Saturday, May 12, 2018

Simply Bhutan!!!

Smile ...Stay are in the kingdom of happiness” was a sign that welcomed us as we alighted from  Druk Air chartered by Makemytrip flying directly from Bengaluru to Paro, Bhutan. The land locked mountainous terrain of Bhutan, with its breathtakingly beautiful wide open valleys, fickle weather, pristinely perennial streams flowing down the Alpine slopes alongside the highways leading up to the myriad Buddhist monasteries at every round and bend, inhabited by the simple, spiritual and ever smiling Bhutanese people... is nothing short of a heavenly retreat for the leisurely, mountain loving, Ruskin Bond aficionados like my family!!! 

Bhutan with its picturesque Dzongs, vibrant arts and culture, and its unconventional approach towards sustainability and development presents a unique and interesting travel experience!! One can’t compare Bhutan to any other  commercially popular tourist destination, especially with its high value and low impact policy on tourism. Bhutan is only for the discerning tourist who loves to soak in the local culture, take in the Buddhist spirituality, enjoy the altitude changing landscape, and mingle with smiling and soft spoken, national dress attired local population, and take a cue from the small yet orderly no-traffic-signal establishment!

As we began the tour from Paro to Thimphu and then from Punakha back to Paro , what struck us is the unified effort of the Bhutanese in implementing and internalizing the national policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) encapsulating good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and environmental conservation as four pillars of GNH. Whether it is their Vajrayana school of Buddhist ideology symbolizing the union of wisdom and compassion, or their love and respect for their  king seen in the umpteen posters and slogans in praise of the People's king along with his family, or strictly adhering to their national dress of Kira for women  and Gho for men, or following the Bhutanese architectural style in each and every structure that comes up or the friendly tour guide and driver who was more than willing to open up on life and times in Bhutan.......... we came back thoroughly enchanted with the land of Druk!!

As we made several stop-overs for shopping at the Crafts Bazaar in Thimpu, local handicrafts vendors at the Tiger nest base, or the quaint souvenir shops at Paro, my best souvenir has always been local children's literature! 

Amongst many, we picked up a book that best represents Bhutanese culture and philosophy. "Heavenly Birds" is a book written by Pema Gyaltshen , a popular children's writer who has authored many children's books in Bhutan and the pictures by Chandra S Subba

This story revolves around one of the most awaited migratory birds of Bhutan, the black necked cranes that fly into Bhutan, particularly Phobjikha from Tibet during the winter months.  So fascinated are they with the birds, that the Black Cranes are much revered and their migration into Bhutan is  celebrated with the farmers waiting for the arrival of the black cranes to sow their winter wheat. So much so that people of Phobjikha have opted to create cable free skies for the black necked cranes!
In this story that doubles up as children's non fiction on some interesting facts about black neck cranes, it can be seen how the man-animal-aviary symbiosis is such an intricate part of the Bhutanese culture.. "Thrung Thrung Thrung......" as the pleasing sound signals the arrival of black neck cranes from Tibet into the Phobjika valley at the start of winter, it also means it is time for the locals to plant their winter wheat. As they spend their winter basking in the picturesque Phobjika valley boasting of two main rivers, the Bue chhu and Phag Chhu rivers, (representing the snake and the boar respectively) and the famous Buddhist shrine Gantay Lhakhang, the locals celebrate their migration into the valley until February when it's time for them to fly back to Tibet. The book also recounts a legend of an old crane named Samdhen that is unable to make the journey to Tibet and a few craned decided to  fly to Tibet to get some salt for Samdhen. As he lay motionless in the middle of the field, he was noticed by a group of people who poured some water on the crane and with the additional aid of salt from Tibet, Samdhen was saved. In appreciation for the help from humans, the cranes formed a circle to perform their last dance and while flying out of Phobjika, they circle three times above the holy Gantay Lhakhang.  Aided with suitable illustrations, this is a story that beautifully highlights humans living in harmony with nature, which is the very essence of Bhutanese culture.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Princess Easy Pleasy!!!

We are in Bhutan.... the land of Gross National Happiness for our summer family vacation!! “Family vacation” is more like a business trip for parents with lists and inventories made out for all kinds of contingencies and emergencies that one might face while travelling with kids! Sometimes it feels like all you do is run around managing your kids’ needs, moods and tantrums that it hardly feels like a vacation at all!!!! That said, it would also be difficult to leave them behind  and enjoy the vacation sans kids.....especially when you get on the plane and   served your children's favorite pasta, or drive through your son's dream view of snow capped mountains, or try your hand at a local sport that your son would sure love, or try out the local costume that you bet would look perfect on your daughter, or taste the local flavors of ice can you possibly enjoy without your kids!!! Isn't it?

