read it to me.”
The four words माता पिता गुरु देवा (Matha Pitha Guru Deva) simply translates as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. The word sequence originates in the Vedas, the scriptures that contain the essence of Hindu Philosophy. The four words contain an axiomatic truth regarding the order of reverence as laid down in the scriptures, which everyone needs to adopt. Irrespective of religion, down the ages, the idea has always been fundamental to Indian thought. It follows that as Parents You are your child’s first teacher. Not that one needs a philosophical backing to comprehend this basic truth. It’s just that this basic tenet of human understanding had evolved thousands of years ago, at the very dawn of civilisation.
One of the first tasks of a _Parent-Teacher_ is to develop reading skills in your child. You’ve got to read with your child every day. Children will always imitate their parents – children of parents who read turn out to posses better reading skills. Children who are read to will end up loving to read. It’s got to begin when your child is very young, as soon as you can make the child sit with you.
When I joined Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in Grade 5, I could neither speak nor read Tamizh, the native language of the state. By interacting with our classmates, learning to speak Tamizh came very easily, but how to learn to read the language? When I was in Grade 8, my buddy Vijas gave me an advice which hardly anyone would have heard of – “Look out there, it is the cinema poster for the movie ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’. Read each letter of the Tamizh alphabet to form a word and continue the exercise whenever you see a poster while on the run to the dam every morning during Physical Training.”
I employed Vijas’ technique with Nikhil. While driving – dropping him off at school, picking him up after school, commuting to the swimming pool or tennis court or for music class in the evening – I used to point out to various road signs, billboards, store and restaurant signs on the roadside and make him read them out aloud. Then we discussed the various aspects of displayed signs. Every time we came across the McDonald’s logo, he reacted differently.
Here is the link to his reaction and reading. McDonald’s logo is one of the most popular emblems in modern history. It consists of an arched golden coloured ‘M‘ on a plain red background. This simple one letter logo with two contrasting colours is bound to stay in the memory of any child, even without the gastronomic connection. Their eyes get promptly zoomed on to this simple logo from a long distance. Whatever it is, the use of a single letter or the colours, everything homes on to a child’s imagination without making it look complicated. The mantra is JustKeep It Simple.
What should your child be reading? Priority should obviously be given to what evokes his interest as obviously will sustain the reading habit and improve reading skills. Books about your country, other important places in the world, wild animals or dinosaurs – anything and everything, but age-appropriate. Fiction – action, fantasy, science fiction, funny stories, comics, all of them foot the bill. Adventure stories where the child can imagine to be the super-hero, princess, detective, and so on are ideally suited.
When your child raises questions? Ensure that your child has time to think while he is reading and this can be assessed by the questions that may be thrown at you. Many a time it could be somewhat uncomfortable too. Be prepared to answer all the questions and never snub the child. While answering, instead of preaching, ask a question that will lead your child to talk about what he or she thinks. That will give confidence to your child that you are listening.
Which language to communicate with your child? A pertinent question mainly for the immigrants. I recommend the language which you and your child are comfortable with. It need not be English all the time. Communicating in your mother-tongue will enthuse your child to learn more about your own cultural history.
With the effort you devote to developing your child’s reading skills, your child will grow up to become an excellent reader with strong writing skills. The knowledge gained will eventually transform him/her into and a valuable citizen.
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man(Sir Francis Bacon). It’s a gradual flow from one to the other. We all need to remember that even in today’s age of technology there is simply no substitute to reading skills. It will reflect on your child’s grades and will make a difference when he or she enters university or the workforce.
You don’t need a lot of special skills to help your child learn to read and write. You need not be super-parents. Spending time with your child and doing everyday activities with a focus on the ‘written word’ makes all the difference in the world.
Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”
‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen. On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), morning shave became the first important task of the day. During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and in senior classes, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber. On joining NDA, morning shave became mandatory for all cadets and it continued through my over two decades of service with the Indian Army.
One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday. I had by then shaved and was changing. I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT. “We have shaved and put on our PT dress. Let us all go for a run. Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.
In the Army, being a uniformed service, discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance. Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps. There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession. It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty. A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.
Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to Alexander the Great. It is believed that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.
In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard. Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip. British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century. Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache. Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore mustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army. At this time, a mustache differentiated a soldier from a civilian. Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role. By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.
Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).
During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare. Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt. A few soldiers were even court-martialed for not complying with the order of a mustache. In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn. No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.
Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).
It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving. Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.
Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin. Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.
Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.
For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.
‘Sir’ is a term for addressing males who have been given certain honours or titles (such as knights and baronets) in Commonwealth Countries and is strictly governed by law and custom. The term is also commonly used as a respectful way to address a commissioned military officer – surely not civilians. Equivalent term in the feminine gender would be ‘madam’ and a young woman, girl, or unmarried woman may be addressed ‘miss’. A knighted woman or baronetess is a ‘Dame’ and a ‘Lady’ would be the wife of a knight or baronet.
In Kottayam, Kerala, there is a girls’ school called Baker Memorial Girls High School. The school was established by Amelia Dorothea Baker (1820-1904) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Miss Baker married John Johnson, another CMS missionary, who passed away in 1846. Miss Baker remained in-charge of the school in Kottayam till 1855. Her two sisters married CMS missionaries and three daughters of her brother Henry Baker Jr became teachers at the very same school. (Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H Anderson, Page 336)
The school today stands as a memorial to celebrate the efforts of the three generations of missionaries who dedicated their lives for the empowerment of the women of Kottayam through education. Common folk of Kottayam until my student days called it as Miss Baker School. Remember, it was during the British Raj and everyone addressed the founder headmistress of the school, very respectfully, as ‘Miss Baker’. Today, could any student in the very same school address their teacher ‘Miss Anita?’ I have often heard them addressing their teacher as Anita Miss (I could never make out as to what Miss Anita ‘missed’!)
On joining Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Tamil Nadu in Grade 5 in 1971, our first Class-Master was Mr MJ Raman, our Mathematics teacher. We were about 25 of us from Kerala and only one could understand English and the rest 24 of us knew only Malayalam. In our first class Mr Raman issued us all the books, stationary, etc and briefed us in English and surely I did not get any of what he said.
We then had English class by Mr KG Warrier. He asked us something like “Who asked you to do it?” in his Oxford accent and the Cadet who knew a bit of English promptly replied “Raman Sir told us to do it.” Mr Warrier now said “I know that Dr CV Raman was knighted, but did not know that Mr MJ Raman was also knighted. You all will address your teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames.” Those words were imprinted on our young minds and through all these decades until now, we have always revered our teachers but invariably addressed them as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’, orally and in writing. Culturally, in Kerala as well as the rest of India, these modes of address have undergone a ‘mutation.’ Today, it is sacrilege for a college/ university student to address his professor as ‘Mister Singh.’
In Canadian high schools, students mostly address their teachers as ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ followed by their surnames. In universities, some professors during their introduction class would specify their requirement. Some want to be addressed in the traditional manner and many with their first names or even shortened first names.
While interacting with an Indian immigrant teacher in Canada, he said he felt uncomfortable when the students addressed him as ‘Mr George.’ He had taught in a college in India for over two decades and everyone addressed his as ‘Sir’ and he felt that the Canadian students are disrespecting their teachers by not addressing them as ‘Sir.’
Addressing male teachers as ‘Sir’ and all females irrespective of marital status as ‘Miss’ shows a massive status disparity and sexism of previous years. According to Times Educational Supplement, ‘Sir’ was first used in Sixteenth Century classrooms when male teachers of a lower social standing were attempting to reinforce their authority among largely upper-class boys. ‘Miss’ (surely not anywhere near the status of ‘Sir’) is largely a Victorian era creation when women were pressurised to give up work after they married, with a number of schools only hiring single female teachers.
In the Dutch education system, children address teachers by their first name, using ‘Juf’ or ‘Juffrouw’ as a title for a female and ‘Meester’ for a male teacher. Australians address their teachers as Mr/Mrs/Ms and surname. Sometimes if a teacher has a long or difficult-to-pronounce name, it is shortened to Mr PK, etc.
In Finland, it’s first names or even nick-names with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society there is very informal. French kids use the terms ‘Maîtresse’ and ‘Maître’ for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply ‘teacher’. German students address teachers by using ‘Herr/Frau’ and surname, using ‘Sie’ as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, Koennen Sie…).
How do you wish to address your teachers? How do you wish your children addressed their teachers?
