This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, May 6, 2012.
Saturday, May 04, 2013
This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, May 6, 2012.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Now normally, sentimentality tends to sicken me, and so I keep away from books full of silly tropes on festivals. But this one seemed strange, with a grim, definitely unsentimental Father Christmas (and from now on, I'll just call him FC) on the cover. I think what got me was the thermos in the satchel. When the book came off the lending list and on to the withdrawn one, it came home with us!
He flies over all sorts of weather (mostly Western) and lands in odd places like sloping roofs with inconvenient chimneys (from the sleigh-parking point of view) and small vans with no chimneys (from the entering point of view). And igloos ('At least there are no chimneys!'). Not to mention the pain of getting gifts into a lighthouse.
The details in the book are what get you - the small things, the large, the ordinary, the quotidien. Like FC sitting on a roof, eating his sandwiches and listening to the weather forecast. Like him getting caught among bloomin' TV aerials (remember it was written in 1973 :)) and tripping on bloomin' cats. He gets a cold, has to climb stairs, stairs, stairs, and finally, someone has the brains to leave him some alcohol.
When he is nearly done, he runs into a milkman. The milkman was Briggs' tribute to his own father, a milkman, who had a similar duty - one of waking up early, and setting off to make deliveries - every day, come rain, shine or snow. All of FC's troubles with snow - even his morning chore-doing - were Briggs' father's too.
The other Briggs N really took to was Fungus the Bogeyman (1974), so full of dirt and grime and boils and slime, that I wonder what appealed to her. But appeal it did. Again an amazing book, drawn with so much love and detail and colour, that it seeps into your mind (yes) and makes you smile!
Monday, September 24, 2012
And every now and then, things of beauty and innate value pop up on Facebook. For stay-at-home moms like me (and non-moms as well) it’s a window into magic which happens elsewhere in the world of art and technology. Thanks to Facebook shares, I’ve seen lots of lovely films, art, craft, writing – and cakes! One of the nicest finds recently has been a 20-year-old book called The Rights Of A Reader by Daniel Pennac. A friend shared a link to a hilarious promotional poster of the book drawn by Quentin Blake. The title was intriguing. Whoever heard of rights for readers? I ordered the book to find out.
A writer of children’s books, Pennac is also a parent and a teacher. And The Rights… grew from his experience of trying to inspire a bunch of not-so-bright teenagers to read. Pennac examines three fundamental issues: how much small children love hearing stories; how wonderful it is when they discover they can put letters together and actually read; and how between parents and schools, we push kids away from books in the years that follow.
Pennac’s tip for getting kids — of all ages — to read is simple: read to them. If you are a reader, chances are someone read to you when you were small. This is instinctive with most parents. Present reading to the child as an engaging activity that you love, and the child will grow to love it too. I know this is true because my mom patiently read to me till the day I took the book out of her hands.
There are habits that foster reading — we all evolve these instinctively for ourselves as readers. Pennac calls these ‘reader’s rights’. It’s just that when we become parents and teachers, we forget them. Readers, for instance, have the right to skip pages. We all do this, but not many of us like our kids doing so. Also, readers have the right to not read and the right to read anything – anywhere. Even comics while sitting on the pot.
There are many parental habits vis-à-vis reading that Pennac disapproves of. Monitoring children’s reading is one, as is the need to test kids and ask them to ‘describe’ what they just read. I’m guilty of both. Because I want to be a part of her life, I often ask my daughter what happened in the book she just read. She loves telling me about them on some days, and on others, she does not, probably because as Pennac observes, ‘Reading is a retreat into silence… it is about sharing, but a deferred and fiercely selective kind of sharing’.
I love my kid reading Horrid Henry, Judy Moody and Junie B Jones. I never insist on ‘the classics’ or even Enid Blyton. But she wants to read Harry Potter — which her father and I think is too emotionally sophisticated for her. Growing up, our parents never ‘curated’ our reading. I find it odd that we should so instinctively want to control hers. I read James Hadley Chase, Nick Carter, Sidney Sheldon alongside the classics — one kind of book only sharpening my appreciation of the other.
To some of us reading is a special kind of oxygen. We need it. Others don’t. As parents and educators, our job is simply to enable kids to read. Whether they read later or not is their choice. As Pennac reminds us, while it’s fine for a child to grow up and reject reading, ‘it’s totally unacceptable for someone to feel that they have been rejected by reading’. Wise words indeed!
This post first appeared in the DNA of June 10, 2012.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
(Anita Vachharajani © DNA)
I reviewed this book for the DNA a long time back... found among some old files in a bout of hard disk spring cleaning!
Sunday, February 26, 2012
People who have kids, that’s who.