The biggest challenge during any travel with kids is of course food ...and  finding the kind of food that appeals to our kids palate always keeps one on tenter-hooks!!! In keeping with our family travel tradition that began during our travels with Abhay, we’ve continued to pack our travel size rice cooker, albeit as a back up as our little one is more open about experimenting with different cuisines (touchwood!) when compared to our older one who had an appetite only for “curd rice”!!!! 
But believe me, the back up plan during the first couple of days always ends up being upgraded into the mainstay during the final days of our travel...and for all you realise.... it’s not only the little one who is craving for some Anna-Sambhar!!! 😊

As a prelude to our travel, I had picked up a wonderful book that highlights this exact plight of parents planning a travel with their young kids. A surprise find .. really.. but we’ve latched on to Princess Easy Pleasy ...ever since I chanced upon this book at Kutoohala that I later managed to save during its closure sale. So much so... that inspired from the original story, we’ve also tried to spin off a few other anecdotes in Princess Easy Pleasy style...just to keep our little princess from being displeased!!!!   
Princess Easy Pleasy” a Karadi tales publication by Natasha Sharma and pictures by Priya Kuriyan revolves around a sprightly and a stubborn little princess who does not find anything up to her expectations as she travels with her parents, the king and queen, to various countries from Hong Kong to China to Singapore to Cambodia to Thailand to Srilanka (considering their choice of destinations... I wonder why they didn’t travel to Bhutan!) In each country,  she seems to have a problem with the milk served, or the vegetables cooked, or the mattress laid out, or the pets around or even the elephant brought in for a ride, having  her parents pander to her almost impossible tastes, finding a scapegoat in the royal packer who’s ordered to add to the packing list, each time the princess throws a fit!!! So in their effort to appease the not-so-easily-pleased princess, the ever expanding list includes a cow, their own chef and their own vegetables and so on and so forth... until things go horribly wrong when the exhausted royal packer quits and all travel plans cancelled by her equally  exhausted parents!!! As the bored princess pleads with her mom to change her mind, her mom yields, however “on one condition” ( and we love this part !) and we all know what it might be... don’t we?? A hilarious take on what is common travel woe of most parents!! In fact, this book provides a great parenting tool too... as the  “on one condition” strategy has come to our aid as we try to get our terrible twos toddler to toe our line!!! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spring in Shristi!!!!

The arrival of spring  in all its blooms and hues is best seen at my parents’ farm at ‘Shristi’ in Dharmasthala. With over twenty different varieties of flowers, including few local species with no English equivalent names and  multiple varieties of some common garden species adorning the front garden, and the fruit orchard replete with juicy jam fruits sprouting on  every branch,  spring  is truly in the air!!

The row of colourful balsams lining the garden as if to rein in the zinnia from blossoming all over the place, leaving little room for the long necked Canna or the dwarfed golden marigolds who seem to be vying for physical and screen space as one tries to capture the garden on lens, and the ever dependable  all-seasons hibiscus of many shades  and combinations, always yielding to the native “sadaa pushpa” or “shankapushpa” or “kanakambara” that seem to steadfastly assert its roots in any given space, restricting some ‘flower show varieties” like red lilies, velvet flowers and coxcombs to potted plants, and not to forget a dash of yellow and white  bougainvillea that have crept into the garden off late! While most of this sprightly garden is in full bloom in morning glory, there are some flowers who welcome the late risers too, in choosing to bloom only under the blazing sun, while others stay on till evening eagerly waiting for the sprinklers to come on at sunset! As you look out of the window from any part of the house, or sit by the front porch or walk down the path leading to the main gate, Shristi’s flowers are always there to brighten your day, lift your spirits and give you that Wordsworth-ian feeling evoked centuries ago on seeing the bright yellow “Daffodils”!!!!  

While I may not be able to compose a poem like Wordsworth, or even write like Ruskin Bond (who I'm sure would’ve been inspired to turn in a write up on Shrist’s flowers),  I can certainly dedicate a blogpost to the spring blossoms at Shristi that have been attracting many visitors from extended family to friends and creating many facebook memories! Of course, a garden like this represents a keen interest and a mammoth effort put in by my parents in beautifying what is already a paradise for us city dwellers!

Needless to say, my city kids have been mostly outdoors the last four days, with my older one practising his balling amidst the nets specially put up by his doting grandfather and my younger one darting across every half an hour to the cattle barn, and in between all that, both of them have been soaking up some sunshine, feasting their eyes  and getting wet at the flower garden!

As cliched as it sounds, every post on Onestoryaday is always followed by a book to read, and this time it’s  “Flora Flowers” by Debi Gelori, a book that we picked up from the soon-to-be-closed down library Kutoohala, (sad sigh!) 

Anyway, spring is here and Flora’s bunny family are all busy making plans and necessary arrangements for what each one plans to grow -  Nora planted amaryllis, Cora planted pink tulips, Sam sowed lettuce, Tom planted sun flower seeds, and Max plants cress and what about Flora? As the little Flora peers into her siblings’ efforts, they all want to keep her at bay. Finally Flora helps herself with a pot and plants a brick hoping to grow a house instead! As Nora’s amaryllis, Cora’s tulips, Tom’s sun flowers bloom in full confidence, and Flora’s family devour Sam’s lettuce garnished with Max’s Cress, Flora’s siblings poke fun at her supposed house that still appears to be a brick!! But Flora prods her house all along. As summer sun turns into winter snow and finally during the following spring,  Flora’s family comes out of hibernation. Flora is delighted just as everybody to see her brick grow into a nest for their birdy friend .....finally making it a house! A nice little read that beautifully illustrates the glory of spring and its breathtaking blooms....and makes your little one take note of the little joys of nature around her! Here’s inviting everyone to feast their eyes on our own little flower show at Shristi! :-)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Exam Warriors!!

