April 27, 2010

In case you thought it was spelt “summersault” let me tell you, in an editing faux pas, I completely missed it a couple of years ago, and had it pointed out by another editor, much to my mortification. Now, I will not forget – it’s somersault.

So I’ve never been the overly gymnastic kind, you know? I’ve been fat and lazy for almost all my life. Sure, there are some people who will say I’m not lazy, but they really don’t know me *all* that well. Except for my recently implemented passion for tennis (as opposed to a long-standing ‘armchair’ passion for tennis), I’ve not been the sort to exercise much. No stretching routine ever marred my early mornings, no gym ever made a serious impact on my leisure hours.

For all that, strangely enough, I have discovered in recent years that I have a super-flexible body, which years of laziness seem not to have done much harm to. I mean, I can make a full bridge by bending over backwards and putting my fingertips on the floor; I can do nearly perfect splits, sideways as well as forward and backward; I can bend over and put my palms on the ground with ease: and I can almost touch my nose to my knee when sitting on the ground with one leg folded and one stretched out. I know – phenomenal; abilities that I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve and am therefore inordinately proud of. (Having said all of which, I still can’t do padmasan to save my life. Weird, right?)

So anyway, with all that to my credit, a simple somersault was nothing to write home about – somersaults were as routine as whistling or riding a cycle. Everybody can do those.

Or maybe not. Turns out Amit can’t do two of them – and the third, riding a cycle, is anyone’s guess.

Amazing as it is that someone should not be able to whistle – and a guy at that! – the fact someone, and this particular someone, can’t do somersaults was completely astonishing. I mean, here’s this absolute stud guy – tall, muscular, not an inch of flab anywhere, athletic all his life, an ace at tennis and fairly good at various other games, a dedicated gymmer for many years at a stretch… you get the picture. And yet, despite all the impressive things he can do, the one thing this macho he-man can’t do, is… the humble somersault!

Things really came to a head when Tara started doing somersaults. Mrini acquired the skill months and months ago, maybe more than a year ago. Tara, on the other hand, was completely adept at tumbling over and falling on her side. Then, all of a sudden, last week, Tara showed us just exactly how a somersault should be done. She put her hands on the floor and flipped herself over effortlessly. Her head never touched the ground (mattress, actually). So, in Tara’s expert version of the somersault, for an instant her entire body was in the air, only her hands were on the ground. Ok, cartwheels would be next!

This was not a version of somersaulting I’d ever tried – my head would be firmly grounded and my body just rolled over it. That was pretty much what Mrini did too. I hadn’t even thought there was any other way of doing a somersault. The kinds of things you can learn from three-and-a-half year olds!

After watching this star performance for several days, it began to worry Amit. Yesterday evening, he asked me to do a live demo. I did – without even removing my glasses. Big deal. Then I tried the Tara-style somersault, and though I didn’t manage it with quite the degree of elan as the pioneer herself did, I could see what was needed. A little practice and I’d be there.

Now Amit was really in a state. To have three women in his family somersaulting away with consummate ease was unacceptable. Clearly, this situation couldn’t be allowed to persist. He got on to his knees and put his hands on the mattress. Then he put his head down. “Now what?” he asked, looking at me upside down.

I told him to get his knees off the mattress and push off with his feet. But he just couldn’t do it.

“Baba’s scared,” observed Tara perspicaciously. How do kids get so sharp??? It was, in fact, just that – an instinctive fear of going head over heels; the distinct impression that this was an easy way to break one’s neck and wind up dead. Or, worse still, permanently paralyzed.

Yet, here were his three girls, specially the oldest one (me, I mean) necks and spines intact after numerous somersaults.

It took him  more than half-an-hour, in which time all other activity in the house came to a standstill as his spellbound audience of three alternately got in his way (the kids), laughed (me), and egged him on (all of us). At last he managed it – and then, just to be sure, repeated it twice.

Ok, that’s done. Macho, he-man, stud status restored. Now, if only he could learn to whistle.

Shadows and Shampoo

April 26, 2010

That’s what’s been giving the twins tons of giggles in recent days.