Certainly, we can be broadly classified under the title of Parentis Lunaticus, but if you were to look at us carefully, you would see subtle differences. And the best place to spot these differences is outside the average well-heeled school. This is where parents of a certain class gather in large numbers at regular intervals — and gravitate towards others who are a little more like themselves. (When I say ‘parents’, I really mean mothers; because despite my best efforts to not think in stereotypes, rarely do I see dads in these primitive huddles!)
Waiting to give their kids dabbas or to pick them up, are armies of mommies. Some are exquisitely coiffeured, perfumed and designer-kurta-clad; others are in the JLo/Beyonce mould, bumble-bee-glares, skin-fit jeans and all. Then there are those who wear leopard-print stilettos to match leopard-print capris in the exact same colour as their recently-gone-blonde hair. The rest are a broad swathe of well-dressed women, with a few stragglers, like yours truly, who look like they barely managed to pull on something before leaving home.But the real difference between us moms is not how well-groomed we are. It is the level of naked ambition we feel on behalf of our kids. Everything we wept at during Taare Zameen Par is quickly forgotten once inside the bubble of naked ambition and hysteria that exists around schools. This is Comparison Central, where certificates for extracurricular activities won by kids are shown off, gifts for teachers are secretly planned, and next year’s classes are discussed.
Generally, you can spot the really ambitious moms easily. Firstly, they talk non-stop in glowing terms about their kids and the classes they go to, and secondly, they flatter teachers and sidle around them on occasions like Teacher’s Day, Christmas and Divali, coaxing them to accept cakes, gifts and bouquets.
Each school has its own demographic, and in ours, the most ambitious moms huddle in two large and mututally-exclusive clusters. The larger, chattier cluster is made up of Gujarati moms. The smaller is made up of equally driven South-Indian moms (being a Malayalee married to a Gujarati, I scuttle around the fringes of the Southie cluster).
Each cluster has its own mores and manners. The Gujju moms have all the hottest tuition teachers and classes on speed dial. They know everyone who matters on the PTA; have direct access to the teachers, and can tell you the best places to eat, play or study. Nothing can come between their kids and success or happiness, because all’s fair in love, dhando and education. But refreshingly, they also believe in the ‘everyone’s invited’ approach, and are generous when it comes to sharing information. In fact, with them it's the-more-the-merrier - heard of Groupon, anyone?
In our tribe, made up largely of Tam-Brahm moms, information is power and is rarely shared. Tam-Brahm moms, incidentally, are India’s original ‘Chinese Mothers’ — driven, determined and definitely very secretive. Their kids never study enough (patently false); their kids never take part in any competitions (actually, they take part only to win). With them, you get the feeling that the next milestone is an IIT seat, and seriously, dude, you're just in the bloody way, aren't you?
Luckily, there’s a mini-cluster of sensible moms. Moms who recognise that education is a means to understand the world and refuse to send their kids to random classes; who refuse to suck up to teachers (which the school specifically asks us not to); and are secure enough to love their kids no matter what.
Some of them are, interestingly, Tam-Brahms and Gujjus; a couple are Punjabi, some are Goan and a few are Maharashtrians. Thank you, ladies — you keep me sane!
A slightly different version of this article, with a different title, appeared in the DNA of Sunday, Feb 26th.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
and bringing joy into my life on an otherwise dull day was this new book, drawn by the wonderfully talented shilpa ranade :)
it was written three years back and has been two years in the making, but what a louliness!
more strength to pratham, the guys who have created this space for affordable picture books that are pulished in english but are also translated into 5 other indian languages. i'm waiting for my language copies - hindi, kannada, mallu, marathi etc :)
you can see the book on pratham's page here
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
While the co-educated girls seemed to make male friends easily, our little gang of girls-schooled late-bloomers found ourselves in fairly splendid isolation. We weren’t sad about it, of course, but we did conclude eventually that all-girls’ and all-boys’ schools were the earthly representations of hell. It was weird, because unlike the co-ed girls, we were actually very uninhibited, we laughed loudly, talked a lot; were witty, uncensored and hilarious. What we were not able to do, though, was have normal, relaxed friendships with boys. We swayed from being arch and flirtatious to completely stern and reproving.
My little girl goes to a mixed-sex or a co-ed school. One day, in Senior KG, she came home and told me that a boy had put his head on her lap and kissed her. Images flashed through my mind: Silsila. Rekha’s head on Amitabh’s lap. Mist. Flowers touching. Bees buzzing. Major coochie-cooing. I sat up with a start and asked my husband if I should go talk to the teacher about this Emraan-Hashmi-in-the-making. ‘No!’ replied the co-ed schooled man, ‘You’ll just traumatise the poor boy!’Feeling traumatised myself I remembered my mother’s utter terror of co-eds and her dire warnings against sending her granddaughter to one. Mom went to a convent school and then studied engineering while staying in a girls’ hostel run by nuns. The Mother Superior there often warned them with these wise — and rather poetic — Malayalam words: ‘Whether a thorn falls on a grape, or a grape falls on a thorn, the grape is the one that gets hurt. So STAY AWAY from college boys.’ The story usually sent me into peals of laughter, but that day the thought of soft fruits and sharp objects terrified me.
