Thursday, March 29, 2012

Beauty Parlor Beauty Parlor

Hmm..the girls have been behind me to play beauty parlor, beauty parlor. Which essentially means make-up ! I finally obliged (though grudgingly) and it was a real blast for all of us.

Chellu made her own services card. She named her shop Ranika Beauty Parlor and agreed to write down all the services they offered. She did a really good job at it. I had to intervene and correct only a few times. The services offered were lipstick, cheek colors, eye shadow, shampoo, hair wash, bindi, nail polish and hair combing.So we sat down and the process started. Basically I was visiting their shop to get dressed to attend a wedding.

Dhriti joined us too and each of the girls did everything in turn. The excitement on their faces was worth a million dollars. And they were really focused when applying the make-up too. When everyone had gotten a chance they were very pleased with the final result!

Then it was time for hair wash & shampoo. I was kinda freaked out about it but finally gave in. I sat down on a stool and divided my hair into 3 sections for each of them to work on. A bucket was filled with water and each one was given 3 mugs. Wow they had a gala time. The girls were squealing with laughter. And supppppppppppppppppppppper excited. They did an amazing job and when the job was done , it was time for them to enjoy water-play amongst themselves.

Hmm..actually in retrospect what they did yesterday was nothing fancy from an adult's point of view. But for the kids it was huge. It was reverse parenting. Maybe some part of them wants to do everything to us that's done to them in the name of parenting or upbringing. This is where I'm reminded of the need for kids to do real life stuff than to be watered-down. Its one thing to wash a doll's hair but something HUGE to wash real Amma's , real hair! The look on their faces yesterday was such a kodak moment. I will never forget it.

And I also realized that all our kids really need is us. We would like to replace ourselves as much as possible with toys and other stuff but the real thing is US. If only we could get out of our comfort zones or out of our notions of what's possible/doable & not and become children again? The real excitement starts then..both for the children & for the adults.

After all this the girls themselves ( now joined by their friend Prisha) settled down to quiet play. Chellu & Prisha played with the laptop while Dhriti & Kunju doddled around ..this went on for almost 45 mins..No fighting, no arguments . Wonderful team-work. But I guess this was the after-effect of all the masti they had ..Their fun quotient was full!! And so was mine. What an amazing day!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Orange dosai anyone?

Well the days of "Explorative Cooking" are back with a bang! "Explorative Cooking" is a new term that has been coined in our home to describe the type of cooking activities that the sisters started some time back. As with everything else they got a sudden intense passion to try out "cooking"..they would come in the kitchen and literally attack my masala dabbas and fridge and create all sorts of dishes with it. As an adult my first reaction was to say "NO" to the kind of things that they would want to cook with but later on realized that I cannot expect them to understand what goes into sensible cooking..for them the kitchen and its materials is just one huge Lab which they are exploring..hence the name Explorative Cooking!

Explorative cooking can be hard on the watcher..Chellu would take an utensil and mix all the masalas, date syrup, salt, sugar, neem leaves & so many other things ..sometimes even washing soap & what not! I had a hard time trying to make sense out of the amount of wastage but then realized that this is our "Cost of education"!! It all actually started with her wondering about the effect of putting soap water mixed with chai powder ( boiled one) in the freezer? This led to a series of other experiments , mostly with mixing and observing. They would also time & again want to do other kitchen chores like chopping, peeling, making chappati atta, washing vessels, pocha etc etc.. They also went through a stage of wanting to observe everything on the gas by standing on the platform.

The boiled & filtered chai powder is one of their favorites. Many afternoons have gone in playing "chai chai" with the same! They would pretend like making chai with the chai pathi , filter it, pour it in glasses & serve me.

One of the interesting things that came up from explorative cooking is learning to read!! Ya learning to read. I made up a game where Chellu would make her "exotic fish food" & come to my house to sell it. The problem is that I cannot understand the spoken word..i can only write but cannot read. So when she comes into the house I ask her about the ingredients and she starts listing the items. I act like I don't understand anything she says..Instead I list 5 to 6 words for every ingredient she is explaining about..she attempts to read it and will tick the right word..Wow this game had really helped us in making a huge, quantum leap in Chellu's reading skills. We used to even extend it to learning about numbers by making our own visiting cards ( writing numbers) , calling each other on the phone ( number recognition) ..throw in marketing skills, communication skills, pricing , customer satisfaction too..And the best part is Chellu dosen't have a clue about the huge amount of learning she is doing!!

