(Image source: NCERT website)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Parents – Children’s Cheerleaders

An excited 6 yrs old Kannan ran out to the sunny balcony, thrilled to see the round red sun in the horizon.  Just as he was telling his grandma, “Look! Look, Ammamma! The sun is looking like an orange, was this how it looked when Hanuman zoomed to catch it?” Even before he could complete his sentence, his mother Lakshmi came bustling up to him and said, “Come on, Come on, let’s run through “Suraj Chacha” once again. “Not again!” was Kannan’s reaction. There followed a 25 minutes exchange between the mother and the son during which she coaxed, cajoled, threatened and finally bribed him with the promise of a  doughnut if he recited the Hindi poem properly ….! All the joy of seeing the orange sun evaporated as Kannan got ready to recite “Suraj Chacha” during the Hindi online class (not his favourite at most times) under the gimlet eyes of his mother.

I am quite sure this is happening in many Indian homes today thanks to the online classes (an offshoot of the Corona pandemic and subsequent Lockdown) which are being beamed directly to the homes, exposing the teacher, the children and their parents to each other. Classes are taking place five days a week and to benefit from these classes, students are using a variety of devices.

A virtual survey was conducted between Friday, May 15 and Sunday, May 17, 2020, to assess the experience of 5 - 18 yrs, old school children, using a questionnaire of about 40 questions, distributed through WhatsApp and email. Data received from 155 students across 13 states evenly distributed across the country, revealed that 87.2% of the respondents are studying in private-run schools and only 12.8% are either from the Centre and state-run government or government-aided schools. During these classes parents, who are required to be around children during the session (especially of the younger children) face the greatest challenge. This also poses another problem for the children since the parents cannot be just observers but try to become loco magister or adjunct teacher.

A survey of more than 1800 Australian parents and guardians by Australian Scholarships Group and Monash University indicated that 80 per cent of Indian as well as other Asian parents have high expectations for their child’s educational accomplishments. According to Bapat, urban Indian parenting practices mostly belong to the class known as "helicopter parenting", "hover-parenting" or "intensive parenting” characterized by deep involvement in every aspect of their education, extra-curricular activities and free time. Such parents do not assist in the development of their children’s freedom since they tend to supervise, help or control their schoolwork, tasks at home as well as their social interactions physically or mentally. Indian parents, in general, get hyper about their children’s academic performance.

In the pre-Corona days the children escaped this helicopter parenting during their school hours though the mothers and sometimes the fathers exhorted them to be “first in the class” though they know full well that all the children cannot be first in the class and someone has to take the second, third and other places. Earlier their skills of the 3Rs, asking and answering questions, reciting or orating were witnessed by their classmates and teacher – with whom they were comfortable. Their performance would vary according to their mood, physical conditions and other factors.


Now their performance is under scrutiny being watched as they are by their parent, other parents, classmates and teacher, who cannot even offer encouraging smiles (as happens in a typical classroom situation). The child would surely experience stage fear but some stressed parents start berating the child about every mistake he may have made. This upbraiding of the child is due to their high expectations aggravated by watching other children, who may have performed better as also by the common syndrome of “keeping up with the Joneses”. 

If the parents are not supportive, it may leave an everlasting scar on the children’s psyche. It is important for parents to realize that they are not meant to be homeschoolers in conjunction with the teacher who is the guiding force in the subject matter. A parent should know when to bend in and bend out of their child’s learning experience. Parents should be the greatest boosters and motivators of their children.  

“Child development does not mean developing your child into the person you think they 

should be, but helping them develop into the best person they are meant to be.”

