Monday, 27 August 2012

Back To School And Open House

June in Pune-the month when the schools reopen for a brand new academic year and parents after having enjoyed,suffered and tolerated their children for two whole months cannot honestly deny that they are glad to see the little darlings back in school!It is also a time when parents dig deep into their pockets and shell out money for school fees,for books,for stationery and all the paraphernalia that are associated with going back to school.The rush to cover the books at the last moment,shopping for new uniforms and school bags and since back to school coincides with heavy rains in Pune (or used to) raincoats and umbrellas are a must have too!
And then once school starts we wait for the dreaded time tables to come home.Every day during the first week, the child is diligently asked if he has got 'it'.'It' here refers to the portion and the dates for the unit tests which are such an integral part of our school system back home.The mother grabs it even before it is fully out of the school bag! Planning birthday parties,picnics,outings,visiting friends and family,even watching a movie centers around these dates and children start studying weeks in advance!
Imagine our surprise and relief when,after moving to Nairobi,one of the first notes our children got home from school had nothing to do with portions and exams.It was an invitation to join the staff and students for a picnic on the splendid school grounds.It was a chance to informally mingle with the teachers and Principals,to understand their expectations, an opportunity to soak in the atmosphere our children would be spending a great deal of time in,a chance for new parents to find their way around the campus and to just let our hair down and relax.
This year our daughter started High School and so the school had planned the open house event in such a way that we got a taste of what a typical school day is like for her.We actually followed her time table,rushing from one classroom to another as the bell pealed every ten minutes!Yes,they took pity on us parents and shortened each period!Every teacher gave us a short talk on her particular subject often accompanied by power point presentations!Impressive!They even shared a lot about themselves as people and their own backgrounds.This is something new for us as teachers in India never discuss anything beyond the child's performance!And we were warned against reaching late for any class,our punishment being lunch detention with the high school Principal himself!It brought back memories of my college days in India for that is when we move around for different subjects,unlike in the American system where they start switching classrooms from Middle School itself!
The babies of the Elementary School had to lead their parents to their respective classrooms and show them around.So our son proudly led us to the third grade classroom where we could meet his teacher and admire the way the class was done up.It reminded me of all those Enid Blyton  British school stories which I enjoyed so much,where the parents come in at Half Term and thoroughly explore the school and see what the students have accomplished.Except that we were getting our chance at the beginning of the year!The Americans lead from the front,it seems!Little wonder that they put a man on the Moon (may his soul rest in peace) and a machine on Mars!

Once our classroom duty was done,it was time to party or in this case,picnic!Caterers had set up stalls with an array of food and beverages,the band was playing,the school grounds were a riot of colour with beautiful flowers and blossoming trees.The flags of all nations which have their students here fluttered in the background,adding to the colour.It felt good to see the Indian Tiranga flying high...I had specially asked that vegetarians be catered to as well,as we had gone back hungry the previous year.And so this year we were able to buy vegetarian food which was a major relief,though another parent from India was heard bemoaning the lack of Bhel and Paani Puri!The day had started as a rainy one but the skies cleared,the sun peeped through the clouds,a cool breeze sprung up and the day turned out to be tailor made for a picnic.All was right in our little world and it has been a glorious start to what could be tough times ahead as Kenya heads for the polls this year.For now,it's one day at a time and such sparkling days surely stand out!

