29 September, 2008

Three Pieces of White Paper

“Three pieces of white paper” “Three pieces of white paper” “I need three pieces of white paper” rose the chant – frequent and repetitive. And the younger sibling was found rushing from room to room in search of “three pieces of white paper”. The mannerisms did remind Mommy of Indiana Jones – in his quest for something or the other. This was Indiana Jones sans the whip and the fedora !!

All in all, it made for some light entertainment on Saturday morning. It was rather funny watching him hunt for “three pieces of white paper”. Not that we have a dearth of white paper at home, but just that to lay their hands on it, one just has to look at the right places. Running around the whole house has never really helped achieve the objective of “finding something” but then again, no way Mommy was going to argue or reason with a five year old on a Saturday morning.

Finally, the inevitable happened – “Mummy I cannot find white paper a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e” came the exasperated statement.

“You just have to look properly” said the rather amused Mommy

“But I did. And I still can’t find three pieces of white paper.” said a rather annoyed five year old.

“Look where you’re supposed to look and you shall find them” said Mommy, looking more amused by the minute.

“But I DID Mummy. And I still cannot find them. Only three pieces of white paper Mummy. I only need three pieces of white paper." said the younger sibling, beginning to look rather exasperated :D.

The elder sibling was grinning from ear to ear like a wolf, thoroughly enjoying the scene that was unfolding on a bright Saturday morning. And that impish smile of hers was driving the younger sibling towards dangerous levels of exasperation, who, by now, was sporting an extremely irritated look, glaring eyes and his palms curled into fists on his hips !!

Even been in a situation where you’re dying to laugh but dare not ? It is killing, I tell ya !! Sheer torture !!

Finally, after having pointed the irate five year old towards the folder from which he could take “three pieces of white paper”, Mommy went back to her hot cuppa coffee.

There was total silence after he found his three pieces of white paper. There was not a peep from him. Not once did he venture out of the kids’ bedroom. Something was going on with the “three pieces of white paper”.

It was a while before the younger sibling emerged from the room – sporting a rather pleased smile, this time.

“I need to show you something” he said and dragged Mommy off. Had Mommy stalled even for a minute, he would probably have dragged just her hand off !!

The sight which confronted Mommy rather impressed her into silence. Words did fail and all Mommy could manage was a “WOW !”.

This was what the younger sibling had done.

He had made a food chain.

Three pictures, drawn on those three pieces of white paper and neatly arranged in the order in which the animals formed the food chain. With some help from the elder sibling, he had spelt the animals out too. Things could not have been made more clear.

The penguin niggled. It looked awfully familiar. Until the elder sibling pointed out to the source with a very impish smile on her face. Ah ! Of Course ! Who else could it be !

Mommy found him a piece of thick string and stapled the “three pieces of white paper” – for it to form a food chain that could be taped onto the window of the kids’ room.

Apparently, the inspiration for the food chain had been derived from this book.

The food chain described here was for animals on land. Mr.E decided to make a food chain about animals in icy water. “I made a food chain for animals in the icy waters in my imagination first and then I drawed it on three pieces of white paper. Because in our drama lesson at school, our teacher told us that we must imagine. Then we get new ideas.” was all Mr. E had to say.

He made it all sound so simple.

Reminded me of what George Bernard Shaw once said

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and finally you create what you will.”

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26 September, 2008

A Strong Cuppa Coffee a.k.a Oru Glass Kaapi !!!

It was rather artistic – the manner in which the barista was making a cappuccino. Hot espresso, hot milk and steamed milk foam .... voila – a frothy cup of cappuccino beckoned.

Just watching the barista at work sent me down memory lane. No No – I have not been a barista – atleast not in the true sense of the word. I’m talking about being catapulted into the world of steaming hot filter kaapis.

Filter kaapi or decoction kaapi is synonymous with just about every South Indian household. A coffee filter is essentially handed down to girls as they uproot themselves and leave their parental homes to “settle” into their in-laws homes after marriage.

What is it with the whole kaapi business, one might tend to ask. Well, making kaapi is nothing short of an art form. Especially with the filter and the decoction business. It is a skill which requires a rather large amount of knack peppered with quite a bit of deftness.

