Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ice Skating Meets Bollywood

Left me with a silly grin on my face. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Karadi Tales' Will You Read With Me? Series

Hathaman is an accomplished yogi. Before the sun reaches the mid-way point in its journey across the sky each day, he's finished up a hundred and fifty Surya Namaskaras, the Dhanurasana, the Bhujangasana, the Mayurasana and the Sarvangasana. Hathaman, however, is not one to rest on his laurels. He wants to do more and be more. He wants to walk on water and fly like a bird. In other words, he wants superhuman powers.

His quest for these super powers and whether he succeeds in getting them is the story told in Karadi Tales' Super Hathaman. Written with tongue planted firmly in cheek by Kaushik Viswanath, the narrative is superbly illustrated by Chetan Sharma. Delight, greed, irritation, frustration, desperation, suspicion - the emotions flit across Hathaman's visage as vividly as they do in Viswanath's descriptions.

The most intriguing part of the package, however, is the fact that Super Hathaman is part of Karadi Tales' Will You Read With Me? series and therefore also comes with a compact disc - this one narrated by actor and comedian Jaaved Jaaferi, with background music by 3 Brothers & A Violin.


Another title from the series, A Hundred Cartloads, written by Devika Rangachari and illustrated by Bindia Thapar, is a lovely, heartwarming tale of the loving relationship between Ananda, the ox, and Billa, his master. When circumstances conspire to unravel their friendship, will they learn to trust each other again and get back to the way they were before? Thapar's eye-popping illustrations ably support Rangachari's lucid and simple writing style. Soha Ali Khan's competent narration of the story is accompanied by another winning musical score by 3 Brothers & A Violin.

One evening, recently, on one of our innumerable daily car rides to and from my children's after-school activities, we popped the Super Hathaman CD in the car's stereo and settled back for the half-hour ride. The series title song composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was followed by brief instructions on how to read along and a short intro by Jaaferi. And then, the story began.

As the awesome music of 3 Brothers & A Violin filled the car and the first words of the story spilled out of Jaaferi's striking vocal chords, it is safe to say that listening to Super Hathaman was well on its way to becoming a favorite activity during car rides. We have since listened to the CD more than a few times already.

The music sets the scenes - particularly the ones in the Tibetan monastery - with admirable precision. Jaaferi conjures up mesmerizing images with his now naughty, now bewildered, now impatient vocal calisthenics. My three-year-old daughter broke into giggles at Hathaman's antics. And at one point, when the music managed to elicit goose bumps, there was a distinct "wow" from my nine-year-old son.

Each of the Will You Read With Me? series titles comes with a note to parents about audio books. In it, Karadi Tales lays out its case for why children should be reading books along with their CDs. Expressing a preference for teaching children 'sight' reading over 'phonetic' reading, it asserts that reading along with the CD "increases the sight vocabulary of the child." It goes on to say that listening to storytellers able to emote effectively (Jaaferi's counterparts on other series titles include Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Soha Ali Khan and Rahul Dravid), children learn to speak better and are able to hone their listening skills, thereby improving their attention spans.

While all this may be true, if it is one thing I've realized from being in the thick of bringing up two children, it is that no two children are alike. My son subscribed to the phonetic method right from the time he started learning to read (he still uses it to decode polysyllabic words in the chapter books he reads), and if early indications hold true, my daughter is a strong candidate for the sight-reading camp. She recognizes words by sight – even those that are easy to string together phonetically – faster than she sounds them out.

However, no matter what reading strategy a child leans toward, it is axiomatic that parents must create an environment in which young children get excited about reading and want to read. As long as the books are child-appropriate, it doesn't really matter whether the books are considered classics or are written by newbie authors. To that end, if a book is able to entice a child to open it, look at it, flip through its pages and finally read it (or have it read to them), then it's a surefire winner as far as I'm concerned. In that department, the Will You Read With Me? series executes its mandate wonderfully.

The audio component is definitely icing on the cake. While I'm not generally a fan of software embedded in books that prompts a child with the correct pronunciation when he or she struggles with a word, having the software (the audio) separate from the book ensures that, with parental guidance, the child does not end up using the CD as a crutch every time he or she sits down to read. Children can listen to the CD a couple of times and then try to read the book on their own.

Quite apart from the aspect of reading along with the CD, there is the listening aspect to the audio books. Watching a child listening to a story is pure magic. They get this faraway look in their eyes, their imagination fully engaged, their attention riveted to listening and understanding. When you have polished storytellers such as Jaaferi assisting you, the task just gets that much easier.

The series does not alert parents as to what age-group of children the books are appropriate for. While any child that is able to focus even for a few minutes could benefit from just listening to stories on the CDs, the books seem to be targeted at children who have already started reading and are able to handle many of the most commonly occurring words on their own, and who have some facility with the English language.

The idea that children should grow up listening to stories is nothing new. It is as old as civilization and as widespread. But by pairing the art of story-telling with the academic imperative that children learn to read (and well), and by adhering to excellent production values every step of the way, Karadi Tales has hit upon a combination that is sure to keep both children and parents happy.


For more titles, go to http://www.karaditales.com/.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Masala Art: New Indian Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

We're not great fans of eating out at Indian restaurants in the US. No matter how laudatory the reviews, we end up being disappointed - the flavors seem boring and bland, many of the dishes insipid versions of those made at home. But hope springs eternal. So when we saw a review on the Washington Post for a new North-Indian restaurant in DC called Masala Art, we decided to give it a try.


The restaurant, located on Wisconsin Avenue, has a pleasing ambiance - plenty of Indian art and other decorative items, but not so much as to overwhelm the senses. When we walked in on a Sunday afternoon, there were not many patrons to begin with, but people trickled in slowly in twosomes and in groups. Soon the place was buzzing.

We ordered the standard fare - mango lassis, samosas, pani puri, dahi papri, butter chicken, baingan bartha and a paneer dish. We ordered the naans with the interesting twist - baked with cilantro and rock salt.


Thrillist has this to say about the restaurant and its owner:
Preaching the philosophy that cooking is an “art form to be savored along with music and painting” and that particular dishes have their own “perfect moment”, the owner of the green-walled, trinket-lined, 45-seat Masala is a 20-year vet who spent the last decade exploring subcontinental cuisine at Dupont's Heritage India, after spending the first half of his career in India, exploring his heritage.
The food was actually flavorful, served hot and in the right portion sizes. Someone had put some thought into the presentation. The kids enjoyed the food as much as we did. The menu presents a nice variety of dishes and is not too pricey. The wait-staff was attentive (and talkative, which was OK as we were not there for a business lunch). One of them said that the restaurant serves brunches during the week, but is still gauging interest in weekend brunches.

Perhaps because it was the cozy space or because the restaurant was not overflowing, allowing us to linger, or because it was just the four of us out on a jaunt into DC on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, but we had an awesome time. I have a feeling we might be making our way back there again with a bunch of friends the next time around.

The restaurant is located at 4441-B Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016, ph: 202-362-4441. The closest metro is Tenleytown-AU. According to the wait-staff, Thursday to Saturday nights tend to be crowded and reservations, therefore, would be prudent.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Life Can Change In An Instant

I slowly drove past a row of parked cars, on the lookout for a parking spot near where D goes to pre-school. The parking slots were unusually full for a weekday and for that time of day. I'd never had to drive so far up the street to find an empty slot before. Finally, after driving past about fifteen cars, I found an empty space.

