Sunday, March 27, 2011

A vacation to remember- Chotti Haldwani

We spent a day in Chotti Haldwani (CH) after visitng JCNP. This is a model village built by Jim Corbett himself. Wow what a beautiful village. Acres and acres of green fields dotted with cute little houses. Canals of fresh river water runs through the village and the ofcourse the icing on the cake were the villagers themselves. Such down to earth, warm, friendly folks! Needless to say as soon as we reached the village the kids were excited to be there. After lunch we spent some time at one of the villager's house and then Shankar & I set off for the hike through the village. By then the village kids were coming out to play and Chellu chose to stay with them. Wow, she had made new Kumoni friends. We came back after a good 2 -3 hours but she enjoyed herself with the kids. I think this is true socialization- no barriers, no groupism..just enjoying somebody's company.

I do regret for not taking her on the hike. She would have loved it. We visited the house of Moti Singh ( Jim Corbett's dear friend and fellow hunter), saw and smelled various fruit & flower trees , walked through green wheat fields, talked to villagers and saw a calf that was born just 2 hours ago . Then with Chellu we saw silkworm harvesting. Just the walk through the village was heavenly. I couldn;t help but feel a pang of jealousy ..They are indeed very lucky. So many thoughts ran through my mind during the hike : Have we really progressed or degraded in our pursuit to so-called better lands and cities? Who lives a better quality of life- us or the villager? What have we gained by being weternised and urbanised, by our degrees and our work experience in multi-nationals? These villagers know which plant heals what, grow their own food, co-exist with the forest and respect the wild. They practice day in and day out zero waste management, recycling, water conservation & recycling, zero plastic use ..all the things that have become the "in-thing" in cities. Things that we cry hoarse but don't have a damn clue about .

I loved the fact that the villagers live a wholesome life that includes plant & animal life. We have become so self- absorbed in the human aspect of things. It can be very humbling to live with animals around- cows, dogs, cats , birds, insects..They remind us of a much bigger aspect of this universe. Humans are not the only inhabitants- we need to co-exist. The villager's house where we were put up has 5 cows and the first thing the woman did in the morning was to get them out and feed them. To get up and think of other beings first thing in the morning! Wow, I saw a lot of spirituality in that.

Its certainly not easy living on the edge of the forest. We came to know about the constant struggle between the wild and the villagers. The animlas come in and destroy the crops leading to huge losses. In turn if the villager retaliates its a huge loss for the wild animals. Finding a balance is the key. There are so many issues to ponder about . I felt these villagers were cut-off from the main stream. Nobody really cared about them. We live in utter negligence of the majority of this country. But I am hoping that our attempt at HSing will make our children aware of this majority..aware of professions that enrich rural economies be it agriculture, native arts, forest management , wildlife management , rural education that is not westernised and so many more. I sincerely hope my children don't end up joining the herd of doctors and IT engineers whose first aim is to catch the next flight to the US.

The concern is not just about what profession they choose but also about the attitudes and outlook they should form. The lifestyle for example- the size of their homes, the carbon imprint,the eco-friendliness ,the amount of materialism. In this respect HSing prevents the "fitting-in" syndrome- I have to do because someone else is doing it. It provides for a lot of self-enquiry and decision making based on one's own instinct. I've seen this with many HSing kids. They are very comfortable not being like others. They enjoy being different and really don't care about what others think.
We have so much to do here . We need to dedicate our children to this country. Our children have to be ORIGINAL AND TOMORROW'S LEADERS who can think outside the box and contribute their skills to the fabric of this country -its villages

And in this sense Jim Corbett contributed a lot. He re-instilled respect for the wild in the villager's mind. He taught them how to co-exist with the wild. CH is a must see. It inspired us greatly. And has rekindled in us the desire to go back to the basics again. Hopefully that will happen some day...
When we visited the Jim Corbett Musuem which was his house we were impressed with his letters that show his strong love for this country. He cared a lot and did a lot. Shankar & I were discussing as to how our history never really delves on such personalities. Even amonsgt the British were those who loved this land very much. And did so much for it.

I personally think this is the way to learn history & geography. I hope to keep rekindling these memories forever in my children's mind . And I do hope to visit numerous villages across the lenght and breadth of this country with my children to learn firsthand its true nature. Cause in the village lies the true Indian culture and our true character. And in this respect I am extremely lucky and proud to have Dadaji's thoughts in my life. Swadhyay as always will show us and our children THE PATH.

A vacation to remember- Jim Corbett National Park

This was the second place we visited after Chandigarh. Chellu was very excited to head to JCNP. In fact it’s for the girls that we specifically chose JCNP. We as a family love nature and my kids revel in it. It’s the best thing ever for them. The freedom of space, the innumerable opportunities to explore, the mess and the physical activities it affords are all perfect reasons. And we have taken our kids to nature related stuff since they were babies. The one trip that I will always remember is of Algonquin National Park in the middle of nowhere, Canada. Chellu was @ 21 mos and I was 6 mos pregnant with Kunju. We had a blast. .We hiked a lot over plains and huge hills. Chellu was like a pro. That’s when it struck as to how much she loves to hike. She refused to take our help even then. She would balance herself beautifully on her tiny hands and legs, would slide down slopes, jump across puddles..It was like she was actually playing in a park.
We wanted to recreate all of that magic again in the JCNP trip and of course nature did it effortlessly.
We reached the Club Mahindra resort by late night. When the girls got up the next morning they were super excited to realize that they had finally reached JCNP. We got a room on the ground floor. They loved the easy access to the outdoors. Of course playing with stones was number one activity. I spied them playing role play games with the stones many times. That day they spent a lot of time rambling around the complex taking in everything new with the environment with great enthusiasm. Swimming in the pool was their first priority after the breakfast.
That afternoon we went for an elephant safari and needless to say they were super excited about it. The safari through the forest reserve made them aware of so many things..Animal sightings and a new found knowledge of flora. We all came to know for the first time the fruit from which sindoor is made. The girls plucked a lot of it and kept rubbing off the sindoor all over their body. Chellu kept shooshooing her sister incase we happened to disturb the tigers . They were amused by the langoors , and shouted “Bambi” when they spotted a fawn. Laadli the elephant we were riding decided to take a toilet break and the girls were surprised at how much poop and pee elephant excretes!! Hahaha..Kunju commented that Laadli is a dirty girl not knowing how to pee in the toilet! She asked “ Dosen’t laadli’s mother make her wear a diaper?” and I was like “Imagine how big that diaper would have to be!!”

The next few days we spent at JCNP was a true joy for the kids. They reveled at everything. The safaris, the swim in the kosi river, the sight-seeing, the stuffed animal museums, the star gazing in the night through our telescope. Chellu asked a lot of Qs and we discussed about camouflage, forest fires, animal life, rivers and their annual cycles, weather , forest management , birds ,wildlife and the dangers they face , pugmarks , water-holes , craters , stars etc.. Prior to going for the early morning jeep safari , Chellu was fast asleep but absolutely didn’t mind being woken up. The sisters loved the feel of wind while riding on the open jeep during the safari. The whole experience was magical in a sense- riding past acres of fields, rivers, valleys, quite hamlets and finally the forest.

