Meet Malou

I had the opportunity of interacting with several UN Volunteers from the Philippines from this September onwards. I was so impressed with their dedication and selfless work and their cheerful smiles.

One of my interviews was released on the occasion of the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness (27 Dec).

Malou is an absolute sweetheart! More power to her and the UN Volunteers who are making such a difference on the ground. ❤

Read the interview here.

Dad’s The Word

A father stretches and bends. Seated before him on a ledge is his little daughter, who counts with him as he exercises.

A father and his daughter are walking in the morning. He’s telling her all about Sherlock Holmes, and answering all her questions.

Two men emerge from an apartment with a bawling baby. They walk around the apartment complex trying to soothe the baby down with some coochie-cooing and baby talk.

A father is patting his little girl to sleep as he presses the elevator button. The young one, snugly wrapped over his shoulder, yawns and closes her eyes.

Just this past week, I’ve suddenly noticed an increase in such public father-child interactions. I used to see fathers playing cricket or football with their sons, or trying to teach their kids how to bicycle. But this sort of intimate, non-gaming interaction was not very visible.

It just felt so good to see dads actively participating and out there in the open, bringing up their kids with an equal sense of involvement. I felt like one of those characters in books who suddenly stops and says, “Wait! I sense the wind is changing!” (On the other hand, I’m well aware that I’m extrapolating from just a handful of encounters, but hey, I’ll take what I get!)

Here’s to more and more such dads, and more happy families where everyone shares both their sorrows and their joys. While I agree that patriarchy is a curse, I always feel bad about the male-bashing that goes along with it. Why can’t everyone treat each other nicely as human beings, and just get along? World peace – I’m all for it! 🙂

The Business of Busy-ness

Oh my! What a week it’s been!

First, there was entertainment for our block dinner to organize. Brainstorming about a unique format, fielding calls from parents eager for their kids to perform, trying to come up with good prizes, getting together all the props for the games…that was a breeze, wasn’t it?

Of course, it went off great! The kids had a blast dancing away on stage, everyone pitched in good-naturedly to play the games, and we (a fellow resident and I) could put up our feet happily at the end of it all. The biggest surprise package? Lil D, who had the role of MC suddenly thrust upon her, and I am truly proud to say that she did a whopping top job of it!

It didn’t help that the very next day was Lil D’s birthday party. A theme party, the theme being Harry Potter. Oh yes, the girls are truly, madly, and deeply into HP! So there were wands and badges to make, classes to arrange, and the Triwizard tournament to prep for. No easy task this, and I sleep-walked through it all.

The evening began soon enough, wands chose the wizards, the sorting hat was sorely missed (and so was Slytherin, to avoid ill-will!), but sorted they were. Potions class saw them making some of the yuckiest tasting potions (with all edible ordinary ingredients labelled exotically). I urged them strongly not to drink if they felt even a hint of nausea, but these wizards have strong stomachs, I tell you! Transfiguration had them doing dumb charades to guess magical creatures. They even took an O.W.L (one of the HP Trivia quiz apps), and I am happy to say that most of them were Outstanding! (If only HP was a subject at school too – sigh!)

The Triwizard tournament saw them defending a fancy Russian egg from the other teams (the old dog-and-the-bone game, actually), rescuing a stuffed toy blindfolded (with confusing instructions being yelled out by members of all teams all together – oh the cacaphony!!), and doing a Word maze. The Word Maze, I am rather thrilled to say, was an invention of my own. It was a grid like a word-search, except that there was an entire continuous sentence hidden in there, which got one from one end of the maze to the other. They fumbled initially, but Lil D *astounded* me with the speed with which she cracked this! I really hadn’t expected that, but it was a fitting finale, you must agree. Gryffindor won, naturally.

They finished off the evening watching part of The Chamber of Secrets, and then proceeded to the Grand Feast, which I will leave to your imagination. 🙂

Well, that was that, I thought, and settled down to some well deserved rest. But the universe had other plans. I received a call from a student of one of the top engineering colleges in the city, requesting me to judge a creative writing contest! Well, you know me. Just jumped up and off I went.

If I ever meet you in person, remind me to tell you about the most hilarious incident that happened en-route. I dare not put that down for posterity, for fear it will jinx me in some way or another. 🙂 But suffice it to say that I arrived at the venue in literally good humour!

