Sunday 30 December 2012

Y's unanswerables, and Ads'

I'm reading this book called Cinderella ate my daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I'll review the book once I'm done with it but the chapter I was reading put me in mind of some of Y's tough questions. The book says (I quote):
.....Regardless of how we dress them or decorate their rooms, when they are tiny, children do not know pink from blue. Then the whole concept of labeling kicks in - sometime between the ages of two and three, they realise that there is this thing called "boy" and this thing called "girl" and something important differentiates them. But whatever, they wonder, could that be?
......Until around age five kids don't fully realize that their own identities (and their own anatomies) are fixed. before that, as far as they are concerned, you could grow up to be either a mommy or a daddy. And they don't understand that other people's sex stays the same despite superficial changes until as late as age seven.
Moving on to some questions Y has stumped (and regaled) me with.
When I am big like you, will I still be a girl?
Is Thatha (grandfather) my husband?
When I grow up, my husband will be Anna (Ads).
My friend S has short hair. Is she a boy or a girl?
I want to pee standing up like Anna. Why can't I do it?
Why don't I have what Anna has (she is NOT talking about a toy here!)
When Anna wears a hairband, he looks so cute. Why can't he wear a frock? (Why indeed!)
Why did nobody tell me I'd have to answer such questions?!!
Of course, these are chicken-feed compared to the one I got from Ads. He scans the front-page of the newspaper every morning, I knew the question would come and I was surprised he took so long to ask me. However I was still unprepared when he asked me what "rape" was. 
Kids don't, simply don't, need to know what rape is at this age. Not boys, not girls. When I read of little girls being violated, I am filled with impotent rage. 
Note to self: It's a big bad cruel world out there. Figure out what to tell Ads if he asks you again. I've always answered his questions (even if it took me a couple of days to google and get the answer) and this issue needs to be treated with due sensitivity and caution, especially since we cannot escape the big headlines in the paper everyday. Any ideas, people?

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Empty nest

The children left with their dad for a short holiday to Chennai. I was feeling low for the last couple of hours - of course, they were super-excited! I hugged them tightly, deeply inhaled the scent of them, kissed them soundly. I went downstairs to see them off in the cab. They waved goodbye cheerfully through the windows.
Back upstairs, their slippers had been carelessly cast away on the living room floor. What would have normally got me mutter under my breath (or yell!) in annoyance now elicited a deep pang. Slowly I walked around the house, picking up a toy car here, assorted books there, some scraps of paper, clips and hairbands, dirty dishes....mechanically depositing everything in it's appointed place.
I cleaned the dining table, pulled out a fresh tablecover and adjusted it over the table, knowing it would remain pristine and unwrinked for the next 5 days. There would be no spills or splotches, no books lying on top of it, no markers staining it in big unseemly blotches. I plumped up the cushions on the sofa, knowing that they would remain in the same position for the next few days and would not be thrown on the floor while the sofa became a rocket-launcher, tractor or skyscraper!
The kids' room was a big mess. I easily resisted the urge to clean it up. I let the toys and books and crayons stay littered all over the bed, floor and table.
The rest of the house is immaculate. Beds are made, clothes hang in the closet. There are no toothpaste stains in the wash-basin. There are no stray slippers. I don't trip over random objects on the floor.
And yet the most perfect warm and welcoming room is the room which my kids have made their own. The messiest room in the house awaits its rightful inhabitants. 

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Budding author

Our geek has been writing books. The kind that were written in the old days - yes actually written -with old-fashioned pen and paper and not by banging keys on a laptop. I half-heartedly tried to get him to write on the computer. I'd passed on my old clunky HP laptop to him when I migrated to a sleeker version. He did not take to it for a variety of reasons and I let him be. Unlike most of his peers, he's not very much into tech tools and games. Plus that laptop is so lousy; half the keys are missing thanks to Y and it's battery is on it's last legs.
The books (multiple!) are all started and then discarded. The first thing Ads does is to create the following pages.
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Resources/Bibliography
  • Contents (with page numbers)
  • Glossary
  • Index
By the time he's done with all of these, he's exhausted and bored and the book remains all bones with no flesh!
We've grown sick telling him, start writing the damn book! Then do the preface and acknowledgements and so on. What do I do with this boy? On the other hand, how many 7-year olds know what a foreword and a preface is? :)
Most of the books have the authors name: Ads. Consultant: Y :) Editor: S and Publisher: Yours truly :) I told him, since I was the one supplying him with a regular and everlasting supply of A4 sheets for his books, I should be the publisher :)
I'm also thinking of buying shares in ITC's paperboard business!
Leaving you with some sample pages and a letter to Santa Claus.
Intro page to his Enclyclopaedia

Sample contents page with page nos

Part of a foreword that I wrote for his book

Letter to Santa asking mainly, for what else, an encyclopaedia!

Friday 14 December 2012

Thursday 13 December 2012

Pictures from the blue city

Pictures from our Jodhpur trip are here.

