Thursday, May 25, 2023

Julley...A Ladakhi adventure!


 Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations” read one of the road signs as we got out of Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport  and the saying probably best represented Ladakh’s landscape and told us what we could to expect from our eight-day long trip to the land of high mountain passes. Ladakh is truly a visual wonder – with its landscapes alternating from rocky to sandy, from gravelled to snow-covered, with deep valleys and gorges, allowing us to experience bright sunshine at sub-zero temperatures!


We best remember the land of Siachen warriors for the surround view of the imposing and colossal Karakorum mountainous range emitting myriad shades of purple, green, brown, red and russet,  Buddhist monasteries and Stupas perched atop the most picturesque locales,  snow covered high altitude passes that makes one breathless both literally and figuratively and its pristine lakes that have much more to offer than “All is well” selfies, vegetarian friendly one pot (read bowl) meals of Skyu, Chhutagi, Thukpa and Thenthuk and enriching and awe-inspiring experience at the Hall of Fame museum of the Indian armed forces, and of course a fantastic opportunity to capture the milky way in its night skies, provided one is ready brave the biting cold in the dead of the night!  


Ladakh offers a little bit of everything for everyone - a “push your limits” adventure  for the brave-hearts, a meditatively calming experience at the monasteries for the spiritually inclined, scenic drives with breath taking views of the valleys and elevated ranges for the mountain bound, feeling the rush of ice cold waters from Pangong lake to Shey river, from Zanskar to Indus rivers for the water body,  hopping from one Tibetian market to another on Leh’s market  for the shopaholic, tasting the wide ranging array of local cuisine to feast on for the foodie, and not to forget the quiet starry nights for the astro-photography aficionado - the roof of the world truly has lots to offer apart from a much needed break from the sweaty summer of the South (so much so we forgot what it was like to perspire until we landed in Delhi on our way back to Bangalore!).


As always, none of our trips is complete without visiting a local book store, and we did manage to find one such place at Leh’s market called “Ladakh Book shop” However, I was a tad disappointed when we couldn’t lay our hands on any children’s books on Ladakh or any book on local children’s stories, and instead found many books on Tibetan tales for children.  

But considering that Ladakh is known for its monasteries spreading the message of world peace, we picked up “Jataka Talesbirth stories of Buddha” selected and retold by Ethel Beswisk, – a nice little compilation of Buddha’s stories originally narrated in Pali, during the course of his forty years after his enlightenment. Brought out in the form of delightful stories revolving around mostly animal stories, with values and life lessons to imbibe from, for children and adults alike. “Jataka Tales” will also serve as a bibliographic souvenir reminding us our Ladakhi adventure! 

 However, for a children’s book on Ladakh, I didn’t have to travel too far and was pleasantly surprised to have found this book tucked away in the corner of one of our book shelves,  bought a few years ago in the hope of travelling to Ladakh someday! “Sonam’s Ladakh”, a Katha publication by Manish Lakhani is a wonderful book that vividly captures the essence of the Ladakhi landscape, Ladakhi culture and its people. Narrated by the five year old Sonam,  who belongs to the indigenous semi nomadic Changpa tribe, the book takes one through a visual tour of Ladakh during the peak of its winter and its myriad summer colours, of its flora and fauna, pristine lakes and its beautiful monasteries and best of all through Ladakh’s “quiet nights full of stars”!  Sonam’s Ladakh is surely a must-visit and a must-read for those getting Leh’d this travel season!   Our Ladakh trip was like a breath of fresh air, and we came back refreshed, rejuvenated and carrying a little bit of Ladakh with us!

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Monday, December 12, 2022

A BLF - Regular!


Bigger, Bolder and livelier” is how author Shoba De described this year’s Bangalore Literature festival, with its 11th edition that was held last weekend at the grounds of Hotel Lalith Ashok. To borrow from Suresh Menon’s words, a literature festival makes reading a community event and what a shared celebration of reading and books it was!  Spread across two days over four different stages (named after the Late Puneeth Rajkumar’s movies),  with diverse topics ranging from Pico Iyer’s reflections to Manu’s Joseph’s zero hour styled “as me anything” , from Kabir Bedi’s memoir to Veerappa Moily’s autobiography, from the exhuberent and inimitable Jerry Pinto to the gentle and understated Jahnavi Barua, from a beautiful rendition and translation of the Shankaracharya’s “Soundarya Lahiri” to a discussion on Bhuta worship in Dakshina Kannada, from the impassioned speech of  festival regulars like Ramachandra Guha to the recently emerging author/thinkers like engineer turned advocate K Sai Deepak,  from VVS Laxman’s batting to Sunil Chhetri’s footballing journey, from bringing alive Kannada epics in “Gamaka” to celebrating minor languages in Karnataka in ‘Hosa Baraha”, from finding empowerment in fandom in Shrayana Bhattacharya’s refreshing “Desperately seeking Shahrukh Khan” to being enthralled by the Kannada superstar  Ramesh Arvind’s success mantras, it was indeed an intellectual extravaganza for bibliophiles, literary and cultural enthusiasts in the city.  

