Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kids' Furniture

There's been a lot happening, and I have a dozen drafts sitting on my desktop, but I don't feel like posting anything on my blog - various reasons. Anyway.

We're looking for a table-chair for Puttachi, who is totally into colouring and drawing now. We looked at various showrooms in Bangalore - the usual furniture places, kiddie places like Childspace and Kids Kouch - but we haven't found anything suitable. The last option we have is getting it made to order, but before that, we want to see if there's anything suitable available in the market.

So if you know of any place that offers no-nonsense, no-frills, reasonably priced, sensible, sturdy and safe furniture for children, please let me know. You could also mail me, but if you write in the comments section, it might benefit others too. Thank you, omniscient reader!

Have a lovely time - and I guess I'll see you in the new year. Love and best wishes to you all!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Online at Joyful!

My story is up on Joyful! -- If you scroll down, it is the second story on the page.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The UK Files - Oxford

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The day after S joined us, we woke up in the morning with no particular plan of action. My aunt suggested that if we liked, we could hop around to see Oxford. The decision made, we got ready in a trice, and S, Puttachi and I set out. My aunt dropped us at the railway station, and we took the train to Oxford.

Green fields, striking yellow rapeseed fields, pretty houses, untidy backyards of pretty houses, flowering trees, and haphazard allotments flew past the windows, and the Thames followed us a good part of the way. Oxfordshire is supposed to be one of the prettier parts of the country.

On the way:
S: My cousin P studies in Oxford.
Me: What? The one working in the US?
S: Not anymore. She studies here.
Me: Why didn't you tell me?
S: I told you!
Me: No, you didn't - do you have her number?
S: No.
Me: Do you remember her father's number?
S: No.

Then followed a series of phone calls and messages trying to get hold of P's number.

Meanwhile, we reached Oxford, got off the train and exited the station.

We were equipped with a printout of Oxford City centre, courtesy my aunt who thinks of everything :O, and we stepped onto the roads , in the mostly beautiful buildings of Oxford.

Puttachi looked up and down, and made a very worldy-wise observation in an ostentatiously patient grandma tone: "Ondondu ooru ondondu thara iratte." (loose translation: every city is different)

We saw Oxford Castle, first, and the very distinctive and unusual mound outside it. Oxford Castle has a very gory history, but we didn't have the time nor the inclination to go in.

We decided to walk down High Street and walk back up Broad Street. (Did I tell you that city names are boringly same everywhere? Every town has a High Street, a Broad Street, a Queen's street, and a Church Street. Highly unimaginative. Some towns like Oxford's redeem themselves with a Boar's street, but that's about it, and I won't be surprised at all if a dozen towns in England have streets with the same name!)

We reached the most recognizable building of Oxford - the Radcliffe camera. We went into All Souls College, that looks like a medieval castle, had a look inside. We walked down High Street, and confirmed that Oxford is indeed one big college. Everywhere is a college,and most of it familiar. Christ church, St Mary's, Exeter, Magdalene - and brought to mind the numerous authors and scientists who've been associated with this place. I later heard that Richard Dawkins lives here, and also found out that Lewis Carroll's Alice's setting was Oxford-inspired. Then of course, Potter fans know that the Great hall of Hogwarts was filmed at Christ Church College's dining hall....

We chanced upon the Oxford museum on Blue Boar Street and popped in to have a look. It was a good thing to do, since I hadn't done my mandatory reading up about the place before I came here. Apparently, Oxford has been a university town since the 11th century! The museum also talked of Oxford's eminent citizens through the ages. There were some museum exhibits, and some nuggets of history too - an interesting place.

About this time, we got hungry, asked and found out that most of the restaurants are on Broad Street. So we deviated slightly from our plan, went straight to Broad Street, and chose a restaurant to have a sandwich. On most of our travels after this, lunch consisted of a sandwich/soup/bread/dessert/coffee, and usually I chose a cold egg and cress sandwich - it was inexplicably comfortable on my palate and stomach.

By this time, we had gotten hold of S's uncle's number, who gave us his daughter's number - we tried calling, but couldn't connect. Later, he called up again to tell us that he'd given us a wrong number - finally we got through - but to her voicemail.

By this time, we'd reached Magdalen college, but it had started drizzling. And it was very cold indeed. We wrapped ourselves up well, draped a sheet over Puttachi's stroller. Taking advantage of a slight lull in the rain, thought of going to the Botanical Gardens - just so that Puttachi could run around - the poor thing had been strapped in her stroller all day long while her parents looked at buildings. But just at that moment, Puttachi fell asleep, and the drizzle started again, so back we went, up Broad Street.

The famous Bridge of Sighs, or the Hertford bridge had to be seen, of course, after which we just ambled around, checking out narrow little lanes that (nearly) opened out into classrooms.

By that time, we'd found out which college S' cousin went to, and decided to try our luck there. By the biggest of coincidences, just as S went in and was asking at the reception, she came down the stairs to see S standing there - she who hadn't the slightest idea that we were even in the country. She had to rush to a class in five minutes, and so that is exactly the amount of time we could spend with her. It was 4 pm by then, and we went back to the station to catch a train back home.

Oxford is lovely. I've got to visit Cambridge next time. (Next time! :D)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The UK Files - The First Sight of London, and the Zoo

Years of reading about England and the English bequeathed, in my head, a kind of glow to London. The centre of a culture. A place that has to be visited. A place that I knew I'd definitely visit some day.

This isn't the first city to have attained that kind of halo in my books. Bombay was the first. You know how it is, all those movies, - I knew it would have to be visited. Again, the centre of one kind of culture. When I visited it, and even stayed there for 18 months, I felt like something that'd been pending was finally complete.

If I had lived in any place in Karnataka other than Bangalore, I'm pretty sure Bangalore would've been "that" place for me. New York, in fact, still stands that way. I've never been there, but I know I will. It's got to be visited. To complete an image. To give a body to all the ephemeral visions floating around in my head.

So. I was looking forward to visit London. Since I planned to see most of London after S joined us, we wanted to finish those things that S wouldn't be particularly interested in. And so, my aunt planned a visit to the London Zoo.

We drove to the nearest station and took the train to London. It was lovely, entering London. The roads, the streets, the buildings - the sight of Thames - the distant sights of London Eye, Christie's right by the tracks - and to crown it all, Waterloo station.

We got off and took the tube to Camden Town. We'd noted directions, and there was even a map to the zoo at the station, but for some reason, we took a wrong turn, and got lost. The road we took was what seemed to be a major punk destination - tattoo shops alternating with body-piercing shops. Girls in black with spiked hairstyles and heavy eye makeup sauntered past huge men with popeye arms and elaborate tattoos.

I've imagined London in a thousand ways. Narrow streets, imperial buildings, wet streets, the Thames, the parks, the banks - every which way except what I was seeing as my first sight of London. I couldn't stop giggling at the incongruousness of the whole thing.

We stopped at a shop to ask for directions, and a friendly tattooed man came right out and with generous servings of "Yes, Love," "Turn right, Love," directed us to the zoo. He also added a "Don't worry, love, you'll get there, just keep walking," and we understood his "don't worry" only after we started walking.

The road went right next to Regent's canal, under a bridge. It was dingy, gloomy and lonely. Walls climbed up on either side of us, with little niches in which small groups of men sat - doing what, no idea. I almost thought Oliver Twist or Fagin would pop out from the nearest corner. This was the kind of place in the movies that unpleasant things happened. I felt an urge to photograph all this, because I was sure I wouldn't believe myself if I thought about this place later. But I was afraid to even take out my camera!

But walk we did, my aunt, my 14-year old cousin, 3 year old daughter and me, and finally saw the green bridge the "Love" man had told us about. We climbed the steps near it, and lo, back in civilization - and the zoo was across the road. And man, was this the London of my mind!

The zoo is good. Lots of posters with information if you have the time to read. Saw many animals that I hadn't seen - the sea-creatures- anemones, jellyfish. And meerkats, especially, of which I've been a fan ever since Meerkat Manor.


The Gorillas were amazingly human, the way the male gorilla picked up a bottle of some kind of fruit juice and took a swig - I could've sworn it was a man in a costume.


The bugs section was good, probably Puttachi's favourite, coz she sat cross-legged outside the cricket enclosure and wouldn't leave. It was extremely cold (which explains the dearth of photographs - stiff fingers) and my aunt's fabulous sandwiches, and some hot chocolate from the coffee bar revived us a bit. The tropical section was excellent - probably my favourite part of the zoo. Saw a sloth (not) move - and the warmth helped Puttachi fall asleep in the stroller.