Not once during the 3 hr safari that we took twice in different areas of the jungle did the girls complain about being bored. Their eyes searched with equal excitement as ours whenever the guide pointed to a creature. In fact he praised Kunju for her sharp-sightedness. Chellu would often ask for the binoculars. She would point to various trees, the shapes they made and would even detect alphabets in the shapes of the foliage. The sisters wondered if Mowgli lived in the forest and whether Sher Khan would show up? They did express some sadness over not sighting a tiger but since that was never the expectation that we had built around this trip, I guess they were happy with what they saw and experienced.
Once thing I always love about Chellu is her enthusiasm to jump in any new environment and soak it up completely. A part of it also comes from her absolute lack of fear. When Kunju kept asking if the tiger will show up and eat her, Chellu would often console her saying that animals will not hurt unless hurt. “They will not do anything to us Kunju!!” she would reassure. Chellu will never think twice before stepping in a river or about hiking in wilderness. Her curiosity is worth-learning from.. She will get so engrossed in her surroundings that time kinda comes to a standstill for her. That’s why she loves to hike in wilderness. There is so much to see, to inspect, to collect. In this trip, since the kosi river was quite dry we had to climb down and up the very rocky bank. Chellu refused to take any help and enjoyed the climbing.

Chellu's thought process and reflections took on a new tinge. Once while Shankar and I were racing with each other while swimming she suggested that we try holding hands together and swim. We tried it and couldn’t manage to swim but then realized that the back stroke is very much possible while holding hands! We have been swimming together for so many years but have never thought about swimming while holding hands! Chellu commented that this way I can learn to swim as fast as Shankar…:) We had a lot of fun around the pool. Shankar and I would swim while the kids would run from one end to the other. We had many such races. The girls also enjoyed playing throw ball with us in the pool and them outside.
As of Kunju while she soaked up herself completely in certain experiences she resisted a few and tried a few others. While she is not the types to jump into a river at the first sight, she did end up sitting on a boulder and enjoying the river . She did not enjoy the hike but loved running about in the resort grounds. Being the younger child she always lets her sister first jump into anything new and then slowly but steadily launches herself. Even in the pool she first soaked her legs and then after a long time started to play in the water after seeing other kids enjoying the water.
Initially Shankar & I found it difficult to accept her non-risk taking personality. Especially since we love adventure and our first child is very much like us. But this is the lesson to be learned. That our children might be very different from each other and from us. The important thing is to see the gem that lies within each child and tap their personality likewise. Even as HSing parents we do sometimes commit the costly mistake of comparing the siblings. “ Look at your sister..look how she jumped into the pool..!!” This trip kinda made me realize that my daughters are very different and I err big time by expecting my younger one to be like the rest of us. As Hsers we should be wary of creating competition or complexes amongst our own children. For us Hsing is about respecting each child as divine that has been born to realize its individual greatness. Fitting in is simply not expected. But having grown in the system comparing and expecting becomes our nature. This trip did help me see the vast differences between my children ( atleast as of now, it might change over the years) and gently reminded me to be appreciative of it.

The sisters also made new friends in the resort. This was the first time that Chellu has spent a sizeable amount of time playing with her friends alone in the park in the resort.The jhoola hannging from the mango tree was their favorite. But the best part was Kunju making her own friends! She found two other girls exactly her size and height. The three would run holding hands in the cafetaria making thier own games. It was such a joy for me to see Kunju with her own gang since Kunju is always surrounded by much elder children. And she isn't the types to make friends very easily.

This trip has been very relaxing in the truest sense. We had lots of time to do things together, come up with new ideas and experience nature in a slow mode instead of the usual hurrying from one thing to the next. And this slowing down did wonders on the children. They were at their best behavior and very cheerful. I guess they were reflecting our own selves as children often do. This is infact the beauty of nature. It calms you down so beautifully , a trait that we and our children have often lost in our urban lives. This trip kinda rekindled in me our desire as a family to live with nature at some point of our lives. There is no sense in just experiencing something temporarily and coming back especially when you love it. Someday we would love to break away from this mad urban mode and live amongst nature. I know that my children will love it. And a part of me wants to do it desperately for their sake before they grow up and become all serious about life.

These are my children’s days of careless wanderings through the wild, of stopping and smelling a flower, of patiently watching a lady-bug makes its way through the grass, of endless collection of stones, of splashing in the river water for ever , of marveling at a leaf’s shape or just simply running around like crazy on the cool green grass. I want these experiences to become a part of their everyday lives and not something that happens only in a vacation. This trip has certainly touched all of us deep down and reminded us of the divinity & importance of nature. I find it very irritating when people nod their heads sadly on knowing that we didn’t sight a tiger in JCNP. “ Arrey yaar udhar tiger dekhne ke liye tho jhaathen hain naa?” many exclaim! Seriously why are people so dumb? I really feel sorry for these people. They have lost how to be appreciative of nature and how to enjoy it truly. They race their children from one safari to the other , from one sight-seeing spot to the other, do the “Check-list” and come back, jubilant if they spotted the tiger and disgusted if not. It’s like all their money got wasted if they didn’t see the elusive tiger. I seriously pity such an attitude .

This pull towards nature does define our HSing character. In fact that is one of the big reasons to not send our children to school. We don’t see the value in urban, western , bread-oriented education. We want our children to get in touch with nature in a very deep level and choose a profession and life that co-exists with nature. It’s not enough that they just see tigers but think and do something about its survival. It’ s not enough to just splash around in the kosi but wonder about how to save our rivers. There is so much to do in this sense. I never worry about my children not becoming doctors or engineers but worry whether they and their future generations will have enough to eat, whether they will have forests to roam in and whether they will ever step into pristine rivers. It is important for us to provide them with the environment that leads to such questions. Cause what the future really needs is for us to preserve, protect and prosper nature. The JCNP trip made us aware of so many difficulties that the nation faces when it comes to protecting forests and wildlife. The tigers are on peril, the forest is being reduced by increasing habitation, the villagers are at risk from wildlife etc etc..It irritates me greatly that we as urban dwellers conveniently ignore these issues and come back to living on the tip of the melting iceberg like nothing ever changed . And we want our children to continue living on this tip…
“ So did we spot a tiger?” Like I care a BLOODY HOOT!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Diya painting- 24/03/2011

Last night before sleeping Chellu asked for diya painting which I obviously didn't agree to. So the first thing in the morning today ( 24/03/11) that she wanted to do was diya painting! Once kids have their interest fixed on something they are keen on doing it ASAP. Waiting is too hard for them! So after her milk she sat down to do it. Kunju joined her with painting on paper. She claimed to have drawn a "road". The girls were engrossed peacefully in the activity for a long time while I got the morning chores done.
I like the way Chellu uses different colors for different parts of the diya. Color is used symmetrically or otherwise. Like in the first diya she chose to paint one edge with red and left the other edge plain. But in the 2nd one she chose green in the middle of the edge and blue for either sides.

The first time she was introduced to Diya paiting was during last Diwali . I had hosted a " Diwali celebration" day at my home for the Hsing group here. Chellu loved the diya painting part. She sat down with the other moms and kids and got compltely engrossed with it. I actually didn't get the chance to do it myself or to sit with her but she did an amazing job of it. She must have observed others painting and would have got an idea.

I generally never supervise or interfere with her art activities. I like to leave her alone and am always impressed with what her original thought process produces. I believe strongly that this is how art should be . The artist should be left alone to be engaged with his/her art..thats when true art happens!