March spells the season of examinations! If you are living in South India,  particularly in Bangalore and you have school going kids, your household is probably under the influence of exam fever or has just recovered from it......either ways it means normal/causal activities around the house are suspended until the last day of the exams, or you are still clearing out the piled-up work/chores that you've pushed until after the exams!  Phew!!! I have always hated exams and now the feeling continues through my son's exams as well!! Did our parents exhibit the same paranoia that we seem to go through every time our not-so-little ones have exams or are we overdoing it....??  Imagine, there was a time when we used to exchange notes about how much each one of us has studied and now, thanks mommy whatspp groups, we now get to nervously exchange notes about how much portions each of our kids (read mommies) has covered! A not-so-pleasant dejavu feeling..right?!! And in all this.... nobody could be more causal about than our kids themselves.....who's only answer for how did the exam go is ....'easy-peasy lemon squeezy"!!!

One of the self-help exam books doing the rounds is our Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Exam Warriors" by Penguin Publications. I'm not a great fan of self help books, but this one surely got me interested. True to his quintessential style of conveying messages through one liners and on the lines of his monthly "Man ki Baat",  Prime Minister Narendra Modi delves into what an exam actually means and how to deal with it and master it without losing your mind. Well, the book does not give out any magic mantra as there is none, but it's in the understanding and internalizing everyday common sense wisdom that we are aware of but seldom take it seriously or put it to practice. Starting with comparing exams to festivals as both involve preparations to their run-ups, thereby making it celebration-worthy, the author presents simple ideas on how one's approach to exams must be - from the awareness of "how exams test only your current preparation and not you" to "not being only exam oriented but pursuing knowledge' or "developing your own style and method for your own exam' or "be wise and revise" ...where he in fact gives a blueprint for how to compose a mind map of a particular topic in syllabus (which really helped us!), or how cultivating simple exam discipline matters, and finally how to be grateful to all the people (known and unknown) who help you through this phase, from parents and teachers to even the subordinate school staff like bus  drivers, ayaahs, or the shopkeeper who sells you stationery.....(Frankly, how many of our kids think of thanking the school sub-ordinate staff?) Replete with catchy phrases ( "Don't be a worrier be a warrior", "It's cheap to cheat" , "The Present is God's greatest present, live here and now"," Aspire not to be but to do"), suitable illustrations and with colourful tear-aways including thank you cards for kids to use, the book also leaves you with a few Yogasanas and Breathing techniques to relax your way through exams!!  So exams are just one of many challenges in life......all the best!!!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Good night stories for Rebel Girls!

Much has been said about Frances McDermont's acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for best actress, being a  powerful tribute to gender equality and woman empowerment.  But apart from her thought provoking mention of  "inclusion rider" (a clause that is sought to be included in all artists' contracts promoting diversity in hiring on film sets), she thanked her husband and her son, whom she claimed to have been well raised by their feminist mothers, who value themselves, each other and those around them!

Compare this to a recent column in The Hindu by Tabish Khair where he advised women, especially from the Indian sub-continent - like mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters and aunties,  against pampering the sons in the family as the boys then end up  "with bloated egos that can burst at a mere pen prick" and make them unfit in a world of differences and with differences being inevitable in today's world..."such men can only destroy themselves or the world". Wow... scary and yet true...isn't it?? 

This International women's day, as much as it is important for us women to acknowledge and strive for our equal roles in this world, it is as important for us as mothers to ensure that our sons are on the same page as well! Of course, it's a continuous process that ought to be reflected in our outlook, opinions, actions and advice vis-a-vis our boys, so as help them imbibe the same and internalize the sense of gender equality and mindfulness about diversity.

So as a symbolic gesture this women's day,  I had Abhay do a small project  called "Rebel Women" on a few famous women who broke barriers, freed themselves from the shackles of patriarchy and challenged the stereotypes to achieve the almost impossible in a male dominated world.

This is a spin off from "Good Night stories for Rebel Girls" which was a gift for Aadya from her aunt from the US, and we are grateful for this wonderful gift! A wonderful compilation of over 100 women from all walks of life spanning the last two millenniums....from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams.....who have "dissented", "stood up", "dared to question" and "climbed the mountain of life by removing stones and planting flowers"! 

 Put together by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo and illustrated by over sixty women artists, and though it will be a while before it can be a good night read for my little one, this one for sure is for keeps! Apart from the well known names like Cleopatra, Jane Austen and Mary Kom, the book  also features certain lesser known yet game changers in their own way like the Japanese Empress Jingu and her seventy year reign, or the geneticist Nettie Stevens who was a pioneer in discovering chromosomes, or Xian Zhang, the famous orchestra conductor from China, or the child-bride-turned-rapper from Afganisthan, Sonita Alizadeh!   I couldn't asked for a better book on International women's day! Although a day late, Happy women's day to all the women and women-to-be!!