Saturday, December 1, 2018

Gone Grandmother!

Suddenly...she's gone!
The most celebrated member of our household, the senior most member of our entire family and one of the few people who lived to see an entire century unfold in front of her eyes is no more. Our beloved centenarian grandmother, who's hundredth birthday we'd just celebrated earlier this year breathed her last, early this month. While we knew she had lead a  full and fruitful life always surrounded by her near and dear ones down to even the fifth generation of great-great-grandson, and death was a near eventuality, the suddenness of it all still baffles us!  It was meant to be a routine/ precautionary visit to the doctor just before our impending pre-planned travel, followed by hospitalization for administration of drips for a day or two.........little did we realize that it was time for Doddamma's rendezvous with death!

Now that the obsequies and last rites performed by her eight septuagenarian and sexagenarian children are complete, the relatives have left, and everyone has got on with their daily humdrum of life, we miss her a lot, especially in the little things that had been interwoven into our daily routine - during mealtimes we remember pulling out her silver thali along with our steel thalis  or during the daily pooja we'd fondly recall her picking up to beat the traditional 'jagante'  during the 'arathi" or how she would always wheel herself into the makeshift football play area our living room is often turned into, much to Abhay's chagrin, or the sound of her coughing that I could hear from my office that shared the same wall as her room, or when we still end up peeping into her room to wave goodbye while leaving for would certainly take a while for us to get used to living without our grand old matriarch. Thanks to the love, constant care and sacrifice  of  her primary care givers, viz. her eldest son and daughter-in-law,  our grandmother or "Doddamma" could lead a long and healthy life with such joy and enthusiasm  (even as she was wheelchair bound) that was unmatched and is truly hard to come by in  today's  technology-driven and impatient millennial world!.

Since we were travelling when our doddamma passed away and could not witness the formalities leading up to her cremation, it was hard for us post our return, to fathom  the thought that doddamma is no more! So much so that even now I almost expect doddamma to wheel herself out of the front room at the sound of pooja bell!!  As we got back, my little one roamed all around the house in search of her favourite companion, who'd keep her company in any indoor game or play the patient audience to her funny antics or join in a jagante duet during the Friday evening pooja.. .....  her dodda ajji was nowhere in sight!    

Abhay too fondly remembers his friendly territorial fights with dodda-ajji as he set out play indoors or how he would coax her into listening to him practice his music lessons or how dodda-ajji would always come to his rescue when being disciplined by his parents! Ever since he remembers, Dodda-ajji has always been a big part of his life at home, and now that's she's gone... he too misses her. So I had picked out a wonderful book that throws light on bereavement, especially from the perspective of young children, "Gone Grandmother", a Tulika publication by Chatura Rao and Krishna Bala Shenoi. Nina's grandmother went away before she could say  goodbye. Though the next day and the day after appeared to be the terms of her surroundings, her school and her friends, it felt  different.... ...... as her Nani didn't come back and it was as if she'd disappeared into thin air. When she quizzes her mother as to where has nani gone, her mother replies "to the stars". Just as she tries to figure out as to whether her nani has really gone to the stars or God's home or has in turn become a part of the air we breathe or the soil below, she fondly remembers her times with nani - the general knowledge book that she'd read with her, or listen to Vividh Bharathi with nani while jumping the skipping rope, or recalls some endearing moments exclusive to the grandchild-grandmother bond. She finally realizes that she may never see her nani in her plump-cuddly shape again..... but can find her  nani  shining down at her as the brightest star in the sky! A poignantly narrated  tale that beautifully captures the child's grief and dilemma over the loss of a loved one and how she comes to terms with the same. Abhay liked the author's philosophical take on death of aged grandparents and was touched by the book. Though my little one is too young to understand what happened, or too young to fully grasp dodda-ajji's absence  and may be just too young to probably remember as she grows up, her times with dodda-ajji...... but as of now, her answer to the question"Where is dodda-ajji?" seems to be "Dodda-ajji is with God"!  Rest in peace...dear doddamma! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Taj Mahal experience!

If Delhi symbolises a fast paced metropolis, Agra is a city/town that is not in any hurry! Mainly centered around the Taj Mahal, Agra being a mandatory stop for most International tourists touring India, chances are that every second person you bump into is masquerading as a tourist guide. While tourist guides help, I feel it is best to take an audio tour as and when provided by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as most tourist guides, especially the ones catering to Indian tourists lack necessary knowledge and only seek to rush through the visit in order to take you shopping at a place that offers them commission! 

