Monday, June 22, 2015

Scatter-brainedness and the "joys" of packing

This last week, I have taken scatter-brainedness to an entirely new level. I'm doing something when something else needs my attention. I leave the first thing and start the second, and then the third thing asks for me, and so on, and by the end of an hour, I'm left with ten unfinished tasks.

Last night, I'd set a reminder to do something at 6 45 am. I considered labelling the reminder, but I thought, hey how can I forget such an important job? This morning, 6 45, the reminder beeped and I had no idea what it was that I had to do. The precise time I had set indicated to me that it must be something that I needed to finish before my household help came in to sweep. I wasted some time hopping around wondering what it was, when I finally remembered it when doing something else, moments before the help came in.

My friend recommends making lists of everything. But I make lists, don't find them when I need them, and then spot them at the oddest places.

I can't BELIEVE I'm saying this, but I'm so tired of getting ready to leave that I just want to leave.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Translating from Hindi to English

Translation is something that many people in my family are experts at, translating freely between  English and Kannada and Hindi and English. My mother even has a Diploma in Translation, and translates from English to Kannada regularly. So, for me, it came about naturally too, I guess.

Last year, I translated a few articles dealing with Work in Education from Hindi into English for the Azim Premji University. T hey have been published in the March issue of their magazine, Learning Curve. It was a difficult job, but very educative and satisfying for me. I only wish they'd credited me for the translations.


 

Hairclip organizer

Hairclips are usually all over the place. It was like that for us, it is like that now for Puttachi. Whenever she is in a hurry, she never finds the second of a pair. Besides, she had outgrown many of them, as her hair became thicker as she grew older. So we put our heads together and came up with this:



We just took one side of an old cardboard file, covered it with cloth, stuck it to the cardboard with fabric glue, and then stuck ribbons to hold the clips.

Since I'm hardly an artsy craftsy person, I'm very proud of my handiwork :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Puttachi and Moving

The idea of relocating to another country has not been easy on Puttachi. She was all settled here. She loved her school and her teachers, had a good circle of friends both at school and in the apartment complex, and of course she has a lot of doting grandparents and aunts and uncles. And of course a house with loads of toys and books and a wooden platform swing on which she does the most heart-stopping acrobatics--you get the picture. All settled.

And suddenly we are sitting with her asking her about how she feels about moving, leaving all this behind and moving to an unknown place. She resisted a lot. There were tears. Tantrums (There still are). Then she accepted it. Now, with not many days to go, she is reconciled to it. Not excited, not enthusiastic, just reconciled.

One of the hardest things for Puttachi was to let go of her toys and dolls and books. But she took it well. Once we told her that she cannot carry all her things with her, she was very matter-of-fact about it. She made three piles of everything. One small, select pile of things she could take with her. One pile of things that she could leave behind, to be cared for by grandparents. And the third, very large pile of things that she had to give away. I left the decision to her, and I'm proud to say that she made her choices well.

At times, my heart broke when I saw her pick up a stuffed toy, gaze at it, hug it, say, "Bye-bye Manny" and put it in the giving-away pile.

We came up with a plan for the things she had to give away. Some of it, we gave away to children in need. For the rest of them, she invited her friends to come and have a look, and take books, dolls, games, toys, art-and-craft-supplies away. If they wished, they could drop some money into her donation box. Most of the things are gone, and her donation box is filling up. She wants to send all the collected money to Nepal (she was affected by the effects of the earthquake). If you know of a reliable organization through which we could donate to Nepal relief work, please let me know in the comments.

A friend who moved to the US told me that if we are excited, the children pick up on it and they become excited too. Though I do have some excitement lurking underneath all that apprehension, it doesn't make an appearance too often. So now I'm trying to draw it out and let Puttachi see it. I'm trying to portray the whole thing as an adventure (which it is!)

I do feel sorry for her. Poor children, having to tag along wherever their parents take them. And we parents, doing what we hope is the best for the child!

Let's see where it takes us!

Monday, June 15, 2015

In which Puttachi doesn't make me look very good.

