Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beastly Tales - and a poem

I read out Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales from here and there to Puttachi recently. We don't read much of poetry together, and this was a change. Some of the stories were familiar fables, from Panchatantra or Aesop,  with a different spin on it, and we didn't know the others. Initially, all the stories ended not very pleasantly, and though we were having fun with the reading, Puttachi wasn't very happy.

But by the time we reached The Cat and the Cock, things had become better. The repetitive nature of some stanzas in The Cat and the Cock caused us great enjoyment, and we repeated them together and swayed to the rhythm and the cadence.

At about this time, we started speaking in couplets in general conversation, taking care to rhyme the last two words, resulting in a lot of merriment.

The Elephant and the Tragopan was my personal favourite, as it beautifully explained real-life problems of the world - about man assuming that the earth and everything in it exists only for his benefit, and not caring about animals and their habitat. I think this will be a great introduction to children about the danger to ecology due to human greed. It didn't have a very happy ending, though.

Also, some of the humour and the issues in all the poems were a little too much for Puttachi to understand. I explained what I could, but I think that an adult or an older child will enjoy it better.

Anyway, the greatest achievement of this book, for me, was that it inspired Puttachi to write her first poem. Here it is:

At the Sea

My hair
Rustles in the air
I am sailing into sea
As blue as can be.

The waves splash against the ship
Seagulls squawk and nip,
Oh, wonderful is the sea,
As blue as can be.

The waves are so high,
So high! Oh my!
Darker and darker gets the sea,
But it is still as blue as can be.

The ship sails to land,
I swing down onto the sand,
I look back at the sea,
As blue as can be.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Two things that made me do a double-take

So you think that I'm exaggerating, huh, when I say that living in the Bay Area is like living in India? Yesterday, in the Target parking lot, I saw a car, with the words "Ati vega, Tithi Bega*" written on its bumper - in Kannada. I didn't miss autorickshaws at all :D

*Loosely translated, it means "Excess speed (on the road) will lead to your funeral rites being performed early."


I had been to a social gathering last evening, where I was given the ele-adike (betel leaves and nuts) and arishina-kunkuma (turmeric-vermillion) and fruits. But when I laid it all out after I came home, something looked very off. And then I realized. The dakshine (a token amount of money) given to me along with all that, was a dollar. If it had been a rupee coin or note, I wouldn't have felt that anything was amiss!

Friday, October 16, 2015


The weather today is like, if this had been Bangalore, I would have thought, "Hmm, it is going to rain today".

There would be a faint hint of petrichor in the wind, and a distant rumbling of thunder. The sky would be that beautiful shade of purple-grey. The wind would make the door slam loudly in someone's house. The household help of the aunty next door would hurry to the terrace to bring the clothes in from the clothesline.

Puttachi would call me from the clubhouse and sa...y that she felt a raindrop on her nose. S would call and say that he is on the bus and it is raining cats and dogs and that he is stuck at Silk Board. My mom would call and say, "I hear it is raining in your area? Not a cloud in sight here."

The house would darken suddenly, as if it were 7 pm, not 5 pm, and the skies would open up. I would make myself a cuppa and watch the rain.

But it is not Bangalore.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reading out Harry Potter to Puttachi

In summer of 2014, Puttachi and I started something momentous--me reading out books to her. Until then, I had not read out full-length books to her, and I had definitely not read any to her after she started reading on her own. Even when she couldn't read yet, I narrated stories to her--hardly ever read out to her.

So when we started with the first book in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage--Magyk, we didn't know that we were launching ourselves into a lovely journey, one that I hope goes on for a long long time.

We finished the seventh and last book of the Septimus Heap series a few days before we left India. In fact, on the evening that we finished it, we went to the bookshop and bought the first book of Harry Potter, because both of us were feeling empty-ish and we wanted to jump into the next experience immediately.

I started reading Harry Potter to her on the day before we left India, and then read quite a bit of it in Hong Kong airport. We finished the first book a couple of weeks after we came here to the US.

There were many differences between reading Septimus Heap and Harry Potter. For one, both of us were discovering Septimus Heap together, and so we were walking hand in hand, peering around the corners, discussing heatedly about what is going to happen. And experiencing the joy of discovery together.