I saw much of London later, but this was fun! And now, I wish I'd risked taking those photographs!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The UK Files - Windsor

Another amiable spring day took us to Windsor. The castle stood fine and regal, but we'd already decided we didn't want to go in to see how the royals live.



We walked through the town and to the Long Walk. People were out in great numbers, and I did a fair amount of people watching. Families intent on having a good time. Couples walking hand in hand. People lolling upon the grass. Teenaged girls dressed like 25-year-olds. A couple sunning a baby so small that it seemed like she'd been born that morning.


The trees that line the entire length of the Walk are horse chestnuts - and when in full bloom, they apparently look white and beautiful.
But now they were just deciding to go green. They were lovely anyway.




We played frisbee on the lawns, and then walked quite a bit.


I would've liked to walk up to the Copper Horse on Snow Hill, right at the end of the path, but we didn't have the time for that. Some day....

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A realization, and a concern

Ever since Puttachi started school, she's been talking about one classmate, let's call her Kutti. I met her mother once, and she told me that Kutti also keeps talking about Puttachi. I gathered they were "best" friends, in whatever sense it is used for three-year-olds.

About three months ago, we met another classmate in the park that Puttachi frequents. Let's call her Kat. Something about meeting a friend outside school probably gives these children kicks, and after that, Kat entered many of Puttachi's conversations.

Last week, Puttachi's class saw a new girl - I'll call her Angel - and it turns out that Angel has moved to live very close to us, and has started coming to the park. Perhaps it is because they are older now, or perhaps this friendship is a kind of active one, but Puttachi and Angel have hit it off very well.

On Friday, Puttachi came home and told me:
Amma, Kutti is very troublesome.
Really? What does she do?
She doesn't do anything to me, but she troubles Kat and Angel a lot.
How?
When I say, "Kat is my friend, Angel is my friend" and hug them, Kutti pushes Kat and Angel, drags them away, makes them sit on other chairs, and then comes and sits next to me. If they try to come near me, Kutti pushes them away.

My heart went out to Kutti. I can see her now, the tiny little thing, her heart bursting with emotion. At the same time, I was extremely surprised. I don't think there is any one of us who's not been a part of this age-old situation at some point in our lives - but I had no idea this kind of possessiveness, jealousy even, would manifest itself in children of such a young age.

I said,
Puttachi, I think I know why Kutti does that.
Why?
Kutti and you are friends, right? You were friends right from the beginning.
Yes.
Do you still talk to her a lot, and sit next to her like you used to?
Not much, Amma. Kat and Angel sit next to me nowadays.
Kutti probably feels bad that you are not talking to her much. Perhaps she misses you.
Why?
Perhaps she likes you.
Oh.
Do you like her?
Yes Amma. Amma, I will talk to Kutti also. When I go to school next, I will hug Kutti also.
That's a wonderful idea, Puttachi.

***

We had a lovely 10th standard reunion last Saturday. After lunch, we decided to have ice cream at Corner House.

Puttachi overheard this, and was excited.

Amma, I want pink ice-cream.
Okay.
Amma, will there be pink ice-cream?
I don't know, let's go and see.
If there is pink ice-cream, I will feel happy and eat it up, but if there is no pink ice-cream, then I will see which ice-cream they have, and I will like it (ishTa maDkotini), and eat it up.

Should I rejoice that this child knows the secret of happiness? Or should I worry that she is going to become too accommodating and compliant?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The UK Files: Henley-on-Thames

The first couple of weeks in the UK were cold. We didn't go out much, except for a few drives, and some trips to the town, and Sainsbury's.

It was on April 8th, that I had my first taste of the English sun. We - my aunt, cousin, Puttachi and I - planned a trip to Henley-on-Thames, of course, after a lot of consultation of weather forecasts. True to the prediction, it was a lovely day. The sun was out, the sky was blue and cloudless, with aeroplane contrails streaking it white.



The riverside was magnificent. Bare trees were fuzzy, with a suggestion of the lovely green that would become obvious in the coming weeks. Weeping willows drooped gracefully. The river was blue, and the grass was green and inviting.





We walked on one bank of the river, and on the other bank stood pretty little cottages, with boat garages. Big boats sailing down the river were moored on the side of the bank on which we walked, and I peered shamelessly through the little windows, into the dim interiors, trying to imagine what it would be like - a life in a houseboat, sailing the length of the river.



We played football on the greens, that are such a luxury for us, and we had some really lovely, sparkling moments. It was still much too cold, and we shivered when the wind blew, but smiled when the sun did.



On the way back, we visited The Maharajah's Well at Stoke Row, and got back home.


There's something about rivers and its banks that appeal to me, and walking is one of my passions - so the combination is, well, deadly.

We had many more lovely times in England and Scotland, but this day will stand out as one of the most beautiful, brilliant days I've experienced.






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The UK Files: Walsall and Stratford-upon-Avon

My father's cousin N Kaka lives in Walsall with his family. He and his wife are a wonderful doctor couple, and they have three very nice, and I mean really very nice sons. The hospitality in their home is that excellent blend that makes you feel welcome and wanted, yet doesn't suffocate you with it. We visited them twice, once with my aunt and her family, and the second time, after S~ joined us, on our way to Scotland.

Music and conversation with a liberal dose of laughter and comfort - that is what I remember from both the visits, along with a hilarious encounter with the police. N Kaka shares both his name and some distinct personality traits with my father, and Puttachi, who dotes upon my father, took to N Kaka as if she'd known him all her life.

We visited Stratford-upon-Avon from there. It is a beautiful, but ordinary town, by English standards. The Avon river is lovely, and the town is all about Shakespeare. But of course.





My cousin V and I went into Shakespeare's house. It is like stepping into a book. The house has been furnished just like it was in Shakespeare's time, with some original furniture, and some replicas. A man dressed as Shakespeare's father talked to the visitors, giving us trivia and laughter. When we stood in the room in which Shakespeare was born, this man told us that people are very often overwhelmed there. Some weep, some hug, and many of them drop down on their knees and kiss the floor. Wow.

Another interesting thing in the house is a glass window where distinguished visitors have signed their names. There is a guide next to it, pointing to the interesting ones.

Excavations are happening at New Place, where Shakespeare lived later. They hope to find something nice - a lock of his hair or a handwritten manuscript.

A walk through the town, a small picnic on the banks of Avon, and we were ready to get back home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Imagination

I've heard lots about a child's power of imagination, but it is wonderful to witness it first hand in Puttachi. It amuses me. It turns me momentarily into a child myself as I suspend all reality, and journey with her and her fancy. It stuns me with its potential. It worries me that adulthood will suck it out of her.

I've learned that a child's imagination has just one characteristic - it has no limits. And I'm talking about any child - its just that I get to observe it closely with my child.

Puttachi is deeply into drawing and colouring. It borders on an obsession. I bought her colouring books, but she doesn't like them. She wants me to draw what she sees is in her head, so that she can colour it. The latest was a Rakshasa with a skin-sleeve on his arm which held his horned baby's waterbottle.

When she colours, nothing holds her back. She colours the sky green, the river yellow, and the tree black. I don't try to correct her. Besides, she also explains her choices to me. "Amma," she says. "Apples are red, yes, but this apple is blue, because it is a magic apple. Amma, I know that rivers are blue, but this river is yellow because a big box of turmeric fell into it."

Whenever she eats something crunchy, she tells me that the treat is singing a song.. "Do you know, Amma, that these groundnuts are singing "Wheels on the bus?""
or
"Amma, I can make this puffed rice sing any song. I bite on it and think of a song, and the puffed rice sings it with me. Do you know how? It looks into my mind, and learns it immediately."

Today she listened to the strains of a Shehnai and said, "Amma, this song is crying." Where does she get such ideas?

We'd been to somebody's house to see the Dasara Dolls, and there was one baby doll with two big parent dolls. When the hostess insisted that Puttachi could take the baby doll home, she went up to the parent dolls and told them, "Don't worry, don't be sad, I'll bring your baby up very well."

Personification is a strong passion in her. She sees two cushions leaning against each other and decides that they are friends and are hugging, or telling each other a secret. She sees me cutting a vegetable and sometimes nearly tears up, asking me if the carrot is getting hurt.