Off late her cooking inventions have been orange dosai ( cutting orange peels into tiny pieces, mixing it with the dough & making dosas out of it, colored ice- this is basically all sorts of juices poured in to the ice cube containers , including ketchup ice! Both these inventions have been a huge hit with her dad liking the former & her friends liking the latter. In fact when she has a play-date Chellu will always remember to make the tasty ice-cubes in advance for her friends.Recently she had also made kothmir chutney by pounding kothmir & mixing salt to it.Helping me with fruit-milk shakes is another of Chellu's favorites...Its a pleasure to watch her cut strawberries into thin slices for the milk shake..I've also realized that she loves the "serving" part of it. she will choose good-looking glasses and also arrange them on a nice serving plate & bring it to us..

Last weekend the girls tried something truly novel. Cooking with mud! Shankar was doing stuff with his urban permaculture experiment & the mud sacs were opened for it. Th girl pounced on the mud sac & decided to cook with it. While Chellu made mitti ka chappati, Kunju made mitti ki dal & mitti ki soup. They had such a blast getting their hands dirty..Truly nothing can substiture mud when it comes to super fun!

Cooking is always such a hit with my girls. I realized that I need to take a step back & not try to judge what they do logically..At this stage its purely experimentation for them. They are learning about various ingredients & trying to see what happens when such & such a thing is done..Isn't this truly science? when the mind evokes Q & the hands goes about trying to find a solution? I've been slowly trying to nudge Chellu towards cooking only with eatable stuff so that it can be consumed at some point of time..

Her most recent invention has been chocolate yogurt ( yogurt mixed with cocoa-powder). And making cultet impressions with cookie-cutters.

Im enjoying every bit of all this explorative cooking. In fact its a pleasure to watch them experiment & come up with novel ideas of food. I've realized that helping out in the kitchen is is a matter of great pride for them. They want to be my by side doing the same things as me. Watering it down only puts them off. Whether its mixing newly fermented idli/dosa atta or pouring them into the idli plates or serving or making chappati atta/ rolling out chappattis or any of the innumerable stuff related to the kitchen they are always game. And this is the same w.r.t everything else. I think the concept of toys is a very recent phenomenon. When I watch my girls I've realized that they spend very little time with toys compared to what they would like to do with real-life play. Even when they are playing they like toys that imitate real-life like washing m/c, kitchen, dolls ( for babies)etc..the other ones get an occasional glance. I had read somewhere that pre-industrialization (& even now in rural settings)children used to help around a lot with house-hold chores. They probably never had issues raising 10 kids becoz the kids were involved in activities throughout the day like farming etc..
Another book had said that letting kids do house-hold work improves their self-esteem . It gives them a great sense of importance. But sadly our present culture "waters-down" or " dumbs-down" everything for them. Anyone who watches me hand over a real kitchen knife to the girls is shocked. But the truth is that even 3 yr old Shreedhari has never hurt herself with it. The other day I watched Chellu break coconut shells ( the green part) with a huge arruvaal ( English version??) . She fixed the aruvaal on the shell , lifted it all the way up & then banged it on the floor to break it open. Ofcourse Shankar was by her side. And Chellu was enjoying every bit of it.

And this is one of the biggest advantages of HSing..the fact that something can be done then & there when there is an interest. No "later ons" or no " this is not allowed". Everything is learning & that too "on-time".

Personally I keep checking with myself to let go more & more & allow the girls to do whatever they want in the kitchen. Never look at it as frivolous..Who knows what lies beneath this burning interest? Chellu always keeps saying that she would like to be a "cooker" when she grows up !!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learning Societies Unconference ( LSU )- its valuable lessons in ecological sensitivity

Wow..somehow I can't stop thinking of the LSU..I guess it was so unique in so many ways that my brain can't seem to flush out the memories and move on!! I wanna record everything that impressed me then for my own memories..I'm categorizing my impressions only for the sake of not missing anything out..It was deeply meaningful for me from the point of view of my own learning..There was so much of it here I go!

