Sunday 18 December 2011

Back to work

I have been snappy, irritable and more than a little antsy this last month or two. Some soul-searching revealed that I was - gasp! - Bored. Capital B and all. It appears, finally, that my honeymoon with stay-at-home-motherhood is reaching it's end. It's been four and a half years and now I cannot stomach not being a home anymore. In fact, I have been looking for work ever since my results came out in August. I've met a lot of people, spoken to and emailed many more, trawled any website that said "Flexible", "work-from-home", "part-time". Aware that the area I want to operate in is quite narrow, I wasn't getting my hopes up. As I expected, there are plenty of flexi jobs for those in the technology and accounting space (the usage of the word "plenty" is relative to when I last checked - 4 years ago!), lesser for those in other areas.  
I know from long experience (mine as well as that of my own home-grown expert in job-searches - my husband) that job-hunting for that elusive perfect job can be a long, time-consuming and frustrating process. When you want something that's flexible, interesting, challenging, and in the specific domain that you are interested in - one needs to be patient. And lucky. 
I stumbled on to a social enterprise founded by a lady who is also an alumnus of the same b-school. It works in the non-farm rural sector, building capacities/skills in micro-enterprises, providing marketing support, new product development support, and facilitating financial assistance. I met this lady and things worked out. My role is pretty neat. I get to work 30 hours a week, telecommute as much as I can and the rest of the time I'm either out in the field or at the office which is a 1/2 hour Metro ride away in Delhi (again, blessing the boon that is the Metro for giving people a cushy way to beat the horrible traffic and travel long distances). I'm going to be tramping over some old ground, and breaking some new, and that's comforting and exciting. The 30 hours a week is going to be stretchable, since it's not as though I can clock in at 9 and log off at 3. I may be working more or less constantly through the day, stepping carefully around kid's schedules and activities.
Fortunately for me, Y's school just bought over a well-known Gurgaon daycare, stamped their (school) brand on them and the daycare is now installed and operational on the 1st floor of Y's school building. I've registered her for a 2-hour program with them, starting from January 1st week which is when school reopens after the Xmas break. She heads up one floor after school is over, eats lunch at the daycare, and they look after her until 2.30 pm when she gets onto the school transport to return home. Ads and she will probably return home around the same time every afternoon and hopefully I should have wound up work by that time.
Fingers crossed! Wish me luck!


It's been a long week (fortnight in the case of Ads) for the children as they've had extended hours to practice for their annual day (Ads) and Sports Day (Y). Ads was in a group dance (loosely based on Kalaripayattu), a short 2 minute performance with 7 other boys. He was most excited since he got to hold a shiny sword and prance around! Y participated in 2 obstacle races with her class. Along with a couple other of the youngest kids, she got selected to "inaugurate" the school "Olympics" by releasing some balloons into the air. There were no winners or losers and all the children got medals for participation. It was very nicely done, short and sweet. All of last week, after coming back from school, Y would tell me "Amma, today I won last, but on Saturday I will win first!" :))
Some snapshots from yesterday - Y is the one in the purple jacket.

Toddling off after the race.

Waiting for the "bucket race" to start.

Medal time.

Ads in his costume (Y got frightened looking at all that makeup!)

Monday 12 December 2011

Focaccia bread on a griddle

I read this lovely recipe for making a focaccia-like bread on a tawa/griddle (Thanks, Sangeetha, for this and other great recipes!). I did a little tinkering around - I did not have wheat bran and I mixed the wheat flour with maida in about a 1:1 proportion. I'm not sure how the original recipe would have tasted (it looks GREAT, doesn't it? :)) but mine did have a distinct focaccia-like look and feel. The best thing is that there is no baking required and it takes very little time and effort to make this bread. As always, my children are opposites in everything they do. I made the dish specifically for Ads but he didn't like it whereas Y wolfed it down and asked for more :)

Friday 25 November 2011

Mughal chronicles

Alex Rutherford is the pen-name of the husband-wife writer team of Michael and Diana Preston. Their Empire of the Moghul series of books is currently a trilogy. The first book, Raiders from the North, is about Babur's initial conquest of Hindustan. The second one, Brothers at war, is about Humayun's legacy, his long dreary years of battle and wandering in the Indian subcontinent - from Kabul to Agra and Delhi to Rajasthan to Lahore and back to Agra - as he fought off and subdued the machinations of his half-brothers to keep him from the throne which he considered rightfully his. The third book, Ruler of the World, takes off from Humayun's death, the ascension of 13-year old Akbar to the throne and his consolidation of the Mughal empire, and his troubled relationships with his sons especially Salim.
The trilogy is fascinating to anybody who likes historical fiction, as I do, particularly if the Mughal era and the preceding 2 centuries are of interest (again, check!). The amount of research that has gone into these books is evident from detailed descriptions of everything from styles of dress and decor, food, jewellery, weapons and  household implements, and new technologies of that period. The Baburnama, Humayun-nama and Akbarnama/Ain-i-Akbari have been extensively used as foundation research material but the focus is on drawing a picture of the first 3 Mughal kings as people, individuals who were husbands, friends, sons, fathers and brothers, not necessarily their portraiture as administrators/rulers; so to that extent, a significant portion does comprise creative licenses taken as to how the characters thought, felt, said and did. For example, it is known that Akbar married one (or two) Rajput princesses and in fact it is probable that he did marry one of the princesses from Amber (Amer) near Jaipur, but historians disagree over her existence and her identity. Almost nothing is known of this husband-wife relationship so the authors have interpreted it in their own way. As our guide in Fatehpur Sikri asked me, with a twinkle in his eye, as he guided us through the city "Are you thinking of Hrithik Roshan?" I replied with a straight face "No actually, I was thinking of Prithviraj Kapoor"! 
Military strategies and battles have been recounted in great detail, so the book can seem somewhat slow. Having been to a lot of the significant places described in the book brought it incredibly alive for me. Highly recommended if you are into Mughal/Indian history. The authors are planning to come out with 2 more books - looking forward to them!

I don't know how she does it

After a long time, I enjoyed, really enjoyed, a book. The type of enjoyment that comes when you are nodding along with the author at every page, when you have so many OMG moments (as in: OMG!!! She could be talking about ME!). "I don't know how she does it" by Allison Pearson did that for me. Note of caution: The only only reason I probably enjoyed the book so much is because I could identify, if not myself, then many of my friends, in so many of it's pages. So, nope, I am not setting the book up for universal popularity here :) I remember reading "Bridget Jones's diary" back when I was 24 and giggling over it and thinking what a wonderful read it was. I recently tried to read it again and all I could think of was "What crap is this. How did I ever enjoy this nonsense?" So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a time and a place and a life-stage to enjoy any good book and I just happened to be right there for this one.
Okay, now that all disclaimers and caveats are out of the way....:)) 
I picked up the book because I saw a TV promo about an upcoming movie based on this book and it seemed interesting so I googled it and ordered a copy from the library. You can read about the book here at Amazon. In ways subtle and non-subtle, wise and crass, comic and tragic, poignant and flippant, the author sketches out the many many dilemmas of working mothers. The book is funny, sad, ironic, penetrating - often all in one page. It resonanted with me even as it brought back memories of my days as a working mother, and the struggles and frustrations of all the Kate Reddys I know.
I also ordered Samhita Arni's Mahabharata but before Ads and I could read more than a few pages, it had been requested and borrowed by a very eager 12-year old neighbour who is heavily into mythology and  history. Knowing a tween BOY who LOVES READING and loves HISTORY is such a pleasure that I promptly lent it to him. Now we wait for the book to come back before we can start on it.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

