Spare the cane and nurture the soul

I am not much of a newspaper reader, and with good reasons. It stems as an allergic reaction to the amount of time I spent devouring facts when I was appearing for various competitive exams post graduation (post as in after). Some of the revulsion stems from knowing that the political scenario is going from bad to worse and that money makes the world go round. In my Utopic world it still remains love. Most of my hate for newpapers is because I generally seem to open it only to know that everything I was taught to believe in is crumbling. It is not the papers that I hate. It is the fall of ideologies, principles, honesty and morality that scares me. And so, I have been behind in knowing some important things too. No, this is not about sliding stocks or countries in war. It is about the loss of dignity. It is not about a Nation, it is about individuals, specifically about the most important force in shaping the future of any country, our children.

I just chanced upon a wonderful person, Kalyan who chronicles his love for food through his blog, "finely chopped". What he did not tell me about was that he also wrote a sometimes thought provoking blog called "Mumbai Coffee House." The post I am referring to is "Hope you are in a happy place Rouvanjit". It is about a thirteen year old child, Rouvanjit who took his life after the principal took upon to discipline the boy by 'mildly caning' him. My own post started as a comment to his, but owing to the length, I had to make it a post by itself.

As a prankster I was 'disciplined' several times as a child. Luckily, the spirit remained intact because if there were 'monster teachers', there were also 'angel teachers' who understood and helped you cope with the monsters. As a grown up and a 'has been' prankster turned into mother of two I have pondered several times upon why teachers behaved the way they did.

I remember in Kanpur, one teacher who 'taught' Standard One (First Grade), who would make a child walk without his underpants in class if his homework was incomplete! These were little five and six year olds who still believed in angels and Santa. Back then too, I knew she did more damage to their spirits than disciplined them. She robbed them off their dignity. It still sends shivers down my spine. "How could one be so mean?" - I would think as an eight year old. But having been subjected to some less cruel but mean punishments myself I understood, or so I consoled myself. I was lucky I guess, that I only had to kneel down on the muddiest and stoniest section in school. They tore my knee and my eyes would swell with tears that I would try to hold back but they could not kill my spirit which was the whole idea behind the punishment. There were many days when I would be back with rejuvenated spirits and patches of bandage covering my knee, proudly displaying a blob of dried blood. Most of the time the punishment was for a book forgotten at home or a homework not done. There were other ways to remedy but this was the easiest.

I took on the teacher mentioned above in another matter. She could not bear it. A mere chit of a girl complaining against me, she thought and saw to it that I was denied the privilege of traveling in the school bus. I was right some times and though tired of my 'pangas' with the system, my parents thankfully did not kill the spirit of justice that keeps me going to this day. It bolstered my failing dignity during those times and yes, to an eight year old those were crucial moments. Teachers were cruel back then, venting out their personal frustrations upon unsuspecting children and stripping them off their dignity in the guise of disciplining them. It is the same principle employed by black magicians/tantriks in villages - beating out the evil spirits.

Why are students the victims?
It is because as human beings we have not been taught to respect the dignity of another human being. It is because we have been taught that respect needs to be earned and children are too young to have earned it. We also have very mixed up reasonings behind who deserves dignity. As a child one is often told, "Show some respect to elders." The so called 'elder' has earned the privilege not by his acts but because of years that have added up in making him grow older. The idea that follows in a morally weak 'elder' is that he can get away performing acts that would have not been excused had he been younger. Even if such acts were known in earlier times, people tried to 'sssssh' it down and so the 'elder' became a stronger monster and the victim became weaker.

Schools just took the concept a little further and meted out the same treatment to children. The analogy was the same, essentially. Youngsters have no right to dignity. Teachers have a right to dignity. Caning was basically administered as a tool to break, not the fingers but to crush the ego and dignity of the child. It is a typical case where the teacher is shallow and turns into a bully and uses authority as a tool to abuse and mostly gets away with it.

