Monday, December 19, 2011

The Thirties

When I was in my early twenties, I had this dread of the thirties.  I don't remember why, though.

But the thirties have been good to me. 

I'm largely comfortable with who I am. There is no more a great struggle to accept myself, my failings, my looks - now I largely know (or think I know) who I am.  But yet, I'm still searching for myself in some way or the other - wondering why I can't get myself to be better at this thing, or why I cannot seem to persuade myself to go out and do that thing.  But compared to the twenties, I can say that my boat is far steadier now.

I've found a little niche for myself, and I'm no longer floundering about wondering what is happening around me.   I've learnt that there is something I can be good at - at which, with some effort, I can perhaps be better than just good.  Yet, I know that I have such a long way to go that any little progress I make seems insignificant. 

I can see that I am more understanding, more loving, and definitely far more accepting and non-judgmental than I ever was. 

I understand my family, my friends and loved ones better, and am more appreciative of their role in my life.

I've known my spouse long enough to know that behind (what I think are) his idiosyncrasies, there beats a sincere and loving heart.  Yet, I don't know him so well that he doesn't spring a surprise on me from time to time.

I love my child, and I know her well.  So I know where I stand in terms of nurturing her, and yet, there is so much I don't know, making every day a learning process.  Every decision is a fine balance - frightening, yet exciting.  Ultimately, very rewarding. 

Yes, the thirties is definitely a better place than the twenties. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

It happened in Puttachi-land...

Puttachi:  Amma, please draw me.

Grabbing a gel pen and the proffered piece of paper, I make a rough sketch.  I have no experience in sketching portraits, and this sketch looks only vaguely like Puttachi, but decidedly older.

Puttachi is in splits when she sees the drawing.

She: Amma, it doesn't look like me at all, but it looks just like you! 

S comes back from work, and Puttachi shows him the sketch.

S: (Grimacing) Whew, I sure hope Puttachi doesn't look like that when she grows up!

Me: *eyerolling*


Puttachi has an upset tummy, and I'm warning her not to eat the snacks they give at school.

Me: Please eat only what I have sent in your lunchbox.  Don't eat anything at school, remember, and don't drink milk.

She: *wagging her index finger at me sternly* I hope you'll give me buttermilk when I get home, or how will I get my calcium?

Me: Yes! *pumping fist*

Imparting awareness in nutrition - tick.  And the last part was said in correct English too!

Puttachi:  Amma, am I taller or is X (her friend) taller?

Me: What do you think?

She:  I know I am taller than her.

Me: okay.  (Puttachi is taller, but I don't want to make these things an issue, so I don't offer any comment.)

She:  But X keeps telling me that she is taller.

Me: So do you tell her anything?

She: No, I don't.  I just let her think she is taller.  I know I am taller, so I just keep quiet.

If only she retains this wisdom even in the future...

Monday, December 12, 2011

My tech-savvy Ajji

I am a big fan of my Ajji.  A volleyball player in college, and a BA graduate in those days, she even has a published book to her credit ( a translation from English to Kannada.)  So she's always been that little bit ahead of everybody else.

And now, at 84, she has got herself an iPad, and she surfs and emails.  It is lovely to get her mails. And yes, she reads my blog too.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Quick, quick, quick!

After Puttachi gets back from school at about 1 pm, I have a total of just six hours with her before she goes to bed. In these six hours, we have to fit in two meals, one milk+fruits+junk session, and then of course she wants to play at the park, she wants a bedtime story, she absolutely has to do play-acting, and then - drawing/painting/craft/music - whatever she wants to do.

And these six hours are just not enough for everything.  Of course, sometimes we skip going to the park, and on other days, we end up not doing any activities, but even then, it is too short a time.

And this paucity of time is worsened by the fact that her mealtimes stretch on and on and on... she is a good eater, but she is a dreamer too.  Her mealtimes are full of chatter and dreaming with food in her mouth, and forgetting to eat because she found the edge of the tablecloth far too interesting....

And sometimes, at the end of dinner which has gone beyond her bedtime, she is so sleepy that a bedtime story is not possible.  And many times she has to go to bed with a puzzle unfinished, or a book half-read, or without having spent some of her excess energy running around in the park.

As a result, I have turned into this monstrous machine who goes on saying "bega, bega, bega..." (quick, quick, quick) - I keep urging her to finish, and get on with it... and I get impatient if she dilly-dallies - and at the end of the day, after I have tucked her into bed, I feel exhausted and miserable at the same time.

We do enjoy a lot of spontaneous play, and kidding around, we aren't missing out on that - but I get all worked up when she takes too long at a task, because that means we'll have to cut back on something else, or else the evening tea session will get too close to dinner, for which she might not have an appetite left - it is all a terrible mess.

The poor thing - I hate to hurry her like that.  I hope I find my balance soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Disclaimer on the Feature

Now that the hoopla and hullabaloo of the feature in The Hindu is behind me, I must tell you all that I was quite mortified by the feature itself, and the size of the photographs in the actual newspaper.  Publicity is nice, but I wasn't really prepared for so much.

Besides, the article was riddled with factual errors. 

People who know me in and out said, "No way, Shruthi couldn't have said that!"

People who know me quite well said, "Shruthi said that?  Doesn't quite sound like her...."

And I am sure many others, for example those who read my blog, might have thought "Really?  But I thought...."

I could have let it go, but at least on my blog, I am compelled to set the record straight.

No, my name is not Shruti Rao, but Shruthi Rao.

No, it is not true that people don't interest me.  I love people, love to spend time with them.  I find them fascinating.  Too many people for too long tires me out, that's all, and I need to recuperate before meeting more people.   The article makes me sound like a misanthrope or an antisocial element, which I am not.  

No, the Story Lady is not my first story, nor my first children's story, nor is it my first story that has been published, or is going to be published.

No, I don't spend time only creating craftwork with Puttachi, and I don't think that it is the best way to interact with them.  It is just one of the thousands of ways to spend quality time with them.  And I spend time with Puttachi in millions of more satisfying ways.

No, I am not that into embroidery, not worth such a big mention, anyway.   That, and crochet, among other things, are things I experiment with off and on.

No, I am not a software engineer by profession.  I was, but not anymore. 

No, I am not just concentrating on writing my blog, while waiting for Puttachi to grow up.  I don't have any great projects on hand, but I am not sitting around waiting for anything. :)

That feels so much better.

Thank you all for the love and wishes you've sent me in all possible forms of communication. :)  I am overwhelmed!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A feature on me in The Hindu (Metroplus Weekend)

I'm in The Hindu! 

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Here are the links to the entire feature:


Also, because this feature gives an incorrect impression about me, please read My Disclaimer on this Feature.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winter mornings

I love winter mornings in Bangalore!

They are so bright, so happy.   An unbelievable amount of sunshine pours  in through the windows, and yet there is a definite nip in the air.  Look outdoors and the world seems to be painted with such clear, firm strokes - no fuzzy outlines anywhere, like a photograph taken with absolutely clear focus.  Even my brain shifts into clear, sharp mode - and there is no place for lethargy.

I feel like running outdoors and feeling the sunshine in my fingers, and in my hair.  Every day is perfect for a picnic.

It's got to be one of the best things about Bangalore - these wonderful winter mornings.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Puttachi rediscovers the moon

Puttachi goes to bed at 7 pm every day and sleeps until 7 am the next morning.  If we have plans for the evening, I make her take a nap, so that she'll be awake and fresh all evening.  But that doesn't happen too often.  So, for the past six months or so, she had seen the night sky very, very rarely.   She slept when it was light and got up when it was light.

So, now that it gets dark much before 7, she has rediscovered the moon.  Yesterday, she stood at the window just gazing at the full moon, and talking to it.  She refused to come to bed.  She told me that she never knew the moon was so beautiful, and that she'd made friends with it, and it had promised to talk to her everyday.

Today, I allowed her to stay up beyond her bedtime and gaze at the moon, since tomorrow is anyway a holiday.  She chatted to the moon for a while, and then came running to me and S.  "Let's all hug and cuddle and stand at the window and watch the moon together!"  She pulled us both to the window, S had to pick her up and we had to stand in a hug and watch the moon for some time.  She was so utterly delighted.

That emotion moved me so much.  I myself love looking at the moon, so I understand her being besotted with it.  But the desire to share that moment and joy with her loved ones - how wonderful is that!  And how wonderful is the moon that can evoke these kinds of emotions in little beings!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Watching my story come to life.

The award ceremony was great!  I received the certificate and cheque, but the highlight of the programme, for me at least, was the stunning show that the kids from the Parikrma foundation put up.

They started by announcing, "We are going to perform The Story Lady written by Shruthi Rao akka." :)

They were wonderful.  Such happy, bright, enthusiastic children!  It was a fun and imaginative take on my story.  They were true to the story, but adapted it beautifully for the stage.  The props, the costumes, the background music, the songs ... They had everything!  And such a spirited performance, really!

