Monday, March 24, 2014

Big Questions

Occasionally I start agonising about whether it is yet time to go back to work. 

I decided to put the question to higher authorities today.

"So, do you think I should get a job?"


"Yes? Okay... What job should I do?"

"Umm... I think... Zero." Said Papad.

"What? I'm serious. What job should I do?"

"I think.. Red... Blue... Green."

"Papad!! I'm saying what JOB?"

"WHAT Isss JOB-a?" Shouted back my equally frustrated son. 

Never mind, I growled. I went in search of Peanut instead. 

"Peanut, listen. Do you think I should go back to work?"

"Anything you like." Said the little one wisely.

"Okay. But what should I do? What work have you seen me do?"

Peanut, who likes lists, got very interested and started ticking it all off.

"I've seen you writing books." Hmm. True that.

"I've seen you teaching the Happy School kids." Yes. Worthy cause, if only one day a week.

"I've seen you buying Tara's gift." ( recency effect - the party was yesterday. Still. I was beginning to feel better. Nothing like a little ego massage from your offspring)

"And the Zumba?" I prompted.

"Oh ya, I forgot that... And the piano and the singing?"

While these are actually classes I'm taking, I thought what the heck, if the daughter thinks it is work, it's probably work in some way. Besides, am certainly paying a lot of attention to her musical education. Not a bad mom. I began to preen. 

"And the cakes you bake for us...and you helped me with my Macau Diorama project... And took us all for Pickle-Papad's graduation day."

I was satisfied now. "You're right, Peanut." I patted her on the head and sighed " I do a lot of work even if I don't go to an office. It's all going to be fine."

"Sure" said Peanut cheerfully and skipped out of the room to play with her brothers.

She then popped her head back in and said -

"But Mama!" Her eyebrows were knitted with worry."Where will you get MONEY from?"

After a few moments of aghast silence, I started to wail.

She stared at me in fascination for a while and then decided I was joking. She giggled and waited for me to stop. I just wailed louder.

"Silly mama." she pronounced and disappeared again, leaving me to my tears and now-stifled sobs. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Little Graduates

Yesterday was the Graduation Ceremony for Pickle and Papad. I know it makes them sound like they're about twenty years old whereas they are actually only 3.5, but still, it's an important day because it marks their moving out of their playschool and into the Big School.

It was purely by chance that some years ago we stumbled upon one of the nicest and less-marketed playschools in Gurgaon - little Peanut blossomed there and it was a no-brainer for us to put Pickle-Papad there too. How time flies. And now, next month, the twins are going to be out of the house for 6 hours instead of three. (Sniff sob High FIVE!)

In the last couple of such events where my kids go on stage, I've tended to get unnecessarily emotional. Vijay was fidgeting at a recital of Peanut's a few months ago and he turned to me to complain about why we had to sit through such long agonising performances when Peanut already knew we loved her - instead, his words froze on his lips as he saw me blubbering with tears running down my cheeks. He was both alarmed and amused, and tried to tell me it was okay, it was only a little while to go before the Pippi Longstocking performance ended and we could get out of there. It took me a while to explain to him why I was crying - our kids were growing up so fast, and it was evident only when they were up there now, making fools of themselves on stage - as if they were adults in the real world already.

I was determined however, to be in complete control during this graduation ceremony. Vijay, regretfully, was out of the country. My mother and sister came along for the ceremony, which was very sweet of them, I must say. Having done a few of these now, I know it takes a whole lot of love to actually take out the time and show up for occasions such as this one, even if it seems like no big deal to anyone else. So the three of us, and little Peanut of course, sat there in the aisles waiting for the twins to come on stage.

As we waited, we witnessed a strange sort of fight taking place in the row ahead of us. One grandma-grandpa type had happily occupied a whole row in the charming, uniquely Indian style of ''I am reserving this seat with my purse, this one with my snotty hanky, this one with my invitation card which looks exactly like your invitation card but who cares it's mine so ha ha.'' The lady arguing with them was a middle-aged one sitting in the row in front of them - and she was most distraught as she had apparently reserved those 5 seats behind her, and they had just happily occupied 2 of them them and were now reserving the remaining three.

The grandpa type told her ''There is no reservation system here, madam'' ignoring the fact that he was blocking the same seats she had been blocking. The lady had a thing or two to say to them, but the oldies just ignored them. I was quite appalled at them - while it wasn't that big a deal on the whole, they were really being unfair and small. The frustrated lady instructed her small sardar son to sit on the empty seat next to the grandma, and to my shock, the grandma kept her hand on the seat possessively while the little boy squirmed uncomfortably there - not sure whether to obey his mother, or to take the subtle hint that this old lady next to him was giving. I turned to my sister and we exchanged a look - it's amazing how some people can't grow up - in their seventies.