But it is different in Harry Potter. I have read the books, and watched the movies. I am in the know here. And I think Puttachi is not entirely happy about that. One more thing about my reading Harry Potter is that unconsciously, I read dialogues in the style of the actors in the movies. I realized this when Puttachi once told me, "Say this dialogue like Snape, amma!" So unfortunately, I've been doing a Hagrid voice and an Hermione voice and a Ron voice, and a Prof McGonagall voice complete with the British accent. Puttachi really enjoys it, but I'm feeling bad that I'm not allowing her to imagine it by herself!

We are now three books down--finished Prisoner of Azkaban a couple of days ago. And she loves it. But Septimus Heap still rules her heart--after all, that was her first foray into the world of fantasy. (Btw I think that Angie Sage deserves more recognition. She is in no way a lesser writer than Rowling is. Her world is as detailed and mesmerizing and real, if not more, than Rowling's world.)

Anyway, back to Harry Potter--since I know the story, it is hard for me to keep a straight face and not react when Puttachi wonders aloud about whether a character is good or bad or what his or her fate is, or what the point is of an incident.

It is all I can do to maintain a poker face when she says things like "Amma somehow I feel Snape is not a bad man. I think he just doesn't like children, and doesn't know how to behave politely with people that's all." And I go, "Mm-hmm."

I told her that I'd stop at Book Three and read the rest next year because it is going to get darker, but she is not ready to listen to me. She wants to read on. And her justification is, "Even Septimus got scarier with each book. But you read on because you didn't know what was going to happen, and you also wanted to know. In Harry Potter, just because you know what is going to happen, you are not reading further. How should I feel?"

And then she goes on, "Your imagination is probably scarier than mine, and so you think it is scary. Or it is because you have watched the movies and have got scared by it. See, you and Harry are so scared of the dementors, but I didn't find them scary at all. In the same way, I'm sure I won't find the rest of the books scary."

I think she has a point. I'm on the verge of caving in.

Friday, October 09, 2015


A friend had once told me, a few years after she moved to the US, about how different she found the skies here. I remember thinking, "Whaaat? Isn't it the same sky?"

No, it isn't. Or at least, it doesn't seem like it.

The blue is bluer here. More striking. More intense. The clouds are different. More scattered. Feathery, dotted. (Once I look up their names, I'll come back and edit this post and sound more scholarly.)

The sunshine itself is more intense. It makes me want to shut my eyes (or wear sunglasses).

The night sky too, is different. I look up and search for Orion, the constellation that I know best. And I don't find it. There are other constellations, of course, and there are some good apps that help me learn to recognize them. But yet, the three stars of Orion's belt has always been there in the sky, and to not find them is disconcerting.

The moon is brighter. As if it is a lamp of a higher wattage. And I think it looks bigger too.

Also, in the part of the world I am in, I can see more of the sky. In Bangalore, my line of sight was usually interrupted a short distance away by a high-rise building. The vistas are more sweeping here, and I get to see a greater chunk of the sky.

And another thing. It is a strange feeling to see 5-6 planes in the sky at the same time.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cause and Effect

Me: So there was this man who....

Puttachi: "So" is only used when there is a cause and an effect. There is no cause here, so there is no effect. You cannot use "so" to start your sentence. Ok, now, what about that man?

Me: *Speechless*

Also, half the posts on my blog starts with "so". How many more lectures do I have to hear once I start letting her read my blog?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Puttachi stories

This is one of those posts where I make notes so that I don't forget.

Puttachi is "working on a novel". She asks me to read the latest chapter that she's written. I'm doing something else, but pick it up and try to read. After the first two lines, I realize I'm too preoccupied.

Me: Puttachi, I'm thinking of something else right now. I'll read it in a few minutes, okay?
She: *in a dramatically wounded voice* My mother doesn't want to read her daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes* Puttachi, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma will read your book.
She:*in same wounded voice* My father doesn't want to read his daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes a little more* Ok, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma and Papa will read your book.
She: My grandparents don't want to read their granddaughter's book!
S and Me: That's enough!
She: Hehhehheh!


I just wanted to make a note of this. At least 4-5 people in the last one month have told me how weird it is that Puttachi is such a mixture of extremes. On one hand, she spouts wisdom and asks incisive questions that surprise people, and one person said that it almost makes her feel silly to explain some things to her because she would already know it. On the other hand, she plays like a two-year-old, loves dolls and toys, makes them talk, she actually enjoys pulling her 1-year-old cousin's pull-on-a-string toy. In fact, when the said 1-year-old got a dinosaur toy gift, this 8-year-old was more interested in it. And what a weird obsessive interest!


