Udai is crazy about Lego. He has been that way since he was say a year old. He made the choice to visit Berlin, inspired in part by the German lessons in school that are still a novelty and mostly by my mention of a Lego Discovery Centre in the city. We found ourselves at the stunningly beautiful and modern Potsdamer Platz at the end of our excursion to the Berlin Wall. It was evening time and we dashed to get into the Lego place, barely stopping to admire the architecture of the Sony Centre, in which the Lego deal is located. Rahul opted out owing to the high ticket charges (Euro 18 per person, unless you book in advance) and I spent two hours with my super excited Lego-crazy kids.
What was inside? Well, I really liked the lego reproductions of Berlin city. They were amazingly detailed and vibrant. I didn’t care much for the Star Wars section and even the kids weren’t captivated by it, though there were spacecrafts moving around and everything was made with Lego. There was a dragon themes ride that puts you in a car and takes you into a castle, with ogres and dragons and knights, all mads of Lego again. There are Lego figures standing around- batman, Hagrid and Harry, you get the drift…
It’s a small place and the highlight for Udai most certainly was the zillions of Lego pieces at the workstations and time to sit and make stuff. What did he make? Airplanes…duh! Aadyaa just ran around and explored the place. And we topped this all off with a short Lego film at a built-in theatre they had inside.
It’s not a very large place and perhaps not exciting for grown-ups, but little detours like this is what keeps children engaged. Especially when we travel to cities that are high on culture and sightseeing, we’ve found to useful to mix it up a little. Once the kids know that we’re willing to do ‘their’ stuff, they are quite happy to do ‘ours’!
PS- I did get some shots of the Sony Centre plaza once we got out of the Lego place, and here they are….
Every New Year, I blog about my achievements from the last year and expectations from the one ahead. This year, I have spent two days reading multiple posts from my blogger friends across the world that speak to this theme. It’s infectious, the New Year spirit. But this time, I’m going to spend some more time thinking and writing about each thought separately starting with my special love, blogging!
I blogged everyday in 2012 and less, but perhaps more meaningfully in 2013. I saw my blog as a release in 2012, but as a forum for introspective communication in 2013. I saw readers grow in 2012, but traffic boom in 2013. It’s been an incredible journey of reaching out to people of all types, in many locations.
Many a time through the last year, I have ruminated on whether I need to section out my blog into two or three parts dedicated to work, self-reflection and anecdotal/journalistic writing. But I find that very hard to do because most of my posts are a little bit of everything. That’s how my life is too- people, ideas and thoughts run into each other, weave in and out of each other. On some days, it’s really hard to synthesize out of all the intertwined grey matter in my head thoughts that are sharp, relevant and intelligible! And so, my blog remains the way it is for another year. A significant part of my work-related writing will move to other forums this year and only shared/reblogged here, so that will be a change anyway.
What do I want to change about my writing though? Certainly, I want to write more frequently. I want to ramble less and introduce brevity to my posts. A tad less perhaps because there is value to rambling I know! I also want to write fiction, something that has been playing on my mind for a long time, though that may need that separate section or a separate blog entirely perhaps. I also want to vary my media when I blog- embed videos, use photographs more creatively- and see how that works. It’s time to get more creative and strategic with my blog and that sort of is my overall theme for everything I do in 2014. Excited!
Ever since Aadyaa got invited there for a birthday party last month, she has been raring to go back to the Stellar Children’s Museum. This is located on the 2nd floor of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon right under Haldiram’s and works really well to keep kids between 3 and say 7 well occupied for a few hours.
I think it is overpriced, though, at Rs 500 per child for unlimited time, which does not mean much considering kids get tired after a few hours anyway. The extra Rs 200 per accompanying adult is really overkill, considering the adults will end up buying themselves eats and drinks inside anyway, which are priced high as well for rather passable offerings.
But that being the downside, the museum itself is a fantastic place for children to immerse themselves in many fun activities while getting exposure to many principles of physics. Basic installations and do-it-yourself tasks based on gravity and magnetism, gear movements, the power of moving air, etc allow children to repetitively perform simple experiments that offer huge amounts of excitement for little children.