What I love about this time of year

Winter is setting in. The sun is weak, flights and trains have been getting delayed due to the infamous Delhi fog, and the warm clothes have been aired and are all ready to be worn. My kids are very excited and keep asking me "Amma, when can we wear GLOVES?"!!!
I know people crib all the time about the winters in this part of India, but I love this season. Especially now, when it's still autumn but steadily getting colder, when the mornings and evenings are chilly but still warm enough for the kids to shrug off their jackets after a few minutes of playing outside. Delhi weather is so monumentally unpleasant for 7 months of the year, but between Diwali and Holi, I enjoy it to the hilt. Even in dreary January when most people are waiting for the cold to end, I feel only dread for the long months of burn-and-swelter that lie ahead of me :)
So. What I love about autumn/winter/spring:
1. Picnics!!! Everything that needs to be done outdoors, 'tis the season to do it. Especially picnics, which one can do in style because Delhi has so many large and well-maintained parks, scattered all over the place. The larger parks are atleast 70-80 acres in size, which means on any one excursion you would only explore a small part of it. We've set ourselves a target of a picnic every weekend - we'll see how well we do :)
2. The long-sleeved t-shirts come out and the capris/shorts/sleeveless clothes get packed away. One can revert to one's hirsute natural self :) Less grooming = more time!!
3. Stylish clothes! Stockings, jackets, pashminas, turtlenecks, stoles, leggings, boots - all these get their day in the sun. Even stodgy corporate types look nice as they leave for work wearing suits and blazers.
4. The pleasure of having a steaming cup of ginger-and-clove chai is something else during the cold season. I'm too much of a chai addict to not have several hot cups even when its a blazing 42 degrees outside, but during the winter it is pure bliss.  
5. The markets full of colourful produce - large juicy brinjals, methi, spinach, radishes, guavas, long red carrots, capsicum and fresh sweet peas which Ads and I love to pop straight into our mouths. 
6. The torture of leaving the warmth of the comforter/razaai and getting out of bed in the mornings, balanced by the exquisite anticipation of getting back into it during bedtime! The delights of snuggling into small warm bodies in the middle of the night (in the summer, it's all I can do not to throw the kids violently off me when they get too close in the bed!)
7. Having alfresco lunch everyday in a sunny balcony. Food just tastes better when the warm sun is beating down on you and there's a good book on hand. I see people already heading down during lunchtime with blankets and hampers and having an impromptu picnic on the lawns.
8. Not having to apply sunscreen - a job I hate doing and which always falls to my share. 
9. I'd say eating makki di roti and sarson ka saag except that I am not such a fan of either. Still, it will be nice to have it a couple of times.
Drat - I should have been able to make it a round 10 :)

Monday 21 November 2011

Review of Ra-One

I wanted to review Ra-One after we saw it more than a fortnight ago. I took Ads and Y and the 12-year old son  of one of my neighbours (aside: felt very proud to manage 3 kids all by myself!!). This neighbour's son was very enthusiastic about watching the movie and Ads had heard it was a superhero movie and wanted to see it too. Y conveniently sleeps off in most movies (the darkness and for some reason the noise, lulls her to sleep!) so I had no worries about her witnessing any scenes of violence and/or scantily clad females. 
Now here's the thing. I went to see Ra-One a good 2-3 weeks after it's release and after hearing/reading about how bad it was (and really, not a single soul said the movie was even halfway decent), my expectations were understandably very very low. As Ads would say, they were at minus infinity :) So obviously, this frame of mind to a certain extent (but only a teensey-weensy bit) explains why I found the movie to be not bad at all. It was ok. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. I wouldn't pay the money to go see it again. SRK played out his standard half-dozen expressions. Kareena Kapoor looked hot, as usual. There were the usual foot-thumping songs, the usual melodrama. In fact, it was exactly like any other Hindi movie. So the horrible reviews had me a little puzzled especially as I thought  the SFX were pretty good and classy. The scenes which are supposed to be from inside a gaming console were especially very well-done and realistic (err...I meant game-like). My humble opinion is that everyone has been a tad unfair on panning the movie. I don't think the producers ever claimed they were making a work of cinematic art. Ra-One is in the same genre as Robot (quite as entertaining) and much much better than Krrish. Indeed it is the same genre as the movies that can be clubbed under "mindless summer Hollywood blockbusters". Transformers, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Superman, anyone?? 
On the same topic, if there was a movie worth watching, go watch Tintin. The animation is just superb! Superb! The performance capture technology is a little surreal because it looks so real (the character's faces do look somewhat more wooden than one might expect). In the middle of the movie, I actually leaned over to S and asked him if they'd changed from animation to real people. It was that good! Also, it's based on my favourite Tintin books and it's a trilogy, so lots to look forward to! But, strictly for Tintin fans, methinks. Ads simply didn't get why amma and appa were so excited :)

Friday 18 November 2011

Recent pet peeves

  1. Kids running upto the convenience store in our condos, halfway through playtime, and buying 1 large bag of Lays chips, each, everyday. No kidding. I see the same kids doing this everyday, and there are a lot of them!
  2. Aunties and uncles whom I don't know, commenting on Y's skinny appearance and glasses and dispensing free advice on how to correct both. 
  3. Kids not saying hello and not acknowledging my hellos. My kids do it too! I've been prodding Ads for 5 years to say please, thank you, and hello and even now he doesn't do it a lot of the time without some prompting. How long is it going to take???? 
  4. Lavish birthday parties and even lavish-er return gifts. Cakes are being cut in class and gifts to each of the 25 children distributed then and there. This is separate from the birthday party to which all the kids are invited and from where Ads returns with laden sacks of goodies. I'm going to have a chat with his class teacher as soon as I can. What happened to old-fashioned, simple birthday celebrations?
  5. Other kids calling my son Idiot, patla, buddhu. I'd go on but what's the point. They also call other children these same names but obviously it hurts when they say such things to your own child. My kids would never dream of calling anybody such names - it's a simple thing to teach your child not to, y' know. It's called manners. Sadly, meeting a well-mannered child has become, for me, a ca(u)se for hope. Or maybe I should say, a hopeless cause!
So these are my top reasons to crib this season. What's yours? I'm disappointed and appalled at parenting standards. Is it me, or is it Gurgaon, or what is it?