What a lovely afternoon it was. And how lucky I was to get to read some really good writing. The first prize was a winner all the way. The second prize was beautifully lyrical. All in all, it was an experience worth having. I’m so glad I put aside all my inhibitions and agreed for once.

Well, apart from missing the cricket matches, and the budgets, and the cycling marathon, and every other thing, I’ve been doing pretty well.

So, how busy have you been? 😉

Running Away With It

One phone call, and suddenly, I was in the middle of it all, helping in organizing the Republic Day celebrations.

Republic Day was celebrated this time with a mega sports event in our apartment complex. The run-up included football, tennis, TT and chess matches. The day itself saw a pretty huge turnout of children and their parents, all raring to go. It was so heartening to see everyone upto their gills in enthusiasm, including the adults. The little ones were, of course, the cutest, even when they burst into tears or wore huge smiles at the end of their race. The track events went on well into the afternoon, and the evening saw a happy crowd. All the prize winners were aglow with their medals, and all participants were smiling because they too got participation medals.

What I learnt:
1. Lil D has an AWESOME memory! She could identify practically everyone, including their flat numbers, and almost didn’t need the lists we were running around with! Now if only she would put it to good use for other things 🙂

2. Some folks are REALLY competitive! Everything HAD to be won by them or their family members. It was a bit frightening for me to see the fierceness with which they approached the events.

3. The medals matter. A LOT! Some kids (and their parents – that’s another story altogether!) appeared to be focused more on the medals than on their performance. I heard some kids even went to school the next day wearing their medals proudly.

4. Boys turned up in huge numbers. Sports is a good way to get them involved in the community. The usual singing and dancing cultural stuff bores them to death, I think.

5. Much as I appreciate MS-Excel, I get really annoyed when I have to work with it for long spells!

At the end of the day, I was so tired that I just crashed early and didn’t wake up even once before the next morning. And that, believe me, is a really good thing!


I’ve become quite involved with the apartment complex activities.

For one thing, I’ve joined the group that works on Eco-related activities, such as garbage segregation, emphasizing the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle stuff, and so on. As part of this, apart from other things, I got a bunch of kids together, and we did a street play (with a dance added on later) that was much appreciated.

The other thing was getting involved in the Karnataka Rajyotsava celebrations. This time, yours truly wrote and directed a play for kids based on Swami and Friends, choreographed a dance for the pre-teens, and surprise of surprises, shouldered the responsibilities of MCing along with another friend.

It really helps that I have a rock-solid group of friends I can always fall back on, and turn to, for any kind of help. It’s good to work with like-minded people who focus on doing a great job.

What was curious about all this busy-ness is that I took it upon myself to do this voluntarily, something I’ve not done since maybe college. In spite of taking on so much, and falling ill with a virus that sapped me of all my strength, I didn’t feel strained or stretched. Instead I felt completely disconnected and more or less emotionless. I was not perturbed in the least by anything whatsoever. No butterflies in the stomach, breaking into a sweat, or getting a case of nerves. Just an eerie calm that surrounded me and made me a veritable island.

The only emotion I have now looking back is one of gratitude. I feel grateful that I had a chance to do what I did, and most importantly, grateful to the kids who placed such touching faith in me and listened to my every word. It was humbling to have so much trust reposed in me. It’s also been a (re)learning experience for me. I can only think of all the things that could have been improved.

Does this mean I’ve reached nirvana? A place where I’m able to accept whatever the fruits of my labour yield, where I’m able to work just for the sake of working? Is this wisdom or just a cutting-off, an isolation from the world, yet another manifestation of the blues?

Hard to say. We never stop seeking answers to the unanswerable, do we?

Budding Writers

I was invited by the children’s book club in our apartment complex to give a talk as a “writer”. I am still not at all comfortable with that designation, though I can claim to have books in my name! 🙂

Preparing for a talk with kids is always a challenge. The sheer unpredictability of the audience is what makes it so worthwhile. This was no different. I prepared a fun hand-out, and read up on the most popular authors that kids adore — Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and J K Rowling.