As parents can we do something about it?
Lots!! As a society we have been sending a lot of wrong messages. It shows when people yell at 'servants'. Have you ever seen 'servant' listed amongst 'our helpers'? We were taught 'postman', 'newspaperman', 'milkman' but the servant who does all the menial jobs in an average Indian home never finds himself mentioned. Why? Is it that they do not deserve to be treated as a 'helper' to society? It is the same feeling that makes people take pride when they say - "Oh! We have a mundu to take care of house work". What is a mundu other than a poorly paid bonded labourer? If you know the kind of jobs people get done from mundus you will know why the mundus do the job. Their dignity has been robbed at some stage of life.

I grew up with servants but my parents made sure that we always addressed them politely, admonished us if we behaved badly with them and ensured that we treated them with the dignity they rightly deserved. Not because they were older but because they were hard working, honest individuals. I had got into my teachers' bad books too because of my stand on equal rights for all. I do not remember a single occasion when my parents tried to break my spirit. They would explain sometimes about how the system works and how I could avoid getting into scrapes over little things, sometimes using the ruler too. Unfortunately, they were a victim of the 'olden school' too. But never did they ever try to break my spirit. That is where a parent comes in. That is the purpose of this post. Oh! And every human being, irrespective of age or sex or physical infirmities deserves to be treated with respect and I am not talking of degenerated persons here! I mean that a child's ego needs to be nurtured not disciplined.

Had Rouvanjit killed himself only due to the 'caning'? Had he somewhere lost trust in his parents? When did the thirteen year old boy's spirit get crushed, and why? Just one incident could not have been the reason for suicide. It must have been a series of little things that probably we will never know. Or probably we could teach our children to trust in us. How? Not by preaching but by leading by example.


Breaking the myth ~ Trekking is for all

When I mention I am going on a trek, the general reaction is that I am exceedingly adventurous and when I mention that it is to Sarpass or other such names suffixed by 'pass' it is also met with raised eyebrows and understood that I am some kind of a mountaineer who will soon climb the Everest!

None of the above is true. I am adventurous of course but my adventures happen right here in the city, as the funniest and most bizarre accidents and incidents seem to follow me closely around. I don't even go hunting for things to happen! Do you remember how I ended up with a ligament tear after a frail 16yr old boy traveling atop the local train decided to jump and make a demure landing on my knee? Well that was one adventurous accident that I will remember for a long time to come.

Trekking is more a tonic and a nourishment for the soul. It is the love for Nature which makes me trek and it is not as adventurous or as difficult as most people make it sound. If you are reasonably fit, not suffering from any diseases or chronic conditions that require special medical services you can do it with as much ease as any regular trekker. All you need to have is a love for walking long distances and a love for Nature. Remember that when we talk of the Himalayas, we think huge. The paths, the boulders, the forests, the pastures and the trees are all huge and you will find it considerably easier to walk along these paths. We are not discovering or charting our own course as we trek. These routes have been made by years of traveling by the villagers and previous trekkers, so it isn't as though you are alone in the wilderness and accosted by wild animals every night. There is a mild probability of some such thing happening when you trek in private groups manned by a few people but the treks I go on, are organized by the Youth Hostels Association of India. The groups contain as less as 30 people and may contain as much as 60 people. The amount of disturbance caused by such a large group is more than enough to keep wild animals at bay and the chances of getting lost is much less, unless of course you decide to turn heroic and flaunt all the rules set by the team!

If you have met people who call it 'the thing to be done', 'an adventure', 'an achievement' don't be deterred. Some people just love it to call a trek along the mountains all these things too. Yes, it is an achievement to have reached a higher camp on a personal level if you haven't done it before. But then, it is not a feat that is very difficult to perform.

If you want to make it an achievement there are ways to do so. Just make the trip a pleasant one by following these basic unwritten rules:

Do not cause disturbance to your surroundings by plucking grass, flowers and leaves when you have not use of them except chewing or smelling on them.

