Monday, October 28, 2013

Abhay's Halloween in India!

  After a gap of two years, Halloween has once again figured in our calendar of events in October, thanks to Hippocampus library. The Hippocampus center’s much awaited annual event is its Halloween party that is open to children of ages between five and thirteen. This is when the whole library is transformed into a Halloween house of horrors with Jack O’ Lanterns spewing out macaroni and cheese, creepy spider-webs hanging from the ceiling, bats flying out of doors and  of course fun-filled activities and games for kids! Having missed the Halloween party at Hippocampus the last two years due to certain prior commitments, we were keen on Abhay attending this one. Though Halloween is all about spooking it up and wearing scary masks, I guess the main highlight of Halloween for kids is going around the neighborhood “trick or treating” for candies, candies and more candies. Though we had Abhay go trick-or treating to his grand-parents’ place in 2011 (owing to our US returned fever!) and  some mommy groups organizing “trick-or treat” events this year ……trust me …it’s nothing like the real thing …just like how Diwali  never felt like Diwali in the US! J

Abhay didn’t seem to remember going “Trick-or treating” with his friends in Portland, so we scanned through some of our old Halloween photographs taken during our US years albeit with a hint of nostalgia as we watched out little Dalmatian turn into Tigger and finally a Pirate Prince!
I found a hilarious book simply titled "Halloween" written by Jerry Seinfeld (Yes…from the famous American Sitcom “Seinfeld”) and illustrated by James Bennett. A must-read for any Seinfeld fan, this is the master comedian’s comic take on Halloween and what it means to kids. Seen through the eyes of a young boy (who looks like young Seinfeld himself!), he finds it  unbelievable that there is one day in a year when everyone you know is giving out candies! Of course, he is ready to do whatever it takes to have people give out candies! Slowly, he gets sucked into the other trappings of Halloween, including zeroing on the Superman Halloween costume from the store, as opposed to home-improvised costumes, only to find that the mask suffocating him and the superman suit looking like superman pajamas! But he soon finds out that it doesn’t matter as his mom makes him wear his winter coat over the costume anyway (Abhay smiles his knowing smile…….as I was even more brutal as I made him wear his money cap too!) According to Seinfeld Junior, kids mean business when they go trick-or-treating, with no time for small talk, no appetite for home-made treats and the best of all “you hit the bag, they hit the road”!  Having consumed the basketful of candies, he wakes up feeling like superman…..that makes him  conclude that when you are a kid, you don’t need a costume….you are  superman! Well, no one can enjoy as unabashedly as our little supermen…isn’t it? So here’s wishing all the supermen a very Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Different Perpectives!

Each of us has our own point of view of the world around us and our perspectives in turn are shaped by our environment and experiences. Well, we all know one man’s dream can be another’s nightmare. Similarly one man’s spectacle can be another’s man damp squib! For instance, on a tour of famous tourist destinations, you may want to visit certain lesser known places which other fellow travelers may deem “not worth visiting”. Or if you are not of a religious bent of mind, you may dispense with visiting even the most famous shrines that others would not even dream of missing!  It is all about one's perspective, isn’t it? For instance, on our tour of Ajanta and Ellora last week, we were discouraged from stopping by Cave No.29 at Ellora or the moat at Daulatabad fort as supposedly they weren't extraordinary enough to deserve a visit. Well, we were glad that we didn't pay any heed to the suggestion as we would have missed the spectacular water falls "Sita ki Nahani" flowing by Cave No.29 and the fascinating water defense strategies employed by erstwhile dynasties that ruled the fort. After all, whether the glass is half full or half empty depends on the way you look at it, isn’t it?

