Thursday, December 25, 2008

There's magic in the air!

There is something truly magical about this time of the year. The colours, sounds and smells of Christmas followed closely by the festivities of the New Year.  It's not like i really celebrate this festival with my family, but it does feel like a time to celebrate. Me thinks its more to do with an old year ending and a new year starting. And as 2008 comes to an end - i do have a lot of things that i am proud of having done in the last twelve months. Things i want to celebrate about the year:
- Surviving working with 350 children over the year  
- Reading some amazing books (Women who run with the Wolves, Cuckold & Kite Runner tops my list)
- Trying out Bollywood dancing (phew! that's one item i can forever erase from my things-to-do list)
- Making some amazing connections with some women in my life (this is for you my PACT gang!)
- Learning how to swim and getting better (i like to think of my breast strokes as simply poetry in motion!)
- Meeting several inspiring people doing great work (Lalita from CFL, SST in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh and Daily dump in Bangalore comes to mind here)
- Surviving cold-cough attacks purely with herbal remedies (thank you philo and aikya!)
- A great holiday in Coorg with my women friends and their daughters
- Welcoming two little girls into this world (amrita, anagha - can't wait for you to get to know me better!)
- Karaoke singing with my family in Seattle (mera kuch saaaaaamaan....)
- Seeing, touching snow 
- Getting over my chai-addiction (thank you leavenworth & ankur!) 
- Continuing to explore my creative self (creating Warli art using PowerPoint - true brilliance!) 
- Losing and managing weight better (finally managed to do that for myself after 8 years of wanting to!)
- Getting over my fear of insects (well almost!)
- Discovering the world's best pedicurist close to home (thank you sumati!)
- Every moment i spent with nia (excluding the times that involved brushing teeth, getting ready for school and refusing her chocolates) 
- Getting my daughter's school principal to see that i am actually a really nice person (can safely put this here, coz i am sure she will never visit this blog!) 
- And of course starting my own blog (inspired and motivated by my sis)!

Wow! it was quite a year for me. And i still have a week left to pack all left over action i had planned or not planned! Got to go - so little time, so much to do!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Half Empty - Half Full

The 12.5 minutes car ride to drop my daughter Nia to school has now increased to 18, thanks to some new traffic signals and road dividers that have cropped up along the way. Not that I am complaining. In my entire schedule, this is the only time i can (in the wildest sense of the term) define as spiritual. Here's what happened a few days ago:

I was tagging behind a biker through some narrow lanes before we could turn onto the main road.  Just as we were turning, Mr Biker in front and me following closely behind, he decides to stop halfway into the turn without even pulling over to drop off his pillion rider. Caught unawares, I had to quickly swerve to my right to avoid hitting him. And i was MAD!

So here's the scene after that:

Me: Oh Shucks ! What the hell! (notice minimal use of profanity keeping in mind the presence of a young child in the car)

Nia: Mamma, why did you say oh shucks?

Me: (still really mad) Nia, did you see how that biker just stopped at the turn, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, he is supposed to pull over BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, i could have hit him BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, luckily i was able to turn off quickly, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH what the hell do people think BLAH BLAH BLAH, these bikers have no road sense BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, they should be given separate roads to drive on, BLAH BLAH, ........(get the drift?!)

Nia: (hearing my rantings for a full five minutes with complete patience) But Mamma, you should not say oh shucks.

Me: (huh?) But Nia that's not a bad word.

Nia: No Mamma, you are supposed to say, thank god i did not hit that man even though he stopped suddenly.

Oh well! I hear you daughter!

And Santa, I hope you are watching over my little theologian!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where man & machine meet a little bakery stashed in a small street in our neighbourhood. i went there today on a field trip with a bunch of kids. And though i have been there before, that place never ceases to amaze me.

This bakery essentially has three units - bread division (where dough for the bread is made, cut, and kept on hold till it enters into the oven), bun division (likewise for buns and biscuits) and finally the packing division. Plus there is a quality control lab and a distribution unit.

So what's amazing there is the complete harmony i experience between man and machine. Around each machine stand a group of people, rooted to the spot repeating the same motion over and over again. A few walk around moving material - but most workers just stay put. Stand and repeat what they need to do to keep the machine going - again and again and again. It's basically the machine that sets the pace while the men and women around it support it. Like in the bread unit, as the machine drops the dough balls into the conveyor belt, workers on either side pick it up and put it in the molds. The machine goes clip-clop clip-clop clip-clop. The man goes pick-drop, pick-drop, pick-drop, pick drop. In the packing unit, the bread slicer goes trrtp-sash, trrt-sash trrt-sash trrt-sash and the lady standing there goes hold-pass, hold-pass, hold-pass, hold-pass. Everywhere you see, there is perfect rhythm; a super-efficient mechanical dance between the two parties.

