Wednesday, December 14, 2011

(Very) Early Childhood Education

Yesterday, I came across 2 of my daughter's playmates - one in the LKG and another in the UKG , different schools but both affiliated to the CBSE. The LKG kid had just finished with learning strokes and now has moved to writing letters of the alphabet.
The UKG kid's "syllabus" includes writing numerals 1-100, numbers in words from one to fifty and writing 3 letter words! This boy's mother tells me the school gives him so much homework that his tiny hands start aching.
I spoke to another parent whose child is in Standard I (again CBSE). This child could write sentences last year itself and now follows the question/answer pattern.
Another child studying in LKG in a State Board school also can write letters of the alphabet in Tamil and English, apart from numerals up to 20.

What I understood from the mothers of all these children is that LKG is comparatively easy, in the sense that they start with strokes and move on to writing the letters of the alphabet and a few numbers by the end of the year. However, UKG seems to be a giant leap from there. The learning seems to speed up by this level.

The 3 Rs have now become - Rapid - Rigorous - Rote Learning!!

My question: Is there a regulatory body that takes a check on the kindergarten/nursery school syllabus followed by different schools?
There are as many different syllabi as the number of schools in town. Isn't there anyone to monitor this? There seems to be no common pattern at all.
I'm not even talking about 'alternative education' like Montessori and Waldorf that ideally integrates play, nature, day-to-day life and education. I am just talking about the regular mainstream education that city schools offer.
Adding to the confusion is the age factor for admission. Each school follows a different age bracket for admissions into the LKG level. In this mix, a three and a half year old and a child who is 4+ years old will learn the same thing in spite of a world of difference in their 'readiness' to grasp a concept.

I did some research on the Internet and I understand that in India, schools come under the ambit of any Board of Education only starting from Standard I. Anything that happens before that, is totally up to the discretion of the individual school. The school is free to either let the children sing and play all day or cram them up with heavy writing work. The Department of Education, Government of India has a jargon-filled website that indicates that there is a body to look after Elementary Education but they seem have other albeit well-meaning priorities like getting to children to come to school in the first place! I am sure there is already some structure and regulation in place that I am not aware of. If not, I feel there should definitely be some laws based on a modern look at toddlers/pre-schoolers, their developmental needs and milestones.

My point is that children are like sponges. They will learn anything you teach them - be it 100 Thirukkural verses or names of 100 countries with their capital cities. It is another topic of discussion if gifted children are 'born' or 'made'. But where early education is concerned, I think we need to draw a line somewhere - not how much a child can learn but how much a child needs to learn.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Grandpas, cell phones and back-up plans

The other day I saw a cute, elderly couple holding hands and crossing the road. The thatha (pls note: nothing derogatory but only endearing) had this little bag slung on his shoulder and I could guess what its contents could be.
1. A bottle of water
2. Spectacle case (he will never remove his specs but will still carry the case)
3. A hand towel
4. A cell phone
5. And his most prized possession, his pocket sized telephone/address book

I find it extremely cute... Though many of our darling grandpas have finally started using cell phones, they still haven't got the heart to dump their pocket-sized telephone books. And I don't think its about being techno-savvy. I guess unlike us, they don't trust technology more than themselves. Its a good idea actually.
We youngsters save every little detail on our phones and get awfully stuck when our phones don't work or worse, when we lose our phones. We end up making 10 calls to find someone's phone number, whereas the grandpa coolly refers to his address book.

I must say, grandpas are totally "back-up gurus" . I see 2 classic cases in my family - my dad and dad-in-law. The address book is the back-up for the cell phone. There is a 500 rupee note folded several times over, hidden in a secret pouch of the wallet - that's back-up cash. A well-stocked, well-labelled medicine box apart from the box they use everyday...the list goes on. My dad-in-law often jokes about having a back-up wife somewhere!!

On a second thought, I won't be surprised if the gentleman I mentioned earlier had an extra bottle of water in his bag, just in case!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The art of simplicity

Been watching some old Hindi movies on TV lately - Chit Chor, Julie, Akhiyon Ke Jharonkon Se... What an experience in simplicity they have been! Each of these movies, so different in their setting yet similar in the handling - simple, no melodrama - just a lot of feeling poured into each subject. Interestingly, all of them were made between 1975 and 1978.
Julie was a very bold theme, extremely well-handled for those times. Excellent portrayal by Lakshmi and Nadira.
Among these 3 movies, what really stole my heart was Chit Chor and Akhiyon Ke Jharonkon Se (AKJS). Chit Chor is a totally lighthearted, charming love story. Watched AKJS last night and couldn't sleep. I cried on watching a movie after a really long time. It is a love story, between two young college going people - a great deal heavier than Chit Chor. I've always loved the title track sung by Hemlatha but having watched the movie for the first time, the song's still ringing in my ears and I've been humming it all day.
I was surprised to see that Chit Chor was made by Rajshri Productions and while watching AKJS, I guessed it must be the same company again and I was right. The same Rajshri that later made sentimental but over-the-top family dramas like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and the forgettable Hum Saath Saath Hain. Chit Chor and AKJS are so different from the Rajshri fare of recent times - very few characters...uncomplicated story line and Ravindra Jain's lilting melodies. And both were quite progressive for those times - open-minded parents, no negative characters or "villains" and lovers who are quite open about their fondness for each other.
In AKJS, I was surprised and actually loved the way Sachin casually asks Ranjita, "Shall we go on a date?". Yet the teenage love story is portrayed with utmost maturity and decency. The girl and boy are also shown to be of the same intellectual level, which is a rarity even today's movies. When the heroine falls sick, I thought "Man, there goes", expecting the usual plot where she will go on to hide her sickness from her lover, suffer alone and do everything to make him hate her. But in this movie, every one is aware of the girl's illness. Of course, there is pain and tears but no heavy "rona-dhona", no "blood-vomiting" scenes(a typical feature of any movie where the character suffers from any major illness). Though it has a tragic element, I somehow don't want to call it a tragedy - the movie ends so beautifully.