                                                                          ― Toni Sorenson

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Come, Savour the Many Indian Books

About fifty years back “Gone with the Wind”, "Jane Eyre" and Anna Karenina” were three books that all young women were advised – Nay! Exhorted to read!. Very few such wise and sensible ideas are given to the younger generation nowadays. More is the pity! Books (to repeat a well-known adage are the best friends a man, woman or child can have. Books provide company, offer consolation and serve as confidantes! They do not get offended, they need not go away and yet they continue to delight one in whatever mood one may be in, without encroaching! The earliest books were developed by the Egyptians, who stuck together individual papyrus sheets to form a long scroll, with rollers attached on either end so that one could furl one roller while unfurling the other. In China, India and other oriental countries, narrow strips of wood or leaf were tied together with cords to create ‘books’.
In Assyria sheets of wax dyed yellow, framed in wood or ivory and inscribed with a bone or bronze stylus were hinged on one side to make a fan-folded book. The Romans used to parchment paper and later most of ancient Europe began to create books with parchment or vellum(made from animal hide) with a backing of leather. The discovery of paper in 105A.D is ascribed to a Chinese courtier named Ts’ai Lun. Production of book was still a laborious process since it had to be done painstakingly by hand. Books were rare and not everyone could possess one. The discovery and development of the printing technique by Guttenberg took the tedium out of bookmaking and books became available for all and sundry. Indians were lucky because they have the best of both the Worlds – English Literature, the legacy of the British and the books of their forefathers. Ramacharitmanas (Hindi), Silappadikkaram(Tamil), Kanyasulkam(Telugu), Chemmeen (Malayalam) are a few gems that come to one’s mind but by no means is this list representative or exhaustive. The list of inspiring and scintillating books in the Indian languages is unending. It would be a worthwhile exercise to acquire at least a reading knowledge of one’s mother tongue(obligatory) and as many other Indian languages as possible in order to taste the nectar that is at hand but not difficult to get at because one has not made the effort.
 “Reading a book is only the first step in the relationship. The contents of someone’s bookcase are a part of his /her history like an ancestral portrait.”-  Anatole Bryand
Do make the effort to enrich your history!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Malathi’s Marriage published in the Women's Era magazine (March 2014)

