Friday, December 14, 2018

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Yet again

Two years just flew past. It looked like it was just the other day when we were busy with the admissions to the college of our elder son. I have chronicled that entire journey in
'Life out of a cocoon - Part 4'

It was now the turn of my younger one!

There is a gap of 21 months between my two sons. When my younger son completed his 9th grade we asked him what decision he had made about the stream he wanted to pursue in his 11th and 12th grade. If it was Engineering, Medical or Pure Sciences, then he had to take up the Science stream. This meant getting into the juggling act of coaching classes once again, which gave me nightmares. But, mentally we were bracing ourselves to go through this whole jig if he were to choose so (sigh).

But he decided on taking up Commerce as his stream. Two reasons sealed his decision:
1. While he was above average in Math, it wasn't something he was in love with.
2. He had seen what his brother had gone through and that was definitely not his cup of tea.

He is good at sketching and drawing. Right from his childhood, he was very methodical, detail oriented and neat in his work. This was the comment that his teachers too would make about his work. But, he was his best critique! He would never be happy with his work and it would be done and redone until he was satisfied. Everything from his books to pencil box had to be arranged in a certain way. Touching his books or pencil box by any one of us was taboo! Even if we took out something and kept it perfectly the way it was, he would still know that someone had gone through his stuff!

Given all these peculiarities, he was clear it had to be something in fine arts. But did not have any clue as to what it could be. We then zeroed in on architecture. On enquiring, we found that one had to prepare for entrance exams to get into Architecture. This required preparation. One of my friends highly recommended this particular coaching institute where her daughter used to go. We went to this Institute during his summer vacations to find out more details about the course. After talking to the Trainer, we came to know that apart from Architecture, they also offered coaching classes for Design courses. This was something very new to us! The Trainer explained to us about various fields of design which one can pursue like Product design, Transportation design, Game, and Animation design and so on. We had never heard about this at all. We spoke for a long time and the more we got to know about it, the more my son started leaning towards design. Finally, my son decided to explore this option for two reasons:

1. He had found something which intrigued and interested him.
2. He came to know that Architecture required him to take math as one of the subjects in 11th and 12th grade. That was anathema to him.

He started attending what was called Foundation Classes at the institute, during his summer vacations. The Foundation Classes would help the Trainers gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the students and also help the students to actually discover if this was their calling. The classes were very interesting. The students were asked to sketch and design some twenty odd T-shirts, ties, jewelry, cartoons, furniture, shoe, school bags, sketch stories and so on.

As he started attending the course, a new world opened before him. He started enjoying it and discovered different facets and skills unfolding. Once his regular school classes started, the Foundation classes were held only on weekends. Our days of scurrying, ferrying and driving to and fro was finally over! Did I mention that Math was not mandatory for Design courses? So there, that was an added incentive for him.

P.S.: My son finally ended up taking Math in 11th and 12th grade as we felt if he were to change his mind and wanted to take up Architecture, then he would still have an option. To his credit, he managed to do well in Math without going for extra coaching!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Life out of a cocoon - Part 4

"There are two times when Parenting is difficult. When the baby first arrives at home, and when the adult first leaves home"- Jennifer Quinn.

This is just a quote until the time you experience it yourself and then it hits you hard. Though my son had gotten into the Institutes in the same city that we resided in, we wanted him to go out from this protective cocoon out into the world and spread his wings. I remember one of my friends being surprised when we told her that we actually would like our children to go out and experience life outside of home!

Moreover, it is only the human babies who are nurtured close to one and half decades in comparison to the bird and animal kingdom. The young ones of birds and animals, have to be up and about within a couple of hours or days after birth so that they don't fall easy prey to predators in the jungle.

Therefore, it is but natural for parents to be anxious and worried about the wellbeing of their children. More so, because of the impressionable (and vulnerable) age at which they leave home for the first time. But we wondered if not now, when? On his part, my son felt the thrill and excitement of exploring a new world on his own for the first time in his life as well as anxiety on how he would manage. Days flew by. The college forms and the hostel forms were filled. Though the college had allocated a single room with attached toilet, we opted for three students sharing a room with common toilet. We wanted him to build relationships with his peers, understand the meaning of sharing, adapt to the nitty-gritty of living in a hostel (washing one's clothes etc) and not get used to small luxuries that come with a single room.

