Tuesday, March 24, 2009


At some point in every child's life, the parents probably start to wonder about sharing, how to teach it, its age-appropriateness, and the frustrations that arise when the child doesn't seem to want to share.

During random reading about children and parenting, I have frequently come across the statement that children have a "natural, inbuilt sense of generosity." So why does that sense go into hiding when it comes to sharing?

Long before Puttachi was born, S~'s cousin came home with her daughter Y. When we gave Y a bar of chocolate, her mom asked her to break it into pieces and give one to everybody before she ate one herself. When she gave me a piece, I told her, "Its okay, baby, you can have this one too." Her mom immediately said, "No, no, please take it. I want her to learn to share." I remember being pretty impressed, especially because the child, barely two years old, smilingly and willingly gave everybody a piece of chocolate before settling down to eat her share.

After Puttachi was old enough to understand, it has been S~ who has taken it upon himself to teach her to share. Whenever she is given a treat to eat (raisins, nuts, puffed rice), he asks her to give one to everybody and then eat. If she protests if I am sitting on "her" chair, he tells her gently, "Amma wants to sit too. Let us allow her to sit for a while, and then you can sit on it." And then when I get up, he says, "Ahh, see, now it is your turn, you can sit on the chair."

There have been a spate of weddings in the family. I take dry fruits along with me to such events to engage Puttachi if she gets too edgy. In these weddings, when she was eating the nuts, she would herself, voluntarily, offer it to the nearest person, even if it happened to be a stranger, and then continue eating. But yes, I am aware that this is a situation where she had enough raisins for herself, enough to feel sufficiently magnanimous.

But then, about a month ago, Sanjay and his wife had come home with their son Jaanamari. Puttachi was delighted to see this fellow, just her age, and she took him gleefully to see her toys, and plied him with her toys and books. "Maybe she doesn't like that book", Sanjay ventured to say, when Puttachi was forcing one particular book on Jaanamari. "On the contrary", I said, "that's one of her favourites." Both Sanjay and his wife concurred that (I am paraphrasing) "Puttachi is the most generous child we have ever encountered." S~ and I were very pleased, of course, and later that night, we discussed why it could be. Is it because we continuously encourage her to share, or is it that by nature she is a generous child? We concluded that it was probably a combination of both, and left it at that.

Then there came another sharing situation. Actively sharing toys everyday. Puttachi plays in the sand everyday in the park, with her new friend, little Sk, just about three months younger to her. (Sk's mom M and I met at the park and became friends, and then later got to know that we go back a long way. One of those unexpected encounters that one is thankful for - knowing them has been enriching.)

When Sk and Puttachi play with the garden set in the sand, naturally, they have to share. Inevitably, each wants the toy the other is playing with. It leads to a bit of grabbing and snatching and screaming, before we, as moms intervene and tell them, "Hey listen, she was playing with it, don't take it from her hand, pick the one that is not being used." To give both the kids due credit, they listen, and don't make too much of a fuss. Even if they do, a small distraction serves to make them forget. Lately they have even taken to "gifting" each other sticks, stones, seeds and seashells.

Last week, M sent me a very thought-provoking link about sharing, asking me what I felt about it. Do read the whole thing, but what it says is that sharing is not a natural thing, and it is probably wrong to force kids to do it at such a young age. After all, don't we also have our favourite things that we don't want to share with anybody else? Sometimes not even with our loved ones, leave alone strangers. Then why should we force our children to do it? Especially because at that age, sharing means "giving". There is one more thing I realized. When our children grab a toy from another child's hands, what do we do? Grab it back from her, saying, "You should not grab!" I mean, what on earth are we teaching them if we don't practice what we preach?

I saw sharing in a new light. The article does have an element of truth. I almost felt sorry for making Puttachi share her things with absolute strangers. But I still believe that if the concept is inculcated really early, it will become a habit.

As if to validate my feeling, M sent me another link. That's almost the kind of approach S~ has been following with Puttachi. So far, more or less it has worked with Puttachi. Or is it because she is still too young? Or haven't we encountered situations that really test her? Or is the "possessiveness" feeling more acute in older children? I would love to hear from you all - what you think is right, your experiences, and how you have handled it all.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Award Ceremony

On Saturday, there was a small and informal ceremony at the office of Deccan Herald, where we, the winners of the Short Story competition were given our awards.

Two of the judges were there - the incredibly elegant author Usha K.R., and columnist Pradeep Sebastian, he of the scathing movies reviews that we loved to read as children. The third judge, Anita Nair, wasn't present.