1. Ecological sensitivity: I swear by God I've never seen anything like this. When I first heard that the LSU was gonna be held in an organic farm, the organic & the farm part of it struck me but not the logistics. When I read the conference's topic "Healthy Lifestyles Healthy Communities" it didn't do me much..After all we talk a lot about all this but kuch hota hai kya?When only I saw how things were managed there from the point of ecological sensitivity did I realize how much planning & work must have gone into this. The LSU really did live up to its theme.
Its very easy to go to a place, admire it , enjoy it , destroy it and then leave thinking that "I can't do anything about it or I don't live here or Its not practical"..This happens ALL THE TIME!!In all these supposedly eco-farms & resorts we see so much of consumption & waste that it doesn't somehow suit the surroundings. You are in the middle of a forest but are sipping Pepsi & throwing the bottle and moving on... We talk a lot about recycling, ecological awareness, less consumption etc etc but can somehow never get it right especially when we meet in large numbers. The LSU was indeed an eye-opener ..some of the things that impressed the HELL out of me are as follows:

1. Vessel Washing: Wow this one truly truly TOPS the list. They couldn't have got it better. Whoever devised this method is truly a genius..its very simple actually but since we are so used to washing our vessels from the EVER-FLOWING tap=water it never strikes us. The LSU devised a very smart method to reduce the huge amount of water that would have got consumed had all the 350 odd folks washed their utensils from the tap every day..
So the system was that @ 5 containers of water were kept next to each other. Once you are done eating you immerse your vessels in the first one ( this removes all the remaining food), then you scrub them clean with ash ( from the choola cooking) & coconut hair , then progressively keep using the other containers to get your plate absolutely clean. The containers would be refilled from time to time. I'm sure this simple method has saved GALLONS of water. Wow!!

2. Wedding card name-tags: This was another huge one..Everyone was requested to get old wedding cards which would be used as name-tags..what a brilliant way of saving card-board & paper!!

3. Steel utensils- Yes as mentioned earlier they used steel utensils to serve food..People were responsible for washing their own vessels & that too with chool ka ash & not soap. Imagine how much of plastic they saved and how much soap was prevented from contaminating the soil!!

4. Choola- One of the volunteers had built a choola which he had learnt from Rajasthan..I would have to investigate into its specialty.

5. Request to get no plastic utensils- We were all requested prior to the conference to not get plastic water-bottles or containers keeping in tandem with the philosophy of the farm. And I saw VERY FEW PEOPLE with plastic bottles..that's when it struck me that sometimes people just need a friendly reminder to not do certain things and they don't!!

6. Dry compost toilets for pee and poop- Wow!!! This was truly unique..I've never seen something like this. It perfectly went with the surroundings. I am guessing that a lot of people who lived in the tents in the fruit forest of Hide-Out used these toilets..I wasn't aware of it till the girls had to poop one day during the conference.We decided to investigate the toilets..they refused initially..And then we had this long talk on how this is the natural way to defecate, about how much wastage happens in our urban toilets etc..and they agreed. The little one being scared of falling into the hole chose to do it near a tree. Shruthkirti later commented that the toilets never smelled and in fact she enjoyed the breeze while pooping!!! And then it was my turn-frankly speaking I was a bit freaked out.I had done all this lengthy lecturing but a part of me was very reluctant to use the natural toilet.I had to really push myself to WALK THE TALK and I did. But going through the procedure made me realize that in a natural setting biological processes are taken of in a circular manner as against a linear manner in our urban lives. What came from the earth goes back to the earth with minimum usage of resources like water, space, paper etc.. Just because we have a running tap we consume so much more water than we actually need. Before proceeding to the toilet when I collected water in my container I made a mental check that I've got to use it sparingly . Otherwise I would have to get up , wear my clothes again go to the water tank and sit at the toilet again..but inspite of the mental check I wasted the water in like 2 secs & had to go through the process some 3 times much to my disgust & discomfort!!
I also realized another thing- In my urban home I use SO MANY resources to keep the toilet thing going on- like washing it every other day with lotsa water, chemicals & equipment, man hours ( my maid) etc...And all the drainage systems that we need to build to take the water to the sea and the also the humongous contamination of the sea itself. And then I also remembered as to how STUPIDLY LAVISH toilets in American homes can be. I was also part of that stupidity ..with decorating the walls in the toilet , keeping flower-vases , beautiful artifacts like looking objects for storing my tooth-brushes & soaps, scented flowers etc etc...some of the toilets I've seen in American single home families can accommodate 2 families in them!! That's the amount of wastage for a simple biological process that JUST REQUIRES A DAMN HOLE & a little water !!! My goodness ! Humanity has really become a victim of materialism that goes hand in hand with urbanization & modern , so-called "developed" societies where everything is a show-off!!