Peanut was fidgeting too now. ''I can't see,'' she complained ''his handkerchief is blocking the view.''

''Patka...hang on, there's nothing happening on stage right now anyway'' I whispered, as did my mother at the same time. I realized I must introduce more awareness in my children of other cultures. I just don't have enough Sardar friends in my life. The only time a Sardar shows up in my life is when I'm sitting in the audience, waiting for a performance to start, in which case, there will soon be one happily sitting in front of me and blocking my view. As if on cue, the squirming little sardar's huge grandfather was brought over by Ms. Frustrated Lady, and made to sit next to him. Even as I sat there stoically staring into a bright red turbon, I was delighted that the cranky mean grandma's hand was soon withdrawn, even as her family arrived and they realized that all they had to do was drag a few more chairs up to the same row to seat them all together. Ridiculous, I thought. I shifted up a couple of seats myself and soon got a view of the stage.

Peanut was restless, and started to ask every few seconds when Pickle-Papad would come on stage. ''And don't forget you promised us all Orange Bar Icecream'' she told me. I replied that I hadn't forgotten but if she continued to remind me throughout the performance, she could forget about it. She made a pouty face which immediately won over my soft hearted sister, who can never understand why Peanut would ever need a scolding (because she doesn't live with her). Finally the announcements were made and the show started.

There were a bunch of songs, dances, speeches. I kept looking out for my sons, but there was no sign of them. I became slightly worried. I knew they didn't have any lead roles in anything, considering that I had been handed over two ''Flower'' costumes for the two of them. I was resigned to the fact that my sons were going to be flowers on stage, but it really didn't look as if any flora was going to be a part of the show at all. Finally, young Papad showed up amongst a bunch of kids who were reciting some poems, including the likes of 'She'll be climbing down the mountain when she comes'', which has to be one of the more pointless songs of its time. There was also Re-mama-re-mama-re during which Papad became rather animated, even as the rather politically inappropriate lines of 'Peechhe pad gayi Moti'' rang out.

The whole show, despite it's notable lack of Pickle-ness, was a very well-organised one and I was impressed, once again with how the team had pulled it all off, led by its beautiful Director, an elegant lady in her late fifties who always makes feel feel frumpy and inadequate. There was so much warmth and love in the speech that the Director gave about the graduating students that I felt a lump in my throat. And as the performance of the Three Little Pigs, the grand finale of the day, started, I actually started to cry.

I sat there, quietly blubbering - nobody noticed, not my mother and sister who were engrossed in the performance, and not Peanut, who was engrossed in playing Temple Run 2 on my mother's phone. It looked like I would be crying throughout the play, but luckily, the littlest pig ''who was always hungry'' had the most endearing way of delivering his constant line '' Please give me the-something to eat-a.'' This cheered me up considerably. Then I noticed that there was some louder blubbering taking place. Apparently Piggy No.2 was frightened by how loud the sound was on stage because he was sitting in his house of sticks and crying away to glory. Everyone felt sorry for him, but I was filled with admiration with the fact that he apparently had a stoic belief in the phrase ''The show must go on'' because when his unfortunate little pig-brother showed up, he delivered his line while crying ''Whhoo is it?''

The littlest brother, who had been chased here by the wolf, who was currently prancing about on stage left chasing his own tail, said ''The wolf is going to eat me.'' he then added ''I'm hungry. Please give me the-something to eat-a''.

The audience, including a now-happy me, all laughed. The crowning glory of the play for me was the next line, delivered by the still-wailing Piggy no. 2 ''Oh Piggy Dum-dum. You're always hungry.'' followed by a quivering sob as he covered his ears against the sound of the feedback from the mikes. Such angst! Such emotion! Masterfully done, Piggy 2. Masterfully done.

Anyhow, the play continued. There was an exciting chase that took place around Piggy 2's house with the wolf chasing the two pig brothers around the house of sticks. In his over-wrought stage, Piggy 2 ran too fast and soon he was running about an inch behind the wolf. This made me laugh so hard that I unfortunately missed most of what happened next, especially because the wolf's mike got displaced in all the excitement and was now hanging in the vicinity of his fake tail. Overall, I have to say it was a roaring success.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, there was the Flower dance, and a rather surprised looking Pickle and Papad, their faces wrapped tight in their bright flower headgear, bodies in the green suits that I had dressed them up in, finally made their grand entry amongst other flowers. They got into the song soon enough, and another highlight for me was how Pickle became overenthusiastic and did a few more spins (about seventeen extra) than the other flowers before settling back into his position at the back of the stage.

