Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Cherry Tree

Like every summer, Abhay spends the first half of his summer holidays at my parents' farm "Shristi" at Dharmasthala. This time however, much to his chagrin ... his mother has joined him that too for the full length of his stay ... which has invariably come in the way of the no-holds-barred- grandparental pampering that he used to enjoy during his stay here earlier!:-)) So much so that I have also been accused of acting like his jealous older sibling vying for my parents' attention! :-)

Anyway, my parents' Arecanut farm is adorned with a colourful flower garden bordering the house, a vegetable garden full of seasonal veggies like red pumpkins, okra, long beans and greens, and a fruit orchard .. bearing many fruits like the fig, chiku, pineapple, banana, guava..with it's star attraction being the jam fruit tree! With almost all it's branches sprouting the juicy "Jamnerele", as it's known in the local language, our tree offers a fun summer- time activity especially for kids and believe me, no visitor leaves Shristi without embarking on a fruit picking adventure, plucking the white and pink fruits off its branches and filling their baskets with as many as they can reach!:-) And to think that we used to pay for this sort of fruit picking activity in the US now sounds unreal! 

Dedicating this post to the painstaking efforts of my parents in creating what has become our nature summer retreat .. we read Ruskin Bond's "The Cherry Tree" which was originally a part of his short story collection titled " The Night Train at Deoli and other stories", now has been converted into this little book for young readers by Puffin publications. I needn't say any more about Ruskin Bond's narrative that turn a simple story into a magical and a moving tale with an old world charm to it but the Cherry tree brings about an amazing intermingling of nature's various elements  with the transitioning human world! 

The story traces six year old Rakesh's joint venture with his retired forest ranger grandpa of growing a Cherry tree in their back yard in lower Himalayan region that starts with Rakesh casually planting a Cherry seedling, only to be pleasantly surprised to find small twig with a leaf sticking out of the stony ground next spring. As Rakesh excitedly begins to nurture it with the aid of his grandpa, the little twig grows into a small tree, braving all odds ranging from a hungry goat, a woman grass cutter to a caterpillar. Finally as he celebrates his ninth birthday along with his friends around the tree, the Cherry tree gifts him with its first pink blossoms followed by the season's first fruit! Read on as during the next few seasons, as Rakesh grows taller, and his grandpa grows older, how amongst all the greenery of the hills, their day-to-day life revolves around the most special tree amongst all - the Cherry tree. Beautifully brought alive by its vivid illustrations by Manoj A Menon "The Cherry tree" is a must read for any young reader to understand how  life can be do much enriched by one's natural surroundings- just as how we enjoy the beauty of our farm "Shristi"! 
Blogger Tricks

Friday, April 10, 2015

Summer vacations - Time to turn a Bookasura!!!

