31 December, 2012

Let's not forget, let alone forgive !

(Pic courtesy : acnosite.blogspot.com via Google)

I’ve been asking myself this question for quite some time now.  The gang rape incident in Delhi served to heighten it further.  “Where is our country headed ?”.  I’m sure lots of other people too, pretty much like me, are echoing the despair that one feels within oneself, looking at and hearing what’s happening in India now.  This led me to think further.  Yes, our country is steeped in a shroud of apathy, people are pretty much anaesthetized to the goings on in the country – however horrible the deeds may be. 

Why ?

The mindset that we see in a majority of the populace now reminded me of the movie Mangal Pandey.  The attitudes, the indifference were pretty much the same.  India has indeed come a long way in terms of technology and the fancy gadgets that we use to get through life everyday.  During the times that India was ruled by the British, people exhibited an alarmingly similar lethargy and ennui.  “What can we do ?”  seemed to be a common sentiment, accompanied by a furrowing of the brows and a wringing of the hands.  The same lack of interest, lack of concern seems to have manifested itself in most of India’s population today.  Ask yourself this – has our mindset really changed ? 

In the days of the British Raj, it took someone like Mangal Pandey to go against what was considered the norm then.  It took someone like him to break the “rules” and stand up for his beliefs and what he thought  should have been a choice every Indian had.  He was a sepoy who turned into a revolutionary and fought for a common good – freedom from oppression.  

Do you remember fighting for anything ?  By anything, I do not mean the trivial fights or arguments between siblings over a toy or candy, I do not mean the arguments that take place within families for a share in the wealth, I mean a fight for common good, a fight to bring about a change of some sort in societal terms.  For the life of me, I can’t remember any such.  Our entire generation, possibly the generation before ours and most definitely the generation after ours – has just been going with the flow, turning with the tide, not ever stopping to think of which direction this is leading us in. 

We have, as a people, becoming exceedingly self-centred, focusing just on ourselves and our well being, measuring our standing in society with yardsticks that are being blindly followed, with no rhyme or reason attached to them.   With this sort of a mindset being prevalent rather widely (unfortunately !), it is not a surprise that somewhere along the way, feelings of apathy began to set in.  Values and morals took the backseat because yet again, what was significant was our feelings of self-importance and our comfort zones.  No one wanted to step out, no one wants to step out.  Apathy ruled !  Apathy rules !

The gang rape of the 23 year old in Delhi is not something new in the country.  There have been plenty of others and if things continue the way they are going, there seems no end to such heinous crimes being committed at free will, without any fear or fright over what the punishment (if at all there is any), would be.  What this particular incident did was brought to the fore and set off a spark – a spark that should have been set off a long time back, if our society was to have had any home whatsoever.  This incident has tipped people over, has sent people over the precipice.  All of us died a bit that day when the 23 year old breathed her last.  Humanity, as it had been known in the earlier ages, died.

Yes, our country needs a wake up call, it most definitely does.  There is a lot of rage among the people but the worrying factor is this – once the initial rage dies down, once the fires die down, what next ?  Do we just go back to our earlier comfort zones and wrap ourselves in a blanket of apathy.  Do we just focus on some other issue that raises its head and leave this issue out in the cold ?  Do we just go on with our lives, discussing the latest Bollywood release or the impending IPL season ?

Once fires die out, they leave behind embers.  But these embers have to be stoked, the fire needs to be kept alive.  Herein lies the crux of the issue.  If these embers are to be kept alive, if this fire needs to be kept burning long enough to bring about winds of change, we, as a people of this populous nation, have to change.  We need to work on changing our attitudes, we need to work on changing our mindsets.  The edges of our minds have rusted long since, the sharpness of our actions blunted by inaction and lethargy.  There needs to be a rebirth, a resurgence.  

When we talk about changing our attitudes that we’ve grown comfortable with, we are then faced with an issue.  What is then needed is for us to look within ourselves, to introspect deep within our minds.  Once the process gets introspective, we come face to face with our inner selves and it is at this point that the precipice seems steep, unconquerable.   It is when we come face to face with our Inner Self that we see ourselves for what we are,  stripped of all facades and notions that we otherwise use to project ourselves to the people around us.  How many of us would have the strength to “see” ourselves for what we actually are ? 

