Sunday, November 23, 2014

No Dearth of Clowns Here.


Last week, Peanut was in for a disappointment - her brothers were invited to a party and she wasn't. It's always been the other way round and she was wailing about it. I explained that this was the party of a 3 year old boy and a friend of the twins' and that she would have to get used to the fact that she wouldn't always get to go to parties where her brothers were invited. She muttered 'But the's always so delicious.' However, being a rather understanding child, she let the matter go.

The party ended and the twins came back, flushed with happiness. I was touched when I saw that they had actually got back a large piece of cake for young Peanut. What good brothers my little boys were turning out to be!

Peanut stuffed her mouth with the cake, now flushed with happiness herself.
'Wasn't it wonderful of Pickle and Papad to actually bring you cake? They must have heard you saying that's what you like best about parties!' I gushed.
Peanut swallowed another mouthful and then informed me 'Well, I told them to bring me some cake..'
'You DID?' I was aghast but only for a moment. My smile came back and I said 'Well, it's still something that they actually remembered to get it for you...very sweet of them, and...'
'Ya, but Mama' Peanut wanted to confess something, it seemed, and she went on. 'Actually, I promised them that I would pay each of them five rupees if they remembered...'
This time my smile disappeared for good, but my child continued innocently 'I knew they would never remember otherwise...'


Vijay and I were invited to our children's school for observing their Morning routines in the class. One day I went ( to Pickle's class) and the next day, Vijay went ( to Papad's).

I was amazed at the serenity with which all the activities were conducted. The storytelling, the morning circle...all with a certain hushed reverence around it. The children were terribly well-behaved. Pickle was pleased to have me hovering in the back of the class but when I reached out to tap him playfully in the back, he shrugged me off and whispered 'We don't play like that in the class.' I was mighty impressed with this good little boy.

And it struck me. How different our children were in the school environment just an hour after being shoved out of the house, with all the screaming and shouting about getting late and why aren't you wearing your socks and Now you'll miss your bus for sure and so on. Clearly, the teachers and the school had a certain thing going on. It was better to build this silent peaceful routine based on trust and respect and mutual understanding than to engage in threats and shouting all the time. We had a lot to learn.

I discussed this at length with Vijay later and then we turned to our twins. I asked, although I was sure I already knew the answer ' come you're so very good in school in the morning routine?'

The twins looked at each other and then Papad spoke up 'Becoss othelwise we will be taken to Plincipal office...' and Pickle added 'And the Madams will schold us!'

Vijay looked at my stricken face and said dryly ' it's not so different from here after all...'


Me (getting hassled especially by the twins in the morning) And the next time I see you guys without socks, you're getting punished! It's cold, and you're not well...
Peanut : But Mama, we feel hot in our socks at we take them out.
Me (snapping): I'm not talking about's okay when you sleep at night without your socks...I'm just saying that you should wear them in the mornings, okay?
Peanut (muttering to herself now): Okay, so that means as soon as I wake up without my socks, I'll be punished... first thing in the morning.


Me (reading a story to Papad) - and then Noddy said
Papad (getting up) I'm going to go bathroom,  Mama. (Turning back towards me and holds out his palm with imaginary remote control) PAUSE.


Me (trying to get Pickle to read the words in the story): And this is...?
Pickle: (Loudly) TO
Me: No, sweetie, that's 'in' ...we know 'in' we've done it so many times, right? Now I will read some words and you will read some...'So .. (looking questioningly at him, pointing to the word)
Pickle: THE
Me: (Very happy) That's correct. THE Baby Bear..(looking at him, pointing to the word)
Pickle: AND
Me ( Delighted) Yes! ( Now confident he can read most of the sentence- So the baby bear and his sister scrambled to their feet...) 
Pickle: AND...HIS...
Me (prompting on the bigger words): Sister...Scrambled...(Thinking... Come on, I know you can do this, Pickle...)
Pickle (face shining in triumph) EGG!