I'm not sure if it was the story itself or the honesty and straightforwardness of storytelling that moved me to tears. There's a sense of timelessness about the whole thing.

After catching bits and pieces of recent flicks like Aaisha and Dostana, Chit Chor and AKJS felt like having hot, home-made Rasam saadam after a month long stay in Japan!!

The question on my head since last night is why are film makers complicating things these days? Has life become so complicated that people like to delve into further knots and twists? By complexities, I also mean all the jazzy special effects, jazzy music, jazzy clothes (if at all there are any!). Talking of special effects, there was this cute song situation in AKJS where time seems to stand still for the young lovers. While they are singing and dancing merrily, everything and everyone around them is frozen. And for this shot, the supporting cast actually stood there in freeze position! No hi-fi efffects of modern movies - yet the director conveyed his idea perfectly well. Life itself was simple those days and so the movies I guess. Yes, there were some heavy-duty film makers too in the 70s like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand etc. who were all about big-budgets and big names. But there is some magic in that set of low-budget, sweet love stories of those years featuring darlings like Amol Palekar and Co. Perhaps that was India's collective state of mind those days - freedom attained, war ended, jobs happening, society opening up...what did people do? Sail into blissful romance perhaps (Just thinking aloud. Need to do some research though).

You know what, if I had the money, knowledge and talent, I wish to make a simple love story, like the ones we were talking about, just as an experiment, to see what people think of it. Will they get bored? Will they appreciate it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shaam se aankh mein namee see hai

So far there have been a very few celebrities whose death moved me to tears. One was Michael Jackson, recently Swarnalatha and now it is Jagjit Singh. I don't know if it is a coincidence that all of them were singers. I cried at the news of their death because they are gone forever and will never sing beautiful songs for me anymore.

As soon as I heard the terrible news of Jagjit Singh's passing last afternoon, I pulled out my collection of his music - all of them audio tapes. Strangely I've never bought a Jagjit Singh CD. Good I didn't. Those cassettes hold much more than music I must say. Just take out a favorite cassette (if you still have one) and try it. Hold it in your hand, close your eyes and see how magically it can transport you back to the times you heard it over and over again. This is exactly what I've been going through since last afternoon.

I was introduced to the magic of Jagjit Singh's voice by my friend Niju Ravindran in the first year of college. We were in a van during a college trip and I asked her what she was listening to. She quietly passed me her walkman and said "listen to it yourself". And that's it. I got hooked on to Jagjit Singh's music for life. Niju left college the same year to study elsewhere - as if her only purpose was to get me mesmerized by Jagjit Singh. Like I always say, angels come in so many forms (I am glad to have got back in touch with her last month after almost 20 long years).

Though I appeared to be a reckless tom boy to many, the soulfulness in Jagjit Singh's voice and music somehow touched me instantly. And as years went by, the effect only increased. I wasn't familiar with Urdu or even Hindi for that matter at that time. Thankfully most album jackets had full lyrics and also meaning to some rare words (what thoughtful gesture).

Today as I go through each Ghazal in every album, it all comes back to me. I was introduced to this music as a silly college girl and it stood by me as I matured. It probably helped me philosophize and see reality. Rather than saying I felt the pain along with Jagjit, I should say he shared my pain, loneliness and taught me how to cope. I guess that answers why I don't have any CDs of Jagjit the time technology moved on to CDs from audio cassettes, I moved on too. Got a grip on life and its ways. Like I mentioned in an earlier blog post, my family would often try to pull me out of my “ghazal moods”. They thought the songs made me sad. I never tried to come out of my locked-up room and explain to them how good the music made me feel...I could've never explained even if I tried to. Not only the Ghazals, I even loved Jagjit Singh’s devotional music. I get goose-flesh even when I think of the refrain "Jai Jai Maa" in "Mere man ke andh tamas mein jyotirmayee utro" - how the song raised my spirits during so many times of need!

Thanks to Jagjit Singh, I also started looking at other singers like Pankaj Udhas, Chandas Das, Talat Aziz, even Hariharan but nobody stayed in my heart like Jagjit Singh and he always will. Thank you Jagjit Singh...RIP

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

1990 – Many love stories

Last week when someone told me that his friend’s sister had eloped, I was surprised and the only question I asked was, “Do people still elope?” I thought the concept of elopement was passé because kids these days “fall in love” after so much clever calculation that it becomes impossible for the parents to object.
This incident took me straight back to the first year of my college in the 1990s when a classmate’s mother walked into our class to enquire about her daughter who’d been missing for the past 2 days! The interesting part of the story was that this absconding classmate had “eloped” with her car driver (oops...chauffer it should be). Just into college and added to it, we were students of English Literature - just imagine our state of mind when we heard the story! Of course by the end of the final year, though we had gotten used to the elopement stories we got excited every time – if it wasn’t the French tutor, it was the rich guy next-door who happened to be a glorified cowherd and then there was the girl who “ran away” with the neighbourhood auto rickshaw driver!!
Those of us who grew up in the late 80s and 1990s were mostly a bunch of dreamers. We dreamt of love stories, lovers and sometimes careers. Yes, very much in that order.
The late 80s and the 1990s was the golden-era of love stories. Cinema reflects society and vice versa and so this was the period when some of the most memorable love stories got made (memorable for us kids, unforgettable for our poor parents). Wow! What movies they were!