Sometimes, the people of a nation join hands in rejoicing and enjoying joyful events.  Yet, things, changes and revolutions that work towards a nation’s good have never been born out of joy.  Its birth, its origin has always found its roots in oppression, in sorrow, in grief, in rage, in outrage and in a sense of indignation.  
The Indian government surely must be hoping that the fire will die out and that the dust will settle in a few days time.  For us, as a people, the only redemption will lie in carrying this on.  In this instance, as the flames rage, as the chants for change grow louder and stronger, we, as a people ought not to forget. We, as a people, ought not to forgive. 

29 December, 2012

Shakti or Travesty ?

(Pic courtesy : activists4change.blogspot.com via Google)

She’s been called by many names – Damini, Braveheart and many many more.  None of us know her real name but to her, the 23 year old girl from Delhi, I, for one, doff my hat.  If ever we’ve seen a symbol of courage, of hope, of fortitude, of fighting the odds and more importantly a whole wall of people who stood against her (in terms of their actions, their words and their attitudes), she’s been it.

Having been subjected to and having come face to face with the most heinous, atrocious and monstrous side of those creatures (I can’t even bring myself to call them animals – that would be an insult to animals) on that ill fated night, she was thrown from the bus, violated, battered and barely clinging on to life by a thread. 

What happened to her has served to bring to the fore what each and every woman in India has faced sometime in her lifespan, is facing as we speak or write now and if things continue the way they are, will face in the times to come.  Each and every one of us has been at the receiving end of the vast spectrum of  unfairness – just by virtue of being female.  So much so that things like eveteasing, lewd comments, gropes, being felt up in a crowd, men brushing against breasts  have become all too common – things that end up being just brushed aside.  End of the day, these men just walk away having had their fill and the woman is left shocked and horrified beyond words by what she’d just endured.

The police in India have just had their fa├žade ripped off their faces.  Yes, they are the ones that are supposed to be providing protection, they are the ones that are supposed to be looking out and making sure crimes do not happen but what do we see ?  We see a police force that is reeking with apathy, we see a police force that simply refuses to do anything other than heap a whole load more of ignominy on women who have already looked at evil in the eye.

In a country like ours, where feminity is worshipped as the Holy Shakti, the travesty cannot be more clear.  Feminity and respect for feminity has never before been so grossly misrepresented or distorted. 

I write this today in memory of that 23 year old from Delhi who, symbolized that very Shakti in the true sense of the word.  She fought her demons – not just in the physical sense but in more ways than one.  She succumbed to the horrible injuries inflicted upon her by creatures hitherto thought of as human but hopefully, the spirit that she embodied will live on.  I, for one, hope it does. 

In Memoriam ……. Rest in Peace.

20 December, 2012

Operation Santa Claus in Laguna City

Hello and I’m back !!  Yep – I know I’ve missed posting over the last two days but things have been really really hectic.  Busy would not even begin to describe the past couple of weeks but the past two days have just passed in an absolute blur.
About 20-25 kids from our apartment complex (Laguna City) are turning into Santa’s little helpers tomorrow evening.  These little (and some not so little) elves are going carolling.  They will be going carolling from house to house, to houses which have been “kept open” for carolling.
This is something they have been doing over the past couple of years, come Christmas.  This year around, there is something different.  These little elves are helping collect donations for a good cause.  They will be going carolling and collecting voluntary donations towards Operation Santa Claus, which is jointly run by The South China Morning Post and Radio Television HongKong (RTHK) every year.  People who have not been able to keep their houses open for carolling are most welcome to drop off their donations at some point of time tomorrow evening.
The beauty of donating to this cause lies in the fact that all the money donated to Operation Santa Claus is and will be used solely for making better the lives of the less fortunate.  Not a single dollar is deducted anywhere along the way by way of administration fees or personnel fees – because all the people involved in Operation Santa Claus are volunteers who give their time and effort voluntarily, at no cost whatsoever.
As parents, we are often found telling our children that “sharing is caring”.  The spirit of sharing is exemplified during this season – the Christmas season and it is never too early to start teaching our kids to care for people who are less fortunate.  This will also, hopefully, teach the kids to appreciate all the good things that they have in their lives and make them realize how fortunate they are. 
Like Mother Teresa once said “It is not how much we give but how much love we put into giving”. 
Here’s to the little elves may and here’s wishing all of you a festive season filled with an abundance of cheer, joy, good health, peace and love.