Friday 11 November 2011

And baby turns 3

I'm sitting at my laptop, wanting to write a post about my daughter who turned 3 last week. All the sweet awwww-inspiring things. And nothing, nothing, comes to mind. Mommy guilt strikes hard as I think about the eloquent prose I churned out when Ads turned 3. 
This happened just a couple of days ago. I gave up and saved the post as a draft, knowing that the words would come later.
I've found this time and again, that the sense of wonder, of surprises waiting around every corner, the sense of accomplishment that I had with Ads - these do apply to Y as well, just in a highly diluted form. Or put it another way, been there, done that. With Ads, one exclaimed over every new achievement and felt the same upsurge of emotion in the heart. With Y, one still exclaims (!) but in the heart, we just take it in our stride. She was also always a little more advanced for her age than Ads, who always did things bang on time, not a week less, nor a month more. We still call him our babycenter baby because he used to hit his milestones just around the same time that babycenter sent us a mail telling us to expect that particular milestone :) Because she was so precocious, we got used to her punching above her weight. I often think we have been so unfair. We expect her to do more than she should. But when she does, we never give her the credit for it! 
Anyway, our 3 year old has been going through some personal crises lately. I had blogged earlier how she was going to school quite happily and with no fuss . But then there was the kid who was hitting her, pulling off her glasses etc and she got petrified of encountering him in class. That matter got sorted out after a chat with the teacher but Y continued to dissolve into tears every time her school van came to pick her up, and sometimes even in school. She went off her food and became very quiet and withdrawn, not even playing with her friends in the complex. This continued for about a month. Over the last few days, there has been some improvement. She is eating a lot better, starting to be more social, less clingy, and so on. I was telling one of my friends that Y is passing thro some 'phase' and she promptly said "Yaar, mujhe in phases se bahut dar lagta hai!" (Translation: These phases scare me!)
Another thing that is putting her off school is the language barrier. Tamil is her strongest language and she cannot communicate anywhere at that level of fluency in either English or Hindi, although she is slowly learning both. I've seen Ads encounter the same problem in his school in the US, where he was one of the few kids who knew very rudimentary English when starting off. So I am confident Y will vault over this particular barrier sooner rather than later. 
My daughter is affectionate (VERY affectionate), very stubborn (wonder where she got THAT from? :)), very bright. She loves dancing, singing, playing the fool, reading, spicy food, especially Punjabi food, nice clothes, handbags, shoes, hairclips and bangles! In short, all the things that make life so pleasurable! She absolutely loves to go out, an area where she is diametrically opposite to my homebody son. She has an amazing zest for life, or as she puts it "I like masti!"
If there is one thing I wish for you, girl, it's this. May the masti never end.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Udaipur - Part 2

On our 2nd day in Udaipur, we drove 22 kms out of the city to see a temple complex called Eklingji. Although less well-known than Nathdwara (which I had deleted from our itinerary), I somehow instinctively felt that it would be something that we would all like, Thankfully, I turned out to be correct. It is a complex of 108 small temples to Lord Shiva, all closely clustered together in a small area, so that the overarching impression as soon as you enter is of thick bunches of elaborately carved white gopurams and not much else. But so so so beautiful!!!!! Most of the temples are very small (and cordoned off), so one can access only 20 temples of so to go inside. Intricate carving work on marble and granite and the same on silver walls inside the main temple left me spellbound. We were not allowed to take cameras and cellphones so I have no pictures but I would heartily recommend a visit to Eklingji if travelling to Udaipur. It was the 2nd nicest thing we did in Udaipur; the nicest was a cultural performance at a run-down museum a few minutes walk from our hotel, called Bagore-ki-haveli. It seems to be on the must-do list of every Udaipur tourist, judging by the crowds (tip: get there early, atleast 30 min before the start of the show to ensure good seating). Latecomers had to make do with floor seating and standing. The show is interesting because it showcases lesser-known folk dances of Rajasthan other than the Ghoomar and Bhavai which are the only ones we normally see. The Chari dance involves women balancing brass pots on their heads, the pots carrying a flame inside them. In the Tera tali dance, the women sit on the floor, cymbals tied to various parts of their body, and they strike the cymbals rhythmically (and fast!!) in tune to the music. Fascinating. 

See the cymbals in the photo below? They're all down her calf and she had several along her arms and even her back!

This amazing lady ended up with 10 pots on her head! What a hard life it must have been when they had to trudge miles and miles for water.
We went to Mount Abu from Udaipur and spent a day there. Suffice it to say it was a waste of time. Mount Abu can be missed because there is nothing to distinguish it from other overly-commercialized hill stations in India (Ooty, anyone?). We could have spent our time better visiting some other places near Udaipur, but lives and learns :) The Dilwara Jain temples are very nice but one tends not to enjoy anything when there are a hundred people elbowing you around.
So that's what our trip was like. A lot of walking, lots of culture and architecture and history, quite a lot of fun!

Friday 4 November 2011

Udaipur - Part 1

My parents were here for Deepavali so the enthusiasm levels got notched up a little higher. Diwali with kids is always fun, add family to the mix and we want to do so much more. The condominium association here held their annual Diwali Mela a couple of weeks before Diwali itself. Lots of stalls including food stalls, a ferris wheel and merry-go-round installed in the lawns, a makeshift dance floor with DJ and horse-drawn buggy rides all around the complex -  the children, not just mine but all of them, had a blast. Last year, in our Noida complex, there was a caparisoned elephant doing the rounds and taking children and adults for rides and I wondered at the lavishness and expense of it all. This year, I left my wallet at home, partook the Idli and chutney-sambar from the stall put up by some friends and watched my kids dancing.
Amma made almond burfi and bakshanams which almost got depleted the same day! She created a kolam and the kids and I lit diyas on Choti Diwali. Sparklers, flowerpots and ground-chakrams were duly bought and used that same evening. We were one of the few families bursting crackers that evening because we would not be there for the big event the next day. On Diwali day, we left to catch the train to Udaipur in the evening. The highlight of the overnight journey was a small mouse which woke me up in the 2nd tier AC compartment, nibbling away inside our bag containing food and snacks!! Terrified me didn't even think of waking up S, who would have assured me that the mouse would have no designs on me and Y and would have promptly gone back to sleep! Instead I woke up my parents and asked my dad to get rid of the mouse, which he did successfully. Needless to say, the thought of the mouse coming back kept me up for the latter part of the night journey and apparently my dad also spent the rest of the night swatting away flying cockroaches! Such is the state of our Railways, never mind if you pay through the nose for a 2nd tier AC berth. Maintaining basic cleanliness is obviously not a given.
Udaipur is very different from Jaipur, the only other Rajasthani city I have visited. There are 6 large lakes in and around the city (2 artificial ones watering the city themselves, the Pichola lake and Fateh Sagar lake). The lakes are large and for the most part, very clean. Havelis and palaces abound on the lakefronts (prime property!) and it is a common sight to see women washing clothes on the steps near the lake. We stayed in a very nice place, the erstwhile urban residence of a minor princeling which has now been converted into a heritage hotel run by the family themselves.
This is the hotel courtyard. I specifically asked for ground floor rooms because my parents were accompanying us. We still had to climb 3 flights of steep stairs to reach the restaurant at the rooftop.

The lovely picture window outside our room.

Our room, the windows at the far end open out to the lake :)

The day we arrived, we walked to the city palace, just a 10 min walk from our hotel. The roads are incredibly narrow and some are very steep since the city is built on undulating terrain. So walking even at a slow pace can be stressful to the joints, especially for young children and seniors. However, ever so often you come across a treat like wall paintings and a pretty door :)

The City palace is stunning. A portion of it is retained by the royal family as private quarters and a further large portion have been converted into 2 heritage hotels. Our guide provided us several interesting nuggets of information about the founding of the city, the Royal family with special emphasis on Rana Pratap, his tiffs with the Mughals and the battle of Haldighati. One of the contributions of the Mewar school to Indian art are miniatures which are forerunners of video, in a sense. The same painting will depict a continuing story - for example, the guide asked Ads how many bears were there in a picture (we saw 6) called "Maharaja shooting a bear". All of us answered "6 bears" but the correct answer was '1 bear" because the picture showed the entire sequence of events - the bear under a tree, running out, being shot, etc etc.
Other popular tourist spots in Udaipur include the Rana Pratap memorial and enjoying an evening sunset cruise around the lake. Our rooms had a fantastic view of the Lake Palace (a Taj property) - very picture-postcard. The Aravallis are in the background.
I'll stop this post here now since it's already a lot longer than a I like! More Udaipur snapshots coming up :)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Only until I exist!

