Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Abhay's cricket attacks!

Partly published in Parent Edge  blog . 

Why do I have to study science if I want to become a cricketer?” was one of the questions I had to encounter when coaching Abhay for his exams this year! I am not sure whether it’s a natural progression of interest for boys his age or inspiration from his cousins (who are district/club level under-14 players), but I have no idea when my nine year old turned from a regular cricket fan (or so I thought!) into a wannabe cricketer! Over the last year…Abhay’s interest in cricket has transformed into almost an obsession … with him swinging his bat, practicing his bowling and watching long forgotten matches on sports channels back-to-back and so on and so forth! So this summer, we had no choice but to enroll him into a cricket coaching camp, where he goes every morning, lugging his cricket kit that seems larger than him! J As if that were not enough, we have to tolerate his continuous chatter and live demonstration of various cricketing techniques he’s learned at the camp…..all day!!!! So it’s all about cricket, cricket and more cricket this summer! 

In fact, buying his cricket kit almost felt like a coming-of-age event of sorts, with our nine year old, dizzy with excitement over choosing the best cricket gear for his game, in the company of his equally excited but more-seasoned and experienced cricketer cousins!! We are not certain if his new-found sporting activity is just for summer or a year- long affair or beyond, but all I can say is that it’s his job to dream and our job to provide the right pitch for him to realize his dream!  That said…. as he dons his cricketing gear, we can’t help but notice that our little boy in white looks all grown up!!

Ever since Abhay’s interest in cricket grew, I have been on the look-out for  good books on cricket for young readers and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found this book written by our favourite author! What are the chances of finding a book written by Ruskin Bond on cricket …right?? I grabbed it as soon as I chanced upon it! So we begin this IPL cricket season with the best - Ruskin Bond’s recent offering “Ranji’s wonderful bat and other stories” that is not only makes for an engaging read but also brings out the pleasures and pains it takes to watching and playing the gentlemen’s game respectively.  This wonderful compilation includes some of Bond's early stories featuring twelve year old Ranji and his love for cricket. I’m sure  Ranji’s emphatic  “I want to be a test cricketer when I grow up, of what use will Maths be to me?” does echo some the sentiments of our wannabe cricketers at home …doesn’t it??  While this book, brought out by Puffin, the children's publication wing of Penguin publications, has cricket as it's centrepiece, it's not all about cricket either, and other stories revolve around sporting activities in general, sportsmanship spirit and many a nature adventures. This curated collection also contains excerpts from his novel (that we had featured a while ago) "The Hidden pool"  that showcase unconventional sporting feats like the big bug race or the adventurous treks to the Pindari glacier.  Read on as he reflects on why cricket is every living being's game in India, including a crocodile in "Cricket for the crocodile", or that cricket unexpectedly acts as a gender-bender in “Koki plays the game”, or Uncle Ken’s muddled experiences with tennis and cricket alike, or a young boy’s cycling turns into an unforgettable run-in with nature’s fury in ‘Riding through the Flames”, how two boys fight over an exclusive swim in a pristine forest pool in “The Fight” and many such page-turners. Of course….being an Ruskin Bond aficionado, both of us devoured the book in no time and Abhay couldn’t help comparing himself to Ranji, the protagonist in the cricket stories. The charm of any sport does not only lie in the day’s game or the match, but in the passion, dedication and the joy of losing oneself in it and trust India’s favourite story-teller to vividly bring out the same in his sports stories.  Replete with subtle wit and humour, coming of age tales of friendship and team spirit on and off the field, lively limerick-style poems on cricket, bring on your sporting or cricketing outfit with the Bond from Mussoorie!  
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

At Holiday House with Enid Blyton!!

The end of March signifies the end of exams... for most primary and middle school kids as there's still time before we lose sleep over big exams ( Thank God!)! The end of March also ushers in the beginning of summer holidays ... again, mainly for younger kids as with the syllabus getting tougher year after year... You never know when summer vacations get eschewed by tuitions and advance classes!! Similarly, with all kinds of summer camps-cricket camp-sport camps-science camps starting from April, March-end is probably all there is left for unstructured play for the kids today!:-) 

So before the madness of summer vacations begins, we stole some quiet relaxing time at our very own holiday house, Shristi, my parents' farm at Dharmasthala. Of course reading snd relaxing always go together... So as our first read for the summer, we chose an an author whom I and many from my generation grew up reading..."The Riddle of the Holiday House" by the original children's author, the one and only, Enid Blyton!! Gifted by a dear friend over a year ago, this book couldn't have been any more apt for Abhay as he begins his summer vacation at his favourite holiday house!! 

For most of us who grew up in the eighties, we made our first foray into reading with Enid Blyton's books. Those were the days before the advent of satellite television, and in many ways, Blyton's books also served as our window to the western world. Though the stories are set in what now appears to be a little parochial and privileged backgrounds, and more often than not, a predictable storyline, Enid Blyton's adventure or fantasy based stories are a great way to get kids into voracious reading. Be it the Famous Five or the Secret Seven series or the Malory Towers series, you can't just read one ... you have to read them all!!  Believe me, Blyton's bold and daring characters, lighted hearted humour, and stories of friendship and loyalty often backed by a strong moral framework continue to interest children even today. We began reading the first couple of chapters together after which I had to break for the day.. and by the time I got down to resuming reading, I had discovered that Abhay had finished the book all by himself.... he simply could not stand the suspense!!!!! Now doesn't that sound familiar????