I stood there, immersed in the show, but at one point, I experienced this surreal moment, where I seemed to step back and look at the scene in front of me with a sense of wonder.

These 20-30 children, and their 6-7 teachers have probably spent weeks preparing for this.  They prepared the screenplay, wrote the script, composed songs, set it to tune.  They designed props and elaborate costumes, they cut and pasted and sketched and painted and got it all ready.  They rehearsed the play, they learned their lines, and then they travelled all the way from Hebbal in a big yellow bus to come here and perform.  And here was an illustrious audience, enjoying it, laughing and clapping.

And all this is happening because of a small story written by little ol' me!

It was truly awe-inspiring.  Overwhelming.  I became all emotional and teary-eyed at this point during the show.... The feeling that all this is so much bigger than I am.... not sure if I am making any sense,  but I can't name the feeling myself. I wonder how playwrights feel, and people who have their books turned into movies!  I wonder how J K Rowling feels!

Later, one of the kids came to me and said, "Shruthi Rao akka, your story, akka, very nice akka.  I liked it soooo much, akka!"

Thank you, little Chalapati.  You made my day :)

It was truly a wonderful day because of my family who was with me, S, Puttachi, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins - so many of them had made it.  And my friends and blog friends who braved the rain to be there.... Thank you so much.

Another lovely thing is that my good friends had won the first and second prizes in the short story for aduts category,  so it was lovely to share the stage with them.  And another great thing was meeting Shashi Deshpande, who wasn't a judge for my category, but who enjoyed the show, and complimented me on the story idea.

A wonderful experience for me.  I'm grateful to Annie Chandy of Unisun, and to Reliance TimeOut.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Peevee!

My little sister turns... cough, cough... turns a year older today. This is a card that Puttachi made for S and me two months in advance, and I'm borrowing it to wish Peevee.

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No, I don't know what all this is supposed to represent.
And no, don't even dare ask me what is written. Hapee Bart-A of course.

Happy Birthday, Peevee!  :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is the invitation to the programme where I'll receive my award for the competition I told you about.

I am doubly excited because the kids from Parikrma Foundation are going to perform my prize-winning story. :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Analyst

Puttachi is a great one for finding loopholes in mythological stories and fairy tales.  Much of our storytelling session involves my trying to explain some things that cannot be explained. 

Yesterday, I was telling her the story of Rapunzel.

Me: ... So the witch took the baby away, put her in a room on a tall tower that had no steps or ladder.  Rapunzel's hair grew very long, And whenever the witch wanted to get into the tower, she called out "Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair."  And she climbed up the hair like it were a rope.

  Amma, how did the witch go in and out when Rapunzel was a baby?  Did Rapunzel have long hair even then?  And how did she understand what the witch wanted?  And how did such a small baby crawl up to the window and let down her hair?  How, Amma?

Me:  Well, until Rapunzel's hair grew long enough, perhaps the witch flew in and out on her broom.

She: Then why did she stop using the broom later?  Wouldn't it have been easier that way?

Me:  You're right.  Why do you think she stopped using the broom?

(thinks) perhaps it broke, or she lost it, or it stopped working.

Me: Yeah, perhaps.

And I continue with the story, and finish it.  But unknown to me, all this is still running in her head.  Hours later, I put her to bed, and come away, and all is silent, and I think she has fallen asleep.  Just then I hear a frantic call.

She: Amma, Amma, AMMMMAAAA!!

Me:  What?  What???

She:  I thought of another reason the witch might have stopped using her broom.....


Speaking about analytical minds, here's another funny thing that happened a couple of weeks ago.  I still have many tapes, as in cassettes, you know, from the last century?  And I even have a player to play them.

I am trying to play a cassette, it is not running.

Me:  (Fiddling with it and mumbling to myself)

Puttachi:  (who wants to be in on every aspect of my life, whether or not it concerns her) What, what, what, what?

Me:  (still trying to make it work) Can't play this cassette... I wonder.... what is happening... is the cassette not okay?  Or is it the audio system... I wonder....

She:  Amma, I have an idea.  Try and play another cassette.  If that cassette also doesn't work, it will mean that the audio system is not okay.  If that cassette works, it will mean that this cassette is not okay.

I find it very interesting that much of her waking time is spent in outrageously imaginative fantasies and play-acting, but when presented with some facts, she wants them all to make complete sense, all the ends tied up. I would've thought these two characteristics were far removed from one another, and wouldn't really go together.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two roads ....

I read a couple of discussions in the past one or two months about whether a woman is happier being a mother. 

I think this is quite like Frost's two roads diverging in the wood.  You choose one and that makes all the difference. 

Five years ago, if someone had announced that Shruthi is going to be this patient, dedicated mother, who would find tremendous happiness in her child, and would be more than content to chuck a well-paying job to stay at home to nurture her child, and explore other avenues, I would have been the first one to laugh, and I'm sure  95% of the people who knew me would have laughed with me.

But nobody is laughing any more.  And this I got to know only after I had my child.  

What if I had chosen not to have a child?
- Perhaps I would have continued in that same dull job and gotten my brains fried.
- Perhaps I would have discovered that I liked the job after all.
- Perhaps I would have progressed to a people-management role and discovered that it was my forte, and perhaps I would be this top-notch executive by now.
- Perhaps I would have realized that that field is not for me and chucked it anyway to do something else.
- Perhaps I would have found my (once-upon-a-time) dream job that involved travelling all around the world.
- Perhaps I would have been very very sad.
- Perhaps I would have been happier than I am now.


But who can say? The fact is that I chose this road, for reasons I don't remember quite clearly.  And the fact is that I have found happiness and contentment here.

Same with any decision in your life.  This field of education, that field.  This job, that job.  Marrying, not marrying.  Having one child, having multiple children.  I mean, what do you know?  How can you say ahead of time, that Option 1 will be better than Option 2?  Even after you've married Guy X, how can you be sure that you would've been happier with Guy Y?

Perhaps it is all about standing up for yourself, making yourself comfortable, and finding happiness in whatever you are doing, wherever you are. 

So no, I don't think there are no answers to the question - What are the right choices that lead to a person's happiness.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thank you, Steve

I'm not sure if there's a term for people like me - not a technophobe, not a technophile, but more of a techno-okwhatever. Gadgets got smarter, but with every new advancement, my ability to get jaw-droppingly amazed only got dulled.

Until the iPad happened to me.

A more elegant, breathtaking device I've never seen. And very late, but very enthusiastically, I joined the legion of Steve Jobs fans.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Friday, September 30, 2011


September has really been a good month for my writing.  My children's story "The Story Lady" won the First Prize in the Unisun - Reliance TimeOut Competition.  The prize money is twenty five thousand rupees.  I know, my head is whirling!  The story will be included in an anthology, to be published in the next few months.  More details and links later. 

I've so many drafts in my head - so much to say - but thanks to a very busy schedule, plus lots of power cuts,  they will all have to wait. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two pieces published

I am back after a lovely, "different" vacation, and before I write about my trip, and reply to comments on my last post, I want to share two writing successes with you.

My story "All that glitters" which I had entered for the Sunday Herald short story competition, won a special mention, and has been published here in today's Sunday Herald.

An article about the reasons behind rhymes was published in Friday's Open Sesame.

Hope you like them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A mother's nightmare

Puttachi:  Amma, won't it be nice to be able to see in all directions at once?  Not only in front?
Me:  Mmm, yeah.... like eyes in the back of your head?
She: No, if we have only eyes in the back of our head, it will get covered by hair.  So we should have three more heads.  One at the back, one each at the sides.
Me: Hmm, but I can think of one problem with that - you will have to get four heads washed (she hates hairwashes) every time your hair gets dirty!
She: (ignores me) But you can see everywhere!  We can walk backwards without turning our necks!
Me: (intent on being a partypooper)  When you have a cold, you will have to clean four noses.  Every morning and evening, you will have to brush four sets of teeth because you will have four mouths!
She: (eyes lighting up)  Four mouths!  Amma, that will be so much fun!  One mouth can keep talking, and then when it gets tired, the second mouth can start talking, and so on, and by the time the fourth mouth gets tired, the first mouth will not be tired any more and then it can start talking again!  I can talk all the time!
Me: (faints)

Friday, August 19, 2011


I realized I should do this more often - but today, I just entered my blogname into, and found that this website  has copied this post of mine  word to word, with no credit, of course.  I've written to them to ask them to remove it from the site. Waiting to hear from them.

Suggestions on what else I could do?

Update on 20th.: thank you all for your support! Citrus Heights got back to me and told me they have removed the post, and also notified the blogger who posted it on their site. But that blogger still has that post on her blog
There is no contact info on her blog, and only members are allowed to comment on her blog. What should I do next? Report to google?

Update on 25th:  Since I had no way to contact the plagiarist blogger and resolve this privately, I had to approach Google.  They were very quick, within a few hours, they got the content removed from the page and reported it to me.