17 December, 2012

In Memoriam ....

(Pic courtesy : he.wikipedia.org via Google)
The one thing that we, as a human race seem to be chalking up in large numbers are days of remembrances.  There was 9/11, there was 26/11, countless others and the latest one – 14/12 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut.
I’ve had this post in the draft folder for the past couple of days and I’m pretty much where I was two days back when I first read about the shooting.  It had left me totally numb and cold then and even now, I feel just as shocked.  
Today morning, the newspapers had released a bunch of photographs of the little lives that were so cruelly snuffed out on Friday last.  I could not stop the tears.  I mean – look at them, their eyes had been so full of life, ready to take on the challenges that life threw at them.  They had a whole lifetime ahead of them.  Instead, what they were dealt with was a bad hand of cards. 
Who is to blame here ?  Is it Adam Lanza, the twenty year old who, for reasons best known to him (or maybe not), chose to walk into an elementary school and randomly gun kids and adults down ?  Is it Adam’s mother, who, for reasons best known to her, was in the possession of five firearms at home – one of which was an assault rifle ?  It is the lack of legislation with regard to Gun Control – which people have been insisting has been a long time coming ?  Is it the lack of a support structure for special needs kids early on in life that lead to them getting more and more depressed and angry with life and with the people around them, as they grow up in a society that still quite does not understand how to deal with such kids ?
Fact of the matter is that meaningless violence has left a whole community shattered - families, first responders - everybody.
My heart goes out to the parents who have to live through life trying to come to terms with the fact that their six year old was gunned down by a young man barely out of his teens.  How do they fill that hole in their lives ?  For the life of me, I can’t even imagine.  How does one cope with something like this ? 
As a parent, as a mother, I can’t, I simply can’t bear the thought of children being harmed – anywhere, anyplace.  How someone could just gun down innocent six / seven year olds is totally beyond me.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of what happened on Friday in Connecticut. 
This post is in memoriam to all those little lives that were so brutally cut short, to all those adults who lost their lives whilst selflessly doing their duty in protecting the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

16 December, 2012

Salmon Linguine with Snow Peas and Fresh Cilantro


250 g linguine

200 g salmon steaks
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bunch fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/2 red onions
8 snow peas
3 dried red chilies
8 garlic cloves
5 g coarse salt
3 teaspoons plain flour
200 ml whole milk
100 g cheddar cheese

Cut Salmon into cubes and marinate in Lime Juice for about an hour.
Boil water and salt and 1 Tablespoon Cooking Oil.
When water starts to boil, add the Linguine.
Linguine should be cooked Al Dente in abt. 10 mts.
Drain the same in cold water to prevent further cooking.
Mince the Onion & Garlic into small pcs.
Take a wok and add 1 tablespoon Olive Oil and toss in the Onion & Garlic.
When Onion starts to soften, julienne the Snow peas and add to the wok.
When the Snow peas start turning a bright light green, add the milk.
When milk comes to a boil, mix the plain flour in a cup of cold water and add to the wok.
When the mixture starts thickening, add the cheese.
Once cheese is fully melted, add in the salmon, the oregano, basil.
Mince the dried chilies into flakes and also add the same to the mixture.
Mix well.
Before serving, sprinkle in the minced Cilantro.
Adding Capers or sliced Jalapenos is optional.

© owner - VK - Recipe from http://www.food.com/recipefullpage.do?rid=491834 

15 December, 2012

I ran ....