Originally published as "The Holiday House" in 1955, this book has been altered and edited by her daughter Gillian Baverstock to become a part of the Riddles series. The first book in this Young Adventurer series, the protagonists being the young brother-sister duo, Nick and Katie, who are excited to spend their summer holidays at a  beachside kids -only "Holiday house" run by one Mrs. Holly who takes in unaccompanied kids along their pets (Wow!) The story follows their experiences at the holiday house, including their run-ins with the insufferable Clare, Mrs. Holly's nosy daughter and other fellow guests like the mysterious boy Gareth. As the daring duo go on to explore the surroundings, the plot thickens and falls into a pattern typical of Enid Blyton mystery series, with a stray discovery leading on to uncovering ugly truths and dark secrets from seemingly innocuous characters who try to deliberately mislead the protagonists into doubting a mysterious character who surprisingly ( or rather predictably ) turns out to be a Good Samaritan! Replete with page turning plots, fascinating adventures, red herrings and  roundabouts, follow the tween siblings as they ultimately save the day sending out the usual  "triumph of good over bad" message common to most Enid Blyton's stories. Of course like most Enid Blyton's stories, the Holiday house transports you into a different world altogether ... On reading the book, Abhay wanted to know if he and his sister could stay all by themselves at a holiday house and gorge on hot scones and fruit cake:-))) 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Exam fever!

We are yet again approaching the end of an academic year and it’s the dreaded exam season in most parts of the country…that happens to coincide with the T-20 cricket season, much to the anxiety of ….probably not the kids but their parents! Though the month of March has always brought back memories of my own exam nightmares, I drew comfort from the fact that I still had a long way to go before I start stressing over my son’s tests and assessments. Little did I realize that this comfort feeling comes with an expiry date…..Grade 4 !!!  Most schools today peg Grade 4 as the year of reckoning ….when full-fledged academic assessments are introduced and kids (and their parents of course!) are expected to pull up their socks and catch up with rest of the studious world! So all of a sudden….it’s all about checking up on the syllabus, studying, revising and looking up practice questions…..making me relive my exam days once again and it’s only worse this time! It turns out that you are never free from exams and it was only a temporary respite after all because as a student, you may have been casual towards your exams but you cannot afford to be so as a parent! So whether you choose to wake up early or get off from work earlier than usual, or split the subjects between your spouse and yourself to coach your children, exams are a serious business ….. at least for parents!

So amidst his Maths, Science and Social Science subjects, I had Abhay scale back to reading an Early reader simply because it seemed perfect for the exam season! “The Worry Monsters” by Sally Rippin and illustrated by Stephanie Spartels is one of the twelve titles from the “Hey Jack” series for young readers brought out by Euro books. This is a simple story of how Jack, who is terrible at spellings, procrastinates and forgets to prepare for his spelling test and is thus hounded by what he calls “the worry monsters”. Its only when he opens up to his dad does he realize that playing truant with school is not the best of solutions to deal with his fear of tests. With a little help from his father, Jack not only manages to practice his spellings and drive away the worry monsters but also learned to deal with the worry monsters should they reappear again! So here’s hoping all our kids learn to overcome their own worry monsters too!

Another great read that makes for a refreshing break from the monotony of studies for both parents and kids is a story from R.K.Narayanan’s “Malgudi School days”, the complete collection of Swami and Friends brought out by Puffin classics. In fact, the story of Swaminathan “Before the examinations” couldn’t be any more similar to Abhay’s situation at home! Though we’ve read this book many times and I had featured this classic sometime ago, life and times in the fictional town of Malgudi  as narrated by the one and only R.K.Narayanan never fails to charm the reader, whenever and whatever the time may be! 

From Swami’s grim realization that his father was changing for the worse in the run-up to the examinations ( mother ..in Abhay’s case!), or the highly distracted Swami doing everything possible to escape from studies, including perpetually hovering around his baby brother (baby sister in Abhay’s  case!), or spending hours together mulling over the crooked boundary of Europe during his study of geography ( Ditto, more so when Europe is not a part of Abhay’s Social Science syllabus at all!)  and approaching his father with a list of required stationery just a day before examination( ditto-ditto!) …… it’s amazing how Swami’s tales are evergreen and are relatable even to this day and time, even though it’s almost a century since they were first published!!! Also goes to show that nothing much has changed when it comes to parent-child attitude towards exams! Here’s wishing everyone all the best during this exam season! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Gender - Degender!