Dear firstborn of mine and I are having some random conversation. I forget what it was about but while talking I told him "To a mother, her son will always be a baby, even when he is an adult."
Ads said "You mean I will always be your baby?"
I said "Of course!"
Ads said "Only till you are alive, no?"

Note to dear son: I'm happy that you understand at this tender age that all flesh is as dust, but I do wish you wouldn't be quite so casual at the prospect of my eventual death.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Maggi Mee-Goreng

This is probably the most easy recipe (one of the most tasty too, but S doesn't care so much for it, so I make it far less often than I'd like to) to whip up. It's Maggi with a twist! The recipe here is the authentic Malay one but my mother-in-law, who first taught me this, says the Indonesians add coconut milk to the final product and that's how I make it.
Stir fry spring onions and your choice of veggies, add 1.5 cups of water and tastemaker and cook Maggi as usual. I also add chopped paneer and scrambled eggs to this mix for an additional health boost. Once all the water has been absorbed, add about a quarter cup of coconut milk and cook for a further minute on low flame until the milk is almost absorbed but not fully. You want the noodles to be somewhat wet. 
Not a good lunch-box option - Maggi forms a solid mass in the tiffin box and its difficult for the kids to eat with a fork. People also fry green chillies and garlic and other spices before adding the vegetables but that seems like too much work so I just skip that part! This recipe is best had hot and steaming on a rainy evening :)

Chinese-style noodles

I remember making Chinese-style noodles a couple of times when I had just got married and they had been quite edible. However I am not a big fan of Chinese food and so noodles haven't figured in our menu in any major way. A couple of times after moving to Gurgaon, I tried making them for the kids' lunch but I must have got the wrong kind of noodles because all I ended up was a major sticky overcooked mess which I had to throw into the bin, so inedible was it. Does anyone have any fundas on what kind of noodles I should buy for a Chinese stir-fry recipe? What I now have is something called a Rice Stick which is super-easy to cook (just soak in hot water for a few minutes) and does not get sticky in the wok. 
Heat 1 tbsp olive/veg oil in a shallow pan and stir fry veg. I throw in anything I have - cabbage, baby corn, sweet corn, peppers, beans, carrots. Add the cooked noodles, salt, pepper, chinese seasoning (I get a mixed herbs/spices box from the grocery store), soy sauce, vinegar (the latter two are optional; my kids don't enjoy the flavouring too much so I add very little) and mix well over a low flame and voila!! On ocassion I have added peanuts and scrambled eggs as well. 

I've been making these noodles a couple of times for school/work lunches and they turn out okay (well...atleast no one has complained yet ;)). If someone has a better recipe, please do share :)

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Learning to swim - II

Milestone #1: Ditching the floatation device. It happened after almost 8 classes. I could then propel myself across the breadth of the pool, face under the water, legs straight and kicking hard, hands in front, coming up twice for air. It took me a long time to get rid of the float. What finally helped was a snide comment made by dear husband during the Amritsar trip. We were watching the lovely fish in the tank, at the Golden temple. They would come till the edge of the tank, flitting in and out of the water rapidly. S said "Don't they swim like Amma?" When I glared at him, he smiled "I meant so gracefully." Snide remarks aside, I started observing their fluid movements more closely and when I was struggling to float, I would conjure up their image in my mind and think of how they just cleaved so cleanly through the water. This kind of visualization, thinking of myself as a fish instead of a large ungainly woman thrashing about in the pool (!!) really assisted me in learning how to float. 
The next challenge has been how to get across the pool without keeping my feet down on the bottom every time I came up for air. Come what may, I could not coordinate hand movements, leg-kicking and breathing all at the same time. I almost gave up after a couple of hours of fruitless work. Hunger pangs would strike me hard after a good 30 minute session! The pool closes in a couple of days and I have (kind of) managed to get across the pool very laboriously, without the hand stroke. It has been much harder than I expected and I will have to kickstart the whole process in the summer. But now I know it's do-able and my confidence has definitely improved. A major plus point if I have to exhort my risk-averse firstborn to learn swimming in a few months!

Sunday 16 October 2011

The score so far - II

More books, and here's my verdict! I re-read a couple of old favourites again over the last few weeks (they don't figure in this list), so my library reading has been correspondingly lower.
Susanna's 7 husbands - Ruskin Bond. I don't care much for Ruskin Bond really, his writing never struck a chord with me, so the only reason I picked it up was because the storyline was intriguing. Also, I haven't seen the movie and have no plans to see it but assumed the book would be more interesting (the movie having got iffy reviews). All I can say is, the original short story was quite gripping. Short and hard-hitting and left the reader wondering what exactly had happened. They should have just left it at that instead of stretching it into a novella and then a screenplay! However, since the copy I picked up had the short story, novella and screenplay all in one, it was quite good to see how a story/book was transformed into a dramatic form. 
The palace of illusions - Chitra Divakaruni. A cousin fortuitously gifted it for my birthday and I loved loved loved it! I take back what I said about the author, I still don't like any of her other books but this one was effortless and mesmerising and did a good job of capturing the many moods and shades of that enigmatic queen, Draupadi.  
The glass palace - Amitav Ghosh. Good one. I thought it dragged in places but I like stories that take in a vast panorama of people, places and events and this one fit the bill. Additionally, never having read anything about Burma before, it turned out to be a treasure-trove of information on that unhappy land. The author writes confidently and deftly which is so difficult isn't it? I'll definitely be picking up more of his books. 
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson. Once again, Bryson doesn't disappoint. Though not choc-a-bloc with his trademark humour (after all it is a serious biography of the great man of English), it still seems well-researched. Astonishingly, as Bryson points out again and again, there is very little known about Shakespeare the man and a lot of it is just conjecture and intelligent guesswork. A good book on the Bard and an easy and entertaining read. Given how little is known about Shakespeare, it's amazing Bill Bryson even managed to get as much as a slim book out of it!
I'm currently struggling...yes, struggling...with the Emperor of all maladies. I'll persevere for a few more days and if I don't make any headway, I'm returning it to the library :(