Now, one might believe that this highly repetitive set of motions could be quite mind-numbing over a period of time. And sure i agree people may not necessarily being doing it out of love for the bread-making process. But despite the humming and sounds of machines, there is an air of meditative serenity i experienced. Everyone works in tandem with the machines for a few minutes at a stretch and then there is a break: machines are stopped, quick conversations and back to the dance floor :) . It's not just me who gets drawn into that harmonious rhythm, it also has a calming effect on the children. The same kids who need a variety of theatrics just short of standing on my head to settle down and pay attention back in class, now standing for a full five minutes as one of the men there just stands at his post pushing out hot breads from the baking moulds - dhapp-woosh; dhapp-woosh; dhapp woosh......

i have seen little videos on bread-making where the whole place is mechanized. But trust me, while those places look zillion times more efficient, they do not have even an iota of character like this semi-mechanized bakery has. I think there is a sense of peace many a times, when one is engaged in a repetitive motion. Plain repetitive mechanical work. On an auto pilot mode, doing things over and over again. I get a feeling, this is what i miss in my life. Sure the work i do is quite stimulating and i have all the freedom in the world. But end of the day, i do get a little tired dealing with tons of variables and personalities. So just to recharge myself, it may not be such a bad idea to engage in something simple & mechanical and done in silence. In Mumbai local trains when i was in college, i would notice some women getting into that same calming energy through knitting or at times twirling a rosary. So what do i do?

Not that i could work all my life in a bakery, but certainly maybe once a week. Put on the hair cover and the apron and take my place in this synchronized mechanical world. A time to calm my nerves, relax my brain cells, exercise those arms and just go on and on and on. And given my love for bakery products, the aroma of the place with buns and biscuits all around would be a perk I'd happily enjoy!

So the next time you don't see me in my office, you know where to find me - by the corner of a little bakery in Bangalore, in complete peace going : dhapp-woosh; dhapp woosh; dhapp-woosh!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I am 4!

We celebrated Nia's 4th birthday last weekend. It is probably the most planned event of the year. She starts in June when she first wishes her maamu (mom's brother) a happy birthday. Then sets in the depression: "how come maamu has his birthday so soon and i have to wait till December?" It does not particularly help than most of us in the family have our birthdays thru June, July, August and September! So the only way to counter the depression is to encourage her planning for her December birthday. Though not much of the planning helps since it is only Nia doing the planning (mommy and daddy like most parents wake up a week before the D-day). What does help is that the cake never changes - its always yellow cake with red cherries on top :)

Finally a week before the birthday, Nia woke up every single morning all bright eyed saying "ah! my birthday is so close now!" And then finally the D-day when she was actually up by 5:00 AM dancing around the house! It's hard to not allow that enthusiasm to rub on you right from June onwards! All the discussions, the guest list, the things she wants many a times are part of our bedtime conversation. Gifts she wants are very simple - winnie the pooh cutlery and her favourite brand of chocolates for breakfast was all she asked this year. And yet the sheer pleasure of seeing how much this day means to her and how much she loves herself!

Keeping up with the Dora theme of her life, we decided to take her camping to a place close by (thanks to a friend who could organize it for us). Nia had a great time and the next morning she sleepily murmured "i am 4" before disappearing into the sleeping bag. I kept lying down looking at my little baby, thankful for what her presence has meant to me. So what has turning 4 meant to my baby? What has changed in the last one year for her? Her confidence at taking on people. Defiance when asked to do something she does not want to. Fascination for writing - she went thru a phase of "2 is so difficult" to actually enjoying scribbling 8 all over the place. Increased interest in mythology. Putting in effort to speak grammatically correct sentences. Her willingness to be a little more independent in doing her chores. The thrill she gets in wearing traditional clothes. Also nail paint and lipstick. A strong view that girls are nice and boys are naughty.

I also see a lot of things that have not changed for her since the last one year. A fascination for language. Talking loudly. Her attachment to me. Looking forward to evenings with my neighbour. Trying hard to reason out with us to win an argument. Her amazing ability to move on when someone lets her down. Her tantrums when she is refused a chocolate before dinner. Asking for jeera goli and Gems every time she gets to make a wish. Connecting everything that happens in real life to her own imaginary world in a place she calls Jamma where she lives with her girl husband, 8 daughters and 2 sons. Her fear that people will think she is a boy if she wears pants. Her pretend shy look when she meets new people. Love for chocolates. Not wanting to go to school - making up reasons right from there's a festival at home today to i want to visit oni-ma in Seattle. Her daily dose of one story and one song before bedtime. And of course, her disappointment that she is born in the last month of the year!

But the one thing that stays the same, for which i am most grateful, is her absolute willingness to share her world with me - be it through her questions, her thoughts, her reactions and her wishes. Thanks to her willing and open sharing, i too am challenged to look at my life, my ways and my perspectives. And in her sharing, I too have grown and today am a proud 4-year old mamma!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Racing towards a nicer world

We recently held a sports event for our playgroup program with kids between age 2.5 to 4 years participating in some simple games. The event means a lot of preparation and work back end beyond our regular sessions. But it is so worth it! Personally for me the highlight is the preparation - which starts 6 weeks prior to the D-day, with each  teacher getting her group to practise the games that they would eventually participate in on the final day. Like they say the journey being more important than the destination - it's real fun to see these kids as they get ready for the D-day. I see both independence and team bonding emerging clearly during this phase. The children seem to be mighty kicked that everyone in the class is doing the same thing and doing it together. Be it the simple marching and subsequent drill that each class presents or the organized games. 

