Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Conversations: Father and Children

Vijay and Pickle: 

V: I want to talk to you.
P: (eloquent questioning look)
V: What is your name?
P: Pickle.
V: That's not your real name. What is your real name?
P: Arnob( Bengali accent obtained from maids)
V: ( managing not to cringe at the pronunciation) 'Say, My name is Arnav'
P: My name ees Arnob
V : Very good. Now, what is my name?
P: (Irritated) ARNOB
V: (pointing at himself to clarify) No, MY name. Your Daddy's name.
P: (inspired) Hunny-Bunny!

Vijay and Papad: 

V: (In the middle of an exciting story) And THEN, the Uncle opened up his Bag. And do YOU know what was in the bag, Papad?
P: (With supreme confidence) Potty.
V: (deflated and distracted) kabootar....(shouting out to me) Don't they know any OTHER words?

Vijay and Pickle-Papad: 

V: (Indulgently) And today is your's a special day...lots of children will come to your party...and you know what? Today you can hit whomever you want!
V: (Defensively) It was a joke...they're old enough to understand what a JOKE is now...
Me: (Watching them beaming, practically rubbing their hands with glee) ...But are YOU?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Happy School Featured on CNN-IBN

I wrote about my Saturdays at the Happy School in Gurgaon a while back, and received a lot of emails from people who wanted to volunteer. Mrs. Capoor still needs help, more so during the weekdays just now - am hoping that now that the Summer Holidays are over, this will happen.

Thrilled to see the wonderful lady and the kids in this video - I recognize the little boy who's speaking, too!

You can catch it on the India Positive Show on CNN-IBN today (July 28th) at 6.30 p.m. if you're so inclined. Or just watch and help share this video!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dear Hia

A certain Varsha left a particularly warm comment on my post on 'Learning About Learning.' This is my reply to her, but I felt it warranted a post of it's own. 

Varsha's comment: 

Dear Yashodhara I read this blog post yesterday and there were just so many similarities between Peanut and my daughter Hia that as soon as Hia was back from school I had to tell her about Peanut. Hia was thrilled to hear about Peanut. Hia is 6 yrs old too. She was born on 6-10-2006. She started learning the Piano in April this year as well and is really proud of herself for having been called above average by her teacher. She is also an avid reader and has recently taken up the challenge of reading 'The faraway tree' which I had been reading to her all this time. When she heard about Peanut her first question was - is she older than me? Then - Is she doing the 'Jhon Thompson's Easiest Piano Course'? Is she on book 1 or book 2? And which is her favourite piece and how far has she got yet? Is her Faraway tree book as heavy as mine? etc etc. I am writing this comment hoping for some answers to those questions because now I am not going to have any peace until she finds out those answers. 

So here's my reply: 

Dear Varsha and Hia, 

A big hello from Peanut and me. I am sorry about the fact that it took days for me to respond to Hia's queries. Peanut is a few months younger than Hia - she will turn 6 later this month, and we are planning her birthday party. She is terribly excited about her new digital piano, and is keen to have the party at home so that she can play a few songs for the guests - including Happy Birthday to herself! 

She actually asked me to play the Happy Birthday Song for her, but I refused because I said it was her day and her piano, and that I didn't want to show off. But last night, after she went to bed, I actually sneaked over to the shiny new piano and practiced for half an hour on it. I was filled with a new sense of wonder about how little kids learn things so fast, because I found myself struggling with a couple of songs - one called 'Join the Fun', and then the good ol' 'When the Saints go Marching in' - which by the way, to answer Hia's second question, is Peanut's favorite song these days! 

She is learning from an institute called Theme, and she has just moved to the book which is for Grade 1B. I wouldn't know if her Faraway Tree book is as heavy as yours, but it's really great that you guys are reading this book - I remember the first time I read an Enid Blyton, I must have been about 8 - I am pretty sure it was a Famous Five. So if you guys are reading these books at just the age of 6 - well, you're wonderful. 

I read your comment to Peanut ( actually, she read it herself) and she was very happy about it ( although she wasn't too happy about my calling her Peanut - 'That's NOT my name, Mama!) In any case, I hope you do read this, and maybe some day, Peanut and you can actually meet and exchange notes on your music, reading and many other things!