Another space offers opportunities for unbridled creativity in the form of art, including glass walls that kids can paint. Watching wet paint dribble down a vertical facade, creating its own interesting formations is a lot of fun indeed! I also found interesting a pin board that allowed kids (and adults) to push in their hands or faces on one side and see the impression emerge out on the other. Simple magnetic jigsaw puzzles, overlapping perspex sheets that slide over one another to explore the mixing of colour and pattern were also a great set of activities, perhaps more suited to the kids.
Other fun features were a water play area, a found object wall where you can tap all the objects to create different sounds, a travel room where you could explore a series of tunnels that took from one ‘continent’ to another, explaining interesting facts of geography (perhaps for older kids who can read) and a cute pretend play zone replete with a down-sized supermarket (amazing detail), medical room, house and the like.
Aadyaa and her friend Maayra, after exploring a little bit of everything else, zoomed in on these gigantic interconnecting blue blocks. They created one ‘skull-ture’ after another and it was really funny to watch as the installations were larger than them most of the time!
If you have young kids and live in the NCR, do spend a day at Stellar. Despite the steep price, it is precious to see children so excited and engaged in such healthy fun. Watching the children, I was reminded once again that it is not fancy toys, but simple things that children love most. The helper didis at the Museum are well trained and patient. Aadyaa bonded with them immediately and hardly needed me to be there with her. For mommies or daddies who want to relax in the cafe and read a book or catch up on work or a phone call, this is entirely doable!
As the year draws to an end, and the winter gets into full swing, I do tend to go into a more contemplative mood. Much as I dislike the idea of making resolutions I do not keep, I think it’s exciting to go through the process of making them nevertheless.
So tonight, I’m going to look back at the resolutions I made last year and create a little score card for myself. The disadvantages of putting this sort of stuff on record!
#1 Lose weight, be fitter- Score 3/10. Did not lose much weight, but chased away the joint aches and increased stamina. Certainly fitter, but the 2013 resolutions on fitness will be more specific!
#2 Blog everyday- Score 9/10. This was a dream run. A lot of fun, a lot of learning. I did miss a few days here and there, but then I blogged twice a day or even more sometimes!
#3 Work on my arts side- Score 8/10. Have had so much fun working on my kathak and restarting music this year. It’s been fulfilling, frustrating and engaging at the same time. Am lucky to have found two gurus willing to work with me and take this forward!
#4 Be more adventurous about work- Score 10/10. Did start teaching, did make many more work contacts, did try my had at new roles at work. Started my own independent research and got funded for it! I can say I am well over target her!
#5 Read 3 books a month- Score 5/10. Three was hard! Most months It’s been a couple of books, but yea, I did try harder than I did before. Will write a post on the best books I’ve read this year, separately!
#6 Be more patient, creative with people, relationships- Score 6/10. I’m not unhappy in this department either. There have been moments of anger and frustration, but on the whole I am spending a lot more energy on friends and family. And getting a whole lot of positive energy in return! Thanks everyone who has supported me, loved me, smiled at me this year!
#7 Be more adventurous, carve my space- Score 7/10. I did two trips this year without my family, to Punjab and to Goa. Rahul and me took off to Istanbul for a week without the kids, a first for us since we’ve had them! I squeezed in a lot of adventure on work travel. I befriended people I met on the Metro, and I’m daring to dream bigger and bigger.
All in all, 2012 has been a very eventful year for me. Am patting myself on the back right now. The next week will be about setting the next set of targets, I think….
Shikshantar, where both my kids study, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week. Yesterday, the primary and secondary blocks threw their classrooms open to parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to take a peek at how they had expressed their journey in the school. The theme was Stories and narratives were central to the exhibits around the school.
Oh boy, it was an emotional ride. While the younger kids had attacked the theme with enthusiasm and gusto, the older ones clearly expressed a strong bond with their schoolmates and the institution. Hearing the teenage kids, I was transported back into a world where even the tiniest gestures by friends meant so much, when passions ran high and relationships were intense; when we felt strongly about everything in our lives, when adults were often perceived as enemies of fun.
It was a pleasure to see the comfort the kids shared with their teachers though. I visited in the late afternoon, when things were beginning to wind down. In most classes in middle and senior school, groups of kids were hanging out and having a lot of fun. And also chitchatting and laughing with their teachers.
