Monday, October 17, 2016

Resplendent Rajasthan!

After a hiatus of almost two years following the birth of our little one, we have embarked on our annual Bharat Darshan tour with extended family around the Desert State of Rajasthan. As we travel from Pink city to Desert city, from Golden city to Blue city, enthralled by the majestic forts, earthen landscape, scintillating musical and folk art performances and the vibrant Rajasthani culture, this trip around Rajasthan seems to have everything -travel by flight, long road trips, train journeys, rugged and rustic experiences like desert safari and a taste of royal splendour at the numerous palaces and heritage properties - in all a wholesome experience of everything that is quintessentially Rajasthani! 

This  trip also seems like we've truly come of age in the balancing act of travelling with now two kids and all it's trappings. From carrying an additional check-in baggage to the omni present "baby bag", from waking up at the crack of dawn, not to catch the sun rise but to cook the day's to-go meal for the little one in a travel size rice cooker or lugging an umbrella stroller hoping to wheel the little one around, only to realise that the fort has stairs at every turn, jumping into the swimming pool or utilising other such amenities of the hotel with the older one when all  you want to do is curl up on that very fancy and comfortable looking couch with a book- Travelling with kids is more like business trip for parents as you always have to prepare for what may happen next! Amidst all the ensuing chaos, if you still manage to catch a glimpse of the fantastic desert sunset ...taste the delectable local mawa katchoris, or get a good bargain on the day's shopping spoils and have your kids enjoy the folk art performances/puppet shows,  you've got a winner...Let's reserve the museums and galleries for another time ....probably when the kids grow up or grow out of our nests!!!!

We are at an unenviable phase in our parenting adventure! While our little one is supposed to be high maintenance, given her age, she makes herself comfortable anywhere, provided her basic needs are taken care of!  Whereas our older one who is at an ideal age for travel, hence supposedly low maintenance, has instead proven to be quite demanding! Almost ten years apart, our older one and our little one couldn't be any more diverse in terms of their tastes,quirks, and mood-swings!! Of course, it immensely helps to be travelling with the extended family of parents and relatives, as your little beasts can be unleashed on them as well...and thanks to them, we could enjoy our morning walks minus the kids or go on zip lining adventures, but just as you begin to breathe a little ....your little one is promptly handed back with a soiled diaper!!:-)) 

Through out the State of Rajasthan, the camel is a ubiquitous presence. From camel rides to camel skin merchandise and camel prints on arts and handicrafts, the ship of the desert best represents the state, at least from a tourist point of view!:-)

As always, we look for something to read when we travel, so imagine my delight when I found a new release from Tulika publications that's set in Rajasthan! Replete with illustrations draped in vibrant hues and colours that present an authentic Rajasthani setting, this book is a visual treat in itself!  "When Bholu came back" by Kavitha Punniyamurthi and pictures by Niloufer Wadia revolves around a camel named Bholu and his  owner Beni Ram. Finding no use for a camel as a means of transport in modern day Rajasthan, Beni Ram tries to sell off his beloved Bholu, only to have the camel return back to him as he refuses to go to his new master. Just as Beni Ram and Bholu spend the night in the desert pondering  over how to find work in a time when village carts are preferred over camels, hordes of tourists arrive in jeeps with banner "Taparia camel safari". As the travellers get ready to climb onto the camels for a ride around the sand dunes, a little girl and her mother are left out as the safari team falls short of one camel .......and no prizes for guessing who got roped in to take the little girl on the most exciting ride across the golden sands...!!! So meet the newest camel on the "Taparia Camel Safari".....Beni Ram's Bholu!  Who knows may be we rode on him at the Desert Safari near Jaisalmer a couple of days ago!:-))) 


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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

10 years of Abhayhood!

It’s now officially a decade since Abhay came into this world and while he is at the cusp of tween or pre-teen years before heading into the dreaded (so as far as parents are concerned!) teen years, there are many angles and moments during which he still seems like a little boy! Though he looks every bit and probably as cheeky as any ten year old, there are some elements of his personality that continue to remind us of his toddler or pre-schooler days ….. like he still winces as the pressure cooker whistle goes off or still employs toddler lingo references to some everyday things. Though he may not like my bringing this up, but as parents we cannot be blamed for finding the same endearing as we try to hold on to some of the last traces of his early childhood. Somehow as he turned ten on September 11th, it felt different as if he were going to be in a different league now…..and I could only think of the famous ABBA song….to paraphrase the same…. …..

Slipping through our fingers all the time…                                                                
As we try to capture every moment……  
Slipping through our fingers all the time    
Do we really see what’s in his mind               
Each time we think we’re close to knowing      
He keeps on growing                                                                                                                     Slipping through our fingers all the time…. 

