The Juvenile Pedagogue

Parenting technically speaking, is said to be the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. But when I pondered on the tremendous amount of things I have learned from my child, I agreed in toto with William Wordsmith “Child is the father of the Man” both literally and metaphorically.
1-Nish_1
Life is a great teacher but you have to do your part and show up for class each day !

Every experience good or bad, molds us in ways that we sometimes consciously comprehend and at times, fail to register.As years passed and life threw new experiences at me, I too kept learning.But it was the day I became a parent, that I truly learned to ‘look’ at myself – warts and all.

A tiny child grows physically and mentally through a natural progression, the way destiny intended it to be. The child acquires skills at a rate that can shame an adult. We can kid ourselves and feel completely responsible for the child’s development or we can acknowledge that we were mere conduits in the pre-destined journeys of our children.And in those fleeting moments of humility, we might perhaps sense the bigger purpose of things.

In a world, where wonder is considered akin to naivety, weathered with day to day travails, all that was left in the bottom of my cup were the dregs of cynicism.As I watched my son viewing a bug through a magnifying glass, mixing together his paints to discover new colors, saw the exhilaration in his eyes as he created a volcano with soda and vinegar, I found my lost feeling of wonder. To truly feel wondrous is to be in the moment fully.Being in the ‘now’, without a care for the past and future is something I saw in my son.Not for him, worrying about the homework waiting to be done and neither did any past success or failure leave much of an indelible mark. If the punishment or reward was not for that very instant, then it didn’t need to be bothered with, because the next moment would take care of itself. However much that exasperated me and contradicted all that I was trying to teach him about delaying gratification and learning from past mistakes, I had to acknowledge the carefree happiness that I saw in a soul unencumbered by the past or the future.

In my child’s world, I found bonds that were not formed on a worldly wise view of give and take.It did not matter whether his friend invited him to his party or not, he could still ask himself to be invited. As I struggled with my adult responses to these situations, I realized that the ego-less state that I was trying to remedy was exactly what I myself was aspiring for.

As I strove to teach and bring up my child, I forgot that under the harsh glare of my child’s eyes, all my shortcomings were clearly visible. I could preach all I wanted and still disconsolately fall short, did I not practice it myself.I realized if I had to stop my son from doing something , there was no way I could ever hope to continue the practice myself.Where my parents had failed, my son succeeded.This is one role where one can simply not be an armchair consultant.

I didn’t realize the extent of my hypocrisy till I was faced with my son’s questions.While I harped on social equality, was I okay to let my son fraternize with the street urchins ? There are ideals we mouth and ideals we actually stand for. Faced with uncomfortable questions, reason wilts and all that is left in the arsenal is the often impotent ‘Because I said so’ argument. My son brought me face to face with my own prejudices.

A child pushes your buttons like no one else does. I have alternated wildly between being an angel and a monster and been taken aback by my own anger. As I observed my reactions, I was both shamed at my inability to control my anger and amazed at my capacity for patience. It is in times like these, when I stood by and observed myself that I could really see who I was.My child showed me a mirror that sparkled with his innocence.It was now left for me to decide who I wanted to be.

My son bombards me with questions 24 X 7. Why does hot air rise ? Are humans still evolving ? Why should he not take the easiest route ? At times, I have to dig out the information from the dimly lit recesses of my mind and at times, I have to search. I google facts, learn new languages, examine concepts I had learned in an era gone by and wonder at questions that I myself never asked.

There is nothing that can hone your creativity more than trying to teach concepts to a dis-tractable child. How to convert ‘studies’ from a matter of duty to that of interest is a subject that forever fires my imagination.Every night, I tell stories to my child. Many a times, I read them from a book, but the ones he likes best are the ones I invent. The escapades of a boy with an alien friend, conjured up to catch the attention of a technology-savvy, science fiction loving kid and yet, to be grounded in day to day values.

My son with his uniquely simplistic questions of ‘are you happy or sad’ showed me that life need not always be a multitude of greys. Underneath all the hues,only the basic colors matter.Amidst all the complicated jargon, there are only life’s basic questions and underneath the subterfuge, there are only primal emotions.Life is only as simple or complicated as we choose to make it.