The graduation ceremony concluded with the handing over of certificates to the batch of 2014, all dressed up in gowns and hats, just like the real thing. This too was remarkably cute as the kids were all going the wrong way after collecting their certificates, a few falling asleep on stage, and Pickle scratching his ear so vigorously that he seemed to have channelized a dog, and knocked off his cute little graduation hat. Through it all, the staff of teachers and all their helpers, retained their cool, flitting about in pretty saris, exuding both warmth and dignity. I truly admire this school and everyone who is a part of it. If I wore a hat, I would take it off for them.

The parents gave the school a standing ovation, and I noted that grumpy grandma and grandpa right in front of us were the only ones who didn't stand up. It didn't spoil the moment in the least. Also, to my immense satisfaction, the National Anthem was the concluding song, and the oldies had to then get to their feet, rather grudgingly. Before you get too sympathetic about this elderly couple, let me inform you they were in fine health and had got up a couple of times during the performance to generally walk around and stretch.

We were now invited out for the tea and snacks while the little performers were changed out of their costumes. Hungry and tired, we made our way there,and soon had our plates of samosas, cake, biscuit and tea. I was looking around for Peanut, and failed to notice a couple of steps, lost my balance, and clumsily teetered, dropping the tea all over the food and onto the ground. A collective ''ooohhhh'' went up, as I danced around foolishly and eventually landed right next to my mother and sister, who tried to pretend they didn't know me. My sister was quite nonchalant as she asked ''How come we're always falling?''

I informed her I have no idea, and haughtily went to fetch myself another cup of tea. When I returned, I thanked my mom and sis for coming today, and my sister said 'Ah come on, we love the twins.'

'Oh, so you don't love Peanut?' I said craftily. My sister looked uncomfortable as she frowned and tried to remember why she hadn't shown up for that ceremony.

My mother, always helpful, piped up ' I don't think you invited her, Y.' Now it was my turn to look uncomfortable as the sister looked daggers at me. We concluded the discussion amicably, saying that I had probably invited her but she had probably been working that Saturday. Before mom could say anything else, I changed the subject and luckily, little Pickle and Papad soon burst onto the scene.

We enveloped the little stars in hugs and kisses, and congratulated them, while they did their version of Piggy Dum-dums 'Please give me the-something to eat-a.' After their little tummies were filled, we took them home for some of that that Orange Bar Ice-cream which had only been mentioned a dozen times by Peanut after I warned her not to.

And just like that, the twins are Graduates.

We couldn't take a picture in the show, but this one of them below is when they got outside - just before Pickle managed to break the souvenir mug that he was presented. That crisis was managed by some quick-thinking on my part ( i.e. Don't cry, Pickle, Daddy will fix it when he's home, and how about that Orange Bar we're going to have now, eh?)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chickening Out.

A while ago, fter a bout of severe illness due to an unfortunate encounter with some Chinese food, I had sworn that I would limit my intake of food from outside to once a year. However, the fact that we cannot cook non-veg food in the house (out of respect for the Brahmin side of the family) means that it has to be ordered and consumed rather discreetly, and given how much the kids enjoy their chicken, we have been ordering or eating out about once a week. 

My sister, of course, has turned suddenly into an outstanding cook. The other day she brought over some special chicken she had experimented with - she told me that she had brought just about enough for me, and that I should probably not give it to the kids as it contained a lot of spice. Fair enough, I thought, and after the kids had eaten dinner and had been put to bed, I decided to heat up the chicken and have my own dinner. 

I stood at the microwave and pressed the switch. Within about three seconds, there was a little voice at my elbow saying 'Mama, I kin smell chikin.' Goodness. I looked down at Pickle. The lad had quite a nose. Considering that my sister had actually brought over a fair bit, as I had discovered when I opened the box, I thought I might as well let him try a little - even though it was probably too spicy for him. 

His brother and sister, intrigued by Pickle's absence, soon appeared at the dining table and we shared the chicken - or rather, the children devoured it while I looked on in amazement. These are kids who run panting for their glasses of water screaming ''Mirchi'' even if there is a hint of spice in their food. But clearly, the rules are different when it comes to non-veg food for some reason. Such as the fact that they had just eaten their dinner but were clearly undaunted by the prospect of eating some more now. 

Pickle sat back and pronounced with some relish that 'Masi's chikin was mosht tasty.' Peanut was also very impressed, even asking me what Masi had put in this? I took a bite and was still trying to figure out what the ingredients would be, when Peanut lost interest in the original question and went on to pose a far more exciting one. 

