Bloomin’ Times

Last year, for Onam, our apartment complex had a ‘Pookolam‘ contest. Lil D and her friend were eager participants. They planned the design well in advance, decided which colours they were going to use, asked me to purchase the requisite quantity of flowers, and were, in general, very confident.

The actual outcome was, of course, quite different from expectations. The design came out crooked, the flowers were not enough, and they were not exactly happy with the color scheme they could manage. Needless to say, they did not win any prize, and their confidence took a beating.

A few days ago, my mother and I had an interesting discussion on this. My mother felt that I should have stepped in and guided them. She pointed out that when participating in a competition, it is always a huge boost to the self-confidence if one wins or does very well. She also felt that if we didn’t correct the little mistakes as and when they happened, it would be more difficult to correct them at a later stage.

Though I could see where she was coming from, I had a different point of view. I felt that the contest was a “safe” arena for them to experience several things, such as planning (they were meticulous about charting out their design and deciding the colours), tweaking the plan when things didn’t go according to expectations (they changed the colour scheme when the flowers proved insufficient, but could not straighten the design), and experiencing failure. This gave them some invaluable experience in becoming more independent.

Moreover, Pookolam, according to me, was art, and art is all about freedom of expression. If I had stepped in and guided them, I felt that
(a) I would be hijacking their expression and replacing it with my own
(b) they would begin to turn to me and depend on me at every stage (aunty, should I do this? aunty, should I do that?), and therefore, their independent thinking would be curtailed
(c) they would not learn how it feels to fail or how to face failure and learn from it

Finally, after a long and intense discussion, we agreed to disagree. I agree with my mom’s approach of stepping in, but only when the child is in some danger or the actions could affect its entire life. Otherwise, I see no harm in allowing the child to exercise independent thinking, make his/her own mistakes, and (hopefully) learn from them.

What do you think?

Student Of The Year

…or should I say, my life?! 🙂

I was tucking Lil D into bed last night after a long evening of “preparing” for Teachers’ Day. She had spent considerable time making a lovely quilling card for her teacher and it was quite late. We were generally chatting when this happens.

Lil D: Do you know who my favourite teacher is?

Me: (super-confident) Ms. A? (she shakes her head)

Me: (a little puzzled, for I know Ms. A is her absolute favourite of all time) Ms. P? (she shakes her head)

I try to think who else could be her favourite teacher. At this point, with a big smile, she points her finger at me.

Lil D: You are my favourite teacher!

Me: (surprised) Me?

Lil D: Yes, you. You are the only one who can explain anything to me, whatever I don’t understand, and make me understand.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to bits. And moved, of course. This morning, she woke up and gave me a big hug saying “Happy Teachers’ Day!”

Thank you, Lil D! I cannot imagine life without you!

What’s Cooking

…or should I say, who’s cooking? 🙂

No, this is nothing to do with my cooking adventures. It has everything to do with that once-a-year event that starts with a gradual  build-up, much indecision, a sudden turning point, then full steam ahead, a slow realization that I have taken on more than I can chew(!), and finally, a sigh of relief that it’s all over!

Yes, I’m talking about Lil D’s birthday. And yes, I broke the promise I made last year — it was not a dance show after all.

Even as the new year dawned, her friends began to ask me what this year’s theme was! Talk about pressure 🙂

Wondering what would appeal to Lil D, I thought of Master Chef — Lil D’s favourite show. I browsed the internet for some ideas (to my surprise, it was one of the top themes for kids’ parties!), but didn’t really come up with anything I could use since most of them involved ovens and baking and stuff. I cast about for other themes, but kept returning to this one.

Finally, I decided that I would go with this and work within my limitations: the fact that there would be no heat involved in the shape of ovens or stoves or anything else (except the birthday candles :D), and the fact that there would be no access to knives or any other sharp implements, which ruled out cutting, grating, etc.

So here’s how the whole thing worked out.

First the invites. As I was working on the design, Lil D stunned me by declaring that she did not want any gifts! She wanted to do something for an NGO instead  (she got highly annoyed when I asked her repeatedly if she was sure about this). We decided to ask her friends to get some of their old clothes that we could donate to a known NGO.   Needless to say, we were thrilled with this decision of hers. Since the invites were e-mailed, I was able to personalize the invites as well as be eco-friendly 🙂invite

The Invitation

Then the aprons. I got very Master Chef-y blue and red aprons from Star Bazaar. I also made little badges by sticking the printout of the personalized badge on a piece of cardboard, and taping a safety pin at the back.