As Abhay hit the first big ten, he was very clear that he wanted a birthday bash thrown at home, and presented us with  a big list of do’s and don’ts, with invitees being all his favourite people, including close cousins, schoolmates and neighbors. Though it was a particularly hectic week for both of us, we hurriedly managed to put together a decent show  - a birthday party with games, gifts and a quick-fix-easy-to-make piñata that the kids enjoyed breaking and smashing. Finally as the guests left and it was time to clean up, Abhay announced the party to be a grand success…..and Boy! Were we glad to live up to the expectations of our big little man!! :-) 

On the occasion of celebrating ten years of Abhayhood……..we went on a philosophical tour on life and living from our all time favourite author Ruskin Bond “What’s your dream?”, that we read as  a part of the compilation “The Room of Many Colours”, a thoughtful piece on dreams and life. Written in first person (as most of Ruskin Bond’s stories), the story involves a young boy’s encounter with an English speaking beggar, who stumps him with one question “What’s your dream…..something you wants most in his life?”. As the boy answers that his dream is to have a room of his own, the man begins to probe further leading to a intriguing conversation on the significance of dreams in one’s life, with the old man giving out pearls of wisdom drawn from his own experience on how it is important to work towards your dream and move towards it all the time, and most importantly, if you don’t expect too many things too quickly, you’ll find your dream. While children are natural dreamers, they end up losing their natural ability to dream as they grow up. With a layered narrative that likens dreams to freedom and growing up to losing that freedom, the story beautifully conveys that while it is important to follow your dream, it is also important not to take other people’s dreams. The story ends with the boy left to ponder over the old man’s words of wisdom….and is the reader. As this is the age for Abhay to dream and build castles in the air, we couldn’t have asked for a better story to celebrate his foray into pre-teenhood….So here’s wishing Abhay a very happy birthday….dream on…my boy as there is no life without dreams! :-)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gajapathi festival!

Previous weekend was Ganesha Chaturthi and as every year we travelled to my native town Dharmasthala to celebrate Chowthi ( that we fondly refer to)  with my father’s extended family in our ancestral house. Abhay has always enjoyed celebrating the festival along with his second cousins from my father’s side, and has even actively participated in the all-night-long family bhajan sessions that culminate in the immersion of the idol, the following morning, But this time, we were delighted to find that his younger sister too followed suit and had a fair share of family fun herself, not to mention her dancing and grooving to the “jagante-chande vadya” (percussion recital) that quintessentially accompanies all Poojas or religious rituals in South Karnataka. Though this is her second Ganesha Chaturthi, it is technically her first Chowthi experience, considering that she was hardly aware of her surroundings as a three month old last year.  Here’s hoping that with Lord Ganesha’s blessings, she grows up to enjoy each and every of her  experiences to the fullest.

So on the occasion of the Elephant God festival, we read ( and as have been reading for the whole of last month) my little one’s new favourite, Tulika’s Gajapati Kulapati series. Revolving around  everyone’s favourite elephant named Gajapati Kulapati, Ashok Rajagopalan’s three books have the beloved elephant in three different endearing situations that in many ways mirror the ‘predicaments’ faced by our little ones – from catching a cold to suffering from a terrible stomach ache! What happens when the center of the household ( read town in the case of Gajapati) isn’t feeling too comfortable? …Trust him or her to bring the whole house down right?? So as Gajapati Kulapati goes Aaaaaachchooooo!…. Or Kalabalooosh………! or Gurrburrroom……!, the whole town from  the fruit seller to postman, from the village cow to Paati amma, and from children to the school teacher are sent scampering about trying to find a solution for Gajapati Kulapati’s current challenge…. Whether it is his giant sneeze or his giant leap into the village pond or the loud wind that he passes following a bad stomach ache!  With a simple yet engaging storyline, playful and hilarious narrative, accompanied by words and sounds that toddlers would love to repeat and imitate…it doesn’t take you long to understand why this one is an instant hit with the kids! Of course we all know Ashok Rajagopalan through his bright and vibrant illustrations in many of Tulika’s publications but here's  full marks to Ashok Rajagopalan  as an author as Gajapati Kulapati series (at the risk of sounding  presumptuous to say so!) is one of most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud funny, and thoroughly entertaining read-aloud stories for young children. We will always remember Gajapati Kulapati as one of the first books my little one began responding to….. and when asked how does Gajapati Kulapati cry out when he has a stomach ache…”Owowowooooohh!..” says my little one!!! As Ganesh Chaturthi symbolizes the start of the festive season…season’s greetings to everyone…enjoy the festive season!:-) 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Indian Freedom movement for today's children.

It’s that time of the year again when we see the mini-tricoloured flags being sold at the traffic signals. Of course, the Indian Independence day means a lot more than hoisting or flying the Indian flag, but it sure feels good to see the saffron-green-white everywhere from mini-flags to fashion merchandise to on-screen logos. Though it seems as if we are commoditizing the Indian tri-colour, symbolizing the patriotic spirit in tangible terms in a way helps imbibe the true spirit and pride of being an Indian, at least for children. Why….., as Indians living in the US, didn’t we embrace the blue and red hues on July 4th? So, why get cynical on August 15th and instead celebrate the India we love and the India we want to love!

That said, it has been increasingly felt that the Independence day celebrations has been reduced to mere symbolism or some sort of a cultural event for kids to show off their talents on the patriotic front, which they happily forget once the day is over. What does freedom really mean for the younger generation today? Is it a case of too much freedom today or too little value for the freedom once fought hard for?

