16 December, 2009

Where have you been ??

........ is the one question that I've been answering rather frequently over the past few days.

There have been so many emails from friends all over, friends who've been wondering how I managed to disappear over the past two months and more importantly, where ??

Well, so then .... what exactly have I been upto over these past two months ??

Simply put, I was busy studying !! I'd been busy with my CertTESOL - a course which, upon completion, would leave me qualified to teach English as a Second or an Other Language.

The past month has been a very very intense one. To sum the journey over the past month, I simply reproduce here the summary that I submitted at the end of the course - to my tutors and the moderator.

"The overall experience of the CertTESOL journey has been quite amazing. It has been such a mix of emotions over the past month. It has been insanely intense, it has been a challenge like nothing I’ve faced before – yet, I can say with total certainty that it is absolutely “doable”.

Never before had I even imagined that learning a foreign language could actually be an enjoyable experience. All of those attitudes and more, changed when we were put in the position of “learners of a language hitherto unknown”. We had four input sessions on Dutch and it was remarkable. It brought home the message that learning a foreign language does not have to be a chore. It can be an extremely pleasant process. I’d never thought that I had it in me to go about learning yet another language. But I did. Well, atleast, a part of it J. The message was loud and clear – “Learning English does not have to be a chore for your students. You, as the teacher, can make it a pleasant learning experience for them.”

This past month has been one of revelations on many different planes. I knew what I was getting into when I applied for the CertTESOL. I was mentally geared up for an extremely intense one month. I was mentally geared up to move family and kids to second place. I barged into TESOL with those twinges of guilt (sometimes little, sometimes big) in knowing that my family was going to have to live with the fact that, for the next one month, TESOL would have to take precedence.

The course began. The very first day of the course and by evening I was completely overwhelmed. The question that kept ringing in my head like a rather incessant bell was “What have you got yourself into ?”. A couple of days into my course and that sensation of being overwhelmed continued. Little did I know that it was just a question of my body and mind adjusting and rewiring themselves to the fact that stress was a factor that was there to stay – at least over the next month.

I could recall very vividly, a program that I’d watched on TV well before the CertTESOL began. A program which, had then seemed totally incredulous to me. It said that one could really push the human body and the human mind to limits hitherto unimagined. More importantly, the more you demand of your body and mind, the more your body and mind gives you.

Now, looking back over the past month of CertTESOL, I can completely vouch for that fact.

Weeks two and three (week three especially) really pushed me to my limits. There were sleepless nights when I was compiling my Learner Profile and I’ve always been the kind of person who could not survive without at least 8 hours of sleep, each day. Yet, here I am, perfectly sane !! J

On days when I felt really down, the support that I’ve received from my peers and my family was just awesome. While on the topic of peers, I have to mention that they are such a lovely bunch. I’m fortunate to have met so many lovely people through this course.

If anybody were to ask me “What, in the CertTESOL course, has been absolutely invaluable ?” – my answer to them would be very simple.

TP’s. The Teaching Practice Sessions !!

Through the past month, the teaching practice sessions have been priceless. It has helped me learn so much. The feedback sessions have been very valuable and extremely useful in fine tuning the areas that needed to be improved when I was out there teaching. The TPs are geared and designed to bring out your strong points as well as your weak ones. This, in effect, makes one realize that one needs to hold on to ones strong points while at the same time, work on the weak ones to improve them.

Each TP was a challenge. Each TP focused on different aspects of the English language and each TP required us to bring in many different approaches to our teaching and to get our points across to the students. I now realize that all that tweaking and fine tuning has been such an incredible learning experience.
The result being that it rounds off your abilities, it hones your skills, it flexes your capabilities and maximizes your potential. It is aimed at making you a much better teacher than you otherwise would have been. It makes you exercise all your faculties and of course, there are times when it makes you question your own competence as a teacher. Over the past one month of teaching practice, I’ve been through all of these and much more.

Simply put, it helps you evolve as a teacher.

The feeling now is one of total amazement. I’ve learnt so much in the space of the past month. Never before had I contemplated anything on this scale and never before had I imagined that it would be possible to achieve so much in just a month. The CertTESOL has, for sure, changed my outlook.

It feels totally incredible to sight the light at the end of the tunnel :).

The amount of support and encouragement that I've received over the past month from my family, has been awesome. I shall hold that feeling very close to my heart.

Last but most definitely not the least, my online friends - who've been such a wall of support, such a source of strength and encouragement. A special mention to my online voice of sanity :)) - you know who you are :)).

All of you who were a part of this journey with me over the past month, in person, over the internet, in thoughts, in wishes ........

I thank you all, from the deepest depths of my heart.


The Freshly Minted TESOL :))

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06 October, 2009

Macademia's gone camping

Pecan is, right now, running up and down the passage way at home – his version of “running around in circles”, I guess !!

Why ? Does he not have anything better to do ?

As of now, no – he doesn’t. Life has been quite dull for Pecan since yesterday. Dull because Macademia has gone off to camp. And this time around – it is serious business – camp for a whole week. She’ll be back on Friday evening.

On normal days, Macademia and Pecan start their tiffs and their ritual sparring with each other right from the moment they wake up in the mornings. This goes on until they board their respective school buses which ferry them off to their respective school campuses.

The squabbles then begin once again in the afternoon ….. and of late, Mommy has been divested of the responsibility of going downstairs and getting Pecan back home from the lobby when the school bus drops him back. Macademia has taken over that responsibility. Since her bus gets her home first – she comes home, drops off her school bag and whizzes downstairs to the lobby before Pecan’s bus gets there to drop him off.

And the squabbles start in right earnest right from the moment he steps off the bus. Invariably, as Mommy opens the front door, she is greeted by the sight of the nutty siblings glaring away at each other – hands on hips and what not.

Well, Pecan sure seems to be missing all that action :).

Macademia’s camp this year is different from the camps that she’s attended when she was in Year Three, Four and Five of school. This year, not only is the camp a whole week long, it also stresses a great deal on individual responsibility.

The kids will be housed in dorms this year (unlike last year when they had to pitch their own tents and camp out on the beach). Unlike the past few years where all meals have been the responsibility of the school – this year, the kids have had to carry money.

They would have to use their own money to buy their lunches and drinks and bottled water etc …

While, at the outset, this sounded incredibly exciting to most of the kids, that feeling of responsibility eventually set in when they realized that they would be solely responsible in safeguarding the money they were carrying.

They have to make sure they allocate their financial resources wisely – to provide for their lunches, drinks, water and probably at the end of the week …. if they wished, to buy some small souvenirs from the island they’ve gone to.

There have been instances in the past wherein kids have splurged on souvenirs right at the beginning of camp only to find themselves short of cash towards the last couple of days of camp. That sure would have meant meager drinks and lunches towards the end of camp.

They have to make sure they keep their cash safe and they have to maintain their accounts and make sure that their cash balances at the end of the day tally. Now, the onus is on them to order their lunches in such a manner that they have a balanced diet. There’s no one to guide them – not for this one week.

While breakfast and dinner will be provided to the kids in the dining hall of the dorm, there is something different about these too. The kids have been divided into duty groups. And each duty group has been assigned their duties for each day. It would be the responsibility of the duty groups to set the tables for breakfast and dinner – as has been scheduled. The concerned duty groups would have to go over to the kitchen and carry the breakfast and dinner from there to the dining hall and set it all up – for everybody to have breakfast. All 150 kids plus the school teaching staff who are at camp with them.

The kids have to clean their own dorm rooms and that includes the bathrooms too. They have to sweep the rooms and make sure the bathrooms are spick and span after all four kids in the room are done with their showers. Thus, the school ensures that the kids reach an agreement amongst themselves in setting down their daily “room cleaning” schedules. It would be a Division of Labor – but the kids would have to divide it amongst themselves. No one would be telling them what to do.

One evening out of the five evenings they are at camp, the teachers would divide them into groups and each group would be given a budget. They would be handed that amount of money and each group has to go by themselves to nearby restaurants, look at the menus, decide, order, eat and at the end of it all – pay up the bill by themselves. Again, it would mean staying within the budget and yet making sure there are no major differences in opinion about which restaurant to go over to for dinner and at the end of it all – it would involve checking the tab to make sure they have not been overcharged and also to make sure that they get the right amount of change back from the restaurant.

