Thursday, August 23, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years!


In the last four years, whenever I saw the newspaper headline saying 'Common Entrance Test results announced', I would heave a deep sigh of relief. Why? For the simple reason we were now out of this ordeal. I took sadistic pleasure in passing on the baton to the next set of parents and students!

However, I can never forget those two gruelling years when children had to decide on their professional careers and the preparations that they had to go through to get into a decent professional college. India, like many other Asian countries is highly competitive. (You can read about and watch the exam frenzy in South Korea here and here)What with lakhs of children appearing for entrance exams for admissions into one of the thousands of professional colleges!

This series of blog posts documents the process, the upheavals we went through when our kids were preparing for their entrance exams for professional colleges. Our experience might help parents whose children are currently in their 11th or 12th grades.

First up, do not expect this to be a smooth sailing, physically, mentally and emotionally. However, do not forget that the most important person here is your child. Let your child decide what their dreams and aspirations are. Do not force or expect your children to try and fulfil your dreams. This would be a highly explosive situation, which both parents and children will find tough to recover from.

Remember, your children at this age are also going through very rough times. They now think that they are almost adults and know what is best for them. They make their own decisions and do not like parents to tell them what they should or should not be doing. You can guide them and discuss the pros and cons, but the final decision should always be left to them. 

Getting back to my experience, once my elder son was clear that he wanted to take up Engineering stream, our search for coaching institutes began. Here, I have to tell you that the need to take up external coaching through one of these Institutes is completely dependent on the child's work ethic (the ability to be focused, diligent and extremely goal oriented) apart from the confidence to handle the exams on one's own. Wait! there is also another option. You parents can don the mantle of a teacher if you so had a dream at one time. Yes, I have heard of instances where the parents take a sabbatical for two years to coach their children themselves! You have to be good in core science subjects though. So the choice is yours.

Coaching Institutes are another story. The bigger ones have their own entrance tests to qualify for admission into these Institutes. What an Irony! And all this to help your child prepare for the entrance exam to get into a Professional college!  So we were elated when it was announced that the school in which my son was studying had tied up with one of the leading coaching institutes which would give coaching after school hours. 

Hurrah! We felt happy as the advantage was, that the venue would be their own school. Commuting would be nil. Also, there were so many children from our apartment, that we parents could take turns to pick up children at 8.00 pm when their classes would end. The only negative being that he would be spending almost 12 hours at the school! But considering other options, we all felt that was not an issue at all. On the D day, we wished him all the best. He gave his Entrance Exam and we all waited with bated breath for the results to be announced. Well, destiny had other plans for him I guess. All our well-made plans came to nought when he told us that he did not make it to the final list.

This spelt trouble for us. So we spent time googling various other coaching institutes, their success rates, the fee and of course the distance. Our research helped us zero in on one of the best coaching Institutes. However, we also discovered that even among the one that we had shortlisted the best Professors were at their main centre. Now, this was a good one hour's drive from our house during peak hours in the evening.

However, the first priority was to see to it that our son got through the Institute's Entrance Exam. We thought logistics could be worked out later. Much to our delight,  he had cleared the Entrance and had got admission at the Institute. We were relieved. He had made it and had crossed the first hurdle. Hurrah again! Little did we realise that this was, but the first step.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The joy of letters

Today I got into the mood of clearing my wardrobe. How all those unwanted items get collected is still a mystery to me! It was as I was clearing the drawer that I saw it. I stood there gaping for a moment in a state of bliss. Very slowly I took it in my hands. Very delicately I unfolded it. As I gazed at it an aura of happiness enveloped me and memories flooded in my mind - what I had chanced upon was a treasure trove - the blue inland letters which I had received ages ago from my dear mom, dad, my sisters and my husband at various times of my life!

As I read through the letters I could not control the tears of joy as events and memories came cascading. There were letters written by me to my husband when I had been to my mom's house during the birth of our child, where I had recorded every minute detail of our baby, right from him twitching his toes to his angelic smile. Letters from my Mom and Dad, even letters written by my uncle and aunt who were not able to attend our wedding, but gave their blessings to us by means of writing a letter!