I'm lying down in the afternoon, more for some quiet time than anything else. I hear Puttachi walking towards my room, and I close my eyes, pretending to be asleep.

She: Ammaaa! I know you are not asleep!
Me: (opening eyes) How did you know?
She: If you'd been really asleep, your mouth would have been slightly open!

***

I was telling Puttachi stories of my hostel-life.
She: I wish there were pictures.
Me: Oh there are. I'll show you.
She: (Doubtfully) You have photos?
Me: Yeah, why?...
She: Are they in black and white?
Me: Kid, just how old do you think I am?

Science Media Centre at IISc

A few months ago, I joined  The Science Media Centre at IISc as an intern. I've been doing some work for them, and it's been fun, challenging and educative. Here's a sample: SERIIUS: Leading the world into a solar-energy-based future.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Moving

Bangalore has been Home to me for as long as I remember, even when I lived away from the city studying or working for brief periods. In about two weeks, that's going to change temporarily. We're moving to the US for a while.

In the midst of ping-ponging emotionally and physically all over the place, I've been busy stuffing my face with goodies that I won't get easily there, and I've been savouring Bangalore's weather. I've also been spotted gazing wistfully at coconut trees, and so far, I've resisted recording the sound of the pitter-patter of the rain as it falls through the broad leaves of the majestic rubber tree just outside my bedroom window.

 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Articles in Brainwave Magazine

Brainwave is a pretty cool magazine for kids. The articles are fun, the layout catchy, and the illustrations are attractive. And oh, it is quite informative!

I have a piece on the history of the atom in the May issue which is about Atoms, and a piece on what aliens are probably made up of in the June issue, which is about, well, Aliens.

Pick up a copy - chances are that your child will like it.

Letters from home - or not

I was looking through some papers, intending to clear some of them, when I came across a file that contained papers and documents dating to my time in Mumbai.
I found my first appointment letter, promotion later, the documents which outlined how much salary I would get. I found a cringe-worthy resume running to four pages, written much before I worked as a resume writer. And then I found letters from home.
 
When I worked in Mumbai, my father regularly posted to my PG address, envelopes containing newspaper cuttings. The articles were usually about energy (in which I'd just finished my post-grad) or about mainframes(on which I was currently working) and about technical writing (which he thought was a viable career option for me).
 
I would get insanely excited when the post arrived, when I saw the large white envelope with my name and address written in my father's distinctive, confident handwriting (which mine has now started resembling.) I would tear open the envelope only to see a single newspaper cutting of a dry article. I called my father and told him that next time, could he at least include a personal note along with the newspaper cutting? You know, send the scent of home to his daughter in a strange land?
 
So the next time he sent me an envelope, he had written on the border of the newspaper article,"For your perusal. NRR." 
 
That was his idea of a personal note.  I called him up and said, "Papaaaaa I am not your colleague at work, I'm your daughter!"
So the next time, he attached a piece of paper along with the cutting, with "Shruthi, you might find this article interesting. Nagraj."
 
Sigh.
 
By the time I got him to write an informal letter to me, it was time for me to come back.
He has improved considerably now. Probably due to the fact that he hasn't actively been to a corporate workplace for a while now. His emails (no post any longer) are much more informal :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dreamland, according to Puttachi

Last night, I wasn't feeling too good, so decided to turn in early. Puttachi sat next to me and told me a bedtime story - about how we get dreams. It is a lot more detailed, of course, but it goes something like this:
 
She: After we fall asleep, we hop into a car that takes us from our house on a long, straight road to a place called Dreamland. Each person's road leads to their own gate to Dreamland. But once you get in, Dreamland is the same for everybody. Some parts of it are beautiful, some scary, and some are just strange. It is a very large place, and you stumble and wobble about inside (because you are asleep). And because it is so vast, you don't usually run into each other. But when we do run into a person, that is when we dream about them.
 
Me: So does that mean that when you dream about me, I will also dream about you?
 