The blogger now has a note at the end of that page, in which she calls me a cyber stalker and a bully and accuses me of stealing her content, and plays the martyr, saying she cannot help it if people choose to steal from her!  And this from a person who had copied my content so directly, that she had retained words like "menthya" and "methi" that were in my post, the meanings of which there is not the remotest chance of her knowing!  :) And the only way I could copy her was for me to travel forward in time to  May 4th, read her post, come back to  May 1st and write it all down.  Phew, some people, I tell you!

Anyway, I hope that's the end of that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Join your child in Fantasy-Land

When you have to deal with an imaginative child, a child who is forever living in a world of fantasy - there is room for a lot of fun and frustration.

When a child is steeped in play, and is seriously telling her teddy bear that she (the bear) is not doing a good job of looking after her bear cub, how can she possibly hear a mother yelling at her to wash her hands, brush her teeth, eat her food, put on her socks, drink water, and other such non-important tasks? 

When two counters reach "Home" in a game of Ludo, how can a child possibly continue the game without plunging into a world where the red counter invites the blue counter, who is his neighbour now, to his "home" for tea and biscuits?  How can they not chat about the neighbourhood and about the other empty houses around them that are waiting to be filled with green and yellow counters?  The mother is all the while twiddling her thumbs itching to finish the game so that she can go and start preparing dinner - but how can she stop the child, when the mother actually understands the world the child is in?  But stop the child she must, else the red and blue counters will get married and give birth to little counters, and the child will have to go without dinner that day!

When it is late for school and the mother expects the child to put on her shoes herself while she (the mother) gets herself ready, how can the child not stop to make the school shoes say goodbye and see you later to all the other shoes in the shoe stand?  And then the school shoes have to comfort the park shoes who are going to miss the school shoes.  This takes time, you know - who cares that the school bell will ring when such important matters have to be dealt with?  The mother cares, and the mother hurries, but the mother feels so sorry for the child who doesn't even realize that the mother is hurried and harried, so much at peace is she in her own sweet world.

I've learned that the best way to get things done is to get into the game yourself and then speak in words that the child will understand.  I can only give you the example of a father I saw in the park the other day.  His son was on a play instrument, with a "steering wheel."  He was deep into his game, and his concentration was obvious from his furiously furrowed eyebrows - he was honking, and driving to "Mysore".  The father tried once, twice, to tell his son, "Come on, it is 6, let's go home."  But the child could not even hear his father.  Then the father said, "Oh wonderful, we've reached Mysore!  Now, come on, let's look for a parking space - ah look, there between two cars, under the tree.  Can you park there?  You can?  Wonderful.  Come on, now, let's go."

The child "parked" his vehicle immediately, jumped off the platform into his father's waiting arms, and went off happily.  I was really pleased that day.  It is so rare to see someone handling such things without raging against the child.

It works for me too - I usually sit and watch Puttachi's play take its own course - but when it is dinnertime or bedtime or schooltime and things just have to be done before such and such a time, I join in her play and gently nudge it in the direction that I want it to - it works ninety percent of the time.  And I have a happy kid cooperating with me after that.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Year of Independence

It's been a year since I started driving solo.  I keep wondering why I took so long to do start driving (Actually I know why - there are many valid reasons, but I wonder "why" nevertheless.)

My life has changed in many ways - most expected, some unexpected.  It is so liberating to be free of rude, cheating auto-drivers, and so good to not depend on S to drive me around.   Good for S too, I suppose!

I have inspired at least two others to plunge into driving, and two more are waiting in the wings.  One of my friends who has started driving called last month to thank me, and told me that the word I had used - "liberation" had never been so literally true for her until then.  If there's anybody else out there who's dilly-dallying and getting scared of Bangalore traffic - I suggest (at the risk of adding to the congestion) - go for it!

The first few weeks of driving was physically painful - I had headaches everyday.  Just as I was despairing of it, things got better magically - my hands didn't clutch the steering wheel any more, my breath became more even, my shoulders relaxed, and the headaches vanished.

Initially I went from apprehensive mode to confident mode to over-confident mode - and during this last stage, I had a couple of minor scrapes within a span of a week - and that pushed me right into cautiously confident stage, where I've been ever since.

In the beginning, I just drove in the familiar comfort zone, like a horse with blinds - not looking here and there - concentrating totally on the clutch and the gears and the traffic.  But as time went by, all this became second nature, and I gained enough confidence to look around, look for directions while driving, and found my way back with ease if I got lost.  Except for parking troubles, things are pretty cool around here.

Driving has got me wondering - is the way a person drives indicative of his personality?  Does an aggressive person drive more rashly?  Is a driver with a blemish-free record a careful, planning person in real life?  It does sound like it must be true - but I am not too sure.  What do you all think?

But driving in a place like Bangalore must surely change personalities at some level or the other.  I am a mostly a non-aggressive, non-argumentative, non-confrontational person.  But being such a driver in Bangalore won't get you around much - so have I changed at least a fraction after I started driving?

I do remember something that rattled me once.  I was trying to turn right into a main road from a narrow side road.  As some cars were parked atrociously on the left side of the road, I was trying to make the turn from the right side of the narrow road (the wrong side.)  A car came in from the main road wanting to turn into the road I was in, and found me blocking its way.  A moment of thought would've told him why I was on the right side (the wrong side) of the road, but instead of waiting, the driver blocked my path, switched off his engine and glared belligerently at me.  I was tremendously angry, but with an effort, maintained my cool, avoided eye contact with him, maneuvered the car out of the muddle and went my way.   The annoyance stayed for a couple of minutes but then I forgot about it.

But that night, I dreamt that I was back in that situation, and was repeatedly crashing into that man's car in anger - much like a jealous Herbie crashes into the new car in The Love Bug.  I awoke quite shaken.  If this is what driving is doing to me, I won't drive, I thought, in a moment of righteous indignation.  But thankfully, that feeling passed, and I haven't had such violent urges since.

Makes me wonder, though.  What do you think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Post Office

The picture I have in my head of a post office is due to that specimen that I frequented for the entire part of my life before email came into the picture.

This post office was tiny, dark and dingy. A creaking brown fan rotated half-heartedly over the head of the postal clerk, who sat behind a counter with an old peeling sign that said "ST MPS.". His eyes looked frighteningly large behind inch thick glasses as he paused from his painstaking stamping to look up and ask you what you wanted. He then weighed your letter on an ancient balance and tore off stamps with grubby, shaking fingers.

You paid him, took the stamps and turned around, only to bump into a shaky wooden plank that clung loosely to a wall. About half a dozen people usually jostled each other around this one square metre of sticky wood, trying to paste their stamps on their envelopes using the glue placed on that table. This glue, contained in a blue plastic bowl, now black because of dirt congealed on old glue, looked exactly like snot. Somebody would have invariably appropriated the single brush in the bowl, so you had to bite back your nausea, stick your finger into the "glue" and try to paste your stamps onto your envelope. The stamp liked your finger more and preferred to stick to it, though. Finally, after achieving your purpose, you had to step out of the post office door (two paces from the ST MPS counter,) and drop your letter into the rattling red post box outside the door and go your way.

This was, like I said, about fifteen years ago, before the advent of email. I cannot believe it myself, but I don't remember having stepped into any post office in all those years (other than to accompany my grandfather once) and so I was in for a shock when I had to avail the services of a post office today (not the one of my childhood, though.)

I stepped in, and then stepped back out because I thought I had entered a check in area of the airport. Then, ascertaining that it was indeed the neighbourhood post office, I stepped back in, and went to the stamps counter, where a smiling man weighed my letter on a digital scale, took the requisite number of stamps from his desk, produced a Fevi Stik, pasted the stamps neatly and handed it to me. Dazed, I gave the letter to Puttachi who wanted to drop it in the box. We went out of the post office, and there was only one box there which looked nothing at all like the red cylindrical post box I had in my head. The steel cube sitting smartly there was much too swanky to be an ordinary post box, or so I thought. I hung around for a while until some one else dropped their letter into it, after which I gave Puttachi, who had been insisting all along that it was indeed a post box, permission to follow suit.

I am yet to get over the shock.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A part of Pottermania

We caught the last Harry Potter movie last evening.

This was the first time ever that I watched a movie on the day it was released.
This was the first time I've been in a theatre which was completely full. All seats taken.
It was one of those old, large theaters, a non-multiplex one, with Balcony class and Rear class and all that. So you can imagine the number of Potter fans in there.
It was largely a young, energetic, highly-charged young adult crowd.
It was an electrifying, very well made movie, and dare i say more engrossing, terrifying and arresting than the book itself.

As a result, it was probably one of the best cinematic experiences I've had. The crowd screamed at the first appearance of every character, hooted with laughter at the humor, screamed with delight at every instance of daring, and brought the roof down with the destruction of every horcrux.

I came back with a great sense of satisfaction.

Not that the movie is perfect. But it certainly comes close to it.

I only wish it wasn't in 3D. The enhanced experience wasn't worth the heavy glasses.