She never tires of stories and makes me narrate some all day long. Sometimes, she takes over the storyteller mantle, and if I take the trouble to concentrate, I encounter fanciful, highly imaginative stories that have no beginning, no end, but are connected with a fine thread that somehow makes sense. If I react suitably with a "a tailed ant who is a firefighter? well, I never!" she promptly says, "Oh it's just a story Amma, listen further."

Anyway, half the stories I tell her are products of my imagination, but they are all rooted in logic and sense. This weekend, I decided to try and tell her a story in her style. I freed my mind, abandoned all logic, and started. It was alright in the beginning, but soon, logic crept in. I desperately tried to drive it away, but it settled down and made itself nice and comfortable. I finished the story, neatly, all tied-up. Boring.

If I could store all her imagination in a pot and give it back to her if adulthood drains it out......

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dinosaur FAQ

Last evening, Puttachi and I made a model of a Dinosaur skeleton, using a kit with little wooden pieces shaped like a dinosaur's bones.

After we were done admiring it, Puttachi's questions began.

Amma, are dinosaurs still there?
No, they all died a long time ago.

But there was a dinosaur in London.
In the (Natural History) museum? That was a big toy. Batteries inside it made it roar and move and made it look like a real T-rex.

Did they make that toy to look like a real dinosaur?
Yes.

Why did dinosaurs die?
A huge rock came from the sky and fell on the earth, killing all of them.

Why was there a huge rock in the sky?
There are many rocks in the sky, they are called asteroids, they move around. Sometimes, one comes in the way of a planet and hits it.

What happened to all the people?
There were no people then. It was very long ago. People weren't even born then.

Then how do they know that a big stone hit the earth?
They do not know for sure. People who have studied about the earth and who know about dinosaurs, have thought about it, and they've said that we don't know what killed the dinosaurs, but it looks like it was a big rock from the sky.

Did you also think about it?
No Puttachi, I did not. I am just telling you what I have heard and read.

Are there dinosaurs in India?
They've found dinosaur bones or fossils in India, but there are no living dinosaurs even in India.

Why, did a big stone hit India also?
No, no, there was just one rock that hit the earth. But it was very huge. It raised so much cloud and dust and disturbed the waters of the ocean, that the dust and water spread all over the earth and killed all the dinosaurs everywhere.

Where did the rock fall?
I don't know, Puttachi. I'll find out and let you know - if the experts know.

Will dinosaurs be born again?
No, it's unlikely. But then you never know. Oh there was even a movie about it - that dinosaurs were brought back to life.

Did these dinosaurs come near people in the movie?
Yes they did.

Did they eat the people?
Umm yes, I think they did, some of them. But then that's just a story - a movie.

Amma, will you show me the movie?
Sure, in a few years from now. I don't think it is meant for children your age.

Why?
It is scary at times. Even I got scared when I watched the movie.

But you are a big girl.
Even big girls can get scared.

The Lion King is not a scary movie.
That's right.

It is for kids. Even kids can watch it.
Correct.

I like The Lion King.
I know.

Amma, do you remember what Simba said when.....

... and she moves on to more mundane matters!

Monday, September 06, 2010

The UK Files - The Elderly

Everywhere we went in the UK, I saw old and elderly people. Many of them. Lots more than I've seen walking on the roads in India.

They were invariably elegant in dress and manner, most of them had smiles and a kind word for Puttachi, and they carried themselves with grace and dignity.

Some of them were so old that they were stooped, wrinkled, barely able to walk, and yet they came shopping alone. One old lady took one minute to walk one metre, holding on to a walker. No exaggeration. Yet, she came shopping alone. Another lady, with crutches - so old, so old that I've never seen anybody older, got off a bus and on to the footpath, and went about her shopping. Alone.

Yes, it is because they live alone. Yes, it is because they want to do their own work themselves. But there is a far bigger reason why I saw so many old people out walking on the streets in the UK, and why none here in India.

Because the cities are friendly to them. In every way. The footpaths are even, with little ramps from every footpath down to every road. Cars STOP at pedestrian crossings when someone is waiting to cross. Even if there is no signal. They stop not only for the old and infirm, not only for young mothers with prams. They stop for everybody.

Buses are convenient. Easy to get in and out. And the drivers wait until people finish getting in and out. They help.

Here, pedestrians are at the bottom of the pyramid. Even an alert, energetic youngster finds it difficult to cross some roads nowadays. People tell me that I'm very fortunate to live a stone's throw away from an excellent shopping area. But there is one huge obstacle. I've to cross a road to get to that area. And that one road is enough to put you off crossing roads for ever.

How can anybody except the elderly to cross such roads? To walk on footpaths with crooked stone slabs? Travel on buses? No chance. No wonder we don't see old people up and about here.

Of course, they do have other advantages there. Little buses go around, pick up the old who live alone, take them to shopping centres and then drop them back to their homes. It arises out of necessity, of course, with so many people living alone.

It made me sad. Outdoor life after one point, perhaps eighty, is totally out of bounds to us here in India. Is there no alternative?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Trick or Treatment?

With the Flipkart voucher I won here, I bought "Trick or Treatment?: Alternative medicine on Trial" by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst.

It is a must-read for everybody interested in health - and especially for those who rely on alternative forms of medicine. It is interesting, impartial, well-researched, and full of information.

Chapter 1 - Speaks about why such an impartial study is important - millions of people around the world spend billions of money on alternative therapies - are they effective, and safe? This chapter also examines the kind of clinical trials that are necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of any remedy. It speaks about how clinical trials evolved, why blind and double-blind studies are important, and examines the placebo effect and its importance. A very interesting and informative chapter.

Chapter 2 - Deals with acupuncture. Acupuncture is based on an ancient Chinese belief that Ch'i energy flows through a body, and ailments occur when some important nodes are blocked. Sticking needles into the body at such points releases the blockages and sets the energy flow right again. Acupuncture claims to treat all kinds of remedies. The presence of Ch'i itself hasn't been proven over all these centuries, and so the basic presumption of this therapy might itself be wrong. But anyway, many studies have been conducted, including some very clever techniques to test the placebo effects of acupressure. The overall conclusion is that there are indications for its efficacy for some types of pain and nausea, but the evidence of relief for any other ailment is not enough. It is a relatively safe kind of treatment if you are so inclined to take it, but there have been cases of death due to negligent needling.

Chapter 3 - Homeopathy. Now this has been causing me trouble for a long time now. On one hand, there is this remedy that offers patients medicines that are so dilute that there is not even ONE SINGLE molecule of the original substance in the resulting medicine. It defies logic. On the other hand, there are millions of people who swear by it, some of them very smart and informed people. So there are only two alternatives - either the basic principles of science as we know it are utterly meaningless, or those millions of people are wasting time, energy and money on a placebo.

I did a lot of research prior to reading this book, and none of the homeopathy jargon made any sense to me. On the contrary, all the critics of homeopathy had me nodding with them in agreement.

This book is unique in that it approaches homeopathy in a very impartial way. It is not important that we understand it in the beginning, they say. Thousands of remedies weren't understood in the beginning, but were applied nevertheless. Only later did researchers understand the science behind it. The same approach has been taken throughout the book.

First the chapter talks about the origin of Homeopathy (based on hunches, assumptions), its rise in popularity (conventional medicine at that time actually killed people - using techniques such as bloodletting. So people who took homeopathy were better off. So it was assumed that homeopathy was effective), and its spread across the world (different reasons for their spread - mostly politics - nothing to do with efficacy).

To cut a very long chapter short, 200 years and 200 clinical trials later (which has taken into account all the basic tenets of homeopathy - including individualized treatment, etc), it has been proven beyond doubt that homeopathic treatment is no better than a placebo.

One of the authors, Edzard Ernst, is a trained homeopath, who has even practiced for sometime, before stepping back and opening his eyes. He says that nobody would have been happier than him if it had been proven that homeopathy is effective, as it would have opened up an entirely new world of research.

But why does homeopathy "seem to work"? All is explained in the book - and I guide you there for any more questions you might have.

Chapter 4 - Chiropractic therapy - Chiropractors claim that the spine is the key to the body's health, and adjustments to the spine can cure all diseases. Often it involves very rough manipulation of the spine and neck, and there are severe side effects, and several cases of death. Over the centuries, one section of chiropractors have broken away from the traditional beliefs and follow a more moderate form of this therapy, claiming to treat mostly back pain. But studies have shown that spinal manipulation might help, but it is in no way better than regular physiotherapy, which is safer and cost-effective.
If you remember, Simon Singh was unsuccessfully sued for libel by the British Chiropractic association for an article in The Guardian, criticizing Chiropractic therapy.