Divine Teachers and devoted students

Another PTM, and almost the only piece of feedback that Ads' class teacher gave me was that he has been making a lot of friends in class, is more outgoing and has in fact even become a little naughty after observing all the other monsters in the class :) I thought it would be unseemly to paste a smile of absolute delight on my face, but the fact is I was inwardly full of glee. My son? Naughty?? A word I have been wanting to hear for years!!!! 
At the same time, I hope the adorable naughtiness does not turn into brattiness, since there's only a fine line separating the two. Already I see him bothering his little sis a lot more than he used to, and I've had to speak to him very sternly about this kind of behaviour, a couple of times.
I also spoke to the teacher about a very annoying 'model student'-like habit of Ads. He is obsessed about homework!! He is a perfectionist when it comes to doing schoolwork well and correctly, be it writing his name and the date/subject, or drawing lines, or writing. Every piece of homework must be done as soon as he gets back from school, and I really mean as soon. He gets home, puts away his stuff, washes his hands and is all set with his books. Knowing fully well he must be very hungry, I suggest that he drinks up his milk first, maybe play a little, relax a little, even (gasp!) take a nap, and then start on his homework...but NO! It has to be done right then and there! He makes a small mistake, gets enraged while correcting it, cannot admit to me that he's really hungry and tired because he just said he wasn't....and so works himself up into a raging tantrum  ! Now I've reached the point where I ask him whether the homework is mandatory or optional! There have been many times when he mentions an assignment that I can find neither in his almanac, nor in the school intranet (where the assignments are electronically delivered to parents). When I ask him pointedly whether he really has to do it, he explains long-windedly that the concerned teacher has asked them to practice doing that thing, or said "If you like, you can ...". In other words, strictly optional! But of course the Divine Teacher has mentioned it so it must be done :(
I used to be a super-conscientious student, so I willingly take the blame here, but it is annoying. Ads teacher laughed and said "You should be happy to have a kid who stresses over homework. Mine just sit around with an xbox/ipad all day."
Yeah. We'll see how conscientious he is when he is in high school. Murphy's Law and all, right?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Convo with a tailor

I have always loved the Phulkari work of Punjab and what better place to buy a suit of Phulkari than in Punjab? (Note 1: Suit means salwar-kameez out here in Northern India!) More importantly I wanted a typical Amritsari suit with a patiala instead of a salwar. I couldn't find any readymades in the limited shopping time that we had but plenty of unstitched suit material. When the shopowner offered to get it stitched and delivered within 3 hours at our hotel, all at the cost of 200 Rs, I jumped at it. (Note 2: In Gurgaon, stitching charges for blouses are Rs 250 minimum and I was not anxious to find out how much they would charge for a salwar kameez set).
I had an interesting convo with the tailor guy. He took all the measurements, my phone number and address and summarily tried to dismiss me from his presence :)
Me: But what is the design of the suit?
Tailor: Madam, it will be a typical punjabi suit with patiala.
Me: I want to give you the pattern of the sleeve and neck. I would like to have a slit in the side.....
Tailor (interrupting me): Madam, there is a standard design. I will stitch it that way only.
Me: But but but....(aghast at having no say in the matter)
Tailor: Madam, aap kahan se ho?
Me: Gurgaon
Tailor: Pehli baar amritsar aaye ho na?
Me: Haan
Tailor: To phir theek hai. You must wear a typical amritsari suit only. Don't give me any design. I will stitch it the right way for you. You will be very happy.
And I was. The dress fits well, the cut is nothing fancy but I get what he meant - keeping the cut simple keeps the focus on the embroidery work. I thought I'd upload a picture of the outfit here but then remembered that I don't have my camera with me this week.
As an aside, I saw some girls in Amritsar who looked like they had stepped straight out of a Yash Chopra movie - all mirrorwork suits, shimmering fluttering dupattas and all :)

16/10/11 Added the photo! Isn't the chunni lovely?

Saturday 8 October 2011


What can I say about Amritsar that hasn't been said already? Nothing much, obviously! It's got something for everyone. A plethora of delicious options for the foodie; Phulkari work, Amritsari jootis and Sikh artefacts for the shopoholic and collector; Harminder Sahib, Tarn Taran Sahib and other gurudwaras for those who prefer some religion and spirituality; and a trip to the Wagah border for those who want a raucous spectacle and tamasha.  All this packaged and available ready to serve in 1-2 days. Compact, easy and cheap!!
Having said that, it is a small town replete with history and religious significance even before the tumultous events of the Independence movement and the horrors of Partition. Jallianwala Bagh affected me very powerfully, even inspite of the milling crowds who were ogling at the bullet marks and jostling each other to peer into the well into which so many people jumped in to save themselves from the 1600 rounds of ammunition that were fired that fateful day. I was glad to find the memorial dignified and well-maintained. There is a lot of information (inscriptions and photographs), both in the actual site as well as in the small museum adjoining the site.
In stark contrast to Jallianwala Bagh, is the Wagah border "retreat" ceremony, a short 28 km drive away from Amritsar, near the border town of Attari. I was surprised to know that Lahore was only another 30 kms from the border, which made it all the more surprising that the number of Pakistani spectators were very few in number, 100 at the most, whereas there were atleast 2000 on the Indian side. First there is the onerous approach to the border gate. Unless one has a VIP pass, one has to squeeze through some horrendous traffic to get to a particular point after which you proceed about a kilometer on foot.
I held my camera high up as we were walking to capture the loooooong train (for want of a better word) that stretched ahead of us.

All that effort, to reach the gate below, and climb the stairs on each side that lead to a stadium. The lucky few got seats, while we were squashed and fighting for breath with barely enough standing room. Worse, Ads and I got separated from S and Y, and didn't even know where the other half of our family was, for the duration of the ceremony.

The crowd was simply enormous. I'm thinking we probably picked the wrong day (Dussehra break) and it would be more manageable on a non-holiday weekday. There was a master-of-ceremonies who did a great job of pumping up the crowd and getting them to clap, chant Vande mataram, Hindustan Zindabad and the like and dance to popular Bollywood (patriotic) numbers. 

While the crowd frenzy and enthusiasm was palpable, I didn't really get it. I felt I had travelled all that way in the heat and dust to stand in a humongous crowd of sweating Indians - for what? To see a lot of college girls dance to Bollywood tracks, see a few tricolours waving and scream Long Live India? While the actual beating retreat ceremony is good to watch, it takes up only a few minutes of the spectacle. I felt the whole thing was a solid waste of time and effort. You would witness the same energy and noise at any cricket match. The novelty comes from the place, the sense of history vested in Wagah, its geo-political significance. In fact, the only thing that really thrilled me was to see the fence that was the Indo-Pakistan border, the Radcliffe Line that so momentously threw countless innocent lives into upheavel. But again, I am definitely in the minority here because most people who have been to Wagah have really loved it.
The Golden temple was serene and quiet even with the constant Gurbani in the background and the throngs (again) of people. It was wondrously clean, spick and span and what I liked was that there was a lot of self-policing, in addition to the countless volunteers who were roaming around helping hapless non-pilgrims like us. Families sat around, took dips in the lake, talked, clicked snaps, watched the fish - all in an atmosphere of quiet cheerfulness and yes, devotion.
We had a rollicking cycle-rickshaw ride enroute to doing some shopping in the old city. It was one of the best ones we ever had, at top speed through labyrinthine alleys of the old city. Amritsar has a slightly different rickshaw design with no handhold or protection on the sides and very narrow seats, leaving passengers with a strange feeling of being defenceless and at risk of losing an arm or a leg to passing motorists! So the ride had an additional thrill factor :)

The highlight of any Amritsar vacay has to be the food, which surpasses all standards of yumminess. Flaky kulchas, creamy lassis (with yellow butter or cream on top), the most delectable paneer butter masala and chole are the specialities though the true foodie would sing paeans to a lot else including the jalebis, aloo tikkis, the cream chicken, matka kulfis or aam paapad. Although we had a long list of must-eat places in the city, we were limited by time (how many meals can one consume in a day?!!) and also the fact that Ads had an upset tummy and we couldn't very well stuff our faces when he was confined to roti-dal-chawal.
In sum, a truly wonderful place to visit for a short break. I know we will go back just to sample more of it's culinary Amrit. 