As I saw my son writing a secret letter in invisible ink to his best friend, a memory from yesteryear impinged on my senses – a similar scene – a similar thrill as I wrote a letter in secret code to my friend long long ago.My son brought back the joy of my childhood to me.

I am unsure about who’s bringing up whom.As I travel this journey of parenthood, the revelations and the knowledge that it brings forth puts the onus on me.More than learning to be a better parent, I can choose to be a better person and while I do that, I might perhaps end up being a better parent.

Unforgettable Journeys: Road Trip in The Nilgiris

As I was cleaning out my closet, my eyes fell upon a small album tucked unobtrusively between other books. I began flipping through its well-worn pages and old memories tumbled out. I sat ruminating on one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.
A seven-day trip through the Nilgiris had seemed highly improbable amidst hectic work schedules. But we had managed to pull it off. Recollections of vacations always leave a pleasant aftertaste but at times, something singularly stands out. And this one invariably reminded me of how footloose and carefree we had been. Road trips in particular, give plenty of rope to the free-spirited.

Read the rest of my post here..http://blog.travelyaari.com/road-trips/unforgettable-journeys-road-trip-in-the-nilgiris/

Draupadi’s Question

Source: Wiki Commons

Source: Wiki Commons

The messenger enters Drapadi’s chamber and asks her to be present in the assembly after the cruel throw of fate.She sends him back with the question “Whom did you lose first, yourself or me ?” It was legal question at that point of time. But later, she turns it into a moral question in the assembly “Is it right or fair that a woman, let alone a queen, become a slave because her husband staked her in a gambling game ?”

Though the legal aspect resounded completely, the moral one fell short in one aspect – If she could be won at a contest, so could she be lost, taking into cognizance the prevalent customs of those times.But a lady who could stand up and ask this question in the face of dire adversity indicated courage,clear thinking and a will to preserve her dignity at any cost. It could only point to a trait of boldness above all else.

Therefore, it came something as a surprise when I read a completely different interpretation by Iravati Karve, of the very same incident. Quoting from her book, she says..

“Draupadi’s question was not only foolish, it was terrible. No matter what answer was given, her position was desperate.If Bhishma told her that her husband’s rights over her did not cease, that even though he became a slave, she was in his power and he had the right to stake her, her slavery would have been confirmed. If Bhishma had argued that because of her slavery, her husband had no more rights over her, then her plight would have been truly pitiable… She had made many mistakes in her life that were forgivable, but by putting on airs in front of the whole assembly, she had put Dharma into a dilemma and insulted him…Though she was only a young bride of the house, she had spoken in an assembly of men, something she should have known she must not do.Over and above, to pretend that she could understand questions that baffled her elders – that was inexcusable arrogance.”

She further espouses that instead of arguing about the legal technicalities like a lady pundit, she should have cried out for decency and pity in the name of the Kshatriya code. Had she done so perhaps things would not have gone so far.

There are some definite points which struck me – Draupadi had the guts to speak in an assembly of men and elders who might have been more learned than her but who were also prepared at that point of time, to be mute spectators to her humiliation. To think, that at a moment of adversity such as this, a woman would have the capacity to put on airs instead of focusing on using all weapons at hand to defend herself, is also casting an unjust aspersion on her.Though there are sexist connotations and it abounds in far too many patriarchal interpretations for my liking, I had to acknowledge there are facets which are interesting and deserve further thought.

In the face of adversity, which one should a person rely on – Courage or Practicality ? Is a courage;which is guaranteed to lead one to failure, only false bravado. Is practicality which dictates a person to appear weak and grovel, more worthwhile if it guarantees success.Will the ‘success’ earned in this manner be devoid of shame.

Everyday, there are enough and more instances, wherein this question finds its way into conscious thought. There are innumerable cases of victims of rape, some who lose their lives as well and some who fortunately survive to tell their tale. In those darkened alleys and corners, when terror strikes, the question of courage versus practicality would haunt the person who faces it. For all we know, their choice may not have mattered and affected their ultimate fate, but yet again, it could have.