There were umpteen things to do. Lists were drawn out as to what all things he needs to pack. His clothes, bedsheets, pillow covers, toiletries, medicine kit, hangers, etc. Apart from his list I had drawn my own list! How can I not pack some of his favourite goodies and snacks.... my list was never-ending. Somehow as mothers, we have this tendency of 'overpacking' (that is what I tell myself) thinking that one needs to be prepared for future contingency. As the baggage started increasing in numbers and getting heavier, both my son and husband finally put their foot down. They told me that it is not a remote place that he will be going to and removed half of what I had packed..(But then, I still managed to sneak in a few things when no one was around) My husband and son were baffled as to why the bags were still heavy!

The College had various formalities that needed to be completed and an orientation for the parents had also been arranged by the college. We did not want to miss out on this important milestone in our son's life. Since this was also the first time that our son was leaving home, my husband and I decided to go along with him. The college also made arrangements for parents to stay in the hostel rooms within the campus. We thought that would be the best way to assess things first-hand.

So, we landed up there and the first view of the college mesmerized us. Situated atop hills at a height, there it was, acres of lush green land with academic blocks and hostel blocks spread out far and wide. It made us go wow! The hostel rooms were very neat and comfortable too. This particular town actually is a University town. Engineering, Medical, Management, Hotel management institutes all being located in this town - it would perhaps be a town with one of the youngest populations in the country. One would only see students all around us. The small shops within the campus added to the charm. Here we were amazed at the range of products that were being sold! There was everything that a student would ever need. I realised then that whatever we had packed was all unnecessary. The shopkeepers, in fact, knew exactly what we needed and without being asked would just assemble everything in front of us as a package. Such was their efficiency.

Then to my son's delight there were umpteen number of restaurants with all kinds of cuisines. Guess what! The prices were half of what we would pay back home. The food in the food court within the college was also good. We were really happy with the entire set up.

On the parent orientation day, both the faculty and the hostel warden spoke about all the do's and dont's within the campus and the hostel. Whatever our worries were, was allayed by the staff and the faculty. The rules for hostel were very strict and it was a great relief for us. As all the parents were in the same boat, we exchanged notes and found that we were not the only odd ones out! All of them had similar queries and doubts.

Suddenly, it was that moment of saying our final goodbyes. With a promise to keep in touch whenever and whatever time it may be, and also assuring him that we are always there to listen to him with regard to any issues or problems that he might face during his course of time there, we bid him adieu. It felt strange when we got back home with one less member of the family. The saving grace was my second son being home with us for the next two years!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 3

As the students started preparing intensely for their school exams as well as entrance exams for professional colleges, we parents also had our tasks cut out. Our job was to research and do some background checks on the professional colleges, the courses they offered, the fee structure, their infrastructure and so on and so forth. Initially it seemed to be very confusing. Colleges that came under Government purview had a different system, whereas  private colleges had their own set of rules.

Since all the parents were in the same boat, we decided to set up a parents' group. On this group, we shared information about colleges, the dates when application forms were to be issued, the payment details, the last date for their submissions etc., This way we ensured that none of us would miss out on important deadlines. For the first time, I started maintaining a diary where I would note down all these details. By the way, the private universities/colleges start their admission process as early as November. The Government colleges as usual take their own time.

The private colleges conduct their own Entrance Exams. Generally, most of the children give about six to seven Entrance Exams! Be prepared for rising expenses at this time. You will not only be paying hefty school fee but coaching classes also come at a cost. Add to this travel expenses, books and stationary items, and the fee for all these application forms. Good education does come with costs attached.

It is a flurry of activity from November onwards. Filling online application forms, making payments online, and finally submitting the forms. The school as well as coaching institutes finish their syllabus by December and from then on, it is a series of preparatory tests and exams for the children. Our juggling still continued, that of driving my son to coaching class and from there to school everyday for two years!

Dates and centres for the twelfth grade final exam were announced. Time became a precious commodity. Before we knew it, the exams had started and also came to an end. The nerve wracking period doesn't end here. Immediately after his school exams, my son had to appear for the various entrance exams that he had applied for. I got to know areas in Bangalore which I had never ever heard of, as each exam centre was in different corners of Bangalore. While Google Maps was there, we would recce some of the areas that we were unfamiliar with, a day or two before the exams to ensure that it was actually 'the exam centre'.

Finally, the months of April and May arrived. This was marked by a frenzied activity of going from one centre to another to give entrance exams. The entire preparation of coaching classes was not only to make the students proficient in the subjects but it was also about training them to answer each question within two to three minutes. It was basically a race against time. To solve complicated and confusing questions using different logical steps within a given framework of time. To make it more challenging there was negative marking too!

