Monday, November 29, 2010

My little chef

I guess "Master Chef" seems to be one of those programs that never ceases to interest us. In one of my earlier blogs, I had written about "My very own Master Chefs". I must say my children are still hooked onto the program (the Australian version - they hate the Indian one) and do not seem to tire of it. Words like "dicing, chopping, marinating" all these have now become part of their vocabulary. Not just that when I start serving they ask me why have I not "plated" it well like they do it in the restaurants or as in Master Chef? And to top it all, any dish that I put in front of them goes in for some very serious evaluation a la Matt Preston. They tell me that that the dish has an amazing flavour, or the dish needs to have more of sweetness or sourness or that my plating should be better and so on and so forth!! And here I am struggling and just about managing  to plan and make a menu which just needs to be edible and healthy.

The effect of watching this program has now resulted in a lot of experimentation by my kids. Just the other day during the master chef class the method of making hash brown potatoes was demonstrated. Now my elder son told me that the next day he would be preparing this dish. At that moment I just nodded my head without giving it much thought. However the very next evening my son announced that he would be making hash brown potatoes. That night for dinner I had planned on making pizza. When he told me his plan I was definitely not in a mood. That would mean not only experimenting but also would involve more work and  I also had my  pizzas to prepare. So I asked him to prepare it some other time when I could help him out. But he was adamant. He told me "Mom, you don't need to do anything, just guide me now and then. I will do everything".

With lot of trepidation I gave in. Very soon he was busy washing the potatoes, putting it in the oven and baking it. Next he peeled the skin and grated the potatoes. Now even my husband  got interested. Together they put it in the mould and then fried it. In the process my son burnt his finger. But his enthusiasm never waned. Voila! there were several tasty little hash browns resting on the tray and looking very inviting.

That night for dinner we had a feast what with pizzas and hash brown. I should say here that they tasted absolutely amazing. My son was glowing with all the compliments given to him. I felt quite proud of my little master chef.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mobile maid

Well, I should say that times are changing fast and technology is no longer an elite subject. Now I see vendors, hawkers, coolies, drivers and not to forget the maids becoming tech savvy. It is not uncommon to see our drivers and maids having much more contemporary ringtones than what we have.

Here's my maid's story. Almost all the maids in our apartment come armed with their mobile phones. My maid is no exception. She proudly brandishes a new mobile handset every once in two to three months. I gawk and am left speechless when she tells me the cost. My logic is simple. I need a mobile solely for the purpose of being accessible to others and also to make a call when I am out of home. I remember when my husband suggested buying a mobile for me I told him that I do not need one as I do not see much use for it. But you see, you don't say no to a birthday gift and my husband used that occasion.

Back to my maid. I find that she gets more calls than I do and the phone miraculously stays glued to her ear while she washes the vessels. All the time, I fear that she would break one of my glass wares. And the calls last for more than an hour. Phew! Not just that - when not on calls she is listening to music on her hands free! Photos, videos, music - you name it she is able to decipher even though she does not know to read English. Isn't that great? I am sure for her parents who come from the poorest of the poor strata seeing their children using such gizmos must be way beyond their imagination.

I felt good for whatever it is worth - the mobile which only a select few could use once upon a time is today a necessity and undoubtedly has ushered in one of the most recognisable consumer revolution in India - a clear indication that even if it's technology, if it's simple to use, well priced and has a utility will reach the masses. Today if I need the help of a plumber or a carpenter I know that they are just a call away.

For that matter I get calls from my maid from her mobile informing me that she will not be able to come to work as she is held up else-where or that she will be coming a little late! Isn't that wonderful, even though it means extra workload?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Would you do away with your watch?

An interesting news item caught my eye when I was reading my daily dose of news. The headlines read "Wristwatch may be the next casualty" and according to the article, a study has found that more and more people are preferring to rely on newer technology like mobile phones and computers to keep track of appointments, meetings and even to keep track of time. A watch, if used at all, is more for its brand value and designer aspect than for seeing the time. Hence, the study concluded that over a period of time the wrist watches are likely to become obsolete.

Reading that made me reminiscence about my student days. I remember during our time and even during my mom's time, HMT was the most prestigious Indian brand of watch. So if one had an HMT watch, one would wear it with great pride. Watches were quite expensive by our standards in those days and we children had to be "eligible" to wear one. It was almost considered as a  family heirloom. My mom used to tell us that her father bought one for her when she was in tenth grade and it was also standard at that time that it should be passed on to her daughters when they reached important milestone like getting into the tenth grade. We almost waited for that moment and when my elder sister got my mom's watch as a gift I was more than eager to get into tenth grade just so that I could also become the proud owner of a watch!! 

Well the day came and that day was a very special day and with great pride, I got to wear my mom's beautiful HMT watch (of course my sister got one of her own watch). Owning one's own watch also signified that we were now mature enough to take care of expensive items. I must say the tradition passed on till my youngest sister got it. Just imagine the watch ticked for all those years and years. True to its name, HMT stood by us as the time keepers of the nation.