So here's to:
S who surprised me with the tickets.
My parents with whom we left Puttachi.
The film makers.
JK Rowling and her stupendous imagination.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


BIDWTF - Because I don't want to forget.  I saw this on some blog/s - so the copyright isn't mine.  I think it's a great concept - when there's something that your child does or says - not really matter for an entire blog, but you'll definitely forget it if you don't write it down somewhere!

So here are two stories BIDWTF.

Puttachi was having dinner, and I was telling her a story.  She gets so engrossed in the story that she tends to overeat, so I remind her from time to time to "ask" her stomach whether it has had enough.  She actually pauses, and "asks" it, and gives me the stomach's answer, which, so far, seems to be fairly accurate.

This time, the story must have been truly interesting, so Puttachi ended up overeating, and she couldn't get down from the chair and even stand.

Me:  Puttachi, you really mustn't overeat - do pay attention to your stomach!

She:  Amma, I just couldn't make out - I ate too much...

Me: I told you to ask your stomach....?

She:  My stomach, poor thing, kept on telling me, "Puttachi, stop eating, stop eating," but you were speaking so loudly that I didn't hear what my stomach was telling me.

Does teenage come ten years earlier these days?  The kid holds me at fault for everything these days :D


She was playing with a foldable hand-fan, and she spent hours with it.  Inevitably, she personified it, and it became her friend.

All of a sudden, she came to me sobbing.  This was real sorrow - deep from her heart - sobbing, weeping, nose red, tears flowing down her cheeks....

Me: (hugging her) What happened, sweetheart?
She: (can hardly speak, her voice is shaking) Amma, the fan told me that it would go away and never come back.
Me: Why?
She: I don't know why.
Me: Did you ask it to stay?
She: Yes, but it is not staying. 
(continues weeping into my shoulder.)

I pause, because truth be told, I wanted to burst into laughter.  Anyway, stupidly, I tried to reason it out with her.

Me: Puttachi, it makes sense if you feel like crying at a story that is not yours.  Here, you are making up this story, aren't you?  you can change it to make the fan come back and stay with you forever.

Puttachi: But you don't understand, Amma.  The fan told me, it told me that it's never coming back.

Me: (cursing my foolishness)  Ok, come on, let's go to the fan.

We hug the fan, kiss it, and "show" the fan how sad Puttachi is because of what it said to her, and thankfully, the fan relents, and decides to stay with Puttachi.

The clouds part, and sunshine fills the room.  Puttachi smiles, and I heave a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The most momentous developments ever?

I often marvel at the number of changes my grandparents, who were born in the twenties, have seen in their lifetimes.   I'm always keen to know what they feel about all these developments, and how it has affected them.

When I''d been to Mysore a while ago, I asked my grandmother what she felt was the most important, ground-breaking invention/discovery/development that has either affected her personally, or not..

Without batting an eyelid, she said, "The mixer-grinder."

I put the question to my grandfather, and after a moment's thought, he said, "Geo-stationary satellites."

I think this is a very interesting exercise - I urge you to ask this of the elders around you, and beseech you to share the answers with me!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Puttachi and her Tata

The summer holidays came to an end, and I can safely say that barring some hair-pull-worthy times when I just couldn't take even a little more of Puttachi's chatter, it was one of the loveliest times of our lives together.  Puttachi is old enough to do most things herself, and old enough to carry on sensible conversations, and to do things together with me... so we had a wonderful time.

Like my father says, one needs three things - Time, Energy, Patience - and then Puttachi is excellent company.

Which brings me to my father - who is unbelievable amazing with Puttachi.  Funny, how both my father and I have a kind of reputation in the family for being impatient, and yet, with Puttachi, both of us are patience personified.  (In my case, patience with Puttachi has resulted in patience in everything else, but I'm digressing.)

Ever since Puttachi was small, she's had a special relationship with her Tata, my Papa.  When Papa laughs at something she does or says, it is such a fabulous combination of amusement, pride, wonder, disbelief and love. He engages her for hours and hours - and lets my mom and me do our own thing for such a long time.  Going to my parents' house is really such a relief for me - the mornings are not so easy, since Papa goes to college to teach, but the moment he comes back in the evening, by some unspoken understanding, Puttachi just crosses over into his care.  She herself just walks up to him the moment he comes back and takes over his life.

And they play, talk and laugh for hours.  Papa is a wiz at devising little games for them to play.  It is uncanny how he zeroes in on the correct game for her to enjoy at her age.  And not that he has any great prior experience - he played with my sister and me quite a bit, says my mom, but not to this extent.

And his games - you have to see them to believe their simplicity and ingenuity.  One of the earliest games I remember is when Puttachi wasn't even two years old.  Papa and Puttachi tore up a newspaper into tiny little bits, threw the bits up into the air one by one, and watched them fall.  That is ALL.  Puttachi was watching it with such rapt attention, so much fascination, and Papa was watching her face. That is all.  They've played this for an hour at least.

I wish I had written down all the games - but they've evolved over the months to suit her age.  At one time, Papa brought out half a dozen different household objects, and spun them all on the floor, and they watched to see which spun the best.  Then they go to the terrace with lots of chalk, and draw and draw, and Papa comes up with these clever ideas of colouring and drawing differently, using the most unlikely objects as stencils...

Lately, they're in the mood for mischief.  They opened a biscuit packet neatly, put all the biscuits in a box and filled the empty wrapper with mud, closed it neatly, kept it on the road, and sat next to the window to see if anybody picked it up.  Unfortunately, it came under a car's tyres before anybody could pick it up but this whole process of playing a prank worked Puttachi up so much, the delight on her face was a sight worth seeing.  Then just yesterday, they connected a pipe to a tap, and Papa and the tap hid out of sight, while they brought out the end of the pipe, and Puttachi told me that it was a magic pipe, and that if I said, "Water, flow!" it would flow, and if I said, "Water, stop!" it would stop.  I pretended to be flabbergasted while Puttachi doubled up with laughter, while finally "revealing" the trick to me.

They feed bread to the birds, they watch insects, they burn images on newspaper with a magnifying glass and the rays of the sun - Papa sometimes tells her some facts about nature or space -  later, if I try to tell Puttachi the same thing in some other context, she says, "Yeah-ha, I know, Tata told me."

It's a beautiful relationship they share.

Monday, May 23, 2011


My dear Puttachi,

Happy Birthday!

I write this letter not to the 4-year-old Puttachi of now, but to the Puttachi of the future who is reading this, whether you are 10, 25, 40....

I wonder what you are now - a sportswoman, a dancer, a musician?  An artist, dramatist, a rocket scientist?  A mother, a teacher, a writer?

I don't know what you are going to be, but I do know that your 4-year-old self has a couple of key qualities (among many more commendable ones) that are essential for a wonderful life ahead, whatever path you choose to take - and I want you to retain them.

One - your curiosity, your inquisitiveness.  You want to know about everything, right from the banal (Where does everything go after we flush the toilet?)  to the practical (how do they make the contact lens bottle, and what do they put in the contact lens solution?)  and right down to the more thoughtful (Is it possible to think about two things at the same time?)

When I confess I don't know something, you say, "Switch on your laptop and see, you'll find everything online."  I hope you know where to find answers even now, Puttachi.  I hope you still WANT to know the answers to everything.  Don't ever lose your curiosity.  One more thing - I also hope you have developed the passion and the interest, and have the means - to go after the answers to those questions to which nobody knows the answers.

Two - your happiness, your joy, your ability to find humour in everything, and the willingness to love and be loved.  Because, that, Puttachi, is the key to contentment.

We love you, and will always do.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to remain sane in the midst of caring for a child

Spending a major part of your time with a child is draining.  You need to recharge your batteries from time to time.  And of course, prevent the batteries from getting drained in the first place!  (Once again, since I am writing from the point of view of a mother, I've used "mom" everywhere - but it applies for all caregivers)

* Keep taking breaks to recharge your batteries.  Do whatever works for you - take a nap, read a book, exercise, meditate, do some handwork - but do it.  A grumpy/tired mom is a bad mom.  What works for me is that I set an alarm, and then take a short nap, or read for a while, or write something, or surf - and tell Puttachi not to disturb me for that much time.  I also tell her that she is my sweetest little itsy-bitsy and I love her very much and want to play with her but I have no strength left, and so I need a little time to "get strength"   I am available of course, to solve little problems during that time.  The setting of the alarm makes her feel that it is a fixed time, and though she has no idea how long that half an hour is, she realizes that it is a finite period, and I guess that is comforting. And after this time alone, I feel much better, and then I make an effort to be more involved with her, so that she can see the difference.

* As I see it, I have two choices - finish most of the work before Puttachi wakes up, and then be available to her all her waking time.  Or get in some of my work-work when she is asleep, and then get in cooking, cleaning, laundry when she is around.  I choose the latter, because, these are things I can do with her hanging on to my skirt, telling me things, or listening to stories.  But reading, and writing and napping - you need to be alone for that.

