Category Archives: childhood

Reflections of a almost five year old on Fairy Tales

I have recently introduced Migu to popular fairy tales and now our bed time reading as well as meal time stories are generally Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

As I have blogged in the past,here and here  Migu does not like to consume stories in a docile way. She has to constantly comment or critique a story. So this is how our story telling session on Snow White went.

Snow White had a step mother who had a magic mirror.

Migu : Wow step mother and magic. Is she like the fairy godmother? Will she wave her want?

Me : Well, no step mother and fairy godmother are different, sort of very opposite to each other. Will you let me continue?

As I continue we come to the bit about the mirror.

Me : The step mother asked the mirror, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

Migu : Wait, wait, I am the mirror, you are step mother, now ask me.

Me: Ok, Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Migu : Goldilocks

Me : Not Goldilocks, Snow White.

Migu : But that day you told me Golilocks was also beautiful.

Me : Never minds, its another story. Can we continue.

After some time, as we come to the bit about Snow White falling after eating the apple

Me : How do you think she revived?

Migu : How? How?

Me : A handsome prince came and saw Beautiful Snow Whites Body. When he kissed her, she revived.

Migu : Thats not fair. Thats what happened to Sleeping Beauty. You are simply saying this.

Me : No that is the story.

Migu : Why is it always the prince?

Me : I dont know, can I continue?

Migu : Ok

Me : The prince and Snow White got married and lived in a castle

Migu : No, that is what happened to Rapunzel

Me : So its a different prince, and it was perfectly OK for him to marry Snow White.

Migu : Getting irritated, there is always a prince (She said it in Tamil, so all who follow Tamil can truly understand the impact of a line like Eppopathalum Prince, Eppopathalum Prince.

After some time,

Migu : I dont like these stories, I only like Red Riding Hood.

Me : Why

Migu : There is no prince, only a wolf.

The Feminist in Me : You go girl, yes you dont need a prince.

Like I have written before, I didnt really question any story while growing up. I dont not always fantasize about a life similar to the one which I was reading about, but I accepted it and never thought to challenge their choices. I am glad Migu is growing up, questioning stories, and maybe unconsiously breaking stereotypes and challenging possibilities and choices.

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Yoga and Me

I recently had a rather startling realization that my public persona is very much defined by yoga. Our public life is now almost exclusively on social media, and around 80% of my posts on social media is about yoga with photos of me doing yoga.

And it is funny because none of the conventional yoga narratives seem to suit the relationship I have with yoga. I dont claim that yoga is both a physical and spiritual exercise (for me at least). I dont necessarily feel more at peace or connected with myself after doing yoga.  It is not even a social exercise any longer, because it has been more than two years since i stepped into a yoga class (or yoga studio, to use the new term which has even caught up in small town India), and for me yoga is largely a family exercise.

In fact I came into, and continued to practice yoga for probably all the conventionally wrong reasons. But here I am, with over five years of experience, so something must have worked for me.

To start with, I started practicing yoga based on the advice of a gynaecologist, who suggested that if I were trying to get pregnant yoga was a good way, since it generally keeps you relaxed and fit. I dont know why I latched on to this particular advice, since there were many other suggestions she gave which I ignored. A yoga class was happening very close to home, at times which were convenient for me (I never could stand early morning classes, so these evening classes suited me). So I signed on.

I know what I should have been doing was to focus on yoga and not worry about pregnancy. But that is exactly what I didnt do. I would constantly google about pregnancy related yoga, and try to learn and perfect all the poses which were supposed to aid in pregnancy. Yoga was simply a means to an end and I rather felt very self righteous that rather than go for any medical treatments, I was doing yoga to aid pregnancy.

This continued for many months. I did not invest in yoga for myself, but my body seemed to take to it very well. I used to slouch very obviously, and even though my posture now is not perfect, the slouch is much less pronounced (one friend remarked that I seemed to have grown taller). I felt good, even looked good.