“Twinkling bulbs and beautiful flowers have turned this place into a veritable fairy land,” thought the septuagenarian Sundari as she stepped out of the car at the entrance of the hall, where her eldest granddaughter Malathi’s wedding was to be performed.  The alley from the well-decorated entrance to the portico was covered with beautiful, huge rangolis – all lovingly drawn by her friends and relatives. As was common in the grand weddings of Chennai, machines vending popcorn, cotton candy, cold cocoa, ice cream and instant coffee were lined up all along one side of the spacious portico. Children were already busy playing in the inflatable castle-shaped jumping bag assisted by attendants dressed up as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. All these paraphernalia were unheard of when she was young but now no wedding was complete without these. She saw her four younger grandchildren, all dressed in their traditional best, welcoming the wedding guests. After one eagle-eyed supervisory round of the kitchen, dining room and the groom’s quarters, she settled down to oversee the bride’s  make up. Though outwardly calm, the worry about the unfulfilled demand of the groom’s party niggled at her mind.
“Amma, where are you? Come quickly, Ravi is at the entrance and it looks as if he is here to create trouble. The groom’s party will be here very soon. Hurry up only you can handle him,” Kumar, her eldest son called out.  As she hastened after Kumar, many guests tried to stop her with their congratulations. 
 “What a grand wedding and that too for a niece! Kumar and Nataraj are indeed very good sons and do you know……….”  Sundari smiled at them vaguely as she rushed after Kumar.
Though her body followed her eldest son mechanically, her mind traveled back twenty two years to the black day when her pregnant daughter Parvathi, brutally beaten by her alcoholic husband Ravi had come for refuge to her father’s house late at night. A repentant Ravi had come to their house the very next day with apologies and promises but Sundari had no time for him. Parvathi had been so badly beaten that she needed ten stitches on her face and hospitalization for four days.  When she was discharged from hospital, Sundari brought her home and nursed her back to health. With in a few days, Malathi was born prematurely and needed extra medical care. 
For three months as is the South Indian custom, Sundari and her family looked after Parvathi and Malathi. It was during this period that Sundari extracted the whole story about her son-in-law’s alcoholic habits and understood how patient Parvathi had been in her marital house. She realized that her daughter, although just a matriculate had tried all methods from rituals to rehabilitation to cure her husband of his addiction. She had spent money unstintingly, even to the extent of pawning her jewels but to no avail. Every little event - be it a happy one or a sad one - was an excuse for him to drink. 
Her mother-in-law defended her son saying, “Men are usually like that and it is up to us women to adjust. Drinking is in Ravi’s genes, even his father was an inveterate drunkard, who used to beat me and he continued to do so until he died in a drunken brawl.” 
 Parvathi had borne all the sufferings because she knew that her family led a very hard life and that her wedding had all but wiped out their savings so she did not want to add to their burdens. When Sundari spoke about this to her family their reaction was, “What can we do? It is Parvathi’s fate. She has to adjust.” 
At the end of three months, when Ravi came with his mother to take his wife and child back home, Sundari refused to send her daughter back. Sundari’s husband, her two sons and their wives were aghast at her decision.  Her husband Murugesh thundered at her, “Are you mad, Woman? Do you want to ruin your daughter’s life? How can she stay here away from her husband? What will people say? Who will respect our family? We will be ostracized from the community. Have you taken leave of your senses?”
Kumar, her eldest son said, “Amma, Ravi is only a drunkard; he is not a womanizer or a drug addict. May be Parvathi is responsible for Ravi’s drinking? Is it not the wife’s responsibility to guide and change her husband. Have you not heard of Kannagi and how she changed her husband?”
“Amma, you are right no doubt but just think of the little Malathi. What will you do when she asks for her father? Won’t children taunt her in school that she has no father? When she grows up who will marry a fatherless girl?” asked her younger son, the recently married Nataraj. His wife nodded in agreement with him while looking at Parvathi with sympathy. 
The elder daughter–in-law Kumari always soft spoken and supportive of Sundari asked,” What will our relatives say if Parvathi becomes a vaazhaveti (abandoned woman)? She will have no status in our community? She will not be allowed to participate in auspicious functions.”  Behind her statement lay the fear of how they were going to feed two extra mouths on the income, from the offset printing press a family concern, which was barely enough for a hand to mouth existence. 
In face of all this opposition, Sundari was very stubborn and steadfast in her decision.  Ravi and his mother were shocked at the turn of events and tried to appease them but Sundari refused to change her mind. They retreated with threats of court case and panchayat action. Nothing came of it since the recalcitrant Ravi now drank to forget the sorrow caused by separation from his wife and the mother could do nothing without his help. Sundari had acted decisively and called for a meeting of their community panchayat and made the separation official and formal. 
 Sundari’s husband stopped talking with her, her sons argued with her on every issue; the daughters-in-law grew rebellious and grumpy while her daughter cried eternally as if there was a spring in her eyes. The only human being unaffected by all this chaos was little Malathi, who with her sunny smiles and happy disposition charmed everyone from her grouchy grandpa to the irritable youngest aunt. Parvathi soon recovered her equanimity and started helping her sisters-in-law with the household work and slowly won their hearts by her sweet nature and generosity of spirit. 
Sundari approached a local Apparel Unit and persuaded them to employ Parvathi initially as a cleaner and requested them to train her gradually for stitching or any other suitable skill. Within two years Parvathi was earning enough to support herself and her daughter. The neighbours’ stares and taunts were gradually replaced by sympathy as they observed Parvathi’s docile nature and her sincere efforts to support herself and her daughter.
Sundari realized that her daughter’s meager salary would never pay for her growing granddaughter’s needs so she involved herself in their family business of printing much against her husband’s wishes.  Her innate business sense coupled with her understanding of human nature helped them to improve their business and profits, which began as a trickle but soon turned into a steady flow assuring them of a comfortable though not luxurious life style. 
After Murugesh’s death, Sundari controlled the expanding family with iron hands in velvet gloves. She managed to keep the family together in spite of their personal jealousies and rivalry with tact and diplomacy.   She was blessed with four grandchildren by the sons and as the business improved they were able to build a small two bedroom house. Sundari and the rest of the family believed that their fortunes had changed due to Malathi’s luck.
Sundari, ever aware of her responsibility towards Malathi, encouraged her to study well and the girl did not disappoint her grandmother. After completing her graduation she secured a good job through campus interview and enrolled for M.B.A through distance mode. For the last two years her grandmother had invested Malathi’s salary wisely to assemble the trousseau for her wedding.  
Malathi readily agreed to the alliance that her uncles brought for her and the uncles were happy because this marriage would elevate their status in society and make it easier for their children to settle well in life. Malathi’s in-laws belonged to a well-to-do family and agreed to this marriage due to pressure from their only son Madan who was nearing thirty but had been refusing to get married until he met Malathi by chance. They had yielded to his pressure only because they were impressed by Malathi’s amiable nature as also the sincerity and integrity of her uncles.  They were dissatisfied that Malathi’s family was not in a position to include a pair of diamond earrings in the bride’s trousseau but Madan did not yield. Sundari was worried as to whether that would cause a problem later but was in no position at present to fulfill that particular requirement. 
Since it was the first wedding in the family and Malathi was their blue eyed darling, the uncles organized a lavish function, a little beyond their means. Everyone was full of praises for the arrangements and now this unforeseen problem of Ravi had cropped up. Recollecting her past experiences with Ravi, Sundari was worried about the scene he would create and the effect it would have on Malathi’s in-laws, who were very particular about their prestige and position in society. 
As she neared the entrance she saw the worried faces of her daughters-in-law but was relieved to see that Parvathi was nowhere around. Kumar took her to the ante room where she found an emaciated, unkempt Ravi sitting on a chair with his head on the table. She assumed that he was drunk as usual and said tersely,” Why have you come? You ruined my daughter’s life; have you come now to ruin my grand daughter’s life?”
With trembling hands, Ravi held out a bundle tied up in a dirty piece of cloth and said in a surprisingly clear and steady voice, “I will not come into her life or your life hereafter – my days on this earth are numbered as I have liver cancer. I could not have given my daughter the type of life you have given her or the type of wedding your sons are performing for her. Today you have proved that if a woman wills it she can achieve anything in life. This is the last piece of my mother’s jewellery, which she wanted her grandchild to have. Please give it to Malathi.” With that he walked out of the wedding venue without even a single backward glance. 
Sundari was stunned and could not believe her eyes, when she opened the bundle to find a pair of the traditional diamond earrings twinkling at her.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Graffiti – a Blight on Community