Chapter 5 - Herbal Remedies - Now this chapter was something of a shock to me. I was one among those who tended to believe that herbal remedies can't go wrong. After all, mainstream medicine also sources much of its remedies from plants. But what I found was that, yes, drugs are certainly made from plants, but the particular effective substance is isolated, and then synthesized or extracted to make medicines.
Very often, eating the whole leaf or nut or bark as the case may be, results in unwanted side effects. There have been many cases of people taking a herbal remedy along with mainstream treatment, and some substance in the plant has reacted adversely with the mainstream medicine and caused severe ill-effects. Even some commonly used herbal products that we use as home remedies might cause undesired side-effects when taken in excess. A mix of herbs, especially, that is common in herbal medicine can be particularly dangerous. This book suggests that before going in for herbal remedies, do your research well. Besides, many regular drugs go through years of testing to certify that it is safe and effective, whereas herbal remedies appear on shelves overnight. And it is not fair to the consumer.
An eye-opener of a chapter.

Chapter 5 - Asks "Does the truth matter?" and explores the reasons why it does. It is, once again, a beautifully enlightening chapter.

After this, there is a section where most of the other alternative therapies are discussed, each in one page. These include magnetic therapy, reiki, feng shui, meditation, massage therapies, totally thirty such alternative therapies. In case you are wondering what is the verdict on Indian systems of healing... Yoga, they conclude is an excellent way of life to maintain good health, and meditation and relaxation is also proven to be beneficial, unless you have a mental illness. Ayurveda - the verdict is mixed. Some remedies are proven to be effective and safe, but others are not. Many ayurvedic medicines have very high levels of metal, as it is believed to be beneficial (I'd heard about this disturbing fact before). But no metal in high amounts is good for the body. Ayurveda is a very complex system, and needs much more study to test its effects. In the meantime, keep your eyes open.

Disclaimer: I'm not a promoter of regular medicine, I don't pop pills left right and centre. I am well aware of underhand activities by greedy pharma companies, pushing untested drugs into the market, etc. I am a believer in the natural healing ability of our body, and I let the body do its job. Only when I see it might get out of hand do I resort to mainstream medicine. After all, its the best we have.

I've just tried to condense the material in the book in a few paragraphs. But I highly recommend that you read the book.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The UK Files - Lambing



My aunt lives in what is called a village, and the surrounding areas are full of farms and open areas. One such neighbouring farm organized a Lambing weekend, where the farm was thrown open to the public for a fee. It was no less than a fair. There were stalls and organized parking, and volunteers took batches of visitors around the farm. We saw geese, ducks, horses, a Shetland pony and goats in enclosures just outside.

Inside, we were first taken to the hen enclosure. Six thousand hens live here, and in a good week, the yield of the farm is thirty-two thousand eggs. Now that is astonishing. They are free-range hens, and at night, they are housed in a huge hen building. We were shown how tonnes of feed are pumped into the enclosures. Whew, did that building stink!

The hens are brought in when they are a few weeks old - all of them the same age. They lay eggs until they are about 72 weeks old, after which, their egg-laying ability decreases, and they are sent away to enter the meat chain. The whole area is then cleaned and sanitized, and the next batch of hens are brought in.

"How do you know which eggs are chick-eggs?" asked a little girl.
"There are no chick-eggs here," said the volunteer. "We don't have any roosters - this is a ladies-only section - and you know that you need both a male and a female to make babies, don't you? You don't? Ask your mother after you get home!" And she winked at the rest of us and escaped quickly!

We saw pens of little pink pigs with curly tails - they were so cute. One had got some straw stuck to its snout - and it was doing a little dance to free itself - that was great fun. There were tiny little enclosures each containing one ewe and her lambs that had been born within that week. If ewe1 has given birth to three lambs and ewe2 to one, then the farmers cheat by putting one of ewe1's lambs with ewe2 - so that they all have a better chance of survival. These lambs were adorable, and some were available to hold and pet. Puttachi held a three-day-old lamb in her arms, and it was the sweetest sight. Soap and hand-sanitizers were installed everywhere, and we were told to use them liberally.


I don't know about you - but I felt it then and I feel it now - an intense urge to just run and jump into this pile of hay.

The high-point of our visit was watching a live birth. There was a huge enclosure in which all the sheep in labour were housed. These had tiny oval openings, through which we peeping-toms could crouch and look. I actually saw a lamb being born. The poor mother was baa-ing away pathetically, turning round and round in the straw. Just as she started straining, two (human) helpers came to assist her. Even as we looked, a baby lamb popped out of the mother, along with the messy afterbirth. The next moment, the helpers left, and the mother started licking the lamb for all she worth. In a little while, she started baa-ing again - it looked like there was another on its way. But we had to leave.


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The just-born (Photo taken through a two-inch long oval opening)


We finished with a tractor-trailer ride around the farm, followed by two adorable lambs - white amidst green grass.

It was a fabulous experience.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Old dog, new tricks

I got my driver's license when I was 21. I drove very little, with my father sitting next to me. Since he took the car to work, and I wasn't really the jet-setting type, I didn't find any need for the car, and managed with autos and buses.

Then I went to study at Trichy, and then to work in Mumbai, where I didn't need to drive. After I got back to Bangalore, I was out of touch with driving, and anyway I took the office cab to work.

Even after I got married, I didn't ever feel the need to know driving. It is only now, when I have had to drop and pick up Puttachi from school, did I desperately feel the urge to drive, especially after dealing with faulty meters and rude drivers of autorickshaws. So I took a few driving lessons, and then drove around with S sitting next to me. After that, my father-in-law instructed me in the finer points of driving, and taught me driving in reverse and parking with great patience - and my confidence soared.

So today, I flew solo for the first time - I dropped and picked-up Puttachi from school myself - and I feel terrific.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hand me a pair of ear-plugs.

One of the most difficult things that I have faced in bringing up Puttachi is that I've had to change a little of my basic personality to suit hers.

I am a relatively silent person, prefering to listen than to speak. But there is a limit even to how much I can listen to without going mad.

But Puttachi is the opposite of me. She loves to talk and she does talk all the time. When she is not talking, she expects me to talk. She hounds me to tell her story after story, and bugs me with continuous questions. So at any given time, there is always someone speaking in the house. And that is VERY tiring. I need silence and solitude, and sometimes, at the end of a tiring day, my ears feel like they'll develop holes, and my head feels like it'll burst. I have to literally beg Puttachi to stop talking and not ask me any questions. But of course, this request is followed by a "Why why why why why?"

Besides, Puttachi is always in high spirits and full of excitement. It is quite lovely to watch her, and my spirits are never too low for a long time because of this. But hey, sometimes I need to be normal. I need to not smile or laugh. I need to mope, sulk and frown to even out my facial muscles.

But I just do not have that chance. The poor thing comes to me with so much excitement and happiness that I cannot bear to pour cold water over that, so I end up joining in her excitement, and tiring myself out. And if I do give in to my primary instinct and sulk a little, she comes to me, full of concern, and asks, "Amma, are you angry, are you sick, are you tired, are you feeling bad, what happened Amma?" and she won't let go until she is convinced that I am not upset with her. And that involves smiling and assuring her that everything is fine.

I know that as she grows, the challenges will be greater. For instance, I might have to forgo my urge to loll around at home in my pyjamas on a lazy weekend, to cater to Puttachi's desire to go out and party (figuratively). There might be bigger clashes between our personalities, things I cannot even imagine - and I might have to change further in order not to limit Puttachi's growth.

I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing, exerting myself, extending myself - I am not sure if this will hurt me in the long run, but I see Puttachi happy and blossoming into a sweeter and more enthusiastic person each day, and it feels like it is worth it.

Hard to tell. Someday, I guess I'll know the answer. Meanwhile, if you have any words of wisdom, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New Tricks up her sleeve

(not sure of the date of this one)

I go into the room to find that her brown dog has turned powdery and light brown. As I frown and ponder over it, she announces, "Dog asked me, "Puttachi, puttachi, please sprinkle some powder on me", and so I sprinkled powder on it."

When she knows something is going to get her in trouble, she employs this tactic. I have told her to eat her vegetables sitting in one place, but I come back to find it strewn all over the floor. "Oh, amma, the peas said to me, "Puttachi, please throw me on the ground", so I threw them on the ground.

New kind of questions I cannot answer.