She just doesn't care what she looks like. She knows when she looks good, and enjoys her reflection in the mirror, but if she is looking silly, that's also okay with her. She says, "So what?"

Two days back, we were walking home from the bus stand when she started walking in a weird way. Her feet held at 180 degrees to each other, but walking in a criss-cross way. As usual I barely noticed, because she is always doing silly things like this. But her friend's mother who was walking behind us, came running to me and said, "Oh my God!! What is happening to your daughter?? Is she okay? Does she need to be taken to the doctor?" The poor lady must have thought Puttachi was convulsing or something. I couldn't stop laughing, and Puttachi didn't understand at all what was happening.

Me: D's mom thought you were hurt or something, the way you were walking.
She: Just because somebody thinks something, you're not going to make me stop walking like that, are you?
Me: *as if I have a choice!* No.


Thanks to the nights being unpredictable and varying a lot in terms of temperature, I have placed two sheets on Puttachi's bed, so that she can wear one layer or two layers when she goes to sleep.

A couple of nights ago, she called out to me before going to bed.

She: Amma, are you feeling cold?
Me: Yeah, kind of, why?
She: I have to decide whether to cover myself with one sheet or two.
Me: Why are you asking me, then?
She: Because annnyyyyway you make me cover myself with sheets depending on how YOU are feeling.....

[Reminded me of that definition of Sweater - a garment the mother makes a child wear when the mother is feeling cold. Couldn't be truer.]


She never had  homework at her school in India. Here, she has homework everyday, and she actually likes doing it. Most of it is not boring, she says. No surprise, because you get to be creative and think up many things. And the funny thing is, since there are some pieces of homework where she can choose what she can do, it would have been easy for her to choose an option that gets over within ten minutes, but she doesn't do that. Yesterday she chose to write a story out of the 20 practice words that they have given the children this week instead of just doing something easy with them--not only that, she could have used the words in any order in her story, but she chose to challenge herself and use them in the order in which she had written them down. She did mix them up slightly in the middle, but she largely stuck to the order. And it took her 2 hours to write this story!


The public library is really spoiling us. And Puttachi's love for books has gone to another level.

She says: "I think books are my best friends. With real friends, sometimes I have to play what my friend wants even if I am not that interested. Sometimes my friend might not even be able to play with me. But a book - I pick it up and it is there. I don't have to worry about anything else."


Puttachi's expression when she realized that my 1-year-old niece is calling her Akka - Delightful.
The change in her expression when she realized that the kid is actually calling her Kakka - Priceless.


Friday, September 18, 2015

The Appraisal - Story in Reading Hour

My story "The Appraisal" was published in the Jan-Feb issue of Reading Hour. Since the requisite 6 months have passed, I'm reproducing it on my blog for you to read.

The Appraisal
Ningavva walked with unsteady steps down the road, scanning the houses on either side.  Her worn rubber chappals made a clip-clap sound as they slapped the cracked soles of her feet.

It wasn't dark yet, but the streetlights had already been turned on. The distant hum of peak-hour traffic formed a background to more domestic sounds – the clang of a steel vessel, the whistle of a pressure cooker. The road was lined on both sides with houses set close to each other. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one house ended and the other began. 

Ningavva hesitated in front of a house with a jasmine plant spilling over the compound. She walked up to the iron gate and rattled the hasp. 

A man came out of the house. "Yes?" 

"Is this Shekhar-daaktar's house?" asked Ningavva.

"Yes.  You want to see him?"  

Ningavva nodded.   

"You're early. He sees patients only after eight." 

"Yes he told me, but if it won't trouble you, perhaps I could wait here..." 

"Come in," said the man, and opened the gate.  

"Are you Krishna?" she asked. 


 "Daaktar said you'd let me in."

 "Where did you meet the doctor?" asked Krishna. 

"At the hospital," said Ningavva, and came in through the gate. An unpaved pathway led from the gate to a garage converted into a clinic. Red plastic chairs were arranged on either side of the path. Ningavva sat down.   

She wiped the exhaustion off her face with the edge of her saree.  

"Water, son," she said, and touched her thumb to her lips.   

Krishna nodded. He looked over his shoulder at her as he went into the house. She's from the northern part of the state, he thought. The dialect of Kannada she spoke told him that, and the way she had covered her head with the end of her faded saree. Her features too, and the heavy nose-ring. What it was about her face, he couldn't say. Was it the dialect and her dress  that lent an identity to her face? Or did her features with the creased forehead, knitted brows and small eyes reflect generations of squinting in the harshness of the sun in those hot and arid areas? 