Taj Mahal is best seen at sun rise, when it is relatively less crowded and the crimson hues are faintly reflected in the white. Luckily we were put up close to the Taj Mahal so as to enable multiple visits to the monument and thus enjoyed a wholesome experience of the splendour and beauty of the Taj Mahal. As you walk past the security check, through the red sandstone gateway, and catch the first glimpse of the white marbled edifice... for a brief moment you stand mesmerised and transported into another world... until you are shaken out of your reverie... by the thronging crowds, the tour guide with his broken English and questionable knowledge and the haggling photographers all trying to get their day’s worth from what you had hoped to be one of life’s memorable experiences......and not to mention.. screaming and squabbling kids!
It’s only after we went again the next morning at sunrise without any attachments of tour guide, photographers and kids,  did we get to soak in the sublime beauty of the Taj Mahal! 😊

Anyway, though our Taj Mahal experience with the kids would rank lower than that of our experience sans the kids in terms of our best travel memories,  the overall tour around Mughal era architecture like Taj Mahal, or the light and sound at Agra fort, or the Panch Mahal of Fatehpur Sikri did impress upon Abhay the majesty  and scale of the Mughal era. He did enjoy the Taj Mahal visit and though his memory of this visit may get hazier as the years go by, nevertheless the glorious sight of the most famous monument of India will always be etched in his mind like it was for me, ever since I had first seen Taj Mahal with my parents during less crowded and much simpler times! 

Who knows... decades later as Abhay travels to Agra to show his kids the Taj Mahal...he may laugh over how irritated his mother was or how cranky his little sister was during his previous visit as a twelve year old! 

Now,  Abhay may be able to remember his visit to the Taj Mahal, but what about his three old sister who will in most probabilities have no recollection of the same? Simple... you read a book about it! What are the chances that you plan a visit to a historic monument with your three year old and there’s a wonderful children’s book revolving around the very same place and that too for very young children! Tulika’s “Pooni at the Taj Mahal” by Manjula Padmanabhan is just what I wanted and a book that we carried along during our trip. More like a sequel to “Where’s that Cat?” by the same author where a little girl, Minnie can’t let go of her pet cat, Pooni who seems to have wandered away. Similarly, during Minnie’s trip to the Taj Mahal with her parents, she carries her pet hidden in her back pack. But just they enter the Taj Mahal, Minnie finds her bag empty and the reader is given a peek into where Pooni runs off. Minnie is inconsolable and despite assurances by her parents to find Pooni as soon as they finish the tour, she remains desolate and disinterested with the exquisite marble carvings! Just like all kids... she couldn’t be least bothered about what engages the adults!! So what happens to Pooni..? Does Minnie finally reunite with Poonie? Read on to find a charming little story to enthrall your little one on a tour like this! Beautiful illustrations that present an authentic setting of the Taj Mahal area, realistic portrayal of flustered parents, annoyed tour guide and the tantrums that kids love to throw in crowded public places just when you wish them to leave you to enjoy the surroundings!! Since we had read this book as a prelude to our Taj Mahal visit, our little Minnie was also on the look out for Pooni at the Taj Mahal!! 😊

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When in Delhi....

We are in the capital city of Delhi as a part of the almost-golden-triangle tour of Delhi and Agra minus Jaipur. Our travel is however slightly marred by a family bereavement that didn’t allow for a last minute cancellation owing to which we had to go ahead with the trip anyways. Despite such downers, including the reported high pollution levels this season, the massive metropolis of Delhi being the seat of Government of India, with its majestic Mughal-era monuments, vibrant cultural mix, it’s bustling shopping centres,  chockablock traffic ridden roads and the loud and couldn’t care less attitude of Delhi-ites didn’t cease to fascinate us, particularly Abhay who was in awe with the historical monuments such as the Qutub Minar and the imposing Red Fort.  Our mornings began with a walk in Delhi’s “Jantar Mantar “ which to our great fortune was located just opposite our hotel and followed by touring around the usual must-see-spots of the capital, like the  India Gate, Lotus temple, Qutub Minar, Red fort, Jumma Masjid, which also felt like a trip down memory lane for me as I distinctly remembered tagging along with my parents as a nine year old visiting these very places! Of course, if Appu ghar was the highlight of my Delhi trip back in the eighties... “Madame Tussaud’s Wax museum” seems to be the current favourite, especially Abhay’s favourite where he got to pose next to his favourite football stars! 

Of course, balancing the diverse inter-generational interests is always a challenge in any travel. While you may be interested in catching the light and sound show at a historic monument, your twelve year old may want to hit the pool in the hotel, or you wish you could listen intently to the tourist guide’s take on a particular historical aspect of Red fort interiors, but it’s a hard ask when you have to watch over your little one following the squirrels in the lawn 😊

Anyway, since the raison detre of the Delhi-Agra trip was Abhay’s history syllabus this year that dealt with Delhi Sultanate and Mughal history, we picked up “When in Delhi” a Katha publication by Mamta Nainy and art by Jayanto. A one of a kind travel book for the young, and narrated through the perspective of Ruchi or Fifee, short for Fidgety Feet, as she likes to call herself and her pet friend Lattoo, this book seeks to introduce what Delhi is, was and best represents while giving the reader a brief introduction to some of Delhi’s well known tourist sites, with a dash of history and fun facts and essential information as to timings, how to get there and the nearest metro station. Accompanied by comic style illustrations of what really goes on amidst many of the attractions, this book beautifully captures the diversity of Delhi and can certainly serve as a children’s home grown lonely planet guide to Delhi. Don’t forget to pick up your copy... when in Delhi!!! 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Our BLF weekend!