When the girls came in, they were given small notebooks made of handmade paper, which they could decorate with stickers as their own little recipe book. A few food-related Word-Searches completed the warm-up activities.

The girls drew straws to decide their teams — the Blue Team and the Red Team — and were handed their aprons.

The First round was one-on-one contests, with one  member from each team competing against the other.

It involved simple activities like peeling boiled eggs, shelling peanuts, mixing dough (for rotis), squeezing juice out of musambis, picking corn off the cob, and deseeding pomegranates. Urged on and advised by their team-mates, this itself took the fair share of an hour. The peanuts were a bit damp so they were rather hard to shell and all members of the teams were allowed to help. The corn off the cob didn’t work out so well either.

At the end of the first round, the Blue Team was leading.

The Second round actually consisted of two contests. The first was a Recipe Mix-Up, which had the steps of 2 rice recipes (one biryani, one pongal) all mixed up, but I scratched this one due to lack of time. The kids did this later just out of curiosity and managed to guess biryani correctly!

The other was a Taste test. I had thrown all sorts of ingredients into a soup, and they had to guess the ingredients. I was impressed that the teams got 12 and 10 ingredients out of a total 17. Pretty good, right? 🙂

At the end of the second round, the Red Team drew level with the Blue Team! Oh, what excitement! 😀

The grand finale was the most awaited round. The teams had to make a drink, a sandwich, and a dessert with cup-cakes.

I had to ensure that two sets of all the ingredients were available, right from different types of drinks (Tang, iced-tea mix, Tropicana mixes), sauces (tomato, hot and sweet, spicy, red chilli), cheese (spreads, slices, grated cheese), veggies (tomato -chopped/sliced, onion-chopped/sliced, cucumber slices, olives, grated carrot, coriander, mint), dessert toppings (chocolate/vanilla icing, chocolate/butterscotch/strawberry syrups, chocolate chips, cherries, tutti-fruity stuff, honey), and basics such as bread, cup-cakes, ice, yoghurt, salt, pepper, chaat masala, etc. Most of it was easily bought in small quantities, but I had a pretty busy morning processing the veggies! 🙂

The girls hugely enjoyed this last round. They were so creative, coming up with Leaning Tower of Pisa sandwiches (stacked mini sandwiches), plating the desserts as smileys, using honey in their drinks, and concocting the most amazing chocolate and strawberry sauce! Of course, the ingredients themselves were finger-lickin’ good, so plenty of tasting went on during preparation itself. All in all, it was a mixture of total chaos and fun.

Finally, on general consensus (some of the parents were involved in the “judging”), both teams tied and won the grand prize — a large box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates which they all shared.


The Badge, the label for the recipe book, and the little Thank you card.

Individual “trophies” (water bottles with chocolates inside, with a silver ribbon threaded through a little card that said Thank You) were distributed to everyone by the birthday girl. Newspaper bags (Lil D’s school had some enterpreneurship-related stalls and I made one of the teams extremely happy by buying out their entire stock of newspaper bags, which were really cute, complete with logo and all!) were available for hauling home all the goodies (which included the aprons as well).

DH wrapped up the party with the disclaimer — Don’t blame us if you are now asked to cook at home! 😀

I was really tired at the end of this because it involved a great deal of preparation “on the day”. Just as I sank into a chair at the end of the party, one of Lil D’s friends came up to me with a worried look on her face.

Aunty, she asked, are you going to celebrate Lil D’s birthday next year?

You could have knocked me down with a feather at that point! I suppressed my laughter and smiled — Let’ s just wrap up this year, then we’ll see, OK?

I should have known better.

What will the theme be, Aunty? The question popped up almost immediately.

Nach Baliye, I grinned.  🙂

How I Didn’t Get My Daughter to Read

Both DH and I are avid readers. I read mostly fiction, though I’m slowly gravitating towards non-fiction. DH prefers non-fiction, and reads practically anything, including the side of the cereal box at the breakfast table.

So, it was only natural that we both were interested in getting Lil D to read too. Right from the start, I did everything that is normally recommended. I surrounded her with brightly coloured, attractive books, I read to her as much as I could, signed her up at a kid-friendly library and took her as frequently as possible…you get the picture.

