Sunday, 23 December 2018

Who's the real Santa?

 “As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,….

                      -lines from ‘A visit from St Nicholas’ written by Clement Clarke Moore

Come December and we all are anxiously looking forward to what gifts to buy to give our children as gifts from Santa Claus. Just as the children await their gifts, we parents too are excited in letting them believe that the old merry elf riding on his sleigh came from North Pole and travelling down the chimney, dropped their gifts in the stockings hanging outside their doors.

We want them to believe in the magical powers of the old man who we tell them rewards every well behaved child with his/her wishes. We tell them that this is an ancient tradition which is followed in true spirit by every good human being. Till the kids become adolescents, they listen to us and wait eagerly for the Santa Claus the night before Christmas. And sometimes, even if they know the truth they enjoy playing along and letting us reward them in the name of tradition.  

Some children when they grow up feel they have been cheated in their childhood as they believed in the magical powers of the Santa Claus. As a result, they do not let the children fantasize or dream about what Santa could bring them as Christmas gifts. Some others tell them the truth as and when the children demand answers to their queries on Santa’s reality. What I do with my daughter is let her tell me what she feels is the reality behind the Santa Story. This way she gets to have her opinion, prove its validity and check its reality too. And whatever we do after that is just a new family tradition that we have together agreed to start.

So, what do you think, is it worthwhile to tell the children a lie about the Santa? Is it alright to let them believe whatever they want to believe about Santa? Who is this Santa? Why so much of hullabaloo over just another fairy mythical creature?  Let’s see who he is: a fat merry-making elf who lives on the North Pole, who looks always so friendly to children and at times acts like a Cupid for many lovelorn characters in Hollywood movies. What is so special about this fat man that he attracts the attention of both the children and the parents?  Who would be the real Santa: somebody like the parents or the children?

As parents it will be better if we try to tell them about the real life Santa Claus too. Tell them this story about the man named Saint Nicholas who was a great harbinger of joy for many poor people, esp the children. Modern day Santa Claus or Kris Kringle or real life Saint Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. As a Bishop, he became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. A miracle worker, he is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

Every religion has a lot of myths,fairy tales and folk lore around which its traditions revolve. These stories talk about good deeds and happy moments spent together by the families. Till the time they spread the message of brotherhood and togetherness, these traditions are good. Children will also find similarities between the traditions that their friends who follow other religion talk about. For example,all religions talk about the art of sharing their riches with the poor and needy. So, even if children may find the story of Santa Claus a myth for sometime, it will be easy to make them understand the universal sentiments harboured by every religion.

In addition to this, how do we make them believe that the whole magic of the story or tradition of believing in the Santa Claus is worthwhile? We can do this by making them realize how their parents, teachers, friends or anybody else who brings joys in their life is actually the real Santa Claus. Children need to understand that the joy of GIVING is at the heart of this tradition followed during Christmas. It also means that they too need to learn to be generous and kind. Not just one time of the year but everyday in their small deeds and thoughts they need to be generous. And, if they do make it a habit, THEY will be the real Santas.

Monday, 17 December 2018


Vacations are the worst nightmares for many parents these days. In many cases, parents shove their children into camps or extra activity clubs so that they can go back to their normal life. But, Vacations are not meant only for camps, extra lessons to learn, home works or visits to tourist destinations! They are also an opportunity to let your child relax, enjoy, prepare and bond with your children. Too much of planning and engagements will defeat the very purpose of vacations. So use them wisely as a change will always rejuvenate you and add spice to your and your child’s life. Try some of these exciting activities to handle your vacation blues and bond with your children:

               Books Bank. All of us buy lot of books for our young ones but rarely let the kids to use
them to spend time with their friends. In this vacation encourage the kids to open a book bank with their friends as the borrowers. Give them a small corner/ box/ cupboard to create an issue counter. Every child gets to borrow two books and one comic/ magazine for specific days. Tell them to decide some rules and display them near the issue counter/ books box. Anybody who follows all the rules and ends up reading most number of books ends up as the best borrower and gift him with one book he liked the most. Arrange some daytime to discuss the books that kids are reading. It sure turns out to be a very fruitful activity if all the children like to read books/ comics.

