Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Earth Story.

Staying on the subject of creatively stimulating outings for kids, I am quite surprised at what Bangalore has to offer. When we left the US, we were quite skeptical about whether we would be able to find as many child-friendly/enriching activities for kids in India as in the US. But hey!….I’d say “not bad!” and in fact they’re even better as our kids form a part of the mainstream society here as opposed to being on the fringes abroad and so what is offered is even culturally relevant!:-) So whether you catch at a children’s play at the Aha! Children’s theatre at Ranga Shankara, or attend the umpteen number of weekend activities at one of the many children’s libraries such as Hippocampus or Just Books or Easy Lib, etc; or enroll your little one into a sports club or a cricket club or drive to an Amusement Park or the Bannerghatta National park, there are plenty of things to do with your kids in Bangalore. Of course, if all you want to do on a weekend is to shop, and are looking for shopping malls that have a little something for everyone in the family, trust me, even on that front, you will be spoilt for choices in Namma Bengaluru!
A couple of weeks back we took Abhay to the Nehru Planetarium which recently underwent renovation. In fact, the last time I’d been to the Nehru Planetarium was as a part of a school field trip. Like on most Saturdays, this time too we had the usual starting trouble and couldn’t make it on time for the 12.00 PM show (and you can always blame it on Bangalore’s weekend traffic!) but managed to catch the 1.00 PM show on “The dawn of Space”. Though we’ve seen much better shows in the OMSI planetarium in Portland, USA, Abhay seemed to have been intrigued by what he saw as he was bursting with questions! There is also a nice little park with science based playground equipments adjoining the planetarium. Anyway, ever since our visit to the planetarium, Abhay has been fascinated by concepts of space and galaxy and so we picked up “The Earth Story” by Eric Maddern and illustrated by Leo Duff from the British Library. Touted as an ideal book on science for 4 to 5 year olds, this book explains the origins of the Universe, the sun, and the birth of what we call our Mother Earth, with the help of visually stunning images. The author vibrantly illustrates the enormous explosion from which everything began, cooling off into hot clouds of gas that went spinning and swirling into becoming great galaxies out of which the milky-way was born, comprising of a giant yellow star called the sun around which planets revolved. Some planets were small and rocky and too close to the sun, others were too gassy and faraway from the sun. The third planet was just right and it was our planet earth. The author then goes on to explain the earth story from being a lava spouting hot cauldron to a state conducive to life, the origins of which is another story altogether!:-) The Earth Story is a fascinating account of how it all began, not only for Abhay, but also for his parents …….at least it was a quick brush-up on science for his mom!:-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Abhay's picnic

Last week Abhay went on a school  trip to Lalbagh. I am an old timer when it comes to school picnics  believing that children have much more to learn from conventional outings to museums, botanical gardens, the planetarium or the zoo than the easier option of taking them to a resort! Anyway, when I got to know that Abhay’s school was planning a trip to Lalbagh, I couldn’t help but get nostalgic about my own school trip to Lalbagh in Class V, which now seems like another age!  Since it was literally a stone’s throw off from our school, we went walking and were assisted by the traffic cops at the pedestrian crossing. I still remember the excitement of walking hand-in hand with our assigned partners, giggling at the people who seemed either curious or amused by the sight of over 130 odd young girls marching in twos! Abhay of course didn’t seem amused that we walked all the way to Bangalore’s most famous botanical garden! was much simpler back then, with the city less-spread out, much less traffic on the roads and as kids, we had way too less expectations than our kids have today! J

I had him read “Picnic time” by Cynthia Rider and Alex Brychta is a Level 1 B Early Reader, part of the Read at Home series brought out by Oxford University Press. I recently discovered this Early Reader series at the British Council Library that has several stories spread across 4 levels of graded reading with a gradual progression within each level from A to C. Whenever I choose early readers of an Indian publishing house, I always start from the bottom level as I find most of Indian Early Readers lacking in structure as far as graded reading is concerned unlike their western counterparts. For instance, you’re most likely to find a word that is neither a commonly known sight word nor phonetically based in a Level 1 which the kids find it hard to decipher! Whereas, the Early Readers from a British publication or an American publication are based on certain fundamental teaching techniques that are typically characterized by vocabulary repetition and gradual progression from short vowels sounds to long vowels sounds and sight words. Well, in essence, I found that Abhay was able to cruise through a Level 1 B even though he requires help with some Level 1 books of certain Indian publications. Anyway, this particular book is about children getting excited about the picnic to a nearby farm. But when they actually reach the farm and spread out their mat to gorge on their picnic lunch, they are joined by the farm animals too. So what happens? Listen up as your little early reader steps into reading and it’s time for you to ask those annoying “why” questions as the tables turn! :-)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter is here..!