7. Rural folks are not activists- I will always remember this. Hemant Chaabra ( the owner of the farm) had made this statement " We have a lot to learn from rural folks". Their ecological sensitivity is a way of life done very innocently ..They don't do it as activists like us." And we ( urban, educated , modern) folks look upon villagers as ignorant, "tribal", " uncultured", "dumb" etc etc...We have so much to learn from them. In the US & urban India recycling & environment protection is a huge science, a proud badge to wear , a big tamaashaa of sorts..But these villagers are doing it so naturally. There is no such thing as waste..Jinan mentioned in his talks that the attitude of waste comes in when you keep a waste basket! and there is no such thing as a waste basket in the rural homes. They hardly use anything that is non-biodegradable & if anything comes in their hand they always reuse it. Another person ( he is a farmer in Kerala) had mentioned during one of the sessions that when he initially returned from the US to Kerala to do farming, he always thought he needed to go to the store to fulfill any need of his. But at the village where he lives he observed that if someone wanted something all that they would do is just look around RIGHT where they are located and ALWAYS find something to fulfill their need.

8. Last but not the least, the farm itself really impressed me. Hemant's farm is an organic fruit forest..Its about 5 acres of land that was barren some 23 years ago & now thanks to Hemant & his family's dedication , that land is lush green with all sorts of fruit trees. Hemant took us on a walk through the fruit forest and we realized that he & his family had taken so much of efforts to build this small piece of heaven. Hemant told us that it took some 20 odd years for the birds to come..Hemant makes his own organic compost in the farm itself. We were talking about it later on & Shankar commented that it takes like probably 1/2 hour to raze down 5 acres of forest but 23 LONG years to build it again. I got goose-bumps when I realized it. We were deeply touched by our conversation with Hemant. From a completely urban lifestyle his family has made a huge shift towards rural , meaningful, responsible living ...Shankar & I were very impressed & motivated too. On the last day we got to stay in Hide-Out ( in the middle of the fruit forest) for the night. We slept in a room whose windows where simply huge empty spaces in the wall covered with sack material for curtains. I remember going to sleep with the sound of a 1000 insects around me & waking up the beautiful symphony of a 1000 birds ..The air felt so fresh & inviting. When we returned back to our apt in Pune the contradiction was too obvious. I really miss the farm..and hope to make one my home sometime during this lifetime. I believe heart of hearts that it will certainly happen. All it requires is my intention to be really strong. The universe will send me all the energy to make my dream come true- I truly believe that the LSU was the first step in that direction.

Our lives are simply not justified the way it is right now. This over consumption & linear lifestyle is simply crazy. We cannot continue like this forever & each of us owes a huge debt to be repaid to Mother Nature. I remember reading somewhere that " Our earth has not been passed on to us by our ancestors but has been loaned to us by our children!!"