I turned the steering wheel to the right, slowed down, pulled the car in and put my foot on the brake to stop the car. I have no idea what happened next, but my car jumped the curb, zoomed past a tree and over the grass and plants and crashed into the outside wall of a house. In an instant, the front of my car was crushed, the windows and the lower part of the wall of a house had buckled in. I still get shivers thinking about this and I still don't know how I got so lucky, but I was not hurt and the house I had crashed into was empty at that time.

I clambered out of the car and called emergency. A whole bunch of fire trucks came and repaired the house the best they could. One of the officers stayed with me the whole time, explaining to me what they were doing, making sure I was OK. One of the other firemen gingerly backed my car out on to the street. A few of the people who lived close by stood with me, got me to sit down and got me water and one of them even drove her car behind mine all the way to my house to make sure I got home OK. In the final analysis, no one was hurt, everything that was damaged could be put back together to its earlier state or even better.

A few weeks ago, a family we know through the kids' after-school activities was not so lucky. The children survived the accident, but the parents did not. The randomness, the suddenness and the finality of what had happened and the tragedy that had visited the lives of such young children (two of whom are the same ages as my own) left me breathless. When we saw one of the children a few days ago, I thought I detected her gaze lingering on a man who walked past her with his arm wrapped around his own little girl.

Children suffer all over the world. When I hear or read stories about such suffering, it leaves me angry and searching for ways to try to help. But with this incident, there was no anger, just sadness and an inability to understand and a deep sense of inadequacy at not being able to help or make things better in any way at all.

It is a cliche to say this, but the days and weeks have rolled on. We've seen at least one of the girls going about her activities (although haven't seen her the last few days). But every so often it gives me pause. We take so many things for granted and we behave as if life as we know it will continue long into the future. We plan for the changes we anticipate.

And really, that is the only way to live. No one can go on living expecting and preparing for dreadful things to happen every day.

But...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Blogging, Journalism and Plagiarism

Mridula, a popular India-based travel blogger, details her struggle against an Indian newspaper:
On Sunday we get a lot of newspapers. Hindustan Times is one of them. I was flipping through Brunch and then I had a feeling of Deja Vu. I started laughing and said the same thing to Sesha- this is my picture. This time he didn't tell me it could be ia generic photograph. If you hold a copy of the Brunch you would find that the foam in the coffee is pixel by pixel same, the image above and the image on page 12 of Brunch of December 6, 2009.
As Mridula mentions on her blog, there have been numerous instances in which bloggers have had to deal with print media using their content without permission. I hope Mridula is able to resolve this matter satisfactorily.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Brief Quote in Article on Virtual Travel

Deccan Herald carried an article on virtual travel this weekend with a brief quote from yours truly.
There are other online resources, which can be used as educational tools. At mapmsg.com for instance, you can move blocks of countries around with the mouse. In that sense, are online resources such as wonderrotunda.com a great option for young learners?

Wonder Rotunda is an American website, which offers many virtual tour options. You could go on a climate change expedition if you so wish to, and there are simulations of Arctic ice on that particular tool.

However, Sujatha, a blogger and mother of two, says: "When we pick a destination, we pull out the atlas, check out the other places we can sensibly include in our plan and then move online to check out reviews and to make reservations. My son’s geography lessons still come from maps, board games, TV shows and the Nat Geo magazine."
Old fuddy duddies that we are, I had no clue that such a concept as 'virtual' travel existed, and that there are now websites dedicated to what used to be called 'armchair' travel back in the day.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Travel Ideas and Tips for Visiting Washington, D.C. with Children

The United States Capitol

A few days ago I did not know the first thing about Trekaroo, a travel website providing resources for families traveling with kids. When they were getting ready to launch their Washington, D.C. destination page, they tapped into local resources (D.C. moms and dads!) for tips and ideas on kid-friendly and must-visit places in and around the city. It was a delight to contribute to the effort and share our experiences. I also found a lot of useful ideas from other D.C.-based parents. So here it is, the entire post as it appeared on Trekaroo. I hope you too find some fun activities for your family if D.C. is on your to-do list.


The Lincoln Memorial as seen from the Arlington Memorial Bridge

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Trekaroo’s growing community of families from all across the country have pitched in with their votes for the most kid-friendly stops in Washington D.C. Here’s the line up for 2009!

Best Kid-friendly Hotels in Washington, D.C. – voted by parents
Best Activities for Kids in Washington, D.C. – voted by parents

Some of DC’s top blogging moms and dads have jumped on board the KidsMobile, playing the role of local tour guide. They are taking us into their fold by sharing with us their inside scoop about what’s fun for kids in their hometown.

Jennifer, a mom who loves the outdoors shares a fabulous list of The Best Kid-friendly Hiking Trails in DC. Jennifer’s passion as an environmental educator led her to start Hiking Along – a super cool educational program where she leads groups of children, preschool to high school, on hikes and allows them to participate in hands-on science activities to learn about their natural surroundings. She also keeps a blog about hiking with kids.

Dave, better known as SuburbanDaddy, knows that cold weather is just around the corner and any parent of a young child will be eager for his list of The Best Indoor Places for Toddlers Around Washington DC. He is the creator of Kidburst, an activities guide written by local parents about the Washington DC area with in-depth coverage of kids activities from summer camps to sporting facilities and classes.

Jennifer tells us about 8 Things (Under $5) to Do in Washington DC with Toddlers. She is an adventurous mom of a 2 and 4 year old who has not allowed having kids to slow her down. Although she’s based in Florida, Washington DC is one of her favorite vacation spots. She writes in depth about their family’s exciting adventures on Two Kids and A Map

Sujatha is mom to a 9 year old (boy) and 3 year old (girl) and brings us Fun Washington, D.C. Activities that get Kids Fired Up. This list has some great ideas of places beyond the usual tour of Capitol Hill that will really get kids to perk up. She writes candidly and casually about their travels as a family and about her adventures in parenting on her blog: Blogpourri

Amy is a mom who sees everything as a teaching moment and traveling is no exception. As a local DC mom, she’s got some her favorite Day Trips with Kids From Washington DC. As a literacy consultant and former high school teacher her blog – teachmama – is full of wonderful ideas about how to weave education into holiday traditions, travel, games and more.

Jill, brings us her list of Must See Attractions in DC with Preteens and Teens. She is the mom behind her prolific blog Musings From Me that covers a wide range of topics including parenting, travel and reviews of cool products. Jill has been on the go all her life, living in England, Italy, and America but currently calls Maryland home.

Ms Twixt, brings us a list of What to do with Tweens in Washington D.C. As a mom to 3 tweens girls and a toddler boy, she is an expert on everything Tween. Her Blog Twixt and Between provides helpful insights on topics that are current for tween girls and their parents. She even has a store in Georgetown Park with adorable age-appropriate clothing, shoes, gifts and accessories for Tween Girls.

Other Resources for Washington DC:

All 100 Activities for kids in the Washington DC Metro Area
Kid-friendly hotels in and around Washington DC

Next stop, Sunny San Diego, CA



The Trekaroo KidsMobile is a blog carnival with a twist. It’s designed to provide a unique opportunity for mom and dad bloggers to be featured on Trekaroo while:
1) expressing their unique point of view
2) getting a web of link exchanges.

