Sunday, August 31, 2008

A for Aligator

“A for Aligator” screams the older one.
“B for Bear”, pipes up the younger.
Cat, Dog, Elephant, Fox – the two of them alternate almost effortlessly as you turn the pages of the Animal Alphabet book.
You hold your breath, but they easily leap over “G for Giraffe” and “H for Horse” too.
Now you are sure they are going to trip up, but they don’t.
“I for Impala”, declaims the older one.
“J for Jaguar”, shoots back the younger.
You had not even heard of those animals till you were in high school, but yours was not the generation of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.
Orangutan and Panda are no less accessible to them than Sheep and Tigers.

You wonder awhile if you are doing the right thing by teaching them names of animals they are unlikely to encounter even in a zoo. Rote learning does have some benefits, but you are not a great fan of it. Must you necessarily inflict it on your kids?
“Mamma, again?” asks the younger one.
“Later”, you shoot back.
“But I want, …” starts off the younger one, but his brother cuts him short.
“Let us look at the pictures”, he says. “See, this is a Panda. Panda eats bamboo. You know what bamboo is? Come I will show you.” He strides confidently to where the lucky bamboo shoots are, with the younger one trotting dutifully behind him.
You smile. Maybe it is not all rote learning after all!!!

You also make a mental note to read up on Newts and Rhinoceroses – after all, you don’t want to get caught on the wrong foot when they start asking questions.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Of fish and jellyfish

My nearly five-year old is learning about vertebrates in school. When we were doing his homeplay the other day, I was seriously impressed with the speed with which he rattled off names of mammals and reptiles (writing those names down took a bit longer, but that gave me time to access my memory banks to find out if turtles were indeed reptiles or not).

Then we got to birds, and my problems began – he insisted that bats were birds, because bats could fly. It was less difficult telling him that bats were not birds (birds have feathers on their wings, do bats have feathers?), than convincing him that bats were mammals (when even I haven’t seen bats suckle their young, isn’t it asking for a leap of faith to ask him to believe that?). Finally, he gave in – perhaps seeing Bruce Wayne with his mother before Bruce Wayne became Batman had something to do with it, but I am not complaining.

Fish was a lot more difficult. I was anticipating problems with whales and dolphins – they look like fish and swim like fish, so why are they not fish? I knew we had seen a clip where the baby dolphin was suckling the Mamma dolphin, and was thinking of reminding him of it.
But the problems came from an unexpected quarter. He insisted that jellyfish was a fish. I tried telling him that just because jellyfish had fish in its name, it did not become a fish, but his argument was a bit more profound – but jellyfish lives in water, it has to be a fish. Ditto, starfish.

There were lots of explanations centered around how fish had fins and jellyfish and starfish did not, and about how fish laid eggs but jellyfish and starfish did not, and of how fish had bones but jellyfish and starfish did not. Information overload! All that he had been taught in school was that fish were vertebrates and fish lived in water.

I know for a fact that my son trusts his mother, and he will eventually accept what she tells him including seemingly unbelievable stuff like jellyfish and starfish not being fish. But I do wish it had never come to that.
Why confuse the kids by introducing the concept of jellyfish and starfish, when you know you don’t have simple explanations for obvious questions like why they are not fish. With so many species to choose from, why choose two that are sure to confuse the kids?

I guess I should just be happy that his teacher hasn’t introduced him ladybirds – they have wings and they fly, why then are they insects and not birds. Specially since they do not bite or spread diseases like the other insects do.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Family and other Superheros

“Mamma, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are doing what?”, asked my two and a half year old. Only Peter Parker sounded more like ‘pitterpalkar’ and Mary Jane came out as ‘milijay’.
He also knows Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. And his brother is trying to introduce him to Sachin Tendulkar and Michel Phelps.
He knows the names of all the kids who have ever been in the daycare centre he goes to – it was only when he mentioned “Ninika”, that I came to know that the kid I used to think was Naina was actually Nainika.

So was I worried when his class teacher told me he had trouble naming the people in his family?
Not at all. After all, why would he know any name except that of his brother? As far as he is concerned, his father is called Papa, and his mother’s name is Mamma. His grandmother is Patti, and grandfather Dada. The people he knows by name are assorted aunts and uncles, but I am sure he doesn’t even regard them as family. It is not that he doesn’t know our names – it is just that he doesn’t yet realise we do have names.
That night night, I made him repeat my name and his father’s name, and by morning, he had them word perfect. It is not too difficult a concept either – Spiderman is also called Peter Parker, why then should it be so strange to find out that his mother and father both have other names also?

There was only one thing I did not anticipate. Till a few days back, the game we played while waiting for the school bus to arrive was, “Who’s papa is this?” – he never got them wrong – but now he tells me who’s papa it is, and then asks me for the papa’s name. I need to get to know my neighbours a lot better now.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park

I first visited Hyde Park with Bertie Wooster. Speakers’ Corner was where he ran into his friend standing on a soap-box in a false beard and mouthing Commie rant in order to impress the father of the girl he was hoping to marry. I am not particularly sure how the story turned out, though I am sure Jeeves saved the day, and Bertie Wooster ended up either with egg on his face, or a hangover cure in his hand.

What is do remember is that I was fascinated by the idea of a place where anyone could stand up and talk about anything they chose and nobody could haul them off to prison or sue them for slander.

So when I found myself in London and had a free Sunday there, one of the first places I hauled myself to was Marble Arch. Speakers’ Corner was every bit as enthralling as I had expected it to be – there was the man in a salt and pepper beard (real, hopefully) talking about redevelopment in urban areas, the young black man in jeans and bomber jacket getting excited about the discrimination against people from the Caribbean, a middle aged man talking about how difficult the government made it for an unemployed single father to bring up three children. There even was an anachronistic piece in tweeds that had actually brought along a wooden soapbox – her thick plait bobbed for emphasis as she spoke about how the government should not have given up its colonies.

It was my last day in London- there were landmarks I could have photographed, museums I could have visited, souvenir stores I could have gone to. But I could not tear myself away from Speakers’ Corner. Heck, I even bought myself a cappuccino and a hotdog and had lunch watching the people speak. Most of the stuff the people were talking about meant nothing to me and even the things that I did not necessarily agree with- but the experience was compelling.

I was almost tempted to grab a place against the fence and start talking about something, anything. What would the people gathered there have made of an Indian girl in a funny accent ranting about how the only people in England who made her feel uncomfortable were the people of Indian descent? They would probably just have wondered why I did not think to equip myself with something to stand on.

The moment passed. I did not get on the soapbox. I did not air my views.

But neither did I ever forget that one place where anyone could say anything. Whether or not anyone heard you was not the point. Whether the people you would have wanted to speak to heard you was not the point either. The point was that you were free to say anything you wanted. Anything!