• Geethanjali (the cult Telugu movie which inspired our Indian film makers in so many ways)
• Maine Pyar Kiya (come on, don’t laugh. Have you forgotten? Some people were smitten by the doves and even Alok Nath)
• Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (I still sigh at the very mention of it)
• Dil
• Idhayam (the heavy, heavy Tamil movie that melted many hearts)
• Eeramana Rojave
• Punnagai Mannan
• Aashiqui
• Dil Hai ke Maanta Nahin (with a clever modern-day twist and the famous line “Pooja beti Bhaag”. Thank God the hero of that movie hadn’t yet turned a producer – else he would have written a song for the situation “Bhaag bhaag pooja bhaag”, with a few swear words thrown in )
• ....the list goes on (definitely not in a chronological order).
All these movies had the quintessential dialogue of the era “Is duniya ki koi taakat hamein rok nahin sakti” translated into all Indian languages!!! My generation grew up watching such movies and listening to songs like “Main duniya bhula doonga teri chaahat mein”, “hum pyar karne waalen, duniya se na darne waale”, “roke kab ruki hai, manzil pyaar ki”. Ha! Such inspiring words and I guess that did it. So inspired we all were that we forgot to plan ourselves a career... we just loitered around, found jobs and life-partners – some traitors didn’t even fulfil the secret pact that the youth of the 1990s had made to themselves – they quietly sneaked into arranged marriages!
The trend of the movies and the society slowly changed and brought in the idea of “sacrificing love for the sake of family respect”...with convenient happy endings. Prem and Pooja bottled up their feelings for each other (Maine Pyar Kiya) and if not for hoarse voice of Amrish Puri that said “Ja Simran”, our giggly Raj would've never got his Simran. Sacrifice became a recurring theme in half a dozen ‘SuperBad Tamil movies’ produced by SuperGood movies with melodic ‘strains’ by SA Rajkumar.
Cut to today - just like youngsters today, the characters in today’s films are straightforward, less dreamy eyed, more practical and ready to drop old lovers and pick new ones without as much as a tear drop. Parental consent is not quite an issue (if at all parents form part of the story). What is interesting is that most of the leads (both the girls and boys) have their own careers. In the 1990s, even the college-educated guys had to chop wood for a living in case they eloped!! The definition of falling in love and relationship seems to be changing. Though it broke my heart, Gautam Menon conveyed to his audience that it is only in a movie that Jessie can marry Karthik against all odds but the real Jessie (out of the movie) moves on and marries someone else. Of course there are good movies being made today too but they only have a certain love angle to a larger subject. Even in movies that claim to be in Romance genre (I hate luvv stories, Anjana Anjani, Break ke Baad, Paiyya, Engeyum Kaadhal) I somehow feel the fiery passion, an essential part of a love-story, missing. VTV, Mynaa and Madrasapattinam were perhaps some exceptions in recent times. I’m unable to think of any such strong examples in Hindi though. Please tell me if you can think of any.
Like I said earlier, cinema is definitely a mirror to the times we live in. People are keener on establishing a comfortable position for themselves in this competitive world. Relationships, if at all they happen, are just sub-stories.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Timepass - Memoirs of Protima Bedi

Though I've been eyeing it for a long time, I picked up this book from my lending library on a day when I was particularly in a "I am-just-going-to-follow-my-heart" state of mind.
The book is a collection of letters and excerpts from Protima Bedi’s journals. She wished to publish her Autobiography someday but little did she know that it would be published posthumously.
The presentation of the book is as raw and as simple as Protima Bedi’s outlook towards life. The book does not carry any air of the classy-literary style that one would expect from a noted classical dancer's memoirs nor do you find the sensationalism of a bold model's life story. The journal entries are all straightforward and the letters are simple and straight from the heart. Beyond being known as the Nudist of Juhu and the creator of Nrityagram, we see a very simple, even innocent person at the core. Her exploits, love affairs, struggles are all discussed very honestly and in a matter of fact style. The few black and white photographs that are added could have been of a better quality. They also don't contribute much to the story of Protima Bedi. Pooja Bedi and the editor perhaps didn't have accesss to many good pictures.
Initially, I felt the title of the book “Timepass” was rather frivolous. Only later does one realise that it sums up her simple philosophy of life. She says only birth and death are the two truths of life and everything else in between is just “timepass". There are such small, sometimes unintended, nuggets of wisdom in many chapters. The book offers some surprising and shocking moments - for instance, when she casually mentions names of celebrities and well-known people as her lovers/friends and when she talks about the ordeals she faced during her Odissi training days and the initial days of Nrityagram.
The last couple of chapters are very moving and philosophical in nature. The readers are taken to another level in terms of their understanding of Protima Gauri Bedi (How she dropped the name Bedi and added Gauri is quite funny). Her thoughts and actions during the last few chapters almost seem prophetic. One perhaps just needs to be in touch with his/her inner self to walk the path to sheer Bliss.
Inspiring in parts, thought provoking and touching in parts, this book is a good read for those who appreciate the essence of of free-spiritedness and is sure to be more than just a “timepass”!