Here are some pictures I took, that express the love and the bonding the kids feel with their school, its spaces, its people and the entire world it creates to nurture them.
Imaginative worlds are peppered with idyllic fantasy; should we get real or enjoy the beauty of our dreams? Sep 24, 2012
Sitting in the lobby of Shikshantar’s middle school block, I see before me an array of illustrated poems composed and drawn by children in Hindi to celebrate Hindi Divas, which comes on 14th September each year as that was when Hindi was adopted as the Indian national language. The story of how that has turned out in a nation that speaks and writes dozens of languages and dialects, we all see. But what has struck me this morning is the recurrence of certain themes that inspire children. Nature in many forms- seasons, creatures and flowers- is a constant subject of fascination. Why is that? Considering these are created by urban children who live in a concrete jungle with manicured lawns and terrace gardens as their only exposure to nature. Another recurring theme is raja-rani. The world of royalty- palaces, luxurious lifestyles intertwined with adventure, romance and power. Again, how do kids who are born in a democracy to parents who have never experienced monarchy in any form, keep returning to this theme?
Are we influenced by an idea that there is a certain innocence in themes such as nature and in stories about princes and princesses? Our folklore and children’s stories are full of these themes. For young children, more urban contemporary stories are still rare. Does it then take many generations of a changed lifestyle to be inspired by the changed environment? Or will we continue to dream of a world full of magical forests as we continue to destroy the real forests we have on earth? Are our works of creation or the way we adults inadvertently influence the creative work of children really wishful in nature rather than a reflection of reality?
Many works, of course, among both children and adults do depict the realities of our times. Aadyaa draws multistorey buildings often, not the typical hut. Udai draws planes and machines but is struggling between his need to reflect reality and draw more romantic themes like rural landscapes that he does not really identify with.
Isn’t that the true conflict for all of us. We all spend our entire lives attempting to reconcile the realities (often ugly and unpalatable) with the world of our dreams and aspiration (always in contrast beautiful and serene). I try to see beauty in the reality and find flaws in my dreams at times, but that’s just twisted old me!
Last night, the celebrations continued back in Goa even as I settled back into the office-school routine with the kids in Gurgaon. There was a big party in honor of Ramukaka, who turns 75 next month. He shares a birthday with my dad, August 31st, and that makes him more special than he already is! The party was held a month in advance thanks to all the VIPs from all over the worlds being in town for Arnav’s big day.
Anyway, a few weeks before leaving for Goa, I was racking my brains for a gift idea. What could I possibly give someone who had no great fascination for things material and who pretty much has what he really needs and uses? I decided I would do something with an emotional twist. A gift of love, playing on nostalgia is what would be suitable, I thought.
This is what I came up with.
1- I found an old box that once held Makaibari green tea
2- I painted it in bright acrylic colors and here, Udai was my willing assistant
3- I culled through photo albums for pics that would bring a smile, a tear…tug at the heart
4- I enhanced these and got them printed
5- Then I created, using waste material from old wedding cards, square coaster-style cardboard squares, using the pictures and also painting on messages, phrases…strung together in a sort of poetic style
It read something like this:
You have given us so much
happy times together
strength in times of need
a home in your heart
you are wonderful
we are blessed
6- I got the squares laminated
7- With a needle and nylon thread, I stitched them all together and used a beautiful string of pearls from someone’s super fancy wedding invite to tie it in together, as a finishing touch!
Here’s what it looks like. Needless to say, Ramukaka loved it. It now sits on his computer table. I hope they look at it again and again and are reminded of our love and respect.
Small steps, big changes: We need to harness the passion and talent of youth positively- July 30, 2012
Four days in Goa, with family, life centered around tradition, rituals, family bonding and the sheer experience of taking in Goa with its unique flavors, sights, sounds and feel. Coming back home is a brutal return to reality and the unpleasant aspects of life. I knew the power grid failure had happened (it was in the news), but I came back to actually meet people who have spent two days in the heat and darkness. I knew Team Anna was kicking some butt out there, but I’m reading the media coverage and wondering where all this bile and vitriol is taking us.
