Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Playing only to learn?

What's with toys and games nowadays?  All of them come labelled with what benefits can be derived by playing with them.  Develops visual-spatial skills, increases left-brain performance, fine-tunes hand-mind coordination, enables pincer grip in readiness for writing in school, enhances counting and strategic skills....

Hello, what happened to playing for fun? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

"By Us, For Us" - A review

"By Us, For Us" is a collection of stories by young children, presented by HP Write and Read, and Katha.  These stories have been selected from among many stories that resulted from creative writing workshops that were conducted for school children across India.  Prasoon Joshi was the mentor, and he was the one who made the final selection.

The book reached me by post.  As I unwrapped it and opened the book, I couldn't help thinking that this is the kind of book that is the ultimate argument for real books as against e-books. 

It is a gorgeous book.  The pages and the printing are of excellent quality. The font makes you want to just start reading.  And the illustrations are wonderful.  So colourful, striking, and that coupled with the beautiful, glossy pages, I just wanted to run my fingers over the illustrations.  In fact, I could spend hours just admiring the artwork in the book!  I think the HP Imaging and Printing Group have done an excellent job with this book.

As for the stories themselves, it made me smile to read them.  My guess is that the writers are between 10 and 15 years of age.  And the stories reflect that age.  They are filled with moral righteousness, a fierce commitment to save the environment and wildlife, and the urge to use recently learned words, facts and figures.  Some words are used in irrelevant places, some adjectives make no sense, and there are some weird noun forms of words like guiltiness instead of guilt!  Guiltiness is supposedly a valid word, but sounds weird all the same!  Enid Blyton influences, surprise endings, they are all there.  I can imagine myself in that age and I can now nod sagely, thinking of a Tween me writing in the same way.

Some stories are totally pointless, meandering, trying to do too much in two pages. Most of them are just fine, something a bunch of happy kids might have written in their spare time.  But there are a handful which are really good, and these are the ones that stand out immediately, and even make you think. 

These stories are suitable for kids of that Tween age, I think.  I tried to tell some stories to my 4.5 year old, but she didn't seem too impressed.  She looked at me with a "You call this a story?" look.  My conclusion is that these stories, though written in a childlike manner, by children, speak of very adult issues which don't really appeal to a small child.  But there are a couple of stories which are obviously drawn from personal experience, that appealed to my daughter a lot.  So, on the whole, if you are looking at the book for stories for very young children, I wouldn't recommend it.  8-15 would be the right age, I think.

Since the stories are meant for children, and since such an august group has brought this out, I had expected perfection, or something close to it.

But on the back page, it says, "stories with innumerable wit, humour and thoughtfulness..."   Innumerable is used only when you are talking about things you can count (even though you are saying here that there are too many to be counted, you have to be able to count them in the first place.).  Innumerable stars in the sky, for example.  Wit cannot be counted, nor can humour and thoughtfulness.  Innumerable instances of wit, yes.  That would be right.  "Oodles of wit, plenty of wit" yes.  But  not innumerable.  And to find this right on the back cover, was quite shocking, and I must say, unpardonable. (If I am wrong, I would be happy to be corrected.)

Result: Most of the stories are highly imaginative, funny, and sweet.
Price:  It is expensive, at Rs.375, but then, the quality of the book is like that!  Besides, "All proceeds from book sales will go towards helping Katha fund their education programs in underprivileged parts of the country."
Age:  Perhaps not suitable for children learning the language, but will be appropriate for kids between 8-15.   It is a great book for an adult if you are looking for a peek into the Tween subconscious.

This is a good initiative, and I hope more workshops are held, more children are initiated into creative writing, more books come out, and I do hope the selection gets better with each book.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Soldiers and doctors...

I am humming Saare Jahan se Accha.  And as always, Puttachi demands to know the complete history behind every song.  After I finish explaining the meaning,

She: Amma, is this in Hindi?

Me:  No, it's in Urdu.  It is very much like Hindi.

Do people in India speak Urdu?

Yes, many people do.

Do people in other countries also speak Urdu?

Yes, they do.  Pakistan, for instance..

Pakistan?  Never heard of it.

Oh.  It is right next to India.

Really?  Right next to India, meaning it is attached to India?

Yes.

Then we don't need an aeroplane to go there; can we sit in a car and drive to Pakistan?

Yes, theoretically we can...

Amma, please let's sit in a car and go to Pakistan.

It's not that easy, Puttachi.  It is a different country, you see, we'll need passports, visas.

So let's get passports and visas and go to Pakistan.

It is not so easy, Puttachi.  You see... (sigh) India and Pakistan are not really very good friends.

What do you mean?

They fight with each other.

Are they our enemies? Are they bad?

No, no, no, no, Puttachi.....

Do we also fight with them?

No, no (how do I field this without telling her "you are too young to understand?")

You mean soldiers with guns fight against each other?

(she is fascinated by armies so hoping the questions will move away) Yes.

(in thought for a while.) Amma, how do people become soldiers?

They join the army, where they are taught how to be soldiers.