I have never been a physically active person. As a child, I was pathetic at all games, and somewhere along the line I cultivated a self image that I never could not anything physically challenging. As an adult, I had had some forays into aerobics, hip hop dance and even swimming, but none of them lasted. Yoga seemed to be the only physical activity at which I was good. Yes, I know in yoga you are never good or bad, you just keep doing whatever your body permits you to do. But hey, we all have egos, and whenever my teacher praised a certain asana of mine or when I pulled off an asana, which other students could only gape at I preened like a peacock. Finally I was able to come out of the self image of being limited physically. Yes, I could be clumsy when it comes to certain activities, but hey, there were many at which I excelled as well.

This continued for a couple of years. I finally started enjoying yoga for itself and at one point even started wondering if I would miss yoga when I finally became pregnant and had a child. That was not to be, since we ended up having an alternate route to parenthood. Our daughter came into our lives at about a week’s notice, a wilful, independent 8 month old whom we adopted.

The adoption threw me off yoga for about a month. I think as a major life event, it threw me off life for almost a year. I had to suddenly cope with the needs of a totally different person, focus on her full time and in the initial days, I didnt have a moment for myself. Within a month, I had to return to yoga, and in that period, perhaps for the first time, I was doing yoga as it was meant to be. It gave me a space for myself, made me feel a bit relaxed and offered a temporary break from the hundred and one demands of motherhood which were suddenly on my head.

I continued to have anxieties and doubts about motherhood for a long time, even after I cracked the routine tasks associated with it. I was deeply insecure, kept wondering if my daughter would bond with me, and more importantly find me fun. To myself, I presented a dreary serious picture, hardly playing, hardly watching TV, hardly having fun. Why would a child ever like my presence, specially when I was also the stern disciplinarian in her life.

And then the answer came to me, and yes, once again it was yoga. Yoga was the one unique physical activity I could do which she could enjoy. Right from the beginning, when my yoga practice meant I could comfortably wriggle under tables and chairs and be with her and play with her, onto giving her rides on extraordinarily fit back, onto her being curious about the asana, looking at it from different perspectives, and trying to figure out their names (and yoga can be fun that way, crow asana, camel asana, lion asana, a veritable zoo of asanas), I was finally able to offer her something unique, something which we both could share.

My daughter is now 4, and we now have some brief daily yoga sessions, where she tries to match me. I like it that I am her role model in this one activity, and I like it that it is one activity we have taken to doing regularly as a family. Not because it is healthy (it certainly is), not because it is a symbol of glorious Indian civilization (it probably is, but I am not too concerned about it), but because it is a lot of Fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why did the tortoise not wake the hare? Questions on our popular fable.

I have been an avid reader all my life and it is safe to assume that as a child, I would have heard a lot of stories. However, I dont remember even questioning them. One could say I was too lazy or uncritical, or in a more positive light, I just accepted the story as someone’s worldview and did not think to question it.

In my thirties, and with a growing child now, I am now revisiting these stories, not as a listener but as a speaker and I am constantly questioned about them. My daughter is very unlike me. Every think I say in the story has to confirm to whatever she has been told or has observed and inferred for herself before. THis is how the rendering of the popular tortoise and hare story went.

 

Me reading the story from the aesop fable book : The hare would come near the lake and tease the tortoise.

 

Migu (my daughter) : Looking at the pictures, Where is the lake? I dont see any?

 

Me : They forgot to put it, but it was there.

Migu : BUt the tortoise I used to see in Aunty’s house (our neighbor had a tortoise) was always in water. WHy is this one not in water.

Me : It will go back to water soon.

Migu : But if it is in water, why should it do a running race?

Me : Good question, but somehow it did do running race.

We move on with the story till we reach the point of the hare sleeping

Migu : Why did hare sleep in running race?

Me : He was confident he will win, so he slept.

Migu : Did the tortoise not see him sleep?

Me: Yes he did

Migu : Why did he not wake him up then?

 

I dont want to overanalyze her thought processes while making these observations, but I do sometimes thin, Hey, that is a fairly nuanced understanding of equity (how is it even fair for a tortoise and hare to have a race) and fairplay (tortoise should wake up the hare) for a four year old.

 

 

 

 

Can we gift a kitchen set to a boy?

I was stocking up some birthday presents recently, expecting a slew of birthdays in the coming months. One of the items I purchased was a kitchen set. As I was packing it away, I suddenly wondered, most of the upcoming birthdays are for young boys. Will I be able to give a kitchen set to a boy as a present??