''Mama...Did she kill the hen herself for it?''

Now, my child has a certain morbid side to her and matters of life and death are of great interest to her. But somehow, the thought of my sister having murdered a chicken with her own bare hands made me feel a little nauseous. Peanut didn't seem too bothered by the thought at all, judging by how she was now licking her fingers while waiting for me to respond. Somehow I lost my appetite. 

Vijay would much prefer for the children to be vegetarian, and there's a part of me that wants to turn vegetarian too. However, considering how no other food tastes that good...(Why is that, by the way? Why can't we actually have fake-chicken-veg preparations in this day and age of science and engineering and fiddling with all the good stuff?) seems as if the non-veg will continue to be a part of our lives on a weekly and rather covert basis. There are times when I've seen Vijay (nose slightly wrinkled) also feed the twins with chicken morsels, when all other forms of food are being shunned, and that's something. 

This week, I decided it was time for some non-veg, given that several days had elapsed since the last round. Increasingly becoming a bit of a junkie for ordering things online, I tried a website someone told me about called  - and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to narrow down on restaurants in my locality. I selected from the menu of a restaurant called Spices of India - one Hyderabadi Biryani and some good ol' Butter Chicken - there, that would be something new for the children. I finished placing the order fairly smoothly, despite having to create an account and verify it - I was actually very pleased at not having had to pick up the phone and talk to someone about my order- especially since the children, who were hovering around me, always  go beserk when they hear me ordering their favourite meal, and go jumping around the house, screaming 'Chikin is coming' and subsequently demanding loudly, at intervals of two seconds, whether the Chikin is here yet, much to my annoyance (and that of poor Vijay, who is always mortally afraid that Papaji will hear them. I think he does, of course, but pretends not to. ) 

The food arrived and it was pretty delicious. Pickle took his first bite of Butter Chicken and exclaimed 'Isme Ice-cream daala hai...' Close enough, I told him - it is kind of creamy. I watched my children polish off the chicken, the rice pretty much untouched. This time, I figured, I would eat with them and not wait till the end. I served myself a plateful and was just about to dig in, when Peanut, busy chewing upon a bone posed her very thoughtful question to me - 

''Mama... is the gravy the blood of the chicken?''

I froze and then put my spoon down gently. I swallowed, feeling slightly sick in the stomach region. I informed my daughter that the gravy was composed of matter other than the actual blood of the unfortunate deceased. I could barely eat a piece after this, and certainly didn't enjoy what I ate. Peanut, of course, helped herself to more and generously offered to eat my portion as well. 

Vegetarianism may not be such a bad idea after all, I say. Shall try it again. Someday. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Happy School Annual Day Challenge

I have always found it a good idea to put out there in the public domain any challenge that I am setting for myself. I find that it helps to keep me from making excuses and sneaking away later. That's why I've been giving statements in a couple of interviews last week about how I intend to write five books by the time I'm 40 ( 2 down, 3 to go and 6 years to do them, so that sounds do-able, right? Right!)

However, this one is a more short-term and somehow rather daunting one. It's the Happy School Annual Day challenge.

I told the lovely Mrs. Kamal Capoor ( who runs this wonderful institution for underprivileged kids where I volunteer on weekends) that I've been thinking of doing a little Zumba session for the kids in my class, rather than the regular story-telling and so on. I missed a couple of weeks of going to the school for a bunch of reasons, and when I landed up today with my laptop and music, I discovered that she would like me to prep the kids for a little performance for their Annual Day, on the 31st of March. I wasn't sure about whether I'd be able to do it given the limited time, but said I was willing to just give it a shot today and then decide.

She said she would arrange to have some of the kids come in, and while I set the music up, they trickled in. A rather enthusiastic, motley crew, I noticed, aged anywhere between 6-8. I recognised a few of them by name, but not most.

'Where are the others?' I asked them.

'Madam, they are in the other practice, Madam.' came the high-pitched reply.

Okay. Whatever. I figured it might be easier to just manage about eight or ten kids anyway. I finished getting the music ready. Their courtyard with its raised platform that acts as a stage had been cleared for my benefit and the other regular teachers sat around, looking on curiously.

The music started up. I figured that my original choreo to ''Gal Mitthi Mithhi Bol'' would be simple enough and yet peppy and fun. And so we started, me on the stage and the rest of them looking up at me bright eyed and eager. I got into the groove and within about three seconds realized this was going to be a disaster.

Mrs. Capoor was bustling about but I knew she was keeping an eye on things. The teachers looked more interested now, and a bunch of older students came and sat around to watch too.  I kept the movements up, but I was fairly aghast at what I was witnessing down there.