               Make a bird house. Mother Earth needs more sparrows and birds so let the children make a small bird house in the balcony or the lawn with old cartons/ shoe boxes or wooden planks. Let them colour it themselves and keep/ hang it in a corner with some water and fodder for the birds. It is very interesting to watch birds flocking up to drink or sometimes take a dip in the water. You will love it as much as the kid.

               Grow a Plant. Children are taught to save Mother Earth through many ways in their schools. So it will be easy for you to convince the child to grow a plant, water it every day and record its growth through photos/ daily noting. This is a good way to teach the child about the growth of a plant in a holistic way. You improve his awareness about environment, mathematical calculations (counting its height/ shadow’s length) and presentation skills (pasting photos/ making entries in the diary).

               Composting. Once the children have started to grow a plant, the next step of feeding
nutrients to it through compost becomes easier. You can motivate them to create compost at home in your kitchen gardens or in a container at home. Use all the peels of vegetables and fruits to put in layers on soil and keep mixing and checking it frequently. Children can visit any Zero Garbage / Compost manufacturing plant to see the process and repeat it in elders’ presence. Use this compost in your gardens as well as community parks. That’s the least you can do to contribute to stop use of fertilizers and pesticides.

               Camping/Star Gazing at night. Pitch a tent in the garden/on the terrace/in the
balcony/corridor and let the children sleep in it for some time gazing stars and constellations at night. Tell them survival stories and interesting things like how to find directions at night, how to survive in the jungles/ enemy territories.

               Hold Board Games Competitions. On cold winter days when you want to keep kids inside the house, the best way is to get them hooked on to games such as Chess, Othello, Chocolate Fix, Carom Board or Playing Cards. Fix some prizes for winners such as an extra Ice- cream scoop or an extra mango and see how it keeps them at home. If you feel they are not going to get hooked on show them some impressive biopics such as Queen of Katwe, Birth of Pele, 21 and so on.

               Complete Holiday Homework. Whatever you do, don’t forget to help them to finish their Holiday Homework. I know handwriting pages are the worst, but you can make it interesting by giving them some special treats if they do it well and in specified time. Let them make the models while you can help them with some things such as cutting/ drawing outlines and so on. If not much they will learn at least one new skill or concept. And that will make the whole effort worthwhile.

And to top it all, do spend some time watching the Kabbaddi Pro League (seniors and juniors) matches in the evening.

Happy Parenting in Holidays!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Easy Recipes for Healthy Weight Gain in Babies, Toddlers and Kids

As a mother working in a job with frequent transfers all across the country, I learnt about many best foods for weight gain in babies, toddlers and kids. We talked about some of them in my last article. I also learnt about interesting recipes and ways in which the natives of one region of the country made best foods for weight gain in babies, toddlers and kids. In this article, for the benefit of some of the first time parents who are not so confident in cooking, I would also be sharing some of the easy, quick to make but high protein/calorie Easy recipes for healthy weight gain in babies, toddlers and kids. The main ingredients used in them are all easily available in the Indian local markets. Try all the recipes one by one and include them in your own weekly meal plan for your young ones.

Recipe no 1: Sugar Plums
Recipe type: Finger food Cuisine: European Prep time:  10 mins  Cooking  time:  10 min  Serves: 2-3 kids
3/4 cup nuts or seeds, toasted   1/2 teaspoon orange zest 1/2 cup dried plums (prunes)   1/4 cup maple syrup 1/2 cup dried apricots    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 cup dried cranberries   1/4 teaspoon  
ground nutmeg 1/4 cup dried cherries
 Put all ingredients in a food processor. Mix until smooth. Wearing gloves roll into 1-inch balls. Store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Plums are ready for serving to the kids in lunch boxes/eating at evening snack time. 

Recipe no 2: Grandma’s Classic Chicken Soup
Recipe type: Soup Cuisine: American Prep time:  15 mins Cook time: 1 hour, Serves: 05 kids
1 /2 kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces, 1/2 kg  chopped carrots, ½ kg onions, 2 cloves garlic, crushed; salt,
pepper, parsley and dill to taste, a few shakes of cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped ginger
Place the chicken pieces in a large pan, cover with water, and bring it to a full boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and skim off any foam that rises. Add the chopped carrots and onions, and simmer for 1 hour, topping up with water as necessary. Crush the garlic and add then season to taste with salt, pepper, parsley and dill. For a thicker soup, scoop out a ladle or two of the veggies, puree them in a food processor and stir back into the soup.