It was the much awaited BLF weekend here in Namma Bengaluru! To me personally, the Bangalore Lit Fest feels more like a Bibliophile's intellectual “amusement park”... there’s so much to experience with so little time ...........when you wish you could turn back time like Hermione in  “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and attend two parallel sessions on different platforms at the same time............ as you juggle between thought-provoking discussions on various issues ranging from literature to social and political issues on three different you scan through the schedule and are unable to decide whether the next one in “Naale ba” is better than the one happening on the “The Red couch” or the parallel one at "Adjust Madi" ............ bumping into other bibliophile friends while scurrying off to buy books and get them signed by authors besides checking on the while checking on your younger ones at the Children's Lit Fest..... Phew!  you are always in that “fear of missing out” mindset!!! 

I must say that the 7th edition of Bangalore Lit Fest had a lot more to offer than its previous editions for children with over 50 sessions spread across two platforms - "Malgudi" for children aged between 5 and 11 and “Narnia” for children aged 11 to 15. It fell short only so far as very young children who only had a trampoline to keep them engaged ... let’s hope they fill out that gap too in the coming year. 

So much so that in my zealousness of making the most out of what can be called  Bangalore's community event ........I was even accused of constantly breathing down Abhay’s neck ( Abhay's dad will call out 'mine too' here!) overriding their choices for mine! :-) I mean seriously, how can one let go when the choice is between "Happy Fox: Illustration time" and "Teen Blues" by Poile Sen Gupta or  “Ma, I want to be a journalist ?” with Barkha Dutt and Mukund Padmanabhan ? 

The highlight for Abhay was a session with Stephen Alter, an author we'd discovered at the Cambridge Book Depot at Mussoorie last year. Though we had picked up "The Secret Sanctuary" last year on the recommendation of Mr. Arora of Cambridge Book Depot, it was not until Abhay actually met Mr. Stephen Alter himself at the CLF that he began evincing an interest in his stories. 

While the focus of Mr. Stephen Alter's session "Cloudfarers: How to run away from school" revolved around his recently released book "The Cloudfarers", we found a similar thread running through his earlier book as well. Abhay couldn't help but wonder if Stephen Alter did not like school but enjoyed writing! Dedicated to  "every student who has gazed through a window and wished that she or he could escape outdoors instead of being trapped inside a classroom", The Secret Sanctuary by Stephen Alter and illustrated by Prabha Mallya centered around the natural environment surrounding the three kids  Manohar, Pradeep and Kamala  and their connect with nature and how it is inter-persed with who they are and how they lead their lives. Abhay who thoroughly enjoyed listening to Stephen Alter talk, his unassumingly friendly demeanor and his tongue-in-cheek humour...........and thus looked forward to revisiting the "The Secret Sanctuary" before scaling up to "The Cloudfarers". Enjoy reading Abhay.....and as one of BLF's theme goes "A good book is an event in my life"....may you come across more such events in your life...... ! Thank you BLF for a cracker of a weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Holiday Adventure..!

September has always been an eventful month for us........but this September has been so busy that we're still trying to catch our breaths from having survived one of the most hectic months of the much so that its only in the third week of October that I have finally found time to put down a post on Onesatoraday!  
One big family wedding, one big birthday, two huge annual family religious events punctuated by my in-between-nannies phase (yet again!) along with our usual attendant responsibilities on the personal and professional front, proved to be a true test of my patience and I can't say that I came out with flying colours!
In fact, I even missed out posting on a must-post-day... my son's birthday that too I'm not sure if that's the way it will be, going forward, considering his transition into adolescence already turning tumultuous particularly with regard to our relationship, off late! If you thought early parenting was difficult, wait till your little one nears teen's as they say full-blown "complicated"! Mind's a confusing phase not only for your wannabe adolescent ..! While one moment you marvel at how grown up or mature he may seem in comprehending the ways of the world, the next moment he can rile you up with his lackadaisical attitude! Whether it's the increasing academic pressure requiring persistent 'follow up', or constant obsession with devices, or their jaded sense of entitlement towards everything in general, adolescent kids can literally drive you nuts..... and it always seems like you are the only one facing these challenges while your contemporaries have it a lot easier!
Anyway, I'm sure Abhay's and my love-hate relationship will continue through his teen years and if not anything else, it will probably yield many such posts on Onestoryaday!   While we marked the completion of his twelfth year, by acknowledging the fact that there are more than a dozen reasons to celebrate, it is also a matter of fact that there may be more than a dozen ways to handle this delicate phase of his life...........but patience is the key......and I'm hoping to work on my patience quotient ....with of course more than a dozen suggestions offered by my loving family! :-) Though it's a little too late to wish you happy birthday Abhay, here's wishing you a conflict-free, initiative-driven and  a contented thirteenth year ahead!  Let's hope your thirteen proves to be lucky for all of us!

