Monday, May 29, 2017

The Sprint

I saw Khushboo sprinting around the school field. Round and round, full speed. 

We had just finished the English class and it was time to go home. All the other kids ran into the classrooms to pick up their bags, but Khushboo ran in the opposite direction. I followed her with my eyes, surprised, and she stared back at me, never taking her eyes off me for even a second.

Khushboo is a 10-year old girl from our village. I have known her longer than others because her father, Tirloki, did some odd jobs for us when we moved into our house. Tirloki was famous in the village for two things- being able to speak fluent English and being able to be drunk out of his wits at 9 in the morning.

When I first moved here, he would find every opportunity to speak to me in English, much to my delight. Slowly, I realized that he was not a dependable worker. After earning some money, he would vanish for days, lying here and there in an alcoholic daze. I rarely saw him last year, and when I did, I noticed his dirty clothes and shrinking frame.

In November, we were invited to our gardener's house for his son's wedding lunch. That's where we met Tirloki after a long absence. He was limping and looked very gray. He died that same evening of an injury that he never bothered to get treated, because being admitted in the hospital would mean no alcohol for that day or longer.

The following week, I went to his house to pay my condolences to the family. Khushboo hung around in the shadows. I met her mother, a tired frail woman. She had been the breadwinner for the family for the last few years because her husband couldn't hold down a job and would drink away every penny he earned. About the day he died, she shared how he put his head on her lap and asked for his drink minutes before dying. I was so surprised to hear tenderness in her voice for a man who would have put her through hell for sure. Love is a strange beast and can weather so many storms.

Khushboo is the younger of their two children. She is one of those kids who are labeled "slow" or "zero" by the school staff. Having taught her for over a year, I had noticed that she was quite quick to learn but easily distracted. I just could not get her to stay focused on what was going on in the class for more than 5 minutes. She would soon be pulling someone's pigtails or pinching someone. When it came to group activities, such as making charts or acting in a play, she was shunned by her classmates. No one wanted her in their team. When I asked a few kids why they treated her so badly, I was first told that it was because she hits everyone. Then, the truth came out.

Khushboo stinks. The irony- Khushboo means fragrance in Hindi.

I had thought it was only I who had noticed her body odor, and that these young kids would not be bothered by it. Apparently not. Her body odor was a main reason she was ostracized, and this exacerbated her anti-social behavior. Based on this piece of information and inference, I even designed a lesson on hygiene, bringing buckets, mugs, soaps etc. for a vocabulary session, encouraging everyone to talk about how often they bathed and washed their clothes. Khushboo did not participate. She often chose to sit quietly in a corner and that's what she did that day.

Last month, I decided to teach the kids a poem I had written to show correct usage of prepositions. It has five paragraphs of four lines each. I have patiently taught the poem to the kids for over five sessions, helping them pronounce words and phrases individually and in groups because even simple sentences are like tongue twisters for many. Yesterday, there was a breakthrough. The kids managed to recite the entire poem in one go, in rhythm and harmony. One voice was leading and confidently reciting the start of each paragraph for everyone to catch on. And that voice was Khushboo's!

Immensely relieved that they had finally learned the poem, and grateful to Khushboo for being their invisible leader, I called her out and shook her hand. I must have said some words of praise too, as is my habit, but I forget now. As the school teacher yelled for the kids to come and collect their bags, I remember turning to Khushboo and saying "Khushboo darling, you were great today".

The look in her eyes was too fleeting for me to understand. But then she ran. In the opposite direction to the other kids. Full speed. Eyes on me. A smile plastered on her face. All around the school ground. Turning back towards me, not the classroom, still running. Then, stopping and quickly hugging me, while I was still sitting on the ground, transfixed by her antics.

The first hug from her in 14 months!

I am no expert in child psychology, but since when has that stopped anyone from trying to interpret human behavior? I think Khushboo's sprint was her expression of a feeling she hadn't experienced before, or at least not in my class. She ran because the child could not contain these feelings and had to do something about them. She also ran because by the time she came back to me, all the other kids had left my side and she could hug me without feeling self conscious.