Join us for one of our next stopovers.



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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Children's Sleep Cycles and End of Daylight Savings

If you have young children and you're wondering how to get them adjusted to the clock falling back an hour come this Sunday, you're not alone. The Washington Post's lead weatherman ponders his options and lays out his plan of action:

Sleep has become so sacred since the arrival of my first child 23 months ago that even the prospect of a winter wonderland outside my window doesn't lure this snow lover out of bed as early as it used to (imagine my disappointment when all I see is bare ground).

That's why, for several weeks now, I've been quietly plotting how to manipulate my offspring's sleep so that he'll awake Sunday morning the same time as always -- 8 a.m., on the dot -- and not a second earlier. (Yes, I know, some parents would kill for their children to sleep 'til 8).

Our plan of attack went into effect earlier this week...

[...]

So, for a few nights already, we've been putting our little guy to sleep a little later each night, and trying not to go to him in the morning until the full 11 hours are up. We've also been pushing the afternoon nap later, and will start doing the same for meals as well. (Lots of moving parts to this sleep manipulation thing!)


For whatever reason, this whole thing has completely escaped my radar this year. Not that I would have planned for it anyway. Weekends tend to be chaotic in the normal course and no amount of plotting will unravel the riddle of the early morning rush - no matter what time we get to bed the night before, we're all scrambling in the morning. As far as I'm concerned, if the kids wake up an hour early, no one will be happier than me. How long does the effect of gaining the one hour last? That's what I want to know. The longer the better, if you ask me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn






From Autumn, by John Clare:


But give me, Autumn, where thy hand hath been,
For there is wildness that can never cloy,—
The russet hue of fields left bare, and all
The tints of leaves and blossoms ere they fall.
In thy dull days of clouds a pleasure comes,
Wild music softens in thy hollow winds;
And in thy fading woods a beauty blooms,
That’s more than dear to melancholy minds.

The entire sonnet here.


P.S.: I have been offline a lot and have not been able to visit your blogs. I hope to rectify matters soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Heene Story: Has Crying "Wolf!" Gone Hi-Tech?

By now you must have all heard of the story of the boy who was thought to be flying thousands of feet above the ground in a fly-away balloon. Alone, cold, scared and in mortal danger. As an entire nation (and probably a good portion of the rest of the world) followed every twist and turn in this improbable tale, we were sick with fear for the boy, we felt sorry for the parents and, finally and happily, we were relieved when we were told that the young boy was safe and sound and on solid ground.

Little did we know that the tale had yet another incredible twist left in it - turns out, if what the police say is true, the entire story is a hoax. We were set up, we were suckered in, and our emotions played on, just so the parents, allegedly, could attain their ultimate goal of appearing on a television reality show. The Larry King Interview where the six-year-old Falcon Heene suggested that he was told to hide in the attic of their home (fully stocked with snacks) "for the show", more television interviews where the boy threw up on camera, the subsequent police investigations, and now news that the parents had hired lawyers to defend them and were ready to surrender to the police - each one of them leading to stratospheric levels of disbelief and leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

The daily news and the internet are chock full of reactions to this story, all, as you can imagine, expressing shock, disgust and anger, even a feeling of being betrayed.

It also left in me a sense of wonder. The act of crying "wolf!" had undergone a seismic shift in tone. No longer was a lone boy yelling from the top of a mountain to the people in the village below. If the story does turn out to be a hoax, what we saw was grown people - a mother and father to boot - calling news stations directly with desperate appeals for news helicopters to chase the errant balloon, calling the police, imploring them for emergency help, giving hysterical television interviews over the telephone, and appearing on camera to perpetuate sympathy for an ordeal they had not suffered.

How we - the villagers in the ancient fable but in the twenty-first century a nation punk'd - behave the next time around may not be apparent right now but might become all too clear when we turn on the television and come upon another father crying inconsolably on camera at the disappearance of his child, begging for help.

