Monday, 23 January 2017

Into The Future Of....Grandparenting!

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Earlier in the week I overheard something very disturbing (modern day flats have paper thin walls) and so I actually wanted to do a post on what constitutes a happy marriage and should women stay in marriages where fights are the rule than the exception...But by God's grace the concept of abuse and adultery is so alien to my own marriage that it was hard for me to process the fight we all overheard and put down something in a post without sounding too preachy. After all, it's SO easy to give advice...Hence I have decided to shelve it for the time being but it is still percolating in my head. So get ready to smell the coffee one day soon.
I was blessed by the fact that both my grandmothers had attended my wedding and I asked my parents to send me a wedding day picture with both of them, as my wedding albums are back home in India. I started thinking about how much our grandparents had done for us, how vested they had been in our lives and what fantastic role models they were. Be it punctuality, neatness, cooking skills, thrift, stoicism, they had it all...The tag line I gave the picture I put up on FaceBook was ' In their constant hard work, lie the roots of our success.' Our grandmothers may never have worked outside the four walls of their houses but the amount of work they did for their large joint families within more than compensated for it. And then, since I had a lot of time on my hands yesterday, I began thinking about how future adults, who as babies, held cell phones and Ipads before they held pencils, would be like as grandparents, in the very distant future. How would future generations see their grandparents, considering the fact that ALL the children I know today (tomorrow's parents and grandparents) are hooked onto some device or the other? And most are already adept at taking selfies. My own grandmothers thought twice before making even a phone call from a land line! And so in a span of five minutes I wrote down this poem from a grandchild's perspective, maybe forty years down the line...Forms of social media and Apps may change, but the essence of what I'm trying to say will remain the same. This imaginary child is at that age where he or she doesn't have access to the Internet yet but understands what is happening around him or her. Once the child has net access, he or she wouldn't even bother about what the grandparents are doing or crave for their attention...

All I see when I look at Granny,
Is that she's constantly on FB.
Grandpa's frazzled and all in a flutter,
Guess what's not loading today? It's Twitter!

All day Granny takes pictures that don't make her look fat,
So she can finally share a few on SnapChat!
In their bathroom there's a leaky tap,
Who cares? They're too busy on WhatsApp!

My toddler sibling will soon into the coffee table ram,
They're clueless, as they are comparing followers on InstaGram.
They are both deeply onto the Internet hooked,
When was it last, at their grand kids, they actually looked?

At times when the net is down,
Granny, at the screen, terribly does frown.
But then she actually talks to me,
Into the long gone past, she does see.
And pulling me onto her creaking knees,
Tells me about HER grandmothers, who were like busy bees.

They would actually for their grand kids COOK,
And occasionally read to them from a BOOK!
Sometimes they'd even bake a CAKE,
And jars of pickles themselves MAKE.

They knitted sweaters, embroidered flowers,
And in their gardens created pretty bowers,
Over their homes they had control and powers,
But of course they weren't surrounded by mobile towers!

She said that long ago there was a time,
When granddads trekked to buy veggies plump and fine.
And hand picked fruits that tasted divine...
Today, at the click of a button, it's all ordered online...

The net is back and I'm dumped down from her lap,
She's eager to get back to her App.
Granny logs in quick as a flash,
She's desperate to see if her last update made a splash!

I wanted to hear the story of how her sibling almost choked,
I wanted to know about the rainy day when she got soaked.
I wanted to hear about her school days,
And how she had acted in many plays.

I guess I'll have to wait until the net is down,
In the meantime I'll just play with this colourful clown.
That Granny's Granny had for her made,
Back in the era before underground internet cables were laid...

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Of Hirsute Heads and Hacked Hair