Things I learnt about my son in school

 1. His nickname in class is "Encyclopaedia". Go figure - it shouldn't be difficult :)
2. His pasta is of course very popular among classmates. There's another boy in class whose mom makes great cakes, so I have been asked to out-do her and send a cake for snack tomorrow. Apparently my chocolate chip muffins and banana bread aren't good enough :)
3. He's a lot more assertive and outgoing than I thought he would be. It was quite a surprise! I could hear his voice overriding some others while we were conducting the spelling bee, and once he started arguing with another girl and the teacher had to shush him.
4. Apparently he passes the time by cleaning the classroom floor with a ruler, and plays goofball by falling onto the floor and rolling around whenever they have no teacher supervising. YUCK!!  

The things one learns!

On another note, this is the complete list of all the birds we saw in Bharatpur :)


Tuesday 11 December 2012

Tam-Mum is out!

I volunteered to spend an hour in Ads' classroom working with the kids on their reading skills. Ads' has 3 instructions for me:
  • Don't hug me, kiss me, or otherwise embarrass me.
  • Don't talk in Tamil.
  • Don't call me kanna or chellam.
Needless to say, I scrupulously followed them :)
My obedience and diligence arose due to a recent surprise discovery. For weeks, he has been resisting my attempts to accompany him to the bus-stop. Finally I got suspicious, especially after he meekly allowed S to accompany him. Clearly, it was not an independence thing.
I nagged and nagged until finally he could take it no longer. He hissed, "Amma, you talk to me at the bus-stop in TAMIL!! You call me Chellam and Kanna and you stand close to me when I am talking to my friends!"
I knew my kids would maybe start feeling a wee bit ashamed of me some years down the line. I did NOT bargain for it to happen now :(

Birding in Bharatpur

The last weekend saw us setting off to Keoladeo National Park, previously known as the Bharatpur bird sanctuary. The little fella is now into birds, specifically Raptors. I used to think, courtesy Jurassic park, that raptors refer to dinosaurs only, which is not wholly true :) We drove straight to the bird sanctuary which was unexpectedly scenic and chock-a-bloc with birds. We didn't manage to see too many raptors but saw plenty of other birds including painted storks, herons (4 types), fowl, geese, ducks (several types) and many others whose names I've now completely forgotten. Apparently we saw 25 species - my son tells me so and I am sure he is right. Obviously, if we had hired a cycle we could have gone deeper into the jungle where we could have spotted many more species of birds, not to mention pythons and other such nasties. But it was neither practical nor advisable to do that with 2 young children in tow. So we stuck to the cycle-rickshaws that are the normal mode of transport in Bharatpur. The drivers are extremely knowledgeable about each species of bird. Mostly, they are locals who have undergone intensive training in identifying and describing the birds. Moreover, they are very helpful. Our driver even had some cool tips on how to zoom in and click better pictures :)
We spent a good 4 hours in the sanctuary. We started at 1.30 pm and by the time we finished, it was pitch dark, really cold, and the jackals had started howling deep in the forest!
The next day, our only agenda was to make a quick trip to the Taj. Being a Sunday, the entrance queue was really long and we looked on in dismay, wondering whether we would have to abandon the whole project. We ended up paying some tout 300 bucks to take us in through the South Gate. Later we realized we'd been expertly fleeced, because we could have just walked in through the South gate by paying 20 bucks apiece! Of course, a few minutes later, gazing on the stunning Taj cleared any residual annoyance at having to pay extra - 75 Rs per head seemed like a small price to pay for admiring its impeccable beauty!
It was also our first time on the Yamuna Expressway which was pretty awesome. The road was superb, the facilities at each tollgate (snacks, loos) were well-maintained and both sides of the expressway were lined with green fertile farmland as far as the eye could see. The only thing that made you realize you were in India guessed it...the quality of the driving :(
Sarson ke khet - enroute to Bharatpur
Inside the park - isn't the sky just beautiful?
The wetlands were pristine. This particular view like so many others reminded me of the many "mirror lakes" in New Zealand

Pretty gruesome, a listing of the no. of birds killed and guns used

Painted stork

Yamuna E-way

The Taj - sigh :)