I wash their hair on Sunday morning – so late in the morning that it amounts to afternoon, but that’s only because I’m so lazy on Sunday. (And every other day…) Some days I oil it before washing, but some days I’m too lazy even for that. Yesterday was one of those too-lazy days, so it was just a straight shampoo.

I applied the shampoo on Mrini first, and both of them were hopping with excitement. “Make a pony tail,” said Mrini. They’ve been agreeable to wearing two pony tails to day care the last week or so, but pony tail during the bath was a long-standing source of entertainment. I pulled all her hair back and it stood on top of her head in a tall peak. I squeezed the shampoo off her hair and off my hands onto the bathroom floor, and they went berserk stamping in it and picking it up in their hands. When I did Tara’s hair, I squeezed the shampoo from my hands directly into theirs and they were in peals of giggles that could be heard half a mile away.

Their other fascination is their shadow. We now routinely have a power cut between 7 and 8 p.m., which is highly frustrating since it is the quality family time we spend together on weekdays. What can you do, except make the best of a bad scene? We bring out the candles and get live entertainment by getting Mrini and Tara sing songs to us until they exhaust their repertoire – which, depending on their mood, can take a good half-hour. In one of these sessions, they discovered their shadows on the facing wall. With the candle behind them and no other light in the room, their shadows were huge and sharp and clear. They were delighted. First they danced and were thrilled to see their shadow dance with them. Then I had their shadows by putting my leg inbetween the candle and the kids, and they were puzzled by that. Then they discovered that they could go up to the wall and touch their shadow, but that doing so would make the shadow become so small it was just lifesize; and that if they came back, away from the wall, their shadow would grow much bigger.

As adults, a power cut is a frustration, an annoyance, an impedance in our rushed and achieving lifestyles. It is such a delight to see it through the kids – an opportunity to learn, explore, and – most importantly – have lots and lots of fun.

In Tara’s Dictionary…

April 23, 2010

Me: Tara, you are completely irrepressible and exasperating!

Tara: giggles

Me: Do you know what that means?

Tara: Yes.

Me: Ok, what does it mean.

Tara: it means total darling.


April 21, 2010

I always liked numbers. As a child, I was fascinated by their properties, by how they worked together. I had a good head for numbers too – I was very quick at arithmetic, both figured and mental. It was with great satisfaction and even greater ease that I got perfect or near-perfect marks in my Math exams all the way through school.

Unfortunately, my daughters have not “inherited” my love of numbers yet. Their counting goes, “one, two, three, lifteen, sixteen, twenty-one, twenty-two, forty-two…” Actually, they both know their numbers up to ten, so I suspect they do this arbitrary counting only for effect. But even if they do really know their numbers, they are hopeless at counting. Their fingers, jabbing at the individual items, move at a different tempo from the actual verbal count. So they will jab eight times, but count ten or eleven. Or maybe six.

And this is really very difficult to do. I tried and I just couldn’t get my jabbing finger to move out of sync with my count. I can do half or double, and if I focus on it, I can perhaps do thirds, but completely at random? Impossible. How do they do it?

Their teacher (or “facilitator” as the Montessori system calls them) also told us that their recognition of numeral symbols from 0 through 10 is not up to speed. She suggested that we “work” on it during the summer holidays, but, irresponsible parent that I am, I have done nothing of the sort. I’m hardly sowing the seed for numerical geniuses here.

None of the above, however, has the remotest connection to what this post is really about. This post is about a specific set of numbers. My vital stats, to be precise.

• Total posts: 441
• Total posts in 2009: 119
• Posts till date in 2010: 35

• Total Views: 29,610
• Total Views in 2009: 16,361
• Views in 2010 till date: 3,845

• Number of posts viewed 100 or more times: 12

Now for some number crunching.

