Tuesday, December 10, 2013

To the best of your ability

There is a huge difference between doing a job well and doing a job to the best of your ability. While the former is most times a goal impossible to achieve, the latter is within everyone's grasp at all times. The former is a goal often set by others. They lay the parameters to judge your effort and mark you a success. Where as doing the job to the best of your ability means you succeed no matter what the results are and how others evaluate it. It empowers you. Just realizing this truth dissolved my stress!
I was getting bitter and angry at having to get so many things done. And then I realized that I cannot do everything well. I just have to do everything to the best of my ability.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Poetry for young people

Finally its poetry that brings me back to my once favorite haunt.
No I didn't forget you dear blog page... Just went away for a while on a journey of sorts.
Back in school when I started to write poems, I also voraciously collected poetry compilations. And occasionally read them whenever I had a piece of time all to myself.
I came across a wonderful poem by Robert Frost that left me mesmerized. It was called 'wild grapes'. I hunted for a Frost collection ever since but never found one. Recently we visited a book shop and I stumbled upon this!

Published by Sterling publishing, poetry for young people is a delightful series with beautiful printing and illustrations. 
A wonderful way to introduce your child to the joys of poetry.
The only disappointment I have is that they chose not to include the poem 'Wild grapes'.
So here is the poem for those who may have missed it.
What tree may not the fig be gathered from? The grape may not be gathered from the birch? It's all you know the grape, or know the birch. As a girl gathered from the birch myself Equally with my weight in grapes, one autumn, I ought to know what tree the grape is fruit of. I was born, I suppose, like anyone, And grew to be a little boyish girl My brother could not always leave at home. But that beginning was wiped out in fear The day I swung suspended with the grapes, And was come after like Eurydice And brought down safely from the upper regions; And the life I live now's an extra life I can waste as I please on whom I please. So if you see me celebrate two birthdays, And give myself out of two different ages, One of them five years younger than I look- One day my brother led me to a glade Where a white birch he knew of stood alone, Wearing a thin head-dress of pointed leaves, And heavy on her heavy hair behind, Against her neck, an ornament of grapes. Grapes, I knew grapes from having seen them last year. One bunch of them, and there began to be Bunches all round me growing in white birches, The way they grew round Leif the Lucky's German; Mostly as much beyond my lifted hands, though, As the moon used to seem when I was younger, And only freely to be had for climbing. My brother did the climbing; and at first Threw me down grapes to miss and scatter And have to hunt for in sweet fern and hardhack; Which gave him some time to himself to eat, But not so much, perhaps, as a boy needed. So then, to make me wholly self-supporting, He climbed still higher and bent the tree to earth And put it in my hands to pick my own grapes. "Here, take a tree-top, I'll get down another. Hold on with all your might when I let go." I said I had the tree. It wasn't true. The opposite was true. The tree had me. The minute it was left with me alone It caught me up as if I were the fish And it the fishpole. So I was translated To loud cries from my brother of "Let go! Don't you know anything, you girl? Let go!" But I, with something of the baby grip Acquired ancestrally in just such trees When wilder mothers than our wildest now Hung babies out on branches by the hands To dry or wash or tan, I don't know which, (You'll have to ask an evolutionist)- I held on uncomplainingly for life. My brother tried to make me laugh to help me. "What are you doing up there in those grapes? Don't be afraid. A few of them won't hurt you. I mean, they won't pick you if you don't them." Much danger of my picking anything! By that time I was pretty well reduced To a philosophy of hang-and-let-hang. "Now you know how it feels," my brother said, "To be a bunch of fox-grapes, as they call them, That when it thinks it has escaped the fox By growing where it shouldn't-on a birch, Where a fox wouldn't think to look for it- And if he looked and found it, couldn't reach it- Just then come you and I to gather it. Only you have the advantage of the grapes In one way: you have one more stem to cling by, And promise more resistance to the picker." One by one I lost off my hat and shoes, And still I clung. I let my head fall back, And shut my eyes against the sun, my ears Against my brother's nonsense; "Drop," he said, "I'll catch you in my arms. It isn't far." (Stated in lengths of him it might not be.) "Drop or I'll shake the tree and shake you down." Grim silence on my part as I sank lower, My small wrists stretching till they showed the banjo strings. "Why, if she isn't serious about it! Hold tight awhile till I think what to do. I'll bend the tree down and let you down by it." I don't know much about the letting down; But once I felt ground with my stocking feet And the world came revolving back to me, I know I looked long at my curled-up fingers, Before I straightened them and brushed the bark off. My brother said: "Don't you weigh anything? Try to weigh something next time, so you won't Be run off with by birch trees into space." It wasn't my not weighing anything So much as my not knowing anything- My brother had been nearer right before. I had not taken the first step in knowledge; I had not learned to let go with the hands, As still I have not learned to with the heart, And have no wish to with the heart-nor need, That I can see. The mind-is not the heart. I may yet live, as I know others live, To wish in vain to let go with the mind- Of cares, at night, to sleep; but nothing tells me That I need learn to let go with the heart