* Have some hand-work to do when all you are needed for is for company.  It doesn't make you feel like you are just sitting around doing nothing.  Some sewing, crochet, painting, mending or whatever works for you.   It can also be very satisfying.

* Get adult company/conversation/interaction.  It is essential.  I am not much of a phone person, and getting real people to talk to physically is not easy.  I rely quite a bit on online features/blogs/news/articles to keep my brain in working condition.  But nothing like some time with like-minded people.  In fact, I can safely say that a substantial part of my sanity and continued enthusiasm about parenting inspite of an energy-draining daughter, is because of the time I spend talking to (adult!) friends at the park nearly every day over the last two years. 

* Some days are nice and bright and cheerful and energetic.  But there are other days when you are cross, grumpy, tired, impatient, irritated and generally at odds with the world.  Save the television and movies for such days!  Don't waste the good days :)

* Put some time aside for exercise.  Take a walk, do yoga, do pranayama or meditation - whatever it is that keeps you feeling fit and healthy.  If you  have someone to leave the child with while you go to the gym or for a walk, great.  Else, it is not impossible to fit it into your schedule.  Exercise and yoga, again, can be done even when the child is around - he might try to imitate you, or he might just prefer to play by himself.    Exercise keeps your body healthy and energetic.

* Take a break.  Leave the child with someone else, and take off on your own or with friends for a rejuvenating day.  Go to the parlour or something, get a massage, a haircut - I don't know - whatever works with you.  Highly-recommended - a few hours with women-friends.

* Even if you are a full-time mom, develop some kind of an activity or interest that will keep a part of your brain occupied with something that is not connected with children.  It can be a hobby, or an interest, or working at something that will be useful for a future career, or volunteer work.  You could learn music, or start painting, you could start teaching - I don't know, whatever interests you.   It has got to be something of your own, something to keep you looking forward to it, pushing you to get better at it.  - Something completely disassociated with the child.

It is absolutely essential for you to remain yourself.  Don't get washed away with motherhood.  It is inevitable, that a part of you changes with motherhood.  But for a healthy mind, you ought to know that you are still yourself.  Am I making any sense at all?

In spite of all this, some days are bad, when  you are weepy, grumpy, frumpy, whiny and snappy.  DON'T FEEL GUILTY.  You are not a saint, nor are you a television commercial mother who is all spotless and shiny and smily all day long.  You are a normal human being.  So it is natural that we feel that way sometimes, even for no reason at all.  But we all know that after the trough, there is always a crest, and so, hang in there.   And if people around you expect you to be smiling and happy always, then it is their problem.  Not yours.  So there.

What are your secrets?

Also read:
Things to do with your child during the vacations
How to have a smooth day with your child

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How to have a smooth day with your child.

Here are a few suggestions from my experience, on how to have a smooth day with your child, getting housework and office work done as well as spending quality time with the child.   (This is mainly for people who don't have a support system in place - no grandparents to look after the grandchild,  or don't employ maids.)

* Follow the child's lead.  If you have planned out one activity, and if your child wants to do something else instead, respect that (within the limits of reason, of course.)  It will be easier for both of you. 

* When you're introducing a new activity, if the child doesn't seem to be interested in it even after you've tried for a while, or if he's not getting the hang of it, and is getting frustrated, then stop, and try after a couple of weeks.  There is nothing like "He OUGHT to do it, I'm sure he'll like it/I'm sure he'll be able to do."  Once you set the atmosphere, a child usually takes the lead - and can surprise you with what he is ready for.  Pushing doesn't work.

*Kids don't like it if you keep getting up and going to do something in the middle of an activity.  So clear everything up before you sit down.  That way, your mind will also be completely on the work on hand.

* Limit sugar.  I somehow didn't believe it before, but sugar really gets children on a high.  Unless you are going out to the park a little later, avoid giving the child excess sugar.  She'll just get hyperactive and not sit in one place, and not let you sit in one place either.  

* Get the child to do some physical activity. - An everyday trip to the park is wonderful for the child.  Fresh air, physical exercise to expend all that energy.  And when he comes back, he will be hungry and tired, will eat without a fuss, and drop off to sleep in no time.   If it is raining, or a park is not possible for some reason, dance/jump/skip at home together, preferably to music. 

* Devise ways and methods to get your cooking done faster and easier.  After your weekly vegetable shopping, process all the vegetables and store them in the refrigerator, so that when you go to get your cooking done, half of your work is already taken care of.  This way, you can get all the necessary, but in a child's eye - time-consuming work - out of the way as quickly as possible.

* Limit television.  Save it for those days when you are exhausted and cannot think and the best thing to do is to plonk the child in front of the TV. 

[Slight digression:
The thing about TV is that
- You don't have any control on what the child watches.  You can sit and watch with her, but yet, you don't know what is just around the corner.
- Playing children's movies and CDs is slightly better in the sense that it gets over, and you can stop. 
- It can be addictive in geometric progression.  You get a huge chunk of time with no effort at all when the child is in front of TV, so you find this option attractive. The child gets endlessly entertained without having to lift a finger, and without having to use her brains, so the child finds it attractive.  

If your child is already much into television, do try to cut back (I wouldn't know how.  But my aunt had made a nice rule for my cousin (who was about 6, I think at that time.)  During the holidays, he could watch one hour of television through the day.  He could chose his programme among the pre-approved ones, but that's it - one hour of television viewing of his choice.  I remember him poring over the TV guide, analyzing, deciding, and finally zeroing in on what he wanted to watch, and STICKING TO IT.  IF your child isn't an addict yet, then keep it that way for as long as you can.  Perhaps someday you will lose out anyway, but I don't want to sound pessimistic.  I hope that these initial years when you've kept her away from television might influence her TV viewing options for the rest of her life. 

The important thing is that you need to provide attractive alternatives to television.]

* Involve the child in your housework.  So that it is not as if you are rushing around finishing everything while your child is waiting for you.  If the child wants to help, let him.  It might slow you down, but he's learning something.

* If you are working from home, do your work when the child is asleep/or when she is not likely to disturb you.  It gets over faster that way.   And perhaps it is not wise to take on more than you can finish in one day.  I know nobody else can tell you how much work to do, but it helps if you are not rushed all the time. 

But this isn't easy.  To entertain an enthusiastic kid all through the day is exhausting - for which you need some activities that'll keep you energetic and recharged.  I'll get to that in the next post.

Meanwhile, please do share your tips and suggestions on this topic.

Also read: Things to do with children during the vacations

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Things to do with your child during the holidays (and after)

One whole month of Puttachi's summer holidays has gone by, Puttachi is at home full time, and yet, all I'm feeling is, "Oh no, one month is already up! Just another month to go!"

So what are we doing that's making time fly? I thought I'll put down a list of things that we do or plan to do, so that you guys might get ideas out of it.

Actually, this list doesn't hold good only for the holidays - it is for anybody who is a full-time carer of a child.

* Gardening - If you don't have a garden, get some pots and some soil. Even a large plastic tub in which you can drill holes will do. Grow something. Growing veggies can be fun - harvesting and cooking the produce can be very exciting for the children. Try menthya/methi/fenugreek. It grows quickly. Try coriander too. Fresh coriander, picked five seconds before adding to the saaru is something else.

* Cooking - Make some snacks together. If it doesn't involve cutting and cooking, get the child to do it all himself. It's great for the child to realize that food just doesn't appear from thin air. :) Involve him in your daily cooking too - show him what's happening when you do that and this. But be very very very careful in the kitchen. Draw an imaginary line that he shouldn't cross when the stove is on.

* Clay modeling - Use playdoh, or else, just mix a nice and malleable ball of maida and water. It is much more easy to handle. Give her shapes to cut out, a roller to roll it out... After play, just store it in the fridge. Ten seconds in the microwave before play the next day is enough to restore the softness. After about 3-4 days, you can throw it away and make a fresh ball. There are ways to make homemade playdoh - check online - you can add food colour to get different colours too.

* Water tub - Get a large tub, put some water and toys in it and put the child in it. Puttachi will gladly stay for hours if I let her!

* Art and Craft - In our home, this has turned out to be the single-largest time-consumer during the holidays. Starting from shopping for materials, organizing, looking up books/internet/brain for ideas, then actually making stuff, then cleaning up, to showing it off to people - it takes SO much time. And it's a whole lot of fun. I'll probably do a post on the kinds of things you can do - to give you an idea. Coming up soon.

* Storytelling - Tell stories, and ask the child to tell stories. It is very difficult to listen constantly to a child's usually non-stop nonsense, so if you are listening with only one ear, it is fine. But if you do listen, you are in for good laughs. One more thing, a child's stories sometime reveal her feelings, things that she hasn't expressed to you directly.

* Story Reading - Read stories with your child. Sit next to her, cuddle, and read a book together. Read out, translate in your mother tongue, or ask the child to read out some words - whatever. Let it be interactive. Ask questions, let the child interrupt if she wants to ask questions. Look at the illustrations - these can be a great source of discussions too! This time can be beautiful.