I have heard people say that the end of the festive season marks the beginning of winter in India. Sure enough, it’s not even a week since Diwali and it already time to get those warm clothes out, at least in Bangalore. Winter was one of my favorite seasons until I experienced its extreme version in the US! Thankfully, with winters being much milder here than in the most parts of the western world, it can now go back to being my favorite season once again! J Though the winter chill is restricted mostly to early mornings and late evenings, Bangalore is a lot cooler even during the day in the months of November and December. In the US, winter is the time to head indoors whereas in India (at least South India), this is the best time to host any outdoor event as one does not have to worry about the scorching heat! For instance, most schools and colleges host their cultural fests and events during the winter months. Besides, what better time than winter for those silk and nylon fabrics that you can never even dream of wearing during other seasons! It is ideally suited for vacation in India as the weather is most tolerable in even the hottest places in India. Finally, the best excuse to go a little overboard on your caffeine intake as a cup of hot coffee or tea doesn’t taste the same in any other season like it does in winter! :-)

I had picked up this book in advance to be read when the time was right and well, I think the time has come! “Hot Tea and Wam Rugs by Mala Kumar, Manisha Chaudary and Priya  Kurien, part of the Ritu Chakra series on different seasons brought out by Pratham publications gives a good introduction to winter in India. Narrated in first person, a young girl and her brother are excited to take out their winter school uniforms and wonder what’s in store for them this winter. When their mother takes them to the famous Groundnut fair in Bangalore, held during November, they also learn about the various other winter fairs like Ponkh festival in Gujarat and the Camel Fair in Pushkar and the Desert Fair in Jaisalmer. As she sprints to school wearing her bright blue sweater, she realizes that her hands are cold and notices a frosty cloud come out of her mouth as she talks. She learns from her friend Rajni who hails from Shimla about how children play in the snow and make a giant snowman in the hilly regions, how they can’t get out without their winter gear (OH!…I know that feeling!) and stay warm by drinking hot tea or milk with jaggery. She also can’t wait to snuggle up her grandma with a book, this winter. Winter ushers in the festival of Sankranthi, where specialities are made with sesame seeds and jaggery which help one stay warm in the cold season! So I guess even though it doesn’t snow here, winter still has a lot to offer! Enjoy the winter, everyone!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Diwali!

The biggest Indian festival, Diwali or Deepavali as it is known in South India, is here as a culmination of the festive frenzy that has been around since Dassera! I guess, when it comes to festive season or the holiday season as it is called in the West, it doesn’t matter which part of the world you live in, it’s all the same when it comes to the crazy traffic on the roads, stampede threatening crowds at the stores, markets, malls, and cracker outlets. Man!….even the book store was crowded making me wonder if people are actually reading more during festival time! Anyway, last year, since we were celebrating Diwali after a gap of three years, we felt as if we were re-discovering Diwali in India. This time around, I can say we’ve become more seasoned. For instance, we are no longer annoyed when people burst crackers well past 11 PM or no longer shocked at how much a box of  sparklers or flower pots cost, and no longer upset when four out of six flower pots in a box don’t light up at all!