Her attention to detail and her focus when it comes to such artistic pursuits is impressive. I've noticed this in other events too like in the IVC ( Indus Valley Civilization) co-op class for HSers at Idania's. During one class we were painting the ceramic articrafts that we had made and she sat through it for a straight 2 hours! She didn't get up once..I was done with it and ready to move on but not her. This is the case with Chellu when it comes to anything artistic, especially color related stuff like painting, rangoli, drawing and coloring.
I am hoping that as she grows I can provide her with all the stimulating environment for the artist in her to flourish!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Divine Impressions, A slithering snake and A dog-eating horse- 23/03/2011

After all the rest I had yesterday I felt refreshed and very energetic today. The first thing on my mind was to sit for morning prathna. That was really my only " to-do" w.r.t HSing for today. We have been missing out on prath-prathna a lot in the recent past. Before the vacation the three of us had a bout of sickness and prathna obviously was the first thing to get stopped. So I was really looking forward to it today.

The sisters jumped in immediately. The pre-prathna rituals are their responsibilty.They will replace the wick, pour oil in the lamp, wash the silverware, dust off any remains of the previous days' agarbatti, pull out fresh agarbatti sticks and clean the mandir. We then proceeded to chant the prath-prathna and they did so beautifully. Followed by Sarawati Vandana and a few other shloks on Ganpati, Aditya and the Deep. I try to introduce a new shlok every now and then and generally they learn it easily. Proficiency in Sanskrit is a very high priority for us and shloks keep the girls in touch with the language. I want my girls to know Sanskrit so well that they can read the Gita like reading a story book. Thats how easy it should be for them. It is extremely sad that Indian education looks upon Sanskrit as a dead language and stresses no importance on it. How will our children unlock the treasures of the wonderful Vedic world if they don't know Sanskrit? How will they tap the gem that Gita is if they have to always resort to some twisted English translation? How will they know their roots and thus their ownselves if they can't understand the langauage that their ansectors spoke?
Anywayz...after the shloks we did our auto-suggestion followed by some fun slogans we have created ourselves. The auto-suggestion is an interesting idea I picked up from a Nashik school run by our very own Swadhyay bhais. We try doing the entire thing before starting HSing but sometimes if they have lost interest by now I let it go. But in today's case they showed so much enthu in every single thing. Maybe because its been a real while since we have done this or because they are re-energized from the trip.

As soon as we finished the prathna, Chellu picked a chalk and started drawing on the black board. Kunju followed her and soon they were busying drawing . Chellu drew a man and a lotus and said that the man was Dadaji! :)) Kunju drew a stone, a chappati and a “ monkey” ! Chellu then said she wanted to draw Goddess Saraswati and asked me if she could copy the picture of the Goddess from the photo in the mandir. I agreed to it and then with great attention to detail she spent a good 30 mins to copy the picture! Meanwhile kunju said she wanted to draw Ram bagvaan and proceeded to do so. But soon lost interest and asked me to draw with her. On her requests we drew Foo, an apple and also wrote “apple”.
While drawing Chellu kept asking me several Qs on the picture- what is the veena, what is the Goddess holding in her hands etc…She drew each and every object with great detail..the sari, the crown, the lotus, the mala , the bindi etc…The result was simply too good!!! At the end she chose to write down “SARASWATI” and “ DADA” with some help from me. Next she photographed the pictures in the mandir and other random stuff in the kitchen and the dinning room.

It is such sponteinity that I love about HSing.Something must have clicked in Chellu's brain while doing the prathna and she immediately wanted to sketch the Goddess and Dadaji. A rigid curriculum or schedule would ruin such a burst of creativity. When the child leads the way in learning she is constantly connecting the experiences, constantly experimenting, constantly creating. Everything is but a flow.....

After the serious drawing the girls were now ready to move on. We then followed with a game from “ Helping Children Learn ( HCL)” a really neat, simple book on activities for preschoolers that I picked up from an exhibition for Balwadi & Anganwadi teachers. Before doing any activity I generally ask her if she wants to..The answer could depend on her interest. On most days she will compile but many a days she will request for something else. This time around she promptly said a yes for this one. That was indeed rare since Chellu has always resisted HCL..I think it is the simple, non-appealing form of the book . Or probably that she finds many of the games very easy or boring. Sometimes it has also happened that some of the games I chose turned out to be too hard for her!

Initially when we started with this book I used to get so irritated with her lack of interest in playing the games.. We have had many frustrating moments !! I felt the exercises or games were so simple and nice and she felt so bored with them! Of course over time I have come to accept with peace that my opinions about any learning material dosen’t matter at all. This is a well accepted thing in the HSing circuit that no matter how “ famous” any learning material might be it holds only so much value as the child is ready to give it!! I also owe a lot to my unschooling friends like Hema who have gently reminded me to keep the child’s interest as the top priority. This is the hardest lesson to be learned …It requires us to numb our ego of "I am the parent and I know the best" and to slowly keep reminding ourselves that the child will learn what he /she seeks at that point in time. Many a times I have also felt that if Chellu has had a bad experience with something she will remember that and hold it for the future too..Maybe HCL reminds her of the frustrating moments she has had with me & thus always resists it…So at one point of time when it got really clear that she is not showing any interest in this book I completely dropped it! This is another accepted faith amongst HSers.. “Drop it if it gets frustrating and pick it up again after a few months. If the child is ready then she will respond or let you know otherwise!” I can attest to this from my own experience. Things I have tried and given up will be shown great interest a few months later….
The human intelligence has to be trusted to do its own job. During moments of frustration Shankar always reminds me of the divinity of the child..Just like we trusted that our child will walk, talk, eat, poo , pee, sleep etc..without having to be taught , their intelligence will also grow at its own pace.

So after having picked the HCL we proceeded to play a Language Card game that Chellu chose. It has 36 pictures which need to be first made into cards. On most days we play with the paper form itself. But today the girls showed interest in making the pictures cards . So with the utmost co-operation , that I have never seen before , they pasted the pictures on a cardboard and helped each other with cutting it. Kunju holding the cardboard and Chellu cutting it.

When the cards were ready we played the game and the girls enjoyed it very much. Kunju participated too very well. I guess she is starting to get interested in these kind of things…Previously she would happily do the hopping, running, singing etc..but now I can see her show interest in verbal , thinking games too.. After the first round I asked the girls to be the parent & Q me. Chellu attempted in English and I could sense a great improvement . Her Qs were worded very well ..there were only grammatical mistakes. Her vocabulary has indeed improved immensely.
The third part of the game requires that the child pick any 3 cards and make a story out of it. When one of the cards she got was a snake she said” The snake slithered” as part of the story!! Wow, I was really taken back! Where did “ slithered” come from?? This is where language learning from books comes in. I’ve had so many people tell me that my child will not learn languages until she attends school. I think that’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard! Here was my child using a complex word in a language she rarely gets to speak. Today I could really sens her growing fluency..the stories as well as the delivery was very interesting ! For a dog, horse and a bird card she said “ A dog came in the house, the bird on the tree got scared and the horse came and ate the dog!!” if she were in school the teacher would have corrected her but I can’t really care whether a horse eats a dog or not. She had to tell a story and in her story the horse does eat the dog! I love hearing such stuff! ;)))

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two records broken! : 22/03/2010

We have been trying to ease into the HSing routine since yesterday ( 22/03/2010). After taking a long vacation I'm always wary of jumping into routine HSing right away. A part of ourselves always lingers on in the vacation and I'm sure this is true of children too. It is very hard to shift gears immediately. And it shouldn't be so. When I was a child I used to shudder going back to school the very next day after having arrived from a vacation in Madras at my grandparents' place. I loved my mother's parents dearly and always used to be the one crying out aloud when leaving them to go back home. It was doubly hard for me to shut out all the lovely memories of my grandparents' and immediately jump into being a student with all the attention required. Being a dreamer essentially I remember just staring at the teacher and thinking of my grandparents', their house and the masti I had with my cousins..Now that I am a mother I put in a buffer of a week after a vacation to let the children ease back into home and routine and all the mundane things again....

