Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Parenting Dilemmas

A very challenging parenting moment this evening.
Junior wanted to play with a girl, let's call her A, in the apartment who is Junior's on-and-off playmate. She checked on the intercom and A (younger than Junior) said she was busy. Junior let it go but accidentally found out that A was in fact playing with B and C (also Junior's playmates) at her home. 

Junior was almost in tears. I tried convincing her, "Perhaps A wasn't in a mood to play with you..." I said. "...maybe she wants to play with them instead." Junior wasn't convinced and insisted that I ask A about it. 

Dilemma # 1. 

Shouldn't have done that. But I did. I called over the intercom and asked A what she was doing. She said she was doing her homework. I asked her if B & C were with her and she said "No." On asking her again she hesitantly answered that she was actually playing with B and C. I gently told her she could have taken the easier way out by speaking the truth. "You must never tell lies because it hurts people." She responded with a meek 'okay' and I said 'bye' and hung up. Junior called A some names and said she was very angry. I hugged her and said, "It's okay, now that you have called her all bad names, you should be okay in two minutes." (I know I'm being judged for allowing Junior to call people names.)

In less than three seconds the intercom buzzed again. It was A announcing that Junior could "come and play with us if she wants to." 

Dilemma # 2.

Shouldn't have done that. But I did. I said, "I will tell her that but I don't I want to send her. If she still wants to come, she will. But I think you should play with B & C today." 

Dilemma #3.

I turned to Junior, "Baby, let them play today. I don't think you should go today. Come, let's both play." Junior screamed that she rarely gets a chance to play with them as a group. I pulled her close and said "Baby, allow people to come to you and play but never go begging for people to play with you. You must love and respect yourself first." Junior was furious. With me? With A? I don't know. She stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door, only to come out in a minute asking me if I could play with her. We watched a few funny movies scenes on TV (which got her giggling), then went downstairs and enjoyed a good hour of physical play. Her and me. Me and her. 

Backstory: This is not the first time that A has done this. There have been several instances when she has been at home but would get her folks have said she isn't at home or that she's sleeping. Her idea or her family's, I wouldn't know. I've never interfered. There have been many instances when she has come home to play with Junior and we've never turned her away even if we've had guests at home. 

My questions: 
  • I have seen children speaking lies about petty, insignificant things but at what point do they learn to 'avoid' people and resort to lies for doing that? What role does family play here? 
  • I know interfering in the matter of kids is not a great option but how else could I let A know that we actually know the truth? 
  • How do I teach Junior what self-respect is without teaching ego? 
  • Is it okay for me to allow my child to play with someone, be it another child, whose lies appear a step above just childish, innocent white-lies? 
I've been in deep thought. Junior isn't a toddler anymore. She is a thinking person on the brink of her tweens. She doesn't need to know everything but she needs to be told something. Just a 30 minutes before this incident, Junior told me that the snack her grandma prepared needed improvement but grandma might feel sad if she told her so. I  told her that it was okay to give her feedback. As long as she is gentle and appreciates the effort grandma has put in, her feedback will not hurt. She did just that and it worked so well. 

In my book of parenting, relationship guidance is one of the most important lessons a parent can give a child (either subtly or openly). What about you?




Pic credits: https://www.etsy.com/listing/60655907/giclee-print-childrens-wall-art-mom



Sunday, August 28, 2016

A duet of two loves



Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. One of the most satisfying reads in ages. The last page of the book felt like a warm hug. I closed the book, held it to my chest, closed my eyes and smiled.

If you ask me if it had a happy ending, I would counter it with, "what IS a happy ending?"
The life of every individual is sprinkled with unique experiences.  Each person perceives those experiences in a unique way and deals with them in a manner he/she knows the best. This is the quality of humans that I love and enjoy. However similar they might appear, every individual on this earth is as different as the stars in the sky.

