Friday, August 10, 2018

Aha! with Aadya!

July has always symbolized the Aha! International Theatre festival for children and it's almost a tradition of sorts for us to catch more than a play or two at Rangashankara! So much so that every time we are in the vicinity of one of our favourite places in J P Nagar, Abhay is always enquiring as when can he walk into the theatre and hear the "Ahahahaha Ahahahaha Ahahahaha song" play ( which is normally played as an interlude just before a feature performance at the festival). So, however busy we may be or howsoever hectic things get or how many ever homework/test assignments Abhay may have .... Aha! is not be missed!!

While Abhay has been a regular at Rangashankara, I was waiting for my little one  to grow up a bit to experience the Aha! magic and was highly disappointed (and had mentioned so) that last year's Aha! festival did not feature any plays for toddlers (as it did the year before when my little one was only just born). So imagine my delight when I discovered this year's edition Aha! international festival of theatre for children to be an exclusive theatre fest for toddlers!

Well, though I'd like believe that my note of disappointment on last year's post on Aha! festival (and as such it was an but an echo of the long standing demand for more quality programs for very young children),  had anything to do it, this year's Aha! festival is a creative product  of a Theatre workshop for very young children at Katkatha, New Delhi conducted by Barbara Kolling in December 2017.

So this year we skipped our naps and packed our baby bag (we still carry those around!) and off we went to "Rangshankra" ( as my little one puts it). As if mommy's enthusiasm was not enough, her school too jumped into the theatre band wagon all the way to Aha! festival as they gathered all their noisy toddlers into one of the featured plays. 

All the plays sought to introduce the little ones into subtle .shades, shapes, sounds, colours and joys of life as they see it..... just as Arundhathi' Nag put it and to rephrase  Children don't need rapid movements or loud and exaggerated sounds.....a quiet soft movement or subtly nuanced presentation is enough to make them sit up and notice. It may be a spider shaped woolen thread hanging from the clothing line in 'Ool" or the exploring how seemingly mundane objects from everyday life and transform into something striking in "Paper Fantasy" or varied colours created out of an assortment of plastic and refraction of light in "Plasticity"  or an endearing hide and seek play between two characters squeaking "Pattichae" (caught you!) in "Chidiya Udd"..... children did seem fascinated! I'm not sure how much of what they see actually sinks in or how much of what is put up is comprehended.....but the shared experience of watching some of best toddlers' theater live and laughing with your little one sitting on your lap is sure to be one of your most memorable moments in the fleeting early years of his or her childhood! As I see my little one waking up from her usual nap and saying "Rangshnkarage hoguva? (Shall we go to Rangashankara?)... I know that she is asking for more and more of such marvels!

While many of our Rangashankara or Aha! moments have made their way into Onestoryaday, all of them have been related to Abhay. This one is special as it's my little one's first Rangashankara experience and that's why I had to put it down even though it's been more than two weeks since the Toddler Theatre festival!  Anyway, the only person disappointed this year with the Toddlers' theatre festival was the eleven year old older brother!:-(

So on the occasion my little one's initiation to theatre at Rangashankara, we re-read one of her favourite board books introducing various sounds  a child might encounter in his or her surroundings....."Cheep Cheep", a Tulika offering for the very young, with pictures by Sowmya Menon. What are the sounds that your little one is fascinated by? Is the sound of "Koo-koo" of Koel or the "cheep cheep" of the sparrow or the "teep-teep-teep" of the water dripping, or cat going surr surr while drinking milk, or the neighbors singing "Sa Re Ga Ma"? ( or the older brother in our case) .........sounds are everywhere, from natural to man made and to machine made.  Inspired from a Marathi rhyme, this book is vivid yet simple and aided with suitable illustrations, and is almost like a cue for taking the concept forward in guessing other sounds subtle and loud, with your little one, from 'tick-tick-tick of the wall clock, "whistle" of the pressure cooker  or man seller greens shouting "soppu" on the road .... the of world of sounds never fails to fascinate our little ones!  Here's to more such lovely outings with your toddler!!! 