Always remember that even the higher areas in the mountains are dwelling places for villagers, animals and birds, and treat Nature with due respect.

Do not scatter 'non-bio degradable' waste like plastic and aluminium foils or wrappers. Littering any place in the world in unpardonable. Don't do it just because there is no one to stop you. Before your proceed on a trek please cultivate manners, love and respect for flora and fauna.

Again do not litter - I stress on this because when not noticed, even the most scrupulously clean person at home happily dirties paths simply because there is 'no law'!!

It is ridiculous and highly unacceptable to offer sweets to children along the way. Their parents are dignified citizens and do not need your offer. If you have something to offer remember to do it for a reason, with kindness and empathy. Sympathy generally creates beggars out of these little children. Always maintain grace in giving and accepting.

If you have to defecate during the walk, please find a covered spot, dig a hole. Do your job and cover it up well. I often find women littering the place with sanitary napkins. Remember to use bio-degradable sanitary napkins while on a trek. The ones that come with linings these days are not bio-degradable. Tissues, napkins and potty can all be covered up. It is not a nice sight to be met with these, especially when you are there to admire Nature.

Another dirty trend is to leave around empty plastic bottles along the trail. I generally go around picking up every wrapper, foil or non-biodegradable waste everytime I go on a trek. I also find people laughing and informing me about 'cleaning camps'. All I have to ask is - do you throw wrappers, foils, used plastic bottles and napkins at home in your living room, and wait for someone to clean up each day? Then why treat your world any differently? Why do you need law to come after you telling you to clean up? Why should cleaning camps be organized? Everytime you litter remember that you are uncouth! Try to be clean and loving towards your Nature. Littering with non-biodegradable products kills the roots of the plants and soon you will have nothing in the mountains to look forward to.

Always remember to stay close to the group. Help people if they find some difficulty and try to make good friends.

This post is all about the etiquette needed while trekking. In my next post I will talk about the trek that we actually did and the highs of coursing heights.


The reluctant hugger

I have realised I will never be a good hugger and I am glad most of my friends aren't either. Indians used to hug only in 'reel life' and not in 'real life' till it became a more fashionable thing to do. Hugging is a foreign concept much like pasta, noodles and cheese. Same with
'mwah'! Maybe with time hugging will become more commonplace and easier to do! We were never a family of huggers and I cannot recall a single instance when my Mom ever did that.

In her most vulnerable and emotional state (which I assume must have been when we each got married) my Mom would just keep a stiff upper lip tightly closed over the lower one lest a sob should escape and she would steel her eyes, opening them wide so that no tear would fall. Whenever she did that it made me more prone to guffaws rather than feel sad (of course I was too afraid to do that openly so while others thought bugs were biting me, I would shake all over trying to control myself)! She looked comical not trying to emote during my elder sister's and my marraige but with age the steel went away and we saw her for the first time sobbing freely after giving away my sister. It was funny but seeing my Mother like that, even my steady as a rock elder sister, P started crying and laughing together. It was a hilarious scene. The poor girl was being given away, her mother was crying, one sister looking pretty foolish doing both crying and laughing, and I shaking all over wrecking my make up with sobs and my body with suppressed giggles and she had this question mark writ over her face. Sensibly the photographer did not capture the moment though in retrospect I think it could have been the best picture - candid as can be! Dads of course have still no choice but to retain a grave look on their faces as crying is still not considered manly and no amount of androgynous fashion trend has managed to pervade real life yet (at least not in India).