We met Ms. Dipti Nair, one of the editors of DH, who has been responsible for organizing the whole contest. She actually waded single-handedly through the 600-odd entries that they received, and shortlisted about 30 which were sent to the judges.

The judges spoke about the prizewinning stories and on what basis they judged the stories. Then, we were asked to speak about where we got our ideas from, and our work. Since only the first prize story has been published so far, it was interesting to hear the author speak about it - coz we knew what he was talking about. I really wish this gathering had taken place after all the stories had been published and read, so that it could have been a more meaningful interaction.

We had a discussion about the new and revamped DH with the other Editors and staff of DH. I enjoyed meeting the people behind the newspaper that I have read all my life. I really did. So much so that when I opened the newspaper the next morning, I virtually saw their faces in it! ;)

Well, I saw my face too in the newspaper - a report was published on Sunday (Mar 22). The link doesn't have the photograph - you can probably see it in the epaper (Page 3, main paper). Yes, that's me in white, smiling the wry smile.

Special thanks to Puttachi for being on her best behaviour, and to S~ for taking her outside and letting me participate in peace when she got too talkative.

So I am now richer by Rs.15000-TDS. :) And am looking forward to my story being published - on the first Sunday of May. Thank you for your patience!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Introducing - The School of Parenting.

Venue: Your nearest park.
Time: Every evening
Fees: Entry free
Mode of teaching: Live demonstrations.
Teachers: Parents/caregivers and children.
What you need to bring with you: A pair of open eyes.

Example Scenario: A little girl has climbed onto the jungle gym and is stuck. She is afraid to get down.

Reaction 1: One mother, who is at the other end of the park, looks around at her daughter calling her urgently, and she turns around, finishes her conversation with her friend, and walks across leisurely, the little girl screaming with panic all through. She lazily holds out a hand to the girl, helps her down, and goes back to her friend without wasting another moment.

Reaction 2: Another mother stomps furiously towards her daughter, lifts her down, slaps her hard, and says, "How many times have I told you not to climb this? You always get stuck. You cannot climb it. Can't you understand this simple thing?" (Any wonder that the girl always gets stuck on it?)

Reaction 3: A father stands and looks up at his wailing daughter and laughs at her. "Heh heh ha ha, you look so funny stuck there..." while the little girl is shaking with fear, holding on to the rods for dear life.

Reaction 4: And then there is a father who goes to his daughter and encourages her. "Come on, you can do it. No, I won't hold you, but I am right here. I will not let you fall. One foot there.. that's right.. hold this rod... yes... yes... now, one foot down there.. correct... and there! You did it yourself!"

Now you look at all this and don't learn? Impossible :)

Monday, March 16, 2009

A morning walk with a difference.

I took one of the Bangalore Walks on Saturday - The Traditional Bengaluru one.

Taking a guided tour in a new city is a beautiful experience, yes. It is a journey of discovery and learning. But to take a guided tour of your own city? That is nothing less than enthralling. It is like being taken around your own backyard, and being pointed out treasures you never knew existed.

I will not give away the secrets I learned about Bangalore. I suggest you go discover them yourself. But all that I seemed to keep doing was say, "Really? X played a part in the design of Bangalore's sanitation? Wow!" "Oh, I've passed this place a dozen times - I had no idea it was so unique." "Man! Such a historical spot, right next door to me!"

I felt pretty much the same way while I read "Bangalore through the Centuries" by M.Fazlul Hasan, but this was first-hand experience, and that made it much better.

It helped that our guide, Savita, is very obviously passionate about Bangalore and its history, and some of the things she said gave me an idea of just how much research and planning has gone into the development of this park. A wonderful effort.

It doesn't matter if you are new to Bangalore, or have lived in Bangalore all your life. I suggest that you go take one of these walks. It is well-worth the time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Kids and maids

This post, about maids looking after kids, has been simmering in my mind for a very, very long time now. I didn't want to sound judgemental or righteous, nor did I want to comment on a trend that has almost been accepted as a way of life, whatever be the reason. But I feel very strongly about this and as such things go, strong feelings ought to be purged, or else!

I know perfectly well all the reasons that people employ maids. Just because I could easily chuck my hated job to look after my baby, it doesn't mean that I am insensitive to all those mothers who care so much about their career. Just because I have hard-headedly decided to do everything on my own around the house, it doesn't mean that I find it easy and fun. It doesn't mean that I have very often wished that there was someone who would just watch my child as I caught forty winks, or someone who would engage her as I sat back and sipped tea and read the newspaper, and a million such small things. But so far, I have been able to manage, mainly due to S~, who gets back from work and looks after Puttachi for a while, while I put my feet up, and who helps me with the housework even after a long day, so that I can get to do the things I like after Puttachi goes to bed, and hence feel normal after an insane day. I know that not everybody has these luxuries, and I am thankful for them. But that will not stop me from expressing my concerns.