What will we do then? Will we watch, riveted to our seats, and pray for the safe return of the child? Or did Aesop already give us the answer all those centuries ago? Will we roll our eyes, click the remote and move on to the next channel?

~~~~~~
Updated to add a link to Wikipedia's page on Aesop's The Boy Who Cried Wolf and to the latest development in the story.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Covalent Immunology Foundation and the Possibility of a New HIV Vaccine

Sujatha at Fluff-n-Stuff asked me to take up a tag about the Covalent Immunology Foundation and the work they are doing to develop a new HIV vaccine. From Sujatha's post:

As Dr. Paul says [the scientist behind the Foundation's work] [...], the 'abzyme' approach to attacking the virus at the special weak point could pave the way to developing a low-cost and highly effective approach to attacking the HIV virus, and in the long run, other deadly or debilitating viruses. (More information is available at the website for the Covalent Immunology Foundation.)
I am not an expert in this field, but just the prospect of progress toward an HIV vaccine seems exciting. I'm not going to tag any particular person, but I hope you will all check out the work of the foundation for yourself and talk about it if you find it worthwhile.

Thank you.

Updated to include a link to a relevant op-ed piece, titled Have Faith in an AIDS Vaccine, in yesterday's New York Times:
Even before this controversy [over reports of a failed Thai vaccine] erupted, it had been an effort to maintain sufficient support for AIDS vaccine research and development. In 2008, private and public spending on this vital mission declined by 10 percent from the year before. A few fanatical AIDS activists have even called for ending the American government’s considerable support for AIDS vaccine research, and spending the money instead on AIDS treatment. Patient care is vital, of course, but it alone can only mitigate, not end, the pandemic.

Oct 29-30: Washington, D.C. Fundraiser for India Floods

From Mallika,

Event: Halloween and Fundraising Event for India Floods

What: Fundraiser

Start Time: Thursday, October 29 at 5:30pm

End Time: Friday, October 30 at 2:00am

Where: Dahlak, 1771 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:
http://www.facebook.com/n/?event.php&eid=153937849271&mid=141a661G2beca1efG2d90bf7G7

Contact details for online flood relief donations here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memories of Deepavalis (Diwalis) Past

My brand new clothes that I will wear tomorrow sit neatly in a box in front of the altar (the mantapa) in the prayer room, as do my brother's and my parents'. The heady aroma of our favorite sweets that mom has made, Mysore Pak, Coconut Barfi, Besan Unde, has been taunting us all day long. The prayer room has been cleaned, the idols washed and the pooja (ritual) items readied for prayers tomorrow. Fresh flowers, coconuts and betel leaves are arranged neatly in two or three plates for the prayers and to give away to guests that will arrive all day long the next day.

The night before Deepavali is a culmination of days of preparations for one of my favorite festivals of the year, and if you grew up in India, I suspect yours too. The bathroom has been washed down, the stone floors scrubbed clean with a heavy brush and every single utensil cleaned to a shine. A massive brass vat encased in stone and cement sits in one corner of the bathroom, with a medium-sized hole taking up one half of one of the two cement walls that has been cleared of all ash residue, wood pieces and coal. The brass vat is now filled with fresh bathwater and fresh firewood is at the ready to be lit the next morning for boiling it.

My brother and I and any of the assorted uncles, aunts, cousins and friends have already been to one of the massive outdoor fields that has been converted into a firecraker market. We have braved the crowds, shouted at the top of our lungs to make ourselves heard to the man or woman running a particular stall, hurried from one stall to the next to get our hands on the most popular firecrackers and come away with bags full of goodies for the next day.

When at last the last of the relatives have gone back home to finish up their own preparations and every little thing is in order in our home, we reluctantly get into bed, with the very firm resolve of waking up at 3 a.m. The goal, every year, is to be the very first in your neighborhood to burst a firecracker. Tradition demands that firecrakers be set off before sunrise so their light can chase away the darkness. Three a.m. is the goal so we have ample time to be properly oiled down, to have a bath and for a small ritual, where those sweets are the first thing we eat, before we are allowed out on to the street to light the firecrackers. We most certainly do not want a repeat of last year when someone else's firecrakers woke us up. Oh, the horror and the ignominy!

Groggy but excited we - all three of us, including dad - line up in front of the prayer room as mom pats some oil onto our heads and hands us our new clothes. It's a race to the bathroom to see who gets in first. In a matter of minutes, we are ready. It's barely even four. We tear into the firecraker boxes, pick the one that has the reputation for the loudest sound (aspiringly called the atom bomb), and head out into the street. Not a peep from anywhere else yet. Dad and mom walk out behind us with a matchbox and a box of incense sticks. We each hold the fuse of the atom bomb between two fingers and carefully snip off about an inch of the paper encasing the thread of the fuse. This, so that the fuse doesn't light as fast and gives us time to get away after lighting it.


A ten-thousand firecracker round


It unspooled to this length. At the far end, another family well into their celebrations.

Dad hands each of us one incense stick, we light them and with the firecracker in one hand and the incense stick in the other, both held far apart so they don't accidentally come together in our hands (that would not be funny), we approach the middle of the street. We stand a few feet apart from one another and light our respective fuses and run back towards our gate. We stand there, all four of us with our palms covering our ears. (We know it's loud, we chose the loudest firecraker, we want it to be loud. Pray, why then do we cover our ears? I look at photographs of Deepavali and the most I have are of a whole lot of us with palms, sometimes forearms because the palms are holding lit incense sticks, over our ears.)

Two loud booms and Deepavali has well and truly begun!

A few more varieties of firecrakers - a string of the longer ones, flower pots, sparklers - and we head back in. A couple of other early risers are already up and we hear sounds popping up from the homes around us, but content at being the first, we are ready to climb into bed again. The day has arrived but it's a long way to go before we'll allow ourselves any rest, so we might as well catch up on sleep before the house and the streets get too noisy.



Flower pots

A couple of hours later, it's breakfast time and then family starts arriving in drips and dribbles. By lunchtime we have a full complement of everyone in town. The more the merrier, especially at Deepavali. There's good-natured ribbing of the less brave among us, someone makes a loud noise just as your incense stick approaches the fuse making you jump, bravado and machismo are on full display as one or the other consistently picks the largest, loudest firecracker.

Soon this too gets tiring and it's on to a game of cards or carrom board. Bravado and machismo and teasing on full display here too. There is no space for everyone to sit down and eat together. But we've all been eating all day long and it continues well into the night when it's time for another session of firecrackers. This time around, the neighbors are also out in full force and somehow all the firecrackers get pooled and we're all into each other's stashes, laughing, running, hiding and covering our ears together.

Nighttime on Deepavali always has a different flavor. It's time for the more visually spectacular firecrakers to come out - the flower pots, the bhuchakras (they spin on the ground), the vishnu chakras (held in the hand), the rockets that shoot off into the sky (when they work as they're supposed to, or else they land on your neighbor's roof to be discovered months later). It's definitely time for the oohs and aaahs.

A rocket ready to be lit. It's in an empty bottle to coax it to shoot straight up.

Bhuchakra

The next two days of the festival are more religious, with the Lakshmi Puja (prayers to the goddess of prosperity) and Balipadyami. More visits from relatives and more visits to relatives' houses, but nothing compares to the pure fun of that one day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

My family and I wish you and your families a very happy Deepavali, and whether you celebrate it or not, no matter which corner of the world you live in, we wish you a very prosperous and healthy year ahead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Morning Prayer and Maine's Bounty

We finally figured out how to record music onto the computer! It was such a struggle to get the music from C's digital piano to the computer in any usable format (MIDI was not converting to WAV). Today I downloaded Audacity and recorded directly as C was playing - from the piano to the music editing program. We used the piece, Tchaikovsky's Morning Prayer, as background music for a movie of our Maine pictures and voilà! A video of some pictures from Maine with C playing Morning Prayer.


video

Monday, October 12, 2009

Indian Rituals: A Hairy Tale

It's not that I'd never fiddled with my daughter's hairstyle before. I've had her hair up on both sides of her face in tiny pig-tails, turning her into the spitting image of Boo from Monster's, Inc (which, by the way, if you have not seen, you must. I will guarantee you will laugh more than the kids). I've pinned all manner of clips in her hair. I've tried to pull it all back into a severe pony tail only to have her silky strands escape the bondage a few at a time until there was not enough for the band to hold and it too fell away.