• An overall average of 67 views per post. Hmmmmm!
• An average of 137 views per post in 2009. Hmmmmmmm!!!
• An average of 110 views per post in 2010. Hmmm!?!?!
• An average of 45 page views per day in 2009. 🙂 🙂
• An average of 35 page views per day in 2010. 😦 🙂

Ok, so I was really popular in 2009 and not so much in 2010. Ok. But seriously – 110 views per post!?!? I thought I had a readership of, like, 5. I even know of people who used to read my blog who don’t read it any more – the first name on the list being my own better half. But to think that there are 100+ people reading my blog that I don’t even know about! Highly gratifying.

So like I was saying, I always liked numbers. And with numbers like these, what’s not to like?

If Only…

April 20, 2010

There are things in your past that you regret the passing of, things you would love to go back to, if only you could. It might be a job; it might be a phase or an age; it might be a place; it might be something you didn’t get enough of, or didn’t appreciate enough when you had it; it might be something you did or didn’t do, or something you said, or should have said… it might be almost anything, but most often, it is a set of things that you wish you could somehow get back.

For me, in the work sphere, I wish I could go back to the good old KF days; or even further back to my journo days. I wish I could go back to 18, when my whole life lay ahead and there were so few mistakes behind me. I wish I could go back to those activities I treasured so much – horse riding and playing in an orchestra.

But that time has passed and taken with it the opportunities it had offered.

Never mind – what passed has been replaced with things I enjoy or value almost as much (or more). The job I have now suits where I am in life. My kids make up for most of the rest. And while it’s true that 18 has been replaced with 36, at least that’s my age and not my waistline! Besides, 36 comes with its own opportunities and even if it is not 18 and never will be, it’s not really so bad.

But when it comes to people, it’s a different story. As you leave behind other little bits of your life and your self, you leave behind some people as well. Friends, neighbours, classmates, colleagues, even some family members fall by the wayside, as life propels you forward with its relentless, restless, inexorable current. And while new faces do come up to replace those left behind, people can’t “replace” other people so easily.

Of those you leave behind, not all are easily forgotten. There are some whom you knew well, whom you never forget. There are some whom you knew only briefly, whom you can spend a lifetime wondering about. There are some whom you are separated from either by circumstances or by continents, whom you never meet any more and never – or almost-never – will.

And yet, they stay with you. Maybe through an occasional exchange of email, maybe through a once-a-year phonecall, maybe through nothing more than a treasured set of memories of all-too-little time spent together… they stay with you.

If I could choose between turning back the clock to the times I wish hadn’t passed so quickly or the people I wish hadn’t gone out of my life, I know which one I’d choose. If I could have back all the jobs, activities, and youth of years ago, I might be a busy and happy person; but if I could have back all the people I wish had never gone out of my life… I’d be immeasurably richer.


April 19, 2010

As you all know, I have harboured ambitions of becoming a published author for the longest time. Ever since I was 5 or so, really. At last, it looks like I might actually get there.

Back in 2005, I went on this long solo trek in the Himalayas. You’ve heard me talk about it, but you’ve never actually heard the full story have you? That’s because the full story forms the basis for my book, which I’ve called “Worth Every Gasp”. My book has been searching for a publisher – sporadically – for an amazingly long time. And now, at last, it has got a nod from a publisher. And in addition to a nod, it has even earned me a publishing contract – which I signed and sent off happily last week.

So, sometime in the next two years, my book will hopefully hit the shelves. Unfortunately, it takes that long… It would of course be so much nicer if it took, say, a couple of weeks or so. Or even a month at most. But the good things in life come slowly, so one must wait patiently, I suppose. Not that patience is a virtue I have acquired yet.

Meanwhile, I brought my second book, about the adoption of our daughters, up to date, and sent it off to the biggest publisher you can think of. Rejection will probably follow… but one must try and one can only hope. Cross your fingers, toes, hair, and eyes for me, pretty please! The adoption book is really a good book and one that really should be out there.

Jamghat Skills

April 14, 2010

Jamghat is a word that, loosely translated, means a thick, unruly crowd, or a state of chaos. It is something I’d go quite far out of my way to avoid.

Right behind our home is a small park. In the corner of this park closest to our home, a few swings and some slides have recently been erected. As with swings anywhere, these are always the centre of attention for all the neighbourhood kids. At any time of day, sound from the swings float into our kitchen, and at peak hours it’s a veritable cacophony.