It was in my township that I first noticed a maid looking after two young girls, because both the husband and wife went out to work. The maid in question was terribly young herself, certainly not more than 12. And she was extremely dirty. Unwashed face, snot pouring out of her nose, uncombed hair, dirty hands - the works. And she looked after these two kids, daughters of my father's colleague, by which reasoning the girls were like us. I don't want to go into details, but even to my young mind, that concept put me off, and probably scarred me for life.

That of course, must have been an extreme case. The maids I see now are older, much smarter, very clean and neat. Yet, I fail to understand how a maid can fit into a mother's shoes, even temporarily.

I don't know how it works inside the house - the mother-maid-child relationship, because I can't say that I have seen any such cases up close. My experiences are only those on the outside.

Case 1: When both mother and maid are around: In malls or in the market or in the park, the mother glides through, impeccably dressed, smiling a gracious smile out of a perfectly lipsticked mouth, every hair in place, every crease in her dress perfectly aligned, while behind her comes a huffing and a puffing maid, carrying a child, the child's bag, and shopping bags if any. [I have seen two maids too, sometimes]. Then there are those maids who sit on a different table at a restaurant, feeding the children and themselves, while at the next table sit the child's parents, "enjoying" a "relaxed" meal. If the child cries, it is the maid's problem. But if an acquaintance is sighted, then the child is picked up and shown off to gushes and gurgles, and then agian deposited with the maid to do the dirty work. And then there are those maids at a park, who engage the child in play while the mother just sits there and does nothing. I have seen other moms who go for a walk when the said maid is engaging the said child, and I approve of that. Makes the best use of the situation. Then there are those moms like these in LAK's post.

Case 2: When only the maid is around: The best place to watch this phenomenon unfold is the park. Elsewhere, it could be a one-off situation. But in the park, you know that it is not so. My pet example is this old maid who brings a three-four year old boy everyday. She is undoubtedly sincere. She carries the boy all the way, and brings along a big bag too, full of toys and a waterbottle and a change of clothes. Every day, her routine is the same. She puts the boy on the swing for five minutes, takes him to the slide for five minutes, and so on until a round of all the playthings is done, after which she puts him on the sand and gives him his implements to play. If there is any slip in schedule, for example, if the boy doesn't want to play the merry go round, he gets a rain of curses on his small head, and he is forced to comply. If he dilly-dallies on top of the slide, examining the rods, for example, or looking up at the sky to see an aeroplane, this old lady shouts at him not to waste time and to slide down immediately. Every single day, these two arrive at the park, and not once have I seen a smile on either one's face. Ok, forget the old maid who might have problems of her own. But a three year old boy without a smile? No smile on the slide, no smile on the swing, no interest in anything, always staring off into space with a vacant look. It pains me to look at him, it breaks my heart. I tried to engage him in conversation once, using all the broken Tamil I knew, but he just wouldn't respond. I let Puttachi loose upon him, but he just looked through her. I had to give up. I wonder what extreme necessity it is that makes the boy's parents/caregivers not be there for him.

I also remember two little boys in the park I used to go to previously. Each boy had a maid for himself. The younger of the boys, about a year old, wet his pants and the maid just let it be. Wet and stinking. Another time, she made him pee right there in the kids play area, where other kids play in the sand. She also tried making him walk barefoot on the sand, and the other maid scolded her. "What if he cuts his foot or something! Their mother just goes kwa-kwa-kwa for everything. She is a witch, she is ruthless, she has no heart. If he gets hurt, we will get it properly." Now, the older boy was old enough to understand all that was being said about his mother. I looked at his face - there was no expression. Was all that so common that it didn't affect the boy anymore? What on earth will he think about his mother?

This is just one aspect. I have seen other maids who truly enjoy being with their wards. They laugh, talk and sing, and they obviously have fun with them. And that's great. But yet. Yet I feel that with the mother around, the child would have got a more wholesome experience. But then, that's just my opinion.

Having said all this, I am fully aware that I am not in a position to judge anybody. I do not approve of how maids are being employed to care for their children. Their role is becoming increasingly greater, gradually replacing the mother more and more. And that is what troubles me. While a maid as a help and a temporary companion is understandable, the fact that a child has to spend a majority of its time with someone who is not an immediate member of the family - it troubles me. While it might actually work out beautifully if there is a great maid, my guess is that such people are very rare.

I've got it all out - well, almost, so that should give me a peaceful night.
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