Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bond with India!

Where do you want to live when you grow up?’ or ‘where do you want to go on  your next vacation?’ When posed to the kids today, both the questions elicit response that invariably points to a destination outside India. Of course, everyone has a right to live the way they want and where they want and it’s a matter of individual choice. I have nothing against living or working abroad but what I abhor is how kids today blindly assume that the key to a bright future lies anywhere but in India! Even when it comes to travel, (taking a cue from their classmates) sightseeing tours or vacations within India don’t seem to enthuse them as much as holidaying on foreign shores. I am not sure if this attitude can be put down to a childhood fascination with “the distant and dreamy” locales or an extension or a reflection of the Indian middle class mindset, but ever notice that our kids always come up with names of places outside India while playing Atlas games. For instance, when it’s Abhay’s turn to name a place starting from I …..his choices range from Istanbul  to Indianapolis……….. and never India! J

In an attempt to set right this anomaly, I picked a book that best illustrates the unique connection one feels with India like no other country. A gem of a book from a gem of an author whose writings and musings are evergreen in as much as they can be read as many times over by one and all, without running the risk of ‘been there and read that”! Well, the name is Bond..and no prizes for guessing that its Ruskin Bond I’m referring to! When I chanced upon “the India I love” at the “Funky Rainbow” bookstore at a Bookalore event,  the cover page itself looked so appetizing that I had to have the full course meal!

the India I love” is a collection of prose and poems that has the celebrated author rewind and  have us unwind over his reflections on his India experiences!  Though some of his writings are a little above Abhay’s reading and probably comprehension level,  Ruskin’s Bond’s writings are meant to be read aloud ….and reading to your nine year old with a few explanations here and there is a treat by itself! As the author himself admits that his forte lies in “observation, recollection and reflection” and there are plenty of such musings in this work  – from his innate understanding of “Children of India” to why he chose to live in Mussorie heading a family of twelve in “Now we are twelve” to his diary notings during the period when he was still establishing himself  as an author in “Simply  living” to a throwback at a time when he was caught between the East and the West ( much like many of us) in “India I carried with me” to his many a reading adventures, and bringing back memories of his grandmother’s house in the Dehra Dun of the 1940s,  to the and finally to his “Thoughts on approaching seventy”…..there are so many facets and faces of India that he loves and writes about in his characteristic style that has you smiling away till the last page! Well, I’m not sure if reading the book has made any difference to how my little armchair globe-trotter feels about making India his home in the future…but the colours of the India that Ruskin Bond writes will never fade just as his writings never do! A must read if you are a Bond fan….the Bond from Mussorie!! J 
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Param Vir Chakra this Republic day!

We step into the New Year with a mixed note of hope and horror, given the recent terrorist attacks at the Pathankot Airforce station that shocked the nation. In the combing operations that followed, our brave soldiers fought hard and a few of them sacrificed their lives to save the country and protect its sovereignty. What does this have to do with our kids…you may ask. Though our kids are insulated from all such unpleasantness of the adult world, it doesn’t hurt to give them a reality check from time to time. While we take pains to acquaint them with the world of science, technology  and general knowledge, how about enlightening them with the inspiring lives of some of India’s most courageous and daring soldiers to whom we owe our freedom and sense of security.

Today being Republic day, we picked out the recently released title in the Amar Chitra Katha series “Param Vir Chakra The Ultimate Honour”. As you swell with pride watching the Republic day parade on television, this book takes the whole 'Republic day experience"  a little further and makes it an ideal read for anyone wanting to learn about the 21 bravehearts of the Indian armed forces who were awarded the highest military honour, ever since the award was instituted on January 26th 1950.   Starting from General Somnath Sharma who along with his regiment fought till his last breadth and secured Srinagar in the 1947 war with Pakistan to Captain Vikram Batra who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his ‘lion hearted leadership’ and ‘selfless actions’ during the Kargil conflict in 1999, this book beautifully narrates the stories of the real heroes of India who didn’t think twice before putting themselves in danger for the sake of the nation. Each of the stories highlights their selfless and patriotic spirit that set them apart from their peers, throwing light on their early ambitions, the formidable tasks that they had set themselves to achieve and how some of them gave up their lives achieving the same. The reader is also let in on the attendant circumstances like hostile weather conditions or rough geographical terrain that the soldiers faced during many an armed conflicts involving the Indian forces, thus offering a peek into life in the armed forces, that includes the hierarchical set-up of the military establishment, numerous regiments commissioned, weapons and vehicles used during war-times and an end- note that answers the frequently raised doubt as to what do the armed forces do during peace time. Accompanied by vivid illustrations characteristic of any Amar Chitra Katha title, these inspiring stories are sure to captivate children of all ages and instill in them a feeling of pride and patriotism towards our country. Jai Hind!   Happy Republic day! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Oregonian Christmas!!