The entire process starts with a visit to the local coffee powder shop. During my childhood days, it used to be STM (Santacruz Tea Mart). Santacruz Tea Mart, much to my surprise, even today, is etched in memory. Those huge coffee bean grinders, that aroma of roasting coffee beans that invades the olfactory senses and sends the olfactory nerves into a total overload. That aroma which leaves one longing for a hot hot cup of kaapi right then and there. That fine brown coffee powder dust that used to settle all over the shop and much to my delight then, over the countertops too. Such a fine coating of coffee powder, invisible to the naked eye, yet something that one’s fingers could definitely “see”. Fine coffee powder dust which used to form the canvas to many of my doodles as we waited for the required blend of coffee beans to be powdered, weighed, mixed, sealed and delivered to us.

Those huge coffee bean grinders never failed to fascinate me. The utter casualness with which the coffee beans were poured into the grinders and the seeming ease with which the grinders crushed the coffee beans into “kaapi podi” (coffee powder) always unfailingly left me awed. The totally relaxed and airy attitude of the attendants in the shop was nothing short of amazing, for they always remembered exactly what combination of coffee beans each and every customer preferred. One look at my dad and the attendant would automatically reach for three different varieties of coffee beans and he would know exactly how many measures of each bean went into grinding the coffee powder that my dad normally bought. His own “made to order” kaapi podi. The kaapi podi that used to consistently create magic in a cup, time after time, over and over again, each morning.

My dad was the coffee in charge every morning. He would be the first one to wake up and make coffee for the entire household. Making coffee nowadays conjures up images of a bottle of instant coffee. But no. During my childhood days, instant coffee was nothing short of sacrilege. An insult, if you may, to good ole decoction kaapi – right out of the kaapi filter. Kaapi automatically meant “filter kaapi”.

There was one spoon which was slightly different from the other spoons, in that this particular spoon was more rounded than the other spoons at home. It was this spoon that had the honor of measuring out the kaapi podi into the kaapi filter every morning. That spoon would be set aside at night in readiness for the kaapi podi to be measured out the next morning. If that spoon were to go missing, trust me, all hell would have broken loose. It would have completely spoilt the rhythm, totally rocked the 'kaapi boat'.

Water for the kaapi filter used to be boiled separately in a steel vessel. Not the normal big vessel in which the drinking water was boiled by the litres. This was a much smaller vessel and only the amount of water required for the kaapi decoction was boiled with much ado, first thing in the morning. The kaapi spoon would come into play and a certain measure of kaapi podi would be spooned with utmost care into the filter. The same spoon would then be used to gently pat the kaapi podi into settling into the filter and the errant bits of the kaapi podi sticking to the sides of the filter would be dusted down with the spoon and patted into shape within the filter. By this time, the water would be bubbling and boiling and with some orchestra of its own (hot water sliding down a hot steel vessel does make a whole array of musical notes – very original) would be poured into the kaapi filter. The small steel lid of the kaapi filter would seal the filter and the delicious, rich aroma of ground coffee beans would fill the air, permeate the nostrils and make one anticipate and look forward to that first steaming hot cup of coffee, early in the morn.

The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. "Over The Teacups", 1891.

Yet again, no cup and saucer for this one. Filter kaapi in a glass with a davara to boot. Piping hot coffee in the glass which would be poured back and forth into and out of the davara for the coffee to slightly cool – just that wee bit so that the coffee did not end up burning ones palate. Each time the coffee would be poured out of the glass and into the davara and vice versa, the distance between both arms would increase constantly just that wee bit so that by the end of the process, it would seem as though the kaapi was being used by my dad as The Bullworker – workouts for the deltoids, biceps and the pectorals. Had this theory actually worked, my dad would have been lifting weights in the Olympic games !!!

Now if the whole process seemed smooth enough, trust me, it never was – atleast not when my dad was making the coffee. Now as fastidious as he was in making the coffee decoction, he was not really as finicky or fussy about the actual mixing of the coffee part. Nor was he very particular about how the other ingredients went into the coffee decoction.