Vijay: I can't find my phone...
Me: Peanut, find Daddy's phone.
Peanut (calling from the other room): How?
Me: Think about would we find it?
Peanut (after a short pause, calls out) By calling him!
Me: Ya, so call him.
Peanut: How can I call him?
Me: (Rolling my eyes at Vijay. This is the kid who calls us every given opportunity from the landline to complain about her brothers, while we're in the office. I call out to her) Well, how do you always call him?
Peanut's voice floats in promptly, with a sweet sing-song lilt:  Oh, Daaaaa-ddddyyyy....

Saturday, November 15, 2014

3 Peas in a Pod

Pickle Story of the Day: 

'I'm hungry' he announces just as we leave the house. Vijay is driving us all out for an errand and all three kids are in the back, 'just along for the ride.'
'Already?' I say 'You just ate breakfast!'
'Ya but I'm still hungry, Mama.' he says, rubbing his tummy for effect.
Vijay is feeling indulgent. 'There's a McDonald's Drive-Thru.'
I open my mouth to protest, but then recall that Saturday is Junk Day as agreed between us and the kids. 'Hmm. Not very healthy' I murmur out of the side of my mouth, but the kids are already exulting, happy at the prospect of their Happy Meal.
Soon, all three of them are peering into their Happy Meal packs for their toys 'Cool, a Tom and Jerry Sticker-Glass!' (Whatever that is). Now I'm feeling all soft-hearted and even add a Soft Serve Vanilla Cone to their terribly unhealthy meal.
The children are all smiles as they bite into this long-forbidden-due-to-viral treat and then Pickle announces 'Say thank you to ME.'
My widening smile freezes - I expected him to finish that sentence with Mama-Daddy. 'What, Pickle?'
He turns to his brother and sister 'I was the one who said I was hungry so you got all this, na?'

Papad Story of the Day: 

I am leafing through his school journal and find a page where he's drawn something round.
The instruction says 'Draw your favourite character from the story The Little Red Hen and tell us why.'
Under his drawing, the teacher has transcribed his reason 'I like the Greedy Pig from the story because ... he eats all day.'
In the same handwriting, the teacher writes politely. 'Interesting thought, Papad. But do you really think eating all day is a good habit?'

Peanut Story of the Day: 

'Mom, I don't understand this book.' She complains. 'Can you please help me?'
I look over and see it's the Selfish Giant. I am instantly reminded of how my grandma used to tell us this story. Dang, I really thought she'd made it up herself. Sigh.
'Sure.' I say 'Which part don't you understand?'
'The very end.' She says 'The last know, I just don't understand what happens...'
I run my eyes over the words on the last page and a sinking feeling hits me. This is my kid who's obsessed with the thought of death, and here's a story where the main character dies in the end. Wonderful. But hey, I'm the mom. I can break it to her easy, right? It's all about presentation.
I explain in a cheerful tone ' See, did you notice something? It says here that many years passed and the Giant grew old. And then one day the little boy he loved reappeared in front of him. How could it be, Peanut?' I figure it helps to be analytical here. 'If the Giant grows older, why does the little boy stay the same age? Can you think of whom it might be?'
She thinks hard and then puts two and two together 'He is...God.'
'That's right.' I say enthusiastically. 'See, he also says that the Giant let him play in his garden, and now the Giant must accompany him to his garden, known as Paradise. So you say, he's inviting him to Paradise, like Heaven, where the Giant will always be very happy with him. Cool, huh?'
I beam at her but she's still frowning at the book. Then her brow clears, and she nods. I let out a sigh of relief.
'So.' I ask gently. 'You get it, right?'
'I get it.' She nods firmly and picks up her book. 'God killed him and took him up to Heaven.'
She scrambles up off the bed and marches off, and I stare after her for a moment. And then I find my voice again, 'Hey wait, Peanut...'

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thank you for the Music

I somehow rush home in the nick of time after work on Thursday, grab a calm little Peanut and rush her to our music school. 