Yesterday was one such day. I was extremely tired having unpacked and cleaned the whole previous day in addition to caring for Kunju the entire night who got stuck with a bout of vomitting . I think it was something she picked at the Delhi airport while waiting for the return flight. By 11.00am I was ready to doze off and Chellu was in the mood for HSing. I was aghast at the very thought of it. I requested her to let me & kunju rest for sometime and do some quite activity by the bedside to which she agreed. This is very rare, in fact I think the first time! Chellu being a very kinesthetic child will never agree to sit quietly anywhere!! Anywayz too tired to process anything I dozed off and woke up an 1 &1/2 later to realize that Chellu was completely absorbed in coloring the sketch book that she had received during the flight! I was very suprised. Her work was the best I have sense in terms of coloring within lines ( though I never insist on it) and the use of colors !! She had done a lovely job & more importantly without making the slightest noise. I think this is such a feat of my dear daughter that I have to record this.
Ever since Chellu has been a toddler I have always got very frustrated over her non-cooperation during nap times especially when she isn't in the mood to do so. All my friends' kids used to be "silent players" next to their resting moms but that was never the case with Chellu. She used to hop around like a monkey never being able to sit in a place for more than 5 seconds !!! I even have a photo clicked by Shankar where she is doing masti on top of me dozing off..So yesterday's incident is a milestone in itself...Maybe she has grown up or maybe the vacation has calmed her..I don't know!

After waking up the three of us sat with the " Magic Pot". Its a lovely magazine for
pre-schoolers that I get as complimentary with my subscription to TenderLeaves. The bi-monthly magazine is full of interesting stories and tons of puzzles, coloring activities, and others related to beginning readers and beginning math. Its got mazes to figure out, matching exercises and what not. Basically a very interesting and colorful preschool workbook of sorts, infact much more than that! Its been a hit with the girls and Chellu has refined a lot of spelling , tracing & counting skills with this magazine. Since she loves to do stuff with her hands she enjoys the MagicPot very very much.On days like yesterday where Im too tired to do a full-blown HSing routine with all the physical activities I sit down quietly with Chellu and do an entire magazine or how much ever her interest will allow for. Last month when I was down with back to back viral and gastro that kept me sick for a prolonged period of time in the absence of Shankar, it was the MagicPot and another regular preschool workbook that came to the rescue. It let Chellu and me spend quality time with each other while learning at the same time.

Even Kunju did something yesterday that I have never seen before. Though she has always sat with us during MagicPot sessions its always very short and usually some random scribbling. She would quickly move on to something else like cutting or playing or just lying down on me and watching her sister or many a times dozing off. She isn't the drawing/coloring/painting types at all like her sister. Kunju would rather dissolve all the paint in water and then pour the resulting liquid over herself than actually paint. She is very interested in finger and body painting though!! ;)) But yesterday was like wonder of wonders. She explicitly requested for a MagicPot and asked me to give her a page to do. I asked her to color the buttons of an elephant which she proceeded to do beautifully. Since she never likes to be supervised (NEVER) I didn't bother to check with what she was upto. After a few minutes she gently tapped me on my knee and showed her work. I was very suprised.She had neatly colored the buttons and her face was beaming!! And wonder of wonders she asked for more!!!
Any other day Kunju would have randomly scribbled or would have refused to do that particular page. Instead she would instruct and force me to do the particular task. We always joke in our family that she will become a teacher!!!You see Kunju is a very very strong-headed girl ( gone after her father I think!!! ;))) She decides and she does it and if she dosen't want to, no one in the world can make her to. She isn't too keen on instructions unlike her sister. My bhabhi always questions me as to how Im going to HS Kunju who can't take instructions very well..On the other hand I think such a strong-headed person should never go to school and be made to follow the herd. Their leadership skills will completely be watered down and they will never do well at school. Shankar is a classic example. He hates following the system and rules and listening to someone for the heck of it or for that matter doing something just because the rest of the world does. He has to be intellectually convinced. He was a very very average student at school since he would never write his answers or do his projects the way he was asked to. He was the "questioning types" much to the irritation of his teachers! His younger daughter is his replica.

Yesterday was a bumper of sorts for me. I love such days when the children suprise me with something when I least expect it. Maybe what they exhibited yesterday will continue to be a trend or maybe it was just a one day thing but that isn't the issue at all. Yesterday's behavior was so unique that it will be etched in my memory for years to come. It was truly an achievement of sorts for my girls!

Poems by Chellu

Chellu composes poems once a while. She has been doing this ever since we started to HS in NJ. I never gave it much importance thinking that its just an extension of the songs we compose and sing during the day. But this trend seems to stay for long though intermittent in its occurances.
Once last year during story-telling I asked the kids to make their own story and wrote it down verbatim. The whole thing suddenly got an air of importance. And then when I narrated back to them their story verbatim there was squells of laughter!! They were thrilled and amused to a great extent to hear their own stuff and even till date once a while , they will ask me to narrate that story.
So I have decided to start noting down Chellu's poems.. That way she sees how things are spelled and it gives that extra "specialness" in the compositions. I do regret for missing out on all the previous compositions. Chellu's verbal creativity comes out the most during her potty time.

The first poem was composed after reading " The Hungry Caterplliar". When she composed the poem we sat down and wrote it together on a chart paper. She then drew four butterflies representing each one of us with flowers on the side to suck honey from.
The last two poems were composed during a spate of loose-motions..her creativity was obviously on a high!!! :)))

Apart from the creativity happening here I can also see her English evolving.

Caterpillar (2), how are you?
I am good (2) who are you
I am a tiny caterpillar and who are you?
I am a big girl and what's your name
My name is Shruthkirti Shankar and what do you eat?
I eat some green leaves , thank-you (2)
Sleep ( 3) in the coccon and sunday
He becomes a beautiful butterfly.

One little water fell on the ground and
Two little water fell on the ground and
Three little water fell on the ground and
Six little water fell on the ground
Eight little water fell on the ground and
Six little water fell on the ground
Seven little water fell on the ground
Nine little water fell on the ground
Ten little water fell on the ground ...this goes on as 11, 12, 13 ..till 20...
One little girl come see in the rain and
Two little girls come see in the rain
....Again this goes till 20.
Summer came all the boys go to home and
Summer morning all the boys played in the park and
Monday morning all the girls come to the park and
All the night the girls go to home and sleep

MOM : ( this poem she said was about what happened on that particular day. Anita the character in the poem is her fictious friend with whom she is on the phone the entire day!!!)

