Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hyderabad blues!





We just returned from our tour of the Pearl City of Hyderabad and during the last week ... we've been soaking up some Hyderabadi sunshine as well as getting soaked in the off and on rain that has been lashing the capital city of Telangana. However that did not deter us from discovering the city in our own unhurried way.... savouring each and every moment ... amidst the numerous tantrums, tussles, tardiness and toilet breaks of our kids.. ..:-) 


Starting from the best known icon of Hyderabad, the "Charminar" and the bustling old city to experiencing the grandeur of Nizam at the Chowmahal palace and it's various mahals housing some exquisite remnants of British India's most important princely State, from exploring the world famous Salar Jung museum through a guided audio tour to climbing atop the colossal Golkonda fort during the day and witnessing it's illuminated ramparts take us through a thousand years of history vide the spectacular light and sound show in the evening...we were on a roll! While squeezing in a few usual touristy hot spots like Birla mandir in pristine white or the Hussain Sagar lake with the Buddha statue in various evening hues, NTR gardens with it's noisy children's adventure rides, we also managed to stop at the lesser known Qutub Shahi tombs heritage park, browze through one it's quaint little independent bookstores, go bangle shopping at the Laad Bazaar,  sip the Hyderbadi chai and chomp on the mouth watering baked delicacies of its Karachi bakery and shop at the jaw dropping market place of Hyderabad's most recent MNC retail acquisition - IKEA... which was a throwback to our days in the US. Just as we thought we would end our trip with a big bang visit to the Ramoji Film city with it's sprawling gardens, gigantic film sets, including it's latest attraction, the Bahubali film set and it's evening carnival extravaganza, it was however destined that we stay in the city of Nawabs a little longer owing to a last minute cancellation of our flight which in fact proved to be a blessing in disguise allowing us (read me) to go on a shopping spree at Hyderabad's vibrant crafts Bazaar..... Shilparamam! In all, we came back refreshed....carrying a bagful of shopping, a potpourri of experiences and a cartload of memories!! 




No trip of ours is complete without a visit to a local independent bookstore and thanks to the recommendation of an erstwhile-Bangalorean-now-turned-Hyderabadi friend of mine, we stopped by Akshara Books while on our sight seeing tour. Nestled in a quiet part of the Jubilee hills area, Akshara books is how a bookstore should be...a charming little sanctuary of books, its set-up offering a sense of tranquility goading you to immediately curl  up with one of the books from its impressive collection. "Akshara Books" also houses a sizeable collection of children's books ranging from the board books and picture books from foreign publications to many home-grown publications like Tulika, Pratham, Katha and Karadi tales, etc. 




As I was looking out for a children's book on Hyderabad, the friendly co-owner, Ms. Kavitha guided us through the bookshelves and helped us find "Off to Telangana", a part of 'Discover India' State by State series by Sonia Mehta, brought out by Penguin Publications. Narrated from the perspective of the brother sister duo, Mishki and Pushka who set off on an adventure with Daadu Dolma discovering Telangana, with Hyderabad being its Kohinoor in the crown! A comprehensive travelogue for kids aged eight and above,  the 'Discover India' throws light on the history, geography, language and culture of the State in focus accompanied with fun facts, puzzle and games. "Off to Telanagana" turned into our ideal tour guide at Hyderabad, acquainting us with Hyderabad's magnificent mosques and tombs, palace perfections, its Telugu and Hyderabadi cuisine, Telengana's famous festivals, and many of Telangana's accomplished personalities, all presented in an engaging format replete with catchy phrases, fun and interesting games and activities for the young readers to go on their own little expedition....just like we did and thoroughly enjoyed the land of the Sunrisers!!!  


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Monday, September 30, 2019

Are you a WOCOTEEN?