Thursday 29 September 2011

Busy busy week and Navarathri begins

The last week or so has been extremely full. Between Ads' various assignments at school, a niggling backache for me, the onset of growing pains for Y and her refusal to eat anything in school, Navarathri, planning for our short holiday to Amritsar later this week, and my maid going absent because of malaria AND typhoid (the poor thing!), I have been running around like a headless chicken all over the place.
The main event was Navarathri. Over the last couple of months, ever since getting back to Gurgaon after the summer holidays, I have managed to make quite a few friends in the complex. Friends, as opposed to casual Hi-and-bye neighbours/acquaintances. Most of us are around the same age, have kids of varying ages and it's something to look forward to every evening that we are able to meet at the park and chat while the kids play. In fact, some days ago, I had to urgently meet somebody for a prospective work assignment and S was unable to get home early and watch Y. One of my friends stepped in to watch her for the hour or so that I had to be away.
My large-ish Golu doll collection got decimated when we moved to the US since I had to give most of them away :( So I have to build up my collection again. This year, Ads insisted on his Ben10 action figures and jungle animals being included in our Golu. Here is what we ended up with. I did the bottom 2 padis (steps) and Ads dolled up the shelves (they are technically our 3rd padi!). Last night, we spoke to my in-laws and they had a good idea, that I should include some of Ads' drawings in the Golu. Their suggestion was duly incorporated this morning :)

Y has been "helping" me this morning, with preparing and labelling the gift bags for people who will attend our Golu tomorrow. It would have been a real help if she hadn't mixed up all the gifts/tags and appropriated some of the baubles for herself. I'm terribly confused now and will wait for her nap before redoing everything :)

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Alligator craft

Ads was asked to make a model of a crocodile for some class assignment. I was halfway through making it when I realized I was making an alligator. Oops :)
Normally, I never allow Ads to dump any assignment on me. But the school week has been extraordinarily full for him. He has had to read 2 books for a "Reading Grand Prix" that they have going, and compose 2 original poems for display (which means he had to compose, neatly write and then decorate the paper on which the poem was written), apart from the regular homework and test that they have every week. With his thrice-a-week tennis class, it meant he was having very little downtime. The only way he could have made the crocodile all by himself was by skipping playtime some day or by losing out on sleep, and I wasn't willing to compromise on either.
So, much against my will, I let him off this particular task and enlisted his help only for some glueing and painting work. This is the end result. Could have been a lot neater, but I'm out of practice :) The frame is made out of newspaper, and given bulk with paper napkins and other waste paper. Those white triangles are supposed to be large and scary teeth :)

Thursday 22 September 2011

An education business opportunity?

I noticed large ads in the Delhi papers recently, touting the opening of 2 new Shiv Nadar Schools, in Noida and Gurgaon. Yes these are the education hotspots in NCR nowadays. Getting admissions into Delhi schools has become such a nightmare that Delhi parents do not mind (or, to be more precise, they are forced to) enrolling their children in Gurgaon/Noida/Faridabad/Ghaziabad schools, with all the commuting hassles that it entails. I was excited to see this particular ad as I am familiar with the work of the Shiv Nadar Foundation and I mistakenly assumed that they have opened schools for that very underserved section of society which is aware for the need for high-quality education,  cock a snook at government schools, willing to scrimp and save to send their children to private English-medium schools, but sadly have very few options in terms of privately-run education that produces credible results.
Take my maid, for example. All told, she makes about 6000 pm. Her husband makes about the same. Given the fact that they have 3 kids, live in high-rent Gurgaon, and have various family obligations back home in Bihar, their savings are nothing to speak of. Her eldest son, a child of 8, is enrolled in a non-profit programme run in our apartment complex and has been promised admission to DPS under the EWS category. I heard with no small amount of shock last evening that the children admitted in the EWS category are schooled in a separate afternoon shift in the school, because the parents (of the kids under "general" quota) do not like their kids mingling with these other kids from less privileged backgrounds. More about this claim later after it has been duly verified and substantiated and after I know my shock/disgust is justified.
Ok, back to my maid. In an ideal world, the government education machinery would be good enough to accommodate her kids. I personally am against the duplication of any such pre-existing setup and the establishment of a parallel school network. However, we all know we do not live in an ideal world/country and in the meantime, there is an entire generation of kids whose potential and talent is simply being squandered because of the limitations and constraints of the system. So, even taking the step of keeping the social aspects aside for the moment and concentrating only on the profits which could accrue to the greedy capitalist (!), I think here is a terrific market opportunity here. An opportunity for establishing a chain of good, cheap schools which cater to the market segment which is far above the poverty line but cannot afford high-priced private schools. A market segment in between municipal schools and shady private schools on one hand, and the bastions of upper middle-class India on the other. 
Such schools do exist, here and there in isolation. But it needs the deep pockets and the organizational acumen of the likes of corporate foundations to invest in a chain of such schools across India. It can be run as a pure for-profit model. No handouts required. I'm aware there could be huge gaps in my knowledge but as far as I know, there isn't a pan-India (or even aspiring to be pan-India) model of such a nature anywhere. My ex-boss started an affordable housing venture, I hope there are other angel investors like him who are willing to take up the affordable education challenge!

Learning to swim - I

It seems a little silly to set down that it has taken me 3 decades and a half to get off my backside and start learning how to swim, especially since I have spent atleast 2 decades of this time wanting to learn how to swim. Apparently, my desire must not have been very strong, else I suppose I would have made the time to do it. Let me see what reasons I came up with (mind, some of these were legitimate). When I was at school/college, there wasn't any place handy I could learn plus I'm not sure my parents would have advanced me the money! This is legit reason#1. When I moved out of Chennai and went to study in Bangalore, I was too busy and exhausted. When I lived in Bombay as a single working girl, I had tons of free time but no discipline. After I got married, again, I could have easily enrolled at any of the hotel pools and learnt my basics, but I was busy pretending to be the high-powered corporate executive that I was not! The same sad saga of multiple wasted opportunities repeats itself in Bangalore and in the US. 
Last week, I received a renewed impetus to grab the bull by the horns and just do it when a friend/neighbour mentioned that the new coach at our complex pool was pretty good and did I want to take swimming classes with her? I agreed, almost without thinking, very aware that I had postponed this skill acquisition for way too long. We started on Sunday evening when I struggled to blow bubbles and kick back with my legs, holding on to the side of the pool for dear life. It has only been a very few classes yet and the fond hope that I had harboured that I might find myself to be a natural swimmer, have been dashed to the ground! Once again, as in so many other pursuits, I find to my regret that I have no natural talent whatsoever and any skills I will acquire will be the result of sheer plodding.
But -- plodding is something I am good at :) We are running against time here since the pool is only open for another 2 weeks and odd, and will subsequently reopen only in April. I have to finish my 12 classes before then. More importantly, I need to end the season with the satisfaction of learning a little something which I can improve upon next summer. Good luck to myself! :)

