Thursday, April 30, 2009

Summer Holidays at a Chawl

They sit at the end of the corridor. Five boys and a carom board. Four in the game. One patiently awaiting his turn.

Unmindful of the Diwali decorations recreating the ocean floor on the ceiling. Impervious to the heat and the humidity. Oblivious to the last rays of the setting sun streaming in from the large window.

Watchful only of the striker hitting the coins. Of the distribution of the coins on the board. Calculating trajectories. Evaluating strategies. The pursuit for the red coin that will end the game.

Summer vacations! Can anything get better than having time to play?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ramblings on International Dance Day

Dance classes are the current rage- hour-long lessons, where pre-primary kids are taught to sway to Bollywood numbers. You can spot the kids at any party– they know when to twirl, when to pout and when to smile prettily into the camera.

Dancing? That gets left behind somewhere. Imitating moves is far more important than enjoying the music.

My kids love dancing to Bollywood numbers, but their moves are their own. Music is something they react to, not count the beats of. They will never win dance competitions, but they have fun.

Am I shortchanging them by letting them be?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great leveler

Two atoms of hydrogen. One atom of oxygen. Bound together in holy matrimony.
Can anyone survive Summer without the most precious molecule of all?

The socialite sipping water bottled at a spring in the Alps. The man savouring the water from a tap at the station. The child licking gola- coloured syrup sprinkled on a lolly of crushed ice. The dog lapping water from the puddle beneath a leaking tap. The mother trying to convince her children to give cold water a mix.

Water! It has to be the greatest leveler of all. Or is it Summer that is?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Heaven on the Tastebuds

To people growing up in the 70s, butter meant globules of a white fatty substance floating in bowls of whey. You scooped out the pieces, shook off the moisture, and used it. It was healthy, wholesome, and slightly insipid.

Then Amul came and redefined butter. The golden colour was as much a feast for the eyes, as the salty taste was for the tongue. Butter was no longer a commodity, it was trhe main item, accompanied by toast or bread.

Today, butter is Amul Butter- we have almost forgotten the other kind. But Amul Butter remains Heaven on the Tastebuds.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rhetorical questions

“What is the bowl doing on the sofa?”
“Who are you trying to fool? Bowls don’t play.”
“No, the bowl is not playing. The toy is playing with the bowl.”
“Which toy?”
“Please tell your Transformer toy that he is not supposed to play with bowls. If he wants to play, he should play with the other toys.”
“Okay Mamma.”

Two days later.
“What is the bowl doing on the sofa?”

Since they are not going to start putting the bowl in the sink after polishing off the cheeseballs, maybe I should just stop asking rhetorical questions!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


When he doesn’t need to fill his homework sheets, the older one loves writing. Couple of days back, he decided he wanted to write numbers – one, two, three - he began.
..., ten, oneteen, twoteen, thirteen...
I wanted to correct him. But something held me back.
Eleven is just an abbreviation for ‘one over ten’, and not even one that makes linguistic sense. Much more sensible, and descriptive, is my son’s oneteen which leaves no room for ambiguity.

Someday, I know, I have to get him to change, but for now I’ll let him do what he knows is sensible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Young Entrepreneurs


Two dozen lemons, twenty-five rupees.
Sugar, fifteen rupees.
Disposable glasses, twenty rupees for fifty.
Water, free.

Freshly squeezed lemonade, five rupees a glass.

Within two minutes of dragging in place the upturned crate and calling it a lemonade stall, the young entrepreneurs ran out of water. Ten minutes later, they could barely control the children pressing in on them. Within half an hour, every child in the building had drunk at least one glass of lemonade, and many had drunk more than three.

They could have been watching TV. Instead they were making money.

You have to appreciate their initiative.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Lion and the Penguin

[My five year old told me this story a couple of days back. Even discounting his age, I think it is a rather nice story.]