I've always believed deep down that rural India has so much to teach the world when it comes to ecological sensitivity ..the LSU has deepened my faith & motivated me to do more. Right now we are not in a stage to clear our bowels or bladder in a hole in the mud but in our urban lives itself we can do more of what we already do to be ecologically sensitive & add on a few things. Some of the things that immediately came to my mind during the conference were:

1. Separate dry & wet garbage more effectively.
2. Put away every piece of vegetable & fruit waste in our vermi-compost of our urban permaculture experiment.
3. Always use cloth bags during any shopping ( maybe put a reminder on the door?) & try to reduce drastically & eventually banish plastic bags from our lives.
4. Start using rita for washing our clothes ( A friend has been doing it for 2 years now in her washing m/c & swears by it)- This will reduce the chemical waste that goes down our drains.
5. Investigate into using non-chemical stuff for washing vessels & cleaning. Same for bath soaps & toothpaste. I came across a couple who do the same in their Banglore home.
6. Use coconut hair as brushes for washing vessels (We have lotsa them usually since we are Palghat Iyers & thus consume a lot of coconut!! ;)))
7. Never throw any plastic container & recycle whatever is in the house for any usage. We do this already but can improve a lot more.
8. Try the container system used in the LSU for washing our vessels. Would have to convince the maid ..they use a crazy amount of water for washing the vessels. Also try keeping a vessel in the kitchen basin to collect water from the tap & use it in our permaculture experiment???
9. Shift completely to organic for our kirana needs & fruits & veggies. I learned from Shammi that organic food is not as expensive if bought directly from the source. Also that Pune has a lot of organic farmers who are ready to supply...will investigate further.
10. Consciously switch off the lights if we are not in a room..We do this but can improve .
11. Reduce consumption of processed food..We cook twice a day at home but can try making cookies, pickles & such other stuff that is typically bought in the stores ( This is going to be the tuffest one! ;))) )

The LSU taught me one very important lesson. That ecological sensitivity requires being responsible which in turn means working hard.If we look at the villager's life we can see so much of hard-work. That's why their carbon footprint is so low..We can't have a take-it easy policy & also be ecologically sensitive. Hemant Chaabra taught us this very nicely. He put his foot down & thus made us realize that a LOT OF WORK needs to be done to maintain an organic farm. Hats-off to him!!

I just remembered a logo on someone's T-shirt in the LSU- "If not me then who???"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Learning Societies Unconference ( LSU )- how perfect it was for my kids

We are just back from the was such an unique and awesome experience for us. It was held from Feb 28th-March 4th in Hide-Out, Jhadpoli village, Thane District. We attended it from March 1st-5th and all the 6 days was such a blast. The unconference was held in a mangrove next to Hide-out .

I was initially worried about Kunju. If she will be able to adjust to being outdoors? and adjust to new food for such a long time. But as usual the kids surprised us. Being an unconference the atmosphere was very free and just the fact that it was held in a natural place freed up a lot of energy for the kids. I caught Chellu helping with the cooking in the dhabbha on the first day. They loved the swing tire and spent a lot of time on that. The best part was the mud bath..Chellu was the first one in it and also the last to get out..the guy who hosted it told me later on that she was very open to doing everything, including applying the mud on the hair!! Kunju played a lot in the mud and just kept running around too. I was surprised that the heat didn't bother her as much. I guess it was also the availability of fruits all through the day that kept them energetic enuff as well as hydrated.

I loved watching them participating in many interesting activities like making mud yo-yos, filtering sand, making a huge stick puppet, stringing hay to make a roti basket, painting, putting mehendi, crushing peanuts & kothmir in the original stone grinder, helping in the kitchen with cutting veggies, mixing and serving food, playing with stones and leaves, washing one's own plates after every meal, watching keenly all the activities in the kitchen, dancing in the evening ( salsa, belly-dancing etc) & watching others dance, playing games in the morning, experimenting with wire with Dominique, watching documentary movies, making cartoon puppets, painting..the list goes on..They were like such free spirits that I simply loved that energy. They made new friends and had a ball with other HSing children - Karthik, Janani, Mrunal and Shashvati. At one point I caught Chellu & Shashvati with their hands on each others' shoulders and chatting in bliss..Karthik , Chellu & Kunju spent so much time playing on the swing jhoola..
Poonam & I hosted a games session for all the children and that was awesome too..just to have so many kids in such a free environment was a diffn experience . And then the trip to the nearby waterfall,stream and dam was also thoroughly enjoyed by all. That's when my girls bonded big time with Janani & Mrunal..I was so glad that they made such lovely friends from across the country and from different walks of life.