The best part is – in all of these five days – they are allowed to go over to McDonalds just once. For just one meal. For the rest of their meals, they would have to frequent the local restaurants. And having been to this particular island, we know for a fact that frequenting a local restaurant means the kids will have to speak Cantonese when it comes to ordering their food and for any other requests they may have at the restaurants.

Their days are full of activities. They have long walks scheduled, they have hikes up hills, visits to the Pagoda, a trip to a rather wonderful sounding “Pirates Cove”, lunches at the beach, campfires, a whole plethora of games like badminton, table tennis, swimming, basketball ....

It is indeed a wonderful week for the kids to learn “responsibility” – not just the dictionary meaning of the term – but in their own many little ways – they are responsible for themselves and their close circle of friends around them – for the whole week.

It sounds like a wonderful journey – one that would probably make them more “grown up” in their approach to so many things – most of which have, until this one week of camp, been taken for granted.

Like Abigail Van Buren so rightfully said once

“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”

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05 October, 2009

Is Planet Earth a living thing ?

The Abhayisms have all but stopped, have they not ?

It’s not as if Pecan has stopped dishing out wisecracks. Oh no ! He has not. It’s just that there is something different about the “Abhayisms” now.

Situations do bring about witty ripostes and retorts do fly quite often. But they are somehow different in composition. There are times when the quips and questions seem quite “grown up”.

That babyness, that innocence that one associates with a wide eyed wonder that only little children are capable of – it is that gullibility that makes all the difference.

There is an element of assurance about Pecan nowadays. Something that was not so evident even last year – but something that is so markedly present this year. There is an air of confidence and even when he retorts with a quip – he does so in a rather measured manner.

The thoughts which seemed rather scattered before – so scattered that they used to fly in from all directions – are now focused.

Where there used to be high pitched giggles hitherto, now there is a knowing smile. Where there used to be that slight element of uncertainty while putting forth facts in his statements, now there is a stillness, a certain element of poise.

Where there used to be an element of “oh I need to check on that before I say it out aloud”, now there seems to be a distinct sense of assurance, one of self-belief and self-reliance.

So where Pecan used to dole out Abhayisms that used to have people rolling on the floor, uncontrollably laughing – he now dishes out what we’ve termed “gyaan”.

The questions and queries have an element of seriousness about them and at times – are quite profound. Wherefrom do such thought processes originate – he does make us ponder over that question many a times, nowadays.

“Sometimes he seems way beyond 6 ½ years of age” was what Vic said the other day.

The queries, yet again, seem to originate after a lot of thought having been attributed to them. It is not a “flash in the pan” kind. He’s thought about it and when he puts forth his queries, it is almost as if he is asking for inputs, different angles to the query – rather than the solution as a whole. Some more angles, so that he can ponder over it some more and come up with more complex questions.

“Would you say that Planet Earth is a living thing ?” was one such query.

To be honest, it threw me. How does one respond to something like that ? It cannot be responded to immediately – just some answer just to stop the questions from flying across. It was a question that deserved more respect, it was not a query that could be answered with just a Yes or a No.

“What would you say ? Is Planet Earth a living thing according to you ?” I asked him.

“See – Planet Earth has things on it that helps people, animals and insects to live. It has grass for animals to eat, it has water for people and animals to drink, it has oxygen for all living beings to breathe. But all these things are there ON Planet Earth. So Planet Earth helps living things to live. No other planet in the solar system can have any living thing living on them. They’re too cold or they’re too hot or they don’t have air that people can breathe or they don’t have water. Seeds are put in the soil and they grow. Clouds give us rains. Oceans have coral reefs – and coral reefs which look like stones or hard sponges – are actually living things …..”

“So God made only Planet Earth the place where living beings can live. That is why I’m confused. That is why I asked if Planet Earth is a living thing ?”

I think the point he was and is trying to make is that only something living can sustain another life. That is what I’ve managed to gather from his thought processes.

So, I now pose this question to you who is reading this at this very moment –

In your opinion, is Planet Earth a living thing ?”

Dr. Ralph Gerrard once said

"Reason can answer questions, but imagination has to ask them."

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19 September, 2009

Cultural Identity in Children

I’ve always wondered how or if things would have been different for the kids, had we been living in India and not abroad. I don’t quite mean this in the academic sense actually. I’m looking at this more from the cultural point of view.

I personally feel that growing up abroad, in a lot of ways, insulates the children from being exposed to the Indian culture in all its abundant glory. Music, Fine Arts, Festivals and much much more. What they see abroad is a mini version of the culture that one steeps in back home.

My cousins back home don’t necessarily agree with this point of view. “Many of the children out here are so overburdened with school work that they don’t have time to imbibe any of the culture that you speak of. Arrey - end of the day your kids know more about the Indian culture than ours” is what they say.

The last time we’d been to India, people back home were amazed by the fact that Macademia and Pecan have a daily prayer routine and that they chant prayers that some of the adults in India have not mastered as yet. They were amazed by the fact that Macademia and Pecan were more than familiar with ancient mythological tales and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

See, that’s precisely my point. Such things should not actually fall into the category of “amazing”. They are something that is expected of children growing up back home in India. So then, why should children growing abroad be given any concession ?

Macademia and Pecan don’t even speak our own mother tongue. Macademia does understand and tries to speak in bits and pieces but with Pecan, we’ve managed to make absolutely no headway at all. Truth be told, it is not a fact I’m proud of. But fact, it is. I do believe that children should know how to converse in their mother tongue and also the national language. My own kids don't.

But out here, this is a general trend that I’ve noticed. Hardly any kids speak their mother tongue and the language they automatically opt for in a conversation is English. They have to speak fluent English by the time they’re 3 ½ if they have to get admission in an English kindergarten and from then on it just goes on and on. English automatically takes precedence and in the case of Macademia and Pecan, somewhere along the way, speaking their mother tongue has been totally run off the road.

As parents, the onus is on us now to impart atleast some working knowledge of Hindi and our mother tongue, to both Macademia and Pecan. And this, we’re beginning to realize, is easier said than done.

Ever heard of the term “Third Culture Kids” ?

Third Culture Kids are those who have spent their growing years in a foreign land and experience a sense of “not belonging” to their passport country when they return to it. In living abroad, they have also missed learning ways of their homeland and feel most at home in the “third culture” that has been created.

This is so true – so true that it is worrying to a certain extent.

Macademia and Pecan, when we go over to Bombay, have not experienced the “real” Bombay – in any sense of the term. They are insulated there too. For them, as of today, Bombay or Kerala are holiday destinations and not their roots. The last time we had been to Bombay and were heading back to HK, I did hear Pecan mentioning to Macademia “Hey Aparna – today we’re going back home to HK”.

Exactly how much does being a “Third Culture Kid” affect their cultural identity ? Which culture do they identify with later on in life ?

With Macademia and Pecan, I’ve seen that they are conversant with Indian customs and traditions, the festivals, what the significance of each festival is, how it is celebrated and why, what are the traditions etc … but when it comes to speech, I’d even go to the extent of saying that they’re more comfortable with Mandarin or Putonghua than they are with Hindi or their own mother tongue.

We do realize now that as parents with our children growing up abroad, we need to go that extra mile (or make that a few multiple miles) in developing awareness and an appreciation for the “culture” they belong to alongwith the “culture” they’ve adopted.

The project on hand – which, needless to say, is going to be a long process – is to try and get Macademia and Pecan back on line with speaking their mother tongue and Hindi. What I’ve realized over a period of time is that it is indeed the parents’ responsibility to try and keep the languages alive at home and teach the kids to converse in their mother tongue. This would enable them to keep relationships alive with those members of the family who do not speak English. It will help maintain that vital link in both Macademia and Pecan’s life - a link that is so essential. Simply put, language is that vital link that connects different generations of the family.

Probably, they’d be able to relate better and understand the Indian culture better and to see themselves as a part of their roots.

Who knows ? A speaking knowledge of their mother tongue and their national language might well prove to be that crucial fundamental factor which would help them to make sense of which their dominant culture is, as they grow.

There are many of you who are in the same situation as we are today. What are your thoughts on these ? How do you opine ?

A penny for your thoughts ??

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18 September, 2009

Market Day Stalls

Yesterday was Market Day at Macademia’s school campus.

Their school does come up with rather novel concepts – thus creating an atmosphere in which the kids are enthused enough to give it their best and the whole thing works out to be a huge learning experience as well.

Yesterday’s Market Day Stalls were one such endeavor.

The Year Six students had to set up their own Market on the floor on which the Year Six classrooms are located. They could use the classrooms, their own desks, the corridor to sell their wares.