(Picture courtesy : writebynight.net via Google)
I ran.  Out of breath.  Lungs bursting.  Legs hitting the earth.  I thudded up the path, around the corner, right up the stairs and reached the door.  I flung it open and there it was – my escape route.  I had never been good at stealing stuff and today was nothing different.  People don’t understand me at all, I thought to myself, as I crouched in the space behind the door.
“Look at me, crouching behind the door” I thought to myself.   My mother, if she could see me right now, would have been so proud of me” I thought sarcastically, cringing at the very thought.  There was nothing more I could do for the moment, until the danger passed.  There were people chasing after me and I could not, for the life of me, let them get anywhere near me. 
My heart was pounding so loudly, the whole floor seemed to be tilting at crazy angles.  “Please don’t let me faint now” I prayed, as hard as I could.  My eyes had dilated and my whole body was shaking with fear. 
“Hunger, it is often said, drives every single living being.  The very same hunger had driven me to steal today, just as it had driven me to steal yesterday and the day before and the day before and the day before.  The very same hunger, I knew only too well, would lead me to steal again tomorrow and the day after and the day after and the day after. 
I could hear footsteps thudding up the stairs.  “Find her !” came the voice, which clearly belonged to a man of authority.  “You two go left, you come with me and the two of you go towards the right” said the same voice.  “She’s got to be somewhere here”. 
“What do we do once we find her ?” I heard one of the other men asking, as they moved off to widen the search towards the sides of the house.  “Get hold of the little wildcat” said the other man, a smug leer on his ugly face.  “Wildcats.  I like wildcats” he said and I could almost see him smacking his lips in anticipation.  If these men caught me, I did not dare imagine what they would do with me.  A lone lady in the midst of a pack of wolves – I was sure they would have nothing good in their minds.  Pure evil – that’s what they were.
As I heard the footsteps drawing closer and closer to where I was, a fresh coil of fear unwound itself within me and I crouched further, trying to make myself as small as possible.  The door flung open inward with such force that it caught a fold of my skin in that small space between the floor and the bottom of the door.  I could see stars dancing around my eyes as the pain seared through my body.  I dared not utter a sound until the beasts left .
“She’s not here” said the one who always had a toothpick stuck in his mouth.  The toothpick bobbed up and down rather obscenely every time he spoke.  My tired eyes found the movement rather hypnotizing.  “I need a cold beer” said the other man, who had just one eye.  He had a devilish looking eye patch on the other.  “Let’s get a beer and then come back and look” said the man with the toothpick as they left the room.
My skin was bleeding where I had to force it out from between the little space beneath the door and it hurt – hurt like hell.  The only thing that kept me going was fear and anger – a feeling that was so feral in nature.  
I hobbled towards the window and managed to get myself up the sill.  I was hurting all over and the only thing I wanted to do was curl up someplace warm and sleep for a few hours.  I’d forgotten what it was like to sleep ever since these evil men started their search for me. 
I had to get back to my children.  They would be wandering around, looking for me by now.  The last thing I wanted was for these animals to even know that I had children to care for.  If they did, I knew they would use my children as leverage to lure me out.  I could not let that happen.  I had to get back to my extended family.  They would take care of me, take care of my children until I grew stronger. 
To jump or not to, was the question, as I stood on the windowsill, five storeys high.  Just then, my ears picked up sounds as I heard Toothpick and Eyepatch make their way back up the stairs.  Throwing caution to the winds, I jumped.  Felt the wind whizzing through my hair as I said a quick prayer.  Felt the gravity as it gripped me with its talons and pulled me back to the cold, hard earth.
Now if you’re wondering as to what happened after that, let me put an end to the suspense and tell you that I did make it back to my children that day.  They were hungry, as was I but we were safe.  We resumed our search for our extended family and did eventually find them.   Most of our home had been destroyed because of the humans.  They had left large patches of the forest nude and bald.  Yet, greed still continued to drive them and they continued to thrive. 
My babies are growing and I do fear for them too.  What sort of a future does this world hold for them ?  I do wonder, as I set out to search for food.  Like I said, hunger cuts through your consciousness and delves into the most serious of thoughts.  Hunger makes its presence felt, it spurs you into action.
What does today hold for us ?  I wonder as three senior members of the family move out to hunt for food.  Will the forest provide us with food today or would we need to stick our necks out and steal again ?  I wonder, as we pad into the grass silently, eyes alert and searching, the tips of our tails, swishing.