Wednesday 5 December 2012


Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer are the cities we have visited in Rajasthan and S and I were keen to complete our tour of the state by visiting Jodhpur. Sure, there are lots of other places worth visiting in Rajasthan - we haven't done Bikaner, Ranthambore, Sekhawati, Pushkar etc. But to be very honest, I'm kind of done with the state. There's only so much royalty and architecture and heritage that one can digest and I guess I've had my fill of it. Plus keeping the various royal families, clans and dates straight in my head was not happening! I always tell friends and relatives who are planing to visit Rajasthan to try to avoid going the whole nine yards and visiting all the cities in one go. It gets extremely overwhelming and at the end of the week or 10 days, one is exhausted to say the least.
In any case, we had Jodhpur to see and a nice ITC hotels free night voucher to be used! So we went ahead and booked ourselves into one of Jodhpur's swankiest properties. The only advantage of having a travelling husband :) Jodhpur is a convenient overnight journey from Delhi. We boarded the train at 6.30 pm from Gurgaon, and reached Jodhpur at the unearthly hours of 4.45 am! It was cold...brrrr.....and the hotel pickup failed to arrive. It was not a pleasant experience haggling with the taxi-wallahs who on hearing the name of the hotel, promptly charged us at triple rates! We reached our hotel around 5.30 am and were happy to warm ourselves with some warm cocoa (for the kids) and hot chai (for the adults).
Our room was actually a suite with 2 TVs, 2 bathrooms and so on. The restaurant on the same floor had a superb view of the Balsamand lake over which the palace-hotel had been built. Hurray for private lakes that don't have boating facilities, food vendors and trash - this was my only thought. The large lake was pristine and clean, enclosed by stony hillocks and really, it could have been anywhere in the world but India; it was that clean, calm and unspoilt.
Having failed to get the kids to make up for lost sleep, we decided to set off as early as we could to see what there was to see in Jodhpur. Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada (cenotaphs of the Jodha Marwars), Umaid Bhavan palace (the part that has not been turned into a Taj Hotel) and Mandore Gardens are part of the standard itinerary. Mehrangarh Fort was quite impressive, and not just because it made for a majestic sight on a cold crisp winter's day, the golden yellow sandstone looking even warmer by sunlight and countless flags of the princely state of Marwar fluttering in the brisk breeze. It was impressive because it had good signage everywhere for visitors, clean loos, audio guides and was generally extremely well-maintained by the Trust that runs it. In addition, there was a standard guide fee to be paid at the entrance kiosk itself which was a relief as one did not have to haggle over a guide's services.
The fort also was the first place in so many years that my kids were scolded in public by someone other than family! They had been behaving in a pretty pesky manner and I am afraid both S and I have to take the blame. They were tired, sleep-deprived and then we bring them to a boring old fort! I broke several of my own cardinal rules about travelling with kids! The minimum I could have done (and in our defence, this is something we would in the normal course have done - well, we were sleep-deprived and tired as well!) was for one of us to have taken them outside the museum and entertained them while the other person walked around and listened to the guide. Since we did not do so, they were mightily scolded by another guide who said "Main tumhe choohon ke kamre mein lock kar doonga!" The white lady next to him looked shocked - probably she was wondering how to reach Child Services!
We stopped for lunch at this place which served an awesome Rajasthani thali. While the kids stuck to boring and safe paneer and naan, S and I indulged in gastronomic delights like Gatte ki sabji, Ker-sangri, Kadhi and Bajre ki roti. Bliss!
Back at the hotel, we watched the sun setting over the lake and hillocks before turning in early. It had been a long day.
We didn't do much the next day except for a fruitless trip all the way to Guda Bishnoi Lake to see migratory birds. There were more birds back at our hotel grounds! Ads was quite disappointed, as was I. But the silver lining is that we are going to Bharatpur next weekend and hopefully that will make up for lost time! Ads is super-excited at the prospect of seeing the many birds of his dreams :)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Raising Multilingual kids - post on Mom's diaries

My latest post on Mom's diaries is here. I tried to edit and paste but there's something awry with the formatting, so just posting the link for now.
In our case, multilingual is actually trilingual :) But I think the same rules hold. I learnt a lot from my Brazilian friend in the US. She was a naturalized American and her kids spoke Brazilian Portugese, French, Spanish and English!

Thursday 29 November 2012

Of greeting and complimenting

Last weekend, we were at a friend's place for lunch. The food was yummy. Within a few seconds of starting to dig into his plate, Ads piped up "Aunty, your paneer is awesome." Shortly thereafter - "Aunty, the food is really good. And your house looks like a restaurant." He meant - it was pretty and the table was nicely set :)
Needless to stay, 'Aunty' was floored! I was quietly proud that he had remembered to compliment the hostess on her beautifully-kept house and great food. What I should have mentioned in my last milestones post is how much Ads has improved in terms of just basic courtesy and now, also the little niceties of lavishing compliments without being prompted to do so.
No longer do I have to remind him about saying Hello and Thank you. Now this doesn't seem like a big deal except that one does have to remind kids every time about these words and it does not come naturally to them. Indeed, I've personally been on it ever since he was 2 years old and my standard line of What do we say, Ads? is a given on every occasion! This Diwali, he came up to people he knew and wished them a Happy Diwali without me having to nudge him.
The additional upside to this is that I can see the positive influence on Y as well. Though she's a little shy and needs some prompting to greet strangers (forget talking to them), I'm sure Ads' influence will find its mark some day.
Folks reading my blog may get the impression of Ads being some saint-like character. He's a good boy alright (that much I'll admit!) but I tend to emphasize the positive aspects of his personality. The not-so-great parts are very much in evidence, and at this point the most annoying of these is his constant big-brother attitude towards Y. Teasing Y, needling her and reducing her to tears for no apparent reason is a daily affair and of course telling Y to ignore him has absolutely no effect! When even mommy can't ignore him and control her irritation, what chance does 4-year-old Y have? :)

