Monday, September 28, 2015

Cause and Effect

Me: So there was this man who....

Puttachi: "So" is only used when there is a cause and an effect. There is no cause here, so there is no effect. You cannot use "so" to start your sentence. Ok, now, what about that man?

Me: *Speechless*

Also, half the posts on my blog starts with "so". How many more lectures do I have to hear once I start letting her read my blog?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Puttachi stories

This is one of those posts where I make notes so that I don't forget.

Puttachi is "working on a novel". She asks me to read the latest chapter that she's written. I'm doing something else, but pick it up and try to read. After the first two lines, I realize I'm too preoccupied.

Me: Puttachi, I'm thinking of something else right now. I'll read it in a few minutes, okay?
She: *in a dramatically wounded voice* My mother doesn't want to read her daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes* Puttachi, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma will read your book.
She:*in same wounded voice* My father doesn't want to read his daughter's book!
S: *rolling his eyes a little more* Ok, even if the whole world doesn't read your book, your Amma and Papa will read your book.
She: My grandparents don't want to read their granddaughter's book!
S and Me: That's enough!
She: Hehhehheh!


I just wanted to make a note of this. At least 4-5 people in the last one month have told me how weird it is that Puttachi is such a mixture of extremes. On one hand, she spouts wisdom and asks incisive questions that surprise people, and one person said that it almost makes her feel silly to explain some things to her because she would already know it. On the other hand, she plays like a two-year-old, loves dolls and toys, makes them talk, she actually enjoys pulling her 1-year-old cousin's pull-on-a-string toy. In fact, when the said 1-year-old got a dinosaur toy gift, this 8-year-old was more interested in it. And what a weird obsessive interest!


She just doesn't care what she looks like. She knows when she looks good, and enjoys her reflection in the mirror, but if she is looking silly, that's also okay with her. She says, "So what?"

Two days back, we were walking home from the bus stand when she started walking in a weird way. Her feet held at 180 degrees to each other, but walking in a criss-cross way. As usual I barely noticed, because she is always doing silly things like this. But her friend's mother who was walking behind us, came running to me and said, "Oh my God!! What is happening to your daughter?? Is she okay? Does she need to be taken to the doctor?" The poor lady must have thought Puttachi was convulsing or something. I couldn't stop laughing, and Puttachi didn't understand at all what was happening.

Me: D's mom thought you were hurt or something, the way you were walking.
She: Just because somebody thinks something, you're not going to make me stop walking like that, are you?
Me: *as if I have a choice!* No.


Thanks to the nights being unpredictable and varying a lot in terms of temperature, I have placed two sheets on Puttachi's bed, so that she can wear one layer or two layers when she goes to sleep.

A couple of nights ago, she called out to me before going to bed.

She: Amma, are you feeling cold?
Me: Yeah, kind of, why?
She: I have to decide whether to cover myself with one sheet or two.
Me: Why are you asking me, then?
She: Because annnyyyyway you make me cover myself with sheets depending on how YOU are feeling.....

[Reminded me of that definition of Sweater - a garment the mother makes a child wear when the mother is feeling cold. Couldn't be truer.]


She never had  homework at her school in India. Here, she has homework everyday, and she actually likes doing it. Most of it is not boring, she says. No surprise, because you get to be creative and think up many things. And the funny thing is, since there are some pieces of homework where she can choose what she can do, it would have been easy for her to choose an option that gets over within ten minutes, but she doesn't do that. Yesterday she chose to write a story out of the 20 practice words that they have given the children this week instead of just doing something easy with them--not only that, she could have used the words in any order in her story, but she chose to challenge herself and use them in the order in which she had written them down. She did mix them up slightly in the middle, but she largely stuck to the order. And it took her 2 hours to write this story!


The public library is really spoiling us. And Puttachi's love for books has gone to another level.

She says: "I think books are my best friends. With real friends, sometimes I have to play what my friend wants even if I am not that interested. Sometimes my friend might not even be able to play with me. But a book - I pick it up and it is there. I don't have to worry about anything else."


Puttachi's expression when she realized that my 1-year-old niece is calling her Akka - Delightful.
The change in her expression when she realized that the kid is actually calling her Kakka - Priceless.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Appraisal - Story in Reading Hour

My story "The Appraisal" was published in the Jan-Feb issue of Reading Hour. Since the requisite 6 months have passed, I'm reproducing it on my blog for you to read.