I’ve largely avoided taking the kids to these swings, just because they are always so incredibly crowded in the evening hours. But last weekend the kids decided to curtail their afternoon nap at 4 p.m. I watched the tail end of Snowwhite with them, but they were so scared of the wicked queen, that they practically begged me to turn it off. So at 5, while the sun was still high and the heat palpable, we went to the swings. They were already crowded. Tara, who was a little under the weather, stayed by my side, but Mrini, somewhat to my surprise, gamely waded into the melee. It took a couple of minutes, but she eventually managed to get to one of the slides, slide down, and wade right back into the queue-less mess again. After she’d been at it for some time, Tara left my side and went to join in, too. Mrini took her by the hand and practically led her up and down the slide. Then they both were quite at ease in the thick of things.

At the risk of sounding elitist, biased, snobbish and a whole lot of other nasty things, I have to say that this mob consisted mostly of kids from the lowest strata of society. These were kids who wore torn clothes, had no footwear, rarely bathed and never combed their hair. Some of them were seven or eight years old. Their idea of asking was to push. Vigorously. Their idea of a queue was also much the same. Big kids yanked small kids vertically upwards by one arm to put them on a slide ahead of the rest of the mob. At the very mouth of the slide, a squirming mass of about 20 kids was squashed into a space meant – at most – for two.

And into this jamghat went my two little girls. They were completely unfazed by the utter lawlessness of the situation. Big kids pushed roughly past them, and they didn’t blink. They stood calmly wherever they wanted to and went whenever they wanted to. Somebody grabbed Tara from behind and dumped her on the slide, none too gently. She went down with complete composure, without the slightest expression of alarm or disgust or even indignation.

I could hardly believe my eyes! And as great as my disbelief was my sense of pride. Wow! Did my girls have coolth or what! And where on earth did they get that, considering I’m hardly a role model for it. It must be school. Or daycare. Or maybe it’s just who they are, for the moment.

But still… Like, wow!

Toilet Training – The Final Frontier

April 11, 2010

We tackled toilet training shortly before the twins’ second birthday. By the time they turned two, they were mostly done – though accidents continued to happen sporadically for some months.

When they turned three, Mrini suddenly decided she was night-time toilet trained too. She took to waking up when she wanted to go to the bathroom and in just one week, she was out of diapers and there was no looking back. There were only two accidents in that first week and there haven’t been any since. Apart from the occasional visit to the toilet, she usually sleeps through the night and is in no hurry to use the toilet even when she wakes up.

Tara, on the other hand, was occasionally (and not so very occasionally either) wetting her bed during her afternoon nap till as recently as a month or so ago. So of course she was still in diapers at night. I had tried to take the diaper off a couple of times, but I’d never really been convinced that she was ready. One time I kept her off diapers for a week. She wet the bed five times… twice in the same night on one occasion. The two nights she didn’t wet the bed was only because I woke her up and plonked her on the toilet twice during the night. So, apparently, I got lucky and “caught it”. But clearly, she was not ready – so after one week, she was back on diapers and we all slept easy.

Lazy as I am, and distasteful as it is to have to wake up in the middle of the night to a wet and wailing child and sodden and stinky sheets, I decided I was in no hurry to get Tara out of her nighttime diaper. I’m sure I earned a lot of scorn from all those who observed this “big” girl still being put in a diaper at night, but who cares? Night time bladder control had come so easily and painlessly to Mrini, I was just going to wait patiently till Tara reached that stage, even if it took her some years to do so. I am not the sort to brag about how soon my kids acquired this skill or that – you know, the “I had my daughters completely toilet trained at the age of two-and-a-half months” type. I learnt to walk when I was 20 months old. I remember still sucking my thumb when I must have been at least five. I learnt to read so late that my parents thought I was dyslexic (and perhaps I was) – so what? The fact remains that, despite being behind in so many major developmental milestones, I still grew up. I did eventually learn to walk, I did learn other ways of coping with stress (chocolate!) and I not only learnt to read, I made up for lost time – and then some!