Not to forget, the Children’s Literature festival making its reappearance after a hiatus of  two years with  two stages, “Malgudi” and “Seonee” engaging both the young ones and the tweens and the teens.   We have been BLF regulars as a family for the last ten years, and our experience so far is best represented in my older one’s journey from attending Rohini Nilekani’s Sringeri Srinivas story time at the very first edition in 2012 to sitting through gripped by the heart-wrenching tale of Dr. Kafil Khan on his book “Gorakhpur hospital tragedy”! Of course….we couldn’t be any more pleased as Abhay  marked out sessions he wanted to attend on his own (without his overbearing mom around!) or as he went up to ask questions after the session or  as he lined up in queue to get the books signed by authors while interacting with them! In a way it has been a coming of age of sorts for Abhay as he graduates from being a  CLF” regular to a “BLF” enthusiast!


Besides BLF stage hopping, Abhay also played chaperone to his little sister at some events at CLF on the second day, allowing us take a break from our role as parents! Our program schedule leaflet resembled an amusement park map, reflecting a rough strategy to be able to make it to each of our marked-out sessions  while ensuring that Aadya was supervised at her parallel sessions running at CLF….  like Abhay was to finish a session with Anubhav Sinha and Jerry Pinto  on “Book of Dog’  at  “Yuvaratna” stage  and head over to “Malgudi” to take care of his sister for a drawing session with Labonie Roy, so that my husband could tune into a “Gamaka” session with Gangamma Keshavamurthy and Shantha Nagamangala at “Raajakumara” stage and I could catch Shrayana Bhattacharya’s session at “Yuvaratna” just to sprint back to CLF so that ABhay could walk back to  “Gandhada Gudi” stage for Sunil Chhetri’s session “Awakening the Blue Tiger”! 😊


While Aadya missed out on the first day of CLF, she had plenty to look forward to on the second day- from a DIY session on making one’s own string instrument with Krithika Sreenivasan from the Indian music Experience (IME) to witnessing a culinary show based on recipes inspired from children’s books by Ranjani Rao and Ruchira Ramanujam from their book “Bookworms and Jellybellies”, from story-time by Priyanka Agarwal   to a session with Bijal Vachharanjani and Rajiv Eipe’s hook book titled “Kitten Trouble”,    finally ending the day with a fun filled show by India’s only woman ventriloquist Indushree Raveendra.


One of the books we picked up was by Honey Irani “Shakya’s little secret” brought out by Om publications along with another book “Akira Shakya and the Grouchy owl”, which was launched by the author herself with her son Farhan Aktar joining in at the BLF. Though Aadya couldn’t attend one of her sessions on ‘Living with nature” , her older brother managed to grab a copy earlier in the day, and stood in queue to have it signed!  

 A tad long for a picture book, Honey Irani weaves two wonderful stories around her grandchildren Akira and Shakya that make for a delightful read.  Little Shakya is down with severe cough and as her parents frantically try to seek help, guess who comes to her rescue? The birds, bees, bugs and the plants outside her window!  Honey Irani’s engaging narrative brings out various anthropomorphic characters and their idiosyncrasies,  from empathetic Simi the parrot and her eager friend Penny the Pigeon, from  her Royal Highness Queen Bee to her reluctantly obedient subject Fizzy-Wizzy-Bizzy bee, from the helpful Tulsi plant to the ever wise Lore, the owl, and the story is about how they all come together not only to cure little Shakya of her cough but also enable her to have a super-human experience that she can she can cherish all her life, inspiring in her a life long true love for nature!   A unique storyline with an important message of being one with nature, and Aadya loved it and was thrilled to see the book signed out for her – with a lovely message – "Book is you best friend, done let it go!"  A an apt message for all the kids and adult alike …don’t you think? Until the next BLF……!!



Monday, July 18, 2022

The girl who loves to draw!