In historical times, there have been enough tales of courage and valor. The story of Chittorgarh is worth remembering in this context.Though the women sacrificed their lives for saving their honor, an idea which can be disputed in the current world context, its a story of courage nonetheless. Was it a story of success or failure or would it be too naive to bracket it so narrowly.In today’s context, there was a case of a woman attacked at an Bangalore ATM. The fact that she resisted a machete wielding man and refused to hand over the money was almost laughable to me.Being practical was a clear winner there. But there are more gory cases of rape which at times lead to murder, some of whom bring forth the question – could the victim have saved herself by being practical.

The importance of Draupadi’s question would find no relevance for an audience which lacks the will and the power to arrive at the right answer.The fact that she asked the question also shows that she reposed faith in their moral dharma and their system of governance even though her faith was later proved to be misplaced.In today’s world, there will be no divine intervention when a woman is being disrobed. It will be entirely upto the woman to keep her wits about herself and figure out the answer to Draupadi’s dilemma.

The secret of the Thattinpuram

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Asian Paradise Flycatcher


A flash of a long tail gleaming like burnished copper, accompanied by a sharp skreek disappeared into the thick canopy overhead. Ajit spotted the rufous tailed Asian Paradise flycatcher perched on a low branch. It was a glorious day for a nature walk – the breeze was pleasant and the Jacarandas and the Pink trumpet trees were in full bloom. He savored these weekly trysts with nature which had become indispensable.
Today was a departure from the usual. He had brought his son, in whom he saw the same passion for nature. The little chap was curious to a fault but he had patiently answered all his questions on birds, trees and butterflies. Now he turned to find the child at his elbow holding out a jasmine flower he had picked from an overhanging vine near the fence of a house. As he inhaled the rich scent of the white flower, a long lost memory tugged at his senses.

-oo-

He plucked the fragrant flowers for his Ammamma (Grandmother) as she waited in a nearby alcove clad in her impeccable white mundu-veshti (Traditional dress of Kerala).

Naalukettu

Naalukettu


Vacations usually meant traveling across half the country to get together with his bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins at his grandparents’ place. His grandparents lived in a huge Naalukettu (traditional house of Kerala with a central courtyard open to the sky) in Manjeri , a small town in Kerala. A two storied rambling house with umpteen rooms and a plethora of common areas encircling the Nadumittam (central courtyard open to sky) , it was ensconced within a tree grove and situated in the midst of lush paddy fields. The branches of a massive peepal tree kissed the sloping roofs of the house.For him, the enormous tree was akin to a wise old sage welcoming his pupil with open arms. He used to spend countless hours exploring the varied life forms fostered by the tree. Amidst the thick canopy of shade and the ever soothing sound of the rustling of the leaves, the tree unraveled its mysteries to the discerning seeker.
Common Jezebel butterfly

Common Jezebel butterfly


Clear-winged forest glory - Damselfly

Clear-winged forest glory – Damselfly

The serendipity of seeing the tree hoppers camouflaged as thorns among one of the many creepers snaking around it, always used to be a source of delight. Apart from the myriad birds flitting on its branches during its infructescence, it hosted a plethora of butterflies,dragonflies, damselflies, insects, squirrels, skinks and yes, it used to host yet another kind of life form which he would come to know of later!

Paddy fields

Lush paddy fields


The smell of wood and trees permeated everywhere.He walked barefoot on the cool red-oxide flooring and ran down the wooden steps with resounding thumps.He loved everything about the house with its nooks and crannies, innumerable places to run and hide,its Nadumittam– where he could gaze at the raindrops falling inside the house, the kulam (small pond adjoining the main house) with its frogs and the Neerkoli (Checkered Keelback – a non-venomous snake) .

And even the Thattinpuram (low roofed attic) .

Nights at the Naalukettu ushered in the blackness which enveloped one like a shroud. The soft sounds of the night lulled him to sleep – sounds of crickets and croaking frogs, water drops trickling somewhere or a tiny rivulet flowing, whispering of the trees, a nightjar calling far away. But there were also the sounds which kept him awake half the night. And it came from the Thattinpuram.