Speaking of different points of view, today I read a story that is narrated in four different voices. “Voices in the park” by Anthony Browne is essentially the same incident played out and seen by four different pairs of eyes    and conveyed in four different voices. In fact, this is the one book of Anthony Browne’s that I couldn’t lay my hands on for a very long time! As soon as my husband stumbled upon it at the Hippocampus library, he immediately wanted it checked out! Since the first page was torn, the librarian assuming that we may want a book with pages intact, asked us to pick another picture book instead. Little did she know how long I have been looking for this one! Torn or intact….we were taking “Voices in the park” home! :)
Though each voice recounts the same incident in the park, notice the subtle differences in each narration. Anyway, the author takes us to the first voice which is of a fashionable woman who takes her pedigree Labrador named Victoria and her son Charles for a walk in the park. When they arrive at the park, the woman lets Victoria off the leash and is rather  annoyed  to find a scruffy mongrel appear from nowhere and trying to befriend or rather bother Victoria. The woman is disgusted that the horrible mongrel is  chasing Victoria everywhere, despite being shooed away,  (though it appears that it is other way around). She then instructs her son Charles to sit on the bench that has a man reading a newspaper seated on the far corner. But Charles is nowhere in sight! Scared that the park may be a dangerous place for a young boy, she calls out his name a number of times.  She is alarmed to find Charles talking to someone whom she thinks is a rough looking child. Ordering Charles to come back at once, she heads back home with Charles and Victoria. The reader finds the mother's point of view in stark contrast to her son Charles's whose voice is featured as the third voice. Charles finds the scruffy mongrel rather friendly and is envious of Victoria having found a friend in the park, making Charles wish he'd have a friend too. Just then, he hears the voice of a girl sitting next to newspaper reading man on the bench. This is the same girl whom his mother found rough looking! Charles learns the girl's name is Smudge and they both go around in the park, going down the slide, going up the trees, etc when his mom tracks him down and takes him home! Needless to say, Charles is sad to leave and wonders if he'll find Smudge the next time!The second voice is of the man who was on the park bench along with Charles and his mother. Wanting to get some fresh air, he decides to take his daughter Smudge (the same rough-looking child), and his dog Albert ( the same horrible mongrel) to the park. A visit to the park proves refreshing and his upbeat mood is also reflected in the lively surroundings that had earlier seemed dull and sad on his way to the park! The fourth voice is of Smudge, the care free girl who at first finds Charles wimpy but later enjoys his company. As she recounts her happy-go-lucky adventure in the park, you cant help but notice the same story that reveals itself in different hues and nuances, when narrated from different perspectives. So it may be the same story, but your experience can never be the same as mine!  A great story  to introduce your little one to the differences in perceptions, to which my little one said  "just like how you find shopping at BIBA shop (a clothing store) interesting and I find it boring!" :-)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Our Deccan expedition!

We are in Central India on a sight seeing tour of world heritage monuments of Ajanta and Ellora followed by a pilgrimage to Shirdi. As we visited the rock cut caves of Ellora and Ajanta, we were spellbound by the massive ancient architecture created using only instruments like hammer and chisel! While Buddist caves at Ajanta are carved out of a crescent shaped mountain ridge by the waghora river, with some of them dating back to 2nd century BC, the caves at Ellora are located mostly by the foothills, and belong to three different religious faiths : Buddist, Hindu and Jain that date from 5th to 11th century. While Ajanta caves are characterised by their beautiful paintings and tempra artwork, Ellora caves are best known for their intricate sculpture panels! Besides the architectural splendour, we were also amazed by the clean , well organised and pollution free set up at Ajanta caves that are comparable to the amenities at any tourist destination in the West! Okay... now for the most important part, how do you enthuse a seven year old to enjoy and appreciate something that may be a little beyond him? Well, you need to make an attempt with the aid of child appropriate content but don't expect a 100% success rate!:)

My attempt of course was through books and this one was indeed was an eye-opener for me as until now, I had no clue that the caves at Ellora are the legacy of the Rashtakutas, one the many dynasties that ruled over Karnataka. Amar Chitra katha's "Ellora caves" is as much a story of the glory of the Rashtrakutas as it is about an interesting tale around the carving of the Kailash temple caves at Ellora. Cut straight to the story of the making of one of the most important  Hindu caves of Ellora, the Kailash temple cave. On vacation at the hills of Ellora with his Queen, the Rashtrakuta king Krishna recalls that the erstwhile king Dantidurga had expressed a desire to build a temple of Lord Kailagnath in the Ellora hills. So the queen takes a vow that she will not touch a morsel of food until she sees the kalasha of the temple of Lord Kailasanath, much to the king's concern as temples cannot be built in days. King Krishna then summons the best sculptor in land named Kokkas, who promises to complete the temple in sixteen months with the help of 7000 craftsmen. When he learns of the queen's vow, he devises a plan. He identifies a single giant rock that will be carved out into a temple starting from the top with the kalasha and then working down therefrom. After fulfilling the vow of the queen, Kokkas sets his 7000 men to work to carve out what is now known as a must-not-miss Cave no. 16 called Kailas! Being an ardent fan of ACK comics, Abhay listened in rapt attention on the first night of our trip at Hotel Kailash, Ellora. Not sure how much of this he could relate to when we actually visited the caves, but he loved the story! Kids may not be able comprehend everything they see on trips like these, but you can't deny that even a little exposure to different experiences is  sure to make an impression on their young minds. We are aware that Abhay may not be able to take in everything he sees, but when he best remembers Ajanta caves for the sleeping Buddha sculpture, Ellora for the sculpture of Shiva's Rudraavatara and the friends he made at the hotel, best remembers our road travels for the giant effigy of Ravana and the Shirdi temple for the three-hours long wait that  was arduous even for adults, let alone kids -  we know that our Central India tour is completely not lost on our little one!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Happy Dassera!