Lots of love, 


Conversation with my Father-in-law

Papaji lives with us now, and is an integral part of our home - but I haven't written very much about him - so far.

He spends a lot of his time alone in his room because he hasn't been feeling too well. For a while, I was trying to get him involved in tutoring some underprivileged kids ( he is a Professor of Physics), but that didn't last too long, mostly because of his health.

 Apart from various other things, his stomach has been giving him some trouble. I often badger him about getting active and doing something despite how he's feeling. Serves me right then for having developed the most severe attack of food poisoning yesterday, as a reminder about how critical health is - for anything. And how it's not easy to think about or do anything when you're feeling that way. Vijay eventually dragged a weakly-protesting me to the hospital to get me an injection of Perinorm, Buscopan and one more thing I cannot recall. Basically, it was bad. I'm better now, just taking some time off work to recuperate.

So anyway, the one thing that I do manage to do with Papaji is have a regular cup of tea with him. I used to be a brand manager for a tea brand, but I can tell you I never really appreciated the importance of tea as creating 'Connecting' moments as I do now. Either way, we sit down and talk. I ask him a lot of questions because he is a fount of wisdom and has amazing clarity on most matters.

The other day we were talking about Anger, and I had to confess that while I'm a lot more mellow now, I still tend to lose it sometimes, and so does Vijay.

Papaji smiled slightly and said ''Well, I was telling Vijay also the other day - as you get older and more senior - you lose the right to be angry.''

''Yes, of course.'' I had heard this one before. '' The question is how. How do you not get angry?''

''You decide not to be angry.''

''But that doesn't work in the moment'' I protested.

''The moment before you get angry, decide then.''

I blinked at him, a little frustrated at how easy he was making it sound. ''So do you NEVER get angry, Papaji?''

''Of course, I get angry. But I just don't show it then. And then, on the other hand, there are times when you have to pretend to be angry because it's useful to correct someone's behavior- I've done that too, without actually feeling any anger.''

I took my time absorbing this one, sipping on my tea. And then I came back with an inspired

''So basically - if you are angry and you don't show it, it's okay. Or if you show it but are not actually angry, it's okay. It's only a mistake to feel anger AND show it at the same time. What you have to do is aim for a disconnect!''

(Having done an MBA, there are times when I relapse into Being an MBA)

Papaji was unperturbed and said simply ''The real question is whether you are controlling your anger or it is controlling you.''


''How come you're like this, Papaji?''

He was surprised by this one, so I clarified '' As in, in over ten years, I've never seen you really angry. How long have you been like this?''

He looked even more flummoxed. I went on ''You know - never-losing-it-types.'' This wasn't going well and I could tell. ''I mean, is it an old age thing?'' Dammit. ''As in, is it the wisdom that comes with age? You must have gotten angry when you were younger, right?''

He frowned as if trying to remember, shifting his gaze briefly to the window, and then looked back at me and shrugged eloquently.

'That can't be, Papaji.' I was sure I was on the verge of discovering something. 'There must have been some incident that made you realize that anger wasn't worth it. Which means, you must have really gotten mad at someone about something and lost it - think...what was it?''

He thought for a while. ''There was a time when I was Head of Department at the University, and some rowdy teenagers came in to my room. They wanted something, perhaps some marks to be changed, and I refused. So they started threatening me. The Vice-Chancellor called just then, and said that he wanted to see me - but the boys stopped me, saying I wasn't going anywhere.''

I breathed ''So what happened? What did you do?''

''I said 'Okay, let the Vice Chancellor keep waiting then.' And I just sat there.''

''What? Then??''

''Then they said they have a gun.''


''So I told them, 'What are you waiting for? Go ahead and shoot me. Or, if you like, there are four of you and only one of me - you could also just throw me out of the window.''

I stared at him and then asked ''So then?''

''They left.''

I was quiet. I had heard a similar story to this one - about how a huge crowd of Union Workers had once surrounded him, screaming about some issue and threatening him. He had told me how angry he had felt at that time, but simply because he kept his cool, the whole situation was diffused in a matter of minutes. He was right of course.