I often through fondly of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park. Then I discovered blogging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seasons - Monsoon

Hot corn cobs popped on embers of coal,
Watching the giant waves, being showered by spray.
Monsoon memories for free.

Multicoloured umbrellas to twirl over your head,
Splashing through puddles, running in the rain.
Monsoon memories for free.

Jeans that are specked with splashes of mud,
Clothes drying indoors, the faint smell of must.
Monsoon memories for free.

Enjoying the drizzle from the safety of home,
A mug of steaming coffee, plates of pakodas well made.
Monsoon memories for free.

Sticking out your tongue to catch the raindrops,
A faint burst of sun, the sudden downpour.
Monsoon memories for free.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where are the beggars?

Time was when you just had to stop at a traffic light, and a hoard of beggars would miraculously materialise. Some would be little kids in raggedy clothes informing you that they hadn’t eaten for two days, while others would be older men and women telling you that their particular god would bless you if you parted with a few coins. There would be the usual quota of women clutching babies and thrusting an empty feeding bottle onto your face, and the boys with misshapen or missing limbs.

Today when you stop at a traffic light, you have paperbacks thrust at you and boxes of tissue paper. Women selling gajaras and men with cheap Chinese toys. You made the mistake of stepping out without an umbrella – no problem, those rainbow coloured things with wooden handles cost just Rs. 200. Late for a date with your hot girlfriend – just pick up a bunch of roses at the next traffic light and tell her you got delayed at the florist.

Cheap Chinese imports seem to have spawned an entire generation of merchants – it is as now as difficult to spot a beggar as it once was to avoid them.

You know you should be rejoicing – isn’t this the India you always dreamt about? A India where everyone was gainfully employed? Where there was no hunger and everybody could afford to send their kids to school? It does seem to.

But the skeptic in you refuses to accept what your eyes can see. Sure, people are selling things at traffic lights instead of begging, but is commerce really edging out poverty, or is this just a new form of poverty?

Begging, some people always maintained, was a very well organised business venture. The beggars you saw were merely the front office. The brains behind the venture were the people who acquired the beggars, taught them their lines, and actually deployed them exactly where they were likely to be most successful. It was the people behind the venture who kept the daily takings, but in return for that, but it was not a bad deal for the beggars because in return for their labour, they were given food and shelter.

If that were indeed the case, then it is probable that the brains behind the 'begging business' realized that the margins were much higher in retailing than in begging, and so shifted to that. If that were the case, the lot of the beggars has not changed - only their job description has. The paucity of beggars, in that case, indicates nothing at all.

Even if you choose to be optimistic, and say that at least some of the new breed of itinerant merchants are self employed, the question still remains - "How much profit are they really making and how much of it are they getting to keep?" It is unlikely that any of them could have had the initial capital to invest in stock, so they must either be selling goods on behalf of someone else for a small commission, or they must have taken a loan from a moneylender.

Given the immense pool of labour available, it is unlikely that the commission on a Chinese toy that costs Rs. 10 would be more than fifty paise - given the volume of sales, that amount would be just about enough to ensure survival in the city.

Moneylenders always charge usurious rates - rates so high the person is never able to pay back fully, but not enough to force the person to abandon the business totally.

Whether they are working for a commission, or whether they owe their stock, the new breed of salesmen and entrepreneurs could not be doing very much more than just surviving.

You do not see too many beggars these days, but the lives of the people who were earlier forced to beg to survive cannot be much better today than it was a few years back.

But there is still hope. When you live on charity, you get used to it and don’t really try to pull yourself out of your dependence on it. But when you know you are producing value, you strive to produce more, in the hope of someday being able to better your lot.

I am not sure if I see it happening in the near future or not, but someday, perhaps people would start lending money to the new breed of merchants are reasonable rates, and they would be able to gradually pull themselves out of poverty.

The beggars have morphed into salesmen. Soon they could be entrepreneurs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where are Thou, Wisdom?

My younger son is bright, super bright. All of two and a half, and his reasoning skills are far superior to those of many adults I know. And he never gives up – when he wants to do something, he does it, no mater what.

I know I should be proud of him. Why do I make it sound like a bad thing? Because sometimes, that combination of resourcefulness and determination can be downright dangerous.

It happened a couple of weeks back.

My son had been unusually quiet for too long, which should have set the warning bells ringing, but didn’t because I was enjoying the chance to catch up on some work. Suddenly, he rushing into the room howling at the top of his voice. Tears streaked down a face covered in red powder, and I thought I could detect the faint smell of red-chillies. A trip to the kitchen confirmed my worst suspicions –the floor was covered with red chillie powder, and I could make out the patterns that tiny hands had drawn on it.

Just breathing that air made me splutter – I dared not even think of the agony my son was going through.

Even as I was washing out his eyes with running water, the one thing I kept thinking about was how he had gotten to the chillie powder which I normally stored on a really high shelf. The shelf was out of reach for a normal kid, but nobody can accuse my younger son of being normal. He’d just dragged the dining chair to the kitchen, climbed onto it, pulled himself onto the shelf, and reached the chillie powder. Short of policing him every minutes, there was really very little I could have done to prevent it.

It took a couple of dozen hugs, and a dose of eye drops for my son to get back to normal, but I am yet to recover from the experience.

Sure determination and resourcefulness are great things, especially when combined with above average intelligence. BUT, it is going to be a dangerous combination till he learns t be responsible for the consequences of his actions.

Where are thou, Wisdom?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Janmashtami is a time for fun, all festivals are

Yesterday’s paper carried a photograph of two purdah clad ladies, presumably both Muslims, carrying children dressed up as Lord Krishna.

In an ideal world, the sight would not raise any eyebrows – festivals are a time of celebration, and one would expect people to participate in the festivities regardless of religion.

Santa Claus doesn’t bring presents only to Christian children, and it is not only Muslims who throng to Mohammad Ali Road to gorge on mutton biryani and malpuas during Ramzan. Why then should Muslim children not get to dress up in traditional clothes and have a shot at breaking the dahi handi in their school?

Why not indeed? Simply because the prevalent notion is that Muslims do not want to integrate themselves into the prevailing culture. Whether it is true or not, we are conditioned to believe it, and when we come across a person who doesn’t fit into our stereotypical image, we just brush that person off as an exception.

But I wonder how much of that is really true? Are the women in the photograph printed in yesterday’s newspaper the exception or the norm?

I would like to believe they are the non-vocal, almost invisible majority. To them, Janmashtami is not so much the day on which a Hindu God was born, as much as it is an occasion for their kids to dress up and have fun.

At my older son’s school, all festivals are celebrated without the religious element – on Parsi New Year, he brought home a beautifully coloured fish proclaiming Pateti Mubarak, even though there are no Parsi students in the school. I often wished there were many more such schools in the country.