Friday, July 08, 2011


The day I realized that my 3.5 year old daughter started imitating my angry expressions and body language, I started becoming very conscious of my anger and my reaction to unpleasant situations. I realized raising one’s voice could sound so ugly and violent only after I saw her do it. I have now started controlling my temper and language, even when she is not around.

My daughter loves enacting scenes either from her favourite fairy tale or imitate her teachers at school. We also enjoy watching her do this but what she did the other day shocked me. She suddenly started yelling on top of her voice “Get out of the class” in English and in Tamil. I asked her what she was talking about but she repeatedly kept saying “Get out the class. Why did you spill the water?” On asking her if her teacher yelled this way, she said “No, not our teacher but I saw this through the window of another classroom while playing outside”. Well, I was relieved that this did not happen in her class and at the same time wasn’t sure if it is okay. Though my first thought was go and tell the school about this, I also thought, as parents, when we lose temper with our own kids, what more could be expected from a regular school with regular teachers who have to deal with brats of all sizes every day of the week.

I have always tried to keep my daughter away from violence. I consciously avoid showing her violent stuff on TV. Great! What else? I tell her traditional, mythological stories. I told her the story of Lord Ganesha and how Lord Shiva chops off Lord Ganesha’s head. Boy! How much more violent can it get? She loves to watch shows like Little Krishna, Krishna-Balaram and Chota Bheem on TV, though most of the time innocent and cute, these shows are mostly about bashing up the bad guys. Then, we sing Rhymes - the Mother Goose rhymes. An innocent sleeping baby falls off the cradle (Rock-a-bye-baby) and a poor old man gets thrown down the stairs just because he couldn’t say his prayers (Goosy Goosy Gander). As a student of Literature I know that most of these rhymes were written in the social context of England during various periods. I don’t teach my daughter rhymes that are irrelevant but can I stop her school? (Thank God for the new syllabi at schools which have new rhymes, apart from some old ones).

I even avoid telling her, at bedtime, her 2 favourite stories – namely Robot (the movie) and Rapunzel. Both of these have shades of violence, how much ever I edit it.

I take my daughter’s favourite characters and make up my own bed-time stories. My daughter loves them and in the bargain, I sleep well too but there’s so much violence everywhere in so many forms. And for how long will I be able to shield my little one from aggression and violence. Of course, I do explain in her own language that is not nice to hit or yell at someone. The TV luckily has a remote control but what about life? Should I let her explore the world on her own and figure it out herself because today hatred, violence and blood-shed are all part of daily life? If I look, I am sure there must be some way of raising my daughter who will be aware that violence does exist but will be strong enough to choose love!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ko - a quick and clever mov(i)e!

Just last week my husband and I were discussing the core causes for corruption. I understood that one of the main reasons for say a Chief Minister to be corrupt is the Party - they need funds to run the party. Though it did answer my question, it also opened up many questions in my mind at the same time.

These questions popped up in my head again as walked out of the movie theater. The director KV Anand through his latest flick "Ko" tries to explore the various facets of political life - ambition, fears, honesty, dishonesty and its justification.

The story revolves around a straightforward but a very clever and intelligent photojournalist, Ashwin played by Jiva. True to his profession, he will do anything to get the truth out. He has good support in the form of his parents, his boss- the Editor of the Daily for which he works and his constantly cheering and enthusiastic colleagues who share the same passion.

The story of Ashwin is weaved through the election season in the State. There is this powerful ruling party and its leader, the Chief Minister (Prakash Raj) on one side who is confident of coming back to power, one opposition party on another side, whose leader (Kota Srinivasa Rao) who has absolutely no ethics or scruples what so ever. The other contender is a new Party consisting of young, educated men and women whose aim is to only serve the society and at the helm is 28-year old Vasanthan (Ajmal). The role of the Press in making or breaking political careers, how the eager reporters cover the election campaigns of each party, how they try to expose the wrong doings of the parties and how the young new Party is so full of hope and motivation is what the first half of the movie is about. Who wins and who loses is what the rest of the movie is about. If the first half makes you smile, cheer and feel totally inspired, the second half brings you to the edge of the seat. The sudden twists and turns surprise and shock you.