Her sprint reminded me of this part of the poem by Emily Dickinson:

I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,        
And I tip—drunken.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Home-schooling tales 1

Since we are new to homeschooling, I found it easier to follow NCERT class four text books to start. In two months, we are done with 3/4 of all text books, spending just 2-3 hours a day.
Everything is done in full detail, with practicals for math and recitation for poems and plays.
Added to it, tabla classes almost daily, a 10-day kathak workshop, numerous treks and walks, and daily playtime with friends.
In another month, we expect to complete all four text books. How is this possible? 

Update: In 3 months, we have completed Math and English books. One chapter each of Hindi and EVS is left. 


Today, as we drove back from Palampur, I did not stop the car even once to take pictures. The beauty passing by was so breathtaking that I was almost paralyzed.
The white wild-rose creepers were in full bloom all along the way- their flowers so ordinary individually, but so stunning as a group. 
The large white and pink kachnar flowers would appear in clusters and overshadow everything else with their fullness. 
The bougainvillea flowers in red and magenta were as if pouring out from homes on to the road. 
Bright red and orange roses were calling my attention here and there. 
Pine trees had new cones, barely formed and still green, but standing upright. 
Bottle brush trees were more red than green. 
Some big tall trees had clusters of very fine, very delicate pink flowers. The green, so much green, in so many shades. 
And the butterflies, plain white and yellow butterflies, flying everywhere!
I don't think I uttered my famous "wow" even once. The "wow" had permeated inside me. I was mesmerized by what nature was displaying proudly. I quietly, and very gratefully, enjoyed the show put up especially for me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Someone Like Him!

If you have a boy like him
More than a son, you have a friend and guide
...for life.

If you have a boy like him
Of such compassion and sensibility
You have renewed faith in humanity

If you have a boy like him
So accomplished, yet humble and sweet
You feel you have done your one good deed.

If you have a boy like him
With least effort and bother
You get labeled a good mother!

Chandrama- As beautiful as the moon and quite as loony- Part 2

Every time I write something, it is like gathering ideas and thoughts scattered all over, bunching them together and shaping them to somehow makes sense. But this process also brings a sort of finality to the ideas. Once they are captured, they stop being the very things that inspired me to write in the first place. 

Maybe that's the reason I can't write about my mother. I do write about incidents involving her, but I can't write generically about her. The thoughts I have about are too many and scattered too randomly over 51 years of my life - gathering them is nearly impossible. They are hard to capture also because they are evolving, changing, growing every day. Also, gathering them will mean there will be a finality to these thoughts, and I can't allow that. She is a constant source of inspiration and self-knowledge and I need it to be like that. 

Today is her 79th birthday. For the last 4 years, it has been my absolute pleasure of living with her in her favorite Dharamshala. The thoughts I have tried to capture here are bits and pieces about what I have learned from her. But no finality or boundaries here- there is lots more that I haven't even figured as yet.  

From her, I learned to be the best in anything and everything I do. And this was purely by example- we never discussed it. I just had a mother who was great at her work. She was the star. How can you be her daughter and accept mediocrity for yourself. You just don't.

From her, I learned the meaning of being truly happy. I have never seen my mother being moody or depressed, despite whatever was happening around her. I have always wondered how that is possible but because she is a living example, I know it's possible and can hope to achieve that life-state one day. 

From her, I learned to be brave. I have never seen her scared of any challenge that life throws in her way. She took up a WHO fellowship in her early thirties and lived in the US alone for a year. It was her first trip abroad, working with absolute strangers and getting used to a totally different lifestyle. If that didn't require bravery, I wonder what did. Once when she was the Principal of LHMC and there were student demonstrations clamoring  for her dismissal, I was shaking but she was unafraid. She was not even afraid at 60 of  moving with my dad (who needed a lot of care) to a small town and starting a new life. When he passed away, she was not afraid of living her life alone on her own terms. And even now, she lives her life as she wants, doing what she likes, despite having her bossy daughter live with her!