After seeing that news photograph, I am willing to believe there are. And I am willing to start hoping again.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Golden Eagles

This pair of golden eagles is my only attempt at anything close to wildlife photography.
Taken in Bangalore, these birds were perhaps my father's closest friends.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 22, 2008

That thing called Trust

The school bus is late as usual. Your younger son is fidgeting – he wants to chase pigeons, but you don’t let go of him because you know you how long it would take to catch him once he is off.
The slightly toothless gardener comes up and talks to your son – you translate your son’s reply back to him. Just something you do everyday, but now you can’t get the thought out of your head – is he the one?
The drivers waiting around in their polished cars are friendly enough. Sometimes they even let your son play around with the windshield wipers and the hazard lights. You try not to catch their eye, because you are not sure if you want to have to smile back at them – could any of them be the one?
The security guards are more than just that – they are lifesavers. Without them giving you moral support, could you have managed to compose yourself enough to gently instruct your older son on how to unlock himself out of the room he’d locked himself into. And what about the time your younger son ran off, and the security guard found him hiding behind the slide. But now you suspect every one of them – could one of them be the one?
Last Friday was a national holiday, and practically everyone had taken a mini-break over the extended weekend. Saturday morning, we got the news that three flats had been broken into. Nothing much was stolen – just a couple of bottles of liquor and some small silver items on display – just the kind of stuff you are mentally prepared to lose everytime you hand over the house keys to the domestic help. What was worrying was that all three flats were on floors that were totally unoccupied.
It had to be an inside job. It had to be someone who knew which flats were empty and which were occupied. Someone who had seen families drive off, and had been able to estimate which floors had occupants and which did not. Someone who had intimate knowledge of the residents of the building. Someone who’s presence would not have been questioned if he was caught hanging around while to assess the situation.
It could be anyone – the delivery boys from the grocery store around the corner, the sweepers, any of the servants, the security guard, the drivers, the gardener, the guy who took the clothes for ironing. But it had to be someone we knew.
And since we do not know who it is, we suspect everyone. After all, what do we really know about any of the people, except the fact that they are a part of our physical and mental landscape?
That is the worst part about this thing called Trust. You give it easily, but when your faith is shaken, it takes so long to get it back. So the innocent suffer much more than the guilty
The school bus comes. The gardener stands next to you and waves goodbye to the son. You talk to him about the lilies he has just planted – you are interested in what he has to say, even if you are the only resident in the entire building who is. But you are not as animated as you normally would be while discussing gardening plans.
You know this atmosphere of mistrust will not go on forever. You know that you will just start taking additional precautions, and go back to being your normal cordial self. You know that, and yet you wonder if things will ever be the same again.
That funny thing called Trust!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

To do a To Do list

Every article you read on time management talks about the To Do list. Advice on what you put into the To Do list is varied, and sometimes contradictory, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that if you want to add a few hours to your day, you need to have and stick to a To Do list.
But one thing remains unsaid – To Do lists are utterly meaningless for the one person who most needs extra time – a Mother.

If you put on the list any task that is likely to take over two minutes as the rules tell you to, your To Do list for the first 90 minutes of the day has just eight items on it-
- pack a snack for the kids
- wake the kids up
- make them brush their teeth
- feed them breakfast
- make a cup of tea for myself and the hubby
- get the kids into their clothes
- drop them off to the school bus

When the alarm rings, you stumble out of bed, throw on some half-way decent clothes, brush your teeth and head to the kitchen. The kids give less trouble eating cornflakes if they are well soaked, so you do. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds, but you know the younger one will eat faster if you break the cornflakes into smaller pieces, so you do.

The older one wants sandwiches with chocolate spread in his lunch-box, the younger one wants half an apple and a slice of cheese. The chocolate spread is not where you know you kept it. You spend precious seconds hunting for it, and finally find it in the most obvious place – the cardboard box in the kitchen where your younger son stores all his precious toys. Sandwich cut into triangular quarters, you snap the lid of the lunch box shut.
Where is that apple the younger one wants? It seems to have vanished, and your niggling suspicions are confirmed when you find a darkening apple core on the dinging table – the hubby’s eaten the fruit you had been saving for the kid. You bite back the retort that comes, and throw in a few salty biscuits to keep the cheese slice company – he just has to manage with what he gets, after all, so many kids go hungry!

Waking the kids up is a mammoth task. It starts on the afternoon of the previous day when you keep the kids awake so they go to bed early and so get their nine hours of sleep at night. Despite all those precautions, the kids will not budge – you have to bribe them with the promise of being allowed to watch Spiderman while having breakfast for them to even stir. And when they do wake up, one wants his diaper removed and the other wants to be picked up, and they both want it NOW!!! No wonder Goddess Durga has ten hands - every mother needs one pair of hands for each kid, and a spare pair, just to survive.

On the stool in the bathroom, calamity strikes – the older one spills water down his shirt front and sets up a huge wail. You grit your teeth and hold back the yelling he is begging you to give him – will accomplish precisely nothing. You pull off his soaking wet shirt, contemplate feeding him shirtless, but pull out his oldest shaplessest t-shirt when his tears show signs of going to the next level if you don’t cover his naked torso. Meanwhile, the younger one has squeezed half the toothpaste out of the tube, but since that doesn’t hold anything up, you just let it be.

Neither will open their mouth for the first spoonful of cornflakes. A couple of minutes of coaxing and cajoling later, the older one finally responds to your yell, and takes in two pieces of cornflakes. But the younger one will not budge – he doesn’t want strawberry cornflakes, even though he had clearly told me that he was not going to eat anything else. You try reasoning with him – tell him that he will get what he wants the following day, and can he please just have what you are giving him today. You try threatening him – if he doesn’t start eating, you will turn off the TV. Nothing works, and the only way you can make him eat anything is by giving in.

You push a spoonful into the older one’s mouth, and go back to the kitchen to make a fresh batch of cornflakes for the younger one. Since you are in the kitchen, you also put the water for the tea onto boil.
The younger one has got what he asked for, but he is still not eating. You contemplate throwing him out of the window, but know that it is not going to serve any purpose – you will just have to climb out and pick him up from the ledge and you do not have the luxury of that much time.
The older one refuses his food too – breakfast should not be interrupted is his motto – but he is easier to brow-beat than the younger one. Then miracle- both kids take in three mouthfuls of food. Things are coasting along, when you remember the milk. Dilemma – should you make the tea and hope things will continue to proceed as smoothly, or do you ignore the tea and hope the water does not all boil away.
The younger one makes the decision easier – he refuses the next mouthful. You go into the kitchen to prepare tea. Just as you are pouring it out, you hear a voice from the bathroom, “Mamma, clean up my potty.” Of all inopportune times!!!