Post that, there have been no romantic adventures so far and we have reached Class 2 without any need for major hysterics on my part. But I’m slowly beginning to wonder if mixed-sex education is the solution to the world’s ills that I had imagined it to be.
Studies show that co-education makes children conform to gender stereotypes — in the UK, for instance, girls in same-sex schools did better in Maths and Science, just as boys in same-sex schools did better in Languages. I personally feel that same-sex schools allow you to grow up without being sexualised too early.
We live in fairly frenzied times. The films and adverts our kids see are full of highly sexualised images of picture-perfect girls and women. Even on children’s channels, ads talk about milky, age-defying skin and tangle-free hair. I fear — perhaps without reason — that when you grow up in a co-ed, there’s going to be the added peer pressure of always appearing attractive to the opposite sex. Can you be yourself, gender-unstereotyped and, perhaps, un-cool?
Once when my daughter complained about a boy hitting her in class, I told her that I went to a school with no boys in it. Her eyes widened. ‘Reallllly??’ she squealed, ‘But WHY?’ Umm. Just. Then I asked her if she’d like to go to a school with only girls in it. Wouldn’t it be nice? No, she shook her head vehemently. ‘Boys are fun. Only girls would be boring.’ Interestingly, many studies show that overall, children in co-eds are under a lot less stress than their counterparts in same-sex schools. That must explain the ‘fun’ bit!
Less stress for the kids, no doubt, but probably much more for the parents! I know what I’m going to do for the next 10 years: sit in a corner, close my eyes and hold my breath till my kid finishes her ‘co-education’. Wake me up when it’s all over, dude.This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, Jan 15, 2012.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
So The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Isaac Asimov's Futuredays (cigarette card representations of what people in fin de siecle France - 1899 - thought life held in store for the world in 2000; each card was wondrously illustrated and juxtaposed with a brief discussion of why it was plausible or not by Asimov. The best part - this me panting with excitement - was how he found the set of cards in a toy shop in Paris); the book of the movie Young Sherlock Holmes; and many more that I've forgotten about - and regrettably, lost.
Cut to 2001, Chakala, in deep dark Andheri East, walking around with Amit. I'm a lot less humungous, and we are crawling the lanes of our new-found suburb, trying to find something other than shops full of Chinese-made figurines to stare at. I see a book seller with books like The Animal of Farthing Wood and a series that has English being taught using Asterix comics. Delighted I look up at the seller, and whatdjaknow. It's Ramesh, plumper, older. We both grin and laugh and get down to the business of books.
2004, Chembur, and there's Ramesh again suddenly at his usual spot near Ambedkar Udyan. Friendship reaffirmed, we buy tons of books from him, and finally, give him lots of our pulp crime novels. We find copies of Hoot with him, and colouring books, and more novels, and more vintage children's books. Last week was a bonanza though. Look at all that he had for us!
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, the story of a Russian migrant whose mother and extended family make a quilt using old clothes belonging to relatives.
The quilt sees many generations of her family thru many rites of passage. Incidentally, this is a signed copy! Colour is used discretely - only to make the quilt sparkle. The b&w people are beautifully detailed.
Stone Soup by Jonathan Muth, an interpretation of the European folk trickster story. Muth sets it in China, and gives us some unforgettably minimal images.
Three monks reach a village. It seems sullen somehow. We are told that this is a village that often faces famine. The villagers are weary and wary. The adults keep to themselves. We meet the Scholar, the Seamstress, the Doctor, the Carpenter.
The tricksters attract a curious little girl in bright yellow, who follows them and is a via media to reach the villagers. She is a quiet and insidious counterpoint to the adults. Untouched by the knowledge of famine -and deprivation, she helps the strangers fetch more and more to throw into the pot.
And finally, that night, a grand celebration, where the soup is eaten.
Two of the books were on the American Civil Rights movement. The first is How four friends stood up by sitting down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
Henry's freedom Box by Ellen Levine is a story with positively luminous pictures. you can read more about the real Henry Brown here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Box_Brown. Strangely, though I didn't particularly want n to read the book, she curled up with it one afternoon. After reading it, her eyes twinkled when she described the underground train and how it wasn't really an underground train, just a train full of conductors and people who helped slaves escape. The illustrations are just incredible - rich, realistic, and lit with a strong, sad inner light.
The incredible book eating boy! by Oliver Jeffers about a boy who develops an apetite for books. He starts eating them accidentally - a pooping cat might have distracted him. Soon he becomes the smartest kid in sight with all those words inside him, and then, one day, he simply falls ill from eating too many books. He has to 'clean' himself up and takes to reading books, which, as the author says, is SO good. But sometimes, he falls off the wagon, so to say, and our lovely copy has bite taken off on the back cover to show you what happens when he regresses!