She: Yes, but you might not always remember it. See, there is a place in Dreamland called Lost Street. If you go there alone, you will dream that you are lost from home. If you meet someone there, you will dream that you are lost from that person.
 
Me: So how does one get out of Dreamland?
 
She: There is no sun in Dreamland. But in real life, when the sun is rising, the magic of Dreamland makes you go and stand on your own personal spring, like a trampoline, that is near your gate to Dreamland. When you start jumping on it, the spring pushes you hard, and you pop out of Dreamland. Then you jump back into the car, drive back on the long road, reach home, and wake up.

Memorabilia

Last week, I took out four plastic bags of memorabilia from my cupboard, intending to clean out the chaff and condense them into one single bag.

One of the bags was full of diaries, written in my teens and early twenties (before the internet era.) One was bursting with letters and postcards and greeting cards (from my high school days.) and had a file with articles I'd cut out from Target magazine. The third bag contained my project reports - grad, and post-grad. The fourth ...had my certificates and report cards, starting from preschool.

I spent many happy and entertaining hours going through them. At the end of it, I was left with the same four bags. I didn't throw out even a little sheet of paper.

I perform this exercise once every five years, with the same result. Another time, perhaps, when I'm less sentimental. Or when I'm patient enough to digitize the entire thing.

Reminded me of a short story by RK Laxman (yes, Laxman, not Narayan) called "The Letter". A man takes out his folder of old letters to sort them out and throw away the useless ones. He ends up reading all of them, is overwhelmed by memories, and puts them all back into the folder.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Our collection from Lalbagh

When you go on walks with your children (no matter how old) do be ready to pick up tree-related things you find on the way, and take it home. But very, very strictly - no plucking things off plants and trees. It's good fun to try and find out what they are. This is our Lalbagh loot for today.


Here, we have a Cassia pod, a pod from an elephant ear tree, some figs, a prickly cone from a Monkey Puzzle tree, and some other things that we are yet to identify.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Starry-eyed

What--or who--makes your child go starry-eyed? For instance, as a child, I think I used tolook up to writers. To me, they were of a fabulous species descended from the skies.  From what my mother says, I guess that for her, it was musicians. Some go gaga over sportspeople, superheroes--we all have a category of people that we look up to, to put it mildly.

I've wondered what worked for Puttachi. But I know what it is not - writers. Though she loves and devours books, writers for her aren't some unknown species sitting on some pedestal churning out books by magic. She actually knows, and has met many of the authors she reads. In fact, if I hand her a new book, she says, "Is it by one of your writer friends?" or if I'm looking for a book online, she saunters up and asks, "Looking for a book by one of your friends?" Writers for her are commonplace. Nothing to get all excited about.

So what was it?

I found out unexpectedly. One of my latest writing projects involves my interacting with scientists and researchers. When I speak about them to Puttachi, she drops everything, and listens, eyes shining. If I tell her that I shouldn't be disturbed for half an hour, since I have to call up a scientist, she says, "Really? Boy or girl? What is his name? What does he work on? Is he famous? All over India? Is he world-famous?"

If I take a quick call in front of her, she hangs around me, ready to do my every bidding--only if I'm talking to a scientist. She brings me a book to take notes in, scurries about finding a pen, and makes space on the table for me to place the book on, and then hangs around, mouth open, excitement on her face.

Usually, if I tell her that I have an urgent mail to reply to, and could she be quiet for two minutes, she doesn't listen. But now, she says, "Are you replying to a scientist?" and she goes completely quiet.

It amuses me no end--especially because though we do talk a lot about science and stuff at home, I don't recall talking about scientists per se, or praising them, or speaking of them in high regard--ok, perhaps I do, in some context or the other, but not, you know, specifically in a way that would have brought about this kind of respect in her eyes.

I have no idea where it comes from! But I like it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review of three Karadi books

Puttachi and I have been fans of Karadi Rhymes and Karadi Audio CDs for a long time now. I've written before about how we love Usha Uthup's energetic, uplifting voice, and the catchy music in Karadi Rhymes (which I would recommend to everybody, adults and children alike.)

