31 July, 2008

Childhood Memoirs - Saga I - The Making of Vadaams

The summer heat is on – in full force. A wee bit of rain in the morning ensures that the rest of the day looks and feels like a furnace. It simply takes ones breath away – not in the breathtaking sense – rather the sheer heat that surrounds and hits you in waves. Relentless, merciless – the sun burns down. Sweat pours in rivulets – further adding to the discomfort. Sunglasses don’t seem dark enough to protect one’s eyes from the sheer strength and intensity of the sun rays.

Summer days such as these take me down memory lane – many a times. Back to my childhood days – because summer essentially is the time the kitchen in the household comes alive. Alive with stocking up for the year ahead in terms of vadaams, karuvadaams (also known as vadis in Marathi/Hindi), dried vegetables (in tamil known as vatthals) and of course, pickles. Summer, essentially, in terms of the kitchen and the activities therein, used to be a treasure trove – visually and of course to the palate. It also used to be the time of the year when all the ladies in the family invariably converged into one kitchen to cook up some of these storable delicacies. Atleast for those few hours, there would be total compatibility, friendly banter, casual chatter and no strife.

Just the other day, as I mentally revisited one of those days in my childhood when vadaams were being made, it did strike me that the only way my children would know the vadaam making process in all its glory, would be through my eyes, through my words. With commercialization setting in just about everywhere, almost gone are the days when ladies hunker down to dish out batch after batch of vadaams.

A vadaam making day always used to be preceded by a kind of palpable excitement among the ladies in the family. It was subdued but it was definitely there. It used to make its presence felt in the feverish activity that could be seen in the form of old mats (motthha paai) being taken down from the loft and cleaned, in large square pieces of cotton cloth being washed and dried, in large copper vessels being taken down from the loft and cleaned and the like.

Kerosene stoves would be readied, the wicks cleaned, crosschecks conducted to ensure that there was enough kerosene in the stove and more importantly, at home (in case the stove was hungry enough to need more kerosene). More crosschecks to ensure that the pump on the kerosene stove worked properly and that it would not turn into a bomb of sorts during the mela that was to ensue the next morning in the kitchen. Though, to be honest, I always used to feel that a kerosene stove exploding was a much milder scenario than that of the ladies in the family feuding with each other. That was totally something else !! A class in itself !! Modern day factories which eke out a living by making and selling earplugs would not have needed to travel very far for quality control tests !!! If those earplugs could block out the noise generated by a few hostile ladies disagreeing over something, then they sure as hell can block just about any sound on the face of this earth, out !!!

Ladies would consult each other about the amounts of rice to be soaked. How much of the rice would go in to the making of the plain white vadaams, how much would go into the making of the red vadaams – which were nothing but vadaams with chili powder in them.

The next morning would invariably dawn bright, clear and oh ! did I mention earlier – HOT !!!.

The men in the household would invariably end up with some extremely simple lunch boxes on vadaam day – cos the ladies would well have been taken over by vadaam fever by then. And the men knew better than to stray into the path of a whole bunch of thundering typhoon mamis. And the men cared rather strongly for their safety and well being, so much so that the simple lunch box packed by the mamis on Vadaam Day, would be carried away to office by the men without as much as a murmur.

Olden days, before the advent of mixers/grinders saw the batter being ground in large mortar/pestles (known as Aaatukallu in Tamil). Little wonder then that women then had no need for dumbbells and barbells and the like. The working on the mortar/pestle took care of that bit. And the sizes were industrial – of the mortar/pestle, of course. (and the mamis too) !!!

Once the batter was ready, the vadaam making contraption would be brought out with as much sacredness to the act as the unveiling of a deity in a temple. Each vadaam plate would be gingerly wiped with a cloth dipped in oil and huge vats of water would be set on the kerosene stoves to boil.

The mats and large square pieces of cloth would be spread outside the house – in the compound – and there they would lie in wait for batch after batch of steamed vadaams to be spread upon them for the “drying in the sun” part of the process.

In an atmosphere of ever before unseen camaraderie, the ladies would arm themselves with spoons and the vessel containing the batter would be the centerpiece of attraction and attention. Spoons would be dipped in the batter and with a deft turn of the wrist and a few more deft flicks of the wrist accompanied by the hand attached to it, that glob of batter would be teased and cajoled into a thin, flat smear on the vadaam plate. Once a certain number of plates were done, they’d be loaded onto the vadaam stand and the whole contraption would be set in the huge vats and covered to be steamcooked.

All the while, I could be found standing outside the kitchen, staring at the ongoings within the kitchen in what I can describe only as “wide eyed wonder”.

And the knowledge that my responsibilities, my rightful place in the Vadaam Making Process, were just about to begin !!! And it was a responsibility that I took very very seriously indeed !!. Strayed from my responsibilities a few times, I have though - when I took pity on a hungry cat (who was a de-facto resident of our building) and fed it a few pieces of steamed vadaams. But it was all for a good cause. The ladies would sure have thought otherwise, but then again, what they did not know certainly did not hurt them !!

Once the vadaams were steamed and ready, they would be peeled off the plates by the thundering mamis with a deftness that defied their sheer size and volume. It was very difficult to imagine huge hands attached to huge bodies, working so deftly and with such precision.

Once the steamed vadaams were placed on plates, the hollering would begin. I would be handed one plate of vadaams and I could be seen scurrying out of the house with the plate in my hand, out into the compound – to place the steamed vadaams onto the mats covered with clean white cloth. By the time my plate was ¾ empty, the holler would begin from the kitchen – asking me to come and pick up the second plate. There were many a times when I wondered as to why the vadaams needed to cook so fast – but they always did !!! Wheels on my feet would have done me a lot good then.