* Playacting - act out the stories you know - dramatize it. After the initial hesitation and shyness (yours, definitely not the child's) I assure you its a lot of fun. Improvise, act like a clown, and see if your child isn't rolling around laughing. you don't even need props or costumes or many people. Puttachi and I assume multiple roles in a story, and that itself is a lot of fun. We don't use costumes, but I'm sure that'll add to the fun.

* Puzzles - Get all kinds of puzzles, jigsaws and otherwise, and make it with the child. SImple ones he can solve himself. The ones that are just beyond his reach - sit with him, explain while he does it himself. It's wonderful to watch the child getting the hang of it.

* Helping with chores - Get him to help with your work. Folding laundry, cleaning up, etc. Take him shopping, ask him what vegetables he would like, buy them, show him how to select vegetables - get him involved.

* Park - It helps tremendously if you have a good park close by, with children's play equipment, where you can take the child most evenings. Evenings can make a child restless, and exercise and fresh air is always good. Push him gently to try more difficult monkey-ladders, higher slides, but the moment he shows fear, just withdraw, don't force. He will lead the way when he is ready. And going to the same park regularly helps - you make friends - and the child is more enthu to go the park to meet friends, and you can have some adult conversation with the friends' parents!

* Getting involved in the child's play - HAs your child asked you to come and play with her? Have you felt, oh no, how boring? Just once, shed that hesitation and plunge right into it - doing "inane" things like fake dressing a teddy bear, giving a doll a bath - just do it alongwith your child - and see how much fun it can become!

* Doing nothing - The most important, most delightful thing ever. Remember our summer holidays when we had no summer camps to worry about, no exotic vacations to take, nothing but lounge around all day? And if you look back on it, don't you remember it with fondness? That's what I'm trying to say. Sometimes it is best to just not do anything. Puttachi and I cuddle and play around for an entire hour after she wakes up in the morning. If anybody asks me later what exactly we did, I cannot say. We don't really do anything, but that hour goes by so quickly. We just talk, play, hug, tease, laugh... and then there are other pockets in the day when Puttachi just goes about doing nothing, or just looks at shadows, or observes the movement of trees,  or stares into space.  I read somewhere that children are actually assimilating information when they stare into space like that!

* Little games - Devise little games that can act as fillers - something to distract the child when she is being difficult, or to cajole her to go brush her teeth.... Puttachi and I play a version of word-building, and a very simple 20-questions, we play I-spy, running and catching, just jumping up and down, dancing to tunes. Then there are these traditional finger games which your parents must have played with you - these can be good fillers, yes, but can also be entire activities on their own.

* Toys - get some different kinds of toys - traditional toys, toys that need imagination, and let the child try it out. You can even exchange toys with friends so as to avoid buying new things - or there are even toy libraries now.

* Teacher - While we play teacher-teacher, Puttachi challenges her own limits. She wants me to "teach" her things. That's how she learned to read. She knew that something happens when one puts letters together, and she made me read them, and then figured it out herself. Teacher games are good like that. I am taking that opportunity to familiarize her with Kannada alphabets. Whenever she has had enough, I stop immediately. And that is perhaps the key. Because she comes back next time, asking me to do exactly what she had asked me to stop doing the previous time.

* Visiting - Visit friends/relatives, and ask them to come over.

* Playdates - Get your child's friends to come over and play - outgoing children are starved of company during holidays, and playing with someone they know can be good for them.

* Visit places around your city. A museum, planetarium, a fun park, a movie, a restaurant, whatever - find out, and just go.

* Cultural events - Find out about music and dance concerts, plays, or just fun events that you can take your child to. You never know what will appeal to the child!

* Make things for people - This could come under art and craft sub-heading - but the process of making a little present for somebody, even if it is a small drawing, or a palm impression, that in itself is exciting.

I'm sure I'll remember some more as soon as I post this, and if I do, I'll post them in the comments section. Meanwhile, please pitch in with your suggestions!

Coming up: (committing myself :))
Next post: Tips and suggestions based on my experience about how to have a smooth day with the child - how to keep the child engaged, yet get all your regular work done.
Post after that: How to keep yourself sane and energetic in the midst of all this child-caring. Coz face it, it is draining!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gender Stereotyping and its effects on young children

Back while I was doing post-grad, a friend and I were kidding around after class, drawing things on the blackboard. My friend thought I was a fabulous artist (just compared to her) and was asking me to draw this and that. One of our classmates, a much older man (in his forties, married with children, who had taken a sabbatical from work to get a post-grad degree) walked in on us, just as I was wondering what to draw next.
"Draw a kolam," he said.
"What's a kolam?" I asked.
"Rangoli," explained my friend.
"Oh I can't draw rangolis."
"Really? How is it that you cannot draw kolam?" asked the man.
"Is it compulsory for people to know how to draw kolam? Can YOU draw kolams?" I asked him.
"No, I'm a man, I don't know. Women should know how to draw kolam."

I got so heated up that I don't exactly remember what I did. But I think I shouted and ranted and walked out, or something like that, coz I remember the poor man's horrified face. He would have been thinking, "Gosh, girls shouldn't behave like this!" Heh heh!

Yes, Gender stereotypes bother me. And I try to counter them from time to time. I know better than to overreact now, but the fact is that it has taken on a new dimension now, with Puttachi at an impressionable age. Because I don't want her to grow up with stereotypical ideas in her head.

The above rangoli example is harmless. But there are others coming at us from all over, without our even realizing it, and that is what gets to me.

"He's a man, he can do it. Women shouldn't do that."

"If a man had done that, I wouldn't have been surprised, but a woman doing all that - it is so difficult to believe that it is even possible for a woman to do that..."

Don't we hear such statements quite a bit?

And it doesn't help that our mythological stories and folktales reinforce the traditional concept of women being the weaker and subordinate sex.

"Agastya was very pleased with the way his wife served him, and granted her a boon."

"The Pandavas felt that Draupadi was too weak to climb the mountain, and wondered what to do."

These statements just portray the culture and traditions of a bygone era - but children who are reading it today don't know that, unless we tell them.

Right now, since Puttachi cannot read full stories, I am the one who explains things to her. I can modify the sentences above and say something like, "Draupadi had a fever/hadn't eaten well and so couldn't climb the mountain." But what when she starts reading herself? There is no way I can control inputs - I can just step in from time to time and try to reinforce the values that I want her to imbibe.

Even my unconscious actions have reinforced stereotypes. I didn't drive for the longest time, and when we sat in my aunt's car in England last year, Puttachi said, "Women can drive? Oh!" I was shocked. Necessity, combined with this incident spurred me to start driving in the next two months. Puttachi's paediatrician is male, and we haven't gone to any other doctor with her. When I told her I'm going to my dentist who is female, Puttachi said, "Oh, are there female doctors too?"

so now, consciously in my stories, I casually bring in female pilots, female doctors, female strongmen (!!) and the like.

I've also tried changing my language at home. The large suitcases in our house are stored in the loft, and they contain smaller suitcases, and so are a little heavy. Though I can bring them down from the loft myself, I avoid doing such work when I am alone at home with Puttachi. What if I am knocked out, or slip and fall, or worse? So I wait until S gets home, but then he, not being one to sit around twiddling his thumbs, gets the suitcases down before I can even pronounce the s of "stool," and naturally Puttachi notices such things.

Earlier, I used to say, "Let's keep our clothes ready, we'll put them in a suitcase after Papa gets back and gets the suitcases down."
Now I say, "I'll get the suitcase down after Papa gets home, and then we'll put the clothes into it."
A small modification, but one, I hope, which will make a difference.

Having said all this, there is a gender stereotype working in our own house that we can simply not ignore. S goes out to work, and I cook and clean and look after my child. Naturally, in Puttachi's play-acting, this gets reflected. "When I grow up, I will become a mother," she says. That bothers me a little. Not that she shouldn't grow up and become a mother - but she shouldn't think that that is the only thing for women to do. I try and get in some of my work during daytime, even when she is around, both for my own sanity, and so that she sees me sitting at a laptop and working seriously. And of course she sees S working around the house and in the kitchen, washing up... I want her to notice little things like that - to see that we have chosen some roles for ourselves in our house because of convenience, but they are not inflexible, and everything is everybody's work, and that we have to help each other.

Besides, I also want her to know that growing up and getting married is not the only aim of life.

Recently, when Puttachi told me something with "When I grow up and get married..." I listened to her, and then said,

So are you sure you want to get married when you grow up?
Why? Everybody gets married.
Well, not everybody, you have a choice not to get married.
But if I don't get married, I will not get a baby, and I want a baby.
(Hyuk, hyuk) Yeah but you can adopt a child. (I explain)

Don't get me wrong. MArriage is a wonderful thing, and I am not discouraging that, nor do I repeat these ideas over and over again, but I want her to know that marriage is not the sole aim of a girl's life. And that is very important for all girls to know, in order to take charge of their lives.