She: Amma, say "plate".
Me: Plate.
She: Why did you say "plate"?
ME: Because you asked me to say "plate"
She: Why did I ask you to say "plate"?
Me: #$%$@

But I have found a way around it. I say, "tell me yourself", and I receive a very simple yourself. In the above case, she said, "because I like it." So simple, no?

Laughing at herself:

We see a picture of a snowman.

Me: Oh, Puttachi, do you know what you said for "snowman" when you were a kid? (she loves "when you were little" stories).
She: what?
Me: You used to say "Tone-man".
She: *Laughs her guts out - holds her stomach and rolls on the floor* Toneman! Toneman!
Me: *with a sudden doubt* Puttachi, say "Snowman" now?
She: Sone-man. *stops suddenly with shock. Then rolls on the floor again* I still can't say it!!


She: *waking up from a nap, still half-asleep* Brinjal... brinjal... where have you kept the brinjal?
Me: *Humouring her* Right, here, dear, you go back to sleep now.
She: *Sitting up, waking up* Ayyo, I said brinjal!!

Though S~ and I speak to each other a lot in her baby-language, we speak normally when she is around, one, to ensure that she knows the right way to say things, and two, to not make her conscious that for all her language abilities, her speech is not very clear yet. But once, I made a slip - I said a word like she would have said it. (I said, todine instead of kogile)
She immediately laughed and said, you said it like I do!

She sees a tube of ointment. She has forgotten the word "ointment"

She: Amma, what is that for?
ME: What, dear?
She: That oh-fen....oh-them....on-tem.... om-tem....
I listen patiently. Then she laughs loudly. I am not getting the word at all, amma! what is it called?
Me: Ointment
She: Ayyooooo ointment annakke yeneno andbitte! (I said all sorts of things instead of ointment!)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The UK Files - The Garden Centre

Since my aunt is so into gardening, it was inevitable that one of the first places she took us to was the neighbourhood Garden Centre. I'd never seen anything even remotely like this, and so my mouth fell open and my jaw hung down all through my first visit.

A garden centre differs from a nursery in that a nursery actually grows the plants and nurses them until they are fit to be sold, but a garden centre usually just sources the plants from such nurseries. A garden centre is much, much more than a nursery. It has everything you can imagine that has to do with a garden. And as many things that I couldn't even imagine.

It has plants, of course, and saplings, and trees, and seeds, and compost, and soil and pots and watering cans, fertilizers and pesticides and everything to do with plants. It then has gardening tools, rakes, and gardening gloves and lawnmowers and knee-pads and hats to keep away the sun (heh). Well, alright.

But then, it has garden furniture. And barbecue grills, and chairs and picnic mats and picnic baskets and picnic cutlery and stuff. And it has tea things, tea leaves, tea cups, doilies, tea-cosies, and varieties of biscuits to go with it.

It has landscaping instruments and garden ornaments and door-stops and stuffed toys and marble busts and things. And it has sheds and greenhouses and conservatories and frost-protection devices. It even has a whole section for wild bird feed. And it even has a pet shop and an aquarium in the same campus.

And they have very helpful people who give you valuable advice as well. And I'm just getting warmed up.

I think that if you want to study a people, you should visit their Garden Centre. That should give you, to use an English understatement, a fair idea of the people.

While my head was whirling with all this, Puttachi's jaw was dropping at something totally different. They have a few trolleys with toy cars attached to them. (Something like this) So the adult pushes the trolley, and the child sits in the car pretending to drive it.

For every visit after that, my job at the garden centre was to push around an empty trolley with Puttachi turning the steering wheel for all she was worth and honking away at passerbys. Old people stopped and smiled and said to me, "I hope your daughter has a license, dear," and all the while, Puttachi was deep in ecstasy.

We spent money taking her to what we thought were interesting places, the zoo, lambing at a farm, the merry-go-round at the town centre, but her favourite part of UK was the free car-trolley at the garden centre. Every morning, she would get up and say, "Shall we go to the garden centre today?"

Even yesterday, she asked me when we could go to England again, as she wanted to ride in the car trolley.

It breaks my heart that I couldn't take a picture of her in it.

Speaking of gardens, there is a very interesting concept known as NGS - Gardens Open for Charity. Every year, fair-sized private gardens open their gates to the public for a fee, the proceeds of which goes to charity. My aunt, Puttachi and I visited one such open garden. It was beautiful, attached to an imposing old house, with "grounds" all around, and fabulous views of the countryside. This one house brought to my mind all the settings of Jane Austen and such English novels. The batteries of my camera died here, and I didn't have spare ones on me, so no snaps :(

The plants were labelled well, and the landscaping was excellently done. The brochure had also promised us a walk in the woods next to the house - a Bluebell walk amid birch and ash trees, but though it wasn't exactly overflowing with bluebells, we could see some pretty ones here and there. The woods were lovely, dark and deep (Thank you, Frost), and it was fun walking in them. I almost expected Little Red Riding Hood to emerge from behind the nearest tree, because it was exactly as I had imagined Red Riding Hood's woods. (Or perhaps seen it illustrated somewhere). I also saw holly for the first time. I've seen pictures and have even drawn those distinctive holly leaves dozens of times, and finally, I saw it for real.

As usual, Puttachi was very cooperative, and sustaining her on Peppa Pig and Jammy Dodgers, we finished the walk and got back.

A wonderful concept, and perfect for garden-lovers.

Next: Lambing

Friday, July 30, 2010

The UK files - Familiarity

For me, one of the special things about visiting the UK, as opposed to any other country, is the immense familiarity with the place-names. I've come across these places in ever so many books, and it feels fabulous to see it in person.

On the South-Western rail from Reading to London, I saw Ascot station. How many books, how many movies talk about the races in Ascot! In the Wimbledon and Greenwich stations, I actually stood a while looking at the "Welcome to Wimbledon" and "Welcome to Greenwich" boards with a thrill creeping down my spine, thinking, "I'm actually here."

The London tube map looks like a concise Sherlock Holmes. I knew the names of most of the station thanks to Holmes' habits. Charing cross, Kensington, Brompton, Tottenham Court Road, Clapham Junction - and from innumerable movies, Covent garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly - all of them are as familiar to me as if they are neighbouring streets.

Driving across the country, I saw exits to places like Manchester and Liverpool, and arrows to lesser known, but yet familiar towns and shires that are sprinkled all over English literature.

Last month, I was reading a Wodehouse when one of the characters walked from Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner, and I could actually see him do that - I knew the route he took, the roads he crossed - it made the book even more interesting. More exciting was the mention of Twickenham, a station we passed on the way from Reading to London.

At every corner in London, there was something I recognized. "Scotland Yard", said a board in London, "Downing street", pointed another arrow - I know I'm rambling, but I don't know what that peculiar feeling is - that excitement when you see something that you've never seen before, but is so familiar to you! Has it happened to you?

It is priceless.

Next: Garden centre

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The UK Files - Spring in England

My aunt saw my last post and complained about it - that she has such a lovely garden, and all I post are pictures of bare trees.

Anu Mausi, this one's for you!

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The UK Files - The green and the weather

We landed in the UK just before spring was officially announced. It was still very green, but the trees were bare. Yet, it was a haunting kind of beauty, because I could see the shapes of the branches - some trees standing up reaching to the sky, some stretching their arms sideways, and many of them, the most beautiful ones, had branches drooping down, only to slightly perk up at the ends.

There wasn't much colour, except for daffodils - and these stood proud and yellow and beautiful. But they did indeed haste away very soon, and in fact, dry daffodils are a sore sight.

As our stay progressed, the chill decreased, and fuzz started appearing on the trees. This was a unique sight in my eyes, because the trees weren't really bare any longer - it was like you weren't wearing spectacles - the branches were hazy.

We didn't go out much for a week, thanks to the rain and cold and other activities at home, and on the next drive to Sainsbury's, everything was astonishingly different. Green of all shades had burst forth and the landscape was choking with green. I couldn't even recognize the roads as the same we'd driven through before. Farms that I could see through hedges were now hidden, the hedges having sprouted new leaves.

And in a few weeks, the colours came. Bold, exquisite Magnolias, the prettiest cherry blossoms of a thousand colours, and much later, the loveliest laburnum and the strangely beautiful wisteria.
Names I'd only read came alive before my eyes.

The beauty of that country is remarkable. I think it makes more of an effect because there is so much of it in such little space. And to someone who likes green, it is paradise.