Published Under my byline MY CONCERNS in Deccan Chronicle 
                                                   (Visakhapatnam Edition) dated 16.06.2004

A stone face high on the majestic Kailasagiri range had been desecrated by graffiti, spoiling the pristine natural beauty of this serene guardian of Visakhapatnam. This is not a lone incident – temples, public gardens and all tourist spots bear mute witness to this destructive immature action of humans. Graffiti on the walls of the elegant Andhra University was an eye sore until it was cleaned up by the concerted efforts of authorities, who not only returned its original magnificence but are also endeavoring to prevent further vandalism by unsocial elements. Graffiti has become an indelible part of community living, with defacement of public property such as trains, furniture in educational institutions, monuments and other public places.
Graffiti is by no means a modern phenomena; the oldest graffiti, “ I am very impressed by Pharaoh Djoser’s pyramid,” was engraved 3500 years ago by an ancient tourist near the Sakkara pyramid.

Graffiti, a crude drawing or inscription on any hard surface, may be classified into two categories – public and latrinalia. Public graffiti are the initials, names and code names that are written, carved or spray painted on the exteriors of buildings, trees, fences, billboards and so on. These again are of three types – gang graffiti used by groups to mark territory; tagging used to gain fame and recognition and pieces (abbreviated form of masterpieces), which are considered to be artistic expressions for example the religious icons painted on walls. Latrinalia graffiti usually have a sexual connotation and are found on the walls and doors of public utilities.  