After dad had finished making coffee for everyone in the morning, the kitchen platform would invariably resemble a large cake with sprinkles all over it. A few mini ponds of white liquid more commonly known as milk would also be seen pooling on the kitchen platform. In a few minutes, a few lucky ants would be seen merrily marching onto the kitchen platform to pick up the sugar cubes. I guess my dad thought that it would be good to begin the day by enforcing the “live and let live” policy to the fullest. Be Symbiotic, I guess was what he was trying to say. Live in harmony with the ants and other pesky pests which could be attracted to the sugar cubes. But symbiosis of this kind on a routine basis is, I guess, pretty exasperating. Needless to say, one look at the kitchen platform and my mom would go rather ballistic !

Ah ! What a way to begin the day .... steaming hot glass of filter kaapi and fireworks on the side !!

Whenever talk of kaapi comes up, I cannot help but recall what I’d once read somewhere about coffee.

“If you have never had coffee, you don’t know the real taste of life. Life is Bitter. Life is full of Flavor. And life should be enjoyed one cup at a time.”

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19 September, 2008

This is the way we think think think ..... :)

One evening, after a rather tiring bout of shopping and window shopping, we were perched in DeliFrance for some energy boosters. But Mr.E, fresh as a daisy, having placed his order with the waiter, seemed all set to deplete our already low levels of energy. We were sort of running on reserve batteries energywise and Mr.E seemed all bright and ready to deplete those resources too.

Out of sheer desperation, we told him that we would give him a question and that he would have to think real hard in trying to get the answer to the question. "OK. I will think, think and think lots", said Mr.E.

And he did ....... here's Mr.E, in his "Thinking Mode" ....

Thinking ........ Thinking .......... Thinking ......

Still Thinking ..... There's someone at the door ...... Rings a bell

And Yaaaaayy !! Got the answer :D !!! Someone's feeling mighty pleased.

Now for those of you who want to know what the question was - I honestly don't remember. :D

Important thing to note - the question was born out of a desperate need to keep him quiet for a while :D, while our brain cells (what is left of them, that is) recuperated from repeated bombardments of questions and counter questions from none other than Mr.E.

Now who was it that said "Necessity is the mother of invention" ?. :D

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18 September, 2008

When milk goes bad ........


What is that word synonymous with ?

Or for that matter, what isn’t that word synonymous with ?

Who does not consume milk – in one form or the other ? Almost everybody does. Except, I guess, that percentage of the population which is allergic to milk and milk products.

8000 !!! That was the figure quoted in yesterday’s evening news on TV. 8000 babies have been reported as having fallen sick – many of whom have developed kidney stones –some of whom have died.

Read more about the Tainted Baby Milk Tragedy here.

The scenario is so mutely horrifying. Each and every day this forms a major segment of the news – the only difference being that the number count keeps increasing.

It is heartrending to just sit and watch babies – wee little babies – being carried to hospitals for health checks, undergoing sonograms to check for developed kidney stones.

It is heartbreaking to watch the quiet desperation on the face of the parents, it is painful to watch that look of terror stricken panic on their faces as they clutch their babies close to their chest and wait their turn at the hospital. They hold on tight to their babies, arms around them, wanting to protect them from the ills of this world.

It is extremely easy and feels completely natural to identify with the furious parents, who scream and yell at the television reporters – all in an attempt to make their voices heard, their complaints registered, their pain vocalized.

But most of all, it is distressing to watch those little babies who have no clue as to what is happening, who have no idea why they’ve been taken to see a doctor, who, with their infantile eyes full of trust, have absolutely no clue that it is precisely that factor – one of trust – that has been broken big time.

When it comes to babies and children, parents do place their trust on another institution or a company – even when it is as simple as buying their products off the shelf. It is naturally assumed that sufficient care would have been taken to ensure quality control standards.

How many parents today must be reeling from that feeling of their trust having been broken ? How many parents today must be ruing the fact that they chose that particular brand of formula milk powder for their babies ? How many parents today would be wishing that they could go back in time ?

Judging by the fact that it is quite common among the local population to continue milk formulas for children well upto the age of 8-9 years, there is no saying where this whole thing is going to stop, or when. The enormity of the situation, when it does register its full impact, is horrendous.

Today morning, the radio news reported that this tainting of milk was not restricted to just formula milk. It has been found in the fresh milk too. What kind of possibilities does this raise now ? This same company could have supplied milk to many other companies for use in production of various other milk based products. The possibilities are endless, the scene growing more gruesome by the minute.