It is this uniqueness of human character that is so wonderfully painted in An Equal Music. There are love stories and then, there are, well, love stories. What we have here is just that but dealt in such a beautiful depth that you wonder if some of it could be autobiographical. Perhaps and perhaps not, and therein lies the strength of a writer. To make you wonder how in the wide world does he know all this? How can a person be so perceptive? I think it has got to do more with a very deep level of understanding and intuition than plain research.

The story is all about love and loss...and gain. Michael Holme, a gifted violinist in a quartet is our protagonist. His routine that hangs between clefs, staves and a sheet of recurring painful memory, suddenly gets jammed into a few discordant notes. He hears music in everything - be it the song of a lark, the church bell or the hum of a fridge that emits a note "stuck irksomely somewhere between G and G sharp."

The two loves of his life are off to make a quick exit, threatening to leave him loveless, musicless and maybe lifeless. What does fate offer him finally? The way he embraces his destiny, is the wonderful last note that the author leaves you with. "The rain has washed my earlier tears away." (Part 8)

The novel has a just a few but endearing characters, all of them with a life of their own, with a truth of their own. Michael, he sometimes tires you but hey, he's not a superhero. He's just another man on the street with his fears, doubts and an unstoppable train of thought. Julia Hansen, Michael's past, is fast becoming the most important part of his present. A talented pianist, she is beautiful, affectionate and oh, so real - a woman caught between her heart and her head. She has a certain gift and a challenge that I've never read about anywhere before. I must say, her character 'resonates' with me on more than one level. The way Michael goes so deep into the said challenge is a tad annoying but looking it at from a musician's point of view, it sure is justified.

Then, there are the members of the quartet, each with a charming quirk and a life of their own, again so true to life.

The author's note says "Music to me is dearer than even speech." As for me, I'd never be able to choose between music and the written word, speech ranking a close third.
This book has been personally so enjoyable not just because it is a beautiful romance fiction but it is a duet of two of my own loves. Language and music. And An Equal Music is full of these two things, in equal measure. Though I love Western Classical Music, my knowledge doesn't go beyond a few symphonies and composers. It was a pleasure discovering so much more while reading the book. I found myself googling pieces, names and notes. Reading the book with The Art of Fugue  playing in the background was an experience by itself.

"I put my hand on my shoulder where your head rested. Then I say your name once, twice, a third time, a fourth. Some nights I sleep like that, remembering you; some nights I only sleep as dawn comes in." (Part 7)
I am partly ashamed and partly glad that is my first Vikram Seth novel. His style and use of language...is it prose with generous poetic touches or poetry in the garb of prose? The Golden Gate more openly claims itself to be a novel in verse. But An Equal Music just springs pleasant lyrical surprises. Vis-a-vis a film maker, to think that all a writer has are words to explain the workings of the human mind, a palette of emotions - pain, joy and confusion. And to do all this with clarity and precision is indeed a gift put to a fantastic purpose. No image or camera technique can match the effect of such lines.
"The phone rings maddingly, maddeningly. I let it ring."

Seth also uses wit and humour at every suitable opportunity with a charming deftness. The sweet-silly scene with the critic Nicholas Spare and the punch; the scene in the aircraft about the green and cream sandwiches will take me sometime to forget.

It gladdens the heart that the book is by an author of Indian origin, without any of the mysticism that many writers with an India-background indulge themselves with.

Normally my choice of books depends upon the experience of the last book that I have read. But for now I think I just want to snuggle between some cozy sheets of music.
"Music...is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness and hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music  - not too much, or the soul could not sustain it - from time to time." (Part 8)
My library copy that I postponed returning as long as I could

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hey people, leave us kids alone!



Just saw this event happening. This is a talent-show to spot the city's smartest all-rounder.

This thing is wrong on so many levels. As parents who've lived an average of 30-40 years on earth, are we 'all-rounders' yet? How can we expect babies who've lived a maximum of 10 years on this earth to be all-rounders? And look at the categories...skin, hair, photogenic?