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Pastalicious, apparently

I simply had to share this because never ever in my life have I got such glowing compliments on ...of all cooking!
Oh well, my kids praise my baking every now and then and my alfredo sauce or basil pasta is always a favourite with them, but they are my kids and I have to discount whatever they may say.
Yesterday was pasta for lunch, for all the three of us. I was in a rush in the morning so I did what I thought was a very haphazard job, throwing spices and tomatoes and milk and cheese into the dish along with some chopped veggies. In fact I even managed to over-cook the pasta. When Ads came back home, he pressed a very grubby piece of paper into my hand. Amma, my friends have written reviews of your pasta, he said.
Reviews?? 4 kids had written their opinion, along with their names. Here they are.
Advaith's mother cooks very very good food.
Awesome, best in the solar system.
Your mom's food is very nice.
Advaith's mom, you are a great chef.
Gosh!!! I had this HUGE smile on my face that hasn't been wiped out even 24 hours later :)
Friend#2 has given me the best compliment I've ever received. Considering that I am a competent chef at the very best and nowhere close to great or awesome, I feel good that I can atleast satisfy the not-so-sophisticated taste buds of a bunch of hungry 7-year olds :))

Monday 26 November 2012

Little milestones

Some milestones and inflexion points attained over the last couple of months. Some minor, some major, some that still need work!
1. Ads' slight OCD behaviour continues! I'm not complaining since he's been channeling it in ways that are largely in my favour. For example, he gets back from school and will not have his milk unless he has cleared away his lunch box, put away his shoes, thrown his uniform into the laundry basket and compulsively tidied up the shoes/sandals that are lying all over the place - these belong to Y and me since we would have entered the house just a few minutes before him :) Never mind that some days he is so hungry and tired when he gets back from school and I'm yelling for all I'm worth - Leave it. We'll clear it up later. But nope!
2. Y has begun dressing/undressing on her own, with some help from me with buttons and such. She's become tall enough to reach her closet all by herself, which of course does not help when she holds up a highly unsuitable party frock (which I had hidden right at the bottom of the pile!) to go play in the park :)
3. The kids finally finally started sleeping on their own. This is a biggie. We have taken years to transition from rocking them, holding them, cuddling them, telling them stories, and generally having an unnecessarily long and involved bedtime routine. Now they get tucked in, a short cuddle if they want or a nice long hug and kiss to both, and I am out of there! 8 pm Zindabad! 
When S is in town, it's back to the good old days - he prefers to huddle/cuddle with them all night while I'm happy in the guest room by myself. But atleast we know the kids can sleep on their own and that helps me sleep better at night :)
4. Mealtimes are more streamlined. Ads seems to be dropping less food on the ground and more into his mouth. Y, who was always far less messier but much slower and fussier than Ads, dawdles less over her plate and is more malleable to trying out new kinds of food.
5. I've been doing less with Ads on the homework front as well. He has to tell me what's in his almanac for the day and if there is some homework or some activity that I have to help him with. If he doesn't let me know - too bad, cos it doesn't get done!
6. While Ads has been going to the school bus-stop and back home from the bus-stop for quite some time, I never realized that he did not want me with him. I wasn't able to go with him, not out of choice, but out of necessity. But one day, when I had S at home to keep an eye on Y, I offered to accompany him and he refused. When this happened multiple times, I pressed him for the reason. He hemmed and hawed. Finally he whispered - Amma, you talk to me in front of everybody in Tamil!! It's so embarrasing!!!
I've been meaning to jot down these updates for weeks now, but was jolted into action after getting inspired by Aparna's post here. Thanks, Aparna! 

Balle Balle(t)!!

Y has been attending a baby ballet class in Gurgaon for the last four or five months. I enrolled her for a lark, because she loves dancing and because I thought performing on stage would make her more confident and less of a shrinking violet.
She’s been bunking half the classes this semester thanks to our crazy travelling and weekend breaks, which, given how expensive ballet classes are, has made me feel very guilty indeed! Barring the first couple of classes, I did not get to see what she had been learning since the moms and dads were shooed away from the 30 minute class every week (we were too much of a distraction for some of the kids!). Yesterday was the end-of-semester performance in New Delhi. The baby ballerinas had a 10-minute segment to perform on stage and my darling was phenomenal (ok......I exaggerate....but just a little bit!).
No stage fright whatsoever. Lots of confidence.  A good amount of grace and sense of rhythm. Since the kids are so young, they had their teacher on stage taking them through the steps. She could have smiled more (but that’s just me nit-picking). Most important, she seemed to be having a good time.
I was clicking away furiously and got lots of photos but the video I shot has mysteriously disappeared! This semester is over but she will hopefully continue in the KG Ballet class come January. Ads has also started Carnatic music lessons from last week so we are no longer culture philistines in this household :)