Coming soon - if our camera works - a picture of Ramesh :)
Sunday, October 02, 2011
You always start off with the hope of becoming your ideal of the best-ever parent — the best-pal parent, the pushiest parent, the most-free-spirited parent, etc. I aspired to be a combination of the parents I had plus the sort of parents I wished I had. After seven years of trying, I can freely admit to absolute, humbling failure. I had a wonderful role model in my mother, but turns out I’ve all her few faults and none of her virtues.
One of the things I know I’d love to give my child is the sense of freedom that my mum instinctively gave me. The feeling of total acceptance was the best thing about growing up in my family. I don’t remember mum ever laying down the rules or yelling at us (though her mother — my grandmum — more than made up for that).
But growing up with very few rules unfortunately leaves you unequipped for the harsher realities of life and work. So my totally inspired and unique plan was to raise my child with all the love and freedom my mum gave, plus a sense of discipline.
It didn’t quite work out. Turns out that I have my grandmother’s hissy tongue and temper, and her need for discipline, plus my own inherent laziness and indiscipline. And while I refuse to push my kid hard to succeed, I don’t have my mum’s true sense of laissez-faire either. I do however have her high levels of maternal anxiety. As Himesh Reshammiya once said: It’s Complicated.
As parents are we very different from our own? I think we spoil our kids more — we are wealthier, busier, and it’s easier to buy toys than to give kids time. In 15 or 20 years this will come back and bite us on our butts for sure. Unlike us, our parents were also a lot more secure about their methods. Whether they were beating us up or spoiling us silly, they did it with the firm conviction that they knew what was best for us. Or maybe it just seems that way now.Perhaps each generation of parents has to re-learn the skills of passing on the rules of living.
Sometimes parents succeed and raise happy, well-adjusted people, and others, well, don’t. I remember reading Philip Larkin’s (1922-1985) poem This Be the Verse, and going saucer-eyed at the eff word in it. I didn’t get it then, but now, with more perspective on what it is like to be both a parent and a child, I do.
In three very tight stanzas, Larkin spells out his bitterness:
They **** you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
The poem becomes kinder towards parents in the second stanza — after all, he writes, they were screwed up by their parents too. The solution? Stop having kids and deepening the ‘coastal shelf’ of misery. Larkin’s advice doesn’t work because nature’s urge to multiply is — thankfully — stronger than good poetry.
Sometimes I think the greatest lesson we can teach our children is how to be kind - so that when they grow up, they can look back at our mistakes with a large measure of forgiveness!
(This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, Oct 2, 2011, in my column called 'Small Blunders'.)
Monday, September 26, 2011
What kind of stories do children find appealing? Strong narratives, arresting visuals and irreverent ideas are crucial, according to children’s writer Anita Vachharajani. Gijubhai Badheka’s Gujarati folk tales not only meet these criteria, but like most folk tales, are also a combination of the absurd, the philosophical and the fun. A contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, Badheka wrote a variety of children’s stories, which were later retold and illustrated in Hindi by author, painter and cartoonist Aabid Surti. Associated with children’s publishing since 1998 and author of children’s books Amazing India and Nonie’s Magic Quilt, Vachharajani has translated Badheka’s folk tales into English that include a set of two books titled The Phoo-Phoo Baba and other Stories (Volume I) and Uncle Know-All and other Stories (Volume II). She has used both Badheka’s and Surti’s texts for the English version. In an e-mail interview, Vachharajani tells Shinibali Mitra Saigal that folk tales show kids how “sense and nonsense can be tossed together for fun.”
What prompted you to translate Gijubhai’s Gujarati folk tales?
My husband Amit is a Gujarati, and he introduced me to these folk tales. Gijubhai was an educationist who propagated freedom and love as being central to the process of learning. I translated some of Gijubhai’s nonsense verse for The Tenth Rasa: The Penguin Book of Indian Nonsense Verse, edited by Michael Heyman. Later, the editors at Pratham Books asked me to translate Aabid Surti’s Hindi re-tellings of Gijubhai’s stories. I worked with both the Gujarati and the Hindi texts.
Which was your favourite Gijubhai story in the collection and why did you like it? Each one was a discovery. The one I had the most fun with was Uncle Know-All. It's about an old know-it-all who lords over a village of fools and the bizarre nuggets of wisdom he doles out. It had a really weird and completely irreverent feel .
What is more difficult? Writing an original story or translating one? Both are challenging. When one translates, one has to make sure that the text lives and sparkles in the target language as well. In an original story, you can take the narrative where you want to, whereas in a translation, your path is more or less decided for you. Your job is to make that path as rich and joyous as possible.