And then I became a mother (before the younger sister's marraige of course!) and brought several books and attended several parenting classes. I did not pay for them. My organization believes in sending their employees to several psychology classes of which I have had the privilege to attend maximum and parenting formed a half day session as it was considered the most complex thing to do - rightly too! I read in books and we were also told repeatedly in those sessions that the best bond between a parent and a child comes from touch and so I decided I would practice hugging till I became a pro. I did not want to be caught giggling while hugging my children. My husband loved the practice sessions and his verdict after each session would only be - "No, no. Not perfected yet." Men, I tell you! I was surprised how naturally motherhood transformed me from a rough tomboy to a doting woman. Till my children turned 8 it came naturally to me also. Something snapped when they turned 9. One reason could be that they were turning into young adults. The more plausible one is that thanks to exercise and dieting I had lost my layers of cushioning fat around the same time and it was no longer a very pleasant experience for them. I still keep the practice going and my husband still feels I am not good enough but now I have a second mode of practice.

I end my mails with 'hugs', 'xoxo' etc. and hope the dear friend on the other side only knows as much hugging as I do.

I am even worse at pecking and 'mwah'. I have encountered embarrassing moments when I offer my hand and realize that my friend is giving a hug and it is a bit of commotion and we end up hitting our shoulder bones or me poking her stomach or something like that. These recent developments in social etiquette generally only have the effect of turning me to stone and freeze in my place when I find that look or manner which says - "Hey, I am a hugger."

What is your experience? Are you a good hugger? You should try writing 'hugs' at the end of the mail for a start if you aren't. It may help.


The Big Fat Indian Wedding is all about FUN!

Ganpatiji ki puja on TwitpicAgni ko sakshi mankar..... on TwitpicThe prince and his princess:D on Twitpic
May they live, age and grow in love!

We had the best possible combination of North and South India at my cousin's wedding. She is half Tam-half Gujju by birth and completely Kannadiga by soul, and now married to a full Gujju, she can say she is truly Indian!

The nuptials were set out in Gujrati style. The ceremonies were new for us Tambrahms and a welcome change. North Indian weddings are relatively more fun than South Indian because of the Sangeet and Mehndi ceremonies apart from the fact that there are absolutely no restrictions and ladies, young and old are free to let out their hearts and dance like there is no tomorrow. No wonder that these are slowly gaining popularity and becoming part of South Indian Weddings too. I, unfortunately had to stay put and watch fro m the aisles as the procession danced their way down the wide streets of Vadodara where the wedding took place. Amidst crackers and 'flower-salutations' (both of which do not meet my environment loving mind at all!!), the groom got down from his horse driven chariot (again...you know that irks me, if you know me well!) and joined the crowd of friends and family and danced to woo his bride. The bride meanwhile with stars in her eyes was waiting for the sound of 'nagadas' (huge drums) to announce her prince's arrival.

I won't go into the details of the ceremonies. I had to stop taking pictures every now and then due to an accident that has injured my right knee, but I managed a photo essay to show you the essences of an Indian wedding. I decked up too but what with me taking pictures, I realized there were none of me to show my accessories!

The Bride:

My Cousin's wedding on TwitpicIt was a big fat Indian Wedding:D on TwitpicThe bride's accessories! on TwitpicCheck out the necklace! on Twitpic

The Groom:

The groom's turban on TwitpicHe wore a sherwani, dhoti and traditional jootis. on Twitpic

Others - Mother of the bride, Sister and my Mother:

Check the hair accessories.  The band is to be worn by the mo... on TwitpicThe bride's sister had her hands full, literally:) on TwitpicMy Mummy's hair accessory! on Twitpic



The High Tide in Mumbai

Waves at bay on a normal day
Sitting on the promenade and enjoying the calm of the Sea on a normal day.

I work very close to the Marine Drive Sea Face and had the joy of witnessing the highest tidal wave of the Season. The high tide started today at 2:05p.m. We had lunch and most of us took a walk to the Sea Face - I armed with Sancho Panza:) as always! The crowd collected there amazed me. I stood along with my friends balancing on the edge of the road divider as going any closer might have harmed my lenses. It was fun seeing the shooting heights of the waves as they hit the promenade with full force and drenched the young and old revelers, bounded off the walls and overflowed the platform and half the road. We all ended up with sticky faces and hair due to the salty spray but it was all worth it.

high tide 2009 17
This is just the beginning of the tide

high tide 2009 16
The first few waves that washed the footpath

high tide 2009 15
After one of the high waves struck

They posed and then were washed!