After writing two or three exams my son started chilling. The two years of struggle was taking its toll and needed that chilling period. Most of his exams were over by May. Did I tell you that more than writing the exams it was waiting for the results which was nerve wracking? Some of the private institutes had already announced the results and had started with admission process. This was basically to get students to enroll into their institutes. I felt this was not fair on students and the parents. If all the results are announced around the same time, parents would have the leverage to take informed decisions (pick the best amongst the available)

I reiterate that one should let one's child decide what they are interested in. Most of the professional colleges announce a second and a third list of admissions. In such scenarios, your child might get into a reputed institute but the stream of their choice may not be available. The parents then try and convince the child that the name of the institute matters more than the stream of his/her interest. But, I would say that it is your child who will be going through the course and not you. Please let your child decide.

Well, by mid July my son was clear which University he wanted to get into and also got the stream of his choice. He was now all set for a new journey in the course of his life. For the first time, he was going to be living away from home.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years - Part 2

I started off this 4-part series by talking about how nostalgic I become when I see news items of entrance exams for professional colleges.  Please read on for Part 2.


My son was now all set to start at the coaching institute. It was time for some logistics. They had two slots: one was at 6.00 in the morning and the other was 6.00 in the evening. Choosing the first option would mean he could reach the destination in half an hour to forty-five minutes - courtesy no traffic. The question then was he had to get up by 4.45 - 5.00 in the morning. Could he? He would have to go through this process for the next two years! From the institute, he would then have to directly go to school. The school starts at 8.10 am. Even if he gets delayed by 5 minutes the school would penalize him. This also meant my husband had to take him to the coaching class every day.

Choosing the evening session would mean commuting in heavy traffic. He would have to start directly from school and while coming back it would almost be 9.00 pm. He then had to finish his homework, study, prepare for tests, complete school projects and so on and so forth. Whew!!

After weighing all the pros and cons, we decided on taking the morning session.  However, as a mother, I was worried about him eating on time and eating healthy. Since he would start at 5.00 in the morning, he would not be able to have his breakfast. We decided to send his breakfast and lunch box courtesy, my younger son who was also studying in the same school.

Finally, things sort of fell into place. It now became a routine for my son and husband to go early in the morning. While my son attended his classes, my husband would take his early morning walk in the park nearby, amidst lush greenery with birds chirping and temple bells ringing all round. This did have some positive aspect after all!

Every day would be an adventure, which we would all wait to listen to. My husband who is a safe driver otherwise had now become a la James Bond and Michael Schumacher rolled into one. Maneuvering the car through small gaps, whizzing past just as the signal would turn red, and a couple of times even jumped the signal so that they could make it to school on time. This routine would continue from Monday to Saturday. Even Sundays were not spared. The only grace was, the classes started a little late and my son would go on his own.

Many a time I would wonder if this high action drama was necessary at all. The solace was that my son found some of the Professors at the coaching institute to be really good. He really enjoyed the way math and physics were taught there. Anything that required logic, reasoning and analytical skills interested him. Here was a designed course material that was challenging and required him to really rack his brains instead of the usual rote method which generally the schools here in India follow. In fact, he would say that he had a better conceptualisation of problems and also would try different ways of solving the same.

The next two years just whizzed past. The days seemed to be blending one into another without a break. His life revolved around studies, exams, tests, and homework. While we were providing the support systems for the preparation, we also realized that bulk of the effort could happen only through self-motivation and not through daily persuasion. Hats off to the boy (and tens of thousands others like him) for being focused for 2 long years managing 2 schools with 2 different curricula simultaneously.

This of course, did not mean that it was academics all the time. Yes, birthday parties were still on, sleepovers did happen but a little less frequently. Once in a while when we felt he was becoming a little lax, there would be pep talks too!

Yes, as parents we did go through moments when we would feel he could have studied a little more than he did or he could have utilized time in a better way and so on. He would get cranky at us sometimes. But, well that seemed to be a part and parcel of life at that given point of time. There were some very anxious moments for us when just before the pre-final exam he fractured his right hand!! Thanks to Abacus classes that he had attended for two years when he was in his 4th and 5th grade, he managed those days by writing his notes with his left hand! And finally, the 12th grade exams were just around the corner. It was Exam time!

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.