Anyway, with Abhay's increasing irritation and my waning patience at home, it was a welcome break (for both of us!) that he chose to spend his Dassera vacations with his grandparents', resulting in the shifting of battleground from home to his grandparents' farm house "Shristi" at Dharmasthala :-) Hehe!....... Grandparents were also parents once....... (and still are!) .....right? :-)
So before he left for his grandparents', we managed to finally finish reading Shashi Deshpande's children's omnibus,  "Three Novels" a Penguin publication, which is a compilation of three of Shashi Deshpande's novels for children aged 8 and above. Incidentally, all three novels revolve around holiday adventures of kids, that too away from their parents. First published in the 1970s, from one of my all time favourite authors, each of these stories is a throwback to the times when life was simple and less equaled more. Reminiscent of   "The Famous Five" and "The Secret Seven" mystery series that we would devour voraciously back in our school days, Shashi Deshpande follows four cousins, viz. Dinu, Minu, Polly and  Ravi in their quest for something exciting during their school holidays leading to uncovering certain mysterious incidents in the big bad adult world. 

"A Summer Adventure", has the kids home alone with their maid in the seemingly quiet environs of their university quarters, recently turned unsafe owing to a string of robberies.  with a string of robberies which they try to solve. "The Hidden treasure" has the kids travel to their father's ancestral home in the village to experience the rustic rural set up, only to discover something valuable hidden from the past. "The Only Witness"  has the kids enamored with big city life in Mumbai as they  travel to their uncle's flat when they stumble upon an unusual connection to a spate of bank robberies. Having been a huge fan of the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series, The Famous Five, etc, I found the plots take a predictable turn, however the best part being the inter-play of various characters in the stories, encompassing  various elements like family ties, sibling rivalry, good humoured banter between the older and younger siblings, fostering leadership and responsibility, understanding consequences of one action and of course the thrilling experience of piecing together information to unearth the mystery all  a wholesome read for everyone...... who wish time travel to the eighties/ nineties India.....when life seemed less complicated!! So Abhay....have your own little adventure ....away from your mad momma and come back home all refreshed! Enjoy! 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

So much!

Extended family celebrations are something young children always look forward to. I guess it’s only as they grow up that they prefer staying away from them! Since both my kids haven’t reached that I want-to-be -left -alone phase as yet (thank God!) and more so, having been blessed with large extended families on both sides... social interaction with relatives has never been a problem with them (at least so far!) 

While our older one has always been comfortable interacting with his first and second cousins, cousins’ cousins, uncles and aunts, grand uncles and grand aunts, grandparents’ siblings, and grandparents’ cousins, (Phew!) ... at religious or social family gatherings or during their visits home,  (though he may not remember exactly how they may be related to us!), it was a pleasant surprise to see our little one  taking in to her extended family circle with ease and even basking in the extra attention she gets for being one of the youngest in the group.

So it was only natural that one of Aadya's all time favourite books has been  "So Much" by Trish Cooke and illustrations by Helen Oxenbury. A chance find at our  erstwhile favourite hang-out, Kutoohala, I have been waiting for the right occasion to feature this book on Onestoryaday! While we had borrowed and returned this book a multiple times at the library, under the trusted assumption that I could always borrow it again and never once did I imagine that there would be a time when this book would become altogether unavailable on account of closure of the library!  I will never forget that day in March at the library's closure sale when I tried to scourge all the sections of the library looking for this book and finally had to leave with a heavy heart, not only as I couldn't find the book but also because, I could never ever go back to Kutoohala which was more than just a library to me, it was my weekly relaxation therapy, a quiet retreat for me to escape into and a haven for books to pick as I'd imagine my toddler would enjoy! So this book "So much" (which I finally bought online) will always be special as it's a throwback to those good old days when I could stop over on the way back from work, to my little happy place of wonderful children's books!

Steering away from my ramblings, I must say that many of our reading sessions  culminate in a grand finale which almost always happens to be the reading of "So much", a book that is also a shout out to diversity and multi-culturalism. Set in a Caribbean Household with a big extended family full of loud and vivacious relatives,  "So much" is centered around a baby who is the apple of everyone's eye, just like all young kids at home. The day happens to be a special occasion as the mom and baby welcome the relatives who arrive one after another, with the doorbell going "DING DONG" announcing the arrival of all the relatives from aunty Biba, uncle Didi, nanny and gran-gran, to cousin Kay-Kay and big cousin Ross, who arrive in their characteristic styles and all of whom want to engage and pamper the baby in their own way- from wanting to squeeze the baby, to kiss the baby, to eat the baby (figuratively of course), and wrestle the baby as they love him "so much"! As the house gets a little too crowded for comfort with all the noisy relatives driving their own agenda, the final ding-dong sounds off....a moment they have all been waiting for ..... to surprise the baby's daddy on his birthday. This book is a joy to read to your little one .............vivid illustrations, this book also  offers plenty of fun read-aloud moments from guess-work to repetitive phrases for your little one to follow through and not to forget mirroring the cuddles and kisses on to your little one whom you love so much! Well....we couldn't have asked for a better book as it also happens to be the Daddy's birthday today.....which we celebrated with our extended family.............. so Happy birthday to our little one's  daddy! ­:-)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Aha! with Aadya!