14 December, 2012

A Writing Prompt - Two birds and one stone

(When no real life incidents demand to be penned down, I usually turn to a writing prompt to get the thoughts going.  This was one such prompt which said - Put a used car salesman, a banker and a movie addict in a bus.  Add in a flat tire and an empty window seat.  One of the three starts laughing hysterically.  Write out the scene.)

(Picture courtesy : schoolnew.discoveryeducation.com via Google)

It was the horrendous cackling noise that caught their attention.  Their tempers were already frayed and the guffawing was just making it worse.  The whole situation was tense, febrile at best and it reminded one of a whole keg of gunpowder just waiting to go off. 
“This whole hooting and chortling is going to set someone off” thought Raj, to himself.  “Pity that there’s no popcorn around.  Things should get interesting soon” he thought to himself with a rather smug looking making itself apparent on his face.
“Atleast someone in this world is happy and carefree.  Look at him laugh.  What I would give to be in his place – to just be able to throw my head back, throw caution to the winds and laugh – a deep, rumbling laugh that starts out from the pit of the belly.  Speaking of laughter, I wonder when I laughed last ?.  For the life of me, I can’t remember” mused Mr.Tiwari.
By now, the laughter had gone up a few notches and Raj could see the man on the ground – literally rolling with laughter.  He had tears streaming down his eyes and his face was in the process of turning a deeper shade of red.  He was physically holding on to his humungous belly as he laughed.  He was laughing so hard that one could see the ripples spread across the fat bags on his body.  He laughed, his whole body shook and rumbled. 
“It will be quite some time before the bus can resume its journey” yelled the conductor, in the midst of all this din.  “The spare tire which was on top of the bus was also damaged.  I will have to hitch a ride and go over to the nearest town and get the mechanic.  It will take atleast three hours for us to move from here” he shouted, in an effort to make himself heard.
“Arrey – someone stop this guy !” said Mr. Chowdhury, who was a retired army man.  “Stop him before he ends up blowing one of his arteries” he said, looking quite worried.
“He seemed perfectly normal on the bus” said Mr. Tiwari, joining in the conversation with Mr. Chowdhury.  I saw him sitting on seat 24B.  I noticed him because the window seat next to his seat was empty and I wondered if he had bought out both the seats.  God knows he is fat enough for two seats” added Mr.Tiwari, rather nastily.
Both men made their way towards the fat man who looked all set to roll down the small hill atop which they were perched at the moment.  “He’ll roll all the way down to the foot of the hill laughing” grumbled Mr.Tiwari.    
Raj, who was tired of sitting around, got up, dusted the seat of his jeans and walked towards where Mr. Tiwari and Mr. Chowdhury were huddled.  “I’m Raj” he said, extending his hand towards both of them. 
The laughter seemed to be decreasing and pretty soon, the fat man stopped laughing.  He was still chuckling with the occasional snigger but the unstoppable cackling had come to a halt.  People slowly, gingerly edged closer to him as though he were some kind of explosive that would go off if people walked towards him too fast.
He eyed them the way the ringmaster in the circus eyes a bunch of tame lions.  He was amused by them – it showed in his eyes, which were still dancing with laughter. 
“That bus conductor is a liar.  He and the driver are hand in glove.  They always make sure that the bus breaks down somewhere along this road because the conductor then goes off on his secret tryst with his mistress.  He does not go over to get a mechanic.  He’s having an affair.  His wife is one of the daughters of the local goon and the conductor dare not have an affair with his mistress in the open.  If his father in law gets wind of this, he’ll kill him.”
“Yeah – but how did this make you laugh ?” asked Mr. Tiwari, grumpy as ever.
“The goon and his henchmen should be driving past any time now.  I’ve told them where to find the conductor and his mistress” he said, the laughter threatening to erupt again.
“How did you know about all this ?” asked Raj, his usual poker face now displaying a degree of perplexity.
“Ever heard of killing two birds with one stone ?”.  “His mistress is none other than my wife”.
The three men stared at him in horror as the sound of cackles filled the air, yet again.