You finally manage to shove all the food into their mouth, wipe their faces clean and squeeze them into their clothes, when the intercom rings – the school bus is waiting to pick the older one up. You don’t have time to comb his hair, so just smoothen it with your fingers. The lift takes an age to come, and the younger one is wailing at the top of his voice – he wants to be set down, but you can’t because you just grabbed him and he is not wearing his shoes.

With many tears, you wave the older one goodbye, gobble the cornflakes the younger one refused to eat then spend fifteen minutes chasing the younger one around the house first pulling off, then putting on one article of clothing every time you manage to catch him and before he wriggles out of your grasp.

The tea has gone cold, but you don’t have time to heat it – the school bus may come any minute now. You grab of your son, push his reluctant feet into shoes, pick up his school bag, check to make sure you have the house keys and go down. And wait. The bus is thirteen minutes late as usual, and you are exhausted by the time you see the little one in.

Less than two hours since the alarm clock went, but you are already exhausted.

To Do lists? What’s that? It is Time a mother needs. And Patience. And Fortitude.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First things first

They say your priorities miraculously fall into place when you are near death. Just another of those myths, I think.

When the store attendant came up to me yesterday, and politely told me to leave the store because they were closing down, my first reaction was, “Okay, let me just pick up a packet of cereals, then I am ready to checkout.”
“Madam, it is for your safety that we are asking you to vacate the store.” He polite but firm.
“Fine, I’ll just pay for this stuff and then leave.”
“Madam, here is no time for billing. We need to vacate the premises immediately.”
The message finally sunk in, and I very reluctantly abandoned by shopping cart and walked towards the exit. My thoughts were full of how I could schedule in another visit to the supermarket in a week that promised to be mega busy, and if I could somehow manage to drag on till weekend on limited provisions.
It was only when I reached the escalator and joined the crowd waiting to get onto it, that I realized what a bomb scare could really mean to me. The bomb squad would hopefully be able to locate and diffuse the bomb, if it ever existed, but what if the bomb should go off when I was still in the building?
My concerns were purely practical. I had my mobile on me, but hubby’s number was keyed in under his name. If something happened to me, how would a stranger be able to figure out which of the hundred odd contacts on the phone was that of the father of my kids?
I should have been thinking of how my kids would cope if something happened to the mother they were so emotionally dependent upon, but I was dumb procedural stuff that the brain was processing. If I were in hospital and the phone had been destroyed, would I be able to get in touch with the hubby in time for him to be able to pick the kids up from the Daycare?
I contemplated calling up the hubby to tell him where I was, so he would know I was caught at a bomb site, should the bomb go off. But before I could make up my mind, I was out of the building and in an auto.

Was it that I was never really convinced that I was in much danger? Or is it that I am incapable of grand thoughts? I suspect the former.
But one good thing did come out of it all – I have now saved the hubby’s number under A-Emergency Contact.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Conversation

Two college-going girls got onto the train the other day, and sitting opposite me, started a lively conversation.

They conversed in a language I did not know – a language without spoken words. I did not understand the words their hands formed, but their animated faces conveyed their thoughts better than mere words could.

They were excited about someone, as only the young can be, and couldn’t care less who else was listening. Their conversation was mesmerising – their thoughts tumbled forth, you found yourself rejoicing in the tiny triumphs they shared.

Then, they got off. You could almost hear the Silence.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Tatha

Tatha would have turned ninety-seven today. He was a man who did many things, all successfully, and what he achieved in one life-time would successfully fill up a few lifetimes for normal mortals.
Scientist, administrator, literary critic, music connoisseur, writer, art commentator, epicurean, communist sympathizer – Dr. K. Ganapathi was many things to many people. But to me, he was plain and simple “Tatha”
Tatha turned sixty the year I was born, which makes me the luckiest of his three grandchildren – when I was growing up, he was officially retired and so had lots of time to give me, and at the same time, he was young enough and fit enough to play badminton with me and take me on long walks.

There are pictures of him holding me as a baby, and of me sitting on his lap while he pegged away at his typewriter, but do not remember any of it.
My earliest memory of Tatha is from the summer when I was learning people and professions in school. Full of the self-assurance that only a six-year old can have, I asked him to name his profession, and then confidently told him, “If you are a scientist, you must have gone to the moon.” He didn’t smile on me indulgently like a normal grandparent would, but told me I had got my facts totally wrong and that scientists did not go to the moon. When I informed him that my teacher had told me that they did, he cross-checked with my mother before telling me that I should notify my teacher that it was astronauts who went to the moon. Days later he was still rallying against teachers who deserved to be tied to lamp-poles and shot for teaching incorrect things to innocent children.
That’s Tatha for you – a man who never compromised, however minor the issue.

I remember many summer evenings spent on the terrace of Tatha’s Besant Nagar house, sitting next to his deck chair, scratching his elbow and listening to his stories. The stories a normal grandparent would tell his grandchildren would either be mythological stories or stories of the times he had lived in, but those stories he left for my Patti to tell. The stories he told me were stories about famous scientists – their triumphs and their failures, their greatness and their petty jealousies. An eight-year old could not be expected to know who Johans Kepler was, but this eight-year old knew all about his rivalry with Tycho Brahe and of how he punched his fist into the other man’s nose, forcing him to get a golden one to restore the symmetry of his features. You can be sure they were thrilling stories, and I could never have enough of them. Conversely, some of the people became so real, that for a long time I thought C.V. Raman was in some way related to my Tatha, not just a man he admired greatly.

Probably the thing I most admire about Tatha was the fact that he was willing to treat anyone who had an opinion as an intellectual equal. A very opinionated man himself, he never forced his opinions on you, and was always ready for a heated debate. I must have been about fifteen when I discovered Impressionism, and told Tatha that it was the best thing that ever happened to Art. Himself a staunch devotee of the Renaissance Movement, he could not reconcile himself to the fact that his granddaughter had such deviant beliefs. We often argued late into the night- me with the passion of youth, he with the conviction that comes with age. Most of those discussions revolved around him saying that while the Impressionists were not bad, there was no scientific thought going into their paintings. My retort was always, “ that may be the case, but who wants Science in Art?”.
We just had different ways of looking at things - those differences could never be resolved and were never resolved. But neither of us gave up – both wanted the pleasure of being able to covert the other. In my case, the desire to convert was understandable, but why would a man like Tatha want to spend hours trying to argue with his granddaughter? Because he believed in the freedom of through and could never bring himself to force his ideas on someone who had a different opinion. He was a forceful debater, but never a dictator.

He thought I was wasting my time on science fiction when I could be reading the classics. We made a deal – I would read G.B.Shaw’s “Man and Superman”, if he read an Issac Asimov. I’m afraid, I understood very little of the play he asked me to read (even though I did like “Arms and the Man” from the same collection), but he took far more out of “Caves of Steel” than even I had (it was only in my twenties, that I finally got the message that Tatha got on his first and only read).