There were about a dozen kids (including Lil D, who joined the book club on her own, much to my surprise!), and my introduction was typical — I was introduced as Lil D’s mother 🙂 (She is more popular in the apartment complex by far)

I began with introductions and from that moment on, there was no stopping. The kids were so lively, so full of ideas, so keen on everything, and most important, so passionate about books. It was so heartening to see the way they devoured books, absorbing and internalizing every little detail. They were bursting with information, especially about Roald Dahl.

There was a memorable moment when one boy just stood up, picked up a book, turned to the right page, and read out a complete episode about Roald Dahl in connection with what we were discussing! The kids needed absolutely no prompting, and the hour passed by so quickly that I was surprised.

I was happy that I was able to contribute in some small way, but I must say that kids these days (yeah, that cliche!) are just too cool. One girl had this book where she had neatly written down her stories complete with gorgeous illustrations. I was so impressed!

Every single one of them wanted to be a writer. When I asked them to imagine their names on books, you could see their eyes sparkling with dreams. I do hope their passion remains strong and it would be so grand if one of them (or all of them!) does turn out to be a successful writer!

The entire encounter warmed my cynical old soul. The icing on the cake was the fact that so many kids waved hello to me when I went for my evening walk a few days later! Such a lovely experience, all in all.

A Matter of Trust

In my school days, we had a Hindi lesson about a very good and pious man called Baba Bharathi, who possesses a beautiful horse. A notorious dacoit Khadak Singh (if I remember right) desires the horse. So he poses as a beggar in distress, and when Baba Bharathi goes to help him, he seizes the horse. Baba Bharathi stops him, not to recover the horse, but to tell the dacoit not to reveal this incident to anyone, because then no one will ever trust a person in need and help him out. His words affect Khadak Singh to such an extent that in the dead of the night, he returns the horse, much to Baba Bharathi’s surprise and delight.

I remember this story now because in one stroke, Mustafa the rapist has destroyed the trust parents repose in the school their wards go to. Now everyone is suspect, school staff are viewed with a jaundiced eye, and parents can never rest easy.

Not that these things never happened before. How many reports have we read of abuses in government schools? But we haven’t bothered because it didn’t affect our world directly. Now that this has happened in a school that one of our own kids could possibly go to, we are hit in the stomach. The invaluable bond of trust between teachers and parents has been breached.

For all the teachers out there who are striving tirelessly, this comes as an added blow. Not only are they busting their chops to do the rather thankless job of educating the children, but now they have to deal with the entire burden of suspicion. Being a teacher is not easy at all, and my sympathies are with the teachers who try so hard to do a good job.

This incident has made everything so much worse in terms of trust. We learn not to trust anyone, and we teach our kids not to trust anyone either. This does not bode well for the future, where trust becomes a low-value commodity.

What we can hope for is:
a) better CSA education by both parents and the school
b) more stringent checks on staff backgrounds
c) more random checks at school to lower the probability of this happening
d) more accountability from schools for the safety of the children
e) and most importantly, swift justice and stiff penalties for such abusers

As I was remarking to a friend before all this happened, I am so tired of protecting my child from all that is horrible in this world. Sometimes, it feels almost a waste of time to focus on the positives.

But then, that’s all we can do, the best we can do, and what we simply must do, in order to survive, right? Sigh. Some days, existence itself seems rather futile.

The Old Order Changeth?

On the one hand, we have such clowns in our governing bodies. Topless protests, mayhem in assemblies, stalled parliaments…we’ve more or less given up, I think, on the entire system. If you look at the scenario, you would think that we are quickly sliding into complete chaos. And perhaps you would not be completely wrong, because it does seem that systems are failing, nay, crumbling all around us. What can we do, we shrug helplessly, what can we do?

Yet, on the other hand, there are citizens all around fighting tirelessly against this downslide. Committed citizens, who are doing everything they can in their power to clear up the mess. I’ve already written about our RWA. They’ve done wonderful work, and this video should give you an idea of the lengths they go to make our neighbourhood a model one.

And then this news that was shared with us. I think this is just marvelous! Another successful attempt by concerned citizens to stem the rot. Hats off to them! These are the things that give me hope that all is not lost in this country. To paraphrase that famous quote: They make me want to be a better citizen.

Here’s hoping the old order really changes, yielding place to a much better new one.