July has always symbolized the Aha! International Theatre festival for children and it's almost a tradition of sorts for us to catch more than a play or two at Rangashankara! So much so that every time we are in the vicinity of one of our favourite places in J P Nagar, Abhay is always enquiring as when can he walk into the theatre and hear the "Ahahahaha Ahahahaha Ahahahaha song" play ( which is normally played as an interlude just before a feature performance at the festival). So, however busy we may be or howsoever hectic things get or how many ever homework/test assignments Abhay may have .... Aha! is not be missed!!

While Abhay has been a regular at Rangashankara, I was waiting for my little one  to grow up a bit to experience the Aha! magic and was highly disappointed (and had mentioned so) that last year's Aha! festival did not feature any plays for toddlers (as it did the year before when my little one was only just born). So imagine my delight when I discovered this year's edition Aha! international festival of theatre for children to be an exclusive theatre fest for toddlers!

Well, though I'd like believe that my note of disappointment on last year's post on Aha! festival (and as such it was an but an echo of the long standing demand for more quality programs for very young children),  had anything to do it, this year's Aha! festival is a creative product  of a Theatre workshop for very young children at Katkatha, New Delhi conducted by Barbara Kolling in December 2017.

So this year we skipped our naps and packed our baby bag (we still carry those around!) and off we went to "Rangshankra" ( as my little one puts it). As if mommy's enthusiasm was not enough, her school too jumped into the theatre band wagon all the way to Aha! festival as they gathered all their noisy toddlers into one of the featured plays. 

All the plays sought to introduce the little ones into subtle .shades, shapes, sounds, colours and joys of life as they see it..... just as Arundhathi' Nag put it and to rephrase  Children don't need rapid movements or loud and exaggerated sounds.....a quiet soft movement or subtly nuanced presentation is enough to make them sit up and notice. It may be a spider shaped woolen thread hanging from the clothing line in 'Ool" or the exploring how seemingly mundane objects from everyday life and transform into something striking in "Paper Fantasy" or varied colours created out of an assortment of plastic and refraction of light in "Plasticity"  or an endearing hide and seek play between two characters squeaking "Pattichae" (caught you!) in "Chidiya Udd"..... children did seem fascinated! I'm not sure how much of what they see actually sinks in or how much of what is put up is comprehended.....but the shared experience of watching some of best toddlers' theater live and laughing with your little one sitting on your lap is sure to be one of your most memorable moments in the fleeting early years of his or her childhood! As I see my little one waking up from her usual nap and saying "Rangshnkarage hoguva? (Shall we go to Rangashankara?)... I know that she is asking for more and more of such marvels!

While many of our Rangashankara or Aha! moments have made their way into Onestoryaday, all of them have been related to Abhay. This one is special as it's my little one's first Rangashankara experience and that's why I had to put it down even though it's been more than two weeks since the Toddler Theatre festival!  Anyway, the only person disappointed this year with the Toddlers' theatre festival was the eleven year old older brother!:-(

So on the occasion my little one's initiation to theatre at Rangashankara, we re-read one of her favourite board books introducing various sounds  a child might encounter in his or her surroundings....."Cheep Cheep", a Tulika offering for the very young, with pictures by Sowmya Menon. What are the sounds that your little one is fascinated by? Is the sound of "Koo-koo" of Koel or the "cheep cheep" of the sparrow or the "teep-teep-teep" of the water dripping, or cat going surr surr while drinking milk, or the neighbors singing "Sa Re Ga Ma"? ( or the older brother in our case) .........sounds are everywhere, from natural to man made and to machine made.  Inspired from a Marathi rhyme, this book is vivid yet simple and aided with suitable illustrations, and is almost like a cue for taking the concept forward in guessing other sounds subtle and loud, with your little one, from 'tick-tick-tick of the wall clock, "whistle" of the pressure cooker  or man seller greens shouting "soppu" on the road .... the of world of sounds never fails to fascinate our little ones!  Here's to more such lovely outings with your toddler!!! 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Abhay's Upanayana

Even since I began my blogging journey in 2010, "Onestoryaday: Reliving childhood" has been an integral part of my life. What began as my little DIY project on the wonderful books I read to my then four year old, grew into a creative outlet for me to escape into, a sounding board for my parental musings, and unknowingly became a treasure trove of Abhay's childhood memories! So it's only natural for Onestorayday to be a part of many of Abhay's milestones in his growing-up  years and was thus became one of the highlights during his Upanayana-Brahmopadesha ceremony that we performed a couple of weeks ago.  