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Snapshots from Diwali 2012

No crackers this year, said my son.
When I protested he exclaimed, "Amma I think you don’t care about global warming!"
When loud crackers shattered the (relative) silence of our evenings and nights, he would rush to the window and yell "Can you please stop that noise!!"
Ms. Sheila Dikshit and Delhi-NCR schools have certainly done a decent job of getting kids to promise to celebrate a cracker-free Diwali. It’s a long haul but it’s a start. Dilli ke pyare pyare bacchon, says the Delhi CM over the airwaves, patakon ke bina hi Diwali manayein.
We’ve had a unseasonably chilly and smoggy November so far, so I’m glad our family isn’t contributing to choking up the air any more. I went a little crazy buying up beeswax candles, glass votives and mud diyas for the home.
We had been cleaning and throwing out junk from the house for the last one week. Ads kept compulsively straightening the cushions and bedcovers everywhere saying that the house has to look really tidy! Never mind that his room like Hurricane Sandy had just visited :) On Diwali day, Ads made chocolate burfis (a no-cook recipe he learnt at school with crushed Marie biscuits, condensed milk and cocoa powder). I made payasam (kheer). We put up thorans and drew several rangolis.

A simple aarthi in our puja alcove, and visiting the few friends/neighbours  who happened to be in town over the long weekend took up the rest of the morning. The kids fell on vadai, sweets and mixture indiscriminately as though they had not been fed for weeks!
I lit a bunch of mud diyas in the evening. Here's a shot, our balcony in the forground.

We're off post-dinner to people-watch (me!) and get some second-hand cracker enjoyment (kids!) :)
Happy Deepavali, people!

Thursday 8 November 2012

Medieval Magic in Bundelkhand - Khajuraho

Surprise#1 in Khajuraho - The roads leading up to it are decent (Hail Tourism!)
Surprise#2 in Khajuraho - There are white faces everywhere. Forgive me for being an ignoramus, but while I knew that the Golden Triangle, Kerala, Goa were well-known for tourists coming from foreign shores, I did not know Khajuraho was also on the tourist trail. We were one of the handful of brown and Indian families around. Quite an unsettling experience when you know you are in India!
Surprise#3 in Khajuraho - The new town is CLEAN! Clean as a whistle. There are lots of trees and shrubs, nice broad roads and avenues. We didn't venture near the old town but I assume that is very much like towns anywhere else in India.
The biggest shock was the railway station. You know how railway stations are in India. And now see this.
Surprise#4 in Khajuraho - The UNESCO World Heritage Site is again very well-maintained. This is not a given. I've seen plenty that are a disgrace (The Taj Mahal is one!). The Western complex of temples is set in the midst of green lawns and trees, where once there was just dense jungle. Even the loos there were reasonably fit for use. The approach roads to the temple complex are in a Silent Zone, which means no vehicles are allowed inside. Even the hawkers seemed less noisy :)
The icing on this particular cake was a cloudy day which made it easier for us to wander around the temples without having to duck for cover from a harsh sun. The children could not have been more disinterested in the place but they kept themselves busy by talking to each other, fighting, hunting for bats and generally fooling around.
We had good knowledgeable guides in all the 3 places we visited. Our guide in Khajuraho pointed out that while Khajuraho was world-famous for its erotic sculptures, they form just 10-15% of the whole. It's a shame that the awe-inspiring centuries-old technical knowledge of the engineers who constructed the temples and the artistry and craftsmanship of the stonecarvers goes relatively unnoticed! Having said that, the erotic sculptures are extremely explicit and I was glad Ads did not pay enough attention, else I am sure I would have faced a LOT of uncomfortable questions!
The temples at Khajuraho are the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. Only the Taj compares - and it only scores because of it's extreme simplicity which is the core of its loveliness. The Khajuraho monuments are the opposite - ornate and elaborate - and stunning. 
The pictures say more than words.

I wish I had some of the better snaps but we were clicking pics on the ipad (our camera was low on battery) and for some reason the iCloud hasn't updated itself with all the photos we clicked.
That's the end of my Bundelkhand Diary. I came away with a new found respect for and interest in, little-known parts of our country. I know so few people who have visited Khajuraho, for example. In fact, I know no one who has :) We picked up a bunch of MP tourism brochures and spent time poring over them. There's so much still to explore in that one state of Incredible India! So much to see, so little time :(

