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"! 

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