And what is being done to remedy the situation in the midst of all this ? From what the general public can see, everybody is busy passing the buck onto someone else, or atleast trying to. The company is passing on the blame over to the local farmers who sell them milk or whose cows are taken over to the company’s factory for milking. The company officials claim that the farmers have been adding melamine in an effort to raise the protein content in the milk ??????!!!!!!!! The farmers, on the other hand, say they are not even aware of the existence of a substance called melamine. So how could we use something we did not even know about ? they ask.

And what makes this whole issue sadder (if at all that’s possible) is the fact that things could have been brought under control much earlier. It need not have gone to this extent. A baby’s death was reported in May 2008, also linked to the chemical-laced milk. This was followed by another fatality in July, also linked to the contaminated milk powder. But there was no action taken. The milk powder was still being supplied, it was still being sold and parents, unknowingly, were quite literally and figuratively ‘paying’ for the milk powder that was being fed to their children.

A New Zealand based company, which has a stake in Sanlu (the company which has supplied the tainted milk powder), reportedly informed smaller local government officials that there was a problem with the milk powder. Apparently, the officials chose to do absolutely nothing. Corruption does indeed run deep. It was only when Prime Minister Helen Clark took a decision to bypass the smaller officials and contact the officials in Beijing directly, that things started to move.

There is a sense of totally misconstrued reality – one in which there is no sense of right and wrong. Principles and ethics have clearly taken a back seat or worse still, have ceased to exist, atleast among a portion of the population – that portion which was aware of what was happening and yet chose to remain silent, chose to continue making money.

It is quite a commonly known fact that values such a morals and scruples are no longer considered a necessity by this “developed or developing society” of ours. In fact, people who still hold on to such values are deemed “Jurassic”.

Where exactly is this moral erosion taking us ? What kind of people must they be, who knowingly choose to do nothing when they know for a fact that they are, by their sheer inaction, maiming and endangering the lives of the future of the country – the children and the babies.

Can human conscience be quelled to that extent ?

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12 September, 2008

Happy Onam !!

As does any other festival, Onam too brings with it hordes of childhood memories. The very word Onam conjures up memories that were colorful, festive and absolute fun. Onam was a time of the year when, for the most part, the whole family came together, gathered and celebrated.

Onam festivities began ten days before the Thiruonam star day (the most important day of the festivities). Pookalams (flower decorations) would be laid out in the prayer room as well as on the doorsteps of each and every household. What started on the first day of the Onam festivities – the Atham day – would see its grand culmination on Thiruonam day – when the Pookalams would be most elaborate, most complicated designwise and most colorful.

Early memories etched in my mind include getting up very early on all of these ten days and going flower hunting with my friends. A basket clutched in one hand or even a plastic bag, we would set out on our “flower hunt”. Competitors would be many – paatis (grandmoms) in their madisaars (traditional style of wearing a sari among the TamBrahms), uncles in their mundus (South Indian version of lungis – mundus are white in color) tied half mast (meaning folded up around their knees) and of course, many other kids – all with a common goal – that to make sure that their flower baskets or plastic bags get filled with as many varieties and as many flowers as possible.

More the flowers, the more variety one could infuse in the pookalam at one’s doorstep. And after all the Pookalams were done, in the afternoon – a whole horde of us kids would circulate from doorstep to doorstep – ooohhhing and aaahhing at the riot of flower induced colors at the doorsteps. To be very honest, there used to be some moments of critiquing too ! :).

And I do remember feeling full to the point of bursting after the Sadhya (feast) on Onam day. It was in the kitchen today that I realized that despite the fact that it has been many years since there’s been a traditional banana leaf feast, the taste of such feasts and the aromas that used to waft out of the kitchen on festival days are forever etched in memory. That distinctive aroma of plaintains being steamed, that lovely mouthwatering whiff of the milk being reduced in quantity for the pal payasam (kheer), the smoke from the oil being heated for frying pappadams, the crispness and warmth of freshly fried banana chips …….

It was during my college years that I found solace in The Narayaneeyam. During these Narayaneeyam sessions, our teacher used to narrate to us stories – stories from Indian mythology – and he used to take great pains in explaining to us the history behind each festival and the significance of how these festivals are celebrated.