Those 5 days felt like true socialization for the girls. Chellu would many a times stop in and listen to the conversations happening in a session..She would catch up with adults whom even I didn't know. There was such a wonderful mix of people across the country & the world, ages & experiences that I think that this is true socialization. People from so many different walks of life were interacting with our kids and I'm dead sure that the learning that has happened in those 5 days is immense.There is no way a school can replicate this . They experienced so many different activities and the best part was they chose to be in all of it by themselves. I never had to prod them to do anything..They were busy in something or the other. I didn't hear the word " bored" even once. Though I had taken a bag full of story books & coloring supplies they never asked for it even once. The best part in all of this was it was so free flowing...nothing was forced or planned. Everyone went about doing what was of interest to them..

The girls also got to experience something unique. Natural potties! It was such a new thing for them to see how one defecates in dry compost toilet. They initially refused it but when I explained to them its significance as well as the fact that this is how it should naturally as against our urban toilets they ultimately agreed to it. Though Kunju kept saying that she was sacred that she would fall into the hole!! and instead chose to do it next to a tree!! I wonder if they would have got to experience this otherwise! We had a long talk on conservation and natural decomposition and living in nature, the wastage in urban lives etc...It felt like true you "live" and thus automatically learn from it.

I also loved the fact that the energy of that place was very child friendly. No child was scolded or ridiculed or judged.. When we generally are in the company of so many adults one gets very conscious of the children "disturbing" others..This group was so accommodating of children that most parents and children were worlds apart and still very happy ...This is very rare indeed..This is truly how a community needs to be..that not just parents but others also take a responsibility to engage and care for the kids. Another thing I noticed was how the children were left to be just themselves & also honored for being in a natural state. In any other group there would be comparisons and ridicule. Most kids ( in fact all of them) were covered with mud from head to toe ..i saw many toddlers running around naked ( due to the heat I guess) and no heads turned!! There were no complaints on any children or any cribbing about how loud the kids were or what a nuisance they were creating!! The kids were allowed to participate in ALL activities be it dancing or playing games or even in the sessions.. It felt like on big family. Isn't this the kind of space that our kids truly deserve? To be left to be just kids and not constantly be expected to fit in an adult's world of expectations?

I really loved the energy of the place and I contribute it big time to the location. The openness of it opened up all of our conditioning. When you are in natural setting you don't have to worry about where your kids pee ( just do it around the corner!!) , when they tip a glass of water or scatter food while eating or get dirty in mud ...All these would be such a headache of sorts if you are indoors...That's the beauty of takes care of so many frees parents and kids to just unwind and just BE..Something we hardly get to do in our urban lives. Parenting seems so hard in our urban homes but when you are in nature its like everything is taken care of automatically. No wonder that rural parents don't make a big deal out of potty training ( its almost like a science in modern communities) or breast-feeding or even eating..All these processes happen very naturally.

The best thing I personally experienced in terms of my kids was that they never fought even ONCE during the 5 days..I realized that nature has so much to offer whether its stones or mud or leaves or space or air that there's no struggle for it. While in contrast fights happen all the time in our house for that one doll or toy...I didn't have to intervene even once when the girls played with their friends. There was such a strong sense of joy and space for all..
For me personally it was the first time that I had so much of my own personal space without having to worry about the kids. They were always "out there somewhere" but safe and taken care of. I could participate in many a sessions and could also interact with individuals. When one of the mornings Shankar & I wanted to go for a walk in the fruit forest, I asked the girls if they would want to continue to play with Karthik or accompany us? To which Kunju replied that they would like to stay back since Karthik is such a big boy and can take care of them!! This is the first time I've ever heard her say this!! Shankar & I had a lovely walk and a lovely chat too..Thanks to LSU! Its been eternity since we did this. This is truly a community-where we look out for each other.

Wow! The memories of those 5 days will stay with me for a long time. I am extremely thankful that our family could experience it. This is how parenting should be- very free, very natural. I've also realized that when we are in nature , we are automatically mothered a lot. We as parents are ourselves so chilled out that we chill out w.r.t our kids too..Its the same with our kids too. They too get mothered by Mother Nature that they don't need their human mother as much any more!!
All the photos are posted at