There has been a million discussions on gender stereotypes in toys before, and as for myself, I am very determined that my daughters toys will not reflect these stereotypes. If I had a son, I would welcome somebody giving him a kitchen set. Better still, I would have bought it myself. But still, I hesitate to actually hand it over to a boy. I feel that it warrants an explanation from me to the parent as to why I am giving that particular gift, when I would actually give it unthinkingly to a girl. Handing an item like that to a boy seems like a political statement, whereas to a girl, it is perfectly normal, even desirable.

There has been extensive debates on gender equality in India in the recent past, and one of the major themes which emerge is that until we start teaching the boys that it is also their responsibility to share in what is perceived as ‘women’s work’, nay, that it is desirable to do this work, then gender equality is a myth. The slogan of teach your daughter it is good to go out and play is meaningless, if it is not accompanied by teach your son it is ok to cook. So why can boys not play with kitchen sets?

My daughter, is, to use a stereotype, quite ‘tomboyish’, and I am somehow confident that she will find a space for herself. We are definitely encouraging a lot of girls to break gender stereotypes, and girls wear jeans, trousers etc. Many young girls I know are going to football, tennis and whatever classes, as well as traditional song and dance (which they were earlier expected to attend). But where are boys ever expected to break their stereotypes. Do they have any role models for cooking. Yeah superchefs like Sanjeev Kapoor are great, but these men cook for the world. It is part of their business, they earn money through cooking.  DO they ever see a man doing their daily breakfast and agonizing over what to pack in their school dabbas.

It is an extremely problematic way of breaking stereotypes if only one group is encouraged to do what the other group is always doing. By saying that, we are essentially saying, it is great to be outdoorsy and adventurous. Yes, but it is also great to be homely and play with dolls. Neither is better than the other, and I should have the right to choose what I want to do, when I want to do it, irrespective of whether I am a little boy or little girl.

So yeah, back to my earlier question? Can I give the kitchen set to a boy. I think  I will now. And I endeavor to give it, not as a statement, but as a perfectly normal gift. Will any of you think of giving this gift now?

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : V is for Vadams and summer holidays

 

Summer holidays in South India are or used to be punctuated by the vadam making sessions. Vadam (Sandige in Kannada, Vadiyalu in Telugu) is a condiment typically prepared in summer. The batter is made, the condiments moulded  and sundried and they are then kept away for the rest of the year. As and when needed, they are fried and eaten. They are a great, crunchy side dish to have with any form of rice.

 

Now of course fully fried, properly sundried vadam is great. But the batter and the half sun dried vadam is also great. What is more, it is slightly illegitimate to eat. Grandmothers who make the vadam painstakingly are not particularly happy if you end up eating half of what they prepare even before it has been made properly. Specially javarsi (pearl millet) vadam tastes divine when the top layer is dried, but you can still bit into wet sticky millet below. With the delicate seasoning of cumin and chilies added to the batter, the taste really cannot be described.

 

So there is a guilty pleasure in almost stealing the half dried (arakaachal) vadam. It is almost an apocryphal tale for most of us as children that a kid was asked by his granmother to protect the vadams from the crows as they were drying in the terrace, and the kid ate up most of the vadams and then pretended that the crows had eaten them up. I think most of us have at least uttered this kind of lie once, as we tried to steal some vadam.

 

Vadams making is almost something cultural which seems to be ingrained in our grandmothers. The first thing my grandmother said when she saw my house in Ahmedabad was that with such a big terrace and no shortage of sun in the summer, I wish I could come and make vadams here.

 

These days I dont know if people make vadams at home at all. I have a huge terrace and the Ahmedabad sun is all waiting to be tapped into for vadam making. But I have never had the pateince to make them myself. And now there are plenty of people willing to sell vadams specially for the NRI crowd, so there seems ot be no point in making it at home. But I miss this part of my childhood. Shop vadams are all very well, but how can you taste the vadam atvery step of  preparation if you simplly buy it off a shop. Maybe if for nothing other than to give Migu an experience of stealing vadam, I will start making my own vadams.