The Appraisal
Ningavva walked with unsteady steps down the road, scanning the houses on either side.  Her worn rubber chappals made a clip-clap sound as they slapped the cracked soles of her feet.

It wasn't dark yet, but the streetlights had already been turned on. The distant hum of peak-hour traffic formed a background to more domestic sounds – the clang of a steel vessel, the whistle of a pressure cooker. The road was lined on both sides with houses set close to each other. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one house ended and the other began. 

Ningavva hesitated in front of a house with a jasmine plant spilling over the compound. She walked up to the iron gate and rattled the hasp. 

A man came out of the house. "Yes?" 

"Is this Shekhar-daaktar's house?" asked Ningavva.

"Yes.  You want to see him?"  

Ningavva nodded.   

"You're early. He sees patients only after eight." 

"Yes he told me, but if it won't trouble you, perhaps I could wait here..." 

"Come in," said the man, and opened the gate.  

"Are you Krishna?" she asked. 


 "Daaktar said you'd let me in."

 "Where did you meet the doctor?" asked Krishna. 

"At the hospital," said Ningavva, and came in through the gate. An unpaved pathway led from the gate to a garage converted into a clinic. Red plastic chairs were arranged on either side of the path. Ningavva sat down.   

She wiped the exhaustion off her face with the edge of her saree.  

"Water, son," she said, and touched her thumb to her lips.   

Krishna nodded. He looked over his shoulder at her as he went into the house. She's from the northern part of the state, he thought. The dialect of Kannada she spoke told him that, and the way she had covered her head with the end of her faded saree. Her features too, and the heavy nose-ring. What it was about her face, he couldn't say. Was it the dialect and her dress  that lent an identity to her face? Or did her features with the creased forehead, knitted brows and small eyes reflect generations of squinting in the harshness of the sun in those hot and arid areas? 

Overworked, he thought. Her feet are bent out of shape – the kind of misshapenness that comes from having constantly carried heavy loads. Both physical and emotional. Bewildered eyes. Bet she's never travelled this far alone in all her life. Poor woman. Wonder what brings her here. 

Krishna brought a jug of water and a paper cup. He filled the cup and handed it to Ningavva, who tilted the cup and drank it all in one go, without touching the cup to her lips.  

"Are you daaktar's son?" she said. 

"No, no, Ajji, I just work for him." 

"Doesn't daaktar take fees from patients?" 

Krishna shook his head. 

"I went to the hospital in the morning. There they said he takes fees," said Ningavva. 

"Yes, only at the hospital.  From people who can afford to pay." 

The old woman's face relaxed.  She nodded.   


"Tch, Ajji, what is this? Can't a man have some peace? Ever since you came in, you're going vata-vata-vata..." 

"Forgive me, son, I've come from very far.... I asked in so many places, such a long time it took to find Shekhar-daaktar.... son, do you know him well?" 

"I was fifteen years old when I first came here, Ajji. I have been his helper, watchman, gardener, everything for ten years. So yes, I know him quite well. Why?" 


"My name is Krishna, Ajji." 

 "Krishna, son, they say he is a good man, is it true?" 

"A pearl. A pearl among men. That's what he is." 

"Does he see a lot of poor patients?" 

"Just wait till you see the line. He sees them late into the night, sometimes skips dinner." 

"His wife? Doesn't she mind?" 

"What wife? He's unmarried." 

"Is he a good doctor, Krishna?" 

"Top-class. No one goes away uncured. Why ask me, ask his patients. He's no ordinary person."
Krishna paused. "He's blessed, I tell you." 

"Why do you say that?" 

"So many times in his life, Ajji, when it seemed that he had nowhere else to go, he received help from unexpected places." 


"Yes. When Doctor was a small boy, he fell into a flooded river. They thought that his story was over, but a man jumped in and saved him. And after Doctor's  parents died, his grandmother couldn't afford to educate him. So the village school teacher, himself poor, with nine children, practically adopted him and educated him, because Doctor was a brilliant student." 

Krishna waited for Ningavva's reaction, but seeing as she didn't respond, he continued.   "And then he got a seat in the medical college, but had no money to join. So the headman of his village personally went from village to village, until he found a rich, generous man who funded Doctor's entire education. Whenever Doctor is in trouble, a solution comes looking for him. Like I said, he is blessed."   

Ningavva was silent.   

"What Ajji, lost your voice?"  Krishna grinned. "I'll be inside. Call me if you want anything." 