But being a woman, and an obstinate one at that, I declared ''This example doesn't work, Papaji. I am saying that you must have at SOME point felt really angry and shown it and lost it.Maybe it was further back than you can recall, but it had to have happened. Otherwise, you're just superhuman.''

''I am a very ordinary man.''

''Sure.'' I muttered ''But you have to remember. I want to hear about when you lost it. So think about it and tell me tomorrow.''

He smiled in amusement, and said ''Alright.'' But I'm pretty sure he was just indulging me.

Anyhow, I soon left him after assigning him this innately useless project. It's been several days, but he still hasn't been able to recall that incident.

 But I am relentless in my quest, so we will unearth it someday.

Possibly today, over tea. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Parenting Notes: The Holidays Wind Up

School Restarts

With the long summer holidays now over, the kids go back to school. It's a welcome change because it was tough keeping them occupied in the summer, especially the twins who tended to get cranky and threaten to hit everyone, and then make good on that threat for most of the day. Peanut was a tad easier, especially because of some wonderful activities started up on Jun 1st in the kids library that we have in our community - a separate post about that soon. 

I was particularly proud of myself this year for the way in which I handled Peanut's homework. That is, I made her actually do it, and reasonably well in time, which is quite a contrast from the previous year - when she did about 40 days homework over the last two days. Perhaps it's largely due to my sabbatical, but my attitude towards homework has changed. I still get mildly irritated when it involves having to go out and buy stuff, or in cases where it looks like it's more the parents' homework than the kids' - but I think it's fairly useful, and gets me to connect with what's happening at school and how much she's absorbing. It's still a little too early to say, but for the first time in my life - I may actually not hate homework. 

Didn't touch the twins' homework till the last minute though.Oh well. 1 out of 3 ain't bad. Next year, we'll make further progress. 

First Family Holiday. Ever.

It is true. Just as the holidays were coming to an end, we gave in to young Peanut's plea ( we HAVE to go on a holiday - all my friends have gone...why can't WE go on a nauseum) and went off to - hold your breath - okay, let it out, it was Sariska. For about the fourth time in the last few years. Seriously, there are such few doable holidays around Delhi as compared to Bangalore...but never mind that. 

Net-net, we decided that Peanut was right and we had to get away, even if it was just for a day. Of course, it actually ended up being just for a day - we left on Friday and came back on Saturday. We all piled into our Innova - which we had decided to buy when we learned that we were having twins, and a good buy it was. The three kids, Vijay, me and our help R. And off we went, with a prayer on our lips. 

It was a surprisingly pleasant holiday. Peanut was terribly excited about going to 'Sophia' as she mistakenly referred to it initially. Pickle and Papad were a little more apprehensive, especially since we were staying at a place called Sariska Tiger Heaven, and they thought they would be greeted by a tiger there. We reached after a four hour drive, with Vijay criticising my choice of resort because it was a grand total of four kilometers away from the entrance to the sanctuary. The only reason I didn't give into my urge to throw something at his head was that he was the one driving all of us. 

Despite the fact that it was so hot, we bravely set out for an afternoon safari, and thankfully it became quite cool as we rode into the jungle for about three hours. The kids were terribly excited by all of this, and of course, they took turns to fall asleep. I enjoyed the safari, as I always do, and apparently there are now about seven tigers there, though as always, we didn't see any although we came face-to-face with plenty of other bemused fauna. As far as I'm concerned, I don't really want to see a tiger there anyway - partly because it'll take away the mystique of the whole thing, partly because I think I'd be a little scared and not know what to say and mostly because it's just habit for me to go to Sariska and not see a tiger. 

Anyway, in spite of the enthusiasm of our guide, who seemed determined to give us an eyeful of the striped animal if it meant spending the night there, we managed to get out at about seven pm and get back to our hotel. One of the nice things about the place was that there was a pool there - to my irritation, young Peanut had started whining while on the jungle safari about wanting to get back to swim in the pool. All three of the children had quickly overcome their initial wonder at seeing so many animals, and were now treating all the peacocks, deer, neelgai, langurs etc almost as if those lovely creatures were mere cows on a Gurgaon roadside. I pointed out to Peanut that she could swim every day back home but could only go on a jungle safari once in a while, but this logic didn't impress her, and she kept up the pressure about the pool. I lay there exhausted on the poolside long-chairs-which-I-don't-know-the-names-of and watched the three kids splash about, happier than they'd been the whole day. 