All his life, he sought knowledge and information, regardless of where it came from. When his son turned 32, and wrote him a letter expressing his hope that his life would take a new turn in the year where the binary number changed from being a five digit 11111 to a six digit 100000, Tatha had no clue as to what his son was saying. We had studied binary numbers that year, and Tatha became the first person I taught mathematics to. For weeks after that, Tatha told anyone who cared to listen that he was extremely impressed by an education system that allowed his pre-teen to teach him things.

I could go on and on about one of favourite persons. But the memory that keeps coming back to my mind, and bringing a little smile with it each time is of our badminton matches. Both of us were utterly pathetic at the game, but every point would be fiercely contested. By the time we were on ‘ten all’, both would have started resorting first to covert cheating and then to more open cheating. The one who cheated better on that particular day won, and the one thing that Tatha never did was to ‘allow’ me to win. That is the Tatha I adore, and the kind of person I would love to be.

Football in the drizzle

There was a time when for my older son heaven on earth was personified by Infiniti Mall. He was like a country bumpkin let loose in a city. The rides, the escalators, the lights, the crowds – everything was new to him, and he expressed his confusion in the most atrocious display of tantrums imaginable.
Then gradually, as the familiarity increased, the fascination reduced. Infiniti Mall remained the ultimate treat and bribe, but it was more a matter of convention than anything else. The charm of the Mall gradually began to fade, and he no longer even enjoyed the rides he once craved for.
Last weekend marked a watershed in his relationship with Infiniti Mall – when his father asked him if he wanted to be taken to the Mall, he thought a bit before saying no. Hearing him, his younger brother piped up, “Infiniti Mall nai jana hai.” – again, a new – both normally take sadistic pleasure in contradicting anything the other says or does.
What the kid wanted, instead, was to play football. It was drizzling slightly when went down, so all we could do was to kick the ball to each other in the lobby. But the rain soon stopped, and we went out. Neither of us had ever imagined that kicking a slightly deflated ball on the slippery ground could be as much fun as it actually was. Splashing through puddles, catching the ball just before it bounced into the mud, squealing when the ball hit a puddle and send spray flying – not for a long time have I had as much fun on a Sunday afternoon. When it started drizzling again, I sent the kid into the lobby, but insisted on staying in the open ostensibly so he could kick the ball better, but actually because I loved the feel of the cool drizzle on my flushed cheeks.
I had fun. And I know my son did too. So much, indeed, that when his father asked him today, “Do you want to go to Infiniti Mall?” in the evening, he replied, “No, I want to play football.”
Bright lights and loud music can temporarily seduce, but it is the simple pleasures that endure. My son had to go through that period of infatuation, before he realized that it was simple thrills that give the most joy.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of Kids with Guns

My two and a half year old is fascinated by guns. His elder brother likes the idea of possessing guns too, but he is just not in the same league as the younger one.
The younger one has just to see anything even faintly resembling a gun, for his face to light up like a mall at Christmas time. “Gaan” was one of the first words he learnt, and he played with the water pistol I brought him for Holi long after the cylinder that holds the water broke off and was swept up with the trash.
Often, he strides up with all sorts of things in his hands, points them at you and says “dishum, dishum.” Few thing have escaped being converted into guns – bananas, pencils, water bottles, even his Noddy toy – they have all done time as his “guns”.
I wouldn’t call him particularly violent or blood thirsty, and when he gets into a fight, it is his fists he prefers to use, or his legs. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen him aiming his gun at anyone, though he does often use it as a hammer to bang the TV when he wants the channel changed.
But as a pacifist at heart, despite all the shouting I do, I just did not approve of his taste. With so many things to choose from, why did he have to settle for guns? Couldn’t he have chosen engines, or construction material to obsess about? I secretly blamed myself for all the television I allowed them to watch just because I did not have the energy to say “no”. How long would guns continue to appeal to him, and will he ever outgrow this attraction?
And then I read about how even five year olds in Chandigarh want air guns so they can emulate the latest national hero. Suddenly, guns don’t seem so bad to me anymore. Why do I have to assume he will want to hurt anyone with them. Maybe he too would want to make a career with drilling holes in black paper!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Plastic Flags on false holidays, anyone?

So the Grand Old Lady turned 61 today!!!
A Friday. A nice rainy day. A perfect day for a lie in.
Or. A three day weekend. A perfect time to take a mini break.
But we were up half an hour earlier than usual, so we could attend the flag hoisting at my older one’s school. It would have been nice to not have to wake up so early and trudge out in the rains - and many of the parents of my son’s classmates obviously thought the same – but I would not have wanted it any different.

Growing up in a mining colony as I did, the Independence Day flag hoisting was always something we looked forward to. Blue skies, the women in crisp cotton sarees, the choir with its fixed repertoire of national integration songs, the suspense around whether or not the flag would unfurl as it is supposed to, the drama when a CISF jawan was called to assist the person hoisting the flag, the national anthem, the ladoos.
It is just not the same anymore. Most schools have a holiday on Independence Day. But since they want to do something to commemorate the Day, they celebrate it the previous day.

August 14 is when kids go to school in saffron, white and green clothes, or dressed up as figures from the freedom struggle, and come back home with plastic flags. On the eve of our Independence Day, kids of all shapes and sizes are playing with tricolours. For sometime it looks almost idyllic, but then the flags are converted into power ranger weapons, and before you know it, the staple pins holding them up give way, and they work their way to the nearest drain. For a few days after Independence Day, you cannot help stepping on at least a couple of plastic tricolours every time you get out of the house, and most of the drains get clogged with them.
But the disrespect everyone ends up showing the flag is no greater than the injustice done to our country by hoisting the national flag the day before Independence Day. Not only is it illegal, it is also the supreme irony that we end up celebrating Independence Day on the day when Pakistan got its independence.

Which is why, rain or no rain, I am glad to have to get out of bed early in the morning on Independence Day to attend a flag hoisting at my son’s school. At least the school authorities have got it right and give our national holiday the respect it deserves.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How well those girls performed!!!

I really cannot understand the controversy surrounding the fact that the girl who appeared to be singing at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was in fact only lip syncing to a song sung by another girl.

Apparently the Chinese authorities had decided that seven year old Yang Peiyim, who's golden voice held us mesmerised, was not pretty enough to symbolise the Motherland. So, wide eyed Lin Miaoke was made to get into that red frock and lip sync the song.

The Chinese authorities have been made out to be some kind of authoritarian devils who are breaking the morale of a talented girl by calling her ugly. Utter nonsense, I feel. Nobody called her ugly - they just said she was not the most beautiful schoolgirl in China, a fact that she would already be aware of. By using her voice, the authorities are actually conferring a great honour on her - that of being adjusted the best singer in the country. Why then, should she also be led to believe she is also attractive. Till the media focussed on her, I am sure the thought of being unattractive never even entered her mind - she would have merely known that she was not the most attractive child in the block. Wonder how she will now cope with being branded unattractive by the world media?