It was a ritual in our home that everyone recited the Twenty-third Psalm at the end of the evening prayer and the same was recited at our church at the end of the Holy Mass. This Psalm is applicable to one and all, irrespective of one’s religion and it reaffirms one’s faith in their God. The Twenty-third Psalm begins with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. In the Malayalam version which we recited as children, the “I shall not want” part was translated as “എനിക്കു മുട്ടുണ്ടാകുകയില്ല” (enikku muttundakukayilla), and I always looked at my knees after reciting it, as it literarily translated in any child’s mind as “I will not have my knees”.
God will open the door only if one knocks and hence the aspect of “I shall not want” in Psalm 23 is debatable. Without the ‘wants’ humanity would have never progressed and developed to its current stature. The modern version of the Psalm has put it more aptly as “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing”. These ‘wants’ always tempted me to dream, about anything and everything I came across as a child, mostly to be rebuked by elders saying that I was wasting my time dreaming – even the act of dreaming was rationed in our childhood—‘Who can dream what and how much’ was somewhat a pre-decided issue!
As I grew up and came under the stewardship of Late Mr PT Cherian, our House Master at Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, who always encouraged us to dream – to dream big – that too King Size. As I grew older I read the Wings of Fire by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam wherein he says that “Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.” This was the predicament I always faced while dreaming that it delayed my falling asleep and the same continues to date.
Veteran Commander D Reginald was my companion to operate the public address system in the school under the guidance of Mr PT Cherian while studying in Grade 9 (1974). All the amplifiers, speakers, cables, etc were kept in Mr Cherian’s Physics Lab and on Sundays after lunch we both would go there to carry out regular maintenance. Once we were accompanied by our friend S Harikrishnan (currently Manager, State Bank of India), who was an accomplished singer. The idea was to fulfill Hari’s dream of listening to his voice duly recorded on the audio cassette recorder. Being Sunday afternoon, we knew that Mr Cherian will never be around as he always enjoyed his afternoon siesta and never ever wanted to be disturbed at that time and there would be no one to stop us from (mis)using the precious cassette recorder. We recorded Hari’s song and played back the recording. That was the first time he ever heard his own singing. Hari had the brightest and the biggest eyes amongst us and he was so excited that his eyes bulged out like search lights.
After accomplishing the mission Hari left and we were on to our maintenance tasks. Reginald was always a better dreamer than I was and continues to be so till date. Our discussion was about the possibility that one day we would be able to record what we see with the same ease like we recorded Hari’s voice. That dream has come true today and we have even gone much ahead that we are able to transmit the same across the globe in real-time. Remember that ‘What you dream today will in all likelihood become a reality tomorrow.’
We have encouraged our children to dream and the effect of it is mostly heard from the washroom. I always hear their monologues, dialogues, role-playing, singing, etc while they spend their time in the washroom – the most private time one ever gets. I was really scared of doing this while growing up on the fear of what others will think about me (mad?) and so I could never give expression to my dreams.
One must dream, that too dream unlimited. That is when one gets into a creative mood and comes out with ‘out of the box’ ideas. Imagine if Newton or Shakespeare or Ved Vyasa did not dream; the world would have been surely poorer. Some of our dreams may fructify in our life time like the video recording dream we had as children; some we would be able to implement ourselves as we grow up.
One such dream I always carried was that of the ‘Bara Khana’ (Party for the soldiers) in the regiment. One always saw the chefs overworked in the kitchen, many soldiers toiling it out for erecting the tents, making seating arrangements, organizing entertainment, serving food and drinks, etc. Many soldiers took it as a ‘punishment’ and not as a time to make merry. My dream was that all soldiers in the regiment should be free from all chores and commitments and be free to enjoy the party with their families and friends.
On return to our permanent location in Devlali after an year long operational deployment, Late Col Suresh Babu approached me with the idea of party for the entire unit with the families. That was when I gave my directions based on my dreams – everything should be contracted out – from tent pitching, decorations, entertainment, food preparation and service – each and everything and no soldier would toil for it. The only hitch which Col Babu projected was that the waiters of the contractors will not be familiar with the military protocols and hence may not serve the Commanding Officer first and so on. I was fine with it as I never had any ‘doubt’ that I was commanding the unit.
On the day of the party, there were round tables laid out with chairs for all officers, soldiers and their families to sit and the contracted entertainment troupe started off with their performances. Snacks and drinks were being served by the contractor’s waiters and each and everyone enjoyed the proceedings. At this time our chef came to me and said that it was the first party he attended. that too wearing his best clothes and thanked me immensely for arranging this. All the soldiers were unanimous that it was the first time they wholeheartedly enjoyed an evening, otherwise they would be running around and also closing down everything after the party. After the success of the first outsourced party, we decided that we would hold only two parties a year and would always be outsourced.
