Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How and why of things!

First Appeared on  Parentedge blog

The famous children’s author John Birmingham had once said that while he was growing up, he always  wished that there would be a "National Ask your parents day" when children could ask their parents anything! In today’s age that is everyday…isn’t it?? Questions, questions, and more questions …..they never seem to stop right??  Well, why should they? Kids these days are always bursting with questions about science, society, relationships, and inscrutable ways of the adult world……so much so that their questions are amusing enough to give “PK” (a confused alien from the Bollywood movie of the same name) a run for his money! :-)

While parents today are a lot more conscious than before when it comes to encouraging kids to ask questions,  I would be lying if I said that there are times when you wish you could satiate their curious minds with simple replies/answers. But no…like everything else in parenting…there are no simple answers ….as there are no simple questions from our kids! :-)

Well… a benign opening question/statement  always has a tough follow-up question up its sleeve ( “I am firstly good at music and secondly at tennis……appa, what are the two things you do best?”) A complicated question always reeks of bad timing! (“Amma…what is Atma?” Just as we are getting ready for school!)  A persistent question is most often the one that does not lend itself to age appropriate answers…..leaving it open for dangerous or embarrassing conclusions or futuristic questions are questions that seem to make you wonder yourself ( Will India be better than US in 25 years from now?)!  So amidst all these questions shot at us….for fact-based or science based queries, all we parents can say is that “Thank God we have Google!” J

Sometime ago, I had attended a parenting workshop where we had been counseled into not answering questions at all and letting our kids figure the answers on their own so as to empower them into thinking for themselves. While it is a laudable objective, I personally believe that as parents you need to strike the right balance between how much to reveal and how much to be left for discovery. Also, I guess the key endeavour on our part as parents should not only be to help our kids develop an inquisitive mind but also equip them with the right sources to find answers.  


 One of the many such sources that may help our kids and in turn may ease the burden on us parents are a set of three books from Red Turtle, a wing of Roopa publications meant for older kids between the age group of eight to fourteen  What if the earth stopped spinning? And 24 other mysteries of Science? By Roopa Pai and illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale;  How did the Harappans say hello? And 16 other mysteries of History by Anu Kumar and illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale and finally “Do Tigers drink blood? And 13 other mysteries of nature” by Arefa Tehsin and Raza H Tehsin and illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale.

Each of these books present interesting “what if” situations that the kids often baffle the parents with! Roop Pai’s book provides a blow-by-blow account of  questions like “What if the sun suddenly disappeared?” and such other “10 Nightmarish Scenarios That You Shouldn’t Lose Sleep Over” and busting the myth behind the so called “5 scientific facts That You should stop believing” like ‘A coin falling on your head from the 100th floor of the Burj Khalifa can kill you’ and unraveling “10 Mind Numbing Mysteries That Aren’t Mysteries At All”   like “How come when I look in a mirror, I’m right side up, buy when I look in  a shiny spoon, I’m upside down?” I must say that the illustrations and the explanations are not only age appropriate but also aim to put to rest the whackiest of queries that you’ve ever heard!

Similarly, Anu Kumar travels through time and attempts to unravel  the mysteries of history also throwing in various historical theories that offer plausible explanations. Needless to say, this is informative even for parents who are skeptical about whether the great war of Mahabharata really did happen!

The book on nature dwells into the mysterious ways of nature by opening doors into the world of its inhabitants and fun facts about them. Facts such as crocodiles swallow stones to help them digest the food, or that the rabbits eat their own poop……….and many such interesting facts narrated in a manner that not only provides the necessary information but in a way that makes it an entertaining read.

While the book on science and nature  can double up as a non-fiction read for younger kids, the book on history pre-supposes a basic knowledge and background of the historical facts. .  

Though similar to the “Tell me Why” series that we grew up reading, these books offer exhaustive explanations that are couched in a language that is both engaging and enlightening……with catchy phrases and humourous titles…. learning is sure made fun. Besides, the books are truly an eye opener to us parents as we don’t have be clueless when our little one asks “Why does the koel sing?”!!! 
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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Inspiring life of a woman.......!

This year’s women’s day in India assumes great significance in the light of some recent events, particularly the misogynist views of a rape convict made known vide a documentary film that has now become the center of controversy. While not commenting on whether or not the ensuing ban on the film is an appropriate response from the establishment, I do believe that airing such views does not tantamount to endorsing the same but only goes to highlight how primitive and regressive such thinking is …..that too in this age and day!  Though the views opined by a deranged convict do not necessarily represent that of the mainstream society in general (or at least I hope so!), the very fact that this is the mindset of certain sections or even a fringe of the society ….is shocking enough to make one shudder….particularly when it is the apparent view of an age group that is less than 35 years…meaning that it’s not only our generation but even the future generation that may be subject to such scourge! Anyway, one way to counter such thinking is to start young and by that our role as parents, particularly of young boys, seems even more momentous, as our current Prime Minister puts it. So this Women’s day, it is time to reflect on how ……as mothers….we can contribute to changing the way our boys look at girls today….and that will in turn having a bearing on the future lives of the women of tomorrow! So going with the 2015 theme for International Women’s day….calling all mothers…… “To make it happen”!!!!