Mom do working and
Childrens come in the kitchen and
Mom allows them and
Mom love them and
Mom kiss them and
Mom mom "how are you" and "I good"
And Children whats your name?
My name is Anita and okay Anita gives them a gift
And Anita goes and the children open the gift
And see inside and find a make-up set
And all the children give the moms the make-up set
And moms give a chocolate bar
And the children eat
And the children see the Cinderlla movie
And the moms close the movie
And the fan goes and the light goes and the movies goes
And the others' movies goes !

She explained to me that the last two lines mean that its night time and everything gets shut down at our house and others' house .

A vacation to remember- A Punjabi wedding in Chandigarh ( 9th - 13th March' 2010)

We just returned from a 10 day long trip to Chandigarh and then to Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand. The former was to attend a Punjbai wedding- the wedding of the brother of a close friend of mine from NJ. The latter was to experience, destress ourselves in the midst of nature. Both the trips went very well and as a mother my parameter of the success of any trip depends on how much my girls enjoyed the same. This one in that sense was simply outstanding. It was the most relaxing and interesting trip for all of us. I could sense it from Chellu's behavior. It was simply par excellence. She seemed to be in her own world..I could hardly even feel her presence. Of course a great part of this is also because her father had returned back from the US just a few days prior to taking the trip. Like all kids she adores her dad. He is her hero ..her mother is the person who is always there but her father is that extra special something. Since a very small age she has enjoyed Shankar's company alone. The first time she went away with him (to Connecticut)for 4 full days was when she only 2.6 yrs ..she never asked for me even once!! It was the same in this trip too..though I was physically present with her this time she didnt seem to acknowledge it..for every need she went to her dad. Of course I was thrilled!!! :)))

The kids enjoyed both the provided them with amazing diversity of experience. The Chandigarh trip gave them a taste of different people, of a very differently celebrated wedding , of a different type of cuisine, of a completely new city, of a different language,of the close interactions of two families, of enjoying a cute little baby, of all the dressing up and the general parapharnelia around a wedding . When we stepped in Radhika's ( my friend) house the girls were awestruck with the sangeet that was going on. Chellu immediately planted herself next to the dholak and one could see that her hands were itching to play it. After waiting for a long time she finally asked the lady if she could play and took over. She experimented with it- tried playing with her hands and the spoon...

A lot of things happening before and during the actual wedding was so new to the girls that many a times I caught them just standing and staring. The making of the rotis in the tandoor, the horse during the baraat, the dulha on the horse ( and everything about the baraat!!), the energetic dancing during the sangeet night , the beautifully dressed bride , the rituals during the shagun ...everything seemed to captivate them. They never complained even once during the wedding that they were bored even though there were literally no kids around. Except for Radhika's own nephews who were in their own world. Only on the day after the wedding during the games that the newly married couple play that I saw the nephews and my girls playing together! But before that it seemed like these 4 children who were the only ones in the wedding were in their own world. But Chellu and Kunju did enjoy immensely the company of Radhika's 7 month old baby- Chaarvi. Chaarvi is the cutest little thing and the girls couldn't keep away from her. Especially kunju- she would get up in the morning and ask first thing if Chaarvi too had got up?

We were put up at a neighbor's house next to the wedding house between which was a huge lawn. The girls loved running to & fro between the houses. Everytime I needed something the girls would volunteer to go themselves and ask for it from Radhika's house. After 2 days or so of being in Chandigarh we could detect a Punjabi accent in Chellu's hindi! She had apparently struck a conversation with the guy who made the tandoori roti enquiring about the process!

The most often asked question about HSing is on socialization..I frankly feel that HSing is where true socialization happens when children interact with all sorts of people all the time. We have been to so many places and have interacted closely with a lot of very diverse set of people- higher middle class, rich class, lower middle class, poor poeple, people speaking various languages, elders, teenagers, babies etc..and I've never seen my children getting bored. Like the Chandigarh vacation there might not even be any children around but they never complain. They don't whine for the lack of playgrounds or TV or children or toys or anything that is generally a given in a child's life. Like in Chandigarh all they need is some mud,stones, lots of free space to run around, loving elders, enthusiasm in the air and they proceed to have a blast!!!

Most mornings I have caught the girls playing by themselves alternating between mud play, running around, stopping for brief intervals at the wedding house, playing with Chaarvi and fooling around with Shankar. The singing in the Sangeet with the dholak never failed to captivate them and they would immediately plant themselves in the midst of all the ladies. They never bothered me for anything !! It felt so different..they ignored my very presence!!! ;))

I think the wedding gave them an entirely new world to experience and that kept them very very busy mentally and physically. They even took a new liking to parathas for breakfast!During the Shagun chellu figured out the wide array of starters being served and kept going herself to the servers to ask for more. She also became the "go to" person for her sister to pick the starter of choice. I was watching them from a distance and could hear conversations of the sisters discussing about the starters .." this is paneer, that is too spicy , this one has yogurt etc". In my moments of brief absence they managed to serve each other lots of cold drinks too!!!

Chellu developed a new hobby during the wedding- Photography!! It started when Shankar & I were dancing like crazy during the Sangeet ceremony..She danced with us briefly then asked if she could photograph us. I guess she has never seen both her parents dance like this before!!! Shankar gave her the camera and then nothing could stop her. While viewing through the photos later on I realized that apart from a few photos of us the majority of the photos she had taken were of still objects...the chair, the light, someone's design on a dress, the pole of the tent etc...Things that would never capture an adult's imagination!! For adults it would seem like rubbish but I was quite intrigued by what is it about these still objects that caught her attention..this trend continued in the Corbett Park too..I have never asked her why yet. But I'm amazed at the fact that such little things could intrigue a child. As adults we need big, happening stuff to justify our attention and interest but here was my child taking such a keen interest in the most mundane things. A huge wedding was happening around her and she chose to capture the stillness in it..I am always inspired by my children..I learn so much from them..I feel so humbled. They see the extraordinary in the ordinary, the "wow" in the most simple things, they take in the present for what it is never demanding for extra-special stuff ! In the book " Buddhism for Mothers" the author writes that our children are actually our spiritual zen masters housed in small bodies.I couldn't agree more!!! :)))

Overall the Chandigarh trip gave them a taste of a very different culture and they lapped it up with great enthusiasm. This is indeed the beauty of this country. Everytime you cross a border you see and feel something very different. The entire experience was very rich for all of us. I love going to new places. And this time I truly experienced the warmth of Indian culture. Many of us in the US constantly question whether there is any Indian culture left at all in India. We have personally never doubted this but experienced it too.. Indian culture lies in the fact that :

1. The neighbor of the groom’s family agrees to host an unknown guest for 5 days!!
2. From the moment we step in the house of our host it feels like we know them for ages. We talk for hours together exchanging all sorts of information about our respective families. The aunty and uncle at whose house we were put up kept telling that it is God who connects us all. They have been always wishing to know a South Indian family very closely and their wish was finally granted! They made us feel so much at home. We were planning to move out and check in a hotel once the wedding was over but the hosts refused to let us go. They told us that we will stay in their house till we left from Chandigarh. Aunty forced us to eat dinner and breakfast in their house even though arrangements were already made in the wedding house. She kept saying” Ek baar tho hamare gar mein kana hi padega..”. They helped us in every sense taking a keen interest in everything we did. They made phone- calls for us , gave us tips on sight-seeing, participated in making plans for travel to the next destination etc…We didn’t feel like guests but rather like part of their own family.
3. The wedding host and thier neighbor fight over whose hosting the guests. Both of them want to and will not let go of their guests.
4. Radhika’s parents inspite of being dead tired from the wedding invited us to dinner the day before we left. It was very late and aunty seemed very very tired. But they prepared a such south-indian dinner for us and sat with us till 1.00am.