Recipe no 3: Tortilla de Patata (Spanish Omelette) 
Recipe type: breakfast meal Cuisine: Spanish Prep Time: 10 min Cooking Time: 01-05 min Serves: 4-6 kids
01 tablespoon oil, 06 eggs, 200 grams new potatoes, 01 onion thinly sliced, 01 red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced, 02 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped, 01 tablespoon milk, 02 tablespoon finely grated cheese, 01 teaspoon salt and pepper powder
Let the potatoes cook in a saucepan of boiling water for 08-12 minutes until tender. Drain and leave to cool and then slice. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook the sliced onion and red pepper until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute. Add the potatoes to the pan and spread out evenly. Beat the eggs, milk, cheese, salt and pepper powder together in a bowl. Pour it over the potato mixture. Cook for 04-05 minutes until the eggs set underneath the potatoes. Leave it to cool in a plate after that and then cut them into smaller triangular pieces and garnish it with pepper flakes/ powder as your kids like and serve.

Recipe no 4: Dalia Upma
Recipe type: Snacks Cuisine: Indian Prep time:  10 mins  Cooking  time:  15-20  mins   Serves: 2-3 kids
1 1/2 cup broken wheat (dalia), 1 medium green chilli, 1/4 cup peas, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 2 1/2 cup water, 1/2 medium chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger, 1/4 cup diced carrot, 1 1/2 teaspoon refined oil
For Garnishing: 1 handful chopped coriander leaves
Clean and wash the broken wheat thoroughly under running water. Drain the excess water and keep the broken wheat aside till further use. Now add refined oil in a pressure cooker and heat it over moderate flame for a minute. Add the mustard seeds and once they start to splutter, add onions, green chilli and ginger. Sauté the ingredients till the onions turn slightly pinkish in hue.
After few seconds, add green peas, carrots, broken wheat and salt. Mix well and sauté all these ingredients for 3- 4 minutes on medium-low flame. Add 2 1/2 cups of water in the mixture and pressure cook for 1 whistle. Once the vegetables and broken wheat is properly cooked, turn off the flame and transfer the Daliya Upma in a serving bowl. Garnish the healthy dish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

Happy cooking! Happy Parenting!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Glamour and Guts: THE TEST CASE

 Induction of Women in Special Forces in Indian Armed Forces 

Women's' role in the Indian army can be traced back to as early as 1888 when the "Indian Military Nursing Service" was formed during the reign of the British Raj. It was only in 1992 that the Indian army decided to induct females to serve in combat units like the Infantry, the Armoured Corps, and Mechanised Infantry. To their credit, both the government of India and the defense ministry have finalised their plans for setting up a permanent commission for women officers in law and education and naval constructors’ branch. While a set of policies concerning the grant of permanent commission to women officers in certain branches of the Indian Air Force have been issued, the Indian Army is yet to issue any similar policies. As of 2018, women have yet not been allowed as combatants in the combat specialist forces, such as Ghatak, Garud, MARCOS, para-commandos. Current policy also takes from them the right to be inducted into arms of the Indian Army which involve a direct combat role.

Web Series: The Test Case (2017)
Directed by Vinay Waikul and Nagesh Kukunoor, The Test Case is a fictionalised account of Indian Army’s first woman officer undergoing the Special Forces training in Indian Army. Captain Shikha Sharma is considered to be a “test case” by the first Indian woman defence minister for being inducted as a commando in Indian Army. As expected this creates a big furor in the lives of all related to the Special Forces Training School, starting from the top brass in Army headquarters to the Special staff such as a Lady Medical Officer, her Ustads, the course mates and the Commanding Officer of the training establishment. With the likes of Nimrat Kaur, Juhi Chawla, Akshay Oberoi, Atul Kulkarni, Rahul Dev and Sumit Suri in key roles, for a change Balaji Productions and Ekta Kapoor tried to create a nearly perfect patriotic-watch for the weekend. The 9 episodes web series is available on Netflix and is worth a one-time watch for all Indian Army lovers.

Media Reviews:
The show became famous for all the wrong reasons due to the exit of Nagesh Kukunoor in the post –production phase due to certain creative differences between Ekta and him. Many criticized the show for its over-dramatised scenes, esp in the first episode; the personalized vindictive end; disturbing background score and leaving loose ends in characterizations. Critics still praised Ekta Kapoor and her team for her experimental beginning, the realistic direction and gritty screenplay; and of course, composed performances by all the actors. 