13 December, 2012

Accchhhooooos and Bless Yous

(Picture courtesy : theotherskeptic.blogspot.com via Google)
Teaching English as a Second Language is quite a challenge.  For that matter, teaching any language to a bunch of kids whose mother tongue is totally different and whose mother tongue follows grammatical and phonetic rules that are completely different to the language you are trying to teach them, is pretty much like scaling a flat face of a tall mountain. 
The gorgeous upside of teaching a second language is the fun element.  An alien language can be intimidating at first but as kids get more and more comfortable using the language, they, bless their little souls, get more and more creative and start experimenting with the language.  The result is at times, hilarious.
Take today morning, for instance.  Just as we were doing the morning greeting, one of the kids sneezed loudly – loud enough for all the other kids to pause in mid-sentence and stare at this little one, whose ears were beginning to turn shades of red.  For a person her size, she sure sneezes loud.  Given her apparent embarrassment and not wanting the whole class to burst out into giggles with little fingers pointing at her, the other teacher in the class tried to divert the kids attention by saying “OK when someone says Accchhhhooo, what do we say ?”.  I guess the only thing the other kids heard was the word “Acchooo” and pretty soon we had “Accchhhhoooos” ringing out loud and clear like church bells, from all possible corners of the classroom.  I swear I heard some from the ceiling as well but then again, it could very well have been my imagination which tends to get rather vivid in a classroom like this !!
“Ok.  Not Achooo.  Listen to me” said the other teacher.  “ When someone says Acchhhooo, we say Bless You” he said to the class.  He had to repeat it again before they got the logic.  The very same little girl, an eager participant in the demo that was about to take place, said Acchhhhooo in a loud voice and most of the class responded with a “Bless You”. 
Now the teacher turned and asked that little girl “When the others say Bless You, what do you say ?” and he got a prompt “Accchhhoo” from her in reply.  Now he had to explain to her that when someone said “Bless You” you need to say “thank you”.  All the achoos and bless yous and thank yous done, we proceeded with the class.
Now though kids are grouped according to their ability and lessons planned with their ability in mind, within the groups there are differences in ability.  Among the weaker ones, there are the strong weak and the weak weak and the weaker weak.  You get the picture, right ?  Many a time, some of the kids finish up with their work and then come over to have a chat with me in English.  I’ve told them they can talk to me or ask me stuff on any topic – only rule – they have to speak in English, not in Cantonese or Putonghua. 
So towards the end of today’s class, while some of the other kids were finishing up with their work, this little girl walked up to where I was standing and told me “I eat the medicine”.  By then, there was a little group that had formed near my table and all the little voices were piping in, just wanting to have a conversation.    
I love these last five minutes or so in all the lower primary classes because on each given day, the group of children are different and they know they can just speak in English and no one’s going to laugh even if they make mistakes.  Some have started carrying this on by stopping to chat in the corridors while I’m on my way to another class or on my way back from another class.  There are a few adventurous ones who seek me out in the staff room and we stand outside the staff room chatting.  All in all, these little snippets of time spent with the little ones is something I love and I treasure. 
End of detour
“Why are you taking medicines ?  Are you not feeling well ?” I asked her.
“Yes. I not well tomorrow” she said, rather earnestly, to her credit.
“Not tomorrow – say yesterday” piped in another little voice.
“Sweetheart – we don’t say tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Friday. Yesterday was Wednesday I said.
“Ah – I not well in Wednesday” she said.
“Oh !  What happened ?” I asked.
That threw her for a bit and I could see her scratching her head and raking all corners of that little head to come up with the vocabulary, put the whole thing together and tell me why she was not in yesterday.  Now, though they are weak in the language, they are bright as little buttons. 
A few seconds passed by while they all huddled together, trying to come up with an explanation in English that I would understand.  A few seconds more and all the little faces looked up at me.  I knew they had reached a consensus. 
“Bless you !” said the little girl.
Hmmm …. It was my turn to look flummoxed.
“I did not say Acchhhoo.  Why did you say bless you ?” I asked.
“Yesterday, I bless you” she said.
“Yesterday, she bless you” said some of the other little ones.
Ah Ha !!  I could virtually hear the clink of the penny dropping down in my head, empty that it is !!
Just as I figured it out, the little ones made it easier for me by saying “Ms.G, yesterday she have the bless you”.
The little girl also piped up saying “yes yes.  Ms.G. Yesterday I have the bless you”.
Bright little buttons, those.  :-))))).
Proves a point – language need not necessarily be a barrier in communication.  There’s sign language, there are signals and gestures and last but not the least, there most definitely are the “bless yous”.
Bless these little ones – for that matter, bless all the little ones in this world.  I tell you, they are the ones that make this world a much better place.