December always brings memories! Whether it's a time to reflect on the year that went by, or the wedding season or the holiday rush or simply the spirit of Christmas that takes over everyone and everything around - the last month of the year is almost always eventful! Christmas always reminds us of our short stay in the US and while it's been quite some time since we got back, this season takes me back to those days when we used to wait in line for our older one to sit on the lap of a "Mall Santa"! Now that the malls in Bangalore have caught up and seem to be sporting their own Santas... our younger one will want us to do an encore very soon!!!

So this Christmas... we took a trip down memory lane by reading a book gifted by a dear friend on her visit to India from Portland. "The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon" by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan, is an Oregonian take on the traditional story, showcasing the specialities and highlights of Oregon.  Narrated in the form of letters written by Damon, a young boy during his visit to his cousin Liz and her family in Oregon, this book takes you on whirl wind tour of the Beaver State -from rainforest to desert to the mountains and to the beach. Accompanied by colourful illustrations, follow Liz and Damon as they begin their journey from the "Crown point" on the Historic Columbia River Highway on a trailer that looks like a cottage on wheels. As they make many a stopovers at various "must-see" spots like Crater lake, Painted hills, Mount Bachelor, and the city of Portland, the reader is acquainted with fun and fascinating facts about the state. Having visited many of the places featured, we took Abhay on a nostalgic slide show of old photos and pictures taken during what now seems to be a different era altogether! :-) Packed with light hearted wit and humour, breezy narrative and scrapbook styled imagery,  this makes an interesting read for everyone who lives, plans to live or has lived in Oregon! On a personal note.. several years may pass or we may be several thousands of miles away, but a quick read of this book is all it takes for us to revisit those memorable Oregonian days! A memorable Christmas to everyone!:-) 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Habit of Reading

The Habit of Reading
M.V. Sundararaman
More often than not I wind up recruitment interviews with my stock question “Do you read?” or “What are you reading right now?” Over the past seven to eight years, when I must have interviewed not less than thirty to forty enthusiastic, young lawyers, the answers that I have got from candidates (whose ages range from about 23 years to about 30 years) not surprisingly range from “Hmmm…I don’t read much” or “I read occasionally, whenever I find time” or “Yes. I read online” !!. Bookshelves today, in most households that I have visited, don’t seem to favour more than a Chetan Bhagat or an Amish. Rarely do I hear anyone tell me that they reading Ruskin Bond or Rushdie or that R.K. Narayan or Saki are amongst their favourites. Most children today have not even heard of their works. Yes, that’s sadly true. We will all soon start hearing of new year resolutions. “Get fit”, “Join a gym” “start cycling”, “get married” are all the usual suspects. When did I last hear “read more” or ‘start reading” or “join a library” as someone’s resolution? I simply can’t recall.
Maugham’s view that to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life, seems to be relevant today only with a rider: the strength of the refuge that you construct for yourself depends on the strength of your reading !  I have no hesitation in saying reading has greatly enriched my life, deepened my moments of solitude and has empowered my understanding of human nature, its outstanding virtues and oddities. Books have warmly welcomed me into the world of history, wildlife, warfare, culture and several other absorbing and fascinating genres.
When anxious parents ask me “How do I inculcate the reading habit in my child?” my impulsive responses are either “Do you read?” orDo you have an atmosphere of books at home?”. If the answer is “yes”, then, I tell them that the task is not difficult at all. If the answer is “no”, well even then I tell them that the task is not difficult at all!!  Over the years, my interactions with fellow-readers, bibliophiles, parents of “reading”-children and of course early readers, have led me to discover several simple techniques to help cultivate a reading habit and more importantly enhance my reading experience. Here they are:-
·        Create a reading environment at home:- Nothing is more conducive to reading than a carefully nurtured reading-environment at home. A reasonably well-stocked shelf of varied genres of different authors suitable to your child’s age is the first-step towards creating the right setting for your child. Keeping books in locations easily accessible to the child is a definite plus;

·                   Keep a couple of books with you always:- “Always a book for the road” has been my motto. Long drives need not always be laughter and chatter. They can be interspersed with quiet moments of reading from your “carbrary”. It maybe useful to carry a book that you have discussed earlier and allow the child to explore the book on his own during the drive. Waiting at the Dentist’s could never be more interesting if you carried a book along !  

·                   Never say “no” to reading:- I have often noticed parents discouraging children from bringing/reading books at the dining table or read while on the train or while driving. There is no scientific evidence of any harm being caused to the child, his digestion, his eyesight or memory because he read while eating or while in the car. Given the acute paucity of quality time and rapid decline in reading habits, my view is, anywhere is good. Just let them read. Anywhere.

·                   Dedicate an hour or two every week to spend on reading together:- Nothing can be more fun than a family activity. If you can take pains to organise a family outing, if you can find exclusive time to pray or swim or cycle together, you can then ofcourse find time to read together. If you think reading should become your child’s priority, then please prioritize his reading time too. The Sanskrit adage “Yatha Raja, Tattha Praja” is apt here. If the child grows up in the company of books, seeing reading-parents, he will become a reading-parent himself.