The kids today are unaware that the independence we celebrate today was won by a long and prolonged struggle against the then British establishment. So much so that I was taken aback as Abhay asked me if Bal Gangadar Tilak  was a bad person as he was jailed. Of course, one may ask the same question about the recent events that had people  imprisoned on the grounds of sedition, but that is however question for another day. As of now, I realized that there is not much he knew about the Indian freedom struggle.  So for this year’s independence day, we picked out “A Flag, a Song and a Pinch of Salt” by India’s most prolific writer of history for children, Subhandra Sen Gupta and  brought out by Puffin Publications. While this is not a book that we could finish at one go, this work of non-fiction  takes you back to the beginning of last century when the seeds of Swaraj were sown, with people from different walks of life, from lawyers, to writers, to teachers, to businessmen, all joining in the movement…. …determined to make India free. While the main architects of  “Mission Freedom” have been featured, the book also throws light on some lesser know names and events that in their own way contributed to the uprising that culminated in India’s independence over seventy years ago. Written in a simple and contemporary narrative, interspersed with interesting anecdotes and legends, this book acquaints the reader about the extraordinary lives of freedom fighters from Mahatma Gandhi to C.Rajagopalachari, from Bikaiji Cama to Birsa Munda in an engaging and non-text-bookish manner. Though meant more advanced readers aged 12 and above for independent reading, this compilation nevertheless makes for an interesting shared reading experience for children who’ve just begun to get curious about what Independence day means. Happy Independence everyone!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Aha! ...with Granny!

Come July and it’s time to say…Aha! …and head straight to Rangashankara! We have been regulars at the Aha! International Theatre festival for children since 2012,  making advance reservations even before the tickets arrived, planning and assigning chaperoning responsibilities well ahead in time so that all of us at home get a piece of Aha!  So much so, that my parents and in laws have often wondered who is the intended audience for the plays – children or their parents!! 

Ideally, we would like to watch all the plays ( and we have done that for a couple of years), but through the years, we’ve evolved in our choice of plays and  Abhay now prefers plays more suited to his age, with language, humour and themes he can relate to and so this year we’ve picked out plays and shows meant for children aged seven and above. In fact, my little one who is now over fourteen months old narrowly misses the eligibility to watch “Dinner at eight” presented by Headstart school of Montessori meant for children between the age group of 18 months to 36 months. Of course….left to me …I would have gone for all the plays!!!  So, waiting for my little one to grow up…I guess!! J

Yesterday we went for the screening of a Korean feature film, “The Way Home” directed by Lee-Jeong-hyang  Since it revolved around a relationship between a grandma and her grandson, Abhay was accompanied by his maternal grandma! Though the film was in Korean language, it was presented with English sub titles. Set in a remote village in Korea where a city bread spoilt kid is sent off to his grandma’s while his mother is in between jobs, the film beautifully portrays the evolution of a poignant relationship between the grandma and grandson, despite the age factor, generation gap and the urban-rural divide. Abhay and his granny thoroughly enjoyed the movie and thanks to Rangashankara, Abhay has been exposed to not only world class theatre but also brilliant movies from all over the world!

So we had to end our Rangashankara movie night with a moving story and who can be better than Ruskin Bond when it comes to insightful and charming stories on inter-generational relationships! With my last two posts also on Ruskin Bond…. it feels like a Ruskin Bond festival on Onestoryaday!  We read “A long walk with Granny” from the collection “The Room of many colours” and other stories brought out by Pensuin publications. The same story has been rejacketed as “Getting Granny’s glasses” by Puffin publications.

Nani (granny) needed a new pair of glasses but was reluctant to get them as she had to travel all the way to Mussoorie to get to the eye hospital. ( With Abhay’s own grandma’s legendry reluctance to get her annual eye check up…this story couldn’t have been more appropriate) So as Nani tries to make do with her old glasses that are badly scratched with spots all over, it is up to her doting grandson who agrees to accompany her on their two day tedious journey to Mussoorie to meet the eye doctor. Just as Mani wonders how to get by the first mile, which comprises of a long walk to Nain Market to catch the only bus to Mussoorie, Nani chides “I may be going blind but there’s nothing wrong with my legs”!  And so Nani and Mani set off on what turns out to be a rollercoaster ride along the foothills of Himalayas, with incessant rains and landslides aplenty. Though it is Mani who’s tasked with the responsibility of taking care his septuagenarian Nani, it is Nani who could give a well trained scout some stiff competition, when it comes to readiness and preparedness to brave any emergency, from carrying all essentials to being ready for a ten mile stiff climb when the bus breaks down! When Nani  finally gets her new pair of glasses…..she cant stop gazing out of the window on their way back as every turn and bend opens up new vistas for her! Nani’s child-like enthusiasm along with Mani’s mature sensibilities make for a  great story……and Ruskin Bond’s tender and vivid narrative packed with subtle yet tongue-in-cheek humour enhances the experience to a totally different level!  What an apt ending to an Aha! evening!