And therefore, it was sad to read this article predicting the demise of the watch. Definitely the times have changed and are changing faster than I like.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A memorable trip

The lotus shaped Matrimandir
Holidays are something that one looks forward to. And if the holidays have a travel component to them, then what more could one ask for? Just getting away from the normal routine for sometime gives one that boost of energy to get back to it once again. Also it had been quite sometime since we had last been to any new place and during this Dussehra vacation, we decided on a trip to Pondicherry on the spur of  the moment . I wanted to visit Pondi as I had heard so much about it. As we all know, it is the place from where Sri Aurobindo pursued his spiritual journey. Apart from Aurobindo Ashram, there is also Auroville a place conceptualised and built under the supervision of Mother a devotee of Sri Aurobindo. I was excited to just to be able to visit these places.

Amidst lush green surroundings
Aurobindo Ashram I should say has a very serene and old world charm. The well maintained gardens and Shri Aurobindo's samadhi is the highlight here. In Auroville the highlight is the Matrimandir. This is in the shape of a full bloomed lotus and looks majestic amidst the lush green surroundings. This is where people can come and meditate in peace. However the condition is that only people who sincerely wish to do meditation can gain entry and to do this one needs to book well in advance. Much as I wished to, time constraint and an advance booking of three days made it impossible for me to do this. I felt probably this would be the reason for me to go back once again for the sole purpose of meditation.

Wonderful morning hues from the Sky, the Sun and the Sea
The best part that we all enjoyed was the early morning excursions that we made, to walk by the sea side and watch the sun rise. As many poets have described, watching sun rise for the first time or the nth number of time has the same fascinating and  wondrous effect every single time. Each time you see it, you find indescribable hues in the sky. No painter can paint this glorious scene and no writer can effectively describe the  exact feelings when the dawn breaks. I feel each one of us is affected in different ways and the serenity that one feels goes deep down. That is the time I guess one feels closer to the divine being.

The good thing was our hotel did not have a T.V. Initially I could see children were shocked and disappointed complaining how could they not have a T.V. I felt that these things have become such an integral part of their life, that  it is very hard for them to visualise life without it. But we explained that what are holidays meant for if we do not take a break from all those things that we do in our otherwise routine life?

Our early morning sojourns had a very calming effect on the children and I could see them feeling much more relaxed and peaceful. I wished then life would become so much more meaningful and we could realise our true self when one lives in surroundings where great souls lived. Maybe a day will come when one is done with all the responsibilities and that day would be the day when one can live and try and learn the true meaning of life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No work and all play

It's that time of the year when parents all around are going around with tense looks. More than household chore or office work as may be the case they look more stressed out. Reason it's exam time and it is just the mid term exam that I am talking about.

Parents have become like those old gramophones which sometimes get stuck at one place and repeat the same lines. I can hear myself repeating the moment I spot the shadow of my children and I go "What are you guys doing here, go up and study. Don't waste time" and when I turn, I find the children have long disappeared. It is more of a hide and seek game where most of the time they hide and I try to seek them.

The moment I open my mouth both the kids say "mamma, please don't give us lectures" and there I am left having to hold back all that I was trying to succinctly put in as few words as possible the importance of doing well in the exams without it seeming to be a lecture. Well all my skills of articulating my thoughts are left hanging high and dry.

However when it comes to computer time and T.V time they are as precise as a stopwatch and appear from nowhere. Suddenly I find them comfortably ensconced on the sofa or on the chair playing games or watching a football match. Such is their focus and concentration on the games or the match going on, it is hard to get any response from them even when they are spoken to.

That leaves me wishing if only that was their exam syllabus. My imagination runs wild for a moment where I feel if their History chapters deal with the origins, dates and matches played in the history of football, geography could deal with locations and teams from where the football players come from, science and technology could be easily dealt with the kind of equipments that the footballers use which are manufactured using the body type of Messi, Ronaldo, Torres and so on and so forth, Physics could deal with the dynamics of motion and energy study of each and every footballer's unique style, then I am sure they would get perfect scores. Imagine the bliss, parents would never then have to worry about exams any more. Life would have been totally tension free. I am then suddenly transported back to the land of reality.

I have found that playtime is also something which cannot be sacrificed at any cost. The moment it is 4.30 I can hear the door slamming and the next minute I can hear whoops of joy and the sound of football game being in progress. Their argument is they need break from studies. When I point out to them that they have hardly spent half an hour of their study time what with breaks for drinking water, juice or munching on savouries in between they close the argument by saying probably I do not know how to read the clock!!

Finally there I am making resolution that henceforth I will not give lengthy lectures or get stuck repeating the done to death lines over and over. Well somehow the moment exam times are round the corner it will be the same all over again.....

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Warning: Reading this newspaper in the morning might spoil your day

The first thing in the morning across the world that none of us can make do without is reading the newspaper. However busy one's morning is, one cannot resist the urge to quickly skim through at least the headlines. Even with T.V where one has access to news 24x7, there is nothing better than having a hot cup of coffee and opening the crisp newspaper and inhaling the delightful smell of that fresh ink.
Did you know that as early as 59 B.C " Acta Diurna" was published on the orders of Julius Caesar who wanted his citizens to be made aware of the major political and social events of the day? Phew! what an idea! And then, Johann Carolus produced hand written news letters called "Relation" and in 1605 he switched over to printing  newspapers. So imagine right now we are celebrating 405th anniversary of the birth of the first newspaper in print. What a journey, don't you think?
Despite its glorious history, somehow over a period of time, the ubiquitous newspaper seems to have become more of a fiction thriller. Gory details of murders, thefts, war and killings, vandalism, corruption (most accentuated by vivid pictures) now seem to be the staple diet of all the newspapers. Somehow I guess the editors and the journalists must be feeling that if the news reported is not sensational then it is no news. Accordingly, when we start our day afresh, reading the newspapers only ends up giving more and more negative vibes and we invariably start our day on a morose note. Because all that we seem to be reading is how the whole planet is at war, how the people's representatives are making money, how our neighbouring countries are always trying to make a mockery of peace and so on and so forth.