It’s that time of the year again when the whole country revels in festive euphoria from Dassera to Diwali! For kids like Abhay….Dassera means holidays for school and so without wasting any time…..Abhay was packed off to his grandparents’ farm a day earlier than the start of his vacations! J When I was growing up, along with vacations, Dassera meant attending  the Dassera doll display at neighbor's houses where my mother would have  me sing a bhajan or two, much to my   irritation! Of course, with Dassera events focused on celebrating the Goddess shakti, I cant expect Abhay to be invited for a traditional kumkum ceremony at a neighbor's house, nevertheless it feels like déjavu when I find him fussing the same way as I did when asked to sing a devotional bhajan!  Serves you right ... my mother will say!:)) Anyway, after a week at his grandparents’ farm house at Dharmasthala, Abhay is back in Bangalore for day before we head out to go on our annual Bharat Darshan tour this time to Aurangabad-Ajantha-Ellora- Shirdi.   Another integral part of Dassera in Karnataka is the Ayudha Pooja, which originated as a worship of weapons and tools and is now   observed by worshipping vehicles and    other equipments. Since we will be travelling on the day of Ayudha Pooja which falls on the ninth day of Dassera, we performed the same today, before embarking on our weeklong tour. Of course, the most important vehicle to be venerated was Abhay's own little two wheeler!:)) 

On the occasion of Dassera, I didn't have time to look out for a book, but nevertheless found a nice little story on the quick read section of this week's Young World titled "Conquering the Demon" by Ramapriya Ayyer. Manickram, a sculptor by profession, was busy touching up the idols of Durga for this year's Durga Pooja. As Manickram already had huge orders on hand, he had turned down the order of a powerful merchant named Bikram Seth, who always forced artisans to part with their idols at ridiculously low prices. Bikram Seth did not take it well. One day when Manickram came to work in the morning, he found his workshop ransacked with all the idols gone. Manickram knew who was responsible and just as he was about to decide what to do, a little boy came up asking for his help as his father was missing and his mother was ill. Just as he was about help the boy, it turned out that the boy was none other than Bikram Seth's son. Though Bikram Seth was the man responsible for all his misery, Manickram didn't let vengeance get the better of him and got medical help for the boy's mother. The boy then pleaded with Manickram to help him find his father, Bikram Seth. On enquiries, Manickram found that Bikram Seth has been arrested by the police for stealing idols. Bikram Seth feels humbled by Manickram's magnanimity as he is rescued from the police station that in turn brings a change of heart  in him for he returns all the idols to Manickram. So Manickram had not only rescued Bikram Seth from the police but helped Bikram Seth to conquer his demon from within.... just as Goddess Durga conquered Mahishasura during Navratri. So here's hoping all of you conquer your own demons this Navratri! Wishing everyone a Happy Dassera!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Celebrating Gulzar!

Last weekend saw Bangalore host its second annual Literature festival popularly known as BLF 2013, a must-attend event for all bibliophiles and wannabe bibliophiles in town. Though BLF 2013 was on for three days starting Friday, we could only go in for the sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Like last year, we decided to split the two days at BLF between Abhay and us, with Saturday being Abhay-centric so that Abhay’s parents could treat themselves to a Sunday full of interesting and engaging discussions revolving around the world of literature, sans interruptions. A personal highlight of the festival of course was listening to Gulzar  throw light on some of his most popular verses/songs, including “Mera Kuch Samaan” from the film Ijaazat, which I guess has been a favorite with an entire generation who grew up in the eighties and early nineties! Being a song very close to my heart and listening to the poet who penned the same indeed felt like a dream come true! Though we missed Gulzar’s session with the children due to a PTM meeting at Abhay’s school, we took  home one of his children’s books…..personally autographed by the author himself! We had Abhay approach the legend for a signature just as he was about to rise from the book signing event and  despite looking visibly tired, he did sweetly oblige.  As he asked Abhay his name to address the book to him, my seven year old in turn assumed that he was being asked to spell out his name and instead slowly prompted A-B-H-A-Y to Gulzar Saab as he signed on the first page of “The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha”!  While Abhay may not have realized it now, he came face to face with one of the most celebrated poets/lyricists of our country whose work he will hopefully grow to appreciate and enjoy….and this photo is definitely a keeper …..well, not just for him!


Today’s book has to be “Adventures of Goopy and Bagha” written by Gulzar, illustrated by Shilpa Ranade and retold by Sameen Mishra brought out by Scholastic. Based on Upendrakishore Roychoudury’s Bengali  tale Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Gulzar adds his brilliant touch to this story with his inimitable style of narrative that I hope is not lost in translation in the English version. Dedicated to his grandson named Samay, this is Gulzar’s story-telling for children at its best! This is a story of two passionate musicians named Goopy and Bagha who delight as much in their discovery of each other as they delight in their music. Goopy, the drummer and Bagha, the singer are shunned in society for their obsession with music but when they team up – they hold everyone spellbound with their music – from midnight ghosts to warring enemies! In the hope of finding appreciation and respect, they go in search of King Hulla who is known for his patronage of music but lose their way and land up in the wrong kingdom. How they manage to escape and conquer their destiny that transforms them from simpletons  country bumpkins into benevolent rulers of Hulla is a journey filled with magic, music and mirth ..... made all the more special with Gulzar's words!  A great way to introduce Gulzar to your little....especially if you are a Gulzar fan like me!:-)