Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Changing face of kids' holidays

Children have started their much deserved summer break after a gruelling academic session. Keeping their children engaged through these two tough months is the question looming large for all the parents. And that too for two hot months when temperatures soar not just outside but inside the house too!

Back then during our childhood days, we used to look forward eagerly to these summer vacations as it was time to visit our grandparents typically in a small village. But sadly villages are no longer villages but have become mini towns. Infact in many cases, the grandparents have shifted from villages and settled down in towns/cities. Hence, in a lot of cases, a village 'homestay' is an experience that we cannot give our children.

I remember having fun climbing trees and climbing little hillocks and once even being chased by a bull and the way we all tumbled down the mountain in our haste to escape from this raging bull. But now my children have no trees to climb leave alone hillocks and the only thing that they have to run away would be from stray dogs, and the bulldozing vehicles on the road!

I cannot forget the delicious cooking done on fire wood at my grandmother's place. She would lovingly and painstakingly prepare all the traditional food and make yummy snacks like boondi laddoos, rava laddoos, murukkus, sev and so many more. We were forever devouring it as though that was to be our last meal. Absolutely no restrictions and lectures about diet and weight. Infact the more we ate the wider the smile on that delightful face of my grandmother would be. This would spur her to cook more extra delicacies for her grandchildren.

But now our children grumble about eating plain, traditional food. The present day grandmas need to be experts in international cooking styles ie. Chinese, Italian or other Continental, if they have to see that happy grin on their grandchildren's faces!! No rice, dal, rotis, subzis, laddoos, murukkus for these kids. That is soooo not happening. It has to be lasagna, pizzas, burgers and so on.

Nights would be story time for us. Grandparents took turns to narrate stories from Ramayan and Mahabharath. Now that is passe. Children will give clear cut instructions to the grandparents that these stories are boring and they would rather watch their favourite programme on TV.

Infact one of our friends was telling us that as kids they were very scared of their father who was very strict. But now he is being bullied by his own grandson. Even before they leave for their native place, this tiny tot calls up and lays down terms and conditions to his grandfather as to what are his favourite TV show timings. The grandfather meekly obeys and the moment he hears his grandsons voice he changes hastily from the news that he would be watching to cartoon channel! Such is the power of these grandchildren.

Well so much has changed during our times and now it seems a distant era altogether. Well if we tell that to our children I guess they would just shrug it off saying that was then mom , this is now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do we need the foreign universities?

So, the foreign universities are going to be here soon. Much has already been written about the pros and cons of having prestigious foreign universities right here in India.

Those who are for it feel it is a good initiative as children get an exposure to education of international standards without having to step out of their country and that even financially it could turn out to be an affordable proposition. For those who cannot send their children to far away countries due to various reasons it would be a blessing.

But those who are against this move argue that we do not need more universities when there is already so much investment in universities already in business and that a better strategy would be to invest to make existing infrastructure better. And how would bringing in foreign universities increase the competitive spirit among our universities?

And what about affordability? The foreign universities definitely are not charitable institutions and are here to make money just like any other multinational company and hence more often than not it will be only certain sections of the society who will be able to afford this. Thereby, a student coming from middle to lower economic strata will not enjoy the benefits of getting education from these universities. Instead they feel that improving the infrastructure and quality of education in the existing institutes will more than suffice.

Initially the aim was to complete one's education and look for good jobs abroad. Next it was to complete studies and go abroad to do higher studies in order to get good jobs was the trend. Last I heard was parents wanting their children to go abroad and study right after their pre-university. But now appears that the universities themselves are going to be set up here.

I wonder if it will make any difference to our existing education system at all? Will children from all strata benefit from this? Will it be just another way of money making by people with vested interest? Will it increase the quality of education as the proponents are thinking? Time alone will give answers to all these questions.

Do you as parents of children who in the next couple of years would be making plans to study in foreign universities think this to be a step towards positive change in our education system? Please do write as to what your thoughts and views regarding this are.

Earth hour = family hour

27th March was celebrated as the Earth Hour. That meant switching off all electrical appliances for an hour. This in turn would result in saving power. I think it is such a simple idea yet one so very effective.

Children were wondering what they could do for that one hour without any power. You see children these days are so very dependent on various gadgets and all of these need power. So we told them it was for this very reason that they need to save power. We also told them how global warming has started having negative effects on the whole world that we live in and which they themselves are experiencing currently. We told them that if they were to live in relative comfort when they grow up , they definitely need to do something about it now. Sometimes we get so used to having these basic necessities in our life that we hardly give any thought to it. It is only later we realise how much these precious resources mean to us. Literally it has the power to change our entire life style.