It is an understatement to say that Aadya loves drawing. When it comes to Aadya and her penchant for drawing, I am always reminded of a movie quote from the 90’s American movie “Sister Act 2 - Back in the habit” which goes like  When you wake up in the morning, and you cant think of anything but singing, then you should be a singer, girl” ….. this couldn’t be any more truer with Aadya and her drive to draw that is uppermost in her mind as she wakes up every morning!   


What began as simple doodling has now blossomed into a creative, engaging, and sometimes all-consuming form of expression for Aadya. Initially, Aadya was stuck on drawing princesses and all their trappings, and then she moved on (phew!) to depicting her thoughts, state of mind, her wishes, or her understanding of a story or a book onto her drawing board!  (quite literally! 😊)  Drawing is not only Aadya’s favourite pastime or her hobby but also a form of solace on days that she is upset over something…. as she pulls out two sheets from the big pile of one-sided printed sheets (a very useful recycling method for my office waste!) and starts to draw………all is forgotten!  It’s not unusual to find her suddenly disappear to her desk in the middle of watching a family movie and reappear with an image she has sketched, drawing inspiration from something she’d seen on screen just a few minutes ago, like drawing two children playing tennis as were all watching “King Richard”! 

 It’s not uncommon to find her immediately turn out a replica of an image pasted on a new piece of clothing that we just brought home from shopping! 

It’s not out of the ordinary for our unstoppable little one to churn out 10-12 drawings every day! It’s not odd to find our house cluttered with one-sided printed sheets of all sizes, with Aadya’s drawings on the other side, lying everywhere around the house! It's not easy to swallow your guilt as she doodles out this workaholic image of yours as she waits for you to wind up at work! 

It’s not a birthday celebration at all,
 without Aadya’s colourful, vibrant and imaginative birthday cards that make for wonderful keepsakes for everyone in the family!

So much so that a recent visit to the planetarium and the Indira Gandhi park had us unexpectedly and serendipitously gate crash into the Sunday meet up of an art group called “Pencil scratchers” where Aadya found  herself most at home with a paper and pencil, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with fellow pencil artists and attempting to sketch a live model!


For someone who brightens our days with her brilliant drawings, we decided to preserve all her creations bound into books – and we already have over fourteen bound volumes of over 100 pages each, comprising of her drawings over last year and a half! Let’s hope she draws her way into filling an entire cupboard in the near future!

 So this year as she turned seven (almost two months ago and its another thing that I manage to write about it only now!), Aadya was insistent on having her birthday cake reflect her artistic quotient and Viola! ….we did celebrate her birthday in a rather artsy-craftsy way at “Firefly terrace” with a few friends and cousins who joined in the celebrations by way of a creative activity  planned for both kids and adults….and we all got our little artsy keepsakes to take home, that we can always remember Aadya and her seventh birthday celebration!


As Aadya explores her artistic side more, we revisited the book “ " I gotta draw"” by Bruce Degan that I had read to her brother almost 8 years ago! That apart, we also got a few books that she could relate to and thanks to the wonderful library   “Kahaani box”  we had a decent line up of books related to art and love for expressing oneself through drawings. From Fancy Nancy’sAspiring Artist , where Nancy is inspired to into being an artiste in her characteristic fancy style to  “Tell us a story Papa Chagall” by Laurence Anholt , which is a delightful introduction to the dream-like style of painting of Marc Chagall and “Prince with a Paintbrush” by Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan and illustrated by Ravika Sen which is a charming read on the “Leonardo-Da-Vinci of India”- Raja Ravi Varma!


But Aadya most of all related to “Bea Garcia - My Life in Pictureswritten and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, an early reader series brought out by Puffin books. We couldn’t have found a similar book, which revolves around a little girl named Beatrice Holmes Garcia aka Bea who has a penchant for drawing and expressing herself through pictures of everything about her life as it is and as she wishes it to be! It was almost as if we were looking at a reflection of our little aspiring artist as we read about how Bea navigates through her school and social life after her best friend Yvonne moves to Australia, all expressed through her magnificent drawings! . Read on as the teacher confiscates Bea’s book “My life in pictures” that almost threatens to expose her quirky view of her classmates only to have the circumspect teacher realise the power of her pencil! So… draw on…. my aspiring little artist …..the world is your canvas! :-) 



Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Travelling to the Land of the Lepchas!