Once upon a time, there was a lion and a penguin. The lion and the penguin were very good friends. The lion was very strongest, and all the animals in the jungle were scared of the lion. But the penguin was not scared of the lion. The penguin was the lion’s friend.
One day, all the animals in the jungle were fighting. They were jumping on the bed, and throwing the blanket at the other animals. All the animals got caught in the blanket. The deer also got hidden in the blanket. Also the giraffe. But the giraffe has a very long neck, so not it was hidden in blanket.
The lion got hidden in blanket. Lion is very stronger, but lion is not able to get out of the blanket. Then penguin helped his friend lion. The lion came out from inside the blanket.

The lion said thank you to the penguin. The penguin is not very strong, but the penguin helped his friend lion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cashew fruit


Legend has it that it was Goddess Parvati who created the cashew fruit.

She never understood why it was only the Gods who had been granted the right to create. The cashew was her challenge- proof that Goddesses could create even though they had not been given the power to do so.

Unfortunately, in her quest to create the perfect fruit, she forgot the seed, and hastily stuck it on when she realised her oversight.

So there the cashew nut hangs- exposed to the world. A fruit, which makes up in uniqueness what it perhaps lacks in perfection and harmony.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Toffee Tree

Ever since he learnt about the life cycle of a plant, the five year old has been fascinated with the idea of planting seeds, watering them, giving sunlight and watching them become big trees.

Mango, papaya, melon, chikoo and orange. Mustard, moong, lime, tamarind and neem. Every seed that has entered the house has found its way into one of the pots.

But this weekend, it was a toffee that he planted. And now, he is waiting anxiously for it to grow and bear fruit.

Was it from a five year old that C. S. Lewis got all his ideas?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Patchwork quilt

Rushing to work one morning,
A splash of colours caught my eye.

On a clothesline strung between the corrugate wall of a shack,
And a nail hammered into a roadside tree,

Was strung a patchwork quilt far lovelier
Than any I had seen before.

No fancy shapes, no patented templates,
Just squares and rectangles in a pleasing array.

Leftover cloth was all that had been used,
The quilt was purely utilitarian.

Yet, it made me pause for a moment
As very few things make me do.

Was it beautiful because of the setting,
Or because it was so obviously cherished?

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Coconuts are people too

Just because I am a coconut doesn’t mean you pretend I don’t have any feelings.
Have you ever wondered how I feel when you grab a sickle and vigorously hack off my coiffure? And do you really think I enjoy having straws stuck into me?
Coconuts are people too. We too have the right to be heard. Or don’t we?

Ah, that is one bunch of sexy girls coming this way. Maybe one of them would pick me up, fondle me and suck me dry. Maybe even two, working in tandem.

Alright, time to create an impression. Pass those shades!

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Saturday, April 18, 2009


When a meeting drags on an hour longer than it should have, and you need to pick up the kids from Daycare.
When the kids crave your company, but you want ten minutes to yourself.
When you haven’t spoken to your husband in days, but can’t keep your eyes open till he gets home.
When the one thing you want to do is to snooze a couple of minutes longer, but lunches don’t pack themselves.
When you know you are neglecting your friends, but just can’t squeeze them in.

Balance! Isn’t that one of the most difficult things to achieve?
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Time out

The ultimate punishment is sending them out of the house for as many minutes as they are years old. The older one never serves out his entire punishment - the brother unlatches the door and lets him in.

The other day, it was the younger one who got punished. I expected the older brother to open the door and let him in, but he continued eating his lunch as though nothing had happened.
My heart melted for my darling baby, who cares so much and gets so little in return.

Stubborn. Hot headed. Obstinate. Impetuous. Willful.
But above all, Compassionate.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Watermelons for Sale

A friend rightly commented that what we are having in Bombay this year is not a Summer, it is something sent down by Mother Nature to test us.

And in that heat, what better sight to cool us down than a bullock cart loaded with juicy watermelons?


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Greatest Waste?