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A To Z Blogging Challenge : P is for play and learning

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 18 P

 

Just today I visited my daughters’ soon to be school (she will start in two months) and was stuck by a chart out there. I cant remember the exact words, but it said something like Trust me I was not made to sit still and listen to someone, I need to engage with the world with all my body and trust me I am learning. SO let me play.

 

I really appreciate the sentiments of the school, because trust me some parents concerns about how kindergarten children are performing in school and what they have learnt is quite disconcerting. Today morning, within the school itself I heard two parents swap notes on whether the child was identifying fruits, vegetables and colors. I mean why does it even matter.

 

But when I thought of play, I started wondering about how we have ended up instrumentalizing even play for a larger learning agenda. Any toy shop you go to, toys come labelled with what skills they help the child develop. I know children are supposed to learn while playing, but can we actually sort of not think about the learning all the time while playing. John Holt says it is dishonest to think of teaching the child while playing, because play must always have its inherent value, and an adult cannot impose a larger learning agenda and rob the child’s right to play. I am paraphrasing, but that is pretty much what he meant. When I read it, I thought he was overreacting and there is nothing wrong with us using play as a learning tool. But now when I see schools go out of their way to emphasize that we teach through playing and parents continue to swap stories about how well their three year old can identify fruits and vegetables, I really wonder.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge K is for Kittens in my balcony and what to do with them

A to Z Blogging Challenge K April 13

I am not a cat lover. I like dogs, though I lack the commitment to actually raise one. And while I dont have an overwhelming love for animals, I do think that we need to start learning to share our spaces with them.

 

This resolve to share was pretty much sorely tested when recently, a cat bought her little kittens to my balcony. The first panicked reaction was, they need to be removed at any cost. We were using the balcony, we had kept some of the things we needed in a cupboard there. It was summer and we needed to use the air cooler which was again in the balcony. So the cat had to go.

 

But some ethical concerns kicked in. Their being in the balcony only caused some inconveniences, pretty minor ones actually. If we threw them out we may endanger their lives. Should we not put up with some minor issues, just to let another being survive. It is still an anthropocentric philosophy, but surely we could try to accomodate another creature by adjusting a little bet. And then we were told, they seldom stayed in any place for more than a week, we relaxed a bit. The kittens were really tiny.

 

At first I didnt even want to see them, because I felt I would never permit their removal if I did. But I couldnt stay away for long. All three of us, my husband, my daughter and me, we got fascinated by the kittens.

 

Everyday, we would stare out of the small window and try to spot them and see what they were upto. Whenever my daughter saw them suckling the mother, she would scream that they are biting her and to make them stop. When she saw them putting a paw on each other, she complained that they were kicking each other and ought to stop. According to her, they were violating all rules we set down for her, and she wanted them to mend their behavior.

 

Now letting the kittens there had its own share of problems. We had to decide just how much would we get involved with them. At first we worried about them falling off the balcony, but largely the kittens were smart enough to avoid it. One of them fell off, but like the saying goes, landed on its feet and was fine enough to run away after that.

 

Someone told us we needed to provide water. But thankfully I read somewhere that as long as the babies were breast fed, they needed nothing, not even water. And anyway our whole idea was that we wanted to kittens to go away. We would not push them away but neither should we make the place so hospitable that they never left. I mean, I was sure I didnt want to adopt the cat or the kittens. So anyway, I convinced my husband that cats knew how to care for themselves and their kids and we best stay out of the way.

 

At times they provoked us a bit more. The mother attacked a bird which was sitting on the balcony, and although we are still not sure, most likely killed it and ate it up. We could not spot the carcass, but we say a lot of feathers and blood about. And though we are not squeamish vegetarians (we enjoy the ocassional egg), the thought of this attack within our house, literally was a bit difficult. My husband felt that the kittens had also had their share of bird meat, and somehow from that day on, whenever we saw the mother, we felt she had a greedy look in her eyes and was eyeing all the birds.

 

Well, it has been two weeks and the kittens are still there. They show no signs are leaving, and perhaps they are grown too much for the cat to carry them away herself. We have finally had enough and we think we will get them removed now. But for as long as they lasted, it was good to have them.

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