·                   Book Shops, Libraries, Lit fests and Book Exhibitions:- Watch out for book fests and book Exhibitions in your city. These events are almost regulars in all metros and can be marked in calendars well in advance. These events have innumerable activities to enthuse children to read and love reading. Nothing can be more pleasurable than visiting second hand books shops. Allow the child to explore the shop at his own, easy pace and you will never return unrewarded from these tours.

·                   Actively discourage mindless TV viewing and Gaming:- Reading and Television, and now Internet and gaming, have been natural enemies. It is most normal for the child to take the path of least resistance and sacrifice reading time for a cartoon show or for a round of “Clash of Clans”. Reading with the child, reading aloud to the child, continually helping the child understand the imagery, setting and background of a book will fire his imagination and help him savour a book in the place of a TV show ;

·                   Encourage borrowing and lending of books:- Nothing can be more beneficial to a child than having access to more than his own library. Never discourage your child from lending his books. But insist that he keeps track of the books that he has lent. This will not only inculcate responsibility in the child, but it would also open the possibilities of your child borrowing from his friends.
Having said all this, I must also point out that a reading habit is ultimately a habit. It depends on us. When Stephen Covey said “We become what we repeatedly do”, he ofcourse didn’t refer to the habit of reading. But reading the right book, the right author and the right genre, in my experience, is one of the easiest habits to cultivate and nurture. Never fear having picked up a wrong book. After having read a couple of pages if you are unable to continue, toss it and go for another. There are a billion others waiting to be read. Like all other habits, a reading habit will normally start as a cobweb, and can become a rock-strong cable, with tenacity and perseverance. Just go for it !!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

These are a few of our favorite books....!

 After being a devout follower of this blog since its inception, I’m so happy to be a more “active” part of it! When Divya asked me to write a post, I was wondering where I should begin…With a kindergartner and pre-schooler at home, we collectively enjoy everything from the first baby/picture books to early readers. Storytime is welcome at any time of day and the best part is when the big sis gets to read to her little brother and show off her newly acquired skills!
I’d like to share a few series that are closest to our heart and books we’ve read so often that they’ve been internalized (and memorized, even by my 2.5 year old)!! The main reason behind this is that we seem to identify so closely with the characters and see a bit of ourselves in them. Some of these series have made their appearances on this blog before since they are such all-time favorites. Anyway, here are some of ours:

1.       Llama Llama misses Mama (by Anna Dewdney)
For months (years!!??), the toughest part of the mornings for me and my son has been drop off at daycare. All the tears and drama are often just for mama, but this mama (like most other mamas) melts at the sight of her little llama waving sadly to her as she leaves for work every day. Finally, thanks to this classic, my little llama has learnt that his mama needs go to work and will be back soon. The story is so simple and yet so effective in voicing a little child’s feeling of separation- my son just can’t get enough of the little llama classic!

2.       DW’s Guide to Preschool & The First Day of School (Little Critter series)
When our daughter started preschool a couple years ago, we were very anxious since she had been through the same months of separation anxiety at daycare (and we were yet to discover ‘Llama Llama misses Mama’ at the time!). Thanks to “The First Day of School” by Mercer Mayer & “DW’s Guide to Preschool” by Marc Brown, she seemed to transition so seamlessly. Both books go through the typical preschool/big school routine and the best part, is that they make it sound like so much fun!
The “First Day of School” is extra special since it was Abhay’s book (Does he remember it, Divya??).

3.       The Pigeon Series – by Mo Willems
How could I not include these much-loved and read books of ours? We’ve recently discovered 2 new ones – “The Duckling gets a Cookie” and “The Pigeon Needs a Bath”.

In the first one, the Pigeon is clearly jealous at how “easily” the duckling manages to get something he asks for, while poor pigeon is always denied his requests (whether it’s to drive the bus, or want to stay up late or better still, when he wants a puppy). I think my older one identifies a little with this feeling…Are we slightly more indulgent towards the “baby” in the family? Does he get away with more that she does?? As parents, we never make any distinctions, but I’m sure older siblings believe that their parents are tougher on them and more indulgent with the little ones...
But here is the best part…when the pigeon asks why the duckling got the cookie with the nuts, the duckling says “because I wanted to give it to you”. How generous..? Or perhaps clever? (I suspect the duckling doesn’t care much for cookies with nuts!).

While my kids would fight over cookies (and many other things), both have one thing in common. They always seem to drag their feet when it comes to taking a bath at the end of the day…much like the pigeon who’s now clearly in need of one. And when he finally consents (after much pleading/shouting), he doesn’t want to leave the tub (so much like our own 2 pigeons who can’t stop playing in the tub when they finally make it there!).

Thanks Divya, for giving me this opportunity to share our beloved books…Wishing you and this wonderful blog, many more years of reading, sharing and learning!