Representative photos of a tree in my aunt's backyard:

End of March


Mid April


End of May

But the associated problems with cold and wetness - I cannot get over how long it takes to get ready to step outside. And I'd thought that one coat would be enough - I realize now that you need coats of different textures and thicknesses for every consecutive day! And layering - such a pain, but the most sensible thing to do.

Sometimes it looks sunny, and out you go, and the moment the sun pops behind a cloud, you're all a-shiver, sure you'll freeze. The sun comes out in a minute, and you're fine again. Really, what does that country expect one to do?

I realized I was prone to chilblains. Waking up at midnight with my toes itching so much that I felt like biting them out.

And how many plans have been ruined by the weather? In India, we say, okay let's go to say, Nandi Hills this Saturday. And we go. In England, you think about having a picnic in either Reading or Maidenhead. open the weather website, check the weather. Saturday looks wet in Reading, wetter in Maidenhead. How about Sunday? Oh no it is very wet in Maidenhead but Reading looks fine. But very very cold. And windy. Hmmm. Let's postpone to next weekend.
I found it very funny initially how every plan first started with a visit to the weather website. At the end of my visit, I was at it too.

Nothing like travel to put things in perspective. The day I got back to Bangalore, I felt a warm breeze on my face and felt so wonderful. I went out, taking care to wear the lightest clothes, and felt the sun on my skin and the lightness of being that comes from wearing no extra layers of clothes! But I went out and got depressed about the smoke and the dust and the lack of greenery, things I'd not thought about at all before.

Next: Familiarity

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Three good books

I've read more than a dozen books these two months. They've all been great, but there are three I just had to mention.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. One of the most engrossing books I've read. The characters just grab you by the collar and don't let go of you. Excellent writing, fabulous details - enough of them without it getting boring, and none of that flowery writing that gets in the way of a story. It transported me back two centuries to the time of the opium trade, and I was there, right there, with the characters.

I've spoken before of not liking it when I get to the midpoint of a good book, because it means it's getting over. This book was such that I actually put it down at midpoint, and picked up another book (the next on this list). But that book was so good that I finished it in no time, and I came back to Sea of Poppies. Sometime around now, I'd realized that this was the first part of a trilogy, with the other two yet to be published. So when I drew towards the end of the book, I decided to stop reading, and continue after the second part came out. But before I knew it, the pages turned on their own, and I flew to what I thought was the last chapter, only to read the title - "Acknowledgements". The book was over. I could have screamed. I could have torn my hair out. I could have rent the book into a thousand pieces. I was that mad. But all I did was put it away sorrowfully and look up Amitav Ghosh's email id to mail him and tell him, "Get on with the next book!"

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I picked up this book thinking that it will be slow reading, so that I could make Sea of Poppies last longer. But it was better than any thriller! I literally read it open-mouthed. The ideas and the writing are so clear, consice, incisive and they make so much sense, that I'm floored. Now I can't wait to get at his other books.

Three Men in a Boat (To Say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K Jerome - Now, this is one funny book. Barring one racist remark, and a few sentences that treat women with mild condescension, this book could have been written now. The humour is so relevant even 120 years after the book was published. That's probably because the author laughs mostly at human nature, and that, perhaps will never change! The events are most commonplace, but the way he writes about it is very good. This is one of the very few books I've read where I've actually caught myself laughing out loud, and in one case clutching my stomach while I laughed. Just this morning I was walking on the road when I remembered something from the book and grinned all by myself.

What made it nicer was that I now knew most of the places he talks about in the book, as he and his friends boat up to Oxford from London - all those places I've seen, including Reading, which he unkindly calls, among a multitude of other things, a dismal, dirty place. (It is not ;))

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The UK files

Ok, I've put it off for too long, but finally I've got the urge to write all about our UK visit. It was a wonderful visit, something I'd been looking forward to for a long, long time. Of course, writing about it is going to be a long-drawn affair, interspersed with regular topics.

Puttachi and I landed on March 25th, and S~ joined us on April 30th. All of us returned to Bangalore on May 20th.

We stayed with my aunt near Reading. She is great company, and very inspiring. We had hours and hours of lovely long chats, she treated us to the most lipsmacking dishes (the visit was a foodlover's dream), and we watched hours of murder mysteries on television, and the entire series of Fawlty Towers. My cousin V and Puttachi had some good times together, though he is a very busy guy! My uncle and Puttachi got on famously, she telling him stories all the time. Many times, when we were watching/doing something particularly engrossing, and Puttachi was disturbing us, my uncle would slowly lure her away and listen to her non-stop-nonsense until she didn't care if we existed or not.

Their house has a beautiful garden, and we spent hours in it. Mostly watching my aunt garden, but helping out a bit too. There is something to be said for walking barefoot on grass. It is so rare for us to have that pleasure. Lawns in India have "Keep off the grass" boards - but naturally. How difficult it is to maintain a lawn here! But in England, lawns maintain themselves - and so we had some beautiful moments sitting on the grass (me) and rolling about (Puttachi).

My aunt took us to a number of places - very untouristy things, and made it a point to show me interesting things and explain them to me - things which gave me an idea of life in the UK.

Next: The green and the weather.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

School update (after 2 months)

Nearly two months after Puttachi started school, she is well-settled. Apparently, she cried from time to time during the first month, but not any more. She likes going to school, fussing only on rainy mornings when even I feel like chucking everything and curling up to go back to sleep.

When she gets back, she is bursting to tell me what she did, what they learnt, what so-and-so said, and what X did to Y, and of course, what snacks they were given, and how many helpings she took. (Yes, she takes multiple helpings!)

She is full of news about her classmates, telling me in detail who sits where, and who wears her hair in ponytails and who doesn't. I had no idea kids chat - after all, what can a bunch of three-year-olds talk about? But apparently, they do, because she tells me what each of her friends said to her.

Since I speak to her only in Kannada at home, there was a time when I worried slightly that she would have a problem at school. I feel so silly now. Not even two months have passed and she has picked up so much English that I would've found it impossible to believe it had I not seen it myself.

Thanks to school, she is obsessed with colouring. She doesn't want to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet or do anything else, but colour. A friendly autorickshaw guy said to her yesterday, "Child, study well, okay?" She got down and told me, "Amma, I will study well, but I will also draw and colour, okay?"

Looks like she's having a wonderful time at school, and I only hope this lasts for the entire duration of her education!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sins against Gender stereotypes

I know that everybody has done this tag and passed on to other things, but since RajK and Dhanya tagged me, here goes:

My sins against Gender stereotypes.:

Disclaimer: I think the lines have been blurred now, and many things that were considered masculine when I was a child aren't so any longer, and vice versa. Of course, there are thousands of other things that weren't considered feminine even about 50 years ago, which we don't think twice about doing now. So I'm going to let all that go, and make my list - of what I remember. (I'm suffering from severe memory loss these days)

1) I hate shopping. Enough said.
2) I dislike going to the parlour. But I go anyway.
3) I don't like jewellery on myself, or dressing up or making myself up. I feel like I've entered someone else's body.
4) I studied MTech in Energy Engg, which was apparently such a male field that Energy companies that came on campus for recruitment wouldn't even consider female applicants.
5) That didn't stop me from travelling alone with my male classmates to industries in different, isolated towns.
6)... and wear helmets and climb ladders to take energy efficiency measurements from burning boilers.
7) I don't set great store on celebrating my birthdays and anniversaries. S~ and I completed 5 years of marriage this week, and I didn't even remember that it was our anniversary. Ordinarily, once you reach the month of the anniversary, you are aware that a special day is coming up, even if you forget it on that very day. I didn't even remember that.
8) I once shocked my Township by insisting on shaking hands with the chief guest who was distributing prizes. He was shaking hands with all the men, but not with the women. Some silly Victorian rule, I tell you. I was a teenager, who liked handshakes, and so I shook his hand. Tongues wagged.
9) I prefer to listen in and participate in the conversations of men in a mixed gathering. I gravitate towards the men sometimes, but unfortunately, there are higher instances of when I stay with the women out of a sense of propriety. Indeed, there was a time when I preferred the company of men to women.
10) I've never shirked from physical labour, often being the one to move benches and lift heavy things while organizing things in school/college.
11) I don't like speaking on the phone for longer than 5 min. That is my limit.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One point five months of school

After one and a half months of school:

1) Puttachi goes willingly, and happily to school. She goes on about her friends in class and tells me nearly every detail about what they did in school. Many times I have to dig it out of her with questions, but usually, she offers all the information herself.