This bunch of little children was the most uncoordinated I have ever seen in my life. When I went one way, half of them went the other. I raised my left hand, to indicate they should raise their right, and again there was massive confusion. Single-single-double moves became double-single-spin. I asked them to spin to the right, they went left. You get the picture, right? Absolute. Disaster.

I re-started the song, and decided to keep my back to them so that I was facing in the same direction. That, I thought naively, might cut out some of the confusion. I repeated the moves to the song, glancing backwards with some difficulty to see what was going on behind me. I caught sight of little Peanut's face, as she stood hiding behind a pillar, peeping out to see the performance. It reflected a mixture of horror and amusement. She caught my eye and grinned cheerily. I could see her mouthing the words ''All wrong, Mama!''

Luckily, at this point, we were interrupted by some heaven sent visitors from Saudi Arabia who wanted to check out the school. A wise decision by somebody was made that their well practiced Vande Mataram might paint a better picture for this worthy school in the international scene than the parody that I was leading. I said I would take one of the classrooms and practice there. At least we wouldn't have spectators here.

The little performers dutifully followed me into the room and I shut the door behind me. This was the nursery classroom and only two tiny children sat there, looking rather surprised by our entry. I realised that since everybody was preparing for Annual day, all the regular classes were on hold. The Grade 2 kids cleared the chairs to the side, keeping their chattering up.

'Okay.' I let out a sharp breath. 'Let's try this again.'

I worked with them on the steps over and over again. Their enthusiasm seemed to wane. Madam wasn't being that much fun today. This song was tough. The steps were too tough. I simplified the steps. Still too tough. Simplified further. 'Yes, Madam, this is easy, now can we go?' NO, I told them, show me the steps if you think they're all easy now.

After about fifteen more minutes of this, I was sweaty, tousled and clutching my forehead in despair. Peanut, having overcome her shyness in this more private setting was still inordinately cheerful. 'They are still doing it all wrong, Mama!' She informed me.

'I know that, I can see!' I snapped at her. I stared at the little devils. They stared back, some with eyes shining brightly, most looking like they were wondering what they had done to deserve this. I stood there, hand on my hips, thinking this just wasn't going to work out.

As if on cue, the door opened and Mrs. Capoor poked her head in. I looked at her beseechingly, and there was warmth and kindness in her eyes 'I know...I saw they are having some see, they aren't the best of the students.'

I looked at her closely. 'As in?'

'Well.' She said 'The other children have already got parts in the play, or other songs and dances...these are the ones who weren't selected for anything else...'

Aha. This was starting to make some sense. She said 'What I can do is see if there are some of the other kids who are more likely to get what you want them to least then you'll have some...'

'No, Ma'am.' I made a random, impetuous decision. 'I'll work with these kids only. Don't get me any others, it will just mean more kids to manage.'

She smiled, her white hair glistening and she then quickly withdrew from the room, to go and manage something else that needed looking into.

I stared after her thoughtfully.

These were the kids that hadn't been picked for anything else. No wonder then that this had been a nightmare so far. But then - these were the kids that wouldn't get to be a part of anything if I gave up on them. No way.

I turned to them, steely resolve in my voice 'So, are we ready to try again?'

They looked at me dully, arranged in various positions, languidly hanging about the room except for one little boy near the front who was jumping in excitement - either that, or he had to go to the loo and was holding it in. My heart sank as I took their appearance in - they looked worn out and defeated and we had barely got even one of the steps right yet. No way were we going to be ready on time, even if I came in every single day.

As if in answer to my question, two of the children who were sitting on top of a round table suddenly crashed to the floor as the table tipped over, unable to withstand their combined weight. Immediately, the other kids surrounded them.

'Pagal hai kya?'
'TOLD you not to sit there.'
'Madam, yeh hamesha aise karte hai.'
'Practice time pe koi baith-ta hai, kya?'
'Nikaal do inko, Madam.'

'QUIIIEEEETTTTT' I yelled and everybody froze, including Peanut. I never used that tone in the classroom ( it is especially reserved for Pickle and Papad, usually). But this was serious now.

Unfortunately while I was about 2/3rds of the way into my yelling, the door opened and one particularly sweet-faced Saudi Arabian lady with her scarf wrapped around her head poked her head into the room. Her camera hovered uncertainly as she took in the scene, and I tried to make up for it by giving her a pleasant smile. She gulped a little and snapped a quick picture of us and then scuttled away. I growled a little under my breath and went over and shut the door tight, even bolting it from inside to make sure there would be no more interruptions.