The kid would 'catwalk' on a ramp and come to center stage. They would be asked to talk about themselves and display their singing and dancing talents-all this in flat 5 minutes. The three judges would then pack the children off with an off handed applause, a cliched comment and a certificate.
I was watching helplessly as a mother was grilling her daughter about forgetting a few lines. She went "Why didn't you say, I'm a big girl and I'm a talented girl'? You said that at home". The girl's smile disappeared like how rainbow would disappear into dark clouds. She quietly sat herself on a swing with her bent. She didn't even play on the swing. The mother and grandparents would still not give up prodding her to go and 'at least' dance. The girl wouldn't budge. The mother soon got busy taking selfies against the banner of the event.

That child might forget the whole incident. Or might not. It appears that children forget easily. The danger is when thoughts of failure, rejection and shame go and get stuck in the deep crevices of the sub-conscious mind. And then we sit back in the comfort of our living rooms and blame schools, parents, films when we see adults with deviant minds. These adult deviant minds were obviously not born as adults. What kind of childhood did they have? Does anyone pause to find out? Think of all terrible things happening in Chennai and around the world. No place is safe any more.

One might think I'm blowing a silly talent-hunt out of proportion. I'm not saying a failure at such competitions will give rise to criminals. All I'm saying is CHILDREN DON'T NEED THIS. Their life is already more complicated than they can handle. Let's not make it more complicated. I also want to say that parenting has never been as difficult as it is now. We deal with a lot more than our parents had to. Let's not make our own lives complicated. Though most parents won't agree, I know the feeling parents go through when their child 'fails'. I have to confess about going through the horrible phase of pushing my child to be 'smart and outgoing'. What about letting the child pick one interest and encouraging them to hone it?

My sincere appeal to parents. Please do not subject yourselves or your children to such events which have nothing but the commercial interest of the organisers. Let's be happy. Let our children be happy. Let's allow children to experience childhood and explore the joys of life. Children don't need medals and certificates. All they need is love, affection and lots of (physical and emotional) space to play.

Love you all.

Hey people, leave us kids alone!



Just saw this event happening. This is a talent-show to spot the city's smartest all-rounder.

This thing is wrong on so many levels. As parents who've lived an average of 30-40 years on earth, are we 'all-rounders' yet? How can we expect babies who've lived a maximum of 10 years on this earth to be all-rounders? And look at the categories...skin, hair, photogenic?


The kid would 'catwalk' on a ramp and come to center stage. They would be asked to talk about themselves and display their singing and dancing talents-all this in flat 5 minutes. The three judges would then pack the children off with an off handed applause, a cliched comment and a certificate.
I was watching helplessly as a mother was grilling her daughter about forgetting a few lines. She went "Why didn't you say, I'm a big girl and I'm a talented girl'? You said that at home". The girl's smile disappeared like how rainbow would disappear into dark clouds. She quietly sat herself on a swing with her bent. She didn't even play on the swing. The mother and grandparents would still not give up prodding her to go and 'at least' dance. The girl wouldn't budge. The mother soon got busy taking selfies against the banner of the event.

That child might forget the whole incident. Or might not. It appears that children forget easily. The danger is when thoughts of failure, rejection and shame go and get stuck in the deep crevices of the sub-conscious mind. And then we sit back in the comfort of our living rooms and blame schools, parents, films when we see adults with deviant minds. These adult deviant minds were obviously not born as adults. What kind of childhood did they have? Does anyone pause to find out? Think of all terrible things happening in Chennai and around the world. No place is safe any more.

One might think I'm blowing a silly talent-hunt out of proportion. I'm not saying a failure at such competitions will give rise to criminals. All I'm saying is CHILDREN DON'T NEED THIS. Their life is already more complicated than they can handle. Let's not make it more complicated. I also want to say that parenting has never been as difficult as it is now. We deal with a lot more than our parents had to. Let's not make our own lives complicated. Though most parents won't agree, I know the feeling parents go through when their child 'fails'. I have to confess about going through the horrible phase of pushing my child to be 'smart and outgoing'. What about letting the child pick one interest and encouraging them to hone it?