Articles related to positive side of human nature, courageous acts, developmental work done by some of the most ordinary people which has brought about positive changes in the lives of many people,all these and more seem to be relegated to cameo pieces somewhere in the corner of the newspaper as that does not seem to sell more copies. Many a time I cringe when my children open and start reading the newspaper. There have been plenty of  times when I have felt that the news items are so gory that I hide that particular page from my children. Or do you think that our children are getting so used to reading these kind of news and think that is normal? A very dangerous thought, don't you think?  Have you ever felt this way? Aren't our children at an impressionable age when these kind of news have a deep impact on their psyche? Should newspapers now have a mandatory warning on the front page - "Reading this newspaper in the morning might spoil your day"? Is there something that can be done? Shouldn't the newspapers make every one of our mornings more positive and pleasant? What do you say?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bringing the festival traditions back

August onwards is an auspicious month when many of our festivals are celebrated. Varamahalaksmi, Raksha Bandhan, Gouri and Ganesh Chaturthi, Id, Diwali, all these and many more are celebrated in these coming months.

It is the month of Shravan - the flowers are in full bloom, prayers are being chanted, the sound of the conch and the temple bells resonates and the fragrance of dhoop and agarbatthis wafting in the air. Within the house all the family members have their own tasks. The men folk go out into the market to buy all the necessary items for the pooja and the women folk are busy round the clock  to prepare the specialities. It's a busy season what with each festival having its own specific menu that needs to be readied. The children in turn all bedecked in their finery running around with great enthusiasm helping around in decking up the house with fresh mango leaves and flowers, helping in designing rangoli, and ofcourse helping generously in the kitchen by tasting all the sweets and savouries prepared. Wow - that was how festivals were celebrated - with great zest where each and every family member contributed to make each festival a success and a means of thanks giving to God.

Over the years with the changing life style, nuclear families being in vogue and migration to places away from home, somehow has made one lose touch with many of our traditions and customs that we used to follow from times immemorial. Festivals are now no longer the same elaborate affair as it once was. Lack of time, a different life style and maybe a lack of interest too has led to festivals not being celebrated with the same old fervor. As parents we somehow seem to be following less and less of our traditions than what our parents did. Is this making our children not only unaware but also dismissive of our age old festival traditions and practices? Obviously, by not carrying forward our customs and traditions to the next generation, we are running the risk of completely losing them forever.

Our ancestors entrusted their subsequent generations to pass on the traditions to their future generation. Isn't it time we revived and celebrated festivals with the same fervor and zest?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teacher's Day - only for young kids?

September 5th of every year is a special day as this is the day when we show our appreciation for all those teachers who have taught us and have played a role in shaping our lives. This role maybe a small one or quite a significant one, one which has profoundly changed the very direction of our life.

These days the child gets to spend just the initial two to three years of his life at home with his mother, father and other immediate elders who teach and shape the child's initial education. After that once the child enrolls into a school, it is the teacher who has a very great influence on the child. Because a child spends roughly 15-18 years (or more depending on how much further we want to study) in schools and colleges. On an everyday basis a child spends about six to eight hours in school. That's a significant part of one's life spent in the portals of school and hence with the teachers.

During this time, the teacher is the child's pivot. Many of us have come across situations where the child becomes so very fond of the teacher that whatever he or she says is the gospel of truth. The way the teacher dresses, her actions, her way of talking, the methodology of teaching all these and more are imitated by the child and hence she becomes the child's role model.

The affection the children have for their teachers is also manifested in their actions - be it taking flowers or making greeting cards themselves on Teacher's Day. But as they grow older, the enthusiasm for taking flowers or making cards seems to go down drastically. Is this the stage when friends become the centre of their lives and every act is based on peer acceptability? Somewhere down the line teachers go down in the hierarchy. Many a time we come across disturbing articles where students have clashed with the teachers, or where teachers have overstepped their role in the name of discipline.

So unless there is mutual respect and love on both sides the real significance of celebrating Teacher's Day is lost. It will just be a day which will be celebrated for the sake of celebrating. Hope some day every teacher and student will forge that special unbreakable bond when each student can sincerely thank their teachers for being a part of their life. That will be the day when one can truly wish their gurus "Happy Teacher's Day".

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Just make that call

During my evening walks in my apartment complex I get to interact with many senior citizens. They have their own groups and many a time, I am pleasantly surprised by their zest and enthusiasm for life. As is the present day scenario many of these elderly people stay on their own either out of their own choice, or because their children are settled abroad and hence feel comfortable to live in a gated community or for various other reasons. However all of them meet up for luncheons, they plan outings together, they have their spiritual gatherings every week etc., In general, they are enjoying their life to the fullest.

When I meet them the talk invariably turns to the topic of their children and their grand children. They tell me  with great pride the achievements of their grandchildren, the prizes they won at school / college or the drama that they will be taking part, so on and so forth. More than anything else they just wait for that one phone call from their children and grand children. The day they have had a call, one just knows. They are so full of happiness that they just cannot stop beaming with joy. Physically they might be away from their children but  their heart is always with them.