Tuesday 6 November 2012

And baby turns four

So the littlest one turned 4 a few days ago and she has been punching above her weight for so long now that I have to sometimes do a double check. FOUR? That's how old she is? Only FOUR?
She's pretty tall for her age, well atleast more than averagely tall (maybe she'll get mine and my family's tall genes!). People tell me she looks thinner now than a few months ago but she's actually been getting heavier and taller so she looks a lot leggier. With her glasses and her shy smile, she looks older than she is. She's a lot (a LOT!) more mature than Ads at the same age (I still shudder to relive his threes). Many a time she will run to me and whisper "Anna is in a bad mood!"
Y is quiet in company and with strangers as well as in school. But she must have a split personality because she is a whirlwind at home, a huge bundle of energy that lights up every moment of our lives Having said that, it takes her a lot of time to warm up to people. What really helps is if they know Tamil because she is not all that comfortable in Hindi and English.
She loves books, pink and purple, dancing, shiny glittery stuff (yuck!), long hair, puris, salad, ketchup and all manner of junk food. She confidently proclaims that the peregrine falcon is her favourite bird and the T-Rex her favourite dinosaur (elder bro's influence clearly at play here!). Hero-worshipping and following Ads has meant that art, craft and reading has taken center-stage and she entirely skipped the whole stage of make-believe play (maybe it will come later).
It sounds cliched but I'll say it anyway. She is truly the light of my life. She's good, and obedient, and polite, and helpful and very very mature. She's naughty, but not the kind of naughty that gives a parent panic attacks. Just the kind of naughty that makes you smile, sigh a little (yell a little, in my case!) and move on. She's very comical and can do startlingly good impersonations for her age (some talent there, maybe?)
She is curious, and intelligent, and affectionate, and very perceptive. Perhaps wearing glasses at an early age have given her some extra acuity. She's quick to pick up on cues and knows very well when someone is talking about her, though sometimes she will pretend not to have heard.
There are so many ways in which she has changed in the last year, and yet she's retained all the nice things and caught none of the nasty toddler habits. For which I am very grateful.
When I am rushing back home in the afternoons, that's generally the time that my energy is at an all-time low. I'm usually yawning my head off in the metro and longing to take a nap. I usually only have enough time to run home an drop my bag off before heading downstairs again to pick up Y at the bus stop. Magically, my spirits and my energy levels rise dramatically when I see her. She's all I need to get through the rest of my day.
My daughter, my delight. Every day in every way.

Monday 5 November 2012

Medieval Magic in Bundelkhand - Orccha

Gwalior to Orccha is about 117 km. What should have been a fairly easy journey turned out to be a backbreaking 5 hours over some truly horrible roads (if you can call them that). The kids even started feeling puky so I asked them both to close their eyes. We were in an Innova so Y was able to stretch out on the backseat and sleep. Ads also managed to get some rest while I kept a plastic bag handy to catch any projectiles that the kids might eject.  At the end of it we were dying to get out of the car and stop being hurtled from one end of the vehicle to another. We made two stops, at Datia and Jhansi. Wiki describes the 17th century palace of Bir Singh Deo at Datia as one of the finest examples of Hindu domestic architecture available in Northern India. We were unable to walk past the first/second floor, stymied by a huge beehive!
Clearly, the ASI or INTACH (or similar bodies if there are any) need to get more involved in preserving and maintaining these beautiful monuments! Right now, its the State Monuments Authority at Bhopal who is overseeing the care and upkeep of some of these places. The Jhansi Fort was quite interesting, I believe. Y fell asleep in the car so I stayed behind while S and Ads explored the fort.
We reached Orccha around 4 pm, pretty tired. I’d selected the hotel based on its location and the photos on its website. The river Betwa flows right past the hotel, which has been constructed by the Maharaja of Tikamgarh (about 100 km away and one of the capitals of the erstwhile Bundelkhand region). The resort was designed in a very traditional manner, all arches and colour and traditional murals on the walls and ceilings, no TVs and intercoms in the room etc etc. Our room had a small patio which directly overlooked the river – it was perfect! All you had to do was to walk down to the rocky ‘beach’ to reach the riverbank. It was a very idyllic setting and all it needed to make it even more perfect was a sunset, which unfortunately we could not view from that spot.
We did however wake up early enough next morning to view the sunrise. The sun arose right over the trees fringing the river and we got a few picture-postcard shots of birds flying high against the backdrop of an orange orb :)
What a pretty little town Orccha is, all but forgotten and ignored in the present time. It’s glory days were back in the 12th -14thcenturies when it rose to become the capital of Bundelkhand. I hadn’t even heard of it a couple of months ago, yet it was overrun by American tourists with some Europeans thrown it. Have you noticed how in India the tourists are all either the young backpackers on a thin budget or else the empty-nesters with fat wallets? India is not a place for the in-betweens! I vividly remember the young American family at the Taj Mahal last August – parents with 2 very young kids, probably the same age as mine. Remember the weather this part of the country in August is maddening with the high levels of humidity. The father was soaked in sweat and trying to manage 2 cranky kids and fobbing off pesky vendors, photographers and general hangers-on while his wife was gamely trying to make sense of what the guide was saying. I felt intensely sorry for them especially as my own son was in the middle of a humungous tantrum at that time. 
Anyway, I digress....back to Orccha. First we visited the Jahangir Mahal which was built by the King to extend the hand of friendship to the Mughals. It took 22 years to build yet Jahangir stayed there only for 1 night, promising to return but never managed to. The Mahal is a very interesting fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture. For example in the photo below, the dome on the left is clearly simple and Islamic whereas the one on the right (an inverted lotus) is plainly a typical example of Hindu architecture.

Every doorway, every stairway, really every bit of every room was so intricately carved in sandstone!

