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……..

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