As one grows up, it would be feasible to implement one’s dreams, but many find it convenient to forget them then.
On joining Sainik School in 1971 at the age of nine, I underwent my first run of drill classes. The Drill Sergeant with his order for Tez Chal (Quick March) always followed it up with “Shoot your Left foot.” This Left foot first continued through the training at the Academies and during my military service.
While travelling on a train during my vacation from school in 1978, my co-passenger was a Veteran Sergeant who had seen action with the Royal Air Force during World War II in Burma. He spoke of a Black & White English movie, ‘The Tie.’ He described a scene where a detective and a constable are tracking a fugitive through the city roads on a foggy winter night. Only the silhouette of the fugitive is seen and suddenly it stops walking and then walks ahead. The detective says that it is a woman. The question of the Veteran was as to how the detective made out that it was a woman.
I had no clue and he explained that women generally commence walking with their Right foot first and men with their Left. That is why when we march, we are drilled to shoot our Left foot first. After this meeting, I started observing men and women and the first Right foot applied to women in about 80% cases. Perhaps the remaining 20% were taught drill by some Sergeant Majors. Shooting the Left foot first in the military was mainly because the soldiers were mostly right-handed and they carried their weapons the right side. So when a soldier stepped forward with a Left foot, they were in a better balanced fighting posture, with Right foot planted and weapon up, ready for action. It was also to keep everyone on the same foot for advancing in a line. In the olden day battles, soldiers advanced together ahead in formation, so that the enemy could not break the lines. In order to do this they used drums to keep everyone in line and together and commenced the march on the Left foot. Every time the drum struck, their Left foot hit the ground. Modern Armies across the globe follow this to keep everyone in step while marching, more to instill discipline and team work and for a ‘Soldierly‘ look while moving in a group.
In the military, one always walked on the left side of a superior officer. In other words, one always kept his superior on his ‘Right’ side. This was to facilitate him to return a salute with his Right arm without poking his arm into someone on his Right. We are all familiar with the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, ‘That is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’ No one would have been there to photograph this one small step. The second human to set foot on the moon was Buzz Aldrin and the instant was captured by Neil Armstrong. In this image (courtesy NASA), Aldrin is seen landing on the lunar surface with his Left foot, that too in rearward motion. Perhaps, a mere coincidence or the sheer logic of the number of rungs in the ladder!
In this connection, a bit of mythology may interest the reader. Nataraja, the Hindu God Shiva as a cosmic dancer, is depicted in idol form in most temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, balancing on his Right foot with his Left foot up. The only exception being the Nataraja idol at Meenakshi temple, Madurai. It is believed that the Pandya King who commissioned the temple wanted to give some relief to Natarajan’s Right leg, at least in the temple constructed by him. God Shiva with his consort Parvathi is mostly depicted sitting and in most cases, Shiva has his Left foot folded up and Parvathi her Right. As per Hindu mythology, Shiva represents the Purusha (male) and Parvathi the Prakrithi (nature or female.) Some Hindu mythological art portrays gods with both feet on together on the ground and this may be the depiction of combination of Purusha and Pakrithi.
When an Indian Bride enters a home, she is advised by her mother-in-law to enter with her Right foot first, but no such instruction is ever passed to the groom. During many Hindu marriages, the groom ritually places the Right foot of the Bride on a grinding stone. The mantras recited during this time advise the bride to lead a firm life like the grinding stone, to be as firm as a rock, so that the family can depend on her.
Most Hindu Goddesses are often depicted with their Right leg folded up, depicting Prakrithi.
This may explain as to why women commence their walk with their Right foot.
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. At the end of Grade 3 of Nikhil, when he came home with the report card, he declared “Do not ask me how others did as I have no clue as I did not ask anyone about it.”
It is indecent to ask someone their marks in Canada and the marks are confidential and is never announced in public. The report cards are handed over to the students in a sealed envelope, obviously to ensure confidentiality.
The aim of a progress report in Canada is to enable the students to reach their potential, and to succeed. It is a real challenge for the school as every student is unique and they got to ensure each student gets adequate opportunities to achieve success according to his/her interests, abilities, and goals. The reporting is fair, transparent, and equitable for all students. It supports all students, including those with special education needs and all those learning the language of instruction (English or French). The curriculum is carefully planned to relate to the expectations, learning goals and cater to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students.