Abhay's upanayana would most certainly rank as a major milestone for him as well as for us, as his parents and in many ways symbolizes his transition from childhood to early youth or "Brahmacharya" phase, as its traditionally known. Also known as the "Indian Bat Mitzwa" Upanayana celebrates the coming of age for a young boy from the cosseted company of his parents into a path of strict discipline and learning.

While it may be easy to question the relevance and practicality of certain Hindu samskaras like Upanayana, in today's age and times, there is no denying the fact that these cultural elements are what makes us unique and as practicing Hindus, it is incumbent on us to understand and derive their true essence and find ways and means to adapt the same into present circumstances. 

Performing Sandhya-vandana twice a day is a spiritual activity that allows the Bramhmachari to have his own "one-on-one" with the Almighty, a time to calm and ease the restless mind into focusing all his senses into chanting for the well-being of nature, one's mind, body and soul. Needless to say, for today's high pressured, distracted and device-obsessed young minds,  a spiritual activity like Sandhyavandana  may be their only solace!

While marking the momentous role of the father in passing the knowledge of Brahmopadesha to his young son, the Upanayana ceremony also incorporates many small and beautiful rituals that allows the mother to reflect on how her little one is not so little anymore and is ready to embark on the path of learning and take on the world!   I thoroughly enjoyed planning, organizing (along with the rest of the family) hosting and participating  in Abhay's Upanayana ceremony. So much so that I wish I could do the same for my daughter!! :-)  

Well, no event of ours is complete without return gifts, and no prizes for guessing  the return gifts for children  - books of course! We picked out Pratham publications for all children between the age groups  one to fourteen and as always I was the most excited one distributing books to the kids!   

Another event planned around Abhay's Brahmopadesham Upanayana ceremony was the release of a small compilation of some of my select blogposts on "Onestoryaday" through a book titled "Onestoryaday Reliving childhood". Since most of my blogposts revolve around my reading adventures with Abhay and Abhay's  growing up quirks, we hit upon an idea that there could not be better place or time than Abhay's Upanayana ceremony, to bring about a small compendium of some of our memorable reading experiences! Of course, an idea can remain just an idea if not for the people behind its execution.   I thank my husband, my kindred spirit, in as much as it's his blog as its mine, who managed to find time amidst his overloaded work schedule to structure a 600-post-blog into a readable book format. My good friend Deepa Balakrishnan, who promptly and generously agreed to write a beautiful foreword that captures the very sentiment behind the blog Onestoryaday. My parents, my biggest cheerleaders, for their constant support, encouragement and whole-hearted involvement  in sponsoring the publication of the book "Onestoryaday Reliving childhood".  Manjushri Printers, Ujjire, for their professional work and service in printing the books in no time. Last but not the least, my faithful readers who take the trouble of clicking on the link or regularly look up and like my posts and leave comments/words of encouragement...would not have come this far ...without you all !! Thank you!

Anyway, seeing Abhay wear the Janivara or the sacred thread, don the traditional attire, applying the traditional Bhasma or holy ash, chant the Gayathri Mantra and perform Sandhyavandana, I can't help but notice that our little boy is all grown up! On this occasion, I found  a book that offers an everyday perspective on Hinduism. "A little book for The Hindu Child" by Dr. Shyamala Vatsa seeks to simplify Hindu concepts to a level that children can comprehend. As we began reading the book, it is interesting to note that the author traverses through Hindu religious philosophy via certain basic questions on religion (Why do you need religion?), Hindusim (What is Hindusim?) God ( What is your relationship with God?) mind (What are our minds made up o?), soul (what is soul?), goal (How can you reach your goal?) and destination in life ( How do you decide what is right and what is not?), etc and attempts to relate the same to the present context in an age appropriate manner.  The book is a work in progress for us, as we've decided to go one chapter a day so as to dwell,  soak in and mull on each chapter a day so as to understand what it means to be a Hindu. So all the best to Abhay on his path to taking up Sandhyavandana and the Smartha tradition.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Simply Bhutan!!!

Smile ...Stay are in the kingdom of happiness” was a sign that welcomed us as we alighted from  Druk Air chartered by Makemytrip flying directly from Bengaluru to Paro, Bhutan. The land locked mountainous terrain of Bhutan, with its breathtakingly beautiful wide open valleys, fickle weather, pristinely perennial streams flowing down the Alpine slopes alongside the highways leading up to the myriad Buddhist monasteries at every round and bend, inhabited by the simple, spiritual and ever smiling Bhutanese people... is nothing short of a heavenly retreat for the leisurely, mountain loving, Ruskin Bond aficionados like my family!!! 