The going used to get better actually. In the heat of the midday sun, a small chair used to be set near the mats (which, by now, were full with vadaams spread on them) and I, being the only child, used to have the dubious distinction of having to perch myself on the said chair. The said chair, by then, would be hotter than an inferno itself and it used to make me think that my mom could get dosas made on the chair – cos it was so HOT !!

My job then was to ward off the winged birds of prey. Nothing dramatic. I’m talking about the crows which arrive by the hordes to feast on the vadaams set out for drying. For good measure, I used to be handed a walking stick too – supposedly to shoo away the errant crows.

Any stranger who saw me sitting on the chair with that cane in my hand during those hot summer days would have left the building with a new meaning to the term ‘child labour’. Such a young child guarding the entrance to the building – would have been the first thought, I guess. But no. That child was sitting there to shoo away crows, if any, that dared as much as approach the precious vadaams.

There have been many instances wherein people hesitated and then asked me if “so and so” was staying in that building. They probably mistook me for an underage chowkidar !!! Thank the lord then, that no one actually walked up to me and asked me why the water pump of the building was not working properly or some such question. Cos the chowkidar used to double as the water pump operator too !!!

It used to take just a few hours in that blazing heat for the vadaams to dry up. The ladies would again arrive by the hordes and stack away all the vadaams and take them back to the confines of the house.

There were ample opportunities to play “chowkidar” to the vadaams during my childhood. Those memories will forever remain cherished within my heart. More so, given the fact that one does not see it happen in each and every household nowadays. There is a high chance that my children will never have an opportunity to indulge in such “chowkidar” business – given the fact that vadaam making, as a family activity in each and every household, has more or less become a thing of the past.

This is something that is etched onto the canvass of my memory and it will remain that way. I just have to close my eyes to picture myself – busy as the “guardian of the vadaams” during my childhood days. Everything about that memory is very vivid, the clarity of the picture – crystal clear.

Like the saying from “The Wonder Years” goes

"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”

And yes, these are memories I don’t want to lose. These are memories that I want to keep close to my heart, these are memories that, I hope, will help my children envision things – things that they’ve missed out experiencing, simply because of the fact that they were born in an era where commercialization rules.

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30 July, 2008

Take a sentimental trip to a land called BF .....

Nury Vittachi has a regular column called "Dissident's Diary" in The Hongkong Standard. This piece appeared in the very same column of the HK Standard on 28th of July 2008.

Take a sentimental trip to a tranquil land called BF

by Nuri Vittachi

Monday, July 28, 2008

You know the terms BC and AD?

I would like to propose that new terms are introduced for a similarly dramatic historical event - but which only applies to people who have had children:

BF and AF: Before Family and After Family.

Somewhere in my personal journey, I acquired a spouse and some children, and everything changed: my habits, my values, my way of life, and - most dramatic of all - the acreage of bags under my eyes.

Before Family: A lie-in is when you stay in bed until noon.
After Family: A lie-in is when you stay in bed until 7am.

Before Family: A "short-break getaway" is a long weekend in a sun-soaked Thai resort.
After Family: A "short-break getaway" is five minutes in the only toilet in the apartment with a still-working lock.

Before Family: Gastronomic ecstasy means sampling recipes in the new Nigella Lawson cookbook.
After Family: Gastronomic ecstasy is when you manage to persuade a child to consume a piece of broccoli.

Before Family: The perfect floor covering is hardwood maple planking in a satin-wax finish.
After Family: The perfect floor covering is pink and blue squares of textured rubber.

Before Family: The ideal wardrobe is a range of elegant black outfits from Armani or Zara.
After Family: The ideal wardrobe is a range of factory outlet rejects that you can throw away after they acquire too many vomit stains.

Before Family: The pinnacle of cinematic entertainment is Blade Runner: The Director's Cut.
After Family: The pinnacle of cinematic entertainment is The Lion King, which actually moves you to tears.

Before Family: The best summer vacation destination is an unspoiled tract of coastal wilderness far from civilization.
After Family: The best destination is anywhere which has sterilized water, French fries and Pampers, oh, and a McDonald's and a Starbucks, and - blow it, let's just stay at home.

Before Family: You thought you needed space, time and peace to work.
After Family: You discover you can type perfectly well with one child on your lap, another wrapped around your leg, and the third watching Barney videos at full volume 1 meter away.

Before Family: You thought the finest furniture was Philippe Starck designs in minimalist industrial chrome and leather.
After Family: You know the finest furniture is a big ugly sofa that can absorb orange juice, urine and milk, and double as a scratching board for the cat.

Before Family: Your dream car would be a hand-built Morgan Aero 8 convertible.
After Family: You realize your dream car is a secondhand Toyota Previa with washable plastic seats.

Before Family: You thought the soundtrack of your life would be dreamy, experimental pop from an indie band like The High Llamas.
After Family: You realize that the soundtrack of your life is High School Musical 50 times a day

Before Family: You thought recyclable and reusable packaging was the unshakable wave of the future.
After Family: You wonder how anyone could survive without bulk purchases of disposable 250ml Tetra Pak fruit juice boxes.

When you consider all the changes to your lifestyle, it's hard to avoid thinking that acquiring a family is seriously bad news.

But the most interesting thing is that the people who have been through this are adamant about one thing - we would not have it any other way.

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28 July, 2008

Musings of an Absolutely Idle Mind ....