That made me realise that how much a phone call means to them specially at this point of their life. Many a time however we in the prime of our lives are so very busy with our own work and other responsibilities that we somehow invariably intend to call up people who matter the most to us but end up procrastinating. We mean to call but we don't. So, go ahead and just make that call. Bring that joy and make their day. Won't you?

Monday, August 30, 2010

My very own " Master Chefs"

Of late, my children are in a hurry to finish their home work and studies by 9.00 pm every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. You want to know the reason? Well it is all because of this programme called "Master Chef Australia" which is being aired at 9.00.

We are not very avid T.V watchers. But once while surfing we came across this programme and we got hooked to it. This is all about a competition where amateur cooks (with professions ranging from architect, lawyer, homemaker, IT architect, Business Development) from across Australia have been whittled down to Top 24. The judges subject these chosen Top 24 (who are now called Chefs) to different challenges in order to finally select the one who will win the title of the "Master Chef".

Now my two sons are really hooked on to this programme and watch it with great interest. Not only do they watch it but now have also started taking interest in cooking!! Isn't that great? Infact, right from the beginning I wanted my sons to learn at least the basics of cooking as my view is that, irrespective of gender children definitely need to learn the art of cooking. If not elaborate, at least something to sustain them if and when they go out and have to be on their own.

In India, where domestic cooking is largely the domain of the woman, even today many men neither enter the kitchen nor cook even in emergencies. Hence they end up eating outside food when the woman of the house is away from home for a long time. This trend is now changing and programmes like these seem to be helping children in a positive way.

Well, the icing on the cake was when my son treated us to a pasta dish which he prepared all on his own. I was very proud of this great achievement and now I can rest my legs up at least now and then and enjoy some culinary specialties coming out of my kitchen prepared by my own two " Master Chefs".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Missing Patriotism

A bit late in the day to talk about what happened on 15th August, the Independence Day but couldn't stop myself from putting these thoughts down. In our apartment complex, we had a flag hoisting ceremony at 9.30 am and singing of patriotic songs, dance etc thereafter. The celebrations came to a close with the singing of the national anthem. I could see many small children, middle aged and senior citizen residents participating with great gusto. As I was looking around I felt something was missing and wondered what it was. Then it came to my mind that there was not a single teen there. This included my children too. Though I had given instructions to my children to get ready fast and come down they decided skip the celebrations. I was indeed sad that day that I couldn't influence my own kids to participate in what is a proud moment for millions of our countrymen.And it made me wonder - what could have led to this apparent lack of emotion of today's teens towards the country's best moment?

My personal view is that today's teens (I have to qualify the definition of 'teens' in my assessment - my perspective is based purely on observing the urban, middle - upper middle class teens and hence, might not be representative of the universe) live in a world entirely different from what their parents / grand parents did.
a. There are far too many influences / distractions they have to encounter be it TV, cricket/football, mall culture, movies, branded goods or peers. Study is just one of the many things they have to do.
b. With so much news reporting about the unclean politics, corrupt politicians, there is hardly any respect for the political system
c. They live in a world that is hugely materialistic - everything is measured in money and hence, there is a sense they are getting used to that if there's money, anything's possible.
d. There is very little time for value education - daily prayers, occasional temple visits, social interactions, learning traditional arts or even attending family functions.
Is it this change of socio-cultural ecosystem that has made them not feel that emotion of patriotism. It is almost like they are happy within their own cocoon. If one asks the youth as to what their perspective is about celebrating independence day  the answer would be that it is a day that they can enjoy and relax. I wonder if anybody would care to remember the sacrifice made by thousands of people for us to enjoy the freedom that we are enjoying today.

I was just wondering the reason for this apathy specially among our youth who feel even attending the Independence day celebration as a waste of time. Is it because the youth today are exposed almost everyday to violence and crime in the media that they have developed immunity and do not want any part of it as long as everything is hunky dory in their lives. Are they thinking 'We have enough problems already what with pressures of studies and exams' - so why bother? Is this the reason I wonder.

Is it because of the fact that our country is being run by people whose average age falls in the bracket of 60+? People in power definitely cling to it even if they are invalid or senile. So is it that the youth feel that there is hardly any scope for them to bring about that much needed change?

Or is it because a kind of pessimism has already set in that they feel nothing can be done? If this is this reason, it needs serious consideration as I feel this is more dangerous. Are we as parents equally responsible for passing on our own cynicism to our children? Are we able to stress on values like honesty, sincerity, hard work, truthfulness without sounding preachy? Everyday we hear cases of blatant corruption taking place, guilty being let off  without being punished, sincere and honest people not given due recognition. One feels things are so wrong but at the same time one feels helpless. How do we answer our children? Yes, as parents we try and inculcate good values in our children but sometimes one also wonders if these will help them when they go out to face the real world? Will this lead to frustration in them when there is a clash in the values instilled in them and the harsh realities which they will face in their future life?

Patriotism and love for one's country should come from within and cannot be forced. But there is an urgent need to rekindle the spirit of patriotism in our youth before it is too late. How do we as parents do that ? Any ideas?

Monday, August 9, 2010

When the child starts growing up

Well life is full of paradox I guess. It all began when one of my cousins posted, that for the first two years of the  child's life we keep begging them to walk and talk. The next sixteen  we just  ask them to sit down and shut up. Just go back to your child's early life if he has already grown up, if not you you can take this as a statutory warning.