The cast: Jiva as the photo journalist is very good. He's always been a very good actor who chooses most of his roles well. He looks great and comes out very well as this smart guy who can talk himself out of any tough situation.
Karthika: She plays a reporter in the same newspaper as the hero and is his girlfriend. I didn't like her when I first saw the photographs and promos of this and the other Telugu movie. But on watching the entire movie, I think she's quite good. Acting skills and confidence - not bad at all. Excellent screen presence thanks to her height, huge, expressive eyes and lovely well styled hair. A very modern version of her demure Mom, who was as attractive but in her demure style in her heydays.
Piya: Very cute. Thanks to the director for etching her role well. Her crush on the hero and how she handles it is very warm and sweet. I also like the portrayal of the relationship between her and Ashwin - very natural. She plays the part of a fun and happy-go-lucky reporter in the same office as Karthika and Jeeva.
Ajmal: A very important role, he plays Vasanthan, the leader of the new political party, Siragugal. This boy is really, really good. He's done a great job. Very pleasant face, warm eyes that look straight into you. Even way back in Thiru Thiru, Thuru Thuru, we found him cute, funny and endearing. Some new faces really catch your attention I must say!
Others: Kota Srinivas Rao was born to play an evil politician as it were! Prakash Raj doesn't get to do much and what ever he does, he does very well. All the supporting actors like the guys at the newspaper office, Jagan (remember the funny guy from vijay tv and also Ayan), the guy who plays Kadhir - all of them are good.
Music: The songs are nice, mostly pleasant. Harris Jeyaraj still needs to work on his background score - it got a tad boring at times. Ennamo etho is the best song I think. Amali Thumali is catchy - nice to hear Hariharan's voice after a long time.
Presentation: Excellent camera work - I know this might have become a cliche by now but the song locations and the way they've been captured are truly mesmerising - particularly the first duet. Very intelligent and crisp style of story telling. The director definitely does not take the audience for a ride with illogical plots and twists. Almost everything is neatly bound from the beginning to the end.
The only thing I felt amiss is the scene following the bomb blast and the subsequent house-break in the heroine's apartment. Quite naturally the girl is totally scared and freaked to stay alone after a terrible day. But her boyfriend, the 'hero' is ready to leave her alone and casually asks her to call if she needs anything. For which she mutters something about not leaving her alone. He should have offered to stay with her in her apartment to comfort her and himself too without her asking for it. Whatever happened to our chivalrous heroes? Or is it some moralistic stance? (Can't help thinking how Gautham Menon would have handled this!) Come on! They have just been through a huge tragedy. Even when he consoles her, there is no hint of sadness on the girl's face. Instead, they break into a song on some dreamy location (or setting?). Okay even if commercial compulsions forced its way into an extra song, it could have been something more mature and sublime. Even Bombay Jayashree's voice didn't elevate the situation much. Remember the last song in Vettaiaadu Vilayaadu -Uyiriley enathu uraviley picturised as almost a poetic conversation between 2 mature adults? That's what I mean. Get the point? (sorry about the 2nd reference to Gautam Menon within one paragraph). Even for that matter the Sundari song in Thalapathy. We are Indians and don't have to shy away from songs in our movies but how best they are used to convey the situation is what it is all about. Coming back to Ko, I like the song "Gala Gang", though it makes you a little impatient at that point, it helps the writer take the story forward in just about 4 minutes.

That apart. I must say the movie is very modern, intelligent and makes you think. Like I said in the beginning, it raises a lot of questions within your head. Is K V Anand trying to take a thought out of Geethopadesam in which Lord Krishna says everything is fair as long you have the broader goal of human welfare in mind? Well, check it out for yourselves and tell me what you think. And go in time to catch the titles. Very interest.

PS: Maybe someone can help me figure out the title. Any allusion to game "Kho-Kho"-fight for the Chair etc??

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nature and children

I just now read a post on FB by my sister, where she talks about a beautiful and a natural place and says "I realise this is the calmness, pureness, quietness that our urban children are missing and that is creating a lot of problems for them, for no fault of theirs. Our children deserve to enjoy nature like we did growing up. Can we ever give it to them? I think we can if we realise its value for ourselves."

She is so right. Come weekends and I am always in this dilemma..where do I take Raksha to...someplace where there's lots of greenery, water...someplace where she can run around with gay abandon. In Chennai, luckily we have the beaches and the numerous parks that have been so thoughtfully built by the Corporation in almost every area in the City. The only thing is that, Chennai has been going through crazy, uncharacteristic weather changes and it is scary to expose my little one to it - sad but beaches are ruled out for now. Raksha and I just love the beach.

And the parks.. there are many and one very close to where I live but I somehow feel there should be more greenery for the kids to explore than just the play equipment. I know swinging and sliding are fun and also good for the children but then the endless queues, kids who can't get enough and parents who don't seem to mind the dozen other kids waiting in line ...I don't like that. Raksha loves the fountain and sometimes I let her indulge by letting her get hair hands and hair wet in the spray of the fountain - I get wet too knowing fully well that the water is terribly unclean. That's okay once in a while..there's always Dettol soap at home! :) I also don't like people selling popcorn and synthetic bubbles and other potential "tantrum-magnets" in the parks - but poor guys..they need to make a living too! While we are on the topic of parks, Semmozhli Poonga is a great place to take children. Please go during the day to enjoy the best of its beauty - of course it has the 'dreaded' play area, which we spotted from a distance and acted as if it didn't exist at all but our very observant little one saw it anyway. When she asked me to take her there, I simply told her that it is not part of the park but belongs to the house located next to the park - they will not let us play there and she bought my story :P . "Evil mommy", you must be thinking, but then that way she got to enjoy the pond, the ducks and different types of leaves and trees!!

Getting back to the point, in my opinion, if children are not exposed to the little nature that is available to them, the fault to a great extent lies with us adults. Sundays are the only days we get (we work on Saturdays too you see), when we like to watch a li'l bit of TV and catch up with our once-in-a-week siesta and then we run around doing our chores, shopping and after that who has the time to for nature trips? Luckily being a work-from-home-mom blessed with a good baby sitter, these days, I have consciously started to do all my shopping on weekdays (except the stuff that we as a couple need to do together) and reserve Sunday for hubby and baby - both of them don't enjoy shopping anyway - neither do I but someone has to do the dirty work. Still, however well I plan, it is always well after evening that we step out and there is not enough sunlight for baby to go exploring :(

My plans for summer holidays include a lot of beach visits and one zoo visit. Good for her and me, at least till date, she loves watching Animal planet, Discovery Channel and National Geographic but I want her to experience the real thing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The KB-Rajini Interview on Sun TV

Was watching this prog on Sun TV last night - an event organized by the Film Director's Association of South India (I guess). Part of the show was a cute little interview (supposed to be in a lighter vein) - ace director K Balachander interviewing Superstar Rajnikanth. The concept was very sweet and so was the interview. Very open questions and very honest answers - that was the best part of the interview. Rajni didn't hesitate for a second when he said, his priority was only commercial movies - gosh, this man is so sure of himself!! There were many questions that made Rajni emotional - like for example when KB asked Rajni why he has stopped the ritual of calling upon KB anymore on Holi day (the day when Sivaji Rao Gaekwad was renamed Rajni by KB). The relationship between the two came out so well...the humble self displayed by Rajni towards his mentor was so moving. I also loved the maturity displayed by KB when he says he cannot make movies that befit Rajni's superstar status anymore.