So on the D-day, its not like we have on-the-spot races and competitions. Not that it matters to the young children anyway! And I say this because in the last 3 sports events that we have conducted so far - my consistent observation has been that peer-level competition is practically non-existent for these kids. Not just during the team activities but even when they are standing along the start line waiting for a race to begin. Children this age are just not able to see individual performance as different from others'. They seem to playing every game in the true spirit of 'lets-have-fun-together' and not like 'i-got-to-win-this'

For instance, for this year's theme 'Street games' - each batch participated in a simpler adaptation of a street game and also in a typical race. Some examples that i can recall now that shows this non-existing sense of competition:
- while playing blind man's bluff, children actually stop running when they see one of their friends blindfolded and go hold his hand 
- while playing 'saakhli' (a chain tag game). when the chain gets longer, a couple of children who still have to be caught, invariably run and join the chain, because the chain seems to be having more fun!
- in a race, the child who finishes first, sees some of her friends still on the race track and she runs back to join them and continues in the race.
- in a round of lemon and spoon race, one kid's lemon rolls off. the kid in the adjacent track actually stops to pick it up and hands it back to the first kid.

So honestly speaking, these kids just don't get it. No matter how many times the teachers explain the rules or demonstrate or even cheer individual kids, they just don't get it!

Competition is so real for us adults. And more so at the peer level. When we interact with parents of the playgroup program as they are trying to decide which school, a lot of them are fretting about how tough this competition will be for their kids. For a qualifying exam that their child will take 12 years later to get into college. But their kids - refuse to understand, acknowledge or create this air of competition.

And while i do agree that competition is real, i honestly am not able to understand when the concept of peer competition sets in. Certainly not in the first two years of formal learning. So when does this sense of having fun together and collaborating get converted to competing? My fear is that its a change in perspective that we force in as adults into the child's world. Based on our own experiences which we probably took in from our parents. And so it continues. 

Imagine for a moment, what if this was little different - instead of adults forcing their perspective on children, what if we embraced theirs? What would change in our world? In our homes, communities, work places? How different would our interactions, arguments, negotiations be? 

This may not change too soon but its worth a thought. In the words of Lennon, you may say i am dreamer, but (i hope) i am not the only one....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pedestrian Prototypes

There was a time when the only people i would curse were the bikers - zipping and changing lanes like pond skaters and giving me quite a few heart attacks. Then came the bus drivers - driving like they owned the road. Defying every law of space and fit - trying to squeeze in where even the bikers wouldn't dare.

But over time I have started to accept the bikers and the bus'ers as bad relatives on the road that one just has to live with. I respectfully give way, and wistfully stare at their departing fumes trusting karma. So does this mean i am beyond road rage? Ha! Far from it. Now it is directed at the pedestrians around. But since i am the one with the mean machine here, i don't misuse my power position. Instead i just observe their ways and tuck them into my PPH (yes my romance with P continues!).

Which gets me to my next question - what's the PPH? It is the Pedestrian Prototype Handbook - my very own system of classifying pedestrian behaviours. My piece of research for an anthropologist some million years into the future trying to understand how certain category of homosapiens behaved under certain circumstances.

Some quick definitions and terminology that exist in this priceless piece of research:

Wistful wanderers - These are the ones who stick to the sidewalks, walking slowly lost in their own dreams. They seem very purposeless in the way they just walk around, a day to slow down and seem particularly at peace with the world.

Sidesteppers - These are the ones who, for reasons best known to them, have developed a deep aversion to the sidewalks. So you will find them walking along the sidewalk on the road. Trying hard to coexist with the cyclists and bikers on the road. And an occasional four-wheeler overtaking from the wrong side

Phantoms - walk like they are the only things that exist on the road. With as much as much as ease in the middle of the road as they are on the sidewalks. When it's time to cross, they just walk across as if the entire road is a completely deserted stretch made exclusively for them to get to places.

Bollywood Bundar - Definitely the most entertaining. They see a vehicle coming their way and then start crossing the road. Actually running - imitating the styles of the older bollwood heros - mostly jeetu bhai and big B. To ensure that there is an audience for their act - they ACTUALLY run towards the vehicle.

Juggling Gymnast - this is the variety that absolutely insists on using the narrow road dividers and try out different walks precariously balanced on the piece of concrete; completely oblivious to the traffic zipping by.

Undercover traffic cop - This is the variety who have an internal traffic signal they move to. Irrespective of what the actual traffic signal indicates, they decide to walk when they are ready. And just so the whole world is in sync with their internal mechanism, they will actually stick out a hand to stop the speeding traffic as they attempt to cross. The only point of consolation - they mostly use the zebra crossing (+/- 2 feet)!

So this piece of scientific work actually helps me find a vent to the anger at the pedestrians. Even as my research continues, I dedicate this PPH to all those creative pedestrians i encounter everyday.

As for those of you pedestrians who respectfully stand at the zebra crossing waiting for the "walk" sign on the traffic light - come on guys, use your imagination!