2) I can't believe I worried for a while about her not knowing English, since I speak to her entirely in Kannada. 1.5 months and she has picked up quite a bit of English, and tries very hard to carry on a conversation in English, consisting mainly of nouns, "ing" verbs and lots of actions.

Me: Puttachi, how did you hurt your knee?
She: School... running (runs around to show me how).... fall down (makes a shocked face and demonstrates)..... hurt (makes a sad face)... crying (demonstrates graphically, with sound effects).
Me: Aww, then?
She: Aunty.... not teacher, aunty (mimics the ayah (my guess)) come, don't cry, medicine.... then, abbu(hurt) go away!

This from someone who spoke next to no English on May 31st.

3) Went for the first parent-teacher meeting, where her teacher told me that she's settled in very well, except that in the beginning, she tended to cry for half a minute before every new activity! The teacher also said that she relishes her food (the school provides snacks - yummy, filling stuff), and always asks for second, and sometimes third helpings.

4) They've taught the kids to draw standing lines and sleeping lines. Armed with that, and also with previous knowledge of the English alphabet, Puttachi came to me demanding to be taught to write her own name. I indulged her, assuming that she couldn't possibly do it, but to my shock, she actually wrote down all the five letters of her (real) name! One of the letters bothered her, but with an easy trick I taught her, she wrote down that too. My daughter is literate ;)


Another little ray of sunshine

One of my stories is in the longlist of the Unisun short story competition.

I don't have too high expectations of it getting to the next level, considering the competition out there, but I'm pleased nevertheless.

To add to it, I got a mail from them offering me the chance to get the story published in their anthology. Now, that's interesting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Towards a guilt-free mommyhood.

Like a gadzillion other things I didn't know before I had my Puttachi, I had no idea that being a mother involved lugging around a huge sack of guilt. A totally unnecessary sack, I should add, which, even if you try to avoid, creeps stealthily up behind you and attaches itself to you.

Oh well, I've thrown a few things out of the sack from time to time, and a few things get added to them along the way - let me bring it all out into the open.

Things I've felt guilty about, but not any more:

- Eating before I feed Puttachi - There have been times when we've come back home late for lunch, and both Puttachi and I have been starving. I'd hasten to feed Puttachi first, fighting the rats in my stomach, and lose my patience and sanity on the way. S~ pointed out to me that two minutes of extra starvation won't hurt Puttachi, two minutes being the time I need to chomp on a banana or down a glass of milk - enough to give me energy to feed Puttachi with calm and patience. That was one of the best pieces of advice anybody has given me. I now eat guiltlessly even when Puttachi is hungry, because I know that I can be that much better a mother when not hungry.

- I'd feel guilty about wanting to read or go for a walk, or wish for some time of my own when Puttachi was demanding my attention. I'd attend to her, while every fibre of my being wanted to do otherwise. But now I realize that if I'm happy and content, I can give her the quality time she wants. So I plonk her down with a favourite toy, tell her not to disturb me, and lose myself in a book for some time - even five minutes - just five minutes can do the trick.

Actually, I tell this to all those working moms who feel guilty - think about it, which is better for your child? A happy mom they see only in the evenings, or a grouchy, grumpy, dissatisfied mom that they have to put up with for 24 hours? Do whatever makes the best person out of you - all for the happiness of the child.

- Making Puttachi miss naptimes or mealtimes, or feeding her with less than a balanced meal, because I need to do something else. One day without proteins will not malnourish her. One missed nap will just make her cranky. But it is worth it if I can feed her with something convenient, make her miss a nap and drag her along with me to go out, visit people or places and have fun. This attitude stood us in good stead when we had to do all the travelling around UK.

Guilt I've been working on removing:

- Not being the perfect mom - I have had to step out of the shadow of my perfect mom - who, in spite of soul-deadening problems, was always caring, patient and loving with us - who gave up her other interests for us, who tried to shape us into confident, independent women. I'm trying to tell myself that it is okay not to be like her, and that I can be a good mom in my own way.

- Pushing away the guilt I feel when I scold Puttachi or give her a little whack on her little bottom. Her crumpled-up face immediately tugs at my heartstrings and makes me feel miserable, but I have to force myself to remember that this is for the best - for making her a decent, thoughtful part of society.

- Not feeling guilty when I lose my patience with her. I am human, after all, in spite of the endless spring of patience I've discovered after I've become a mother.

But there are a few things in which I'm still neck-deep in guilt:

- The state of my house. It is just a functional home, with all necessary things. I keep the kitchen clean and hygeinic, but many other surfaces around the house that are reeling under dust cannot say the same thing. Stuff needing to be picked up, cupboards wanting cleaning, shelves needing organization - my house is all that and more. I've always dreamt of a pretty and clean house - but I'm only just able to manage running a sane house.

It is not like I don't have the time. But in that time, I'd rather read or write or spend time with Puttachi. These "non-essential" things come last in my priority list, and they just remain there. Last. Undone. I feel terribly guilty about this, especially because S~ likes a spic and span house, and so comes back home after a long day at work and tries putting it all in order.

- I feel guilty about putting Puttachi first all the time. I know it is natural, and I know that nobody carries any grudge against me for that. But yet, I feel guilty. That she takes priority over everybody else. That her well-being is more important to me than that of anybody else. I feel rather like a traitor to my other loved ones for feeling this way.

Things I've never been guilty about:

- Being a SAHM. I've never felt bad that I've been wasting my BE and MTech degrees, that my brains are rusting. It is probably because I've never been too happy being a working woman, and I enjoy this life. I have a thousand interests, more than I have time for, and my day is always full, without a dull moment. I do things I love and keep my brain in working order. And if anyone asks me, "Are you just a housewife/mom?", I tell him/her that I am much more than that - I am a -
Cook
Dietitian
Nutritionist
Tailor
Teacher
Technician
Chauffeur
Psychologist
Doctor
Nurse
Caretaker
Housekeeper
Event manager
Handyman
Cleaner
Artist
Musician
Hairstylist
Beautician
Counsellor
Librarian
Entertainer
..... and so there. And if any of you is suffering from SAHM guilt, hit yourself on the head with this list.

So, Fight that Mommy Guilt!

[Written for this. ]

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Take my breath away

I've been postponing writing about my vacation in the UK, and was just running out of excuses, when Manish's mom, who is also back from a vacation in England, (and who gave me wonderful tips on travelling with a toddler - you can write to me for them), asked me, "What is the one place that took your breath away?" And I thought, this is the right time to start writing about my experiences.

There were many places that made me catch my breath, but Scotland is the one place that is seared in my memory. It keeps coming back to me, in my dreams, in visions, catching me by surprise when I'm doing the most mundane things.

But it isn't fair on all my other experiences to name just Scotland. So here are a few instances that took my breath away.

1) Spring had just arrived in England. Ever since I landed, I'd been seeing bare trees, and spring was an entirely new experience. The green was greener, there was fuzz on the trees and pretty flowers popped out from behind every green hedge. We were driving to a neighbouring town. I was entranced by the countryside and was looking out of the window. Suddenly, the road rose, reached a summit, and then dipped. At that vantage point, the countryside spread out in front of me. A clean green. Gently rolling hills. Farms on either side of the road. Little lambs gambolling about. Neat fences and hedges. Trees with fresh new leaves. Patches of flowers here and there. A blue, blue sky. The sensation of pleasure was very physical. It literally took my breath away.

2) Shortly after that, my aunt and I were driving, when from nowhere, a tree bursting with blooming magnolias sprung into view. It was so sudden, so magnificent that it made me feel glad to be alive just to see that wonderful sight.

3) With spring came these sudden, striking patches of yellow in the fields, amid the green. The first time I saw this yellow was at a distance. It looked like a giant's picnic mat, or as if someone had spilled a huge bucket of bright yellow paint in the middle of the green fields. It was absolutely lovely. The first time, it made me catch my breath. I never tired of the sight. I later found that they were rapeseed fields.

Rapeseed fields, near Stonehenge



4) While travelling in London, we got down at Westminster underground station, climbed up, and came out onto the road. "Ok, where are we?" I said, turning left and right to get my bearings, and then casually looked upwards. We were standing right below Big Ben. It is one thing looking at photos of something all your life, and another thing seeing it up close, that too when you don't expect it. A lovely feeling. Definitely a breath-taking-away moment.