Anyway, my cynicism should not come in the way of celebrating the true spirit of Diwali and so we indulged Abhay with all the traditional trappings of the festival that celebrates triumph of light over darkness. After some confusion over when does Narakachaturdashi (the first day of Deepavali) actually fall on,  we decided to go ahead and celebrate it the day the State Government says it does, that is today! (whereas the Hindu Almanac declares it tomorrow!) As far as crackers are concerned, our house is probably the only one in which the roles are reversed. Abhay despises bursting crackers because of his legendary aversion to loud noises whereas we insist on lighting at least a few, in order for Abhay to be rid of his Bhay (fear)!
This is the most we could get Abhay to do!
As for picture books on Diwali, I must say that there has not been much progress since last year. This week’s “Young World”, the Children’s Supplement of The Hindu, has a write up about Diwali and the way it is celebrated across the country. “Titto and the Fireworks” a CBT publication by Mrinalini Srivastava and illustrated by Saurabh Pandey. I’d picked it up seeing its title but then realized that it wasn’t an ideal book for Abhay, given his phobia for fireworks. Anyway, Titoo is the naughtiest baby parrot who is always trying  to escape his mother’s watchful eye. Titoo is curious about the world outside and longs to fly out just like his brother and sister. Since his wings are yet to develop strength, Titoo’s mom forbids him from flying unaccompanied. Diwali is the day when most birds stay in their nests and so did Titoo and his family. But Titoo somehow manages to get out and perches himself high on a tree branch.  He reaches out higher and higher until he settles on the highest branch to witness what he realizes are fireworks. As he is startled by the sound, he accidentally loses balance and falls off the tree branch when he is caught by a fellow parrot who takes Titoo back home safe. Titoo’s parents though worried at first are relieved that their son had finally learnt a lesson. Not much of a Diwali story save for the message to stay safe this Diwali!” Happy Diwali to everyone!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Abhay's visit to the dentist!


While travelling around Gujarat last week, we discovered that Abhay’s front tooth was loose! Since we didn’t want to spoil Abhay’s vacation mood with a visit to the dentist, we let it wobble through our way back home. It was back to pavilion in Bangalore with things suddenly getting hectic at work (a post vacation price for a week’s vacation) and we were hoping that Abhay’s loose tooth would fall by itself so that we don’t have to take time off for a dentist visit! Last time it was my parents who saved us from the ordeal of having to take my little trauma king to the dentist but this time there was no way to avoid it! Since I couldn’t get away from work, it was my husband who got his hands dirty...I mean lirerally! Abhay was so petrified at the clinic that he refused to let the dentist touch his tooth forcing his dad to intervene and take over from the dentist! So while the dentist sprayed the anesthetic, it was his dad who extracted his loose tooth out! Whether Abhay let the dentist touch his tooth or not, he made sure he got the extracted tooth back to hand it over to the tooth fairy! J

In order to prep him up, I had got “Just going to the Dentist” part of the Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer. Little Critter is not happy about going to the dentist but it seems as if he has no choice. At the dentist’s office, Little Critter didn’t mind waiting as the waiting room was filled with lots of toys and books (of course….there was no such thing at Abhay’s dentist) As he was ushered into the dentist’s chamber, he felt it looked like a spaceship with a special chair. The nurse does the preliminary examination after which the dentist examines him. Little Critter is pretty kicked about being allowed to spit into a sink, something no adult had asked him to do before. The dentist finds a cavity in his tooth which he offers to fix right away. Though a little nervous about the anesthetic shot, the Doctor assures him that he wouldn’t feel a thing and so didn’t Little Critter. After some noisy drilling and cleaning of his cavity, Little Critter sails  through his dental check up! Feels like a breeze…isnt it? Well, it is the opposite in the real world! I just hope Abhay takes a cue from Little Critter and makes life easier for his dentist and all of us, the next time he has a loose tooth!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Granny's saris!

The Indian Sari is probably one of the most elegant single piece-garments one can find in the world. Drape any woman in a sari, you transform her persona. Having said that, how many of us, especially,  women between the age group of 25 to 35 years actually wear this traditional Indian clothing on a regular basis? Well, I’m not sure of others, but the saris in my wardrobe have been relegated to the “occasionally worn” category, reserved only for weddings of close relatives! No wonder Abhay always associates saris with his grandmothers who wear no other outfits other than saris. I had earlier touched upon my mother’s passion for saris, but there is so much more  to say that it is certainly worth another post! Nothing gets my mother as excited as when we go sari shopping and her enthusiasm knew no bounds last week as we nudged our way through the crowded gullies (bylanes) of Rajkot’s famous sari shops! She had even devised an innovative strategy to combat ‘Monday Blues’ – wear a new sari every Monday to work! J (Well, she could afford that….as her college worked roughly for about 30 Mondays a year!) After she retires from service in February next year, amongst many of her contributions to college, she will also be remembered for her exclusive saris. She even recycles her saris, giving them away to the local women in our village, near Dharmasthala who are often spotted wearing my mother’s saris, whenever I visit the village! As for me, I don’t have to spend even a penny on saris as my mother’s  heirloom is enough to drape several generations to come!!:-)