Overworked, he thought. Her feet are bent out of shape – the kind of misshapenness that comes from having constantly carried heavy loads. Both physical and emotional. Bewildered eyes. Bet she's never travelled this far alone in all her life. Poor woman. Wonder what brings her here. 

Krishna brought a jug of water and a paper cup. He filled the cup and handed it to Ningavva, who tilted the cup and drank it all in one go, without touching the cup to her lips.  

"Are you daaktar's son?" she said. 

"No, no, Ajji, I just work for him." 

"Doesn't daaktar take fees from patients?" 

Krishna shook his head. 

"I went to the hospital in the morning. There they said he takes fees," said Ningavva. 

"Yes, only at the hospital.  From people who can afford to pay." 

The old woman's face relaxed.  She nodded.   


"Tch, Ajji, what is this? Can't a man have some peace? Ever since you came in, you're going vata-vata-vata..." 

"Forgive me, son, I've come from very far.... I asked in so many places, such a long time it took to find Shekhar-daaktar.... son, do you know him well?" 

"I was fifteen years old when I first came here, Ajji. I have been his helper, watchman, gardener, everything for ten years. So yes, I know him quite well. Why?" 


"My name is Krishna, Ajji." 

 "Krishna, son, they say he is a good man, is it true?" 

"A pearl. A pearl among men. That's what he is." 

"Does he see a lot of poor patients?" 

"Just wait till you see the line. He sees them late into the night, sometimes skips dinner." 

"His wife? Doesn't she mind?" 

"What wife? He's unmarried." 

"Is he a good doctor, Krishna?" 

"Top-class. No one goes away uncured. Why ask me, ask his patients. He's no ordinary person."
Krishna paused. "He's blessed, I tell you." 

"Why do you say that?" 

"So many times in his life, Ajji, when it seemed that he had nowhere else to go, he received help from unexpected places." 


"Yes. When Doctor was a small boy, he fell into a flooded river. They thought that his story was over, but a man jumped in and saved him. And after Doctor's  parents died, his grandmother couldn't afford to educate him. So the village school teacher, himself poor, with nine children, practically adopted him and educated him, because Doctor was a brilliant student." 

Krishna waited for Ningavva's reaction, but seeing as she didn't respond, he continued.   "And then he got a seat in the medical college, but had no money to join. So the headman of his village personally went from village to village, until he found a rich, generous man who funded Doctor's entire education. Whenever Doctor is in trouble, a solution comes looking for him. Like I said, he is blessed."   

Ningavva was silent.   

"What Ajji, lost your voice?"  Krishna grinned. "I'll be inside. Call me if you want anything." 

Krishna turned to go, but stopped.  "Ajji, sit on this chair. Less wind this side. It's getting cold. I'll ask my wife to bring you some coffee." 

Krishna left. Ningavva sat for a long time gazing at the ground, while her restless fingers twisted and untwisted the pleats of her saree. Then she looked at the small house, the overgrown garden with its jasmine plant, the lemon tree, tomato plants and a healthy Tulasi plant. Then she concentrated her attention at the road, and watched the few people and vehicles that passed by. 
In a while, Krishna's wife came out of the house with coffee in a steel tumbler. Ningavva cupped the tumbler with both hands, sipped the coffee and waited. 

The doctor's patients started arriving. Old and young, alone and with their families, they were thin, ragged, with hollow, sunken cheeks. Some talked quietly amongst one another. Some stared at Ningavva. Mothers spanked children who dared venture too near the tomato plants. Men clustered at the gate, talking in low, guttural tones. 

A skinny, voluble woman with a bindi the size of a two-rupee coin  sat down next to Ningavva. "You don't seem to be from around here," said the woman, opening a small cloth pouch which hung from her waist. From it, she extracted betel leaves, rubbed them with slaked lime, put some areca nuts on it, rolled the leaves up and offered it to Ningavva. When Ningavva shook her head, she popped it into her own mouth.   

With the roll swelling one side of the mouth, she kept up a barrage of words praising the doctor and how he had cured her and her entire extended family from various ailments over the years, and how he even gave them medicines himself.  

She showed Ningavva a small bag of gooseberries. "He doesn't take money. Not that I can afford to pay him," she said. "So I always bring something for him." 