The Piano teacher M suggests in his business-like manner that today I let him give Peanut a mock test since her Grade 2 exam is coming up next week.

I readily agree and sit outside the class, lost in my own world. My guitar teacher N, with whom I have a class after an hour or so, passes by and gives me his usual formal 'Oh hello Yashodhara.' ( He's one of the few people I regularly interact with who uses my full name) 'I hope you've been practicing.' 

The guilty look on my face obviously gives it away even before I can say the words, but he's rushing for another class and gives me a wave. I hear the strains of Peanut's playing through the door. It sounds like she's doing alright. Whoops, she missed a note there. And there's a little faltering on that scale. But she'll do fine. Right? Right. 

Before I know it, there's a cool little pair of hands covering my eyes and I'm guessing it's not any of the teachers. 'Hello Peanut' I say. 

'How'd you know it was ME?' 

She's been sent out by M to call me into the class and I pick up my books and guitar and purse and phones, feeling hassled and enter the class. There is no chair today but I don't bother and just sink to the floor in a tired heap. It's been a busy day at work and this routine is one that I'm still adjusting to. 

'How'd she do, M?' 

'Very BAD.' M says, busy tabulating her score in his diary. He finally looks up. '75 only.' He gives me a look that suggests it's all my fault, even though I'm one of the enthu enough parents who's actually taking piano lessons with the kid in a bid to try and keep up. 

We go through her lesson, with him explaining the things that Peanut is supposed to work on. Scales. Arpeggios. Slurs. Her pieces. Adjusting her position on the stool and so on. I take notes assiduously, for once, my phone to one side. I try to keep my handwriting neat because now that I have less time at home, I have to make sure that the notes are clear enough even for Peanut to read and absorb herself at home. Thank Goodness she's a good reader, I think. 

After a while, Peanut's class time is over and M says to me 'Now YOU.' M is a very, very good teacher and a fantastic player himself and this makes me a little afraid of him. I have tried to practice for a few minutes daily but I've missed a couple of days this week and it shows up in my underconfident playing. After I've warmed up though, I'm able to play some of the songs that he's been helping me with earlier. 

'Very strange song.' He says about one Oriental sounding number from Peanut's Grade 2 book that I've been trying.

'Because of how I play it?' I suggest.

'Not only that.' He says, face completely straight. 'The song itself. Very strange one.' He's taught the Trinity grades, and he's not all that used to teaching the Royal School of Music curriculum. He was of the view that the latter is only for 'Serious students of music' but once he heard Peanut playing the pieces initially, he was convinced that she was advanced enough to switch to that system. 'Anyway' He nods slowly. 'There's some hope for you with this song.'

M is a very straightforward fellow with a quirky sense of humour that shows up only at certain times. I realize he means to be encouraging. 'Oh really?' I can't help but smile at him. 'You think? You really think there's some hope for me?'

'Yes, yes.' He says, still very serious. 'Some hope is there.' He nods again. 

I roll my eyes and decide to try a new song. He gives me his excellent technical instructions on how to read the music and apply the fingering. And then, ten minutes before the class is to end, we're looking at each other blankly. I'm tired and don't really want to go on anymore. Peanut is happily scratching on the whiteboard in the room, humming to herself. She's quite amused by my attempts at piano, often informing me at home 'But MA, that's an E-flat..' or 'MA, you're so SLOW.' I have requested her to be quiet in the class while I'm getting my instruction from M. Or else. So she leaves me alone now for the most part. 

'That's enough.' M says now, much to my relief. 

'It is?' I sigh and start to put away my book. 

'Yes, yes.' He says with great conviction and then adds 'For ME.' 

I look at him to see if that was meant to be a joke, but he's already busy making notes in his diary about our lesson so that he can remember what to catch me out on next time. 