Naalukettu

Naalukettu


The Thattinpuram was situated directly above the room where he slept and the only way to reach it was climbing the rickety wooden steps right next to the room. It had small windows overlooking the sloping roofs of the house, which were normally kept closed. Nearing midnight was when the strange creaking noises would start followed by rapid shuffling sounds. It had transpired that more often than not, the sounds followed a heavy downpour with strong winds. Night after night, he would lie awake waiting for the noises to start which would die away within an hour. He made up his mind to get to the bottom of these nocturnal goings on.

Daytime exploration of the place didn’t yield any clues and he waited for the one person who he was sure could help – Mavunni. He waved at Mavunni, who was already leading their cow to be milked and issuing instructions for the coffee bean to be plucked and dried. Everything they needed, they grew. Money was redundant for his extended family who needed it only for clothes.
A timeless old man, Mavunni was responsible for everything around his grandmother’s house. A soft -spoken, shy and retiring man by nature, he was extremely knowledgeable. Ajit had spent endless afternoons accompanying Mavunni on his chores while he listened in wonder to the old man elaborating on the various flora and fauna surrounding the house.Yes, he was sure Mavunni would find a solution.

Kulam

Kulam


At long last he managed to find Mavunni alone and explained his predicament. Mavunni pondered over it and then proceeded to give him very precise instructions. Though the old man was certain of the reason behind the strange noises, he decided to let the child learn for himself. Feeling as if a big load was off his mind, Ajit picked his way through the grassy path to the Kulam. As he floated in the still water surrounded by the dense trees, he listened to the bird songs high above. Bulbuls, drongos and flowerpeckers were all twittering away interspersed by the steady tap-tap of an industrious woodpecker. The kingfishers perched at their regular haunts swooping in now and then into the water to snatch a fish. With the tiny fishes nibbling at his feet, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he prepared himself for the night
Nadumittam

Nadumittam


It was the Tulavarsham (north eastern monsoon) and dark clouds gathered overhead almost every evening. Normally he would spend hours watching the pitter patter of drops falling through the Nadumittam. But today there was work to do, as he gingerly made his way to the Thattinpuram. The last remnants of the evening light was fading quickly. A big huntsman spider lounged nearby. On any other day, he would have spent more time studying it but today, he quickly made the arrangements just like Mavunni had explained and beat a hasty retreat. A window banged somewhere.
After rains

After rains


Dinner consisted of kanji (rice porridge) with chutney and chutta pappadaam (Dry roasted rice fritters) which he insisted on eating with the jack fruit leaf spoon just like his great grandfather used to eat. He wolfed it down quickly ignoring the curious stares and hurried upstairs to wait. A good three hours passed and he was almost nodding off when he heard it.A curious shuffling and scratching. Yes, the sound repeated. The scratching sound was approaching closer to where he stood waiting at the bottom stairs of the Thattinpuram. He hardly dared to breath. And suddenly he saw it.

It was a marapatti – A civet cat !

It had the ripe papaya in its mouth. Its eyes glowed momentarily in the torchlight.As he advanced for a closer look, it spurted a noxious liquid which luckily missed him, before it bounded back to the Thattinpuram and through the window which had flapped open in the rains onto the branches of the peepal tree. The mystery of the Thattinpuram was finally solved.The peepal tree aka the wise old sage had unraveled one more of its mystery !

In the morning, when Ammamma came upstairs, a strange foul smell assailed her senses which almost made her gag. But curiously the obnoxious smell was mixed up with jasmine fragrance wafting from the flowers strewn all over the steps to the Thatthumburam.

-oo-

His son was tugging at his hand and asking ‘Don’t the flowers smell nice ?’
‘Yes,they do son’ He smiled as he remembered his frantic and ineffectual attempts at masking the Marapatti’s secretion with Jasmine flowers.