She put away the gooseberries. "He is the poor man's saviour. How many good doctors do you think there are in the city? And how many care about the poor?" 

"If he really cared about the poor," said Ningavva. "Why doesn't he work in the villages? Why does he live in the city?" 

The woman drew herself up. Her nostrils flared. 

"How dare you say such things?" she said, chewing her betel leaves ferociously. "Do you know, every Sunday, he goes to a different village on the outskirts of the city, sits in a primary school, and sees patients there?" 

The woman wiped her mouth with her saree. "Sometimes he doesn't even sleep at night – that many people come to see him.  

"And do poor people live only in villages? Is there no poverty in the city? If all doctors go to the villages, who will look after the poor of the city? And tell me," she continued. "If he doesn't work in the city hospitals and take money from rich people, how will he eat? How will he give free medicines to people like us?" 

She frowned. "Think before you speak about the doctor," she said. "I am being polite to you because you are older than me, and you have come from afar. Otherwise..."  the woman turned away, making it clear that the conversation was over. 

But Ningavva's features arranged themselves into an expression which people who knew her would have recognized as a smile. 

The doctor arrived a little after eight in an old car that he drove himself. There was a scramble as everybody stood up and joined their palms in respect. The doctor, his dark face unlined, and his temples tinged with silver, smiled, nodded and exchanged pleasantries with his patients. He patted a man on his shoulder, ruffled a child's hair, and nodded at Ningavva. He then went straight into the clinic.   

In minutes, Krishna came to the waiting crowd and picked out Ningavva. "Ajji, go in, you arrived first," he said. 

"I'll go last," she said. 

He shrugged. "Your wish.  Such strange people in the world..." 

Ningavva waited for two hours until the doctor had seen all the patients. She watched with eagerness everybody's face as they came out after their consultation. And then it was her turn. She stepped into the clinic. 

"Come in, Amma,"said the doctor. "You've been waiting a long time." 

"Yes, daaktar, I have come from far to see you and talk to you." 

"From where, Amma?" 

"From beyond Davanagere." 

"But why, there are good doctors in Davanagere." 

"I wanted to see you, daaktar." 

"What is the trouble, Amma?" 

"My knees ache, I can't walk sometimes, and my knuckles..."  She held out her hands, gnarled like the branches of the gulmohar.

The doctor examined her. "You've led a hard life, Amma." 

"My husband died very early, daaktar. Left me with two children.  You can't imagine how difficult it was... I was young, widowed...." She passed her palm across her eyes, as if erasing the unpleasant images that appeared before her. "My brothers were too poor to take me in, nobody else was there to help me. God knows how I managed, cleaning other people's houses, cooking for them... moving from village to village... But I sent both my children to school, daaktar. I got the girl married. The boy, he is slow, but he is a good boy, looks after me well – he keeps a shop in the village. I am not able to get him married. Girls of today, they are particular, not like in our days..." 

Krishna, who was hovering about, butted in. "Ajji, enough of your life-story. You think doctor has time for all that?" 

The doctor waved Krishna away. "Krishna, please go and tell Vimala to make some dinner for this lady too... where will you stay tonight, Amma?" 

Ningavva looked confused, as if the thought hadn't even occured to her.   

"I might get a night bus back to Davanagere..." 

"No. It's very late. Sleep here in the outhouse, you can leave in the morning tomorrow. 

"Amma, your knees are weak – due to abuse, and old age. Take rest, don't work too much. You said your son takes good care of you? Good. Take this oil and rub it on your knees at bed-time, you might find some relief.... what is it, Krishna?" 

"Vimala has already rustled up something for Ajji." 

"Good, good. Krishna, the lady will sleep in the outhouse. Go, Amma, take rest." 

Ningavva drew out a patched cloth purse from between the folds of her saree,  put the bottle of oil carefully into it and tucked it back at her waist, away from sight. She followed Krishna to the back of the house, squatted near the back door and waited. Vimala, Krishna's wife, gave her a plate heaped with uppittu, and two bananas. Ningavva ate, and finished with a tall glass of buttermilk. 

"What will daaktar be doing now?" she asked.  

"Reading," said Vimala. She led Ningavva to the outhouse. It was a small, unfurnished room with an unused kitchen and an attached toilet. Rolls of mattresses stood in the corner, and folded sheets and blankets were placed above them. 