One fine day, however, I was seized with an urge to braid her hair. I sat her down on the bathroom counter top, partitioned her hair into two zones and proceeded to weave two plaits. She good-naturedly complied and held her head still while I tried to get the motions right.

Quietly, a feeling crept up on me. There was something surreal about the act, something about making three distinct strands on either side of her head, weaving each one by turn into a single plait. I was transported to another place, another time. I was on the floor in front of my mother, her hands working deftly on my hair to produce two long (and I mean long - they came down to my knees) plaits on either side of the back of my head. Every single day of my school life, she had braided my hair using the same motions I did with my own daughter.

My daughter's plaits turned out great, and for the first time since I became a mother, it occurred to me that hair - and all the things we do to it - is such an integral part of life in India, especially in the life of a child, especially during the time my brother and I were growing up. There are daily rituals, weekly rituals, rituals that take place perhaps once or twice in a lifetime.


Mom combing my hair when I was about three.

The daily rituals first. There was the oiling of hair. Every. Single. Morning. Coconut oil applied scalp to hair-ends and massaged in until not a strand was left uncovered, the constant movement of finger tips in your hair producing the kind of stupor that renders you putty in your mom's hands. Following the oiling, my brother got about five minutes of combing. Cow licks would be coaxed down towards the head with repeated patting, partitions drawn ramrod straight and cleared of hair trying to cross over the line.

I got about fifteen minutes. First came the combing. My head would be pulled back so my mom, sitting behind me, could see the hairline on my forehead and run the comb all the way through my hair to the tips. After about fifty strokes would come the braiding. My mom had a special trick - she would weave my plaits out of five separate strands, producing a stronger braid that did not loosen even a little bit during school. My hair was long enough that the plaits had to be folded up and secured at the top with ribbons according to the school dress code.

Weekly rituals took the form of the 'head bath' every Sunday. More oil, this time castor oil (no, not the kind you put in cars, thankfully, but equally sticky and heavy). We had to let it soak in for at least an hour before it would be washed away with seegekaayi, a brown-colored powder, and conditioned with a slimy concoction made of powdered leaves (chigaré pudi) mixed with water that left our hair shiny and silky. It really did, but it also managed to get in our eyes.

So Sunday afternoons were spent with blood-shot eyes and with hair banished of all traces of oil but smelling of leaves and nuts.

Summer holidays brought rituals of their own, although thankfully it was not every summer. One that I know nearly every South Indian Hindu family savors is the moggina jadé (literally braiding hair with flowers) tradition.

On the day I had mine made up, many summers ago in my ajji's (my maternal grandmother) house in Mysore, I remember her veranda being a beehive of activity. She had already been to the market that afternoon to get the freshest flowers she could lay her hands on - jasmine buds, jasmine blooms, jaaji flowers and the white insides of a banana plant. A couple of days before she'd already readied the colored threads, sticks of various lengths and thicknesses, hair pins, and the jewellery that she would use to decorate my hair.

A flower shop at the Gandhi Bazaar market in Bangalore. The orange flowers hung on the left are jaaji flowers. Swirls of white jasmine strung together lie in baskets on the right. The garlands are the kind that will be used in weddings for the bride and the groom to wear.

My grandmother's very capable fingers gently but firmly threaded the jasmine buds onto one semi-circular sheath of the banana shoot which she had cut to match the length of my hair. Slowly but surely the flowers filled the entire surface of the banana shoot. With the help of two girls who were learning art and craft from her, my grandmother strung the rest of the flowers into braids of their own with the help of some thread. When it was all done, the flowers formed a neat, colorful pattern. Then she weaved the colored threads around the now flower-covered banana shoot to add an interesting layer of color.

By then my mother had already braided my hair into a single plait falling down my back. They sat me down on a stool and went to work. With a whole lot of pins and black ribbons, they managed to get all of their art work onto my hair and this was the result.

We hot-footed it to a studio in the city before the flowers wilted. If you looked at that picture and noticed how the shoulders are hunched, you join a long line of very observant people. But in my defense, let me say that all the stuff on my hair was heavy. Very. My shoulders just sagged under the weight. So there.

These days, the moggine jadés are available ready made in flower shops in the markets, but watching it take shape right in front of my eyes was quite something else.

I asked my mom a couple of days ago why we did that - why we went through this elaborate process and took a photo at the end of it. She said it was a great way to keep the children occupied during the summer holidays and what better avenue for grandmothers to practice their craft than on their own grandchildren! Summer was also the time my grandmother worked on a lot of craft made of cotton and colorful foil paper. She conjured up beautiful garlands and other decorative items out of them and she would use them during the many festivals of the year. She employed us grand kids as gluers of all manner of shiny things on to the cotton.

The one other ritual most Hindu families follow is the shaving of the head. This has more of a religious flavor than cultural. According to custom, the child who has just turned two (i.e., during the third year) is taken to the temple of the family deity (this is one temple that the family tries to visit at least once a year, no matter how far it is from their hometowns) and the hair is shaved off as an offering to god and as a token of gratitude for the birth of a child. In most families, this custom is followed only for the boys, but some families get it done for the girls as well.

And so, finally, we come to this photo. Because the hair is not cut at all before it is shaved off at the temple, by the time the boys turn three it is very likely they'll have grown curly, shiny locks that would put any girl's to shame. Once the hair is shaved off and it grows back, regular haircuts become the norm. So mothers and the other women folk in the family see a golden window of opportunity - the one chance to properly dress up their darling boys as girls and acquire photographic evidence of their madness and the boys' utter helplessness.

Here it is, one such photograph of a boy that, alas, shall remain unnamed in this post. I have been threatened with the most dire consequences if I told you who he was.

I agree. Very, very cute! I'll be sure to tell him you said so.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Related Post: Grandmother Stories.

Updated (Oct 13, 09) to add a link to my post about traditional baby baths in India.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Not Becoming My Mother, Ruth Reichl

A couple of weeks ago we were in the check-out line at the library, standing right next to a shelf of newly released books. As the kids and and I waited our turn we scanned the shelf, picking up books and putting them back. One book - about the size of my extended palm, a black and white photograph on the cover with a middle-aged woman and a young girl, both sitting at a table - caught my eye. The woman's expression drew my attention as much as the title did - her face is resting on her palm and she is looking at the young girl, a gentle smile creasing her cheeks. The title of the book was Not Becoming My Mother, written by Ruth Reichl, the editor of the newly-defunct Gourmet magazine.

I know titles are meant to be provocative and grab the readers' attention, but it still managed to shock me. I added it to our pile of books and read it at the first opportunity I got - that night after the kids were in bed.

The tussle between mothers and daughters, the conflict-ridden relationships that many women have with their mothers, is not new to me. I had a classmate back in college who struggled with her mother's jealousies. That a mother could be jealous of her own daughter's good looks or appearance was unfathomable to me. Didn't all mothers and fathers want their children to be better, to do better, to have better than them? Since then I've listened as numerous friends talked about their daily fights with their mothers over trivial matters, about massive disagreements over deeply-held beliefs, about mothers not showing up at weddings, not even coming to celebrate the birth of grandchildren. And I have read about them. With all those women I could sympathize, but I could not empathize.

I could wax eloquent about my mom and the post would run ten screens long. It's not that I did not have disagreements with her, but even in the midst of my teenage rebellion years, I saw her for what she was. She was a mother looking out for her daughter and her best interests. She was a different human being than me - quite simply her DNA make-up is different than mine - so it was an exercise in futility to expect the both of us to react in the same way to a situation.