Monday 19 September 2011

The guilt tag

Sumana of TinynLittle tagged me to write about the guilt trips that I have, as a mom. (Thanks, Sumana!). The first thing to note is that mommy guilt can be good. Yup, you heard that right. Mommy guilt is good because it effectively wipes out all the other kinds of guilt, because there is no time/mindspace to feel guilty about anything else (*crazy slightly hysterical hyena-like laughter here*). I don't remember the last time I felt guilty about digging into my nth portion of some sinful dessert, or not exercising, or taking care of my health, or being rude to random strangers :))
Sigh. When life revolves around one or two or more short people, then even the guilt revolves only around and about them and their little concerns. The tag says that I have to:
1.Write about 2 instances where you have put yourself before your child/ children… been a wee bit selfish.
2.How did you feel? Did you feel a pang of guilt or were you comfortable?
3.Tag 2 more moms.
Here goes.
1. I felt very very guilty when I enrolled Y in playschool when she was just 20 months old. I didn't have much of a choice since I was speeding towards writing my exams in a few months and I simply needed 3-4 hours in the day to study. I'm fundamentally opposed to putting my kids in the charge of a maid/nanny, who in all likelihood would be untrained, unwashed and uninterested. I preferred Y to be in a school environment, with trained teachers, a safe secure place for her to play and plenty of other kids to interact with and learn from. The fact that he school in Noida was a 5 min walk away and a truly fantastic place made me feel better about the decision. But yes, if I wasn't studying at that point, she probably would have stayed home with me for another year or so. I wrote about all the decision-making and associated angst, here.
2. I feel guilty every single day when I lose my temper, not for legit reasons, but simply because I'm impatient, irrational, too darn tired to deal with the situation in a mature adult-like manner. When I scream and completely lose it and throw a tantrum and then expect my kids NOT to do the same, the scene appears to my mind's eye as farcical, absurd and so hypocritical. I always feel more guilty when I do this with Y, because, unlike Ads, she doesn't always cry. All she does is look at me with those big brown eyes through her glasses, her lower lip trembling ominously, sometimes a thin film of unshed tears wavering on her eyelid. She doesn't allow the tears to fall and at that moment, I have to control myself from throwing myself at her feet and abjectly begging for forgiveness :( 
So these are my guilt trips. Of anyone who's reading this wants to take up the tag, please consider yourself tagged and drop me a note. I'd love to read what other mommies feel guilty about!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Ad-lib #6

Ads feels I argue with him a lot. He doesn't use the word argue, instead preferring the more action-oriented fight :) The other day, S and I were having a loud argument. We hardly ever argue about anything, in fact we hardly disagree on anything, so it was something of an occasion (Aside: The reason for the "fight" was that I had managed to pour water on my 5-day old spanking new smartphone and S was very very irritated with me for my carelessness and I was somehow trying to put the whole blame on him :P). Y was a little stunned with the uproar and Ads and she kept following us around the house as we walked and yelled talked. (Every now and then S and I like to blow off some steam this way. It makes us feel normal!) Finally Ads said - loudly - I don't like all this fighting!!! Why are you both fighting so much?!!!
We both shut up immediately. But S managed to get his revenge by taking Ads aside and asking him to monitor my cellphone and laptop usage. Now this is the worst punishment he can give me because Ads takes his duties very very seriously. He makes sure I follow safe practices when using the cellphone/laptop. If he sees as much as a teaspoon of water/tea/juice in the vicinity of these gadgets, he'll keep nagging me until I remove them. If he sees me taking the phone into the loo, there he goes again! A few weeks back, S felt I wasn't taking his injunctions against malaria/dengue risk seriously enough. So, instead of reminding me yet again, he simply asked Ads to do the job for him. If I ever forgot to close all the windows and doors in the evening or forgot to apply Odomos on the kids before their evening play, Ads would promptly complain to Ads that "Amma didn't do such-and-such today".
The fellow is such a royal pain. My m-i-l used to call him, very appropriately, "Rules Ramanjuam"!
Our Rules Ramanujam is also very particular about following teacher's instructions and completing his homework. On Friday evening, he starts bugging me on when we are going to complete the weekend homework. I ask him to relax, after all we have 2 whole days ahead of us but he is in a state of anxiety all the time until the darn homework is done with and packed away in his backpack! Yesterday, we had yet another argument (or fight!). His school dance teacher has asked the kids to get their photos clicked in a few different expressions. For example, sad, happy, scared and so on. These pics have to be printed and collated into an "expressions book". I asked Ads why his teacher couldn't have just asked each child to show these facial expressions in class, wasn't that better than asking them to make a booklet and all. C'mon, this way she was passing on most of the work to the parents. Ads didn't like my tone and once again lamented "Amma is always fighting with me!". I made a ppt file of his photos and asked S to print it. S added his own touches to the file and when he showed it to me, I warned him that this is not what the teacher had asked for, and therefore Ads was going to throw a fit. Never mind if what S had done was more creative than what the teacher had asked for. Expectedly, Ads did say this: "Aiyo, see what Appa has done!"

Monday 12 September 2011


I've been thinking, lately, about traditions, their importance and what kind of traditions I am, or should be, passing on to my kids. Anybody who reads this blog knows that I am the kind of mom who over-analyzes everything - what my kids said, did and feel, what I said, did and feel, and how everything ties up (or doesn't!) together! As much as I think I'm a pretty well-sorted out person, there's a time of year, which is the time all the festivals come around, when I tend to get a little muddled. So help me out here folks, by lending your ears  eyes and please chip in with helpful comments :)
So, first, the disclaimers and the background. S and I are not at all religious. I believe religion evolved in various civilizations in response to the need to evolve codes of conduct, lines of duty, and accepted behaviour to ensure a well-ordered and well-functioning society. Rituals, privileges (or lack thereof), customs came later, largely evolving and mutating as responses to shifts in power balance between different groups of people (call them races, tribes, communities, whatever). The creation of legal systems (laws), formal government and administrative apparatuses have made religion, in my view, completely obselete. Be that as it may, these are matters of faith and what people believe to be corporeal duties designed to ensure their heavenly ascent (I'm not even going there). I'm not averse to going to the odd temple but I would do it to appease/please someone in the family and not because I want to go there and fold my hands in front of the presiding diety and pray for some worldly achievement/good. I've had a few interesting convos with Ads about this and more about that in a separate post!
The thing is, religion has become so intertwined with culture that many a time, the two are almost seen as synonymous even though such is not the case. This bothers me. I'm fine with reading the Ramayana as a seminal classic and epic poem, not as a religious text. Rama is a mythological hero - I can deal with that, but not with Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu to be worshipped and venerated. This is precisely the reason why when it comes festivals, I fail to muster any steam for celebration. I enter into Deepavali and Navarathri with gusto - I can assemble a Golu, prepare the sundal, brighten the house with lamps/candles, burst crackers - as long as I am not expected to do the expected pujas and rituals. Other festivals like Krishna Jayanthi (Janmashthami) and Vinayaka Chaturthi fall by the wayside simply because they do not offer me a non-religious outlet to celebrate them. Take Pongal - I fail to see the relevance of a harvest festival to city-bred louts like me :)
So, tell me folks. How important is it to establish family 'traditions' in your kids' life? Are they important at all? Are they just overrated? I've heard people say that they celebrate festivals together as a family in a certain way every year and that's their 'tradition'. I confess hesitantly to a wholly illogical inferiority complex (aah...the  head knows, but the heart doesn't!!) when I hear of people doing such a great job of celebrating our festivals, observing all the customs and involving their kids in the whole process. I think the traditions I need to impart to my kids are indistinguishable from shared values and ethics - honesty, integrity, empathy, respect for others, and so on. Yes, that would involve respect for other's faiths and religious beliefs as well. Our family traditions are a shared love for books, experimentation with different cuisines, a healthy appreciation for the arts, exploration and travel! Deciding to take a family vacation during the long Deepavali weekend (and skipping the festival altogether, maybe) - is it such a bad thing?
I'm not sending my kids to the Bal Vihar classes here in our complex although everyone and his mother is attending them because learning a few slokas and bhajans which they don't understand directly clashes with my beliefs. When my kids are old enough to make decisions on their faith and religion, by all means they can learn and absorb all that they want. I'd rather send them to Carnatic music classes instead.  
So, what are your traditions? Are they all religion/culture-related or have you come up with wholly new and interesting traditions on your own? Have I over-analyzed the whole non-issue and missed the wood for all the trees? 