I have also wholeheartedly adopted the philosophy of letting my daughters dictate as much of their lives as they reasonably can. They obviously don’t have a choice about sitting in a car seat, brushing their teeth, or going to school etc; but they are absolutely free to choose what clothes to wear, how much to eat at mealtimes… and whether or not they are ready to stay dry at night, or try to.

Recently the weather has been really hot. Naturally, Tara began to wake up with a dry diaper – even with the fan running, a lot of water was lost by sweating. I did ask her a few times if she’d like to skip her diaper, but she really didn’t want to. Then suddenly one day, she said she didn’t want her diaper. It wasn’t much of a risk, with the hot weather and the long “dry run” so I was only too happy to let her sleep diaperr-less. After that, she really wanted the diaper only one day and the rest of the nights has been happy to go to sleep without it. And there have been no accidents.

Unfairly or otherwise, I’m still holding my breath, figuratively speaking. I feel that it’s only a matter of time before the weather turns cooler and she stops sweating it out. I’m not convinced that she has really acquired the ability to wake up when she needs to go to the bathroom; it’s just that it is too hot and she can go longer periods with needing to. So when we went to Pondicherry two weeks ago, reluctantly and against my own better judgement, I put her back in night-time diapers. Pondicherry was even hotter than Bangalore, but the room was air-conditioned. The change in temperature could have unexpected results on her bladder control ability. And I really didn’t have the wherewithal to cope with an accident of that sort – and with all four of us in one bed at that!

The diaper, it turned out, was redundant on both nights.

What’s more, just a couple of nights later, she woke me up in the middle of the night saying she wanted to go to the bathroom. So maybe I’m wrong – maybe she has, at last, learnt how to wake herself up when she needs to go. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to buy any more diapers. And maybe, just maybe, I could take a chance on keeping her diaper-less even on our next trip to Pondicherry.

Of course, that’s just asking for trouble, I know. Murphy’s Law never fails. But sometimes you just have to take a chance, right?

So I did. Just to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind on the spot, I didn’t even carry a couple of diapers along. And guess what?

She was fine.

I can stop blaming it on the weather now and face the facts. I still don’t know if this little baby of mine has acquired the ability to wake herself up when she has to go to the bathroom, but she does appear to have acquired pretty impressive bladder capacity. Maybe, just maybe, when the weather does get cooler, we still won’t have any accidents. At any rate, diaper days (and nights) it seems are finally, finally over.

The Statistics Are Wrong!

April 7, 2010

I always feel terribly guilty for subjecting the kids to long drives in the car. Being cooped up in the car seat is not much fun. If I give them any toys, they fling them down in the first five minutes and spend the rest of the drive demanding that we retrieve them. If I give them books, they fight over them and begin to shred them after about ten minutes. So I don’t give them anything. Then they shred their car seats, chew the straps, and suck their thumbs – for all of which, they receive severe scoldings and threats of dire consequences.

So what else can they do? They can talk.

And when I say they can talk, I mean, they really, really can talk!

I’m no laggard at talking myself, and most of the time I quite enjoy talking to the twins, but when you have seven hours to spend in a car and nothing else to do? It does wear you down, just a little. So once we’d done a fair bit of conversation and run through our current selection of Billy Joel songs, I needed something to engage their attention and – how can I say this? – just keep them quiet for a bit. Following a suggestion from Sadia, I’d hunted online and downloaded (bought, I mean) Peter and the Wolf before we started the long drive to Pondicherry last week. So in all innocence, I turned it on. It was the first time the girls had heard anything like it. They were entranced… but… if I’d thought it would shut them up, I soon discovered exactly how wrong I could be.

Mama, what’s that?
Is that the fox?
Where’s the fox?
Who is Peter?
Is that a crow?
What did the duck say?
Who is grandpa?
Was that the fox?
What did Peter do?
Where’s the birdie?
How did he tie up the fox?