All aspects of learning are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course. The reporting provides a descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement. It also develops students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.
The high school report card looks more like the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) in the army – it appears as if it leaves no aspects of learning skills and work habit of the child uncovered. The aspects covered in the report are Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Regulation. Strengths and Steps for Improvement are listed out for each subject separately.
My mind raced back to our Sainik School days and even our army course days, where no marks were ever kept confidential and were mostly put up on a notice board. I always looked at the mark list on the notice board to make sure that I was not the last. What an injustice, especially to those who did not fare well!
Once I perused his report card in Grade 11, I asked him a few questions to find out some details about the steps for improvement and we discussed in detail as to how he is going to prepare for his Grade 12. After discussing the same, I casually asked our son as to how his friends did. Our son theorised that students want to either show off their marks or feel a bit good when they have really done well or in case they haven’t, they are looking for someone who did worse. He was not in either and hence did not find out how others did. I realised that what he said was what I had been doing all throughout my life, either blow the trumpet, or look for someone who did worse to feel happy that you are not the worst.
Our son had done exceptionally well in French and the teacher rewarded him with a recommendation for a cultural and educational exchange program in France. He went to Paris (01 July 2014) and returned on 31 Jul with a French Grade 11 Student, Guillaume Le Floch. Nikhil stayed with the Le Floch family for a month in France. Guillaume stayed with us and returned to France on 31 Aug.
While Nikhil was away for a month, I felt a vacuum, both in my mind and at home. Our dog Maximus seemed pretty depressed and had been running all over the house looking for Nikhil.
We will all got to get used to such absence of the kids and this will prepare us to learn to live without them in times to come.
On 16 Apr 1989, the day I married Marina, still lingers in my mind, as would be for any of us on this auspicious day. I decided to invite all those teachers who taught me Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) for the wedding. I had requested Mr PT Cherian (PTC), my mentor, house master and physics teacher, to accept the Guru Dakshina (Offering to a Teacher), prior to leaving the home for marriage as per the Syrian Orthodox Christian custom. Mr Cherian accepted the request and I explained him the route to our home. Mr Cherian was married to Ms Shiela Cherian, who taught everyone English in their Grade 5, expressed inability to attend owing to her bad health.
Sainik Schools were the brain child of then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, established in 1962 each of the major States of India, manned by senior officers of the armed forces with the objective of turning boys into men who can take on the responsibilities of the armed forces. Ms Sheila Murphy, an Anglo-Indian lady, was among the first group of teachers to join the school at the time of inception. Mr PT Cherian joined our school a year later in 1963. After a few years, fell in love and got married, while we were in our eighth grade. On the evening of their wedding, we were treated to a never ever seen sumptuous dinner at the Cadets’ Mess. Thus Ms Sheila Murphy became Mrs Sheila Cherian.
Mrs Sheila Cherian is the first teacher anyone who joins Sainik School, Amaravathinagar encountered. Most of us were from Malayalam or Tamil medium schools having very little knowledge of English. The way she taught us English, especially how to write (her handwriting was exceptional,) everyone of us will carry it to our graves. She taught us table manners, how to sit at a table, use of cutlery and crockery, how to spread butter and jam with the knife, how to drink soup, how to eat boiled egg and most importantly, how to eat with our mouth closed.
Mr PT Cherian was our House Master, Physics teacher, Photography Club in-charge, Basket ball and Volley ball coach, mentor, etc etc, all rolled into one. More than teaching physics, he dedicated all his time and energy to turn us into brave and confident young men. We could discuss anything and everything under the sun with him. He was behind every activity that happened in the school and was a great organiser. Standing six feet tall, he had an impressive personality that will give run for the money to MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.
The marriage was scheduled for 4 PM and I was scheduled to leave home for the church by 3:30 PM. All the friends and relatives gathered at our home for the occasion. Mr AKR Varma – from the Cochin Royalty and our Arts teacher; Mr George Joseph – English teacher, then Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Neriamangalam; Kerala, Mr AD George –Botany teacher, Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Kottayam; and Mr KS Krishnan Kutty our crafts master, all were there at home to shower their blessings. There was no trace of Mr Cherian and we waited till 3:40 PM and then it was decided that Mr AKR Varma, being the senior most among our teachers present would accept the Guru Dakshina.