First appeared on Parent Edge blog

Every year around this time, we find numerous write-ups and discussions in the media, symposiums and talks in educational institutions, and musical/cultural events revolving around what has now become an extremely symbolic ‘Women’s day’!  Why….even retailers and restaurateurs have jumped into the bandwagon and are offering ‘women only’ offers and happy hours!  While symbolism is important to make a statement and it was indeed a proud feeling watching the women legislators dominate the Lok Sabha session today, what really matters is to see if we can sustain the same momentum, in other areas as well. While celebrating our differences from men on one hand, and striving for gender equality on the other, as a way forward, it is but most significant to break free from gender stereotypes, gendered perceptions and gender based double standards. Why is it that no matter how successful a woman is in her professional capacity, she is still judged on the basis of how much of ‘nurturer’ she is towards her family? Why is it that a woman is expected to be a superwoman when men will be men? Why should it matter as to whether it’s a man or a woman who is driving the vehicle ahead of you? Why is it that no matter how brilliant a girl has been as a student, she is more often than not,  expected to stick to a family-friendly 9 to 5 job ? Apart from certain intrinsic differences between men and women…it’s all about individual choice and freedom isn’t it …and what’s gender got to do with it? Here's extending  this year's International Women's day theme 'One day I will'  to..........One day gender will not matter!

As parents, we owe our children the responsibility to see to it that they neither perpetuate nor feel fettered by gender barriers so as to achieve a more egalitarian society that we are all hoping for.  On the occasion of Women’s day, we picked up “Big Hero size zero” a thought provoking book by Anusha Hariharan and Sowmya Rajendran brought out by Tulika publications that seeks to shatter the societal and cultural shackles associated with gender. With its main focus on gender talk, this book also addresses various issues faced by adolescents relating to identity, peer pressure and feelings of alienation and rebellion against family, etc. Since Abhay is still on the cusp of his ‘tween’ years and he was still too young to comprehend some issues, reading this book is still a work in progress. Meant for the teenage drama kings and queens aged thirteen and above, this work of non-fiction comprehensively deals with the role of gender vis-à-vis family, society, appearances, attraction, violence and finally how each one of us deals with gender, which is nothing but an identity assigned to us by the society as opposed to sex which is an identity determined at birth. The authors attempt at challenging labels that the society in general ascribes  to how a man and a woman ought to be, including our own biases that we never knew existed or even every-day language that reveals gender biased phrases. This book flows like a candid conversation on gender issues, including the tabooed transgender and same sex relationships that are often caricatured in the mainstream culture.  “What’s the point in earning if she can’t cook for her husband?” or “Scantily dressed women should expected to be raped?” or “A bold and aggressive woman is not marriage material” are some of the comments that are often bandied around as if they represent solemn truths and this book is a bold endeavour to question such prejudices. With a breezy yet powerful narrative, frequent references to popular culture and accompanied by illustrations that parody gender stereotypes within the family and society, this book raises important questions, busts long held myths and confronts many truths and untruths that makes not just the young reader, but even adults think and reflect on whether it’s really a boy-girl thing! Happy Women's day to everyone! 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

To a math lover......!

I have never really liked math, though I did reasonably well in the subject at school (or so I'd like  to think!) I'm not sure if my mom being a professor of Maths had anything to do with it, but the pressure of excelling in a subject that has been my mother's professional identity, did get to me at times. So when it came to making a choice post secondary schooling, I steered clear of the science stream and opted for humanities, notwithstanding the misgivings that almost everyone seemed to have regarding my field of study.  Well, everyone except my mom. Despite her well entrenched background  in science, not once did she impose her obvious choice on me and not once did she express her reservations over my then-not-so-popular choice.....and thank you so much for that Amma!!! Now that I am a mom myself, I wonder how ??.......  as neither can I claim to be as broad minded as her nor do I find it easy to let go like she did!!:-)

Surprisingly, my nine year old son finds Maths quite interesting and has even declared maths to be his favourite subject ( at least for now!). I know it's too early to say.... finally my mom  may just find someone within her own family who shares her passion for maths!! So on the occasion of her birthday, dedicating this post to my mom, the math lover.... we read  "The Boy who loved Math " by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. A wonderful book that traces the life and achievements of Paul Erdos who is "probably" a Demi-God to mathematicians world over. Even for someone who isn't all that gung-ho about numbers, this book with its crisp, mathematically creative narrative and striking illustrations makes a wonderful read for one and all.  "There was once a boy who loved math. He grew up to be 1 of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived ..." and thus the reader is lead into Paul's unconventional life that began and ended with numbers!! From a little boy who hated rules, school and his baby-sitter, read on as Paul's love for prime numbers made him famous around the world and in turn made him travel around the world... all for math, math and more math in the form of Number theory, Combinatorics, Problemistic theory and Set theory. So much so that he was called a math- match maker..- introducing mathematicians all over the world to one another so that they work together and of course do more math! While a lot has been written on his famous work in mathematics, this book acquaints the young readers on the little known facts about how the magician from Budapest ( as he was known) was, like as a person -  how he was hopeless in doing his  laundry or cooking his food, or how he made the whole world his home and that he loved playing with epsilons, a mathematical term he used for children!!  Accompanied with insightful and thoroughly researched illustrations, plus  a smattering of numbers all over... you might just want to read this "infinite" number of times!  To the best  math lover I've known all my life......Happy birthday Amma!!:-)