Promptly at 8.30 we switched off all the power and sat outside in our balcony. There was general talk, jokes and fun with all of us for a change sitting together out there enjoying the cool breeze in the night. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot to talk about. After sometime, the kids the football freaks that they are, had a bright idea of this game of naming a football player and using the end letter of the first name to name another football player whose name would start with that alphabet. I could see that they really were having so much fun.

The best part was when my mother- in- law too enthusiastically participated in this by switching off the television and giving up watching her favourite serial and doing her bit! Time just flew and when it was time to switch on the power my little one asked me if we could switch on the power after some time? I was more than happy to do that. I felt maybe we should do this more often as it not only saves power but in the process lets us reconnect with each other too.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gifts to children - be conservative or be liberal?

During his fourteenth birthday, my son's demand as a gift was that we buy him a mobile of his own. You can say we are old fashioned but yes we told him outright that he cannot have his own mobile as we did not see any need for it. He was either at school or at home. Hence why did he need one? Pat came the reply - "all my friends have it".

Well, we explained to him that there might be various reasons for his friends owning their own mobile. Maybe their parents go out to work and hence they need to be in touch with their children. But here I was not working and hence accessible any time they wanted me. His response - "not all his friends' moms work". I told him maybe his friends go to tuitions, or other coaching classes on their own hence they need it. This was also negated. Alas all my explanations were of no use and were severely quashed.

His only mantra was he needs his own mobile as his friends have it. Period. It was not just any mobile but the ones where he can listen to music was what he was looking at as his friends have these.

In these times, I guess our ideas as to what is an appropriate age for buying expensive stuff for our children is a real question mark. On one hand if we put ourselves in their shoes, it is truly a conflicting situation they are facing what with all that peer pressure. But at the same time I feel that children have to be taught restraint and must get their priorities right. Yes, many of us can afford to buy expensive stuff but in the long run I somehow place more premium on having less and enjoying more peace of mind. Being more philosophical than being too materialistic. That is the only thing that we as parents are trying to inculcate in our children. Hence many a time we end up being "No Parents". (On another note, have you ever counted the times you say 'no' to your children in a day? You will be amazed!)

I guess we would like to hold on to this as far as we can and right now things are back to normal after a gruelling session. Have you faced this conflict? If yes, how have you dealt with it?

Innocence lost

Today's headlines in the newspaper sent shock waves. A nine year old child has supposedly poisoned her two friends using rat poison. Just the very thought of this incident is very alarming considering the age of the child. Can such little ones be so conniving and devious?

Juvenile crime seems to be on the rise of late and at an alarming rate. Everyday the age group of these children who are committing these crimes seems to be shrinking. This trend is obviously not healthy for our society. Where are we going wrong?

Could it be poverty which leads little children to commit crimes in order to survive? But then we also get to hear children coming from wealthy and well educated families commiting crime. What could the reason be? Could it be trying to show off heroics as they see in the movies or on television? Could it be the effect of violent video games that they play all the time? Or could it be the times that we are living in?

Have we as a society become less tolerant? Have we as parents somewhere lost out on teaching one of the most important values in life to our children - Love, Peace, Patience and Tolerance? Are we sacrificing these important values and placing more premium on worldly riches and false esteem? Has the twentieth century somehow taken a toll on the innocence of our little children? Our Sages and wise men have always asked to keep our minds as pure and innocent as little children. But now I wonder where has all that innocence gone? These questions disturb me a lot. Does it disturb you too? What can be done? Any answers?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Super Dads - Parenting in animal world - Part IV

I came across some very interesting aspects of parenting in the animal world and as part of the series I thought this would be a fitting finale. Did you know that there are absentee parents, part time parents and full time parents in the animal world too?

In the following species however it is the super dads who are the main focus in raising their young ones. This starts right from the stage of laying eggs to hatching and rearing. Wow! Amazing ain't it? In the case of the Giant Water Bug the female lays about 150 eggs which she cements to the back of the male bug and in true sense the male becomes a beast of burden. It carries and takes care of the eggs for about a month, and stops eating until the eggs hatch. Guess what the female is doing? After laying the eggs she just disappears!!

In the case of Stickleback fish, the male produces a glue like substance and makes layers of nest on which the female lays the eggs. This takes about two days and then the male fertilises these eggs. From then on it is solely the job of these males to tend to the brood. It aerates and fans them and once they hatch they also protest them by gathering the little naughty ones into his mouth and then spitting them back safely into the nest for a week. Here again the role of parenting in the female fish ends once the eggs are laid.