Almost a month into the summer break now and life has kind of fallen into a smooth rhythm of sorts. A smooth rhythm because with the nutty siblings at home 24/7, having as much as a small rhythm is a big thing.

The siblings too are making the most of their vacation. Lazing around the bed in the mornings and not having to wake up to loud hoots of the alarm clock. No parents hankering after them to “wake up else you’ll miss your bus” and no mommy threatening “if you miss your bus you’ll have to walk all the way to school.”

At times, when we peep into the kids’ room in the mornings, we find them already awake, seriously plotting and discussing something. At times one of them is awake and the other is not but they know better than to wake the other sibling up. Like the other day when I peeped in, Abhay was already awake and was busy counting his toes. Did make me wonder as to what he was trying to prove, by counting his toes – but early in the morning, in my decaffeinated state, I did not dare ask.

Both of them have their math work to do in the mornings. Aparna works on more complex divisions and has been introduced to the concept of Algebraic equations. Abhay had been after me to teach him multiplication tables during the vacations. At times, though, I’m sure the thought must have crossed his mind “Why did I have to go asking for trouble ?”. Ever heard the saying “trouble comes in pairs” ? Well, it comes in the form of multiplication tables too !! The younger sibling is taking the term “asking for trouble” to new levels !!!

Spills are aplenty. Inquisitive minds, curious heads and slippery hands – just purrfect !! Sometimes it is the talcum powder that gets spilt and at times it is something else. Left to the siblings, handtowels would soon be turned into towels used for wiping up the mess created by something being spilt on the floor. The best way to clean up a spill on the floor, as per “Nutty Sibling Theory” is to make a bigger mess there and then try and enlist the help of Mommy in “cleaning it all up”. e.g if talcum powder has been spilt, the best solution is to get a sopping wet towel to “clean it up”. Ideal solution is to create a “mini pool” – water with a lot many shady flakes of talc floating in it – and then yell bloody murder till a wild eyed Mommy comes flying in to find out what happened.

If it is a bit of juice that has been spilt, Mommy has been given rather colorful reasons like “a drop of juice spilt but can I just leave it like that cos the ants must be really thirsty. Its so hot in the summer you know.”

Independence is being taken to new levels with the younger sibling insisting that he can “put the toothpaste” on his toothbrush “all by himself”. All that independence went flying out of the window when, one morning, he squeezed out a whole lot of toothpaste from the tube and then brought the whole thing over to Mommy saying “can you please put all this toothpaste back into the tube ?” That said, the same streak of independence is often making sure that the younger one wears his underpants the wrong way around. Independence !! Indeed !!! :D

The same streak of independence makes sure that the younger sibling often runs around the house with his head and hands trapped in his vest. That’s what happens when kids have big heads !! Vest gets royally trapped and since arms are anyway up in the air, they’re not of much use in trying to pull the vest up and over the big head. What a sight !!! And invariably, during this “vest gets stuck around head” scene, the younger sibling is found running around in circles. Yeah – as if that’s going to get the vest past his head any easier !!!

The siblings diligently test to make sure that the force of gravity still works. Things that are thrown up in the air have to come down. Tests are conducted at regular intervals (sometimes a wee bit too regularly) to ensure that gravity stays on Planet Earth and does not migrate to any other planet on the solar system.

The other day found the younger sibling trying to “walk on his belly”. According to him “he was trying to find out what a penguin feels like when it slides around on its belly”. Mommy had the good sense to “flee the scene” before the request “can you put some ice around here too because penguins slide around on ice” came through !!!

The siblings tried tasting coffee out of Mommy’s coffee mug and promptly declared that the concoction was “Eeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww Yucckkkkyyy”. Cannot really blame them though cos Mommy takes very little sugar or no sugar at all in her coffee !!! But then again, Mommy did not ask them to drink coffee, did she ?

They remain eternally curious about what’s cooking in the kitchen. The kitchen is a source of never ending fascination. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if the two of them were let loose in the kitchen though. “What are you making ?” “What do you put in it ?” “Why are you cooking that ?” “How do you cook that ?” “What is that yellow powder ?” “What is the red powder ?” the questions fly fast and furious and are certainly distracting enough to make one substitute the sugar with salt or worse still, vice versa. Thank the Lord for small mercies – in that all the Indian Masalas are inevitably “brown powders”. If the masalas too had been multicolored, oh what fun it would have been !!!

The other day saw the younger sibling picking the brains of the elder one with questions about why potatoes grow under the ground and not on the stems of the plants like other fruits and vegetables. In sheer exasperation the elder sibling was heard saying “because if they grow on the stems they’d fall on your head. Potatoes are heavy.” To which, pat came the question from the younger sibling – “Potatoes are heavy and grow under the ground ? Where do watermelons grow ?” Mommy had the good sense not to interrupt the conversation at all. It is not always that Mommy gets be the audience while someone else is in the hot seat.

Now coming to the important question – why in the name of God did I write all this down ?

Gee !! I really don’t know. I am absolutely clueless.

But then again, what does the title of this post say ?

Musings of an Absolutely Idle Mind !!

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23 July, 2008

A trip to the library .........

A trip to the library, with the nutty siblings in tow nowadays, is turning into more than just that.

Last week’s sojourn to the library was quite an adventure, as can be gleaned from here.

The books that had been borrowed last week had all been gobbled up by the nutty siblings who have been screaming “books inventory low” over the past couple of days. The soaring temperatures out here were acting as a very effective deterrent to afternoon travel but on gauging that the books situation was indeed at extremely “dangerously low” levels, we decided to brave the heat and make the trip to the public library today.