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Abhay's Upanayana

Even since I began my blogging journey in 2010, "Onestoryaday: Reliving childhood" has been an integral part of my life. What began as my little DIY project on the wonderful books I read to my then four year old, grew into a creative outlet for me to escape into, a sounding board for my parental musings, and unknowingly became a treasure trove of Abhay's childhood memories! So it's only natural for Onestorayday to be a part of many of Abhay's milestones in his growing-up  years and was thus became one of the highlights during his Upanayana-Brahmopadesha ceremony that we performed a couple of weeks ago.  

Abhay's upanayana would most certainly rank as a major milestone for him as well as for us, as his parents and in many ways symbolizes his transition from childhood to early youth or "Brahmacharya" phase, as its traditionally known. Also known as the "Indian Bat Mitzwa" Upanayana celebrates the coming of age for a young boy from the cosseted company of his parents into a path of strict discipline and learning.

While it may be easy to question the relevance and practicality of certain Hindu samskaras like Upanayana, in today's age and times, there is no denying the fact that these cultural elements are what makes us unique and as practicing Hindus, it is incumbent on us to understand and derive their true essence and find ways and means to adapt the same into present circumstances. 

Performing Sandhya-vandana twice a day is a spiritual activity that allows the Bramhmachari to have his own "one-on-one" with the Almighty, a time to calm and ease the restless mind into focusing all his senses into chanting for the well-being of nature, one's mind, body and soul. Needless to say, for today's high pressured, distracted and device-obsessed young minds,  a spiritual activity like Sandhyavandana  may be their only solace!

While marking the momentous role of the father in passing the knowledge of Brahmopadesha to his young son, the Upanayana ceremony also incorporates many small and beautiful rituals that allows the mother to reflect on how her little one is not so little anymore and is ready to embark on the path of learning and take on the world!   I thoroughly enjoyed planning, organizing (along with the rest of the family) hosting and participating  in Abhay's Upanayana ceremony. So much so that I wish I could do the same for my daughter!! :-)  

Well, no event of ours is complete without return gifts, and no prizes for guessing  the return gifts for children  - books of course! We picked out Pratham publications for all children between the age groups  one to fourteen and as always I was the most excited one distributing books to the kids!   

Another event planned around Abhay's Brahmopadesham Upanayana ceremony was the release of a small compilation of some of my select blogposts on "Onestoryaday" through a book titled "Onestoryaday Reliving childhood". Since most of my blogposts revolve around my reading adventures with Abhay and Abhay's  growing up quirks, we hit upon an idea that there could not be better place or time than Abhay's Upanayana ceremony, to bring about a small compendium of some of our memorable reading experiences! Of course, an idea can remain just an idea if not for the people behind its execution.   I thank my husband, my kindred spirit, in as much as it's his blog as its mine, who managed to find time amidst his overloaded work schedule to structure a 600-post-blog into a readable book format. My good friend Deepa Balakrishnan, who promptly and generously agreed to write a beautiful foreword that captures the very sentiment behind the blog Onestoryaday. My parents, my biggest cheerleaders, for their constant support, encouragement and whole-hearted involvement  in sponsoring the publication of the book "Onestoryaday Reliving childhood".  Manjushri Printers, Ujjire, for their professional work and service in printing the books in no time. Last but not the least, my faithful readers who take the trouble of clicking on the link or regularly look up and like my posts and leave comments/words of encouragement...would not have come this far ...without you all !! Thank you!

Anyway, seeing Abhay wear the Janivara or the sacred thread, don the traditional attire, applying the traditional Bhasma or holy ash, chant the Gayathri Mantra and perform Sandhyavandana, I can't help but notice that our little boy is all grown up! On this occasion, I found  a book that offers an everyday perspective on Hinduism. "A little book for The Hindu Child" by Dr. Shyamala Vatsa seeks to simplify Hindu concepts to a level that children can comprehend. As we began reading the book, it is interesting to note that the author traverses through Hindu religious philosophy via certain basic questions on religion (Why do you need religion?), Hindusim (What is Hindusim?) God ( What is your relationship with God?) mind (What are our minds made up o?), soul (what is soul?), goal (How can you reach your goal?) and destination in life ( How do you decide what is right and what is not?), etc and attempts to relate the same to the present context in an age appropriate manner.  The book is a work in progress for us, as we've decided to go one chapter a day so as to dwell,  soak in and mull on each chapter a day so as to understand what it means to be a Hindu. So all the best to Abhay on his path to taking up Sandhyavandana and the Smartha tradition.

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.

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! :-)