Dakshina is a betel nut and a rupee coin wrapped in a betel leaf. I handed over the Dakshina to Mr Varma, touched his feet, accepted his blessings and left for the church. Mr Cherian was standing at the entrance of the church to receive us.
A few months later, we were on vacation in Kerala and attended Mr Varma’s daughter Vanaja’s wedding. Mr Varma said that the Guru Dakshina came as a surprise to him and he was very much moved and that tears had rolled down his eyes, as it was the first time ever he had received such a gift. He said he was unaware of the tradition that the Syrian Christians followed, and it is an ideal Dakshina any Guru could ever ask for.
After five years of marriage, we went to Sainik School Amaravathinagar with our daughter, to attend the Old Boys Association (OBA) meeting. By then Cherians had retired and had settled in the farm they purchased, adjacent to the school. We decided to call on the Cherians in the evening and reached the farm house. The house had about 50 old students, some with their families already there. The Cherians, known for their love for their students, whom they adored as children, as God had been unkind to the couple and had forgotten to bless them with any kids. They were playing excellent hosts to each and everyone, including little children.
We paid our respects to the couple and I handed over a package containing a few bottles of whisky as Mr Cherian enjoyed his drinks in the evenings. Accepting the gift, very well knowing what the contents would be said “Is this the Guru Dakshina I missed in 1989?” I did not understand what he intended by that line. I brooded over it and got no clue. By about nine in the evening, most guests had left and my wife and daughter were closeted with Mrs Cherian with our daughter providing the entertainment with her songs. I was sitting with Mr Cherian enjoying a drink in the coconut grove and suddenly Mr Cherian said “Do you know why I did not come to your home to accept the Guru Dakshina? It is not that I did not love you or adore you, but because my marriage has not been complete as the God has not blessed us with any children and that was the reason why Sheila had declined to come for the marriage. Mr Varma being elder to me in age and having a complete family was the most suitable person to receive the Guru Dakshina”. I just could not speak and our eyes became wet. We both remained silent for the next five minutes and completed the drink.
Mr Cherian fetched another set of drinks and continued “I Married Sheila very well knowing that she would not bear any children for me, due to her gynecological condition. I wanted to set an example for my students by marrying the person I loved. I never wanted my students to tell me that I ditched their teacher”. Tears rolled down my cheeks….
Mr PT Cherian and Mrs Sheila Cherian on the extreme right. Photo taken in 1969, courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (in the middle), who taught at our school in 1969 as a Voluntary Service Overseas teacher from England. Extreme Left is Mrs Mercy Mathai – our Matron when we joined school in 1971 – with Late Mr Mathai. The children in the pic are Mathais – Robin and Reena.
Walking down the isle of a Chinese vegetable store in Mississauga, Canada, after immigration in 2004, I was surprisingly greeted by the Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ) placed on a rack. On Closer examination, the tag read ‘Kasava – Product of Guatemala’. Any Malayalee (Mallu) will always and forever relish Tapioca cooked with spices and grated coconut and fish curry marinated with special tamarind (Kudam Puli (കുടംപുളി) scientifically known as Garcinia Cambogia). The concoction served in Toddy (alcoholic extract from coconut trees) shops all over Kerala (Indian Province where Malayalam is the native language and the residents are called Malayalees – now Mallus), is something one can never get in any homes.
Tapioca is not a native of Kerala. Then how come it reached the shores of Kerala?.
Tapioca is said to have originated in Brazil. Portuguese distributed the crop from Brazil to countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Kerala in India in the 17th Century. Some believe that Vysakham Thirunal, the Travancore King (1880-1885 AD), who was also a botanist, introduced this laborer’s food in Travancore (South Kerala). By beginning of 19th Century, people from central Travancore migrated to the Malabar region (North Kerala) and they introduced tapioca to the locals.
Tapioca was promoted extensively during World War II in Kerala by Chithira Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore and his Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Then rice was the staple food of the people of Kerala and was being imported from Burma and Indonesia. With Japanese Navy enforcing a blockade in the Malaccan Strait, the ships carrying rice to India were either destroyed or captured. This caused an acute shortage of rice.
A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich Tapioca as a substitute to costly rice. Thus Tapioca came to be known as ‘staple food of the poor.’ Hotels refused to include Tapioca in their menu due to its working class image.