Women’s day is a must-post day on Onestoryaday and I always make it a point to read a women-centric story to Abhay. In fact, this year, Abhay got to know about women’s day, through his school as they held a special event, one day before, with Dr. Malathi Holla as the Guest of Honour, a Padmashree and Arjuna Awardee for representing paraplegic sports on International Sports Tracks followed by a karate demo for urban street survival strategy. It is a pity that I couldn’t make it, with Saturday being a working day for me. So here I am trying to make up for the same by having Abhay read about an inspiring woman achiever in “A girl named Helen Keller”, a Level 3 Scholastic Early Reader by Margo Lundell and illustrated by Irene Trivas.
Ideal for early readers transitioning into chapter books, the young reader is introduced to the amazing journey of Heller Keller, who at the age of two is struck with high fever that leaves her visually and hearing impaired and leaves her parents helpless. Though her parents are not able to cope with her wild and untamed ways, her mother strongly believes that Helen is very smart but is unable to connect with her. So with the help of Alexander Graham Bell (even I didn’t know this!), they bring in Anne Sullivan, a young teacher from Boston whose painstaking efforts to help Helen feel and understand the ways of the world finally yields results, notwithstanding the reservations Helen’s parents have about her strict methods. Anne Sullivan is not only able to communicate with her but also able to get Helen to connect with the world around her! Thereafter, there is no stopping Helen as she learns to read, write, goes  to school and graduates from Radcliffe College with honours…becomes a famous writer who travelled many places, addressed and delivered lectures and met many kings, presidents and heads of State, and fervently worked towards helping different-abled people. Helen Keller is one woman who’s extraordinary life continues to bring hope and inspiration to people. So here’s celebrating such women today …happy women’s day to everyone!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wildlife in a City Pond!

This weekend saw another celebration of the dwindling water-bodies and its attendant greenery within the city at our neighbourhood kere (lake in kannada) at the Puttenahalli kere habba. Organized on the lines of a similar kere habba (literally meaning lake festival in Kannada) at Kaikondrahalli lake at Sarjapur Road by Namma Bengaluru Foundation, this festival attempted to draw the spotlight on the importance of conservation of lakes amidst the growing concrete jungle. Though we missed the habba due to confusion regarding dates ( assumed it was to be held on Sunday instead of Saturday), we have been regular visitors at the lake. So much so that my father-in-law’s day is incomplete without his refreshing morning walk around the lake! Puttenahalli kere is also home to many species of birds and a true delight for bird watchers and naturalists alike. But I must say that Puttenahalli lake would not have been the same, if not the continual efforts of Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) to rejuvenate and maintain the lake and the surrounding environs. Further, events and initiatives like these not only help sensitize our kids to the environment around them but also garner support for retention of parks, lakes and such open spaces, lest they get swallowed by land sharks!

So in this background, today we read  a beautiful story titled “Wildlife in a city pond  by Ashish Kothari and vividly illustrated by Sangeetha Kadur, a level 4 Reader from Pratham publications. Narrated in first person, the author is puzzled by a deafening cacophony emerging from below his balcony as he moved into his new home in Pune, only to find the mystery solved the next morning as he discovered a small pond below in an abandoned quarry. Over the next year, he saw the pond undergo transformation through the seasons, especially during monsoon when the pond came to life with a host of plant and animal life finding shelter. What a joy it was to wake up hearing the chirping of mynas, watching brilliant blue kingfishers swoop into the water for their daily feed of fish  …baya weaver birds resting in their tailor made nests…. even flapshell turtles swimming in the pond and finally being lulled to sleep  by the croaking frogs at night!  However one day, the pond and its wildlife were threatened from the so called development plans to the drain the wetland to make space for more buildings. However, thanks to the efforts of the residents who sought help from all quarters from the media and environment protection groups to the city commissioner….the pond was declared off limits for any construction!  So just like the author in the book, we residents of J P Nagar VII phase are lucky to enjoy to a mini sanctuary amidst the bustling city!  Kudos to PNLIT and Namma Bengaluru Foundation for making Puttenahalli kere the pride of J P Nagar VII Phase area!  :-)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bangalore's Neralu!