Ten minutes later, I'm seated in front of N in a larger studio room. N is a younger man than M although both of them appear to be in their twenties. N is probably about twenty three and reminds me of Vijay's nephews. He's an easy going man who has quite the vocabulary. His emails to me and even his conversation in the class include things like 'This will perhaps make things more lucid' or 'While the timbre is rather questionable here, I feel...' I always wish I had audio recorder and often have to hide my smiles when he goes into his earnest and incredibly articulate explanations around technique. 

'So.' He's not smiling today, in fact his well-cut high-cheekboned face is rather stern. 

Usually he's extremely polite and warm with me, even a little diffident - only going as far as to say stuff like 'Ballpark.' or 'Something like that.' when I play something where the Timbre is Questionable. But I've picked up the signals by now and know when he's not happy - I just have to look at his face while I'm playing and there's a particular goggle-eyed, slightly horrified expression that he has on, which quickly melts when I stop playing and he then nods vigorously saying something like 'Almost.' before proceeding to tell me exactly how I was screwing it up. 

'You've not been practicing. At all.' He says to me. I shift uncomfortably in my chair. It's the first week that I haven't picked up my guitar at all since I started lessons with him a few months back. 

'I know. I'm sorry. I just about manage a little time each day for piano. Been missing guitar practice.' I try to lighten the mood and say jocularly. 'I guess I'm a little more scared of M than you.' 

Big mistake. 

N draws himself up in his chair and suddenly, he's looking both goggle-eyed and menacing instead of the handsome easy-going youth that I'm comfortable with. 'Well.' He says 'That can be corrected. I can be strict.' I squirm a little more and proceed to busy myself with getting my guitar out of the case. 

N has a plan in mind. He's not teaching me anything new and he knows my penchant for wanting to constantly learn new songs. He says instead that I should just go over everything we've learned over the last few months and focus on the techniques he's been trying to instil in me, which have involved a fair degree of unlearning of years of wrong fingering and hand position. It's a more silent and intense class than usual and I fervently wish I had remembered to carry my guitar-diary into this class. I resolve to make the notes on my phone as soon as we're done with the class. 

By the time we're done, N has thawed a little bit and the light is back in his eyes. I'm still unable to look him in the eye for too long though as I think through when on earth I should fit the guitar practice in. 

I've not been able to fit writing anything new in while busy on weekdays, as it is; the days seem to pass by in a flash ever since I started work; but I know it's something I was meant to do. It's just that with the kids, the work, the yoga and so on, it's a little tough to fit in regular practice with both piano and guitar. Why am I learning two instruments again? It was easier when I was doing piano and voice. But heart of hearts, I know the guitar is my instrument and it makes a difference to be able to pick it up again. 

Peanut is taking a group voice lesson and it finishes exactly when my guitar lesson does, and she's waiting outside for me, humming to herself and looking rather pleased with life in general. We bundle into the car and go home together. I'm still feeling a little hassled and inadequate. 

But the one thing that I really value about this one day in the week is the fact that Peanut and I get some mom-and-daughter time together. She's singing a song to herself now, reading from the paper that her teacher has given out today.

'Make me a channel of your peace...where there is hatred, let me bring your love.'

I listen to her little clear voice, still going a little bit off in some places. I close my eyes and then the words register. Hang on. 

'Let me see that.' I demand, practically snatching the paper. 

It's as I thought. It's a musical rendition of the beautiful prayer attributed (perhaps wrongly) to  St. Francis of Assisi. It's something that I repeatedly used in my sabbatical and one that I'm very fond of. I discovered it through the writings of the brilliant Eknath Easwaran, first suggested to me by the one and only Dipali. 

Peanut and I sing it together now and I pick up the tune easily. My driver as usual silently suffers through it all the way back home. And as the words sink in, suddenly I'm relaxed and happy. Life is good after all. 

And in the silence that follows, I remember seeing the sign at the music school's reception, on the notice board, declaring. 'Without music, life would be a mistake.'

True. True. And it's not one that I'm going to make. Or Peanut.