"Make yourself comfortable, Ajji," said Vimala. "Here is a pot of water. Let me know if you need anything else. We sleep in the house, but if you knock at the back door, I'll hear." 

"I'll manage, child. " 

Ningavva made her bed, turned off the lights, and was asleep in seconds.


Ningavva awoke just before dawn, washed, and stepped out. She shut the door of the outhouse, shivered a little, and drew her thin saree tightly about herself. 

As she approached the gate, she heard the doctor call out from the verandah. He was sitting in a yogic posture. She waited until he got up, threw a woollen shawl around his shoulders, switched on the porch light, and came out.    

"Daaktar, I'm leaving. Thanks for all that you've done..." 

"Amma, something is bothering me. Why would you travel three hundred kilometres just to see me about your knees? Tell me the truth, Amma. Why are you here?" 

Ningavva looked up. The lamp on the porch threw its light on Ningavva's eyes. The doctor saw them fill up with tears.  

"My husband, daaktar... he died young.  He...he gave his life saving a small boy from drowning. My life was very difficult, daaktar. Many nights I have lain awake wondering how different life would have been would have been if my husband hadn't bothered saving someone he didn't even know. Very often I have cursed that boy... and wondered, always wondered.... if my husband's death was worth it..." 

The doctor stood very still. 

"Now I'm satisfied, daaktar. Finally... last night I slept in peace for the first time in many years...." 

The doctor tried to say something, but made a choking noise.   

"You're doing good work. I've seen it now with my own eyes – I can go back to my village with my heart full. God bless you, daaktar."  

The doctor took the shawl from his shoulders, and put it around Ningavva. She hesitated, and then wrapped it closely around herself. She opened the gate, hobbled out and disappeared into the mist.
The doctor stood at the gate for a long, long time.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Schools - some observations, some comparisons

It seems funny now to think that one of the biggest worries I had about moving to the US was whether Puttachi would adjust to school. Would she understand the accents of the teachers and the students? Would she make friends easily, considering that she would be entering at a time when friendships have already been established? Would there be a period of adjustment, would I have to suspend all my work and stand by until she is settled in?

As it turns out, all my apprehensions were unfounded. She has no problem with the American accent. Probably due to the fact that kids are shuffled around between sections at every grade, she entered a class where all the kids were more or less new to each other. And so, she had a best friend by Day 2, and had exchanged mothers' phone numbers with her by Day 3.

After the first three days, I asked Puttachi what the most glaring difference was, between school in India and school in the US. She thought for a moment and said, "Our classroom here is so silent. I love it." Now that wasn't what I expected at all!

However, two weeks into school, she herself told me, "The biggest difference is that school here is very activity-ish. In India, we would just sit and listen to the teacher. Here, we DO a lot of things." There you have it, in a nutshell.

By the way, if you are wondering why her classroom in the US is so quiet, it is not because of the number of children in a class, because she has 30 kids in her class here, and she had 25 kids in one class in India. It is just that her teacher has devised some signs to tell each other to fall silent if they feel that the noise level has increased. It is a kind of self-regulation system.

Talking about self-regulating, there is another system her teacher Mrs A has in place, which she told us about when we went to the presentation that the teachers gave the parents last evening in what is known as "Back to School night". This is to reduce tattling and discourage tell-tales. If a child has a problem with somebody else, he or she has to do two things out of the dozen suggestions that have been put up on a chart on the board - which involves things like talking to the other child, etc. If those strategies don't work, the child has to write the complaint on a piece of paper and drop it into the complaint box. At the end of the day, Mrs A empties the complaint box, and deals with the more serious of the complaints. But more often than not, both the students in question would have forgotten about it entirely, or else, they would have already sorted out the problem! 

The teacher also has some coloured post-it notes on the board, and it works like a football game, where one instance of misbehaviour or irresponsibility means you get a yellow card, which has a loss of privilege associated with it, and two mistakes in a day means an orange card, meaning a further loss of some other privilege and so on, until a red card, which is the worst case. This, says the teacher, is to instil discipline in the kids. Puttachi, for instance, came back one day and said that she got a yellow card, which means she lost the opportunity to gain a "Well-done" sticker, because she forgot to put her chair up on her desk at the end of the day (to make it easy for the cleaning staff to clean up.)

They also have duties and responsibilities, about monitoring themselves and the rest of the class on various aspects, and there is a rotation of the responsibilities each week. For instance, this week, Puttachi is in charge of transporting the snack box basket, which post she begged for and got, and is very proud of.