The only place that served Tapioca were the toddy shops, where the labourers turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work. Today tapioca is a rarity in Kerala and so is a delicacy and hence all hotels including the five-star ones have tapioca with fish curry in all their menus.
During my childhood, we used to cultivate Tapioca on our land. Tapioca is a tropical crop, tolerant to drought, but cannot withstand frost. It is best grown in lower altitudes with warm humid climate with well distributed rainfall. Our land is terraced on the hill slope into 20 x 20 feet sections. Each section is held together with stone masonry retaining wall to avoid soil erosion. On top of these walls pineapple was grown to give additional strength to the retaining wall. On some of these walls a fast growing grass was planted as fodder for cows.
In the month of August, the labourers till the land and make mounds of about a foot after spreading a compost mixture of cow-dung and ash. These mounds are made about three feet apart. Tapioca is planted in June with the onset of the South-West monsoon. Stakes taken from plants of the previous year is now cut into pieces of about a foot and is planted on these mounds. After a month, all the unhealthy or weak sprouts are pinched off leaving only two sprouts to grow into stakes.
As the plants mature, underground stems called tubers enlarge with starch. This is the time when the plant is most susceptible to rodent attacks, mainly from rats. As the tubers matured, a plant was uprooted almost every evening and tubers either were boiled and eaten with chutney or cooked with grated coconut and spices and eaten with fish curry. During weekends our mother had off being a school teacher and she made thin slices of fresh tapioca tubers and fried them in coconut oil.
After about ten months, in April, tapioca is harvested. Firstly the stakes are cut off and the healthy ones are stored for cutting for next planting. Underground tubers are now pulled out manually, pulling at the base of the stakes. The tubers are cut off from their bases and carried to the peeling site.
At the peeling site, the women folk of the village sit on mats and peel the outer skin of the tubers and slice the white starch part into thin slices. The women folk were generally paid in kind at the scale of one for every ten basket of tubers sliced by them. The sliced tubers are now collected in baskets and carried by the men folk to the boiling site. Here the slices are boiled in water until semi-cooked. The slices are now drained and put on the ground to dry under the sun. Once dried, these are collected in gunny bags. Some of the dried tapioca was retained for our consumption and the remainder were sold off to Kunjappan Chettan, the trader who lived across our home. Please refer to my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/kunjappan-chettan-the-trader/
In the 1980s, labour in Kerala became very expensive and rodent attacks on tapioca crops became severe. Most tapioca plants were infected with Gemini virus causing ‘Mosaic’ disease curling the leaves and thus reduced yield. In this period, the price of natural rubber skyrocketed. This turned tapioca farmers to rubber cultivation. With the incoming of rubber, out went the cows first as there was not enough grass to feed them. Further, the skins of the tapioca tubers and leaves from the uprooted stakes, which were the staple diet of the cows for four months, were now unavailable.
Mr AD George, our botany teacher at school had mentioned that the Gemini virus intruded into Kerala through a sample brought in by a professor, who while on a visit to a foreign country where tapioca was cultivated, saw a plant infected by the virus. He collected a leaf to show it to his students and brought it home to Kerala. After demonstrating the specimen to his students, the professor discarded the specimen. This virus then is believed to have spread across Kerala.
The land lost all its herbal healing powers with the advent of rubber cultivation. Herbal plants like Kurumtotti (Sida Rhombifolia), Kizhukanelli (Phyllanthus Amarus), Paanal (Glycosmis Arboraea), etc, all very abundant until we cultivated tapioca, became nearly extinct. The undergrowth shown in the image above is mostly of these herbal plants. Further, the present generation is totally unaware of the existence of these herbs in our own land and uses of these herbs. The cows used to eat these herbs along with the grass they chewed off the land and hence their milk also should have had some herbal effect.
In 2002 I visited Colonel TM Natarajan, my class mate from Sainik School and he spoke about the Sago (Sabudhana[साबूदाना ] or Chavvari [ചവ്വരി/ சவ்வரிசி]) factory his family had. That was when I realised that Sago was not a seed and it was factory manufactured and tapioca is the main ingredient. As Tamil Nadu had many Sago factories and in order to feed them with tapioca, tapioca cultivation now moved from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. The only hitch is that it needs extensive irrigation to grow as Tamil Nadu does not enjoy as much rainfall as Kerala is blessed with.
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