Orccha is extremely green and the view from the palace is simply beautiful, with a thick band of blue-silver where the Betwa winds its way across the plain. I could imagine how much more enticing the view must have been even just a hundred years ago with no ugly houses, electricity pylons and cellphone towers to distract the eye.

The Raja Mahal had some eye-catching murals on its walls and ceilings but the building itself was in a sad sad state of disrepair. Extremely dark and dingy with no signage, it made me sick to see many murals defaced by ignorant and uncaring people.
Our last stop was the Chhatris or cenotaphs that seem to define Orccha. You see them from any vantage point. The resting places of the kings of Orccha could not be more scenic, placed as they are on the banks of the Betwa. The neat and well-laid out gardens provide a dignified setting to the skilfully carved Chhatris. We bid adieu to our guide there as we wanted to linger and savour the quiet and beauty of the place. Later in the evening, we braved the narrow bridge full of honking and speeding vehicles, our hearts in our mouths as we walked across the bridge with no railing to provide safety from the rushing river beneath us. Or destination was the vantage point to see the sun setting over the Chhatris. It was well worth the effort although Ads kept panicking every time a vehicle passed us and I was sure one of us was going to get swept away in the river with all the tension he was inducing!

So ended our trip to Orchha, which was less about the sights than about discovering a little-known Indian gem at a leisurely pace. Next up – Khajuraho!

Saturday 27 October 2012

Medieval Magic in Bundelkhand - Gwalior

So we are on a roll here :)
Barely a fortnight after my work trip to Bundelkhand, and less than 3 weeks after our Jaisalmer break, we were (once again) sitting in a Shatabdi at 6 am, speeding towards Gwalior. I opted to miss all of the Navarathri festivities in our complex which are always a lot of fun and include Golu invitations, Kanya pujas, the Raavan-vadh, and a Dandiya nite, in favour of a holiday with the family to some fairly offbeat destinations.
Some months ago, I'd looked at the map and found to my surprise that Gwalior was just a 3.5 hour train ride away from Delhi. you can imagine, that set a lot of bells ringing in my head :) I'd always assumed that since it was in Madhya Pradesh, it would be a good long train ride to get there, not realizing until my map-poring exercise that it's such a large state and abuts so many other states that it lies just over the border from UP. The more I read about MP, the more intrigued I became and the more possibilities it opened up! The Dussehra break for S and the kids prompted me to apply for a couple of days off from work, and get our bookings done.
First stop Gwalior, where we stayed at the new Neemrana 'non-hotel' property. We are great fans on Neemrana and would recommend their properties to anyone looking for living in a restored heritage building (like a fort!), some great decor with local touches (a little or a LOT!), no TVs in the room, and impeccable service. The place in Gwalior we stayed in has been open for almost a year but they are still restoring and building to add more rooms so it was a work-in-progress.  
A temple (one of many) inside the property

The zenana quarters

Our 'balcony' :)

Cranes and cows all around the moat-like depression around the zenana quarters
We reached Gwalior around 10, checked in and decided to take a nice long post-prandial nap in preparation for the arduous evening sightseeing :) Our first stop was the Scindia museum at the Jai Vilas Palace, the erstwhile home of the Scindia royal family.
All I have to say is that the royals had it good while it lasted. The museum was really interesting. There were stone carvings and statues dating from the the BC era through the 11th-12th Century AD! None of them were even behind a glass case and I was terrified lest I knock them over. The rooms retained a lot of their original furnishing - there were formal dining and drawing rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, budoirs, a nursery, a study and many others. Luxuriously and exquisitely furnished.

The pooja room

Can you see the train tracks on the table? The table is so long they needed it to move the dishes!
The kids had a lot of fun exploring the museum, though Y was very puzzled about why all the rooms were empty, who lives there and why are we in their house? Finally she said that she wants to get married to a prince and live in a palace! (My girl has some priorities right :)) Ads was fascinated by the many stuffed tigers on the walls and in glass cases and by the many paintings and photos of tiger hunts. By all accounts the Scindias may have decimated half the tiger population of the state.
Later, we stopped by Tansen's tomb, where the major excitement was spotting a mongoose! The next day, we went to the Mansingh Palace which was completed in 1508 AD by Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior.
A view of the palace exterior inside the Gwalior Fort. The fort is of course at an elevation and the city is down below.

Look at the peacock carved into the wall - isn't it exquisite?
We also visited the Saas-Bahu temple, a set of 2 temples which had the most beautiful carvings. There wera  few other places we could have visited but on that day they were closed off due to an event happening in the fort.

