Archive for October, 2014

English – Usage, Phrases, Customs …

Posted on October 23, 2014. Filed under: The English |

‘Bring home the Bacon’

The British, when visitors came over, would hang up their bacon to show off in the living room It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “Bring home the Bacon.”
They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ”Chew the fat”. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special

Upper Crust

Bread was divided according to status.
Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,
and guests and the man of the house got the top, or ”The Upper Crust

Throwing the baby out with the bath water arise.

In medieval England having a bath was a annual, once a year custom in the family Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water,then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies.By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Why people carry Bouquets to weddings and flowers for women?

In England people used to bathe only once a year. Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, however by May , their body odor started to waft Since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.
Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Piss Poor

In medieval England,they used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery.
If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”.
But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot they “Didn’t have a pot to piss in” & were the lowest of the low.

One for the road

There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London, adjacent to the gallows.
The guards would ask the prisoner if he would like ”A LAST DRINK”.
If he said “YES” it was “ONE FOR THE ROAD”
If he declined, than he was “ON THE WAGON”

Raining cats and dogs

Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.
When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Dirt Poor

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.
Hence the saying, “Dirt Poor.”
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside.
A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

Peace Porridge Hot , Peace Porridge Cold

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot.
They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat.
They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day.
Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while.
Hence the rhyme: ”Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.


Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning & death.
This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Holding a Wake

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey.
The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.
They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ”Holding a Wake”.

Dead Ringer

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave.
When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.                                                        Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, ”Saved by the Bell ” or was considered a ”Dead Ringer”

Why were Forks, Knives and Spoons invented?

The British would bathe once a year or once several months, as bathing was considered as unhealthy. They also wore lace collars around their neck which was 3 to 4 inches wide.                                                                                    The Fork, Knife and the Spoon were invented so that they could lift their food without contaminating it with their dirty unwashed hands , and also not to stain their collars with those dirty hands

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Gen VK Singh’s – ‘Courage and Conviction’

Posted on October 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |

This Review is by Unni Kartha, an IAF officer – a Cadet in the NDA six months or so behind VK, who it seems often ‘sorted him out’..  

As I was walking out of the book shop, my attention was drawn to the charismatic, handsome, enigmatic face of Gen VK Singh (ex COAS & now MoS) on the cover of a hard bound book.

A feeling of anger and frustration filled my mind. During the media hype when he was COAS – on his age controversy – tiff with Omar Abdullah over removal of AFSPA in Kashmir valley – tiff with Chidambaram to involve army in IS Duties against Maoists – Sukna scam -Tatra scandal and so on,  I had reacted from the heart, and confess that I had even written derisive emails beseeching VK to quit his post with grace.

Yet I bought the book. I wanted to know what kind of a man he became after he went to the army and I went to the AF – different career paths that never crossed. Though I consider myself no less than him, it is a fact that he reached the top while I fell by the wayside.

For two days I did not go to work and read the book in two straight sittings. ‘Courage & Conviction’, is echoing in my mind, resonating between my ears. It tells the tale of soldiering – blood sweat and tears – very convincingly from the heart – and from the head – in a most unpretentious manner.

In independent India, I lament that due to larger than life gubernatorial aspirations, very few in high places have written readable autobiographies.. One rarely gets an insight into the machinations that take place at high level, the cracks in the defence armour or the ‘higher defence command of the GoM that constitute the GoI.

VK has given you all that and more, first hand. It is indeed a confirmation of what one suspected for long, but had no proof till VK tells you about it.

I lament that VK used up 298 out of 351 pages (85%), to narrate the story of his life from the age of 5 to becoming one of the youngest (24th) COAS in independent India. Personally I would have liked him to use only 15% to grow up and become the COAS and 85% to expose the woes of a COAS and the callous attitude of the GoI towards national security. Yet 15% is enough and more – to point out the flaws, about the Red Riding Hood and grandma, the wolf.

There is no doubt in my mind that here is the only man who had the ‘Courage & Conviction’ to expose the callous attitude of the political & bureaucratic system towards national security. He has not minced his words, but I would have liked to see more brutal words.

For example elucidate the utterly immature attitude of screen rapist Raj Babbar, who was chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on defense, walking out on a meeting concerning the most important events in Karen sector that concerned national security, with the excuse that he has to go and rape another actress in Mumbai. Perhaps it did not happen on VK’s watch – reason why he did not mention it.

I empathised with VK’s early life, growing up in a boarding school from the age of 5, abandoned by his army officer father for a second wife who perhaps found VK irksome and sent him to boarding to get rid of him. Usually such a child would have developed many psychological disorders.

VK did not. Instead he forged himself to be tough and self-reliant, resilient, with a desire to excel. He gives the credit to his school masters and that is very magnanimous of him.

There is no doubt that he is brilliant; he excelled in every competitive field of activity throughout his life – in a life span from the age of 5 to present appointment as MoS at 63. Whether in India or abroad, he always emerged a winner.

His accomplishments are not mundane; he fought a war with valor at 19, roughed it out though a tumultuous career in the infantry with the tough moustachioed Rajputs, in atrocious situations – often standing up to his bosses and displaying no signs of sycophancy in a peace time army that demanded downright sycophancy.