As I looked at these letters I could not but help look back into my childhood and teen years when letters formed the most integral part of our life. Getting letters were moments of joy. The moment the dear old postman would shout "POST" one of us would rush to get it from him and then proceed to sort it out. Letters which my mom got from her mother would be read loudly by her to all of us.

When Dad used to travel, he would write letters to us describing in detail the various places that he visited and took us on a virtual trip to Paris, London, Amsterdam, and many other places along with postcards of that place. Then would come the best part that we all used to wait for; the gifts that he had bought for each one of us. This would be read again and again by all of us with great gusto.

Then there would be in-house letters we used to exchange between us sisters. In fact, I had the habit of writing letters to my Dad where I found it easier to put across my thoughts in writing than tell it orally. I would then slip it carefully under his pillow when no one was around and just let the tip of the letter protrude for him to notice.

This might seem like a piece of paper but the emotions poured into this was immeasurable. There was love, sadness, helplessness, fun, joy - you name it, it was there hidden in these little blue papers. I remember all the times that I used to write letters I would take care that I used the best of my handwriting.

Every summer vacations, we were asked by my Mom to write letters to our grandparents. I recollect how we first used to write a rough draft of our letter on a sheet of paper, and only when we thought it was good we would copy the same onto the inland letters. This was to avoid scratching out words or sentences and to avoid grammatical errors.  Such was the care taken to write a letter! We would then wait with bated breath for the return post from them. My grandfather used to reply promptly. It was a sheer joy reading his letter which used to be written in impeccable English with absolutely no grammatical error.

But sadly even in my wildest of dreams I never thought that letters would become a thing of past, an obsolete relic, and hence never bothered to treasure these. Now I wish if only had I done it, I could have shown it to my children -  the letters written to me by their great-grandfather, If only..... I sigh.

Today when I ask my children to write letters to their cousins they say they will, but somehow never get down to it. Who would spend time writing letters when at a click of a button they could email, WhatsApp or Snapchat with anyone around the world?  It might be keeping pace with the times, but will it ever come close to this small blue paper called the inland letter or the long sheaf of papers enclosed in an envelope with love and care in every word that was written, bearing our name and address on it? I doubt.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

In-house exchange scheme

Looked like just the other day we used to go shopping for apparels for our two small kids. This was more for those occasional outings, as most of the school years were spent in their school uniforms. For my younger one more often than not it would be hand-me-downs from his elder sibling.

Once they graduated to eleventh and twelfth grade it was still uniforms, but slowly they became very picky and choosy about what they wanted to wear. Even then, my job was made easier as at any given point of time one would find them in their favourite football jerseys. All mom's by now know how low or no maintenance apparels these are. Day in and day out they would be in these jerseys which prompted my mother to ask me 'don't you buy them any new shirts to wear?'

Very soon, it was time for our elder sons Graduation Day on completion of his twelfth grade. They were all supposed to come in suits. So my husband suggested why not use one of his suits? After all, apart from this one occasion, the use for suits would be too far and few. Initially reluctant, he, however, saw some merit in what we were saying when he found how expensive it was to buy them; either ready made or getting it stitched. So he tried a few of his Dad's suits and found one where the jacket was a near perfect fit. That left us with only the trouser that needed to be altered. Nothing that an expert tailor with a little snip here and a little tightening there could not do. This done, and with the suit spending, a couple of days at the dry cleaners came back as good as a perfect new suit. Lo and behold! On the day of the Graduation Day our son suddenly transformed into a handsome, grown-up mature boy!!

However, the same formula did not work with my younger son. He was skinny and a little short then. Hence we had to buy a new suit for him on his Graduation Day. As he said 'this was justified and he deserved it for all those times that he had worn hand me downs'!

But now equations have changed. Now that both of them are young adults, most of their apparel shopping happens online. What with good bargains, discounts, and easy return/ exchange policies. However amidst all this, welcome to another new scheme, ' In-house exchange scheme' - Dad to Son, Son to Dad, Son to Mom and finally Siblings Exchange Scheme happens at home now! You see, one size fits all!!

