Friday, August 5, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
One amazing Thing is an examination of the minds of culturally diverse men and women, which reveals surprisingly similar angst and fears - of rejection, of disappointment, of the search for love - which should help bring us together in this time of strife and hatred. An exciting read that should have been a little longer.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
She said : A gorgeously illustrated book, Jungle Drums uses simple language to convey the story of a plain little Warthog, Ngiri Mdogo. Awash in beautiful alliterative phrases like "stunning stripes", "striking spots" and Swahili terms, Base brings life in the African Savannah right into your home. Issues of vanity and insecurity are addressed in a non-condescending manner that is appealing to the young audience. The message gets through very clearly thanks to the strong narrative and beautiful illustrations. A family favorite, this book is certain to grab the imagination of any young reader brave enough to venture into the jungles of Africa!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Let the reading begin!!!
**** : Good
*** : Ok
** : Nah
* : Yuck!
Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.
He said : I think it is very fictional. Story is well-written but it is silly, also funny. Like, you cannot go into a restaurant fancily without everyone looking at you! They will not give you any food!!
The illustrations go very well. When they write the story on each page, they draw pictures with it. Small kids can just look at the pictures and even if they do not read, they can tell the story.
She said : A well-illustrated book with a lot of attention to detail (eg: glitter on the front cover as everything is "fancy"). Where an opinionated adult might see the forced princess culture shining through in little Nancy trying hard to be fancy (ultimately in vain), for a child, it is a girl engaging in silly, pretend play and is quite funny. The narrative is fast and the author uses popular culture indications of fancy (like French words and British mannerisms) to appeal to the minds of young readers. The story has a mild suspense building up to a major event which underlines the moral of the story (which I will not elaborate on!). The illustrations demand most of the attention in the book and call for a lot of pauses before turning the pages.
All in all, a fun read, for boys and girls, alike!
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Kuki Deshpande is no more. That sounds wrong. Kuki has always been there. For the last 14 years, this crazy white ball of fur has been a memeber of our family, an important one, at that. My mother and I brought him home, wrapped in a red and white blanket, in a wicker basket. I remember the excitement he had caused in our household and the first night, when he slept in our bedroom and whimpered all night. But it didnt take long for him to realize we loved him so much that we would put up with anything he dished out. And boy, did he!. He was not at all a "useful" dog. He barked all the time, but not necessarily at the right time! He didn't fetch or play ball or do any other tricks that children teach their dogs. He owned us more than we owned him. He was the third child of our family. He was a part of wedding ceremonies and birthday parties. He always made it in to the letters I wrote home when I moved to the US. The newborn babies were introduced to him as were the newly weds. When planning trips, Kuki's whereabouts were decided before we booked hotel rooms. He moved with my parents through various towns till they found their home in Pune. My father lived in a different town for the first few years of Kuki's life and I remember he didn't take to Baba all that well, initially. But that changed when we all started living together again. Oh boy! from then on, he was my father's extremely spoilt brat. My father gave him unbridled love without the restraint of discipline and Kuki relished it. Though my mother did not approve of Kuki's food habits and complained about having to clean up after him, she loved him like she did either one of her human children (maybe slightly more). Everybody who knew us knew Kuki, his crazy way of chasing his own tail when he got mad and how he growled when anyone sat near my father. With his passing, another vestige of my childhood has been erased. My brother and I don't have a baby doggie anymore. And from now on, my parents don't have to leave the ceiling fan and light on, when they step out of the house for a trip to the market.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The human species prides itself on its imagination. As far as we know (mostly because we do not communicate with them), no other species has the ability to imagine like we do. We have credited most of our significant achievements on being able to imagine things that would have seemed impossible.
Merriam-Websters defines imagination as the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.The truth however is that imagination is wholly influenced by what we know of our reality, of what experiences in our lives have informed us about the world we live in, about what is and is not possible. When we imagine, we have a reference beacon very much in the reality. That is why we imagine aliens with a humanoid appearance; with a head and a torso-like structure ending in appendages. When we imagine heaven, it is the most beautiful manifestation of nature we can recreate from what we have seen or heard or read. If you close your eyes right now and imagine the place you most want to be, chances are it will bear striking resemblance to a picture you have seen on TV, on the Internet or in a magazine somewhere. We consume so much information, solicited and otherwise, that it is practically impossible to think of something which does not have a basis in our reality. Our art forms, even though they might involve tremendous imagination on the part of their creators, also reflect a familiar consciousness.
I recently watched the movie, Close encounters of the Third Kind. Even allowing for the 30 years that have passed since this movie was made, what struck me most about it was how we all were (and still are) restricted by our imagination. Extraterrestrial life exists? Sure and it looks almost like us, has attributes like us like music and touch and yes, just like a human facing a strange situation or a stranger, the first reaction is to fight. Whether it is in the design of the next generation vehicles (which will still have wheels and have contact with the ground) or a superbly made movie like Up, we are very much restricted by our imagination.