Who would be shopping at their stalls ?

Their customers were the Year Four students, Year Five students and of course, the teaching community at their school.

While this seems rather uncomplicated at first glance, it was quite a task for the Year Six students.

They had to make decisions on whether they were going to be working alone or in groups. They had to decide on what they were going to sell at their stall. They had to prepare their own posters/advertisements to entice the Year Four and Year Five students and the teachers to buy the product which they had up for sale. They had to decide on what they were going to sell – it could be food items, craftwork, misc items . They had to decide on whether they were going to sell readymade stuff (bought by them from the market commercially) or to make their own at home and sell it at their stall.

Most importantly, they had to decide on the pricing of the item. If they worked in groups, the profit would have to be equally shared among the group members – irrespective of how much each one had sold individually. But they could divide their duties – one would be in charge of advertising, one in charge of the money etc. If they chose to work alone, the profit was all theirs to reap but there was so much more of work to be done – all by that one student alone.

For the Year Fours and Fives too – the task on hand was not as simple as it seemed. They would be given teaching money (fake money) @ 7 dollars per student. They had to spend it wisely – look around all the stalls, decide what they wanted to buy and then budget their expenses.

Macademia had already decided that she was going to work alone on this particular project.

"If I were to work in a group, lot of time will be wasted just deciding what to sell. I'm seeing it happen with others - if one likes one item the other person in the group does not. So I rather work alone" she said.

Then came the clincher when she said "I'm going to be working just as hard in a group as I would if I set up my stall all by myself. Also, there are kids who will do nothing but just by being a part of the group, they would get a share in the profits. Why should I share the profits with people who don't work ?" she asked.

Macademia was clear on what she wanted to sell at the market stalls. “Not food” she said.

When asked “Why not food ?”, the reasons stated were

1. Most of the children are going to be selling food.

2. The Market Stalls would be open immediately after snack time at school. So the kids would have already had their snack just before they hit the stalls. Highly possible, their tummies would be quite full from their snack boxes. So selling food is not such a good idea.

3. Cooked food could well get spoilt in this hot humid weather. It would have to be cooked in the morning before leaving for school and it would have to stay (without refrigeration) until late morning (say 11 am). So it is not a very safe idea either.

4. The item has to be of use to people. They should be able to keep it for quite some time and use it in their daily lives. So I choose to opt for craftwork.

Now Macademia wanted ideas on what kind of craftwork could sell. Also, it had to be the kind of craftwork which we could put together in a couple of days time. There had to be a good number to sell and it had to be done quickly. We put our heads together and decided that bookmarks would be a good idea.

Macademia wanted to sell one more item besides the bookmarks. We began by thinking about what children use regularly at school.

Pencils and Pens !!

We then put our heads together and came up with the idea of making something to put on the ends of the pens and pencils that would jazz up the concept of “just a pen and pencil”. We decided to try and make these pen/pencil decorators with material such that once that particular pencil was small – the children could just take off the decorators and put them onto another pencil or pen of their choice. Basically, the pen/pencil decorators had to be reusable.

And after two days of work, these were what we came up with ….

Bookmarks ....

Leaf Shaped Bookmarks

Heart Shaped Bookmarks

Yet some more bookmarks :) ...

Pen/Pencil Decorators - Flowers and Hearts

Here are some cars, the school logos, a basketball and a police badge

Yet another basketball, a soccer ball, a star, some more school logos, a smiley face and two pretty pretty butterflies :))

The kids loved it, the teachers loved it and sales were indeed very brisk.

All in all, Market Day has been deemed a huge success !!

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09 September, 2009


The day began - all rainy, grey and wet
And through it all, I was rather inept.
The alarm which was set, did ring
I put it off and overslept !!

A while later, I was boxed
What’s in there ? I was foxed
Two boxes lay in wait
Waiting for me to take the bait

A giggle here, A giggle there
Two little voices piped “What’s in there ?”
Boxes to open, treasures to find
Oh ! What did they have, for me, lined ?

A sleek, black rectangle shone
Encased in its plastic dome
A world of music lay in wait and winked :)
With Songs and tunes which Vic had synced :)

The bigger rectangle now was open
Its contents pouring forth in gay abandon
Macademia and Pecan were thrilled
My eyes had quite some filled
For there he was, smiling as ever
The remover of obstacles, The Supreme Benefactor !

The phone began to ring,
And has been ringing
Relentless and Persistent, the calls came in
Countless wishes came ringing in

All filled with love and cheer
Voices of all those near and dear
Left my heart feeling all fuzzy and warm
Within my mind – they raised a sweet storm.

Wishes on Facebook and SMS’s today
All of you really made my day !

The icing on top of the cake, they say
As it turns out, was on its way
Three dearest friends, it seems had planned
To find a way to fox me – a plot they’d fanned

Landed in my email box, colourful as a fiddle
All cheery and vibrant – three little riddles
T’was fun to crack them and be on my way
To see what it was that these three had to say

To end this ode, all I can say to each and every one of you
From the very bottom of my heart, I Thank You !!

Like G.K.Chesterton once said

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought ; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

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04 September, 2009

The Harry Potter .......

...... mania seems to have subsided in the younger sibling. Gone are the spells - we do hear them intermittently, though. But gone are the days when Potterish spells were used as a primary means of communication - thus making home feel like an alien abode with loads of "language hitherto unheard of" floating in the air.

(sigh) - That's a huge sigh of relief, by the way !!

The only thing about Harry Potter that still has Pecan all awed is the flying broomsticks - which apparently have names too !! The sight of those broomsticks zip zap zooming through the air with Harry and his friends/foes perched on them, does definitely evoke a wide eyed "awweeeeesooommmmeeeee" or a "coooooaaaa" from the younger sibling too.

Macademia, on the other hand, is really going strong with the Potter Mania. The past week has had Macademia sitting with a book of rather gargantuan proportions. God ! It must take quite some will power to actually sit through a book that large -so large that it puts the encyclopedia to shame !! She was busy reading "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix".

Now, Macademia has been home all week - as in - away from school because of a rather persistent cold, cough which simply refuses to let go of her - just as she refuses to let go of the Harry Potter books :)))).

Needless to say, she’s really irritated by this “turn of events” which have forced her to stay at home and miss school for – horror of horrors – a whole week !!!!!!! It takes very little to invoke Macademia’s wrath.

The icing on top of the cake – Pecan caught the bug too and has been home for the past three days.

Today morning, when I called up the school bus mother to tell her that Macademia would not be going over to school today too – her question to me was “Does she have the H1N1 flu ?”. I assured her that the H1N1 is nowhere near Macademia (no one in their right mind would be, right now) and turned around to see Macademia standing right there – as though she was all set for war.

Hands on her hips, eyes blazing (trust me – she was a sight to behold – she had me rather petrified) – she looked all set for a warpath of sorts.

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaatttttttttttttt ?????????” came the holler, next. It was loud enough for the thunder, which had been threatening to rumble since morning, to beat a rather hasty retreat.

“Is the bus mother out of her mind ? I have a cold, for god’s sake. Not H1N1. Arrrggghhhhhhh” said Macademia, letting off steam.

After Macademia had been sufficiently (I thought so) placated over this issue, I escaped into the safe, welcoming confines of the kitchen, assuming that the crisis had passed.

Time would tell me exactly how wrong I had that pegged down.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” came the scream.

Macademia had been sitting on the sofa muttering “Why is this cold taking so long to go off ?” and right then, in walked – who else but the great Pecan.

Pecan heard Macademia’s question and retorted in a very straight and solemn voice – totally misleading people into believing that what was coming was not a serious statement but rather a missile loaded with mischief and jest.

“I know what is wrong with you Aparna. You have The Phoenix Avian Flu” and then paused for a second for that added emphasis on the dramatics.

“See – that’s what you get for reading The Order of the Phoenix all week long !!!!”

The laughter rumbled and erupted just as the screaming began …… !!

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20 August, 2009

The Quietness of Mornings ....

...... was something Mommy had forgotten about over the past couple of months. Ever since the summer break from school began, there was no need for the nutty siblings to rush out of bed in the mornings. They could sleep in as late as they wished to, without worrying about the alarm clock ringing out a loud and shrill “Good Morning”. The very same held true for the adults in the household as well.