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

First steps

Yes isn't it wonderful!!
You took your first few stumbling steps
Before long your tiny feet will carry you far
You will not want to crawl anymore
With a slightly saddened heart
I am putting away your 'crawls' into the attic of my memory

Thursday, June 13, 2013

To do the right thing even when no one is watching

I have written a post earlier about how searching for the right school can be a daunting task. Every parent has certain criteria. A school that ensures better grades is sought after so your child is assured of an engineering or medical seat. When we were growing up, ensuring a lucrative career started with a degree in Engg. Or medicine. Else you had the IAS.
Owning a car or an apartment of your own was a luxury and a indicator of success in life. Today the pyramid has widened. With the internet available to most, opportunities for business and entrepreneurial ventures has escalated putting money into more and more hands at a younger age. Car is a necessity. And unlike earlier times when you retired into your new house, the young generation in their 20s are house owners. Information is easily accessible. Quite simply put, there's a huge paradigm shift. So. Why hasn't education changed?
Our children are still cramming data, trying to up their grades. And worse, once they get their degree are incompetent lacking basic skills. Many social media addicts have problems holding an intelligent conversation. On site skills are abysmal. Our schools don't teach skills that are most essential like financial management. Children cannot handle a broken relationship or a failure. Where is character building? What attitude are they going into life with? Respect for one another is to be learned in better ways than as a mere pledge that you mindlessly repeat each day.  Decision making ability is important at every level whether its choosing a career, a friend or a partner. The important thing is doing the right thing from our heart and mind.
What if our schools taught children to "do the right thing even when no one is watching"?
Here's one such tried and tested system that I came across in a book called "the leader in me." Its written by Stephen Covey who has given us the "Seven habits of highly effective people." For those who are new to the habits, these are
Three personal habits-
1.Being proactive : you are in charge.
2.Begin with the end in mind : have a plan
3.First things first : work first then play
Three team building habits-
4.Think win-win : every one can win
5.Seek to understand first and then to be understood : listen before you talk
6.Synergize : together is better
And the seventh habit
7.Sharpen your saw: balance feels best
Explaining these is not in scope of this blog nor am I qualified to. So I will refrain from it. But should you feel the need to delve deeper in the subject, I can assure you it will be most enlightening.
In the book 'the leader in me',Stephen Covey cites examples from schools that have implemented teaching these timeless self empowering habits to children in primary schools and even preschools. And you will be amazed at the transformation the schools speak of. And yes, the grades have improved too. Many schools all over the world have started this model.
The bad is news is that by the time our policy makers and the local school administrators wake up to the change, your child probably would have graduated from college. The good news is that you don't have to wait for better schools and can start teaching the required skills at home. Of course you will have to learn them yourself and believe me it will help you in your personal life too but importantly our children don't have to wait to grow up and learn the hard way before equipping themselves with self empowering skills. So they and in turn you are more confident in letting them face the world.
I have started teaching my 5 year old daughter. And it isn't difficult.
And no. I do not work for the Covey foundation. :)
For more information: http://www.theleaderinme.org

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Chip off the old block

I love to watch rain fall. The sound, the cool air and the feeling of laziness that comes with it. Of course I look forward to the sun after days of rain but you know what I mean. The occasional heavy downpour when you are home, warm and dry! Being an archiect, I have planned many houses with a terrace. A private terrace or verandah where one can sit and do nothing but watch the rain pelting on the vegetation, making ripples in young puddles. Its a phenomenon that soothes all the senses... The sound, the smell, the sight, the touch and if you like it, the taste! I share this passion with my father in particular. On many occasions I have heard him suggest the same. Once i remember remarking.. "Oh I love watching the rain." And my dad joked," There is now no doubt that you are my daughter!"
Recently we moved into our 9th floor apartment at Ernakulam. I now share my rain watching pastime with my daughters.
Another thing I like to watch is city lights at night. I remember my aunt's breezy apartment at Chennai whom we visited during vacations. It had balconies where I liked to stand for hours looking at the city lights dreaming of having a place like that when I grew up. Some wishes do come true!
Recently my parents visited us at our apartment. And I found him on many occasions, standing in the balcony looking at the night lights!
It amuses me to think not only do I look like him but there also these quirks that I have inherited!!!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Keep the children safe

Do see this video that teaches a child about bad touches.

"My Body Belongs To Me" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-5mdt9YN6I&feature=youtube_gdata_player

It isnt just kids who need to know but also parents who might be living in self denial that such things occur far more commonly and are not just statistics in the newspaper. Its also a lesson to the casual adult who might unintentionally invade the privacy of a child. Yes. We have to start treating children like little persons who have rights too. For instance knocking before entering closed doors. And above all the video emphasises the importance for parents to believe the child rather than hush up or scold.
Its important to teach "dont talk to strangers or take gifts from them". But its important to know that the major damage is done by known friends. One, the child is likely to lower the guard against a known person and secondly, is less likely to complain against a close relation or friend of a parent.
Its very important that children are also taught to respect other peoples privacy so our children grow up into conscientious adults who respect others' bodies and also stand up against crimes.
Most importantly, try and keep the communication line open between your child and you for as long as you can. Answer all questions with sincereity incuding those about private parts right from childhood and hopefully they will turn to you in their teens, when most kids start claming up. Remember, what your child tells you and how much they reveal will depend on what kind of reactions they get and grow to expect. If you are going to freak out, they will learn to shut up or turn to someone else.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Whats wrong with being brown or black?