My sincere appeal to parents. Please do not subject yourselves or your children to such events which have nothing but the commercial interest of the organisers. Let's be happy. Let our children be happy. Let's allow children to experience childhood and explore the joys of life. Children don't need medals and certificates. All they need is love, affection and lots of (physical and emotional) space to play.

Love you all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thank You for the Music

Thank you Illayaraja.  Thank you Beethoven.  Thank you Thyagaraja Swami. 
Thank you Rahman.    Thank you SPB.    Thank you Janaki.    Thank you Yesudoss. 
Thank you PBS. Thank you MSV.    Thank you Kannadasan.    Thank you Veturi. 
Thank you Gulzar.     Thank you R D Burman.    Thank you Kishore Kumar. 
Thank you Nusrat Saab.     Thank you Sonu Nigam.       Thank you Shivkumar Sharma.
Thank you Kenny G.         Thank you Yanni.      Thank you Frank Sinatra. 
Thank you Beatles.  Thank you Elvis. Thank you Kenny Rogers.    Thank you Jim Reeves.
Thank you Abba.      Thank you Bryan Adams.    Thank you Madonna.   
Thank you Michael Jackson.     Thank you Jagjit Singh.     Thank you Vividh Bharati. 
Thank you Chitrahaar.     Thank you Top of the Pops. Thank you Compilation Albums.
Thank you street-corner recording stores.     Thank you lyrics books. 
Thank you tapes, CDs and pen-drives. Thank you internet. 
Thank you friends, cousins, siblings and Fauji Bhais.


THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Missed Chance


Today, I am filled with shame and anger at myself. For having missed a chance to do my bit as a citizen of the country. I have lost my chance to vote, thereby losing my chance to sit and complain or even expect anything from the State.

For reasons best known only to the hubby and me, we have never lived in the same residence or locality for more than two years at a stretch. The thought of getting documents updated every time was daunting. It is my fault that I shuddered at the countless pillars and posts I had to run to and from. It is my fault that I wasn’t bold enough to face the indifference of the officers in the civil supplies office, the passport office, the transport office,  who I knew by several bitter experiences didn’t  care if I’d taken a day off from work or if I’d even resigned my job to effect a change of address in my records.
I say, fear. You could call it laziness or even indifference.
It was my fault that I didn’t keep myself well-informed about procedures. What does one do if one doesn’t have any of the ‘accepted’ address proofs? My bank in which I have a salary account did not insist on an address proof. Suited me fine, because I didn’t have one. Gas receipts suddenly found their way out of the accepted list of address proofs. And so I lost the only proof of my existence that I was flaunting everywhere. A passport is a valid address proof. But how can I change the address in there? Show them the ration card but that has the old address too. Get it updated. Show them the address proof. What proof? Rental agreement. Telephone bill. Sorry boss, not on my name. Ever heard of vicious cycles? So I sulk my way back to my state of non-existence, wondering how if me, a working, independent woman has so much problem in proving her place of residence, then how would the average stay-at-home wife prove her place of residence. Heaven forbid if any of these two women dared to break free from their marital homes. The never-ending bureaucratic queue sounds more frightful than social stigma!
March 2016. Having lived incognito for more than 4 years, I realised I must do something about it. Assembly elections were looming large. I was more anxious than the contestants themselves. I wanted to vote. Even my 8-yr old daughter had an Aadhar Card (issued by school) but I didn’t have one. I was on annual leave. Unable to bear my whining and whimpering anymore, the spouse took me to a place where the Aadhar Card registration was being done. We went armed with rental agreement, telephone bill and the by-now famous gas receipts. I was even ready to argue that I was indeed the lawfully wedded wife of the address-proof holder. To our surprise, there was no queue. The process was a breeze. It only took as much time for me to blink in the photograph. The process was done. Guess what, they didn’t ask us for the address proof. I was thrilled. I knew I could finally apply for a Voter ID and actually vote. “Optimistic Ignoramus!” sniggered the Universe.
April 10. I get the online Aadhar Card but not the physical card. I tried to apply for the Voter ID with it. But don’t we love anti-climaxes? What does the online Voter ID form ask me for? Yes, my address proof! April 20. The online registration for Voter ID closes.
May 13. Hurrah! My Aadhar Card arrives by post finally. Too late my dear!
May 16. The day of the Elections.  My participation in the democratic process— a few speeches to my dad, envious laments to the spouse showing off his black mark, silently nursing the loss of a photo op (rather a selfie-op) and a huge rant on this blog page. Sigh!
And I know I can’t find a hair-breadth’s fault with the new government because I haven’t participated. I guess I have to chuck my conscience and pair up with my bretheren, who in spite of holding every valid card/proof, decided to go away for the long election weekend to posh destinations. Together, we will blame the new government for bad roads, rising prices, pollution, water problem, garbage, too much rains, too little rains, Aniruddh’s bad music, Kohli’s break-up...An exciting five years ahead!  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Enough Said