Mommy had, over the past couple of months, temporarily given up on her role of the walking talking alarm clock. Mommy used to be the “back up” alarm clock for Macademia and Pecan – in the event of their teddy bear alarm clock failing in its duty to wake the siblings up.

Invariably, the teddy bear would fail. While it would successfully wake up half the apartment block (yes, it is that loud !), the nutty siblings would continue to snooze in veritable peace, bundled far away in their own la-la land.

Over the past couple of months, the adults in the household too had slipped into the habit of waking up much later than they normally would have – when school was on.

Today morning was different.

Mommy was out of bed at the crack of dawn – well – not quite. Mommy was up and around by 5.30 am. All was quiet and the entire house was still. Even Timmy the Turtle was fast asleep, its limbs all stretched out in the bathtub. It barely bothered opening one of its eyes and gave what Mommy gathered was a rather disgusted look. “Who in God’s name wakes up at such unearthly hours ?” was what the look seemed to say. It was a look that spoke volumes, actually. And just as Mommy was about to say “sorry for having disturbed your slumber, Timmy”, Timmy yawned and just settled back to sleep – just like that !!

Mommy opened the windows and looked at the roads and realized, much to her surprise, that there was barely any traffic at this time of the morning. No sounds of vehicles or blaring of the horns, no pots and pans clanging anywhere in the near or distant vicinity – nothing. Nothing but a softness, a calmness that pervades the senses and settles itself in.

An abundant peace seemed to manifest itself, a quietude, a stillness – a distinct sense of tranquility. Almost out of habit, Mommy’s hands reached for her IPod which then went on to its dock and seconds later – the soft tones of the Mahishasura Mardhini Stotram filled the air.

Yes – there is indeed something magical about early mornings. That sense of peace, of oneness with oneself and ones thoughts, the calm and the quiet of nature too – as the barely softest of sun rays begin to peep through the fluffy white of the clouds, the serenity that abounds …. is a feeling that is refreshing beyond compare. All is silent, except for the soft, muted chirping and twittering of birds – heralding the beginning of yet another day.

As Emme Woodhull-Bache once said

"I love the sweet smell of dawn -
our unique daily opportunity to smell time,
to smell opportunity -
each morning being, a new beginning."

Macademia and Pecan were up and about too – by 6.30 am – all excited about the prospect of a whole new year at school. Mommy leaves you with a picture of Macademia and Pecan, all set and ready for their first day of a fresh academic year at school.

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18 August, 2009

The summer holidays .....

....... had been rather busy with the nutty family starting their househunting. Things got progressively insane as the nutty family prepared to move into another apartment (oh yes ! we actually found one !!) . Once the move was done and over with, the senior members of the nutty family a.k.a Daddy and Mommy – pretty much teetered on the brink of insanity – while they worked at making home look like home and not a cave !!

A new apartment found, moving done and over with and as we are almost settled in - the summer holidays too have come to an end.

Well – almost. Just another day to go. Schools re-open on the 20th of August.

Much to Mommy’s chagrin, she has been feeling a bit low about this actually. Exactly how confused can one get ??? Through the summer holidays, Mommy was pretty much ready to jump at the accusation that Macademia and Pecan were absolutely driving her up the wall. And now that schools are all set to open, Mommy realizes that she would kind of miss having Macademia and Pecan around – all day.

Well, all good things come to an end and so is the case with the summer holidays too.

Macademia starts her last year of Primary School and the next academic year will see her stepping into Secondary school. Mommy wonders how exactly time zipped past at the speed of light – she still remembers the little toddler who loved to chew on shoes and the little child who used to quite literally “roll” into kindergarten everyday – insisting that her butterfly clip was the only one she would wear to school.

Pecan steps into his second year of Primary School with good memories of the first year. The first year of Primary School which saw him come out of his shell, grow in confidence and get more assertive. Come the next academic year, Pecan will start going off on overnight camps too.

So here’s to a brand new school year and here’s wishing both the nutty siblings another great school year to come.

To the both of you, as you head back to school, here's a quote that says it all ….

May this coming school year bring you happiness galore
And may you enjoy it – right to the very core !!!

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24 July, 2009

Riddles to the Rescue :))

Remember those dreaded spelling tests ? Oh ! I do remember the spelling tests they used to give us at school. Our English teacher used to look as menacing as the giant when dear old Jack was running down the beanstalk and we used to really sweat it out through the spelling tests.

The much hated, infamous ruler is known to have cracked across quite a few palms and worse still, knuckles – before some children got their spellings right.

Gone are those days, though. Now, if not anything else, children are treated with kid’s gloves at school. Even though the menace factor is missing, fact remains that learning to spell – by itself – gets quite cut and dry over a period of time. It does get monotonous and to put it in kids parlance – it’s so boooooring !!

Understandable – given the fact that children are stringing alphabets together to arrive at a word – or just mugging it up to retain the spelling in mind by rote. My vote is definitely for the phonetic version, though. Teach kids the phonetics of each alphabet and then get them/challenge them to give you spellings of words – as they see it fit – just using the phonetics of the alphabet.

This is how both Macademia and Pecan have been introduced to spellings and they used to love it. Note the past tense – “used to”. I guess, as they grow, as their reasoning capacities get enhanced, this whole process of stringing alphabets together too gets rather dull and repetitive.

The looks on their faces, over the past few months, used to be one of tedium. Gone was the excitement with which they used to tackle spelling tasks. It was just another task to be completed. It had ceased to be an activity that sparked that element of excitement. It was no longer an activity that brought about an exhilaration of sorts, that thrill of having to get something accomplished, that sheer pleasure of getting it right.

Something needed to be done.

Something had to be infused into the formula. It had to be something that would get them all enthusiastic at the very idea of spelling something right. Something that would reignite that element of eagerness, something that would get them all animated and something that would demand wholehearted participation on their part. Yet, there had to be an element which would make them willing participants to the whole idea.

The answer, when it did strike me, was quite simple.

What better than an aura of mystery. A certain amount of mystique, just the right amount of vagueness and ambiguity which would enhance the thrill factor at having found the right answer.

Riddle them !! said that voice in my head. Yes !! Yes !! Yes !! nodded the other half of my head, very enthusiastically and heartily. Riddles should definitely do the trick, was what my mind said.

Initially Pecan was started off on what we called Jumbled Riddles. Macademia was my partner-in-crime on this mission.

I would write down the riddle for him on his book. The answer to the riddle would be given alongside – but as an anagram – all jumbled up.

e.g Children play with us. We pop when children touch us. What are we ?
Answer : LUEBBBS

I am red and juicy. I grow on a tree. One of me a day is said to keep the doctor away.
Answer : PAPEL

What started off as an experiment proved to be a resounding success :).

Very soon, riddles ceased to be an instrument through which only spellings could be learned. If Pecan could grasp spellings through riddles, then the very same riddles (probably taken up a notch or two) could kindle the siblings' thirst for General Knowledge too. It would be a good way to make them hunt for information, to search for answers. It would be such an entertaining and enjoyable way to glean more knowledge and information.

e.g I am one of the satellites of the biggest planet in the Solar System.

I, the biggest mammal, swim in the ocean and did you know that I have a heart the size of a small car ? OK – first you tell me – what am I ?

I am yet to start riddling Macademia . With her, the peg would have to be raised several notches.

Of late, Pecan keeps up his consistent chant “Mummy, please give me some jumbled riddles ?”

Music to my ears, of course.

Very soon, it will not be a question of whether they can crack the riddles I set for them. It would more be a question of whether I am able to keep up the pace and keep giving them riddles that can prove intellectually stimulating, interesting enough to keep them hooked and motivated and thought provoking enough to make them go looking for the answers :)).

Knowing them, it is not going to be all that easy a task :).

However, one thing is for sure.

This journey promises to be a very very interesting one indeed !!

23 July, 2009

Practical Jokes, Anyone ???

Mommy seems to in the midst of a lot of practical jokes these days.

Now those of you who know Mommy would put their hands up and swear to the fact that Mommy, being the gentle soul that she is, would not dream of pulling any practical jokes on people, right ?? Nor does she make people go round and round in circles, does she ? Nah – she wouldn’t even dream of doing something like that to someone.

What she means to say is that she is at the receiving end of quite a few practical jokes.

The other day saw Pecan a.k.a the younger sibling walking up to Mommy with a small box. The box also happened to be covered with a non-transparent lid. So there was no way Mommy could peep through the lid to find out what was inside the box.

“I got something for you” said Pecan, with a rather cheeky grin on his face.