Just one thing, KB sir kept taking pride in the fact that he was the one to launch Rajni, not once but many times during the interview. For a minute I felt, its all destiny - if Sivaji Rao was destined to become a super-famous personality, nothing would have stopped him and KB sir was perhaps just a catalyst in entire Big Plan. (In fact, it was only much later that the 'superstar' image came to be fitted on Rajni, though people loved him right from the first movie!) If not through KB, it would have happened through some other source. But you know what, considering all of KB's path breaking movies, all his knowledge and more than anything, his ripe age of 82 (I see so many ex-film personalities become cynical once they lose out on the market but KB so is spirited even now) - may be one can actually let him take the credit for turning around the life of a regular person into a phenomenon!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

"Get a life" they said.

Rashi stepped out of the house after a quick and healthy breakfast. They say when you look good, you feel good or vice versa. It worked both ways today. Her day starting with a satisfying work out. She consciously ate a decent breakfast and even dressed up carefully and was wondering why she was smiling to herself all the time. Thinking about the new guy who was supposed to join her team today? Not really. He was much junior to her - everyone in her team and mostly every one at the office was younger than her, except maybe the Chairman :)

The others her age were all the serious, "responsible" the Accountant who was seen and heard only while getting into office and getting out of it. He even had lunch alone. Huge lunch box consisting of the routine dal-chawal-sabzi-roti fare, dutifully packed by the wife whom he sincerely brought with him every year on 'family day', two kids in tow - all of them very properly dressed and well behaved. Then there was the Col. Rao in the Admin who was just around 38-40 but bragged about his short army career as if he was Subhash Chadra Bose's right hand man during the INA days!

Rashi never felt or behaved 34. She even enjoyed those impromptu 'chair-races' that her boisterous team would have! She would tell all her friends that her mental age is still 18, dreamy eyed, incorrigibly romantic. Ironical that she wasn't very lucky with relationships. No major heartbreaks or sad stories but nothing to write home about either. Of late her past has just been leaving a tiny smile on her face, minus the pain. She only smiled when she thought of the spineless Sudhir, poor guy, was shit scared of his mom. And Nitin, with a bloated ego - he was too proud to accept and even acknowledge that he really liked her! On a lighter day she felt they all lost her and weren't lucky enough to have her in their lives.

Though she had her lonely moments, she now seemed to adjust well to this situation. She felt she perhaps would never fit into the cycle of marriage, in-laws and children anymore. She seemed to be blissfully settling into her single status. She loved her monthly treks. She loved her book-clubs and the book-reading sessions. She had a fuller and more meaningful life than her match-making aunts who told her "Its high time you settled down. Rashi, get a life". "Well", she thought, "Thanks aunties, I found my life and have settled down!".