He had explained to us, the significance and history of the festival of Onam in such a simple manner that it too has been etched onto the pages of my memory book.

ThiruOnam is celebrated in the Chingam month in the Malayalam Calendar. Onam is essentially a ceremony, a festival of Thanksgiving for a plentiful, bountiful harvest. Onam is also the celebration of the return of King Mahabali.

Legend has it that King Mahabali ruled over Kerala during the Golden Age. The Golden Age before caste and the caste system existed. The Golden Age when all people were considered equal.

The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise and judicious. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Rich and poor were equally treated. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Mahabali and everybody was happy and content.

His bravery and strength of character earned him the title of "Mahabali Chakravathy" or Mahabali - the King of Kings.

To curb the growing reign of Mahabali and maintain their own supremacy, Aditi, the mother of Gods sought the help of Lord Vishnu (the preserver in the Hindu trinity) whom Mahabali worshiped.

It was said Mahabali was very generous and charitable. Whenever anybody approached him for help or requested for anything he always granted the request. To test the King, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf and a poor Brahmin called Vamana. He came to the Kingdom of Mahabali, just after Mahabali performed his morning prayers and was preparing to grant boons to Brahmins.

Disguised as Vamana, Vishnu said he was a poor Brahmin and asked for a piece of land. The generous King said he could have as much land as he wanted. The Brahmin said that he just wanted as much land as could be covered by three of his footsteps. The King was surprised to hear this, but agreed.

A learned adviser of the King, Shukracharya sensed that Vamana was not an ordinary person and warned the King against making the promise. But the generous King replied that it would be a sin for a King to go back on his words. The King could not imagine that the dwarf Brahmin was Lord Vishnu himself.

Just as King Mahabali agreed to grant the land, Vamana began to expand and eventually increased himself to cosmic proportions. With his first step, Vamana covered the whole of earth and with the other step he covered the whole of the skies. He then asked King Mahabali where the space was, for him to place his third footstep.

The King realised that Vamana was no ordinary Brahmin and his third step would destroy the earth. Mahabali with folded hands bowed before Vamana and asked him to place his last step on his head so that he could keep the promise and at the same time ensure that the earth would not be destroyed. Vamana placed his foot on the head of the King, which pushed him to patala, the nether world. There the King Mahabali requested Vamana to reveal his true identity. Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King in his person.

Mahabali was so attached to his Kingdom and people that he requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year. Lord Vishnu was moved by the Kings nobility and was pleased to grant the wish.

It is the day of the visit of King Mahabali to Kerala that is celebrated as Onam every year. The festival is celebrated as a tribute to the sacrifice of King Mahabali. Every year people make elaborate preparations to welcome their King whom they affectionately call Onathappan. Thiruvonam is the biggest and the most important day of this festival. It is believed that King Mahabali visits his people on Thiruvonam day.

This Onam day, 12th September 2008, I leave you with pictures of the Pookalam at The Krishnans' ..........

Here's wishing one and all a very happy Onam !!

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08 September, 2008

Craftwork - Project Rakhi - 2008

The first time we'd tried our hand at making a Rakhi at home was for last year's Raksha Bandhan. Realisation did set in to the effect that the "feel good" factor with a homemade Rakhi is so much better and so much more than a store bought one.

That innate sense of satisfaction at making a Rakhi at home and at the siblings wide-eyed wonder and joy at the finished product is a sight to behold. Absolutely Priceless !! :)

So then, we embarked on making a Rakhi at home this year too. Unlike last year, when there was a last minute, desperate, wild-eyed search for the 'dhaaga' of the Rakhi, this year saw us rather well prepared in that department :).

Aparna had, earlier this year, brought home a small, dainty little pouch filled with goodies from one of her friends at school and the dainty little pouch was tied with a lovely thin ribbon. Red ribbon with gold fringe on the sides. And the moment I laid my eyes on that little ribbon, it kind of screamed out to me "Rakhi Rakhi" !! :). The rest, as they say, is history.

The ribbon was rather crinkled in places where it had been teased into a knot. Teasing it out of the knot was a different story altogether. Backbreaking actually. But once the knots were undone, it was well worth the effort. The little ribbon was sandwiched between two large, thin cotton towels and ironed out. Purrrfect !! The dhaaga was ready.