Mommy’s instincts did smell trouble brewing – but for the life of her she could not put her finger on it. This “I’ve got something for you” was highly reminiscent of the time Pecan brought Spike home from school a few months back.

“There’s something more to this” screamed the instincts.

And then there was Pecan, standing right in front of Mommy, arms outstretched, with an “I’m so innocent” look on his face.

“What is it that you’ve got for me now ?” asked Mommy, who, by now, had her fingers and toes crossed.

“Here Mummy – I’ve got termites for you” said Pecan, grinning from ear to ear.

Mommy yelped !!!!!!!!! She almost went incoherent and started to ramble – totally disjointed sentences, confused statements.

To cut a long story short, Mommy was all over the place – having rather vivid nightmares in bright daylight – about termites running amok all over the house and reducing the place to sawdust.

Pecan almost got grabbed by the scruff of his neck and frogmarched to the door – with his box of termites.

“But Mummeeeeee” screamed Pecan, laughing all the way to the door.

“This is SO not funny. You brought home a beetle – that was OK. Termites – No way !!! And where do you get these insects from anyway. Termites !!!!! Yikes !!!!!!!!!!!! Out !!!!!!!! Out !!!!!!!!”

“But Mummeeeee ……… look at these termites” said Pecan

“I am SO not looking at termites and don’t you dare open that box inside the house” screeched Mommy.

“But Mummeeeee ……… these are PlayDoh termites” said Pecan, whose giggles had completely taken him over.

“PlayDoh Termites !!! Very Very Helpful indeed !! Now could you not have mentioned that before” squealed a still horrified looking Mommy.

“You did not ask, Mummy and you are such a scaredy cat” came the reply from Pecan – who was still erupting with incessant laughter.

Needless to say, the laughter continued for quite a while – a persistent, relentless, continuous reminder that Mommy had indeed been caught on the wrong foot !!!

Like Ethel Barrymore once said

“You grow up the day you have your first real laugh – at yourself.”

Oh !! Mommy has grown up indeed.

And from the looks of it, she's going to continue 'growing up' at a rather exponential rate !!!!

(sigh) The going just seems to be getting better and better and better !!!

17 July, 2009

Potter Mutter ......

“Wingardium Leviosaa” “Wingardium Leviosaaa” “Wingardium Leviosaaa” came the curious sounding chants – growing louder by the minute.

“What in the name of God is that ?” wondered Mommy, as she wracked her brains (or what is left of them) and tried rather desperately to figure out what exactly was going on. She succeeded as much as a human with aquaphobia succeeds in swimming backstrokes in the pool.

Exactly !! She failed rather miserably, to put things mildly.

The chants were growing louder and soon began to reverberate through the house “Wingardium Leviosaaaaa”.

“Ah ! The nutty siblings must have found an insect” gloated Mommy, all to herself. And “Wingardium whatever-that-is” must be the botanical name for the insect, thought Mommy.

“Wingaaaaaardium Leviosaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” came the screech and it sounded rather painful. Painful enough for Mommy to conclude that the nutty siblings were sitting with the “Children’s Encylopedia of the Human Body” and had come across the name of a disease.

“Yes. Why did I not think of that before ?” muttered Mommy to herself, under her breath.
"Wingardium Leviosaaaa does indeed sound like a disease". A rather painful affliction, speaks volumes of misery untold. “Wonder who’s had the misfortune to have come down with that malady” wondered Mommy.

To further clarify things with Macademia and Pecan, Mommy made her way to the kids’ room and was greeted with shouts of “Rictusempra, Rictusempra”. And a few milliseconds later, both siblings descended upon the hapless Mommy, tickling and poking – while a rather baffled Mommy tried to figure out what had happened to the siblings.

“Locomoter Mortis” screamed Macademia, “Petrificus Totalus” screamed Pecan, while Mommy grew more horrified by the minute. “What in God’s name is this ??” she wondered, while a part of her baffled mind noticed that Macademia and Pecan were looking as pleased with themselves as a cat would look after having polished off an entire bowl of full cream milk.

The look on Mommy’s face was confused and dazed enough to send the nutty siblings into an uncontrollable spate of laughter. Mommy had heard of the term “rolling on the floor laughing” – and now, here she was, actually getting to see it firsthand. And seeing Mommy looking more traumatized by the minute was proving to be a source of intense mirth and amusement for the siblings.

“Expelliarmus” “Expelliarmus” they screamed in unison.

“I’m having Tarantulagra” said Macademia. “Me too Me too” screamed Pecan, through the tears that had begun to flow from such uncontainable hilarity.

Mommy, by now, was not even sure this was actually happening or whether she was seeing things.

“Finite Incantetum” “Finite Incantetum” chanted the siblings while Mommy was busy sending fervent prayers up to whoever would listen at that point of time ……

Once things had settled down and the situation was relatively calm and peaceful – mainly because the siblings had ended up hiccupping madly after having laughed their heads off – Mommy dared venture and ask them what was the language being spoken.

“It is Harry Potterish” said the siblings.

Ah !!!!!!!!!!!!! Realization dawned !!!!!!!!!

Mommy has never ever been able to appreciate the Harry Potter books.

Ok Ok. Now before you decided to clap your palm onto your mouth and go “Oh Gawd !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How can you ?????” – let me tell you this – Mommy has not read a single Harry Potter book. All the books in the Harry Potter series do indeed rest on our bookshelf at home – but Mommy, for one, has not been able to go beyond 10 pages of the first book. That’s how far she got before she threw the towel in and decided that Harry Potter and his bunch of wizards were most definitely not her cup of tea.

So given that little piece of history, it was no wonder indeed that Mommy had no clue that these were incantations from Good Ole Harry Potter books !!!!

Well, the Potter mania continues with the siblings. To such an extent that when it is time for the lights to go off at night, they chant “Nox, Nox, Nox, Nox” and if the lights need to come on then it is “Lumos, Lumos, Lumos, Lumos”.

In the meanwhile, as this Potter mania continues to manifest itself in all its glory in the linguistic capabilities of the nutty siblings, Mommy has made sure of one thing ……………

She’s hidden the broomstick !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

15 July, 2009

"Certified" Solution !!

Hongkong is in the middle of a huge heat wave. Rain falls in the mornings – teasing, tantalizing, holding forth hopes of coolness later on in the day. That, however, never happens. The afternoons and evenings are sheer torture – the heat is horrendous, the humidity levels unbearable. And this ghastly weather pattern seems to be holding firm – much like a dog which finds a huge bone under the ground and digs its teeth into it, persistently refusing to let go.

Right now, saunas out here in HK must be running into the red for sure. They must be filing for bankruptcy and falling to the liquidators much faster than roaches fall dead from a spray of Raid. People don’t really need to visit saunas any more. They can just sit within the confines of their homes and swelter, boil and broil in their own sweat.

And in the midst of all this, the nutty siblings have two long months of summer holidays. Ever tried keeping two little busy bees occupied virtually the whole day – that too when most of their friends have left town and gone over to India for their holidays.

Not easy, says Mommy. Quite far from easy, actually.

Yet again, since the summer holidays began, it was getting quite tiresome – repeating instructions of all sorts – over and over again – to the nutty siblings. Why tiresome ? Because they honestly seem to have memory banks the size of peanuts when it comes to remembering and recollecting what they need to do and when. This, despite being told what to do - like what must be a gazillion times. They seem blessed with the ability to be selectively perceptive while Mommy began to sound like a CD player on repeat mode on a bad sector of a CD.

Give them a cup of milk in the mornings and they’d willingly sit in front of it and stare at it as though they expect some sort of telepathic connection with the milk. Some connection that would automatically make the milk walk up the cup and take a flying leap into their mouths (which incidentally would be closed).

The beds lie unmade and all Mommy needs to do is to rub the magic lamp and the genie appears with a smile and says “your wish is my command”. Yeah right ! Wishful thinking indeed !! Once the siblings wake up in the mornings, they have long, protracted discussions about how to spend the rest of the day. And in the process, pillows get flung around the room, bed sheets come off the beds and a while later, the room quite looks like it has been hit by a typhoon and gale force winds.

Give them a bit of writing practice or some bit of Math practice and lo and behold – Mommy does not need to vaccum the house that day. Their long faces take care of that bit. At the very sight of work, albeit a microscopic bit, their faces are long enough to wipe and swish at the floor every time they walk around.