For me, in the grand scheme of things, she was and is an awesome human being with a wicked sense of humor that she turns on herself as frequently as she does on us, with a fierce sense of loyalty to her husband and her children (and now her daughter-in-law, son-in-law and the grandkids), a fantastic cook and hostess, practical to a fault ("if something needs to get done, put your head down and do it and quit whining" is her mantra), very strong sense of knowing one's place and doing what is expected, especially when it comes to respecting elders. Being a mother myself now, it is mind-boggling to me that somehow she's managed to impart much of her wisdom to us, without even seeming to try. All in all, she is trying her damnedest to do the best she can. And I love her to bits and respect her all the more for it.

Reichl has had a far different relationship with her mother. She writes that her mother was not good at many things and she was not "if truth be told, a particularly good mother. [M]y mother was a great example of everything I didn't want to be, and to this day I wake up every morning grateful that I'm not her."

The sub-title to her book is 'and other things she taught me along the way'. It gave me an inkling that perhaps the book is not the damning indictment that the title would have you believe, but my initial reaction to the book's title stayed with me until I made my way through a few more pages and it dawned on me what Reich was attempting to do.

At first blush, the memoir is a woman's effort to draw lessons from her mother's life. But it is so much more than that. If a child wrote a letter of love, appreciation, respect and deep gratitude to their mother, it would take the shape and form of Not Becoming My Mother. It is an attempt to peel away the layers and layers of hurt that had enveloped the author over a number of years. It is an attempt to put her mother's actions in context. A mother who was brilliant and wanted to be a doctor, but not that great-looking. In an age where women were expected to be beautiful but not ambitious, it was a double whammy that succeeded in decimating her chances at happiness.

It is so easy to give in to hurt, especially when the one person in the world that is supposed to love you unconditionally does not. Which is why it is all the more heartening that Reichl embarked on the journey to figure out her mother at all, to understand her as a woman. With the help of her mother's writing she finds in shoe boxes, on scraps of paper, on old receipts, Reichl pieces together the portrait of a woman who somehow figured out how to be the kind of role model that her own daughter did not want to emulate. As the sketch fills out and we slowly start to see the flesh and blood and color appearing on canvas, our viewpoint undergoes a change. We are no longer looking at the dark and foreboding image of a bad mother, we are looking at a woman who desperately does not want her daughter to struggle with the demons she did.

Meeting Mom - the real Mom - was even harder than I expected. I never thought her life was easy, but until I read her letters I had not known the enormous burden of pain she carried with her.

There are a few good reasons why it's worth reading Not Becoming My Mother. It is beautifully written, lucid, introspective and thoughtful. It is a personal memoir, but it manages to capture the life of an entire generation of women. It makes its point and moves on.

But the most important reason of all is the fact that Reichl wants to see beyond the veneer that her mother presented to the world. Some of us might undertake the same exercise and come up empty, but Reichl does succeed in seeing her mother for who she was. She places her actions in context, understands her mother's own upbringing, learns of her desires and ambitions, her disappointments and failures. And she sees that her mother tried to do the very best she could, given her experiences and her background and her circumstances. She sees that her mother manged to get her to a place where she could be happy. And she gives her mother credit for it.

The only want I see in this story is that I wish Reichl had reached this understanding when her mother was still alive.

Updated to add the first part of the second sentence in the penultimate paragraph.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Donating Toward Flood Relief in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

Following a prolonged period of drought, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have been ravaged by floods triggered by torrential rain over the past few days. Around 250 people have died and about 2.5 million have been rendered homeless.

Mallika, who reads Blogpourri and often leaves some lovely and thoughtful comments, suggested putting up some information - for those interesting in helping - about aid organizations accepting donations toward flood relief and she provided the following details.

If you live in the United States and would like to help, you can donate online at http://www.aidindia.org/.

If you live in Bangalore (donations could be in cash or in the form of items such as groceries, blankets, medicine), these organizations and contact numbers may be useful:


http://www.sochara.org/

http://www.headstreams.org/


Specifically, the contacts are:

1. Community Health Cell, 85/2, Ist Main, Maruthi Nagara, Madiwala, Bengaluru – 560068 (Contact Persons: Pushpa 9449070223)

2. Janarogya Andolana Karnataka C/o CHC, Madiwala (Contact: Obalesh - 9740524128)


3. Headstreams (contact: Naveen Thomas 9342858056, 080-25200318)

4. Association for India’s Development (AID India) (Contact: Guru – 9845294184; Prasanna – 9916937280

As with all things internet-based, please verify the information and proceed only if you are absolutely comfortable doing so.

Thank you, Mallika!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mumbai Terrorist Attacks: Anatomy of a Siege

Nearly a year ago now, we went on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, for the Thanksgiving holiday. We had about an hour left on the nine-hour drive when a friend called us from Chicago with the news that Mumbai was under attack. "Are you close to a TV?" he asked. Two hours later we turned on the TV in our apartment and saw the horror unfolding right in front of television cameras.

The rampage, the deaths, the agony, the chaos and the destruction - they were all there, the images constantly and relentlessly flitting across our screens, the cameras documenting the mayhem minute by painful minute. We had questions. Why did it take so long for the military forces to reach the hotels and the hospitals? Why were reporters not cautioned about broadcasting the tactics of security forces? Could the attacks have been avoided in the first place? Could the damage have been minimized?

In an article titled Anatomy of a Siege, Marie Brenner weaves in the numerous strands of the events that transpired that day in a gripping essay for the November '09 issue of Vanity Fair:

The city’s rage had narrowed down to one issue: long into the night a squad of police and a contingent from the army had stood outside the Taj while terrorists roamed the floors above, taking hostages. The police were waiting for orders from a commissioner of noble lineage who stayed put in his car at the nearby Oberoi hotel and for the arrival of commandos and anti-terror forces from New Delhi. From his station a few blocks away, A. N. Roy, the head of the state police, screamed at his men, “Why can’t they go in? Why are they standing there?” But powerful as he was, Roy could not directly command the local police. India is a top-down society of entrenched bureaucrats, with appallingly inadequate communication among agencies.

[...]

One of those trapped was Dr. Mangeshikar, who had started her evening declaring that she would stay at the wedding one hour tops. The hotel staff passed trays of sandwiches and drinks at Chambers. “Leave this kitchen right now—the terrorists are on the way,” Kang ordered. “They refused to leave,” Kang told me. “They said, 'We are preparing food and drinks for the guests.’” Kang ordered them again, “Leave! Your lives are in danger.” Dattatrey Chaskar, a waiter, begged Kang, “Save my son!” No one could find the young man. Later he would be discovered huddled among stacks of lamb chops in a cold-storage cabinet.

Parts of the story leave you shaken, you look at some of the survivors and wonder what you'd have done in their situation. Would it have occurred to me to conjure up a make-shift toilet out of sheets in a corner of the room for hotel guests holed up in a room - as it did to Mallika Jagad, who happened to be in charge of a banquet that day?

The entire story is available by clicking here: Anatomy of a Siege.

Related posts: Volunteerism vs. Terrorism

Friday, October 02, 2009

Bangalore Life: A Bus Ride and a Lingering Memory

In my memory the thick stone walls rise to the level of four floors. The walls are covered with ivy and punctuated neatly with brown-colored windows. A sprawling stage backs to about a third of the back wall of the school. A little distance away is another imposing building, one that houses the convent of the Sisters of Charity. Still beyond that, a massive playground with a basketball court and another concrete stage.

A large open space behind the building is filled with girls in light-blue pinafores, white shirts, blue ties, white socks and black Mary Jane shoes. Girls with long hair have braids neatly folded in half and kept in place with blue ribbons. They are chatting in groups, headed somewhere in groups, eating lunch out of their lunch boxes in groups. Loners are few and far between. There is lots of chatter, shrieking, laughter.

From Sankey Road, a busy thoroughfare at somewhat of a higher elevation than the school (you looked down at the school from the road), it looks positively idyllic, straight out of my rendering of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys and so different from any other school I've seen so far. This is where I want to go to high school, I tell my parents.

Our home is at least two bus rides away and then a long walk from the last bus stop to the school. In terms of time, that's at least an hour door to door with a heavy back pack on my shoulders. In India, there is no school districting. You pick whatever school you want to go to, but you figure out how you're going to get there. Some private schools provide buses, but it's not always an option. We have no car. All we have is a scooter that my father rides to work in the opposite direction from the school. There is no one else that goes to the same school from my neighborhood.