'Now.' I barked. 'Do you guys want to do this or not?'

'Yes, Ma'am.' came the obedient reply from about three of the children.

'NOT GOOD ENOUGH.' I said. 'Did you hear what Kamal Ma'am said? You guys haven't got parts in the other performances. This is your only chance. Do you actually want to be sitting around and just watching the others for the whole day, or do you want to be in a performance.'

'Yes, Ma'am! Hum bhi dance karenge.'

'Well then I do NOT want to see you wasting time. I want to see you paying attention and doing this PROPERLY. And that means I don't want to hear any conversation or complaints about each other, you hear me?'

'Yes, Ma'am.' Stronger and more enthusiastic now. It seemed they were now realising that this was their only chance to get up on stage.

I saw one of the kids edging towards the door. 'WHERE ARE YOU GOING?'

He turned around trembling and I realized he was one of the two tiny 4 year olds who actually belonged in this Nursery class that we had taken over. He had his bag and his bottle and was apparently merely trying to leave for the day. Feeling a little foolish, I patted him on the head and unbolted the door to let him out. His remaining little classmate made a spot decision and fled with alacrity too. I shut the door again and turned back to practice with the now-pumped-up Grade 2 students.


A couple of hours later at home and after the indubitably unsuccessful practice session, I was complaining about the whole predicament to Vijay who had dropped in to pick up some stuff and grab a quick bite of lunch. His immediate contribution through a mouthful of food was 'Machhar Dance.' I drew myself up icily but he hastened to explain that I should just build in some random arm-flapping and get them to freeze at certain points. I'm not sure this can work, but I do know they are good at playing Statue - in fact, that's the only way I can get the class to quiet down during my regular lessons. How I can build it into a song where I'm going to just be watching from the sidelines, I don't know, but there must be some way. I will also need to work on the steps further to make them super-simple and easy to remember. The next day days are going to be interesting. And I know I can still say ''No'' and focus my attention, energy and time on some other projects, but it's just the next couple of weeks and by GOD, I think I can DO this. Step one has been to announce it on my blog.

Don't let me chicken out of this, guys.

P.S - Here's the list of participating students that I noted down today. I'm not sure why this is important, but you can send them positive vibes and loads of encouragement and pray that they actually get to go up on stage on the 31st of March.

Sunny P.
Sunny (Just Sunny)
Gulfan ( who said it so softly and shyly, that I thought it was Toofan the first few times, but suspected it couldn't be the case)
Rishi (the bright eyed kid who was still jumping at the end)
Neha Shah
Neha Singh
Anju Kumari.

Let's see how it goes, eh?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Little Buddha

My littlest son, Papad, is one of my favourite children, aside from Peanut and Pickle. He was born a minute after Pickle, but is the baby of the family to all of us. A tryst with a Tarot reader at a school fair once enlightened me to the fact that he is in fact the incarnate of one of my wise ancestors, and that he is very Buddha-like and therefore,  I would do well to listen to his advice as he grows up.

Papad is a particularly cheerful little child, and rather fond of me. He's the one that gives me the tightest and most frequent hugs, and often says 'I lowe you Mummy', arms wrapped around me and kissing my tummy, which he's already tall enough to reach (he's already got about an inch's height advantage over his older twin brother). Needless to say, such displays of affection melt my heart and I nurse a special soft corner for this child.

So when Vijay looks at him and says 'Yeh toh Budhhu hai hamara', my natural reaction is to rise up in his defense. ''Not at all! He's also very you know what he did yesterday?...' and I launch into some story of his genius that Vijay immediately tunes out on.

Vijay's philosophy has something to do with how we needn't save for our children - I forget the exact phrase but it goes something like - if your offspring is good, why save for them? If your offspring is bad, why save for them.

He often examines little Papad trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, and the slightest hesitation on the poor child's part results in Vijay remarking out loud ''But for a little buddhu, we must leave a little money behind.''

I bristle at this and try to tell him that as parents, we must not seed such thoughts in our children's head - it can affect their confidence, self-esteem and god-knows-what-else. We must in fact reinforce the positives.

So he turns towards Peanut, who is blissfully absorbed in a book, and says ''Peanut. You read so much. You'll do very well.'' He then adds innocently. ''Just give some of your money to Papad, okay?''

Peanut nods without looking up, and I glare at Vijay who studiously avoids my eye for as long as he can.

I was reading a book to both Pickle and Papad yesterday - it's a night-time ritual, they both choose one of the many books that Peanut has collected over the last 3 years and bring it to me for a quiet snuggle and read. I noticed that Papad had brought an activity book - Baby Mickey, Donald, etc.