Now here's the big one. The Spotted Sandpiper birds really take the cake. It is one of the few species of bird where there is sex-role reversal. The female bird is very aggressive and plays a very active role during mating. However after this it is the male bird which sits on the eggs and incubates it for 21 days and once the eggs are hatched they tend to the fledglings for the next 21 days. Guess what the female bird does once she has laid her eggs? She will be quick in shirking her duties and busy mating with another male if the opportunity arises!!

Hats off to all these super dads. As for the female species, do you think it is super liberation?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Parental bonding - Parenting in animal world - Part III

This incident happened when we were in our previous house. Our kitchen balcony faced a lush, picturesque garden of our neighbour. Early in the morning it was a pleasure to hear and see a variety of birds chirping and hopping. The koels, the mynahs, parrots, eagles, pigeons, robins and many other variety of birds whose names I do not know. This was "Me Time". Ideal for peace of mind before facing the rush hour of the day.

That day things were quite as usual save for the symphony of my birds. All of a sudden I heard a loud cacophony and when it persisted for a long time I went out into the balcony to see what it was all about.

Overhead I saw two mynahs hovering back and forth making loud noises. Just then I saw an eagle swooping and I knew. As I watched with bated breath I saw the two mynahs bravely trying to fend the eagle who was determinedly swooping towards the tree and trying to wrest the newly hatched mynah chicks from the nest. For almost five to ten minutes the mother and father mynahs bravely put up a fight with the eagle. As soon as the eagle got too close to the tree they both would drive it away. One mynah I thought must be the mother would be close to the tree trying its best to protect her young ones and I guess the other the father mynah would trail the eagle and both together would drive it away the moment it was close to the nest.

The eagle however would not easily give up. It too flew dodging the mynahs and giving war cries. I prayed that the mynahs would somehow be able to save their chicks. But who can put up a fight with such a strong predator? Then all of a sudden I heard such wrenching cries from the mynahs and I knew it was all over. With tears in my eyes I heard the mourning cries of the parents who were circling over the tree and flying back and forth over and over again. For the rest of my life I knew I would always remember this heart wrenching scene. It was almost an hour before the mynahs stopped their cries and flew away.

I realised how strong a bond exists among the parents and their babies irrespective of whether they belong to plant kingdom or animal kingdom. Emotions remain forever the same, don't they?

Lessons learnt in mother's womb - Parenting in animal world - Part II

I came across an interesting article in the news paper recently titled "Birds groom chicks prenatally". This was a research conducted at the University of Cambridge on Canary birds. As per the research, the mother bird communicates with their developing chicks before even they hatch by leaving messages in the egg. The message would be, the kind of life that they will face after birth. Accordingly the chicks adjust the development with regard to their feeding pattern.

The chicks who are reared by generous parents beg more vociferously for food after hatching but those chicks who are raised by meaner parents will end up begging far less as they know that it will not yield any response from their parents. Based on the messages in the egg, the nestlings gain weight more rapidly so as to match the demands to the parent's supply of food. This way they can avoid either begging too little or wasting effort on unrewarding begging. Phew! That is one big lesson that the chicks have to learn.

I guess these are genetically ingrained into each species from time immemorial based on the principle of survival instincts. Coming to human babies, many a time I have seen cases where babies born to mothers who are above normal weight are generally thin or are of average weight. Whereas sometimes I have seen babies born to mothers who are thin or almost underweight to be quite chubby. Although here it might not be in the context of generous or mean parenting but economic consideration and health aspect of the mothers which might play a very crucial role. What's your view?

Monday, March 8, 2010

An ode to the unsung heroines

March 8th is celebrated world over as International Women's Day. Infact this is the 100th International Women's Day. I feel proud and happy for women who have made great strides in all fields so far including the ones considered to be traditional male bastions.

But today I would like to salute the indomitable spirit of those scores of women who are unsung heroines. These are very ordinary women who most of the times are uneducated, unsophisticated, simple women. The zest of lakhs of women who walk several miles in the hot desert sun every single day to collect just two or three pots of potable water with a smile on their face, the loving hands of those mothers who cook food for their loved ones unmindful of inhaling the toxic fumes of coal, the sacrifice of those mothers who starve to feed their family. These women are my heroines.

The women who put up with physical abuse everyday and yet turn up the next day ready for work, those women who have to bear the physical and emotional assault of killing their female babies in the womb and yet again unfailingly having to try again and again, I salute these women.

Those millions and millions of women who have lost their loved ones in the mindless war that is going on and yet surviving against all odds, those women who have taken up the burden of looking after their entire family without a single whimper, these are the unsung heroines.

A brave Bhanwari Devi, a vocal Shahbano, the courageous Rukhsana Kausar, and many many more unsung, unforgotten heroines. This 100th International Women's Day is an ode to this undying spirit of this all powerful, all pervasive shakthi - The Woman.