I am perhaps rambling - but I hope you get my point. I would love to know what you do to counter gender stereotypes and give your children the right inputs.

[After I wrote this, I came across this interview of Geena Davis, via Starry's wonderful post. The interview is excellent, deals with gender stereotyping in movies and television. Puttachi doesn't watch TV - yet - so that's one less input to worry about (and man is that a dangerous source!)]

[Here's a great article about combating gender stereotypes.]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Telling stories to children

We probably hold the world record in storytelling out here in Puttachiland, and so here are some observations I've made to get you started on telling stories to your child.

* Very young children, around two years old, don't need an imaginative storyline. Just narrating an everyday incident like a story is enough to keep them wide-eyed.

* As they get slightly older, about 2.5 to 3, you might need to insert a problem and it's solution. This age is wonderful to introduce life lessons - what happened when Lata lied, what was the result when Ajay did not brush his teeth everday - but be sure not to make it preachy - kids can spot it a mile away. Last year, my aunt asked me if I ever told any stories to Puttachi that did not have a moral :)

* After the child turns three, depending on how interested your child is in stories, and how long s/he can sit and listen, you can introduce long stories. Make some up as you go along (you will have enough experience by now :)) or fall back on mythology, folk tales, fairy tales and animal stories. If you don't know many stories, it is worth buying books of stories. It is nice to read to the children too, but actually narrating the same story gets them more interested. Don't be shy about emoting when narrating - you will never get such a rapt audience in any other situation :D

* When choosing stories from Panchatantra and Jataka and Hitopadesha, watch out - most of the stories are pretty cruel and violent, and often end with the victory of evil! You could tell them to a slightly older child (3.5 - 4) softening the edges a bit, but fairy tales and folktales with the victory of good over evil is much more enjoyable!

* When there is a long story, like the Ramayana, first start by narrating the bare bones story to a very young child. As the child grows, depending on how receptive s/he is, you can add details. Especially when there are too many names to remember, it helps by making the child familiar with the main characters before adding the others.
For example, I've been telling the story of Ramayana to Puttachi for about two years now. Initially, it got over in five minutes - now it goes on for more than 4-5 hours - spread over mealtimes of 3 days :)
For example: First I said, Dasharatha asked Rama to go away to the forest
A few months later, after introducting the three wives, I said, Kaikeyi asked Rama to go to the forest.
Some more months later - Kaikeyi's maid Manthara poisoned Kaikeyi's mind to make her ask Rama to go to the forest
LAtely - I have also introduced the sub-story where Kaikeyi gets the two boons which she makes use of to get Rama to go to the forest.

Now, our Ramayana has reached such detailing that I've also started telling her the sub-stories of Ahalya and Shabari and so on - and she can now understand it all with no confusion.

In fact, now, she is coming up with questions of her own.
Did Lakshmana also try to lift the bow? If he had, do you think he would have been able to lift it? Then he would have married Sita, no?
Why didn't Lakshmana's wife Urmila also go to the forest? Wasn't she bored? She should also have gone.

Now I know that she is ready for more detailing - but I've reached the end of my own Ramayana knowledge - I've to refer to a good book on Ramayana :D

* There is no storytime as such - any time is storytime. Somehow in our house, mealtimes have become storytimes. And sometimes, Puttachi overeats while listening to the story, and so I've to be careful. When I think she's had enough, I say, if your tummy is full, you should stop. I'll complete the story anyway. But I would like her to concentrate on the food completely and enjoy it, instead of hanging on to stories... so let's see.

* Study and research has shown that kids who are told stories regularly have better vocabulary and imagination - but don't make this a reason for telling stories to children. The joy that arises out of it makes it all worth it - everything else is just a bonus.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New and improved (?)

Nope, you haven't come to the wrong blog. I've decided to change the look of my blog. Feels strange - after six years of having the same look. I did try a makeover once, with disastrous results, but this time, I'm going in for a no-nonsense look. I'll probably stick to it - and hope that this clutter-freeness rubs off on me in real-life (ha, if only things were that simple!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Summer and conversation

The summer holidays are upon us and Puttachi and I are having a good time. No hurrying in the mornings - no sticking to schedules - we just do what we want to.

We have a long list of friends (hers and mine) that we are planning to meet, and we have places to visit and things to do - but in the meantime, we are engaging ourselves in a lot of activities at home. I intend to make a list of things that one can do with a child in the summer holidays - will do that shortly.

Me-time is not very easy to find now, I can read and write and work only after Puttachi goes to bed. Housework is not too difficult - I do it with Puttachi going non-stop yak-yak all around me (both literally and figuratively.) I even take her "help" to do some work, and am assured of complete cooperation. But I still do have some writing work to do during daytime. I set an alarm, and tell Puttachi to play by herself until the alarm goes off (just a half-hour chunk.) She obliges, but the moment the alarm rings, the flings herself at me, the dam breaks, and her words fall all over one another as she hurries to tells me all that she had been itching to for that whole half-hour.

The other day,
She: Amma, how old will I be on my birthday in May?
Me: You tell me yourself.
She: Four!
Me: Yes.
She: And then how old will I be next year?
Me: You tell me.
She: Five!
Me: Yes.
She: And then next May, I will be Six, then I will be Seven, then 8,9,10,11,12,13,14....

That quick. Yes, that quick. The years will just fly by and I'll wish to hold this slim, warm, wriggling child that she is now, will want to stroke her soft cheeks, and instead I'll find a teenager - a sulky teenager if she has my genes - sigh.

Then she continues....
Amma, I like you very much. So when I grow up and get married, I will not live in my own house. I will bring my husband also and stay in your house. Okay?

Yeah right :D

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A year of school - and a milestone

And before I know it, a year has flown past, and my little girl has finished the first year of school. She is looking forward to the summer holidays, because, in her words, "I love school, I love my friends, but sometimes, I feel like staying at home and playing with Amma." Don't we all? :)

She's had a whole lot of fun this past year. She's made friends, and learned to speak English. She knows the English alphabets and the numbers.

Oh, and one major, exciting milestone. She has started to read! They haven't taught her reading at school, but I gathered that they have taught her phonics.

But they haven't taught her small letters, so she came to me asking me which letter is which, she kind of gathered which small letter corresponds to which capital letter.

When I read out to her at home, she frequently asks me what a certain word is, and I read it out to her using phonics. So, somehow, she's absorbed the concept, and she surprised me the other day by reading out "Dog" on her own. I was initially sceptical, thinking it was a fluke, but then she read out "frog" "start" and other such words. It is a wonderful, heady feeling - to watch a child make sense of something.

Now it is quite common for me to hear from the next room an excited, loud voice saying.. "Sssss.....pppppp.... Sp... Sp..... iii.. Spi.... Spi..... dddddd... Spiddddd... Spid... eee... Spideeee... Spide..... rrrrrr... Spider.... Amma, amma!! Is this Spider? Amma!!"

Like I said, exhilarating.

And then a few days ago, she stationed me near her blackboard, made me the teacher, and commanded me to write words on the board, which she would read. The success rate was quite high, especially when I wrote down the names of her friends. Then she took over the mantle of teacher, asked me to close my eyes and wrote this:

Just to eliminate fluke, I pretended not to understand.. and she gave me a clue - "An animal, Amma!" and answered it herself... Fox :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

The UK Files - A concert to remember and a taste to forget

I enjoy Western Classical music - I don't understand the nuances, but I like it anyway. But I'd never been to a live concert. My cousin V takes lessons in both Western Violin and Western Saxophone (not to mention Carnatic Violin) and is good at all of them. He wakes up at 5 30 am to practice music, and when at his house, it was a wonderful daily alarm for me - the strains of an instrument from downstairs. Err.. not that I woke up each time to those sounds - half the time it would play in my dreams :O

Anyway, V was a part of a concert, presented by his school along with a girls' school. It was in a church in the city. My uncle was out of town, and my aunt and I left Puttachi with S who had arrived just that day, and went to the concert.

The church is beautiful, old and big. Listening to classical music on an audio system is nice, but listening to it live, with the great acoustics that the size and structure of the church enabled - this was an experience to be savoured. I loved it. There was a choir, which rings in my mind to this day. And it reminded me of the dozens of choirs I have been a part of. I always enjoyed them - the preparation, the rehearsals, the way, with practice, all the voices slowly come together in harmony, and the final presentation, and everything in between - I was so insanely jealous of that group during the concert! I would so love to take part in any choir/orchestra/group music again!!

During the break, there were refreshments. We had eaten dinner before going, but we were already hungry, and so we accepted some refreshments - some juice/wine and some snacks. I took a plate, filled it with a little chips, and something that looked like Kurkure, and brought it for both my aunt and me to eat. The chips got over in a second while we chatted and ate, but the stick-like savouries remained, until both of us realized that we had unconsciously rejected it - we didn't like it.

