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 ??

post signature

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 !!

post signature

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."

post signature

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 …… !!

post signature