With the younger sibling, there was yet another issue. In the midst of the horrible heat wave and scorching conditions , we found that the younger sibling was not even reaching for his bottle of water. The rest of the household gulps down bottle after bottle of water – so much so that – when we walk around – I swear you can hear water sloshing in our bellies. We drink enough water to drown whales in – but the water levels in the younger sibling’s water bottle barely registered a decline.

He simply was not drinking enough water. Just issuing reminders to the younger sibling to ingest water was driving the adults in the household to levels of insanity hitherto unheard of. Nothing was working. And we’ve never motivated our children by offering them things like icecreams or candies and such like – to get them to do what they are supposed to do.

Vic finally hit upon an idea. A certificate !!

Certificates are one thing that the younger sibling covets. He craves them, yearns for them. His face lights up at the sight of one and if it is his name on the certificate, quite simply put – his day is made.

And sure enough, it worked like a charm.

Water was being guzzled at a rate that alarmed the fishes in our aquarium at home. Just in case the water in the taps dried up, he probably would have headed for the aquarium looking for water. Or so the poor fishes thought.

And that was how he earned his “water drinking champion” certificate.

On the 4th of July, 2009, both siblings got a certificate for being “the best kids in the world”.

They’d been diligently working towards it – finishing the work allotted to them by the end of the day and all that. Mommy still continued to look as though she was capable of pulling out every single hair on top of her head by the end of the day but then again – that “mad, half crazed, wild eyed look” is fast turning into Mommy’s natural look. Not far is the day when the nutty siblings might say “yeah – that’s how our mom looks – a.l.w.a.y.s”.

This entire certificate thingy (as the elder sibling calls it) has added a whole new fun element into the situation. Like for instance, a few days later came this certificate (which is rather self-explanatory).

Trust me when I say – you really don’t want to know the details on this one !!!

One thing is for sure. The certificates sure have generated quite some enthusiasm in pecan a.k.a The Younger Sibling. Macademia a.k.a The Elder Sibling, being quite worldly wise, knows exactly how this game is being played and how pecan is being “conned into certification” but so far has chosen to keep mum and watch the fun from the sidelines.

Hopefully, what has started off with motivation in the form of certificates for specific "achievements" will eventually turn into habits. Habits that will not call for repeated reminders. Well, one can hope - right ??

Like Jim Rohn once said

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."

14 July, 2009

The Hunt is On ........

Life’s pretty insane right now. Yeah – what’s new huh ?

This insanity, however, as we’ve realized over the past month or so, is a lunacy of a different kind. It is the kind of mental illness, the manifestation of which is brought about when one is on the lookout for a place that one would end up calling “home” …. say for the next two years or so.

Oh Yes !! The Nutty family has been busy househunting.

And we’ve pretty much begun to appreciate the troubles our ancestors must have had – in terms of the hunting business. We go househunting once every four years or so and it drives us up the wall. Our ancestors (I mean when they were evolving from apeland) had to even go hunting for food – that too – every single day !! Hats off to them, I say. But then again, I’m quite sure that hunting for food then must not have been half as daunting as hunting for an apartment in Hongkong.

I’ve realized that this househunting business - it brings about a psychosis of a rather unique kind. The kind of psychosis that has me looking at windows of each and every apartment block rather than looking at the lanes, while crossing them. The kind of psychosis that brings a hopeful smile to my face when I see a pair of windows without curtains on them – a sure sign that the apartment is unoccupied. The kind of psychosis that has caused drivers to be careful when I’m walking around. I mean, I don’t pay attention while crossing the lanes – which means the kind and considerate drivers have to be extra careful !!!

Yet again, this househunting business has brought us into contact with a certain breed – a breed which is unique in itself, in the way it conducts itself, in the way it inflates and exaggerates simple things to such an extent that the whole thing seems manic. Yes Yes – I am talking about this breed of Property Agents. And we’ve been overdosed with them over the past month or so. Such a strong overdose that I’ve actually started to imagine that my cell phone is ringing when it really is not.

They hound you with calls. Calls that are so well timed that they invariably catch you when you are doing something really really important. You drop everything, run to the phone, check the caller display, find it is an agent, hope soars at the prospect of there being another apartment in the market, you press the Call Receive button on your cell phone and you hear the agent on the other end laughing rather manically like Santa Claus high on Ecstasy and then the agent tells you

“I call to say I looking for youuuu.”

“You looking for me ?” I ask, rather bewildered.
I mean, is the agent not supposed to be looking for houses. “Why in the name of God are you looking for me ?” I want to ask but refrain – for it would only serve to confuse the agent even further.

“No No No” ….. goes the agent “I mean …. I not looking for you ….. I looking at house for you”.

“Well …. if you looking at house for me ….. why I not there looking at house for me with you ?” I want to scream.

“No No No ……. I mean …… I not looking at house for you …….. I looking for house for you”.

“Well, I happen to KNOW THAT” I think to myself – calling upon every ounce of self control to stop me from shrieking and screaming and yelling at the now disembodied voice on the other end of the phone.

I don’t do that, of course. We are the ones looking for a house, remember ???

These agents, I’ve realized, epitomize hyperboles. For instance – one agent the other day was extolling virtues of the apartment that he was about to take us to. All along the way he kept saying “velly nice sea view”, “velly nice – you can to see the Victolia Harbour flom your window”. We reached the apartment, looked here, looked there ….. all the things that one looks at while househunting. Not that it mattered to me, but since he’d been praising and commending the “sea view”, I wanted to know exactly wherefrom he “saw the sea” from this particular apartment.

“Oh !! The sea view here here” he said and scuttled away – reminding me of those gazillions of hermit crabs that one sees on the beaches – scurrying aimlessly as though the term “sense of direction” has no meaning. He scuttled from room to room – finally ending in the smallest room of the house and with a flourish said “see the sea view here”.

Curiosity made me peep out of the said window and the sea I could definitely not see. In fact, I was craning my neck at such weird angles that I was in danger of having my neck locked in one of those weird yogic asanas …. the kind that might actually require another person to unwind my neck from my own body. I could still see no sea. “Yeah and I’m the Queen of England” I muttered under my breath ….lest he hear me. Else I’d have had to launch into an explanation of how I became the Queen of England !!! (sigh).

That brings me to the question “what’s with this sea view business anyways ?”. With days zipping past without one even noticing that a day has actually gone past, does anyone actually have the time to sit and stare out of the window at the “sea view”. And this “seaview” automatically raises the rent / sale price of the apartment by a few cool thousands / millions – as the case may be. And just to make sure that you get your money’s worth, one would have to allocate a time for oneself wherein one would have to drop whatever it is that one is doing – just to sit and stare out of the window at the “sea view” for which one has ended up burning a hole in one’s pocket. Gee !!! I’d rather stare at the fishes in my aquarium”. Atleast they don’t charge us a few extra thousands !!!!

“I have apartment with basic electrical and furniture” crowed another agent, with pride dripping from his voice, a few days back. We went along to take a look at the “furnished apartment” and found the house empty ….. save for the wardrobes (which, incidentally, are built in wardrobes in every apartment in this particular piece of real estate).

I did ask the nutty siblings to look around as well – just in case my eyes were playing tricks on me. “There is no furniture here. Nothing. Tch Tch Tch … nothing” they said. Ha !! I thought to myself “see …. me and my kids actually have something that we agree on”.

“Flom this apartment window, you can see the swimming pool. That’s why this apartment so expensive.” said another agent the other day. Huh !!! So we shell out a few thousands more every month because we get to look at half naked men and women at the pool from our apartment window ?? What kind of sense does that make ? I mean, if one wanted to enjoy the pool – one would actually GO OVER to the pool. One would SO NOT sit within the sweltering confines of one’s home and stare out of the window at the scantily clad population cavorting in the cool blue pool like a bunch of seals.

(sigh) To cut a long story short ……. the search is still on.

If the nutty family manages to find a house by the time their current lease expires AND more importantly, if the nutty family manages to stay sane and healthy by the time that happens, then we’ll see you all on the other side ….

If I were to describe my mental state of late, I’d simply quote what Lady Caroline once said

“Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know” !!!!!

:D :D

06 July, 2009

The Traditional Feast ...

(Photo credit : outdoors.webshots.com - uploaded by byebye007)

Saddhi (Talayalam) or Sadhya (Malayalam)

– ask any TamBram or a Keralaite and they will tell you that it is a integral part of life.