12 December, 2012

Kothmir Alu Palak

Kothmir Alu Palak
(Potatoes in a Spinach – Cilantro Gravy)
I big bunch (about 650 gms) fresh Spinach leaves
1 small bundle fresh  cilantro
1 inch long piece of fresh ginger
½ tsp cumin seeds
1/8th tsp turmeric
8 tbsps distilled white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
8 -10 fresh green chillies (adjust depending on spice intake)
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp lentils (udad dal)
1 tbsp oil (any cooking oil)
500 gms potatoes
Dry / Fresh red chillies / julienned ginger (for garnish)

Wash, clean the spinach and coriander.
Wash and cut the potatoes into large cubes (with the skin) and boil in slightly salted water until half done.
In the mixer/mixie, blend the spinach leaves, ginger, chillies, cumin and the cilantro together into a fine paste.  Keep adding small quantities of water, depending on the requirement of the mixie but ensure that the whole thing does not end up too watery or runny.  It is pourable consistency but not watery.
In a deep cooking pot, add a tbsp of cooking/corn/canola oil and temper the mustard seeds.  Once they splutter, add the udad dal and stir until the udad dal turns light brown.  Add the spinach/cilantro blended mixture to the cooking pot.  Mix well and let simmer. 
Once it starts to simmer, add the turmeric powder, distilled white vinegar, salt and sugar.
Mix well and add the half cooked baby potatoes.  Simmer on low fire, stirring occasionally.
As the spinach / cilantro mix cooks, it changes from a bright green colour to a deeper, dark green colour.  The half done potatoes need to fully cook in the gravy, so as to absorb the flavours.
As the mixture simmers and bubbles away, there is quite a bit of splattering so do wear mitts when stirring the mixture.  This is why it is important to use a deep cooking pot rather than a shallow pan.
Once the potatoes are done, the mixture would also have reduced in quantity and thickened considerably.  Once the desired consistency is reached, turn the heat off.
Garnish with red chillies before serving (optional).  Alternatively, use julienned ginger for garnish.  Better still, use both. 

Serve with fresh, hot phulkas, parathas.  Alternatively, this dish also goes very well with plain white rice or a simple jeera and peas pulao.

1.       You could use fresh pudina (mint leaves) instead of the cilantro.
2.       You could use paneer or veggies like baby corn, carrots (or a mix of veggies) as a substitute for the potatoes or with the potatoes.
3.       Adjust the number of green chillies according to the spice levels desired. 

11 December, 2012

My child knows single sounds - What do I do next ?