A couple of days before it was time for my son to go back to school, I sent him to the barber with my husband, for a spiffy hair cut. I belong to the old, colonial school of thought where back to school for boys means super short hair. I've always been around men with really short hair all my life. My paternal grandfather and my father were in the army. My father in law was a senior scientific officer in the Ordnance Factory and dealt with quality control of Higher Explosives. Can you imagine any of these men pushing locks of hair off their faces before shooting a gun or testing a bomb? My husband, although in the corporate sector, in keeping with his disciplined defence upbringing, has very regular hair cuts.
And for almost all schools in India, the 'British army style crew cut' rule remains unchanged even today, although it has been almost seventy years since we became independent.When my son was in school in India in Upper Kindergarten and Grade One, if he did not have a haircut every three weeks, before the fourth week was up, there would be a note in red pen, in his diary, from his teacher with just two words, 'CUT HAIR'. Traditionally in Indian culture, our young students had to shave off their hair completely in the student phase of their lives, with just one long strand of hair dangling from the crown of their heads. The theory I've expounded to my son is that because boys are SO distracted all the time, it's easier for their brain to absorb knowledge if the head is shaved or the hair is at least short enough to catch glimpses of the scalp! He is yet to bite this particular bullet... He is turning thirteen next month so my words are no longer written in indelible, golden chalk for him..And because the school here doesn't have any hair length rule, he does feel like the odd man out for the first few days after his hair cut. That was the reason why he went around with a hoodie, with the hood covering his head, for the first couple of days after the visit to the barber. Mercifully Nairobi has very cool summers so the jacket wasn't out of place at all.
But his attitude against the compulsory hair cut took me back many decades, to the time my sister and I were in Elementary school and barely three and five years old respectively. Since my Dad was in the Indian Army, long hair for officers and soldiers alike (no lady officers in the army then) was, is and I hope always will be, anathema. So the army barber used to make a monthly visit with his kit and set up shop on our terrace and do the needful for my Dad. Both my sister and I are blessed with hair that grows really fast and is very thick too. So after our Dad, it used to be our turn. No amount of protest and fat tears rolling down our cheeks helped and we were almost scalped every month because my Dad believed girls looked 'smart' if they had short hair. My mother had beautiful knee length hair but he made her chop it off before they were married. Today, of course, no independent, educated girl in India, if she is in her right senses, would allow her fiance or husband to dictate the length of her hair but the early seventies was a different era and the majority of Indian girls were traditionally brought up to please their husbands.
To come back to my sister and me, being brought up on a steady diet of Hans Christian Anderson's Illustrated Fairy Tales, with Rapunzel of the long, golden tresses as the main course, surrounded by Indian girls of the late seventies and the early eighties, most of whom were growing their hair, this monthly ordeal was nothing but sheer torture and it was, we felt, a clear violation of one of our fundamental rights as girls: The Right To Long Hair. So furious did we get during those early years that whenever we had a brand new doll, the first thing both of us used to do was to chop off her hair, so that it resembled ours. Dolls, in the India of yore, had white skin, blue eyes and long, blond hair. I think the prototype had been imported from the United States, no Made In China tag then and used to be mass manufactured by canny businessmen. So finally the only thing we had in common with our dolls was the length of our hair! My mother collects 'memories in tangible form', which for me, is euphemism for junk. I am sure she has a couple of those dolls lying around and so I will ask her to send me a 'hacked hair' picture of one of the dolls and then I will post it here... This hacking of hair habit continued, for us as well as our dolls, except that Mom began taking us to a Ladies' Parlour as we got older, (the Army barber no longer being deemed fit for the Major Saab's daughters' hair), until I got my first Barbie doll as a gift, when I was close to becoming a teenager. I think my angst and ire had been vented by then and I had resigned myself to my short hair because that Barbie is in my daughter's room in India now, with her hair still intact. Yes, it's called the 'transference of memories' from my mother's house to mine...
And then, one day, I had a daughter too, who by the age of five and a half, was desperate to grow her hair. We were in hot, humid, Dar Es Salaam then, I had my hands full with my new born son and so my answer was a firm NO! For the next four years she begged, cried and pleaded some more but I was firm. Every year when we left our home town after the holidays to go back to Dar, I got her hair cut especially short on the very the day we were leaving, to save myself time and money for the next few months. My husband's sisters used to come to bid us goodbye and there used to be a long litany of complaints to them, against me, by my daughter. They consoled her and at that particular moment, probably looked upon me as the evil daughter in law who, annually, almost tonsured and tortured their darling bother's even more darling daughter, but I did not budge. Actually I was probably considered worse than the original witch in Rapunzel. Not only did I not let my Rapunzel go for sleepovers, I did not even allow her to grow her hair!
Finally it was time for us to move back to India and my daughter was about to turn ten. I gave in at last, on the condition that she oil and shampoo and comb her own hair regularly. I was willing to plait it, as Indian schools do not allow girls to leave their hair loose during school hours. In no time she had beautiful hip length hair which was the talk of the town! The reason was that India had changed and unlike in my days, today it is uncommon to see young girls with such long hair...The tables have turned and today I beg her NOT to cut her hair...She did get it trimmed to waist level last summer though. Here's a picture.

His 'hacked' hair
After much back and forth discussion about his hair length, I told him the debate had been postponed until the time he got his first college degree! You see I'm giving his head, with it's half inch hair, plenty of time to absorb knowledge till long locks cover it in the distant future.....! 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Gyaan Giving: Students, Ingest With A Large Pinch Of Chaat Masala!