I opened the first page, and there sat Baby Donald surrounded by some toys. ''Can you identify the toys that begin with D?'' I asked my children, as per the instruction. I prompted further ''The Duhh sound''

Papad immediately pointed to a car, and said ''Duh-Car!''

I said 'Er, no, Papad. Try again...look...'

He scanned the page while Pickle looked on indulgently. Papad then offered ''Duh-Ball!''

'Papad! It's not D-car and D-ball. Look!' I pointed in frustration at the doll, and said 'What is this?'

The light of recognition shone from his scrubbed face as he said triumphantly ''Duh-Barbie-Doll!!''

Giving up, I asked Pickle ''Pickle, can you try.''

''Dlums, Doggy, Doll.'' Came the solemn reply.

Papad then threw a hissy fit, insisting that this was a story book and not an activity book and that ''You're cheating, Mama!'' I had to hastily convert the exercise into a really disjointed story based on the pictures on subsequent pages ( And then Goofy told his friends a story and then they heard Pluto digging for a bone and then Mini splashed about in her pool and then....). Pickle listened a little dubiously to the tale, but Papad concluded ''Such a nice story.'' when I finished.

Overall, I was Duh-feated. My littlest baby was being a Duh. The Little Buddha is sometimes a little Buddhu.

However, I've decided that it really duh-sn't matter all that much. He's a happy child, affectionate, loving and definitely has his bright moments. He's got a very sweet personality too (apart from when you try to make him wear socks, but that's another story). And plus, he's got a smile like no other, he'll be able to charm his way out of anything.

So what if he takes slightly longer than the others to come up to speed? It's time to drop the comparison that comes so naturally, especially when you've got twins. So what, I say! If he learns to read and use the computer later than the others, it just means that I can let this particular post stay up that much longer on this damning blog of mine!

Rock on, L'il Man! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

And Now We Try The Piano

I've been dithering on the subject of learning piano for a while. My tryst with musical instruments goes back a long way, and it's more sporadic than I would like.

I've learned guitar from at least 3 teachers so far, spread out over several years and only for a few months at a time. I'm more self-taught than anything else, and definitely not the self-taught genius variety - more the dabbler-sorts. And now, for several months I haven't touched my guitar, which makes me feel guilty, given that I bought this new one just a couple of years ago.

Then, there was the time when I was learning drums in Bangalore. It features in my first book, as -

I had recently started these under the tutelage of a young man with the extremely engaging name of Ryan Mario Crispin Colaco. He was the drummer for a band called Kryptos and had what Vijay termed ‘bhayanak talent’.
I would later come to know the kind of fan following Ryan had amongst music lovers but at that point, he was somebody whose number I had got from someone else. When I spoke to him on the phone to set up my first lesson, we planned to meet outside the Lifestyle mall near his house. I waited a tad nervously for him to show up. Suddenly, a really tall, dark, well-built man sporting a French beard with his long hair in a ponytail came walking up to me. He matched the mental picture that I had formed of Ryan and I became even more nervous. Just as I was reaching out to shake his hand, he walked past me and as I looked after him in confusion, a voice behind me rang out, ‘Yashodhara?’
I turned to see a skinny, fair young man who was nearly a head shorter than me. This was the real Ryan Mario Crispin Colaco. His languid gait, extremely long curly hair and the fact that the smell of smoke lingered about him identified him as a real Rocker. We shook hands and I grinned at him as he led me to his house to start up the lessons. This dude wasn’t scary at all.
Ryan was humorous, talented and would turn out to be a great teacher. It was another matter that I didn’t practise at home at all and therefore never made any real progress, though he assured me that I ‘had the rhythm within me’. Clearly, it wasn’t going to come out anytime soon, but I had fun during the weekend lessons anyway – although I got a bigger kick out of just hearing him play new and incredibly complicated beats. 

The drums are currently packed up somewhere in my mom's house and haven't been touched for years. 

And now, as of yesterday, I am trying out the piano. It was a natural choice really, given that I've been sitting in on Peanut's classes and helping her for the last year, and have therefore picked up quite a bit, at least in theory. I realised that she's now moving much faster than I'm able to keep up with and I thought I should brush up a bit so that we can maybe someday play more duets like this one

My respect for my child went up immensely after yesterday's lesson, which I've started in a different music school from hers. I found that while my brain was able to read some of the music, it was a whole different matter sending the message to my damned fingers to just MOVE. The very nice, laugh-y teacher kept asking me to relax and gave me a few tips and tricks about how to practise, but I was quite mortified. I often point out mistakes in Peanut's playing (purely basis my ear for music, which is pretty good), but I don't think I've ever fully appreciated what it takes to learn a whole new language, to have read two sets of notes simultaneously (one for the right hand, one for the left) , and then to actually put those notes to work on the piano. The kid made it look so easy, and the regular practice of every single day ( enforced by me, in sickness and in health, very Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) has got her to progress really well. 