So when I found a book titled “Granny's Sari”, by Asha Nehamaiah and illustrated by Subhir Roy, I just had to pick it up! This book is one of many picture books brought out Children’s Book Trust, Delhi  that is widely available in mainstream books stores at unbelievable prices. Anu and her granny sit by the veranda of their house where granny’s favorite sari is hung on the cloth line. Granny’s favorite sari has the picture of a forest and all over the sari are pictures of spotted deer, fat lions sleeping on the rocks, monkeys and squirrels and green parrots pecking on fruits, etc.  When granny wore the sari, Anu felt as if the animals were alive and as her granny walked, she felt as if the animals moved! As they sat admiring the sari, suddenly the wind blew and took with granny’s favorite sari! The grandma-grand-daughter duo embark on the hunt for the favorite sari. They first encounter a policeman who instantly recognizes the sari that entrapped a thief that he was chasing. Thanks to granny sari, the thief is now behind bars!  But the sari flies off going on to help Mrs. Rao along its path. With the help of granny’s sari, Mrs. Rao is able to pluck mangoes from her tree. But before Mrs. Rao could hold on to the sari, it flies again! Both Anu and her granny begin to lose hope when they stop by Lakshmi, the fisherwoman and in turn ask her if she had spotted granny sari. But before Lakshmi could respond, granny points to Lakshmi’s three children who are all dressed in green with the same print as granny's sari. Anu realizes  that granny’s sari has been sewn into brand new clothes by Lakshmi as she could not find the owner of the sari that flew into her hut. Lakshmi’s eldest son wore spotted deer on his sleeves, daughter had a picture of a parrot and the little boy sported the picture of a fat lion on his shirt and Anu had to concede that they looked wonderful on the children. Anu later asks  her granny as to why wasn’t she annoyed at what happened. Her granny replies  that her sari was so special that when she wore it, it had made her happy and when it flew away from her, it had made other people happy! Just like Anu’s granny, Abhay’s granny too made others happy with her saris! So dedicating this post to Abhay’s granny and her love her saris!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Postcard from Gujarat

We are in South Western Region of Gujarat this week on a pilgrimage cum pleasure trip with my parents and maternal uncle. Today being the last day of our week long tour, I cant help but recollect the highs and lows of our fun-filled family vacation. With its historic temples, well maintained roads, mouth watering vegetarian cuisine and friendly people, Gujarat has a lot to offer. However, when it comes to maintenance and cleanliness of the monuments and its surroundings, there is certainly room for improvement. We travelled across the Southern coast of Gujarat starting from Dwarka, enchanted by its ancient Krishna temples,then stopped by the house where Mahatma Gandhi was born that has been preserved as a museum in Porbandar on Days 1 and 2, followed by a wildlife safari at the Gir forest, the home of the Asiatic Lions and a visit to the historic Somnath temple by the seaside on Day 3, explored the Fort and museums at Junagadh on Day 4 and literally shopped till we dropped at Rajkot on Day 5 thus concluding our trip before we fly back to Namma Bengaluru tomorrow morning. Well, I must say that Gujarat certainly has been a surprise package with all of us having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Garvi Gujarat! As far as Abhay was concerned, travelling with his favorite ajja and ajji (grandparents) and relishing his favorite dahi ( thick yogurt) served at every Gujarati restaurant, what more could he have asked for! :-)

Now that we are on vacation, trust me to ferret out a book suited to our travel location! “Gujarat” by Abhisheikh, brought out by Pratham publications is a book that I had picked up for Abhay as we left Bangalore that I read to him off and on during our stay in  Gujarat. This book is a part of the Read India series that features different states of India. The reader is introduced to the geography, history, and culture of Gujarat a state located in the Western region of India, with the help of illustrations of its people, places and its arts and crafts. Gujarat is a land famous for its folk art and crafts, embroidery and tie and dye works, erstwhile royal kingdoms, Gir National park, beautiful temples like Somnath and Modhera temple in Northern Gujarat, and not to forget, the home of the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This book refreshed Abhay’s memory of the having visited some of these sights during this trip, which hopefully he will remember in the years to come. If you ever plan to visit Gujarat, don’t forget to take this child-friendly travel guide with you!