Do you like ads that promote use of fairness creams? My daughter isnt very fair and when I see her watch these ads that suggest women ( and now men too) are more successful in life because they are fair/er, I know something isn't quite right.
Look at the name of the product - Fair and lovely. They have been brandishing this name under our noses for years and we've been tolerating it. I use the product. Its a good product. But I would use it even if it didn't use the word fair and lovely. And now we even have ' fair and handsome'.
Apparently Asians are obssessed with light skin. Ironically all top international brands have fairness or skin lightening creams that flood our market and worse, fight for air time in commercial breaks which children are soaking in.
There is a larger issue. Are these ads rascist? Is being fair an advantage? Why is it so? Should it be so? Its a viscious circle but now the tables have turned. These commercials ensure that our children remain caught in the cycle of thoughts, reinforcing bias based on skin color.
I always found these ads annoying. But with a 5 year old in the house and another baby in my arms, I am particularly peeved and want these ads removed from televisions.
I have entered an online complaint on the website of
The advertising council of India. I have even launched a campaign on avaaz.org titled - stop advertising fairness products.

Some of the questions I got as a response include, it is an individual choice or that we should stop using these products in the first place. Also, why target commercials? Our movies have always idolised fair actors in the lead roles. Popular Comic illustrations have indicated that gods are fair and demons are dark skinned. Oh and Krishna who was actually dark skinned according to mythology or even Draupadi is shown blue.  Fairy tales hammer in to our heads right from childhood ideas like "fairest of them all" and kind but beautiful princesses always win "prince charming".
So why stop commercials?  Simply because you cannot monitor them, they are repetitive and actually show being dark skinned to be a distinct disadvantage.
For those who say its an individual choice, I'll say so is smoking and drinking. Why have we banned their commercials? Because of the influence on our children. Make people aware of the harmful effects of drinking and smoking being in a democratic society, let people decide. The use of the word 'fair or fairer or fairness' in promoting skin products must not be allowed on any media. Insensitive ads that show fair skin to be at an advantage and fair skinned people to be more successful must be stopped immediately.
If you believe it too, you can talk about it,blog about it, share this blog, sign the petiton, complain to the Indian advertising council. Find your way.
Lets stop these ads.

Teaching art to kids

We've put my daughter at a summer camp where she spends half a day. And its not because I am not home. She gets to interact with other kids and spend her time more constructivley. And yes... I can relax a little bit. Handling two kids and getting the house work done can be a little tiring.
I spoke to her camp co-ordinator the other day and got some positive feedback about my daughter. She participates in all activities avidly. Her coloring is above average. She also suggested that if she were taught drawing she can do much better. Incidently they have a drawing tutor at the camp. Her voice echoed my husband's for he has often suggested we put her in an art school.
The thing is, I am against children being 'taught' art. For one, you cannot teach art. You can only teach techniques. But you can't teach someone to spontaneously express her/him self in his chosen medium. And in my experience, teaching children and adults to draw is to stiffle the spontaneous creativity. It is specially important in children and we need to trudge carefully lest we impart and enforce adult convections on them. I personally believe children are far better artists because they don't have any preconceived notions and that makes childrens' art much more honest and straight from the heart. I am a huge fan of kiddo art.
I draw and paint a little. And I have always steered clear from the temptation to 'teach' her art. Childrens art is symbolic. Not necessarily logical. And there lies the beauty. Like, Ananya used to draw a car with four wheels ... In a straight row. Or her durga had eight hands.. four on each side n a series and not converging as we normally see. She once made a figure but the face had no features. When I asked her about it she said its the back of a persons head. Children also have a fantastic choice of colors. All that spontaniety is lost somewhere as the child grows up and leaves his world of incredible imagination behind. And for the rest of his adult life he is forever trying to recapture that incredulous beauty. It reminds me of the song called "bum bum boley" in the movie 'Taare zameen pe'. The song aspires to rekindle the imagination in children. To break steroetypes.
Coming back to the summer camp, the course co-ordinator suggested that we can tell children leaves are not always green in color. Its a mix of colors. Very true. But I believe that instead of directly teaching kids that, you can make them observe leaves and the myriad shades of green and brown and yellow that leaves have. And then let them draw. Unfortunately and unwittingly we teach stereotypes. Apple is red. Really? Leaves are green. Sky is blue.. deep blue sea. White clouds. These are also picked up from literature.
When Ananya was three we went sailing with my husband who is a sailor. And we used to stand on the open bridge wings looking at the vast expanse of water all around and the heavens above. Blue sky was a rarity. Sunsets splashed so many colors in the sky and were reflected correspondingly in the waters... Pinks and purples and violets and oranges.... I remember pointing them out to my daughter.
So don't teach them art. Show them the to observe and admire the beautiful nature as is.