Lil D, to my dismay, did not take to books at all. She seemed to like books with pretty pictures, but that was it. The extent of her reading was to flip through at great speed, and then hand it over to me, expecting a pat on the back. I watched with envy as kids her age read books that I had been reading at her age, and longed to share the experience with her.

It struck me that perhaps she didn’t like stories that much, so I bought her some “how-things-work” kind of books, hoping that might strike a chord. No such luck, though there did seem to be an initial spark. Both DH and I mentioned in passing to her how books helped, not just with information, but for entertainment that wasn’t dependent on anyone else. But nothing seemed to work. Lil D’s aversion to reading remained. I thought giving away some of her books might spark some interest, but she seemed all too glad to dispose of the pile that I had bought so lovingly! It made me feel I was doing something wrong, that I was inadequate as a parent somehow. After all, wasn’t reading supposed to be good for a kid?

Finally, one fine day, I gave myself a good talking-to. What did it matter if she didn’t like reading? I didn’t love her any less because of that. So why was it becoming such a big deal? She was a different kind of person, someone who loved touching and feeling whatever she was working with. So perhaps books were really not her cup of tea. She would definitely get her quota of information and entertainment through some other channels. She loved art, so her imagination could receive a work-out there, not necessarily through books alone. I decided then and there to back off. I would no longer pass subtle hints about books any more. I would not point out interesting books to her. I would not ask her what she had read. I would not burden her with my expectations. I would just let it be.

There was no dramatic difference once I made that decision. My acceptance just made things easier, and I suspect that though I had earlier never overtly pressured her into reading, she had been able to somehow sense my expectations. To me, it was clear that I loved her whether she read or not, so it was immaterial.

About six or seven months later, there was a wave of interest in Geronimo Stilton books amongst her friends. Lil D too jumped on the bandwagon. Knowing this to be one of those phases, I bought a few books for her which she raced through in no time. I knew that was only due to peer pressure, but I was happy for that. I stuck to my no-interference policy strictly.

Though Lil D sometimes showed spurts of interest in reading, I never caught her actually sitting down and reading at home. She was always a flurry of activity, rushing here and there like a mini-tornado. Sometimes, she thoughtfully brought home books from the school library for me to read! All in all, there was no reason to suspect that anything had changed.

The first real sign came when I had gone shopping with my sister recently — a little less than a couple of years after I took the decision of non-interference. Lil D had wanted some Thea Stilton books, and I had bought them for her. As my sister and I began our shopping, Lil D surprised me completely. She sat on a little stool for more than an hour and a half, engrossed in her books! I was quite impressed and told her so, to which she just grinned.

But what took the cake was her recent report card. The evaluations were all in line with what I knew about my little girl, but when I read one statement, you could have knocked me down with a feather! It said she was a voracious reader! I could not believe my eyes! When I asked Lil D if it was true, she nodded. Of course it was true, she had read so many books from the school library.

Now I notice that she does read a lot more than before. I catch her reading the newspaper sometimes, the back of the cereal box sometimes. Though she loves listening to music before she sleeps, sometimes she picks up a book instead. She takes a book along when she goes, so that she can read if she gets bored.

I still exercise my policy of non-interference, but it makes me so glad that I did the right thing; I gave her the space to make her own choice. It’s just a bonus that she’s begun enjoying reading; after all, I’d love her even if she didn’t.

New Definition!

One of Lil D’s friends was very recently prescribed spectacles.

I shared with her that I was exactly the same age when I got my glasses. Lil D, who is fascinated with specs, was grumbling that she couldn’t wear glasses. Her friend assured her that it was highly irritating and not in the least bit enjoyable.

I chimed in then.

“But it makes such a difference, doesn’t it? I still remember how remarkably clear everything looked to me the day I got my glasses!”

“Yes aunty,” said the friend quite sagely. “It’s as if everything is in HD*!”

*HD – High Definition, like some of the TV channels these days! 😀

Good Things…

…come in little packages! 🙂

When I went down this evening for my usual time with friends, Lil D ran up, thrilled to bits about something.