We hadn't checked out their picture books, though, and when an opportunity came my way to review three of them, I jumped at it.

A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath.

Sundari is a mahout's daughter who has an unlikely twin in Lakshmi. Set in the elephant stables of the Mysore palace, this is a lovely tale of a little girl who dreams big, and breaks barriers. It is also a story about friendship and courage. Beautifully narrated, with attention to detail, the story is a delight.

The illustrations are lovely too, intricate and evocative. They complement the narration beautifully. Particularly clever is the cover page - you can't really make out that the twins are not, well, twins exactly, when you look at the picture - but after you read the first page, and look at the cover again, you can "see" it immediately!

The Bookworm by Lavanya R.N., illustrated by Shilo Shiv Suleman.

I was particularly interested in reading this book because I could identify with Sesha - he loves books, and he is teased because he speaks differently. I am always happy when children's books highlights people who are "different," but the resolution of this story left me feeling--"Ha, that's certainly wishful thinking!" My opinion is obviously coloured by my own experiences, and you might not feel the same way. But the story does a good job in dealing with the issue of bullying, and its effect on the bullied.

The illustrations are fascinating. Puttachi wasn't too impressed with them initially - she felt they were not bright enough, and the collage-like effect seemed to distract her from the text. But on the second reading, she caught details in the illustrations that she'd missed before. And that made her think and pay more attention to the illustrations--which makes me feel that these are the kind of illustrations that grow on you, and makes you take away something new with you each time you see them.

The Rumour by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Kanyika Kini.

This book was by far Puttachi's favourite. Though it deals with an age-old concept, the author has done an excellent job with the narration, with little verses interspersed throughout the book. Puttachi loved the story, and giggled through it, telling me that it was just like Chinese Whispers. I also seized this opportunity to talk about why one shouldn't pass on "information" without verifying it. She seemed to appreciate it.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Puttachi and I pored over the little details, each one done with so much love; I liked the wide-eyed expressions of all the village people, especially those gossiping, and particularly, those listening to gossip. In one illustration, even the cow has an adorable, wide-eyed, curious look. Puttachi was pleased to recognize a Plumeria plant, which bears her favourite flowers. After that, she started observing the illustrations of the trees closely, commenting on how accurately they have been depicted. She has been trying to see if all the colourful birds are "real" too, and wants to identify them. I think this book has done much, much more than what it set out to do!

Link to their picture book catalogue.

Note: I was sent pdf versions of these three books by Karadi Books, for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hills are Alive

It turns out that I totally forgot that I was doing a post a day this month. :) I can't make up for the days I missed, but I'll make no more commitments that I can't keep!

So on to the topic - some years back, I broke my self-imposed vow not to comment on celebrities who mean nothing to me, and I expressed my disgust at Lady Gaga's meat costume. So I think it is only fair that I break my silence again, this time to commend her on her stunning performance at the Oscars. (Apparently she trained with a voice coach for six months just for this.)

I feel all the more compelled to speak about this because "The Hills are Alive" is MY song. It is the song that I've sung a countless times in the bathroom, and have imagined myself singing it in a hall full of applauding admirers. :p Basically, Lady Gaga lived my dream, and boy, did she live it well!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Distant Echoes Anthology

I don't remember if I told you that in 2014, I wrote one story a month as part of the Short Story 12x12 Challenge (details here.)

Some were good, some were not. Some went on to get published, one won the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction award. Others are languishing in my folder, waiting for me to polish them and send them out.

And now, we've brought out an anthology of a story each (written for this challenge) from all nine of us who completed the challenge successfully. This is only available as an e-book, and here is the Amazon link. More details on Facebook.

There are some lovely stories in there. Do buy Distant Echoes if you like short stories.

 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fiendish Furniture

The furniture around me has this annoying habit of bumping into me. My mom puts it correctly. "Poor Shruthi. She just walks ahead, keeping to herself, and the furniture attacks her." At night, the furniture grows more vicious. And most of the time, the attacks are so freakish that I myself find it difficult to believe.