The cataclysmic regimental history of the Rajput’s, through the eyes of VK is great reading – even the part about his own innings in command of 2 Rajputs, and the spat that his men had with 7 Kumaon which was then commanded by my dear friend Soli Pavri at Fategarh. If I had known, I would have loved to be part of that punch up which personifies the Izat, Iqbal, Quam, ethos of the Indian army regimental system, ‘Unit Tartib’, as VK calls it – not indiscipline in my eyes.

In VK, I saw another hero of yesteryears, Gen Sagat Singh, the actual hero of 71 war (not Manekshaw, not Arora, not Jacob), a man who was capable of putting his neck on the chopping block in the best traditions of the Chetwoode dictum. And perhaps follow RabindernathTagor’s impractical poem, ‘where the head is held high, where the mind is without fear’.

VK has given a very convincing blow by blow account of his fight with ‘Babudom’ the kingdom of GoI, which then got after him, and which led to the controversies and media hype with no substance. I believe him!.

I convey my great admiration to VK’s wife Bharti, and daughters Mrinalini & Yogja, to have withstood the tsunamis that came at them due to a most unusual and non-conformist father.  The episode about Mrinalini writing a letter to Menaka Gandhi informing her that VK was a ‘poacher’ is not only funny, it warmed my cockles on the integrity with which VK has described his personal family life and difficulties.

The epilogue deals with VK’s visions of future. I pray to God to give VK a long and healthy life so that he can accomplish all those ideals that he has outlined. I beseech more and more ESMs to join politics. Perhaps that is the only way we can redeem this country, make it ‘for the people and by the people’, not ‘for the politicians and by the bureaucrats’ – as VK says with candor.

Defense as VK says is a cash cow for all politicals and bureaucrats even in BJP. I hope and pray that political equations and compulsions in near future will jack-knife VK to the centre stage, to clean the Augean stables.

My pain of 7th heaven given by VK in the NDA, has not gone away even after 45 yrs. But all the same VK  – if Bharti ever cribs again that she does not have a home (I am told that is her frequent lament), 90 Nakshatra, Balapur, Hyderabad, is hers – as also a parental home for Mrinalini & Yogja.

Very illuminating story by a soldier’s soldier. What do I know? –  I don’t! I am just an old silly airman full of bullshit!

Unni Kartha F/37th NDA

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Siachen Glacier – Basic Facts …

Posted on October 21, 2014. Filed under: From a Services Career |

The Siachen Glacier is in Norhern Ladakh and lies East of the Korakoram range. It is 76 km long (say 50 miles) and 3 km wide (say 2 miles) and 700 sq km in area (less than 450 sq miles).  Peaks range up to 25,000 ft high and average snow fall is 35 ft. Temperatures are up to minus 50 degrees Celsius.

In 1912 two Americans, Fanny Bulluck Workman and her husband, William surveyed the Siachen Glacier for the first time. They found walls of a settlement near ‘Teram Shehr Glacier’.

In 1977, Colonel Narendra Kumar, the famed mountaineer, who was Commandant of the Army High Altitude Warfare School at Gulmarg, was approached by a German rafter who wanted to undertake the first descent of the Nubra River, from its source at the snout of the Siachen Glacier. He showaed a map that showed a dotted line connecting NJ 9842 tok the Karakoram Pass.

Thereafter Colonel Kumar took an expedition to the Glaciers halfway point and ascended the Terram Karigri II located at the edge of the Shaksgam Valley.

Later that year the IMF sent an Expedition to Kimbo Peak on the Glacier and which overlooked the Aksai Chin.

Here the Chinese had built their road to link the Eastern and Western Posts in Tibet and hence the 1962 India China War of 1962. This was followed by Pakistan ceding an area of some 5200 sq km of the Shaksgam Valley, (of J and K) North of what became Indra Col, to China. With this the mountain K2, the worlds second highest Peak, came to be owned by both, Pakistan and China.

Thereafter the Indian Army gained control of the Saltaro Ridge, 17880 ft to 25330 ft and went on to establish some 108 Posts along the undelineated Actual Ground Position Line or AGPL.

Pakistan views India as the aggressor and blames India for surreptitiously occupying the Saltoro Ridge ahead of the Siachen Glacier. This is based in the way in which the two sides interpret the line ‘thence North to the glaciers’, which refers to the un-demarcated portion north of NJ 9842.

While Pakistan interprets these words as a line extending in a north easterly direction from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass in Chinese occupied Aksai Chin, India interprets it as following the Saltoro Range, which begins at NJ 9842 and runs in a north westerly direction, on the watershed principle all the way up to Indra Col. Both interpretations encompass the massive Siachen Glacier. Neither interpretation leaves scope for sharing the icy wasteland.

Beginning with the construction of the Karakoram Highway following Pakistan’s cessation of the Shaksgam Valley to China, Beijing is far more active in this region.

The Karakoram Highway is being expanded in width to 30 m in order to permit plying of all weather heavy transport vehicles. A rail link has been planned and fibre optic cables are being laid – perhaps eventually an oil pipeline.

Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea could eventually be China’s western port, which in turn could be just 2,500 km from Xinjiang compared to the current 4,500 km distance to the nearest port on China’s east coast. Ceding the NJ 9842-Indra Col-Karakoram Pass triangle to Pakistan would strengthen the Sino-Pakistan footprint on these strategic heights.

India, from 2007, has begun permittng Indian and foreign expeditions in the area.

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