After we got home, my aunt asked V - "What on earth WAS it?" He listened to the description and said, "Oh, Marmite." Apparently, people either love it or hate it, and he was in the former camp. "Thank heavens we don't have Marmite in India," I said, only to watch a programme on BBC the VERY next day, about how they were trying to introduce Marmite in India - marketing it as a health-food. They even added it to pulao, and people actually seemed to like it. Shudder. Is it here yet? Any idea, people? If not, remember, you heard about it from me first.

About the concert - it has whetted my appetite, and I would so love to listen to more live Western Classical concerts - like for example, at the, ahem.... Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall....? :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

E for English

It's interesting to watch Puttachi grappling with the strange language that English is. When she started school in June, she knew next to no English. Now, she can understand quite a bit, and can carry on decent communication with someone entirely in English. She speaks only in the simple present tense, and with terrible grammar, of course.

I don't initiate conversations with her in English - it doesn't come naturally to me. But if she does, and she does it frequently, I encourage her, and join in her conversation. For her, English is something that is spoken in a school situation, so she says, "You are my ma'am, so let's speak in English now." If she suddenly gets stuck, doesn't find a word in English, she says, "Ok, now you are the Kannada ma'am, so I will tell only this in Kannada, then you become English ma'am again, then we will speak in English again."


A few days ago, we had a fun session - when I told her that one who runs is called a runner, one who speaks is called a speaker, and so on.

After that, she came up with hilarious things like - one with a tail is a tailor, one who comes late is later, one who docts is a doctor....I don't know how much of it she understood herself and how much of it she picked up from my reactions, but we had this wonderful half an hour laughing our guts out.


She: Y for uniform.
Me: It is U for Uniform. U-Uniform!
She: No, it is Y for uniform. Y for yellow, Y for Yak, so Y for uniform.
Me: Hmph. Makes sense.


She: There are many mouses there.
Me: Mice, not mouse. Funny, isn't it? In English, for many mouse, you say mice, not mouses.
She: (Frowns) You all can say mice. I will say mouses. *Stalks off*


Since she is so crazy about the alphabet, just to see how far she would participate, I introduced Word-building to her. I say a word, you say a word with the last letter of my word, and so on. She hasn't been taught to spell yet, but she latched on to the concept, and was enthusiastic.

She: Ok Amma, you start with A.
Me: A for Ant. What does it end with?
She: Ant... anttt... tt.. tt. T! T for Tall
Me: Good. What does it end with?
She: Tallll...lll. L!
Me: Correct. L for Late.
She: Amma, when I get L, I will say L for Lollipop.
Me: Sure. Now, what does Late end with?
She: Late.. ttt...ttt..... T!
Me: (She is actually playing syllable-building - she doesn't know how to spell, like I said.) Ok. T for?
She: T for Tree.
Me: So I have to think of a word with?
She: Treee... Tr... Trrrr....... Amma, I don't know. Tr? You can say Tractor.
Me: (How logical!) Actually ends with E, you see? Treeeeeee. E.
She: E for L
Me: What?
She: E for L, as in LMNOP. El, El. (She had once also said EL (L) for Elephant)
Me: Ah! But that's not a word!
She: Let's play some other game.

But she keeps coming back twice a day to want to play this game. I can see the future, once she starts to spell. Hours and hours and hours of word building....*shudder*

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Goodbye, Uncle Pai

The blogworld will overflow with reminisces, and goodbyes to Uncle Pai, who died yesterday - let me add my little drop.

Uncle Pai's Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle were my growing-up buddies. If, today, I know more about Indian mythology and more folk tales than my peers, I have ACK to thank. For years, I waited excitedly for every new issue of Tinkle, and devoured it end to end. They were all my friends, and Uncle Pai was a special friend.

I once sent a story idea to Tinkle, and I received a handwritten rejection letter from Uncle Pai. On one side of a yellow postcard (anybody remembers those any more?) He wrote that they couldn't accept my story idea, but to try again. Just like a boatman would row, row, row, to get to the bank, try, try and try again to succeed, he said. I hope I have that postcard somewhere.

Thank you, Uncle Pai, for all that joy I had growing up. I owe much to you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Said Puttachi...

Me: (examining a couple of greys on my head.)
She: Amma, what is that?
Me: Grey hair.
She: Why do you have grey hair?
Me: (laughing) I'm growing old!
She: Oh. But you won't die right now, will you? Die after I become very big. Okay?


She: Amma,until when can I stay with you?
Me: What?
She: Until what age can I live with you and Papa?
Me: Stay as long as you want, Puttachi.
She: Can I stay until I am fourteen years old?
Me: I recommend you stay longer, mari.. :)
She: Okay I will live with you till I am fifteen years old. Then I will go to college and get married, and when I have a baby, I will call you up and tell you whether I have got twins or not.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A wonderful breakfast

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now. When in my aunt's house in England, we had cereals and fruits and nuts every morning. I enjoyed that breakfast. After S joined us, he was totally taken with the idea of such a healthy breakfast. When we got back, we discussed it, and decided to try out that breakfast for a couple of weeks.

We did try, and we're hooked. I cook oats in milk, and add chopped fresh fruits, nuts and dry fruits. I also add a fistful of ragi araluhittu/hurihittu (popped and powdered ragi.) For a bit of crunch, we add a little Kellogg's oatbites. It's working wonderfully for us in many ways, at many levels.

Every morning, at about 9 or 10, I had a tendency to feel terribly tired and drained out. It was worse when I ate bread and uppittu. (My mother and my grandmother also have the same problem, and we're still not clear why it happens). After we started this breakfast, it hasn't happened even once. I do feel hungry again at about 10 or 11 (but I feel hungry around that time even after an Indian breakfast), but I've never once felt drained out. Peevee, my sister, the nutrition expert, says that it is because of complex carbohydrates in the oats - it releases energy bit by bit.

Besides, the compulsory dose of fruits and fibre has done wonders for Puttachi's digestion. Initially, Puttachi wasn't very receptive to it, and I felt guilty about giving her something she probably didn't like. But one Saturday, when I set a plate of something else before her, she frowned and said, "Why haven't you made oats? I want oatmeal." "Don't fuss, eat whatever is on your plate," I said, but inwardly, I was doing somersaults! It's been eight months and she is also enjoying this breakfast as much as S and I do. As for me, who is so crazy about good food, I was quite sure I'd get bored with this after a while, but each morning, I approach my bowl with great enthusiasm, and that is saying a lot about it!

To an extent, this breakfast means lesser time and effort. But it does take time chopping fruits and breaking nuts down into small pieces for Puttachi, and cooking the oats just right so that it doesn't get gooey - it does have it's own effort. But the biggest plus is that I needn't wonder every night what to make for breakfast next morning.

But I make make Indian breakfast in the weekends - one, for my tastebuds, and two, because I don't want to forget how to make all that, and three, if I feel tired, I can very well chuck everything and take a break mid-morning.

If, for any reason, a hearty Indian breakfast is not working for you, I urge you to try this.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The waist-high interrogator

There is a new phase to Puttachi's questions, when I thought I'd seen the worst. Now, she wants to know everything about everything.

She wants to know the reason of my every action - and I mean every single tiny unconscious forgettable action. If I run my fingers through my hair, she wants to know why. If I pick a piece of lint off my sweater, she wants to know why. If I twist my lip, she wants to know why. If I blow air through my lips, she wants to know why. You'll think I'm exaggerating, but when I say every single action, I mean every single action. I've never in my life had to account for my actions - now I need to, constantly, for this waist-high interrogator.

A common line of questioning, as we are stepping out of the home: Amma, why did you say Tch? Why had you forgotten the key? Why hadn't you kept it ready? Didn't you know we were going to the park? Amma, why are you wearing socks with these sandals? Why do you want to protect your feet from sand and cold? Why do your feet crack in winter? Show me your cracks? Why don't you look after your feet better? Why don't you apply some cream? Why.....

Sometimes, when I'm brushing her teeth, I've to beg her - can you please stop talking for two seconds and spit out the paste? Please?

Another common line of interrogation:
Me: Hmmm.....hmmmm.. Dil tadap tadap ke kehraha hai aa bhi jaa.. hmm hmmm (Humming while doing something)
She: Amma, what is that song? What are you singing? Sing it loudly, properly? Don't say hmmm... sing it with words? Is this in Hindi? How did you learn it? Did you hear it when you were small? Did your mother teach you? Do we have this song at home? Will you play it for me?
So I dig out a Mukesh collection and play it for her.
She: Which CD is this? Mukesh? Who is Mukesh? Show me the photo on the CD cover? Is this Mukesh? Is he still alive? Why did he die? What is the name of this CD? Has he sung all the songs in this CD? Is this the song you were singing? Now you stop singing. If you sing, I can't hear the real song. You can sing it later. (Listens.) Amma, did you say Mukesh was a man? Then who is this girl singing? Lata Mang-kar? Then why did you say all the songs were sung by Mukesh? Why is Lata Mang-mang helping him sing? Why is this song in Hindi? What does this song mean? Why is he calling the girl to go to him? Are they friends?

I'm afraid to even say that this must be as bad as it gets.
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