There is no dissuading me, however. So off to Stella Maris High School I go. On all my note books and text books, I write my name, my grade and the name of my school - Stella Maris High. Note the missing 'School.' That's because Nancy Drew went to Riverdale High and Joe and Frank to Bayport High.

One day after school, I walk the 20-minute walk from the school to the bus terminus (many bus routes begin and end at this one bus stop) at 18th Cross in Malleswaram. Most of you will know how crowded the buses get in India. Bangalore is no exception. Riders will make the extra effort to trek to a terminus because there is at least half a chance that they might get to sit, rather than stand in the aisles (perfectly normal in India) or even on the steps leading into the bus (yours truly has ridden many times on the steps of a bus).

Once you get on the bus, you must purchase a ticket from the conductor (unlike in the US, the conductor is not the driver of the bus - this caused a whole lot of confusion when I first arrived in the US, I tell you). When every passenger purchases a ticket, the conductor blows a whistle strung around his neck and signals the driver to start driving.

This particular day, the bus is so crowded there is absolutely no space. The conductor is trying to finish up selling the tickets as fast as he can, but people are still arriving and trying to squeeze in. The exasperated conductor and driver hold a mini-conference. The situation is untenable, they concur, and agree they should execute a plan they've come up with for conditions such as this. They decide to start driving and stop about half a mile away but before the next scheduled bus stop on their route. That way the passengers already on the bus can finish buying the tickets but the driver and conductor wouldn't have to deal with new passengers constantly trying to get in.

A few seconds later, the driver hears the whistle and we're off! The bus stops at the agreed-upon place and we all wait for the conductor to make his rounds. It is stifling, to say the least, in the confines of the bus. The press of people, the still air and an immobile bus are not helping. Soon people start craning their necks to see how far the conductor has to go before the bus can move again. The people in the front crane their necks toward the back and the people in the back look toward the front of the bus.

The conductor is nowhere in sight.

Now the driver is impatient too. He has a schedule to keep if he wants to be home on time. He hollers, "ಎಲ್ಲಪ್ಪ ಇದ್ದೀಯ ನೀನು?" (where are you man?).

Silence. Then groans and clicking of the tongues.

Just as it dawns on everyone that we've managed to leave the conductor behind, an autorickshaw whizzes past and comes to a screeching halt in front of the bus. Out comes the conductor, shaking his fist at the driver in mock anger, unable to control his laughter at the turn of events.

Then a routine that would put the Three Stooges to shame: "I heard the whistle." "But I didn't blow the whistle." "But I heard the whistle. I thought you blew the whistle." "I'm telling you I didn't blow the whistle."

At every stop that day, the driver and the conductor proceed to enact an elaborate skit to make sure the conductor is safely on the bus before it starts to move again.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two Fascinating Portraits - The Dosa Man and the Fall Guy

First, this heartwarming, uplifting portrait of Thiru, the "Dosa Man," (Dosa is a South Indian crepe made of rice and lentil batter) in The Huffington Post.
Thiru arrived in New York City in 1995 via the green card lottery -- the U.S. offers 50,000 visas annually to individuals from underrepresented countries. "I applied on a whim," he says, in Tamil. "The future wasn't great in Sri Lanka for me."

He had many jobs in Sri Lanka, including being a diving instructor and working at a travel agency in Colombo. In New York City, Thiru worked a series of jobs, in construction, at a gas station, an iron factory, and then finally, a restaurant. After a lengthy wait for a city vendor license, he set up his dosa cart in 2001.

[...]

Every morning, Thiru starts work at 5 a.m., preparing food for the day at a kitchen in Queens. He hitches his cart to his roomy 1986 black Chevy, drives across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan and sets up by 11 a.m. at Washington Square. "I completely rebuilt it myself," he says, pointing to his truck (Thiru used to race and rebuild motorcycles). The sign, "NY Vegan Dosas - Price Range Inexpensive", is painted on the Chevy's rear, along with subway directions to his location.
The entire article is here: The Magic of Immigrant Charm.

Then there is the story of Andrew Young, the former aide to John Edwards. When it was revealed that Young was not really the father of Edwards' mistress' child, that he was allegedly taking the fall for his boss (Edwards has not admitted he is the father), you could not help but wonder just what in this world would persuade someone - a man with a wife and children - to own up to fathering a baby when he had not. What manner of loyalty was this? What level of commitment to a cause was this?

Politico's profile of Andrew Young provides some insights:

Young has fleetingly emerged from the wreckage of Edwards’s political career as a character from central casting. First he was the fall guy, and now he’s the sellout, peddling his story in a tell-all book. But the real story of Young is about the passions of politics and the classic political triangle of the candidate, his wife and the sometimes sycophantic aide. The consuming devotion that politicians command from a small handful of loyalists is familiar — and not just in presidential campaigns.

[...]

Young threw himself into Edwards’s Senate race with a passion, becoming Edwards’s driver and gofer. After Edwards defeated Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth, however, he was bitterly disappointed to be denied a job in Washington, friends said. Instead he accepted a job on Edwards’s North Carolina staff, securing his role with the family by always being the one to meet Edwards at the airport and taking care of the family home when everyone was away. And when an animal or trespasser triggered the home alarm system, another former aide said, it rang on Young’s cell phone.

The entire article is here: Sex, Scorn and Videotape.


Two stories - one, the story of a man who hitches his bandwagon to his own star and rises by the dint of his own hard work; the other, the story of a man who hitches his bandwagon to someone else's star hoping to catch a ride on the way up, but ends up crashing right along.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hello, I'm Sujatha ...

... and you are? Please, would you introduce yourselves?

If you read Blogpourri occasionally or often or regularly, but have never commented before, I'd love to hear from you. What are the kinds of posts you like to read on Blogpourri? Even if you are a regular visitor here and comment often (I know I don't say this enough, but I love the fact that you take time to read and leave comments!), it would be awesome if you could tell me what interests you on this blog.

Thank you and cheers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Perspectives

I'm linking to a few ideas/articles that piqued my interest over the weekend.

1. Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine on a hitherto unexplored angle on President Clinton:
One person who did not leave Chelsea alone was her father. In acclaimed historian Taylor Branch's new book The Clinton Tapes — woven from Branch's recorded conversations with the President from 1993 to 2001 — the portrait of the relationship between Bill Clinton, a man who never knew his own father, and his daughter reveals a side we rarely saw on the public stage. Bill Clinton, it turns out, raised a daughter and ran the free world, sometimes in that order.
2. There was an awesome segment on 60 Minutes this morning about former Secretary of State Madeline Albright's collection of lapel pins. Each pin has a backstory - personal, political, historical - and now they are on exhibition in New York City, and Ms. Albright has a new book coming out called Read My Pins. I can't find the video on CBS' website, but all I found was this link to a short CBS News clip.

3. Andrew O'Hehir writes in Salon, in an article titled "Confessions of a Home-Schooler," about him and his wife starting out on the home-schooling adventure with their two five-year-old twins:
Both Leslie [the children's' mother] and I went to public school and had the usual assortment of excellent, mediocre and bad teachers. We're not zealots with some animus against public education. We're glad it exists and relatively happy to pay taxes to sustain it. As I said earlier, though, we feel dubious about the ideology that seems dominant in public education these days, and especially about the idea that sending kids to school virtually all day for 10 months a year, beginning at age 3 or 4, is the healthiest mode of delivering it.

...

I think home schooling has brought Leslie and me closer together.... The four of us are a pretty tight unit -- it's not us against the world, but us in the world, trying to experience the days as they come.

We've planted seeds and watched them grow into sunflowers taller than Daddy; read books about Alexander Calder and Squanto and the warm-blooded, egg-laying Maiasaura; told stories about how our beloved bunny Picaro made his final voyage into the Egyptian Land of the Dead. We say goodbye to the setting sun (when we remember to) and greet each new day with tremendous enthusiasm, often much closer to dawn than the adults would prefer. I'm not saying that other families don't do that stuff too. I guess I'm saying what I said already: It works for us.
4. Ra on the myths surrounding alternative education in India:

I thought I’d tackle some of the common points (some of them myths) that arise when there is a discussion about alternative schools first:
Alternative Schools Are all very Expensive:
I think people often think that alternative schools are the same as “international” schools and automatically assume that they will be expensive. There are some very expensive international schools in India, that do follow alternative models, at least in so far as they are “alternative” to the more conventional schools. But there are alternative schools that have been around for ages, such as the K schools and Mirambika that charge around the same as lots of other schools. Some of the alternative schools are boarding schools and thus charge more, but are not necessarily the most expensive boarding schools around. Some alternative schools offer scholarships and take children when the parents are unable to meet the full fees.
What caught your fancy this weekend?

Friday, September 25, 2009

G-20 Summit: The Obamas at the Receiving Line

A blow by blow account in the New York Times of the First Couple greeting the G-20* leaders arriving for dinner at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh:

Ooh, next is South African President Jacob Zuma! Which wife did he bring? The youngest of course, Nompumelelo Ntuli, who puts her arm around Mrs. Obama and holds her hand during the photo op. Mrs. Obama tells Mr. Zuma that she expects him to solve the global economic mess “by Friday.”

Next arrives Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, who clearly did something in the car to anger his wife because she glares at him, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross her line of vision. The Obamas both look slightly
taken aback by her.

Wonder what happened in the car? The Ethiopian First Couple are quickly dispatched inside.

It appears that spouses in high places are not spared the mundane dramas that plague us regular folk.

And then further down:
Then it’s Brazilian President Lula da Silva, with his wife, and, finally, at 7:50 p.m., Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and his wife, Miyuki, back from Venus. She is in an elegant black suit with a bubble skirt and carries a burgundy shawl.

Mr. Obama hugs her.

“I’m sorry we were late,” she says.
Wonder what the story behind that was and I wonder what the reference to Venus is. Hmmm. E! Entertainment cross-pollinated with a little bit of politics, turns out, still makes for an entertaining mix.

And if it occurred to you to ask "Why Pittsburgh?" you are not alone.

Click away!

* and other world leaders.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Books to Die For: A Nine Year-Old's List

This post has been in the works for a while. Ra's recent post highlighting her recommendations for a children's library gave C, my nine year-old son, the necessary kick in the ... er... motivation! So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of some of C's favorite books (fiction) of the past year with his notes on the parts he liked or disliked. Although not as extensive, he has favorite non-fiction books as well. Perhaps in another post. My notes are in italics.

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: With over 230 pages of pure illustrations, Hugo Cabret is a fascinating book about a boy who wants to find out about his father's past and his automatons with the help of friends.


The book is enthralling and keeps you at the edge of your seat at all times. Hugo, who is so poor that he scavenges for food, goes on the adventure of his lifetime while finding out about other people's mysterious pasts as well.

C and I started reading this book aloud. It went too slow for his taste. He ploughed on ahead and then the book had to go back to his library. This is one I want to read as well. The illustrations are rich with detail and feeling.

2. The Mysterious Benedict Society Series by Trenton Lee Stewart, Carton Ellis (Illustrator): Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance all have something in common - they have to take down Mr. Benedict's evil brother, Mr. Z. This book is about how the four kids work together as a team, The Mysterious Benedict Society.

What I like about this book is that you never know what's going to happen next. There's always a dilemma. I can't wait for the third book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, to come out early next month!

3. George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt by Lucy & Stephen Hawking: This book is about three friends who find out that a rover is acting funny on Mars. They use their high-tech super computer to open hole into space. When they do that they find out that someone is trying to destroy earth.


This fun-filled adventure takes you all around the universe with amazing facts about outer space.

4. The Hardy Boys Series by Franlin W. Dixon: Two young boys, Joe and Frank, are following their father's footsteps by cracking mysteries by the minute. They risk their lives with every case they take on.

These action-packed books are amazing. My palms get sweaty as I turn the pages. A big must-read.

5. A Summer Adventure, The Hidden Treasure and The Only Witness (3 Novels) by Shashi Deshpande: Dhinu, Minu, Polly and Ravi are cousins. They lead normal lives until they get caught up in huge mysteries - one involving sinister robberies, the other involving their ancestors' treasure, and the last involving their friend's kidnapping and an encounter with mysterious bank robbers.

The setting is India, one of the busiest places in the world. The books' last minute captures and saves will keep your teeth chattering. (Thanks Chox!)

6. Gregor the Overlander Series by Suzanne Collins: This is a story about a boy and his sister who fall through their laundry shaft and land in a different world. There are several prophesies about this particular boy - he is supposed to slay several evil and disgusting creatures.

The books in this series (5 of them) are long and enchanting. They are about friendship and courage, and include a mystery about his father in the first book.

7. The Name of This Book Is Secret and If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch: These two books are about two dashing and daring characters who get mixed up in a mysterious magician's life. Evidently they're not the only people going after the magician. Two evil doctors are on the hunt, searching for immortality. That means having to capture the magician.


These books take the readers nearly everywhere. These emotion-filled and sometimes hilarious books are simply oversatisfying!

8. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterston: This comic book about an irritating boy and his best friend, an imaginary tiger, talks about 1980s politics and normal household life in the uttermost hilarious way.

Each book has over 50 comic strips with most funny twists bound into it.

9. Tintin by Herge: This series, to my utmost delight, is a set of jaw-on-the-floor-ing books about an amazing detective who cracks over 21 cases with the help of his old sea-dog friend, Captain Haddock, and his professor genius friend, Calculus, and his loyal and creative dog, Snowy.
These books have off-the-scale action and great characters with huge personalities.

10. Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop: This emotional and heartwarming book about gymnastics and bravery is a great read, especially for those who think they are too short and not able to do many things.

This is a great mythical story about medieval times, about dragons and kings. It's a fantastic story about a struggling kid who tries very hard to overcome his challenges.

11. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney: These are stories about a loser middle-schooler and his bully brother high-schooler, about how he manages to pull through every painful minute of his life and dreams of becoming famous some day.

These books have freakishly funny twists of comedy in them, and have great advice if you are in the wimpy kid's position.

12. Jake Drake, Bully Buster by Andrew Clements: This book is about a young boy who overcomes the challenge of defeating a super bully by gradually ignoring him and working together with him.
Another Andrew Clements classic and a very good read, but not the best. Frindle is the best.

13. Mansion in the Mist, The Dark Secret of Weatherend, The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb (the Anthony Monday Series) by John Bellairs:
These books are about Anthony Monday and his eccentric friend. They solve mysteries of magic, mythology and sorcery by evil people.

They have so much scariness, you feel like putting them down even though you don't want to. They leave you feeling scared and excited!

14. Books on the nightstand:

Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (reading it aloud with mom)


My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (thanks a ton, Poppy!)


To be continued...

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C's list definitely reflects the sensibilities of a boy who loves adventure and mystery. Lots of action and scary stuff. Increasingly he's also leaning toward fantasy. I helped out at the book fair at his school last year and I was delighted that the librarian at his school, the wonderful Ms. P, knew his tastes. She guided me down the aisles, pointing out books she was positive he would love. We did not go wrong with The Name of This Book is Secret.

Some of the books he read in 2008 include The Magic Treehouse Series, the Boxcar Children Series, the Classic Starts Series (with abridged versions of Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, etc.), the Secret Seven and Famous Five Series by Enid Blyton (he thinks they take too long to get exciting and they end too quickly). He did not want to include them here because"they're for young kids" (!).

If you have other suggestions for an adventure-loving boy, please do let us know. He (and I) will be delighted!

A final note - Sujatha of Fluff n' Stuff also wrote a post about her favorites here. Please do check it out.

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