Monday, 13 August 2012


Slightly more than two months ago we left Nairobi and went back home for a couple of months as the kids had summer holidays.Well,it was the dead of winter in Nairobi as it is below the Equator,but as it was summer in the United States Of America,the school naturally terms the holidays as such!Patriotic Indian,proud holder of the beautiful blue passport that I am,I would still be the first to admit that it was a wrench to leave Nairobi's naturally air conditioned environs.But the pull from home is always strong and so we said Kwaheri to Nairobi as we drove to the airport.
The word 'Kwaheri' in Kiswahili means 'Goodbye'!It is,indeed,a beautiful word,one that almost,by itself, brings a lump to the throat as one says it.Little did I know when I said Kwaheri to our temporary home,that I would be repeating it multiple times in my own town.
We landed in Mumbai in the early hours of the morning and then began our journey by road to my hometown Pune.It usually takes around four hours to reach home from Mumbai.One needs to cross the once formidable Western Ghats.But a decade ago a new road termed as the Expressway,was carved out from these very hills and today this journey is a breeze!'But at what cost?'I asked myself.Bare,brown,denuded hills,mercilessly hacked to carve the new road,stared down at us as we zipped along.They had been encompassed in ugly nets to prevent landslides,something that trees naturally do.I have been seeing them for the past ten years of course but they did come as a rude shock after Nairobi's green garbed hills.Then I remembered that as children we had travelled through these very hills and as the road used to climb towards the famous hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala,the very air used to take on a new,cool life.Not anymore.If we wanted a cooler temperature,all we had to do was to turn on the car's air conditioner.The convenience afforded by the new expressway had made me push this memory to the back of my mind.I said a silent Kwaheri to these sentinels of time,as they had been,not what we had reduced them to.....
When one lives in a particular city,one accepts the changes that occur on a day to day basis without really being pedantic about it.After all,the only thing constant in life is change!But when one has been away for ten months,and has to gulp down all those changes in one dose,it does come as a bit of a shock!In my case,it was the malls that left me dumbstruck!They had sprung up all over the city like mushrooms do after a refreshing shower of rain.And the sheer size of each one was intimidating.I have seen malls in some of the best and biggest cities of the world but never in my wildest dreams had I thought that this malaise would plague my hometown too.Of course it made my shopping that much easier,of course all the top brands were available under one roof,of course they had the most amazing sales and we landed up spending more than we ever would have had we visited our regular shops!But I had to say 'Kwaheri' to the personalized service,to the genuine smile on the owner's face when we came in to buy something and to asking,hopefully, for a discount,not having to make do with whatever was on offer!However well trained a mall's staff might be,the service remains impersonal!
Just a few decades ago Pune was a horse cart and bicycle city.In fact, even today most of our old roads are suitable only for these means of transport.Till even a couple of decades back,owning a car was unthinkable for most people.Today,the world's top car makers have moved home and hearth to Pune and are busy churning out monstrous cars which our roads are simply incapable of handling.The nouveau riche no longer drop names of  famous people,they drop cars names and are wont to declare that since their car is such and such make,they absolutely could not find a parking space big enough for it!Kwaheri to simple living and of course,to good manners too!
My biggest regret to date is the tearing down of Pune's beautiful bungalows.Though this process has been going on for the last many years,the pace suddenly appears to have accelerated,what with property prices in Pune being the highest ever recorded.Unscrupulous middlemen do not hesitate to con even their own kith and kin and convince them to sell ancestral property,all to make a fast buck!High rise buildings spring up almost overnight,where once a sprawling bungalow lay.In the process they have torn to shreds Pune's heritage and have destroyed it's old world charm.Kwaheri to those old stone bungalows which enshrined a thousand memories and whose walls had witnessed the lives of so many generations....
Roads are being widened to accommodate an ever growing population the world over.But it is only in my city that trees were relentlessly chopped down to broaden roads,without new ones ever being planted as replacements.Where once I could hear the shrill sounds of birds as they returned to their nests in the ancient tamarind and banyan trees at dusk,today the only sound is the cacophony of horns.Kwaheri to the lungs of a polluted city.How will we breathe now?
Come June and sure enough we would start hearing the pitter patter,not of little feet but of raindrops!Yes,once upon a time this month would herald the Monsoon.After a long,hot,dry summer a dehydrated city would eagerly wait to quench it's thirst.And never did the rain Gods disappoint us.For a city that depends on this life-giving rain to fill its dams and to have enough water supply for the whole year,the Monsoon is,indeed a lifeline.Heavy,steel grey clouds would descend on the city,just waiting to shed their load.Our old,Kolonial era classrooms would become terribly dark,giving us the perfect excuse to slam our books shut and declare loudly to the teacher that we could not see a thing!For of course the power supply was shut off at the first hint of rain!This year,it was Kwaheri to the rains as well!The Monsoon bypassed our city.Maybe the rain Gods do not bestow their favour on a city which has no trees and no old houses, where concrete buildings abound and humongous cars speed on the roads,each one larger than the last.Maybe the Gods,like me,prefer a time when things were simpler...
Kwaheri to the city I once knew or thought I did!It is a city,which,with it's burgeoning McDonald's and Pizza Huts,with it's Converse and Pepe outlets,fits my children like a glove but I remain an anachronism...
                                           A sight for sore eyes!
                                          These havens still exist!But for how long?
                                          All gone!
                                           Where are the birds?

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