Krishna turned to go, but stopped.  "Ajji, sit on this chair. Less wind this side. It's getting cold. I'll ask my wife to bring you some coffee." 

Krishna left. Ningavva sat for a long time gazing at the ground, while her restless fingers twisted and untwisted the pleats of her saree. Then she looked at the small house, the overgrown garden with its jasmine plant, the lemon tree, tomato plants and a healthy Tulasi plant. Then she concentrated her attention at the road, and watched the few people and vehicles that passed by. 
In a while, Krishna's wife came out of the house with coffee in a steel tumbler. Ningavva cupped the tumbler with both hands, sipped the coffee and waited. 

The doctor's patients started arriving. Old and young, alone and with their families, they were thin, ragged, with hollow, sunken cheeks. Some talked quietly amongst one another. Some stared at Ningavva. Mothers spanked children who dared venture too near the tomato plants. Men clustered at the gate, talking in low, guttural tones. 

A skinny, voluble woman with a bindi the size of a two-rupee coin  sat down next to Ningavva. "You don't seem to be from around here," said the woman, opening a small cloth pouch which hung from her waist. From it, she extracted betel leaves, rubbed them with slaked lime, put some areca nuts on it, rolled the leaves up and offered it to Ningavva. When Ningavva shook her head, she popped it into her own mouth.   

With the roll swelling one side of the mouth, she kept up a barrage of words praising the doctor and how he had cured her and her entire extended family from various ailments over the years, and how he even gave them medicines himself.  

She showed Ningavva a small bag of gooseberries. "He doesn't take money. Not that I can afford to pay him," she said. "So I always bring something for him." 

She put away the gooseberries. "He is the poor man's saviour. How many good doctors do you think there are in the city? And how many care about the poor?" 

"If he really cared about the poor," said Ningavva. "Why doesn't he work in the villages? Why does he live in the city?" 

The woman drew herself up. Her nostrils flared. 

"How dare you say such things?" she said, chewing her betel leaves ferociously. "Do you know, every Sunday, he goes to a different village on the outskirts of the city, sits in a primary school, and sees patients there?" 

The woman wiped her mouth with her saree. "Sometimes he doesn't even sleep at night – that many people come to see him.  

"And do poor people live only in villages? Is there no poverty in the city? If all doctors go to the villages, who will look after the poor of the city? And tell me," she continued. "If he doesn't work in the city hospitals and take money from rich people, how will he eat? How will he give free medicines to people like us?" 

She frowned. "Think before you speak about the doctor," she said. "I am being polite to you because you are older than me, and you have come from afar. Otherwise..."  the woman turned away, making it clear that the conversation was over. 

But Ningavva's features arranged themselves into an expression which people who knew her would have recognized as a smile. 

The doctor arrived a little after eight in an old car that he drove himself. There was a scramble as everybody stood up and joined their palms in respect. The doctor, his dark face unlined, and his temples tinged with silver, smiled, nodded and exchanged pleasantries with his patients. He patted a man on his shoulder, ruffled a child's hair, and nodded at Ningavva. He then went straight into the clinic.   

In minutes, Krishna came to the waiting crowd and picked out Ningavva. "Ajji, go in, you arrived first," he said. 

"I'll go last," she said. 

He shrugged. "Your wish.  Such strange people in the world..." 

Ningavva waited for two hours until the doctor had seen all the patients. She watched with eagerness everybody's face as they came out after their consultation. And then it was her turn. She stepped into the clinic. 

"Come in, Amma,"said the doctor. "You've been waiting a long time." 

"Yes, daaktar, I have come from far to see you and talk to you." 

"From where, Amma?" 

"From beyond Davanagere." 

"But why, there are good doctors in Davanagere." 

"I wanted to see you, daaktar." 

"What is the trouble, Amma?" 

"My knees ache, I can't walk sometimes, and my knuckles..."  She held out her hands, gnarled like the branches of the gulmohar.

The doctor examined her. "You've led a hard life, Amma." 

"My husband died very early, daaktar. Left me with two children.  You can't imagine how difficult it was... I was young, widowed...." She passed her palm across her eyes, as if erasing the unpleasant images that appeared before her. "My brothers were too poor to take me in, nobody else was there to help me. God knows how I managed, cleaning other people's houses, cooking for them... moving from village to village... But I sent both my children to school, daaktar. I got the girl married. The boy, he is slow, but he is a good boy, looks after me well – he keeps a shop in the village. I am not able to get him married. Girls of today, they are particular, not like in our days..." 