As a HSing family Shankar & I see these events not just as a vacation or a wedding or a trip but as huge learning experiences. I am certain that my children learned a lot ..just the fact that they were exposed to a totally different environment , a totally different culture was such a precious learning experience. My heart regaled at the fact that they my children were being soaked in the goodness of the Indian culture. Its warmth, love, hospitality and colorfullness thats hard to experience anywhere else. And I could see it from their behavior that their brains & senses were fully engaged in every detail of what was going on around them. This is true learning!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Which is the best animal to get kidnapped by? !!! - 8th Jan '11

Today the girls were very cranky. They slept off most of the day during odd times and weren't in a good mood at all during the waking hours. They kept insisting to be picked up, kept fighting with each other and were overall in a nasty mood. I guess they are still recovering from their week long illness and since the entire day yesterday was dedicated to playing with play-doh, they were in a sense recouping all the lost energy!!
It seemed very hard for me to give all my time and energy to them since we are leaving for our vacation to Chandigarh and then to Jim Corbett National Park tomorrow. The packing proceeded at a snail's pace and took the entire day!!! Wow I am suprised at how simple things can blow up into a day long activity when the kids don't co-operate and there are a million things to get done. After the children were born I have started to feel that 24 hours is just not enough in a day. Mothers need more time! Phew...
Ofcourse deciding what to take for each kid constituted majority of my packing time. Its so hard when you have to pack for hot and cold weather! A real challenge!!! I did lose my temper a few times but overall I think I did reasonably well when it came to temper and situation management. Of course my conduct in the face of such adversities needs vast improvement....

Chellu kept asking if we could HS !! I understand where that came from..last week's illness kept us away from serious HSing of any sort. we read books at the most and watched lots of movies and children's stuff. But nothing more than that. I know for sure that whenever she asks to be HSed she is asking for my one-on-one attention primarily and for some focussed activity. Neither of which happened since I too was sick as a dog!

Middle of the day kunju started whining to be picked up when I had finally started to pack. I got a little irritated with her whining and immediately said" If you continue to do this in the national park then the tigers will come and pick you away!" I literally did the action , picking her by her T-shirt. The moment I did this I realized my folly.Shit! How stupid of me..I am taking them for a vacation to a certain place and scaring the day-lights off them about that very same place!! They must be thinking that we are some sort of evil plotters!! And it never does any good to scare a child about anything..As parents we often resort to this craziness..I feel quite ashamed whenever I do this but end up repeating the mistake all the time, especially during days like today when I am terribly squeezed for time and the kids will simply not co-operate..
To quickly mend my mistake I then said.." But do you know what the tiger will do when he takes you away?"..The fear on the girls' face immediately turned into curiosity as if begging for more...I know I had hit the bull's eye !!
"It will take you away and make you its baby!!" And then??? they asked..."It will take care of you just like amma and appa , feed you,bathe you, put you to sleep." They started to smile. "But there is one problem " I continued..It will feed you only animals!!" Yuck they said !! Then we sat together and proceeded to discuss as what will happen if they get kidnapped by various other animals. Crocodile- will feed fish, Snake- will feed frogs & lizards, birds- will feed worms, giraffe-will feed leaves, deer-will feed grass and finally bear- Bear!- it will feed honey, nuts and wild flowers & fruits. Their eyes immediately lit up and Chellu claimed " Ha then the best thing would be for a bear to kidnap us !!!" Kunju seemed very excited too..she loves nuts!!

Such conversations always delight me. I treasure these moments. And this dialogue definitely helped in bridging the gap between us today. We all seemed to have struck a chord in the midst of all the " to dos..."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The magic of playdoh

Shankar finally arrived yesterday late night after 6 weeks in the US. Watching him and the kids interact reminded me of Santa Claus. They were desperate to know what he had bought for them and he was very pleased with himself to have got the bag of goodies. He opened the suitcase himself and then started weaving magic infront of the kids . This is where the guys always clearly win. They go away for days together and then make up for all that absence with a few goodies. After that its like the mom never existed..I secretly wish I could do that sometimes!!! Go away for a long time and then come back to impress the hell out of the kids.:))
With each purchase the children's eyes widened...and the winner was clearly PLAYDOH!! Shankar had got several playdoh related role play toys. An icecream shop, a pizza shop , automobiles what not..the girls were brimming with enthusiasm..Its like their hands were itching to start playing with the playdoh. And ofcourse they did...they played the entire day with playdoh.

It was like nothing in the world could distract them. During one session Chellu sat straight for an hour today. She used all the instruments in the set and made every possible type of icecream, sundae etc...She wasn't interested in food or sleep. All she wanted to do was play with the playdoh. She was mesmerized with it. Same thing with kunju in the evening. It was funny how the sisters kept creeping up behind each other's backs to have lone time with the playdoh!;))

I've always wondered whats with playdoh that amazes children so much. Or for that matter atta or clay . I used to love playing with clay when I was in Salem. My friends always knew that the claypit is where Sangeetha would be playing after school. I loved the way the clay would flex according to my wishes. And I am sure this is the same reason for my kids too. In an adult world where children are constantly at the receiving end of the adults in terms of rules and expectations and what not, it must be so liberating for them to dictate the terms for once. And they can do this playdoh. They can make it into whatever is it that THEY wish to. There are no rules and regulations here. Just the child's mind , her fingers and the doh. It slips in between their fingers beautifully and takes any form...It's like magic. They are the magician and the playdoh the object of their magic - the playdoh's flexibility, its acceptance of the child ( it allows the child to do what he/she wants to) and the wonderful shapes that form as a result of this interaction.

We incorporate playdoh in our HSing activities & more often in our daily lives. During Ganpati we carved out an entire Ganpati from atta on a sheet of thermocol. Chellu then proceeded to decorate it with grains and the result was stunning. While the rest of the world looked forward to visarjan of their Ganpati idols, we stored ours carefully in the freezer for a long time. We used to joke around then that Ganpati himself must be thinking that of the millions of homes that he has visited over the ages , no one must have ever put HIM in the freezer before! ;))

On days when I am busy with something or need to rest, I will generally bring out two belans( chapatti rollers), two platforms for rolling out the chappatis ,lotsa maida ka atta , two butter knives..The sisters take over and can go for hours..Once they clocked like 1.5 hours at a stretch..They will roll the chappatis with fury, cut it into all sorts of shapes, knead them all together and start all over again..Their focus and engagement with the object of play is really really worth noticing and learning a lot from. I am sure this is true of other children too. The only difference might be the object of interest. I absolutely adore in kids their ability to shut out everything in the world and become obsessed with their interest! It's so hard for us adults to do the same..I can never be that focussed with anything. I am constantly jumping between the past and the future and even if I am let alone I can never have the same focus as the kids do when they become interested in something!!! And as a HSing mom I sincerely hope that as adults my kids will find that something "special" in their lives that will keep them obsessed forever. That will truly be a success for me!!

