Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Letter to my father!

We find ourselves in an unenviable position of being caught in between two entirely different phases of growing up! Abhay’s near transition into tween years juxtaposed with our little one’s transition into toddlerhood makes for a trying test in parenting. While we do manage to sail through on some days…there are many occasions when we falter and fumble and that’s when the co-parental support assumes great importance. No matter how hands-on a parent you might be, it’s certainly tough to single-handedly manage everything on your own, without the support of your partner-in-crime! Today’s age and lifestyle has blurred the lines between what was typically considered a mother’s role or a father’s role, and the roles now seem interchangeable, depending upon time and convenience. The credit largely goes to the new generation dads who’ve stepped up and are not just actively involved but rather thoroughly enjoy their parenting responsibilities. Daddies are always special… matter how late they turn up from work ……they always get a giant grin from the kids….be it a one year old or a ten year old!

Well…parenting is a journey and no journey is fun without a companion! So father’s day or mother’s day is also about acknowledging the vital role played by our spouses  in this journey. So as we embark on this amazing experience together … we start out as rookies, gain experience along the way and then probably turn pro, especially the second time around! J

So over the father’s day weekend a couple of days ago, we revisited a passage that is a touching ode  to a father-son relationship beautifully expressed in the form of a letter in “Letter to my father”, being an excerpt from his recent compilation “Whistling Schoolboy and other stories of school life” by Ruskin Bond brought out by Red Turtle wing of Rupa publications. Considering that schools have begun in most parts of the country, this collection of stories revolving around school life makes for an ideal read this season. “Letter to my father” feels like a continuing monologue of a son recounting his everyday experiences, reflections and thoughts to his father. No one would have guessed that the father to whom the letter is addressed has been long gone as the letter is written in a conversational style that only goes to show the undying love between father and child. Written in first person as a young adult, Ruskin Bond fondly remembers the precious time he spent with his father as a nine year old, as if it were yesterday. Though this also brings back unpleasant memories of his father passing away and that he misses his father even though his father has been gone for over four decades …. ….the letter however does not strike a sorrowful note but is instead a celebration of the special bond that the Bonds share! J  With a breezy narrative that alternates between witty and wise, insightful musings that are quintessentially Ruskin Bond, this poignant tribute to his father is sure to bring a lump in your throat! For instance, he wonders what if he happens to meet his dad, would his dad look the same and further will he still be a small boy or an old man? Classic Ruskin Bond..isn't it??:-)
Belated wishes to all the daddies on Father’s day!! 
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hey....its a year!

I can’t believe it’s already a year since my little one was born! It feels like yesterday since I stepped out of the hospital with the little one in my arms wrapped in a  pink blanket, unsure of how I’ll be able to manage, now that I had officially become a proud (and nervous) mother of two! It only feels like yesterday that I had to relearn the baby 101 basics that I had unlearned over the past eight years. It was only yesterday when a dear friend had advised that if you survive the first year…you’ll be OK!  One year is up and although things are still a little topsy turvy at home….it feels much more settled,  with a set routine (that changes almost every day)  ….well ….as settled as it can be with a toddler, a nine year old  and a ninety nine year old at home!J

Though we weren’t keen on celebrating our little girl’s first birthday, it was her big brother who made a good case in point on why we shouldn’t think twice about celebrating our little one’s birthday when we made a gala event out of her brother’s first birthday! ( How selfishly generous!) So it was more for the older brother than for anyone else that we had a birthday party for his little sister! So it was all about the big brother in his little sister’s birthday party! And so it was mainly the big brother and his friends who enjoyed at the little sister’s birthday! What did the little sister do…she did everything but enjoy the party!:-)

On her first birthday, we picked out a book that has become  quite a  hit with her, off late. So much so that she follows it up with a “B” as soon as I show her the book! Frankly, this book was a random selection from Abhay’s library and I certainly did not intend on introducing ABC so early in her childhood. But this Tulika publication was the only one I could lay my hands on, on one cranky evening! “Hey That’s an A” by Jerry Pinto and illustrated by Sayan Mukerjee was a book that I originally picked out for Abhay but it turned out that Abhay was too old for it. Now that I pulled out the same for my little one, it turns out that she is too young for it!:-)

More than an alphabet book, this is a one-of-a-kind representation of the written word, packed with puns and tongue-in-cheek humour that is sure to entertain and appeal to every reader. We love the little references to funny names and terms that in a way mirror the baby pet names that we call out to our little one with. Though stated to be meant for children aged 3 +,  my little one jumps with joy as I read out these funny verses.  
 “Hey, that's  an A”… is a robust ABC book that not only offers a phonetic perspective to the alphabet but also explains the technique in writing the same, which hopefully will help us in the near future……and going by today's schooling standards…it is not too far away!:-) Happy Birthday…my little one…enjoy every little thing before things get serious! J

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mothers and others!