Krishna, who was hovering about, butted in. "Ajji, enough of your life-story. You think doctor has time for all that?" 

The doctor waved Krishna away. "Krishna, please go and tell Vimala to make some dinner for this lady too... where will you stay tonight, Amma?" 

Ningavva looked confused, as if the thought hadn't even occured to her.   

"I might get a night bus back to Davanagere..." 

"No. It's very late. Sleep here in the outhouse, you can leave in the morning tomorrow. 

"Amma, your knees are weak – due to abuse, and old age. Take rest, don't work too much. You said your son takes good care of you? Good. Take this oil and rub it on your knees at bed-time, you might find some relief.... what is it, Krishna?" 

"Vimala has already rustled up something for Ajji." 

"Good, good. Krishna, the lady will sleep in the outhouse. Go, Amma, take rest." 

Ningavva drew out a patched cloth purse from between the folds of her saree,  put the bottle of oil carefully into it and tucked it back at her waist, away from sight. She followed Krishna to the back of the house, squatted near the back door and waited. Vimala, Krishna's wife, gave her a plate heaped with uppittu, and two bananas. Ningavva ate, and finished with a tall glass of buttermilk. 

"What will daaktar be doing now?" she asked.  

"Reading," said Vimala. She led Ningavva to the outhouse. It was a small, unfurnished room with an unused kitchen and an attached toilet. Rolls of mattresses stood in the corner, and folded sheets and blankets were placed above them. 

"Make yourself comfortable, Ajji," said Vimala. "Here is a pot of water. Let me know if you need anything else. We sleep in the house, but if you knock at the back door, I'll hear." 

"I'll manage, child. " 

Ningavva made her bed, turned off the lights, and was asleep in seconds.


Ningavva awoke just before dawn, washed, and stepped out. She shut the door of the outhouse, shivered a little, and drew her thin saree tightly about herself. 

As she approached the gate, she heard the doctor call out from the verandah. He was sitting in a yogic posture. She waited until he got up, threw a woollen shawl around his shoulders, switched on the porch light, and came out.    

"Daaktar, I'm leaving. Thanks for all that you've done..." 

"Amma, something is bothering me. Why would you travel three hundred kilometres just to see me about your knees? Tell me the truth, Amma. Why are you here?" 

Ningavva looked up. The lamp on the porch threw its light on Ningavva's eyes. The doctor saw them fill up with tears.  

"My husband, daaktar... he died young.  He...he gave his life saving a small boy from drowning. My life was very difficult, daaktar. Many nights I have lain awake wondering how different life would have been would have been if my husband hadn't bothered saving someone he didn't even know. Very often I have cursed that boy... and wondered, always wondered.... if my husband's death was worth it..." 

The doctor stood very still. 

"Now I'm satisfied, daaktar. Finally... last night I slept in peace for the first time in many years...." 

The doctor tried to say something, but made a choking noise.   

"You're doing good work. I've seen it now with my own eyes – I can go back to my village with my heart full. God bless you, daaktar."  

The doctor took the shawl from his shoulders, and put it around Ningavva. She hesitated, and then wrapped it closely around herself. She opened the gate, hobbled out and disappeared into the mist.
The doctor stood at the gate for a long, long time.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Schools - some observations, some comparisons

It seems funny now to think that one of the biggest worries I had about moving to the US was whether Puttachi would adjust to school. Would she understand the accents of the teachers and the students? Would she make friends easily, considering that she would be entering at a time when friendships have already been established? Would there be a period of adjustment, would I have to suspend all my work and stand by until she is settled in?

As it turns out, all my apprehensions were unfounded. She has no problem with the American accent. Probably due to the fact that kids are shuffled around between sections at every grade, she entered a class where all the kids were more or less new to each other. And so, she had a best friend by Day 2, and had exchanged mothers' phone numbers with her by Day 3.

After the first three days, I asked Puttachi what the most glaring difference was, between school in India and school in the US. She thought for a moment and said, "Our classroom here is so silent. I love it." Now that wasn't what I expected at all!

However, two weeks into school, she herself told me, "The biggest difference is that school here is very activity-ish. In India, we would just sit and listen to the teacher. Here, we DO a lot of things." There you have it, in a nutshell.

By the way, if you are wondering why her classroom in the US is so quiet, it is not because of the number of children in a class, because she has 30 kids in her class here, and she had 25 kids in one class in India. It is just that her teacher has devised some signs to tell each other to fall silent if they feel that the noise level has increased. It is a kind of self-regulation system.