The next day we went to Siliserh, another one of our old favorites and went boating. Again, it was terribly hot by the time we got there, but since we were on a speedboat and also constantly fearing for our children's lives, the minutes went by rather quickly. The kids were quite thrilled by this part of our little holiday. They then proceeded to take turns to have their respective meltdowns on the drive back home, and about four exhausting hours  later, we were home- happy to have have successfully had our first family holiday, and even happier to be back home. 

Lastly, on Sariska Tiger Heaven.

I told myself I must do a review on this place. I found it on Google and then checked out a few reviews on Tripadvisor. We'd never stayed at Sariska before, so I wanted to be sure about the place. The reviews were good, and the owner was quite helpful when I first spoke to him on the phone. However, the email that he was to send me with the details never came. I followed up with him and eventually spoke to his manager, and was told something about a poor internet connection. 

Anyway, I got the details I needed in another phone call with the owner, and eventually we landed up - he had been nice enough to give us directions and so on. The place was just a little out of the way, but not enough to make a substantial difference, even though the last 800 meters were off the main road and slightly difficult to navigate. 

The resort itself was quite nice, in terms of size and location, but I felt it could do with better maintenance. The rooms were spacious, but on the outside, there was a bewildering use of the color yellow, which was a rather unfortunate choice, in my personal opinion. The staff was nice and helpful although they were quite mystified at our request for a Coke and proved somewhat unequal to the task - they said they had a really small fridge and though we wanted the Coke with lunch, they only managed to give us one by dinnertime. Not that I'm personally opposed to places which don't believe in Coke, and in fact, I really liked the fact that the meals were the home-cooked variety, with paneer being a bit of a constant, but a surprising serving of chicken at dinner making Peanut's day. 

The only issues I had with the place were that the owner wasn't as responsive once we were actually there - I tried speaking with him a couple of times, but he got cut off and didn't bother to call back. Also, I was surprised by the fact that he didn't know all that much about the Sanctuary itself - he advised me to take our own car into the sanctuary and that's why we decided to brave it in the afternoon in the first place - because we were planning to keep the A/C on for the kids. But when we got there, it turned out that no cars were being allowed in except on Saturdays and ( I think) Tuesdays, and so we were forced to go in the jeep. It turned out well, but it made me wonder - if someone's making a living off running a resort at Sariska - and believe you me, the stay wasn't cheap - wouldn't they at least know more about the main attraction, the reason why they got any clientele at all? I thought it was a bit strange. The other thing that irked me was the fact that they gave us some really random soap for three rupees that didn't lather at all. I mean, come on. If you're charging someone thousands to stay for one night, at least give them a regular bar of soap to use. Don't scrimp on the basics, guys. But then- such is life, I suppose. 

Overall, however, I was reasonably happy with the stay there, and the kids had a good time. I'd give it about two and a half stars out of five, maximum two point seven five. 

The extra .25 was added because of the messaging on the mug that I noticed in the bathroom. I give you a picture of the same below. 

It read - 

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
An eternity in an hour. 

I was impressed by the profundity of it all, and this put me in an unusually good mood. Of course, I was tempted to add the lines - 

'To soar into the upper reaches of grandiosity,
Undeterred by your own inherent nature as a bit of a potty-mug'

It was all very charming. 

Other pictures below.

The kids looking at a peacock after their lunch. The place was full of 'em.

Peanut and Pickle share the tyre-swing hanging from a tree. Another charming little touch.

 Deer and peacocks in the sanctuary.

 Surprised neelgai.

Dancing peacock.

Peanut looks out at the lake in Siliserh.
 View from the boat.
Me and my littlest son, Papad as we ride the speedboat across the lake. He doesn't look too happy but I think I more than make up for it.