I remember how much we parents await that special moment when the child utters the word ' mama' or 'papa'. Even before the child is able to talk we tend to constantly encourage and talk to the child all the time. Then comes the moment when he actually speaks a few words and then graduates to sentences. We all go totally ooh-aah about the cute kiddish language that the children speak. After this initial euphoria we are brought back to earth by the teacher in the school complaining of the child talking too much. The next thing you know we are busy telling the kids to stop talking. Who can forget some of the gaffes that has led to embarrassing moments in front of a whole lot of people because the child decided to exhibit his vocabulary skill?

When it comes to walking who can forget the first baby steps? That event itself called for big celebration and lot of cheering. Remember the time they  mastered the art of running rather than walking and in the bargain knocked off those lovely glass and crystal ware? Remember the sojourns to the super markets, when we are in a tearing rush and hence would rather carry the child and finish things faster, they refuse to be carried and  would rather walk and all you can do is wait patiently for him to walk those few paces?

Then comes the stage when he has mastered the art of walking and running perfectly, but now insists that he be carried!! He will not budge, and if need be he will sit there right on the road and stage a dharna. What with all the glares that the passersby gives, you finally end up carrying the heavy tyke.

The next paradox is when it comes to taking them out. When they are small and if it is a nuclear family then wherever the mother goes the little one tags along. Many a time haven't we all felt the need for that carefree shopping experience where we could blissfully shop without keeping an eye all the time on our little one whose sole purpose would be to bring down the whole super market in the wink of an eye? Oh! how we wish that our child grows up faster. Then comes the time when they are ten or eleven, when we have to beg them to come with us to attend family functions and we are met with a forceful and loud ' no' and 'never'.

Well If  I were to list out more, it will run into reams of pages, don't you think? This is what then makes the art of parenting difficult to master. What do you say?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Recycling lessons from Buddha

Recently I read this interesting story of Buddha. One of his disciples goes to him and says that his robe was old and ragged and therefore he needed a new robe. Buddha saw that the robe was indeed in tatters and so he gave him a new one. The next day Buddha went up to his disciple and asked him what he did with his old robe. The disciple told him that he was using the robe in the kitchen as kitchen napkin. Buddha asked him what happened to the old kitchen napkin and the disciple told him that that cloth was being used to mop the floors and when asked what he did with the old mop the disciple told him "Master the wick that is being used to light our rooms is actually the strips of that discarded mop cloth". Buddha was immensely happy with his disciple. Nothing wasted! Now that is what recycling is all about and you have people telling you recycling is a modern concept.

Reading this story made me wonder at our present times. Right from olden times, be it our  grandparents or parents, the thing that I observed was that they were very careful about not wasting even a single thing and managed wonderfully. I guess our ancestors even in those times realised the worth of nature and her gifts. They never took things for granted. But somewhere down the line the concept of recycling and making use of every single thing has been totally lost. How many times have we not gone to the malls and bought things on an impulse? Then coming back home realised that, that was actually not what we wanted and hence put it aside as junk and then finally one day discard the whole thing even without using it for one single day?

How much food we order in the restaurants and then waste it because we did not order wisely? How much food gets wasted when we arrange functions and  other large events? In the long run, the consequences are there for all  to see. We are all now worried about global warming and pollution and waste disposal and so on and so forth.We never think of giving back to nature, but are always interested in looting what is given by nature. Is it not high time that we as parents  educate ourselves first and bring about awareness in our children and make this earth a habitable place to live in? What we must be aware of is that, the more conflict we have with nature the worst affected will we be.

Nothing will get done if we wait for someone else to do it for us. It is left to us take the first step and make this earth a habitable place for our future generation to live in.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Teens and Trends

Now that one of my sons is in his teens and the other is getting there, we are getting used to a totally different concept when it comes to their sense of dressing, hair style and a whole lot of things concerned with their personal appearance.

For sometime now, both my sons have started to wear their trousers really low. When I first spotted this, I thought that they probably might have forgotten to pull up their pants properly in their  hurry to get ready for school early in the morning. When I tried pulling up the trouser, I was politely asked by my son that he had worn his pants low deliberately as that was how everyone dressed up these days!

I stared in wonder at the way the pant was defying the law of gravity and staying in its place way below the hips on his thin frame!! Wearing trousers too high they lectured me was just not in. After this whenever we went out they would point out people on the street and that was when I noticed trousers on most of the hips being miraculously balanced. The best was when we had gone to get the new sets of uniforms. I found many parents and children at the apparel shop arguing about how low the trouser / skirt should be worn for it to be the right size. Finally as is the case these days, I found that it was the children who got their way. Lesson number one - the younger generation is besotted with low jeans and my children have just been a part of it.

The next in line was the hair. Getting the boys to go to the barber for a trim has now become an arduous task of  negotiations (almost akin to the Indo-Pak talks). It involves the issue of the length and the amount of hair that needs to be trimmed. Short hair is apparently not the "in" thing. So, it's always a point of view between 'medium' and 'short'. So, we agree that it would be medium in the front and short at the back. And they do not visit a barber during the vacation time. However, they have to get a trim just before school reopens, to stay with in the permissible limits of the school rules.