So ended our short but very interesting stay at Gwalior. There's more medieval magic coming up in my next posts :)

Wednesday 17 October 2012


Another successful work-travel accomplished with Dad taking charge of the home and all that it contains.
I called up S one morning to check in. After I dialled him, I realized it was a Saturday and that I may have woken him up. S was scornful. Woken up? I’ve been to the gym, Ads is having his milk, everything is under control. Don’t call me, I have a PTM to attend, ballet class to take Y to, and groceries to shop for.
Oops. As much as I like my man to be empowered in the domestic department, I hate knowing he can do it as well as I can :)
Details of my trip here.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Monitoring screen time

People are constantly amazed when they hear about the minsicule screen time my kids have. These discussions invariably happen in the company of friends and neighbours who are moaning about how much TV their kids watch, how they are addicted to video games/ipad/Wii/PSP and the computer. I am constantly being told about how video games and the like will take over my kids' life real soon. Just wait till Ads/Y are a little older and they will be addicted to XYZ, I hear.
Well, I really don't think so! IMHO, I have laid a pretty strong foundation of limited screen time (especially TV) and on top of that, I can be quite the harridan of a mother. Yes, a strong word, isn't it?! There's space for only one nag in the family and I get to wear that crown in ours. I'm confident that the kids will toe my line for atleast a few more years.
I admit I am surprised (not in a nice way) about the amount of TV even toddlers watch. I had it drilled into my head ever since my early mothering days that kids under 2 should not watch any TV and kids over 2 and under 6 can watch an hour or two hours at the most. Having rigorously followed this dictum, I now find myself in the middle of a virtuous circle where Ads and Y (now aged almost 4 and 7) rarely ask for TV, having never got into the habit of sitting in front of the idiot box. Our TV is quite literally the idiot box - it stands dumb and silent most days!
What they do watch is a couple of cartoons a week (maybe half an hour of Chota Bheem). Ads is now hooked onto Animal Planet and NatGeo Wild videos (both on YouTube and TV) and he does a couple of sessions during the week on days when he has no tennis class or homework. This amounts to 2-3 hours a week at the most. He shuns the ipad and reluctantly uses it for an hour or so over the weekend, working on a math app that I have downloaded. Y is much more of an ipad aficionado. I’ve found it very useful to teach her numbers, alphabets and now some basic spelling using some of the awesome apps available. 

In consequence of such limited screen time, I find that the children have a lot of time to do other things - get out into the fresh air, run around and play, go cycling or scootering, draw, paint and craft, go for tennis and music class; also fight, make-up, cry, scream and yell as kids will! When I am working (after they get back from school, I tend to have some calls and such) and unable to give them my time or attention, I'm content that they aren't in front of the TV but doing something a lot more productive involving working with their hands or engaging with a real person instead of an animation.
Not watching TV myself has been a boon in this regard. My kids may complain that Amma spends a lot of time working on her laptop, but they never complain that I plonk myself in front of the TV! S has been trying to get Ads to watch some sports with him but he isn't very keen, so we haven't pressed him.

Ads still can't switch on or operate the TV/remote on his own and I don't bother to teach him! The first time he saw a Wii was during the summer, in Chennai at a friend's place. I'm far from being tech-hater or technophobe; I have seen first hand the learning that can happen through tech tools. In any case, learning today is far more interactive than it was two decades ago and it would be foolish to deprive our kids some of the tools that are available today. The operative word being some. 
As in everything else about parenting, decisions about screen time and technology also need to be thoughtful and reasonable. Moderation seems to have yielded good results so far. I'm sure as they grow older, they will want to watch more TV. Ads seems to have a liking already for Masterchef Australia! :)

Saturday 22 September 2012

Mother Bear!

You know you need stop eating and start exercising when
  •  Your son can't get enough of hugging you and affectionately says - Amma, you feel just like a polar bear!
  • When the low-rise jeans no longer fit while the postpartum jeans of almost 4 years ago sit nice and snug on your waist!
  • When you catch yourself eating dessert after every meal, and in between meals!
I blame the husband for this – one hundred per cent. Being a single parent is taking its toll on my waistline, if nothing else (how's that for some nifty blame-shifting?) With S travelling a minimum of four days a week, and often five, the entire load of managing house and child-care has fallen on me. With no backup and no one to share my anxieties (real or imagined), two things have happened.
My exercise routine, which once ticked along like clockwork, has fallen by the wayside. With no one to watch over Y in the mornings, I can’t go for my brisk walks any more. Any home-based workout is also out of the question as I have enough to do in the mornings with getting her ready for school and myself dressed for work. Plus, I’m reaching out to food as a stress-buster. I’ve always been a bit of a stress-eater and this situation has aggravated my natural instinct towards emotional eating.
The result? The kilos have piled on (and I look like a polar bear, apparently!). A few months ago, thanks to a nasty stomach infection, I’d whittled down to my pre-baby weight, the lightest I’ve been since Ads was born. While I’ve never believed I being stick-thin, I do want to be and look fit. When I don’t exercise, I fall ill more often and my energy levels are not as high as I need them to be.
Starting last week, I resolved to somehow fit in some daily yoga and walks whenever S is in town (and even if he isn’t, perhaps nightly, post tuck-kids-into-bed walks would work). And stop reaching out for that bhujia or murukku when I’m bored or hassled! No unattainable objectives, just some minor lifestyle changes. Take it nice and slow. Wish me luck!