I was talking to this lady the other day. An MBA, she had been in corporate banking till she chose to become a full-time mother. For the first few years, lack of adequate childcare systems make staying at home almost a compulsion. To compensate for the professional highs she was missing out on, her home and her child became almost an obsession.
When the child started primary school, she briefly considered going back to work part-time, but her life had got set along certain patterns, and she was not sure she wanted to disturb that for the sake of a job. With the kid out for over 8 hours a day, she continued being a full-time mother.
Now the child no longer needs her. She opens the door to let him in when he gets back from school, hands him a tray with a warm meal, and watches him shut the door to his room and get down to doing whatever it is that ten year old kids do.
She knows she has overextended her role as a stay-at-home mother. She knows it would not make an iota of difference to her child if she goes back to work or not.
But after being out of the rat race for so long, would she really be able to get back? Would she want to compete with people who were still in middle school when she was cashing her first cheques?
She realises she has short changed herself. But still can’t put a finger on when she could have done something different.

The pity is that she is not alone. There are thousands like her. If that is not a waste of precious resources, what is?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smiling at the bucket

“I’ve been smiling at the bucket, why is the bucket not smiling back at me?” It was the three year old.
“Where is the mouth of the bucket? And its eyes? And forehead?”
“How can the bucket smile if it doesn’t have a mouth? Poor bucket. It doesn’t even have a mouth. It cannot smile at me.”

Smiling at an inanimate object and expecting it to smile back! Life seems to be so simple at that age. But is it really so? In his own way, isn’t he grappling with philosophical questions of a magnitude even we shy away from?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Mystery

Girls never sit on the pavement reading a newspaper. In fact, good girls never sit on the pavement, unless they are selling something. And girls who read are rarely found on the streets.

She looks too young to be so immersed in the local news – too young for politics, too young even to be interested in school results or winners of the lottery. Not in uniform, so she is not whiling time waiting for the schoolbus. Far too well dressed to be out on the streets at any time of the day.

What is her story? I will never know.
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Street Food

Punch a hole into the hard, crunchy, spherical puri. Fill it with potatos, or bundhi, or moong, or cooked white peas. Add a dash of tamarind chutney. Dip it into a pot of jaljeera.

Open the mouth wide, slide the puri in before it falls apart. Crunch. Taste the tangy liquid that fills the mouth, feel the softness of the filling, the sharp edges of the puri.

Call it pani puri, or golgappa or puchka. Have it outside a station in Bombay, at a shopping complex in Delhi, or on the pavement in Calcutta. Divine!

Can anything beat street food?

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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Cross

Last year, the son and I stood by the road and watched a re-enactment of the Twelve Stations of the Cross.
Unfamiliar with the stories of Jesus Christ, he was full of questions, most of which I was happy to answer.
It was when the flogging began that the questions became more complex. “Why is the bad man hitting Jesus?” “If Jesus is a God, he must be very powerful. Why doesn’t he hit back?”
I tried answering, but unsuccessfully.
How do you explain to a kid that it is the Good who are singled out for the most punishment?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Good bye Pre-primary school

Today is my older one’s last day in pre-primary. His holidays start tomorrow, and when school reopens in June, he will be in Grade One!

He is excited, and so am I. I don’t yet know what he would be expected to know at the start of the year in the new school, but I do know that he is ready for whatever challenge the school throws at him.

What a change from last year, when I greeted the start of the holidays with dread – however hard I tried to kid myself, I knew he was far behind the rest of the class, and hated the very thought of studies. I’d then given myself two months –two months to bring him on par with the rest of the class, two months to catch up on all the stuff he was falling behind on, two months to learn all that the other kids had been taught over the year. If he could do it in two months, well and good. If he couldn’t, I knew he could bid goodbye to ever aspiring to being anything more than a very mediocre student.

Two months of sheer hell for both of us. And for my mother who could never stop blaming herself for not being able to do for her own grandson what she had done for so many other kids. But when he joined Senior KG, I knew that he could, with effort, stay abreast with the rest of the class.

And then, a miracle! A teacher who believed in him, and who he adored. My reticent son started blooming. He was learning a skill a day, and was proud of himself. By the second parent teacher meeting, I knew that he was up there with the average in his class. By the third meeting, I realized, with a shock, that he was almost up there with the best in his class.

Next year, he goes to a new school – he may not know many of the things that the other kids have been taught. But one thing that I do know for sure – he is now sufficiently sure of himself to catch up pretty soon.