We have had many wonderful creations from playdoh. In NJ Chellu had once made jewellery of all sorts- chains, bracelets, anklets , earring etc...Kunju was obsessed with it some time back. All she day the whole day was to cut the doh into thin slices. One day just before starting the HSing routine I was busy cooking. The girls hid themselves below the jhoola and were busy for like 45 mins or so. I didn't bother to check but was intrigued by the lack of fighting , crying, arguing etc...When I finally went to check they were busy with each other and themselves ..they had neatly divided the playdoh amongst themselves and were lost in their own worlds. Chellu had created an entire man with a head, eyes, nose, hands etc..Kunju had found a bowl of water and was experimenting with the doh and water. Dipping small balls in the bowl and then cutting it into thin slices..Dropping the balls in the bowl and then transferrring water from one bowl to another. The girls had also picked up several leaves and had made impressions of the leaves on the doh. They had made a beautiful rangoli of sorts with the leaves , stones, twigs and ofcourse doh! And the best part was the modaks they had made. Several of them- then they quickly got a plate, arranged it beautifully and served it to me. Im not sure how they learned to make modaks..probably by observing us during Ganpati!

Another time while playing with the doh, we started playing "pizza restaurant". Chellu is the chef and kunju the assistant. I have to call to place the order, then I visit the restaurant. The girls do the entire routine of serving me with the pizza..It was very interesting to see some of the toppings including fruits and nuts!! :))The game started getting more complicated with greetings/communication between the customer and the business owner , delivery service and finally money. We have used the playdoh in serious HSing too- learning the alphabets, numbers and making animal and other shapes.

Playdoh can unlease the artist in a child or for that matter in all of us like none other. Its willingess to "become" anything that the creator wants it to with no resistance makes it ideal. Real art is the process not the product. The associations, the memories that crop up, the feelings/emotions that cross our minds in any form of art is what makes its true worth. Art is therapeutic in the truest sense. When a child splashes paint all over paper she is infact really getting in touch with herself. There has been a study that proves that children paint with different colors and strokes depending on whether they are happy or not, angry or sad, loving or hateful at that moment. It is indeed sad to see children being asked to color within lines, draw perfect images, use the "right colors" etc. I find it really ridiculous. When we dictate that something needs to be drawn/painted in such and such a way, we are projecting onto the child our extremely limited experience/ notion of this world. I am always reminded of how amazed I was during the first fall of NJ. I was stunned to see sooooooooooo many colors of leaves. Before that while in India I always associated "leaf" with "green". But I was so wrong. So if I dictate that the leaf should be colored in green am I not being really narrow-minded and actually projecting that onto that child?

Last year during Ganpati celebrations in Magarpatta City Chellu participated in the drawing competition. She chose to draw flowers and the colors she chose! She painted the flower green and the leaves purple. When I asked her the reason behind her choice of colors she quickly replied.." Ofcourse there are flowers that are green. Haven't you seen any?" All I could do was smile ..cause I am very sure that in this whole , wide, wonderful world there is a green flower somewhere out there. And even if there isn't one, this green flower was the product of Chellu's mind- her creation and not reality!

I strongly belive that children learn best from play. For us it might be time-pass but they are making so many observations , so many conclusions, trying to replicate the adult world, learning about social behavior etc...Having grown in the system I too have to remind myself many times that learning the alphabet or numbers or other such academic stuff alone does not constitue serious learning. God made play so that children can learn very seriously without the interruption of the adults!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

For the love of reading

One of the million things I love about not attending school is the fact that we can read anywhere, anytime and anything. Reading is no longer restricted to boring textbooks authored by some unknown person who has no clue about the very existence of my children. Not saying that school going children cannot read nor become book lovers but yes the time that one can devote to reading for the love of it is certainly grossly restricted. After textbooks and workbooks and homework books, where did we have the time to leisurely open a book and browse through it for hours? Where did we have the time and resources to read more and much more on any subject till our curiosity was satisfied?

When I was in school I was mesmerized by history and geography…Those were my favorite subjects much to the chargin of my class mates (How boring are you, they used to claim!!) The lives of people in distant lands and in the by gone ages have captivated me ..I used to dream of being a Princess , an Arab, a farmer, a tribal and what not..of roaming the streets in the kingdom of the Cholas, of feeling what it would be to live in the same age and day as the Christ, of marching along Gandhiji during the salt satyagraha, of making all those wonderful inventions in the Americas..I was essentially a dreamer and am even today. I also love to travel . To travel and go to unknown, off-beat places can give me an adrenalin high like none other ( of course God sent me children and now I THINK a 100 times before venturing out anywhere!!) . And I used to want to read and read on everything that there is to read on such peoples and places …But sadly academics demanded my attention- there was always something to study, always an exam around the corner , always a homework to finish. We hardly had free time to ourselves to pursue what we most wanted to. And I can bet my parents have no clue about my love for books…In between school and junior college and then engineering college my love for reading just got lost somewhere..Like the guy you had a huge crush on in college and who just disappears from the college ( you later on come to know that he just graduated!!! ;)) He was there all along, you just kept wishing you get to talk to him/know him just keep dreaming about him , but he is oblivious to your very presence and then moves on………And WHAM! One fine day you realize that he has gone forever and you slap yourself for never having had the guts to befriend him…Books and me are just the same.

And then thankfully I get married to a guy who loves books. Shankar used to spend his weekends before marriage in the library of AT&T headquarters, sometimes even sleeping off the nights there. Give him some free time and he will curl up with a book. We have had many fights over his obvious disinterest in my shopping sprees. Much to my chargin he used to walk behind me in Walmart or hover around the aisles with a book in his hand!! Can you imagine how odd that looks? A guy with a book in his hand walking all over Walmart , behind his wife ready to blow her head off??? So once again books came back into my life and I started to read for the love of it. I read novels, fiction, books that captured Dadaji’s thoughts, books on the ancient vedic culture but I didn’t become a book lover again till my children were born.

The first time that I read from page to page, line to line like some mad person was post-pregnancy. It is the bible of breast feeding “ The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” . I wanted to breastfeed desperately and there were many obstacles. I’ve spent the first days and months of motherhood just reading and re-reading on positioning the baby, signs of hunger, how to express etc.. etc..Ofcourse I became an expert at it and went on to exclusively breastfeed both my children for 6 months and supplement for much much longer. This association with books then just continued and seems to get better every day.

We are essentially a reading family. My children's favorite activity is reading . In NJ Chellu and I used to love going to the public library to lend books. Hours used to vanish like minutes while poring through the shelves. Chellu seemed to love the company of books from babyhood. As she grew older books became my way of bribing her into anything I wanted her to do or not do. And I think books took the place of TV in our house simply because we took the TV out of our lives since the arrival of our first born. The baby came in, the TV went out and got replaced by books.

As a baby Chellu like any other child loved to chew on books rather than read. We let it be- we wanted her to grow in the company of books..even if she chewed it , that was good enough for us! Thankfully in the US one gets all sorts of books for babies- cloth books, hard bound books, plastic books and we let Chellu feast on these. As she grew older she loved tearing pages off books, playing peek-a-boo with books, scribbling on them and of course being read to. Reading became less of an activity that happened once or twice during the day but rather an all day long activity. We read books to her/ told stories to her to make her brush, eat her breakfast, take a bath, dress up, sit in the car seat and finally sleep.. “Kadhae, kadhae” she kept screaming all day meaning "stories, stories" in Tamil. She needed a story for everything and anything! And this love for books continues till date.