First appeared on parent edge blog

We are at the end of the academic year and the  dreaded exam season is over in most parts of the country…at least for the younger kids and shall I say the most dread season for the parents is here to stay for the next two months ….vacations??!!  While the prospect of a temporary respite from the mad school mornings may be a reason for cheer, but given the long summer breaks, parents most often find themselves fretting over how to keep their kids engaged or occupied constructively. With most households having both parents working, the kids’ holiday schedule can get even more hectic than the regular school schedule- driving them from summer workshops, art camps, sports camps and even pre-IIT JEE training programs!  Of course….there’s always an option to pack them off to their grandparents’ provided it is convenient and the grandparents are willing to share the load…of course not to forget the children being willing participants to the change in social climate!:-)
Anyway, speaking of going to grandparents’ for the holidays, we are at Abhay's grandparents' place at Shristi and will spend most of April soaking up some coastal sunshine! Though a lot of kids routinely spent their summer vacations at grandparents' while we were growing up, I never got a chance to do so. Thankfully, Abhay is lucky and spends a part of summer holidays every year at their farm house at Dharmasthala. For a change, this year I also have accompanied Abhay to his grandparents' place...though I am not sure if he's very thrilled about it! :-)
Anyway, we got along many books withus, including a recently released book that makes a great summer read for kids aged five and above, -  Arundhati Venkatesh’sBookasura” brought out by Scholastic publications.
Bookasura revolves around the adventures of Bala and his run-in with the book-eating monster. You can’t help but adore Bala, the young protagonist, who amidst his excitement over having discovered a new adventure book series, his irritation at being supposedly sidelined by the new baby at home and his utter disdain over his baby sister gobbling up some pages of his book, feels almost relieved to be sent off to his grandparents’ house for the holidays. Bala’s visit to his grandparents is almost reminiscent of the days we used to camp at grandparents’ during the summer with Paati (grandmother in Tamil) vowing to fatten him during his stay with her lip-smacking delicacies and Thaatha (grandpa in Tamil ) regaling him with stories from the Indian mythology. So when his grandpa narrates the story of Bakasura and his defeat at hands of Bheema, Bala finds himself encountering another monster at Navneet uncle’s Thotadaan (house with a garden) with an insatiable appetite for books! Bala is then constrained to feed the monster many of his favourite books, with a “pun-intended” choice of titles!  But before he runs the risk of having to give up all his books, he thinks of a one-of-a-kind ploy to outwit the book-eating monster, whom he believes to have a striking resemblance to his book-eating baby sister!  Besides being brilliantly written, the author delves into the mind of a young boy  like no one else and showcases the myriad shades of Bala’s world with an indigenous charm that makes it all the more relatable. The book touches upon so many aspects, albeit in a subtle manner -  changing family dynamics with the arrival of a new baby, parents’ paranoia over exposure to television and its transference to the child,  the undivided and no holds barred attention from grandparents, impact of stories on a child’s imagination in turn instilling a passion for reading and books! Priya Kurien’s playful illustrations present a perfect visual context to this original plot that is sure to entertain and engage your young reader this summer! After reading this…don’t blame me if your young reader turns a Bookasura ………..eager for more adventures of Bala! As far as Abhay was concerned, it made him think about only one thing.... I hope the new baby in our house does not eat up my book!:-)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The impending new arrival!

The last few months have been like a roller coaster ride with a “dejavu” like situation on the personal front …..that almost has us turn the time backwards to eight years ago when we first embarked on our journey to parenthood!  While I thought I could safely hang on to “been there and done that”….. I had not anticipated  that the eight year gap comes with its own set of physical and mental/emotional complications……and not to forget the added pressure of being mindful of the  huge impact  it would have on the soon to be elder brother at home! While I can’t say that Abhay is excited but is rather is unsure and insecure about being displaced from his coveted status of being the only kid in the house! Well…can’t blame him as for quite some time now…even we believed he would be the only kid in the house!!! J

Though there are several children's books available that deal with announcing the impending arrival of a new baby at home, I could lay my hands on a couple of them. There’s “Baby on Board” by Kes Gray and Sarah Nayler  which gives a month-on-month account of the growth of the baby in mommy’s tummy accompanied by the attendant changes in and around the household. This is a book for kids who are all gung-ho about becoming the elder sibling and cant wait to see the new baby! However with things being quite the opposite at home (Abhay would rather not talk about it!)… I found “There’s going to be a baby” by John Birningham and Helen Oxenbury ideal. This book features a rather nervous kid who is unsure as to what to expect when his mother announces that there’s going to be a new baby at home. The soon-to be elder brother is seen a little anxious as he wonders how will the baby be and even asks his mother if she can make the baby go away as they don’t really need the baby! Through-out her pregnancy, the mother wonderfully engages her eldest born in a conversation almost everywhere they go…..about what do they think the baby will grow up to be……a chef in a restaurant, or an artist, a doctor, a sailor or keeper at the zoo! As the mother throws in her ideas, her older child is seen imagining what the baby might do in each of those professions that echoes his true sentiment about the baby and his jaded responses follow suit – when he vows not eat anything that the baby bakes or not letting the baby make a mess of the house with the paint, or not wanting to have the baby treat him when he’s sick or hoping to be the captain on the baby’s boat and finally wondering if the baby will get eaten by a tiger at the zoo (ouch!…. that’s a nasty one!) But as the day nears…..the boy is shown warming up to the idea of a baby sister or a brother ….and the story ends with the boy accompanying his grandpa to the hospital  eager to see and love the new baby! So here’s hoping the same transformation in Abhay too…sometime in the end of May when it will probably be the time for the new arrival in our household! J




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?”!!! 

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!