Not that I am going to leave that to chance. I already have a plan chalked out – there are skills that I think he needs to pick up before he joins the new class, and there are techniques that I know need reinforcing. This year too, I am going to ensure that a part of his holidays are spent constructively. But the difference between last year and this year is that this year it is because I want him to shine, not merely for him to survive.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Wished a friend first thing in the morning on her birthday, and she responded, “Thanks. What a nice start to the day, especially as my first task is to fold the laundry before the cleaning lady gets in.”

I asked her if it would make her feel any better to know that I spent one hour and forty minutes the previous day doing my weekly ironing. Strangely enough, it did make her feel better.

Unlike our mothers, we have washing machines. Why then do we still spend so much time just keeping our clothes wearable?

And does it really matter?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring in a hundred words


Birth, Rebirth, Resurrection. A discourse on seasons, the world growing up. The first blaveis braving the snow, a flower overlooked by all. Chasing butterflies, trying to make sense of the destiny of lambs. Discovering oneself, encompassing the world. Investment and toil, purchases for the future. Discovering oneself, stories from one’s roots. Twins comparing notes, cranberry suns. Kilian’s wonder, Krishna’s tunes.

April may be winter in Norway, and summer in India. But everywhere, the month is celebrated as Spring. And how better to celebrate the most wonderful season of all than by cracking eggs, to enjoy the stories buried within.

The April Feature of The Burrow is now live.
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Monday, April 6, 2009

A whiff of paradise

Rushing home from work, it was the faintest whiff of sandal that I caught. The surroundings dissolved in front of my eyes; I was immediately transported back 25 years.
It was the scent my favourite grandmother carried around her all the time. Those lovingly stitched satin pouches with sandalwood powder that she placed between her cherished sarees. The scent that filled the room everytime she opened her wardrobe to take out some special treat for me. The scent that accompanied us on all the storytelling trips she took me on.

Just one whiff was enough to take me to paradise.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

A fragrance to die for

Mogra. Jasmine. Chameli. Malli. Bela. Juhi.

This unassuming flower has more names than I can ever keep track of, and I don’t think I ever figured out what this particular species is called.

Not that it matters. The only thing that matters about this flower and all its cousins is its fragrance. On the plant, in a garland, plaited into your hair, or in your soap – the fragrance is something to die for.

I long for the hot summer days, when I can stand in my balcony in the evening, sipping iced tea, enjoying the breeze laden with its fragrance.
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Teacher, teacher

Just over two years apart in age, they fight over everything. They fight over books. They fight over toys. They fight over whether to watch Cartoon Network or Pogo. They fight over who gets to sit on my lap. They fight about who has a bath first. They even fight over who gets to throw stuff into the dustbin.
The only time they don’t fight is when they play ‘Teacher Teacher’. The younger one is thirsty for knowledge and laps up every scrap thrown his way. The older one loves asserting his superior knowledge.
For a few moments, there’s PEACE.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Wake up call

“Mamma, wake up. Do wake up.” It was my three-year old at 6:30 in the morning.
“Go away. Let me sleep.”
“No, wake up. See it is light already.”

The kids had a holiday, and I was really looking forward to lying in for an hour longer than I can normally afford. But my son had other plans for me.

I definitely minded being forced to get up when I didn’t need to, but much more I was irritated with my son. Is he the same boy who needs to be dragged out of bed at 7:15 on school days?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Women on the run

Seeing these two ladies in their traditional nine-yards sarees leading a procession on Gudi Padwa reminded me of how progressive India has been in terms of women's rights. We never had to fight for the right to vote, we took it as our due when the nation became a Republic. While English queens held onto their thrones through intregue and back-room maneuvers, we had warrior queens and queen mothers who took their rightful place as rulers.

Where then did so much of it get lost? When were our sisters reduced to playing second fiddle? Will it ever change?

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Butterflies, butterflies, butterflies

This butterfly who wandered into the living room of our fifth floor apartment provided hours of amusement to both the kids. They didn't even notice me switching off the TV.

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