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Not a great idea to volunteer in my kids' class

It never goes well anytime I volunteer to do something with my kids' class in preschool. My part goes well, but my kids end up being so unhappy that I come away with no deep glow of self-satisfaction but with the memory of my child's eyes swimming in tears. It happened again today! Last week, Y's class teacher called to tell me that this week was "Language week" at school, and did I think I could come along and do some storytelling (in English) to Y's class? 
I acquiesced immediately. Back when I was only a mom-of-one and was also what is known as an enthu cutlet (!!), I had joined a playgroup in the Bay Area. A bunch of us, all of whom were first-time mommies got all fired-up about doing creative, educational activities with our kids (all between the ages of 2 and 2.5). We decided to meet once a week, in addition to the weekly playgroup that we used to attend, to attain this lofty objective. I smile when I think about how it wasn't enough for me to let my 2-year old play in the sand with a few toys. No, I had to go all out and make a list of themed activities to improve his motor skills, language skills and social skills :) Every member of the group would lead the activity every week, by rotation. We did this religiously for about 6 months until it was time for most of the kids to start preschool and then it was too difficult to coordinate our separate and often conflicting schedules. 
So, this time, all I had to do was pull up some google docs of previous activities which I had done with this group, and customize it a little bit. I chose a jungle theme and decided to read 3 books, play 2 games, sing 2 songs and end on a calmer note with some colouring activity. 
So far so good. However, as it used to happen with Ads, Y got pretty miffed with all the attention her mommy was receiving from her classmates, and the attention and smiles her mommy was bestowing on other kids. She was not clingy, but cried a lot during the 90 minutes that I was there and when I was leaving, she wailed because I'd said bye to all the other kids but not to her! I'd in fact already said a separate goodbye to her earlier, but who was to argue with her? :(
Y is a pretty strong kid, mentally and emotionally, unlike Ads who can switch on the water-faucet at the drop of a hat. This means that I tend to discount his tears and take hers much more seriously because when she cries, it means she's really really upset.
I'm not sure I'll do stuff with her class again. It doesn't feel good at all!

Sunday 4 September 2011

The birthday

My birthday was a couple of days ago. I'm not big on birthday celebrations anyway (What??? You didn't know that already??!! :)) but I will readily admit that the influx of phone calls, emails and texts made me feel really good! Especially all those friends and relatives who took the trouble to make a short phone call to wish me. I've loved my 30s so far. It's been much better for me than my 20s. One of my good friends was surprised to hear this and she said "But, we had so much fun in our 20s!". Which is only kinda true, really. A lot of the defining moments and stages of my life happened in my 20s - the undergrad, the b-school, the career, the finding-of-the-soulmate, the marriage, and the mommyhood (yes my 30th birthday was the one I don't like to remember, I was in so much post-partum pain that day!). Several of my best friends are from my 20s. Yes, I did have a lot of fun. But I was still finding myself. I was still parroting the opinions and values of others. I didn't yet have my own voice, which came to me only after I turned 30. I wouldn't say motherhood was a defining transition point but it did hasten the process of me understanding who I am and what I wanted to be. I've done things my way, learnt not to let other's opinions matter as much as they used to, learnt to brush off criticism and learnt to speak up for myself. Just a matter of ageing and growing up, you say? Sure! But the fact is, I couldn't do any of these things when I was a callow 20-something.
So, the 30s are special in that way. Also, I think I look better now than in my 20s and also have a strong sneaking feeling that it's all downhill from here on, so that's another reason to be happy :)
I celebrated by not exercising (hey, its my birthday, I shouldn't have to do stuff I dislike!). Ads made me a cute card. He's been making it behind closed doors for the last 2 days, in fits and spurts. I was commanded not to peek inside his room, ever. He spoilt the surprise somewhat by popping up every now and then to ask me the spellings of "birth", "Aparna" and "dear". My "gift" was the contents of his piggy bank - some 10 rupee notes and several coins of foreign currency which S had discarded :)
A day after my birthday, he came and gave me the card that Y had made, along with him. They'd both forgotten about it! Kids!!!

Thursday 25 August 2011

These Mughals sure knew their design

I'll let the pictures do the talking.
But one thing has been bothering me - I hope someone has the answer. How come such palaces do not exist in South India? Every minor Maharajah up North (Gujarat, rajasthan, delhi, uttar pradesh) seems to have built monumental edifices to their glory. Did the Cholas, Hoysalas, Pallavas, Chalukyas etc just erect temples? As far as I know (I've never visited some of these), Hampi, Belur-Halebid and Mahabalipuram etc are all temple complexes. What have I missed? I have heard of the Travancore palace and seen the Mysore palace, bot not sure if there are any others.
Getting back to Agra, one has to start with the Taj (head bowed in respect for the stunning beauty).

I chose this picture for a reason. This is actually the back view of the Taj as seen from a place called Mehtab Bagh. Totally symmetrical huh? What you see in the foreground is the site and foundation of the Black Taj Mahal, which was supposed to house the tomb of Shah Jahan. However it did not get built because ShahJahan was subsequently imprisoned by Aurangzeb. Our guide said there was no hard proof to substantiate this story/myth. Oh and btw that story about Shahjahan blinding/chopping off the hands of the stonemasons and architects of the Taj is totally untrue. Whew!
Oops....I said I'd let the pics do the talking :)
Moving on.....
Inside the Agra fort, very similar to the Red Fort in Delhi.

Balconies and balustrades inside the fort.

Entry into Fatehpur (the palace complex).

A pagoda-inspired structure where Akbar is supposed to have enjoyed moonlit nights :)

First view of Akbar's tomb - Sikandra.

The lush verdant lawns of Sikandra , with deers romping.

Itmad-ud-Daulah, the tomb of the "man of trust", Nur-Jehan's father, who used to be treasurer when Jahangir was emperor. Caught this as the sun was setting.

Itmad-ud-daulah marked a transition phase in Indo-Islamic architecture from red sandstone to white marble. It is beautiful, off the tourist track (relatively speaking since everything in Agra is on the tourist track!) and sits on a vantage point on the banks of the Yamuna. Very serene.

Look how well-maintained these floor tiles are. And how beautiful.

A section of the wall plus flooring.

I did say vantage point :) Not child-friendly though!

I noticed that all the monuments were beautifully maintained. Lots of trash cans, no spitting, rest-rooms everywhere (clean by Indian standards). The irony was that two of the world heritage monuments - the Taj and Fatehpur complex - were filthy outside. Horses, cows and dogs roaming around everywhere in the entry roads creating a general mess. Sikri is still a functioning village so that partly explains the filth. But I thought the Taj Mahal complex had no such excuse.