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!