And then there are these weird hairstyles that both turn up by wetting their hair with water (thank god they do not gel) and styling it into spikes. These styles vary according to the cartoon character which would be the flavor of the season or their favourite football hero. Lesson number two - just pretend they are not with you when people around give stares at the weird style.

The next is the dress that they wear. These days I see that all I need to invest in, are a couple of football jerseys and any time we go out it would be just those three or four jerseys which are worn, be it while going down to play with their friends or going for birthday parties. The height of it is when they come dressed in these jerseys even while attending weddings and other formal occasions. Most of the time the colour they are in is red. As they are right now at a rapidly growing stage, I do not like to buy many t-shirts as they outgrow them rather quickly. But even the few formal / non-jersey shirts that they have are just languishing in the wardrobe. Lesson number three -  I have forgotten what primary and secondary colours and their hues are. The only colour I know is red, red and more red.

Well these oddities are what then  makes teen years so very distinct from all the other years in a child's life I guess. As parents, going along with this tide makes life easier for both parents as well as their teen aged children.Will keep you guys posted with some more lessons that I will be learning along the way. If you can in the meantime enlighten me on some of the other oddities that  I should be aware about, keep me posted well in  advance so that I can plunge into the battlefield well prepared!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Robot - Teacher?

Recently a newspaper article titled "Students, meet your new teacher, Mr. Robot" caught my eye. It said that around the world computer scientists are developing robots that can teach simple skills like household tasks, vocabulary or elementary knowledge. South Korea is said to be hiring hundreds of robots as teacher aides and classroom playmates. In fact, work is going on to create robots who will learn as they teach and therefore will become highly informed instructors.

Whew! Technology  seems to be moving at a real rapid pace, don't you think? Imagine a robot taking over the role of a teacher completely!! One thing for sure - knowledge wise I guess the robots will be far superior and maybe children will get more accurate information and information that would be up to date. This until any malfunctioning happens to the system! Imagine a school campus where one would see children and the robots walking around. Parent-robot meetings will be held where the robot I guess will give an accurate picture of  our child. This might be a scene quite out of a sci-fi movie. If the robots are correcting the exam papers too then probably it would be more accurate and  the percentage of error might be very negligible. Hence there will be no need for all those thousands of students to go in for re-evaluation. There will also be no last minute strikes that the teachers usually resort to just before the evaluation of exam papers. Fifth September will be celebrated as " Happy Robot Teacher's Day". Roses and other flowers will be given to the robots as token of appreciation!!

However the most important thing missing out of this entire picture will be the emotional factor and the human touch. The rustling of the the teacher's Saree, the sound of her bangle, the looks and words of encouragement from one of our favorite teachers (specially during the foundation years), the pranks that one could play on a teacher, the punishments that one would get for not paying attention! All these and more will be entirely missing. Even after more than two decades of completing our studies we still have so many fond memories of our favorite teachers don't we? How we still cherish those moments in our lives. Don't we all  remember that one teacher who changed the course of our entire life? 

So I wonder whether it is a good idea to have robots as teachers? Would they make for ideal teachers? As it is life is becoming far too mechanical so would this make the life of our children even more mechanical and wooden faced with no display of emotions? Or would it lead to more productive learning? I am confused. What do you as parents feel about this? Do let me know.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Act of love

Many of the lessons in bonding I have learnt have come from unexpected quarters. My maids!! I should tell you this. My maid hails from a very small village. Her family was once upon a time very well to do with lots of land. However, over a period of time all that remained finally was just a small piece of land. Her father was a drunkard and in one of his drunken bouts he struck his wife who was hurt very badly. The impact left her bed ridden and it was after a very long time that she was able to manage to cook and do a little bit of household work. Her legs couldn't support her and she could only crawl.

In search of a better future, my maid came to Bangalore and started work. She was so very hard working that pretty soon she was able to rent a small room and get her sisters to join her. I should say all the sisters equally worked hard. My maid being the oldest among all (Oldest meaning she is now 18 or 19) was the one who managed the entire finance. Once they were able to put together some money they had collectively saved, the first thing they did was to rebuild their ancestral house in their village as it was in a very bad condition.

Next thing that my maid did was to bring her mother from the village and take her to an ayurvedic doctor to be treated. Though she used to work in almost six households she would rush back home to take her mother to the doctor regularly. She would buy whatever medicine the doctor would recommend and plus take her mother for therapy. Slowly after a long and slow process her mother started regaining sensation in her legs. From crawling she was able to walk one step at a time and slowly is now able to walk much more comfortably. During all this, the father and her brother absolutely did nothing in contributing either financially or otherwise. All that was done was collectively done by the daughters and specially my maid who meticulously planned out the whole thing. And that too at such a tender age shouldering the burden of the whole family. I was very touched. What a wonderful act of love. Here were a few souls who went beyond their needs and selflessly did their duty with so much of love. An act definitely worth emulating for all of us don't you think?

I would definitely love to hear from you if you have come across people who have been selfless in their acts.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The different hues of relationships

In life I guess each one of us look for that special bond around which our entire life revolves. Human beings who are rightly called social animals form strong bonds. This is of utmost importance for the very survival of human beings. In our life time at all stages the relationships that we form give anchor to our life. Be it the the selfless love shared between the mother and the daughter, the son and mother, daughter and the father, son and the father, the grand bonding between the grandparents and the grandchildren, the now war now peace bonding between the siblings, the romantic bond between the just married couple which later blossoms into a beautiful relationship, that wonderful and fulfilling bond between friends; all these give stability to one's life and bring immense satisfaction when it is nurtured through the ups and downs in one's life time.