Through my childhood days, I’ve seen a great many of these. A full, traditional feast served and eaten on a plaintain leaf. I would go to the extent of calling it an art form in itself – for it takes quite a bit of preparation and practice to perfect the art of eating on a banana leaf.

Through the years, this traditional routine has not just survived but even flourished. There are a great many, who, even today, would stake claim to the notion that a saddhi is not a saddhi if it is not eaten on a banana leaf.

The ambiance, the character that the banana leaf brings about, sets the tone for a very fulfilling saddhi.

Abroad, when one talks about parties and get-togethers etc.. the food is catered by hotels or restaurants. What we see or get to see on the outside is food in all its glory being slowly heated up by the small tabletop burners/stoves. What happens behind the scenes is a mystery. The cutting up of the vegetables, the grinding of the masalas, the very art, sentiment of cooking and bringing together the entire meal – the whole zeal, the whole fervor is missed out on as far as the onlooker or the spectator goes.

In the case of the “even now abundant” marriage saddhis or poonal saddhis – this is not the case.

The kitchen, or the working area for the cooks, is just beyond the dining halls. People are most welcome to feast their eyes on the vegetables and the ingredients right from the time they are brought in in huge sacks, right upto the time when they are cooked on the huge urns on huge stoves.

Come to think of it, there are not too many people at work – cutting, cooking etc.. and yet it is amazing as to how they keep dishing out food like a conveyor belt. Multi tasking in all its abundant glory !!

I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the vegetable cutting skills of one of the cook’s many assistants – elegantly designated as sous chefs nowadays.

Huge pieces of pumpkin, yam, large bundles of beans, big cabbages would all be chopped, sliced and minced with a gusto and speed that would put an express train to shame.

Long, thin slices of vegetables for aviyal, chunks for kootu curry and tiny tiny bits and shreds for thoran (another name for poduthool).

All the vegetables and other ingredients, neatly apportioned, go into their respective urns and vessels for being cooked into respective dishes. The menu, for a saddhi, is quite often the same. Changes are quite minimal. Yet, no one saddhi is the same as another.

The crescendo starts to build well before food is served. People mill about, searching for a seat in front of a spread out banana leaf. Once that is secured, comes the washing the leaf bit. A bit of water poured on the banana leaf and a swish and flourish of the right hand upwards and downwards on the leaf leaves it clean.

The grandiose finale comes when the food is brought out for being served on a plantain leaf. The cook’s assistants weave their way through lines and lines of tables, all looking uniform with many many plantain leaves spread out on them.

They carry in their hands, gleaming steel buckets with the necessary implements for serving the food. It would be dipping ladles for the liquids like sambar, rasam, yoghurt etc…. flat ladles for vegetables like curries or poduthools (dry curry without gravy), smaller spoons for pickles and puliinji (a semi liquid pickle made out of tamarind, ginger and green chillies seasoned with mustard, methi seeds, asafetida, chana dal and curry leaves).

The ladle for the payasam (kheer) would be slightly different – in that it would be curved enough to contain enough payasam to fill one bowl and yet slightly flat to make the pouring of the payasam into the bowls a not very cumbersome process.

Yet again, there still are many of the old timers around, people who prefer to eat payasam too on the plantain leaf and not drink it from a bowl. The asst cooks would pour the payasam on to the plantain leaf on the bottom half of the leaf, whilst deftly moving the ladle from the left of the leaf all the way to the right. The result being a stream of steaming, fragrant payasam which would then be scooped up in the palm of the hand and gulped down. In quite a few cases, the payasam would leave a trail down the hand – from the palm say halfway up to the elbow – sometimes even further and I’ve seen people licking their hands elbow up without any qualms whatsoever.

Then again, there are people who drink payasam from the bowls with great gusto and relish – slurping, glugging and swallowing the payasam in great gulps – in an effort to empty their bowls before another helping of the payasam arrives.

Then again, there are people who sip daintily at the payasam bowls trying to appear very nonchalant about the fact that the second helping might well be on its way already.

Then again, there are people who, after having finished one helping, request quite unabashedly for another helping of payasam without any qualms or reservations.

Then again, there are people who, after having finished one helping, would extend their bowls for another helping whilst holding up the palm of their other hand as if to say “No Thank You”.

As far as my childhood days were concerned, I guess I used to derive a lot more enjoyment from watching people around me eat rather than concentrate wholly on eating what was on my leaf. You get to see such a wide variety of personalities.

I remember watching with utter fascination as some people rolled up sambar and rice into balls (about the size of golf balls) and they would just toss it into their mouths. With unerring precision, I may add. I used to watch sadhya after sadhya hoping secretly and praying fervently that one of the sambar balls would land on the neighbouring banana leaf. No such thing ever happened !! What a pity !!

Then on to the rasam and rice which was a totally different ball game altogether. It would run all over the banana leaf and hands would chase it all over. Once the veterans were done, there would not be a drop of rasam left on the leaf. I used to skip this course altogether. :-))

Then the payasam and finally, to cool the palate and settle the now abundantly filled tummies, came the curd rice.

And after the sadhya, I still vividly remember the dining area of the hall resounding with burps and belches – of extremely satisfied elders – signifying their satisfaction at having partaken a visually and gastronomically fantastic sadhya.

Finally, there would be the digestive aid – Paan.

I used to watch with wonder at the way the mamis spread out the paan leaves, snapped off the stem of the leaf. They would then proceed to spread a little limestone on the paan and then place some betelnuts right in the centre of the paan leaf. This would be followed by some very meticulous folding of the paan. Some of the mamis used to be so good that by the time they were through folding the paan leaf, it used to resemble a slightly large chewing gum pellet.

That’s what I call ancient Indian Origami. :-))

Sadhya – Oh What a Feast !!!

"Who riseth from a feast
With that keen appetite that he sits down ?"
~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - The Merchant of Venice

(This post had originally been posted by me on my other blog a long time ago. Since I plan on deleting the other blog, some of the posts from that blog are being moved to Tiny Tidbits).

04 July, 2009

Local Trains - A trip down memory lane

Once, when the "self-proclaimed" beautician asked me about the scar on my left eyebrow, she set memories rolling.

It brought back days of travelling on the "in"famous local trains (the lifeline of Bombayites travelling to work and from their workplace).

Local trains are not quite what they seem to be. When I travel by MTR here, I cannot but marvel at the difference.

Bombayites usually take the same train to work - names like 8.03 Andheri local, 7.45 Churchgate fast etc.. are about as common in Bombay as speaking Marathi or Hindi. Invariably, since people tend to take the same trains everyday, it almost becomes like a little family within each one of those compartments.

I remember, when I used to travel to work, I used to take the 7.51 Andheri local. There used to be a few ladies travelling from Andheri itself and many more used to get in along the way to Churchgate. Sometimes the flavour of the day used to "garam garam bhajias", sometimes it used to be "thalipeeth", sometimes "medu vadas" - we used to have a nice time.

I still remember the sense of worry that pervaded the compartment once cos one of the girls travelling was a student at one of the medical colleges in Bombay. She'd been just 2 months into her marriage when her hubby (who was in the army) was posted to Kargil.

The sense of festivity as one of the innumerable festivals approached, the sense of anticipation as one of the ladies travelling regularly got closer to her due date - all these had become part of daily life. There was so much of camaraderie amongst the commuters.

The ladies compartment used to be reserved for the ladies until 8 pm - after 8 pm even gents are allowed to board the ladies compartments. I still remember, days when I used to get late from work, the gray area used to be around 7.45 pm. Cos men used to start boarding the ladies compartments then - there was no fear of any policemen taking them to task - Bombay being what it is in that respect !! And there used to be this "Asha Aunty" who used to stand guard at the entrance of the ladies compartment armed with an umbrella - be it rain or be it summer or be it winter - Asha Aunty would be there on the 7.48 pm train from Churchgate with her umbrella and God help any gent who tried to get into the ladies compartment then. She used to use the umbrella very effectively. What a sight she was - sari held up slightly and tucked in at the waist, hands on her hips with, of course, the umbrella in the right hand.

Another seemingly impossible thing - boarding or alighting from a train whilst the train is still travelling at a high speed - was made to seem like a "piece of cake" by local train travellers. I used to do it. While boarding a train it was necessary cos otherwise we would not get a place to sit. While alighting, the trick was to jump off the train just as it approached the stairs of the bridge that led out from the station - else the bridge would get crowded.