(Picture courtesy : eduzone.co.uk via Google)

I’m trying (keyword : trying) to put together a series of thought processes on teaching phonics.  That is to say - simple phonics that can be taught at home.  However, I have to mention here that it would be a very good idea to go through the post altogether, make sure you are confident with the sounds first before even trying it with your kids. 
Once kids are familiar with the single letter sounds, what I normally do is revise the single letter sounds over and over again until it is firmly cemented in them.  Like I said in my earlier post, use simple games to do this.  You could set aside five minutes in a day to drill the sounds – meaning you say the sound and the child repeats. 
Once the single sounds are done, the logical step is to move towards sound blends – that is – blending two consonants together (not vowels, blending always begins with consonant sounds).  What I found in the process of teaching is that after Stage One (learning single sounds), it is imperative that the single sounds be revised as vowels and consonants separately.  Especially the five short vowel sounds. 

Consonant Sounds
/b/ in bat
/k/ in kite
/s/ in sun
/k/ in cat
/l/ in lip
/t/ in top
/d/ in dog
/m/ in map
/v/ in van
/f/ in fan
/n/ in nest
/w/ in wig
/g/ in goat
/p/ in pig
/ks/ in fox
/h/ in hat
/kw/ in queen
/y/ in yell
/j/ in jam
/r/ in rat
/z/ in zip

(Both of the above tables are from www.nrrf.org which lists the author as Sandra Elam.)
I emphasize on the five vowel sounds first.  Isolate the five vowel sounds and drill these separately.  It may seem like an unnecessary waste of time but trust me, the number of mistakes that I see committed with just these five basic sounds, is nothing short of jaw dropping.  Even at Primary Six level, it is distressing to see students struggle to make sense of words because they make mistakes in the pronunciation of the basic vowel sounds.
One good way to help children remember the five basic short vowel sounds is to draw their attention to the shape of the mouth.  Stand in front of a mirror and watch your mouth as you yourself say these sounds. 
When we say the /a/ sound as in /apple/ – the short vowel A sound, our mouths are open wide.  Now try saying the /e/ sound as in /elephant/.  Your mouth should have stretched wide – slightly open but stretched wide towards the sides instead of wide open.  Now the /o/ sound as in /orange/ - mouth is wide open but not as wide open as the /a/ sound.  Now the /i/ sound as in /igloo/.  Again, the shape of your mouth as you say the short vowel /i/ sound is different.  Last comes the /u/ sound as in /umbrella/.  This is more like a “uh” sound that one makes when one gasps in disbelief.
It does help to make a rough drawing of a face with attention to the shape of the mouth in relation to the vowel sound being uttered.  Once children grasp this concept, even as you open your mouth, without any sound being emitted, children can tell you which short vowel sound you’re trying to sound out – just by looking at the shape of your mouth.  I am not kidding here when I say this works.  It does !!  I speak from personal experience !
Once you’re done with the five short vowel sounds, run the single consonant sounds separately.  But do remember, not to drill these sounds for more than fifteen minutes  a day.  With the very little ones, it is important to remember that their attention spans are very short and if we try and cram too  much into those short spans of time, we end up pushing more data out of those little minds than get data in.  Drilling sounds too much is an ideal way to make the kids lose interest in learning the sounds.  So, little baby steps and tread very softly and carefully. 
After my earlier post on phonics, couple of my friends had mentioned that their kids are learning to string words phonetically by learning the sounds first and that they are trying to string any set of alphabets together.  This is pretty much normal when children learn to read phonetically rather than memorising words pretty much like the basic sight words.  In sight words, a word is pretty much like a picture.  There is no phonetics involved in decoding such words.  For that matter, there is no decoding.  It is like looking at a picture of an elephant and saying “elephant”.  One does not go into the phonetic equivalent of each and every letter that goes into making up the word “elephant”.  Once children learn that a word is nothing but a string of letter sounds put together, they pretty much try and decode any set of sounds that they come across. 
Do remember, if there’s one thing that phonics demands in huge quantities – it is patience, patience and more patience.  In fact, I always say approach phonics with a whole container load of patience at your disposal J.  Yes, it does take that amount of patience and then some.
But what is important is to remember that these sounds have to be drilled everyday for atleast five days a week.  Work on phonetic sounds regularly because what is important is consistency of practice.  Doing 15 minutes of phonics every day would definitely be more effective than doing 2 hours of phonics at a stretch on the same day.