We sure are a bunch of disgruntled citizens and we need an outlet for our frustrations. Anna’s bunch are as good a cause to support as any! And hence the turnout at Jantar Mantar. Yet, when Kejriwal denounces the BJP and the Congress in equal (ahem ahem) measure, what does that mean politically? I am at a loss to understand where this is going? I wish I knew. Not that my opinion would matter, but I would sleep easier!
Personally, I feel corruption is one among several large issues that need to be addressed. Yet, it is an issue that really hurts us bad. I realized this when interacting with a group of final year architecture students last week. I am their advisor for a research project on the role of architects in serving low-income populations. I floated the topic with a set of ideas in mind, hoping to steer them towards finding innovative means of engagement between professionals and low-income families. As it often happens, they had processed the scenario in their own unique way. And they appeared most perplexed by the ugliness and inevitability of corruption. They felt that, whichever way they looked, it was corruption in the system of approvals, of urban planning and governance, that created imbalances in the supply of and access to housing. They wondered if this was ever going to improve and were rather disheartened about the topic of research. They said they felt like they were banging their heads against an unbreakable wall.
Of course, I encouraged them to express this, but also to set the subject of corruption aside and see how interventions could be effective within the bounds of the current ‘system’. However, their reactions gave me an interesting peak into the world of the youth. Young, educated Indians (especially those with a creative bent of mind) clearly, are not happy living with the system. They demand change, they are idealistic enough to believe change can happen, yet they are frustrated by the fact that no one (not even Team Anna) truly believes that change can happen or has a clear picture of what the change could look like. Worse, they are frustrated that the big picture remains fuzzy and uninspiring. They understand that small innovations appear to be the only way forward right now, but are unable to see how the small improvements will add up to make significant impact.
Is there some way we could harness this latent energy and frustration, this burning desire for change in a positive way? I do believe activism is a vital ingredient because ultimately political will is key, but there are other missing elements as well. I’m thinking it’s important to document and disseminate information on positive action across various fields, interventions that have changed people’s lives for the better, so that gifted and driven young people can be shown some hope and encouraged to pursue what they believe in and not waste their talents doing what anyone else can.
Kids enjoy their summer vacation to the hilt. At least mine do. Whether we travel or not, whether we do interesting things or not, both the children manage to keep themselves thoroughly occupied. Udai, now eight, lives in an imaginary world created by the books he reads all day. Aadyaa is at that wonderful age when she can create an imaginary world all by herself. Along with her friends or even alone, she created interesting plots through role play. Her characters have outlandish names. She incorporates all the activities, mannerisms and attitudes she observes in adults around her and parodies them in her little games. It is fascinating to watch and being a silent observer has many rewards, including a priceless insight into the innocence and creativity that children inherently possess.
A favorite game they play is what she calls ‘Ram-Ram’. Last year in playschool, her class performed an adaptation of the Ramayan in rhyme form. The story had an interesting twist, with Ravan apologizing to Ram in the end for all the mess he created! Aadyaa and her pals recreate several adaptations of the barebones Ramayan plot. In the park downstairs, sometimes there are three little girls all playing the role of Sita, with one Ram in tow. The other day, they tired of the the kidnapping and decided to enact the bit about Ram, Lakshman and Sita leaving for the forests and building a home for themselves. I was sitting nearby and was told to play a two-bit role of Dashrath and weep while they walked away into the jungle, holding their imaginary bows and arrows!
Another typical game, common to many little girls, is the routine of feeding, bathing and clothing all her imaginary children, ten of them no less! In her head, they range in age from a new born to some seven years. That she in only four does not bother her a bit! Their names are so bizarre- the oldest is Turkish (we took the airline to Barcelona a year ago and the name has stuck!) and the youngest is Saaha (we cannot give away her stuff, it has to be all kept for the baby)! When Udai was about this age, he had an imaginary girlfriend called Alisha Shopshish, who lived in Bangalore and visited him in a Posche! Many of our friends and relations still fondly remember this phase.
It fascinates me to see how their real worlds and their imagined ones come together to create such well-rounded fantastic plots, how they can sustain and feed the same plot for weeks and months on end, how they never tire…Yet we adults tend to accuse kids of low attention spans because our idea of good attention span is playing with blocks for 30 minutes in a row! I can just hope their imagination remains ever fertile even when they grow up. I’m hoping that, as a parent, I am able to provide an environment conducive for creative thinking and free expression for many years to come!