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

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.


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 for instance, you can move blocks of countries around with the mouse. In that sense, are online resources such as 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


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.