As for the subjects themselves, I cannot do a comparative analysis yet, because classes in all subjects haven't started full swing. I do know that Puttachi is ahead in Math compared to what is being taught to the class now, but because the way they teach them is different, she is not getting bored. The kids analyse the problem, and the focus on many problems is on how to solve them, the approach, rather than the final answer. Besides, in some cases they are encouraged to formulate a question on their own, based on some data that they are given.

English is interesting, centred around a lot of activities. They use thesauruses in their work, and suggest composition topics to each other. They have to apply their brains for most of the things, and in many cases they can choose and they have control over what they want to do. For instance, homework for the last two weeks, consists of a list of twenty words, and the children have to do various things with those twenty words, selecting from a "Menu" that they are given. They can build a story, or just write them in capital letters, or write them backwards, or draw a picture and hide the words in the picture, and fun things like that. Puttachi chose to create silly sentences around the words, and write them all with her left hand, and think of rhyming words for them, etc. So it is nice, I guess, for them to be able to do what they want to, and at the level they are comfortable with. The basic idea is to get the children to be familiar with the words.

The children are also arranged around tables, six to each table, and they have a desk each which they are expected to keep neat and clean--homework is usually in sheets which they have to file responsibly in binders--these are things which make Puttachi swell with importance. :)

One teacher usually handles all the subjects at this grade - and this is crucial - this is where the teacher is of paramount importance. The teachers here are extremely invested in their job. There is no other option. Each class has a teacher who teaches those kids in their own way, and the number of resources and the amount of work they have to put in to make this happen--it makes my  head ache just to think about it. And that is why, I think, a good school is that important, and that is what makes for a good school district and that is why we are paying such high rents to stay in this school district!

One teacher for one class (in Puttachi's case, a different teacher comes in on Fridays) ensures a kind of bonding between the child and the teacher. The teacher is also much more informal, telling the kids about themselves, about how many children they have, where they are from, where they are going to for the long weekend, etc. In fact, Mrs A had to leave early one day to catch a flight, and after she left, the kids found a bunch of keys that the substitute teacher said look like suitcase keys, and Puttachi worried for the entire weekend about what if they were Mrs A's keys and whether she would be able to open her suitcases. She looks upon her teacher like a family member. Though she adored the teachers in her school in  India, this is at a different level. I think the classroom setup itself is like that.

I can see why people complain about the standards being very low here compared to India-- that children in India are learning far more than the students in the US. And I also feel that way sometimes, that it is like Puttachi is going backwards, esp in Math, but I do realize that the entire teaching system and intention here is different from what it is in India.

The above are just observations made after seeing Puttachi go to school for two weeks. And it is not the intention of this post to make comparisons and show up one method of schooling as the better one. As the year progresses, I'll be in a better position to comment, I think. But I find it immensely interesting to observe the difference, and how Puttachi is reacting to it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A hike through redwood forests.

Last Saturday, we decided to go on a hike to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a drive about an hour and a half away from where we live. Since I'm pretty unfit right now, I looked up the trails online and decided that we should go on a moderate hike, and steer clear of the strenuous ones.

We drove through some lovely landscapes, most of them looking straight out of an inspirational poster, and reached the headquarters of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

This is my dream home. Except that it is not exactly a house, but so what.

I don't know whether it was a mistake or whether it was a deliberate move by S--for whom hiking ranks among the top of his favourite activities--but we chose a strenuous hike. And a long one at that.

Anyway, off we went, and--before I start, I must get this out of my system--Redwoods are some of the most magnificent, majestic, grand, awe-inspiring and beautiful creatures that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I have fallen utterly and hopelessly in love with them.

The ones in Big Basin, which btw is the oldest state park in California, are between 1000 and 2500 years old.

So we started walking on the Skyline to the Sea Trail (which goes right up to the sea). We decided to walk up to Berry Creeks waterfalls, 4 miles into the woods, and then walk back. It was an exhilarating walk. A lot of ups and downs, yes, but to walk in foliage that is entirely new is a beautiful experience. And what redwoods forests do is that since they soar high above you and the branches are way up there in the sky, the trees don't seem like they are pressing into you. Only their gorgeous huge trunks are visible all around you, giving you the feeling of walking among large pillars. So the trail continued, and four miles and two hours later, we reached Berry Creek Falls, where we sat down and had our lunch of sandwiches, nuts, trail mix cookies, energy bars and water like any self respecting hiker.