Bhutan with its picturesque Dzongs, vibrant arts and culture, and its unconventional approach towards sustainability and development presents a unique and interesting travel experience!! One can’t compare Bhutan to any other  commercially popular tourist destination, especially with its high value and low impact policy on tourism. Bhutan is only for the discerning tourist who loves to soak in the local culture, take in the Buddhist spirituality, enjoy the altitude changing landscape, and mingle with smiling and soft spoken, national dress attired local population, and take a cue from the small yet orderly no-traffic-signal establishment!

As we began the tour from Paro to Thimphu and then from Punakha back to Paro , what struck us is the unified effort of the Bhutanese in implementing and internalizing the national policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) encapsulating good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and environmental conservation as four pillars of GNH. Whether it is their Vajrayana school of Buddhist ideology symbolizing the union of wisdom and compassion, or their love and respect for their  king seen in the umpteen posters and slogans in praise of the People's king along with his family, or strictly adhering to their national dress of Kira for women  and Gho for men, or following the Bhutanese architectural style in each and every structure that comes up or the friendly tour guide and driver who was more than willing to open up on life and times in Bhutan.......... we came back thoroughly enchanted with the land of Druk!!

As we made several stop-overs for shopping at the Crafts Bazaar in Thimpu, local handicrafts vendors at the Tiger nest base, or the quaint souvenir shops at Paro, my best souvenir has always been local children's literature! 

Amongst many, we picked up a book that best represents Bhutanese culture and philosophy. "Heavenly Birds" is a book written by Pema Gyaltshen , a popular children's writer who has authored many children's books in Bhutan and the pictures by Chandra S Subba

This story revolves around one of the most awaited migratory birds of Bhutan, the black necked cranes that fly into Bhutan, particularly Phobjikha from Tibet during the winter months.  So fascinated are they with the birds, that the Black Cranes are much revered and their migration into Bhutan is  celebrated with the farmers waiting for the arrival of the black cranes to sow their winter wheat. So much so that people of Phobjikha have opted to create cable free skies for the black necked cranes!
In this story that doubles up as children's non fiction on some interesting facts about black neck cranes, it can be seen how the man-animal-aviary symbiosis is such an intricate part of the Bhutanese culture.. "Thrung Thrung Thrung......" as the pleasing sound signals the arrival of black neck cranes from Tibet into the Phobjika valley at the start of winter, it also means it is time for the locals to plant their winter wheat. As they spend their winter basking in the picturesque Phobjika valley boasting of two main rivers, the Bue chhu and Phag Chhu rivers, (representing the snake and the boar respectively) and the famous Buddhist shrine Gantay Lhakhang, the locals celebrate their migration into the valley until February when it's time for them to fly back to Tibet. The book also recounts a legend of an old crane named Samdhen that is unable to make the journey to Tibet and a few craned decided to  fly to Tibet to get some salt for Samdhen. As he lay motionless in the middle of the field, he was noticed by a group of people who poured some water on the crane and with the additional aid of salt from Tibet, Samdhen was saved. In appreciation for the help from humans, the cranes formed a circle to perform their last dance and while flying out of Phobjika, they circle three times above the holy Gantay Lhakhang.  Aided with suitable illustrations, this is a story that beautifully highlights humans living in harmony with nature, which is the very essence of Bhutanese culture.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Princess Easy Pleasy!!!

We are in Bhutan.... the land of Gross National Happiness for our summer family vacation!! “Family vacation” is more like a business trip for parents with lists and inventories made out for all kinds of contingencies and emergencies that one might face while travelling with kids! Sometimes it feels like all you do is run around managing your kids’ needs, moods and tantrums that it hardly feels like a vacation at all!!!! That said, it would also be difficult to leave them behind  and enjoy the vacation sans kids.....especially when you get on the plane and   served your children's favorite pasta, or drive through your son's dream view of snow capped mountains, or try your hand at a local sport that your son would sure love, or try out the local costume that you bet would look perfect on your daughter, or taste the local flavors of ice can you possibly enjoy without your kids!!! Isn't it?

The biggest challenge during any travel with kids is of course food ...and  finding the kind of food that appeals to our kids palate always keeps one on tenter-hooks!!! In keeping with our family travel tradition that began during our travels with Abhay, we’ve continued to pack our travel size rice cooker, albeit as a back up as our little one is more open about experimenting with different cuisines (touchwood!) when compared to our older one who had an appetite only for “curd rice”!!!! 
But believe me, the back up plan during the first couple of days always ends up being upgraded into the mainstay during the final days of our travel...and for all you realise.... it’s not only the little one who is craving for some Anna-Sambhar!!! 😊