She told us about a little adventure she had had. Apparently, she and a little boy about 4 years old were hanging about one of the (ground-floor) apartments to see a dog. When the dog bounded to the window, the little boy was startled, or perhaps scared, and fell off the ledge. He hurt his face, his lips were bleeding and, according to Lil D, there was quite a bit of blood.

Lil D carried the boy to the clubhouse where she cleaned him up, asked one of the ladies there to call up his mom, and consoled him in the meantime. When his mother came and took him home, Lil D accompanied them all the way to their house because they had a bicycle too, and she carried it up for them.

Lil D was so happy and proud of herself! It pleased me, yet it was nothing unusual. It was so typical of Lil D to do what she did — she loves to help out and take care of little children, and she always shows great initiative and presence of mind. I gave her a little round of applause for her good deed and patted her on the back.

The real surprise was when I received a call from the mother later. She narrated the same chain of events, and said that she was compelled to give me a call to acknowledge Lil D’s help. She was so impressed with Lil D, and said that she had never met a kid like her. She was sure that I was very proud of her, and asked me to give her a big hug.

Sometimes, we take things for granted. I took Lil D’s behavior for granted, and it took another mother to open my eyes to what a lovely good deed Lil D had done for the day. It was typical Lil D, straight from the heart.

Here’s hoping she never finds a reason to stop swooping to the rescue! Hey Superheroes, need any apprentices? 😀

Listen and Learn

Much of the Hindi I’ve picked up is thanks to Vividh Bharathi.

True, we started Hindi when we were in the second grade (I think), and we did have zealous teachers who tried to force us to learn Hindi by, among other tactics, imposing a fine if we spoke in any other language during the Hindi period.

However, the true learning came from listening to the mellifluous songs on the radio. Notwithstanding Binaca Geet Mala, which faded in and out on scratchy tones, Vividh Bharathi was the de facto tutor. Programs like Manchaahegeet, Manoranjan, Chayageet, etc. were all looked forward to very eagerly. If we fancied a song, we listened to every program carefully, and if the song was played, we wrote down the words hastily and later practiced it with due diligence.

The fact is that most of the old songs had such beautiful lyrics, and it was delightful to spot and understand the words we had learned in school. We got a sense of the language, its rhythm, its meter and its poetry.

I realized this only recently during my night walks (yes, I am terribly inconsistent with my mode and timing of exercise!), when I began listening to Aaj Ke Fankaar again. I loved the sound of the familiar phrases rolling over me.

From Sangam

Tujhe Maein Chand Kehta Tha, Magar Usme Bhi Daag Hai
Tujhe Suraj Maein Kehta Tha, Magar Usme Bhi Aag Hai
Tujhe Itna Hi Kehta Hoon
Ki Mujhko Tumse Pyar Hai

From Aayee Milan Ki Bela

Tum kasin ho nadaan ho najuk ho bholi ho
sochta hoon main ke tumhey pyar na karun
main tumhey pyar na karun

From Gora Aur Kala

Ek Ek Din Ab Lagta Hai Ek Saal
Tere Bina Ab Mera Bhi Hai Yahi Haal
Aa Pyaar Kar…Duniya Se Dar…
Mat Door Ja…Mat Paas Aaa…
Maein Sheesha Hoon Pathhar Nahin
Koi Zor Jawaani Par Nahin

Yes, I was listening to a Rajendra Kumar special. The examples are not exactly spectacular, but there’s something about them. My own absolute favourite with respect to lyrics is Mausam’s Dil Doondtha Hai, especially the Bhupinder version, which is just out of this world!

I feel a bit sad that Lil D can’t learn Hindi the same way, by being exposed to the beauty of the language through popular songs. Instead I have to actively discourage her from listening closely to songs like:

Hey chikni kamar pe teri
Mera dil fisal gaya..
Strongly yeh jadoo tera
Mujhpe chal gaya


Aa Re Pritam pyare
Banduk mein na toh Goli mere
Pallu ke neeche Chupake rakha hai
Utta doon toh hangama ho


Arey aankhon mein robe hai
Pocket mein note hai
Natkhat mijaaz hai
Rangeela coat hai
Soorat masoom hai
Neeyat mein khot hai
Payjama tang hai
Dheela langot hai

But I guess I don’t really need to worry.

Going by the fact that one of her favourite songs is this lovely one, and out of her own free will, she learnt and sang this classic in class for a competition, I think she’s in pretty safe hands!