These are a few pictures. You will find the rest on my flickr photostream, facebook and twitpic. It was good that today was not a rainy day otherwise there would have been havoc!

When I was taking these pictures I remembered the pics that were in circulation during the tsunami days. I think they were fakes - did they not look something like these?


Commuting by train

I didn't think but must admit that it has been surprisingly fun traveling to work after all these years. It takes me two hours to get there but I have discovered joys that I had forgotten, just as I thought I would. I discovered that I have changed a lot during these last few years too (read as wiser, more intelligent, more mature... he he).

It was a shock when I found myself getting distracted and no longer able to get lost in 'Picadilly Jim'. Is it possible that my taste has changed? Hey, I don't think I want the kind of maturity that will make me lose my sense of humour! That evening while returning I stood by the door to feel the 'wind in my hair' just the way I used to, some years back. Only this time, the wind irritated me and I had to keep using one hand to defend myself from the flying hair of the lady standing before me! Wonder who came up with this idea of letting hair loose!!

The next day I carried 'Message in the bottle' by Nicholas Sparks, and was able to read it fast! I don't generally like mushy, romantic books but I quite liked this one, though not as much as 'The Wedding'. I had to skip a few chapters lest the overly romantic lines put me to sleep, when I had only four more stations to go before I reached VT. That evening while returning I took a seat inside instead of standing at the door. I no longer wished to feel the wind! I finished the book, fiercely fighting the tears that were clouding my eyes and threatening to drip down the corners. Then I went back to the chapters I had skipped earlier and read each word sniffling a little more - ridiculous as it sounds, this time the words kept me awake and gave me a damning headache!

I came to the conclusion that I don't need a headache while getting home, so no more N.S for me while traveling - I will stick to dear old Erma Bombeck and P.G.Wodehouse. No more standing at the door and getting other peoples' hair into my eyes, nose and mouth - Ok! I accept that I am a little over thirty (Sheesh... Jr.H is here. Ok! that was thirty-five), and sitting for a whole hour is definitely more tempting than standing!

I have got the permission, and am all set to open the doors to a beautiful place in Churchgate - so close and yet far from the madding crowd!!


Pati, pallankuzhi aada varela?

Red beads

"Pati, pallankuzhi aada varela?" ("Grandma, will you come to play pallankhuzhi?")

"O, varendi ma!" ("Yes, coming dear!")

My grandma(1915 - 1994) never said no to us. If she was busy with her prayer beads she would just nod her head to affirm and signal 'later' with her free hand. If she was resting with her head on the pillow or sometimes a 'palagai' and reading a Tamil magazine she would roll it up, tuck it under the palagai and get up slowly adjusting the folds of her 'ombad gajam'. It would always be, "O, varendi ma." My sister and I would immediately fetch the pallankuzhi box, the carefully stored red and black seeds and arrange the board while Pati settled down.

She was a beautiful lady at 70 with wrinkles and folds, grey eyes that seemed to hide a tinge of sadness behind the sparkle and spoke of the many hardships she had faced in life. Yet she always managed a smile that would show us a glimpse of her uneven broken teeth. Pati was said to be the beauty queen of her village as she was blessed with a rosy complexion and good personality. The diamond ear-studs and nose ring she always wore were not only indicative of her prosperity later but seemed to reflect her fiery person. Apart from that she is said to have been witty and called a spade a spade! The one quality I have always heard from relatives who knew her was that she would stand up for justice always and fight for anyone's rights.