Unlike the last time, we did not have to wait for the mini bus and unlike the last time the roads were not as crowded either. Only some loony bins like our good selves were brave enough to venture out into the sun, with total abandon and utter disregard for a condition called “heatstroke”.

I was expecting this stretch of good luck to carry on within the cool confines of the library too and once we entered the library, I realized that there is indeed such a thing as “wishful thinking”. The junior section of the library has some little tables and chairs laid out so that little bookworms can sit around and pore through books which are marked “for reference only”. Some tots do read books which can be borrowed too – but end of the day – what I’m trying to say is that those little chairs are meant for the kids – and not for their chaperones.

The sight that met my eyes was something different. There was this group of six to seven mothers, perched on those chairs, who apparently knew each other pretty well – judging by the decibel levels they were generating within the library. There were kids milling around, arms laden with books to be borrowed and one of the kids made the mistake of wandering within a few meters of where these moms were perched. The child was just looking for a place to put the books he had chosen so that he could take a look at some more books. The moms, though, would have none of it. That little boy was rather unceremoniously shooed away by a couple of the moms sitting there despite the fact that 2-3 chairs near them were unoccupied. When this little boy’s mom approached the other moms and pointed out to them that there were 2-3 chairs unoccupied – they actually had the gall to tell her that those chairs were reserved by them for their own kids. The next time around, I guess, one can expect to see newspapers lining the chairs !! Reservation of seats, you see :) !!!!!!!

It does not stop there. These moms had been on a spree of sorts and on the table there were piles and piles of books – some Cantonese Books and some English books. But what was astonishing was the number of books that were piled there. Small wonder then that portions of the bookshelves looked rather anaemic. To top this, they were randomly going around pulling more books out of the bookshelves and this was causing the rest of the books on the shelves to cascade – and some books were spilling onto the floor.

Their kids in the meanwhile, were absolutely running berserk. Some of them were busy banging away on the keyboards of the computers in the library, one was trying to pull and drag a mouse away from the PC and things really came to a height when two or three of the other children went on a “book snatching” spree. Some other children were looking for books and had in their hands two or three books that they had chosen to borrow. Some of these kids ran over, snatched the books right out of the other childrens’ hand and ran over to the table where their moms were perched and started to make a whole new pile of books. The children from whom books had been snatched had, in the meanwhile, been reduced to tears. One little girl started to whimper while two other little boys looked plain scared.

Those 6-7 moms had been watching all along and they very well saw their kids going around snatching books from other kids or toppling books out of their hands but they chose to say nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Where exactly am I going with this ?

Just that the entire incident raised questions inside my head. All parents have their own ways of bringing up their children and I am not about to pass value judgments on whether they choose to instill values and morals in their children or not. “Each one to one’s own” seems to be the catch phrase of today’s world and that’s that. But the question that kept making its presence felt was this – are some parents, by their sheer inaction, making their kids more streetsmart ?

Generally the instinctive reaction is to tell one’s child not to snatch things from other kids and generally one hears parents saying “you’re supposed to share things with your friends”. But to blatantly disregard the situation when one sees one’s child go over and snatch a book from another child when there are so many other books on the table and the shelves for the taking, is something I found quite disturbing. None of those 6-7 moms were perturbed – not one bit. Even when one of the other moms in the library went over to them with her daughter (who was in tears) in tow, these ladies just shrugged the whole thing off. And the kids were around watching. What kind of a message does that send across to the kids ? That it is perfectly OK to behave like this ? That such behavior is totally justified ?

They don’t have to say that in as many words to their kids but the very fact that they chose to say nothing against such behavior – does that not form some kind of a tacit approval ?

Are parents – who teach and reinforce values like sharing and teaching children to respect other childrens’ properties and belongings etc, actually putting our kids at a disadvantage ? When they need to hold their own in the midst of a whole group of kids, what kind of a disadvantage are we getting them into, just by reinforcing good values and negating the not so good ones ?

The little girl’s mom summed it all up very effectively when she said to me “I teach my daughter to share her things. I teach her not to grab things from others. Even if she needs to take something from another child I always tell her that she must ask the other child first. And now, after what just happened, I feel so stupid. I feel very stupid.”

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21 July, 2008

Artwork - Homemade Cards

Since the kindergarten year was drawing to a close, we decided upon making Ms.S (Abhay's KG2 teacher) a little gift. And what better to etch some memories upon than a lovely card.

Coming to cards, it has been a while since we started "making" cards at home. What makes the whole thing so much more fun is the fact that both the nutty siblings love artwork of any kind. Aside of the actual "making" of something, they love to feel the texture of "felt", they marvel at the glitter in the glitter glue tubes, there is a lot of banter and chit chat about how a particular color gets created. What color mixed with what gives you what color ? How do they make glitter glue - does the glue get poured in first or the glitter ?. The questions don't cease - they just serve to form a very amiable background buzz whilst working on anything "arty" :).

Me being me, I clean forgot to snap up step by step pictures whilst making the card. The nutty siblings did remind me to take pictures of the finished card, however :).

What we use is thick, glossy craft paper for the card. And judging by the amount of craft paper and the other paraphernelia we have at home, we could well open a mini stationery shop of sorts right here :).

Once the craft paper was cut, we used colorful ice lolly sticks to give the card a "framelike" border. The effect is one of a picture frame. Two little dots of glitter glue at the end of each "stick" created an impression of the sticks having been "nailed down" - as in the olden days kind of photo frames :).