I remember one gentleman tried to board a train while it was still moving fast and he caught hold of the middlebar (on the entrance to the compartment) and did hoist himself into the train but the momentum was so much that he went straight out from the entrance on the other side of the compartment. Thank God Churchgate station has platforms on both sides.

This happened before I started working. I was travelling by local trains to my computer classes and one day while I was getting back home in the afternoon (trains in the afternoons tend to be less crowded), I went and stood near the entrance of the compartment one station ahead of where I was to alight. The train had just about come to a stop when I felt a huge push and then the sensation of flying thru air and after that I remember nothing - that is till I came to. There were a whole lot of people trying to help me up, someone got a glass of water and I remember blood flowing down the left side of my face and trickling onto my salwar. One of the girls there (I had never even seen her before) helped me into a autorickshaw and she came home along with me.

Our family doctor then took me over to a nearby nursing home where, once the surgeon was thru patching my eyebrow up, I ended up sporting 12 stitches. What a show off !! Not to mention the four stitches on my left cheekbone which the great surgeon decided did not need any local anesthetic cos it was a straight cut - what the heck - straight or not straight - it sure hurt like hell.

That was when I got pushed from the train when someone tried to pull my chain !!! See - it even rhymes !!!

That remark by the beautician "Kya Hua Tha Yahaan" sent me tumbling back down memory lane and think about what has sort of become a tradition in itself - the amity, the companionship on the local trains of Bombay.

29 June, 2009

An aquatic herbivore ????

"Who eats grass ?"

If I were to ask the nutty siblings this question, I'd be rewarded with some weird looks, for sure !!

And instead of a straight answer to the question, they'd probably end up asking me something like "Don't you know the answer to that question ? You really really don't ?"

The way we've been taught, it is normally herbivores who eat grass. The Wikipedia defines a Herbivore thus.

Where am I going with this ?

It so happens that the other day I saw something in our aquarium that made my eyes pop out of their sockets (well, almost !!).

One of the our little pet fishes was chomping away on grass. It actually seemed to be relishing it. Chomp Chomp Chomp Chomp ...... on and on it went ..... until it had eaten that whole bunch of grass. It would have put a cow to shame, I tell you.

If I were to tell someone this, they'd probably react the same way Macademia and Pecan did when I told them about it.

"nooooooooooooo waaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy" they screamed in unison.

Well - I don't blame you if you don't believe me either. But go ahead and take a look ........

Like someone once said

"Families are like fudge. Mostly sweet with a few nuts."

This fudgy,nutty family, however, seem to be having a rather liberal sprinkling of nuts around us :D.

It's not just us - our pets are nutty too !!!!!!!!

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26 June, 2009

A Full Circle

Things got quiet for a while yesterday, after that rather boisterous “ceremonial dance” style celebration over the younger sibling squashing a mosquito. Mommy heaved a small sigh of relief, thinking that the heroics for the day were over. Since Mommy had already collected the nutty siblings year end reports, books (and everything else that they had left at school), the day before – she was looking forward to a rather leisurely lunch break for herself. There were no afternoon outings planned – in the sense that there were no trips to be made to the supermarket or the fresh market or anywhere else.

So there was Mommy – rather gleefully looking forward to her lunch – which consisted of extra spicy poha (the potato and onion variety), with a liberal wedge of fresh lemon and some cold cucumber raita to round the whole thing off.

OK – before anyone points that out to Mommy, she would like to clarify that she indeed knows that poha, in normal Indian households, is had for breakfast and not lunch. But then again, when did Mommy say that we were normal ? No, we are not. Atleast not in the normal sense of the word. So, we do have things like poha and upma for lunch and idlis and dosas for dinner. Our breakfast is never a “cooked” one - but one consisting of toast or cereals or eggs and such. The closest we come to having a cooked breakfast is when we have oatmeal !! So yeah – to sum things up by borrowing a quote from a very dear friend – well, “we are like that only”.

So then, spicy poha for lunch it was.

Now what is that old adage – it goes something like “do not count your chickens before they hatch”, right ? Ah ! It so happens that yesterday, Mommy had been counting her chickens well before the eggs had even been laid !!

“Mummmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” came the cry from the living room while Mommy was busy in the kitchen cooking up a batch of aviyal. It was Macademia a.k.a the elder sibling. The cry sounded pretty much like some disaster was in the offing.

Off went the Disaster Control Centre a.k.a Mommy – to investigate what had set that distress call off. Mommy found the elder sibling standing rooted to a spot in the living room, looking all dismayed and horrified.

“Mummmeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” came the cry again – this time around when Mommy was standing right in front of the elder sibling.

“Well, now that Mummmeeeeeeeeee is very much here, can we please proceed with whatever it is that’s troubling you ?” queried Mommy.

“Mummmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” wailed the elder sibling again.

Mommy sat on the sofa, sighing to herself. This sure was going to be one long episode, from the looks of it.

A few minutes later, realizing that Mommy was waiting for the entire story rather too patiently (which in itself spells trouble), the elder sibling told Mommy the entire story.

Well, it so happens that this bunch of girls (including Macademia) at school had been performing a dance routine a few weeks before school’s closed rather unceremoniously. For this purpose, costumes had been taken to school from home and the girls had retained them at school instead of getting them back home. So, when Mommy had been to school just the day before – to collect their reports – the elder sibling had forgotten to mention to Mommy that her costumes had to be collected as well.

Apparently, it was not just her costume. The elder sibling had borrowed a pantaloon from one of her friends because that pantaloon was “just the right color and shade”. Mommy had specifically told the elder sibling to return the costume to her friend once the dance was done and over with. While the dance had been done and over with, the costume had apparently not been returned to its rightful owner. Why ? Because the rightful owner had said “keep it for a few more days na. we might have to dance at the school assembly also, remember ?. So you keep it for now. I’ll take it from you on the last day of school.”

“So now my clothes and her pantaloon are at school !!!!!!! What if they get lost ??? Now what do I do !! “ came the rather plaintive wail.

“Call up the school office and find out” said Mommy. A call placed to the school office did not yield much. There was a vague reply from the school office to the effect that “it might have been put in the costume box backstage in the assembly hall”.

The elder sibling’s misery just deepened and just about then – looking at the elder sibling and the look of abject misery on her face, tears brimming in her eyes and threatening to overflow at any given second – Mommy knew that she was going to have to make another trip to school. And she knew that she would make this trip to school to save herself the mental agony throughout the vacations. Else, ever second day of the holidays would be spent with the elder sibling drowning (herself and the others around her) in a flood of her own tears and fears of whether the costume would still be there when school opened next term.

(sigh) there went the leisurely spicy poha lunch !!! Since lunch would have to be a super fast affair, Mommy gobbled up some left over zucchini and sped off to school.

Mommy knew only too well that the aviyal was half cooked and was resting on the stove - a job unfinished. Mommy had been scheduled to meet the estate agent in the afternoon - another thing that was going to have to be put off. Clothes washed were still lying in the washing machine since there had been no time to pop them into the dryer before dashing off to school. Countless chores like these and more ..... were put on hold :).

On the way back from school (with the costumes safely in the bag), Mommy’s thoughts drifted to her own school days. How many times had her mother made such trips to school – over something that Mommy had then forgotten at school ? More than once, for sure. And yesterday, Mommy literally had a feel of what it must have been like. What it must have been like for her mother to have dropped everything that she’d been doing – to rush over to school to get something that her daughter had forgotten.

Grandma always used to tell Mommy “you won’t understand this now. But wait until you have children of your own. Then you’ll know exactly what I meant”.

Much to her chagrin, Mommy realized exactly how true these words were. And they are applicable to a wide range of situations.

Mommy, for one, firmly believes in the theory of “What goes around, Comes around”. So Mommy, with her lopsided logic, did not take much time to conclude that this was indeed a karmic cycle which had come a full circle.

She’d forgotten stuff and made her mom run to school on countless occasions and now the same scene was being replayed – just that the characters had changed. Mommy herself was running over to school to get something that her daughter had forgotten :).

A few seconds later, Mommy found herself smiling. Truth be told, she could not stop smiling.

Why ?

If this is indeed a cycle of sorts, then someday it has got to repeat itself, right ? (Surefire proof that Mommy's logic is lopsided !!)

So then, there might actually be a day when the elder sibling is found in a rather similar state :). Much to her horror, Macademia might realize that she needs to drop everything that she’s doing right then and rush to school because her child has forgotten something at school. :))

If that scene does play out in the future … and if one then sees a gray haired lady with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face ….. that’d be me :)))).

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