Can you always retain the subtle nuances of the original? You do lose some nuances. It’s inevitable. But you aim to capture the spirit of the original, without becoming heavy or pedantic. Also, even as you lose one set of nuances, you create others. Since I had both the Hindi and the Gujarati texts to work with, I could see that each version was slightly different. It’s an intuitive process and every re-teller of a story – especially in the folk tradition – makes choices and decisions to suit his or her style. Gijubhai himself was re-telling some of these stories, and you can sense that the language – informal, chatty – is entirely his own.
Do you think knowledge of folk tales will disappear if they are not translated into English? Unless we make a legitimate and viable space for folk art, it will be sidelined with time. As for our stories, we must keep telling and re-inventing them in new contexts to keep them alive. Re-telling a story in multiple languages takes it to a new audience, and that’s an exciting thought, as so many more people can read it.
The Phoo-Phoo Baba and other Stories (Volume I) and Uncle Know-All and other Stories (Volume II), Pratham Books, Rs.40.
Appeared in the Timeout of Sept, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
My daughter has it easier - freelance, stay-at-home parents; a choice of wildly similar cartoons and reality shows on TV; and apparently, a liberal academic system. What does she lack that I had? I guess the answer is friends. Friends who live nearby and are just one loud, afternoon-nap-ruining yell away. We had this growing up - friends who were always ready for play, fights, trips to the corner shop and sharing comics.
Now we live in a neighbourhood of low-rises, where all the young people have left, following jobs that take them to where other young couples - and their kids - are. We live among retirees and are indisputably the only people of child-bearing age around. Our kid, therefore, has no playmates.
In fact, our neighbourhood is so kid-free that BMC’s Pulse Polio staff took a long time to figure out that we existed and needed reminders and booster doses. This may make no sense to the un-kidded among you, but those with kids know that the Pulse Polio people are the most dedicated sniffer-outers of children under five. It took them time to find us, and that is saying a lot. When they found us, they shook their heads in wonder and said, ‘Kisko maloom tha ki iss building mein bhi bachche hai...’
So we started taking baby to the garden. The few kids who turned up there were a floating population. The only permanent people were the grannies, and though our child loved playing with the arthritic old ladies, it was obvious that she needed peers.
Young couples with kids automatically seem to gravitate towards the newer gated complexes, and since we couldn’t move to one of those, playdates seemed like a solution. But fixing up ‘appointments’ for toddlers is an insanely awkward and pointless exercise. Firstly, it’s not like you’re walking into the neighbour’s place for a game of ‘house-house’. So it’s not casual. The moms and dads have to like and ‘approve of’ each other. Then schedules have to be discussed and tweaked. It all begins to feel way too strained, artificial, and too much like work.
What I wanted was for my kid to have a village of her own. A set of friends to play, fight and gossip with every day. Children need to build relationships outside the comfort zone of families, so that they understand the dynamics of social intercourse. This knowledge is so important that most tribal societies have formal spaces like youth dormitories and age-sets to foster it.
Just when I was about to give up hope, I met an old schoolmate in the garden, who generously said, “Come play in our building, there are many kids.” So I located her building, about eight streets away from us, full of young people, their kids, and their friends’ kids. A small oasis of 25 children! Presto, my daughter had her village, albeit a bit further from home than I liked.
At first, playing with peers was difficult for her. So far her playmates had been obliging adults. Children are instinctively not polite or obliging to one another - with them, you have to, like in the jungle, earn your stripes. So every evening would end in a fight and her howling loudly, and yet, come the next evening, she wanted to go back.
Some time later, in a shop, she picked out a yellow Tantra t-shirt which said: ‘Friends are better than TV’. Maybe she just fancied the colour, but I like to imagine that she was trying to say something.
This article appeared in the DNA dated Aug 28, 2011.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
In the six-odd years that I have been chaperoning my kid to birthday parties, I’ve figured that party-wise, there are broadly two kinds of city parents: those who approach their kids’ birthday parties with the same determination that soldier-ants take to gathering food, and those who, like the grasshopper in the folktale, simply outsource the stress.
The soldier-ant-type of parent (mostly the mother) frets, plans and slogs for the birthday party, tearing out her hair and getting irritable bowel syndrome in the process. Fathers are usually assistant-sloggers, perfect for random running around and sacrificing their pollution-weakened lungs to blow balloons.
The grasshopper-type parent, meanwhile, hands it all over to a new breed of professional — the event manager. Mum and dad make phone calls, sign a few cheques, and go for a film or a pedicure. The event manager gets everything from food and ‘games’ to return gifts.
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It’s weird, but both the grasshoppers and the soldier-ants take pride in their distinct parties. Stoically, the soldiers flaunt their small, home-made, parent-driven parties. The grasshoppers meanwhile take pride in the fact that their kids’ birthdays are large-scale, ‘exciting’ and more importantly, managed by the hired help. I’d like to state here that I’m a soldier-ant-mum, and I have my husband’s fatigued lungs to prove it.