Abhay wanted a bouquet of flowers for the main body of the card. What better than colorful felt for the flowers. We set about deciding which color felt to use and I drew freehand flowers on the felt sheets which we had decided upon.

Then we got down to creating the bouquet wrapping - at the base of the flowers - we decided to go with light pink and white.

Once everything was cut out, I began to glue the felt on to the card. It is a laborious process and the entire "project" took about 3-4 afternoons. It felt good to be working "with them" and it was quite fulfilling when the card was done. I gave the card its finishing touches - the little decorations on the inside of the card too. In the meanwhile, Abhay was given the task of deciding what he wanted to write inside the card for Ms.S. He did a mighty good job of that and had framed complete sentences of what he wanted to write on the inside of the card. Aparna helped with the little dots of glitter on the inside of the card and once done, we left the card to dry overnight.

The next day afternoon, an hour before we went over to school to meet Ms.S, the envelope of the card was yet to be made. Out came some gift wrapping paper. Measured the size of the card, cut out the required amount of wrapping paper, glued the edges together with glossy stickers, cut out the flap to an envelope shape and folded it down and sealed the envelope with three round stickers. And yes - we did remember to slip the card into the envelope before sealing it :D.

The pictures say it all .......

" The front of the card gets done."

"The inside of the card".

"Abhay's little note on the card".

"The envelope in the making"

"The card is ready to be slipped into the envelope"

"The envelope - sealed with three round glossy stickers".

Martin Kippenberger once said

"Entertainment and Art are not isolated. Entertainment is in art like color in pictures."

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18 July, 2008

The Kindergarten Days .......

.......... are officially over.

Though the nutty siblings have been at home for over a week now, the reality, the actuality of the situation sunk in just yesterday. We’d been to the kindergarten yesterday afternoon for the Parent-Teacher meeting. And it was as we were walking out of the kindergarten that the thought sunk in – our second child too, the younger sibling too is through with his kindergarten years.

We met with Abhay’s KG2 teacher Ms.S and spoke with her for quite a while. She’s been another person who has had a tremendous positive impact on Abhay during his KG2 year. What started off with Ms.S (his KG2 teacher in the first half of the year) continued and grew with Ms.S (his KG2 teacher in the second half of the year). We cannot thank both his KG2 teachers enough for having brought about such a change in his attitude towards school. And for teaching him to have faith in his capabilities and to give each and every situation his very best.

As we were walking towards the main door of the kindergarten, we met Ms.J who had been Abhay’s teacher for a few days during his KG2 year (when the regular teachers were not present at school). And more importantly, Ms.J had been Aparna’s KG2 teacher.

I don’t know why I paused at the door but I did. Turned around towards the classrooms, the play area and soaked in the sights. The sights of the very same place where both the nutty siblings first started their schooling. Their first stepping stone into the world of education and knowledge. Memories flashed across the eyes and I could recall with absolutely distinct clarity the first day of both Aparna and Abhay's kindergarten life. This was where their journey began - a journey on which they both have a long way to go, a journey that opened up a whole new world for them to soak in, a journey that helped them gain an understanding of many things hitherto unknown.

No kids were around yesterday and the place was unnaturally quiet. Where there normally used to be a constant buzz of activity and a steady humming of all those little busy bees, today there was total silence and hardly any activity. Just a steady stream of parents trickling towards their kids’ respective classrooms – some preparing for the next year of kindergarten that their kids would go through and some leaving with a lot of memories associated with their kids’ kindergarten years.

And that was when it actually sunk into my thoughts and seeped through the unconscious mind into the fully conscious – both our kids were done and over with their kindergarten years. It is a milestone of sorts, a definite stepping stone and to realize that the younger sibling too has crossed that threshold and will be a primary schooler come August, totally hit home.

It was wonderful to see both kids chatting with their teachers and I could sense a lot of emotions at play when Ms.S asked Abhay if she could get a hug from him and he went and put his arms around her neck. For the both of them, Ms.S and Abhay, teacher and student – it was a moment that stood still. Ms.S knew that this was the last time she would be seeing Abhay at the kindergarten and Abhay more of sensed that the ‘kindergarten era” in his life was through laying its foundation and now stood as the stepping stone – waiting for him to step on and beyond into primary school life. Even after we got back home, he was quite unusually subdued. And later on when I asked him why he was so quiet, the quiet muted response was “I’m going to miss Ms.S”.

And that was when the thought struck me – Aparna is more than halfway through her primary school years. Just a couple of years more to go and she will be standing on the same kind of a threshold – albeit a bigger one – all ready and prepared to use another stepping stone into Secondary school.

Both the siblings, over the past academic year, have been fortunate and blessed with teachers who have had a tremendously positive impact on them – academically and more importantly as people who have inspired them and taught them to have faith in themselves and their abilities.

Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to these wonderful teachers who have played such a pivotal role in laying a very strong positive foundation in both the nutty siblings.

Abhay with Ms.S (his KG2 teacher during the First half of the year)

(Abhay with Ms.S - his KG2 teacher during the second half of the year).

(Aparna and Abhay with Ms.J - Aparna's KG2 teacher)

(Aparna and Abhay with Ms.L - Aparna's teacher during her Primary Year Three and Primary Year Four).

Like Ever Garrison once said

"A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, wisdom and knowledge in the pupils."

And as someone once said

"The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book."

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14 July, 2008

Getting Creative with PlayDoh - Part II

As the story normally goes, the whole of last week was a washout, weatherwise. HK has been going through a rather wet spell with constant showers during the day and some rather squally thunderstorms thrown in for good measure.