I have always thought of parents of adolescent children from the perspective of a poem titled "Middle age" by Kamala Das that we had in our textbooks as a part of our high school syllabus. It's only now that I realize,  as I am one myself, with my older one turning thirteen two weeks ago....that it hardly feels like middle age for me! Of course adolescence lasts for over seven to eight years and this is only the beginning!  But I'm already dreading the words as the poem goes......"Middle age is when your children are no longer your friends, but critics, stern of face and severe with their tongue......they no longer need you except for serving tea and pressing clothes..." (Yikes!!)  While Abhay is still amenable to parental authority,  traces of that "I-know-what-I'm doing” and "leave-me-alone" adolescent attitude have already set in and I can't help feeling as if the worst is yet to come!!  Growing up in Bangalore in the nineties, I remember that one of the biggest questions confronting our parents as we turned teenagers was whether to subscribe to cable TV network (popularly known as Star TV that brought home American sitcoms for the very first time)  or stick to the our good old Doordarshan, and parents skeptical of the influence of "Beverly Hills 90210" or  even home grown serials like "Banegi Apni Baat" on what they believed to be our innocent minds! Cut to almost a quarter of a century later......the challenges faced by our parents now seem trivial and even innocuous, given the paradigm shift in technological-socio-economic-cultural conditions in which we raise our kids today.  At every juncture, we are constantly faced with the question of "How much is too much"  or "When does motivation turn into pressure" or "Is this a necessity as our kid feels or an indulgence as our parents will most probably think" and the ubiquitous nagging question "Should we let go or will it be considered lackadaisical" and so on and so forth.  For instance while the age thirteen is the official entry level for an online presence, be it on Facebook, Instagram or Gmail,  my husband and I are still old school and not yet very comfortable with him having an online social life that we are not a part of....and so it goes...as Abhay puts it....he is the only thirteen year old in the world not to have a cell phone of his own....and I cant help feeling "dejavu" as I remember sulking at being the only girl in class eight who didn't yet have " Star TV" at home !!  



So as a true teenager, the center stage of this year's birthday celebration for Abhay has shifted from the usual mom-organised-cake and sandwich home parties with a few neighbourhood friends to dining  out with school friends  at a fancy restaurant .......and mom and dad required only for the cheque at the end!  So we had over six boisterous boys ride home in the school bus with Abhay, heading straight to a Wii match (again as Abhay puts it.....we are the only ones who don't own a play-station!)  and all the while huddled in his room with non-stop chatter-banter and subjecting the birthday boy to birthday bumps followed by cutting of the custom ordered cake with the icing of Abhay's favourite football club logo - FC Bayern Munchen and dinner at an unlimited all-you-can- eat pizza restaurant as a finale!



The best part for me in all this was the return gift and it goes without saying that the return gifts at Abhay's or Aadya's birthday parties have always been and will be books, books and more books! With all the boys having entered teens already, I couldn't find a better audience than anyone else for Roopa Pai's "Ready! 99 Must have skills for the World Conquering Teenager  (and Almost-Teenager)"! What's more..........their class even had the same author do a session with them for one of her other books in school recently. As the title goes, this book of non-fiction written by one of the most well known writers for children, young adults and parents alike  (one more non-fiction book of hers  is being launched somewhere in Bangalore as I write this! )  published  by Hachette India, and starts off as an Indianised and contemporized spin on the nineteenth century Robert and Agnes Baden-Powell's Scouts and Guides Movement but offers much more for the current  crop of teens to grow into  "World conquering teenagers" or as Roopa Pai cheerily puts it.. a "WOCOTEEN"!    
My first reaction to this book....was envy!!! I felt jealous of the kids today as I wish we had a book like this while growing up in the nineties. Of course we had the Scout/ Guide clubs in most schools then (unlike many schools today), but I felt as if the emphasis was more on the protocol rather than the substance of the scouts and guides philosophy!  



Anyway, packed with over 99 must-acquire life-skills for an overall development of your teenager, with focus on various aspects like personal development from the point of view of health, discipline, creative development (including pointers to pursuing a hobby that may not involve a device!) to being the family man/woman from the perspective of helping out and doing the chores  at home (including the unclog-the-sink challenge or even washing your own undies challenge!) to even bookkeeping or opening your own bank account challenge, etc, or the community awareness element from being a patriot (understanding the importance of the national anthem, national flag or the Indian currency or the explain-India to a foreigner challenge) to being an interpreter (learning a new language or build empathy challenge) or a volunteer for various kinds of community service and finally setting out for the challenges of the great outdoors! Of course the book comes with certain badges and shields at the end to be won by the WOCOTEEN wannabes on completion of all the challenges  but the focus is on the journey more than the destination and what those experiences can build your teen into and the life skills he or she acquires along the way that may shape his/her future path! It's a great book for shared reading and a joint activity for teens and parents of teens  and truly an earnest attempt to impress upon the Generation Z, certain fundamental life philosophies from self-reliance, self-control, self-assurance, motivation, empathy, leadership, and to being mindful and open-minded, all brought out in the quintessential easy-breezy-yet well researched and engaging style of Roopa Pai. Each skill-set comes with its own unique challenges or tests that can be attempted either individually or better in a group......called the WOCOTEEN squad......so  to Abhay and his friends ......are you guys in to form the WOCOTEEN squad of your own and ready to conquer the world...?? :-)



Dearest  Abhay .....enjoy your foray into your teen years  and go easy on your mommy!!!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Chauthi- A family festival!