Military Reviews:
Since there are only a few worthwhile military reviews available on net about the series; I take this opportunity to present my views as a combatant and a common woman about the show. The series does become significant for today’s youth who would want to join the Armed forces in any capacity for it succeeds in portrayal of certain inherent issues bothering Indian Army for past few decades,such as:  
the working environment of a Special Forces Establishment, camaraderie between NDA course mates; differences between the Direct Entry officers and the NDA trained officers;
the ease enjoyed by second generation officers under units commanded by their parents; the regimental superiority within few army units; and the cultural mind block of the superiors as well as subordinates in accepting and addressing woman officers

These have been subtly shown in the very first episode. Although the director and writers have taken certain creative liberties throughout the series, they succeed in presenting the main idea in an impressive way. Jumping to save another brother officer in the very first week at the unit; sharing the same bathing area and dormitory with the gentlemen officers; the ultimate sexual assault and handling of the indiscipline case in a melodramatic way in front of all are just a few of them. Also, the rising tendency of officers and other ranks indulging in writing anonymous letters about cases of injustice rather than using the existing honourable procedures and espirit-de-corps being forgotten for personal benefits and promotions has been amply portrayed in some of the main characters. A military way out instead of a personalized solution of the problem would have definitely enhanced the overall universal appeal of the series.

 Women in Special Forces Worldwide

There are roughly a dozen nations that have opened "close combat roles" to women as discussed before. Some of these countries have taken "three to ten years to go through this process, to integrate women" into combat roles. In many parts of the world, these efforts have moved quickly once they've begun.

1.      In 1985, Norway became the first country in NATO to allow women to serve in all combat capacities, including submarines. Norwegian women are also subject to the draft in the event of a national mobilization.
2.      Women have been able to serve in all defense units, including infantry and artillery units, since New Zealand too passed a law to that effect in 2001.
3.       In 1989 Canada opened all combat roles except those involving submarine warfare to women. In 2000, women were given the green light to serve on subs as well.
4.      Since 1988, Denmark has had a policy of "total inclusion," which came on the heels of 1985 "combat trials" exploring the capabilities of women to fight on the front lines. Danish research showed that women performed just as well as men in land combat roles.
5.      Women make up nearly one-fifth of the French military and can serve in all posts except on submarines and in the riot-control gendarmerie. Though permitted to serve in the combat infantry, however, most chose not to.
6.      In 2001, the country opened German combat units to women, dramatically increasing the recruitment of female soldiers into the ranks. The number of women in the German Armed Forces is now three times as high as in 2001.
7.      In 1985 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) began putting women into combat positions and by 2009 women were serving in artillery units, rescue forces, and in anti-aircraft forces.
8.      In addition to the U.S., Australia is another country to most recently remove barriers to its front-line units, provided women meet the physical requirements. In 2011, Australia's defense minister announced that the last 7 percent of positions that had been closed to women—including Special Forces, infantry, and artillery—would be opened up to them.
Arguments against utility of women in  Worldwide Special Forces

1.          The military will be forced to lower or compromise its current standards to accommodate the new gender parity. This lowering/compromise of the standards will have an adverse effect on mission accomplishment, lower unit cohesion and erode esprit de corps.
2.          Special Operations units when deployed operate in austere environments. Many times the facilities given for units to live and operate in are small and very cramped. Separate bathroom and living quarters may not be available and living in close proximity to women will have an adverse effect on the unit.
3.          The Special Forces teams are like a family. There is very little disparity based on ranks and mutual respect is commonly based on each other’s physical and leadership skills. In such cases, there is a tremendous amount of trust placed on each other to accomplish their mission. Putting women in such tight situations in such units would mean letting in distrust and preference between the members.
4.          Integrating women into Special Forces units would erode unit cohesion as there will be a double/separate standard set up for female combatants due to lack of similar infrastructure existing in Indian special forces units/establishments.
5.          The men would not have confidence in the woman’s leadership abilities and most importantly there would be a lack of trust in their ability to uphold an equal share in watching each other’s back in real time combat operations.
6.          Women are demonstrably weaker, more breakable, have drastically less lung capacity, and even shoot less accurately. Thus their performances in combat operations would not be up to the mark.
7.          Even if women manage to meet the laid down standards, they would be more likely to be disabled than their male counterparts and to receive a physical disability discharge for severe
        physical disorder. They’re more likely to suffer stress fractures and other disabilities related to combat.
8.          Besides the physical aspects of the job, women will have to battle cultural prejudices that exist in many rural parts of the country where women warriors are not a common sight. In many of the states where our Special Forces now operate (remote parts of Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and J&K), women are kept separate from men and women leaders would never be accepted.
9.          Special Operations by Special Forces are generally conducted in deep dense forests in cross-border areas. The strongest argument against use of women in such situations still remains to be the detrimental Post Operation Trauma: social, emotional and physical in case if any woman operator is left behind as a POW. The chances of her being sexually assaulted, tortured or the worst impregnated cannot be denied.
10.       The shelf life of any well-performing gentleman MARCO ranges from 05 -07 years. In case of women, due to the societal Indian customs would be reduced to 03-05 years; which would be too less as compared to the amount of training, man hours and finances invested in them.