Creating artwork out of something, anything or nothing specific is something we love to do :). Of late, the kids have been using the multi colored pots of PlayDoh but not long enough for them to hunker down and "create" something with the Doh. Last week, they took out the pots of PlayDoh, spread the newspaper on the floor - all by themselves - and got to work on the Doh. The nutty siblings were working with the Doh by themselves while Mommy finished off some of her chores.

Every now and then, either the elder or the younger sibling would come running over and ask Mommy "Would you like to eat a burger ?" or "Would you like to eat a three scoop icecream ?" or "Would you like to eat a pizza ?" and so on and so forth. Quite evidently, the theme of the day was "food".

After a while, Mommy joined them too and we worked together on a landscape of sorts. The whole thing had a very nice feel to it - the working together, the squabbling over some color or other, the disagreements over which color was to be used, the goofing around with the Doh, trying to "draw" on a flat piece of PlayDoh with a toothpick :). The list is seemingly endless :).

Once we were done with our landscape, the kids started off on something by themselves again - Abhay, of course, wanted to make a vehicle and Aparna experimented and came out with some very nice 3D PlayDoh animals and birds. Mommy used this time and came up with some little flowers :).

Here we go with the pictures ....

"The making of a hamburger".

"Triple Scoop Icecream Cone, Anyone ?"

"Piping Hot Pizza"

"Cool things down with a yummy super duper banana split."

"Abhay never is satisfied without having a vehicle involved in some way, is he ?. His version of a car which has stopped at the traffic lights."

"Aparna's cute little 3D Snail. I loved the way she's worked with the Doh on the snail's eyes."

"The little birdie said "Cheep Cheep"."

"Flowers Flowers everywhere ...... not a single one in the vase."

"The Landscape. A house, the green lawns, two small patches of land with flowers growing on them, a small stream behind the house and the range of mountains. The sun has just risen, puffy blue and white clouds in the sky and a little airplane completes the picture."

The earlier "playdoh creations" that I'd posted about can be found here and here.

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11 July, 2008

How to complicate things for yourself ..... !!

....... is something I can learn from myself !!!

Yesterday morning, as always, I was trundling along with my chores. And yesterday morning, as always, Abhay burst into my train of thoughts. And yesterday morning, as always, he totally disrupted and derailed my train of thoughts. And yesterday morning, as is becoming the norm lately, he had a rather somber and serious expression on his face.

"Mom - see - there is a problem." said Abhay.

"Why ? What happened ?" asked Mommy

"I have a problem Mom" said Abhay

"Do you need to go over to the neighbor's house ?" asked Mommy

"No Mom. This is a very big problem." said Abhay

"Oh Lord ! Going over to the neighbor's house had been chalked down by him as a small problem ?" mulled Mommy.

"What is your BIG problem Abhay ?" asked Mommy

"See Mom - I don't know how to tie up my shoelaces." said Abhay

And before Mommy could say anything - pat came the question

"And mom - what are shoelaces ?"

"Shoelaces are kind of thick threads on shoes Abhay. And they need to be tied into a knot so that the shoe does not slip off the foot." explained Mommy.

"Oh ! But I don't know how to tie my shoelaces. See Mom - it is a big problem." quipped Abhay.

"Most of the shoes now don't have shoelaces Abhay" said Mommy, seriously wondering as to why she was standing there discussing, of all the things, shoes, with Mr.E. That too when there were a whole lot of chores to be attended to !!!

"Then what do they have Mom ?" came the question

"They have Velcro" said Mommy, who, by then, had a whole load of lights flashing inside her head and a whole load of alarms going off inside her head. Dishes in the kitchen sink, water boiling on the kettle, breakfast to be made, Vic's lunch to be made and the lunch box packed .....

And what was Mommy doing in the midst of all this ?

She was discussing "shoes" and "shoelaces" and now "velcro" with a five year old !!!

"What is Velcro ?" came the question

"Ahem .... you see Abhay. When you wear your shoes or take them off - see that thing which goes "trrrrrr" "prrrrrr" "krrrrrr" .... that is velcro." said Mommy.

"Trrrrr ...... Prrrrrrr........Krrrrrrr ???" said Abhay, a huge huge question mark framing his face.

"Whenever you put on your shoes or take them off my dear, it kind of goes Trrrrrr ..... Prrrrrrr ...... Krrrrrr ..... Prrrrrrr, does it not ?." said Mommy

Abhay's face was registering some amount of alarm by now, what with a grown up in the house making all kinds of weird noises in an attempt to explain something to him and needless to say, was falling flat on her face !!!

Aparna too had walked into the living room by then and she had that look on her face which translated into "Gawd !! I knew it !! I knew it !! Something's really askew."

"Mom - do you mean shoe straps when you said Prrrr Krrrr Trrrrr ?" asked Abhay.

Huh !!!??????

I mean, whatever was I thinking when I started going into explanations like Trrrrrr Prrrrr and Krrrrr and whatever else it was that I said ?

When it was as simple as saying "shoe straps" ? (*Phew*)

The kids, needless to say, had extremely amused expressions to sport on their faces and must have been wondering why the people at home who are supposed to be "grownups" don't behave all grown up. I mean, with all the Prrrrs and Krrrrrsss and Trrrrrss.

Mommy attributes this whole episode to "caffeine deprivation".

Like Martin Mull once said

"Raising a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your head."

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08 July, 2008

The trip to the library - A Saga !!

Exactly how exciting does a trip to the local public library sound ? Something to look forward to – yeah – definitely. But exciting as in an adventure – hmmm … not really – right ?