As soon as I lay my hands on the first copy of the coming year's  calendar, if there's one thing I almost always immediately look out for, it's to check on the Ganesh Chaturthi  in the coming year! Ganesh Chaturthi or Chowthi as we refer to in South Karnataka, has been special to me for as long as I can remember! Spread over almost a day and a half, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in my ancestral house in Dharmasthala that has been an integral part of my father's family and has now, post my marriage, come to represent a regular annual feature in my family too. 



We come from a culture where most families along with their extended kin, join in the celebration of one or more ( if not all) Hindu festivals in a year.... and those occasions are not just about performing religious rituals but rather a socio-cultural affair in the form of family Bhajans sessions, or hosting local artistes or folk culture,etc.  Be it Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri or Deepavali ( to name a few Hindu festivals), extended family celebrations of the same have a charm of their own.. While they may prove to be hectic and strenuous (especially for the hosts), no can deny that they make for some of the best family-time memories and offer unique family experiences for children that are otherwise hard to come by in today's nuclear age! 


So it gave us immense pride to see our little millennials nearly dominate the all-nighter family bhajan session, even vying with each other over singing some of the traditional family bhajans that have been passed on by our previous generation... while adding their own “bindass” style to the mix! As the festivities culminate in the immersion of our Ganesha in the Nethravathi river, we seek blessings for the coming year..... and hope to grow more, evolve better and let go a little.... until next year when we get ready to welcome Lord Ganesha in into our family home yet again!! 


We’ve been reading many books on Ganesha over the last few years on the occasion of Ganesha Chathurthi, this time I thought I’d introduce my little one to some of the Hindu deities through Sanjay Patel’s “The Little Book of Hindu deities”. While we have read Sanjay Patel’s earlier works on Hindu Mythology and his unique illustrative and narrative style through his take on Ramayana and Ganesha’s sweet tooth, this book is an all-encompassing account of Hindu Mythology beginning traditionally with Lord Ganesha, moving on to the Trinity and various manifestations of Shiva to the revered Hindu Goddesses and a birds eye view into ten avatars of Vishnu. The book also delves into the contextual background of the mythological stories from a brief introduction to the chronological periods - Satya Yuga to Kali Yuga, to the Nava Grahas or nine planets while also touching upon the various Demi Gods from Indra to Yama and Animal Gods from Naga to Surabhi, giving us a glimpse of the Hindu epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bhagavadgita. Presented in his one-of-a kind breezy narrative that makes our deities more relatable, with modern equivalents to some of their traditional attributes, like the "Howler" Rudra, or the Kali "the Black one" or the "chunky money" Hanuman, and his various feats, all accompanied by light-hearted animation style illustrations...  Sanjay Patel's book on Hindu deities is sure a hit with the curious personified next generation millennials. Season's Greetings to everyone this festive season...celebrate the spirit of the festivals  with your kith and kin! 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ten years of Aha!


We can't have July go by without the Aha! International theatre for children at Rangashankara....now can we? On its tenth year, we literally camped at Rangashankara watching a play every day between July 14th to 20th. Thankfully, there were a couple of plays that Abhay could watch unlike last year which was exclusively for toddlers. However, there has been a increasing tendency favouring the younger lot, with most plays having minimal or no language at all or gibberish meant for very young kids, and a note of suggestion would be to include a play or a performance with dialogues impressing upon the tweens or adolescents too! Anyway, a play a day sure keeps dreariness away (so needed for our routine driven lives)........also devices away (so needed for this generation) ........and jadedness away (so needed for everyone today) ...and of course making a play a day happen for your kids on weekday evenings sure keeps you on your toes...so much so that it took me this long to recover from the hectic schedule of the Aha! week.....and it's only today that I found time to write about it!




Well.......better late than never, so here is my must-post event of the month.....and this year was all the more special as it was the tenth edition of the Aha! International theatre festival for children that has spread it creative tentacles to the likes of Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. With plays from children's theatre groups from various parts of the world including the US, UK, Germany, and Korea. etc, catering to children aged 4 and above, and performances ranging from puppetry to adapted novellas, from shadow plays, to creative inter play of mime and animation, from no language at all to the universal language of creativity and imagination, the  Rangashankara's Aha festival has come to symbolise one of the most stimulating, nuanced, inclusive and inspiringly creative events for children that Bangalore and Bangaloreans are proud to call their own!