Talking about self-regulating, there is another system her teacher Mrs A has in place, which she told us about when we went to the presentation that the teachers gave the parents last evening in what is known as "Back to School night". This is to reduce tattling and discourage tell-tales. If a child has a problem with somebody else, he or she has to do two things out of the dozen suggestions that have been put up on a chart on the board - which involves things like talking to the other child, etc. If those strategies don't work, the child has to write the complaint on a piece of paper and drop it into the complaint box. At the end of the day, Mrs A empties the complaint box, and deals with the more serious of the complaints. But more often than not, both the students in question would have forgotten about it entirely, or else, they would have already sorted out the problem! 

The teacher also has some coloured post-it notes on the board, and it works like a football game, where one instance of misbehaviour or irresponsibility means you get a yellow card, which has a loss of privilege associated with it, and two mistakes in a day means an orange card, meaning a further loss of some other privilege and so on, until a red card, which is the worst case. This, says the teacher, is to instil discipline in the kids. Puttachi, for instance, came back one day and said that she got a yellow card, which means she lost the opportunity to gain a "Well-done" sticker, because she forgot to put her chair up on her desk at the end of the day (to make it easy for the cleaning staff to clean up.)

They also have duties and responsibilities, about monitoring themselves and the rest of the class on various aspects, and there is a rotation of the responsibilities each week. For instance, this week, Puttachi is in charge of transporting the snack box basket, which post she begged for and got, and is very proud of.

As for the subjects themselves, I cannot do a comparative analysis yet, because classes in all subjects haven't started full swing. I do know that Puttachi is ahead in Math compared to what is being taught to the class now, but because the way they teach them is different, she is not getting bored. The kids analyse the problem, and the focus on many problems is on how to solve them, the approach, rather than the final answer. Besides, in some cases they are encouraged to formulate a question on their own, based on some data that they are given.

English is interesting, centred around a lot of activities. They use thesauruses in their work, and suggest composition topics to each other. They have to apply their brains for most of the things, and in many cases they can choose and they have control over what they want to do. For instance, homework for the last two weeks, consists of a list of twenty words, and the children have to do various things with those twenty words, selecting from a "Menu" that they are given. They can build a story, or just write them in capital letters, or write them backwards, or draw a picture and hide the words in the picture, and fun things like that. Puttachi chose to create silly sentences around the words, and write them all with her left hand, and think of rhyming words for them, etc. So it is nice, I guess, for them to be able to do what they want to, and at the level they are comfortable with. The basic idea is to get the children to be familiar with the words.

The children are also arranged around tables, six to each table, and they have a desk each which they are expected to keep neat and clean--homework is usually in sheets which they have to file responsibly in binders--these are things which make Puttachi swell with importance. :)

One teacher usually handles all the subjects at this grade - and this is crucial - this is where the teacher is of paramount importance. The teachers here are extremely invested in their job. There is no other option. Each class has a teacher who teaches those kids in their own way, and the number of resources and the amount of work they have to put in to make this happen--it makes my  head ache just to think about it. And that is why, I think, a good school is that important, and that is what makes for a good school district and that is why we are paying such high rents to stay in this school district!

One teacher for one class (in Puttachi's case, a different teacher comes in on Fridays) ensures a kind of bonding between the child and the teacher. The teacher is also much more informal, telling the kids about themselves, about how many children they have, where they are from, where they are going to for the long weekend, etc. In fact, Mrs A had to leave early one day to catch a flight, and after she left, the kids found a bunch of keys that the substitute teacher said look like suitcase keys, and Puttachi worried for the entire weekend about what if they were Mrs A's keys and whether she would be able to open her suitcases. She looks upon her teacher like a family member. Though she adored the teachers in her school in  India, this is at a different level. I think the classroom setup itself is like that.

I can see why people complain about the standards being very low here compared to India-- that children in India are learning far more than the students in the US. And I also feel that way sometimes, that it is like Puttachi is going backwards, esp in Math, but I do realize that the entire teaching system and intention here is different from what it is in India.

The above are just observations made after seeing Puttachi go to school for two weeks. And it is not the intention of this post to make comparisons and show up one method of schooling as the better one. As the year progresses, I'll be in a better position to comment, I think. But I find it immensely interesting to observe the difference, and how Puttachi is reacting to it.

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