After a while, it was time to decide whether we wanted to go back the same way, or take another trail, the Sunset Trail, that loops around and reaches Park Headquarters. I was the weak link in the chain, and so everybody asked me how I was feeling and whether the ball of my foot was hurting (where I have a chronic ache). It wasn't, and I was game to take the longer looping route back (I was loopy to make that decision, but that I realized only on hindsight).

So we set off again. We walked, seeing banana slugs, and looking out for poison oak though we didn't know what exactly to look out for.

And then after an hour of walking post lunch, my body started protesting. I swear, if I had stood still, I would have heard my muscles screaming. There would be a prolonged upward incline, and then a prolonged downward slope. The former was hard on my calves and the latter was hard on my toes. I walked nevertheless, gritting my teeth, especially at the sight of Puttachi and the others skipping along as if they were in the friendly neighbourhood park.

S found a thick stick for me to use like a hiking stick. So I pretended (in my head) that I was Gandalf (the greying) from LOTR and the stick was my staff, and that helped. Off we walked.

And then, finally, at 4 pm, 6 hours after we had set off on the hike, we came back to the park headquarters. We had walked 10 miles. On one hand I was glad it was over, on the other hand, I was sad that it was over.

I sat on a bench at the headquarters, and I couldn't get up from the bench after ten minutes--it was like every muscle was cramped. If even a small part of my mind had hoped that I would escape from this ordeal lightly, then, this erased that hope from my mind.

We had dinner at downtown Saratoga. Delicious quiche at Big Basin cafĂ©. Before that, we walked around a little around the town (I hobbled). Such a pretty place, so many interesting shops to see. The highlight for me was walking past a fancy restaurant there, which had a real vine with grapes growing on the shopfront.

To cut a long story short, I couldn't walk normally for the next two and a half days. Puttachi didn't help my morale much. When we walked somewhere the next day with  my sister and brother-in-law, Puttachi told them--"You walk ahead. I'll walk with Amma while she waddles up." Well, I guess I should be grateful that she was willing to walk with me at all.

But I can't begin to explain how lovely the hike was. And how beautiful the forest. And I see that this is a total hike-friendly region. I'm all enthused to go on long hikes again. Moderate ones for a while hopefully, and meanwhile, I hope to make myself fitter, so that I'm not laid up for three days after every hike. I'm quite ashamed of myself, actually.

But I'm glad I lived to tell the tale.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Whale Watching at Monterey Bay

We booked tickets for the 1 30 trip last Saturday to go whale-watching at Monterey Bay. We left home at 11, which we didn't know was too late. So we got stuck in traffic on the freeway (which by the way had wonderful ocean views towards the end) and reached Monterey at 1 20 or so. (Now that's an entirely new experience for us, used as we are to reaching far too early and waiting it out.) And then we had to go find parking, and when we did find a pay and park building and finished parking, we had to wait for a trolley that would take us to the Boardwalk, and when we couldn't find the trolley, we had to run on the streets of Monterey to catch the boat. But catch it we did with minutes to spare.

And I'm glad we did. 

The ocean was this deep mesmerizing blue. And as much as I adore the grandeur of the mountains, I must say that the vastness and the mystery of the ocean is giving intense competition to the mountains for a favoured place in my heart. Ah well, I'll just expand a little more (my heart I mean) and accommodate both of them. 

Now if I have a friend who'll take me on a yacht... :)

As we went 15 miles into the sea (I'll be speaking in miles and pounds for a while. You are welcome to laugh at me. Well, I would have laughed at myself two months ago) - I enjoyed watching the wake of the boat. How beautifully the waters swirl and swish. And so much blueness!

We saw a dozen hump-backed whales just doing their thing, showing off their lovely tails with white markings. It was very exciting to watch them blow. Something that I've been obsessed with for decades. One whale was very close, its glistening body going in and out of the water for a while before it disappeared. 

I do have a video or two of the whales, but nothing to write home about. Honestly, I was happier seeing it live than bother and worry about pressing the record button in time. (I'm becoming like S. I have to watch out.)

It was very cold and windy, but the sun beat down intensely upon us. I'm going to need a while to understand that phenomenon. 

We got back to land and ate some fabulous crepes and hot apple cider (that sounds good, doesn't it? I would've been totally drooling if I'd read this on someone else's blog) at a cafe on the boardwalk, saw the Customs House, the oldest building in California before we left.

Next to do: Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
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