We read a lot, anytime, anywhere. Our favorite activity is reading that happens just before the afternoon naptime. Me and the girls cozy up with each other and read and read till the kids are fast asleep. The closeness, the connection, the questions during this time is very special. I get up recharged to face the rest of the day. The beauty of reading this way is that its not hurried. Since our lives are not dictated by timings of any sort ( except for what we ourselves make) reading can happen at its own pace..And when this sort of reading happens the learning is also very high. I really, truly believe that my children will learn most from reading in their HSing lives..Its in fact an accepted thing in the HSing circuit that HSing becomes a cake-walk once your child is a bookworm. ..they will end up learning ( by reading first and then doing/seeing) everything they crave for by reading alone.

HSing and reading go hand in hand. I tend to be selective about what Chellu reads. Since we do theme based activities I read books to her that is also theme based. Where do I get the books from? That was a BIG worry for me when I left the States. We are country of no good libraries. We have ceased to be a nation of book lovers! The omnipresent TV has replaced books.. It is very hard to find a decent library within a reasonable distance from home. And I am quite shocked to know that the lack of good libraries is hardly a concern for most parents. I concluded that their children probably have no free time to puruse the reading activity with a thirst that can only be quenched by a library..Of course the value of “free time” in our children’s lives justifies a blog post in itself.

In the initial days after landing in India we sought out our “own library”- all the books that we had shipped from the US. But I knew that soon these books will lose their interest and I was keen on a service that would cater to my HSing needs. One fine day I came to know that my college mate and a very dear friend has quit his IT job ( imagine that!!) and has started an online book rental called TenderLeaves..Books have always been his passion and he decided to do something that caters to his passion….Wow, now isn’t that amazing?

Thanks to Tender Leaves ( )I now have the luxury of home delivery and pick up of books that I choose for my HSing needs. So if Im doing activities based on bugs I get to read books on bugs to her. This provides for a strong fortification of ideas gained during the HSing activites. And its vice-versa too..Sometimes we will read something and then try it out. Examples are of enacting a book, narration from a book , doing some art & craft based on the book. Chellu especially loves the drama part of it. We have enacted many many books and from the look of it I think she is definitely gonna dabble in the theater arts once older!

I love the interaction that happens during reading with no boundaries..Once we were reading a book called Marvin K. Mooney Go Away (from the Dr. Seuss series) from TenderLeaves . Basically the book is about this character called Mooney who is asked to go away by various means..through bicycle, through the boat etc…basically it’s a funny easy read for a 4 yr old. Chellu kept wondering for many days as to why Mooney is so persistently asked to go away..I kept answering “I don’t know”.. Then one fine afternoon she jumped out the bed apparently having found out the reason behind Mooney’s expel. She said the guy who is asking Mooney to go away needs to go to the loo very urgently and needed some privacy!! I was very pleased with her answer- dosen’t it sound perfectly logical? ;))) We have had great fun from the books from TenderLeaves..its always a very exciting thing for the kids when the next new set of books arrive !The best part is I get to tailor it according to Chellu’s developmental stage.Some months back when we started reading I asked for books that are apt for beginning readers..Then when she was in the memorizing mode (when she couldn’t even recognize the alphabets)I asked for books that were easy reads. During this stage she used to rattle off ends/middle of sentences, entire small books verbatim. It was during this memorizing mode that she learned about rhyming words too. In the most recent batch ( on bugs) from TenderLeaves we loved " The Hungry Caterpillar" and " The Grouchy Ladybug". These two books sparked a new interest in Chellu. She asked me to read about the author Eric Carle on the backcover ..Don't know what struck her then , nowadays she says she will write children's books when she grows up and draw the illustrations too! Im sure its the impressive book design that struck a chord with her.
The tailor made books from TenderLeaves definitely makes our learning more inter-connected, more real time. I do sincerely hope that TenderLeaves meets with tons of success ! India certainly needs more entrepreneurs like Harish and Sirisha ( Harish’s dear wife) who have the guts to break away from the “regular” and start a business that’s of immense value to the present and the future of this country. WE NEED MORE LIBRARIES!

Another library I also enjoy is the BCL ( British Council Library). I kept resisting the BCL for long..For one its “British” and secondly it’s a good 45 mins from my home. But one weekend Shankar & I took the kids for an afternoon at the library..The kids ended up loving it! Chellu was like a kid in a candy store. It reminded all of us about the lovely public libraries in the US ( of course there is no comparison between the two..the British have a looooooooong way to catch up with the Americans when it comes to running a library or for that matter writing books) . How come the Americans have become so smart in everything they do? This again deserves a blog post in itself..

Anywayz, after that afterooon experience we have made many trips to the BCL. It becomes a 2-3 hr ritual of sorts …Thanks to their pathetic cataloguing I spend a LOT of time fishing out the books that cater to my needs. The bright side to this poor cataloguing is that Chellu gets to spend a huge amount of time amongst books. She will pull out as many books as possible and asked to be read. Which then means that I need to drag along a “reader”. My dear friend Deepak has always filled in the need ! :)) And I must admit that they do have some really good books. An impressive collection of stories on animals...We immensely enjoy the BCL books too.

The girls have learned a lot from books. Infact Chellu learned how to speak English from reading books. Apart from a few HSing friends who talk to her in English whenever we meet up ( dosen’t happen all the time) her opportunity to speak the language is limited. She has picked amazing Hindi though and can talk fluently . When I started reading to her she needed translation of the entire book in Tamil..that eventually decreased and now she can perfectly understand what’s being read to her. She learned to recognize the small-case letters from books entirely by herself. She has started to compose small poems in English. When she speaks in English to her friends and to me I can see a vast improvement. This has happened solely due to reading books.As for Kunju I have caught her too trying to recite a book verbatim. In this respect the girls have immensely enjoyed "Chinta the Chinchilla" from TenderLeaves. Kunju has also started to "read" books on her own. She always starts the story with " One morning.." While reading Kunju always points to the alphabets.." Amma look thats an A " she will interject. Kunju is the questioning types and hence reading a book to her means lots of interruptions..something that irritates her sister BIG TIME!

One of the sights that always regales my heart as a HSing mom is that of my girls lying down on the sofa or bed casually poring through a book . Or seeing them read stories to each other ( I absolutely love that!!) It also reminds me of how much I have started to love books again. HSing has in a sense reconnected me to my lost love. I get as excited as my kids when the books from TenderLeaves arrive or when we are in a book shop or in BCL. When I spend hours fishing out the ideal books for my girls the mother in my feels very content. It feels like those hours were so well spent for the sake of the children! I enjoy the books that I read to the kids as much as they do. And I too have learned a lot from these children's books.

These days I have to read a book first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed. HSing like none other has thrust me deeply into the habit of reading. I read all the time online and offline. Boredom has been bansihed from my life for ever. Thanks to books I have got connected to millions of other moms and parents worldwide and across ages , who have treaded on the HSing path or have pondered deeply over mothering/parenting. Currently I am reading " Mitten Strings for God" a very gentle reminder on how to slow down and truly enjoy our children. Such books make me smile, give me immense confidence and assurance in what I do day in and out , in my decisions to quit work and be a HSing mom . They have taken the role of "mothering" me in the truest sense.....:)

I sincerely hope that our family's new found romance with books only grows stronger in the years to come……..