There’s an old saying that God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers!!!  While this was meant to be appreciative of the unparalleled persona of a mother, it can also be a tad overwhelming, especially in today’s age of super-moms! Of course …being a mother is a huge part of a woman’s identity and there’s nothing in the world that would make her trade places with someone who’s never experienced the joy of motherhood. That said….does motherhood define one’s identity ….may be and may be not!  It’s been almost ten years since I’ve joined the ranks of many women and came to be known as “amma” to my son and  had a dejavu feeling when my was daughter was born last year. As my daughter is slowly getting the hang of calling out my name aloud - “amma” …… I wonder if that is all I will be to them!  No doubt …  I am their mother and they are at a stage where …..“amma” is everything to them, more so with the little one. But I am not sure if I want them to grow up thinking that “amma” is a uni-dimensional figure, ever present and ever ready to make their life as easy as they want it to be! As they grow up, I surely want them to understand that “amma” has her own life or has her own thing going which may not be convenient to them at all times. 
Sometimes I wonder if we moms really need the anointed status of “Supermoms” because we are as flawed as anybody else and just like everybody else…we have our good days and bad days too! Well….I’m not sure if even God meant for mothers to be everywhere or round-the-clock/24-7 care- providers leaving us with very little or no ‘home-life balance’! J

So as a departure from my usual routine on Onestoryaday, I’ve picked up a book meant more for adults than children “Mothers and others” a wonderful compilation on motherhood and more, edited by Jaishree Mishra, brought out by Zubaan publications. This eclectic collection provides an off-beat perspective to one of the most special human relationships - the mother-child bond. With most contributions narrated from the mother’s point of view, this certainly  makes an interesting read and even echoes the sentiments of young moms who find it hard to toe the traditional line, when it comes to parenting. With contributions from well known writers like Shashi Despande, Jahnavi Barua, Manju Kapur, Kishwar Desai (to name a few and my personal favourites) and many more, you realize that motherhood cannot be strait- jacketed into how its represented in mainstream media and films and that there are so many layers and dimensions to it, with its own highs and lows and pain and pleasures. Read on as the books also explores questions of identity, adoption, childlessness, bereavement and loss through the medium of beautifully written essays, stories and poems. Though the stories are essentially for grown-ups,  I did manage to read  to my nine year old, a little from “Eating Baby” by Anita Roy, a hilarious account of a mother transitioning from nursing to feeding her baby solids ( a stage I went through recently and hence could totally relate to ) Though my older one could follow a little, he  couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about!  Well..once in a while,  it's sure okay to set aside the picture books or young reader fiction and read what mommy wants to read right?? Like I said …“amma” has a taste and a mind of her own too! J Happy Mother’s day to all the mommies!    

Friday, April 29, 2016

History is a Mystery!

For today’s kids, it’s all about packaging!  Be it food, school, homework or daily routine activities…….they have to be jazzed up and made fun for them to want to do them! Well…we parents have to learn early that a direct approach can get us nowhere and the presentation is the key!

Staying on the subject of history, while "Children's History of India" (reviewed previously) makes for a great non-fiction read,  not many kids take to non-fiction as well as fiction. So the ideal way to get the latter to improve upon their knowledge quotient is to have them read books that present facts in a fun and an engaging manner and what better way to do it through the medium of stories?  

Of course, there are plenty of options in the field of science fiction for children, but what if there was a historical fiction series that enlightened the children on history while entertaining them as well? Here comes the latest offering from Duckbill publications, a pioneering publishing house that has changed the face of children’s literature in India - the History Mystery series by Natasha Sharma and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan.  