One of those rare evenings, rather nights when I sat down to watch a film on TV and I am glad I did.
'Enough Said', is a sweet story about two divorced people looking at the deeper meaning of relationships. Their warmth, their sense of humour and their empty nest is not the only common link between them. Eva's new friend is Albert's ex-wife. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enough_Said_(film)


Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I remembered her from the TV show Seinfeld. She is brilliant here. She plays Eva, a masseuse who does home visits. Watch out for the way she handles her portable massage table through the film. The ease and difficulty with which she lugs it around varies with her level of confidence at a given point. Something one can relate to easily.

And James Gandolfini, never heard of him before and what can I say, I am in love! He plays Albert, this chubby, charming, honest, funny, very huggable person with his own quirks. He is as sensitive as he is funny. I wonder, if he was acting or playing himself.

Wikipedia tells me he died soon after the film was made. I welled up for a moment when I read that.

My favorite part of the film? Eva and Albert's first date. For a couple to laugh so much on a first date. (Sigh!) Then, their conversation on the lawn when she first visits his home. And of course the last scene on the porch.

I don't know if it is the actors, the direction or the screenplay that makes you feel for every scene and every character in the film. Marianne is as true to life as if Eva is. Neither of them is wrong. Each person has his or her own needs. And as one ages the priorities keep changing. Isn't this true for all us? What would have mattered so much at a point suddenly becomes inconsequential, making you wonder what the whole fuss was about. However, very often, we don't respect our decisions in life. A lot of us end up looking for external validation to pursue what our own heart desires. We risk a lot in a bargain for that validation.

That way, this is truly a grown-up film. Try and watch it if you can.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Testing Times

The field of education and learning has always interested me. I've always been curious about how it works, what goes into education and so on.
The questions that are now occupying my thoughts relate to the area of testing.



When I did my schooling more than 25 years ago, we had to write a string of tests..class tests, unit tests, dictation tests, surprise tests...and the biggies, term exams and the final exams. These tests and exams were always a sore point not just for me but for everyone who has gone through school. Yet, some of them managed and many of them struggled. Mine was a huge struggle. Just scraping through an exam would be a moment of triumph for me. I still believe that the examiner in my Class 10 Board exam, took pity on me and handed over  a few 'grace marks' because my score was 48 on 100, the passing score being 40! I endured the pain right from Class 2 to 10, until I reached class 11, when I got to choose my subjects. I loved each one of the subjects. I understood every theory. Exams became a breeze. Why, even a pleasure! The high scores I got became a motivation to do better every time. The high point was when I managed to top the Marketing Management course with a Gold Medal! I am sure my school teachers who labelled me as 'failure student' and subjected me to every possible humiliation will not believe this story. It is ironic that today, I write for and edit school textbooks. And I totally love what I do.

Well, I often tell myself that there is no point revisiting the horrendous past but it's all coming back to haunt me. 25 years after I finished schooling, I am shocked to know that not a thing has changed in the system. It is the same exams. The same grading. The same stigma. Yes, there are School Boards like the CBSE and ICSE that are taking every effort to veer away from sole dependence on examinations. They have introduced projects, classroom assessments on various skills and many more such initiatives. But the question we need to ask is if the schools are following the pattern diligently? Are they making a mishmash of their own ideas and the Board requirements?