One road trip, many lessons

It was a long pending trip to Udipi. We finally decided to go ahead though we did not get the train tickets. We decided to drive down, though somewhere deep down, I was not too keen about driving from one coast to the other - Chennai in the East to Mangalore in the West. Anyway, counting on the driving skills of my husband and our driver, we set out - leave granted, bags packed and everything.
We reached Bangalore first and spent the night there for a break as we had another 6 hr journey ahead of us. We then left Bangalore the next morning at around 11 am (so that we can avoid the rush hour, little knowing that we were anyway going to spend a very long time on the road). The road up to a town called Hassan was okay though not very good. Then came, Sankleshpur – a name I will not forget in a long time to come. The ordeal started there. It wasn’t a regular road but a National Highway – NH48! I would call it a National Rubbleway! There was absolutely not a stretch that was smooth. The roads were broken and what made things worse was that the roads went uphill, popularly known as the ‘Ghat section’. We did some homework before we left Chennai - we were told that the Highway is good except for some 30 kms. Maybe the 30 km they referred to was the good part. It became very dark and roads got worse. I had already decided we will not take this road on our way back. As we drove up, the hill it was getting darker, the jungle denser. I normally don’t have any major fears to talk about but that day, I found myself hallucinating. I saw a man’s face peering through the gigantic leaves of a tree. Me a lover of nature, found the hills and trees very gloomy that evening. I don’t ‘t know why but I heard myself telling our maid that we will be delayed by a day and she can have another day’s off and also heard myself informing my boss that I will need another day’s off – it still remains a mystery why and how I heard those voices. We anyway reached Mangalore at 9 pm, a good 3 hours behind schedule and with stiff necks.
We left to Udipi the next day and managed to get a good darshan in spite of the mad holiday rush – can’t blame them. They were also trying to make the best of the holiday season just like we were. Lesson #1 Never visit temples during vacations, particularly long weekends. Many more lessons follow.Day 2: Arun (my husband) talked to a few people, bought some good maps and found a better route to get to Bangalore from Mangalore – via Madikkeri (Coorg). He suggested we take a break there and then proceed to Chennai via Bangalore. My parents who were with us had confirmed bus bookings from Mangalore to Hyderabad (a solid 20 hr journey) the next day. Poor things, we convinced them to cancel it and join us for a good time at Madikkeri and even got them train tickets from Bangalore to Hyderabad – we were so pleased that we had made it easy for them. So we went to Subramanya Temple, around 100 km from Mangalore but couldn’t get the Darshan at the main temple, again due to the holiday rush. We left to Madikkeri around 3 pm and realized that the road has been blocked. We took the alternative route and regret it till date ☺All the while I was uncomfortable, I repeatedly kept asking everyone – do we actually have to climb uphill and go to Madikeri? Can’t we go to Mysore directly? I don’t feel like going uphill. But they said this is the only available route to Mysore too. Lesson #2 Respect your instincts, follow your gut feeling. Anyway the suggested road was nothing but a narrow mud path where only 1 vehicle can pass freely at any time, again a winding road up the hills, with a jungle on one side and a valley on the other. It was very difficult to climb up the hill. I then felt a strange smell and we all thought forest areas do have such unusual “herbal” smells!! A few minutes later, the climb was getting more difficult. We thought it must be because of the weight – 1 baby, 5 adults, 5 suitcases and an assortment of other stuff. The realization came when a passing car mentioned that smoke was coming out of our car! We opened the doors and windows of our car to see smoke—a whole lot of it at that. The tension that gripped all of us at that time would not leave us for next 18 hours at least. We tried balancing the weight in the car. My husband and I moved to the front passenger seat and dad moved behind. We thought it worked for a while. We hadn’t even covered 2 kms—we would stop for a while every time the smoke came out. We did this twice. Finally our Corolla Altis just gave up. Poor thing, if it had feelings, wonder what it would have gone through at that time and the rest of the night. Tension was building up. I could hear my mum and baby chanting Lord Ayappa’s names and prayers “Swamiye Saranam Ayappa” ‘’Ethividayya, thookividayya’’. This is normally chanted by devotees while climbing the tough hills to reach Lord Ayappa’s temple in Sabarimalai (my parents have made 2 visits so far and now have decided to go next year too). A man driving alone in a black Chevrolet slowed down and asked if we needed a lift. We declined, thinking we can manage. When we actually thought we should perhaps ask someone for a lift, we didn’t get one. Just then a bus that was passing by stopped and around 20 full grown men swiftly got off the bus and started walking towards our car. I got scared and quickly got into our car. They exchanged a few words with my dad, husband and driver. One of them got into our car and tried to start it and said something in Kannada that meant “it's gone’’ – at least that’s what I could make out. The rest of the men pushed our car to a corner of the road and again spoke something to the men in our car. My mom was very excited and I was thinking how she could trust just anyone. I think my head was clouded with thoughts and I couldn’t hear anything. The next thing I realized was my dad telling me that those men offered us a lift up to a point and me quickly grabbing 2 bags with me and running towards the bus. I only had one second to turn back to Arun who nodded, asking me to get into that bus and that he would meet me soon. We got into the bus and I now came to know why mom was excited. It was indeed a bus full of Ayappa devotees. They were on their way back from a trip to Sabharimalai! That was a very pleasant surprise and I started crying – don’t know why. We then realized the folly of just leaving my husband behind without even discussing further plans. I was still confident that they would somehow lug the car and come behind the bus now that the load had reduced. It was then that my mum dropped the bombshell “didn’t you know that we’ve had a breakdown? The clutch is broken and the car will not move”. Goodness gracious me! I just didn’t know that. Totally unaware of the distances and routes, I thought we would go to Khushalnagar, a few kilometres from Madikkeri, my dad will find a mechanic and go back to the spot where the car was stranded. How stupid of me. There was absolutely no network on our cell phones and we just couldn’t get in touch with Arun or the driver. My tears increased – to make the situation more filmy, sentimental Ayappa songs were blaring in the bus – a lady angrily challenging to God to prove His existence and another man lamenting over the loss of his worldly processions only to be directed towards the Lord’s doors and so on. Mom was assuring that if God has put us in the hands of these kind men, He would definitely guide my husband too. Luckily, my dad and Arun, both users of the good old BSNL were able to finally connect to each other and decided on a place to meet each other in the town of Sankleshpur. Arun and our driver had got a lift up to that town. They had decided to leave our car alone in the jungle that night. I felt bad for our loyal car. People were saying that the jungle is a marked forest area and had animals coming out at night, particularly elephants! We then reached some town and one of the men on our bus dropped us off at a bus station and before we realized anything, put us on a bus that was almost about to leave and quickly told us this bus would not actually go to Sankleshpur but to another town – we will have to get another bus from there to Sankleshpur. Phew! What had we got ourselves into?