A few months back my husband had ordered a few shirts online. Instead of 'Regular Fit' what was delivered was 'Slim Fit'. It naturally found its way into our son's wardrobes! And boy! they were more than happy about the goof up. After all, they told their Dad it was a 'perfect fit' for them. Not only that, some of their T-shirts after a few months suddenly finds it's way into their Dad's wardrobe! Reason - 'I have been using those T-shirts for a long time and moreover, Papa it suits you better than me'. Hold on, that's not all. Some of their old T-shirts have also found their way into my wardrobe and believe me those make for a very comfortable nightwear!

Just the other day my husband was getting ready to go for a meeting and as he was putting on his pair of formal black shoe, much to his dismay he noticed that a sharp object had damaged his shoe. Just as I was wondering what to do I saw my husband rummaging into the shoe rack and emerging back with a winning smile on his face. He had tried on a pair of my son's formal black shoe and guess what? It was a perfect fit - it was, however, another matter when my son came home and he got to know his Dad was using his shoe, he generously offered it to him to use it permanently and bought a new pair for himself! 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Did you remember to carry it today?

It was a Thursday, the day I usually buy my veggies and fruits for the week. I have a few of these small shops from whom I buy regularly. I refrain from going to supermarkets to buy veggies and fruits for three reasons

  1. You never know how fresh they are 
  2. I like to touch and feel the fruits and vegetables before I buy. This is out of the question in a mall as they are all packed in plastic covers 
  3. I like the one-on-one connection and the rapport I can build with these vendors. For me, big shops are very impersonal and devoid of that human touch. 

When I visit my Mom's place I meet the same vendors whom we used to see as kids. They talk to us affectionately and choose the best of fruits and vegetables for us. They were and still are a part of our lives.

Continuing with my story, that Thursday as I was walking towards the vegetable shop, I saw a lady talking to the vendor. As I approached, I saw that the woman had several cloth bags with her which she was giving to the shopkeeper free of cost. She asked him to convince and encourage his customers to start using cloth bags instead of plastic bags. The scheme was, the customer is to be charged a nominal sum for the cloth bag and the next time the customer wants to return the bag the vendor can deduct the cost of the bag from the total bill amount.

The idea here was to start getting people to use cloth bags instead of plastic bags and to encourage them to remember to get cloth bags whenever they shopped. She turned towards me and saw that I was already carrying cloth bags. She requested me to try and spread awareness and I promised her that I would. I saw the shopkeeper hanging the cloth bags on the wall.

For quite some time, I have made it a point to have a few cloth bags in the car always handy, and very rarely do I have to ask for plastic bags. While it is good to see a lot of my fellow shoppers carrying their own bags, a large number still depends on the plastic bags given by the supermarkets. I understand a few governments have banned the use of plastic bags but the question is do we need legislation to stop the use of plastic, especially single-use plastic?

Every time we step out, we see piles and piles of garbage heaped on the roadside, on grounds, lake beds, and so on and what stands out in these heaps are the colorful plastic covers. We see this happening right in front of our eyes, and yet turn a blind eye to this humongous problem. Unfortunately, each one of us thinks it is not our problem.

If we remember, our grandparents or our parents didn't discard anything. They would always find ways and means to recycle stuff. The food was not wasted; old cloth materials were kept to make quilts or mats or cloth bags; old papers were kept to cover shelves or used as packing materials and so on.

It saddens me when people don't mind paying five rupees extra for the plastic carry bags at malls but are not willing to shell out a little more on cloth bags.

When I go to my vegetable vendor, I still see the same number of cloth bags hanging on the wall. When I ask him he tells me people prefer using plastic! Our parents did their bit for the conservation of our earth - it is now our turn in the changed circumstances to carry the baton forward and leave our children with a better world to live in.

Can our actions be something as small as remembering to carry cloth bags while going shopping?

Won't you as conscientious citizens of the world help spread this message and do your bit?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

School books and the brown covers

The other day as my husband and I were going for our walk, my attention was suddenly caught by a group of little boys who were sitting on the steps of a shop on the roadside busy doing something. They were so absorbed in what they were doing that they seemed to be totally oblivious of the screeching traffic, people scurrying past them or vendors shouting at the top of their voices. Curiosity aroused, I got closer only to see that these little boys were totally immersed in covering school books with brown paper!