Marapatti

Marapatti - Asian palm civet aka the Toddy Cat is an omnivorous animal living on trees.It emits a noxious secretion as a last line of defense when threatened.Though not endangered, Asian palm civets have been drastically affected by increasing deforestation and habitat loss


This post is written for Kissan Nature’s Friends contest. My husband Ajit , an avid nature lover and an active contributor in several bird, butterfly and tree forums, still fondly reminisces about his time in his grandparents’ Naalukettu. He attributes his current passion towards nature to the gay abandonment of those times when boundaries between homes and nature were just imaginary.

High and Dry in a Waterless World

The girl next door hollered ‘Auntyji, please turn off the tap! The tank is full. The water is overflowing.’
These dratted environmental do-gooders were pesky. Their perpetual rants grated on my nerves. Save Water! Save Electricity! Save this! Save that! Didn’t the water gush out of my taps 24 hours a day? I was still squinting to see where the shortage was. One blighted chap even badgered me to monitor how much water I use to brush my teeth. They threw me dirty looks for leaving the garden tap open the whole night. Raising unnecessary brouhaha I say. My darling Bunty loved to play on the little puddles that formed by the morning. I couldn’t let him frolic in the dirty water on the roadside, could I? In fact, being the conscientious mom I was, I even got my garden pipe hooked to the Cauvery supply.

No one could fault me on my housekeeping. I insisted that the maid hose down the entire pavement and all the balconies every day. Even the driver knew, he had to hose the car daily till a nice pool glistened underneath lest madam assumed he had played truant.
CatchEveryDrop
That annoying girl was still shrieking something incomprehensible. I was sipping a refreshing glass of sherbet and nothing was going to shake me out of my torpor. I took a good 15 minutes before sauntering to turn off the tap. That irksome girl was still there looking daggers at me.

I didn’t usually let the water overflow for more than half an hour as a rule. Barring that one time when I had left the taps running and gone on a vacation. In my frantic search to locate my favorite shade of lip gloss, I had plain forgotten to turn them off. No big deal actually. But some people actually had the nerve to lecture me on the water wastage and for the flooding it had caused nearby – in spite of me explaining the lip gloss catastrophe. I had asked them to take a walk. It was after all my tap, my water, my money !!

And imagine their impertinence; for Holi they had actually warned ‘my’ Bunty not to spray the entire street with color. Last Holi, we had thrown this grand bash for all of Bunty’s friends, complete with a big tank of water. Well boys will be boys. The little chipmunks had jumped into the common swimming pool as well and the water had turned different shades of color. Those poor darlings couldn’t get to the loo in time, so had been forced to pee in it as well.

Then those nosey parkers had turned up again yapping away about some depleting water tables. I knew my multiplication tables too, I informed them petulantly. People will consume water their whole lives, wont they. We can’t change the way we live, just because the future looks waterless. And looking at the way people are exploding – literally crawling out of the woodwork in my opinion, it’s a no brainer we would be needing more and more water. We could drill all we want and still be left high and dry. The lucky ones could even strike oil!

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall and soon we might not have enough water for all of us. It would be upon us so fast; we would go cross eyed trying to figure out what hit us. And if push came to shove, we have it all figured out. We could do away with baths and other useless cleaning stuff and instead invent gadgets which would spray us with perfumed disinfectant powder. Food, of course, could pose a tiny problem. But again we could always rely on eating all other living things which might still be surviving which should last us, at least for a couple of years. Life would no longer be about a spiritual search for meaning, but just mean the quest for that all elusive drop of water. With the constant race for water, whoever would have the time to work or study? We could collect human fluids as well and work out ways to recycle. And don’t you pucker your nose at me! So I have just thought of these brilliant ideas for the new waterless world of tomorrow. So let’s see how long the water is going to last? 1 year.. 5 maybe ? 10 years?

Short sell the industries and schools, don’t waste money getting plumbing done on your new home, make drugs for water retention in your body, nasal clips to block out the stink of unwashed bodies, make…

Wait a minute… Was that Bunty shouting? ‘Mooommyy… there’s no water in the bathroom..’
Jeez! That was quick! I had better get to work fast before time runs out.

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