You mean the army teaches them how to use guns and kill people?

(Talk about putting it in perspective!)  Yes, they teach that too, among other things.

Amma, why didn't you become a soldier?

I wanted to become something else...

Why don't you go and become a soldier now?

Now?  I am too old now.

(Anxious) Are you very old, Amma?

No, Putta, I am not that old.  But I am too old to join the army and become a soldier. 

Can I become a soldier when I grow up?

Yes, you can.

What I mean is, I don't WANT to be a soldier.  I am just asking that if I so wish, I CAN be a soldier.  Can't I?

Yes you can.

But you know, right, Amma, that I want to be a teacher, a mother and a doctor?

Yes I do.

First I will become a teacher.  Then I will get married and have a baby.  When the baby grows up, I will become a doctor.

Puttachi, do you know that you can even become a doctor and join the army?  Then you can treat all those soldiers who have been hurt while fighting.

You mean those who have not died, and have only got hurt?

(How does she know such details? I certainly haven't talked to her about it.)  Yes, those soldiers.

(Thinks for a while.)  Amma, I don't want to be a doctor in the army.  I just want to treat small children who have fever and cold.

Oh, you want to be a paediatrician like your Dr.X?

Yes.  No.  I will be a doctor who knows everything.  I will be a doctor of everything.

And will you open your own hospital?

No, no, I will go to a hospital that is already there, I will call all the doctors, and tell them that I can take care of all the patients, and tell them all to go and join some other hospital.

(Beware, docs of the future.  One-in-all Dr.Puttachi is going to put you out of jobs!)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

After many years....

Yesterday, I got in touch with a high-school classmate on FB.  He wrote on my wall, "How are you doing?  Still leading the charge against all of MANkind? :)"

For a second, I assumed he must have mistaken me for someone else.  On reflection, I realized that yes, he was talking about the high-school me, and he's got the description of that fourteen-year-girl exactly right.  As I rolled about with laughter at my young self and the apt description, I remembered that yes, I was very firm and stern and vocal against what I saw as atrocities against womankind by that terrible tribe of men, and I made myself very clear about it.  Of course, I still feel strongly about the topic, but I no longer have that fire in my belly.

And I paused for a moment to wonder where that girl has gone.  It sounds funny, if I think of it, that I am the same person.  How different I was then, in so many ways!

Reminds me of something that happened a few months ago.  I had a little black book that I used in my teens, where I noted down phone numbers of friends.  Only the important ones entered the little black book.

I found this book recently, flipped through its pages, and was lost in nostalgia, until I came to an entry, "Prerana (Menaka's friend)"  [Names changed.]  Not only did I not recognize the name Prerana, I did not even recognize the name Menaka.  And Menaka must have been someone I knew quite well, to use her name as a reference for someone else.  I almost felt I was losing my memory or something.  I still have no idea who those two girls are.   But at some point of time, they were important enough to be included in my book!

I know how much people can and do change over the years.   But yet, I found myself making the same mistake branding a certain person by the impression I had of her in my childhood.  At that time, I perceived her as snobbish, and she always made me feel dowdy and insignificant.   I was never really comfortable around her.  After many many years, we got in touch again, and though she repeatedly extended her hand to me in friendship, I turned away with trepidation, the old ghost in me rising up and not being comfortable around her.  Finally, I realized that the problem was with me, and then I myself made the leap and connected with her.  I then realized she's turned into a lovely lady. [It could be argued that she always had been a lovely person, and I had not seen it. :)]  We don't get to interact too often, but I know now that she can be a good friend.

Everybody needs to be given a second chance, everything has to be given the benefit of doubt.  What say?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Defending other people's choices.

When bringing up an impressionable child, there are times when you are faced with not just defending your own choices to the child, but also explaining other people's choices.  And this has to be done without putting the other people in a bad light. 

Puttachi: Amma, X gave me XYZ chips today.  He told me that he will ask his mother to buy me a pack too.

Me: Puttachi, there is a reason why I don't buy XYZ for you.  It contains a harmful substance (MSG) which is bad for everybody, especially for small children.

She: Then why does X's mother buy it for him?

Me: Perhaps she doesn't know that XYZ chips contains that. 

She: Or perhaps she doesn't know it is bad for health.

Me: Perhaps.

She:  Then you should call her up and tell her, Amma, that it is bad.

That is the logical thing that will occur to a child.  But how can I handle this?  I really have no answer.

Another situation:

Puttachi:  Amma, Y's mother lets her eat a whole pack of chips at one go.  Why don't you allow me?

Me:  Puttachi, I believe that too many chips at once is bad for you.  If you eat only a few chips, you will have enough space in your tummy to eat healthy food.  And you know that chips don't have anything that will help your body be strong and healthy. 

She: Then why does Y's mother let her eat so much?

Me:  Puttachi, just like different people have different likes and dislikes, different people have different beliefs.  Some think it is okay to eat a whole pack of chips at one go, but I don't.  See, B's mother doesn't let her play in the sand, but I think it is okay.  It is just a matter of what one believes. 