So, I wonder. Are written examinations the only way of testing children? What is the process-flow like? We teach the child a concept in class and want to know if he/she has understood it. How do we do it? By asking questions orally, by asking them to draw it out if the concept allows for it, by role-play, classroom discussion...all these methods are already available and being put to use but only in a small way. Ultimately we all fall back to making children write sentences, paragraphs and pages full of material just to show us they have understood the concept. This kind of assessment for the past so many years, still seems to be the only accepted thing. The written exam seems to be lord of all other forms of assessments. I once overheard a child happily tell her mother that she had scored 24.5 on 25 in her test. "Where did you lose that half mark?" snapped the mother. I couldn't bear to see the child's flower face wilt. Examinations can make or break a person's life. They can squash a person's confidence forever. Don't we read of suicide attempts every day? Yet, we are stuck to this method of assessment as if there were no other.

I give here, a very extreme example. Imagine a very bright child who doesn't have fingers in both his hands. The ideas are all up there - in his head. How will he show it to the world? He will have to perhaps find a scribe or join a school for physically challenged children. Why? Just because he can't write. There is every chance of a regular school refusing to take him in.

What about children with dyslexia? Imagine all those agonizing hours they spend before getting a grip on their pencils and these exams. I have read and been inspired by stories of so many dyslexic people who have gone ahead and made a place for themselves. But from what I have read and understood, most of them have been school dropouts and had resolved to mark their own path.

Forget those who are physically challenged and those with clinically proven learning disabilities. There is a new crop of children that are completely 'normal' in every perceivable way possible. They are as intelligent as anyone in their age group. They have only one difficulty and that is writing. This is a very common problem these days. Many teachers might agree with me that there are at least 2-3 children per class with this issue. The problem according to some experts is attributed to a very early introduction of writing. I have learnt that each child's readiness for writing varies slightly, just like any other developmental milestone. But the way early-education works in our country, children are categorised according to age groups and not skill sets. No government or Board of Education has control over what children are taught and made to do in their Kindergarten years. Some schools make them draw strokes and some schools make them write even some five letter words So when children are forced to do cursive writing before they are ready for it, some of them tend to develop writing issues in later years especially between the ages of  7 and 10*. The idea of a written test is so daunting to such children that they go off into a shell or become rebellious.

Be it primary school admissions or admissions for Post Grad courses or even Government/Public Sector job interviews...everything is based on a written exam. At least, it seems to be the first step. A person who hasn't done well in the written exam is knocked off in the very early stages. There isn't much room to look for other skills like communication, negotiation or other soft-skills. I strongly believe that expression through writing comes only for a few people, inspite of years of LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) training right from primary levels.  Look at competitive examinations. Do you think our much celebrated dyslexics Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell or Leonardo da Vinci would have cleared any of those funnily acronymed, much sought after, competitive examinations? In today's world they couldn't have ever been able to go anywhere near the esteemed universities to pursue higher education. It is another matter that the quoted people might have been only in search of knowledge and never university degrees. Sadly, things don't work that way anymore.

All of this talk brings to my mind a bigger question. What is the purpose of education? Wasn't learning supposed to be the purpose of education? Since when have exams become the be-all-and-end-all of education? Do we send children to school to learn or to pass exams? Schools and educational institutes should make learning joyful. Not intimidating. I will never forget what my mentor told me when I had written a rather tricky exercise for a grammar concept for a Class 1 textbook. She told me, "The purpose is to teach and not to test."

As simple as that. Isn't it? I am not an academician. I am not a teacher. I don't have the answers. I think of these questions just because I have once been a student. I am now a parent. I love people and the light they carry within them. Examinations, which are just one facet of learning should not snuff out the spark that every individual is born with.
_____



*Useful articles: http://www.youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/teaching%20our%20children.html

Pic courtesy: www.techglows.com