And what about the other girl - the wide eyed girl who's performance was nothing short of remarkable even if all she did was lip sync. To face a live audience of about a hundred thousand people, with billions more watching on television, and put up a flawless performance is truly commendable. Whether or not the voice was hers, her poise and her confidence cannot be underestimated. And to club her as an dumb bimbette merely because she happens to be pretty is to do her great injustice.

As a mother, I cannot but be impressed by the performance of both the girls, and hope that neither is adversely affected by the current controversy.

And as a viewer, I totally understand the organisers (I don't want to call them authorities) wanting to combine the best of two girls to achieve the best result.

At the end of the day, the Opening Ceremony is a show that is put on to wow the World, and I see nothing unethical in a bit of harmless lip syncing, specially since the combined performance was nothing short of Wow.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Boy’s toys

What is it about boys and cars? I know I never consciously encouraged it, but both my boys seem to be slipping into a stage where they are interested only in boy’s toys.

The younger one is sent a library book from school every weekend – he rarely listens when I try to read it out to him. But this weekend, the book had pictures of cars, and trains, and planes, and rockets and he all but devoured the book. Fire engines, combined harvesters, road rollers – he wanted to know the names of everything, and even repeated them back to me in his endearing lispy voice.

When it comes to bed-time reading, the kids now seem to be veering towards Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine – Noddy and Winnie the Pooh no longer hold their attention for too long.

As for television viewing, it is only Superheros they want to watch. The older one tried watching Barbie for a bit the other day, but even before he could articulate that he was tired of it, his brother changed the channel.

Is that a good thing, or a bad thing – I really do not know. All I can wonder at is how easily all those months of consciously buying them gender neutral toys can be wiped out by peer pressure. Or is it that at all – maybe my two just happen to be mechanically minded and like gadgets more than they do emotional stuff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Gold... finally

Like every other Indian, I am proud of what Abinav Bindra achieved in Beijing yesterday. Winning an individual gold medal in the Olympics is the ultimate sporting achievement – you just cannot get better than that. Abhinav Bindra is the best in the world at the discipline he has chosen.

For as long as I can remember, the Indian contingent went to the Olympics with a team full of medal hopefuls, and returned with kitbags full of excuses. “Something went wrong with my rifle”, “the other guy took me by surprise”, “the noise distracted me”, “I could not cope with the humidity” – after a few Olympics, I started tuning it all out.
There was a rare Anju Bobby George who produced her personal best – I cheered her, even if her best was not good enough. But the athletes who turned in sub-par performances, I could never understand. These were the Olympics, you were supposed to die for them – why then could our athletes not even do as well as they themselves had in the past?
We as a nation just don’t have it in us to win, I concluded a long time back. Our athletes may be physically able to be the best in the world, but they did not have that extra something that marked a champion from an also ran.

Abhinav Bindra has made me rethink that cynical attitude of mine. When he could have been basking in the media attention and soaking in all that adulation, he chose to focus on the athletes who did not win. “All of us compete to win”, he said. “Just that we had not managed an individual gold so far.” Just in case you missed his point, he reiterated, “It is a great honour that I have won an Olympic gold. But it should not take away from the fact that all of us try equally hard. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t.”
Bindra knows what he is talking about – he had missed a medal at Athens, and I must have mentally filed away his excuse of a faulty floor with all the other excuses that all the other athletes have made through the years. With a gold medal around his neck, Bindra can afford to question our attitude towards the excuses athletes make.

Nobody wants not to win. If you miss your chance at the Olympics, you may never get another one. There is just too much at stake for you to not give your best. These are the Olympics – you do die for them. Problem is that the other guy is also willing to die for them.
The next time I hear an excuse from an athlete, I will not pass a value judgment on the athlete as I did till I read what Abhinav Bindra had to say. I will accept the excuse for the statement that it is, and hope that the person is able to come back after four years for another stab at the medal.

Thank you, Abhinav Bindra for bringing home the gold. And thank you for doing your bit to make us more supportive of our sporting heros when they fail to deliver what we feel they should.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I was introduced to Drabbles about a year back. This is the first one I ever wrote.

A raindrop hits the bare hand. Half a dozen shopping bags, one cranky toddler, but quite naturally, no umbrella.

You grab your kid’s hand, and start walking faster – maybe, just maybe, you can reach home before the drizzle becomes a downpour. You break into a run, the kid being nearly dragged along.

A plaintive cry, “Mamma, I can’t go so fast.”

You slow down - when you are drenched, can you get any wetter?

“Mamma, can we play in the rain?”

Puddles are made for stepping around; they are also made for splashing through.

The happiest memories are often free.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Teenager

I took this picture a couple of years back in Kasauli, because the family reminded me of the teenager I once knew.

She sits apart from the rest. Moody, self-conscious, full of angst. Too old to join the twins in their play. Too young to want to help with the baby. Her grandmother calls; she pretends not to hear.

Her friends all have families of their own. She wants one too. There is a man, but her parents don’t approve. She doesn’t love him enough to defy them, but does she have a choice? No, life is just not fair!

She spies the grocer’s van - with a flick of her long tail, she is off. Monkeys love bananas, even teenage ones do.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Why do we keep letting ourselves down?

At the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games yesterday, the Indian team looked much better than it has looked in a very long time. The male athletes carried off the off-white sherwanis and orange-red stoles much better than do the average Indian male. The heart soared to see such a well-dressed squad.
Then the discordant note – Sania Mirza’s black trousers! Sania often wears Indian clothes in real life and carries them off with much more grace than does the average Bollywood actress. Why then was she in pants and a sweatshirt?
To make matters more intriguing, there were a couple of saree-clad women in the contingent – the green of their sarees picking out the third colour of the national flag. It was quite obviously what the female contenders were supposed to wear at the flag-march - why then were two of the five women not in their proper costume?
One paper today had the answer – apparently, Sania Mirza and the other lady contender needed help with draping the saree, and since the officials couldn’t find anyone to help, they were given permission to show up in their competition uniforms.
Shameful, is the only word to describe it – was there not a single Indian woman in the entire city who could be co-opted to help the two ladies with their sarees? No female Embassy staff, or wives of Embassy staff? No female reporters, or female officials in the contingent? Had they really wanted to, I am sure they could have found someone who could have helped.
But why blame the officials in Beijing? Why did anybody, Sania included, not think of the problem before they left India? The clothes that the men wore fitted them too well for them to have not been custom made. Presumably, the same was done for the women – why then did anyone not think to find out if the contestants knew how to drape a saree, and send pre-draped sarees for the ones who were not confident of being able to do so. Any why have sarees at all – could not some other dress have been found that represented Indian culture as well as the saree did.
Do we not, as a nation, realize that by not presenting ourselves well in the flag-march we are letting ourselves down in full view of the entire world? It is bad enough that a nation of over a billion people has such low expectations on the medals front – do we have to compound that by proving how hopelessly disorganize we are?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Light a Candle

Yesterday, I lit a Candle for Tibet.
Today, I am glued to the TV, watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics Games.