She: (I'm sure, wishing that her mother had a different set of beliefs)  Okay Amma. But I can eat a few chips, can't I?

Me: Of course, dear.

I will not be surprised at all if she goes and gives Y's mother a lecture next time.  But that is not in my hands.

How do you defend other people's choices?  Or do you?

Friday, January 06, 2012

I am not Supermom!

A few posts ago, when I had written about some challenges I faced during parenting, one commenter had told me that she was glad to read that I face difficulties too, because she had seen me as a super mom/wife/woman.

I think it is time to set the record straight.

I don't blog all the thoughts that come to my head.  Some posts die before they come out of my head.  Some dither at the draft level.  A very few fructify into blog posts. 

And I am not one who cribs or whines in public, nor do I like washing dirty linen in front of virtual strangers.  So I refrain from speaking about many things.  That, perhaps, has portrayed me as this superwoman.

We all know that there is no such thing.  All of us, I think are in a constant state of effort to improve ourselves, whether we know it or not.  To do the thing that we think is best.  For ourselves, for our children.

Parenting doesn't come with a manual.  And to add to that, every child is different.  Besides, we will be deluding ourselves if we think that we are the only ones who have an effect on our children.  The fact is that we live in a society, and inputs and influences come from every direction.

As a result, we are trying to nudge our children in a direction that we think is best - in the midst of all these thousands of little pushes that the child keeps receiving every day, every minute.

And sometimes we don't even know whether what we are doing is right or not.  Is it going to hurt her in the long run?  Is this going to result in some other behaviour problem later in life?  We don't know.  We cannot possibly know.  So we always do what we think is right at that point of time.  Of course we have a long-term view at the back of our minds, but sometimes, we just cannot be sure of what is right.

I am also a victim of that uncertainty.  I have constant doubts about what I am doing, what kind of an example I am setting.  I know I am far from being organized.  What am I showing her by being lazy, disorganized?  It is too much effort for me to maintain a neat and beautiful home.  Yet, I try.  But more often than not, I fail.  I used to be proud of the house my mom maintained.  It gave me pleasure to see how my friends appreciated it.  I used to be terribly vain about my mother's cooking, my mother's sewing.  Even now, when I am at a loss about what to do in certain home-makerly areas, I have the confidence that my mother's magic hands will set everything right.

But will my daughter have that kind of feeling about me?  I am most certain that she will not.  Because I am a totally different person.  True, she might be proud of me in totally different ways, or she might not.  But, it bothers me that I am not setting a certain standard for her to follow.  It bothers me that I don't take her to too many new places, that I don't expose her to enough things. 

I am constantly told that my daughter is too soft.  My view is that it is better she is that than if she is insensitive and rude.  Besides, I feel that if I give her a nice, secure environment now, she will later anyway grow up to be a secure, confident individual.  I don't care if she is not aggressive.  It is enough if she is content.  But is this opinion right?  Is it wrong? 

Am I lax in my nurturing her, because I don't have any fixed structured timetable for her?  Do I have to make her write her alphabet every day?  Do I have to send her to classes, art/sports?  Am I doing the right thing in letting her be, for now?  I think I am, instinct tells me that this is probalby the best thing. But my brain sometimes thinks otherwise. It tells me that it might cause problems later on.   It pushes, prods, points me to other kids.  And sends me into a tizzy of confusion.

I am not some advertisement mom, who wakes up in the morning fresh and bright-eyed,and glides about my day, each hair in place, my clothes neatly ironed, who knows just the right things to do for my child, and does it smilingly.  Far from it.

If there is anything I have achieved, for myself, or for my daughter, it is only by rising above all this.  It is not because of what I am, it is in spite of what I am.

If you have also been thinking that I am a supermom who sails through parenting, be assured that I am not.  I have to make an effort too, sometimes more than I am even capable of.  Yet, all that matters is that I have my daughter's best interests in mind, and that, I feel, is enough to guide me in my way.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A peaceful end to a great year



We had a lovely week at S's mother's village, deep in the Malnad region. Crisp, cool nights and sunny, clear days, with nearly nothing to do all day. If anyone enjoyed herself thoroughly, it was Puttachi. She played with her cousins and the other kids, jumped, screamed, danced, and more than anything, ran. And she ate lots of bananas so she could feed the peels to the cows. She loved the cows, especially the little calf so much, that she would have even spent the night there in the cowshed if we'd let her. As it is, she sat down in some muck trying to hug the calf.

She fed puffed rice to the big fat fish in the river Tunga that flows behind the house, she drew water from the well, ate off banana leaves, and watched in fascination as they used a big stone mortar and pestle to grind food.

And I? I discovered timelessness. I now know what they mean by time standing still. Time refused to move. It would feel like its been hours since I awoke, yet, it would be just ten o clock in the morning. And it wasn't as if I got bored during those long, sluggish hours. I was very much involved in activities like looking at the sky. And for most of the time, I did not even know, nor did I really care what the time was.

But I'm glad to be back.

And I wish you all a wonderful year.
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