We had no choice but to board the ‘town bus’. We thanked the Ayappa bus guy and started our journey # 3 of the day. We enquired with the conductor of the town bus and he said he was not very sure about the distance to Sankleshpur but we had to get off at a village called Holenarsapur which is around 2.5 hrs from where we were! It was already 8:15 in the night. The Ayappa bus had actually crossed the shortcut to Sankleshpur from the jungle. Gosh! What a mess! My dad got talking to an elderly person and related the story to him. My mom again smiled her optimistic smile (I will write about her inspiring optimism and belief in miracles another time). She said, "Hey look at his clothes, looks like he is from Ramakrishna Mission" and I went...gosh mom, how would you know? In a while, dad tells us “this gentleman says we will reach Holenarsapur at very odd hours and since we have a baby with us, he suggested that we get off in the next stop along with him and spend the night at his Ashram and leave to Sankleshpur in the morning”. Thankfully Mom declined the offer and so did I. This bus was actually going towards Bangalore and for a second we toyed with the idea of directly proceeding to Bangalore because of our baby but then decided to hang on with Arun - whatever happens – we will all stick together. One good decision in the whole day! (We were already regretting the way we split earlier). By then luckily the cell phone networks started getting better. We learnt that Arun was luckily with some very kind people who were giving the correct guidance. They suggested that we all spend the night in Hassan town as it is a bigger and safer place to stay. This meant, we had to get off at Holenarsapur and get a bus to Hassan. It would be 11 pm by then. What would we do? Arun started connecting with us every 10 minutes. He was really concerned for us – from his point of view, he was safer and more comfortable than us. Lessons # 3 – Never drive down very long distances, especially when you are not comfortable with the topography and more so if you have small babies and older people with you. Lesson # 4 Never take the road to anywhere in Karnataka even if you know the area like the back of your hand, unless you want to hurt your spine – for there are no roads there (except Bangalore perhaps), just piles of stones and mud everywhere.
Our bumpy bus journey continued. The bus started getting more and more crowded with uncouth villagers, drunken men almost getting into a brawl....roads without lights and more forests (maybe they wouldn’t appear like forests in daylight). Note to self: I will never get anywhere near a forest for the next 2 yrs at least. Parents bought some bananas on the way. We had them. My baby just had a few pieces of cake that I had with me and slept. She was truly an angel –as if she understood the tense moments we were going through, she was totally quiet and didn’t kick up any fuss. In the earlier bus, she was talking about fear for a while, which seemed to disappear once she was in the warm arms of her Grandmom. Thank you darling, for being such an angel. In between, there was a lady throwing up all over the bus, a drunk was being literally kicked out from the bus for bad behaviour – wonder where he went because at least 5 km on either side, there was no trace of life or light.
Finally Arun, who had already reached Hassan and booked a hotel for the night, insisted that he pick us up at Holenarsapur. I felt much better. The bus trundled into the town and we got off. We didn’t see anyone on the road, no buses, no shops, no nothing – just a white cab that came speeding by – that was Arun and our driver in a cab. I was so glad to see Arun but was totally tongue-tied for at least half an hour. I learnt that the people who gave a lift to Arun and our driver were truly nice people. Though they were to drop them off at Sankleshpur, listening to our predicament, it was they who suggested that Hassan was a better place. They found a good hotel there, checked if rooms were available, insisted that Arun pick us up at Holenarsapur, fixed up a cab to that town and only then had left the place. They were even willing to give the address of their sister’s place where we could get some milk for our baby! Strangely the bus we got into had only 3 seats and the car which Arun got into had place only for 2! We then started discussing what we could do about the car that we left in the jungle, how to retrieve the luggage in the car, how to get our parents back into Bangalore by the next evening in time for their train. Arun suggested we all just get a good night’s sleep and talk over it in the morning. It was midnight by the time we reached Hassan. None of us had any dinner, it was too late, and the hotel staff offered us hot Bournvita. We had a lot of snacks in our bags but we were in no mood to eat – not even my baby who went off to sleep without even drinking her Bournvita. All of us slept in the same clothes that we had on since morning.
I couldn’t sleep. I was picturing two elephants pushing down our Toyota down the valley. Apart from clothes, books and other stuff, the luggage in the car included my laptop, handycam and mom’s jewellery (poor thing has just now started buying new ones after she lost every bit of jewellery in a burglary at Hyderabad). And mainly our house keys were in there and we had no duplicate!
Day 3: Morning. It was decided that Dad, Arun and our driver would take a cab and go to the spot where they had left the car. Arun spoke to the Toyota Company the previous day itself and told them the story. They offered to come and take a look at the car. And so they set out after breakfast. Mom and I left behind in the Hotel with the baby tried our best to distract ourselves. We went and bought some change of clothes. Bathed, ate and sat worried and wondering. Again, they were near the jungle and the men could not be contacted. Finally the call came at around 1 pm. They found the car and it was all intact – just the way they had left it – no one had even touched it – neither elephants nor highway robbers!
After sending our darling car to Mangalore along with our driver, dad and Arun brought our luggage to Hassan. We proceeded to Bangalore immediately and reached late at night. Man, what a relief to come into a ‘home’. My parents left to Hyderabad the next evening. And we left to Chennai on day 5 after our car came back serviced and all fine. We were told by the mechanics at Toyota that even the brakes had broken. Thank Heavens! Just like what I had already heard myself telling, I called my maid and the office – the only difference, I was extending the trip by 2 more days! As soon as the car came back from the service station at Mangalore, we ran the car over 4 lemons placed under each tire – call it whatever you please – drishti or aura cleansing – we all needed some good aura cleansing actually! Our poor driver drove down all alone from Mangalore to Bangalore with the serviced car, somehow blaming himself for all that happened apart from worrying about his pregnant wife back home.
Man, what a trip it has been! People wished us memorable vacation but ours was unforgettable. Apart from the stress that we all went through, we ended up spending a whole lot of money. What is more important is that all of us, including our car, are safe and sound and I am able to share this with all of you! I came across many angels as part of this adventure – the Ayappa group, the people who gave Arun the lift, the Toyota people who carefully towed the car up to Mangalore and fixed our car for us, our driver who was his quiet and patient self throughout and my parents, who were a real blessing by being there at the right time, they had to suffer the ordeal along with us but gave us their support in so many ways – they helped us keep our morale in order, helped us communicate in Kannada and much more. We all have angels around us all the time. We just need to recognize them and thank them.