Take today, for instance. The dining chair. All I did was try to sit on the chair. The only mistake I made was to try to adjust the chair as I sat down. One of the legs of this cunning chair climbed over my toe just as I sat down--heavily--on that very chair.

Sigh.


 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why don't we question everything?

Today, in two WhatsApp groups, I received a "cure" for swine flu. The "remedy" claims to kill swine flu "bacteria." And as always is the case with such forwards, it has bothered me all day.

What is it about us that we accept (and propagate) such information without stopping to ask if it is true, or whether it is possible, or whether the information in the message is likely to be accurate? Why don't we say, "Who told you this?" or "How did you come to know about this?" or "Did you look it up?" or "Are you sure this is not a hoax?" or "Are you sure swine flu is caused by bacteria and not viruses?" or "Is there any evidence for this?" or "Do you think it is scientifically possible?" or any variation of the above?

Is it the same attitude that makes us implicitly believe and accept traditional rituals and "our ancestors' wisdom?" Is it ingrained in us? Are we socially conditioned to accept without questioning? Has it got something to do with ignorance/illiteracy? Is it our education system that makes us accept information without asking why and what and how?

Do you have an explanation for this?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

History

As a child, I thought history was all about dates, and I had no particular affinity towards it. But in the last ten years, I've been increasingly drawn to history, and this has been mainly due to good books that I've read on the subject. It helped that I took online courses on Archaeology, History of Architecture and A brief history of humankind.

But why should we study history? Dr Yuval Noah Harari, who was the instructor of the course "A Brief History of Humankind," puts it beautifully:

People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.
 
Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.

The more I think about it, the truer the above sentences seem to me. And it is true that by reading more history, I'm gaining perspective on several subjects.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tinkle

I read Tinkle as a kid, and had lots of them. My mother got them bound. These bound Tinkles travelled around the family, and have now made their way back to Puttachi, who is hooked onto them. I love browsing through them too--brings back happy memories. And something that really makes me laugh are the advertisements of thirty years ago! [Velcro! Keeps everything fastened. No mess, no trouble!] I intend to do a post on these ads, complete with pictures.

An aside: Suppandi jokes are totally in among Puttachi's friends! I think they are of the right age to appreciate that kind of simple humour. They tell each other Suppandi jokes all day, and half of them have been made up by themselves.

I used to love Tinkle, was enamoured by Uncle Pai and was particularly fascinated by the address of the Tinkle office: IBH, Mahalaxmi chambers, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Bombay. I spent many hours imagining a lively place full of people, and I thought the cartoon panels were all engraved on rubber-stamp-like moulds, and all they had to do was choose the right panel, block-print it on paper, and colour it. Bombay was to me a large open space with a beach, and in which city my aunt lived. I wondered how close Mahalaxi Chambers was to her house (but never asked anybody.)

Cut to a little more than 10 years ago, i.e. about 20 years after my childish imagination. I was working in Bombay, and my friend asked me to accompany her to a bookshop (Crossword?) in Mahalaxmi. We took the local, and I just followed her blindly as we got off the train at Mahalaxmi station, walked a little, and went to a building. After she finished her work, we were coming down the stairs, when suddenly, I saw the door to a small office. I just peered in - it was an old-fashioned room, with walls painted a dull green or blue, and with tube-lights.  Small, barred windows with thick nondescript handloom curtains. I spotted an ordinary desk with a green rexine-looking table-cloth. Just imagine a government office of your childhood and you'll know the kind of room I'm talking about.. Just out of curiosity, I read the board outside the door-- though I don't remember what exactly was on it, I saw the words "Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle."

Suddenly the light turned on in my head.

I asked my friend, "Hey, what is the name of this building?"

"Mahalaxmi Chambers, if I'm not wrong," she said.

"And the name of the road?" I asked.

"Not sure, why?" she said.

I didn't know what to say. I went downstairs and looked around, and sure enough, I saw a board somewhere that announced that it was Bhulabhai Desai road.

I had unexpectedly seen the magical fantasy world of my childhood imagination!
 
- -