Over the last few days, we have been at Sikkim, the Northern eastern Himalayan state nestled in between Nepal and Bhutan. Known for its pristine beauty of glacial lakes, breathtaking valleys, gushing waterfalls at every corner of the mountain drive, panoramic view of the snow-capped Himalayas, and the precarious mountain passes. Mind you… exploring Sikkim is not for the faint hearted or one with a sensitive stomach - it involves fortifying yourself for  freezing temperatures, being prepared for anytime down pour, and enduring through winding and meandering drives through changing landscapes, bracing yourself  for breathlessness at high altitude points and of course grappling with motion sickness even when you  have never ever got sick during travel!  

But all such discomfort dissolves into delight with one look at the mist covered calm waters of Tsomgo lake, or the chance to snowball each other even in summertime at the “Zero point”, or the awe-inspiring views of the majestic Himalayas on the way to Yumthang valley, or experiencing the roar of the “Amitabh Bacchan” waterfalls on the way to Lachung, or taking in some cool refreshing  mountain air while on the pine forest trail to Rabtanse ruins at Pelling, or waking up after quick shut-eye during a long drive  to a spectacular sunset coloured sky over the silhouetted valleys… truly …travelling around Sikkim is all about enjoying the journey as much as the destination … more like life itself…isn’t it!! 


It’s after almost two and half years that we’ve donned on our travelling pants (even literally!) and our trip was wedged in between Abhay finishing his class 10 board exams and the reopening of courts in Bangalore after summer vacation and amidst incessant rains, and peak-season rush through out Sikkim and Darjeeling, Aadya’s terrible motion sickness (we had polythene bags tucked in at every compartment of the vehicle only to find them missing when we most needed them!) and Abhay’s annoying obsession with uploading stories on his instagram handle (now that his exams are over we had to keep our promise of letting him resume his social media activity!) …. we did manage to make it one of the most memorable trips ever! 


Our last stop was the West Bengal’s queen of hill stations - misty Darjeeling which was more of a reality check and reminder of the traffic jams back home in Bangalore!  Since we were nursing a minor stomach upset and were also exhausted from our Sikkim adventures, we avoided the usual touristy spots and chose to take it slow and indulged in some retail therapy on the Mall road, while enjoying some live jazz at one of its famous eateries - Glenary’s and stopping by Oxford Bookstore. 


One of the sure ways of avoiding  the crowds is to either travel during off-season or visit off-beat places within popular destinations. While it’s nearly impossible  to travel  during off season with school going-exam-writing kids, and  it’s not always possible to have the entire trip comprise of off-beat places, but it’s always possible to be a discerning traveller and look out for not-so-oft visited places like museums, quaint cafeterias and bookstores that are storehouses of local history and culture. For instance, while there were serpentine queues at the ropeway ride,  there was not a single soul at Gangtok’s Black cat museum - which we pleasantly discovered to be a wonderful state-of the art museum showcasing Sikkim’s history and the trajectory of the Army's Black Cat Regiment stationed in Gangtok. While none of the localities were even aware of this museum, the administrator of the museum himself appeared to be  curious about how we discovered this place. So much so, that even the taxi driver whom we hailed to go to our next destination was even more inquisitive about our visit and wondered  what interesting things possibly lay therein! 



 ….which leads me to our next destination….bookstores. As always in all our travels, one of the mini highlights of our trip is to visit a local bookstore and by now our entire family looks forward to it and given a chance Aadya would have spent an entire day at two of Gangtok’s famous bookstores - Good Books centrally located at Gangtok’s MG Marg and Cafe Fiction or Rachna Books (as it’s listed on Google) located opposite Gangtok’s Secretariat Office. 


Just off one of the busiest parts of MG market and near Baker’s cafe (a famous cafeteria with charming and eclectic decor, offering delectable variety of baked goodies and eateries ), Good books houses a wonderful collection of mainstream books and many works by local authors  where we ended up buying a few regular Usborn Early Readers for Aadya and an interesting compilation of tales of the land of Lepchas (Sikkim’s aboriginals), aided by amiable and helpful  bookstore owner. Good Books is indeed a lovely place for book lovers to make a pit stop amidst their MG market shopping! 


We also dropped into Cafe Fiction, an award winning bookstore cum cafeteria that has a beautiful display of a wide variety of mainstream and independent publications that one can pull out from the aesthetically placed bookshelves and curl into their super-comfy chairs reading them…while sipping a hot cuppa coffee, by the giant windows offering beautiful views of the street below. I wish “Namma Bengaluru” too had our very own Cafe Fiction! 