She was curious about my lesson yesterday and announced her intention to accompany me next time. I'm glad that it's bringing a certain degree of excitement to her - it's also bringing out her condescending and competitive side. 

'Having some trouble, Ma?' She called breezily from the other room as I practiced for 5 minutes this morning. 

'I'm fine, thanks.' I muttered, fingers hovering uncertainly over the keys. 

'That's an F-G on the left hand.' She offered helpfully. 

'Peanut, don't help.' I growled. 'Let me figure it out on my own.'

She came over and sat down next to me on the small piano stool. I tried to ignore her, but she was impatient, and kept humming the notes that I was missing. This irritated me. 

'Peanut, I know the tune myself, okay, I'm just trying to figure out how to read this.'

'But ma, why are you playing so slow?'

'Because I started learning yesterday, vis-a-vis you, who's been playing a whole year.'

'What's vis-a-vee?'

'Never mind!'

'So play properly, na.' Now it was her turn to get irritated. 

'Peanut, I'm trying, will you just give me a break? Go away and play. Have you brushed your teeth?'

'Yeah, see.' She gave me a wide, gap-toothed grin. 

'Okay, okay. Do something else.'

'No.' She was obstinate. 'I want to watch you. Shall I play the song with you?'

'No!' I swallowed. 'Not yet. Let me learn it myself first.'

She watched me like a hawk as I grit my teeth and played the song to the finish, slowly and carefully and very painfully. As the last note rang out, she reached out and quickly played the song flawlessly from start to end, with a little show-off-y flourish. She then gave me the gap-toothed grin again, this time triumphantly, with the clear unsaid message of 'I'm better'n you and always will be, old lady.' 

I rolled my eyes and got up. To my surprise, she continued to sit there - and for the first time in ages, she proceeded to practice on her own, without my having to say a word. 

I know I've been pushing this kid to practise, but my new teacher hinted to me that it may be a good idea to lay off the six-year-old and let her play more out of just the love for music and come to the piano herself. I had listened sceptically to this advise, knowing fully well that Peanut would rather watch cartoons or read a book than willingly practise. 

Well, if not the inherent love for music yet, at least the innate competitiveness that she's inherited from me will keep her at it, at least while I'm regular about my own ten minutes of practice. Yes, that's all my teacher said I need to do- which is a real relief because the idea of taking out 30-45 minutes each day to do this was a little overwhelming. 

Vijay was listening on the phone as I cribbed about Peanut and he warned me that I shouldn't get too competitive about this whole thing. I snapped at him, Of COURSE I want her to be better than me, don't be so's just that she keeps humming the notes in a condescending manner and saying things like 'Having trouble, Ma?'. But overall, the idea is for HER to develop faster, I assured him - I don't need to feel superior to a six year old, for God's sake! 

Luckily, on the phone, he couldn't see my fingers were crossed. 

Let the games begin. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Want To Marry Someone

Peanut came up to me as I was in the middle of a Zumba class yesterday, and tugged at my T-shirt.

'Peanut.' I hissed, batting her hand away. 'I've told you not to interrupt when I'm taking a class, right?'

'Okay, Mama, but this is important.'

'What?' I glanced apologetically at my students and bent down, feeling irritated. Why do I even bring her to class, I asked myself.

'I want to marry someone.'

Silence for two seconds.

'Okay...' I swallow. 'Who?'


'Who's that?'

'He's in my class.'

Thank god. It was just another six year old. ''Well, we'll talk about it after my class, okay?''

She grinned at me shyly and muttered 'But we've already decided to marry.' And ran off to the back of the room.

I tried to focus on my class, but I was both shaken and amused and it played on my mind.

Later in the evening, I brought it up with her again, as she was in the middle of reading her book. ' you want to tell Daddy about Aditya, too?'

'No!' She looked a little panicked at the idea. 'No way.'

'But why?' I asked.

'Just.' She said, her jaw set adamantly.

 I pressed on 'Okay, how about you tell me more about him?'

She thought about it for a long moment and then shrugged her shoulders and then she said carelessly. 'Look, I don't know him THAT much.'

With that, she went back to her book.

Well, it's pretty much how her parents decided to marry, so I guess it should be okay.

P.S - Femina reviewed Sorting Out Sid exactly two seconds after I put up the previous post. Click here to read their review!