My first view of Big Ben, London

5) We were driving upwards towards the Scottish Highlands from Glasgow, along the endless banks of Loch Lomond. It is not that beautiful compared to the other lakes we saw, but something about it, or probably the drive past it, moved me to tears. Sobs, actually.

6) Glencoe - I can tell you about it, I can show you pictures, but nothing can convey the feeling of awe you experience when you are there - like the mountains have a life of their own and closing in on you. Prehistoric, almost. This did not exactly make me catch my breath, but it made me forget to breathe.


Glencoe, Scotland



7) Loch Lochy - My favourite Loch amongst all those we saw. Made me catch my breath each time we passed it.

Loch Lochy, Scotland

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rolling heads

So I told Puttachi the story of how Ganesha got his elephant head with the help of an Amar Chitra Katha. As always, she listened intently.

Me: .... and so... Parvati's young son proved so strong for Shiva's forces, that Shiva, seeking to put an end to him, cut off the boy's head with his trident.

Puttachi: (Face crumpling up...)

Me: Wait, wait, listen to what I have to say.

She: Othay

Me: Parvati was angry, and to appease her, Shiva ordered his forces to go north into the forest, and bring him the head of the first animal they found. They found an elephant, cut off its head, and brought it to Shiva, who attached it to the young boy's body. And then.....?

She: (Her face lights up with extreme delight) And Ganesha got an elephant head! Yay yay!! Othay, so that's how Ganesha got that kind of a head! (Then she loses herself in thought)

Me: (Leaving her alone to digest the information)

She: Amma....

Me: Yes?

She: And whose head did they put on the elephant's body?

Me: Gulp.

Monday, May 31, 2010

First day at school

Today was Puttachi's first day at school. She was prepared to go in without me, and was very excited to wear her new uniform and shoes, and carry her new bag. She even woke up early in the morning, raring to go to school.

She looked heart-breakingly adorable - big, dark eyes full of excitement, short, unruly hair pinned down on either side by inadequate hairclips, wearing a uniform too loose for her in spite of attempts at alteration, unfamiliar shoes, and a no-nonsense brown bag - and she couldn't keep still as usual.

When we reached school, the watchman and an ayah took her from me, smiled at her, patted her head and cheeks, and led her away lovingly. She did not even look back at me.

I stood on my toes and watched her little figure until I could see her no longer. And then I stood right there and wept shamelessly!

She came out quite composed too, but the moment she spoke, I knew from her slightly heavy voice that she'd been crying. But the first thing she said to me was, "Amma, they gave me green milk! And something yellow to eat. It was sweet. I finished it all!"

Slowly, out it came without any prodding. "I cried just a little bit, Amma. I knew you would come and pick me up, but yet I wanted you, and so I cried. "

A new beginning, new feelings, new emotions. Decisions taken in the belief that it is for the best. A little girl going out into the world.

Silence.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My baby's baby.

I am a Grandmother.

No, really. Puttachi has a baby. A "kaaNisade iro" (that, which you cannot see) baby. This baby eats kaaNisade iro food, drinks kaaNisade iro milk, and bathes with kaaNisade iro water. And this baby, which is called Little Puttachi, goes with Amma Puttachi everywhere.

Last night, after Amma Puttachi had gone to bed, Little Puttachi felt thirsty.
Amma Puttachi: Amma, please turn on the light. Little Puttachi wants water.
Me: Give her water without turning on the light. Puttachi, did you want water?
Amma Puttachi: No Amma, I don't want water, my baby wants water. Please turn on the light so that she can see. What if she thinks I am giving her milk?
Me: I'm sure she can make out the difference in taste.
Amma Puttachi: (Making "glug glug" noises.) She could make out the taste, Amma.
Me: Good. Go to sleep now.

Little Puttachi came with us to England. We had bought a stroller for Puttachi to use there, and so, immediately, Amma Puttachi obtained a kaaNisade iro stroller for Little Puttachi.

When travelling by London Underground, S~ carried the stroller on the escalators while I carried Puttachi. The commuter movement was very fast as can be expected, and we had to be quick on our feet, so as not to obstruct anybody in a hurry. Just as I stepped on an escalator, I would lift Puttachi and place her on it simultaneously. But, I had forgotten that my daughter had her baby to attend to. The moment I bent down to lift her, Amma Puttachi bent down to lift her kaaNisade iro baby and made little endearing noises, and adjusted the baby's clothes, while I teetered on the edge of the escalator trying to grasp my daughter, holding up half a dozen irate commuters behind us! Finally I suggested to Amma Puttachi to carry her baby in her pocket like a kangaroo, and she thankfully complied.

Little Puttachi felt scared when the car went too fast on the motorway, but Amma Puttachi was very brave. Little Puttachi felt sleepy and hungry and cried all the time, but Amma Puttachi was usually cooperative.

Little Puttachi will probably go to school with Amma Puttachi. I'm hoping kaaNisade iro baby will give Puttachi company for the first few days until she gets some kaaNiso (visible) friends.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Three

My little one turned three today. And at the risk of repeating myself, it has been a lovely three years.

And she starts school next week!

Yes, I'm back from the UK. It was a wonderful vacation and I have loads to tell you. Soon, soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A lovely day.

When I was a kid, I frequently read sentences in English books on the lines of "What a fine day for a picnic!" or "What are you doing indoors on a beautiful day like this?"

I'd think, "What is a beautiful day?" I'd look out of the window, in then beautiful Bangalore, and think, well, today's a nice day, a good day for a picnic, I'm sure, but so was yesterday, and the day before, and so will tomorrow be, and the day after. So what is all the fuss about?

Ever since I landed in England, two weeks ago, it has been cold and wet. Finally, on the 8th, my cousin V's birthday, the sun came out. We had been on a fabulous walk by the riverside on Henley-on-Thames. The sky was clear, the sun's rays were warm upon our backs, and I said, finally with complete understanding and appreciation of the term - "It was a glorious day!"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Impressions after a week in England

None of the following are path breaking discoveries - they have been well-documented, but the thrill of discovering it for oneself is special.

- It is a very pretty country.
- I LOVE the houses
- The foliage is enchanting, some of it is hauntingly beautiful. Most of the trees are still bare, but they'll start sprouting new life soon, and I'm looking forward to that.
- It is very cold, much more than I am used to.
- It is wet - rains a little almost everyday - makes everything look so beautiful.
- I can't believe how much preparation I need to do just to step out of the house.
- The wonderful traffic sense makes me very sad.
- I'm enjoying the company of my aunt, uncle and cousin, and am stuffing myself with the nicest food.
- Puttachi seems to be having a lovely time too.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hello from the land of....

...Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and Wodehouse and James Herriott and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Wimbledon and Greenwich and Harry Potter and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and...

Puttachi was relieved (disappointed?) to find that UK was on earth. She thought that it was in the sky, since we were going there in an aeroplane.

Updates from my vacation will follow, short ones, probably, when I have the time :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The "Miracle"

I am not much of a festival celebrator, but I like to make sweets and eat them. And for festivals like Ugadi, I like to think that it is nice to do/start something important. (Though I believe that for a good job, any day is a great day!)

I've noticed that Puttachi is singing in tune these days, singing the notes in their right places, and felt it was probably time to initiate her into the basics of formal classical music. So this Ugadi, I was thinking vaguely that perhaps I should sit Puttachi down and make her sing Sa-re-ga-ma. To my surprise, Puttachi herself came to me in a while and said, "Amma, I want to listen to the Tamboori." (It is very rare that she asks to do that.)

I don't have a real Tamboori(Tanpura), and there was a power cut, so I couldn't switch on the Electronic Tamboori.

"Oh, no power, Puttachi, I'll switch it on later," I said.

Then Puttachi started this neverending chant "Tambooritambooritambooritambooritamboori.." and there was no space for any other thought in my head save for Tamboori. I started tearing my hair out, my explanations fell on deaf ears, and I finally thought, okay, let me show her.

I marched off to the room, took the Electronic Tamboori out and plugged it in.

"Look for yourself. Look, it cannot play without power," I said and switched it on, and at JUST that moment, the power came back, and the Tamboori started playing!

I'm sure the my face portrayed the greatest shock, but the look on Puttachi's face was that of pure delight.

We immediately sat down and sang a few notes, and the Tamboori was on for hours later, to Puttachi's immense satisfaction.

I could easily talk about destiny and claim that the whole world was conniving to satisfy Puttachi's urge. But it was just a happy coincidence!

This is how "legends" can be born, and this is how commonplace coincidences can get blown out of proportion. I think it is good for us to keep this in mind.
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