Growing up in the ’70s, for us a birthday party meant paper plates, chips, a sandwich and a slice of lurid-looking cake. It meant money in an envelope pressed into the birthday kid’s hand. It meant some noise, some Rasna, and ok-tata-bye-bye. But in the Noughties, in globalised India, if it doesn’t hurt the wallet, it’s not just worth it.
Five parties out of the 10 we attend have one or more of the following:
- a bouncy castle which teeters close to the sky and looks downright scary
- glittery, eco-unfriendly, thermocol banners featuring sundry Disney Princesses/Spiderman/Ben 10 ‘cartoons’ which are supposed to define the party’s theme
- a young college student with an accent straight out of an Andheri East call centre as the Master of Ceremonies — my daughter calls this person ‘the manager’
- rehearsed performances by the birthday kid’s older sisters/cousins, featuring highly-sexualised Bollywood numbers — you cringe, but since the parents look like their child has just ended world hunger, you nod and say, ‘Verrrry nice…’
- a magic show (with frightened rabbits/doves) + a tattoo artist + a caricaturist + a hair braider-and-colourer (horrible chemical colours on your child’s head, but never mind)
- games that make your toes curl. Like ‘pick the dad with the biggest paunch’ or asking the birthday kid’s father to choose the best dancer among the assembled mummies, who obligingly shimmy for him
Recently, at a 4-year-old boy’s birthday party, after the professional clowns had romped on the stage, we were in for a hitherto unseen treat. The ‘manager’ invited the headmaster of the child’s playschool to ‘say a few words about the birthday boy’. The guests’ jaws dropped in unison. Listening to a speech in praise of someone who has just stepped out of diapers is a mildly surreal experience.
Then there are the return gifts. Caboodles of plastic crap, made in the dark by-lanes of Shenzhen, China. The bags, folders, water-bottles, tiffin-boxes and melamine-laced plate-and-spoon-sets are all given to kids who don’t really need more stuff. A rare, brave parent will sometimes risk popularity and give out potted plants or books.
It’s all meant to feel like a carnival, I guess, a mindless motion of money and ‘enjoyment’. In a perfect world, a birthday party wouldn’t be that, I think. It would mean experiencing something new and life-changing, something that truly celebrates a milestone. Learning about fish or butterflies, going to a farm, a nature walk or a fun session at the museum, or discovering a craft together. Till that happens, let’s aim at less wasteful, more conscious and aware birthday parties.
It’s a dirty job, but some-mum’s got to do it!
This appeared in the DNA of Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, July 09, 2011
written in 2001, the idea for this story was suggested by amit. then he worked with me to whet it, and later gouri worked on it a lot (special, special thanks for her editorial genius and patience). i sent it to puffin, where sayoni basu at puffin liked it, and though they didn't publish it finally, sayoni pulled me into a lot of fun projects - like the puffin book of bedtime stories, and the tenth rasa.
ambili is a much-travelled story, and finally, she found her form and her book at pratham, where manisha chaudhary was kind enough to choose to publish her! venkat raman singh shyam drew and painted her, in his lovely, restful style... so here she is, in her own story, ambili meets the king!
i love that the idea came from a gujju, was written by a mallu, illustrated by a pardhan gond artist from madhya pradesh...
giju bhai again, is someone i met thru amit and we worked with his folk nonsense in the tenth rasa too. after translating poetry for the tenth rasa, i really wanted to try some prose. then i met sampurna murti of pratham, and turns out they were thinking of translating giju bhai's stories - thru a hindi re-telling of them illustrated by aabid surti.
it was an exciting project, as i worked with both versions - aabid bhai's and giju bhai's. during this project, amit also chanced upon the gujarati giju bhai version he had read as a child, illustrated by aabid bhai!
so here the two volumes are, full of some of the nicest, cheeriest folk stories. and filled with aabid bhai's funny drawings. hope you find them near you people, or else look up their site. you could order online or find a store near you using their store locator.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
And the creatures who crawl, run and creep.
I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bull***t. Stop lying.
Lie the **** down, my darling, and sleep…
Not my lines, but lord, I wish they were. Novelist Adam Mansbach, exhausted with his daughter Vivien’s refusal to sleep, wrote the hilarious, cathartic poem Go the **** to Sleep. While its gentle rhymes and brilliant illustrations (by Ricardo Cortés) make it look like a picture book, it is definitely not to be read to your child. Not unless you want her to grow up with the vocabulary of a truck driver. Because this best-selling ‘children’s book for adults’ is about a father swearing at his child’s reluctance to fall asleep.