Over the weekend, we attended the second edition Bengaluru Tree Festival “Neralu” .  In its second year, the crowd-funded citizen-driven-festival celebrating the trees of Bengaluru, Neralu which literally means shade in Kannada, had a lot to offer for today’s urban kids, who hardly seem to have the time (or should I say the mindset?) to sit under the shade of a tree and look up at its leaves and dream away….Hmmm.....seems like an apt setting of a Ruskin Bond story right? Neralu provides a great prelude to the coming summer when Bengaluru’s trees are in their full bloom and splendor……when a walk around  any avenue lined with Gulmohars, Jacarandas or Tabebuia would sure be a treat to the eyes…..one of my favourite activities while growing up.
Though there were plenty of activities for tree lovers over the last few weekends at different locations, we managed to catch the final event mainly for kids near Bal Bhavan, Cubbon park. So Abhay accompanied by his daddy,  eagerly participated in a number of events like painting, stitching, puzzle solving and creating tapestries that were aimed at not only engaging the children’s creative side but also spreading awareness about trees and inculcating an appreciative mind towards the environment around us. Indeed, ‘Neralu’ turned out to be a green and cool “V-day” outing for us! J  
While I always believed that Abhay has been a lot more exposed to trees and nature than many other city kids, considering our frequent visits to my parent’s farm “Shristi” at Dharmasthala which houses a wide variety of flowering and fruit bearing trees, besides the usual farm plantation, we were quite dismayed to find that out eight year failed to think of any specific tree, when asked to name his favourite tree to draw! So much so all my ravings about our close-to-the nature vacations at Shristi!  Anyway, I always have a book-up my-sleeve to fill any gap…right?? So we picked up “The World of Trees” by one of my favourite authors Ruskin Bond and illustrations by Kollol Majumder brought out by National Book Trust publications.

This is a book of short stories introducing the young readers to various tree species of India, not only from a naturalistic point of view but also from a societal and a cultural perspective. For instance, in “The Mighty Banyan”, the author takes you through the massively spread out banyan tree with its aerial roots that is home to a wide variety of birds and insects and plays host to various Panchayath meetings; or in “The Mango Grove”, he touches upon the story of a Garden of a Thousand trees in the town of Hazaribagh; or what the Semal tree (silk cotton tree) means to the tribes of Madhya Pradesh in “A Feast in the Semal tree”; or the mention of powerful spirits that are believed to dwell in some trees like the neem tree or the champa tree; or as he offers an armchair travelogue/trek around “The trees of the Himalayas” ……all narrated in his characteristic style that is sure to make you smile! Believe me, you cannot help but chuckle when the opening line of “The Sacred Peepal” goes like is “In some ways peepal trees are great show offs! J

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seaside vacation!

Over the previous long weekend, we were on a seaside vacation in Pondicherry, also known as India's French Riviera. Vacations by the sea have always been special as one can spend hours together gazing at the vast blue expanse that lies ahead!  No surprises that we stayed at the Promenade, right on the edge of the coastline facing the Bay of Bengal!:-) Not only did the sound of the lashing waves lull us into sleep at night, but we woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises over the sea! It was my first time on the eastern sea front as most of our beach vacations in India or the US have been on western seas! We explored different facets of Pondicherry, from the heritage French villas to the bustling Tamil quarters, it's Ashrams and spiritual centers and it's museums and memorials.... but what we liked the best were it's beaches that we visited every morning to soak up some good amount of Vitamin D! :-)) 

Among the couple of beaches in and around Pondicherry that we had been to, we found some fishermen communities living near the shores. As Abhay headed out with his beach toys, he saw a couple of fishermen boats return with their nets and their early morning catch. As he seemed quite curious as to their work and lives in general, I picked up "My friend, the sea" by Sandhya Rao and photographs by Karuna Sesh and Pervez Bhagat. This is a story of young boy from a fishermen village along the Indian coast in Tamil Nadu  who recounts his association with Kadalamma, the Ocean mother. The best part about living near the ocean is hopping on to a kattumaram ( A fishing boat in Tamil Nadu) and going pretend fishing .. ...just like his family has been fishing for generations together. He even recalls the day  when the sea rose like a mountain to drown most his of village including his father who has never returned since then. As his sister explains the cause of the Tsunami that deluged  the Indian east coast on December 26th 2004, he sees its impact on his own family, as they become homeless and now live in a shelter with a grieving mother who hardly ever smiles. Still, the sea will always be a part of his life and he is seen looking forward to a new Kattumaram that his brother has promised to build for him. Aided by striking photography, this is a  beautiful story that poignantly describes the life and loss of the fishing community from the eyes of a child. A seaside story makes a perfect ending to our little seaside outing! :-)