At the tender age of 12 she was a much sought after girl married off to my Tata (the 't' is pronounced soft). Since then she had never worn anything other than an 'ombad gajam' even during her stay in Kashmir. By the time we really knew her, Pati was in her 60s, well past her youth but yet a 'pretty woman' - not in the physical sense but in a more soft rounded way. I hear very often about how skilled she was. I think it was not only her, but most people of her generation were skilled and self-taught as they had been through a lot of political turmoil and seen the Country going from a Colony to a free State and followed by the trauma of partition. Even essential food supplies were scarce and they naturally learned to value money and improvise with whatever was available. Pati would 'cut' frayed or worn ut sarees in her 'aruvamanai' and sew 'inner skirts' or 'pavadai' with them with her hand as a tailoring machine was a luxury few could afford. Though she would scrooge over every penny at home she was always generous, both in her attitude as well as in terms of material things - always willing to share and help people in distress.

Some of my most cheerful moments were spent in the verandah sitting on garden chairs or charpois listening to stories of Krishna or playing Tamil verbal games like;
'kadai tengai ya edduttu vazhi Pulayar ku odachavan yaar da?' (who stole the cookie from the cookies jar),
'ondar dakkar dakkar done' (Out in the garden each fine day with my ball I like to play.....)
'iddu enna kodam?' (I don't think there is an English or Hindi equivalent) and of course, pallankuzhi.

That is where this post was meant to go before Pati took it over!

Pallankuzhi is a pretty ancient and traditional board game for two players. I guess it might be played elsewhere too in India but as far as I know it is basically from Tamil Nadu. It is a strategy oriented game. The board is a wooden foldable plank with 7 depressions on each side. The fourth hole in the center of each side is called 'Kasi'. Kasi is the bank where both the players deposit their loot. The depressions are called 'houses'. Each player receives a certain number (equal) of shells (chozhi)/red beads/tamarind seeds/red and black beads. These will be distributed equally in all the houses except the kasi. When it is my turn I have to collect the beads from any one house and go on dropping it one each in every house till it gets over. The full house next to the now empty house is open to the opponent for capture. Each player plays in turn with the aim of collecting all the beads of the opponent making him go pauper.

I have watched my kids playing a similar video game on TV. The principle is the same. When I was searching for pallankuzhi to revive my memories of the game I came across 'Ageless bonding', a blog by Usha which had a similar topic. From there I learnt, like the author about 'warri'. Isn't it odd that pallankuzhi is also played in West Indies as 'warri', and in Africa as 'oware' and 'kalah'?

Would you like to share about traditional games you played as a child? I will give the lyrics and wordings of a few more games we played as kids in further posts!

Glossary for this post:
Pallankuzhi - also 'pallanguzhi', pallamkuzhi' - a traditional board game from South India (Tamilnadu)
Pati - Grandmother. Also Tati.
Tata - Grandfather. Also Pata
Palagai - A small rectangular wooden plank elevated used as chopping board and sometimes instead of a pillow. It may be elevated slightly with two stands.
Ombad gajam - Traditional saree style as worn by South Indian brahmin ladies in earlier days. The length of the saree is nine yards hence the name. Ombad - nine, gajam - yards. To this day the bride in a Tamil Brahmin wedding wears this saree during marraige.
Aruvamanai - A foldable sickle shaped knife fixed on a wooden plank at one end and shaped into a coconut grater on the other.
Pavadai - Pleated long skirt worn by young girls in the earlier days. Nowadays you still find girls wearing it during festivals or weddings.
Red beads - Scientific name - Adenanthera pavonia. Here are the various names by which it is known in different languages - in case you have some memories of it!

Red beads
English - red wood tree/bead tree/saga tree/gem tree.
Hindi - ratangunj or badi gumchi.
Sanskrit - ratnagunj.
Malayalam -
manjadi kuru.
Tamil - Ani gundumani
Telugu -
Gurivenda, Enugaguruginji
Kannada - Ane golaganji
Bengali - Ranjana
Marathi - Thorlagunj, Ratangunj
Gujarati - Ratna Gunja, Moti Chanothi