I can see your raised eyebrows from here. The thing is, till you have tried to put a reluctant child to sleep, you have NO IDEA how tough it can be. Most young parents learn — the hard, humbling way — that kids have their own body clocks. In two years or so you recognise this, and officially give up hope. You may have dinner plates to wash or a cure for cancer to invent or your limbs may be falling off from sheer exhaustion. But baby won’t fall asleep till he wants to. There are still so many toes and fingers to play with, and so much of your hair to pull. It’s enough to make you want a village to raise your child with!
Sleep patterns vary. Some kids sleep at 8pm and wake up shiny-faced at 6am. Some young debauches bounce off the walls till 12am and then crash, only to come around at about 10am the next day. Mine sleeps late and wakes up early. At 11.45 in the night, when my eyelids droop shut in the middle of some story she is telling me, she pulls them apart so that I can listen to her more attentively. At an obscene 6.45am, she’s up again (only on holidays) having remembered some crucial detail she forgot last night.
I have realised that sleep deprivation is a fairly refined device of torture. A friend’s mother who had two kids in quick succession spent the next few years waking up at night for this one’s feeds and that one’s pee. She thought she would never ever sleep again, that her life would pass by in a miasma of tired un-sleptness. The frustrated sense that Mansbach calls ‘…being in a room with a kid and feeling like you may actually never leave that room again...’ Imagine, then, having twins or triplets.
As kids grow, their exploration of the day’s stimulus becomes more verbal. My kid isn’t obsessed with her toes now; she has questions. How did cavemen have babies — there were no doctors to cut their tummies open? Why we have skin? Why are kids mean in class? Why are you mean to me? Can I be an actress? A dancer? Do taps need electricity? I know that the kind thing to do is to retire early, giving her the time to talk through her thoughts. But life has this way of making bhartha out of my best intentions, and invariably bedtime is a tug-of-war between my ‘Go-to-sleep!’ and her ‘Amma-one-last-thing!’
One of our unforgettable bedtime discussions featured the question ‘What are fathers for?’ To look after you, I say, yours feeds and bathes you, no? Frustrated, she sits up. ‘No, I mean before that — the mummy carries the baby inside her stomach. What is the daddy for?’ So she’s talking biology, I’m talking sociology. And to save myself time, I’m being thick too.
God knows I’m not shy of discussing anatomy. But late at night, sleep and chores tugging at my mind, I want to quote Mansbach, be a bad parent and say, ‘No more questions. This interview’s over…’ Go the bleep to sleep, kid!
This article first appeared in the DNA of Sunday, June 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
We took part in Zoe Toft's International Postcard Swap this year. It was a way to get n excited about her drawing and her copious reading - as this vacation had us pretty sadly under-engaged, what with her chicken pox and my bad back. She drew about 7 really lovely postcards (including the 'potatoe monster' who 'eats dishes' above) and had great fun choosing from among her books, and then re-reading all her favourite - and sometimes forgotten - books.
So this was our list:
Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr Seuss, illustrated by Roy McKie. An elegant and hilarious read. N has long given up on picture books and beginner readers, but every now and then, she sneaks back to them, looking inside for fun. We found this one in Pondicherry, and I was going to gift it away till I caught her reading and re-reading it, and chortling into her chin. When we spoke about recommending books, this was one of her first shouts!
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang. another total favourite of n's. just loves loves loves this wordless books, even going back to it repeatedly. Molly bang, wherever you are, you have two hardcore fans in India. More about how we got the book here.
The BFG by Roald Dahl. Her first proper big novel. Finished all 200 pages of it last month, using a bookmark and feeling extremely serious. loves it to madness, esp the bits about how people from different parts of the world taste different! ('people from india taste of ink!') She found the giant's names and their specific 'tastes' in kids too funny. wanted to make a play of it, with herself as sophie (what a surprise, i say!)
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise brown - a long-forgotten read, was happily pulled out because we got a 2-yr-old and a 3-yr-old in our list. a very sweet, calming read, and used to be our bedtime story for a bit.
Pete's a Pizza by William Steig. It's raining outside, Pete cant go to play. He has these rather elderly parents or grandparents with him, who look at him calmly and proceed to make a pizza out of him, using checkers, paper pieces, talcum powder and liberal amounts of tickling. When the sun comes out, Pete walks off. All very wry and unsentimental and great fun.
Nonie's Magic Quilt by You-know-who. How could n resist recommending a book about herself? We sent Rose, from France, a copy of the book too!
On the Way Home by Jill Murphy, about a little girl who can't resist telling a reeeeally tall tale. I was surprised to find n wanting to recco it bec its been a while since she last read it. But it's a really mad, lovely book.
The Why-why Girl by Mahashweta Devi. I was insistent that we recco more Indian books, but managed to get only two in. This is one of n's favourites and she has it in marathi and in english. it's a story about a tribal girl and the life she lives, told with an unusual lightness... I do hope the family manages to find a copy!