When a child is young, two or three years old, it begins to comprehend the world around itself. It does not have enough data about the world to imagine events based on "real" facts. That is why a 3 year old can have tea parties with 5 dolls and 2 horses while engaging in pleasant conversation with all of them about the flying dragons. This does not seem impossible to the child's mind. That is real imagination. As the child grows older, we encourage the child to use her imagination in her studies, to think creatively and "out of the box". But when she does that, she is reminded that though it is very creative, the answers to the questions have to be arrived at, using a conventional and hence, effective method that has been favored over the years. In essence, the imagination of that child gets systematically culled as she grows into an adult in our society. By then, the exposure of that child to the "ways of the world" has happened in its entirety and try as any teacher might, that child can only think so much out of the box. There is no escaping the box from then on.
Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” How many of us can separate knowledge from imagination? Aren't we all the prisoners of our knowledge-tinged imagination?
Thursday, April 28, 2011
The clouds had given fair warning. They had been talking to the meteorologists for the last two days telling them how urgently they needed to get rid of the load they were carrying. The experts, in turn, had passed on the word to the lay people to expect severe thunderstorms in the latter part of the day. They were always so accurate. Such accuracy can come only from getting the news at source -hence the clouds had to have spoken to them. All morning long, the clouds gathered around the town. Some gliding on the gentle breeze that blew from the east. The heavy dark ones, full to the brims managed to drag themselves without losing a single drop. It started getting darker and darker as more of them came. Women rushed out to get the clothes from the clotheslines. Some people shut down the windows while others opened the doors and sat at the stoops, waiting. A flock of swallows made a final dash to get out from under the ominous clouds. And then as if on cue, the first drops started to fall. Gently, haltingly - as if testing the lay of the land. And then it stopped. Nothing moved, not even air as everyone waited to see if the rest would follow. And sure enough as if satisfied that the land they were about to fall on was worthy enough, the floodgates opened. A rush of water started to fall from the sky, enveloping everything in almost a fog of water drops and accompanied by the loudest of shhhhsssss, first in a straight line and then with gay abandon. It rained as If there was no tomorrow. It rained as if this was the last gathering of clouds that would ever grace this land. It rained so hard that it stopped people in their tracks and sent them scurrying under the awnings along with the squirrels and the magpies. It rained with a rhythm that could only be played out by master conductor, Mother Nature, herself. It rained with a purpose. It rained this afternoon.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sure, it is easy to introspect when you are leading a comfortable, healthy and happy life. When you have to worry about where the next meal will come from, how you will keep your baby dry when the roof leaks or where you will hide when the barbarians are banging on your door, these questions seem irrelevant. That is why it is important now more than ever that the people who are content and have happiness to spare, share it with those in dire need. Religion has tried to do this but in my opinion organized religion has failed humankind terribly. The brilliant writer and historian Tony Judt put it succinctly and beautifully when asked about his thoughts on religion and after life. He said :
"I don't believe in a single or multiple godhead. I respect people who do, but I don't believe it myself. But there's a big 'but' which enters in here. I am much more conscious than I ever was — for obvious reasons — on what it will mean to people left behind once I'm dead. It won't mean anything for me. But it will mean a lot to them. It's important to them — by which I mean my children or my wife or my very close friends — that some spirit of me is in a positive way present in their lives, in their heads, in their imaginations and so on. So [in] one curious way I've come to believe in the afterlife — as a place where I still have moral responsibilities, just as I do in this life — except that I can only exercise them before I get there. Once I get there, it will be too late. So, no God. No organized religion. But a developing sense that there's something bigger than the world we live in, including after we die, and we have responsibilities in that world."
So, if we all stopped worrying about the afterlife and paid attention to living this life to the fullest, then we will mean it when we sing …what a wonderful world!
Friday, April 22, 2011
My dear children
I am scared. I am scared of the world around us today. It seems everyday we wake up to another natural disaster, another war or another tragedy ruining the lives of millions of people around the Earth. We are running out of natural resources, we are running out of money, we are polluting the Earth, we are in the process of wiping out many species from the face of this earth. It seems people are getting sadder and lonelier with each passing year. I am scared of the state we are leaving the Earth in, for you. With all the technological achievements, we still cannot stop people from dying of a mosquito bite! The gap between the have's and have-nots is ever expanding throughout the globe. Everything just seems to be spinning out of control!! However, there is something I have control over - our lives together. When you were born, I was overwhelmed to think that I was going to be responsible for raising you to be an individual all in your own right, someone who can function normally and productivley in a society and lead a happy life. Over the years, I have learned that this is a partnership. I have taken cues from you and changed my opinions about doing things a certain way. We have started this wonderfuljourney together and its time we put down a manuscript for this adventure. Here are the things that I, as a mother, promise to do for you :
- You will always have unconditional and unending love from me.
-I will not expect anything but excellence from you in everything you do, so that you may never expect mediocrity from yourselves.
- I will never assume that you cannot do something until you have tried it and put in your very best.
-I will not limit you to my own knowledge. I will share all that I have and then search far and wide to get you more and as you get older, teach you how to find your own information.
-I may be busy but never too busy to hear you. In our conversations, I will pay complete attention to you so that you know what you are saying is important. I will also teach you how important it is to listen while the other person is talking.