Gyaan: The quintessential Indian word for knowledge or, as in this case, advice.
Chaat: A sweet and sour and spicy street food encompassing many types. Being Indian, we prefer to make even our street food at home, more often than not! Chaat Masala is the spice powder that is liberally sprinkled over it all and all Indian children, at some point or the other, have swiped chaat masala from the kitchen, behind their mothers' backs, and blissfully licked it straight off their palms...I hope my students enjoy my 'gyaan' for them and find it as 'chatpata' as the stolen masala!
Chatpata: Adjective derived from the word chaat or was the noun derived from the adjective?
This poem is aimed specifically at my current 10th standard batch. I've taught them the nuances of the English language since the time I returned to India from Tanzania, when they were in 3rd grade and I had just inaugurated my Academy in Pune! (And most of them had been my mother's students since their kindergarten years...) So it's been close to eight years now and after I moved to Kenya, even the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean did not prevent them from signing up for my brain wave: Class on Skype, homework on WhatsApp! Their parents have always shown complete faith in me and my 'off the beaten track' attempts at inculcating a strong language and reading base in these children. For this, I will always remain truly grateful. Though I am actually qualified to teach University level students, I can honestly say I have enjoyed  teaching these wide eyed kids, who then became brusque teenagers, more than I ever enjoyed teaching my 'know it all' college students. Eight years is a long time and each one of these students and their mothers honestly feel like family...I am going to miss you all in class, both real and virtual!
As they inch closer to their final exams, the I.C.S.E at the end of their 10th grade, which in India, marks the end of school life and also brings them to a fork in the road where they have to choose between further studies in Humanities or Science or Commerce. This one exam, held for a gamut of subjects, will determine which college they get into and also which stream, if they haven't decided yet.
The current issues in India among students are the mobile phones glued to their hands, their desire to be constantly in touch with each other on social media and also gaming on line. The sudden explosion in Internet availability, speed and quality has left parents helpless and students completely distracted. So I suggest taking a complete sabbatical (if you don't know this word yet, please open the dictionary now!) from all electronic devices for the next two months, until the I.C.S.E (Indian Certificate Of Secondary Education) is over. I promise you, you will not regret it. I've written this poem for you all, to drive home my point further. Here's wishing you the best of luck and a great new year!
The first line is from Lewis Carroll's poem ' The Walrus And The Carpenter, which I studied for MY I.C.S.E ! If we had had Internet and I would have been on line at that time for a large part of my day, I doubt I would have even remembered that I had studied this poem, forget about still knowing a great many of the lines...

"The time has come," the Walrus said," To talk of many things."
Of going off FB, Instagram and SnapChat,
All those ways that may just curb your wings!
Let it not happen, that just six months down the line,
You wish you hadn't ignored your Mom's 'constant whine'.
For Standard 10, you are now in the 'home stretch',
I know giving up social media feels like a wretch.
It's SO easy to get distracted,
But in direct proportion, your marks WILL get contracted!
Research proves you cannot focus even when finally offline,
For the brain to resettle, it takes quite a bit of time.
If you don't believe me, go to Google and see,
But ONLY after your I.C.S.E!

It is only your education that will stand you in good stead,
On the rough and really rocky road ahead.
Friends, both girls and boys, right now will only your time waste,
So don't ignore your parents' words in a haste.
Friends are great at moral and verbal support,
But chatting with them now will only spoil that I.C.S.E report!
We all know that the Indian system is based completely on rote,
So in the next two months be sure to cram everything down your throat.
To higher, better education, this is your passport.
Like it or not, this is the foundation of your life's fort.

Right now you may think you have the worst mother on this earth,
And of friends adding fuel to this fire there is no dearth.
But when Mommy asks you to study,
And tells you not to waste time with your buddy,
Trust me, she really wants for you, the best,
Just for two months, ignore all the rest.
When you get your I.C.S.E report, there should be no regret,
By then, it really will be too late to fret.
So take the bull firmly by the horns now,
And don't, before the internet or television, bow.
When you are studying, your phone should be really far,
Do you really want it to your future mar?

Your parents will stand by you till the end of their lives,
So, why against them, right now, sharpen your knives?
We aren't in the U.S where students get scholarships or, by themselves, hefty loans take,
In India, your parents began education savings before you cut your first birthday cake!
They are the ones paying for your expensive education,
As well as your fun filled, post I.C.S.E vacation...
You are not adults yet, so it's not too much to ask you to your online passwords with them share,
It is only because they are the ones that REALLY care....
Also remember you will ALWAYS have your parents' unconditional love and support,
No matter how TERRIBLE your I.C.S.E report.
All the more reason to just give it your best shot,
So eventually you will be happy with the marks you got!
To God you can safely leave the rest,
Once you have done your very, very best!

And one day, when YOUR kids tell you to 'Just Chill',
After you've repeatedly told them not to on line time kill,
You will thank God and your parents for an education that pays the hefty Internet bill!

How I got An Impromptu Valentine Lunch

During my self allotted, strictly ten minutes only, of FaceBook time earlier this evening, I came across scores of pictures of couples, lib...