This time around, the nutty siblings wanted a Rakhi that was "star shaped". "Because he likes space so much" was Aparna's explanation. "Ooooo because I loooovee star shapes" was Abhay's explanation.

So a star shaped Rakhi it was to be.

Dug up the good old sheets of felt. This material is so amazing and so versatile. Finally, given that the dhaaga was red in color, we decided to go in for a two-tone Rakhi. Red felt and something that complemented the color red. Finally, it worked out to Red and Blue.

First step was to cut out a nice star shape on plain paper.

With the help of that star shape on paper, the outline on the red felt was duly accomplished.

Then came the tricky task of cutting out the felt. This requires a pair of very sharp scissors, especially while working on the corners and the nooks and crannies. A slightly blunt pair of scissors results in a fuzzy appearance around the corners.

Using the same star shape, we then cut out a larger star out of the blue felt.

Last year's experience had proven that Elmers glue does not, at times, ensure that the dhaaga stays put on the felt. Wanting to take no chances this year, we straight out garnered the help of the good ole 'needle and thread' duo. Unbeatable combination that !! :). The needle does have a penchant for soft fingertips, though !!

Once the dhaaga was sewed on to the blue star, the red star was glued onto the top of the blue star with Elmers glue. To ensure that it stayed in place, once again, five tiny stitches completed the task.

The basic framework done, it was time to unleash the magic of the tubes of glitter glue. Another very versatile element in craftwork - glitter glue. Works well on almost any surface or material.

Since the rakhi was star shaped, it did not give much room for any elaborate designs. Elaborate designs would have taken away the charm of the rather unusual shape of the rakhi as also would have given it a rather crowded appearance.

So we stuck to the simple "swastika".

Kids were absolutely thrilled to bits and one could see gazillions of little stars reflected in their wide-eyed look :).

One cannot really ask for much more than that :).

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04 September, 2008

Growing Up ....

It is often said that the going gets tougher as one gets older. Not just tougher actually, the going gets more challenging too. In more ways than one.

As one grows up, one realizes that there is more to a scene or a situation than what confronts ones sights. One begins to look for hidden clues to looks and glances, hidden meanings to sentences.

As one grows up, one realizes that there are more angles to a particular situation than they had earlier imagined.

As one grows up, one learns to differentiate between right and wrong by oneself and this leads to a lot of conflicts in its own way. The ever famous battle of the “heart v/s head”.

As one grows up, one learns that ones plus points can well come with their own set of disadvantages too – as far as the friends circle goes.

As one grows up, one learns that decision making can sometimes get very confusing.

As one grows up, one learns that one has to take what has been offered and try and make the best of the situation.

As one grows up, one learns that one has to, for the most part, battle against odds to get to where one wants to go.

As one grows up, one learns that one cannot always have things ones way – there is a give and take involved.

As one grows up, one learns that growing up can be pretty uncomfortable business.

As one grows up, one learns the hard way that growing up can be a rather taxing affair.

It has been a couple of weeks since school re-opened and Appu is often found lost, floating around in a haze and most importantly there was a definite lack of enthusiasm about school and its related activities. Right through the vacations, their group of girls have been cribbing about the fact that their group has been split up – the girls have ended up in different classes. The singular unit that they had going over the past couple of years has indeed been divided, in more ways than one.

At first, we attributed Appu’s lack of enthusiasm in going to school to the immense pressure that the kids are being put through this year. The pressure which was being slowly turned on since Year 3 increased a little further during their Year 4. But this year, it is almost as if all faucets have been turned on full force and the blast of pressure is hitting the kids smack on their face. For the first few days there was total bewilderment as if to say “Hey – what exactly IS happening ?”. They have been told, in no uncertain terms, that they are just a couple of years away from secondary school and that they are not kids anymore. Secondary school is not a walk in the park. They’ve been asked in absolutely clear terms to tighten their belts and get their acts together.

Just two weeks of school has already seen them take three different surprise spot tests in Math and the projects have begun to come in as well – fast and furious. Last week saw the submission of the first project and tomorrow will see the submission of the second project.