I remembered my school days. A week before school reopened, we used to get our notebooks and textbooks for the new session. The first thing I used to do was to rapidly scan all my textbooks to see what the content was. New books were handled in a very sacred manner. Ever so carefully the pages were turned and not flipped so as not to crease the pages. While reading, books were not folded and though we had never heard of bookmarks, we would remember the page number and never would we fold the top corner of the page. It was a sacrilege! The crisp pages and the smell of the new books was something which I used to immensely enjoy.

The next step that would follow was the annual ritual of covering these books with brown sheets or in other words this was the homemade version of bookbinding! It was a ritual which my sisters and I enjoyed. Mom had taught us how to bind the books.

It is an art. Sitting on the floor with all the books beside us, all of us would spread the brown paper on the floor, keep the book that was to be bound and cut the brown paper accordingly. It was then folded neatly on all sides. Finally, when all the books were neatly covered, we would move on to the next step, that of sticking labels on the right-hand corner of the book.  At that time labels were not on sticker papers as they are today, but had to be stuck using gum. Once it was stuck and dry, in our neatest possible handwriting we used to write our name, class, section, subject, and the name of the school. Lo and behold the books thus covered would be stacked neatly in the cupboards! These books were used day in and day out through the year and after the first session used to get over if any of the books required rebinding, then we used to do it again.

When my children started their school years, this same ritual was followed. They would sit beside me and watch me bind their books. As they grew a little older they learnt to cover the books with brown paper themselves. When it came to labels, stationary shops were raided to get the labels of their choice depending on their favorite cartoon programme. Yes, instead of the ordinary plain labels that we used to have during our times they now had the choice of colorful cartoon characters and depending on the flavor of the season they had Noddy, Bob the Builder, Pokemon labels and so on.

Also read: Books - a child's best friend

But as they stepped into high school, this ritual sadly came to a stop and was limited to only their record books. Their notebooks had the school logo on it and they were instructed not to bind it. The textbooks available in the market were of such poor quality that they wouldn't even last for one session and hence we needed to get them bound professionally. So the ritual was that of going to the roadside cobbler ( Yes, you heard it right) and get the books stitched by him to retain the pages for at least one whole year! This was followed by a visit to the bookbinder's shop where the books were then bound in a hard plastic sheet.

I remember my friend to whom we had passed on our kids' textbooks, calling up to ask where and how we used to get the textbooks bound so well. So I let her in on our little secret on the longevity of our books.

I do not see this art being carried on by future generations as everything is digital now! The physical textbooks might be replaced by e-books and just like so many other fun family activities this too will vanish slowly. So that seems sadly the end of our annual ritual which my kids and I used to enjoy so immensely.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Have you read a story to your child today?

I remember one outstanding moment from the archives of my childhood very vividly even today and which is still etched in my memory. My sister's friend had lent her an Amar Chitra Katha. As the book had to be returned quickly, we asked mom to read it out to us and narrate the story. Mom has a lovely soft voice and we used to love hearing her narrate stories to us.

Ah! the world of storybooks. Right from my childhood reading and listening to stories was a passion with me - stories that were passed on from one generation to another - the story of the sparrow and the crow, the Indian version of Cinderella, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, The Hare and the Tortoise and so on. We were so very fond of stories that we would ask mom to tell us stories all the time.

Once we were able to read on our own a whole new world opened before us. There was now a role reversal. I was the official 'Story Teller'. Narrating stories during lunch and dinner times during weekends and holidays was now my domain! At school, we used to exchange storybooks. The day I got a new storybook, would be the most exciting day for me. I just could not wait a minute longer to open the pages and go through the wonderful world created by the story writer. Homework and other studies would be done and dusted in a jiffy and finally, the much awaited moment would come, when I would settle down in a corner of the house where I was least likely to be disturbed and get totally immersed in the book.

Apart from Hans Christian Anderson, Enid Blyton and so on, who can forget our very own Uncle Pai's Amar Chitra Katha? These were also one of my favorites - the mythological stories which were narrated to us right from our childhood, now took a life of their own because of their colorful pictures and simple presentation. Stories from Ramayan, Mahabharat, Panchatantra, Hitopadesh were not just stories, but also lessons in morals and values which as children we could easily understand and inculcate.