History, in a way, is a mystery, isn’t it? Here is a delectable series that unravels the enigma of the forgotten times with period drama/mysteries, set in the kingdoms of four of the most famous monarchs who ruled India at various points of time. The author spins off hilarious and intriguing tales around the actions, achievements or the administrative policies, the rulers are best remembered for. Though the publisher's age recommendation indicates that this is meant for younger readers, who’ve begun to read independently, the narrative and vocabulary employed certainly competes with middle level fiction catering towards early teen readers. As always, the stories make good family read-alouds, with added explanations and elaborations.
Like any mystery series, the pattern of each of the stories remain more or less similar – with something troubling the emperor prompting him or her to set the kingdom’s top secret super spies on the job. Imagine if  Emperor Ashoka finds his famous Rock Edicts inscribed with messages that are polar opposite to what he wants to preach to his subjects and you have “Ashoka and the muddled messages” or what if the well established trade and commerce links between the Chola kingdom and China is at the brink of a break-down owing to someone messing up with the shipments leading on to “Raja Raja and the swapped sacks” or what happens when Akbar discovers a mole amongst his close coterie who seems to pass on sensitive  information to King Adhbhut of the neighbouring kingdom,  resulting in “Akbar and the Tricky Traitor” and how does Razia Sultana, hell bent on gender neutralizing her role as the ruler of Delhi, deal with the so called gifts that are deliberately sexist in nature in “Razia Sultana and the pesky presents”! Starting with four such books, here’s hoping that there’s more coming in this delightful series.
Besides giving a glimpse of life and times of the era that was, the stories are set in the famous architectural monuments of the prevailing times that stand tall even today. What do you know…. the stories may even serve as a guide book if you plan on a heritage tour!   Laced with contemporary humour and aided by suitable illustrations, the backdrop of the stories are an authentic depiction of those times, especially the names, hierarchy of royal staff and the royal protocol, so on and so forth. While the specific plot is a work of fiction, the author draws heavily from historical sources to present a genuine picture of the bygone era and ends each story with a note that separates facts from fiction. Besides, the stories humanise the kings and heads of state, revealing a rather sensitive or vulnerable side, with some of it being fiction like Razia Nawaz’s fear of lizards and some reportedly true, like that of Akbar having invented a travelling bath.
You can't help feeling bemused as you watch today’s generation find names such as Agramahisi or Kalapathy Arrghety or Baaz Ayebeg more alien than the alien characters of Hollywood Sci-fi flicks!
Though set at an era when time stood still, the History Mystery series can sure give modern who-dun-it’s a run for their money, with your little wannabe detective begging for more!!

A Children's History of India!

"Amma.. was Babur originally from Mongolia or the present day Uzubekisthan ?" was one of Abhay's recent questions that had me stumped! Though I prided myself as a humanities student, I realised that I had no clue to some of his questions even though they seemed fundamental enough for any history student to have known an answer. Blame it on bad memory, or a lack of touch with the subject, or the fall-out of learning by rote that characterised most of our studies in school; But history from textbooks was more about remembering the dates/years of battles and reigns of kings than an interesting account of how things were! As much as Abhay seems fascinated by history, it's rather disappointing that history isn't a part of his school curriculum yet. So we are left to our own devices (read google) to unravel some of history's mysteries! 

When it comes to history, what are the choices for children/young readers? Well, it’s either the exam oriented textbooks or the rhetorical over-simplified versions of history that hardly sound credible or the big-fat reference books that the children/young readers tend to steer clear from!! What if there were to be a book that presents historical facts, sources and analysis in a non-text-bookish manner without running into the danger of information overload?   A Children’s history of India” by Subhandra Sen Gupta and illustrated by Priyankar Gupta  does exactly that!! Brought out by Red Turtle, the children’s wing of Rupa  publications, this book is a composite work on Indian history starting from the Harappan civilization in 2600 BCE to contemporary India. 

A children’s history of India is a thorough work of non-fiction and is divided into four sections that trace the rich history of our country from ancient times to what we now know as modern India. The author then goes to detail the rise and fall of various dynasties chronologically during each period, elaborating on the political milestones, prevalent lifestyles, social and cultural trends of the times that were. Presented in an easy-to-follow narrative, each chapter is also laced with interesting trivia, summary boxes, relevant online and offline sources for more information and a brief note on parallel developments in other parts of the world around the same time.  For instance, who knew that not all poems in the Vedas were solemn prayers but also included even funny rhymes and limericks or about a traveler named Thomas Coryat during Mughal times who supposedly walked all the way from England to India!! Accompanied by minimal illustrations of the highlights of different eras, the author also helps the reader understand the empirical analysis of historical data that separates facts from legends. Not very often do you come across a work of non-fiction that appeals to both children and adults alike…..”A children’s history of India” is definitely one of them and a must have for anyone interested in history!