-I will love you father with all my heart and be true in my relationships so you can experience the pleasure of family.
-I will explore with you everything this world has to offer in all of the areas of the arts so that you can start your own journeys.
-I will make sure you sample every cuisine in this world before you are 18, so that you will have a well-developed palate by the time you are ready to go out into the world on your own.
- I will let you experience the bliss of reading a book in a quiet house on a school-day afternoon
-I will take you on trips around the world and into the next-door woods, so you can experience the majesty of nature in all of its forms.
-I will share with you the joy of sports-playing, watching, the thrill of the win and disappointment of the loss.
-I will discipline you even if it makes me cry inside - I will have to be the parent then, not a friend.
-I will try very hard to not pass on my bias and judgmental feelings about issues to you but let you make up your own minds.
-I will never be judgmental when it comes to you.
-I will make sure you know where you come from-your family history, the struggles and triumphs of your family members so you have a sense of pride in your roots even if you are far removed from them.
-I will remind you, everyday, how special you are and that the pursuit and enjoyment of happiness is entirely in your hands.
All this will not be easy. All this is probably going to take a long time. But as I often experienced when I lie down on the bed and think about my day, the moments that bring me the greatest peace and happiness are the ones spent with you. And that makes it all worth the while.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I am an easy mark when it comes to interesting book titles. I am very likely to pick up books at random, if they have catchy titles. Even if I may not judge a book by its cover, I certainly give a lot of points for the title. It is very difficult to give a title to your work that embodies the spirit of what you have written and conveys its intensity. So when I heard about The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson, it certainly topped my to-read list. It took me a few years to get to it, but it reaffirmed my hypothesis of judging books! It is the most beautiful collection of essays collected in the form of a memoir. Though not strictly chronological in its narrative, it draws on a time line that is easy to follow. It is a fine line that an author has to walk when writing about one's own life. The "story" has to be interesting enough to hold the reader's attention while the subject has to be examined in detail with objectivity. In this book, Ms.Dickinson chronicles her journey from and back to her hometown, physically and figuratively in a manner that is unassuming and honest. The parts dealing with her divorce and early struggles in establishing herself while raising her daughter are candidly funny yet poignant. The narrative feels like you are sitting across the table from your friend, chatting over a (few) cup(s) of coffee. Her experiences of parenting, "dorkitude", living with aging family members and pets while making a life on her own come across as life lessons without being pretentious. The central theme of resilience and strength that comes from family ties almost feels like fiction. The descriptions of life in a small town in New York are so appealing that it makes you want to map it out and drive down for the weekend. I can't wait to read what Amy Dickinson writes next. Two-thumbs up!
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
I agree that I talk a lot with my kids (I talk a lot, in general) and that to an untrained, illiterate eye, they might seem precocious . But I believe that my children are developing at a rate and extent faster and deeper than their peers because of their exposure to things that children of their age usually do not even know about.
Case in point: My 6 year old son and I were talking about the Civil War and then the Civil rights movements in the context of a project for the Black History month in his school. When we were talking about segregation, he asked “So what was the problem Indians had in those days, Mom? ( he meant Indians as in from India). I told him that the problem Indians had at that time in history was that they were ruled by the British and there was a war of independence going on. Then we discussed the colonization of the various princely states that made up India by the British rulers and how the in-fighting among the various kings made it easy for the British to “divide and rule”. After a while, I could see that his attention was wandering and that it was getting to be too much information for him and we ended the conversation. Later that day him and his sister were having an argument over the Pokemon cards and he says to her , “ You are invading my territory. You just want more and more and that is why you are fighting with me!” So, the conversation was not wasted after all!
One question that bothers parents is that in the trouble-prone pre-adolescent and adolescent years will their children come able to come to them for help if they need? Will there be proper communication between the two that the child will not feel intimidated or embarrassed in opening up or questioning something that may be bothering him? As with every other relationship, communication is the back bone of a successful parent-child partnership. But if you wait for the child to be “mature” enough to handle conversations you are too late. From the time a child is born she is processing information according to the capacity of her developing brain. It is a well established fact that the more you talk to your infant or toddler the quicker and deeper the child’s development is in areas of talking and vocabulary. Using normal language when talking to an infant is better for teaching him language than using “baby” words for “milk” and “blanket” and so on. The same premise should be carried over as the child grows. Conventional wisdom may suggest that certain topics are too complicated for a preschooler or grade school age kid to to comprehend. But whether it is slavery or global warming, evolution of humans or even death, there is a way of explaining the facts in an age-appropriate manner. Kids may not understand everything that is thrown at them but the exposure guarantees a reaction in terms of thinking about the topic which can lead to creative and analytical thinking. And when this kind of exposure happens in their daily life, with parents, the stage is set for a lifelong open channel between the parent and the child which can foster communication forever.
So, as we discuss the merits of having a Raichu Pokemon card versus a Meowth I hope that he won't hesitate about telling me of the day when he was offered a cigarette by his friend or when he got a Valentine from the cutest girl in his class.