So all in all, we thought that it was the pressure that was taking its toll on Appu. Turns out, we could not have been farther away from the real source of the problem. To cut a long story short, what is troubling her is her friends “isolating” her in the academic environment. Of the other two girls who have been put in the same class, one is distinctly playing hooky and the other is toeing her line. In effect, in classroom situations where the kids are asked to pair off with another kid to finish classroom projects or work and meet deadlines – Aparna finds herself “outside” of her comfort zone – i.e the other two girls.

Since all classes have been mixed up, each and every kid has a partner from their previous year to work with. They have their own “comfort zones” and as is normal human tendency, there is a distinct unwillingness among the other children to “step out” of their comfort zones, change partners, let go of their old partner for a new one for their classroom work. This is not a new scene. Each and every one of us has had our own “comfort zones” at school and if at all relinquished, it has been with a great deal of unwillingness.

Another boy in class approached her and they paired off for the class project. Again she seemed to have run into a wall of sorts because her ideas were just not being taken into account. The reason stated to have been “I’m elder to you. So my ideas go in here. Not yours.”

All in all, this has resulted in a great deal of pent up anger, frustration, sadness and a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Basically what really irks her is the fact that while her mind bubbles with ideas, she is not able to implement and put across the same on paper. Because in her present surroundings at school, she seems to be running into walls. There is a distinct feeling of being “boxed in” and one of not having enough “elbow room”.

Not being able to stand aside and watching her feel so “down” about something, I have been wheedling her for information for the past few days and it was just yesterday that the dam broke. And all the problems and bottlenecks and frustrations came pouring out. It was not very difficult to see that she’s really hurting over being isolated by the other two academically. While all three of them still play together, have their lunch and snack together and share them too, when it comes to “classroom” work – the equation changes and tensions seep in.

This current situation must be bringing alongwith it a lot of confusion too. “Why are they doing this ?” being the topmost question. She's asked me this question, more than once. No one knows the answer to that one other than those two. For that matter, the age they are at, I sincerely wonder if the other two know exactly the reasoning behind their actions too.

All in all, it is going to take some time for her to find her equation in this class of Year Fives. School life, as she’d known it so far, has changed dramatically all of a sudden.

For us, as parents, to watch her go through this phase in life is painful too. To put things simply “when your child hurts, you hurt two times that much”. Yes, it does hurt. It hurts to see her trying to come to terms and cope with the situation that she’s facing at school. It hurts to see her put on a brave front as she goes to school every morning, knowing very well as to what lies ahead.

It hurts to see her hurting.

We know this is just a passing phase and that she will come out of it “head above water”. And we also make sure that she knows we are there for her – now and always. It is a good thing that she talks about it now rather than clam the whole issue up inside of her. In a way, it is a good thing that the problem has been isolated.

I, for one, do strongly believe in the saying “whatever happens, happens for a reason and that whatever happens, happens for the better”. Try explaining that to a 8 ½ year old !!! I guess it’s a little too early for that kind of philosophy !!

She’s a strong kid – mentally and emotionally. She has the capacity to cope with pressure. The question is more of having faith in herself. In HER having the confidence in herself to know that she can deal with and come out of situations with her head well above water. It is not going to be easy. But then again, when has growing up been easy ?

Like the quote from The Wonder Years goes

Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what's to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come.”

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01 September, 2008

The First Week of Primary School .....

As I type this post out now, my mind keeps going back by a week.

Exactly a week back, around this time, I was making my way back home from school, having dropped Abhay off for his first day of Primary School.

Yes – it has been one week of Primary schooling and quite a bit has indeed happened.

There have been quite some tears shed, there have been moments of fun, there have been the beginnings of new friendships, there have been tiffs, there have been complaints, there have been new avenues to explore …….. all of these and many many more.

The second day of school, Tuesday, saw a very nervous Abhay waiting for the school bus to ply him to school.
“What if I get lost ?” “After I get off the bus what if I don’t know how to get to my class ?” “What if I end up going to the wrong classroom ?” were the questions uppermost on his mind on Tuesday. Exercising every bit of self-control that can possibly be exercised, to stop myself from hopping into the bus right after him, I told him that he would manage just fine. “You’ll find your way sweetie. I know you can and that you will.”. After seeing a rather dubious and nervous Abhay off on the school bus, a equally nervous me, my head filled and floating with “what if’s” of all shapes and sizes, made my way back home from the podium of our apartment complex.