Conventional wisdom would have me believe there is a disconnect between the two. How can I at the same time expound the cause of Tibet and support the dictatorial regime in China?
I can’t, and I don’t.
I am all for Tibetian independence, or at least for Tibetians being allowed to live their lives in their homeland in the manner in which they want it without undue interference. I do not support the Chinese human rights violations in Tibet, any more than I condone their efforts to wipe out the entire Tibetian population systematically and scientifically.

BUT, the Olympic Games is not about China, or the regime that happens to be ruling China today.

The Olympic Games is about the people who participate in the Games - the men and women (and often children) who train so hard for what is considered the ultimate glory.
The Olympic Games is about the people who stand on the victory podium – that metal disc on a piece of ribbon making meaningful all the sweat and blood.
The Olympic Games is about the people who turn in their personal best – winning is important, but more important is being the best you can possibly be.
The Olympic Games is about the people who overcome pain to finish – the marathon runner with a sprained ankle straggling in half an hour after the last contestant, the gymnast who climbs back onto the balance beam to finish the routine after falling off it twice.
The Olympic Games is about the people who struggle to make it, but can’t – the thousands who’s fastest times and heaviest weights are just not good enough to let them be Olympians.

The Olympic Games is about the triumph of the human spirit as much as it is about the triumph of the human body. The Olympic Games is beyond politics – why else in ancient Greece were wars put on hold so the Games could go on?

When I lit a candle for Tibet, perhaps I was also lighting a candle for bringing back the ethos of the Games.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I had a hair-band

I had a hair-band. One of those wire contraptions that had become popular after Abhishek Bachchan sported them in whichever movie he sported them in. It had been bought in a misguided attempt to tame my wild hair, and I’d even forgotten it ever existed.
Yesterday, my four year old found the headband, and was thrilled when I stuck it into his silky hair. He scampered out of the room to admire his new look in the mirror, and appeared a couple of minutes later with the ends of the hair-band tucked behind his ears. “Mamma, I’m a doctor”, he said, and proceeded to get his favorite teddy to breathe in and breathe out while he examined her.
When he tired of it, and started twisting the band around, I had to caution him against getting hurt. He didn’t respond to me at all, and after a couple of attempts, held up the twisted band and asked me which number he’d made – it did look like the 6 that it was supposed to be.
After a few attempts at making a seven, he slotted the notches into each other, and asked me which number it was. I tried guessing. Eight? Zero? It was a zero – a zero with two ears.
“Mamma, why do all numbers not have ears?”
Was this the same kid I used to yell at for watching TV when he had a cupboard-full of toys he did not play with?
I had a hairband. I no longer have it. I am not sure what it has now become.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thirty days of continuous blogging

One year, or even one month back, if someone told me that I would someday be celeratign 30 days of continuous blogging, I would have laughed out loud. Blogging, I always maintained, was as far removed from me as flying is from dogs. Yet, dogs do routinely fly on commercial aircrafts, and have even gone into space, and I have been cheerfully blogging for 30 days.

Why do I blog? Not for any of the obvious reasons why people blog –
- to reach out to an audience – the only person who regularly reads my blogs is my mother, and the time I spend writing blogs actually cuts into the time I would otherwise spend talking to her
- to put my views across – not exactly, I do not delude myself that I have any earthshattering views that need to be conveyed, and even if I do, I am not sure if this is the forum I would choose for expressing them
- to convey something or chronicle my life– my blog entires are mostly musings; nothing at all to convey or chronicle


The answer goes back a few years.

Before I took a three-year career break (four years, if you include a year of part time employment as a part of the break), I was in professions where the need to communicate to an external audience was a necessary attribute of the job. I was good at that – I could make presentations to groups ranging from one to fifty where every person though I was talking directly to him, my written reports were to the point and free from ambiguities, and I could conduct meetings as well as the next person. I wrote a lot in the years when I was supposedly a full-time mother – fiction mostly, but fiction that was appreciated by anyone I showed it to.

So, when I recently joined a start-up, I quite naturally volunteered to write the static web-text. I spent hours working on it, but was anything but happy with what I was churning out. There was no clarity in what I was pretending to say. The sentences, thought, grammatically correct, contradicted each other. There text just did not flow.

I plodded on for a couple of weeks, making only incremental progress. Then one evening, I went for a run, and somewhere in the process of generating all the sweat, I had figured out exactly what I wanted to say and how to say it.
That day and the next, I accomplished more than I had in all the previous weeks, and at the end of those few hours of work produced something I was reasonably happy with.

From that incident came the realization that it was not enough to vaguely be aware of things – your thoughts can totally crystallize only when you organize them logically and put them down on paper. So I decided to do that on a regular basis, in order to bring some discipline into my brain.

Why an entry a day, everyday? For the same reason – discipline. Unless I committed myself to a rigid schedule, it would have been far too easy to miss one installment, use that to justify not doing the next one on time, and before you knew it, the scheduling would have gone completely haywire.

And if I was committing myself to a piece a day, why not put them in a blog?

Thus was born “Coffee Rings Everywhere” – and here I am faithfully blogging away.

It would be nice to know if anyone has read this far. Have you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why do I run?

One of my favourite pictures of my son is a blurred one of him running. Not running to get anywhere. Not running as a part of a game or sport. Just running! The smile on his body says it all – he loves running [period].
In some way, I even envied him. To have something you adore doing, and to be able to do it anytime, anywhere is perhaps the greatest gift anyone could ever have. At that time, I was not sure I had anything that gave me as much unadulterated pleasure.
There was a time when I was much younger and much fitter when I could run, but I never really enjoyed running. Two kids, five years and several kilograms later, when I got on a treadmill, I could barely run for 30 seconds before my lungs gave way. I grimly accepted the fact that my running days were over, and concentrated on walking and walking really fast.
A couple of months after starting my fitness routine, something made me push up the speed on the treadmill and start jogging –I jogged for 10 minutes at a stretch that day.
That did it. I was hooked. The next day, I added 2 more minutes, and the following day, I actually managed 15 minutes. The fourth day, I tried to sign-up for the 7 kilometer Dream Run, and ended up registering for the half-marathon. With less than 9 weeks to go, I knew I was mad to even attempt it, but the die was cast.
The next couple of weeks, I ran because I did not want to drop out of the half-marathon. All sorts of things upset my training schedule, and more than just once, I contemplated dropping out – but I knew I could not face myself if I proved myself to be a quitter, so I didn’t. The day before Race Day, I wanted only two things – to be able to complete the half-marathon and to do it in three hours. I managed both – with a time of 2 hours and 34 minutes, I even finished within the top 100 of the women contenders.
After the mandatory break of one week, my running shoes were back on the treadmill. Why?
Not because I wanted to start training for the next half-marathon – that was a year away. Not because I wanted to lose weight – I had lost quite enough.
I was back, because I’d realized I loved running, and did not want to do without it if I could help it. On some days, the legs and lungs are fine, but the mind refuses to run – but when I get the rhythm right, I sometimes feel like I could go on forever. I am my son’s mother after all.
And why do I still push myself while running? Because I have set myself a target time for next year – a time that is challenging, yet manageable, a time that will probably push me up a dozen places in the rankings.
Why do I not aim for something better than that – because unless I know it is doable, I would not even try.
But why bother to set a target at all, when the target it not all that great – you may as well ask a bathroom singer why she sings when she knows she is never going to be able to cut a disc.
Life is about doing things you enjoy, as much as it is about enjoying what you do. Life is also about constantly setting the bar a little higher just so you have something to strive for.
What will happen if I don’t finish within my target time next year? If I know myself, I will be back on the treadmill as soon as I can, doing my best to achieve the target the following year.
And maybe someday, my son and I will run a race together, and he will be cheering me on as I cross the finishing line.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lessons at the Food Court