The Aha! festival has always provided a platform to interesting events that prelude the play of the day,  and this year it opened with a launch of a book  titled "Yaksha" by Archana Mohan and illustrated by Adithya Sadashiv. Being a collaboration between Bookosmia and Yakshadegula, this book is a wonderful way to introduce children to Karnataka's indigenous dance form, Yakshagana, that is particularly popular in our native South Kanara district. Narrated through the perspective of the eight year old Yaksha,  who finds himself unhappy over many things, be it being new to school or his unusual name that always gets turned into "Yucky" or "Yucks" or his lack of friends or as he considers himself to be a back-bencher with no special talent thus making Yaksha suffer through a  low phase in his school life. On "Be your own superhero day" at school,  Yakhsa  is reluctant to participate as he is too jaded to believe in Super heroes. But as his father and grandmother take him through the story of his great great great great grandfather also named Yaksha who fought to perform mythological stories before the general public, through the medium of the unique dance-drama-art.  So Yaksha,  in his search of a 'super-hero"  goes on to  draw inspiration from his own family tradition that he sets out to reclaim and make it into his own. A beautiful  coming of age tale that encapsulates a melange of  themes -from a contemporary story line of a boy trying to fit in, to the past glory of a dying tradition, guided by subtle yet strong support from family and elders to finally finding your own destiny, all through  interwoven with informative aspects of one of most vibrant dance-drama forms of Karnataka.....truly makes you go "Aha!" with delight!


Thursday, June 13, 2019

First day jitters!


It was D-day for our little one going to big school with her older brother. It was the day when she would finally board the yellow school bus she’d so wished, just like her older brother. It was the day to put on “The Samhita Academy” uniform and continue to wear the same every day of the week, just like her older brother.  It was also  the day that we were dreading as it seemed near impossible to get her ready as early as her brother which is  almost two hours ahead of her usual time  the last two years!! Well... it’s finally here... with both our kids going to the same school ... and gone by 7.45 AM... we may finally get some quiet time for ourselves before our daily grind!!!:-)

While choosing the right school for the kids is a much discussed/debated topic in most households, it was quite the opposite with us. It was more of "We came, we saw and we enrolled....." with my older one who has happily continued in the same school ever since he first joined in UKG or Upper Kindergarten on our return from the US. So it was but a natural progression for his baby sister to be going to the same school, albeit a year earlier for LKG or Lower Kindergarten after two years of playschool.  While we didn't dwell too much on whether it was the right call to make when we filled out the sibling admission forms last year followed by a seemingly smooth admissions process,  it is only in the last couple of weeks that we began to get cold feet over preparing our little one for her big day and had misgivings about  whether it is too early to send our little one to a large school that is more than half-hour commute away or would it have been prudent to let her continue for another year in her close-knit Montessori school that's literally only a stone's throw away from our house. Added to this mix were several pre-occupations like work getting hectic all of a sudden, the fracture of my older one’s little finger at the start of the academic year, and my mother-in-law's backache, all of which only compounded our concern over her ability to fit in and our wherewithal to enable her to do so!  But when the D Day arrived, without much fuss,  our little one held her brother's hand and just climbed on to the school bus!   We even followed the bus into her school and hid behind other nervous parents to watch her alight at the school entrance and just as we were about capture the moment on camera ......she noticed us ... and  waved out to us  as if it were a "first day of school-red carpet",  reassuring us that she was going to be fine!! :-)


It had to be a special book to celebrate the start of our little one's journey in the yellow school bus, and I went all the way across town to "The Lightroom bookstore" to find it! Sounds too dramatic isn't it? Well, actually I managed to finish work in North Bangalore early enough to be able stop by the bookstore, that I had visited many moons ago. Browzing through the well stocked shelves of independent bookstores like "The Lightroom Bookstore" and a few other in South Bangalore, is such a joy that can't compare to the convenience of online shopping  and a friendly owner like Aasthi Mudnani and her courteous staff helping you the find the right book only completes this delightful experience!  


So we picked a few books and best liked "First day Jitters" by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Judy Love, a part of the "Mrs. Harwell's classroom adventures series" by Charlesbridge publications. School year has just begun  and Mr. Hartwell has a tough time waking up Sarah for her first day at the new school. Just like anyone with starting trouble, Sarah refuses to budge from her bed and has to be goaded into getting ready for school, with her father gently persuading her at first and then resorting to sterner methods to get Sarah to look forward to the new experiences in her new school, dismissing all her apprehensions.  Despite all her diversion tactics from her head hurting to feeling sick, she is finally ready and packed off to the school in Mr. Hartwell's car and is welcomed by the school supervisor/principal who ushers her into her  classroom.... and the readers as well as the students  are finally introduced to Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell ..the new class teacher! :-)  We could relate to this ..... as except Aadya, everyone else from her parents, her older brother, paternal grandparents at home, maternal grandparents at a distance, and to her day-time nanny were all experiencing 'first day jitters"!Have a great school year without any jitters....my kindergartner!