One of the stories that Mom read out to us during our school days was that of Meera Bai. The story begins with Meera being enamored by Lord Krishna right from her childhood. So she would sing, play, dance and sleep with her idol of Krishna. As she grew into a lovely woman, she was married off to the King of Mewar. But Meera was totally immersed and devoted to her Krishna alone. Her husband and his sisters try to reason with her and when Meera refuses to heed their advice, they try to poison her. But her Lord protects her and when her husband realizes her true devotion to the Lord, he himself becomes her devotee. During her last days, Meera goes to various places where Lord Krishna had lived in like Mathura, Brindavan, and Gokul where she writes and sings for her Lord to take her to him. Finally, she is united with her Lord. As mom finished reading, all three of us sat in silence totally mesmerized and when we finally looked at each other there was such powerful emotion in all of us that we had tears in our eyes. The power of stories!

In my own little way, I opened this wonderful world of story to my children too (when they were young) and continued the same tradition of weaving the magic of words, telling them stories where I could see them embark on various adventures, mysteries, and travel into that wonderful imaginary world, where they could become superheroes.

Today, despite stories being available digitally, I love the touch, the smell, and the feel of the books. So, as someone who has gone through the journey, I would urge all young parents to go on and enjoy story sessions with your little ones and enjoy the journey into the realms of the world of fantasy together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A True iCon

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of  the heart, you'll know when you find it."

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." These famous quotes are by none other than the great Tzar of Technology - Steven Paul Jobs or otherwise popularly known as Steve Jobs of Apple. I read his book - iCon. I got hooked reading about this man, whom people worship and look up to as their idol. The name is revered worldwide.

An adopted child, a college drop-out, with a burning passion, to create something different right from early years seemed to be setting a stage for achieving something great. Working out of a garage with his friend Steve Wozniak they created the first Macintosh. Subsequently Apple went on to create the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad as we all know. His work in three different genres - computers, music, and movie animation speaks for the genius Steve Jobs was.  This man had that Midas touch. He was the driving force with his intuition of futuristic outlook and made Apple the most successful company that it is now. His motto was to build a great product which had to be great looking, smart and at the same time be user-friendly. You just have to listen to his talks and you will be mesmerised. His Aura and charisma became an inspiration for millions across the world.

At home, my husband and kids are technology enthusiasts. I am still in the old, traditional mode and often get teased by them. The first Computer that we bought was in the year 1996. I remember when I came back from my mom's home after my first baby, this was the surprise that my husband had in store for me. When he explained its working it all turned out to be Greek and Latin to me. I was too wary of even touching it leave alone using it, considering the cost!

As the kids grew older, discussions centered around the latest technology, to which I was a mute spectator. And when the discussion turned to Apple products there was always that dreamy look of wanting one, but the price being a restraint. The first Apple product that came home was the iPod in 2007 when my husband had gone to the U.S. Children just couldn't wait to lay their hands on it. And it was time for celebration when it made a grand entry. All of them were totally mesmerised with it. Since I love music, I too enjoyed listening  to music on it. This was our first experience of using an Apple product. This was followed by the mini iPod. I remember there were extra stickers of Apple when we bought the iPod and the children stuck it right on top of our Samsung T.V. When some guests visited us they saw the Apple logo and asked us when we had bought an Apple T.V? Steve Jobs would have had a fit of rage at the very idea of T.V, as he thought television made people dumb.

A few months back my husband decided to buy a new laptop. We went to the Electronics store and were looking at different models. The sales person there routinely pitched in monotonously about the features of various models. But I could see my husband eyeing the far end of the counter and yes I should have guessed it was the Apple counter! Apple have their own trained salespeople I guess. When that guy started explaining the features, I was stuck by the difference. Here was a guy who was not just doing his job, but he actually loved it. The passion, the awe and the reverence with which he explained the working of the MacBook, I was wonderstruck. He was totally an Apple fan. This I have noticed is not restricted to one store - you just check out any store, the Apple counter salespeople are different. So our love affair with Apple continues with another addition to the Apple family - the MacBook Air.

So even if you are not so much into technology, I would still recommend that you read the book and listen to Steve Jobs and you will know why he is truly The iCon and motivated me to write a blog post.