Graffiti constitutes an umbrella term for a variety of thematically (sexuality, politics, relations, school, religion and business) and formally very different manifestations. They are all tied together by the fact that they are all visually perceptible, projected onto surfaces of private or public property by groups or individuals. They are typically unasked for and often done anonymously. They may be simply scrawled with impermanent material like chalk or coal or designed, planned and executed with difficult to remove paints.
 Graffiti is not art or literature in the conventional sense of the term but it is an expression of people’s inner feelings and therefore just as expressive as and even rawer than polished works of art though some refer to it as art! There is a lot of psychology behind the image and the message so graffiti has been used as a form of psychotherapy. Psychologists in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago encourage patients to write graffiti on the walls to promote communication between patients and therapists since graffiti give diagnostic insights and clues. Graffiti is the subject of intense study by several disciplines notably archaeology, sociology, environmental psychology, criminology, fine arts, anthropology and others. However, the negative societal connotation cannot be overlooked.

There can be no doubt that graffiti is a crime and an act of vandalism. It lowers property value and scares away respectable people from neighborhoods. Cleaning graffiti is not only hard work but also expensive since it can damage surfaces. Graffiti is a symbolic statement of tacky youthful rebellion and a desire to show that there are things that cannot be controlled, thus arousing fear psychosis in people.

Humans react consciously and unconsciously to the area in which they live and work.  Natural and man made environments exert a powerful effect on people’s feelings, behavior, general health issues and productivity. Litter, graffiti and other such factors can contribute to the development of sub optimal environment, which is as detrimental as other forms of environmental hazards. Family, community, schools, colleges and other social organizations have a very important role to play in this war against graffiti. Children and others who show these tendencies should be diverted into more constructive activities!

- Published in Deccan Chronicle (Visakhapatnam Edition) dated 16.06.2004

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rite of Passage

Unlike most other people I always wanted daughters. During my carefree reckless youth I used to wonder and argue endlessly with my mother and my friends as to why we have to get married to have children. The 1960s and 1970s were not ready for that type of radical ideas and both my friends and my mother naturally were aghast at such an unseemly idea. Well to cut a long story short, I did get married and I did become pregnant as per traditions and  when my elder daughter was put into my arms my joy knew no bounds. Fours years later came the next little adorable bundle and I had to be satisfied because neither my finances nor my age would permit me to have any more. Every step they took, every word they spoke, every little act of mischief filled me with happiness. Their first day in school, the prizes they received, their academic success all added to my treasure chest of bliss. 

When they were babies I felt helpless because I did not know what to make of their cries - were they hungry? Was it a pain which was causing them to cry? Was it an horrible memory of their past life that was hurting them? I would desperately wring my hands and my mother would say " Don't worry, crying will make their lungs go bigger" and I would give her a dirty look  "What a heartless mother you must have been!" 

When they went to school the first time, I nearly cried more than them. When the elder one went to school happily without a murmur, a part of me was sad and another happy. My ego was satisfied when the younger one gave trouble to go to school though it created a lot of logistic problems. 

When they were at the school age, I felt invincible. Like the little boy in the advertisement for Sundrop   they felt and said, "My Mother the bestest". My younger daughter told me the other day that once while we were travelling her slipper fell between the platform and the train and she was very sure that she would not get it but with in a few minutes I gave it to her having rescued it with the help of a beggar. In their eyes I could do everything and I was infallible. 

That too passed and when they were in teens, they were a little ashamed of their gauche mother though they were still in awe of my academic prowess and it was only as they became young adults that we became close friends and just as I had begun to enjoy this phase they are ready to spread their wings and fly away.

As the wedding of the first daughter draws near, my heart is filled with trepidation - I don't know whether I am gaining a son or losing a daughter.... This is truly a rite of passage for me. The next few years will be the litmus test of how good I have been as a mother?