Tuesday by David Wiesner - surreal and scary, it's a wonder that most kids love this book as much as adults do. a quiet swamp, floating frogs, puzzled fish and hardboiled detectives. what more could a kid ask for in a book?
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
As with all things in India, finally, it all comes down to food and drink. Mallus believe that drinking hot water boiled with jeera, dhania or ginger in summer actually cools the body down. I never drank ice-cold, fridge-water at home, growing up. Once, around 5, I mistook a small bottle of white vinegar for water, grabbed it and drank deep before anyone could stop me. If they saw me, they'd take away the bottle, I knew. My lips turned blue, mom says, but I refused to let go of that bottle.
Somehow, in Kerala, anyone wanting to drink ice-cold-water is morally suspect, and is just asking for a sore throat. And a sore throat, as we all know, is the end of the world. For the first year of our marriage, the fridge was a silent war zone. He would put in bottles of water, I would take them out. It seemed wrong somehow, to be serving cold water at home, you know; to wantonly tempt the tonsil-gods thus? I mean, whatever next? Surely, drinking cold water at home is just a pit stop on the putrid path to gambling and alcoholism? My mum still doesn’t get why her son-in-law — such a fan of Mallu food otherwise — blanches at the Malayalee idea of a summer cooler: hot, pale-yellow, jeera-infused water.
Perhaps it’s because he’s from Kathiawad, where drinking cold water in summer feels like a minor religious experience. In summer, my mother-in-law freezes little steel katoris or bowls of filtered water. When they are frozen, they are slipped slurpily into into a large vessel of drinking water. And then — here's the best part — people drink it! I watched her do this the first time I visited with with a mix of horror and delight. Guiltily, I drank glassfuls, looking around furtively for a yelling adult. The fridge wars have hence ceased.
But others have taken their place. Breakfast in a Mallu house is serious business, with idli, dosha, upma or appam. In a Gujju house, breakfast is the time you kill, munching homemade naasta before a delicious hing-and-gur-tinged lunch. When the sun sets, you want to eat light, and it’s time for a ‘prograam’. A bhel, bhajiya, dhokla or paani-puri no prograam. I watched, awe-struck, as the elderly polished off fried snacks for dinner — pav bhaji, pani puri, batata vada and / or bhajiyas. If I gave a Mallu father-in-law bhajiyas for a meal, Chernobyl, to put it mildly, would have happened. Diabetes! Acidity! Filial brutality! Murder! Stuffing my face, I worried about being able to conjure up similar whatnots when the in-laws visited us in Mumbai. Obviously, a square meal would just not do.
Then there are the specific food-group-related hysterias. Featuring — in our case — rice and proteins. We Mallus like our proteins caught, killed, cooked in kilos of cokennut and served with red rice. To most Gujjus, proteins = dals, which are eaten with rotlis, and not with rice (simply too starchy, no? Not healthy — say the people who mainline deep-fried food at breakfast).
The thinner half and I found all of it hilarious — till baby arrived. Then battles-lines were clearly drawn. Methi as a lactational prompt versus wheat. Oil baths versus just baths. Ragi versus rava. Rice-kanji versus dal-paani. Yellow bananas versus green bananas. Picking-a-name-off-the-top-of-your-head versus naming by rashi. Rubbing a stick made of scented herbs with a bit of gold inside it and giving the baby a drop of the paste (Mallu colic cure) versus fainting at the suggestion (Gujju reaction).
And food-group hysteria again. As baby grew, my mother-in-law implored, ‘Dal is the best protein, it's all that the baby needs! No need to give her non-veg!’ And then, seeing that I was determined to raise an omnivore, the poor lady got to her specific fear. ‘At least don’t give her pig-meat!’ My mother, meanwhile, felt duty bound to inquire, ‘Why haven’t you started fish-chicken for this child still?’ Meanwhile, the fruit of my womb calmly refused Mallu staples like chicken, fish, steamed yellow bananas, jackfruit and rice kanji. She seemed predisposed to sev-gaanthiya, pasta, paneer, pijja, noodles, and still needs her daily Gujju staple: dal-bhaat-shaak-rotli.
Growing older makes you hanker for the ways of your childhood. It makes you want to reclaim some of the past by teaching your children things you picked up unconsciously from your parents. I sometimes imagine a family where everybody drinks warm jeera-water and enjoys dried-fish pickle. My husband probably dreams of a home where chhunda is made in summer and methi theplas are lovingly roasted by the wife in winter. However, despite our occasional longings for the familiar, it is with the unknown, the different, that we are charting a course. It’s a bit rocky, but it’s fun too.
Our mixed-up ‘Gujyalee’ or ‘Mallurati’ kid will, hopefully, find her own path through the minefield of her parents’ combined nostalgia. If she ever marries, though, I hope she goes all out on a limb. Brings home a son-in-law who grew up eating boiled whale blubber or pickled goat intestines.
The more different the better, I say.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, May 15, 2011