My last blog post "The grand bond"  got varied comments. Some said it took them down memory lane of all the good times that they had shared with their grandparents. Some said that this bond does help children immensely. Some said that being abroad this was one precious relationship that their children miss out on in their life time.

There were other comments too where some felt that grandchildren hardly spent enough time with the grandparents as they grew older. Some were of the opinion that having grandparents at home created conflicts specially in the area of discipline, while there were a few views that grandparents are taken care of only for the monetary benefits that they might bring in.

Well, relationships with people who matter the most not only bring joy but at times it does bring with it pain and anguish too.Who can forget the concern and worry of the mother when the child falls down the first time? Similarly the joy of hearing the word "Mama" or "Papa" for the first time is unforgettable. The trauma that parents undergo with teens at home is something else altogether.So happiness in relationship is gained by going through the ebbs and tides by taking things into our stride and giving the best shot with equanimity.

The needs and wants of the child vary at different stages of life. When they are young, they need constant  support of the parents or grandparents at all times. As they grow up they are busy finding their own calling and at that time the amount of interaction comes down drastically. Finally there comes a stage when the babies, now grown up will fly away from the nest leaving behind only memories. Measuring relationships in terms of gains utterly undermines the beauty of relationship.

Bhagavadgita says that the only relationship that is long lasting and one which is forever true and one which is selflessly given is the relationship between God and You. Relationships needs to be nurtured. So shouldn't we give our all  to each of the relationship that we have formed here and now and find true happiness?    

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Grand Bond

Every evening our apartment complex buzzes with lots of activities. As I go out for walks, I see school going children whizzing on their bicycles, teenagers talking about music or talking about the days happenings in their schools/ colleges, men and women doing their daily quota of walking, running or jogging, senior citizens enjoying either singing devotional songs, or having a healthy dose of exercise as part of their laughing club activity, young couple proudly pushing the pram with their cute little babies, maids taking out their wards to the play area and so on. 

That evening, as I was walking, a little girl about two years of age and her grandfather were walking hand in hand, both engrossed deep in conversation oblivious to the world around them! That pretty sight made for an enchanting picture for me. Apart from all the activities that goes on in the apartment complex that I have described above, what I enjoy the most is seeing the interactions between grandparents and grandchildren! It is a very heartwarming sight seeing the older and the younger generation sharing that very special bond with each other!

I see many grandparents leisurely walking their grandchildren in a stroller, some of them playing cricket, some of them teaching their grandchildren the art of cycling, and so on. When we go to the grocery store, It is a common sight to see grandparents indulging their grandchildren with lots of goodies like packets of chips, cookies or chocolates! The wide beaming smile on the grandchildren's face bears testimony to the fact that they know how easy it is to coax grandparents to get them all their favourites, which they very well know cannot be done with their parents!  

Both grandparents and grandchildren share a very, very special bond between them. What can be more precious than when the grandparents live together with their children and grandchildren? Who better to make their favourite dishes according to their whims and fancies and that too at all odd times? Yes, the grandmother. When they get hurt and need that sympathy factor who better than grandparents to fuss around them. When they get into some mischief and monkey business, who better to act as their shield than their grandparents? Who is their magic genie who can and will try to make all their wishes come true? The grandparents. Who better than the grandmother in her lilting, soothing voice narrating the epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata or Panchatantra at night and bringing all these characters live.

The unconditional love that grandparents have for their grandchildren makes this relationship a very special and treasured bond. These special moments show that grandchildren need their grandparents as much as the latter needs the former. While the grandchildren are actually passing through their childhood, the grandparents are reliving their childhood days through their grandchildren. And as I watch this relationship, I realise that both of them are actually acting as anchors to each other. While one is just beginning to fathom the mysteries of the world, the other enjoys in unravelling the mysteries during their twilight years once again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Farming - Real vs Virtual

Farmville became a favourite hobby of people when it got started on facebook. I found a whole lot of them getting hooked onto that irrespective of the age group . My children also got hooked to it about a few months back. I could hear long and serious discussion happening about what trees to be planted, or which animal should they buy, or what they need to trade with their friends. They would also go onto farmville umpteen number of times. When questioned about the frequency they would say they had to do it or else their crops would wither!! I jokingly told them that if they were so very passionate about farming why not try real farming than waste time on virtual farming? They asked me where and how they could they do it?

That set me thinking. City bred children have no clue whatsoever about farming and agriculture. Though we say that India is an agrarian country so much has changed over a period of time. Agriculture has basically had farmers who over generations have been doing nothing but tending their fields. But so many factors have led to changes in the field of agriculture. Farmers faced with vagaries of nature, the burden of loan repayment, lack of scientific farming methods, their children going on to study and getting into different fields all these have contributed to agriculture taking a back seat.

I remembered the house help whom we had long time back. She had told me that she had enrolled her son into a boarding school. Later I asked her as to how her son was coping with his studies? She told me that he does like it and not only studies but as part of the curriculum the children had to also work in the fields early in the morning. I really liked the idea. Atleast children at a young age will come to know about the hard work that goes into bringing them that one plate of rice or roti to the table. Not only that I thought even if one child out of fifty in a class gets interested and takes it up as his future profession we will have more "Educated farmers" who would then bring about better ways of farming techniques and a different approach altogether.