Early afternoon on a Sunday. The Food-Court at a popular suburban mall was packed as usual. Finding a place to sit in was as much of a challenge as getting the kids to eat their food would soon be.
I spied a rather timid looking girl presiding over two empty tables joined together. She looked like a domestic maid, so I knew it was pointless to ask if the chairs were taken. However, I would still have done so had I not been able to claim a table that just got vacated. Others were not as lucky, and approached the girl who’s body language informed them that her life would not be worth living if she as much as allowed someone to covert her chairs from afar.
One man persisted in trying his luck with her, but soon found that he had to contend with a burly mean looking hunk who suddenly materialized and declared himself to be the person who had “reserved” all that space.
Our food arrived. The four-year proceeded to tear his dosa into microscopic bites, and made sure he gave every mouthful the mandatory 100 chews before swallowing them. The two-year old was marginally faster than the brother, but midway through his idlies, he decided he needed to digest some of the food before continuing with the meal, and did just that. When the kids were fed, the husband and I ate. Then the kids decided they wanted a milkshake each, and took their time over it.
It was when we had reached the “come on, finish your milkshakes – just a couple of sips more” phase of our meal that the first plate of food arrived at the table staked out by that domestic maid. The chairs gradually filled up, the maid was relegated to the background and the rather boisterous gang proceeded to have a lovely lunch.
Sure, they were fully entitled to their seats – after all they did claim them before anyone else did, but did they really have keep all of them unoccupied for the time it took a normal person to finish three meals?
Food Courts never seem to have enough seats, but isn’t it partly because so many of them are occupied by handbags, and folders and the voice of the person sitting at the table? If nobody blocked seats, would there be any need to block them?
It is the same with the elevator. When you are rushing down early in the morning to catch the school bus before it leaves, it irritates you no end when the people on the tenth floor keep the lift-door open on their floor till the entire family gets ready. But can you really blame them – everyone does just that, so it takes ages for the elevator to come to your floor, and when it does, you don’t want to lose it.

Life would be so much simpler if everyone were collaborative- there would be no reason for anyone to be competitive. But till everyone is collaborative, to survive you need to be competitive. Will the cycle ever get broken?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hard at Work

Saw this man tapping away on his laptop, oblivious to the world around him, and found the scene so amusing, we actually chased the auto till we were able to take this picture at the next traffic light.
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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cubism or Children’s Art?

I am always amazed by how neatly my four year old captures the essence of things in his drawings.
There was a time, not too long back, when he drew people without bodies – hands and legs jutting out of the head – but he never left out the fingers.

Made total sense – it is his fingers that he uses more than any other part of the body, and their size merely represents their importance.
His two year old brother can barely draw basic shapes, but when you ask him to draw a person, he makes sure the circle contains eyes, nose and a big smiley mouth.

Picasso took years to understand something that both my sub-five year olds know instinctively- that unlike a photograph, a painting need not capture the exactl likeness of an object. For what is Cubisim but what my sons do – show things as they perceive them, not necessarily as they actually are.

Isn’t it incredible how we will now spend years knocking that inherent knowledge out of our children, and then force them to unlearn all that we have taught them, so they can learn something they knew before the had the advantage of an Education?
Is that a waste, or what?
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Friday, August 1, 2008

The Perfect Gift

“My daughter was talking about your son just a couple of days back,” said the lady with whom I had a smiling acquaintance from the time we spent together waiting to pick up our respective children from their kindergarten class. “She told me your son’s moved to a different school, but I was not sure, since I have continued to see you around.”
“Actually, we’ve moved him from the afternoon shift to the morning one,” I clarified. “But I am amazed that your daughter actually remembers him and talks about him.” Though I knew the two of them hung around with the same group of people the previous year, I knew for a fact that my son had never mentioned her to me (or anyone else, for that matter).
“Oh yes, my daughter often talks of your son,” she told me. “When I couldn’t recognize his name, she told me it was the boy who had given her the plant for his birthday.”
“She still remembers the plant, does she?”, I head myself say as my memory transported me back nine months.

With my older son’s birthday fast approaching, I could not any longer put off thinking about the gift he would give the kids in his class. The stuff he brought home seemed to be going up in value almost everyday – what had started out with a pencil-eraser-sharpener-ruler combo had graduated to a set of Uno cards, water colours and painting books, and Disney pencil-box sets. I was not sure if I wanted either me or my son to be a part of all that.
It wasn’t just about the money – though it was also about the money – I just did see the point in spending so much on gifting yet another box of crayons that would get scattered even before it was opened. If a gift had to be given, I wanted it to be unique – something meaningful, something different, and something the kids would remember. But what could that Perfect Gift be?
The answer came to me quite suddenly, when I saw my older one diligently watering the plants one day – why not give the kids plants?
Some of the kids might be coming from houses that had plants, but how many really loved plants the way I did when I was a kid, or the way my older son does? Would not giving them a tiny flowering plant kindle some interest in the natural world? If even two children in the class of thirty developed a liking for plants after having one of their own to care for, it would be a great thing. The more I thought about it, the more perfect gifting a plant seemed.
The children were thrilled when their class teacher asked my son to show the class a plant, and told them that they would each get one to take home. They were studying plant life cycles that month, so balsam plants with buds jelled well with what they were learning in school. My son was happy because he had been able to give his friends something that was very close to his heart.

“Of course she does,” I heard her say. “She watered the plant for many months, and now that it has dried, she’s made me promise to buy her another plant that she can take care of.”
My purpose was served. My day was made. I know exactly what I am going to do this year for gifts.


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