Anyways.. thanks to Make-my-trip, we now return to Bangalore glad that our Sikkim trip was by and large uneventful (though there were scares of landslides at certain places owing to heavy rains) refreshed and rejuvenated for our routine grind back home, our social media accounts full of stories and posts to put up and our minds full of happy memories and  four bags full of laundry! :-) 


Well… as my colleague was intrigued to notice books even in my travel DPs .. I must say that a travel without books is no travel at all! Despite long road trips during the day.. reading to Aadya was never given a miss (not that she would herself or let us go to bed without a book) and thanks to “Good Books” and “Cafe Fiction”, we were never short of interesting reads.  But to commemorate our Sikkim trip, we read from “The Legends of the Land of Lepchas Folk Tales from Sikkim” by Yishey Doma and Pankaj Thapa. 

A beautiful collection of folklores on various aspects Sikkim’s environment, history and culture. We were delighted to make some connections of what we saw, felt and experienced from some of the stories. From story of “ The Race between Teesta and Rangeet” that gives a mythical side to the confluence of the rivers of Rangeet and Teesta river that we came across on our way from Bagdogra to Gangtok to “A tale of two trees” being the story of Lali Guras, Sikkim’s Rhododendron that we saw aplenty at the Yumthang valley, or the “The Cave of Occult Fairies”, the story of Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche who subjugated the demons and saved his devotees from evil, that reminded us of giant statues of Guru Padmasambhava  at Sandrupse hill and at Pelling skywalk, and the fact that Mount Khangchendzonga is a constant presence in all the stories just as the view of the mountain  Khangchendzonga  was our constant quest throughout our trip! While we are set to get back to pavilion from now on, this book serves as a wonderful parting shot for our minds and hearts still hung over the land of Lepchas! 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

What can I be!


It’s not very often that both my children (who are almost nine years apart ) are pondering over the same things.. and when that does happen .. the difference in their respective situations seem even more glaring and bemusing! Not too long ago, my soon-to-be seven year old daughter was quite taken in by Niyatee Parikh Sharma’s “What can I be”? (It’s a different matter that I managed to find time to blog about it a couple of months later!) She was fascinated by the interaction that the mother-daughter duo have about what the daughter wants to be when she grows up!! Round about the same time, my son was going through his own “what after-class-10” pangs and “What should I do - dilemma” dominated his thoughts and our thoughts too …and continues to this day as he finishes his class 10 Board exams! While he is clear on what he does not want (“Im done with science for life”! he screamed as he finished his science exam last week)… he is still not clear about he what he sees himself doing! While there are a couple of obvious choices .... he has been in "yet to decide" mode for quite sometime now. Unlike our generation who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, the Gen Z today are spoilt for choices and seem jaded with the endless possibilities that lie before them. While  there are many who have figured it all out and are already on their decided path, there are many others who are yet to decide on their future course of action. But having already scaled up the physiological needs and probably even psychological and self-esteem needs,  as per the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “Pyramid of needs”,  most kids today are directly onto achieve “self-fulfilment”!   Ever notice that the question or doubt about the “scope” of a particular choice that was uppermost in our minds back in the 80’s or 90’s does not even cross their minds today!  Of course, it’s most desirable that they are probably making choices solely based on their interests, but can they sustain their interest in the choices that they’ve made … and as parents - it’s a fine balance between being control freaks and being too pliant! With too many choices creating too much confusion, I just hope the saying “When people have too many choices, they make bad choices” will not turn out to be true!


Anyway, having just finished his class 10 Board exams, and that too four days earlier than others who had opted for Hindi as second language, Abhay is not mood to think about his future as of now, and he is simply super thrilled about being in his own words “Done with school!” …and believe me there is no looking back there! As if to celebrate this milestone, we revisited Aadya’s once favourite along with her older brother (so as to nudge him into thinking about it) - “What can I be by Niyatee Parikh Sharma and illustrated by Vibha Suryanarayan, brought out by Tota books. It’s a wonderful conversation driven story wherein a little girl wonders what can she be when she grows up and her mother assures her that she can be anything she dreams of  - from an architect, just as they stand before an anthill who are the most amazing architects of nature, or a mountaineer  or marine biologist as they sit by the lake watching tadpoles, or an archaeologist as they excavate shells from the earth, and many such choices, as they juxtapose them with related creative and explorative activities around nature. A wonderful light hearted read that makes for an interesting parent-child activity about life and career choices that your little one may want to explore. Vibrantly illustrated, my little one could very well relate to the little girl’s dreams and aspirations and the narrative inspires kids to create their own path!  As we finished reading this book, Aadya confidently declared that “I want to be an artist”!  Wow….I only wish her brother is as clear minded as she is about what he wants be!  😊