On speaking to a couple of other moms who had been on the school bus with their kids the second day too, we were given to understand that he had gotten off the bus when it reached school and did not wait for anyone to hold his hand or show him the way. He had walked ahead by himself and found his classroom and knew exactly what needed to be done. Lunch box into the big red lunch basket, snack box into the big blue snack basket and the fruit snack box into the big fruit snack basket. Waterbottle on top of the ledge, the summer hat slung over the water bottle on the ledge. Book bag into the big “book bag and diary” basket and finally, the school bag hung over the peg.

Apparently, making his way to his classroom all by himself had boosted his self-confidence quite a bit. Hence, later that morning, he excused himself to go to the loo and while on his way back to the classroom, decided to do some snooping around inside the school campus because he wanted to see “what was on the other side of the building”. Needless to say, Mr.E was quite lost inside the school campus. “What did you do then ?” I asked him. “I started to cry” came the defiant reply. “OK. But did you just stand there and cry ?” I asked. “I saw a Aunty with big glasses standing in the corner. So I went and told her that I’d lost my teacher. She asked me who my teacher was and when I told her my class, she helped me get back to the classroom. And after I reached my classroom, I took a tissue and wiped my eyes”. came the reply.

Probably a one-off incident, I thought. Proved wrong the very next day when he decided to go off gallivanting on his own to the school library. He has been eyeing the library for a while now and even during the vacations was seen peppering Appu with questions for a great deal for information about the library. Apparently, the luscious sight of a huge treasure trove of books proved quite too much and off he went, to the library. “The librarian told me that we’re not supposed to go to the library now.” he said, later on in the evening.

There have been tears on couple of other occasions too when he thought his teacher had suddenly gone AWOL. There was a huge crying session when he thought he had forgotten to carry his summer hat to school and had to sit out on the picnic table while the other kids played in the sun. Atleast so far, he files his “tears at school” report very diligently, once back home.

He quite loves the music sessions. Of late, humming something or the other had become a habit with him and now with a music teacher, that habit is being reinforced. And yes, it does help a great deal that his music teacher “is a girl teacher and she has long golden hair”. And it also helps tremendously that it is their music teacher who takes their “drama” sessions. Yes ! They have Drama as a part of their curriculum. Though honestly, kids nowadays don't really need "lessons in Drama". Drama is something that comes to them, rather naturally !!! :D

Mandarin (Putonghua) absolutely has him tickled pink and yesterday he found a book which had two Chinese characters on the cover page. Very confidently he walked up to us and said “Look at these. That is Ni Hao (Hello. How are you ?) in Chinese”. Needless to say, I fell for it - Hook Line and Sinker. And later on, felt like the biggest dolt on earth when Appu looked at the same Chinese characters later and said “I don’t know what these are. But whatever they are, they sure are not Ni Hao”.

The kids have already been assigned their tables and in all probability, serious studies would be commencing today. He is heard mentioning a lot of kids’ names too but the two names that keep popping up are Aleena and Caroline. “They are my friends and mummy – they are both girls” he added, rather helpfully, just in case Mommy had difficulty figuring that one out. You never know with Mommies !! They can be rather dense at times !!

P.E and Sport is a different story altogether. “P.E is eeeeeeewwwwwwww difficult. I get so tired.” is a oft heard complaint. Appu has also plied him information to the effect that they will be taught sports like soccer and rugby later on. When he was watching snippets of some rugby match on TV, his eyes almost popped out of his head. It was not very difficult to imagine what was going through that head of his. Given his rather puny physical stature, one could easily use him as a substitute for the rugby ball !! :D

We have a Parents-Teacher meeting to attend tomorrow – an informal session where all parents get to meet the teacher and are briefed on the daily routines at school as also the scope of study and the subjects that will be covered in Term One.

All in all, it has been a rather interesting first week of Primary School. Remains to be seen as to how it progresses.

To end this post with a picture …. here’s one of Mr.E wearing his P.E uniform for the first time, sporting his House Colors.

Stay tuned for more updates .....

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