Well, with the nutty siblings in tow, even something as normal as a trip to the library can – errr …. turn into a venture of sorts. Hazardous – maybe. Out of the ordinary – oh! most definitely.

It has been a while since Aparna turned into a bookworm. An Aparna without a book in tow or a book in hand is a species that has long gone extinct. When one sees her anywhere around, it is a very safe bet to assume that somewhere in the near vicinity, one would be able to find a book or two. And once engrossed in a book, she’d probably not realize it even if the sky fell down on her head. That is the intensity and the concentration and focus she exhibits whilst busy with a book.

Ever since Abhay developed a penchant for reading as well, Mommy’s trips to the library, needless to say, have more than doubled in frequency. The siblings are quite enterprising in that sense because when they have a couple of books yet to read, they start working on getting lazy Mommy to make that trip to the library to replenish the low inventory levels on their bookshelf.

Today was one such day. The morning saw the skies open up and it was pouring tigers and elephants but hapless Mommy had reconciled herself to a long trudge in the rains to the local public library. Given the choice between the siblings hankering for books or a walk through a crowded street during a heavy downpour – the choice is rather clear. A latter is definitely a preferable option when compared to handling two kids who go “cold turkey” and start to exhibit all sorts of withdrawal symptoms when their bookshelf gets empty.

The gods, however, seemed to have other plans. They probably decided to spice things up a bit. The rains stopped, the skies more or less cleared and the roads started to dry up a bit. And Mommy, in true Sancho Panza style, asked the siblings to accompany her to the library. “We’ll all go together and get lots of books” said Mommy and for good measure added “Oh ! It’ll be such fun.” The siblings were soon infected with the fun bug too and all three of us set out for the library.

Just as we were walking to the bus stop, pat came the question from Abhay “Do the mini buses have toilets inside them ?”. Screeeeechhhh. “Full Alert Full Alert” screamed just about every working bit of Mommy’s brain. Knowing Abhay and his habit of throwing a spanner in the works by wanting to go to the toilet at all odd places, Mommy was mentally scouring the roadmap to try and ascertain if there were any malls or huge buildings near the library into which she could rush with Abhay in tow, if indeed there suddenly developed a pressing need for him to use the loo.
The “trip” to the library had just about begun and Mommy was already walking on pins and needles !!

Just as we were walking on the sidewalk, Aparna, who was lost in a world of her own, stepped on Abhay’s shoes and Abhay, who thought it was a game of sorts, kept his leg pressed onto the sidewalk. As a result, Aparna who had already stumbled had one leg in the air and the other leg stumbled over Abhay’s leg which was very stubbornly pressed onto the sidewalk. Aparna went flying headalong and Mommy had to resort to hooking her fingers into the neck of Aparna’s T-Shirt to prevent her from crashing into the gate. Honestly, we must have looked quite a sight right then. The elder sibling looking sheepish, the younger one alternating between spates of giggles and claiming that his leg hurt because Aparna banged into it and Mommy – looking wild eyed at more such “adventures” to come and sighing with relief at having averted a mishap.

Reached the bus stop without any further incidents and as luck would have it, the frequency of the mini buses seemed to be extraordinarily bad today. “Why no buses for so long ?” queried the younger sibling. “Oh Gawd. Where aaareee all the buses ?” queried the elder sibling with a disgusted look on her face. Mommy made a mental note to ensure that these two get to travel on Bombay’s infamous public transport system the next time we’re there !! If not anything else, a trip on Bombay's BEST buses will make sure that the siblings don't ever complain about the transport system - anywhere !!

Bus arrived – all of us trooped in and the siblings were all hyped about the idea of all three of us sitting on one of the long seats – together. Not wanting to squash their hopes and those grins on their faces, Mommy complied. And all through upto the last bus stop the siblings were having fun and so was Mommy – cos it was akin to riding a roller coaster without the safety belts on. With every wild turn that the mini bus driver took, the siblings were busy with imaginary steering wheels and what not while Mommy was hanging on for dear life and hoping to God that she would not land rather unceremoniously on the floor of the bus anytime soon.

The actual “within the library” scene was quite uneventful. Neither of the siblings managed to get lost, they did not trip over their own feet nor did they trip anyone else. They managed not to walk into any of the bookshelves or the pillars or the walls. They managed to stay out of fights – with each other, of course. They managed not to fall from the little chairs that were rather strategically placed throughout the library and they managed not to practice Ashtanga Yoga on the library floor.

Books borrowed and we checked out of the library – all in one piece. Mommy, with bags slung on both her shoulders, laden with books, was beginning to rest under the assumption that “adventures” were all done and over with, for the timebeing. We went over to the fruit shop which had some real luscious mangoes and bought some. The nutty siblings were sure to drool all the way home.

Just as we were crossing one of the main roads in order to get to our bus stop, Abhay screeched to a halt. Assuming that he’d seen some car which had gotten his fancy, Mommy, who was holding his hand, urged him on to cross the road. “Mom, see – I have a nosebleed” came the statement. Knowing what was coming next, Aparna exclaimed “Oh Shucks ! I forgot to carry the tissue pack Mom”. Oh Lovely ! Normally Mommy always always has atleast 2 packs of tissue in her handbag. Today, with both siblings in tow, Mommy decided to leave her handbag at home and just carry her wallet. Mommy had indeed asked Aparna to carry a pack of tissues as her shorts had a couple of pockets in them. So – just this one day that none of us had tissues on us, Abhay went ahead and had a nosebleed – and a big one at that.