On and on and on they went – scarcely stopping to draw a breath. How they could listen and talk at the same time, I really don’t know. But I didn’t have answers to most of their questions because I couldn’t hear the blessed story (and I haven’t ever heard it before either). The only thing I kept saying, again and again, was: It’s not a fox, it’s a wolf. But they had already made up their minds – this was the story of Peter and the Fox… and after a while they introduced a rabbit into the storyline as well (which I didn’t hear mention of in the original version).

“I read on Sadia’s blog recently that statistics show that four-year-olds ask 400 questions a day,” I muttered to Amit while I tried to catch my breath.
“The statistics are wrong,” said Amit grimly. “They ask a thousand questions a day!”


April 6, 2010

Every time we drive to Pondicherry – which, as you all know, is often, though not so frequent or regular – we pass by Gingee Fort. It’s an old, thick wall that runs up to the road on both sides, and a small collection of ruins atop three small, abrupt hills that stand guard over the highway.

When we drove to Pondicherry for the (non)hearing last week, we planned to stop at Gingee on the way back. It was a good idea – after all, this would be the “last time” we went to Pondicherry; we’d be returning full of excitement and a sigh of relief; and we could at least make a small outing of the long weekend we would otherwise be wasting.

As we all know – in great detail – things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d expected and we were returning to Bangalore with all the weight of the mountain of pending documentation to be collected. Our mood was far from jubilant, excited or even relieved. I was inclined to drop Gingee right off the agenda.

And yet… next time would be bang in the midde of the week and that trip promised to be quite a bit more hectic than usual. And who knows… it might even turn out to be the actual “last time” – for real. “Let’s go, anyway,” said Amit. “At least for a short time.”

So when we came to the old wall, halfway between Tindivanam and Thiruvannamalai, we looked for a path to turn off on to. My very cursory research had indicated that the hilltop we wanted to visit would be on the left, but the only path we saw was on our right. We turned off and parked. A long flight of stone steps showed the way to the top. We stepped out of the air-conditioned car and reeled back as the heat assaulted us in no uncertain terms. It was only 10 a.m. Ahead of us, a light-skinned foreigner stepped out of his car and squinted up at the steps, grasping an ice-cold bottle of water for moral support. “One hour,” I heard him ask the taxi driver in a weak voice. A moment later, he was back in his seat and his car was heading back to the highway. Following him pronto seemed like the sensible thing to do.

So we sat down on the old wall and traded our city shoes for a good pair of hiking shoes. We filled a knapsack with water, bread and jam, and more water, and Amit shouldered the camera. And we set off to climb the hot, steep, jumbled, stone steps.

First, we had to buy tickets. Yes, there was a ticket booth here, in the middle of nowhere, and the ticket collector tried his best to charge us foreigner rates. I had to test out my rudimentary Kannada on him to persuade him that we were, in fact, Indian.

If I’d thought that the climb might be too much for the girls, in this heat, I’d have been completely and utterly wrong. They walked up it without stopping, without gasping, without holding hands (well, Tara did; Mrini held Amit’s hand quite firmly), and without any sort of fussing. They were more hardy and willing than I was.

And yet… despite everything, the magic of the place had me in its grasp in a few moments. All of a sudden, I remembered why I had ever wanted to study Archaeology. All of a sudden, I remembered the person I used to be. All of a sudden, time slowed down, and I almost forgot about the documents, the court case, the sweltering heat…

The steps probably took us about 20-25 minutes. At the top were various buildings offering some welcome shade, and nothing much else. The ASI board at the bottom mentioned granaries, wells for oil and ghee, and a temple or two, mostly built around 1200 AD. All of these I saw, clustered fairly close together. It seemed like an incongrous place to store grain, oil, and ghee. Who would want to come all this way up to deposit or extract them? It didn’t seem as if there were any residences here at the top.

I would have loved to lose myself in the place for half a day or so, but reality didn’t quite take a back seat and in a couple of hours we were back in the car and back on the road again. We did pass by a road that looked as though it would lead to the other hilltop, where the other parts of this fort could be seen, but by then there really was no time. This entire expedition would have to be planned for another time. The way things were going, we’d still have several “last time” opportunities to take advantage of.

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