Pertinent issues related to Women in Forces in Indian Armed Forces

You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could that you didn’t stop to think if they should.” Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park

Somewhat similar to the disturbance caused by genetic rebirth of the dinosaurs in the Hollywood series Jurassic Park; the Indian government has caused an unwanted chaos which would be disturbing both for the Army as well as the women. Although the Armies world over might have started to induct women in branches such as Artillery or Infantry, they have still limited the role of women in Special Forces to areas such as internal security, surveillance and/or intelligence.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, a Marine general with several tours of duty in the Iraq War and Afghanistan presented an internal Marine Corps study in 2015 with evidence that women suffered drawbacks not only in the more obvious areas involving strength and stamina, but were more likely to get injured in training and were much less capable of hitting a target.
In 2012, when the issue wasn’t even special ops but just women in combat, Marine Capt. Katie Petronio published a powerful essay entitled, “Get Over it; We Are Not All Created Equal.” She knew what she was talking about: Her body was broken by two combat deployments. Due to the time she spent in full combat load, she suffered numerous nerve damage and physical problems.
Keeping such experiences in mind, utility of women in actual combat in a cross-border conflict in the Indian sub-continent would depend on answers to basically three questions. 
     1.      With the kind of Jihadi combat operations going on worldwide, is this really the time to begin inducting women in such highly specialized jobs?
      2.      Is our Army really ready to take them? Putting women in a traditionally male-dominated area such as Special Operations is going to be tough for considering the cultural block in their male counterparts and the lack of infrastructure required for them.
    3.      And finally, will the Indian Army be stronger as a result of including women in Special Operations? 


"I have to be clear: You have to meet the physical standards, because the job is still the same. It works very well as long as women hold the standards. It's not a big deal because women who go into these fields know the standards, and it's not that hard for women to train up to the standards if they really want." 
said Colonel Gjerde, an infantry officer and the commander of Norwegian forces in Afghanistan in 2012. 

A study on the integration of female combatants in the IDF between 2002 and 2005 found that women often exhibit "superior skills" in discipline, motivation, and shooting abilities, yet still face prejudicial treatment stemming from "a perceived threat to the historical male combat identity." The accuracy of support weapons such as aircraft and artillery has improved, but battles are still decided by the grit and competency of the people on the ground. And both actual combat and the experience of combat conditions have actually become more difficult since Vietnam because of one simple factor –will power. Both men and women with great physical standards can survive or succumb in extremely stressful situations, provided they will. Hence, the biological limitations might be just one aspect of the whole argument about induction of women in Special Forces in Indian Army.


“War is not a Nintendo game.”
-Commanding General H. Norman Schwarzkopf declared in the 1991 Gulf War

Inducting the women in Special Forces for winning the Lok Sabha Elections and then limiting the
role of such women to ceremonial duties and VIP security would be cheating the Indian Army and the Indian masses, in general. Hence, in order to make the whole change worthwhile, certain recommendations need to be considered prior to taking the new step would be:
      1.      To conduct a real-time Needs Analysis and Readiness for the induction of women in SF.
      2.      To clearly outline the role that would be played by the newly enrolled women.
      3.      To culturally, mentally and physically prepare the male counterparts about the induction.
    4.  To create appropriate training environment for the women trainees to handle close-combat situations.