About turn right in the middle of the road and Mommy shunted both siblings into a nearby chemist shop. Now the local chemists stock tissues not by the dozen but in multiples of the dozen. Great work Sherlock ! Mommy now had a huge pack of tissue as well – which contained no less than 36 packs of pocket handkerchiefs. The lady in the chemist shop quickly opened a tissue pack and Mommy handed one to Abhay, who, in the meanwhile, had turned into the centre of attraction. People were staring at him with rather morbid curiosity - probably with scenes from movies like “Pandemic” and the like flashing through their heads. The local populace in HK is rather well known, among other things, for their paranoia.

Once the nosebleed stopped, the entourage continued their journey onto the bus stop with Mommy looking as though she’d just been on a tissue and mango shopping binge. We reached the bus stop without any further incident, only to realize that there were no buses waiting. Normally there are atleast five or six buses waiting at the bus stop for passengers. For a change, we had to wait for the bus.

Once we got our bus, Mommy did not even wait for the siblings to ask. She just plonked next to them on the seat. “Why did I get a nose bleed ?” queried Abhay. “Sometimes one of the little capillaries in the nose breaks and that’s how people get nosebleeds” said Mommy, who was wondering what “adventure” was waiting around the corner.

Just then, Abhay had another nosebleed. Pressing a tissue to his nose, he was repeatedly heard muttering “my nose broke” “Oh My nose is broken”. The word capillary had been conveniently discarded. It was a wonder that Mommy did not get handed over to the Social Services Department. Because he made quite a picture. Tissue pressed on his nose with small flecks of blood in it and completing the effect was Abhay muttering “My nose broke” “My nose is broken”.
The entourage finally made it home.

The elder sibling spacing out and floating somewhere in space, totally lost in her own thoughts. The younger one was lamenting on a “broken nose” with a tissue still held to his nostril for good effect. Mommy was trudging along like a zombie of sorts – with books, mangoes and tissues – looking forward to a good steaming hot cuppa coffee once the whole entourage got home – safe and sound !!!

William Bolitho once said

"Adventure must start with running away from home."

Mommy says Nah !! Nothing that drastic is really needed.

If it is an adventure one is looking for, all one has to do is take the nutty siblings along, wherever it is they are going. That, in itself, will lead to an adventure of a lifetime !!

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05 July, 2008

The Neighbor's House

Our neighbor is a very nice lady. I mean, if she puts up with the uproar and the din that the nutty siblings create at home and still has it in her to smile at them and say Hello every time she comes across them or us anywhere, then she’s got to be really nice at heart.

Vic, for one, has always maintained that aside of the terrible fear of spiders that our dear neighbor is inclined towards, she’d pretty soon develop a fear of children too – what with the absolute commotion that the nutty siblings are capable of summing up. Doesn’t seem like that’s happened – yet !!

So this morning, as I was traipsing along with my chores, trying not to stumble over my own feet, Abhay walks up to me with a rather serious and somber expression on his face and says “Hmmm … Mom … looks like I will have to go over to our neighbor’s house after all.”

Huh ???!!!!!!!

Here I was, scheduling one chore after another mentally and here he was, so totally living up to his habit and perfectly derailing my train of thoughts.

“Why would he say that ?” wondered Mommy, only to realize after a couple of seconds that Mr.E was still waiting and looking at me with that same serious expression. “What could be the reason for Mr.E wanting to go over, of all the places, to the neighbor’s house ? wondered a totally confused Mommy.


The light bulb finally went off inside Mommy’s caffeine-deprived brain as she realized that she need not figure this one out by herself. She just has to ask Mr.E for the reason behind that statement and then keep her fingers and toes and everything possible crossed in the hope of actually getting an answer to her question, and a sensible one at that. Because of late, Mr.E sure has developed a taste for answering a question with another question of his own. Mommy seriously wondered if this was going to lead to one of those never ending question to question to question sessions. Especially given the fact that Mommy had not had her morning dose of caffeine to kickstart her brains (or whatever is left of it) yet.

“Why do you need to go over to the neighbor’s house Abhay ?” went the question.

“Hmmm ……. see Mom – it’s like this.” said Mr.E with his brows furrowed, lips pursed and that index finger pointing towards nothing in specific. That serious, somber expression on his face stayed put.

“What is it Abhay ?” asked Mommy, who by now, was sincerely wishing she’d gulped down some coffee before taking Mr.E on. This seemed to be taking forever.

Finally, there was a long drawn out sigh from Mr.E. His shoulders slumped in what Mommy thought was some kind of resignation, his expression was one of total acceptance – come what may.

“See Mom – there is a problem.” said Mr.E.

Now Mommy was well and truly wondering what sort of problems a five year old could have that could actually have him wanting to leave the confines of his home and go over to the neighbor’s house.

“See Mom – I need to go to the toilet. Now – this is the problem. In our home, Aparna is in this bathroom and the door is locked and Daddy is taking a shower in the second bathroom and the door is again locked. So then, what should I do ? .”

“Hmmm ….. so Mom, now you know, I really will have to go over to the neighbor’s house.”

Mommy was so totally doubled up with laughter that she did initially fail to notice that merry twinkle in those mischievous eyes and the fact that the erstwhile serious, somber expression had now given way to a huge smile that creased that little face.

For those of you who are wondering by now, if he did make that trip to the neighbor’s house … well, he did not have to cos fortunately for him (and for us), Daddy had already finished his shower and like the saying goes …

“All’s well that Ends well” !!!!!!!!

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