The other day I read this article saying that a farmer in New Zealand has come out with a new scheme where children can go to his farm and look after a cow during their free time. Isn't this a way of building a bridge between the rural and the urban lot? Will it not be a good concept to introduce this as part of curriculum to our young children which would have a long term effect in the development of our country? This would also bring children closer to nature and teach them to live in harmony with it. Is it then not better to have real experience than idling time away playing a virtual game?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Father's Day

This Sunday the third week of June is being celebrated as Father's Day. Did you know that it was first held on June 19th 1910? This day is celebrated in honoring and celebrating fatherhood and paternal bonds.

Memories flood my mind. Not a single day goes by without me remembering my dad. He was a person who had come up the hard way and therefore always had a positive perspective towards life.

He enjoyed taking us out on weekends. It would just be simple outings like sitting on the steps of Vidhana Soudha and looking at life passing by, or a walk down Commercial street, MG Road or Lalbagh. Eating out was also something that he loved. Places like MTR, Coffee House, Vidyarthi Bhavan, were his favourites depending on the areas that we visited.

His passion was travelling and seeing new places. Luckily, his job took him to different parts of the world and he would describe to us in detail about the places that he had visited. He also used to enjoy nature a lot. He immensely enjoyed watching sunrise and sunsets while going on vacation to picturesque hill stations or in our native place. Infact we were also woken up early just so that he wanted us also to appreciate the beauty of nature.

He was spiritually inclined right from an early age and he used to collect lots of spiritual record albums. Every night after dinner we all used to sit with lights switched off to listen to melodious bhajans sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Suman Kalyanpur, Bhimsen Joshi, Sudhir Phadke. He also loved listening to instrumental music and therefore as children we also learnt about Allah Rakha, Bismillah Khan, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and many other eminent masters and developed that deep love for music.

He started collecting spiritual books right from his younger days. This collection he would say was to keep him occupied the day he would retire from work. And he did exactly that. After his retirement, he did a two year course in Sanskrit just so that he could understand the meanings of the shlokas from Bhagavadgita and Puranas. But his field being science and specially being into research and development, he started reading lots of science books and spiritual books. His aim was to connect science and spirituality. It was also that time when Aastha, Sanskar and other channels dealing with spiritual aspect of life started. This was a great way for him to expand his spiritual horizon.

He spent a lot of time documenting his observations in a compilation, from the research he had done in quest of finding answers to the simple question "Who Am I?" and was in the process of sending it to different publishers, but I guess God had other plans. Before he could finish his task, he went personally on that long journey seeking answers from the almighty himself.

It's now been one and half years but not a single day goes by without remembering him. A special thanks to God to have given me such a wonderful father who has held me and led me this far in life along with my dear mother.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Noble Soul

At one of the family functions recently I got to meet this man. My cousin who was sitting with me pointed out to a man who had just then walked up and had sat in front of us. He was quite an ordinary looking man who could go unnoticed like many millions of us.

My cousin told me that he was one of her relatives. She told me that this gentleman was working in a bank and that he had now retired. After his retirement he got some lump sum money from the bank as part of his retirement benefits along with his pension. I was just wondering where all this was leading to when she told me that with that money he opened a school in his native place with the intention of giving education to those children who could not afford it. I was stunned!

Just imagine - here was a man who could have led a quiet retired life. It was not as if he was rich by today's standards but he could have been comfortable with his retirement fund. But he decided to take the road less travelled by and put his money into a cause that would potentially bring about a change in the lives of thousands of children. All his life savings invested into creating brighter future for the next generation. What a noble soul indeed!!

Our elected representatives cry hoarse over lack of funds to do any developmental work - perhaps an excuse not to do anything worthwhile - and show little accountability to the society that has elected them. They should look at this example to know that all it needs is a resolve to do that one wants to do.

It takes just that spirit of willingness to part and share what one has. And it just takes one such noble person to bring about a sea change to millions in our country.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Preserving the little threads of culture

We attended the thread ceremony of my cousin's son yesterday. The child was all of seven and was looking very resplendent in his traditional attire. It brought back memories when we had celebrated our sons' thread ceremonies. It was celebrated just as they completed their seven years.

Upanayanam as it's called has a sense of deep beauty and significance attached to it. In Sanskrit "upa"- near and "nayanam"- eye. So bringing the Ultimate Truth in sight is what this term means. The child learns the secrets of life through sacred mantras. According to Indian philosophy a Brahmin has to undergo this Upanayanam ceremony.

This also signifies the formal entrance of the child into student life. (Of course, the child today starts schooling at as early as two and a half years of age!) In olden times, the parents would hand over the child after this ceremony to the care of the Gurus who would then take them under their wings and teach them the greater knowledge of life.

There is this particular aspect in this ceremony where the mother puts the child on her lap and feeds him beaten rice with curd and jaggery. This is a very touching moment as this signifies that this would be the last meal that a mother would feed her little one before he leaves with his Guru. The father then places the child on his lap and whispers the sacred Gayatri Mantra into his son's ears. As a parent these beautiful moments will be cherished and remembered. Every religion has its very own practices which keep us rooted to our culture.

In today's world where technology has entrenched firmly in our day to day lifestyle, I feel as parents it is our duty to preserve and pass on our age old practices and culture no matter what era we live in. These are after all the anchors of our very existence and identity.