From her, I have learned how to have fun. When I was six, she blew my little mind by playing a trick on all of us- she returned from her year-long trip abroad with short hair. This was early 1970's and decent Indian women were not supposed to cut their hair. Her short hair caused so much turmoil in the family- my brother refused to hug her, my grandfather, her father, called her a "Par-kati kabootri (wingless pigeon)" and the elders on my father's side found it scandalous. Then a couple of hours later, she took of her wig and exposed her still long lovely hair! She created a memory that hasn't faded in 40 years and triggered a certain mad streak in all of her kids.

From her, I learned to love travel. My earliest fondest memories are of our travels together to hill stations, where she made us walk crazy distances, sing songs and eat express no-nonsense meals that she would cook. Later, she filled our heads with exciting stories (coupled with slide shows) of all the cities and country she had visited in the one-year fellowship. I grew up believing that the purpose in life was to travel and live in exotic places, meet new people and then talk about these experiences forever! I still believe it. 

From her, I got my gaming genes. In early 2000s, my dad rang me in Singapore and complained about mom' computer game obsession. In his typical funny-serious way, he said "Puja, apni mummy ko samjha. Sara time games khelti rehti hai! (Puja, please drive some sense into your mom. She is always playing computer games)". How could I tell him that at that very moment, across thousands of miles, she and I were playing an online boggle game together!

Nowadays, she plays Sudoku, Rahjong (a solitaire version of mahjong) and 4 pics 1 word type of puzzles on her iPad that I bought for her 7 years ago.

Much like her, I play till I drop off to sleep. She is a true role the picture shows!
From her, I have learned to embrace change and go with the times. My beautiful mother, who for over thirty years, wore the best sarees in the whole of Delhi, and nothing but sarees (even a Salwar Kameez was too casual for her), now wears pants and t-shirts that she buys from the trendy stores in Singapore and Delhi. My super popular mother, who was once the life of parties in Delhi, now spends her time walking the mountains, playing computer games and painting. My smart mother, who once surrounded by intellectuals and professionals and spoke in an impeccable polished accent, now finds joy in talking to simple village people, using their language and sharing their concerns.

From her, I learned to love music.  My mother sings beautifully and prolifically. As young children, we would sit on her bed, listening to her sing with gusto inside the bathroom as she got ready for work. Even today, there is no greater pleasure for me than to hear her sing her (and mine) favorite Hindi songs and ghazals. Unfortunately, I don't have her singing voice, but I enjoy listening to the songs I grew up and with and spend hours trying to play them on my keyboard.

From her, I learned to go out and appreciate the beauty of nature. My mother is an avid walker. In the last 15 years, she has climbed every mountain and visited every village in the neighborhood. I have heard all the stories and now it is my aim to recreate those experiences. We walk to every village that she has talked about, climb every mountain that she had climbed, enter every dhaar that she had visited.

Happy birthday Chandrama, my cool as the moon Mommy, and quite as loony. May you have a great great day today, with your butterflies and flowers and mountains and the khudd and the sunset. May you live fully in health for at least another 20 years so I can learn more from you and get a chance to enjoy your company even more. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Arms of Another!

There must be a perfect man
for the perfect me, somewhere.
I can so imagine this deadly combination
A bit of him, a bit of her!

But every one I meet 
is good for only one thing or another.
One's banter is just right for me,
and another's ardor!  

Not best known for my patience,
Till I discover this elusive creature...
I, pity me, have to make do
with the intellect of one, and the arms of another. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Homeschooling Aloka- 1

Aloka completed her Class 3 studies and exams last year in December. After her vacations, she would have gone back to school on Feb 13, but did not. She stayed home. She is now home schooled. 

The decision to home school her was, from one aspect, not an easy one, but from another, the easiest. The mental preparation for this journey was much harder than the actual physical preparation. The doubts, though fewer as days pass, linger and need to linger if we have to make a success out of this adventure. 

I have taken notes every day since Feb 15 when we started, and these will form the basis of the first few posts I will write about homeschooling. I learned a lot from talking to other parents of home schooled children, and I hope someone will find value in my observations, challenges and victories.