As a prelude to our travel, I had picked up a wonderful book that highlights this exact plight of parents planning a travel with their young kids. A surprise find .. really.. but we’ve latched on to Princess Easy Pleasy ...ever since I chanced upon this book at Kutoohala that I later managed to save during its closure sale. So much so... that inspired from the original story, we’ve also tried to spin off a few other anecdotes in Princess Easy Pleasy style...just to keep our little princess from being displeased!!!!   
Princess Easy Pleasy” a Karadi tales publication by Natasha Sharma and pictures by Priya Kuriyan revolves around a sprightly and a stubborn little princess who does not find anything up to her expectations as she travels with her parents, the king and queen, to various countries from Hong Kong to China to Singapore to Cambodia to Thailand to Srilanka (considering their choice of destinations... I wonder why they didn’t travel to Bhutan!) In each country,  she seems to have a problem with the milk served, or the vegetables cooked, or the mattress laid out, or the pets around or even the elephant brought in for a ride, having  her parents pander to her almost impossible tastes, finding a scapegoat in the royal packer who’s ordered to add to the packing list, each time the princess throws a fit!!! So in their effort to appease the not-so-easily-pleased princess, the ever expanding list includes a cow, their own chef and their own vegetables and so on and so forth... until things go horribly wrong when the exhausted royal packer quits and all travel plans cancelled by her equally  exhausted parents!!! As the bored princess pleads with her mom to change her mind, her mom yields, however “on one condition” ( and we love this part !) and we all know what it might be... don’t we?? A hilarious take on what is common travel woe of most parents!! In fact, this book provides a great parenting tool too... as the  “on one condition” strategy has come to our aid as we try to get our terrible twos toddler to toe our line!!! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spring in Shristi!!!!

The arrival of spring  in all its blooms and hues is best seen at my parents’ farm at ‘Shristi’ in Dharmasthala. With over twenty different varieties of flowers, including few local species with no English equivalent names and  multiple varieties of some common garden species adorning the front garden, and the fruit orchard replete with juicy jam fruits sprouting on  every branch,  spring  is truly in the air!!

The row of colourful balsams lining the garden as if to rein in the zinnia from blossoming all over the place, leaving little room for the long necked Canna or the dwarfed golden marigolds who seem to be vying for physical and screen space as one tries to capture the garden on lens, and the ever dependable  all-seasons hibiscus of many shades  and combinations, always yielding to the native “sadaa pushpa” or “shankapushpa” or “kanakambara” that seem to steadfastly assert its roots in any given space, restricting some ‘flower show varieties” like red lilies, velvet flowers and coxcombs to potted plants, and not to forget a dash of yellow and white  bougainvillea that have crept into the garden off late! While most of this sprightly garden is in full bloom in morning glory, there are some flowers who welcome the late risers too, in choosing to bloom only under the blazing sun, while others stay on till evening eagerly waiting for the sprinklers to come on at sunset! As you look out of the window from any part of the house, or sit by the front porch or walk down the path leading to the main gate, Shristi’s flowers are always there to brighten your day, lift your spirits and give you that Wordsworth-ian feeling evoked centuries ago on seeing the bright yellow “Daffodils”!!!!  

While I may not be able to compose a poem like Wordsworth, or even write like Ruskin Bond (who I'm sure would’ve been inspired to turn in a write up on Shrist’s flowers),  I can certainly dedicate a blogpost to the spring blossoms at Shristi that have been attracting many visitors from extended family to friends and creating many facebook memories! Of course, a garden like this represents a keen interest and a mammoth effort put in by my parents in beautifying what is already a paradise for us city dwellers!

Needless to say, my city kids have been mostly outdoors the last four days, with my older one practising his balling amidst the nets specially put up by his doting grandfather and my younger one darting across every half an hour to the cattle barn, and in between all that, both of them have been soaking up some sunshine, feasting their eyes  and getting wet at the flower garden!

As cliched as it sounds, every post on Onestoryaday is always followed by a book to read, and this time it’s  “Flora Flowers” by Debi Gelori, a book that we picked up from the soon-to-be-closed down library Kutoohala, (sad sigh!) 

Anyway, spring is here and Flora’s bunny family are all busy making plans and necessary arrangements for what each one plans to grow -  Nora planted amaryllis, Cora planted pink tulips, Sam sowed lettuce, Tom planted sun flower seeds, and Max plants cress and what about Flora? As the little Flora peers into her siblings’ efforts, they all want to keep her at bay. Finally Flora helps herself with a pot and plants a brick hoping to grow a house instead! As Nora’s amaryllis, Cora’s tulips, Tom’s sun flowers bloom in full confidence, and Flora’s family devour Sam’s lettuce garnished with Max’s Cress, Flora’s siblings poke fun at her supposed house that still appears to be a brick!! But Flora prods her house all along. As summer sun turns into winter snow and finally during the following spring,  Flora’s family comes out of hibernation. Flora is delighted just as everybody to see her brick grow into a nest for their birdy friend .....finally making it a house! A nice little read that beautifully illustrates the glory of spring and its breathtaking blooms....and makes your little one take note of the little joys of nature around her! Here’s inviting everyone to feast their eyes on our own little flower show at Shristi! :-)